“If God were a Kantian, who would not have us till we came to Him from the purest and best motives, who could be saved? And this illusion of self-sufficiency may be at its strongest in some very honest, kindly, and temperate people, and on such people, therefore, misfortune must fall.” -C.S. Lewis, The Problem Pain
70. Sections 70-75 discuss the essence of religion. Bavinck begins by stating that there are principles of religion just like there are in science. He then discusses the origins of the word “religion” and its meaning, and then analyzes the Biblical data on the nature of religion.
71. Bavinck defines the term “religion,” and defends this definition. He summarizes Thomas’s view of religion, offers a brief critique, and then discusses the Reformed tradition’s appropriation and refinement of Thomas’s view.
72. Bavinck seeks to identify the essence of subjective religion, and then shows the relationship between objective religion and subjective religion.
73. Bavinck summarizes the history-of-religions approach to studying religion. Bavinck begins his critique of this approach (Point 1).
74. Point 2 of Bavinck’s critique of the history-of-religions approach to studying religion.
75. Point 3 of Bavinck’s critique of the history-of-religions approach to studying religion.
76. Sections 76-79, Bavinck discusses the seat of religion. He begins his overview by considering the argument that the seat of religion is found in the intellect. He gives special focus to Hegel in this respect, and those after him who would use his views to disparage religion in the name of science.
77. Bavinck discusses the view that religion is seated in the will. This view is exemplified by Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Schleiermacher (to some extent) and others. Bavinck also discusses the emergence of voluntarism in modern philosophy, the ‘ethical shift’ of modern theology, and the relationship of religion and ethics.
78. Bavinck discusses the view that religion is seated in the feelings/emotions. This view is found in 19th century Romanticism, and is particularly identified with Schleiermacher. Bavinck offers a critique of this view, making the point that feelings are not a faculty and lack the ability to judge truth and untruth.
79. Bavinck argues that the seat of religion is the whole person, going from the intellect to the feelings to the will.
80. In sections 80-81, Bavinck discusses the origin of religion. In section 80, he discusses various modern theories (many of which draw upon a history-of-religions methodology) about the origin of religion. He especially gives attention to the argument that religion arose from a fear of nature, surveying the view and then critiquing it.
81. Bavinck argues that any attempt to explain the origin of religion without recourse to divine revelation will inevitably fall short. Bavinck briefly explains how the foundational principles of theology are also the foundational principles of religion.
50. Bavinck surveys Lutheran theology from the time of Luther to the Enlightenment. He touches on inter-Lutheran theological debates in the 16th century which found resolution in the Formula of Concord (1577), and he also touches on Lutheran orthodoxy’s battles with Pietism and modern rationalism.
51. Philosophy eventually came to dominate Lutheran theology in the 18th and 19th century. Bavinck briefly summarizes Kant’s, Schleiermacher’s, Hegel’s, and Schelling’s efforts to this end.
52. Responses to the philosophical shift came from a resurgent confessional Lutheranism, mediating theology, and the biblical theology school. However, many of these critics were ‘children of their modern time.’ Bavinck also survey’s Ritschl’s theology and its influence.
53. Bavinck surveys the left-wing and right-wing Ritschlians. He evaluates the gains and loses of Schleiermachian, Hegelian, and Ritschlian trajectories. While all of these theologians sought to preserve the absolute and sui generis nature of Christianity, by yielding so much epistemic and metaphysical ground to modern philosophical trends they reduced all claims of absoluteness to mere subjective value judgments which would be demolished by positivistic religious studies (e.g. the history-of-religions).
The concept “method of dogmatics” refers to the manner in which dogmatic material is acquired and treated. There are three factors that influence one’s method of dogmatics: 1) Holy Scripture 2) The Church’s Confession 3) Christian consciousness. Bavinck then begins a historical survey of the interplay between these factors.
The early Church lived by the word of the Gospel proclaimed by the apostles which was clarified and expanded by the Epistles & the Gospels. Foundational to this kerygma was the Old Testament; it is the word of God augmented and completed by the Gospel (in oral and written form). Dogma came from this. Scripture was the regula fidei (rule of faith).
Apostles, Bishops, and the Return to Scripture
After the days of the apostles, the boundary line between apostolic and non-apostolic writings was not as sharp, and tradition gradually began to gain independent status against Scripture. As the Church fought against various sects and heresies, it took doctrinal refuge in the episcopacy and the idea that the bishop possesses the charisma veritatis (gift of truth) and is, thus, able to determine the regula veritatis (rule of truth). This paved the way for the papacy.
Even in the medieval period, but especially during the Reformation there was a call for a return to Scripture and a “simple, practical, biblical Christianity.” But under the influence of pietism and rationalism, this return to Scripture became hostile to confessionalism. The eighteenth and nineteenth century, saw the rise of biblical dogmatics and the interest in a “genetic method” in dogmatics, setting forth the truths of Scripture in their organic relationship to each other.
The Turn to the Subject
Modernity saw dogmatic method turn to the subject, arguing that religious truth was found in and derived from the religious subject. Bavinck, then, summarizes how Hegelian, Kantian, and Schleiermachian methods approach dogmatics.
Hegel saw religion as representational. Through dialectical reasoning, these representations yield true and pure concepts. Hegelian methods of dogmatics tend to have the following similarities: 1) There is no religious organ of knowledge, only the intellect 2) It is necessary to prove the supersensuous, rationally 3) There is only one worldview which is, both, scientific and religious. 4) Religion concerns forms, while philosophy concerns concepts.
Kantian and Schleiermachian approaches have the following in common. 1) The conscience or heart is the organ of religious knowledge. 2) Moral experiences are the starting point for religion. Dogmas arise through rational reflection on these. Meanwhile, the Schleiermachian approach begins with the feeling of absolute dependence. 3) Religious knowledge is distinct from science.
For Ritschl, the method of dogmatics centered on the idea of the revelation of God in Christ without metaphysical claims. Dogmatics is concerned with God’s will to establish his kingdom on earth, and it makes “value” judgments. It is, thus, a practical science (not theoretical) and has a religious-ethical character.
Hermann serves as an example of the left-wing Ritschlians. He contrasted faith with knowledge, seeing faith as reducible to trust. This trust arises from moral experiences derived from “the deep impression that the personality of Jesus makes on every mind in search of God.” The New Testament gives a picture of the “inner life” of Jesus, and this picture is the ground of faith. Thus, the content of faith is (subjective) religious-ethical experiences that cannot be systematized.
Right-wing Ritschlians argue that there is objective knowledge in faith, and this is derived from an authoritative source: namely, Christ. He is known through the historical and apostolic witness of the New Testament. But these are all aubordinated to the religious subject’s perspective. Thus, even among the right-wing Ristchlians there is a “turn to the subject.”