This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2011 vol. 168 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation. Vol. 4 of Reformed DogmaticsBaker Academic, Grand Rapids June 1, 2008
This is the fourth volume of the classic four-volume work, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, by Herman Bavinck’s (1854–1921). Although several sections of Bavinck’s magisterial work have been published in English previously, this project by the Dutch Reformed Translation Society makes all of his important work accessible to English readers. With the release of this final volume, the entire work is available in English for the first time.
One of the great strengths of Bavinck’s work is his theological method. In the “Editor’s Introduction” to this volume Bolt writes, “His heart and mind sought a trinitarian synthesis of Christianity and culture, a Christian worldview that incorporated what was best and true in both pietism and modernism, while above all honoring the theological and confessional richness of the Reformed tradition dating from Calvin” (p. 20). As Bavinck himself put it, “In this situation, the hope is not unfounded that a synthesis is possible between Christianity and culture, however antagonistic they may presently stand over against one another. If God has truly come to us in Christ, and is, in this age too, the Preserver and Ruler of all things, such a synthesis is not only possible but also necessary and shall surely be effected in its own time” (ibid.). In the postmodern world the person and work of the incarnate Son of God continues to be the only basis of hope for all creation and the effective minister of the gospel must be an exegete of both the Word and the world.
This volume is divided into three sections, each addressing an aspect of the work of the Spirit of God. In the first, “The Spirit Gives Life to Believers,” Bavinck discusses the Spirit’s work in salvation including calling and regeneration, faith and conversion, justification and sanctification, and perseverance. In the second section, “The Spirit Creates New Community,” Bavinck addresses the doctrine of the church. Particularly helpful are his treatments of the proclamation of the Word of God, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper as “the Spirit’s Means of Grace.” In the final part, “The Spirit Makes All Things New,” Bavinck treats eschatology in three sections. The first, “The Intermediate State,” includes an excellent treatment of the question of immortality, followed by a discussion of issues related to the time between death and the resurrection of the dead.
In the second section, “The Return of Christ,” Bavinck focuses on the hope of the return of Jesus to the earth. Then in the final part, “The Consummation,” Bavinck addresses the resurrection, judgment of the wicked and their punishment, and the eternal state of the righteous. Bavinck’s eschatology concludes with the hope of a new creation. He explains, “Just as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, as 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’ ” (p. 720).
This volume, like the three previously published, includes a bibliography and several indexes. What is different about this volume is that there are three combined indexes, of Scripture, names, and subjects. Thus the student of Bavinck will find in this volume a helpful resource for the location of major topics in the other volumes.
The translation of Bavinck’s work into English is a welcome addition to resources for study of Reformed theology. Even those who are not Reformed in their theological heritage can gain much from Bavinck’s clear presentation of Christian theology, including his extensive exegetical work and interaction with the history of interpretation of the biblical text and major Christian and non-Christian voices. This is not easy reading, but it is worthy of the work that is required to mine the depths of Bavinck’s comprehensive and thoughtful summary of the Dutch Reformed tradition. Those who desire to understand the faith once for all delivered to the saints will be rewarded for a careful and systematic reading of the work in these four volumes. The theological community owes a debt of gratitude to the Dutch Reformed Translation Society for its excellent work in bringing this project to completion.
—Glenn R. Kreider