Theological thinking and loving: dogmatics and ethics in the theology of Herman Bavinck
In James Eglinton's 2011 editorial, "Bavinck: Dogmatics and Ethics," he asserted that the greatest issue facing Bavinck studies in the English-speaking world was understanding the relationship between Bavinck's dogmatics and ethics.1 This project seeks to attend to this issue. In contrast to previous scholarship, which confines the relationship of dogmatics and ethics in Bavinck to one doctrine, this account recognizes a plethora of connections that stretch across Bavinck's theological and intellectual system. As a result, the work's structure investigates various major "piles" - an architectural term borrowed from Bavinck's Dutch heritage - to demonstrate how the relationship between dogmatics and ethics is distributed. Together, the thesis imagines Bavinck's intellectual system as an Amsterdam residence. We might see this house in toto as the home of systematic theology, resting on the encyclopaedic avenue of theology. The house of systematic theology has several rooms but the two in the heart of the home are dogmatics and ethics. Our various "piles" allow this home to be above the swamp water of Amsterdam and facilitate connections between the two sub-disciplines. The structure of this thesis (theological anthropology) could be envisioned as God's descent into the mire of the swamp, theologically transforming humans and their activity, such that in faith humans might not only subdue the lowlands via a series of canals, but in the world-imagining activity faith construct a home in which to inhabit until they ascend to the highest good. Tectonically, the dissertation proceeds to guide the reader through a theological anthropology that explores the origin (from God, descent), form (through God), and destiny (to God, ascent), of regenerate humans. These "piles" include election, regeneration, sanctification, unio mystica, ecclesiology, and eschatology to demonstrate the distributed nature of the relationship between dogmatics and ethics. This relationship, according to Bavinck, is indexed to Scripture (particularly Romans 11:36), established by the Triune God's gratuitous action, concentrated on Christ, and positioned within the horizon of the Christian life of faith. In the first chapter, the main structure of the thesis as one that explores dogmatics and ethics from the viewpoint of the subject (and therefore theological anthropology) and object (and therefore the theological disciplines under the umbrella of the theological encyclopaedia) is presented. Moreover, Herman Bavinck and the social imaginary of the late 19th century early 20th century Netherlands is introduced. In concurrence with present scholarship, he is presented as an orthodox yet modern theologian. In this manner, Bavinck is a confessing and confessional theologian who participates in the major discourses of modern theology, while re-imagining key theological grammar. In the second chapter, Bavinck's understanding of the doctrine of election is examined. It becomes clear across both early and mature articulations of the doctrine that Bavinck envisions this doctrine as pivotal to ethical activity. The "pile" of election functions then as an important "surveyor's level" that identifies that simply pinning the relationship of dogmatics and ethics to one doctrine is lopsided. In the third chapter, Bavinck's conception of "faith" as the starting point of humanity's scientific activity is considered. This is especially true in theology. As Bavinck puts it, "If one remains in the terrain of the subject, dogmatics and ethics are born from faith, there is no distinction."2 Faith then is an additional "pile" in the relationship between dogmatics and ethics. This "pile" not only undergirds all ethical activity, but is in a sense "world-building"; as Bavinck's conception of faith connects intimately to the development of the human personality and the constructing of world- and lifeviews. As such the individual approaches both dogmatics and ethics in faith. In the fourth chapter, Bavinck's conception of the movement of humans from passive to active moral subjects in the event of the conversion of "hoofd en hart" is considered. This movement allows for the identification of the "piles" of regeneration, sanctification, and unio mystica in Christ. This psychological theme is placed within the broader structure of Bavinck's theological anthropology of munus triplex - with a vision for the calling, nature, and destiny of humans as summarized by Christ's threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. This theme facilitates both an individual and collective vision of humans as theologically active agents. In the fifth chapter, Bavinck's munus triplex vision is expanded from the individual to the collective as the "piles" of ecclesiology and eschatology are explored. In turning to ecclesiology, it is particularly considered how organism and institution reflect an on-going dynamic between humans as theologically passive and active in the interface of the church in the means of grace of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Following this, Bavinck's theological reflections on the human's ascent to God and what this entails are explored. This includes drawing together Bavinck's thoughts related to the kingdom of God, the beatific vision, and "the highest good." In the sixth chapter, we move from the perspective of the subject to the discipline of theology. In Bavinck's theological system, dogmatics and ethics are members of a single organism - the theological encyclopaedia. The distinct features of Bavinck's encyclopaedia are exposed against their consonance and dissonance with Abraham Kuyper's (1837-1920) theological encyclopaedia. Kuyper's encyclopaedia allows us to consider the distinctiveness of Bavinck's encyclopaedia and further unveils his participation in modern theology. In this chapter, then we bring the two disciplines of dogmatics and ethics closer together, noting their systematic relationship. When viewed from the perspective of the subject, dogmatics and ethics remain indistinguishable. Having evaluated this, alongside their shared location in the theological encyclopaedia, the thesis then distinguishes them. The activity of dogmatics and ethics is reflected upon as theological thinking and theological loving. Early threads related to the centre of the two-disciplines are re-engaged. To capstone the dissertation, the merits of Bavinck's vision of the relationship between dogmatics and ethics are also considered and further avenues of research are suggested.