These are some pictures of Sichuan Theological Seminary in Chengdu in China.
Download here my “Review of A Theological Analysis of Herman Bavinck’s Two Essays on the ‘Imitatio Christi’ by John Bolt,” Journal of Reformed Theology 9 (2015): 316-17.
Today, Master of Theology (ThM) students of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo presented their thesis proposals.
Rev. Eshak (Isaac) William Estafanous is going to write on the theme of “following Christ” in the theologies of Herman Bavinck and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Rev. Emil Anwer Salib is going to write on the serpent of Genesis 3.
Samuel G. Isaac is going to write on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the works of St. Basil the Great and the famous Egyptian monk Mattá al-Miskīn.
Rev. Santino Odong Othol is going to write a theological reflection on divorce and remarriage amoung Christians in South Sudan, his home country.
We wish them all a lot of success with these thesis projects.
The following is a letter from the famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886–1968) to Hendrik Willem van der Vaart Smit (1888–1986), a—somwehat controversial—student of the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854–1921). The letter is kept in the H. W. van der Vaart Smit Archives, Historical Documentation Center for Dutch Protestantism (1800 to the present day), University Library, VU University Amsterdam, collection 464.
In this letter, Barth refers to Van der Vaart Smit’s Dutch publication De school van Karl Barth en de Marburgsche philosophie: Bijdrage tot de Karl Barth-literatuur (Zeist: Ruys, 1929) and its German translation “Die Schule Karl Barths und die Marburger Philosophie,” Kant-Studien 34 (1929): 333–50.
29. September 1929
Sehr geehrter Herr Pastor!
Ihr Aufsatz über meinen “Kantianismus” hat mich auch in seiner deutschen Fassung sehr interessiert. Ich bin des Holländischen nicht mächtig genug um ganz sicher zu sein, aber wenn ich nicht irre, sind Sie bes. in der Kritik meiner Stellung noch etwas vorsichter geworden, als er mir in der holländischen Fassung der Fall zu sein schien. Sehr wundere ich mich noch immer über die drei Punkte, die Sie S.64 als “romanisierende” Abweichungen vom Calvinismus notieren: Deipara, Taufe, Kanon. Was mögen Sie da an meinen Sätzen als uncalvinisch empfunden haben? Zur Sache selber kann ich ja nur sagen, dass ich es für eine allerdings verständliche optische Täuschung halte, wenn man mich so im Schatten des Kritizismus sieht, wie Sie das tun. Sie ist darum verständlich, weil ich dort in der Tat meine philosophische Heimat habe und gegenüber dem à la mode- Realismus der Gegenwart in der Tat eine gewisse Neigung habe, mich dieser Heimat mindestens nicht zu schämen. Und sie ist darum verständlich, weil Sie selbst sich als “Realisten” meinen bekennen zu müssen und darum genötigt sind, mich unter diesem Gesichtswinkel zu betrachten. Sie ist aber darum doch eine Täuschung, weil nach meiner Ansicht die Theologie immer auf beiden Spuren, der idealistischen und der realistischen vorgehen muss, gerade darum dass sie letztlich und eigentlich ihren eigenen Weg hat, für den es freilich keine philosophische Entsprechung giebt. Schade, dass Sie sich offenbar mit meinem Beitrag in Heft 4 von Zwischen den Zeiten “Schicksal und Idee in der Theologie”, in dem es gerade um diese Sache geht, nicht mehr auseinandersetzen konnten. Ich frage mich doch, ob nicht Vieles, was Sie in Ihrem Aufsatz sagen, dadurch im Voraus überholt ist. Seinen Wert zur Beleuchtung einer Seite des Sachverhaltes wird er freilich auch so behalten.
Mit bestem Dank grüsst Sie freundlichst
Van der Vaart Smit was clearly not convinced by Barth’s argument that one needs both idealism/criticism and realism, in order to go in the end beyond both of them. A few years later, he will praise the synod of Assen (the synod held by the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in the city of Assen in 1926, which affirmed that the serpent in Genesis 3 spoke with a physically audible voice) for, without using the terms, very firmly rejecting criticism and very firmly choosing for realism. Moreover, he sees this choice for realism, this choice for Augustine over Kant, as a firm conviction that unifies all of Herman Bavinck’s life and works. See H. W. van der Vaart Smit, Bavinck’s Schriftbeschouwing in verband met de eerste hoofdstukken van Genesis (Wageningen: Veenman & Zonen, 1933), 18 (reprint of an article in Onder Eigen Vaandel, January 1933). (To be clear, these assertions were contested by others: in a review in Woord en Geest, his opponent J. G. Geelkerken not only disagrees with Van der Vaart Smit’s interpretation of Bavinck at several points, but also calls his assertion that Assen rejected Kant’s criticism “philosophical constructions and phantasies” and a “private fancy” [persoonlijke liefhebberij].)
Dear friends of Biblical Studies,
Herewith I kindly invite you to an evening of Biblical Studies at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo on Monday November 24, 2014 from 6.30pm to 10.00pm. During this evening, there will be a live video connection between the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in San Diego (USA) and the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC, Egypt). In this way, we will be able to follow the presentations in the SBL Synoptic Gospels session around the theme Persuasion and Influence in Synoptic Texts. See the program below for more details.
If you are interested in attending this meeting, please, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know that you intend to come. And please, pass the word to others who may be interested to come. In the Society of Biblical Literature people from many different religious denominations work together on the basis of their shared interest in scholarly study of the Bible. I hope that this variety of backgrounds and this shared interest will also be reflected in our Egyptian meeting.
Willem J. de Wit
PS: Last year we had a similar meeting with a live video connection to the SBL Annual Meeting. We had a good time together, but there were some problems with the sound quality. SBL has promised to use a different system that ensures better sound quality. Moreover, the presenters are willing to make their papers available beforehand, so that we may be able to hear and read their words at the same time. So, if you came last year, please, come again this year to have an even better experience!
Photo: Live connection between SBL Annual Meeting and Cairo last year.
Our Egyptian Program
Video Conferenced Program
The Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of John, and the Gospel of Thomas
Location: Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, 8 es-Sikka el-Beda, Abbaseya, Cairo 11381, Egypt.
In this paper I aim to demonstrate that the composite citation at the opening of Mark (1:2-3) is the key to unlocking the narrative grammar of the prologue (1:1-15). While it is universally recognized that the citation functions to introduce John the Baptist (1:4-8), and on some level, Jesus (1:9-11f), what I take as a central function of the citation is rarely mentioned. That is, the gospel of Jesus begins with God speaking directly to Jesus (1:2). By making this rhetorical move, the narrator is able to show the audience that this Jesus-story is indeed gospel (1:1) precisely because God has elected to make Jesus the protagonist of his (God’s) story. For heuristic purposes, I read the composite citation (1:2-3) as the prologue’s performative script and the remainder as its dramatic enactment (1:4-15). By calling the script “performative,” I intend to highlight God’s role as the central actor of the prologue, and especially, to emphasize the foundational speech-act of the entire gospel—the pre-narrative “moment” when the divine “I” directly addresses “you” (1:2). Through a narrative reading, I go on to explore how the dramatis personae respond to their scripted roles, even and especially, when they appear to have broken with the script.
This paper tests the increasingly influential theory that Mark knew Paul’s epistles by examining Mark 8:31-9:1 as a potential adaptation of Paul’s representation of Peter in Galatians 1-2. Consideration of points of contact between these texts supports the hypothesis and allows for a fairly precise accounting of the literary relationship it proposes. For example, (1) Galatians presents Peter’s resistance to table-fellowship with Gentiles as a rejection of the implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection (2:19-21). Mark 8:31-9:1 represents Peter as resisting Jesus’ death and resurrection, with Jesus proceeding to clarify their implications for his followers. (2) Galatians associates Peter’s resistance with the cursed demonic opposition to God that Paul’s opponents in Galatia display (cf. 1:8), claiming both Peter and they pervert the gospel: the latter want to metastrepsai it (1:7); Peter and his party do not orthopodousin according to its truth (2:14a). Mark too characterizes Peter’s resistance as demonic and signals its perversity with a metaphor analogous to Paul’s: “line up behind me, Satan” (hypage opisô mou, Satana, 8:33a; cf. opisô mou akolouthein, 8:34). (3) Galatians accuses Peter of being more attentive to human concerns than to God’s commandments (2:12-13), as Jesus accuses Peter in Mark (8:33b). (4) Paul claims it is he who has been crucified with Christ and accordingly participates in Christ’s new life (Gal 2:19-20), thereby presenting himself as a positive example against the implicit failure of Peter to do the same thing with respect to his relationship to the Law. In Mark, Peter’s rebuke of Jesus for prophesying his death prompts Jesus to call on all who would follow him to take up their cross. Mark underscores Peter’s literal failure to do this, not only by having Peter vow he will die with Jesus before denying him (14:31) immediately before representing him deny Jesus thrice out of shame and fear (14:66-72, anticipated in 8:38), but also by reporting that Peter’s namesake, Simon of Cyrene, manages to take up the cross of Jesus that Peter shuns (15:21). Incidentally, understanding Mark 8:31-9:1 as a revision of Paul allows for an persuasive account of Matthew 16:13-20, which is often viewed as a source of independent traditions about Peter whose occasional convergences with Galatians 1-2 may point to direct reliance on Galatians (Sim, JSNT 31 : 401-22). In fact, Matthew merely redacts the Markan passage by systematically eliminating and reversing the troubling representation of Peter Mark adapts from Paul’s polemical portrayal. The parallels between Paul and Mark involve similarities of language and ideas (e.g., Gal 2:19-20; Mark 8:34-35), and of characters and context. They are sufficiently extensive to make plausible the hypothesis that Mark 8:37-9:1 adapts Galatians 1-2. Mark’s employment of Paul’s letters, however, involves not merely the adoption of discrete Pauline ideas or theological perspectives, but also the adaptation of Pauline polemic and theological argument into narrative form. My analysis points to an unexpected structural dimension in this literary relationship that complicates, even as it supports, the hypothesis that Mark employs Paul’s epistles as a literary source.
Genetic criticism has opened up new questions about the complexity, fixity, and openness of texts. Sean Gurd’s recent book, Work in Progress, has shown the relevance of these questions to the texts of classical antiquity, showing the relative openness of texts as well as literary collaboration. In effect, he opens up new questions about what it means to write a text and to use another’s text in antiquity. In this paper, I apply these ideas to the study of the Synoptic Gospels and ask the question, “What is the Gospel of Mark?,” by interrogating the subject in literary compositional terms. I situate the Gospel of Mark, particularly its reception among its earliest readers, in the milieu of textual genetics of the ancient Greco-Roman literature, investigating Mark’s creation and the composition of its textuality. This paper will first offer examples of ancient Greek and Roman authors discussing texts in more finished versus less finished terms, noting a cultural assumption among ancient writers that some works, even published works, were less finished and less authored than others. Secondly, it will show that some early Christian writers perceived Mark’s Gospel as less finished than the other Gospels: Papias, Luke, and Irenaeus. Thirdly, it will suggest that the Gospel of Matthew may be read as an effort to finish and re-author Mark. Similarly, the longer conclusion to Mark’s Gospel (16:9–20) may also be construed as a finishing of Mark, rather than as a forgery, as James A. Kelhoffer has argued. In this way, I hope to offer a more textured view of the creation and reception of Mark’s Gospel, to rethink it’s relationship to Matthew’s Gospel, to challenge the dominant view among New Testament scholars that early Christian texts were “completed, closed texts,” and to consider the Synoptic relationships from a different perspective.
Some believe John was written independently of the Synoptic Gospels, and others see dependence on one or more. Most attention has been given to parallels in Mark or the Johannine Thunderbolt in Matthew. However, the extensive overlap between John and Luke is often overlooked. Although the source-critical assumption might be Luke influencing John, F. Lamar Cribbs (1971) suggested the opposite. His theory was developed by Mark Matson (2001), who focused on the Passion. This paper offers further evidence from Luke’s presentation of the Baptist. For example, Luke adopts John’s opening synkrisis between Jesus and the Baptist and his presentation of some believing the latter was the Messiah.
What do we mean by “primitivity” in Gospel tradition? As we study the Synoptics comparatively, we are soon pressed to postulate sources. Once we have done this, on the majority 2ST, we proceed on the assumption that Mark should be more “primitive” in every detail in the parallel accounts. In other words, if Mark is an earlier text, it cannot be that Matthew and/or Luke would ever admit of earlier, more primitive material in the triple tradition. Though without stating as much, this seems to be an implicit denial of the vitality of oral tradition in the late decades of the first century. Moreover, this itself has been one of the main arguments for Q. If Luke, as the Q theory argues, ever shows a more “primitive” account in material common to himself and Matthew, this tells against the Farrer theory and in favor of Q. If Luke ever seems to be earlier, despite if he is often demonstrably dependent upon and/or later than Matthew, this one example of “alternating primitivity” eliminates the possibility of Matthean dependence completely. Likewise, this same argument has been hugely influential in discussions of the Gospel of Thomas. It is often said that because Thomas appears to be more primitive in certain Synoptic material, he cannot have been dependent upon the Synoptic Gospels. Two basic assumptions are operative at this point. (1) If a text is demonstrably dependent upon another text in several places, it should never demonstrate earlier traditions elsewhere. (2) Primitivity is reflected in a poorer use of Greek, a shorter text, and/or the lack of scriptural proof texts. In my paper, both through comparing Thomas with certain synoptic passages and through comparing the Synoptics themselves, I will demonstrate that (1) is flatly inaccurate and methodologically flawed, while (2) is imprecise and misleading. I will argue that there is nothing problematic about a text being dependent at many points upon another text, thus establishing a source, while also possessing traditions which either seem to be or in actuality are older traditions. Moreover, I will give suggestions and examples as to what should and should not count as “primitivity”, so as to sharper our categories for using this helpful source-critical tool.
The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) writes about its 150th anniversary:
We Celebrate . . .
One hundred International Guests will be joined by Egyptians from throughout the Synod of the Nile on November 13 and 14 to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the founding of The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC). The events that were originally scheduled for the Fall of 2013 were postponed due to security concerns throughout Egypt. The additional year of preparation has encouraged many more participants to come from Canada, France,Israel-Palestine, Lebanon, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Scotland, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Switzerland, Thailand, and the USA.
On Thursday, November 13th two programs will be conducted on the campus of ETSC. The morning program will be conducted in English for International Guests and the evening will be offered in Arabic for distinguished Egyptian guests from each Presbytery and Synod Council.
On Friday, November 14ththe Celebration will culminate in a worship service (with English translation) featuring music lead by ETSC students. This Celebration service begins at 7:00 p.m.at the Heliopolis Presbyterian Church.
The American Presbyterian Mission started its ministry in Egypt in 1854. Twelve years later an instructional program began with 11 students on September 26, 1864. Pastor John Hogg. a Scottish Missionary and the American Missionaries taught classes on a houseboat called The Ibis, a floating classroom for his theology lessons on the banks of the Nile in the morning. After sunset Ibis would sail in order for the missionaries and students to go to the surrounding villages to preach the Gospel. This “practicum” was the seed that would produce many Presbyterian churches.
In 1926, the Cairo campus was established with the purchase of 9/10ths of an acre of land (3600 square meters), in the new suburb of Cairo called Abbasayia. A two-story building was soon erected and the student body and faculty were transferred from Assiut to Cairo.
The original building still stands today and houses the chapel, classrooms,staff and faculty offices and a computer lab. In 2005 a third story was added to the original building to house the Center for Middle East Christianity (CMEC), which was inaugurated in April, 2013. The Center enriches the global Church with the great heritage of the Middle Eastern Church through research, publications, and hosting seminars and conferences.In 2014 the original chapel was re-opened after a major renovation to provide a beautiful air-conditioned space for worship, music and preaching classes.
In the1960’s, a four-story building was added to include the seminary library and apartments for the faculty. In the 1990’s, another 7-story building was opened to include the dining hall with a large kitchen, a 250-seat auditorium, and a student dormitory to house up to 100 students and guests.The Auditorium will be re-opened in time for the anniversary to include A/C and better sound resolution.
A multipurpose sports-court was prepared on the remaining space between the three buildings, officially marking the maximum utilization of the campus space purchased in 1926. The campus grounds were beautified in 2014 to include proper drainage and landscaping, a larger snack shop, and a Book/Gift shop,.
Growth and Expansion
In 2013, generous donors helped ETSC purchase the entire second floor (1300 square meters/14,000 square feet of space) of a new apartment building adjacent to the campus. This much needed additional space will expand ETSC’s vision for the spread of the Gospel through establishing new Centers for Strategic Research in Church Growth, Distance Learning; Media Development; Continuing Education and Language Development.
The geographical reach of ETSC increased due to the opening of two extension campuses in Minia (150 miles south Cairo) and Alexandria (140 miles north Cairo.)Sixty three students are enrolled in the extension campuses in addition to 260students on the Cairo campus. Distance Learning techonology has enabled our professors to lecture simultaneously to students gathered in two locations for a particular class, saving them the weekly commute by train to these cities. The students are “virtual class members” on a screen in Cairo and the professor is a “virtual presence” on a screen in a distant location.
The 2014 Academic year saw the beginning of new curriculum developments including the full-time Master of Divinity (MDiv) for students seeking ordination and part-time Master of Arts in Theology (MAT), Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership (MAOL), Master of Theology (ThM) and Certificate in Research, English, and Writing (CREW) programs. Distance Learning classes are being added for qualified online students to pursue their studies from anywhere with internet access.
We Celebrate God’s Faithfulness
Over the past 150 years ETSC has become the largest and most highly regarded Protestant institution in the Middle East, with ETSC Graduates serving all Protestant denominations in Egypt and across the Middle East, in addition to serving Arabic-sepaking congregations in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.
Dr. Atef M. Gendy, president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (Egypt), will visit the USA in September. Below a list of opportunities where you may hear and meet him. For more information, please, contact Rev. Dr. Cinda Gorman, ETSC’s international relations coordinator, at email@example.com.
Friday, September 5: Atlanta
Sunday, September 7: Columbus
Monday September 8: Cincinnati
Tuesday, September 9: Cincinnati
Wednesday, September 10: Louisville
Thursday, September 11: Louisville
Friday, September 12: Rochester
Sunday, September 14: Indianapolis
Tuesday, September 16: Columbus
Wednesday, September 17: Columbus
This is the 28th day of the war. 1840 persons have been killed, 9370 injured. The people stay at schools without the necessary needs. Since a week there has been no electricity and no water. We use a generator for power and we have a well to bring water, but many people do not have any source of water or electricity.
Last Sunday a christian family was attacked. The family is Greek Orthodox: they are a father and a mother and two sons. The mother became shreds, one of the sons is in a critical situation: he lost his limbs. This guy was attending our youth meetings in the Baptist church. Their house has been destroyed. The other son and the father became homeless. They live in a refuge. Pray for this family.
This the fourth Sunday without church meeting because it so dangerous to move in Gaza. Every thing moving is a target for rockets. I deal with the congregation by telephone.
Pray for everybody in Gaza. Pray for peace. God give us wisdom here in Gaza.
Hanna Maher is pastor of the Baptist church in Gaza. He wrote the message above on August 3, 2014 (for the sake of readability, the English has been slightly edited).
Hanna is also a student here at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. Each Spring semester he comes to study with us: last year he came with his wife, this year with his wife and his little son. Dr. Michael Parker wrote the following portrait of Hanna for Presbyterians Today (May 2013).
See also: Gaza Conflict Halts Church Services (Christianity Today)
According to Mark Water, ed., The New Encyclopedia of Christian Martyrs (Alresford: John Hunt, 2001), 908–9, when James Hannington (1847–1885), bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa on behalf of the Church Missionary Society, wanted to travel to Uganda, “he found himself reading words from Psalm 146[:9], ‘The Lord preserveth the strangers’” and “took this to be a message from God.” However, during the last part of his journey, he and his companions were captured. In the hut in which he was kept he sang “Safe in the arms of Jesus”—faithful, one may say, to Psalm 146:2: “I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being” (ESV). After a week, when he expected to be set free (cf. Psalm 146:7: “The LORD sets prisoners free”), he and most of his men were actually killed.
Is this a clear example of how the trust of Psalm 146 run dead on the realities of life?
Or was Isaac Waats right when in one of his hymns he expanded (enriched?) the perspective of Psalm 146 from life before death (“as long as I live,” “while I have my being”) to eternal life: “And when my voice is lost in death, Praise shall employ my nobler powers; My days of praise shall ne’er be past”?” Is Hannington not eternally regretting that he put his hope in the LORD, the God of Jacob (Psalm 146:5) but rather singing the glory of his God forever and ever?
Image from Wikipedia
From fall 2014 onwards, the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo offers the following master programs:
This is a one year full-time or two year part-time program of 36 credits. It is an advanced program both for Egyptian and for international students. Applicants should already hold a Master of Divinity or a strong Bachelor of Theology degree and have obtained a TOEFL score of 500 (or equivalent). The language of instruction is English. Students can choose between three different specializations:
For more information, please, contact Dr. Michael Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org. The application deadline for fall 2014 is June 15.
If you are looking for a master’s degree that does not require previous theological studies, you may consider:
This is a four year full-time program of 138 credits, primarily intended for persons seeking ordination in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (the Synod of the Nile) in Egypt. The language of instruction is Arabic. For more information, send an email to email@example.com.
This is a three to four year part-time program of 72 credits, offered in Cairo, Minya, and Alexandria. The language of instruction is Arabic. In Cairo students can choose one of the following specializations:
For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a three to four year part-time program of 45 credits, with two weeks of intensive classes per year. The language of instruction is English. For more information, send an email to email@example.com.
September 4 and 5, 2014, a conference will be held on Neo-Calvinism (Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Gerrit Berkouwer et al) and Roman Catholicism. The meeting will take place in Rome and is organized by the Archive and Documentation Centre, the Historical Documentation Centre at VU University, New College at University of Edinburgh, and Kampen Theological University. Plenary speakers are Prof. George Harinck, Prof. Eduardo J. Echeverria, Prof. Richard Mouw, Dr. James Eglinton, and Prof. Kees van der Kooi.
The following are two comments regarding Bavinck that may stimulate reflection on the conference topic.
While I understand that “Neo-Calvinism” is a common term to refer to people like Kuyper and Bavinck and (to some extent) Berkouwer, a title like “Reformed Catholicism and Roman Catholicism” might have been more appropriate, especially for Herman Bavinck (1854–1921).
Here in Egypt, I notice that it is usually helpful to use the term “orthodox” for the Coptic Orthodox Church and other Eastern churches, the term “catholic” for the Roman Catholic Church and related churches, and the term “evangelical” for the Presbyterian Church and other protestant denominations, even though one would hope that each of the three main branches of Christianity is orthodox, catholic, and evangelical in the true senses of the words at the same time.
However, for Bavinck the term “catholic” was very important: see e.g. his lecture on the Catholicity of Christianity and the Church. His relationship to the term “Calvinist” is more ambivalent, which led me to the conclusion that he is better called a “Catholic Reformed” theologian than a Neo-Calvinist one. In On the Way to the Living God I wrote:
« Abraham Kuyper uses the term “Calvinism” for his reflection on the meaning of Christianity for all areas of life and is consequently called a Calvinist or neo-Calvinist. Bavinck is also often called a Calvinist or neo-Calvinist, but I think we should stop doing so. At best, we can speak about a Calvinist period in his life.
Bavinck uses the term “Calvinism” most often in his address for the council of Presbyterian churches in Toronto in 1892, in which he speaks about the influence of the protestant reformation. Reflection on his transatlantic journey makes him relativize Calvinism a bit but he does not yet distance himself from the term. In his travel account he complains that religion in America suffers from superficiality—“religion is a matter of amusement, of relaxation,” but he also sees that there is much good in it and therefore he concludes: “Let American Christianity develop according to its own law. God has entrusted a high and grand calling to America. Let it strive for it, in its own way. Calvinism is surely not the only truth!”
In 1893 he reviews a book about the Heidelberg Catechism and in the review article he draws a distinction between “Reformed” and “Calvinistic”:
In the first place, Calvinistic is wider than Reformed. Reformed only indicates a persuasion in the areas of religion, church, and theology, but Calvinistic also includes a certain view on state and society and science, and therefore it can also be used as a name of a political party. . . . But secondly there is also a theological difference between Reformed and Calvinistic. In this sense Reformed is wider than Calvinistic. All are Reformed who agree with one of the many confessions that are generally recognized as Reformed and who belong to one of the many churches that are generally recognized as Reformed. But the name Calvinistic indicates a specific view on and representation of the Reformed truth.
In this context, he points out that Calvin himself recognized the Anglican Church as a Reformed church although the organization of this church is not Calvinistic. A year later, Bavinck expresses himself even more precisely:
The term Calvinism . . . stands for that characteristic view of life and the world as a whole, which was born from the powerful mind of the French Reformer. Calvinist is the name of a Reformed Christian insofar as he reveals a specific character and a distinct physiognomy, not merely in his church and theology, but also in social and political life, in science and art.
In these publications from 1892 to 1894 it is clear that Bavinck understands himself as a Calvinist. However, some years later one perceives a change. In 1901 he rejects the terms Calvinism and Calvinistic, at least with regard to the church, because they sound sectarian: “Calvin did not teach a special, Calvinist truth, but he intended to preach and teach nothing but the pure truth of God, the unadulterated gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” In practice, he also observes some onesidedness among the proponents of “Calvinism”:
The church and its confession are reduced to a small area. . . . But outside it is the large domain of “common grace.” And there Calvinism should rule, which is not a theological but a philosophical system . . . and which encompasses a full view of life and world. In this domain the confession of the church is of no avail. . . . Here one needs the “Reformed principles,” which nobody knows and which have not been formulated anywhere, but which nevertheless exist and have to be traced by the Free University.
His conclusion is that “in this way the point of gravity is more and more moved from Calvinism as religion to Calvinism as philosophy, from the church as institute to the church as organism, from particular grace to common grace.” He writes this in reaction to a publication of the Reformed youth association. Given his own publications, one should not read it as a rejection of concepts as philosophy, worldview, principles, and common grace as such or as a tendency to narrowminded confessionalism. If I understand Bavinck correctly, the problem of the “Calvinism” of the youth (and others) is not its width as such, but its risk that one loses the focus on the core. Even Calvinism can become a current away from the cross.
In 1911 Bavinck explicitly prefers the term Reformed over the terms orthodox, Calvinistic, and neo-Calvinistic. Although one could call him a Calvinist, at least regarding his views on science, society, etc, because of the cited publications from the nineties, it seems to me better to respect his later cautions and not to use this term for him at all. If we want to identify him in a more specific way than as a Christian theologian, I suggest that we combine keywords from the titles of his lecture The Catholicity of Christianity and the Church and of his Reformed Dogmatics and call him a catholic Reformed theologian. » (For footnotes to this section, see On the Way to the Living God, par. 2.9, pages 44–46.)
While calling Bavinck a Neo-Calvinist is understandable but questionable, the idea to discuss his (and Kuyper’s and Berkouwer’s) relationship to Roman Catholicism seems very well chosen. One of the most beautiful texts that Bavinck wrote in the nineties of the nineteenth century is the preface to his dogmatics, which reads as a catholic Reformed manifesto and which also refers to “Rome.” The following is a translation of some parts, with headings added:
[a. The communion of saints necessary to understand the dogma]
Not only the believer, but also the dogmatician has to confess the communion of saints. Only with all the saints he can comprehend what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge. It is only in and through communion with them that he learns to understand the dogma, in which the Christian faith expresses itself.
[b. The communion of saints a consolation over against the depreciation of dogmatics]
Moreover, there is an empowering strength and an excellent consolation in this communion of saints. Dogmatics is not honored today; the Christian dogma does not find the favor of this time.… But this makes us the more grateful that we can call on the alliance of ancestors.
[c. Attention to early Christian and medieval theology]
More attention has been paid to patristic and scholastic theology than is often the case among protestant dogmaticians. Men like Irenaeus, Augustine, and Thomas do not exclusively belong to Rome. They are Fathers and Doctors to whom the whole Christian church has obligations.
[d. Attention to Roman Catholic theology]
Further, Roman theology after the Reformation has also not been forgotten. Protestants are often too little aware of what they have in common with Rome and of what separates them from Rome. . . .
[e. Reformed theology relatively the purest expression of truth]
This dogmatics stands in closest connection to the type of Christian religion and theology that was shaped by the sixteenth century Reformation, especially in Switzerland, not because this is the only-true expression of the truth, but because this author considers it to be the relatively-purest one. The essence of Christianity has not come out so well in its religious, ethical, and theological character and has not been conceived so deeply and broadly, so widely and freely, so truly catholicly in any confession as in that of the Reformed churches.
In On the Way to the Living God I wrote about this text among other things:
« Paragraph a. immediately makes clear that Bavinck rejects theological solism and separatism. In an article about the council of Presbyterian churches in Toronto he complains that the English and Americans are too much interested in apologetics and try to solve problems too soon, so that in fact they are too much influenced by modern science and theology and lead their churches into a crisis. However, he does not want to judge too negatively: one should recognize that “God has more than one blessing and works elsewhere in his own way,” and he continues:
If we truly believe in the catholicity of Christianity and the Church, we fully acknowledge the right that both appear elsewhere in a different form than in our own country. . . . More than any age our century calls us . . . to maintain communion with all the saints, so that with them we somehow understand the depth and height, the length and breadth of the love of Christ, which surpasses understanding.
For Bavinck, the communion of saints includes more than only Reformed and Presbyterian Christians. His attitude towards the Roman Catholic Church is ambivalent (see paragraph d.) rather than one-sidedly negative. In his dogmatics he pays considerable attention to Roman Catholic theology and G. C. Berkouwer is even of the opinion that “Bavinck’s polemics with Rome belong to the most valuable parts on the history of dogma in his dogmatics.” In a lecture about evangelism Bavinck emphasizes that one should not do this work “to glorify one’s own name or to expand one’s own kingdom”: “We should cooperate in a brotherly way, also with those who do not belong to the same church.” As for the Roman Catholics,
We should accept the historical right of the Church of Rome, not its errors of course. Our calling regarding the Church of Rome is not that we try to make converts among them for us, but that we bring the gospel to the lost, to whatever church community they may belong. . . . The work of evangelism may lead to the result that persons join the Reformed Church, but this is not necessarily the case. We should have a broad view and first of all seek to take sinners to the foot of the Cross—not in a methodistic, but in a Reformed sense.
When he reviews a Roman Catholic journal for psychology and theory of education, he has only one “reservation,” that it may arouse the envy of the Protestants because they have nothing of equal quality. He himself hopes to learn much from it. Conversely, his own works on education have also been appreciated by Roman Catholics. . . .
. . . What makes him so big-hearted? On the one hand, it is the recognition that the core of the Christian faith can only be known and understood in communion with all the saints (see the preface of the Reformed Dogmatics) and the actual observation of good things outside the Reformed tradition (for example in John Wesley). On the other hand, he needs the consolation of the communion of saints in order to be able to remain standing over against the contempt for the Christian faith in his days. He needs to see that he does not stand alone. He needs a strategic alliance of as many as possible in order to fight the modern worldview and to stand against the force that moves Western culture away from the cross.
A passage from his preface to the German edition of Christelijke wereldbeschouwing [Christian Worldview] may fittingly conclude this section and this essay as it expresses clearly why Christians need to unite their forces and what is at stake for Bavinck:
The contest that the Christian religion has to suffer in its core and essence nowadays should join all those who, even if separated by church, confession, or nationality, stand together on the common ground of the catholic undoubted Christian faith. Although they should not efface and forget the controversies that exist among them as if they were totally meaningless, it is their task to let them rest for a moment, because the confession that is common to all of Christianity is to be defended against attacks. »
(For footnotes to this section, see On the Way to the Living God, par. 2.10, pages 46–51)
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While I may not be able to attend to attend the conference in Rome, I wish organizers, speakers, and participants a stimulating conference on the thought provoking topic of Neo-Calvinism and Roman Catholicism.
The following list is intended for research purposes, not to promote atheism. Suggestions for additions to this list are welcome.
“In my lifetime I have never seen such openness to Christians in Egypt” and “we do not want to align ourselves uncritically with hatred or discrimination towards any human beings”—these are two sentences from the message that Ramez Atallah, director of the Bible Society of Egypt, wrote on January 29, 2014:
The Turning of the Tide
Thank you for your prayers for the Cairo International Bookfair. In spite of all the turbulence in Egypt these days, the Bookfair opened on time and has been doing well. Attendance is lower than expected but the Bookfair grounds have been peaceful, providing more time for quality interaction with those who are sincerely seeking.
It’s been 3 years since the January 25th revolution. The subsequent Islamist victories in both parliamentary and presidential elections came as no surprise. Egyptians are very religious by nature, and the masses were seen as being easily manipulated by religious slogans and intimidated by any show of force. Many feared that – once the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was in power – Egypt would be saddled with this new “theocracy” for decades to come.
What was very surprising to all of us was how quickly the Islamist agenda was discredited; the majority of Egyptians had turned against the MB by last summer! It was also amazing that – in spite of threats of violence by the deposed MB – over 20 million people voted in the recent referendum on a Constitution which upholds human rights. Also, on the 25th of January millions took to the streets in support of the direction of Egypt’s present government. Regrettably, however, many acts of violence took place all over Egypt that weekend.
The Egyptian masses are no longer to be underestimated!
The great amount of violence attributed to the MB since their removal from power has made many Egyptians hate them. Because the West has not sufficiently condemned the Islamists for their violence, focussing instead on police brutality in resisting them, many Egyptians blame the West for indirectly supporting these acts of terror!
As we move into 2014, the tide has been reversed: instead of an Islamist majority imposing its will on moderate Muslims and Christians, we have a government which is determined that the MB has no control over the media or politics!
This has made it extremely difficult for those who – although they have no sympathy for the Islamists – believe that true democracy should allow them to freely express their views. This position is held by many intellectuals, youth and virtually all Western media. Yet both past and recent experiences with the MB are the grounds for the government’s strong-handed repression.
So where do we stand as Christians? Frankly, we are delighted to have the MB out of leadership and grateful for a new degree of inclusiveness and respect towards the Church. In my lifetime I have never seen such openness to Christians in Egypt.
On the other hand, while we see no viable alternative solution to restrain the Islamists’ violence, we do not want to align ourselves uncritically with hatred or discrimination towards any human beings. Thank God for church leaders who continue to call for an attitude of love and forgiveness towards all.
1. For wisdom and restraint for our government and for all Egyptians, whatever their political perspectives.
2. For continuing safety at the Bookfair until its end on February 6th.
3. That the many Scriptures which we and other Christian publishers are selling may reach those who really want to get closer to God during these challenging times.
With many thanks for your partnership with us,
The Bible Society of Egypt
Camping in the desert, I have the opportunity to watch the sky and see the stars at night. In the city one could do the same, but clouds often cover the sky and there is always a lot of light pollution and earthly affairs usually make one forget to look upwards. In the desert I see the sky as Abraham must have seen it when the Lord said to him: “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them” (Gen. 15:5 NRSV).
Watching the sky, I feel very small. I stand on a small planet in an immense universe. I envy past generations who could at least believe that the earth is the center of the universe. Basil the Great (ca. 329–379) mentioned the view of some early scientists that it is not only a fact but also a necessity that the earth occupies this central position. He himself piously added:
If there is anything in this system which might appear probable to you, keep your admiration for the source of such perfect order, for the wisdom of God. Grand phenomena do not strike us the less when we have discovered something of their wonderful mechanism. Is it otherwise here? At all events let us prefer the simplicity of faith to the demonstrations of reason.
By now we know that it is otherwise and that the early scientists were wrong. By now we know that not even the sun is at the center. By now we know that we are somewhere in the back of beyond of the universe.
I recollect the verse “God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars” (Gen. 1:16) and remember that Calvin commented on it:
Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. . . . This study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God. Wherefore, as ingenious men are to be honoured who have expended useful labour on this subject, so they who have leisure and capacity ought not to neglect this kind of exercise.
For Basil and Calvin, it was easy to appreciate the sciences because they experienced them as a stimulus to observe the universe also with a religious eye and to perceive God’s wisdom. However, those who have followed Calvin’s exhortation have discovered things that do not display divine wisdom. For what is the wisdom of the fact that we live on such a small planet in the back of beyond of the universe?
Are Christians not very superficial and have they ever really watched the sky when they say that the Copernican worldview does not constitute a challenge for their faith at all? Was the often ridiculed Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635–1711) in fact not much better aware of what was at stake when he said:
All what God says, also about natural things, is true; God says that the world stands still and motionless and that the sun goes around, and thus this is a certain and unarguable truth.
That . . . the sun would stand motionless and that the earth would turn, is a fabrication of people whose heads turn too much. We believe Holy Scripture.
Or is it possible that God wants to have to do with a small planet in the back of beyond of the universe? Does the cosmos exactly in this way display divine wisdom? I remember what Paul the Apostle said:
For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. . . . God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor. 1:25, 27–29 NSRV)
Can we now see this principle of divine wisdom at a cosmic scale too? Can we now see a deeper dimension of divine wisdom than Basil and Calvin could?
It is getting cold and my neck has become stiff from looking upwards. If I want to be able to turn my head tomorrow, I will have to sleep now. I go into my tent.
Just when I close my eyes, a Psalm comes into my mind: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Was that feeling of littleness, that feeling of being an accident in a vast universe, really something caused by our present-day knowledge of the cosmos? Did the Psalmist not feel the same some millennia ago? And still, he dared to continue: “Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” I realize: man is an accident in a vast universe, yet a glorious accident. I breathe out: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:3–4, 5, 9 ESV).
Then I sleep.
This post is adapted from section 6.4 of Willem J. de Wit, On the Way to the Living God: A Cathartic Reading of Herman Bavinck and an Invitation to Overcome the Plausibility Crisis of Christianity (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2011). This book is for sale in printed and in Logos Bible Software format, but can also be downloaded for free as a pdf-file. See the downloading and ordering information.
Bristley’s Guide to the Writings of Herman Bavinck offers among other things an overview of Bavinck’s life and work, a Bavinck bibliography, and an overview of secondary literature, both in English and in Dutch. Bristley has updated J. Veenhof’s older bibliography of Bavinck’s works (published in Bremmer, Herman Bavinck als dogmaticus, 425–46; additions in Bremmer, Herman Bavinck en zijn tijdgenoten, 299–301) by listing recent editions and translations and by adding a few items missing from Veenhof’s work such as the articles “Death” and “The Fall” that Bavinck wrote for the 1915-edition of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Despite all its qualities, Bristley’s guide still contains some omissions and mistakes.
The following are a few items that are missing both from Veenhof’s and from Bristley’s bibliography:
In his “Lijst mijner geschriften” (unpublished) Bavinck also lists some items for which I have not (yet) done further research: “Eene nieuwe Dogmatiek (Shedd’s Dogm. Theol. 1888) in de Bazuin 1888 of 1889?,” “Een missionair predikant, Kamper Kerkbode 3 Dec. 98,” “Hoofdartikel in Prov. OV. & Kamper C. (over benoeming van Meerkerk tot avondschoolopz) 10 Dec. ’98,” “Rede over Comenius, op de verg. v. Chr. Onderw Hilversum 22 Mei 1907.”
A few more comments on Bristley’s guide: probably due to a technical problem, the descriptions of the Hungarian translations on page 116 lack almost all accented letters; for the correct spelling, see Bremmer, Herman Bavinck als dogmaticus, 445. Bristley records that Our Reasonable Faith—the English version of Bavinck’s popular one volume dogmatics Magnali Dei—has been translated into Chinese and Korean. Actually, an Arabic translation in four volumes is also available and can now be found on the internet: بين العقل والإيمان bayna al-ʿaql wa-al-īmān [Between mind and faith]. Bristley gives only one English translation of De offerande des lofs, viz. The Sacrifice of Praise, trans. John Dolfin, but a second one is available on the internet: The Sacrifice of Praise, trans. Gilbert Zekveld. He leaves unmentioned that a searchable version (in revised spelling) of the second edition of the Gereformeerde dogmatiek is available in Online Bijbel DeLuxe: Studie-editie 2002 or its successor the Online Bijbel Studie DVD (various editions).
On page 128 Bristley describes Een Leidse vriendschap as “a biographical study [that] explores the correspondence” between Bavinck and Snouck Hurgronje, but it is rather an annotated edition of the correspondence itself (on page 139 n91 he seems to confuse Snouck Hurgronje, Amicissime with Een Leidse vriendschap). To his overview of Bavinck’s letters on page 139 can be added: Bavinck to Henricus Beuker, July 1, 1884, in Beuker, Abgeschiedenes Streben nach Einheit, 385–87.
In his section “Bavinck Scholarship in Dutch” on pages 144–45 Bristley has not attempted to list Dutch articles on Bavinck. Actually some tens of Dutch (scholarly) articles and essays on various aspects of Bavinck’s life and work exist, but it is also beyond the scope of the present study to attempt to give a full list. At present, the best starting point for finding literature about Bavinck and his context in Dutch is probably the extensive bibliography in Van Keulen, Bijbel en dogmatiek, 684–719.
For English translations of Bavinck and literature about him since the publication of Bristley’s guide, see John Bolt, “Bavinck Bibliography 2008–2009,” The Bavinck Review 1 (2010): 89–92 and John Bolt and Laurence R. O’Donnell, “Bavinck Bibliography 2010,” The Bavinck Review 2 (2011): 174–77. One important addition can be made to these bibliographies: Bavinck, Gereformeerde katholiciteit 1888–1918, ed. Van der Kooi (2008), which offers a new Dutch edition of some of Bavinck’s most important writings: De katholiciteit van Christendom en kerk, De zekerheid van het geloof, Modernisme en orthodoxie, Het problem van de oorlog, De navolging van Christus in het moderne leven and the chapter on the divine counsel from the Gereformeerde dogmatiek. For the most recent developments in Bavinck studies, see the website of The Bavinck Institute at Calvin Theological Seminary.
These additions and comments notwithstanding, Bristley’s guide is a very helpful tool for finding one’s way to Bavinck’s writings.
This post has been adapted from the appendix of Willem J. de Wit, On the Way to the Living God: A Cathartic Reading of Herman Bavinck and an Invitation to Overcome the Plausibility Crisis of Christianity (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2011): full bibliographic information of the publications mentioned in this post can be found in the bibliography of that book. The book is for sale in printed and in Logos Bible Software formats, but can also be downloaded for free as a pdf-file. See the downloading and ordering information.