This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2011 vol. 168 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Essays on Religion, Science, and SocietyBaker Academic, Grand Rapids June 1, 2008
Through the work of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society, many of the writings of Herman Bavinck are now available in English. In addition to the four volumes of his Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003–2008), this collection of shorter essays on issues of religion, faith, aesthetics, psychology, pedagogy, and politics, among others, has been made accessible to English readers for the first time. This volume is a translation of the original Dutch collection Verzamelde opstellen op het gebeid van godsdienst en wetenshap (Kampen: Kok, 1921).
In these essays readers will find Bavinck’s interaction with a variety of important topics. This evidences a remarkable breadth of knowledge and wisdom as well as a profoundly consistent engagement of these issues from a Christian perspective. For Bavinck, Christianity provides a worldview perspective or way of thinking that applies to a variety of disciplines and subjects. Editor Bolt summarizes the work in these words: “This volume of essays demonstrates that good theology is not restricted to private matters of personal piety and faith but has an essential public dimension. The Triune God who saves us through the work of Christ and incorporates us into the body of Christ, the new people of God, by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, is the same God who is Creator of heaven and earth. We are able to distinguish different works in the economy of the Triune God, but we may never separate them. Salvation does not take us out of creation or elevate us above it but heals and restores creation’s brokenness. In theological terms, grace opposes sin, not nature; grace does not abolish nature but restores it” (“Editor’s Introduction,” 8).
All the essays repay the reader handsomely for the investment of time. Bavinck writes with a rare insightful clarity. His precision and theological simplicity are a model for Christian writers. His expression of deep doctrinal truth is memorable and perceptive. He writes for the scholar and the student, the theologian and those trained in other disciplines. He summarizes and synthesizes material well and communicates complex ideas with an economy of words. For example he concludes his essay “The Essence of Christianity” with this statement: “Christianity is no less than the real, supreme work of the Triune God, in which the Father reconciles his created but fallen world through the death of his Son and re-creates it through his Spirit into the kingdom of God” (p. 47). It would be difficult to conceive a more concise articulation of the Christian message than that.
Each of the essays is worth an extended review and deserves engagement and reflection. Bavinck speaks to the present generation from an earlier time out of a depth of appreciation for the Christian tradition and the work of the triune God in creation and redemption. Here is an example to whet the reader’s appetite for this book. In the chapter “Of Beauty and Aesthetics” Bavinck writes, “We cannot express in words what a valuable gift the Creator of all things has granted to his children. He is the Lord of glory and spreads his beauty lavishly before our eyes in all his works. His name is precious in the whole earth, and while he did not leave us without a witness, he also fills our hearts with happiness when we observe that glory. . . . [W]hen observing and enjoying true beauty, it is not man who bestows his affections and moods on the observed object, but it is God’s glory that meets and enlightens us in our perceptive spirits through the works of nature and art. Humanity and the world are related because they are both related to God. The same reason, the same spirit, the same order lives in both” (p. 259). Then he concludes, “Beauty is the harmony that still shines through the chaos in the world; by God’s grace, beauty is observed, felt, translated by artists; it is prophecy and guarantees that this world is not destined for ruin but for glory—a glory for which there is a longing deep in every human heart” (p. 259). In short, beauty, even in the midst of fallenness, evidences and encourages hope, the hope of redemption of all creation. Thus, as Bavinck puts it, “Along with truth and goodness, beauty also needs to be honored” (p. 260).
This book is an excellent example of how Christian theology integrates with other disciplines. It is an outstanding source and resource, a model for theological engagement, and implicitly issues a challenge for contemporary theologians to carry on this task. Pastors, missionaries, educators, students, and others interested in the intersection of the Christian faith and culture, the intersection of Christianity and creation, and the intersection of special and general revelation should read this book.
—Glenn R. Kreider