Herman Bavinck, from Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1, Chapter 8 – “Religious Foundations”:

We have a choice only between two alternatives: either (1) religion is folly since God does not exist or is in any case strictly unknowable; or (2) it is truth but then demands and presupposes the existence and revelation of God in a rigorously logical and scientific sense.  Those who cannot accept the former are compelled to assume the latter and to recognize God as the very principle of being, the essential foundation (principium essendi) of all religion.  Religion exists solely because God exists and wants to be served by his creatures.  Only when the existence of God is certain can we understand the essence and origin, the validity and value of religion.

Later:

…a human is a human because he is the image of God; a human is at once a religious being in virtue of being human.  Religion is not “the essence”  of a human, as Amorie van der Hoeven Jr. expressed himself somewhat less correctly, for religion is not a substance but a disposition or virtue.  Still religion is an essential of human nature so integral to it and inseparably bound up with it that, though sin can devastate it, it cannot eradicate it.  For that reason religion is universal and has such immense power in life and history.

From Chapter 6 – entitled “Reformed Dogmatics” –  of Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1 – Prolegomena by Herman Bavinck:

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Reformed theology starts with Zwingli.  In his work the basic ideas are already present – the theological starting point, the absolute dependence of humanity, predestination, the human nature of Christ, the spiritual conception of the church and sacraments, the ethical and political import of the Reformation.  But there are still many lacunae in Zwingli’s theology.  As a result of his humanism, he fails to plumb the depths of sin and the atonement; as a result of his spiritualism, he abstractly and dualistically construes God and man, divine and human justice, the sign and the thing signified in the sacrament, as opposites.  Zwingli’s clarity and lucidity of thought cannot compensate for the lack of depth.  He never arrived at a somewhat well-rounded and coherent system.  Zwingli laid down only the general contours within which various strains in the Reformed churches later unfolded.

John Calvin (1509-1584)

John Calvin (1509-1584)

It took Calvin’s organizational genius and systematic mind to give the Swiss Reformation its clearly defined doctrine and stable organization.  Calvin’s theology had already assumed firm shape in the first edition of his Institutes (1536).  There is expansion and development but no change.  Calvin differs from Zwingli in that he banishes all philosophical and humanistic ideas and adheres as rigorously as possible to Scripture.  Further , more successfully than Zwingli, he maintains the objectivity of the Christian religion, of the covenant of God, of the person and work of Christ, of Scripture, church, and sacrament, and is therefore in a stronger position to resist the Anabaptists.  Moreover, he overcomes Luther’s antithesis between the spiritual and the secular and Zwingli’s antithesis between flesh and spirit and therefore, though rigorist, is in no way an ascetic.  Finally, he introduced unity and system in his thinking – something neither Luther nor Zwingli succeeded in doing – and nevertheless consistently maintained the connection with the Christian life.  In time, Calvin managed to win all of Switzerland for his views – even in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (Consensus Tigurinus, 1549) and predestination (Consensus Genev., 1552, Second Helvetic Confession, 1564).  Soon Calvin’s Institutes were studied everywhere.

Herman Bavinck, from Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1 – Prolegomena. The following passage is from Chapter 2 – The Method and Organization of Dogmatic Theology:

Herman Bavinck

Herman Bavinck

The assertion that the religious and moral human being is autonomous is always linked with either deism or pantheism. Deism makes human beings independent of God and the world, teaches the all-sufficiency of reason, and leads to rationalism. Pantheism, on the other hand, teaches that God discloses himself and comes to self-consciousness in human beings and fosters mysticism. both destroy objective truth, leave reason and feeling, the intellect and the heart, to themselves, and end up in unbelief or superstition. Reason criticizes all revelation to death, and feeling gives the Roman Catholic as much right to picture Mary as the sinless Queen of Heaven as the Protestant to oppose that belief. It is therefore noteworthy that Holy Scripture never refers human beings to themselves and the epistemic source and standard of religious truth. How, indeed, could it, since it describes the “natural” man as totally darkened and corrupted by sin in his intellect (Ps. 14:3; Rom.1:21-23; 1 Cor. 1:23; 2:14; 2 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 4:23; Gal. 1:6, 7; 1 Tim. 6:5; 2 Tim. 3:8), in his heart (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Jer. 17:9; Ezek. 36:26; Mark 7:21), in his will (John 8:34; Rom. 7:14; 8:7; Eph. 2:3), as well as in his conscience (Jer. 17:9; 1 Cor. 8:7, 10, 12; 10:28; 1 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:15)? For the knowledge of truth Scripture always refers us to objective revelation, to the word and instruction that proceeded from God (Deut. 4:1; Isa. 8:20; John 5:39; 2 Tim. 3:15; 2 Pet. 1:19; etc.). And where the objective truth is personally appropriated by us by faith, that faith still is never like a fountain that from itself brings forth the living water but like a channel that conducts the water to us from another source.

Pope Leo XIII (Papacy 1878-1903)

Pope Leo XIII (Papacy 1878-1903)

Rome, understanding perfectly well this impossibility of religious and moral autonomy, bound human beings to the infallible church on pain of losing the salvation of their souls. For Roman Catholic Christians the infallible church, and so in the final analysis the infallible pope, is the foundation of their faith. The words Papa dixit (the Pope has spoken) is the end of all back talk. History teaches, however, that this theoretical and practical infallibility of the church has at all times encountered contradiction and opposition, not only in the churches of the Reformation but inside the Roman Catholic Church as well. It is not unbelievers primarily but the devout who have always experienced this power of the hierarchy as a galling bond to their conscience. Throughout the centuries there has not only been scientific, social and political resistance but also deeply religious and moral opposition to the hierarchical power of the church. It simply will not do to explain this opposition in terms of unbelief and disobedience and intentionally to misconstrue the religious motives underlying the opposition of various sects and movements. No one has been bold enough to damn all these sects because they were moved to resist the church and its tradition. Even Rome shrinks from this conclusion. The extra ecclesiam nulla salus (no salvation outside the church) is a confession that is too harsh for even the most robust believer. Accordingly, the “law” we see at work in every area of life is operative also in religion and morality. On the one hand, there is a revolutionary spirit that seeks to level all that has taken shape historically in order to start rebuilding things from the ground up. There is, however, also a false conservatism that takes pleasure in leaving the existing situation untouched simply because it exists and – in accordance with Calvin’s familiar saying – not to attempt to change a well-positioned evil (malum bene positum non movere). At the proper time everywhere and in every sphere of life, a certain radicalism is needed to restore balance, to make further development possible, and not let the stream of ongoing life bog down. In art and science, state and society, similarly in religion and morality, there gradually develops and mindless routine that oppresses and does violence to the rights of personality, genius, invention, inspiration, freedom, and conscience. But in due time there always arises a man or woman who cannot bear that pressure, casts off the yoke of bondage and again takes up the cause of human freedom and that of Christian liberty. These are the turning points of history. Thus Christ himself rose up against the tradition of the elders and returned to the law and the prophets. Thus one day the Reformation had the courage, not in the interest of some scientific, social, or political goal, but in the name of Christian humanity, to protest against Rome’s hierarchy. Frequently, even in the case of the sects and movements that later arose in the Protestant churches, that religious and ethical motive is undeniably present. So-called biblical theology also defends an important part of religious truth. When a church and theology prefer peace and quiet over struggle, they they themselves trigger the opposition that reminds them of their Christian calling and task. Rome, in the name of the case, can never approve of such opposition and has to condemn it in advance. The Reformation is itself the product of such opposition and cannot withhold from others what it assumed for itself. And Holy Scripture, thought far removed in spirit from all revolutionary resistance, nevertheless, in Peter’s regal statement “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29), legitimates the right to oppose every human decree that is contrary to the Word of God.

This passage especially caught my attention as I read today, most likely because on Saturday I attended my first Roman Catholic mass, which was part of a wedding ceremony for a family friend.  I have been struck for some time by the thought that Roman Catholicism is significantly different from the Reformed Protestant tradition in which I have been raised, so much so that I believe more and more that it is legitimate to refer to two entirely different religions – Christianity, which has Christ at the center and relies strictly on God’s word as the source of revelation, and Catholicism, which is much more oriented toward having the church itself as the object of religious devotion, or – in the best case scenario – some combination of Christ and the church, the Word and tradition.  From the Protestant perspective – at least of this protestant - the two systems are distinctly different, and not just over minor issues, but over the central issue of the Faith: and as such, it doesn’t make much sense to pretend that Roman Catholicism and Protestant Christianity are simply different flavors of the same faith.  I’m glad to see that my thinking is at least in the same ballpark as such an eminent scholar as Herman Bavinck.

Faith & Life

On November 10, 2009, in Reformed Theology, Theology, by marc

From Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1 – Prolegomena, page 75:

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)

…no one actually relates to the religions of the world as objectively as he might pretend in theory. Those who assume this position are the indifferent ones who have broken with all religion but are for that reason, precisely because of their profound partiality, unfit for the study of religion. Those, however, who value religion and acknowledge it as truth, always, in their studies, bring a certain kind of religion along with them and cannot rid themselves of it in the pursuit of those studies. A human being cannot keep silent about that which is most precious to him or her in life and death. A Christian cannot keep his faith, his most profound religious convictions, outside the door of his study nor view his own religion as objectively as he would that of a practitioner of some primitive religion.

From Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1 – Prolegomena:

Reformed Dogmatics Vol 1 - Prolegomena by Herman Bavinck

Reformed Dogmatics Vol 1 - Prolegomena by Herman Bavinck

In the earliest period of the Christian church, it lived by the word of the gospel proclaimed to it by the apostles, which was clarified and expanded in the Epistles and the Gospels. There was no difference between the word received in preaching and the word passed down in writing. The whole of it was based on the Old Testament, which was, at once and without resistance, accepted and recognized by the Christian churches as the word of God. From the beginning the Old Testament was, for Christians, the book of revelation augmented and completed in these last days by the word of the gospel through the oral and written preaching of apostles. Accordingly, from the very beginning both the Old Testament and the apostolic writings held authority in the churches of Christ and were viewed as sources of knowledge. From them people drew their knowledge of God and the world, of angels and human beings, of Christ and Satan, of church and sacrament. From the most ancient times on, it was customary to demonstrate the truth of the faith, the confession of the church, by means of Holy Scripture, the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles. Dogma was that which Christ and the apostles had taught, not that which had been conceived by philosophy. Scripture was the rule of faith (regula fidei); confession and church were subordinate to it. The most ancient and, from ancient times, the most important proof for the dogma was the proof from Scripture.

Books I’d Like, Vol. 1

On October 23, 2009, in Economics, Reformed Theology, Theology, by marc

This seems like as good a place as any to start keeping a list of books I’d like to add to my library, so let’s rock and roll.