Heart of Dogmatics: the place and purpose of Christology in the theological method of Herman Bavinck
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The christocentric character of the theology of Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) has often been observed but it has never been thoroughly investigated. This study launches such an investigation, examining Bavinck’s theological methodology through the lens of a statement that offers an explicit description of its christocentric contours. In the third volume of Reformed Dogmatics, Bavinck writes,The doctrine of Christ is not the starting point, but it is indeed the midpoint of the whole system of dogmatics. All other dogmas either prepare for it or are inferred from it. In it, as the heart of dogmatics, pulses the whole of the religious-ethical life of Christianity. It is the μυστήριον εὐσεβείας (1 Tim 3:16). The whole of Christology has to proceed from here.The first chapter explores the first portion of the statement, which affirms Christology as the centre of Bavinck’s concept of a theological system but denies Christology the role of starting point. After outlining Bavinck’s concept of a dogmatic system, this chapter traces the development of Bavinck’s thought with regard to the place and purpose of Christology within a system of dogmatics.The second chapter then considers the further qualification that Christology functions not only as the centre but also as the heart of dogmatics. Here, the place Christology occupies in the relationship between dogmatics and religion is examined by attending to Bavinck’s use of the heart and lifeblood metaphor.The third chapter examines the statement that the ‘mystery of godliness’ must form the starting point of Christology. Bavinck’s account of the deity and humanity of Christ, which provides a good example of Bavinck’s ideal of a modern orthodoxy, is then analysed in close detail.The fourth chapter turns to the claim that the doctrines which do not stand in a preparatory relation to Christology are to be inferred from Christology. An analysis of Bavinck’s bibliology, ecclesiology, and eschatology follows, paying careful attention to the manner in which each doctrine constitutes a subcategory of Bavinck’s doctrine of revelation.The fifth chapter offers a synthesis of the results of the preceding four chapters before turning to consider the potential constructive value that Bavinck’s concept of a christocentric theological system holds for contemporary Reformed theology. Here, Bavinck’s christocentrism is situated within the taxonomy of Hans Frei’s, Types of Christian Theology. Specific suggestions are then made in conversation with John Webster as to how contemporary theological reflection might resource a theological method that lies between the christocentrisms of Schleiermacher and Barth.