Bavinck: What is dogmatics? Why do we need it?

by | Jan 16, 2021 | Bavinck

Yesterday, while writing a short presentation on the general topic of theology (Coming soon!), I flipped through a dozen or so theological works to see how others have defined theology and its goal. Not everyone does it well. Some do it better than others. Herman Bavinck does it really well. Even in Chapter 2, he’s still restating and clarifying. 

He defines dogmatics as “a theology” (111). Going into greater detail, he says it “can be defined as the truth of Scripture, absorbed and reproduced by the thinking consciousness of the Christian theologian.” It’s “a description of what in religion ought to count as truth” (89). He concludes: “Dogmatics is from start to finish the work of a believer who is confessing and giving an account of the ground and content of his faith” (109). 

That’s what dogmatics is but what is its aim? Bavinck is clear. “The sole aim of dogmatics is to set forth the thoughts of God that He has laid down in Holy Scripture” (83). Because this is the aim of dogmatics it follows that the content is “the knowledge of God as he has revealed it in Christ through his Word.” I may be misunderstanding Bavinck here, but what I think he means by “revealed in Christ” is that it has been revealed to Christians. That is, those who are in Christ. Dogmatics is simply a Christian endeavouring to know what God wants Christians to know so we can think the way He wants us to think. That’s why the Lord has given us Scripture. Because as Bavinck succinctly states, “Scripture alone is the norm and rule of faith and life” (86). It is “the sole foundation of theology” (89).

Dogmatics (and theology) is our wholly appropriate and necessary Christian effort to know the thoughts of God.

Check out Part 1 of this series on Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics here!



Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Chief Editor at Positive Action for Christ in Whitakers, North Carolina. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.


Brent Niedergall