Herman Bavinck on Christian Worldview

A worldview blast from the past.

Herman Bavinck’s Christian Worldview, newly translated, is as relevant and important today as it was when it was first published shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. Here is a clear, concise, philosophical, and Biblical explanation for why the Christian worldview alone is able to make sense of the world and our lives.

Bavinck’s argument unfolds around three foci: Thinking and Being, Being and Becoming, Becoming and Acting. He shows how all that is, and all wisdom and knowledge, begin in the mind of God, come to be according to His will and purpose, develop to display His goodness and bring Him glory, and act – when they act well – to know, love, serve, and glorify Him.

Bavinck sets out his argument against the worldviews of modernity: rationalism and science, and subjectivism and nihilism. The “inner discord that disturbs us in the modern life” is the result of the world’s rejection of God and Christian faith. Only a return to faith in Christ can remedy the ills of the world and recover God’s original good design. He insists, “Whoever shakes off the idols of the day and knows to rise above the prevailing prejudices in science and the academy, who faces up to the things themselves, soberly and watchfully, and takes world and humanity, nature and religion as they truly are in themselves, presses on, evermore strengthening the conviction that Christianity is the only religion whose view of the world and life fits the world and life.” These words might have been written yesterday.

All people are seeking truth, Bavinck explains, but only the Christian religion preserves truth as an objective and organic reality, deriving from, sustained by, and unto the glory of God. Christianity is not hostile to any of the disciplines by which men seek truth – science, politics, economics, literature, the arts, and more. In fact, Christians have excelled in all of these fields because, not in spite of, their faith. The Christian view of knowing unites objective reality with our subjective experience to deliver truth to life: “To acquire knowledge, Scripture refers man not to his own reason but to God’s revelation in all his works. Lift up your eyes, and see the one who has created all things; [lift them up] to the teaching and the testimony; otherwise, they shall perish. Whoever rejects the word of the Lord cannot have wisdom. This is the truth of empiricism: being is a reality to which the sense perception of the subject corresponds.”

All non-Christian worldviews share certain aspects in common, and all reach a measure of truth, but not the whole truth. All likewise borrow on Christian truth – without, of course, acknowledging the debt – and thus only hold together to any degree because of those unacknowledged Biblical presuppositions.

Christianity also shows the way to the proper development and use of created things, and to human life: “Scripture also teaches not only that creaturely substance is distinctive but that the same substance is organized differently in different creatures. A particular character has been gifted to heaven and earth, sun, moon and stars, to plants, animals, humans, and so on, through which they—individually or in their generations—remain what they are. Scripture makes no definitive statement on whether matter leads to many or few elements or also to a single final element; neither does it give us a catalog of immutable sorts that would resemble our usual distinctions; but it does show us that not only being but also being in a certain way is defined by God in both substance and organization.” He explains, “Just as an artist lays down his idea in the marble, so God realizes his word in the world.” The world is rightly known and used, therefore, in the context and within the purposes set forth in the Word of God, especially as revealed in Jesus.

Bavinck considers Kantianism, Darwinism, liberal Christian theology, atomism, and other worldviews of His day, showing the inadequacies of each and demonstrating how Christianity solves the problems these can not satisfactorily address. Whatever of good is to be found in these worldviews is only because God’s Law is written on the hearts of all people, and leads them to “naturally do the things that in keeping with the law”.

Only Christianity takes account of sin and explains how this most basic human problem is overcome. Only Christianity shows us the way out of sin and moral decay into salvation – a salvation known by revelation from God Himself. Moreover, this salvation is no merely spiritual transaction. Instead, the salvation of God has cosmic implications: “In Christianity, however, salvation is unleashed, on the one hand, on the whole cosmic process, and on the other, on the heart and soul, the core and essence of all world history.”

Bavinck’s argument for the Christian worldview does not intend to be exhaustive. Rather, it lays bare the foundational presuppositions of all worldviews, and shows how Christianity alone resolves the questions and gives meaningful and blessed direction to all worldview thinking.

This is an important book, one that pastors and church leaders could read with profit and great encouragement.


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