Category Archives: Herman Bavinck

The Van Tillian Flavor of Herman Bavinck


Of course, this post might more rightly be titled, the Bavinckian flavor of Cornelius Van Til. For those familiar with the thought of  Van Til, it’s well known that Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck was a huge influence on his thought. I myself knew this in principal, up until I started to read Bavinck myself. Though Van Til himself at times pointed out difference between them, there are numerous times in which readers can be downright confused as to what thinker they are reading. Many passages in Bavinck read so very Van Tillian. Here is a passage in which Bavinck explains the foundational convictions of the Christian apologist:

Apologetics cannot precede faith and does not attempt a priori to argue the truth of revelation. It assumes the truth and belief in the truth. It does not, as the introductory part or as the foundational science, precede theology and dogmatics. It is itself a theological science through and through, which presupposes the faith and dogmatics and now maintains and defends the dogma against the opposition to which it is exposed. Thus understood, apologetics is not only perfectly justified but a science that at all times, but especially in this century, deserves to be seriously practiced and can spread rich blessing all around.

First of all, it has the immediate advantage of forcing Christian theology to take deliberate account of the grounds on which it is based, of the principles on which it is constructed, and of the content it has within itself. It brings Christian theology out of the shadows of the mysticism of the human heart into the full light of day. Apologetics, after all, was the first Christian science.

Secondly, it teaches that Christians, even though they cannot confer faith on anyone, need not hide from their opponents in embarrassed silence. With their faith they do not stand as isolated aliens in the midst of the world but find support for it in nature and history, in science and art, in society and state, in the heart and conscience of every human being. The Christian worldview alone is one that fits the reality of the world and of life.

And finally, if it seriously and scrupulously performs its task, it will very definitely succeed in impressing opponents with the truth of Christian revelation, refuting and silencing them. It cannot truly convert people to God. Not even the preaching of the gospel is able to do that; only God, by his Spirit, can accomplish that. But subject to this working of God and as a means in his hand, apologetics, like the ministry of the Word, can be a source of consummate blessing. For this fact the early centuries of Christianity offer abundant evidence.

-Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, 515.

Likewise, the Dutch Master writes, “The foundations of faith (principia fidei) are themselves articles of faith (articuli fidei), based not on human arguments and proofs but on divine authority. The recognition of revelation, of Scripture as the Word of God, is an act of faith as well as its fruit” (109). Compare complimentary statements from Van Til himself:

Incidentally we remark that our acceptance of the Scriptures does not depend upon our argument for the absolute God and our argument for the absolute God does not depend upon our acceptance of the Scriptures. We say that one does not depend upon the other because they are mutually involved in one another and quite inseparable. Our concept of God as absolute is a matter of fact taught nowhere but in Scripture. That is as we should expect, since Scripture itself is necessary because of man’s departure from the knowledge of God. Scripture is nothing but God’s self – testimony to the sinner as once God’s self – testimony came to man through man’s own consciousness and through God’s thought communication in paradise. Hence too it is only by his internal testimony in our hearts, that is, through the regeneration wrought by the Holy Spirit that we believe his own external testimony as it lies before us in scripture. (Cornelius Van Til, Psychology of Religion)


It is true that no method of argument for Christianity will be acceptable to the natural man. Moreover, it is true that the more consistently Christian our methodology, the less acceptable it will be to the natural man. We find something similar in the field of theology. It is precisely the Reformed Faith which, among other things, teaches the total depravity of the natural man, which is most loathsome to that natural man. But this does not prove that the Reformed Faith is not true. A patient may like a doctor who tells him that his disease can be cured by means of external applications and dislike the doctor who tells him that he needs a major internal operation. Yet the latter doctor may be right in his diagnosis. …… It is upon the power of the Holy Spirit that the Reformed preacher relies when he tells men that they are lost in sin and in need of a Savior. The Reformed preacher does not tone down his message in order that it may find acceptance with the natural man. He does not say that his message is less certainly true because of its nonacceptance by the natural man. (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith)

Reading both authors is mutually beneficial to all, and equips us with navigating the contemporary hostility of our culture.


What is Faith?

Herman Bavinck answers:

The object of Christian faith is invisible and not susceptible to observation. If a thing can be immediately observed by us, faith is superfluous; faith is opposed to sight (Rom. 8:24; 2 Cor. 5:7). This does not conflict with the fact that revelation certainly took place in space and time and that the person of Christ could be seen and touched. For as the object of faith this revelation as a whole was not observable. Many people saw Jesus and still did not believe in him; only his disciples saw in him “a glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14). Word and deeds are the object of faith only when considered from a divine perspective. But in Scripture, [pistis], as saving faith, acquires an even more pregnant meaning; its object is not all sorts of words and deeds of God as such but the grace of God in Christ (Mark 1:15; John 3:16; 17:3; Rom. 3:22; Gal. 2:20; 3:26; etc.). To [Christian] faith this special object is considered under still another heading than that of truth versus falsehood. The universal nature of faith is not exhausted by being characterized as a firm and sure knowledge, an objective holding for truth, since it also includes a heartfelt trust in a total surrender to God, who has revealed himself in Christ, and a personal appropriation of the promises extended in the gospel.

-Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, 568.

For another perspective, see Greg Koukl’s answer.

Herman Bavinck on the Imago Dei

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) on the image of God in humanity:

So the whole human being is image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers, and gifts. Nothing in humanity is excluded from God’s image; it stretches as far as our humanity does and constitutes our humanness. The human is not the divine self but is nevertheless a finite creaturely impression of the divine. All that is in God-his spiritual essence, his virtues and perfections, his immanent self-distinctions, his self communication and self-revelation in creation – finds its admittedly finite and limited analogy and likeness in humanity. There is a profound truth in the Kabbalah’s idea that God, who is the Infinite in himself, manifests himself in the ten sefiroth, or attributes, and that these together make up the Adam Cadmon [human being]. Among creatures human nature is the supreme and most perfect revelation of God. And it is that [revelation] not just in terms of its pneumatic side, but equally in terms of its somatic side; it is that precisely as human, that is, as psychic, nature. In the teaching of Scripture God and the world, spirit and matter, are not opposites. There is nothing despicable or sinful in matter. The visible world is as much as beautiful and lush revelation of God as the spiritual. He displays his virtues as much in the former as in the latter.

All creatures are embodiments of divine thoughts, and all of them display the footsteps or vestiges of God. But all these vestiges, distributed side by side in the spiritual as well as the material world, are recapitulated in man and so organically connected and highly enhanced that they clearly constituted the image and likeness of God. The whole world raises itself upward, culminates and completes itself, and achieves its unity, its goal, and its crown in humanity. In order to be in the image of God, therefore, man had to be a recapitulation of the whole nature. The Jews used to say that God had collected the dust for the human body from all the lands of the earth. Though the image is strange, a true and beautiful thought is expressed in it. As spirit, man is akin to the angels and soars to the invisible world; but he is at the same time a citizen of the visible world and connected with all physical creatures. There is not a single element in the human body that does not also occur in nature around him. Thus man forms a unity of the material and spiritual world, a mirror of a universe, a connecting link, compendium, the epitome of all of nature, a microcosm, and, precisely on that account, also the image and likeness of God, his son and heir, a micro-divine-being (mikrotheos). He is the prophet who explains God and proclaims his excellencies; he is the priest who consecrates himself with all that is created to God as a holy offering; he is the king who guides and governs all things in justice and rectitude. And in all this he points to the One who in a still higher and richer sense is the revelation and image of God. To him who is the only begotten of the Father, and the firstborn of all creatures. Adam, the son of God, was a type of Christ.”

-Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2., 562.

What is Organic Inspiration?

organic-logoChristians uniformly confess that the Bible is inspired. Paul, in 2 Tim 3:15-17, says that all Scripture is “God-breathed” and thus the very word of Yahweh, the Creator and Lord of the universe. But, Christians also confess that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). In a way that quite parallel (though not identical) with the doctrine of Christ’s 2 natures, the Bible is both the verbal communication of God, and the fully verbal communication of it’s human authors. And we need to maintain this balance of dual-authorship or we’ll go off the deep end. Admittedly, for most Christians we run the risk of denying (in theory or practice) that God really did use human authors.

I would suggest that the best way of thinking about the dual-authorship of Scripture is what come to be known as “organic” inspiration. Now I’ll turn it over to 3 “Dutch masters” to clarify this position. First Louis Berkhof:

The proper conception of inspiration holds that the Holy Spirit acted on the writers of the Bible in an organic way, in harmony with the laws of their own inner being, using them just as they were, with their character and temperament, their gifts and talents, their education and culture, their vocabulary and style. The Holy Spirit illumined their minds, aided their memory, prompted them to write, repressed the influence of sin on their writings, and guided them in the expression of their thoughts even to the choice of their words. In no small measure He left free scope to their own activity. They could give the results of their own investigations, write of their own experiences, and put the imprint of their own style and language on their books. -Louis Berkhof, Summary of Christian Doctrine, chapter 3

This explains a lot, doesn’t it? John writes quite differently than Paul. And even Paul writes differently from letter to letter. Colossians and Ephesians are quite similar, but Philippians and Galatians are quite different. In the former, Paul is happy and rejoicing, in the latter Paul is upset  and agitated. Herman Bavinck takes us a bit further, clarifying what organic inspiration is not, contrasting it with “dynamic” and “mechanical” concepts of inspiration:

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Creation Purified, Not Destroyed

Christ’s resurrection implies that one day creation itself will  be resurrected, renewed. This present heaven and earth will not be utterly destroyed and ultimately replaced. The great early twentieth-century Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (who had many wonderful thoughts on this topic) further clarifies the logic behind my denial:

In the same way, the New Testament proclaims that heaven and earth will pass away (Matt. 5:18; 24:35; 2 Pet. 3:10; 1 John 2:17; Rev. 21:1), that they will perish  and wear out like clothing (Heb. 1:11), dissolve (2 Pet. 3:10), be burned with fire (3:10), and be changed (Heb. 1:12). But none these expressions implies a destruction of substance. Peter, for example, expressly teaches that the old earth, which originated as a result of the separation of waters was deluged with water and the so perished, and that the present world would also perish, not – thanks to the divine promise – by water but by fire. Accordingly, with reference to the passing of the present world, we must know more think of a destruction of substance than [we would] with regard to the passing of the earlier world in the flood. Fire burns, cleanses, purifies, but does not destroy. The contrast in one John 2:17 (“the world and its desire are passing away, but those who will do the will of God lives forever.”) teaches us that the first statement does not imply a destruction of the substance of the world but a vanishing of the world in its present, sin-damaged form… Only such a renewal of the world, for that matter, accords with what Scripture teaches about redemption. For the latter is never a second, brand-new creation but a re-creation of the existing world. God’s honor consists precisely in the fact that he redeems and we news the same humanity, the same world, the same heaven, and the same earth that have been corrupted and polluted by sending it. (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, 717)

Bavinck on the New Creation

Here’s my favorite part from Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4 :

All that is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable in the whole creation, in heaven and on earth, is gathered up in the future city of God-renewed, re-created, boosted to its highest glory.

The substance [of the city of God] is present in this creation. Just as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, as a carbon is converted into diamond, as the grain of wheat upon dying in the ground produces other grains of wheat, as all of nature revives in the spring and dresses up in celebrative clothing, as the believing community is formed out of Adam’s fallen race, as the resurrection body is raised from the body that is dead and buried in the earth, so too, by the re-creating power of Christ, the new heaven and the new earth will one day emerge from the fire-purged elements of this world, radiant in enduring glory and forever set free from the ‘bondage to decay’ (…Rom. 8:21). More glorious than this beautiful earth, more glorious than the earthly Jerusalem, more glorious even than paradise will be the glory of the new Jerusalem, whose architect and builder is God himself.

The Renewal of Creation

Here are a couple of quotations from Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, volume 4, on the renewal of creation.

Biblical hope, rooted in incarnation and resurrection, is creational, this-worldly, visible, physical, bodily hope.

What we sow on earth is harvested in eternity; diversity is not destroyed in eternity but cleansed from sin and made servicable to fellowship with  God and others.

God’s honor consists precisely in the fact that he redeems and renews the same humanity, the same world, the same heaven, and the same earth that have been corrupted and polluted by sin.

Whereas Jesus came the first time to establish that kingdom in a spiritual sense, he returns at the end of history to give visible shape to it. Reformation proceeds from the inside to the outside. The rebirth of humans is completed in the rebirth of creation. The kingdom of God is fully realized only when it is visibly extended over the earth as well.

This is the great promise of Christian hope. Get excited.