by John Bolt, Professor of Systematic Theology
The first Bavinck Conference, “A Pearl and a Leaven: Herman Bavinck for the 21st Century,” held at the Prince Center in September 2008, celebrated the centenary of Bavinck’s Stone Lectures on the Philosophy of Revelation and the completed English translation of his Reformed Dogmatics. Many of the 200-plus attendees expressed a desire to developing a network of scholars, pastors, and students interested in exploring and promoting the Bavinck tradition. To facilitate this vision, the CTS faculty approved establishing The Bavinck Institute at Calvin Theological Seminary in the Spring of 2010.
Through its own web-page on the CTS site (http://bavinck.calvinseminary.edu), The Bavinck Institute provides news about Bavinck publications, scholarship and events, access to Bavinck literature, and hosts an electronic, peer-reviewed journal, The Bavinck Review. The highlight of the second Bavinck Conference, “After 9/11/11 . . . What? Reformed Theology and the Church’s Global Mission Today,” held in October 2011 to commemorate the 10th anniversay of the attack on the Twin Towers, was the awarding of the first Bavinck Prize for outstanding Reformed contribution to the church, the academy, or public life to the Hon. Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 2002 to 2011.
The third Bavinck Conference on October 18, “Doctrine for Proclamation and Mission,” was co-sponsored by the Bavinck Institute and the Center for Excellence in Preaching. (This is the place for me publicly to thank the CEP and its director, Scott Hoezee, for the support and cooperation in putting this conference together.) Professor J.I. Packer was this year’s recipient of the Bavinck Prize; unfortunately he was not able to be present in person to receive the award or deliver the Prize Lecture. He did prepare an address specifically for the occasion, “The Relevance of Doctrine for Evangelistic Preaching,” and his long-time friend and Regent College faculty colleague, Donald Lewis, accepted the award on Dr. Packer’s behalf and read his paper. Presenting himself as an “adult catechist,” Dr. Packer made a persuasive case for thinking of evangelistic preaching as “communicating generic orthodoxy with a view to leading one’s hearers into committed and knowledgeable discipleship. Narrowed notions of evangelistic preaching that isolate decision from discipleship are to be regretted and avoided. Doctrine makes preaching evangelistic in the sense of being both informational and invitational.”
The other presenters amplified and complemented the conference theme. Dr. Stan Mast began the conference with a stirring meditation of I Timothy 4:3—“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound doctrine, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”—challenging us to preach sound doctrine in an age with itchy ears. CTS’s newly appointed professor of missiology, Michael Goheen, introduced us to a missional understanding of doctrine, and Ph.D. student Todd Rester, who is translating Jonathan Edwards’s favorite theologian, Petrus van Mastricht’s Theologia pactica for the Dutch Reformed Translation Society, provided us with a portrait of a 17th-century theologian who understood doctrine as being for preaching and saw preaching for the purpose of inspiring Christian living. John Bolt’s presentation on the missional character of the the Bavinck tradition (Herman and J.H.) concluded the conference.
The Bavinck Institute’s first publication, The J.H. Bavinck Reader has been announced for release by Eerdmans in April 2013. Our current major project is editing and translating Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics, a 400-page manuscript in Bavinck’s own hand, recently discovered in the Bavinck Archives at the Free University of Amsterdam. In conjunction with that project, planning is beginning for the fourth Bavinck Conference in October 2014 under the theme “Reformed Ethics for Today.”