The electronic edition of Reformed Dogmatics, by Herman Bavinck is nearing completion on the Pre-Pub page, so I thought I thought I’d take this opportunity to share an email exchange I recently had with Dr. John Bolt, the editor of the new English translation. Dr. Bolt is Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary and has served as a pastor for several years. He is a member of the Dutch Translation Society, which produced the new translation. Part one is below, and part two will appear on the blog next week.
Remember, you still have a little more time to get Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, so head on over to the Pre-Pub page to place your order!
Who was Herman Bavinck?
Herman Bavinck was the son of Jan Bavinck, a preacher in the Dutch Reformed Succession Churches, a fellowship characterized by deep piety, practical Christianity, and traditional orthodox Reformed theology.
He was an extraordinarily gifted student who scandalized his own church by attending the very modern theological faculty at the University of Leiden where he earned a doctorate, writing a dissertation on the ethics of Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli. As a student he became familiar with the work of Abraham Kuyper, the church reformer, journalist, statesman, who dominated Dutch life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Both men taught theology—Kuyper at the Free University of Amsterdam, and Bavinck at the Kampen theological school of the Secession church and from 1902 on as Kuyper’s successor at the Free University. While Bavinck did public service in the First Chamber (Senate) of the Dutch Parliament, he was the “theologian’s theologian” for the Dutch neo-Calvinist movement. His major work, Reformed Dogmatics, is remarkable for its solid biblical base, its incorporation of the church’s long history of biblical interpretation and dogma formation, and its constant address to modern questions in the natural sciences and in the new field of psychology.
What is the mission and role of the Dutch Translation Society in translating the works of Bavinck and other theologians?
Truthfully, Bavinck was the only one of sufficient importance to warrant translating his entire 4-volume magnum opus. One cannot understand the developments in Dutch Reformed theology of the twentieth century (Berkouwer, Van Ruler, Hendrikus Berkhof, and others) apart from a first hand acquaintance with Bavinck.
He is still fresh and relevant because he takes seriously the intellectual and social challenges of modernity. Many of the questions of his day in Europe still haunt us today and he provides a sure guide.
Our translation society is a truly ecumenical venture that draws support from at least five different churches in the Reformed tradition. Bavinck is one of the few figures to which all of those traditions turn for guidance.
The translation project took a decade to complete. Can you describe the process? What was your role in the translation and editorial process?
When we started the project, we had enough money to do a segment of Reformed Dogmatics. Though we were all enthusiastic about the translation, we really did not know if the work would sell. So we started modestly. We began with the eschatology section in volume 4 because of its size and the currency of its subject matter. The result: The Last Things: Hope for this World and the Next, first published by Baker in 1996.
The volume was well-received. We had generous benefactors, and next produced the creation section of Volume 2: In the Beginning: Foundations of Creation Theology, which Baker published in 1999.
At that point support was growing sufficiently for us to commit to doing the entire four volumes. The last one was published in 2008. John Vriend was the translator of the text. I received the typed manuscripts as he completed his work, and I went to work editing.
My editorial work consisted of bringing the scholarly apparatus up to speed to twenty-first century standards. This meant getting the full bibliographic information, checking versions and editions, and—where possible—substituting the English text (eg. Schleiermacher’s Christian Faith) where Bavinck had cited the Dutch or German.
I am deeply indebted to the list of Calvin Seminary students whose names are listed at the beginning of the bibliographies in each volume. They checked editions, found obscure periodicals, and more. My final editorial work was to provide sub-headings internal to each chapter, where they were completely absent in the original, and to prepare a précis for each chapter to help readers navigate lengthy arguments.
You write in the introduction to Bavinck’s Prolegomena in volume 1 that “the Gereformeerd Dogmatiek represents the concluding high point of some four centuries of remarkably productive Dutch Reformed theological reflection,” including “Voetius, De Moor, Vitringa, van Mastricht, Witsius, and Walaeus.” How does Bavinck both reflect and develop the theological system of his predecessors?
All you have to do is look at the footnotes in the Reformed Dogmatics to see how well Bavinck knew that tradition and used it. Nonetheless, he excels them in his desire to reach out to the universal religious impulse in all people in order to connect it with the specific Christian gospel. If you look at any of the loci you will see how he often begins with, let’s say, “sacrifice” as a general human religious reality, and moves from there to Christian revelation. It is that move which marks him as a truly modern theologian, interested in and addressing modern questions.
The remainder of the interview will appear on the blog next week. Remember, you still have a little more time to get Reformed Dogmatics while it’s on Pre-Pub. The print set normally retails for $179.95, but right now you can pre-order it for $99.95. We plan on shipping this set very soon, so you still have a little more time left to get this deal when you pre-order. Lock in your order now!