Translating Herman Bavinck: A Q&A with the Editors of The Sacrifice of Praise

Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) is widely celebrated as one of the most eloquent divines in the Reformed tradition. Thanks to Cameron Clausing and Gregory Parker’s hard work, we now have a brand new English translation of one more of Bavinck’s esteemed works: The Sacrifice of Praise.

Including a new introduction and scriptural citations, The Sacrifice of Praise pastorally guides the reader through the importance of the public profession of faith. Bavinck’s careful treatment includes explorations of the unifying power of a common (ecumenical) confession of faith, the blessing of the diversity of believers, and reasonable instruction for those facing persecution for publicly identifying with Christ. Theological, practical, straightforward, and devotional, The Sacrifice of Praise gives readers a fresh appreciation for the importance of confessing one’s faith.

In this exclusive interview, we sat down with Cam and Greg to hear a little more about the translation process, as well as some fascinating additional insights about Bavinck: his progression as a theologian, fellow theologians, and how the Dutch Reformed church was changing during his lifetime.

1. There have been many recent English translations and editions of Herman Bavinck’s work. Why do you think Bavinck has gained so much popularity in recent years?

G: The spark that set readers ablaze for interest in Bavinck in the English speaking world lays at the foot of John Bolt and the significant efforts of the Dutch Translation Society in producing a copy of Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. This work, which was released across the first decade of the 21st century whet the appetite for renewed investigation into Bavinck. For the first time instead of reading Bavinck through the likes of Cornelius Van Til and Louis Berkhof, or in the shadow of Abraham Kuyper, Bavinck was on the coffee table.

Truthfully, the tinder has been gathered for some time by the many historical proclivities that connect Bavinck to the English-speaking world. For example, Bavinck made two trips to America, one in 1892 and the other in 1908. On both these trips, Bavinck visited the Dutch-American outposts of New Amsterdam and Michigan. In 1908, he delivered his lectures on The Philosophy of Revelation and gave a number of speeches across the country including major cities such as Detroit, Chicago, and New York. Even meeting then President Teddy Roosevelt! On this trip, The Courier Journal of Louisville, KY pronounced him as “undoubtedly the foremost living Calvinistic theologian.” It was inevitable that one of the greatest theologians of a previous generation would grow in popularity.

2. What initially drew each of you to study Bavinck?

C: As I was studying at Reformed Theological Seminary, Bavinck was required reading. I first read his Doctrine of God (a portion of vol. 2 of Reformed Dogmatics). That then got me interested in reading more. I started reading everything I could get my hands on. During my ordination preparations for ministry in the Presbyterian Church in America, I was asked who the most influential theologians in my life were and Bavinck was on the top of that list.

G: Shortly after graduating from Cairn University I lived in Carlisle, PA just a block from Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service. Over the course of a month I made my weekly trip down there and collected each volume of his Reformed Dogmatics. What was immensely appealing about Bavinck, was that he was thoroughly committed to the truths of Scripture, without being afraid to engage the questions of his time. This makes his work strikingly irenic and anticipatory of major theological movements of the next generation. When I went to seminary, I ended up reading a blog by my now advisor, James Eglinton, on what it looks like to become a Systematic Theologian. His advice was to focus your attention on one thinker, and to learn how they thought and performed the work of theology, a sort of theological apprenticeship. From there, Bavinck was the clear choice!

3. Why a new English translation of Bavinck’s The Sacrifice of Praise in particular?

C: There are a few reasons. First, we believe that The Sacrifice of Praise is a pastoral gift to the church from an incredibly erudite theologian. This work is an excellent example of how the church and the academy can and should constantly be in conversation with each other. The church needs academic theologians and academic theologians need the church. To that end, updating the language and fixing some translation issues was super important. Second, Bavinck displays the very best of theological impulses in this book. In it he demonstrates a thorough going Trinitarian outlook while being Christocentric and profoundly engaged in the text of Scripture. Third and finally, we believe in a day and age when the pressures from the world, the flesh, and the devil are pressing down on all of us, young and old, Bavinck provides a voice from the past to remind us that there is nothing new under sun. He is a wise old voice, calling us back to the Gospel and pointing us to the God who has adopted us as children, the Son who has purchased for us an inheritance, and the Spirit who safeguards that inheritance until the day when we receive it as a reward.

4. This book is all about the Christian’s confession, yet the title is The Sacrifice of Praise: Meditations before and after Admission to the Lord’s Supper. Why did Bavinck choose this title, and what was the connection he was making between Sacrifice of Praise and Confession?

G: Like many of the titles of this time it is probably a bit longer than it needs to be. But in essence the book captures the phenomena within Dutch Reformed piety of delaying one’s participation in the Lord’s Supper until one was certain that their confession of faith was sincere and true. Bavinck penned two books for such a time in the life of the believer. The Sacrifice of Praise and The Certainty of Faith. These two books combine to address the nature and place of faith in the life of the believer and in fact The Sacrifice of Praise was one of the most popular gifts to give those who were in this time in-between.

The title is pulled from Hebrews 13:15, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” There are three parts to this that one could perceive as shaping the framework of Bavinck’s thinking. First is the “through Him.” This refers to Christ, and it is in Christ that Bavinck perceives the unity of all Christian confessions. It is through our union with Christ that Christians may then “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.” The adverb “continually” being of the utmost importance! Confession is not a one-time event, but it is meant to be a part of the daily lived experience of the believer according to Bavinck, both in word and deed. Lastly, “the fruits of lips that acknowledge his name.” Confession is The Sacrifice of Praise! In other words, the life of the believer should be a continual sacrifice of praise, through their confession of the name of the Lord in all facets of their life.

5. Herman Bavinck is often associated with contemporary Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper. How does Bavinck compare and what distinguishes him from his fellow continental theologian?

C: The Dutch church historian George Harinck has said of Kuyper and Bavinck, “When mentioned together, we take the names of Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck not as the name of two individuals but as a brand name. Kuyper and Bavinck belong together like Goldman and Sachs or Mercedes and Benz. Together they stand for neo-Calvinism.” Bavinck and Kuyper worked closely together throughout their careers (Bavinck being significantly young than Kuyper). Kuyper on multiple occasions attempted to lure Bavinck to come work with at the Free University in Amsterdam. He was finally successful in 1902. Over the course of their lives, I would say that the big difference between the two was the scope of their work. When Kuyper died in 1920 there was scarcely an aspect of Dutch life that he had not been involved in influencing and shaping. While Bavinck was definitely prolific (he was theologian, politician, educator, and more), Bavinck is definitely remembered more for their theological acumen and Kuyper for his all-encompassing thoughts surrounding world and life views.

6. There was a disagreement among the Dutch Reformed churches in the late 19th and early 20th How did that conflict influence Bavinck’s Sacrifice of Praise?

G: Bavinck was a key-player in the wedding of two similar, but distinct Dutch reformed church groups in 1892. It was a strained union, with several theological issues keeping them from marital harmony. One of the issues was that of regeneration and baptism, or more particularly the status of the children of Christians. Were they saved or not? Kuyper and Bavinck took different stances on this. While Kuyper is absent from the pages of The Sacrifice of Praise it is clear that this issue lingers in the background on account of Bavinck’s articulation on several key points. It also gives insight into Bavinck’s pastoral spirit. Herman Bavinck On Preaching and Preachers displays Bavinck’s thoughts on the pulpit, but not as much on the people in the pew. Bavinck was keenly aware that theology impacts the life of the church and The Sacrifice of Praise is a reflection of that.

7. Over 100 years after it was initially written, what value does The Sacrifice of Praise have to believers and churches today?

C: The questions Bavinck faced are the same ones we face today. Yes, contextually we are in different places but the same forces that array themselves against faithful confession exist. Bavinck gives us encouragement in our own struggles to faithfulness that we can look to our Savior, Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

8. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while making this new translation?

G: This is a difficult question. Can I say that the translation process as a whole was challenging? To start with, Bavinck’s Dutch is antiquated. This results in a surprising number of words looking quite different in a modern dictionary. At the syntax level, neither Cam or I are native Dutch speakers, which means that occasionally while translating we’d come across a Dutch idiom that was obscure to us. This had the result of us scratching our heads for a while until we’d contact a native speaker or our advisor to put us straight. Lastly, there is the difficult experience that every translator has in attempting to render one language into a readable but faithful separate language. Maybe this is the hardest part. For example, the title of chapter two, “Bringing up of a Child for Confession,” was a phrase we wrestled with for quite some time. In Dutch it is “De opvoeding tot de belijdenis” a literal translation is somewhat ambiguous with the idea being communicated of training or educating a child in the confession of faith. While it was difficult, we thoroughly enjoyed the process.

9. What did you learn from your work and how have your understandings of confession changed after translating The Sacrifice of Praise?

C: As a person training to be an academic theologian, I learned how to communicate deep theology at a level that is accessible to the theologian in the university and the farmer in the country church. On a personal level, I was reminded again of the breadth of confession. Confession encompasses both the content of our faith and the act of professing before the church and a watching world. This work reminded me that my struggle as a father to raise my children up to a faithful confession is not in vain, but that these are the ordinary means of grace that our Lord uses to cultivate confession in our children. So, working on this book was an encouragement to me every time, I come home from work tired, struggle to do family devotions, or have a wiggly little guy in the pews. This is the Lord’s work, and he will honor my faithful service.

10. Now that the ink is dry on this large project, do you have plans on what to do next?

G: Ideally, finish-up our PhDs! Cam is in the later stages of the writing process, while I still have a couple years to go yet. Beyond these projects we are aiming at continuing to work on various Bavinck translations to continue to stoke the fire.


For more information about Bavinck, check out these reviews of a couple Bavinck books; this interview with James Eglinton about Herman Bavinck on Preaching & Preachers; this blog post by our Editorial Director on Herman Bavinck’s Philosophy of Revelation, World War I, and Trying to Be Our Own Creator and Redeemer; or our website!

 

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