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Reformed Ethics, Volume 1, Volume 1

Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity

series: Reformed Ethics

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Herman Bavinck's four-volume Reformed Dogmatics is one of the most important theological works of the twentieth century. Leading Bavinck expert John Bolt edited that work, which has received wide acclaim. Now Bolt has edited a recently discovered manuscript from Bavinck, in print for the first time, which serves as a companion to Reformed Dogmatics. Reformed Ethics follows the same method and explores the ethical and spiritual dimensions of key doctrines beyond those of Reformed Dogmatics. It mines the moral teachings of the early church and medieval and Puritan spirituality while addressing a variety of topics, offering scholars, pastors, and students Bavinck's mature reflections on ethical issues. This book is the first of three planned volumes.


Introduction to Herman Bavinck's Reformed Ethics by Dirk van Keulen and John Bolt
§1 Historical Overview of Christian Ethics
§2 Terminology
§3 Division and Organization of Ethic
§4 Foundation and Method of Ethics
Book I: Humanity before Conversion
1. Essential Human Nature
§5 Human Beings, Created in God's Image
§6 The Content of Human Nature
§7 Human Relationships
2. Humanity under the Power of Sin
§8 The Devastation of the Image of God in Humanity
§9 The Organizing Principle and Classification of Sins
3. The Self against the Neighbor and God
§10 Sins of Egoism in the Narrow Sense
§11 Sins against the Neighbor
§12 Sins against God
4. The Fallen Image of God
§13 The Image of God in Fallen Human Beings
5. Human Conscience
§14 The Conscience
6. The Sinner and the Law
§15 The Law
§16 Natural Morality
Book II: Converted Humanity
7. Life in the Spirit
§17 The Nature of the Spiritual Life
§18 The Origin of the Spiritual Life
§19 The First and Basic Activity of the Spiritual Life
8. Life in the Spirit in the Church's History
§20 Mysticism, Pietism, and Methodism
9. The Shape and Maturation of the Christian Life
§21 The Shape of the Christian Life: The Imitation of Christ
§22 The Growth of the Spiritual Life
10. Persevering in the Christian Life
§23 Security and Sealing
11. Pathologies of the Christian Life
§24 Diseases of the Spiritual Life and Their Roots
12. Restoration and Consummation of the Christian Life
§25 Means of Restoration
§26 Consummation of the Spiritual Life; Meditation on Death


"For the last decade, a global readership has enjoyed the theological and historical richness of Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics. At the outset of that work, Bavinck set out that dogmatics is happiest in the company of its twin discipline, theological ethics. Dogmatics and ethics, respectively, show us why and how we should love God. For that reason, they belong together as 'related members of a single organism.' Since its release, Reformed Dogmatics has given a wide audience the chance to engage with a great Christian theologian on God and God's works of creation, salvation, and consummation. In Reformed Ethics, we are invited to think with Bavinck about the concreteness of human life in the light and strength of God's deeds for us. For that, we owe the editor and translators a great deal."

James Eglinton, Meldrum Lecturer in Reformed Theology, New College, University of Edinburgh

"In addition to Bavinck's magisterial Reformed Dogmatics, we have here the firstfruits of his complementary Reformed Ethics. John Bolt and his accomplished team of translators and editors have added amazing value to Bavinck's recently rediscovered manuscripts in the field of moral theology. Their lucid translation, background studies, notes, and careful documentation of bibliographic sources used by Bavinck make this volume an invaluable background study on the history of theological ethics. Equally important, the book fills out our understanding of Bavinck the complete theologian. Working through it is an exhilarating eye-opener."

James A. De Jong, emeritus president and professor of historical theology, Calvin Theological Seminary

"Recent decades have witnessed renewed interest in a genuinely theological ethics. Theology promises Christians a third way between an often simplistic and atomistic direct application of normative scriptural proof texts and a retreat into the theories of one or more philosophical-ethical schools. The publication of Herman Bavinck's ethics perfectly affirms that promise. Its deep anchors in both Scripture and the theological tradition and its surprising accents render it an important interlocutor and source of moral wisdom even today. For example, though Bavinck employs the concept of moral 'duties' and--like the Reformed fathers--concentrates on the Ten Commandments, his ethics is anything but one-sidedly deontological. His core concept is not 'acting' but 'living,' and the inclusion of spirituality in ethics engenders a much wider ethical scope than usual. Also remarkable is his continuous attention to the virtues and to the spiritual disciplines and the formational dimensions of the imitation of Christ. The editors and translators deserve our gratitude and appreciation for this important achievement. They have transformed a rich but almost inaccessible manuscript into a clear, readable, interestingly annotated, well-structured, and attractive book. I cannot wait for the next volume."

Ad de Bruijne, professor of ethics and spirituality, Theological University Kampen, The Netherlands

"Ethics is no marginal relative of doctrine and theology, as the letters of Paul bear eloquent witness. The translation of Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics has been of major significance, and now it is followed, appropriately, by his Reformed Ethics. It is wonderful that this work has been discovered, translated, and published. One of the great needs of our day is close attention to the 'theological' in theological ethics, and Bavinck does not disappoint in this respect, with his characteristic rigor and creativity. John Bolt and his colleagues have provided us with a fresh resource for theological and ethical reflection."

Craig G. Bartholomew, director of the Kirby Laing Centre for Public Theology, Cambridge

"What a treasure! John Bolt has done the church a tremendous service in translating and editing this first volume of Bavinck's Reformed Ethics. It shares all the hallmarks we have come to associate with Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics, offering a formidable, astute account of the Reformed approach to ethics. We have long needed a work like this! Bavinck's Reformed Ethics offers pastors, students, theologians, ethicists--and Christians who would like to wrestle more deeply with the nature of the Christian life--a rich introduction to moral theology in all its contours. On the one hand, Bavinck sets forth a Christ-centered, Spirit-focused paradigm for ethics that accounts for the complexities of human nature amid the great story of creation, fall, and redemption. On the other hand, he manages to provide immensely practical and even devotional insights into dimensions of the Christian life that rarely receive the treatment they deserve, including the conscience, spiritual and moral pathologies, and practices of restoration and communion. I am grateful to have this tremendous resource in my hands, and I eagerly anticipate the next two volumes!"

Matthew J. Tuininga, assistant professor of moral theology, Calvin Theological Seminary

The Authors

  1. Herman Bavinck

    Herman Bavinck

    Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) succeeded Abraham Kuyper as professor of systematic theology at the Free University of Amsterdam in 1902.

    Continue reading about Herman Bavinck

  2. John Bolt

    John Bolt

    John Bolt (PhD, University of St. Michael's College) is the Jean and Kenneth Baker Professor of Systematic Theology, emeritus, at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He edited Bavinck's four-volume Reformed Dogmatics.

    Continue reading about John Bolt