Who was Herman Bavinck?
The primary reason for setting up this website is to bring you along on our adventures in Scotland and my study in Edinburgh. One of the main questions that I have been asked through out this entire process is: What exactly are you going to be studying? Now, this is a hard question to answer as that could change once we get to Edinburgh. What I can tell you now is that at the foundation of everything I am going to be studying Herman Bavinck and his trinitarian theology. With that said, for many of you the follow up question is: Who was Herman Bavinck? Hopefully, in this short post I can start to introduce him.
Herman Bavinck was born (13 Dec. 1854) the second of seven children to a German Reformed pastor. His father Jan worked both in the Germany and the Netherlands. The church in which Jan labored was part of the Afscheiding (later called hristeljke Gereformeerde Kerk; Christian Reformed Church) or the church that seceded from the Hervormde Kerk (The Dutch national church). The split happened because of the growing influence of liberalism and government interference in the church. This new church was in the mold of Puritanism with a particularly Dutch flavor to it.
Jan wanted the best education possible for Herman and sent him to private schools where Herman would prove himself to be an outstanding student. It was during his high school years that he professed faith in Christ and was admitted to communing membership into the church. He also made the decision to attend university during this time. Given his natural abilities as a thinker he wanted to attend the best school in the Netherlands, but his parents encouraged him to take his first year at the denominations school in Kampen (Theologische Hogeschool). After a year in Kampen his parents would acquiesce and permit him to go to Lieden trusting that the Lord would preserve his faith.
At Lieden Bavinck's faith was tried and tested yet he came out of it with a steadfast commitment to orthodox reformed Christianity and a profound commitment to personal piety. Upon graduating he took a pastorate for a year in 1881 at a small church in Franeker, Netherlands. It was here that he was known for his pastoral care and profound ability to teach the Scriptures. This would be noted and the university at Kampen extended him an invitation to come and teach. At Kampen his academic acumen raised the standards of the school as well as the notoriety.
During his years at Kampen, many started to see Bavinck's brilliance. Not the least of which was a young lady named, Johanna A. Schippers. She and Herman would marry and have one daughter Johanna Geziena (Hanny). Also, among his admirers was Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch politician, theologian, and visionary. Kuyper and Bavinck would become life long partners in the work of reformation in the Netherlands. Bavinck's last year in Kampen was 1901 and the year that he finished his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek (Reformed Dogmatic). In 1902, after countless requests, Bavinck finally joined Kuyper on the faculty of the Free University in Amsterdam where he would serve for the rest of his life.
The next twenty years would be spent teaching theology and (at the pushing of Kuyper) dabbling in politics. He would visit the US a couple times, once giving the Stone Lectures at Princeton. In 1920 after speaking to a group of Dutch pastors he had a heart attack. He was never able to fully recover. As his strength left him he said, "My dogmatics avail me nothing, nor my knowledge, but I have my faith and in this I have all." He did not say this in despair or weakness, but as a triumphant note. In these words, he was reminding us that all our knowledge, our systems of doctrine, our learning mean nothing if they are not translated to the Christian life. Bavinck was stating that we have nothing if we have not genuine faith. On July 29, 1921, Herman Bavinck went to sleep in the Netherlands and woke up in Heaven.