Book Reviews

Book Review: The Wonderful Works of God (Herman Bavinck)

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) succeeded Abraham Kuyper as Professor of Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam. His four-volume Reformed Dogmatics has recently been translated from Dutch into English, and because of that  there has been a renewed appreciation for Bavinck’s brilliance and his commitment to the church. 

The book was first published in English under the title, Our Reasonable Faith, and translated by Henry Zylstra. The new edition contains Bavinck’s original foreword (which wasn’t available in English before) and an introduction by Carlton Wynne. When I asked to review this book, I didn’t realize it was an update of Our Reasonable Faith, a book which I already owned.  However I’m happy that I did ask for this book; this volume is much nicer! The typeset has been updated so that this book is easier to read (and it doesn’t feel like I’m reading a book from 1909).

What is this book and why should you care? Herman Bavinck wrote in his Foreword, “Under the title of Magnalia Dei, the wonderful works of God, I wish to give a simple explanation of the Christian faith in a book of modest scope, as confessed by the Reformed churches… in all times and lands” (xxxi). While having a book that covers more than 500 pages might not sound “modest,” this is certainly shorter than his four-volume Dogmatics. This book is from a Reformed perspective, so obviously if you do not share that perspective there will be parts you disagree with. But don’t stop reading now. Bavinck was a deep thinker who not only loved God but loved the church too. Acts 2:11 speaks of “Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God,” after which Bavinck named his book. He writes, “The Spirit was poured out precisely so that the church would come to know these works of God, to glory in them, and to thank and praise God for them” (xxxi).

This book is a rich, clear account of Reformed theology. It takes its theology from the Bible, explains it, and edifies the reader. The obstacles to healthy doctrine that Bavinck confronted are still here. Information overload zapped spiritual vitality back then, and how we have a tsunami of overload today. We have information at our fingertips, all we could ever want and more, but how much time do we spend trying to get wisdom? FaceBook promises to connect people from around the world, but all it usually does is isolate people from each other. The goal of theology is to worship God in the wonder of his works. Our religion is not found in mere words or doctrine, but in actual, historical works of God. “It is a work of God, in word and fact, which was accomplished in the past, is being worked out in the present, and will be fulfilled in the future” (xxxi).

Each of the topics Bavinck covers are not mere “doctrines,” but the works of God. The church needs to know this information so that they can glory in their good Father and see all that he has done for us, is doing, and will do for us, his children. Bavinck’s takes the Bible as his starting point, and his work is filled with Scripture references to point you back to the Bible. He then writes about what all believers agree on (so, catholic doctrine, not Catholic doctrine) before moving on to more Reformed views.

Recommended?

This book is thick with content in its twenty-four chapters (and 549 pages), yet it is easy to read and you will be filled up to the brim. Most of the chapters are only around twenty pages long. There is one qualification: if you’ve never read a systematic theology book before, while I still highly recommend this book, just know this isn’t a primer. This isn’t “easy,” but it is more accessible than his other works (see my review of his Philosophy of Revelation). This is for the church, but many in the church have little knowledge of what the Bible actually says. Bavinck wrote this book with an array of people in mind- those going to university, working at the factory, the shop, or the office (xxxiii). This wasn’t written with the ivory tower in mind.

If you’re new to theology and you pick up this book (which I hope you do), read this slowly. There is a lot of information here, and it takes time to soak up. But it will point you to God and his infinite wisdom and grace and the love he bestows on his people as seen in the death and resurrection of Christ poured out through his Spirit upon us.

Highly recommended.

Lagniappe

    • Author: Herman Bavinck
    • Hardcover: 695 pages
    • Cover Type: Cloth-over-Board
    • Publisher: Westminster Seminary Press; 1st edition (March 23, 2020)
    • Download the Discussion Guide

Buy it on Amazon or from Westminster Seminary Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Westminster Seminary Press. 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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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