Theology as the Wetenschap of God: Herman Bavinck's scientific theology for the modern world
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date22/07/2021
The revival of Calvinism in the nineteenth-century Netherlands entailed the neo-Calvinist movement. With Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck became a brand name of neo-Calvinism. Nonetheless, not until the first decade of the twentieth-first century was scholarly interest in Bavinck’s work increasing. The conventional “two Bavincks” model used to read his work for much of the twentieth century argues that some contradictory and irreconcilable themes do exist in Bavinck’s system, which makes Bavinck a self-contradictory thinker. This dualistic reading characterised most of Bavinck scholars in the second half of the twentieth century. Since James Eglinton’s new reading of Bavinck’s organic motif, the conventional model became untenable and scholars are seeking for a reunited Herman Bavinck. Bavinck as a holistic theologian has become the industry standard of Bavinck studies. Following the new hermeneutical criterion, several theses and numerous articles have construed various themes of the unified Bavinck’s system. Like them, this study aims on the one hand to maintain “one Bavinck”, on the other hand, and more importantly, to fill in a notable gap in Bavinck scholarship––that is, no single work hitherto has focused on Bavinck’s idea of theology as the wetenschap (science) of God. This study shall demonstrate that the idea of scientific (wetenschappelijke) theology could be used as the hermeneutical meta-paradigm for understanding Bavinck’s system. By metaparadigm, I mean that the idea of scientific theology as explained in this study furnishes the cardinal model that incorporates the fundamental characteristics and themes of Bavinck’s dogmatic system. To this end, I will begin with Bavinck’s twofold notion of wetenschap (the visible and invisible science). The visible science is preoccupied with the sensual-perceptible world, whereas the invisible science has the spiritual as its object investigated. Then, I will point out that Bavinck’s view of theology as the science of God encompasses three defining factors: (1) the reality of God as the object of this science; (2) a reliance on faith-based assumptions regarding God’s existence and self-revelation; (3) a character that is bound up with God. Next, I will analyse Bavinck’s dogmatics and construct the Trinitarian grammar of his scientific theology. This grammar consists of five rationales: (1) positive revelationalism; (2) theological organicism; (3) critically organic realism; (4) dialectical catholicity; and (5) doxological teleology. These five rationales are not discrete but rather exist in concatenation; they constitute a united Trinitarian grammar, which proves Bavinck as a Trinitarian theologian. Meanwhile, the grammar underlies the meta-paradigmatic reading of Bavinck’s system from the perspective of wetenschappelijke theology. The meta-paradigmatic reading of Bavinck’s theology is not restrained within the confines of dogmatics. Rather, Bavinck’s scientific theology makes an attempt to engage with the other sciences. This interdisciplinary character of scientific theology is associated with Bavinck’s ideas of the sovereignty of science and theological encyclopaedia, which are embodied in his understanding of the moral and spiritual dominion of theology as the Queen of the sciences. While this argument might seem surprising in the twentieth-first century academy, as a largely secularised academic environment, my thesis argues that Bavinck’s view remains useful in examining the work of the contemporary university theologian. Given various challenges to Christian theology in the contemporary secular university, three observations can be made from Bavinck’s system. First, the university theologian needs to be humble yet courageous. Second, the theologian should remember the identity of theologian qua theologian and theologian qua university academic, and discern the priority of theological identity. Third, given the moral character of theology’s Queenship, theological ethics can serve as an interdisciplinary point of contact between theology and the other sciences. In short, reading Bavinck’s system according to the meta-paradigm of scientific theology, it will demonstrate not only that Bavinck is a unified thinker, but that he also develops the science of God in a holistic way and operates it in the sphere of science, the university par excellence.