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Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2: God and Creation Hardcover – October 1, 2004
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"Bavinck was a man of giant mind, vast learning, ageless wisdom, and great expository skill. Solid but lucid, demanding but satisfying, broad and deep and sharp and stabilizing. Bavinck's magisterial Reformed Dogmatics remains after a century the supreme achievement of its kind."
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"What a wonderful gift to the English-speaking theological world! The topics explored by Bavinck are still of the utmost importance, and he addresses them here in a theological voice that is amazingly fresh. I pray that the appearance of this volume signals the beginnings of a Bavinck revival!"
--Richard J. Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary
"Like Augustine, Calvin, and Edwards, Bavinck was a man of giant mind, vast learning, ageless wisdom, and great expository skill, and to have these volumes now in full English is a wonderful enrichment. Solid but lucid, demanding but satisfying, broad and deep and sharp and stabilizing, Bavinck's magisterial Reformed Dogmatics remains after a century the supreme achievement of its kind."
--J. I. Packer, Regent College
"Those interested in Reformed theology will welcome with open arms Reformed Dogmatics. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those who have made the treasures of Bavinck's thought available to a new world of appreciative hearers."
--Donald K. McKim, editor, Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith
"This magisterial work exhibits Bavinck's vast knowledge and appreciation of the Christian tradition. Written from a Reformed perspective, it offers a perceptive critique of modern theology. . . . Recommended for university, church, and seminary libraries because of its historical importance."
--Augustine J. Curley, Library Journal
"Pastors and theologians will welcome the historic first complete translation of Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics. . . . This masterful theological work is now available to passionate students of theology."
--R. Albert Mohler Jr., Preaching
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Bavinck is a master of Reformed theology. He is extremely well-read in Christian theology, from the time of the church fathers through his own day, the late 19th century. He is also thoroughly familiar with writing in philosophy, from the ancient Greeks through the philosophers of his age. His depth of knowledge with such a wide breadth of work allows him to dig deeply into each of his topic areas, pointing out strengths and weaknesses of various arguments, before arriving at a place of understanding that is grounded in the Reformed tradition.
Bavinck is thoroughly biblical as he works thorough a topic. He acknowledges strengths of the positions of others, and also gently probes their weaknesses. One of the strengths of his writing, besides its depth and breadth, is that he is consistently irenic. Where I might describe a position I disagree with in harsh or condescending terms, Bavinck's writing consistently displays a sense of peace, as if he was inviting a person with a differing view to reconsider their position in favor his own, and not because his own position is intrinsically better, but because he believes that at the end of the day his position will be found to be thoroughly biblical. For Bavinck, the biblical text is the place we continually place our feet on, no matter what the winds are that blow through our culture.
I'll confess that I am a bit of a fan of Bavinck, having read Part 2 of this book while in seminary. In that section Bavinck presents a rich and compelling view of God from a Reformed perspective that I just didn't see in other theological frameworks. It was the writing that drew me whole-heartedly into the Reformed camp. It was a delight not only to re-read that section but to read everything else that this profound theologian, professor and pastor has worked out in a systematic way about God and Creation.
The other volumes in this series are Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1: Prolegomena,Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, and Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4 - Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation.
In the first chapter, he outlines: “the doctrine of God comprises… the following elements: 1. God is a personal being, self-existent, with a life, consciousness, and will of his own… 2. This God can appear and manifest himself in certain specific places, at certain specific times, to specific persons… 3. Throughout the whole Old Testament… this revelation is preparatory in character… 4. The Revelation of God in the Old Testament, accordingly, does not exhaustively coincide with his being… 5. The same God who in his revelation limits himself… is at the same time infinitely exalted above the whole realm of nature and every creature… 6. In the New Testament we encounter the same combination. God dwells in inaccessible light… But God has caused his fulness to dwell in Christ bodily… the personality and absoluteness of God go hand in hand.” (Pg. 32-34)
He acknowledges, “The knowledge we have of God… is negative because we cannot ascribe a single predicate to God as we conceive that predicate in relation to creatures. It is therefore an ANALOGICAL knowledge; a knowledge of a being who is unknowable in himself, yet able to make something of himself known in the being he created. Here, indeed, lies something of an antimony… [A]gnosticism… sees here an irresolvable contradiction in what Christian theology regards as an adorable mystery. It is completely incomprehensible to us how God can reveal himself and to some extent make himself known in created beings; eternity in time, immensity in space, infinity in the finite, immutability in change, begin in becoming, the all, as it were, in that which is nothing. This mystery cannot be comprehended; it can only be gratefully acknowledged. But mystery and self-contradiction are not synonymous.” (Pg. 48-49)
He states, “In an absolute sense… nothing is atheistic. And this witness of Scripture is confirmed on every side. There is no atheistic world. There are no atheistic peoples. The world cannot be atheistically conceived since in that case it could not be the work of God but would have to be the creation of an anti-God… There is nobody able, absolutely and with logical consistency, to deny God’s knowability and hence his revelation. Agnosticism… cannot maintain itself except with the aid of what it opposes. And precisely because the world cannot be conceived as godless, there are no atheistic and areligious peoples.” (Pg. 56-57)
But he clarifies, “though all have an idea of God, they clothe that idea in a wide array of representations… there are people who say in their heart that there is no God… human opinions on right and wrong, on beauty and ugliness, differ radically. In a word, there is not a single ethical truth that is recognized ‘everywhere, always, and by all.’ Strictly speaking, natural theology never existed any more than ‘natural rights’ and ‘natural morality.’” (Pg. 70)
He asserts, “The human mind is restless until at the end of world history it finds some satisfaction, if not in a kingdom of God, then in a kingdom of humanity, or in a socialistic welfare state… Logical arguments cannot prove such a belief… But it is noteworthy that belief in guidance and purpose in history is ineradicably implanted in the human heart and an indispensable component in the philosophy of history… we again face the dilemma: illusion or reality? And thus, in principle, the choice between atheism and theism. And in making that choice it is not the intellect but the heart that clinches it.” (Pg. 89)
He points out, “This immutability [of God], however, should not be confused with monotonous sameness or rigid immobility. Scripture itself leads us in describing God in the most manifold relations to all his creatures. While immutable in himself, he nevertheless… lives the life of his creatures and participates in all their changing states. Scripture necessarily speaks of God in anthropomorphic language. Yet… it at the same time prohibits us from positing any change in God himself… In fact, God’s incomprehensible greatness and, by implication, the glory of the Christian confession are precisely that God… can call mutable creatures into being.” (Pg. 158) Later, he adds, “God’s eternity should not … be conceived as an eternally static, immobile moment of time… A true analogy of it is not the contentless existence of a person for whom… the minutes seem like hours and the days do not go but creep…” (Pg. 163)
He argues, “The doctrine of middle knowledge [e.g., On Divine Foreknowledge]… represents contingent future events as contingent and free also in relation to God. This is with reference not only to God’s predestination but also his foreknowledge… What are we to think, then, of a God who forever awaits all those decisions and keeps in readiness a store of all possible plans for all possibilities?... And of what value is a government whose chief executive is the slave of his own subordinates? In the theory of middle knowledge, that is precisely the case with God. God looks on, while humans decide. It is not God who makes distinctions among people, but people distinguish themselves.” (Pg. 201)
He cautions, “theology is strictly tethered to the facts and evidences that God discloses in nature and Scripture… When it cannot explain them, it must acknowledge its ignorance. For theology, the will of God expressed in the facts is the end of all discussion.” (Pg. 239)
He argues, “In advance, with a knowledge that is eternal and immutable, God has known those who would believe. Given this foreknowledge, these people will also most certainly and infallibly come to faith and salvation in time. On this position there nowhere remains any room for ‘freedom’ in the sense of chance and caprice. Foreknowledge, then, by definition includes predestination.” (Pg. 378)
He contends, “Predestination is initial grace, that is, being born in a Christian country or only becoming acquainted with the gospel later on, is absolutely undeserved and unconditional. Here at the beginning, at the first decree, predestination can only be viewed as absolute and unconditional. The question why one person learns of the gospel and another is denied the message, hence why one is given the opportunity to receive eternal salvation and another is not, is not one that can be answered from within the human situation. Here everyone, whether he or she wants to or not, must acquiesce in the will and good pleasure of God.” (Pg. 380-381)
He weighs in on the infralapsarian/supralapsarian controversy: “On the decrees themselves and on their content, there is no disagreement. Both parties reject free will, and deny that faith is the cause of election and that sin is the cause of reprobation… Both parties ultimately rest their case in the sovereign good pleasure of God. The difference only concerns the order of the decrees… This difference is not resolved by an appeal to Scripture. (Pg. 385) He concludes, “All things are eternally present to [God’s] consciousness. His counsel is one single conception, one in which all the particular decrees … will one day appear to be fully arranged. This interconnected pattern is so enormously rich and complex that it cannot be reproduced in a single word such as ‘infralapsarian’ or ‘supralapsarian.’ It is both causally and teleologically connected.” (Pg. 392)
He points out, “the purpose of election is not… to turn off the many but to invite all to participate in the riches of God’s grace in Christ. No one has a RIGHT to believe that he or she is a reprobate, for everyone is sincerely and urgently called to believe in Christ with a view to salvation. No one CAN actually believe it, for one’s own life and all that makes it enjoyable is proof that God takes no delight in his death. No one REALLY believes it, for that would be hell on earth. But election is a source of comfort and strength…” (Pg. 402)
He rejects the notion of “guardian angels”: “The doctrine is essentially of pagan origin and leads to all kinds of clever questions and futile issues. We do not know whether an angel is assigned to every human, and even to the anti-Christ… or only to the elect… Nor do we know when such an angel is given to a person is taken away; or what the angel’s precise ministry it. Consequently all we can say is that certain classes of angels are charged with the promotion of certain interests on earth.” (Pg. 467)
He comments on Genesis 1 & 2: “from the moment of creation in Genesis 1:1 to the flood, 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. It is hard to see why they could not all be placed in that time frame… [Theology] does not have to involve itself in the issue of what has caused these phenomena. Let geology explain the facts!... theology will be well advised to stick only to the indisputable facts that geology has uncovered, and to be on its guard against the hypotheses and conclusions that geology has added to the mix. For that reason theology should refrain from making any attempt to equate the so-called geological periods with the six creation days… It is very probable that the so-called Tertiary period extends to the flood, and that diluvium and Ice Age coincide with this catastrophe…” (Pg. 506) He argues, “Darwinism above all fails to provide an explanation of humanness in terms of its psychic dimension… human consciousness, language, freedom of the will, religion, and morality still belong to the enigmas of the world that await resolution. (Pg. 519)
He points out, “One can certainly raise the objection against the doctrine of the covenant as it has been developed in Reformed theology, that it was overly detailed and treated too scholastically… But the doctrine of the covenant of works is based on Scripture and is eminently valuable. Among rational and moral creatures all higher life takes the form of a covenant. Generally, a covenant is an agreement between persons who voluntarily obligate and bind themselves to each other for the purpose of fending off an evil or obtaining a good… It should not surprise us, therefore, that also the highest and most richly texture life of human beings, namely, religion, bears this character… Even if the term ‘covenant’ never occurred in Scripture for the religious relation between Adam and God… still the religious life of man before the fall bears the character of a covenant.” (Pg. 568-569)
This entire series will be of great interest to those seriously studying Reformed theology.