Herman Bavinck on the Importance and Difference between Dogmatics and Ethics

bavinck.jpegWhat is theology? And what is it good for? These are questions Christians ask and theologians attempt to answer. In his various works on theology, Kevin Vanhoozer has attempted to explain doctrine in terms of drama (e.g., The Drama of Doctrine). More recently, he has argued for the place of doctrine and drama in the making of disciples (e.g., Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine). In Pilgrim TheologyMichael Horton makes the same point—doctrine summarizes the drama, directs doxology, and instructs disciples.

In short, some of the best theologians today know that theology is for living, doctrine is for discipleship, and everything is for worship. Still, theology (truth about God) is not to be confused with discipleship (walking in truth). To say it differently, there is a place for theology and ethics. And recently, I was reminded (or instructed more fully) how these two disciplines are related to one another, but also different.

In the editorial introduction to the first volume of Herman Bavinck’s recently published Reformed Ethicswe find how this great theologian for the Netherlands distinguished theology and ethics. First, in Reformed Dogmatics, he states,

Dogmatics describes the deeds of God done for, to, and in human beings; ethics describes what renewed human beings now do on the basis of and in the strength of those divine deeds. In dogmatics human beings are passive; they receive and believe; in ethics they are themselves active agents. In dogmatics, the articles of faith are treated; in ethics, the precepts of the decalogue. In the former, that which concerns faith is dealt with; in the latter, that which concerns love, obedience, and good works. Dogmatics sets forth what God is and does for human beings and causes them to know God as their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; ethics sets forth what human beings are and do for God now; how, with everything they are and have, with intellect and will and all their strength, they devote themselves to God out of gratitude and love. Dogmatics is the system of the knowledge of God; ethics is that of the service of God. (xxv–xxvi, Reformed Dogmatics 1:58) Continue reading

The Lord’s Reign: Herman Bavinck on the Scriptural Sense of God’s Transcendence

paige-weber-974172-unsplash.jpgThe Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
— Psalm 103:19 —

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.
— Isaiah 57:15 —

Where is God?

In one sense, God is everywhere (Ps. 139:7–12). In another, God is outside of space and time (1 Kings 8:27). Still, in a third way, Scripture speaks of God as dwelling in heaven, high above his creation (Isa 57:15; cf. Ps. 135:6). Yet, it is important to remember God’s place in heaven is not outside of creation. Rather, it is the created place for the glorious and uncreated God to dwell within creation.

From that divine throne, God rules all creation. And in creation, God reveals himself to us in his world and in his word. Bringing these big and beautiful realities together, Herman Bavinck describes what it means for God to be over and in creation. Doctrinally, these realities are expressed by the terms transcendence and immanence. And in the newly released volume Philosophy of RevelationBavinck has this to say about a scriptural sense of God’s transcendence: Continue reading

By Evidence or By Faith?

If you are looking to prove the validity and authority of the Bible based on extra-biblical evidence, consider this:

For those who make their doctrine of Scripture dependent on historical research into its origination and structure have already begun to reject Scripture’s self-testimony and therefore no longer believe that Scripture.  They think it is better to build up the doctrine of Scripture on the foundation of their own research than by believingly deriving it from Scripture itself.  In this way, they substitute their own thoughts for, or elevate them above, those of Scripture (Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], 424).

Spirit of Christ, let those who seek the Truth, do so “believingly.”  Open eyes to see the wonders of your law (Ps 119:18).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Bavinck on the “Word of God”

During the month of December, I am preaching on the “Word of God Made Fresh,” looking at how God’s Word in the Old Testament prepares for the Word of God Made Flesh in the New Testament.  In preparation for tomorrow’s sermon, I ran across this captivating quote by Herman Bavinck:

Finally the designation ‘word of God’ is used for Christ himself.  He is the Logos in an utterly unique sense: Revealer and revelation at the same time.  All the revelations and words of God, in nature and history, in creation and re-creation, both in the Old and the New Testament, have their ground, unity, and center in him.  He is the sun; the individual words of God are his rays.  The word fo God in nature, in Israel, in the NT, in Scripture may never even for a moment be separated and abstracted from him.  God’s revelation exists only because he is the Logos.  he is the first principle of cognition, in a general sense of all knowledge, in a special sense, as the Logos incarnate [i.e. ‘the word made flesh’], of all knowledge of God, of religion, and theology (Matt. 11:27) (Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], 402)

Amen!  Let us worship the Word of God made flesh in Spirit and Truth, and consider all things in the light of God’s perfect revelation (cf. John 1:1-18; Heb. 1:1-2:4).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Insufficiency of Biblical Theology ?

Over the last thirty years, evangelicalism has seen a strong resurgence and appeal for biblical theology.  Evidences of this are the expanding series of books edited by D.A. Carson, New Studies in Biblical Theology; the New Dictionary for Biblical Theology; and the rising appeal of the subject among younger evangelicals.  Just come to Southern Seminary, and you will find students who, next to John Piper, have been most influenced by Graeme Goldsworthy.

Yet, is biblical theology enough?  Is it sufficient for the task of theology?  Some believe it is.  Fred Sanders, for instance, in his doctoral dissertation–now published as The Image of the Immanent Trinity–argues that the doctrine of the Trinity went awry as it entered the realms of philosophical discussion and systematic exploration.  The early church fathers (i.e. Irenaueus, Tertullian) spoke of God in biblical-theological terms, whereas later theologians (i.e. Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, and Augustine, to name a few) employed philosophical nomenclature and concepts to define the Trinity.  Sanders argument is that this systematizing and (mis)use of philosophical categories distorted the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, and that in order to recover a biblical concept of the doctrine we should appeal to biblical theology and a theological interpretation of Scripture.

I am not as sure.  Before beginning doctoral work in systematic theology, I would have believed it to be true that biblical theology was sufficient for doctrinal formulation, but after considering it further, I see the need for all the disciplines of theology (biblical, systematic, philosophical, and practical).  So, in this way, “biblical theology” alone is insufficient.

Now please hear me, I am not saying that the Bible is insufficient.  On the contrary, it is all-sufficient and gives us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4; cf. Deut. 29:29).  What I am saying is that the discipline of biblical theology, reading the Bible along the lines of its progressive revelation and its redemptive-historical makeup, is a part of a greater whole.  I think that today, biblical theology can be so emphasized that the other disciplines can be overshadowed and (un)intentionally de-emphasized.  The simple point I am trying to make is that biblical theology needs dogmatics, just like dogmatics need biblical, and of course, theology is always benefitted by considering the way in which doctrines have developed and deviated throughout the course of church history.

Herman Bavinck cautions against the same thing and articulates a fuller sense of doing theology.  Consider his argument,

Scripture is not a legal document, the articles of which only need be looked up for a person to find out what its view is in a given case.  It is composed on many books written by various authors, dating back to different times and divergent in content.  It is a living whole, not abstract but organic–[this is a favorite expression of HB].  It nowhere contains a sketch of the doctrine of faith; this is something that has to be drawn from the entire organism of Scripture.  Scripture is not designed so that we should parrot it but that as free children of God we should think his thoughts after him.  But them all so-called presuppositionaless and objectivity are impossible.  So much study and reflection on the subject is bound up with it that no person can possibly do it alone.  That takes centuries.  To that end the church has been appointed and given the promise of the Spirit’s guidance into all truth.   Whoever isolates himself from the church, i.e., from Christianity as a whole, from the history of dogma in its entirety, loses the truth of Christian faith.  That person becomes a branch that is torn from the tree and shrivels, an organ that is separated from the body and therefore doomed to die.  Only within the communion of saints can the length and the breadth, the depth and the height, of the love of Christ be comprehended (Eph. 3:18)…. Accordingly, the contrast [or independence] often made between biblical theology and dogmatics, as though one reproduced the content of Scripture while the other restates dogmas of the church, is false (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena [Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 2003], 83).

In this brief paragraph Bavinck shows why his Reformed Dogmatics are so illuminating as he consistently expounds Scripture, scours the annals of church history, and uses rigorous logic to formulate doctrine.  Accordingly, what emerges in his dogmatics is a biblical, systematic, and historical theology where each discipline enriches the other.  I think this model is optimal, and of course should also include the appropriate use of philosophy and analytical theology.

As people of extremes, Bavinck’s counsel reminds us to engage all forms of theology to perceive and proclaim the glorious truths of God’s word, and only as we do that can we explore the depths of God’s all sufficient word.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Receiving and Believing the Word of God

When was the last time you started your car and consciously thought about the internal combustion engine involved?  Or how often do you eat and enjoy a meal without knowing the way it was prepared or the origin of all its ingredients?  Or more technically, do you ever think about the processes involved to make Wifi work?  Probably not until the router goes down.  While each of these examples could be studied in great detail and are, it is not necessary to fully understand their intricate operations, to enjoy the experience of driving, eating, or surfing the web.  While ASE certified technicians, sous chefs, and computer hackers benefit from the advanced studies in these areas, knowledge is secondary to the faithful enjoyment of these things.

Similarly, Herman Bavinck remarks concerning the relationship between biblical studies and Christian belief, that faith precedes understanding (cf. 2 Pet. 1:6-8).  In a lengthy section defending the historic belief that the Triune God inspired the very words of the Bible, the faithful Dutch Reformer writes with wry wisdom,

Those who do not want to embark on scientific investigation until they see the road by which we arrive at knowledge fully cleared will never start.  Those who do not want to eat before they understand the entire process by which food arrives at the table will starve to death.  And those who do not want to believe the Word of God before they see all problems will die of spiritual starvation (Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003], 442).

Bavinck’s words, written in an age when science, historical-criticism, and the Enlightenment Spirit were fueling modernism and eroding faith (ca. 1900), remind us that to profit from the Scriptures we must believe they are God’s words (2 Tim. 3:16-17), given from God through his prophet and apostles (2 Pet. 1:19-21), to his church for the purpose of salvific wisdom, life, godliness, and grace that leads to repentance in Jesus Christ.  Arrogantly waiting for all the “cruxes” and inconsitencies to be resolved in the Scriptures will only lead to an impoverished understanding of the Bible and a wrath-inviting position before God.

Bavinck’s words and his whole treatment of the subject of the Scripture’s inspiration insist that to fully understand the Bible we must begin with faith (cf. Rom. 10:17).  Only then can can we labor over the texts as a spiritual service of worship that enables us to test and approve the good, perfect, and pleasing will of God (Rom. 12:2).  In coming to study the Bible we must do so as needy sinners standing under the judgment of God, and not intellectual zealots bringing finite and foolish judgments against the infinitely wise and eternal God.  For in truth, biblical understanding is a gift from God (cf. Prov. 2:1-7) and an ability not naturally possessed (1 Cor. 1-2). 

Such a position does not laud men and their schemas, but God and his grace.  Thus we must come receptive in order to believe, and this receptivity only occurs because God in his mercy sends his Spirit to prepare our hearts to receive his word.  From first to last, the revelation of God is supernatural and gracious, and must be considered as one of God’s greatest acts of kind condescension.  The human heart writhes under the pressure of this self-effacing position, but it preserves the pearls of God from being trampled by unbelieving swine.  

May those who have ears to hear, hear the Word of God and believe.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Herman Bavinck on Scripture’s Fuller Sense

In volume 1 of his Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck reflects on the multiple ways in which the New Testament authors use and apply the Old Testament.  In the discussions that swirl today on this subject, it is noteworthy that he writes in favor of sensus plenior.  He says,

In the case of Jesus and the apostles, this exegesis of the OT in the NT assumes the understanding that a word or sentence can have a much deeper meaning and a much father reaching thrust than the original author suspected or put into it.  This is often the case in classical authors as well.  No one will think that Goethe, in writing down his classical poetry, consciously had before his mind the things that are now found in it.  “Surely that person has not gotten far in poetry / In whose verses there is nothing more than what he had [consciously] written into them.”

In Scripture this is even much more strongly the case since, in the conviction of Jesus and the apostles, it has the Holy Spirit as its primary author and bears a teleological character.  Not only in the few verses cited above [verses from the NT that employ the OT is various fashions] but in its entire view and interpretation of the OT, the NT is undergirded by the thought that the Israelitish dispensation had its fulfillment in the Christian.  The whole economy of the old covenant, with all its statutes and ordinances and throughout its history, points forward to the dispensation of the new covenant.  Not Talmudism [i.e. Judaism] but Christianity is the rightful heir of the treasures of salvation promised to Abraham and his seed (Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], 396-97; Bavinck also includes a broad bibliography on this subject from Dutch, German, and English-speaking scholars).

Two things should be noted from his statement.  (1) While Bavinck  supports a view allowing for the expansion of meaning in the text as that ‘word or sentence’ is read in the light of later revelation, namely in the coming of Christ; his own theological method does not overdo this proposition.  He is rigorous, even ‘scientific’ (a term he uses positively), in his attention to the original meaning of the text in his doctrinal formulation.   Thus, it seems that in comparison with his own method interpretation, his sensus plenior is controlled by further biblical revelation (i.e. the canonical horizon) and not by spurious philosophies or extra-biblical ideas.  In fact, large sections of volume 1 are devoted to ardently rejecting theological methods that depend on such eisegesis.

(2) Bavinck’s appeal to Goethe does appear, at least today, to support a postmodern hermeneutic, namely that the reader can and should bring their own meaning to the text.  However, in Bavinck’s defense, it must be remembered that he is writing decades before the influence of postmodern literary theory with its influnence on theology. And again, the proof is in the pudding: Does Bavinck himself believe, encourage, or legitimate a reader-centered hermeneutic?  I don’t think so. 

In short, Bavinck’s quotation is helpful to reveal his own method of interpretation and to remind us of the organic unity and eschatological nature of the OT which finds its telos in Jesus Christ.  Likewise, this statement shows why the Reformed Dogmatics are so good; Bavinck recognized the progressive nature of revelation and undergirds his dogmatics with a biblical-theological framework that collects the sparks of doctrine of in the Old Testament and sets them ablaze as he moves into the New. (A great example see his section on the Trinity).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Theologian’s Task

What is the task of a Christian theologian?  Or more generally, what is the task of understanding Christian doctrine?

Herman Bavinck answers that question in the opening chapter of his four-volume Reformed DogmaticsHe writes,

The imperative task of the dogmatician [or theologian] is to think God’s thoughts after him and to trace their unity.  His work is not finished until he has mentally absorbed this unity and set if forth in a dogmatics.  Accordingly, he does not come to God’s revelation with a ready-made system in order, as best he can, to force its content into it.  On the contrary, even in his system a theologian’s sole responsibility is to think God’s thoughts after him and to reproduce the unity that is objectively present in thoughts of God and has been recorded for the eye of faith in Scripture… (Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], 44).

He continues later to describe the synthesizing and organizing work that theology entails to help understand and assemble God’s word,

dogmatics is not a kind of biblical theology that stops at the words of Scripture.  Rather, according to Scripture itself, dogmatics has the right to rationally absorb its content and, guided by Scripture, to rationally process it and also to acknowledge as truth that which can be deduced from it by lawful inference (45).

Whether you are a theologian or not, may you seek to absorb God’s word and think God’s thoughts after Him.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

King David: The High Point of Old Testament Typology

For the last few weeks I have been considering the subject of typology and Christology in the OT, asking the question: Is there a progressive and increasing nature to the conception of typology in the Old Testament?  Looking particularly at personal types of Christ in the OT (i.e. Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, etc…), I believe that there is an element in which the mediatorial leaders marked out by the Spirit in the OT do in fact show more and more likeness to the Christ as redemptive history moves forward towards Christ.  So that, we can say that David depicts Christ in a more full way than does Abraham or Adam.   That is my hypothesis, at least. 

I have found some very illuminating and helpful contributions to this subject, but perhaps no more succinct and enriching as Herman Bavinck’s consideration of David as the highpoint of OT typology (and Christology).  He writes in general of typology,

The Old Testament does not contain just a few isolated messianic texts; on the contrary, the entire Old Testament dispensation with its leading persons, and events, its offices and institutions, its laws and ceremonies, is a pointer to and movement toward the fulfillment in the New Testament (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ [trans. J. Vriend; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006], 243).

Then he highlights Davidic typology as the zenith of the OT revelation for the person of Christ to come,

Especially the office of king achieved such typical [i.e. typological] significance in Israel.  The theocratic king, embodied especially in David with his humble beginnings, many sided experience of life, deep emotions, poetic disposition, unflinching courage, and brilliant victories, was a Son of God (2 Sam. 7:14; Pss. 2:6-7; 89:27), the anointed one par excellence (Pss. 2:2; 18:50).  People wished for him all kinds of physical and spiritual blessings (Pss. 2:8f; 21, 45, 72), and he was even addressed as “Elohim” (Ps. 45:6).  The king is the bearer of the highest–of divine–dignity on earth.  Theocratic kingship…found its purest embodiment in David; for that reason the kingship will remain in his house (2 Sam. 7:8-16).  This promise to David, accordingly, is the foundation and center of all subsequent expectation and prophecy (244).

Bavinck’s comprehensive survey of Davidic typology affirms what the entire OT is seeking demonstrate–the coming of a Davidic son who will reign on the throne.  From Genesis to 1-2 Samuel, the Spirit of Christ is inspiring Biblical writers to anticipate David:  The covenantal promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob point to the emergence of mighty king (Gen. 17:6, 16; 35:11; 49:9-12); Deuteronomy 17 makes legal preparations for the rule of this king; Numbers 24:15-24 announces a scepter who will rise from Israel who will rule over the nations; in Judges the nation of Israel spirals out of control without a king in Israel (21:25); while the book of Ruth chronicles YHWH’s providential control of history that results in a Davidic genealogy (4:18-22).  Moreover, when David comes onto the seen in 1-2 Samuel (and Chronicles), his life is a divinely-intended adumbration of the Christ who is to come.  In this, the account of David’s life is genuinely historical.  Yet, all the while, it typifies the life of Christ to come.

In his treatment of this subject, Bavinck arrticulates how preexilic and postexilic prophets develop this Davidic typology.  Moving from the historic David to the more excellent prophecies about his greater Son, Bavinck points out that the prophecies consistently take on a Davidic shape, 

Prophecy, which is added to interpret typology, looks out from the past and present to the future and ever more clearly portrays the — to be expected — son of David in his person and work.  To the degree that kingship in Israel and Judah answered less to the idea of it, to that degree prophecy took up the promise of 2 Samuel 7 and clung to it (Amos 9:11; Hosea 1:11; 3:5; Mic. 5:1-2; Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-2, 10; Jer. 23:5; 30:9; 33:17, 20-22, 26; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:22-24).  This anointed king will arise from the dynasty of David when–in utter decay and thrust from the throne–it will resemble a hewn trunk (Isa. 11:1-2; Mic. 5:1-2; Ezek. 17:22).  God will cause him to grow as a branch from David’s house (Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-17), so that he himself will bear the name “Branch” (Zech. 3:8; 6:12).  Despite his humble birth, he will be the true and authentic theocratic king.  Coming from despised little Dethlehem, where the royal house od Savid origniated and to which, driven from the throne, it withdrew (Mic. 5:2; cf. 3:12; 4:8, 13), the Messiah will nevertheless be a ruler over Israel; his origins as ruler–proceeding from God–go back to the distant past, to the days of old.  He is God-given, an eternal king, bears the name Wonderful, Counselor, mighty God (cf. Isa. 10:21; Deut. 10:17; Jer. 32:18), everlasting Father (for his people), Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6-7).  He is anointed with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and courage, of knowledge and the fear of the Lord (Isa. 11:2) and laid as a tested, precious foundation stone in Zion (Isa. 28:16).  He is just victorious, meek, a king riding on a donkey; as king he isnot proud of his power but sustained by God (Jer. 33:17, 20, 22, 26; Zech. 9:9f.), a king whom the people call and acknowledge as “the Lord our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6f–cf. 33:16, where Jerusalem is called the city in which Yahweh causes his righteous to dwell).  he will be a warrior like David, and his house will be like God, like the angel of the Lord who at the time of the exodus led Israel’s army (Zech. 12:8; cf. Mal. 3:1).  He will reign forever; found a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and prosperity; and also extend his domain over the Gentiles to the ends of the earth (Pss. 2, 45, 72; Ezek. 37:25; Zech. 6:13; 9:10; etc.) (244-45).

All in all, I believe that the entire OT finds organic, covenantal ties (historically) and inscripturated revelation (textually) that point to or build off David’s person and kingdom.  Resultantly, it seems legitimate to conclude that one of the reasons why Jesus can say that all Scripture speaks of him (John 5:39), is because of David’s central role in the canon of the OT.  Since Jesus is the greater David, he fulfills in a more exalted way, the mediatorial role (i.e. prophet, priest, and king) lived out by Israel’s first true king, thus fulfilling the typological life of David in the OT, as well as all the other covenantal mediators in th OT.  In this way, David is the greatest personal type of Christ in the Old Testament, or at least that is what I am arguing.  Would love to hear your thoughts.

If this Davidic typology peaks your interest, I encourage you to listen or read  Jim Hamilton’s “The Typology of David’s Rise to Power: Messianic Patterns in the Book of Samuel.”

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Herman Bavinck and Peter Enns on an Incarnational Analogy of Scripture

Peter Enns, in an online article about the authority of Scripture, summarizes his understanding of Scripture’s authority with a quote by Herman Bavinck.  Appealing to the systematician’s understanding that the two natures of Christ parallel the two natures of Scripture, Enns writes:

I can think of no better way of expressing this idea [the incarnational analogy] than by using (as I have used on numerous occasions in the recent past) the words of Herman Bavinck, the Dutch Reformed theologian. In volume one of his Reformed Dogmatics, Bavinck writes that a doctrine of Scripture,

….is the working out and application of the central fact of revelation: the incarnation of the Word. The Word (Logos) has become flesh (sarx), and the word has become Scripture; these two facts do not only run parallel but are most intimately connected. Christ became flesh, a servant, without form or comeliness, the most despised of human beings; he descended to the nethermost parts of the earth and became obedient even to death on the cross. So also the word, the revelation of God, entered the world of creatureliness, the life and history of humanity, in all the human forms of dream and vision, of investigation and reflection, right down into that which is humanly weak and despised and ignoble…. All this took place in order that the excellency of the power…of Scripture, may be God’s and not ours. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 1: Prolegomena [trans. J. Vriend; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003], 434–35; [Enns’] emphasis.)

This quote may give the impression that Bavinck and Enns are lockstep in their understanding of Scripture’s origin and nature.  For those familiar with Enns’ book, Inspiration and Incarnation, it may elicit the question, “What does Bavinck think about the human nature of Scripture?”  Does he, like Enns, press the incarnation model for all its cultural molding, or relegate the biblical texts to mythological stories copied from Israel’s neighbors?   What does Bavinck think about inerrancy? 

First, to put “inerrancy” into the mouth of the Dutch theologian would be anachronistic, though I think his theology harmonizes with and anticipates the idea (cf. Gaffin’s book ,God’s Word in Servant Form, treats Bavinck’s–and Abraham Kuyper’s–doctrine of Scripture in detail).  Likewise, in comparing these men, it must be recognized that their settings in time and location, as well as, their divergent scholastic aims, may not allow a straight-forward comparison.  Further, even Enns himself admits that Bavinck “says a lot more” on the subject of Scripture, thus Enns makes room for difference between the late theologian and himself.  Nevertheless, since the question was posed on another blogpost concerning Enns and Bavinck, I will try to show some of that distance.  

I think to answer the question of whether Bavinck and Enns would agree with one another, one simply needs to read the next paragraph in Bavinck’s dogmatic textbook.  As is usually the case, context clarifies, and in this case, it helps demonstrate that Herman Bavinck’s “incarnational analogy” is not quite the same as Peter Enns.   The former grounds his human authorship in the unerring veracity of God communicating by the Spirit of Truth, the other emphasizes the human factor so much that Divine inspiration takes on a new meaning.

Bavinck concludes the paragraph cited by Enns saying, “Everything is divine and everything is human” (435), and then he explicates this idea with an important caveat in the next paragraph (which begins a new section):

This organic view [of inspiration, which Bavinck eventually affirms with qualifications] has been repeatedly used, however to undermine the authorship of the Holy Spirit, the primary author.  The incarnation of Christ demands that we trace it down into the depths of of its humiliation, in all its weakness and contempt.  The recording of the word, of revelation, invites us to recognize that dimension of weakness and lowliness, the servant form, also in Scripture.  But just as Christ’s human nature, however weak and lowly, remained free from Sin, so also Scripture is ‘conceived without defect or stain’; totally human in all its parts but also divine in all its parts (emphasis mine, 435).

In the next section, Bavinck draws on trends in historical theology, showing sensitivity to more modern understandings of precision, and urging caution models of inspiration that slide from word, to idea, to ultimate denial.  He continues:

Yet, in many different ways, injustice has been done to that divine character of Scripture.  The history of inspiration shows us that first, till deep into the seventeenth century, it was progressively expanded even to the vowels and the punctuation (inspiratio punctualis) and in the following phase progressively shrunk, from punctuation to the words (verbal inspiration), from the individual words to the Word, the idea (Word in place of verbal inspiration).  Inspiration further shrunk from the word as idea to the subject matter of the word (inspiratio realis), then from the subject matter to the religous-ethical content, to that which has been revealed in the true sense, to the Word of God in the strict sense, to the special object of saving faith (inspiratio fundamentalis, religiosa), from these matters to the persons (inspiratio personalis), and finally from this to the denial of all inspiration as supernatural gift (435).

Think what you will of Bavinck’s historical analysis and slippery slope argument, but one thing is clear: Peter Enns and Herman Bavinck do not share the same understanding of Scripture.  In fact, in the pages that follow in Bavinck’s chapter on “The Inspiration of Scripture,” their doctrinal disparity grows.  I will conclude with just one more treatment of his illuminating work that highlights the difference.  Concluding his section on organic inspiration he again touches on the incarnational model, only here Bavinck develops it with a detail that exceeds Inspiration & Incarnation. (Admittedly, Enns has developed this approach with greater focus since I & I, see his 2007 CTJ article, but differences in their incarnational models remain).  Bavinck summarizes:

Inspiration has to be viewed organically, so that even the lowliest part has its place and meaning and at the same time is much farther removed from the center than other parts.  In the human organism nothing is accidental, neither its length, nor its breadth, not its color or its tint.  This is not, however, to say that everthing is equally closely connected with its life center.  The head and the heart occupy a much more important place in the body that the hand or the foot, and these again are greatly superior in value to the nails and the hair.  In Scripture, as well, not everything is equally close to the center.  There is a periphery, which moves in a wide path aroung the center, yet also that periphery belongs to the circle of divine thoughts.  Accordingly, there are no kinds and degrees in ‘graphic’ inspiration.  The hair of one’s head shares in the same life as the heart and the hand.  There is one and the same Spirit from whom, through consciousness of the authors, the whole Scripture has come.  But there is a difference in the manner in which the same life is present and active in the different parts of the body.  There is diversity of gifts, also in Scripture, but it is the same Spirit (438-39, emphasis mine).

In the end, appeals to men are like appeals to tradition.  They are helpful and historic, but they do not trump the Bible itself.  I think ultimately, Enns and Bavinck, would go back to the Bible to make their case.  Only, I think they would do so with divergent degrees of confidence in the Bible’s inspiration–Bavinck asserting inspiration from the unerring Spirit of Truth through men; Enns ascribing origination from men with assistance from the Spirit.  This a nuanced difference, but one that ultimately affirms or denies the authority of the Scriptures.  One makes Scripture God’s unique self-revelation, the other a error-proned attestation to the God who lisps. 

The point here is not ultimately to solve the inerrancy debate, but simply to observe the difference between Enns and Bavinck in their similar usage of the “incarnational analogy.”  For while Enns bolsters his case with citations from Bavinck, the superficial similarities do not go beyond the surface.  Both scholars employ an incarnational analogy for understanding Scripture, but they explain this analogy differently as the preceding quotations demonstrate.  In the end, Enns is not a reincarnation of Bavinck, but hopefully his scholastic dependence on the Reformed theologian will help others glean from Bavinck’s commitment to biblical inspiration and authority in ways that Enns does not.

[For more on Bavinck’s doctrine of scripture, see Richard Gaffin’s book on the subject, God’s Word in Servant Form].

Sola Deo Gloria, dss