The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Part 6 of Let's Read Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics

Today I would like to briefly cover both Lutheran and Reformed Dogmatics. I will mainly emphasize Reformed Dogmatics. 

Here is the summary of Bavinck's section on Lutheran Dogmatics: 

Martin Luther was not really the first Lutheran dogmatician; that honor belongs to Philipp Melanchthon and his Loci Communes (1521). After decades of debate about the Lord’s Supper, the law, and Christ’s descent into hell, among other things, Lutheran orthodoxy achieved its definitive form in the Formula of Concord (1577–80). The seventeenth century witnessed a refinement of Lutheran scholasticism as well as a reaction to its objectivism. In the eighteenth century the human subject asserted itself in different forms. Pietism and rationalism, each in its own way, undermined the authority of Lutheran orthodoxy by shifting the center of gravity to the human subject. The Enlightenment enthroned autonomous reason to a place of dominance over the objective truth of Scripture. Kant’s critique of reason shifted the focus of theology toward morality; religion became a means of achieving virtue. Romanticism provided another alternative to rationalism and deism; the immediate experience of human feeling is seen as the locus of the divine in each person. This trend found its culmination in the theology of Schleiermacher. The turn to the subject also found expression in Hegel’s idealism. The history of religion is the history of ideas; the incarnation is important because it expresses the idea of the union of God and man. By divorcing Christianity from its particular historical base, the Hegelian emphasis repudiated orthodox Christianity. Dissatisfaction with these trends gave rise to a revival of interest in classic Lutheran theology in the late nineteenth century as theologians such as Kaftan and Seeberg attempted a “mediating theology” that sought to join orthodoxy and modernism in some kind of synthesis. At the same time a resistance to the mingling of theology and philosophy led to a “return to Kant” movement. Theology, according to Ritschl, is thus about value judgments; the kingdom of God is a moral community. Ritschlian social gospel theology had a profound influence beyond Germany itself. Though Ritschl separated theology and philosophy, science and religion, into two distinct domains, objections arose against his aprioristic commitment to the isolation of Christianity away from all scientific inquiry. As the nineteenth century came to a conclusion, the a priori superiority of Christianity was set aside by many scholars, and Christian theology was abandoned for a universal history of religions that includes the Christian faith. This history of religions approach, of which Ernst Troeltsch is the best example, means the end of Christian dogmatics. It is impossible for the Christian theologian, or anyone else for that matter, to set aside a commitment to the faith and treat all religions objectively and neutrally.
Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2003). Reformed dogmatics: Prolegomena (Vol. 1, p. 159). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

I am not Lutheran, and if you are, I do apologize. I have nothing to comment on this section. I also will have little to say regarding Reformed Dogmatics. Let's move on to it now. 

    Though agreeing in many areas, Lutherans and Calvinists from the outset had important differences between them—geographically as well as theologically. At the heart of the theological difference was a difference in ultimate emphasis. The primary question asked by Lutherans was anthropological: “How can I be saved?” Works-righteousness was seen as the great departure from gospel truth. The Reformed, by contrast, sought to explore the foundations of salvation in the electing counsel of God and asked the theological question: “How is the glory of God advanced?” Avoiding idolatry is the major concern for the Reformed. Doctrines such as election, justification, regeneration, and sacraments were richer and more multifaceted among the various Reformed churches than in the Lutheran. 
    Reformed theology begins with Zwingli, whose starting point in the radical dependence of humanity on a sovereign and gracious God was marred by vestiges of humanistic philosophical ideas. Calvin was a more systematic thinker, as well as a thoroughly biblical and practical theologian. Thanks to Calvin’s influence, the Reformed faith spread from Switzerland to France, Germany, the Low Countries, and the British Isles. Though the English Reformation initially had a strong Reformed tone into the seventeenth century, Anglican lukewarmness led to the Puritan movement. It was in Scotland under the leadership of John Knox that Calvinism flourished. Though the Reformed theology of the palatinate (Heidelberg) did develop somewhat independently of Calvin himself, it is a mistake to accent theological differences with the Swiss Reformation. 
    In the seventeenth century, Reformed theologians such as Junius Zanchius and Polanus move away from Calvin’s “biblical theology” to a more scholastic one paralleling the development of the Middle Ages. Reformed theology of this sort reached a terminus in such confessional statements as the Canons of Dordt (1618–19), the Westminster Confession and Catechism (1646), and the Helvetic Consensus (1675). However, direct challenges to the Reformed faith also developed. Rationalism, mysticism, subjectivism, Anabaptism, Socinianism, Arminianism, and Cartesianism reared their heads. An ally of the last-mentioned was the federalist theology of Johannes Cocceius (1603–69). In the Netherlands the scholastic theology of men such as G. Voetius was eclipsed by Cartesian and Cocceian theology. Departures from the Reformed faith were particularly striking at the French Academy at Saumur, where Moise Amyraut introduced rationalist universalism into the church. The confusion over English Puritans during the Civil War contributed to the growth of Baptist groups as well as deism. During the middle of the eighteenth century, Reformed theology everywhere declined as rationalism gained ground. 
    As we move into the nineteenth century, an evangelical renewal movement (the Réveil) competed with modernist theology for the soul of Reformed churches. Attempts such as that of the Parisian School represented by August Sabatier attempted to wed orthodoxy and rationalism. Here the influence of Wesleyan Methodism also deserves mention, as well as the Oxford Movement, which brought a number of Anglicans to the church of Rome. In all of this a high level of tolerance and a strong desire for church union was a serious challenge to nineteenth-century Calvinism. The same must be said for the growing influx of Darwinian evolution. Reformed theology was introduced to North America from many directions, including England, Scotland, France, Holland, and Germany. A distinction needs to be made here between the Puritan Calvinism, which took root in New England, and the Scottish Presbyterian Calvinism, which was imported into the southern and central states. Divergent streams include the Princeton “Old School” Presbyterians (Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge, Benjamin Warfield). In addition, a revivalist stream, continuing the spirit of the Great Awakening, as well as a modernist trend can be observed. Reformed Christianity is in crisis in America. There is no rosy future for Calvinism in America.

Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2003). Reformed dogmatics: Prolegomena (Vol. 1, pp. 175–176). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Regarding Bavinck's distinction between Lutheran and Reformed, I would say that, today at least, there seems to be a bit more of a crossover between the two. I would also think that the Reformed are quite concerned with the doctrine of justification by faith alone. 

It is also nice to see that Reformed theology has branched out into many different nations. If Reformed theology is biblical, then it should transcend any one denomination or ethnicity or culture, because the gospel saves from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It is also interesting to note that Bavinck did not see a rosy future for Calvinism in America. This was his opinion at the beginning of the 20th century, and he was right. Princeton, and in 1929 Westminster Seminary, was the only bastion of Reformed theology for a long time. If there is any encouragement, it is that today there is something of a resurgence of Calvinism in America, even if it is still only an undercurrent in the broader evangelical scene. Globally there was a great decline of Reformed teaching in Bavinck's time, something which can hopefully be reversed as the reformed faith grows again in the States. 

Bavinck goes on to speak about Cartesianism. He doesn't like the attempt to build a theology of God off of the premise "I think, therefore I am." For Bavinck, this is making man the measure of all things, resulting in the world and God Himself being reduced to subjectivism. It is hard for me to trace just what Bavinck himself believes, because he decries so much. Further, he seems to not realize that as human beings, it is impossible not to start with anything other than ourselves. As believers, we can certainly begin from the standpoint of faith in God, and do dogmatics from that position. But still, from a standpoint of faith, one can demonstrate the reasonableness of the faith, and of the Word of God and of the existence of God Himself. All unbelievers, when they come to a point of conversion, find God and His Word to be the most reasonable explanation for reality, and the cross in particular becomes to them a historical reality. 

I think Bavinck struggled with the attack that Christianity was facing in his own day. The turn towards rationalism led many into bad theology or even Deism. Because of this, I think Bavinck saw the rationalizing of the faith as an automatically bad thing. This seems to have led him to some overreactions in my estimation. 

Next time we will discuss Part III, Foundations of Dogmatic Theology (Principia). I expect to have more to share in that section.    

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