Here are several suggestions for possible research projects in view of the publication of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics.
Bavinck became famous as a dogmatician. The publication of his Reformed Ethics offers a new perspective: Bavinck as an ethicist. This includes not only his Reformed Ethics, but also his dissertation about Zwingli’s ethics and documents from the Bavinck Archive.
On the one hand, readers of Bavinck’s Ethics can note that this work is not structured as virtue ethics, but rather evokes the impression of a duty ethics. On the other hand, Bavinck often discusses virtues, and his perspective on imitatio Christi reflects concerns that correspond to those of virtue ethics. In contemporary debates, Reformed Christians differ among themselves about the possibilities and character of a Reformed virtue ethics. An examination of Bavinck’s approach can enrich this debate with new insights.
In his Reformed Ethics, Bavinck provides a model of Reformed ethics in close relation with his Reformed Dogmatics. How does Bavinck’s model relate to other ethical models designed from a Reformed perspective? Here one can focus on:
a. Reformed contemporaries of Bavinck, in the Netherlands and abroad, such as W. Geesink and his Gereformeerde Ethiek.
b. Reformed ethicists from other historical periods (in particular, it is interesting how Bavinck’s ethics relates to later developments [Brillenburg Wurth, Rothuizen, Manenschijn, Douma])
(this could be several subprojects)
Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics stands out as it develops a classical Reformed approach and simultaneously reflects sensitivity to the questions and potentially valuable insights of non-Reformed theologians and philosophers from his own time. To what extent does this pattern appear in Bavinck’s Ethics? Does he deal with ethical insights of his contemporaries and in what way?
Bavinck’s Ethics remained unfinished as regards material-ethical issues. This makes it even more important to examine the issues that Bavinck did work out. This certainly includes his treatment of the family. Several remarkable emphases in this treatment (for example, attention to individuality, reflections on manhood and womanhood, and the summarizing designation of this circle of life as “family”) suggest that his insights can fruitfully (constructively or critically) be linked with the aforementioned contemporary debates. Apart from Bavinck’s treatment of the circle of family, one can also pay attention to his remarkably detailed elaboration of the duties of a person towards him- or herself and, in this context, also to his treatment of corporeality.
For a fruitful dialogue with contemporary issues, it is also important to include other publications of Bavinck and, if appropriate, publications of other neo-Calvinist authors.
Bavinck constructs his ethics based on the Decalogue and treats each of the commandments in detail. This provides enough material for an analysis of the place of the Decalogue, which almost from the very beginning was the characteristic – but nowadays increasingly more contested – core of all Reformed ethics.
a. An analysis of Bavinck’s treatment of the fourth commandment can be a separate project.
In the contemporary postliberal Christian ethics, it has often been emphasized that Christian ethics has a distinct ecclesiastical character. Such emphasis seeks to maintain the authentic Christian character of this ethics over against secularity and postsecularity. This leads to the question about the bridge to other traditions and about the reality (and, possibly, rationality and experience) shared by everyone. Neo-Calvinism has traditionally been characterized by the ambition to do justice to both concerns. How does Bavinck deal with this in his Reformed Ethics and how can this be incorporated into contemporary debates?
The publication of the Reformed Ethics sheds new light on Bavinck’s use of sources. This issue can be analyzed in far more detail. How does he use his sources in other publications? And how is this related to the way in which Bavinck’s contemporaries such as Abraham Kuyper en J.H. Gunning Jr. used their sources?