Defining Dogmatics

In our first post highlighting the work of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, we  examine a quote from Volume 1 (Prolegomena), taken from chapter 3 which is entitled “The Formation of Dogma.”[1] In this quote Bavinck tells us why we need dogmatics (especially when we, as Protestants, confess the sufficiency of scripture): 

“Holy Scripture is no dogmatics. It contains all the knowledge of God we need but not in the form of dogmatic formulations. The truth has been deposited in Scripture as the fruit of revelation and inspiration, in a language that is the immediate expression of life and therefore always remains fresh and original… Scripture is a gold mine; it is the church that extracts the gold, puts its stamp on it, and converts it into general currency.” (page 116)

In other words, like our creeds and confessions, the writing of dogmatics is an effort by Christians to intelligently and faithfully defend and proclaim the doctrine(s) of scripture.

After all, as Bavinck notes, Scripture is not a systematic theology with neatly laid out indexes and organization around major theological points.[2] Of course, this has given rise to those in the history of the church to decry any attempt at systemization of the Bible, believing it to be unfaithful to the scriptures and, in fact, being or becoming a rival to them. However his point here is simply that we ‘mine’ from God’s Word what we need. It always remains the source of our theological formulations; the ‘currency’ or message of our theologians may (and must!) then be tested by the purity of the gold that we already possess (Psalm 19:7ff.)

But Bavinck states that the church’s (and her theologians) task or duty is to summarize it and proclaim it for the benefit of her members and the world.[3] After all, if the gold stays in the mine, how does anyone benefit from its riches until it is first extracted and distributed?

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[1] We will proceed in an orderly fashion, starting with Volume 1. In other words, we will work through the Dogmatics in the order it was written. 
[2] Though he notes that the book of Romans is an example of the “beginning of dogmatic development.”
[3] John Calvin says something similiar in his
Institutes (although perhaps in a more pastoral fashion than Bavinck): Although Holy Scripture contains a perfect doctrine, to which one can add nothing, since in it our Lord has meant to display the infinite treasures of his wisdom, yet a person who has not much practice in it has good reason for some guidance and direction, to know what he ought to look for in it, in order not to wander hither and thither, but to hold to a sure path, that he may always be pressing toward the end to which the Holy Spirit calls him.” Subject Matter of the Present Work, page 6.

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3 thoughts on “Defining Dogmatics

  1. Pingback: Where Is the Starting Line? | Grace Reformed Church of Leduc

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