11 July, 2017

Herman Bavinck: The Man and His Theology

Prof. David J. Engelsma

The following is an expanded text of an address held at a conference of Protestant Re­formed officebearers in Redlands, CA on March 6, 2012. The text was published in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 46, no. 1—November 2012, pp. 3–43. [PDF Version Here]

With the publication of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics in English for the first time, by the Dutch Reformed Translation Society (the fourth and last volume appeared in 2008), there has occurred a kind of Bavinck-renaissance in North America. This would be a good thing, if the Reformed churches and theologians would pay attention to the sound and solid Reformed doctrines in Bavinck’s Dogmatics, allowing these doctrines to critique, correct, and inform the teachings of the churches and theologians.

What has happened, however, is that the sound doctrines in the Reformed Dogmatics have largely been ignored, or deliberately misrepresented, particularly Bavinck’s doctrine of the covenant of grace.

Also, churches, theologians, and educational institutions have seized upon erroneous doctrines in the Reformed Dogmatics, and have emphasized these false teachings, especially the doctrine of a common grace of God.

Similarly, the notable Bavinck conferences have largely ignored the Reformed doctrines of Bavinck, as set forth in the Reformed Dogmatics, and have devoted themselves instead to Bavinck’s views on ecumenicity, psychology, and culture. This was true of the Bavinck conference sponsored by Princeton Seminary soon after the publication in English of the last volume of the Reformed Dogmatics.

The same was true of the Bavinck conference sponsored jointly by Calvin Theological Seminary and the Dutch Reformed Translation Society. Very few, indeed almost none, of the speeches concerned a distinctively Reformed doctrine. Most of the speeches were about church union and the “Christianizing” of culture. This was ironic in view of the fact that the Dutch Reformed Translation Society had just spent more than $100,000 and innumerable hours translating and publishing Bavinck’s Dogmatics.

Bavinck is himself partly responsible for this neglect of his Dogmatics. Alongside his dogmatical work was always a powerful cultural urge. During the last ten years of his life and ministry, this concern for culture became virtually his only interest. And he wrote two tracts propounding a common grace of God that is supposed to enable the church to cooperate with the ungodly in transforming culture.2

But the main explanation of the widespread ignoring of Bavinck’s theology in favor of his cultural writings by the Presbyterian and Reformed institutions and theologians is that these institutions and theologians have little interest in the sound doctrines of the Reformed tradition as they are confessed and defended in Bavinck’s four volumes of dogmatics, whereas these institutions and theologians are obsessed with culture and ecumenicity.

The conference that I am addressing may well be the first Bavinck conference that is devoted, not only chiefly, but also exclusively to the Reformed doctrines of the Reformed Dogmatics and, thus, to the real significance of the monumental Reformed Dogmatics, if not the real significance of Bavinck himself.

At this conference, we are concerned with the theology of Herman Bavinck. Nor is our concern merely academic. We desire to learn and profit from the glorious truths of the Reformed faith as they are confessed, explained, defended, and developed in Bavinck. Where they are present to spoil Reformed theology, the weaknesses and errors must be exposed and rejected. Our purpose is to maintain and develop further the sound doctrines of the Reformed Dogmatics for the benefit, especially, of the Protestant Reformed Churches.

In this first address, I am to introduce “the man and his theology.” I do not intend simply to tell you the outstanding features of the life and personality of Herman Bavinck and then summarize his theology—the content of the Reformed Dogmatics. But I will relate the man and his theology, the life and the dogmatics.

For my knowledge of the man and his life, I rely especially on the three most important biographies, or studies, of Bavinck in Dutch: Dr. Herman Bavinck, by V. Hepp;3 Herman Bavinck als Dogmaticus, by R. H. Bremmer;4 and Herman Bavinck en Zijn Tijdgenoten, by R. H. Bremmer.5

I have also read the only full biography of Bavinck in English, Herman Bavinck, by Ron Gleason.6 Although acclaimed by reviewers, Gleason’s biography has serious weaknesses. It is noticeably anti-Kuyper. It grinds an axe for the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) and their theology. It contains many typos and, annoyingly, the use of wrong words, which sound like the words the author has in mind. For example, Bavinck is said to have “petitioned God with the plaintiff cry.”7 Also, “true religion … preaches a God who is imminent.”8 Yet again, Kuyper “would broker no challenges.”9

The book also contains factual inaccuracies. Although it is virtually impossible for one living in the United States to check the figures in old Dutch records, it seems highly unlikely that the number of delegates from the large Reformed Churches in the Netherlands to the important Groningen 1899 synod was only eight, as Gleason indicates.10

A more serious inaccuracy is doctrinal. Gleason proposes that the doctrine of the close relation between covenant and election was the unique teaching of Abraham Kuyper, that this doctrine is exclusively the implication of a supralapsarian view of the decrees, and that this doctrine results in “an almost hyper-Calvinistic view of justification by faith and salvation.”11 Gleason’s proposal is mistaken in every respect. Not only Kuyper but also Bavinck taught the close relation of covenant and election, indeed that election governs the covenant.12 Bavinck taught this doctrine even though he did not share Kuyper’s supralapsarian view of the decrees. And the doctrine that declines to sever God’s covenant and covenant salvation from God’s gracious will of election is not, and does not lead to, hyper-Calvinism. On the contrary, the doctrine of a close connection between election and covenant is pure, sound Calvinism.

In preparing this lecture, the scope of which is vast, for the conference, I kept before my mind the warning of an event in Bavinck’s life. Hepp relates that at the public ceremony of Bavinck’s installation as professor of theology in the seminary of the Christian Separated Reformed Churches (the churches of the Secession—“Afscheiding”—of 1834) in Kampen, on which occasion the professor would give a fitting address, the man who preceded Bavinck, also a newly appointed professor, spoke for longer than three hours in the severe cold of a January day. Bavinck became so angry at this outrageous behavior that he stormed out of the auditorium during his colleague’s speech, creating a scene. Only the pleas of his old father and some friends prevailed upon Bavinck to give his own address (“The Science of Holy Theology”). But he read the speech as fast as possible, without any inflection in his voice.13

And Bavinck was notoriously irenic.

Since this is not necessarily true of all in my audience, I am determined to keep this speech under three hours.

Important Aspects of Bavinck’s Life

Herman Bavinck was a son of the Secession, the wonderful reformation of the Reformed church in the Netherlands that began in 1834 in Ulrum, Groningen, with the preaching and then the deposition of the Rev. Hendrik de Cock. On his departure from Kampen for the Free University in Amsterdam in 1903, Bavinck said of himself, “Ik ben een kind der scheiding en dat hoop ik te blijven” (“I am a child of the Secession and I hope to remain that”).14

In the providence of God, that Bavinck was both physically and spiritually a son of the Secession accounts for much that is sound in Bavinck’s theology, particularly his doctrine of the covenant of grace, as well as for the godliness and warmth of his Reformed Dogmatics.

Herman Bavinck was born in 1854, twenty years after the beginning of the Secession and the year that the churches of the Secession—the Christian Seceded Reformed Churches—opened their seminary in Kampen, where Bavinck would later teach for many years.

His father, Jan, was a pious, humble man, who had been converted in 1840 by a disciple of de Cock. The preacher by whom Jan Bavinck had been converted was imprisoned some thirty times by the Dutch authorities for preaching the gospel recovered by the Secession. In this charged theological and ecclesiastical climate was Herman Bavinck reared. Herman Bavinck’s father was himself a minister in the Secession churches, the first to receive any kind of a formal seminary training.

When Herman Bavinck was installed as professor in the Secession seminary in Kampen, in January, 1883, the faculty included Helenius de Cock, Anthony Brummelkamp, and Simon Van Velzen. The first was the son of the renowned Hendrik de Cock, the human founder of the Secession churches, and the last two were illustrious “fathers of the Secession.”

Bavinck was born and reared at the very heart of the then still vibrant and powerful tradition of the Secession. The theology and spirit of the Secession were the air he breathed. By the “spirit” of the Secession is meant its piety, its wholehearted commitment to the Reformed confessions and the teachings of John Calvin, and its repudiation of the theological modernism that Hendrik de Cock had so sharply condemned.

This son of the Secession, nevertheless, was attracted to the world. The attraction was not moral, as though Bavinck found its godless life pleasing, much less as though he lived immorally himself. Not only was Bavinck’s personal life holy, but he also wrote a treatise excoriating the behavior of European society in his time.15 Bremmer informs us that it was a “thorn in the eye” to Bavinck that some of the members of the Secession churches lived careless, wicked lives in contradiction of their confession.16

But Bavinck was attracted to the world’s learning: the wisdom of the educated thinkers of his own and past times; the scientific theories, for example the evolutionary theory of his contemporary Charles Darwin; even, in certain respects, the unbelieving theological wisdom of modernist theologians.

Bavinck was impressed with this worldly wisdom. He was open to it. He thought that the Reformed faith can, and should be, accommodated to it. He supposed that Reformed theology can, and should, influence the world’s wisdom.

This is why some have spoken of “two Bavincks.” Hepp denies that this is an accurate description of Bavinck, although he recognizes the tension, or “duality,” in Bavinck.

However one describes this “duality” in Bavinck’s soul, the conflict between the thinking of the son of the Secession and the thinking that found the wisdom of the world both true and attractive had a harmful effect on Bavinck’s theology, as we will see.

That which Bavinck found appealing in the world’s thinking, he explained by his (and Kuyper’s) theory of common grace.

Bavinck showed this attraction to the world’s wisdom, and acted on it, already as a young man. Preparing for the ministry in the Secession churches, after only one year of training in the Secession seminary in Kampen, he decided to complete his seminary training in the thoroughly modernist seminary of the state Reformed church (from which his churches had seceded, as from a false church, some forty years earlier). The professors at Leiden were unbelievers, and all of the Netherlands knew it. They denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus, despised the Calvinistic doctrines of grace dear to the heart of the Secession, and were notorious higher critics of holy Scripture. Among others of the same stripe were Scholten, Kuenen, and Rauwenhoff.

Bavinck’s decision to complete his seminary training in Leiden, rather than in Kampen, was as if an aspirant to the ministry in the Protestant Reformed Churches would reject the Protestant Reformed Seminary, not even for Calvin Theological Seminary, but for the University of Chicago Divinity School and the teaching of a Paul Tillich.

Why he chose Leiden, Bavinck himself explained. He judged the theological instruction at the small Secession seminary to be inferior and unsatisfactory (and it did leave much to be desired, especially in the important area of dogmatics) and “cherished a strong desire to further my study in Leiden and to learn the modern theology at first-hand.”17

The Christian Reformed translator of Bavinck’s Magnalia Dei, literally, The Wonderful Works of God, but published in English translation as Our Reasonable Faith, extols the benefits of Bavinck’s theological education at Leiden.

[The training at Leiden] served him [Bavinck] well. The idea of solid theological scholarship for orthodox Reformed Christianity stood high in his life throughout his career. And his intimate acquaintance with the newer religious thought both deepened his Calvinist convictions and fitted him for a profession of theology realistically addressed to the problems of the time.18

Bavinck himself spoke more soberly of the effects upon him of that modernist training for the ministry of the gospel: “Leiden … has often made me very poor, has deprived me of … much that I now, in a later time, have learned to appreciate as indispensable for my own spiritual life, especially when I must make sermons.” As the remark that he added makes plain, Bavinck referred to the modernist seminary’s casting doubt on the inspiration of Scripture: “[Leiden’s effect on its students is that] their childlike trust in the word of the apostles [that is, Holy Scripture] is shaken.”19

Severe struggle with doubt concerning Scripture was the effect of his Leiden training upon Bavinck. During the brief pastorate in Franeker with which he began his ministerial career, Bavinck confided to a friend that he struggled with doubt about Scripture. Outwardly, to the congregation, he had to be the confident “dominee”; inwardly, he was wrestling with doubt.

This struggle with doubt concerning Scripture persisted throughout his ministry. To this struggle, Hepp refers when he speaks of a “duality in his [Bavinck’s] spiritual existence.”20 In fact, doubt concerning Scripture increased in Bavinck’s old age. In the last phase of his ministry, as professor at the Free University in Amsterdam, Bavinck nearly succumbed to sheer skepticism. Hepp, who was a student and friend of Bavinck, records that Bavinck said to him on one occasion toward the end of his life, “Daily, I become more deeply impressed with the awful relativity of all our knowledge.”21

Therefore, it is “no wonder,” as Bremmer puts it, that Bavinck “at the synod of Leeuwarden (1920) pleaded that the Reformed Churches should make the articles of the confession [the reference is to the Belgic Confession, Articles 2-7] concerning Holy Scripture the object of closer study.”22

This doubt concerning Scripture likely explains the curious fact that in none of his writings during the last ten years of his ministry did Bavinck explain Scripture, or even work with Scripture.

As I will demonstrate later, Bavinck’s doubt concerning Scripture found its way into his treatment of Scripture in the Reformed Dogmatics and, from there, as well undoubtedly as from his instruction of the seminarians in the Free University, into the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. From the influential Dutch Reformed Churches, this doubt concerning Scripture made its way to Reformed churches throughout the world.

Brummelkamp knew whereof he spoke when he warned Bavinck’s father that in permitting the young Bavinck to train for the ministry at Leiden, “you entrust your son to the lions’ den.”23

Bavinck spent six years at Leiden (1874-1880). He obtained the doctorate in 1880, the first of the ministers in the Secession churches to do so. During these years he became especially close to the Old Testament professor, the higher critic Abraham Kuenen. Significantly, Bavinck had a picture of Kuenen hanging in his study throughout his ministry. Also during the Leiden years, Bavinck formed a very close friendship with a fellow student with the odd name Snouck Hurgrondje. Although Snouck was, and remained, a thorough-going modernist, Bavinck maintained intimate friendship with Snouck as long as Bavinck lived.

And it says something, not only about Bavinck’s ability, but also about his indecisiveness regarding modernism that some nine years after he left Leiden, the seminary department of the University of Leiden considered appointing Bavinck as successor to the unbelieving Rauwenhoff. At the time, Bavinck and others supposed that Bavinck was on the “short list” of nominees.24

No account of Bavinck’s training at Leiden would be complete that omits the incident at his examination by the Secession churches before Bavinck could be accepted as a candidate for the ministry in these churches. An old Secession preacher, whose name lives in honor for his deed on that occasion—J. F. Bulens van Varsseveld—required that Bavinck preach a sermon on the first part of Matthew 15:14: “Let them alone: they be blind leaders.” Recognizing full well that Bulens had Bavinck’s Leiden professors in view with his choice of the text, Bavinck was furious. At first, Bavinck refused the assignment. His father and his friends prevailed on him to change his mind. But Bavinck’s opening words—the introduction to the sermon—were: “Why this text has been assigned exactly to me is not difficult to figure out.”25

The explanation of Bavinck’s seeking theological education at Leiden is what the Germans call “Kulturtrieb,” a strong desire for culture. This was a powerful force in Bavinck all his life. “The Kulturtrieb, the urge for further cultural adaptation to his time, permeated him.”26 This cultural urge helps to explain, although it does not justify, Bavinck’s enthusiasm for the notion of a common grace of God.

Bavinck’s active ministry, first in the Christian Seceded Reformed Churches, until 1892, when these churches united with the Doleantie Churches of Abraham Kuyper, and thereafter in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN), until Bavinck’s death in 1921, consisted of one brief pastorate and of two long stints in two seminaries, the Theological School of the Secession Churches at Kampen and the Free University of Amsterdam.

Bavinck began his ministry with a very brief pastorate of less than two years in Franeker, in the glorious province of Friesland. Bavinck was installed as pastor early in 1881, not long after graduating from Leiden. By all accounts, Bavinck was a good preacher, although he did not care much for the pastoral side of the ministry, for example teaching catechism to the children.

What is noteworthy about this pastorate, in addition to its brevity and Bavinck’s struggle with doubt concerning Scripture, especially when preparing sermons, is that shortly before Bavinck became its pastor the Franeker congregation had had the Rev. K. J. Pieters as minister, from 1851-1875. Pieters was the Secession minister who, with a colleague, J. R. Kreulen, introduced into the churches of the Secession the novel and heretical doctrine of a conditional covenant with all the baptized children alike. Pieters and Kreulen denied that the covenant and its salvation are governed by election. By this teaching, the two ministers caused a storm of controversy both in Pieters’ congregation in Franeker and in the denomination. Pieters and Kreulen publicized their covenant doctrine in the book De Kinderdoop, which appeared in 1861.27

In addition, Pieters was a drunk. Time and again, he was admonished by his consistory, and time and again he fell into public drunkenness. On one occasion he admitted to the elders that he made “een al te vrij gebruik van spiritus” (English translation: “an all too free use of alcoholic spirits”). Since Reformed elders in those days got to the very bottom of matters, we even know the brand of spirits of which the Rev. Pieters made too free a use: “Schiedammer,” a gin.28 Finally the consistory deposed Pieters, whereupon he split the congregation and continued for a time with an independent ministry.

Significantly, Bavinck criticized his predecessor for not preaching according to the creeds and as being, in fact, in disagreement with the creeds. In a letter to his friend Snouck, Bavinck wrote: “For a number of years, there was here [in Franeker] a preacher, who definitely was an exception in our entire church. Especially sharp of intellect, he did not agree with our confession, ignored it, and preached as he pleased.”29 This was Bavinck’s judgment on the covenant doctrine of Pieters and Kreulen and, therefore, on the covenant doctrine of the Reformed Churches (Liberated), which deliberately adopted the doctrine of the covenant of Pieters and Kreulen.

When Bavinck came to write that section of his Dogmatics that deals with covenant and election, he was familiar with the doctrine of Pieters and Kreulen. Bavinck rejected that doctrine, teaching, to the contrary, that election governs the covenant, particularly regarding the baptized children of the godly.

In 1882, the synod of the Secession Churches appointed Bavinck to be professor at the Theological School in Kampen. Bavinck was only twenty-eight. He taught mainly dogmatics at the seminary for almost twenty years, until 1902. During his Kampen years, his colleagues on the faculty were Helenius de Cock, Van Velzen, and Brummelkamp. These were the years when he read widely, thought deeply, and wrote his magnum opus, the four volumes of the Reformed Dogmatics. The last volume appeared in 1901.

Although at first suspicious of the proposed union of the Secession Churches with Kuyper’s Doleantie Churches, because of his fear of the “supremacy of Dr. Kuyper,”30 Bavinck became an enthusiastic promoter of the union, and was influential in bringing the union to fruition.

Three times while at Kampen, Bavinck received an appointment to teach at the Free University. Kuyper and the other powers at the Free University recognized Bavinck’s theological abilities and wanted him on the faculty. Twice, Bavinck declined the appointment, in favor of the seminary of the Secession Churches.

Also during his years at Kampen, Bavinck married Johanna Adriana Schippers, in 1891, when Bavinck was a mature thirty-seven and his wife, a young twenty-three. They had one child, a daughter.

In 1902, Bavinck accepted the appointment to teach dogmatics at the Free University, replacing Abraham Kuyper himself, who had gone on to the lower and lesser position of prime minister of the Netherlands. Bavinck was forty-eight. There, strangely, Bavinck lost his zeal for theology, except for teaching his courses. He sold his extensive theological library, because, as he said, “I will not be needing those books any longer.”

After 1911, Bavinck never wrote another theological book, although writing much in other fields, especially psychology and education. Openly, he expressed the wish to be able to give up his professorship in theology in order to devote the rest of his life to “study, in which psychology would be on the foreground.”31

The last years of Bavinck’s life and ministry also marked a distinct, noticeable change in Bavinck’s spiritual and psychological attitude. He was gloomy, somber, and seemingly depressed. Hepp, who knew Bavinck personally and well, describes his teacher and friend this way: “He was tormented with problems.” The problems, according to Hepp, were three: the future [of European society; Bavinck died soon after the end of WW I]; the problem of Scripture [in the thinking of Bavinck]; and the problem of culture.32 Concerning the last, the problem of culture, culture must not only torment, but also drive to despair everyone who supposes that worldly culture can be and should be “Christianized.”

Bavinck died in 1921, at the age of sixty-seven. Shortly before his death, knowing that death was imminent, he said, “Now my scholarship avails me nothing, nor can my dogmatics: it is only my faith can save me.”33

Before I survey the strengths and weaknesses of Bavinck’s theology, I offer the following observations and analyses of various aspects of Bavinck’s life.

First, in the providence of God, specifically with regard to the maintenance and development of the truth, Bavinck stood in the main stream of the Protestant and Reformed tradition: the Netherlands of Dordt; the glorious Secession; and the recovery and bold confession of Reformed orthodoxy by Abraham Kuyper.

Second, Bavinck was a diligent, extremely well-read, brilliant Reformed theologian. Especially during his years at Kampen, he read widely, thought deeply, and wrote industriously. Apart from all his other books, and there are a number of other fine works, particularly the little work on faith’s certainty,34 the Reformed Dogmatics is a monumental achievement. Bavinck was a theologian’s theologian.

Third, Bavinck links the Protestant Reformed Churches with the theology of the Secession in the Netherlands of 1834, especially its covenant doctrine, and with all that is good in the Reformed tradition going back to Calvin. Bavinck does this both with regard to time and with regard to the content of Reformed theology. With regard to time, Bavinck, who died only three years before the Christian Reformed Church expelled Herman Hoeksema, in 1924, was contemporary with most of the “fathers of the Secession.” With regard to the content of Reformed theology, in most of the important truths of the faith, the Protestant Reformed Churches confess and preach the Reformed faith as systematized and presented by Herman Bavinck in his Reformed Dogmatics. There is no doubt in my mind that Hoeksema was strongly influenced by the dogmatics of Bavinck.

Fourth, although Bavinck is widely viewed as “irenic,” that is, a lover of peace (which was not always a virtue, for the irenic Bavinck characteristically refused sharply to criticize and flatly to condemn heresy, always inclined to find some good in even the most egregious of heretics, for example, the pantheist, Schleiermacher, and the “ethical theologian,” Daniel Chantipie de la Saussaye), he—Bavinck—was also extremely sensitive to criticism, and prone to bitterness when he was criticized, or when a church decision did not go his way.

According to Hepp, the defeat at the synod of 1889 of Bavinck’s proposal concerning the union of the two seminaries, a bone of contention in the denomination formed by the uniting of the Secession Churches and the Doleantie Churches, was the cause of a radical change in Bavinck’s attitude and demeanor. He left the synod at once, refusing to attend the rest of the sessions. For some time thereafter, he would not sing at church, and showed himself generally as a malcontent.35

This response of Bavinck to the bitter pill he had to swallow at synod is by no means the most important aspect of Bavinck’s life, but it is a warning especially to ministers. Bavinck’s bitterness hindered his work in the churches. The weakness brings home to us the warning of Hebrews 12:15, “Looking diligently lest … any root of bitterness springing up trouble you.” Bitterness, for which there are abundant occasions in the ministry, as in the life of all the saints, corrodes the minister’s own godliness, spoils the work he does, and prevents a great deal of work that he might otherwise perform for the welfare of the church and the glory of Jesus Christ. The secret, of course, is to forget men and self, and to mind only Jesus Christ.

With this, I turn to the theology of Bavinck, and, first of all, to the strength and worth of his theology.

The Strength and Worth of the Theology of Bavinck

The Reformed dogmatics of Bavinck—the four volumes of the Reformed Dogmatics—is a worthy, indeed praiseworthy, work of Reformed theology. It sets forth the doctrines of the Reformed faith in a thorough, comprehensive, systematic, and generally sound way. It is nothing less than monumental.

These are some of the strengths and virtues of the Reformed Dogmatics. First, the Reformed Dogmatics presents, in the systematic form of a carefully worked out and united body of theology, the wealth of the Reformed faith as this faith was confessed and developed from John Calvin to the beginning of the twentieth century. Special attention is given to the development of the Reformed faith in the Netherlands, which was, especially from the time of the Synod of Dordt, the main stream in which the Reformed tradition flowed.

Second, the Reformed Dogmatics is based on, and in harmony with, the Reformed creeds. I am not claiming that Bavinck’s dogmatics never deviates from the creeds, as though it is above criticism. It does deviate, and, in certain respects, grievously. But I am saying that Bavinck labored, consciously and with determination, in the conviction that the Reformed creeds embody the truth of Scripture and that they are authoritative for Reformed theology. This accounts for the overall soundness and, therefore, the real and lasting worth of the Reformed Dogmatics.

Third, the scope and breadth of the Reformed Dogmatics are vast, helpfully vast. Here, Bavinck’s Spirit-given brilliance as a theologian and Spirit-worked diligence at his dogmatical labors are evident. The Reformed Dogmatics gives a virtually complete history of dogma, as well as a sketch of church history. It takes into account, throughout the four volumes, the teachings of the fathers of the early church, as well as the ecumenical creeds. It interacts with all the church denominations—Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and others, as well as with the cults. It surveys the teachings of the reformers, not only Calvin but also Luther, Bucer, Vermigli, and others.

It engages and analyzes the philosophers who have posed a threat to the church throughout the ages, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and others.

It critiques the pagan religions, for example Buddhism.

There is no heretic who escapes scrutiny, from Montanus, Arius, and Pelagius, to Pighius, Arminius, Amyraut, and Schleiermacher. Always, Bavinck exposes the fundamental error and its contradiction of the truth in a few, clear sentences. There is special emphasis on the heretics and heresies threatening the Reformed churches in Bavinck’s own time: modernism; the “mediating theology”; the “ethical theology”; and “Methodism” (we would say, “fundamentalism and revivalism”).

Fourth, Bavinck wrote the Reformed Dogmatics convinced that the truths of Holy Scripture—the content of the Reformed Dogmatics—are non-contradictory. And the reason is that there is no contradiction in the mind of God. Bavinck affirms this axiomatic truth in his prolegomena:

For if the knowledge of God has been revealed by himself in his Word, it cannot contain contradictory elements or be in conflict with what is known of God from nature and history. God’s thoughts cannot be opposed to one another and thus necessarily form an organic unity. The imperative task of the dogmatician is to think God’s thoughts after him and to trace their unity … That such a unity exists in the knowledge of God contained in revelation is not open to doubt; to refuse to acknowledge it would be to fall into skepticism, into a denial of the unity of God.36

Again, I am not contending that there are no contradictions in the Reformed Dogmatics, but that Bavinck was not a paradoxical theologian, a Dutch Karl Barth.

The conviction that the revelation of Scripture, as summarized in the Reformed creeds, is non-contradictory safeguarded Bavinck’s confession of salvation by sovereign grace in many crucially important places in the Reformed Dogmatics. Bavinck did not think himself at liberty to contradict the truth that the grace of God in Jesus Christ is particular and efficacious, having its source as it does in an eternal decree of election, accompanied by a decree of reprobation, with appeal to “paradox,” that is, in reality, sheer contradiction.

Whereas the foregoing is more general concerning the strength and worth of Bavinck’s dogmatics, what follows is more specific.

First, the Reformed Dogmatics is biblical. With appeal to Article 5 of the Belgic Confession, Bavinck asserted that “Scripture is the sole foundation (principium unicum) of church and theology.”37 Bavinck defined dogmatics “as the truth of Scripture, absorbed and reproduced by the thinking consciousness of the Christian theologian.”38 Every doctrine, therefore, is derived from Scripture. The Reformed Dogmatics is the product of exegesis. This is not to say that there are lengthy sections consisting of the interpretation of texts. Bavinck’s method, rather, is usually to state a doctrine in a few sentences, or paragraphs, and then to list the biblical passages from which he has drawn the doctrine.

The strengths and benefits of the Reformed Dogmatics, due to its biblical nature, are great. It is orthodox. It is fresh and lively. Bavinck contends for such a dogmatics in the prolegomena: “Dogmatics is not a dull and arid science.”39 Still another strength and benefit of Bavinck’s biblical dogmatics is that there is development of dogma.

In close connection with its avowed biblical character, the Reformed Dogmatics is God-centered. Bavinck set himself the task of producing a God-centered dogmatics with the whole of the massive Reformed Dogmatics from the outset. All of his dogmatics had to be the knowledge of God in systematic form. “The aim of theology, after all, can be no other than that the rational creature know God and, knowing him, glorify God (Prov. 16:4; Rom. 11.36; I Cor. 8:6; Col. 3:7).”40 The Reformed Dogmatics is, according to Bavinck’s purpose, “a theodicy, a doxology to all God’s virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a ‘glory to God in the highest’ (Luke 2:14).”41

Because the Reformed Dogmatics is biblical and God-centered, it is also warm and practical. By design, Bavinck wove ethics into the dogmatics. No doubt his heritage as a child of the Secession contributed to the piety, the godliness, of the presentation of Reformed dogmatics. Bavinck was no pietist. He condemned the theology of doubt of the Puritans and their spiritual descendants, the men and women of the Nadere Reformatie, in the Reformed churches.42 But he was pious, as every genuinely Reformed Christian man, woman, and child is pious. Deliberately Bavinck allowed the godliness of experience and practice that is inherent in the Reformed doctrines to come out in his exposition of the doctrines. Relating dogmatics and ethics thus closely was also born of Bavinck’s theological conviction.

Theological ethics … is totally rooted in dogmatics … Dogmatics is the system of the knowledge of God; ethics is that of the service of God. The two disciplines, far from facing each other as two independent entities, together form a single system; they are related members of a single organism.43

Third, the Reformed Dogmatics affirms, explains, and vigorously defends the sovereignty of the grace of God in Jesus Christ from beginning—predestination in the eternal counsel—to end—the preservation of the elect, believing sinner unto eternal life and glory. This is the heart of the gospel. It is also the heart of every truly Reformed dogmatics. Faithfulness to the truth of sovereign grace is the mark of a standing or falling theology.

Bavinck taught God’s sovereignty both in election and in reprobation, affirming unconditional predestination against all forms of conditionality. Explicitly, he condemned both Arminius and Amyraut. Bavinck exposed the fundamental error of Arminius as the doctrine of resistible grace: “[For Arminius] grace was still always considered resistible.” The monstrous effect of Arminius’ theology was (and still is) that it makes “human beings the final arbiters of their own destiny.” The specific Arminian teachings that necessarily result in this God-dishonoring effect are the “objection to the … certain foreknowledge of God with regard to those who would or would not believe, plus the universal will of God to save all humans, Christ’s universal atonement, and the universal offer of the sufficient means of grace.”44

Of Amyraut, Bavinck judges that he and the “school at Saumur in France” supported the Arminian heresy that Dordt had condemned. Bavinck notes that Amyraut taught two decrees of election. The first is a universal, conditional decree, that is, a decree of God to save all humans on condition that they will believe. The second is particular and absolute, that is, a decree of God to give some humans the gift of faith and to save them. Says Bavinck, correctly, “Of course, if the first (universal) decree meant anything at all, it would completely overshadow the second.”45

Bavinck’s judgment of Amyraut applies as well to the theology of the Federal Vision today, as to the doctrine of a conditional covenant whence this theology springs. The conditional will of God to save all baptized members of the visible church (a universal, conditional election, of sorts) completely overshadows any particular decree of election to which the advocates of a conditional covenant of grace with all the baptized may pay lip service.

In a sixty-page treatment of the divine counsel, Bavinck contends for the truth that “all the decrees of God [not only the decree of predestination] are based on his absolute sovereignty.”46

Charging that the doctrine of universal atonement separates Christ from election and the covenant,47 Bavinck affirms, in the face of all the arguments raised against it, including the favorite texts of the defenders of universal atonement, definite, limited atonement. “It was God’s will and intent that Christ make His sacrifice … only for the sins of those whom the Father had given him.”48 “The acquisition and application of salvation are inseparably connected … [As] the intercession is particular … so is the sacrifice.”49 Bavinck somewhat weakens this otherwise forceful confession by finding certain non-saving “benefits” of the cross for the reprobate.50

The work of salvation by the Holy Spirit, which in Bavinck’s theology begins with the internal call, is likewise wholly and exclusively the gift of grace.51 Grace is not only undeserved and unconditional, but also “efficacious” and “irresistible.”52

In a beautiful, heart-warming, and God-glorifying section, Bavinck confesses the perseverance of saints, not as “the activity of the human person but a gift from God.” Perseverance is rooted in election, founded on the atonement, the sure effect of almighty grace, and due, ultimately, to the faithfulness of God in the covenant of grace.”53

In defense of perseverance against those who teach the falling away of men and women to whom God has sworn His covenant promise and in whom God has begun the work of salvation, Bavinck declares that the Bible, indeed the Old Testament, “clearly states that the covenant of grace does not depend on the obedience of human beings. It does indeed carry with it the obligation to walk in the way of the covenant but that covenant itself rests solely in God’s compassion ... God cannot and may not break his covenant.”54

For Bavinck, the explanation of the perishing of many Israelites in the Old Testament, as of the perishing of some baptized children of believing parents in the New Testament, is that given by the apostle Paul in Romans 9:6, 7 and by the apostle John in I John 2:19: “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel (Rom. 9-11). Similarly, John testifies of those who fell away: they were not of us or else they would have continued with us (I John 2:19)”55

Those Reformed churches that make this confession at the beginning of the twenty-first century are castigated, and banished from the Reformed community, as “hyper-Calvinists.”

Demonstrating the “balance” of himself as a dogmatician and of his dogmatics, which is characteristic of the Reformed faith, Bavinck admonishes that “certainty” of perseverance by no means rules out “admonitions and threats,” which are “the way in which God himself confirms his promise and gift [of perseverance] through believers. They are the means by which perseverance in life is realized.” He adds: “After all, perseverance is also not coercive but, as a gift of God, impacts humans in a spiritual manner.”56

All of this gracious work of salvation, from the call and regeneration to preservation, has its source in God’s covenant of grace, and the covenant of grace is grounded in eternal election.

All the benefits that Christ acquired and distributes to his church are benefits of the covenant of grace. This covenant, though first revealed in the gospel in time, has its foundation in eternity: it is grounded in the good pleasure of God, the counsel of God … It is of the greatest importance … to hold onto the Reformed idea that all the benefits of the covenant of grace are firmly established in eternity. It is God’s electing love, more specifically, it is the Father’s good pleasure, out of which all these benefits flow to the church.57

With specific reference to perseverance, but with application to all the work of salvation, Bavinck declares that the covenant of grace, from which salvation flows, “does not depend on the obedience of human beings … but solely in God’s compassion … God cannot and may not break his covenant … the covenant of grace is … unbreakable like a marriage.”58

In the context of this affirmation of the indissolubility of the covenant on account of the faithfulness of God, Bavinck states that the covenant is established and maintained by God’s word and that this word “in its totality is one immensely rich promise to the heirs of the kingdom.”59

Since I take up the subject of Bavinck’s doctrine of the covenant in a separate address at this conference, I say no more about this essential aspect of the truth of salvation by sovereign grace in Bavinck at this time.

One other strength of Bavinck’s theology is its development of dogma. Development of the understanding of the truth was the result, not only of Bavinck’s deep and comprehensive grasp of the whole of the body of the Reformed faith, involving the perception of the relation of all the individual doctrines to each other, but also of Bavinck’s biblical method of dogmatizing. Deriving all of the doctrines of the Reformed faith from Scripture, as it were anew in his own thinking, Bavinck was led, by the Spirit of truth, to correct faulty formulations of doctrine in the Reformed tradition, to improve inadequate presentations of certain doctrines, and to bring the understanding of the truth to a higher level—a level more in accord with the whole of biblical revelation than previous understanding.

One such development was Bavinck’s insight into the doctrine of predestination, with specific reference to the longstanding, brotherly debate concerning supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. Bavinck pointed out both the virtues and the defects of each theory concerning the order of the decrees of God and proposed a new conception that incorporates the virtues of both, while shedding their defects. This conception makes the election of Jesus Christ first in the counsel of God, as the goal of God triune concerning the revelation of His glory.

Also, this conception avoids the error of both the traditional supralapsarian view and the traditional infralapsarian view of placing “all things that are antecedent to the ultimate goal as means in subordinate relation also to each other.”60 What Bavinck meant by this, he indicated when he added, in explanation, that “both election and reprobation presuppose sin and are acts of mercy and justice,” with appeal to Romans 9:15 and Ephesians 1:4.61

Nevertherless, amidst the gold of the Reformed Dogmatics is dung. Much of the dung consists of the doctrine of a purported common grace of God, a doctrine that reappears throughout the four volumes of the Reformed Dogmatics, in a number of doctrinal contexts. Because this error in Bavinck is the subject of one of the addresses at this conference, I can be brief in treating of the weaknesses of the Reformed Dogmatics.

Weaknesses in Bavinck’s Dogmatics

I point out two grievous errors in the theology of Bavinck, both of which have had disastrous consequences, not only for Reformed doctrine but also for Reformed churches that have allowed themselves to be influenced by the errors.

The first, pervasive error is Bavinck’s theological conviction that there is something good, something true, in virtually all the philosophies, all the scientific theories, and all the cultural proposals of the ungodly, antichristian, and unbelieving movers and shakers of the world outside of Jesus Christ. Under this conviction, Bavinck invariably accommodated Reformed theology to these philosophies, scientific theories, and cultural works. He could never, sharply and absolutely, condemn the ungodly theories of even the grossest of heretics and fiercest of avowed foes of the Christian religion, whether Schleiermacher or Darwin.

Abraham Kuyper publicly criticized Bavinck for this weakness, on two occasions. The first occasion was Bavinck’s inaugural address when he was installed as professor in the seminary at Kampen. Although critical of the Protestant heretic, Bavinck also spoke well of Friedrich Schleiermacher: “It is to us a pleasant duty, thankfully to recognize all the good that has come to theology by this original thinker.”62 Kuyper praised Bavinck’s address—“the Science of Holy Theology”—highly, in his magazine, De Heraut.

Almost never has a piece [of writing] come into our hands that we have read, from beginning to end, with such almost wholehearted agreement as the inaugural address of Dr. Bavinck on the Science of Holy Theology. This is truly Reformed scientific theology … It was refreshing to read this. Here is fidelity to Dordt, which will not deviate from Dordt, but at the same time the spirit of Dordt, which does not proscribe the development of theology.63

But Kuyper objected to Bavinck’s praise of Schleiermacher, in print. Bavinck’s praise of Schleiermacher, wrote Kuyper to the Reformed community in the Netherlands, betrayed Bavinck’s lack of “awareness of the unspeakable evil, that this philosopher has inflicted on the church of Christ.”64

The second occasion of Kuyper’s public criticism of Bavinck for failing to condemn heretics and their heresies was Bavinck’s publication of a book on the ethical theologian, Daniel Chantipie de la Saussaye.65 In this case, Bavinck’s fault was not that he praised Saussaye, but rather that he failed sharply and vehemently to condemn his heresy. Although Bavinck himself concluded that Saussaye’s teaching was “philosophy, rather than Christian truth, in conflict with Scripture, and tinged with pantheism,” Bavinck limited his criticism, if criticism it can be called, to the astounding statement that there were “elements” in Saussaye’s theology that “restrained [Bavinck] from complete agreement.”66

Kuyper was obviously indignant.

This places us before the question: Is this permissible? If you conclude, that someone’s theology conflicts with the Holy Scripture; offers philosophy rather than Christian truth; leads to pantheism; and indeed weakens the dividing line between Creator and creature, may you then so favorably judge of such a thoroughly dangerous theology, which has already seduced scores and hundreds of the best [professing Christians in the Netherlands], as you do when you speak [merely] of not completely agreeing? No matter how people may criticize us for it, we emphatically say: No!67

Kuyper wanted a bold, severe, radical condemnation of these two theologians, as well as of all others who corrupted the gospel, as an urgent warning to the members of the Reformed churches who were tempted by the false teachings. Kuyper was far more antithetical in this important regard than was Bavinck.

These criticisms irritated Bavinck sorely. If Kuyper thought that he could change Bavinck by his public criticism, as Hepp supposes was the case, Kuyper “was completely mistaken. Nothing irked Bavinck more than public criticism.”68 From the moment of Kuyper’s criticism of Bavinck in the matter of de la Saussaye “dates the less friendly expressions about Kuyper [by Bavinck].”69

This hesitation of Bavinck completely to denounce a philosopher or heretic and his false teaching and his readiness to find something true and good in philosophy or in an aberrant theology are by no means due merely to his peace-loving personality as his uncritical supporters contend.

Rather, Bavinck deliberately adopted a “neo-Thomist philosophy” as a philosophical guide for his theology. “Thomist” refers to the outstanding philosopher/theologian of the Roman Catholic Church, Thomas Aquinas. “Neo-Thomist” philosophy is a nineteenth century form of the Roman Catholic doctrine that, after the fall, there is still something good, something godly, in the unregenerated, so that Christianity can cooperate with the unbelieving thinkers, and even build on what is true and good in their works, in order to form a good, godly, even Christian culture and society.

According to Roman Catholic theology, the fall stripped man of the “supernatural” gifts with which the Creator endowed man in the beginning—saving knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness—but left man with the “natural” gifts of reason and will, which, although somewhat weakened by the fall, are still capable of good and true thinking and desiring. The grace of the gospel, therefore, does not redeem and renew the totally depraved mind and will of the fallen sinner, but merely completes, or “perfects,” the fundamental goodness of the mind and will. Grace builds on, adds to, and brings to completion, “nature.” Indeed, in Roman Catholic theology, grace depends on nature: the natural will of the sinner performing the conditions required by grace.

Here, Bavinck’s (and Kuyper’s) theory of common grace comes into play. Common grace, according to its proponents, accounts for much that is true and good in the theories of the world’s great thinkers, altogether apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ, so that Christian thought may, and must, take the world’s thinking about God, man, and creation seriously and even accommodate itself to this worldly thinking. The theory of common grace in Reformed circles is essentially the same as the philosophy that reigns in the Roman Catholic Church. This goes far to explain the actual cooperation of Reformed theologians who are committed to the theory of common grace with Roman Catholic thinkers and organizations.

R. H. Bremmer, a sympathetic biographer of Bavinck, writes that “all Bavinck-commentators are in agreement that the neo-Thomistic philosophy exercised great influence on [Bavinck].”70 Indeed, Bavinck “saw in the doctrine of the ideas, as Christianized by Thomas, the form in which the Christian faith could enrich and Christianize the culture of his own time.”71

Basic to Bavinck’s commitment to fundamental Roman Catholic thinking and to his readiness to accommodate Reformed theology at crucial points to ungodly but learned theories was Bavinck’s deep concern, strong desire, and firm resolution to Christianize European culture. The Christianizing of culture was one of the main purposes of Bavinck’s ministry. Hepp writes that Bavinck desired a synthesis of Christendom and culture: “He cherished the hope of another synthesis, namely that between Christendom and culture.”72 This was also the ambition of Bavinck’s colleague, Abraham Kuyper. One of the great projects of Kuyper’s life was the “re-Christianizing of the Western European world of culture.”73

When Bremmer sums up Bavinck’s life and ministry at the end of his study, the heading is “Cultuur en Evangelie” (“Culture and Gospel”).74 Concern for culture, specifically the concern to relate the gospel to the prevailing culture, and thus to “Christianize” the culture, had equal billing with the gospel in the ministry of Herman Bavinck. Nowhere does Jesus Christ charge His church with such a cultural mandate: “Preach and confess the gospel, in order to ‘Christianize’ the thinking, the arts and science, and the way of the life of the ungodly world.”

According to Bavinck’s contemporary, the theological modernist Roessingh, “the question of the position of Christendom in this world of culture … was important above all [to Bavinck].”75 The sympathetic Bremmer regards the fascination of Bavinck with the culture of his time more favorably, but indicates, similarly, the deep, deliberate concern of Bavinck with culture in the writing of his dogmatics: “The great worth of his [Bavinck’s] dogmatics will undoubtedly remain, that we can read from it, how a reformational [Dutch: “reformatorisch”] theologian toward the end of the nineteenth century approximated the culture-issues of his time with the gospel.” So much is Bavinck’s dogmatics concerned with the culture of the day that Bremmer, thinking to praise it highly, calls it “a cultural monument of the first order.”76

No wonder, then, that one of the three factors contributing to Bavinck’s deep gloom, bordering on depression, at the end of his life was the “culture problem.”77 Europe, during and immediately after WW I, gave no evidence of any likelihood of the Christianizing of culture. It is doubtful that the little country of the Netherlands at that time gave any evidence of being Christianized, despite the efforts, including the prime ministership, of Abraham Kuyper.

And it was this grievous error of both Bavinck and Kuyper that occasioned the charge by their modernist contemporaries already in their own time, that “neo-Calvinism” (the common grace, culture-influencing and culture-accommodating theology of Kuyper and Bavinck and their disciples) was in fact a fundamental break with the old Calvinism of Calvin and the Reformed creeds, and nothing but modernism in disguise.78

When Herman Hoeksema purged Reformed theology of the common grace theory of Kuyper and Bavinck (which theory, despite some occasional, somewhat similar terminology, cannot be found in John Calvin, contrary to the claims of the defenders of the theory), he delivered Reformed theology and the churches from a prominent, indeed major aspect of what Kuyper and Bavinck had made of this theology, from an alien element in that theology, from a corrupting leaven in that theology, and from the impossible and completely unbiblical burden that the theory of common grace lays on the Reformed church of Christ: “Christianize the world!” Altogether apart from the even more important condemnation of the “well-meant offer”—the corruption of the gospel by the affirmation of a universal, resistible, saving grace of God, a saving grace of God that neither has its source in election nor effectually achieves the salvation of the objects of this grace, Hoeksema’s repudiation of the common grace theory of Kuyper, Bavinck, and their neo-Calvinistic disciples was a significant development of Reformed theology, with huge implications for the Reformed faith and life both of church and of individual Christian, and a genuine reformation.

Because of Bavinck’s deliberate adoption of the Roman Catholic philosophy of the nature/grace scheme as basic to his theology and because of his related adoption of the theory of common grace, there is reason to question the phrase that runs through Bavinck’s dogmatics like a refrain and that is widely recognized as expressing something essential to Bavinck’s theological thought: “Grace perfects nature.”79 One appearance of the phrase is at the juncture of Bavinck’s treatment of “general revelation” and “special revelation”: “Nature precedes grace; grace perfects nature. Reason is perfected by faith, faith presupposes nature.”80 The Latin original, “Gratia perficit naturam,” can be translated, “Grace completes nature.” Commonly, Reformed theologians understand the phrase in an orthodox sense, as expressing the biblical and Reformed idea that in the work of salvation, whether with regard to the individual human or with regard to the creation itself, God does not abandon His work of creation, does not create new humans or a new universe, but redeems, renews, and ultimately raises from the dead the man, woman, or child to whom He gave physical existence and the heaven and the earth that He created in the beginning. There can be no doubt that Bavinck’s theology intends to emphasize this meaning of the phrase.

But it may be questioned whether Bavinck did not read more into the phrase than this orthodox meaning, so that his theology becomes guilty of the error of accepting ungodly thinking as an aspect of (human) “nature” that remains unspoiled by the fall, containing that which is good and true, so that the “grace” of sound Reformed theology, accommodating itself to this ungodly thinking, merely completes and renders perfect this naturally good and true “nature.” Faith merely supplements the truth already present in the natural human mind, whether of Plato, or of Kant, or of Schleiermacher, or of Darwin. And this view of the relation of theology and the wisdom of the learned ungodly inevitably results in accommodating the teaching of the Bible to the alleged wisdom of this world, whether in the philosophy of Plato, Aristotle, or Kant, or in the heretical theology of Schleiermacher, or in the scientific theories of Charles Darwin. It is significant that Bavinck himself preferred to translate the Latin verb as “restores”: Grace only restores nature.81

Regardless how Bavinck understood and applied the phrase “Grace perfects nature,” there is abundant evidence in his Dogmatics that, in his fascination with culture and its issues, by virtue of his neo-Thomistic philosophical presupposition, and with the help of his theory of common grace, Bavinck accommodated Reformed theology to ungodly, anti-biblical thought, and thus seriously compromised the Reformed faith.

Bavinck thinks that we must “recognize all the elements of truth that are present also in pagan religions,” appealing for support to “Thomas [Aquinas].” “The doctrine of common grace” enables Reformed people to “recognize all the truth, beauty, and goodness that is present also in the pagan world.” Indeed, “an operation of God’s Spirit and of his common grace is discernible not only in science and art, morality and law, but also in the [pagan] religions.” And then this dreadful assertion: “Hence Christianity is not only positioned antithetically toward paganism; it is also paganism’s fulfillment.”82 Grace completes (depraved, devilish, sinful, human) nature! There is a “natural theology,” and “natural theology … [is] a ‘preamble of faith.’”83

Bavinck is critical of Martin Luther for the Reformer’s denying “to Aristotle, to reason, and to philosophy all right to speak in theological matters” and for calling “reason stoneblind in religious matters.” Aristotle, of course, was the philosopher who influenced Thomas and, therefore, Roman Catholic theology. Recognizing the pervasive influence of the philosopher upon Rome’s corruption of the gospel of grace, Luther exclaimed, on one occasion, “Away with that damned, rascally heathen, Aristotle.” But Bavinck charges that this exclusion of Aristotle from theology is “excess.”84

“The founders of [non-Christian] religions, like Mohammed” may not be considered as “simply impostors, enemies of God, accomplices of the devil,” according to the accommodating Bavinck.85

In pagan and non-Christian religions is “a point of contact” for the gospel, a “firm foundation on which [Christians] can meet all non-Christians.”86 Faith supplements (the darkened, unenlightened, religious) mind of unbelievers!

How Bavinck put his neo-Thomistic and common grace theories to work concretely in his dogmatics comes out in the following instances. In defense of his doctrine of a covenant of works in Paradise, by which Adam might have merited eternal life by obeying God’s command, Bavinck declares, “It combines Schleiermacher [dependence] and Kant [freedom].”87 Evident in the declaration is that Schleiermacher and Kant have a certain authoritative, determining role in Bavinck’s theological thinking. That Bavinck’s construction of the covenant with Adam satisfies the theology of the one and the philosophy of the other is a commendation, if not a proof, of the covenant of works. What ought to have been determinative in Bavinck’s theology of the covenant with Adam is the primacy of Jesus Christ in the counsel of God, as taught in Colossians 1:13ff.

More substantial is Bavinck’s concession to the evolutionary theories of Darwin and other scientists. Bremmer notes Bavinck’s “strong sympathy for the newer scientific thinking that powerfully came to the fore in the middle of the nineteenth century, particularly the work of Darwin.”88 Concerning the opening chapters of the Bible, particularly Genesis 1 and 2 and the seven days of the week of creation, Bavinck does declare that Scripture “does not present saga or myth or poetic fantasy but offers … history, the history that deserves credence and trust.”89

Nevertheless, Bavinck yields to the pressure to accommodate Genesis 1 and 2 to the apparent testimony of science, specifically “geology and paleontology,” of a very old earth—an earth much older than the six days of the week of creation taught by Genesis 1 allows for. Bavinck does this, first, by locating the creation of the heaven and the earth of Genesis 1:1 prior to the first day of the week of creation. Genesis 1:3 records an act of God some time after the event recorded in verses 1 and 2. Evidently, this provides some of the millions of years demanded by unbelieving scientists.90

The second element of Bavinck’s accommodation of the Bible to the theories of unbelieving scientists is more serious. Bavinck denies that the six days of Genesis 1 were actual, historical days. Thus, in fact, he denies the historicity of Genesis 1. Consciously dismissing the testimony of the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1 that the days were limited by one evening and one morning, Bavinck concedes that “the days of Genesis 1 … have an extraordinary character.” They were “extraordinary cosmic days.”91 That is, they were, in reality, not days at all, but long periods of time—hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years.

Having conceded an old earth to unbelieving scientists and, thus, the historicity of Genesis 1, with all the implications this concession has for the historicity of Genesis 2-11 and for the inspiration of Scripture, Bavinck goes yet a step further. He allows for the process of evolutionary development during these long periods of time, which is, of course, the reason why unbelieving science must have an old earth in the first place. “Much more took place on each day of creation than the sober words of Genesis would lead us to suspect … Each day’s work of creation must certainly have been much grander and more richly textured than Genesis summarily reports.”92

In conclusion, Bavinck expresses satisfaction that by virtue of his explanation of Genesis 1, “Scripture offers a time span that can readily accommodate all the facts and phenomena that geology and paleontology have brought to light in this century.”93

Bavinck’s concession to evolutionary scientists contradicts his blunt, strong condemnation of evolutionary scientific theory in general and of Darwinian evolutionary theory in particular, both in his Reformed Dogmatics94 and in a penetrating, powerful booklet titled, Schepping of Ontwikkeling (English translation: Creation or Evolution).95

Already in Bavinck’s own time, his students and disciples brought Bavinck’s concession to the wisdom of unbelieving scientists to its natural and inevitable conclusion in a bold, total rejection of the historicity, not only of Genesis 1 and 2, but also of Genesis 3. At the same time, they openly questioned the inspiration of Scripture, as was implied in Bavinck’s exegetical adaptation of the days of Genesis 1 to the theories of evolutionary scientists. Thus, this development of Bavinck’s error of accommodating the gospel to culture also involved the exploiting of the other grievous error in Bavinck’s Dogmatics: weakness concerning the doctrine of Scripture.

A second, serious weakness of Bavinck as dogmatician was his erroneous doctrine of Scripture. Bavinck struggled with fundamental doubt about the inspiration of Scripture all his life. The doubt increased in his old age. Leiden inflicted a severe spiritual and theological injury upon him. The wound lasted all his life. He never ripped the portrait of Abraham Kuenen, his higher critical Old Testament professor, from his study wall.

The one question that his Secession examiners had had about his theology when Bavinck gave account of it to them on his entrance into the ministry of the Secession Churches in 1880 was his doctrine of Scripture.96

How deeply this doubt concerning Scripture resided in Bavinck’s soul is evident from the fact that at the very end of his ministry and life he urged the synod of his churches to study the doctrine of Scripture in Articles 2-7 of the Belgic Confession with a view to a revision of the doctrine. To the synod of Leeuwarden (1920), that is, within a year of Bavinck’s death, Bavinck sent a report that, although advising maintenance of the Reformed confessions, against a movement of younger pastors for a wholesale revision of the confessions, urged the synod that “now the time had come for a further formulation and development of specific points of the confession.” One of these points was “the divine inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture, Articles 2-8 of the Netherlands [Belgic] Confession of Faith.”97

It must be recognized that Bavinck struggled with his besetting sin of doubt concerning the inspiration of Scripture. He never simply surrendered to it. Were it not that doubt concerning Scripture’s inspiration is such a grievous sin and that Bavinck himself opened himself up to this doubt by his choice of Leiden with its Scripture-denying faculty as the school of his seminary training, as also by his determination to find truth and goodness in unbiblical, indeed anti-biblical theories (which, of course, necessarily involved casting doubt on the Bible), one would say that there was something heroic about Bavinck’s struggle with doubt. He knew the issue and its gravity, and never outrightly succumbed to the doubt. Very likely his well-known words toward the end of his life, “I have kept the faith,” referred to his life-and-death struggle with doubt concerning Scripture, and expressed his confidence that he had resisted the doubt, which is fatal to the Christian faith. And there are many fine, sound explanations and defenses of biblical authority in the Reformed Dogmatics.

But none of this hides, or mitigates, the seriousness of Bavinck’s erroneous doctrine of Scripture in the Reformed Dogmatics, which he also taught his students in the seminary classroom. Bavinck conceded that the Bible is not only a divine book and word, but also a human book and word—completely human. Here is Bavinck’s description of Scripture at the crucial point: “Scripture is totally the product of the Spirit of God … and at the same time totally the product of the activity of the authors. Everything is divine, and everything is human.”98 In this connection, Bavinck acknowledges the Holy Spirit to be the “primary author” of Scripture, which implies that the human instruments were also the authors, albeit “secondary.”99

Here, Bavinck took his eyes off the confessions, indeed off Scripture, and fixed them on the portrait of Kuenen. The confessions never attribute Scripture to humans, but only to the Holy Spirit. They never call the Bible “human,” but exclusively “divine.” They never refer to Scripture as “the word of man,” or even as “the word of God and the word of man,” but only as the “word of God.”

Scripture itself denies that it is the “product,” that is, the word, of the humans by whom the Spirit produced Scripture. For “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation,” that is, no part of Scripture originated in the private thoughts about God, humans, and the creation of the human writers. All is the product of the “interpretation” of God the Holy Spirit. The explanation of this wonder is that the holy men wrote, as they originally spoke, “as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:20-21). Or, as is the literal translation of II Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed,” that is, the “product” of God.

The result of this wonder of the inspiration of the written word of Scripture is that we have “a more sure word of prophecy”—a word more sure than the spoken word of God on the mount of transfiguration (II Peter 1:17-19). This cannot be the case if the Bible is totally the product of the human writers, as well as the product of God the Holy Spirit. Surely, there is no human word that is as sure as the spoken word of God, much less more sure. Only because Scripture is the word of God written, exclusively and totally the word of God written, is it more sure than the word God spoke about Christ on the mount of transfiguration.

Bavinck called his doctrine of inspiration “organic inspiration,” contrasting it with an erroneous doctrine of inspiration that allegedly has been found in the Reformed tradition. To this erroneous doctrine of inspiration, Bavinck gave the name “mechanical inspiration.”100

Objection to Bavinck’s doctrine of “organic inspiration” does not deny that in inspiration the Spirit used men, with their distinctive training, gifts, and even personalities, to produce the word of God. It does not deny that the human writers labored at their task consciously, pouring themselves into the work. But objection to Bavinck’s doctrine of Scripture denies that the “product”—the word that was written—was on this account a human word. The wonder of (organic) inspiration was that the word that resulted from the genuine instrumentality of the human writers was the word of God, and only and totally the word of God.

The effects of Bavinck’s weakening of the doctrine of Scripture have been disastrous in many Reformed churches, in which the dogmatics of Bavinck have been influential. Particularly have the effects been disastrous in that fundamental aspect of the Christian faith that Bavinck himself compromised by his weak doctrine of Scripture: the truth of origins as inspired in Genesis 1-11. Bavinck’s doctrine of a totally human Scripture, with special application to Genesis 1-11, produced Jan Lever in the Netherlands and Howard Van Till in the United States.101

But Bavinck’s bad doctrine of Scripture produced disastrous effects, particularly with regard to origins, already in Bavinck’s own time. Shortly before Bavinck’s death, a young minister in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, the Rev. J. B. Netelenbos, publicly denied the historicity of the opening chapters of the Bible and criticized Scripture as uninspired. His consistory deposed him in 1919 “on the ground of his deviating opinions concerning Articles 4 and 5 of the Netherlands Confession of Faith,” that is, his heretical doctrine of Scripture.102 Netelenbos appealed to the instruction he had received from his teacher, Prof. Herman Bavinck. Not only was Bavinck not in favor of the support of the discipline of his former student by the synod of Leeuwarden (1920), but he also spoke out in Netelenbos’ defense.103 The synod of Leeuwarden upheld the deposition of Netelenbos on the ground that he “deviated from Articles 4 and 5 of our [Belgic] Confession of Faith with regard to the reliability and the infallibility of Scripture and [with regard to] the ground of faith.”104

A few years after Bavinck’s death, another of his students, the Rev. J. G. Geelkerken, was disciplined by the synod of Assen for denying the historicity of Genesis 3, particularly the reality of the “speaking serpent.” The issue raised by Geelkerken and judged by the special synod of Assen (1926), as expressed by the synod both during the trial and afterwards, was that “a serpent, which was perceptible to the senses [Dutch: “zintuigelijk waarneembaar”], and which could be grasped, has spoken.”105 Geelkerken denied the historicity of Genesis 3, the biblical account of the fall of the race into sin, but also the biblical account of the mother promise of the gospel, which was spoken by God to the “speaking serpent.”106 In condemning Geelkerken, the synod charged that he violated Articles 4 and 5 of the Belgic Confession concerning Scripture, particularly the phrase, “believing without any doubt all things contained in them.”

Also Geelkerken appealed in his defense to the doctrine of Scripture of his professor, Herman Bavinck—the so-called “organic” inspiration of Scripture. Against the interpretation of Genesis 3 by the synod of Assen, he charged that “the organic conception of holy Scripture was withdrawn in favor of the mechanical [conception] … The accepted organic doctrine of Scripture of the ‘illustrious Kuyper and Bavinck’ was still not developed far enough.”107

Very likely it is indicative of the thinking and sympathies of Bavinck in the cases of Netelenbos and Geelkerken that, a few years after his death, his widow and his daughter and her husband separated from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands to become members of the new denomination formed by Geelkerken and others upon Geelkerken’s deposition for teaching the mythical nature of Genesis 3 and, as is implied by such a view of Genesis 3, for a heretical doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture.108

Both Netelenbos and Geelkerken were members of a loose “movement of the young [ministers]” in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands at that time, which clamored for change, for something new in theology, and for revision of the confessions. The movement regarded Bavinck as its spiritual father.

One of the grounds for the charge against Kuyper and Bavinck by the modernists of their day that they had departed radically from John Calvin and the old Calvinism was exactly their doctrine of Scripture (which Kuyper shared with Bavinck). The liberal, or modernist, D. B. Eerdmans, a professor at the University of Leiden, wrote this concerning Kuyper’s—and Bavinck’s—doctrine of “organic inspiration”:

Contemporary Reformed [theology] employs a two-edged sword in slaying the old [Reformed] doctrine of Scripture. In the first place it teaches that not all of the Scripture is divine and that much of it is merely human so that modern critical scholarship in its investigation can discover much that is true and good. Secondly, it teaches that even that which is divine in Scripture is also fully human, that human organisms, human personalities, on their own brought forth the Scriptures.109

Appreciation of the riches and glories of the Reformed faith as confessed, expounded, defended, and developed in Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, especially Bavinck’s defense of sovereign grace in salvation, including the salvation of the covenant, may not blind the Reformed church or theologian to the dung mixed with the gold. Bavinck’s notion that there is much goodness and truth in the thought and theories of the ungodly; his passion to bring about a union of Christianity and ungodly culture by accommodating the gospel to culture; his doctrine of a common grace of God; and his erroneous view of Scripture as a totally human book must be condemned, rejected, and purged by the tradition that follows.


1. The expanded text of an address at a conference of Protestant Reformed officebearers in Redlands, CA on March 6, 2012.

2. Herman Bavinck, “De Algemeene Genade” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans-Sevensma, n.d.). This booklet has been translated into English by Raymond C. Van Leeuwen as “Common Grace,” Calvin Theological Journal 24, no. 1 (April 1989). The other work by Bavinck on common grace is “Calvin and Common Grace,” tr. Geerhardus Vos. The booklet contains no publishing data, but does indicate that the occasion of the work was the “celebration of the four hundreth anniversary of the birth of John Calvin.” This booklet is part of this writer’s library. In this latter work, ominously, Bavinck acknowledges that the theory of common grace qualifies the doctrine of reprobation. Attributing this qualification of reprobation to Calvin, but propounding his own view, Bavinck declares that “reprobation does not mean the withholding of all grace” (117). The effects of this common grace, according to Bavinck, include that unregenerate “men still retain a degree of love for the truth” and retain “the remnants of the divine image” (119, 120). Bavinck does not see in common grace a love of God for all humans that desires the salvation of all without exception, regardless of predestination. That is, Bavinck does not draw from his doctrine of common grace the theory of a “well-meant offer” of salvation to all. For Bavinck, as for Kuyper, common grace is limited to the realm of the earthly and natural.

3. V. Hepp, Dr. Herman Bavinck (Amsterdam: W. Ten Have, 1921). All quotations from this work are my translation of the Dutch.

4. R. H. Bremmer, Herman Bavinck als Dogmaticus (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1961). All quotations from this work are my translation of the Dutch.

5. R. H. Bremmer, Herman Bavinck en Zijn Tijdgenoten (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1966). All quotations from this work are my translation of the Dutch.

6. Ron Gleason, Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2010).

7. Gleason, Bavinck, 425.

8. Gleason, Bavinck, 494.

9. Gleason, Bavinck, 207.

10. Gleason, Bavinck, 260.

11. Gleason, Bavinck, 339, 340.

12. See Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, tr. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 3:228-232. Gleason’s theological error here is one more instance of his grinding an axe for the theology of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated).

13. Hepp, Bavinck, 120, 121.

14. Bremmer, Bavinck en Zijn Tijdgenoten, 192.

15. Herman Bavinck, Hedendaagsche Moraal [English: Present-Day Morality] (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1902).

16. Bremmer, Bavinck als Dogmaticus, 378: “Bavinck was offended by a certain hypocrisy in his own circles. ‘What troubled him the most was that some indeed cried, “Reformed, Reformed,” but their life did not correspond to their confession. That was a thorn in the eye to him.’” Bremmer is quoting J. H. Landwehr.

17. Hepp, Bavinck, 29.

18. Henry Zylstra, “Preface” to Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, tr. Henry Zylstra (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 5, 6. The Magnalia Dei is Bavinck’s own synopsis in 1909 of his four-volume Gereformeerde Dogmatiek. The sub-title of the Magnalia Dei is significant in that it expresses Bavinck’s conviction that Reformed dogmatics, and his in particular, must be based on and conform to the Reformed creeds. The sub-title is “Onderwijzing in de Christelijke Religie naar Gereformeerde Belijdenis” [English translation: “Instruction in the Christian Religion according to the Reformed Confession”] (Herman Bavinck, Magnalia Dei, Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1909).

19. Hepp, Bavinck, 84, 86.

20. Hepp, Bavinck, 89.

21. Hepp, Bavinck, 322. The Dutch word that I translate as “awful” is “ontzaglijke,” which can also mean “enormous.”

22. Bremmer, Bavinck als Dogmaticus, 381.

23. Hepp, Bavinck, 83.

24. Hepp, Bavinck, 197, 198.

25. Hepp, Bavinck, 83. Bavinck continued by asking why Bulens did not include in the assignment the words that follow in the text, “of the blind.” The addition of the phrase, “of the blind,” to the assignment, would, of course, have reflected on Bavinck himself.

26. Hepp, Bavinck, 36.

27. On the novel, heretical covenant doctrine of Pieters and Kreulen and the controversy it caused in the churches of the Secession, see David J. Engelsma, “The Covenant Doctrine of the Fathers of the Secession,” in Always Reforming, ed. David J. Engelsma (Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2009), 100-136.

28. Hepp, Bavinck, 91.

29. Hepp, Bavinck, 104.

30. Hepp, Bavinck, 180.

31. Hepp, Bavinck, 318.

32. Hepp, Bavinck, 326.

33. Cited in the preface to Our Reasonable Faith, 7.

34. Herman Bavinck, The Certainty of Faith, tr. Harry der Nederlanden (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada: Paideia, Press, 1980). The original Dutch edition was De Zekerheid des Geloofs, 3rd rev. ed. (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1918). In this work, Bavinck exposed the pietism of the nadere reformatie and other movements as unreformed. In this corruption of the Reformed faith, “faith was not immediately certain of itself right from the beginning. There was a difference between the essence and the well-being of faith … Certainty was attained only after a series of experiences spread out over many years. It was not given with faith itself, nor did it issue from it.” These pietists in the Reformed churches “continued to stumble forward along life’s way in sighing and lamentations. They were a poor, wretched people always preoccupied with their own misery, seldom if ever rejoicing in the redemption that was theirs in Christ Jesus and never coming to a life of joy and gratitude. They preferred to be addressed as Adam’s polluted offspring, as sinners under God’s judgment” (43, 44).

35. Hepp, Bavinck, 262-264. “In 1889 Bavinck underwent the heaviest psychical shock of his entire life … [For some time thereafter] he gave the impression of a deeply disappointed, although not of a disillusioned, man” (262, 263).

36. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, tr. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 1:44, 45.

37. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:86, 87.

38. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:89.

39. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:112.

40. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:213.

41. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:112.

42. See his The Certainty of Faith, referred to and quoted from in footnote 33.

43. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:58.

44. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, tr. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 2:368. The emphasis is Bavinck’s.

45. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:369.

46. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:343.

47. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:469.

48. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:464.

49. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:466.

50. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:470, 471.

51. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:493-499.

52. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:494, 510.

53. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, tr. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 4:266-270.

54. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:269.

55. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:269.

56. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:267.

57. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:590, 591.

58. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:269, 270.

59. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:269.

60. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:390.

61. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:391. For Bavinck’s complete treatment of the issue of the order of the decrees, see volume 2 of the Reformed Dogmatics, pages 382-392. That his biblical method of doing theology was the cause of his development of the doctrine of the counsel of God with specific regard to the order of the decrees, Bavinck himself expressed: “neither the supralapsarian nor the infralapsarian view of predestination is capable of incorporating within its perspective the fullness and riches of the truth of Scripture and of satisfying our theological thinking” (391).

62. Hepp, Bavinck, 127. Bavinck continued with his encomium.

63. Hepp, Bavinck, 126.

64. Hepp, Bavinck, 126.

65. The “ethical theology” in the Netherlands in the nineteenth century was a distinct theological movement, of which de la Saussaye was a leading representative. It held that the essence of the Christian religion was not doctrinal, but experiential and moral, that is, ethical (whence the name of the movement). Not what one believes is important, but how one feels and lives. It founded the Christian religion, not on the objective basis of Scripture, as summarized by confessions, but in the Christian’s consciousness, or experience. The fundamental principle of the “ethical theology” was “that not Scripture, not the revealed Word of God outside us, but the faith of the congregation is determinative [that is, is the foundation of the Christian religion]” (“Ethischen,” in Christelijke Encyclopaedie voor het Nederlandsche Volk, vol. 2, 122, 123; the translation of the Dutch is mine). This theology, de-emphasizing as it did the Word of God, the creeds, and orthodox doctrine in favor of experience and conduct, was, as is always the case with theologies that make Christian experience fundamental, rife with heresies, among which were rejection of the inspiration of Scripture and the objective revelation of God, denial of predestination, denial of the divine person of Christ, false teaching concerning the atonement of the cross, error concerning the church, and more (see Christelijke Encyclopaedie, 123.)

66. Hepp, Bavinck, 163.

67. Hepp, Bavinck, 163.

68. Hepp, Bavinck, 164.

69. Hepp, Bavinck, 168.

70. Bremmer, Bavinck als Dogmaticus, 328.

71. Bremmer, Bavinck als Dogmaticus, 342.

72. Hepp, Bavinck, 334.

73. Bremmer, Bavinck als Dogmaticus, 313.

74. Bremmer, Bavinck als Dogmaticus, 313.

75. Bremmer, Bavinck als Dogmaticus, 140. Significantly, Roessingh noted that in this concern Bavinck was one with Chantipie de la Saussaye, Jr.

76. Bremmer, Bavinck als Dogmaticus, 372.

77. Hepp, Bavinck, 326.

78. Bremmer, Bavinck als Dogmaticus, 115-122. Significantly, one of those who charged Kuyper and Bavinck with departure from the old Calvinism of Calvin and the creeds—Hylkema—thought to have proved his charge by contrasting Calvin’s Institutes with Kuyper’s brief for common grace, the Lectures on Calvinism—the “Stone lectures” (Bremmer, 121).

79. “[The phrase], grace does not abolish nature, but affirms and restores it,” … is the central theme [in Bavinck] that recurs in numberless variations, the refrain that is unceasingly repeated, the leitmotif which we hear everywhere” (J. Veenhof, “The Relationship between Nature and Grace according to H. Bavinck,” Potchefstroomse Universiteit: Institute for Reformational Studies, 1994, 15).

80. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:322. The original is in Latin: “Natura praecedit gratiam, gratia perficit naturam. Ratio perficitur a fide, fides supponit naturam” (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 2nd revised and expanded ed., Kampen: J. H. Bos, 1906, vol. 1, 336).

81. “When Bavinck renders perficit as ‘restores,’ it is plain that this involves a certain modification of the original meaning” (Veenhof, “The Relationship between Nature and Grace according to H. Bavinck,” 15).

82. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:318-320.

83. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:322.

84. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:305.

85. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:318.

86. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:321.

87. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:572.

88. Bremmer, Bavinck als Dogmaticus, 371.

89. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:495.

90. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:496, 497. “It is probable … that the creation of heaven and earth in Genesis 1:1 preceded the work of the six days in verses 3ff. by a shorter or longer period” (496).

91. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:498-500.

92. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:500.

93. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:506.

94. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:407-439, 511-520.

95. Bavinck, Schepping of Ontwikkeling (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1901). In this work, Bavinck contrasts creation and evolution with regard to the origin, the essence, and the goal of all things, demonstrating the wickedness, the folly, and the hopelessness of evolution. Belief of creation as the truth of the origin, essence, and goal of all things is grounded in Scripture: “We Christians have truly, thanks be to God, another hope and a firmly grounded expectation [in contrast to evolution, the hopelessness of which Bavinck has just described, in chilling detail]. We are able to speak of more glorious things, since God has revealed them to us in his Word. The Holy Scripture is a wonder-book; no other book is like it” (54). The translation of the Dutch is mine.

96. Bavinck himself recorded this dissatisfaction with his doctrine of Scripture on the part of his Secession examiners in a diary he kept (see Gleason, Bavinck, 65). Gleason attributes this dissatisfaction to mistrust on the part of the examiners because of Bavinck’s training at the modernist seminary in Leiden and speaks of “the soundness of Bavinck’s view of Scripture that we find in the Reformed Dogmatics.” Gleason is mistaken.

97. Bremmer, Bavinck als Dogmaticus, 383, 384. The other points were the doctrine of the true and false church in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession and the relation of church and state in Article 36 of the Belgic Confession. Bremmer’s inclusion of Article 8 of the Belgic Confession in the section on Scripture is a mistake. Article 8 confesses the oneness of being and the threeness of persons of the Godhead.

98. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:435; emphasis added.

99. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:435.

100. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:430-448.

101. See Jan Lever, Creation and Evolution, tr. Peter G. Berkhout (Grand Rapids: Kregel’s, 1958) and Where are We Headed? A Christian Perspective on Evolution (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970); see also Howard J. Van Till, The Fourth Day (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986).

102. Cited in Gleason, Bavinck, 399.

103. Hepp states that in the matter of the discipline of Netelenbos at the synod of Leeuwarden, Bavinck “belonged to the most longsuffering among the longsuffering” with regard to the young heretic (Bavinck, 337).

104. D. Th. Kuiper, De Voormannen: Een sociaal-wetenschappelijke studie over ideologie, konflikt en kerngroepvorming binnen de Gereformeerde wereld in Nederland tussen 1820 en 1930 [English translation: The Leading Men: A Social-Scientific Study concerning Ideology, Conflict, and the Forming of Basic Groups within the Reformed World in the Netherlands between 1820 and 1930] (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1972), 265, 266. The translation of the Dutch is mine. Netelenbos’ “believing (sic) criticism” of Scripture consisted, among other instances, of attributing Isaiah 40-66, not to the “real” Isaiah, but to a “second Isaiah” (“Deutero-Isaiah”) “because this section presupposes the Babylonian captivity.” Netelenbos also had doubts about the inspiration and canonicity of the Song of Solomon. Netelenbos’ defense before the synod was that “the divine and the human factor are interwoven in Scripture” and that this was the accepted teaching of Kuyper and Bavinck (De Voormannen, 264, 265).

105. Kuiper, De Voormannen, 286.

106. In addition to the speaking serpent, Geelkerken expressed doubt also concerning the literal reality of the two trees in the garden. For Geelkerken, although he hesitated to use the word, the entire chapter was a “myth.”

107. Kuiper, De Voormannen, 288.

108. Bremmer, Bavinck en Zijn Tijdgenoten, 269. The name of the new denomination was “Gereformeerde Kerken in hersteld verband” [English translation: the Reformed Churches in restored connection, or the Restored Reformed Churches].

109. D. B. Eerdmans, “Moderne” Orthodoxie, quoted in John Bolt, A Free Church, A Holy Nation: Abraham Kuyper’s American Public Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 462.


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