Bolt, John. Bavinck on the Christian Life: Following Jesus in Faithful Service. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015. 272 pp. $18.99
John Bolt, professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, gives us an expansive introduction into the theology of Herman Bavinck in his new book, Bavinck on the Christian Life. The book’s aim is to show us how solid theology and personal devotion to Jesus creates a compelling Christian life. Bolt’s book is meant to be a theological aid that shows us exactly what we mean when we say “Christian life.” This book is a serious read and requires the full attention of the reader to get all the good that is available in it. But for those who are willing to do the work, they will not be disappointed.
The book is divided into three parts. Bolt explains its structure: “The structure of this book is built on an architectural model with part 1 serving as the foundation, part 2 the building’s superstructure, and part 3 the various rooms of the building” (19). The foundation of the book, or part 1 is an exploration of the foundation of Christian living. Here, Bolt looks at creation, the law and Christian duty, and union with Christ. The building’s superstructure, or part 2, deals with the shape of Christian discipleship. This part includes how we are to follow Jesus, and an extensive exploration of a Christian worldview. Finally, part 3 is concerned with the practice of Christian discipleship. This part looks at marriage and family, work and vocation, culture and education, and civil society.
Overall, Bolt shows the contemporary relevance of Herman Bavinck. He also gives us a serious work of theology concerning the Christian life. This book can be of extreme value on topics as varied as environmentalism and women in ministry to gay marriage and Christian education. Bavinck is a deep and valuable resource and this book gives us a taste of what is available in his work.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
For serious thinkers, this book is a gift. There is much to commend to pastors in it but three things struck me. The first is this book is filled with good thinking. We live in an age where it is assumed that Christian leaders are not good thinkers. Read this book and you will realize that simply is not the case. Without explicitly saying it, Bolt is commending rigorous thinking and this alone is such a gift in our Christian communities. If you tackle this book, you will be a better Christian thinker for it.
The second thing to commend is that Bolt, through Bavinck, gives a beautiful vision of God. This vision is of course rooted in Scripture. What is presented is a good, sovereign, and beautiful God.
Finally, chapter 7, on marriage and family, is worth the price of the book. It is the most beautiful defense of traditional marriage that I have ever read. It gives us not just the ethics of marriage and family but shows us how marriage and family points to God; it gives us an evangelical theological anthropology. Here is one example:
The two-in-oneness of husband and wife expands with a child into a three-in-oneness. Father, mother, and child are one soul and one flesh, expanding and unfolding the one image of God, united within threefold diversity, and diverse within harmonic unity” (151).
Here Bolt quoting Bavinck asserts that our families point to who God is and the community He lives in—the Trinitarian community. This is why family is so valuable, beautiful and essential. Our families give us a taste, however small and broken, of the goodness and love of God.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
If you are a pastor, and are willing to do a little bit of work, this book will give you many gifts that will aid you in your ministry.