In dealing with arguments against the Christian faith in his book The Philosophy of Religion, Herman Bavinck uses a series of argumentative strategies. One of these strategies is the apologetic of despair. This study tries to figure out whether this strategy tends to be observed in most essays of the book or its use is only circumstantial.
Gordon Graham in his essay “Bavinck’s Philosophy of Revelation” explores Bavinck’s implicit intellectual context, and among other aspects, argues that in the essay titled “Revelation and History” Bavinck confronts Nietzsche with a reductio ad absurdum. Willem H. de Wit, analyzing Bavinck’s essay “Revelation and the Future,” concludes that Bavinck also used a reductio ad absurdum argument. It seems that when discussing difficult topics that affect the Christian faith, Bavinck confronts those discussions using a reductio ad absurdum argument one of the three elements that de Wit identifies as necessary for an apologetic-of-despair argumentative strategy. Besides arguing that Bavinck uses a reductio ad absurdum argument in his concluding lecture, “Revelation and the Future,” of his book The Philosophy of Revelation, de Wit also concludes that Bavinck meets all the criteria, and that the whole book might be characterized as an apologetic of despair.
Because Bavinck himself is critical of apologetics, and The Philosophy of Revelation is a collection of lectures dealing with different major topics related to biblical revelation, I am interested to analyze other essays in Bavinck’s The Philosophy of Revelation to confirm de Wit’s assessment. To put it differently, I will try to answer the following question: Does Bavinck tend to use an apologetic-of-despair strategy in The Philosophy of Revelation? In Part I, this essay offers de Wit’s definition of the apologetic-of-despair strategy and makes an exposition of de Wit’s assessment of Bavinck’s The Philosophy of Revelation in terms of the alleged apologetic nature of the work. In Part II, this paper explores three essays of The Philosophy of Religion to figure out the use of an apologetic-of-despair strategy by Bavinck. The essays are “Revelation and Nature,” “Revelation and Religious Experience,” and “Revelation and Culture.” It is the thesis of this paper that despite noticing that Bavinck’s arguments in The Philosophy of Revelation might display a certain apologetic nature, the use of an apologetic-of-despair technique in Bavinck’s essays is incidental and limited insofar that Bavinck employs other strategies in dealing with serious challenges to the Christian faith.
*This is a summary of the paper published as “Should We Read Herman Bavinck’s The Philosophy of Revelation as an Apologetics of Despair, Revista Teologica, Seminario Presbiteriano do Sul 72, no. 2 (October 2019): 95-109. If you’d like to read this paper in full, please click here to download it in pdf format.