Review of God's Word in Servant-Form

J. V. Fesko

God's Word in Servant-Form: Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck on the Doctrine of Scripture, by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. Jackson, MS: Reformed Academic Press, 2008, 107 pages $12.95, paper.

Ever since the serpent in the garden-temple of Eden hissed the words, "Hath God said ..." the Word of God has been under attack. The challenge to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture is not new, but it does appear that every generation has to struggle with challenges to these truths. The republication of Richard Gaffin's journal articles on the doctrine of Scripture in Kuyper and Bavinck is therefore a welcome contribution.

Gaffin's studies were originally two journal articles written in celebration of the birth of J. Gresham Machen. These articles were a riposte to a book published by Jack Rogers and Donald McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible.[1] In their book Rogers and McKim made the claim that the doctrine of inerrancy was a scholastic innovation foisted upon the Reformed tradition by the likes of Francis Turretin and Charles Hodge. This rationalism-induced stupor also drove Machen to a scholastic split of Old Princeton to form Westminster Theological Seminary. In the course of their study, Rogers and McKim try to enlist Kuyper and Bavinck as allies to their cause.

The study is divided into four parts. Part I addresses background issues, part II covers the views of Kuyper, part III treats the views of Bavinck, and the book concludes with a postscript. The main strength of Gaffin's treatment of Kuyper and Bavinck is his in-depth look at the primary sources, a significant weakness for the Rogers and McKim book. Gaffin, for example, carefully unpacks Kuyper's views from his un-translated Dictaten Dogmatiek (1891) and Bavinck's from the then un-translated Gereformeerde Dogmatiek (1895). Gaffin's analysis is informed by a thorough knowledge of the two Dutch theologians. Gaffin's overall conclusions are that Kuyper and Bavinck stand in continuity with their Reformation and post-Reformation heirs, even those from Old Princeton, Hodge and Warfield. He also shows how both theologians affirm the necessity of the testimony of the Spirit for people to accept the authority and inspiration of Scripture. Among the other conclusions he draws, two stand out as vital to a solid doctrine of Scripture.

First, he argues that for Kuyper and Bavinck both the form and content of Scripture are fully divine and human—these traits are indivisible. This is an important point given the recent claims, not only of Rogers and McKim, but also from those such as Peter Enns in his book Inspiration and Incarnation.[2] In his book Enns claims, echoing something of Rogers and McKim, that Scripture is a human product and therefore susceptible to human foibles. In Enns's case, he contends that New Testament authors misquoted Old Testament texts. While such claims can be made, enlisting Kuyper and Bavinck cannot be done. For both Dutchmen, "The form, in its genuinely human character, expresses the specifically authorial intention of the Spirit. The form/content distinction does not parallel the human/divine distinction" (101).

Second, Gaffin highlights the ethical dimension of the historic debate surrounding the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. The careful, disciplined, and intense study of Scripture is absolutely necessary, as there are some genuine challenges that are difficult to explain. However, "the crucial issue raised by contemporary biblical criticism is primarily ethical. Much of this criticism is heart-directed rebellion against the authority of Scripture as God's word" (101). Here Gaffin hits the proverbial nail on the head.

What makes Gaffin's contribution a worthwhile read is that now that Bavinck's Gereformeerde Dogmatiek has been translated into English, those interested in studying his doctrine of Scripture can use Gaffin as a helpful guide. However, the debate over the inerrancy of Scripture ebbs and flows with the theological tide, but it will never disappear. Not only is the Enns book evidence of this trend, but so is a recent entry by Andrew McGowan, The Divine Authenticity of Scripture. Once again, in this book McGowan levels the same disproven canard that inerrancy is the illegitimate child of rationalism and Scripture. In the attempt to make his case, McGowan tries to employ Kuyper and Bavinck. So Gaffin's book is a helpful antidote, once again, to the claims that Bavinck and Kuyper did not hold to inerrancy.

The one area where Gaffin could have improved and strengthened his argument is when he claims that Reformed orthodoxy in its later development did have an overly mechanical and atomistic approach to the doctrine of Scripture. Gaffin does highlight the overall continuity between Reformed orthodoxy and the Reformation, but mechanistic and atomistic are not quite historically accurate adjectives to attach to the Reformed orthodox doctrine. Here Gaffin's study would have been greatly aided by reference to and perhaps engagement with Richard Muller's Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, especially volume 1 on Scripture. In volume 1 Muller amasses the primary source material to show the profound continuity between the Reformation and Reformed orthodoxy. Particularly helpful in this volume is how Muller treats prolegomena and the relationship between reason and revelation. His conclusions represent a dagger into the heart of the claims that the likes of Turretin were given over to rationalism.

Over all, Gaffin's book should be read with enthusiasm, as he ably refutes the claims that Kuyper and Bavinck only believed in the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. Gaffin's book should be placed on the shelf of must-reads alongside B. B. Warfield's Authority and Inspiration of the Bible and John Murray's Calvin on Scripture and Divine Sovereignty. Gaffin's volume is a worthy addition to these two classics which stand as sentinels against the attempts to mitigate the authority and inspiration of Scripture.


[1] (1980; Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1999).

[2] (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005).

J. V. Fesko
Academic Dean
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology
Westminster Seminary California

Ordained Servant Online, April 2010

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Ordained Servant: April 2010

God's Profitable Word

Also in this issue

Hearing the Word in the Modern World, Part 2

In What Sense? A Review Article

Reconciling the Two Covenants in the Old Testament: A Review Article

Review of Exploring the Origins of the Bible

Seven Stanzas at Easter

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