Book Reviews

Book Review: Philosophy of Revelation (Herman Bavinck)

How should we understand the world—the universe—and everything in it? Should we put on our Darwin glasses and recognize that everything has evolved and is (almost) purely progressing? Can we actually know and understand this at all? As James Eglinton writes in the Foreword to Philosophy of Revelation (PoR), “What of the Dawkinsesque claim that the natural sciences are the best—or perhaps the only reliable—way to understand the cosmos and all that is found therein? Should we expect the natural sciences to provide a rich and satisfying account of life in its entirety?” (p. ix). How has human culture progressed? Always forward? Backwards? In every direction? Is progress always good and how do we know it?

As Bavinck himself argued in his lectures presented at Princeton in 1908 (which is what this book consists of), questions like these and the deep issues undergirding them need to be answered well if we are going to live our lives well. If unanswered, we will live lives of unending dissatisfaction. Bavinck believed that “the search for all knowledge is, at heart, a ceaseless effort to understand the relationship between God, humans, and the world” (x).

As the argument goes, “God knows himself perfectly and fully, and finds this self-knowledge to be delightful.” From that, “God chooses to share it [with us] in an act of self-disclosure.” That is, “God reveals what would otherwise have remained a mystery to us: the love, infinity, simplicity, glory, perfection, complexity, and unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

There are two sides of revelation. In general revelation, God is revealed through his creative acts—the beautiful and complex universe and the world we live in. Special revelation is God’s revelation through Jesus Christ (and the Bible). Knowing this God informs who we are, what the world is, and what it means. We know the beginning and the end, and these things inform what happens in the middle. Since all creation points to God, revelation helps us to understand all creation. There is, however, only one alternative. There is either revelation or no revelation. If there is no revelation, “then all speculation is idle” (p. 23). If there is true revelation, “it comes to us out of history… shining by its own light; and it tells us, not only what its content is but also how it comes into existence.” What lies behind our world and lives isn’t “blind will or incalculable accident, but mind, intelligence, wisdom” (24).

Concerning the title of the book, philosophy looks for the purposes of all the other academic disciplines. A philosophy of revelation looks at the implications of God’s revelation regarding the other academic disciplines (such as science, history, philosophy, nature, religion, etc.) (p. 22).

This edition was edited and annotated by Cory Brock and Nathaniel Sutanto who added helpful explanatory comments in the footnotes. For instance, Bavinck wrote primarily in German and often in Dutch. But he would often take key words, terms, of phrases from other philosophers and write that phrase in its original language (such as French of English) in the middle of his German sentence. Granted this book is written in English so we would never pick up on this fact, but some of the annotations help us to know that Bavinck was thinking of a particular philosopher when he said “x.”


This new edition hopes to help us understand Bavinck better today, considering more and more of his writings are being translated into English (such as his Dogmatics, which were originally written before his 1908 lectures we given). This book helps us to understand the completion of his thoughts on certain topics such as revelation, philosophy, epistemology, and ontology.

For any reader of Bavinck, you should consider picking this up. But know that this is not an easy book (at least, it was not for me). I haven’t read much philosophy, and many of the philosophers and scientists Bavinck spoke with and against are not relevant today and are largely unknown. Yet his sharp and insightful arguments still hold today.


  • Authors: Herman Bavinck
  • Editors: Cory Brock and Nathaniel Sutanto
  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher : Hendrickson Publishers; Annotated edition (December 1, 2018)

Buy this from Amazon or Hendrickson Publishers!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Hendrickson Publishers. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255


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