“The Sacrifice of Praise” by Herman Bavinck

(Translated & Edited by Cameron Clausing and Gregory Parker Jr.)

Bavinck writes with warmth and life. Each page is replete with biblical references. He treats all sides of his topic and goes from baptism and parental instruction, to church confessions, to Christian unity in the faith and Christian duty in the public sphere, and ends with an exultation in the ultimate confession the Church will share with Christ in heaven. He exults in his Lord and his joy is contagious.

 

Herman Bavinck is a Dutch Reformed theologian from the late 19th and early 20th century, known for a four volume work on systematic theology called Reformed Dogmatics. In the past few decades, his work has become more widely known in English-speaking circles and he is renowned as a Reformed scholar clearly equal with the likes of B.B. Warfield. A newly translated work published by Hendrickson Publishers shows another side to Bavinck: he was a churchman with pastoral concern for the practical Christian faith of the average believer.

The Sacrifice of Praise was first published in Dutch in 1901 and went through several reprintings and editions over the next twenty years. The editors of this edition estimate that around 40,000 copies of the work were produced during that time. In 1920 the work was translated into English by John Dolfin a Reformed pastor in western Michigan. The translators of this work wanted to capture Bavinck’s style more directly and fix some errors in the translation. They also wanted to highlight the many Scriptural references in Bavinck’s writing by providing chapter and verse references — using the text of the English Standard Version (ESV) where possible.

As for the content of this work, it “is best understood as a work of catechetical theology, suitable for sharing with baptized Christians on the occasion of their public profession of faith and admission to the Lord’s table” (pg. xi-xii). The book focuses on the call for Christians to publicly confess Christ. “Lips that acknowledge [Christ]” are “a sacrifice of praise,” according to Hebrews 13:15; and it is this passage which gives the book its title.

Bavinck writes with warmth and life. Each page is replete with biblical references. He treats all sides of his topic and goes from baptism and parental instruction, to church confessions, to Christian unity in the faith and Christian duty in the public sphere, and ends with an exultation in the ultimate confession the Church will share with Christ in heaven. He exults in his Lord and his joy is contagious.

I must admit I found the first four chapters (of 12) a bit challenging. They contain a heavy dose of traditional covenant theology and an assumption of infant baptism (albeit with a distinction made that baptism does not regenerate or save the child). The background provided in the introduction prepares the reader by rehashing some of the Dutch Reformed Church controversies of the era when Bavinck wrote. As a Baptist who appreciates Reformed theology I still found those chapters slightly difficult. The rest of the work was more directly relevant, but even in those first few chapters there is much that can be gleaned on the importance of training our children to know and confess Christ. As a side note, I found it intriguing that Bavinck admits “in the New Testament baptism was mostly administered to adults” and only later “became generally acceptable” (p. 34).

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