Herman Bavinck’s fame as a theologian has been steadily growing in my circles—especially since the Dutch Translation Society began putting out his Reformed Dogmatics in English in 2003. All four volumes sit proudly on my own shelves along with the first volume of his Reformed Ethics.
I like to know the stories and circumstances of my theologians. I like to know what concerns drove them, what conversations they found themselves in. And this book delivers. It’s not a warm-hearted book (more on that in a moment), but it reads as eminently careful. The footnotes and the discussions very strongly suggest that Eglinton has made himself the master of Bavinck’s writings—in Dutch, no less. He is a servant to Bavinck, not a lord: he helps readers of today understand who Bavinck was in his own mind and in his own times.
This is about to be the squishiest criticism I’ve ever given of a book, the most subjective: I did feel that Bavinck failed to come alive for me in Eglinton’s work. He was treated as a third party about whom it was helpful for us all to have a discussion but who didn’t himself get to speak much. His relationships to key people in his life, namely his wife and Abraham Kuyper, felt as if they were taking place somewhere very distant from the reader. Bavinck’s friendship with Snouck Hugronje was well rounded, but I come away from this book feeling like I still haven’t met Bavinck. This is a “critical” biography, but I still feel a little sense of loss. David McCullough makes his subjects seem alive; somehow that makes a deeper impression on me.
Nonetheless, I received a truly excellent and rigorous summary of his life and views, a set of considered and (it sure seems to me) reliable judgments on some significant areas of dispute among Bavinck biographies, and a picture of the man and his times that will most certainly aid me greatly as I embark on reading through his works in the coming year or so. Bavinck’s early biographer Hepp comes in for regular and—again it seems to me, though I have only Eglinton’s word to go on—just critique. Experienced readers know when an author has done his or her homework; Eglinton surely has.
Certain things clicked into place for me. Bavinck, I’ve long known, was a key Neo-Calvinist thinker. He was a key popularizer of the concept of “biblical worldview.” I am his direct heir in twobooks. I see better now, however, the soil from which his views grew. And it’s so interesting to me that the soil was similar to my own. He was a “son of the secession”; I was nurtured in “separatism.” He was Reformed; so was I (without initially knowing it very well). He wanted to bring the Bible to bear on all of life; I’ve always wanted that, too. At the very simplest levels, I identify with Bavinck—and I hope I don’t flatter myself too much in doing so.
One of the things that most impressed me about Herman Bavinck from this biography was the combined dependence and independence of his mind. He was dependent on Scripture and Christian theology and not on his times. He was able to see his culture as only one among many. He applied his theology of grace restoring nature to his own tribe. This comes out most markedly—in Eglinton’s telling—in Bavinck’s views on women’s suffrage. Kuyper was distinctly unhappy with Bavinck at this point, but Bavinck was able to think both in ideal terms and in practical ones. He was able to hold onto his Bible while traversing the hidden barrier between the 19th and 20th centuries.
Bavinck was a truly great man, and this is a worthy biography. It wasn’t a page turner, exactly, but I never felt bored, either. The pace was stately. A good fit for its subject.
I received a review copy from the publisher, but I don’t review books I don’t choose: I chose this one, and I’m glad. My opinions were not affected in any way that I’m aware of.
This blog has shifted over time to reflect the interests of its proprietor. I use it as much as a “weblog”—a journal of my own thoughts, a means of forming those thoughts—as I do anything else. I search my own blog all the time for quotes and illustrations to use in other writing.
But I want to serve you, my readers (one of whom told me years ago that the “both of you readers” joke is old, so I won’t use it here). So tell me what you want me to talk about. What brings you here? Are you okay with what this blog has become, or do you want it to return to the days when it had more Bible tech tips—like Unicode tutorials?
What else would you like me to talk more about? Maybe language? Worldview?
What would you like me to talk less about? Maybe the KJV…? I want to know!
An ex-evangelical acquaintance of mine recently posted a link to an academic journal article critiquing inerrantist biblical scholars. It contained this paragraph:
Well, turnabout is fair play, especially with insufferably tendentious arguments. (I’m sorry: I believe in graciousness, I do, but there’s got to be some room for “hating…with perfect hatred” those who hate God a la Psalm 139:22. My blood boils when I see supercilious ex-evangelical patronization of those like me who still ardently cling to Christ.)
The same distinction operates within the realm of secular academic biblical studies practices. Not all kinds of academic activity involve specialized intellectual practices, even if they do involve less systematized or less deliberately maintained beliefs about proper methodology and other matters. It is thus significant to note that non-inerrantist academic biblical studies practices are specialized discursive actions. This finding can orient relevant sociological expectations: Only certain kinds of people in certain kinds of social and economic settings will have both the ability and the interests to participate in such practices (e.g. Acts 17:21). To the extent that non-inerrantist truth-suppression involves recognizing and participating in specialized discursive practices (i.e. in this case, producing and consuming non-inerrantist discourse about the Bible), this directs the analyst to focus on how non-inerrantists on the whole are willing and able to allocate the kinds of capital necessary for establishing and maintaining the requisite institutional conditions and infrastructure for these practices. Attention to the kinds of practices in which non-inerrantists engage can thus yield much information about the who and where (socially speaking) of non-inerrantist sophistry. Non-inerrantist sophistry thus resolves around specialized practices within secular academic fields, and, accordingly, its participants have the requisite types of interests and skills for these practices.
When I read through the journal article cited above, I knew—I just knew—that it was written by someone who had himself gone through evangelical educational institutions. There was just something about the way he tried to sound objective, tried to sound like he was not sneering… I’ve always had a holy dread of those who resort to the tools of sociological discourse to describe the group they used to be in. It’s a way, frankly, of setting yourself above them; it’s also a way of joining the cool kids who are in the epistemological know. I checked his CV and, sure enough, the inerrantist scholars he cited most often in his paper all came from the same evangelical seminary he graduated from twice not many years ago.
What are evangelicals who have a scholarly bent—a scholarly gift and a calling to teach, I’d term it—supposed to say about secular biblical studies academics? And, yes, what are the latter supposed to say about the former? Each has to acknowledge the intelligence, the sheer human capacity for learning and for subtle reasoning, on the other side of the great gulf fixed between them. Each in some measure has to acknowledge that it has something to learn from the other side; and each does acknowledge it by reading the works of the other, at least a little. But each also has to call the other, in some measure, dishonest. Each believes that the other is suppressing truths that ought, in the moral sense of ought, to be known and believed.
Because unbelieving academics currently predominate in the West (SBL is larger than ETS), they are generally safe in sneering at the upstarts, the has-beens. They do this by situating inerrantist views within a history of religions perspective—as if we (but not they) are explicable as a merely sociological phenomenon, as in the above paragraph. They can’t accept inerrantist scholarship as honest, because that breaks the most fundamental rules of the scientistic interpretive tradition they inhabit. The author of this journal article criticizes inerrantist scholars for trying to hold the moral high ground and acting as if they are in pursuit of truth unlike their opponents. Yet this is precisely what he’s doing.
Because practicing Christian biblical studies academics actually believe that there are sheep and there are goats (or better here, there are sheep and there are wolves), they can’t accept non-inerrantist biblical scholarship as (ultimately) honest. That would imply that there isn’t a God of eternal power and divine nature whose truth is clear in creation and in Scripture but is suppressed by his fallen creation. So though I don’t know from reading that one article (and I’m fuzzy on whether or not I’ve read anything else from the same writer) whether the author maintains any Christian faith, I can and must call him dishonest when he sets himself above the question of the truth of the Bible, something I never saw him address in his paper. I’m sure I have things to learn from him; but at some level, at least in this piece, he is suppressing the truth.
Yes, evangelical biblical studies academics are susceptible to sociological description, but so are unbelieving ones. Group dynamics—from good traditions to malign pressures such as those of C.S. Lewis’ “Inner Ring”—exist in each. “Objective,” “scholarly,” and “honest” are not (here I borrow from my favorite sophistic philosopher, Stanley Fish) “concept[s] that sit above the fray, monitoring its progress and keeping the combatants honest.” They are instead “right there in the middle of the fray, an object of contest that will enable those who capture [them] to parade their virtue at the easy expense of their opponents: we’re for fairness and you are for biased judgment; we’re for merit and you are for special interests; we’re for objectivity and you are playing politics.”
There’s a fantastic chapter in one of Lewis’ books about the leading edge of that Inner Ring, the motivations of people who drift from evangelical belief into liberalism. It’s in The Great Divorce, and it’s a scene in which two ex-evangelical Anglicans, one of whom regained his faith, argue over epistemology and faith.
The liberal asks:
Do you really think people are penalised for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken.
The evangelical replies:
Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?
There are indeed, Dick. There is hide-bound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed— they are not sins.
…Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment’s real resistance to the loss of our faith? …. You know that you and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn’t want the other to be true. We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes.
There’s more wisdom in this chapter, more careful Lewisian observation of the ways in which people can let themselves drift into truly believing falsehoods (“A drunkard reaches a point at which…he actually believes that another glass will do him no harm”). It’s always hard to find a place to stop a C.S. Lewis quote. Please do go read it for yourself.
I think it important to say that I have some evangelical friends who do not believe in inerrancy. I’m unpersuaded by their arguments; I think they stand on the slipperiest of slopes; I would not want a person with such a view to be an elder or even a member in my church; I believe that every word of God proves true. But I also believe that before their own Master they stand or fall, and I’ve seen such people somehow remain at the top of the slope without sliding. I pray that our Master will indeed make them stand. I’m willing to let Judgment Day decide between inerrantist and errantist views. But I say: to whom shall we go? God’s Word alone has the words of eternal life.
A brand new book I wrote this past year, Basics for a Biblical Worldview has just been released. It’s a sixth grade biblical worldview textbook for BJU Press. For this project I was privileged to rejoin as a freelancer the team I was on at BJU Press for nine years, the Biblical Worldview Team. I really need to underline that I didn’t write this book like I wrote Authorized; that book was an individual effort while this one was decidedly a team effort. For this new book I wrote according to a theological vision provided by the gifted friends and mentors I worked with and under at BJU Press. I wrote according to an outline and a set of careful lesson objectives that was already prepared by that experienced and excellent team. One insight they had that felt exactly right to me was that identity issues needed to get a lot more attention than they did a number of years back when we planned and produced a twelfth grade book on biblical worldview. In this new book we also spent some time talking through major world religions. This sixth grade book is not a reworking of our prior book; it is a completely fresh approach for middle schoolers. I’ll be having my oldest son go through it next year. That will be an experience! I think families with middle schoolers could use this book for family devotions. I worked very hard to make it engaging and accessible. It was a real delight to serve Christ’s body in this way.
The art is incredibly well conceived and executed; the art and design team at BJU Press is just excellent. It serves the message of the book well, which is that God is bringing glory to himself by restoring this fallen world by the work of Christ.
Here’s the outline of the book:
What is a worldview? (avoids the trap of a merely intellectualist approach)
What is the big story of the Bible? (relates creation-fall-redemption to the concept of worldview)
Who is God? (sources truth, goodness, beauty, and love in God)
Who am I? (identity issues)
How should I spend my time? (education and culture)
How should I relate to others? (gender, family, friendship)
How should I fit into society? (community, individuality, govt.)
How do I relate to other worldviews? (Islam, Buddhism, unbelief, secularism, moralistic therapeutic deism)
Nerdy note: I wrote this whole book, 2,000 words a week for just over a year, often on the bus on my daily commute, in markdown in Ulysses, which I have through Setapp; I also wrote a script that converted that markdown to appropriate Word styles for use by BJU Press editorial. Markdown is the way to go for writers! So lightweight and powerful!
Mark, I am thankful for your book Authorized, which I recently finished. I currently pastor a church that is KJV-Only and I am personally reviewing that position for myself and in the future of possibly leading the church in a different direction. I have not yet come to a fully formulated position but I am getting closer each day. I know that you have purposefully avoided the textual side of the debate, but would you have any other resources (articles, books) that you have written or would recommend on that topic? I would greatly appreciate any guidance there. Thank you for the blog and work you are doing. May God bless. Thank you. —X.
So I’ve written a standard reply to send. Here goes!
First: thank you! Thank you for reaching out and for your kind words. I have indeed purposefully avoided the textual debate on my YouTube channel and in direct conversation with my KJV-Only brothers. I’ve done this because the Bible (it seems to me) is far clearer on the principle that “edification requires intelligibility” (1 Cor 14) than it is on the textual debate (I lay out portions of that case here). I want to lay importance on what the Bible says rather than speculating about matters I’ve convinced it doesn’t address. There simply is no statement in the Bible telling me to expect a perfect set of Hebrew or Greek biblical manuscripts.
I do, then, have a viewpoint on textual criticism: I uphold the mainstream evangelical position, the one adopted by the overwhelming majority of Bible-believing experts in Greek. And if you want a popular level introduction to the topic written by me, I’ve got that. But I’d like to be more detailed—and (kind of!) evenhanded. I’d like to make some reading recommendations on both sides.
Judging the state of any argument means looking at all the major players on all sides of the coin (in arguments, coins can be polyhedrons). And “major players” is defined by, really, one criterion: influence. Is a given writer read and cited? Can you detect his influence among those who espouse the overall viewpoint?
Given that criterion, let me give you my top TR-defense recommendations and my top CT-defense recommendations (with one MT-defense recommendation in the middle).
If you read the book, I would skip over everything that isn’t really talking about the KJV and the TR. He talks for a long, long time about the evils of higher criticism (evils I fully agree are evils, like doubting the Pauline authorship of Pauline epistles), and it just isn’t relevant to the topic. But when he gets into talking about why Scrivener’s TR—rather than other slightly different TRs—is the best TR, he speaks with a clarity that I have had a very hard time finding anywhere else among TR defenders. He raises the hard questions, and though I am not satisfied with his answers, I came away greatly appreciating his tone and his thoroughness.
Theodore Letis is also often cited (The Ecclesiastical Text: Criticism, Biblical Authority & the Popular Mind), and he is the most entertaining and energetic writer among TR defenders. His arguments against Warfield’s views of textual criticism, and his arguments appealing back to John Owen’s views instead, have been widely repeated within pro-TR circles. But his viewpoint is somewhat confusing, in my mind. I and a better-qualified-than-me friend tried hard to establish whether he was against the concept of inerrancy or just the label, but we couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t get the straight answers out of Letis that I got out of Hills.
Dean Burgon is also often cited—but not so much used, I think. He really doesn’t have the same position on the TR as Hills; whenever I read Burgon, I hear the spirit of current TR defenders (which, in my judgment, is not a good thing: he’s not very charitable) but not necessarily their arguments.
I could name people today who are also influential, but at the key points where the battle really rages, I think they’re just elaborating on points already made by Hills. Empirically speaking, Hills is the go-to guy for the top TR defenders today. He is the one they reach for when their opponents ask them those hard questions. Hills ideas’ of 1) the “maximum certainty” he believes the TR position provides and of 2) “providential vs. miraculous preservation” are ideas I have had quoted to me numerous times, precisely when I press hardest at what I perceive to be the central weaknesses of the TR position. Many people find his viewpoint persuasive.
I tend to see this position as mediating between TR views, which tend to be strident and dogmatic, and Critical Text views, which tend to be too academic and insufficiently theological (though I think this is changing). The Majority Text proponents I know—get ready for a massive, sweeping generalization—tend to dislike a textual critical view that is merely academic, tend to like the KJV, but tend to recoil from the anti-intellectualism and frankly malicious pugilism common among TR defenders.
The Best CT Defenders
On the critical text side, I’ve got a number of recommendations—but with a preface first. The field of textual criticism is extremely detailed, because it tries to account for an unbelievable amount of complicated evidence, most of which is written in ancient languages, and not just Greek. It is, therefore, like drinking from several fire hoses at once.
Dan Wallace’s Credo House lectures are really fantastic. And they’re free online. You can’t beat hearing from the top evangelical textual critic, the guy who’s actually traveled the world and handled countless NT manuscripts. And Wallace has most certainly been influential. Key articles he wrote for BibSac over the years still get cited, and debates and books he participated in get cited, too. But those lectures of his are the place to start.
A shorter and maybe a little easier place to start is with a recent Crossway book by Dirk Jongkind, An Introduction to the Greek New Testament Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge. I loved the Christian spirit in the book. (Here’s my very positive review!) Dirk is definitely a player, definitely influential. But this recommendation is not one I make because he’s often cited, but because he gives the mainstream evangelical position so clearly and succinctly. This is the view you’ll encounter everywhere you go except within the various forms of KJV-Onlyism. Standard introductions to hermeneutics like Osborne’s Hermeneutical Spiral (an excellent, life-changing book) will also offer good overviews of the field.
The standard-though-dated academic introduction to New Testament textual criticism comes from a name you should generally trust and one you shouldn’t: Metzger and Ehrman. I haven’t read the edition to which Ehrman contributed, only the one by Metzger written prior to Ehrman’s involvement. But I gather (?) that the new book is still generally considered a reliable introduction. Metzger’s work was very straightforward, and his Textual Commentary is a standard work you should consult if you get into New Testament textual criticism (my friend Elijah Hixson has put together a whole list of such commentaries). It explains the reasons editors of the critical text made the individual decisions they did. (Note: the SBLGNT is a good tool for pastors to keep up with the minimal details of NT textual criticism.)
Lexham Press does have a very serviceable introduction to textual criticism of both testaments in the Lexham Methods series. See Textual Criticism of the Bible. Amy Anderson is an evangelical textual critic who has kept up to date with the New Testament side of the discipline.
Go ahead and go through the study exercises at the site I released not long ago, kjvparallelbible.org. Look for yourself at every (translatable) place where the TR and CT differ; it’s all presented neutrally, in English, on a site that I made with the help of professors from KJV-Only institutions.
And, finally, start to read evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com to sample the conversation as it is now, and pick up Myths and Mistakes of New Testament Textual Criticism, headed up by Elijah Hixson and one of the proprietors of that blog, Peter Gurry. That book is the state of the current evangelical textual-critical art, correcting a number of common ideas about the discipline. Gurry and John Meade and their Text & Canon Institute at Phoenix Seminary are the up-and-coming thing in evangelical textual criticism of both testaments. They’re young and energetic; I’ve met both of them and am excited to see the work they do (I happen to know there’s more to come!). Their book has really been well received, and I have enjoyed it immensely. I think these two will gain influence over time.
A female professor of Christian ministry just sent me a survey to fill out. I don’t consider myself an expert in this area, but I certainly have tried to be responsible—this is one of those places where the battle over truth is fiercest in my generation. Here were my answers.
What is your position on complementarianism and egalitarianism?
Strongly complementarian ✔
Neither complementarian nor egalitarian
Briefly explain the choice you made in the previous question.
I think Jonathan Leeman has done the best job assessing the current scene in intra-complementarian debates, and I like his “broad complementarian” terminology. I’ve always been at least a “narrow” complementarian (to use Leeman’s terminology again), because I’ve never been able in good conscience to read the classic statements of Paul on the issue as applying to the narrow historical settings to which they were originally addressed. Paul makes a creational argument, not a parochial or situation-specific one. But over the years I’ve become a “broader” complementarian because I’ve come to appreciate the essentially natural law arguments for maintaining (what are for me as a Christian Westerner) the basic traditional roles of men and women in society. Alastair Roberts was particularly helpful for me here. Working on Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption (BJU Press, 2015) showed me both that 1) gender roles are EXTREMELY touchy, because my very conservative consultants were picking over my language with noticeably greater care than they used in other chapters and that 2) a Christian worldview cannot and should not limit itself to reading the Bible, no matter how odd that sounds. That is, we need also to read creation in light of the Bible.
List 5-10 outside resources (e.g., books, articles, websites, etc.) that have contributed to your understanding of women’s ministry.
Rosaria Butterfield, in general, has also been a big help to me. Her overall approach to sexuality in, for example, Openness Unhindered, provided real help.
I’ve had friends I love complain about the tone, and I totally get it, but Rebekah Merkle’s Eve in Exile I found to be really good.
I finally stopped subscribing to Doug Wilson in the last year after I just couldn’t endure his tone anymore (though his writing skill and overall cleverness never disappointed!), but he did frequently cut to the heart of secular gender contretemps, explaining (for example) slut-shaming and slut walks. I found I needed his help to read the culture. He is a lot like Lewis in this regard. (I wasn’t always so keen on Wilson’s barbs against fellow evangelicals; sometimes complaints about his tone are not veiled complaints about his substance.)
In a somewhat different direction from Wilson (ahem), I’ve enjoyed seeing Michelle Berg Radford and Hannah Anderson be women, and thinking women, and thinkingChristian women—not unlike Rosaria Butterfield—in public.
Andy Naselli on Aimee Byrd’s book was helpful. His chart laying out the various approaches was, I believe, fair and accurate. And I happen to know that Andy sent it to many people for suggestions, yielding even greater care.
I’ve long known that the “blue book”—Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood—lay underneath a lot of the complementarianism I’ve come to breathe as part of my Young, Restless, Reformed air. I haven’t read the whole thing, but I’ve dipped in in multiple places. And Piper’s intro is a classic. He’s one of the few people who’s ever bothered to define masculinity and femininity.
List what you see to be the top 5 pressing needs in the church’s ministry to women.
Teach them the apostle’s doctrine.
Administer to them the sacraments.
Facilitate and encourage fellowship.
Help older women teach younger women not merely to love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4), because that seems to be almost a given in a culture of love marriages, but to be women.
Keep pushing back against the frilly and vapid culture of women’s devotional literature.
What 3 areas of training should we emphasize for women’s ministry?
Theology/biblical studies. My wife’s undergraduate and graduate training in biblical counseling has been massively helpful to me. She is a helper fit for me, truly.
Ability to read the culture, including the history of feminism and its current manifestations.
Ability to avoid some of the pendulum swings away from the culture that aren’t actually biblical. Dressing up like prairie girls isn’t the right answer; neither is jumping into MLMs that hawk alternative medicines and essential oils. I’m so glad to have a discerning wife.
I love my wife not only because she is biologically female and beautiful and Christian and educated and skilled in so many areas (though I love her for all those things) but, as I’ve always said to her, because she is a lady. There is a refinement and gentility there, something that is recognizably feminine and truly—in its older sense—awesome to a man. My mother-in-law, though an adult convert, bred that in her. I’m so grateful. I want my precious little girl to be a lady in a culture that doesn’t seem to be producing them much anymore. So I, with Piper, really find it helpful to get practical in this debate over gender roles. On so many other hot issues, I can stay on the sidelines and keep cogitating and no one seems to mind. On race, I spent many years serving the black community in Greenville, SC, but now I often don’t know what to do or recommend or say; and now that I live in a part of the country in which few African Americans reside, no one seems to mind that I’m silent. But on gender roles, I have a girl, and I have two boys. I must do something to show what a boy is and what a girl is, what a man is and what a woman is. By God’s grace, I’m doing my best to get off the sidelines here and raise a woman and two men.
I resist the idea that there is something beyond complementarianism and egalitarianism, that these are impositions of current questions onto the text of an ancient Scripture that wasn’t concerned with them. I am trying, as my pastoral mentor once laid out for us, to put together 1 Tim 2, 1 Cor 11, and 1 Cor 14. It’s not immediately apparent how to put together the latter two, in particular. But I won’t let some of the awkward questions that arise—can women be police officers?—derail me from obeying God’s Word in the Bible and in creation. Every position has awkward questions to answer, edge cases that make bad law.
Last thing: the sexual revolution is the biggest con ever played by the patriarchy. Commitment-free sex was supposed to free women from the restraints of a cosseting culture, but it simply took the collective power women of virtue held over men and removed it. The result has been catastrophic. I didn’t follow the rules of my conservative Christian culture in my dating life; I followed my Bible. I truly did. Starting at a young age, I read Prov 5 and 6 and Matthew 5:27–30—and I knew my culture was wrong. For me, this worked out beautifully, and I praise God. I have an extremely happy marriage in every way.