Bavinck on Organizing Theology

Here is the final paragraph from Part I of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics Vol I: Prolegomena. This chapter is entitled “The Method and Organization of Dogmatic Theology.” Throughout the chapter Bavinck explains what men have used in the past to organize theology. He then gives this concluding paragraph to explain how he organizes his dogmatics. To be clear early in the chapter he says  Scriptures are the sole foundation of theology. The question he is now answering is how should we organize theology. All parentheses are his.

Accordingly, the order that is theological and at the same time historical-genetic in character deserves preference. It, too, takes its point of departure in God and views all creatures only in relation to him. But proceeding from God to his works, in order through them again to ascend to and end in him. So in this method as well, God is beginning, middle, and end. From him, through him, and to him are all things (Rom. 11:36). But God is not drawn down into the process of history here, and history itself is treated more justly. God and his works are clearly distinguished. In his works God acts as Creator, Redeemer, and Perfecter. He is “efficient and exemplary Cause of things through creation, their renewing Principle through redemption, and their perfective Principle in restoration (Bonaventure). Dogmatics is the system of the knowledge of God as he has revealed himself in Christ; it is the system of Christian religion.  And the essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation  of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of Son of God and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a Kingdom of God. Dogmatics show us how God, who is all sufficient in himself, nevertheless glorifies himself in his creation, which, even when it is torn apart by sin, is gathered up again in Christ (Eph. 1:10). It describes for us God, always God, from the beginning to the end-God in his being, God in  his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name. Dogmatics therefore is not a dull and arid science. It is a theodicy, a doxology to all God’s virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a “glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14).

While the quote is long and decontextualized, it shows why Bavinck does not think Christ can be the organizing principle of theology. Dogmatics begins with God, which obviously includes Christ, but is not limited to Him, then proceeds to creation, redemption, and ultimately glorification. This method keeps God and his works related, but distinguished. It also allows for full development of the Trinity and their works while again allowing them to be interrelated, but distinguished.