A Bavinck Revival—May it Spread!

A Bavinck Revival—May it Spread!

There is a Bavinck revival going on in some theological circles in North America. Well maybe not exactly a re-vival, since we would have had to have a “vival” at one time in order to “re-“ it now. To be sure, Herman Bavinck has always been an honored name in the Dutch Calvinist community here. But up to now, only a small number of works by the 19th century theologian have been accessible by folks who could not read him in Dutch.

That has changed. A decade or so ago, a Bavinck Translation project was launched and now all four hefty volumes of his Reformed Dogmatics are available in English, published by Baker Books: Vol. 1, Prolegomena; Vol. 2, God and Creation; Vol. 3, Sin and Salvation in Christ; and Vol. 4, Holy Spirit, Church and New Creation.  A smaller work, Essays on Religion, Science and Society, shows Bavinck’s amazing breadth; he goes into impressive detail on, among other topics,  evolutionary theory, the unconscious, adolescent development, political thought and aesthetics.

Bavinck was the younger colleague of Abraham Kuyper, and together they developed the perspective known today as “neo-Calvinism.” Bavinck differed from Kuyper, however, in two important respects. One is that he stuck with a carefully pursued scholarly agenda. Kuyper was a public theologian without peer, engaging in theological reflection on-the-run, as the leader of a political party, a founder of a denomination, writing editorials in his newspapers, and the like. Bavinck, on the other hand, worked almost exclusively in an academic setting, first at a theological school in Kampen, and then at Amsterdam’s Free University.

The second difference is more substantial. Bavinck’s tone was more moderate, and he treated views with which he disagreed with much charity—unlike Kuyper, who often came across as a polemicist. Bavinck’s kinder and gentler orthodoxy holds out much promise for us in North America, especially since his works are being assigned these days to students in a variety of seminaries on the more conservative end of the Reformed and Presbyterian communities.

Take his comments about Islam. He observes, in his Prolegomena volume, that “in the past the [Christian] study of religions was pursued exclusively in the interest of dogmatics and apologetics.” This meant, he says, that Mohammed and others “were simply considered imposters, enemies of God, accomplices of the devil.” Now that these perspectives are becoming “more precisely known,” however, “this interpretation has proven to be untenable”—we do well to search for the ways, he insists, in which such perspectives display “an illumination by the Logos, a working of God’s Spirit.”

And here he is, in a little book, The Certainty of Faith, on the “works righteousness” associated in Calvinist minds with Catholicism:

[W]e must remind ourselves that the Catholic righteousness by good works is vastly preferable to a protestant righteousness by good doctrine. At least righteousness by good works benefits one’s neighbor, whereas righteousness by good doctrine only produces lovelessness and pride.  Furthermore, we must not blind ourselves to the tremendous faith, genuine repentence, complete surrender and the fervent love for God and neighbor evident in the lives and work of many Catholic Christians. The Christian life is so rich that it develops its full  glory not just in a single form or within the walls of one church.

Quite a friendly tone, for a Calvinist writing six decades before the reforms of Vatican II.

Indeed, wise thoughts all.  If that way of being “orthodox Reformed” were to take hold here in North America, we might have a real revival on our hands!


  1. […] A Bavinck Revival So says Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Seminary, in his blog post “A Bavinck Revival—May it Spread!” […]

    Pingback by A Bavinck Revival « Herman Bavinck — September 9, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

  2. At least righteousness by good works benefits one’s neighbor, whereas righteousness by good doctrine only produces lovelessness and pride.

    I imagine that Presbyterians will have trouble wrestling with that one, but it sounds like a very worthwhile wrestling match!

    Comment by Mark Baker-Wright — September 9, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

  3. For someone on a limited budget (being a student and all) how do you reccomend I start reading Bavinck?

    Comment by Joseph — September 9, 2009 @ 5:00 pm

  4. Thanks for this post.

    I’d visit my grandfather, a retired CRC pastor at Raybrook Manor in GR. In what was left of his theological library he had a copy of Kuyper’s Dogmatics and Bavinck’s, both in Dutch. He’d still read Kuyper but he’d often remark to me how he preferred Bavinck because he was so “sweet”. Your post brought me back there. Thanks. pvk

    Comment by Paul VanderKlay — September 9, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

  5. A good Neo-Calvinist understands the world works through diversity in unity.

    The fact is that Bavincks moderate tone needed Kuypers polemical tone for a holistic description.

    I wonder if the good Reverend and Doctor agrees?

    Comment by GAS — September 12, 2009 @ 10:19 am

  6. […] Kinnon @ kinnon.tv for highlighting Carter’s article and Richard Mouw’s recent post on the renaissance of Herman Bavinck.  [A short advertisement.  For those interested in take-no-prisoner book reviewers, you’d be hard […]

    Pingback by Kuyperian or Neo-Calvinist Translators Needed — Please Apply Inside « Withered Grass — September 15, 2009 @ 2:20 am

  7. […] if I’m honest, I’ll admit to not having ever read Herman Bavinck. Yet, thanks to Richard Mouw’s blog at Fuller, I’m pleased to share this small taste of his writing: [W]e must remind ourselves […]

    Pingback by Tensegrities » Blog Archive » Bavinck on works righteousness — September 16, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

  8. My your last sentence serve as a prayer. While I am in the Reformed tradition, an evangelical pastoring a Presbyterian church, I am very concerned about the tone of the supposed “new Calvinist revival.” Bavinck points us is a wiser direction. Thanks, Rich.

    Comment by Craig Higgins — September 21, 2009 @ 10:01 am

  9. Dear Mr. Mouw,
    thanks for the posting. Bavinck surely was a great theologian, and had many many wise and good points.

    But do you really think that if christians begin thinking that in Islam is “an illumination by the Logos, a working of God’s Spirit.”, that will bring another revival?

    I would consider the view by Bavinck on Islam as one of his weak spots (let’s assume to his benefit that he never studied Islam very thoroughly).

    Why would one see the Spirit of God at work in Islam?
    (As Islam is denying that Jesus Christ was God, and died for our sins. The “Isa” in Islam – a prophet – is very different from Jesus Christ of the Bible – the Messiah, the son of God, the Lord and Savior, the coming judge and king).

    (I might add: one may look at the fruits of Islam, and see Matthew 7,15-19. But that will not convince people whose worldview is preventing them from seeing bad fruits, e.g. by assuming a priori that all religions are good, and who say “we have to look primarily at the good in Islam”. Therefore, let’s keep the focus of discussion on theology.)

    IF the Spirit of God is at work in Islam, it is by drawing Moslems to Jesus Christ.

    Yes, we should love the Muslims, but not by compromising on truth. We cannot truly love someone whom we only superficially understand, so we should study the Islam, and describe it as it is, not as we would like it to be.

    Best regards.

    Comment by Roderich — March 17, 2010 @ 6:11 am

  10. In 2007, some Muslim scholars were publishing “A Common Word” – attempting to brush the differences between Islam and Christianity aside. See below the very diplomatic but clear answer by the world evangelical alliance.


    So – let’s become much better in practice in loving all Muslims in word and deed. But also, let’s become better in searching the truth, and let’s not brush away the differences, and let’s first of all recognize that all Muslims need Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation.

    Comment by Roderich — March 17, 2010 @ 6:24 am

  11. […] Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, is a knowledgeable and wise man. So, it is gratifying to take note of his high praise for Herman Bavinck in his September 9, 2009 blog entry. […]

    Pingback by Richard Mouw Praises Bavinck | The Bavinck Institute — April 30, 2010 @ 9:15 am

  12. Dear Mr Elliot .
    I have not been able to find this sentiment of Bavinck:

    we do well to search for the ways, he (Bavinck)insists, in which such perspectives display “an illumination by the Logos, a working of God’s Spirit.”

    However , I did find this one :

    ‘If Christ is the One sent by the Father, Mohammed is not’ (p.222 of the first part of the Dutch edition of Reformed Dogmatics).
    (the above ismy minister talking)

    Where did you find the first one ?


    Comment by Dirk Onderwater — December 18, 2010 @ 3:06 pm