Bavinck’s Christian Worldview

It wasn’t until I started reading Herman Bavinck’s The Wonderful Works of God (I already owned his four-volume Reformed Dogmatics but had only dabbled in it) that I decided I wanted to read everything that Bavinck had written.

That decision prompted me, in 2020, to purchase his recently-translated (2019) Christian Worldview which I wish I deeply regret not having access to before I completed my PhD in Apologetics and Worldview. I regret it because this little book answered some puzzles yet unsolved after those four years of intense reading and writing.

I read Christian Worldview in 2020, and now I’m re-reading it because, even though it’s short it’s highly concentrated. Reading it without plenty of time to absorb the thoughts bears some similarities to eating eating frozen orange juice concentrate instead of drinking it diluted it in water. If you’ve never had that culinary adventure, you’ll just have to take my word for it: Christian Worldview is deep and dense.

If that excites you (or even if it doesn’t), you might be helped by a diagram Bavinck’s main ideas. His central thesis is that some of philosophy’s knottiest problems only get knottier when philosophy alone tries to yank out the knots. Or, to change the analogy somewhat, “autonomous thinking” (i.e., thinking disconnected from Christian Scriptures) always tumbles into self-defeating ditches. Christianity, on the other hand, reconciles these problems. It fits the world like key-and-lock. It provides the best explanation for what exists.

So what problems is he talking about? Three in particular:

  • The epistemological problem of how we know we can know anything
  • The metaphysical problem of what reality really is
  • The ethical problem of how people should behave

I put these issues into a table which, for me at least, clarifies what Bavinck is doing:

In the area of…we see a tension between…which, without the Christian worldview veers into the self-defeating extremes of…
EpistemologyThinking and BeingSkepticism or Dogmatism
Materialism or Spiritualism
MetaphysicsBeing and BecomingAtomism or Dynamism
EthicsBecoming and ActingNomism or Antinomism

In a later post I hope to condense how Bavinck shows that the Christian faith reconciles these problems. For now, it is fascinating to observe that, writing in the early 20th century, many of Bavinck’s words now seem prophetic. Between us and Bavinck, we have seen two world wars, the collapse of socialism, sexual revolutions, and the rise of radicalism. Bavinck insisted that as long as societies disconnect themselves from God, the true, good, and beautiful, they will attach to something else—be it their own race, nation, or self.

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