A practical handbook of theology, it is an outstanding comprehensive statement of Christian faith and doctrine. In his presentation of the biblical material Bavinck uses primarily two methods, which may be called subjective and objective. By the first method Bavinck relates truth immediately to the Christian life By the second method he traces out what order is objectively present in the truths of the faith themselves
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A condensation of his massive, four-part Reformed Dogmatics, Our Reasonable Faith is a fantastic introduction to theology. Opening the book with the simple statement, God, and God alone, is mans highest good, Bavinck devotes the first eight chapters of his book to the knowledge of God.
How does man come to know God? In what does that knowledge consist? He begins by talking about the nature and value of general revelation. I particularly appreciated his emphasis here, as many Reformed Christians today push the idea of antithesis so far that there is no value in general revelation whatever. As someone who teaches things like Homer, Euripides, Plato and Aristotle at a Christian school, I sometimes like to ask my students why we want to read all these pagan writers.
After discussing general revelation, Bavinck spends several chapters detailing the nature and value of special revelation culminating in Holy Scripture. He then deals with sin and death, and what they mean for mankind. He then discusses the covenant of grace that God made with mankind for the redemption of the world. The latter half of the book proceeds from this point to detail how the salvation of the world is implemented and applied.
He spends a few chapters on the person of Christ and his work. He moves on to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and how the Holy Spirit brings us to share in the person of Christ.
Finally, he talks about the people who share in the salvation which Christ has achieved, the new humanity, the Church. The book ends with a chapter on eternal life and the future of the world. There were several things about this particular book that made it stand out as a good introduction to Christian theology. First of all, a book like this could easily be dry and academic. In many places he demonstrates a poetic deftness in his prose that makes the book a joy to read.
This is especially welcome as academic theologians are not necessarily known as brilliant stylists; try picking up a theological journal or modern academic commentary sometime. But above and beyond this is the fact that this book is devotional. As Bavinck wrote his Reformed Dogmatics first, he had a huge amount of scholarship behind this shorter book. However, he manages to hit on science, philosophy, various strains of theology in the Christian world, and history in ways that, without dumbing down the content, are accessible to readers with no background in these areas of study.
That is a pretty impressive feat. It struck me again and again reading this book that Bavinck was a very well-informed man. Finally, throughout the book he is interacting with viewpoints other than his own. As a Reformed theologian that means that he is regularly speaking to Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy, explaining the sometimes fine nuances in their theological differences while defending his own view.
This is particularly a joy for me because, unlike many Reformed writers, he is not polemical in his tone and charitably tries to state every position fairly. I found it fascinating, for instance, to see the traditional differences between Reformed, Catholic, and Lutheran theologians about the image of God and how it affects other parts of theology. Finally, the book is supremely Biblical.
Everything he teaches is copiously footnoted with Scripture for further reading and support. I understand that in writing Our Reasonable Faith, he did this on purpose. He cut down on the academic footnotes in Reformed Dogmatics and supplemented with Scripture proofs, once again to make it accessible for the average reader. Consequently this is not a book that will be used for frequent reference purposes.
However, as an introduction to theology and a Christian worldview, I have never read a book as perfectly suited to the task as Our Reasonable Faith.
It was fully worth all the time I took to read it, highlight it, mark in it, and copy out passages from it.
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Our Reasonable Faith: A Survey Of Christian Doctrine