Wilhelmus à Brakel…You’re no Herman Bavinck

In 2011 I read through Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. For this year I had fleeting thoughts of trying to venture through Barth’s Church Dogmatics. Or perhaps I should just go through several single-volume works. In the end I decided to tackle another 4-volume Dutch work: Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service. I had picked it up a few years ago at a conference in Greenville, SC and it is sat largely undisturbed on my shelf since then. It was highly recommended at the conference I was attending, and in the past few weeks I have again seen it recommended by several others. I’m about 70 pages in and not quite sure what to think.

 I know you cannot accurately judge a 2,500 page work after only 70 pages…but I am not too thrilled. The works of Bavinck and à Brakel are certainly very different. I recognize that there is a place for less rigorous expositions of theology, but à Brakel seems quite sloppy in his assertions.

 For instance:

 “One can therefore state this in reverse: every human being is conscious of a deity, and a being which is conscious of a deity is necessarily a human being.” (p. 18)

 Really? Are angels human beings? Is the Father a human being? Is the Holy Spirit a human being?

 “One book or several together—for example, the books of Moses or the Gospels—perfectly contain the complete rule for faith and practice.” (p. 34)

 Really? I could know everything I need to know from a few or even just one book of Scripture? They why are there 66? But since à Brakel thinks we could get by with just a few books of the Bible I guess it is not too surprising that he thinks we have lost some of the inspired writings:

 “Furthermore, we believe that the apostles have written many letters to the congregations, also by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Such particular congregations were obliged to receive these letters as being of divine origin. These were not in the possession of other congregations, however, and after the apostolic period were not preserved for the church of God.” (p. 37)

 Earlier on the same page à Brakel asserts: “Never does Christ or an apostle direct us to unwritten traditions, but always to the Word.” I am not sure this squares up with 2 Thess. 2:2, 15.

 And I will not comment on à Brakel’s strong assertions that the sun and moon rotate around a stationary earth (pgs. 64-65). Except to wonder if he might have been the last theologian to ever assert such.

 It is said that you can tell how long a missionary has served by what they do when a bug lands in their soup. A new missionary stops eating and asks for something else. A more experienced missionary takes out the bug and keeps on eating. A seasoned missionary just eats the bug. I realize that there are going to “bugs” in any work composed by man. A critical reader has to get past this. I just hope the bugs do not start overwhelming the soup.