Van Til On Bavinck: An Assessment -- By: Brian G. Mattson

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 70:1 (Spring 2008)
Article: Van Til On Bavinck: An Assessment
Author: Brian G. Mattson

Van Til On Bavinck: An Assessment

Brian G. Mattson

Brian G. Mattson is a Ph.D. candidate in systematic theology at King’s College, University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

I. Introduction

Cornelius Van Til wrote that “Herman Bavinck has given to us the greatest and most comprehensive statement of Reformed systematic theology in modern times,” an indication of his great admiration for the Dutch theologian.1 References to Bavinck abound in Van Til’s works, and even where absent, the deep impressions made by Bavinck’s four-volume Gereformeerde Dogmatiek are evident in Van Til’s theological writings. He appreciated Bavinck’s commitment to truth and his ability to learn from others:

[Bavinck] was deeply concerned to make the Christ of the Scripture speak to his age. In this sense he was a truly modern theologian. He studied the development of modern philosophy and science with great care. He knew that true unity of thought and harmony of life could come to man only if he made every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. But he also knew that those who did not center their life and thought in Christ had, in spite of this, much to teach him. As a true Protestant he learned much from Romanism and as truly Reformed he honored Luther. Bavinck’s magnum opus shows true catholicity of spirit as well as unswerving loyalty to the truth as he saw it.2

Van Til admired Bavinck not only for his erudition and catholicity, but also for his character: “Humble before God and courteous to his fellow-man, Bavinck always refused to compromise his Saviour whose voice he heard in the Scriptures.”3 As was the case with most theologians Van Til revered, however, he occasionally felt compelled to critique Bavinck. These criticisms to an extent challenge his assessment that Bavinck “always” refused to compromise his Savior. Van Til maintained that, in fact, Bavinck did sometimes compromise Christian theism in his apologetic toward unbelief.

This article will freshly examine Van Til’s critique, with the added advantage of having Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics in English. Careful review of their views without the hindrance of a language barrier can only be beneficial in understanding—and appreciating—both Van Til and Bavinck.

II. Toward a Consistently Reformed Apologetic

Readers familiar with Van Til’s writings are well aware that his polemical targets were not always non-Christian philosophies of thought. He devote...

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