A Reflection on the First chapter of Reformed Ethics.


The Relationship of Dogmatics to Ethics

‘In dogmatics it is what God does for us and ethics is what God expects from us now’.

The above quote is very helpful from Bavinck.  Believing and doing are not separated by him.  Faith is not a one-way road there are two sides.  In ethics there is a reciprocity that grows from faith.  This is something that could not be worked out by Barth.  Yes, in his later manuscripts He touched on ethics, but he died before it could be fully worked out.  My subjective opinion is that he would never have ever been able to complete such a task.  For Barth it was all about God or the emphasis was there.  Barth was an amazing theologian because he was able to break out of the straight jacket of the liberal tradition that he was brought up in. 

Bavinck was also a master theologian, but he grew up in a Calvinistic tradition.  He was no one’s puppy not even Kuyper’s puppy.  When he studied, he would go as much as he could to the original sources and interrogate them.  Bavinck did not need to break away from a tradition but being a true theologian went deeper into the tradition and has dug up figuratively speaking pure unblemished diamond for us to gaze at.


He brought us to a place of getting us to think about the content of our fallible human nature.   ‘our origin, purpose and destiny’ are serious questions.

Bavinck makes the point that humanity was created good, then there was a fall and we needed to be saved.  Many of the philosophies start from an accident, the role of the dice and as time progresses humans move towards their potential.  This is in the opposite direction to what the Bible teaches.


Concerning our relationships Bavinck touches on our relation to God; our relation to others; Our relation to nature; Bavinck does not shy away from Religion and Morality.  We have not evolved from an animal (Darwin) but we are God’s offspring!  So how does the image of God exist in us?  Bavinck says that the image of God exists in us in the essence of our humanity: with soul and body as substrate; In the capacities and abilities of that essence: knowing, feeling, willing and acting.  In the properties and gifts of that essence and their capabilities; holiness knowledge and righteousness. Page 36

Yes, there was a Fall and humanity fell into sin and regeneration is now only possible through Jesus Christ.  Philosophy of the age contradicts Christian epistemology.  Here is a list of features about religion from a reformed and Lutheran traditions;  


1. In establishing what religion is, they start from true religion and on that

basis determine what false religion is. This is especially the case with



2. The Reformed definition always makes it apparent that religion rests

upon and arises from knowledge of God. The views of Calvin and Sohn

serve as examples.

3 The Reformed maintain that the essence of religion is not abstract

knowledge, but knowledge and activity (trusting, believing, willing



My interpretation is Objectively, religion is God reaching down to humans and being restored in Christ. Subjectively as Bavinck says; “We subjectively appropriate the revelation of God and enter that objectively established fellowship by faith”.  As you can see religion in Christendom doesn’t split knowing and doing. 


The reason why Bavinck is right;

“. Piety, love, trust, adoration, hoping on God, all taken together, are therefore what we describe as religion,” He gives us scriptures from the Old Testament and the New Testament;

Old Testament scriptures

“walk with God” (Gen. 5:22 and 6:9); “walk before God” (Gen, 17:1) ; “the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:7);  to walk in his ways, laws, etc. (Ps. 119);  to know him (Hosea 6:6).

The New Testament

In the New Testament the most common words are πιστις (faith) and its cognate πιστευειν, (believe);  ευσεβεια (“godliness” or “holy reverence for God);  Θεοσεβεια (“godliness” or “the fear of the Lord”);  the “way” or “road” (Acts 19:9; 22:4).

I now understand what Bavinck means; these above are just his examples as

we know there are thousands of these statements throughout the Bible. 

His examples are enough to show that these statements taken altogether point to what Christian religion is.    “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity”. Colossians 3:14 ‘put on’ is not in the Greek here but is implied by context.  I think you can see the link between faith and love.  There can be no sacred love without true faith and the outworking of faith is works and love in that order.  Faith is a gift and it comes from A God who is described by John as ‘Love’.  At the end Bavinck says;


“There is no morality except what proceeds from faith, but also there is no faith without morality.”

These are just some themes from his first chapter of Ethics.   It is a preparation for his second chapter about humanity being under the power of sin. 

As a religious educator my self I have to say that in a way Christianity has been sold out in schools.  I’m not saying that comparative religion if done correctly is not a bad thing, but it can take on a form of non-belief.  Is that such a good thing for religious education when the subject matter itself is religious?  Confessionalism is supposed to be a bad thing but don’t you think the lack of confessionalism has bred a culture of atheism called secularism and actually led to many families breaking up with dysfunctional children that grow up to become dysfunctional parents themselves?  Other religions don’t like this confessionalism either because it waters down the faith of the various religions.  They would rather that in their own religion they could get to know it better.  From that point of view the Western indoctrination has caused the birth of a lot of dysfunctional human beings walking around looking for meaning.  At least in the old days there were the 10 commandments.  What has replaced it?  The two world wars from an ethical point of view, destroyed the moral fabric of many a Western country.  A lot of men died in those wars and their names are found in many churches; lists and lists of names.

Western society as we know it lost its high moral ground in the killing fields of the world.  It is time for a new society to be built based upon the 10 commandments summed up in loving one’s neighbour and loving God.   At the moment, Parliament in the UK and America is a laughingstock.  A lot of the Christian evangelicals have sold their souls to the dark side by helping to put a liar in the white house with empty promises.  Prime minister Johnson may as well join the circus because he has been a clown for long enough.  His lies about the NHS, his mishandling of Covid 19, his intentional withdrawal from the EU without a deal threatens the piece accord in Northern Ireland.

The base line is what type of society do you want to live in? For me, we have theologians such as Bavinck to turn to.  Politicians need the wisdom of religious leaders.  If they listen a bit closer, then perhaps society will be a little more peaceful.  One of the saddest things for the world from my point of view is the passing of Rabbi Sacks.  He certainly was a moral voice and he was able to steer the ship of morality and help leaders see beyond their noses.  Even if you disagreed with him or in fact hated him, you still had to respect him.  I only have respect and love for this man of God.

Europe, USA, China, the world is in a mess.  I hope and pray we can see beyond the self and see and love whoever our neighbours are.  The first chapter reminds us that we were created in the image of God and every human has a potential, but it is by faith in Christ that this potential can be reached.

The second chapter will take us into the dark waters of sin, but we must go this way if we are to be saved.  The Fall is very dark for the human race indeed, but there is a way to come out of these black waters and have eternal life.  God became a man in Jesus Christ, he died in our place so that it was possible for us not to face the wrath of God.  We all deserved to go to hell, but God is love and he is pure justice. The God of righteousness made a way when there wasn’t a way. We can go through the eye of the needle by faith which is God’s gift to us.  This is possible by putting our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Are you ready to follow me into chapter 2?

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