Cory C. Brock. Orthodox yet Modern: Herman Bavinck’s Use of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020. $28.99, paper.
Brock’s book follows up on the fall of the two-Bavinck thesis that called readers to choose between one of two Bavincks: an orthodox Bavinck who resisted modern thought, on the one hand, or a modern Bavinck who assimilated novel philosophical ideas for the sake of cultural activism, on the other. With the scholarship of Brian Mattson and James Eglinton as a launching pad, Brock asks the constructive and positive question: in what way was Bavinck a unified thinker who stood on orthodoxy while synthesizing modern philosophical ideas? Defining modern theology as a post-Kantian theology dependent on the work of F. D. E. Schleiermacher, Brock details the way in which Bavinck utilized Schleiermacher’s philosophical grammar for his own orthodox ends. Indeed, Bavinck argued that Schleiermacher was “deeply misunderstood” and that all subsequent theology is now “dependent on him,” while remaining critical of the major moves in Schleiermacher’s dogmatics.
Brock’s study thus involves both a historical and theological analysis. Historically, Brock traces the way in which Schleiermacher’s thought was received in the Netherlands – from Berlin to Kampen – through the ethical and mediating theologians – and ultimately to Bavinck (and Kuyper) themselves. Theologically, Brock shows how Bavinck understood Schleiermacher to be drawing from Augustinian notions of the self and consciousness, and that Schleiermacher’s philosophy could be enfolded to articulate a reworked and neo-Calvinist theology of general revelation and common grace. What emerges, then, is that Bavinck is an orthodox yet modern figure, which explains why these first-generation neo-Calvinists were often accused by their contemporaries of having a “double-minded” standpoint of being neither truly orthodox nor truly modern.
Cory Brock and I studied at the University of Edinburgh together under James Eglinton’s supervision. We felt then, and continue to feel, that we are only now catching up on the synthetic and holistic vision of Bavinck and Kuyper and their desire to engage the contemporary challenges of their own day. Brock’s book is a wonderful entryway into this emerging picture.
Vos, Geerhardus. Reformed Dogmatics. Single-volume edition. Transl. and ed. by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020. viii, 1274 pages. $59.99, cloth.
From 2012 to 2016 Lexham Press released the long-awaited English translation of Geerhardus Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics. These were lectures notes from his teaching systematic theology at Calvin Seminary before he took the post of Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Seminary in 1892. Those familiar with the set will know that Vos’s presentation of dogmatics is arranged in catechetical fashion: each section begins with a question that follows with Vos’s exposition on the topic.
Should owners of the five-volume set now switch to this newly released cumulative edition? That depends. Certainly the cumulative indexes are beneficial. This includes subject/author and Scripture indexes, and also an index to the 1171 questions. Remarkably, the identical material in the five-volume set that took up nearly five inches of shelf space now occupies less than an inch and half in the combined volume. So the new format offers considerable portability and convenience, but perhaps at the cost of durability. The cumulation has the look and feel of a thinline Bible. The paper is so thin that the texts on the reverse side and the subsequent page bleed through. This is a distraction that may frustrate sustained reading and restrict readers who are given to underlining and commenting in marginalia.
J.V. Fesko, The Need for Creeds Today: Confessional Faith in a Faithless Age. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2020.
John Fesko has written a brief defense of confessionalism which highlights its importance in the life of the church. Individualism and revivalism characterize the American religious experience, and these two characteristics view creeds with skepticism and hostility. Instead of abandoning creeds, Fesko argues that the Church should practice what G.K. Chesterton called, “the democracy of the dead” and embrace them. He lays out his case by first presenting the biblical mandate for creeds examining eight passages of Scripture which command the church to create creeds and confessions that preserve and pass down the faith to future generations. He then gives a brief history of how the reformed creeds came to be and why they have fallen out of favor amongst Christians. Religiously motivated war and Enlightenment thinking have led many to believe that creeds cause more problems than they solve. Instead of denying that creeds have been misused and can create genuine problems, Fesko examines how these problems can be avoided. Next, he describes three benefits of creeds. They draw lines between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. They draw circles or boundaries which foster diversified orthodoxy. And they codify the church’s teaching so that it can be passed down. He concludes with a warning from an episode of near dueling that took place during the Synod of Dort.
Beeke, Joel R. and Paul M. Smalley. Reformed Systematic Theology: Volume 2, Man and Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020. 1,359 p.
This is the second volume of four anticipated in Beeke’s systematic theology (written with his aide and collaborator Smalley). The first (2019) covered the doctrines of revelation and God. Here he covers anthropology and Christology in this second hefty volume. Crossway has priced these reasonably for large hardbacks, but they are still an investment for those with limited book funds. Despite the length of Beeke’s work, he has sought to keep the language accessible to a wide variety of readers. He also aspires to write first and foremost for the church (though he is not alone in that desire). Each chapter closes with a list of study questions, some for beginners with added questions for more advanced students. Scripture citations are copious. Occasional excurses allow for added study of challenging doctrinal points.
Perhaps the best way to understand Beeke’s work is to view it in the context of his life of study of the Puritans. Here is theology distilled in the casks of Puritan experiential theology at its best. Very few will ever have the time to read much less systematize such a rich store of theology. In that regard, Beeke and Smalley have done the hard work for us, providing volumes which ought to endure over time, as they are not systematic theology done for the contemporary moment, but for the church of all ages.