Monthly Archives: February 2014

The essence of the Christian religion

Towards the end of his introduction to dogmatics (“the system of the knowledge of God as he has revealed himself in Christ”) Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck gives a summary of his system:

The essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God.

Note how Bavinck emphasises the objective reality of Christian belief: he does not mention human faith (except in reference to ‘religion’), but the object of faith – the work of God in creation, redemption and perfection. This structure guides his work: volume 1 introduces “dogmatics” as the believer’s confession of the ground and content of his faith as revealed through the Scriptures, volume 2 is God and creation, volume 3 sin and salvation in Christ, volume 4 Holy Spirit, church and new creation.

Handy to have a summary in one sentence!

What this definition misses somewhat is a goal, a driving force, both for God’s action and for our lives. It seems to focus more on God’s action in restoring creation than God himself. This seems to be behind Bavinck’s next sentence:

Dogmatics shows us how God, who is all-sufficent in himself, nevertheless glorifies himself in his creation, which, even when it is torn apart by sin, is gathered up again in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

And so, dogmatics is a “doxology to all God’s virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a “glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14).”

(Reformed Dogmatics, I, 34)