Why Study Bavinck?
Last week I explored the life of Herman Bavinck. This week I thought it would be helpful to understand why Bavinck is so important. Why are Bavinck studies needed in our day and age?
Cornelius Van Til, a 20th century theologian, said, "Herman Bavinck has given to us the greatest and most comprehensive statement of Reformed systematic theology in modern times." French Protestant theologian Auguste Lecerf called Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics a "veritable summa of contemporary Calvinism." This is high praise, and considering the shear volume of what Bavinck wrote (go here for a short bibliography) it would seem that these two men are on to something significant. Yet, it has only been in the last 10-15 years that interest in Bavinck and his writings has started to appear in the English speaking world.
The fact that Bavinck is only now becoming known to the English speaking world is fascinating considering the widespread use of Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology. Berkhof could be Bavinck's most famous disciple. His systematic theology is largely a popular level distillation of Bavinck's four volume Reformed Dogmatics. It is heavily dependent on Bavinck for almost all of its material. With the publication of his Systematic Theology, Berkhof became well known as a Reformed theologian yet Bavinck, who was so incredibly influential on this thought, remained rather obscure.
So, the question stands: why study Herman Bavinck? Well, there are quite a few reasons. First, as I stated earlier, he has only recently been introduced to the English speaking world, and yet has quite possibly one of the most profound impacts on theology in the 20th century. Second, his system is thoroughly based in Scripture. Bavinck is careful to reference the Bible in every discussion concerning doctrine. Obviously this is helpful for someone who wants to stay grounded in the Word and at the same time has a desire to study the depths of theological inquiry. Third, his theological system is carefully reasoned. His positions tend toward nuanced answers that attempt to bring viewpoints together. Fourth, Bavinck thoroughly examines historical theology. His theological conclusions often walk through the history of how a doctrine developed. Thus, for anyone interested in the history of theological thought, Bavinck is a helpful aid. Fifth and finally, Bavinck is profoundly influenced by Trinitarian theology. Bavinck himself said:
The thoughtful person places the doctrine of the trinity in the very center of the full-orbed life of nature and mankind.... The mind of the Christian is not satisfied until every form of existence has been referred to the triune God and until the confession of the trinity has received the place of prominence in our thought and life.
It is this ideal, to see the Trinity as the "center of the full-orbed life of nature and mankind," that excites me the most with regard to studying Herman Bavinck. Bavinck's theological program, if taken seriously, has the potential to guide theological studies for the next hundred years and beyond. One could argue that Bavinck may prove to be the most important theologian in the Reformed tradition post-John Calvin.
Theologian Roger Nicole said, "It may be doubted whether there ever appeared a work on systematic theology that for thoroughness and balance of treatment can be rated superior to that which Bavinck produced." Bavinck was a theologian and produced a theological system that few could ever rival. I look forward to spending a life time getting to know him and his work. I am anxious to see how Bavinck will influence my future ministry, as I strive to refer everything back to the triune God and give the trinity its proper place of prominence in my thought and life.