Sunday, January 26, 2014

Herman Bavinck's Large Shadow

Recent translation of Bavinck's Gereformeerde Dogmatiek made it possible to trace and evaluate the influence of Bavinck in Cornelius van Til's thinking. Sofar this influence has largely been seen as positive. In this blogpost I would like to point to an alternative reading and propose that Cornelius van Til took his admiration for Bavinck's dogmatics a bridge too far.

Last week's discussion of the correspondence between J. Oliver Buswell and Cornelius van Til on the Reformedforum podcast by David Owen Filson, Jeff Waddington and Camden Bucey had me (once again) look into how Cornelius van Til's views relate to those held by Klaas Schilder. I found that Klaas Schilder, in his lectures (1946-1947 and 1947-1948), did not take position against Clark in the Clark/van Til controversy. Quite to the contrary.

In his second inaugural adress, at the Free University, Herman Bavinck changed his position on the object of Theology to the arche-ectype scheme of Abraham Kuyper. Precisely this arche-ectype scheme, promoted by both Bavinck and Kuyper, is the target of Klaas Schilder's criticism in the lecture which mentions the Clark/ van Til controversy. And precisely Bavinck's arche-ectype scheme is the target of criticism by reverend Visee (moderator of the 1952 reformed(liberated) synode) in his book 'educated in the kingdom of God'. Reverend Visee quotes Bavinck who said "if God speaks to us in a divine manner, no creature would understand him." but adds (Amelink):
 'As if God could speak any other way than the divine way And lies not our salvation precisely therein that God is God and still speaks to us.'
Schilder argues that Bavinck(following Abraham Kuyper) deviates from the position held by Helenius de Cock . Both Schilder and Visee's opposition to Bavinck, in this matter, brings them closer to Buswell and Clark and clearly in opposition to Cornelius van Til while, as Laurence R. O’Donnell III writes:
 'Van Til's repeated insistence that humans can only know God analogically is likely a recapitulation of Bavinck's formulations regarding analogical knowledge of God'. 

Cornelius van Til's esteem for Bavinck's Gereformeerde Dogmatiek as 'the greatest and most comprehensive statement of Reformed systematic theology in modern times' seems to have blinded him to this fundamental debate raging in the Dutch church during the thirties which eventually led to the split in 1944.

Was it Cornelius van Til's admiration for Bavinck (apparently at the expense of Charles Hodge, see reformed forum on Buswell-van Til correspondence) that made him ignore Schilder's fundamental criticism of central elements of both Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck's work?  This suspicion is reinforced by the fact that his teacher, Louis Berkhof, 'appropriated Bavinck's theology even more pervasively'Laurence R. O’Donnell III adds ominously: 'Furthermore, Bavinck’s neo-Calvinist theology casts a large shadow over Reformed theology on both sides of the Atlantic...Several recent studies investigate Bavinck's influence upon Karl Barth,Geerhardus Vos...'. Andrew Esqueda blogged on this influence on Barth as well.

Van Til's admiration for Bavinck could well be an illustration of what Klaas Schilder, who had once studied the dogmatics of both Hodge & Bavinck under (Alexander Comrie expert) A. G. Honig, went up against in the Netherlands when he criticized important aspects of Kuyper's (& Bavinck's) work.

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