what Bavinck says

Since I already know John Calvin pretty well (having studied under Richard Muller and taught a course on Calvin several times), I’ve decided to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his birth by reading Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics (Baker).

In my reading for today, I came across some quotes which, though perhaps not persuasive to many emergent Christians, should carry weight with my friend and interlocutor Kevin Corcoran, who teaches at Calvin College (being Dutch Reformed, they rightly appreciate Kuyper and Bavinck there).

Here Bavinck says that “belief that” logically precedes and generates “belief in,” and both are essential to authentic Christianity.

Bavinck wrote that “For the knowledge (cognitio) as Calvin views it includes trust (fiducia), and trust in turn is not possible without knowledge.  The two do not just stand in juxtaposition, nor are they merely linked by the words ‘not only but also,’ but they are organically interconnected” (4:130).

Bavinck observed that the need to believe in Jesus was so important that in Scripture “‘believers’ is another word for Christians (Acts 10:43; 1 Tim. 4:3, 12)” (4:106).

He added that “From the very beginning this faith included two elements:  (1) acceptance of the apostolic message concerning the Christ and (2) personal trust in that Christ as now living in heaven and mighty to forgive sins and to bestow complete salvation” (4:106).

Me: (1) is “belief that” and (2) is “belief in.”


Finally, Bavinck said that “Believing always includes acceptance of the witness God has given of his Son through the apostles as well as unlimited trust in the person of Christ.  The two are inseparable.  Those who truly accept the apostolic witness trust in Christ alone for their salvation; and those who put their trust in Christ as the Son of God also freely and readily accept the apostolic witness concerning that Christ.  The two together, subjectively speaking, constitute the essence of Christianity.”

“If Christ were only a historical person who by his doctrine and life had left us an example, historical belief in the witness handed down to us would be sufficient.  However, in that case Christianity would never mature into true religion, that is, into true communion with God, and Deism would be right.”

“Conversely, if Christ, in keeping with the pantheistic view, were not the historical but solely the ideal Christ, belief in an apostolic witness would be totally superfluous, and Christ would be nothing other than the life of God in us, but then there could not be true communion between God and us either, for such communion presupposes an essential distinction between the two” (4:107-8).

Me again:  I’m not saying he is a pantheist, but Peter Rollin’s refusal to admit belief in the historical resurrection of Jesus looks similar to what Bavinck is refuting in this last paragraph. 







15 responses to “what Bavinck says”

  1. I remember a class with Dr. Bierma on the Heidelberg Catechism, which Kevin must subscribe to in order to teach at Calvin…Bierma clearly indicated that it emphasized a faith that is both objective and subjective. It is faith in the objective work of Christ that is subjectively applied to us. Both are necessary per the Catechism.

    Does Kevin disagree with this?

  2. Ok…here we go:

    Mike: I like Bavinck’s statement “For the knowledge (cognitio) as Calvin views it includes trust (fiducia), and trust in turn is not possible without knowledge. The two do not just stand in juxtaposition, nor are they merely linked by the words ‘not only but also,’ but they are organically interconnected” (4:130).’

    but feel it is a bit incomplete…

    we also need ‘fidelity’ which indicates a unity with Christ, a oneness in covenant with him, illustrated in marriage…and viseo, which I understand as ‘living into the dream of God’ as Jesus envisioned that dream.

    We also need to leave ‘space’ for what has to be known in order to ‘trust’, ‘pledge’, and ‘dream’ with Christ.

    Even an autistic child can have trust, loyalty, and dream with a parent while they have a cognitive challenge in respect to understanding what their parent does for a living, or how much they owe on the house, etc.

    If I heard right… this is what Smith was getting at in the afternoon panel discussion…and I agreed with him then as well.

    It must be frustrating, (recall jello to the wall illustration) to get ’emergents’ (which is not a boxed set group) to make ‘a stand’. But the reason it is hard is because– by the very nature of ’emerging’– it is virtually impossible to nail them down. It is impossible (and hence frustrating) because it is fluid and there simply is not and most likely will not be one ‘doctrinal’ statement. Within emergence there is a wide spectrum of conflicting views or ideas. And that’s ok.

    In other words, I can be labeled ’emerging’ and not have the same views as Kevin. We are comfortable with that. Perhaps I do have the same view. We are comfortable with that, too. We may be labeled to be in the same tribe…but in reality there is no tribe.

    I am not being veiled or unclear.

    Brian: If we are bringing Bierma into this (I’m sure he is eager for that…) then tell Lyle an old tennis buddy says hello.

  3. Yooper


    I don’t know if you will find Kevin around here for a while. Apparently there’s some universal God party in the works to which you have been invited also:



    Something that can’t be nailed down has a deceptive smell to me, and it would probably be good for you to get out of your comfort zone.

  4. I’m relatively new to this discussion, having only followed your blog for a few weeks, Mike, and it seems that there some behind-the-scenes discussions here that I’m not privy to. But, I wonder if John Frame can be helpful in this discussion. In his Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, he talks about knowledge as a covenant relationship and says that knowing God is knowing Him as Lord (which would seem to equate with the “belief that” and “belief in” categories you’re using).

    Frame says that knowing God as Lord involves knowing His control and sovereignty over everything, knowing His authority–knowing that He is the ultimate authority and what He commands us to do–and knowing that God is present as the one who unites us to Him in a covenant relationship. So knowing the Lord is not merely knowing about God’s lordship, though that is an essential part, but it’s knowing Him as Lord.

    Anyway, that’s a very brief and probably unsatisfactory summary of Frame’s idea here. Just my two cents, take it for what it’s worth.

  5. Thanks for posting these important thoughts from Bavinck. If we’re speaking of salving faith, then as I’ve written elsewhere, faith begins with knowledge (notitia) or cognition. Second, knowledge leads to mental assent (assensus); from cognition to conviction. But, salvific faith comes to completion in trust (fiducia). From cognition (= awareness), to conviction (= acceptance), to
    commitment (= appropriation) — this is the biblical pattern of saving faith. No one is saved without knowledge of Gospel truth, conviction that the Gospel truth is true personally, and commitment to the Gospel truth.

    Just thinking…

  6. Yooper


    The latest emergent best seller appears to have replaced the Word of God as the source of belief for many. I get a real charge by the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the passion of Paul when he writes of it in I Corinthians 15, contrast his message with that of Peter Rollins. Satan is very keen about how vulnerable we are when our “knowledge” trumps God’s. It is sad how many are condemned (John 3:18) and appear to be the champion of contentment. But are they really?

    Would this dialogue of “that” and “in” continue to such a level if there weren’t those who are truly grasping for something real to cling to?

  7. Yooper

    That was supposed to say John 3:18.

  8. Yooper:
    Well said. Unless and until the Word of God is seen as true and not merely inspiring or interesting will we be “emerging” toward what Christ intended for his Church. But of course, truth is a problem for all things emergent.

  9. mikewittmer


    I’m sure that Bavinck would include union with Christ and hope in the future in his notion of fiducia. Our “hearty trust” in Christ would include both of these.

    Be that as it may, I’m not as interested here in where Bavinck may not have gone far enough than in the ground he did cover. Emergents should not move on to “the dream of God” until they cover the basics of knowledge and faith. Indeed, I don’t think they can have the former without the latter.

    I have no quarrel with the diversity present in Emergent circles, so long as they retain the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. That no longer seems to be the case with many. I’m willing to continue the conversation with them, but I think we need to be honest and say it is no longer a Christian conversation (in the orthodox sense).

    Regarding an autistic child, to the extent that the child has faith in God, to that extent the child knows something about God. I gladly say that God finds a way to save our mentally handicapped children or infants who die before they’re able to comprehend the gospel, but let’s not pretend that anyone can have faith without knowledge. That is logically impossible.

  10. Amen, Mike! Faith without knowledge is logically impossible. We cannot believe in until we believe that. Otherwise we’re leaping into the dark.

  11. Just a thought: maybe the suggestion that it should be a both/and fails in that it suggests that belief and obedience are separate things. Bonhoeffer said that there is no belief without obedience, but also that there is no obedience without belief.

    It’s not so much a question of whether one or the other will do as much as its about whether belief can accurately be called belief without obedience, and whether obedience can be called obedience without belief.

    If obedience occurs without belief, who are you actually obeying? Is it Christ or is it your own ideals/desires/ambitions/motivations?

    And if you aren’t obedient, or at the very least if there is no evidence of a change toward obedience, do you really believe?

    I think in this way, obedience is the lived out affirmation of the recognition of Jesus’ identity and work, which really can’t be separated chronologically, I don’t think. And I think I must add that neither the belief (Mark 9:23-25) nor the obedience (as we can all attest to) is complete in this life. They both most be wholly supported by Grace. So you could say that I do think that salvation is both an immediate event and an ongoing process.

    (Full disclosure: I’m not a Calvinist, entirely. I think whether or not you are greatly alters how you view this topic, and I think that Jamie Smith’s point about the Reformed vs. Baptist view at the Seminar was well made in response to Micheal’s statements.)

  12. mike


    I agree with you. I have always said that belief, if it’s genuine, is inextricably united with and even causes right action. I prefaced my initial question at the seminar by saying that I wasn’t asking about “bare belief,” for even demons believe and tremble. So I’m not for separating them. Never have been.

    My intent behind both/and is to say precisely that belief and practice can’t be separated. I really don’t know how else to say it. As far as I can tell, it is my dialogue partners who separate belief from practice when they say that you can have one without the other.

    Perhaps you could elaborate on the Baptist vs. Reformed statement? At the top of this thread I cite Herman Bavinck at length, and his solidly Reformed view about the logical priority of knowledge before belief is the point I was making at the seminar. So I don’t understand how “being Reformed” alters the landscape.

  13. “belief, if it’s genuine, is inextricably united with and even causes right action.” We live from the inside out.

  14. Michael,

    The Reformed comment was probably unnecessary. I simply meant that at the moment Jamie made the the comment about it, I think he was appropriate in responding to your statements the way he did. Don’t really know why I felt the need to state that earlier.

    Besides that, I think there’s a lot of twisting words going on from the other side of the conversation. There’s a lot that can be argued for philosophically, but not as much that sounds like anything that they learned from the Bible.

    I’m willing to say that it is possible to suggest that those who do not affirm the kind of belief this conversation is about–belief that Jesus is Lord/Messiah, I think, is probably a safe way to describe it–can be saved, in the sense that I, being a finite human, can’t know God’s full purposes. But I am not willing to say that the Bible explicitly proposes that as a possibility. (Romans 10:9-10)

  15. Mike,

    I know this post is old now, but I wanted to add that one thing that’s struck me as I’ve read Pete’s books is that he hasn’t ever actually said (as far as I know) that he doesn’t believe Christ’s resurrection happened.

    It makes me wonder if the reason he never comments on that is that he doesn’t ever want to go near the possibility of suggesting that you can believe that it happened but not have it change your life.

    If it hasn’t transformed you, you don’t believe it anyway. This leaves the possibility of suggesting that it’s not the belief in the resurrection that’s transformed you, but rather yourself, so that Christ isn’t actually your motivation, or motivator, rather. But it doesn’t leave the option of saying that you believe in Christ when you aren’t actually transformed. Maybe he’s just fully committed to pushing back against false conversion, kinda like Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron ;). Maybe–and this is obviously a big maybe–God has called him to be an evangelist to the Church as much as or even more than to those outside it.

    Either way, I think it’s hard to really know what Pete believes exactly, and I wouldn’t try to say I know what he claims to believe unless he explicitly said it (and we all know that’s not gonna happen anytime soon).

    But he does challenge me in a good way. His writing has made me look at how my life and the message of Jesus truly connect. For that, I’m thankful. And for him, I pray that God points him in the same direction–to look at how his life and the message of Jesus, the full message of Jesus including both deed and faith, really connect.

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