The Importance of Theologian Exemplars

Greg Strand – October 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Carl R. Trueman, Editorial: Some Advantages of Going Dutch,” Themelios25/3 (June 2004), 1-4. (This can be downloaded as a stand-alone paper at the following site:

For pastor-theologians, it is important to study the text of Scripture, theology and theologians. There is much we can learn from observing gifted and capable theologians engage in the task of theology, anchored in God’s inerrant Word, living a life of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and humble dependency on Him, with the ultimate goal being the good of the church and the glory of God.

Trueman acknowledges his debt to Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), many of his works translated into English. Trueman asks if Bavinck is still relevant today. He answers his question by highlighting five key strengths of Bavinck’s theology:

First, Bavinck’s theology is unashamedly conducted within the context of faith and on the basis that the Bible is the revelation of God. Any theology which does not start from this point, acknowledging human sinfulness, salvation only in Christ, and Scripture as the sole ground for Christian theology, is, I would suggest, not Christian theology at all but a form of religious philosophy.

Second, Bavink’s theology is rooted in exegesis. . . . Any theology which is not heart concerned with biblical exegesis is, I submit, not Christian theology at all, but, again, a form of religious philosophy, albeit dressed up in the language of Christian tradition.

Third, Bavinck’s theology is informed and intelligent in the manner in which it deals with alternative viewpoints. . . . One of the purposes of Christian theology is evangelism, and polemics that are uninformed or uncharitable may well confirm us in our pride but are unlikely to persuade our opponents that there is a better way.

Fourth, Bavinck takes seriously the need to articulate the faith in a manner which respects the historic doctrinal trajectories yet which addresses contemporary intellectual and social patterns of behavior.

Fifth, Bavinck’s theology is shot through with the fire of personal devotion.

For these five reasons, if no others, we might do worse than choose Bavinck as a model of theological endeavour. Of course, we face new challenges of which he never dreamed, but, were he alive, he would have tried to address these in a manner which honoured the five basic principles outlined above.

Trueman concludes with an exhortation to today’s theologians to pursue their task in a Bavinck-like manner, which I quote in full:

In the current environment, the practical theological needs of the hour are, first and foremost, fearless Christian gospel preachers; and, second, evangelical thinkers—note, I say ‘thinkers’, not ‘scholars’ or ‘authors’, ‘thinking’ not being a necessary condition of membership for either of the latter two groups—who discern the signs of the times and can contribute intelligently to the defence and propagation of the gospel in the years ahead. This was the task fulfilled by Bavinck in his time. Read him; reflect on what he is doing; consider how the same principles might be worked out in theological studies today. It might just save your soul as it once saved mine; and it might just give you a vision for the role of theologians and theology within the life of the church which challenges the way you work at the moment. Theological students have both a great privilege and a great responsibility because of who they are and what they know. This should excite you, set your hearts on fire, send you out into the world and the church rejoicing in the good news which you, of all people, should know back-to-front and inside-out. Theological study is a moral, an intellectual, and a spiritual challenge, a challenge which men and women like Bavinck accepted in their own day and fulfilled to the best of their ability. It is my dearest hope that all the readers of Themelios will accept that same challenge for the future and commit themselves, through, not despite, their theological studies, to the upbuilding and preservation of Christ’s church, to the spread of the gospel, and to the glorification of God’s name on earth. That is your heritage, that is your responsibility. Now go out and enjoy it.

Justin Holcomb, “Vast Learning, Ageless Wisdom,” The Gospel Coalition Blog (October 9, 2012)

Holcomb recently focuses on the life and times of Bavinck, including his “contributions to theology” and his “theological distinctives.” Below I include those distinctives:

Perhaps the greatest contribution of Bavinck’s theological work was his unflinching devotion to the authority and inspiration of Scripture, at a time when such views were unfashionable. Many theologians in Bavinck’s day sectioned off religious knowledge as a purely subjective matter not to be confused with the “hard facts” of science and other forms of genuine, objective human knowledge. Rather than let modern scholarship barrel over the truth of Scripture, Bavinck held that all theology and religious experience rests on the foundational truth of the Bible. He genuinely believed that the Bible could speak authoritatively to issues pressing on modern people.

At the same time, Bavinck did not entirely reject the subjective elements of Christianity. He produced a theology that took seriously the objectivity of the Scriptures and the church’s confessions, as well as the subjectivity of Christian consciousness and religious experience. Bavinck allowed room for the Holy Spirit to work subjectively in the lives of believers without undermining the objective revelation found in Scripture.

In addition, Bavinck expressed a broad Reformed theology that emphasized the unity and beauty of the one church in Christ and aimed to heal the divisions that he saw dividing the fractured Reformed church in the Netherlands.

I have read some of Bavinck. Trueman and Holcomb are right. But it also raises an important question for us: Who are the theologians to whom you look as your example(s) and model(s)?

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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