Reviewed by: G. I. Williamson
Date posted: 01/21/2007
Reformed Dogmatics, volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, by Herman Bavinck. Published by Baker Academic, 2006. Hardback, 685 pages, list price $49.99. Reviewed by OP minister G. I. Williamson.
I can't remember when I first obtained a copy of, My Reasonable Faith, by Herman Bavinck. But from that day to this, I longed to see his four-volume work in dogmatics published in English. And now, thanks to the Dutch Reformed Translation Society, my dream is being realized.
Having now read most of volume 3 (and all of the first two), I'll simply say that I've seen nothing for a long time that compares with this work. Let me give you a few of my reasons for saying this.
First, Bavinck's command of the theological literature of the whole Christian church, through all of its history, is truly amazing. He continually brings forth nuggets of wisdom from theologians of virtually every tradition. His incredible erudition has produced his carefulness, accuracy, and balance. His discussions are cogent and satisfying, and his conclusions are judicious.
A second reason is his thoroughness. Theology books often leave me with more questions than answers. But Bavinck's discussions are so full and complete, that I am seldom left with any questions at all. And even when I differ with him on minor points, his position is clearly within the bounds of the system of doctrine set forth in the great Reformed confessions. Indeed, his respect for these documents is clearly evident throughout these volumes.
I am also impressed by the clarity of this work. Credit for that is partly due to the translators, who here and there provide clarifying additions (usually in brackets) for the benefit of English readers. If Bavinck was as clear in the original Dutch as he is in this fine translation (and from all I've heard, he was), then it is no wonder that this work has long been regarded as the best statement of the Reformed system of doctrine since Calvin's Institutes.
Although the original edition of these volumes is now a hundred years old, it is amazing how useful Bavinck is for our generation. A good example is his discussion of "The Obedience of Christ for Us" (pp. 377-81). Here he shows how the Bible unites the passive and the active obedience of Christ, and makes both together the basis of our justification. I am reminded of Solomon's saying, "Is there a thing of which it is said, 'See, this is new'? It has been already in the ages before us" (Eccl. 1:10).
I once heard a minister of Dutch background say something like this: "Everything has been downhill in the Reformed churches in Holland since Bavinck." I tended to agree with that opinion, and now my conviction is even stronger. It is hard to read Bavinck without feeling that he is speaking directly to the churches of our day. Not many books written today give as many helpful insights as these volumes by Bavinck. I already regard them as my most valuable theological resource.
True, they are expensive (though I've seen them on various websites for about $30 per volume). But I haven't seen anything for a long time that compares with them for value! I hope that every pastor and every other serious student of theology will obtain and carefully study Herman Bavinck's magnum opus.