Saturday, October 12, 2013

Brief Reflection on Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, Chapter 1: The Science of Dogmatic Theology

This is my first brief reflection on Bavinck's highly acclaimed Reformed Dogmatics. There are altogether 4 volumes. I only have the first volume and I hope I can finish reflecting through them all---If God willing. I'll be reflecting as a pastoral staff of a local church in Singapore. That's my lens to filter and draw out relevant concerns that are applicable in my context.

The sub-categories in this chapter are:
  • Terminology
  • Dogma, Dogmatics, and Theology
  • The Content of Theology
  • Is Theology a Science?
  • Theology and Faith
  • The Science of God
  • The Encyclopedic Place of Dogmatic Theology

Bavinck defines dogma as the articles of faith based on God's Word while dogmatics is the system of the articles of faith (p.34). "The imperative task of the dogmatician is to think God's thoughts after him and to trace their unity. (p.44) "Dogmatics is the knowledge that God has revealed his Word to the church concerning himself and all creatures as they stand in relation to him" (p.38). "For dogmatics is a positive science, gets all its material from revelation, and does not have the right to modify or expand that content by speculation apart from that revelation" (p.44). Dogmatics and ethics are "related members of a single organism. (p.58)"

This chapter strongly reminds us that the Christian way of life requires the objective reality of truth. Ethics and truth are two sides of our life under God. In cell group or Bible study group, we tend to be either preoccupied with catching up with one another over the week or we focus only in answering our study material as if we are sitting for exams. This would result in us feeling there is still something missing in our Christian fellowship. Either we are missing the life part or the truth part. This often translates into a lack of transparency felt between members. In more serious cases, people feel superficial towards one another, which is something undesirable for a community of believers.

Bavinck would point us back the resources in revelation, God's  word. This is where our dogmatics come from. This is where the focus of our fellowship life should be. Cell group or Bible study group is the united effort of God's people to think God's thoughts after him. What happens in our respective weekly fellowship is the deepening of our dogmatics and ethics. Our "single organism" being nurtured. 
Therefore cell group cannot be merely about catching up with one another over what took place in the week without reference to God's word. Life experience left untouched by dogmatics is ethical reflection that is without unity. The story of our week becomes fragmentary. Unless we understand our experience through the scriptures' resources, what we share about our week would be less of the organic whole. Likewise, Bible study cannot be like sitting through exams. We are not primarily answering Bible study's questions. Rather, we are to think God's thoughts after him along with those in fellowship with us. The Bible study material is a platform to facilitate this fellowship-thinking, this collaborative scientific learning of God, the world, and ourselves.

This is where daily Bible reading can help. The passages we read keep our daily encounters connected with dogmatics reflection. Or at least it reminds us to think God's thought after him through the way we live.

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