Reformed Dogmatics and Reformed Ethics (Bavinck)

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity

So good!

“…The difference [between dogmatics and ethics] does not lie in the fact that the former deals with the understanding and knowledge, while the latter is concerned with the will and conduct. This would boil down to a division of human beings into two parts, of which one half is purely intellectual and the other purely ethical. No. In dogmatics we are concerned with what God does for us and in us. In dogmatics God is everything. Dogmatics is a word from God to us, coming from outside us and above us; we are passive, listening, and opening ourselves to being directed by God.

In ethics, we are interested in the question of what it is that God now expects of us when he does his work in us. What do we do for him? Here we are active, precisely because of and on the grounds of God’s deeds in us; we sing songs in thanks and praise to God. In dogmatics, God descends to us; and ethics, we ascend to God. In dogmatics, he is ours; in ethics, we are his. In dogmatics, we know we shall see his face; in ethics, his name will be written on our foreheads (Rev. 22:4). Dogmatics proceeds from God; ethics returns to God. In dogmatics, God loves us; in ethics, therefore, we love him.

The difference, therefore, does not consist in our weakening the doctrine of election in our examination of ethics, or that we become semi-Pelagian by allowing the human person finally ‘to come into his own’ to achieve his rightful place. All Pelagianism must be rooted out; it is simply anti-ethical. It is precisely because God is everything that humans are truly great. There is no division of labor here where God does his part and we do ours. Not at all! We establish our calling precisely because God works all in all. This is a mystery: just because God is everything, we can be great. A mystery, yes, but far better this mystery than a Pelagian, Remonstrant slice of the Gordian knot that divides God and humanity so that God cannot be God and human beings cannot be genuinely human.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics, vol. 1, p. 22-23.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

2 thoughts on “Reformed Dogmatics and Reformed Ethics (Bavinck)”

  1. Reblogged this on The Three R's Blog and commented:
    The PRC Seminary recently added this new, significant publication by Baker Academic (June 2019). It is the first English translation of Herman Bavinck’s other (Reformed Dogmatics) major work, Reformed Ethics, translated by John Bolt (emeritus professor at Calvin Seminary). This post by Rev. S. Lems introduces us to this work and the difference between and the relation between Reformed dogmatics and Reformed ethics. Bolt and Baker are to be commended for bringing this project to fruition. This is volume one of three planned volumes. Be sure and read this profitable quote on Lem’s blog!


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