When Matter Becomes Form

This is a review of Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation vol. 4.

And so ends the greatest theologian of all time. The following are highlights around the central theme of grace restoring nature. Indeed, with Bavinck we see the rejection of dualisms: “The dualisms between the internal and the external, the spiritual and the material, eternity and time, essence and form…are products of a false philosophy and contrary to Scripture” (458).

*The Church*

In his discussion of the church Bavinck always comes back to the truth that it is in the Reformed churches that preaching is exalted. Bavinck makes an important distinction that Lutherans see the Spirit working per verbum, while Reformed see him working cum verbum.

*Ethics*

Ethics

While Bavinck appreciated a Christianized society, he didn’t think all sins (e.g., fornication, drunkeness) should be punished by the State (437).

Bavinck’s discussions on the sacraments are par for the course with most Reformed dogmatics, so no need to explicate them here. He takes Calvin’s view as a middle path between Roman realism and Anabaptist gnosticism. He believes the Supper should be monthly.

*New Creation*

This is the most important section. When you want good eschatology, always go to the Neo-Calvinists, never American neo-Puritans. Recreation

“The resurrection is the principle of the renewal of all things” (428).

Judgment

Bavinck ably rebuts the hippy, humanitarian idea that hell is too mean for God, especially when evaluated on human sentiment. “For when the interest of society becomes the deciding factor, not only is every boundary between good and evil wiped out, but also justice runs the danger of being sacrificed to power…Human feeling is no foundation for anything important, therefore, and neither may nor can it be decisive in the determination of law and justice. All appearances notwithstanding, it is infinitely better to fall into the hands of the Lord than into human hands. The same applies with respect to eternal punishment in hell (708).

The New Earth

“The state of glory will be no mere restoration of the state of nature, but a re-formation that, thanks to the power of Christ, transforms all matter into form, all potency into actuality, and presents the entire creation before the face of God, brilliant in unfading splendor and blossoming into a springtime of eternal youth (720).

“The difference between day and night, between the Sabbath and the workdays, has been suspended. Time is charged with eternity of God. Space is full of his presence. Eternal becoming is wedded to immutable being. Even the contrast between heaven and earth is gone (730).

Conclusion:

Perhaps, as others have noted, this book isn’t as good as volumes 1-2. But it’s still the best thing on the market regarding this locus of systematic theology.

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About Ephraim's Arrow

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism
This entry was posted in Book Review, church, Eschatology, Philosophy, Reformation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to When Matter Becomes Form

  1. Evan says:

    Thanks for the good review, Jacob. I haven’t read Bavinck yet, but you have me looking forward to when I do.

    A couple remarks and questions, if you do not mind. First, should it be cum verbo rather than verbum (sorry, Latin training and OCD). Next, do you really think he is the greatest theologian of all time? I’m not doubting it; that’s just really high praise. What distinct contribution do the Neo-Calvinists give to eschatology that the “Neo-Puritans” lack? I have a hunch I know what you’re talking about but want to be sure.

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    • Jacob BA says:

      You’re right on the Latin. I was typing fast and from memory.

      Yes. He is the greatest theologian of all time, though I am open to future correction. When Baker Academic starts translating and publishing the Reformed scholastics, then I will revise my opinion.

      Modern Neo-Puritanism has a tendency to be nervous around matter. Neo-Calvinism, for all of its problems, highlights creation as good and that it is structural.

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      • Evan says:

        Interesting, thanks. I, too, hope that we’ll start getting some of the Protestant scholastics into print. Recently, the first part of the Leiden Synopsis or the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae was translated into English. That’s a good start, although it’s published by Brill, so…. it costs an arm and a leg.

        Last questions concerning Bavinck. Obviously his work is not necessarily on metaphysics, but does he say anything about hyplomorphism? Also, to properly appreciate Bavinck, what theologians and philosophers are requisite to understanding him? I was going to pick up his Philosophy of Revelation because it looked particularly interesting, but then a reviewer said that one should first be familiar with German or continental philosophy. Most of my philosophical knowledge extends to antiquity.

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      • Jacob BA says:

        He mentions hylomorphism here and there in vol. 4, but not systematically. I know he does in vols 1-2.

        Philosophy of Revelation is good, but it really isn’t a philosophy of revelation, per se. He is rebutting German idealist monism.

        As to which theologians, definitely have handy Richard Muller’s Dictionary, as well as probably the first two volumes of Turretin. The older Reformed (and, ironically, van Til) knew Rome depended on the donum superadditum and therefore attacked there. Modern Reformed either don’t care or don’t know.

        Also gently delve into some Neo-Calvinists, like Al Wolters. They will set the stage on creation. And really dig into the lectures on this site.
        http://www.allofliferedeemed.co.uk/knudsen.htm

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  2. Evan says:

    Thanks!

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