Working my way through Bavinck's mighty four volume Reformed Dogmatics (Volumes 1-4, Baker Academic) has been my big long term reading project. The other day I finished the final volume. Looking back through the blog I notice that the set was delivered in May 2008 (see here). Didn't realise that it's taken me over seven years to get through the whole thing. Although I must admit that my progress has been rather fitful, with months sometimes passing between reads. That said, Bavinck's work needs to be absorbed rather than skimmed if you're going to get the best out of it.
Reformed Dogmatics is easily the best systematic theology I've yet encountered. It puts Berkhof and Reymond in the shade and is far better than Hodge. Right across the whole gamut of systematics RD is marked by fresh and insightful exegesis, sensitivity to the flow of biblical revelation, awareness of the doctrinal heritage of the church, and deep theological reflection. The work is an organic whole; a mighty exposition of the being, persons, will and acts of the triune God.
In an era of the theology tweet and bite sized books for busy pastors, Bavinck offers something substantial, profound and satisfying. His approach is thoroughly presuppositional. Bavinck begins with God and ends with him. He is presented as the Alpha and Omega of theology, it's self-revealing source and ultimate goal. Here is a work of theology as faith seeking understanding that is designed to shape our minds in the light of God's Word, move our hearts to worship in response to God's Ways, and stir our wills to be about God's Work. If pastors aspire to be pastor-theologians for the sake of the people of God, they would do well to study Reformed Dogmatics. Let the man himself define what he means by dogmatic theology:
Dogmatics is the system of the knowledge of God as he has revealed himself in Christ; it is the system of the 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 the Son of God and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God. Dogmatics shows us how God, who is all-sufficient in himself, nevertheless glorifies himself in his creation, which, even when torn apart by sin, is gathered up again in Christ. (Eph 1:10). It describes for us God, always God from beginning to 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 science. It is a theodicy, a doxology of all God's virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a "glory to God in the highest" (Luke 2:14). (RD Volume 1, p. 112)
From Volume 1-4 Bavinck unfolds the great drama of creation, ruin, redemption and renewal. He constantly returns to the thought that God in his grace has not abandoned the world that he made in rescuing it from sin. Rather, by grace he redeems, restores, and perfects it. The climax of his eschatological vision is not the believer dying and going to heaven, but the new creation.
The state of glory will be no mere restoration of the state of nature, but a re-formation that, thanks to the power of Christ, transforms all matter into form, all potency into actuality, and presents the entire creation before the face of God, brilliant in unfading splendor and blossoming in a springtime of eternal youth. (RD Volume 4, p. 720).
See here for blog posts on various aspects of RD. My next 'big read' will be The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, by Michael Horton, Zondervan. Our people bought me this to mark my 10th anniversary in the pastorate in 2013, but I've been keeping it until I'd finished reading Bavinck. It's always good to have a 'biggie' on the go. In my formative years as a preacher I read Preaching and Preachers, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I was struck by his counsel,
Time must be found for reading, and we turn now to the more intellectual type of reading. The first is theology. There is no greater mistake than to think that you finish with theology when you leave a seminary. The preacher should continue to read theology as long as he is alive. The more he reads the better and there are many authors and systems to be studied. I have known men in the ministry, and men in various other walks of life who stop reading when they finish their training. They think they have acquired all they need; they have their lecture notes, and nothing further is necessary. The result is that they vegetate and become quite useless. Keep on reading; and read the big works. (Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Hodder and Stoughton, 1985, p. 177).
You can't get much bigger or grander in scope and scale than Herman Bavinck's great magnum opus. Delve into his Reformed Dogmatics. Don't just take my word for it. It's Doctor's orders and will do you good.