Bavingk’s Realism, The Logos Principle, And “Sola Scriptura” -- By: K. Scott Oliphint

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 72:2 (Fall 2010)
Article: Bavingk’s Realism, The Logos Principle, And “Sola Scriptura”
Author: K. Scott Oliphint


Bavingk’s Realism, The Logos Principle, And “Sola Scriptura”

K. Scott Oliphint

K. Scott Oiiphint is Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary.

The deep and long benefit, for the church, of the recent translation of Herman Bavinck’s four-volume Gereformeerde Dogmatick can hardly be overestimated.1 This masterful exposition of Reformed theology, now easily accessible to the English-speaking world, will surely provoke new discussions and provide an advance in the depth of that theology for a much wider audience. Because the “reach” of these volumes is now significantly extended, the breadth and depth of the Reformed faith explained therein will surely be expanded for the church beyond what it was previously

With this in mind, we propose here to begin to work through some of the material that Bavinck offers in his first volume on theological prolegomena. Specifically, we will attempt to answer the question as to whether or not Bavinck’s argument for an epistemological realism is consistent with the Reformed theology that he so clearly sets forth in his Dogmatics. We will also want to examine whether or not Bavinck’s insistence on the Logos as both the subjective and objective ground of knowledge is itself consistent with his realistic epistemology.

Pertinent to the question of Bavinck’s epistemology, and a helpful place with which to begin, is a review, not of the latest translation, but of the original first volume of Bavinck’s Dogmatick by Geerhardus Vos. In that review, as Vos attempts to allow Bavinck to “speak in his own words,”2 Vos says this concerning Bavinck’s view of knowledge:

The Reformed theologians in opposing the Cartesian form of the idem innatae, and in speaking of the mind as tabula rasa, did not mean this in the sense of Locke’s empiricism. The essence of their gnosiology was, that the human mind always receives the first impulse for acquiring knowledge from the external world. But the nature of the intellect is such, they held, that in thus being impelled to work, it forms of itself involuntarily the fundamental principles and conceptions which are certain a priori, and therefore deserve to be called veritates aeternae. This, it will be observed, is the same theory of knowledge that has been set forth in this country by the late Dr. McCosh.3

In other words, to summarize Vos here, the theory of knowledge that Bavinck sets forth in his prolegomena as a Reformed epistemolo...

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