Bavinck on Compartmentalizing God

I started reading through Herman Bavinck’s Essays on Religion, Science, and Society last Friday. Much of his writings (including his Reformed Dogmatics) cover the intersection of theology with philosophy and culture. In that sense, he is thoroughly Reformed. Surprisingly, his insights into modern thought are still as timely as they were when he first recorded them.

In his essay “The Philosophy of Religion,” he surveys philosophers such as Kant, Rosseau, and Hegel, showing how they all tended to limit religion to “one human faculty,” emphasizing either the rational, mystical, or ethical.  But biblical revelation does not give us license to emphasize one over the other.  He proposes, “if we want to do full justice to religion, we must return to the central unity in man . . . which in Holy Scripture is often designated the heart, from which proceed all expressions of life in mind, feeling, and will.”  In other words, don’t limit your interactions with God to only one realm of life. Don’t compartmentalize God!

God is grieved when we relegate him to our habits of study, prayer, or duty. It is as if we only wish to make him Lord over those particular areas of our lives. That’s why God becomes irrelevant to so many people who are interested in art, politics, leisure, health, social justice, technology, marriage, etc. That’s why when people think of sold-out Christians all that comes to mind are people who read their Bible, read theology, pray, and try to be good.

Bavinck laments the failure of post-reformation theologians to bring the reformed worldview to bear on all of life:

It is even surprising how little the principle of faith that people confessed was developed in different directions or applied to various areas of life in the centuries of orthodoxy. After a time of struggle, when a firm doctrine was established, there soon appeared a traditional dogmatics. Later theologians simply agreed with the earlier pronouncements and naively copied them. Hardly anyone felt a need for development. They rested on the laurels that the fathers had achieved, keeping what they had, but they did not sufficiently consider continuing reformation. That is why in our century there is so much for Reformed peoplt o do, not only academically but also practically.

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