Some thoughts on dogmatics from Batfink

batfinkrdOk, he’s really called Herman Bavinck – an insanely sharp Reformed theologian from back in the day (1854-1921 to be exact) – but I can’t resist calling him Batfink. Forgive my childish ways. A hundred years ago he published a massive work in Dutch entitled Gereformeerde Dogmatiek. In the last 20 years this work has been translated and made available in English in 4 fat volumes entitled Reformed Dogmatics. Our new assistant pastor and myself are going to endeavour to keep one another sharp by reading together the first volume – his prolegomena – that’s basically a 600 page intro to the other 3 vols – some boy eh!? As we go I might jot down a few notes and put them up here for anyone who is crazy, I mean keen, for this sort of stuff. So from the opening twenty pages here’s some stuff:

  • Dogma is about the articles of faith and it is the Word of God which grounds the articles of faith. “The power of the church to lay down dogmas is not sovereign and legislative but ministerial and declarative.”
  • “theological dogma is always a combination of two elements: divine authority and churchly confession” … “one of the greatest difficulties inherent in the dogmatician’s task lies in determining the relation between divine truth and the church’s confession.”
  • but everyone faces the same problem – “a religion without dogma, however vague and general it may be, without, say, faith in a divine power, does not exist, and a nondogmatic Christianity, in the strict sense of the word, is an illusion and devoid of meaning.”
  • Even “unbelief has at all times been most dogmatic (Kant).”
  • The Reformed solution to the problem is to say that revelation is antecedent to faith but dogma is not. Dogma is not the object but expression of faith (take note creed lovers – that’s an important distinction) – and it is therefore necessarily a moral enterprise, not merely an intellectual one. Faith stands between the Bible and dogmatics.
  • “the content of our knowledge of God depends on the epistemological road taken.” God is known through faith, not “knowledge” in the intellectualist sense. Knowing about God and knowing God are not the same.
  • God cannot be know apart from his revelation – dogmatics aims to transcript that revelation as seen in his Word
  • “However, if the revelation contains such a knowledge of God, it can also be thought through scientifically and gathered up in a system.”
  • “Precisely because a true faith-knowledge of God exists, dogmatics has the knowledge of God as part of its content and can rightly claim to be a science.”
  • “dogmatics is a positive science, gets all its material from revelation, and does not have the right to modify or expand that content by speculation apart from that revelation.”
  • “God’s thoughts cannot be opposed to one another and thus necessarily form an organic unity.”
  • “Theology and dogmatics, too, exist for the Lord’s sake” – that the church may learn to know the love of God, and that the manifold wisdom of God be known to the world.

So that was a bit longer than planned, but it gives you a flavour of the man’s genius. Watch this space for more snippets as we go.


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