Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Today on the show, we remember Herman Bavinck on the 101st anniversary of his death.

It is the 13th of December 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

A little over a year ago, I started seeing the name Herman Bavinck pop up on Twitter and mentioned in various theological magazines. I, along with much of the world, knew him, if at all, as one of those Dutch Reformed theologians- a contemporary or thereabouts with Abraham Kuyper (more on him in a minute) who conservative Reformed guys really liked.

There was an article in Christianity Today entitled “Everybody Loves Bavinck” that caught my eye. It was written by James Eglinton out of the University of Edinburgh, who had just written a biography of the man and whose doctoral students were publishing and creating a kind of Bavinck renaissance- it made sense for a lot of reasons, including that it was the centenary of his death in 1921. And it makes sense to talk about him today, as he was born on the 13th of December in 1854.

Bavinck was born into a Reformed family in the town of Hoogeveen in the Northeast of the Netherlands- it was a farming community, and his father was a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church- a word on this is necessary.

The Christian Reformed Church was formed out of the Afscheiding of 1834- Afscheiding means “split” or secession”- the Christian Reformed Church broke from the state church, the Dutch Reformed Church. The Christian Reformed Church saw a secularizing tendency in the state and a concomitant liberalization in the state church. Herman’s father was a minister in this Secessionist church, and it was expected that Herman would attend the secessionist church’s university at Kampen. And he did in 1873, but soon shocked his community by transferring to the University of Leiden- once a center for the Dutch Golden Age- and still an important center of learning, but now seen as theologically liberal.

Bavinck would earn his doctorate there and then go back to serve in the Christian Reformed Church as a minister and, from 1881, a professor at the conservative theological school in Kampen where he began. One of Bavinck’s hallmarks was his ability to interact with both liberals and conservatives- he has been lauded as finding a kind of “third way” in upholding theological orthodoxy but also sharing concerns for social justice in the secular sphere. He and Abraham Kuyper (the founder of the Free University of Amsterdam) would both question the notion of a “secular sphere” instead arguing that Christ’s domain is his entire creation. Kuyper would attempt to lure Bavinck to the Free University but was initially unsuccessful. Despite these two names often being linked, Eglinton has made a distinction between the two. He wrote:

“Bavinck modeled the Christian worldview as an inductive, lifelong pursuit of godly wisdom—one that was open and inquisitive, rather than closed and rigid. In that regard, his approach was different from his famous colleague Abraham Kuyper, for whom the Christian worldview was deductive and inflexible.”

In 1888 Bavinck gave the address “the Catholicity of Christendom and the Church,” a call for orthodoxy but one that has relevance outside the Reformed tradition alone. In 1892 he was invited to address the Alliance of Reformed Churches in Toronto, and he would go to Princeton Seminary to meet B.B. Warfield- the American champion of Reformed theology.

In 1902 he would finally take the call to the Free University of Amsterdam to succeed Kuyper. His star would continue to rise as he was inducted into the Dutch Royal Academy of Science in 1906- he was well known as a polymath- he wrote on everything from travel to psychology.

In 1908 he delivered the Stone lectures at Princeton University and, while in the states, was invited to the White House by Teddy Roosevelt. In 1911 he was elected to the Dutch Senate- showing both his popularity and desire to integrate his life of faith and service to the state and his neighbor.

His magnum opus, the Reformed Dogmatics, constitutes a 4 volume tour de force of standard Reformed theology but engages with modern critiques. It was available in English in a one-volume summary called “Our Reasonable Faith,” and then in 2008, the four volumes were published for the first time in English translation.

Bavinck’s last years were engaged in addressing the horrors of World War 1, the place of nihilism in culture and faith, and continuing to address modern problems with the historic faith. He died on the 13th of December in 1921 at the age of 66.

The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary- the doxology from Jude:

24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 13th of December 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Hermans include Bavinck, Munster, of Hermits fame, and Colonel Herman Dietrich- the guy who gets his face melted off in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who just watched the first two Indiana Jones movies and was sorely disappointed in the CGI scenes that scared him as a child- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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