Book Review - Biblical and Religious Psychology
Reformed Free Publishing Association
The following review was written by John P. Jambura, M.D. of Boise, Idaho on the book Biblical and Religious Psychology by Herman Bavinck (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing, 2024). Biblical and Religious Psychology is currently available for preorder. Preorders will ship during the week of January 22, 2024. That's in two weeks! Make sure you have your preorders in today through the RFPA website, or order after release through Reformation Heritage Books.
Herman Bavinck was one of the outstanding Dutch theologians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A brilliant mind, he avoided many of the pitfalls of other brilliant men by staying within the bounds of Biblical truth. He was not afraid of secular authors, but interacted with them to glean that which illuminated the Reformed faith without imbibing their errors. He was also a man who reflected on the data of Scripture and the issues of his (and frankly, our) day substantively, challenging his readers to view their suppositions and pre-suppositions under his unique and penetrating lens. The volume under consideration is no exception.
The reader is first confronted with substantial introductory material, which could be considered a crash course in Bavinck’s thought, and will reward the reader when carefully considered. It is followed by the book itself, in which Bavinck takes the reader on a whirlwind journey through his approach to the thoughts of mankind as both a theologian and a psychological explorer whose guide and counselor is the inspired Scriptures. The promotional copy provided to me to review did not have an index, but one hopes it is reasonably extensive.
What is good about this book?
If my own experience is any guide, both one’s methodology in approaching the workings of the human mind and any approach thereof will be challenged. The approach of the author throughout shows the restraint of the Scriptures and the confessions. The absence of speculation in any guise is appreciated.
Why review this book?
On a more personal note, why did I want to review this book? Namely, it takes up a topic which has occupied my thinking for a long time.
As I studied clinical psychology in college, and neuropsychology and the first discussions of biological psychiatry in medical school and residency, I was presented with a mechanistic view of human thought. This was tempered with my studies of the Westminster Standards, specifically the discussion of the sixth commandment in the Larger Catechism and what constituted the “sober use of Physick” for the mind and thinking. I came to what now appear to be rudimentary conclusions about the life of the mind.
Bavinck’s thoughts about the mind, rigorously Scriptural but engaging with secular thought to harvest the fruit while discarding the husk of the ideas when winnowed by Scripture, have set me to rethinking how I approach the care and feeding of the minds of children and their rehabilitation from the effects of sin. Similar to my previous encounters with Bavinck in the fields of systematic theology and ethics, I am humbled and challenged to press on further in my pursuit of more consistent ministry in this area.
What is frustrating about this book?
Finally, what is frustrating about this book? I realize that I am venturing into personal opinion, and I admit it up front. The term common grace is cast about [in the work], and seems to be limited to consideration of an idea that is within Scriptural/confessional bounds, but may be some small irritation in its inclusion. Several times in the text Bavinck identifies a possible excursus (some may say “rabbit trail”) then ruthlessly lays it aside, pushing toward his endpoint. I was left at the (rather abrupt) end of the text thinking it in many ways suggestive rather than exhaustive.
This book, if it is the first contact with this great mind, could ignite interest in other of Herman Bavinck's works, which will reward abundantly. The ongoing efforts to translate all of Bavinck’s works is appreciated for all of us who do not speak or read Dutch. A subsequent edition of this work with more explanatory notes and even excurses on the points raised and left by the author would also be appreciated, at least in this corner.
John P. Jambura, M.D. practices general pediatrics with special interest in psychiatry and chronic disease. He has been a member and frequent chairman of the hospital ethics committee at St. Luke’s (Boise, ID). Dr. Jambura has over 41 years of experience in medical practice and consultation with courts of Reformed and Presbyterian churches regarding mental illness and discipline cases. He currently lives and practices in Boise, ID.
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