Orthodox yet modern: Herman Bavinck’s appropriation of Schleiermacher
Brock, Cory Clark
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Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), perhaps the most remarkable dogmatician and intellectual of the Dutch Reformed (gereformeerde) tradition in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, committed himself to what he called a ‘Reformed’ and ‘catholic’ theological task. For the modern dogmatician, this task is neither repristination nor abandonment of one’s confessionalist tradition, but, being driven along by the Scriptural witness, to appropriate ‘catholic’ dogma to the grammars of modern conceptual frameworks. Such a task led Bavinck to a certain eclecticism in style and source for which he earned in twentieth century scholarship the pejorative label of dualism, applied both to his person and his theological content. Regarding his person, this thesis of the two Bavincks follows a biographical narrative of a student and blossoming theologian divided between the orthodox and modern. Regarding his content, interpreters move to and fro between Bavinck the scholastic and Bavinck the post-Kantian, subjectivist dogmatician. This study nuances this picture and participates in James Eglinton’s recent call for an overturning of said dualisms applied to Bavinck’s person and work by outlining the most significant example of Bavinck toiling to complete his ‘catholic’ dogmatic task: his appropriation of Friedrich Schleiermacher. In distinction from Bavinck’s milieu, he did not demonize Schleiermacher, but, while willing to critique Schleiermacher’s material dogmatics, regarded Schleiermacher as ‘deeply misunderstood’. The two primary locales of Bavinck’s appropriation of Schleiermacher include (i) the question of the epistemic ground of the unity of being and thinking; (ii) the grammar of subjective and objective religion. In both, Bavinck adopts Schleiermacher’s concepts of ‘feeling’, ‘absolute dependence’, and ‘immediate self-consciousness’ to complete his own logic. Understanding Bavinck’s adoption of Schleiermacher’s conceptual framework, particularly that of the introduction from Schleiermacher’s Der christliche Glaube, makes visible just how Bavinck determined to work as a modern theologian post-Kant and within the freeing confines of his orthodox, Dutch confessionalist heritage. His appropriation of Schleiermacher is the paradigmatic example of his commitment to be orthodox… yet modern.