Bavinck argues that a monistic account of the world cannot ground unity or diversity. By contrast, the Christian revelation can account for a unity and a diversity that is not located within the phenomenal realm. Bavinck traces the idea of revelation in its form and content and how it correlates with the rest of life (Bavinck 18). Accordingly, and perhaps truistically, philosophy of revelation takes its starting point from its object: revelation.
Bavinck then gives a tour-de-force of modern philosophy. While he firmly rejects these philosophies, he doesn’t give hysterical reductions of everything to Pantheism, Hegelianism, Darwinism, Insert-Bad-Guy-ism. He sees clear advances they make against other secular alternatives.
idealism: correct in that reality is mediated by consciousness. False when it infers from that the object of perception is within the mind itself (36). Idealism confounds act with content.
self-consciousness: the unity of real and ideal being. We know it immediately. Here Bavinck anticipates later Reformed Epistemology: self-consciousness is a properly basic belief. We do not know it by reasoning from prior beliefs.
Christian revelation imparts a new kind of certainty (40). This certainty is a confidence in God’s promises.
Augustine’s claim on knowing God and the self:
a. Augustine descended beyond thought alone: life precedes thought; faith, knowledge
b. the essence of the soul is not simply thought alone. He found ideas, norms, laws of certainty, truth.
c. Memoria, intellectus, voluntas.
Echoing later neo-Calvinist themes, Bavinck sees that each branch of knowledge (science, theology) has a barrier around it, not a boundary. Each branch must respect its own object of knowledge and character. Kant unwittingly showed that when science tries to peer into the “essence” of things, it creates antinomies (57).
The only way unity can preserve true differentiation is when it includes and enfolds the entire world seen as the product of divine wisdom (57-58).
Bavinck, like Van Til after him, was incapable of giving a precision strike against a target. Sometimes the chapters seemed to go on and on. On the other hand, Bavinck, like Van Til, was able to carpet bomb and thoroughly cover an entire area.
Some pages were simply beautiful. Bavinck has a magnificently stirring section contrasting the Bible with Babylonian magick (112ff). He writes, “The Bible did not come from Babylon, but in its fundamental thought is in diametrical opposition to Babylon, and made an end to Babylon’s spiritual dominion over the peoples.” That last clause is crucial: Babylon was never merely a political oppressor, but brought to bear her demonic, albeit immaterial personalities to its politics.
While brief, this book is not particularly easy reading. Bavinck assumes that you are relatively familiar with continental philosophy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Further, most of his footnotes are in German, Dutch, or Latin. Finally, my edition (AlevBooks) has larger pages and more words on a page than you would normally expect.