Herman Bavinck’s ‘My Journey to America’

My translation of Herman Bavinck’s (short) book, Mijne reis naar Amerika, is now available in Dutch Crossing: Journal for Low Countries Studies (Taylor and Francis).

‘Herman Bavinck’s ‘My Journey to America’

Bavinck travelled to North America in 1892. Although travel journals were relatively commonplace in late nineteenth century Europe (Bavinck’s colleague Abraham Kuyper also published a book, Varia Americana, on his own travels around America), Bavinck’s observations on American culture are fascinating for three reasons. Continue reading

Steve Bishop’s Mind-maps of Trinity and Organism

It’s very nice if you write a detailed (and in places complex) academic work, and later find someone who has actually read it, who has done so with care, and has made a serious effort to take in its flow of ideas: how do the contents progress? How do its ideas develop, and in what order? Who are the key figures? What are the important dates in understanding the context?

One blogger, Steve Bishop, has gone further than most in producing mind-maps for each chapter of Trinity and Organism.

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Thanks Steve! These are fantastic. They look more like neurons than maps, which fits perfectly with the point made in the book (that Bavinck’s thought is profoundly marked by the organic nature of his ideas and their interrelationships).

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On publishing theological translations

Before moving into my lectureship at New College, I spent three years in the Netherlands, where I worked at the Theologische Universiteit Kampen. When I arrived there, I had finished my PhD on Bavinck, which meant I had a good reading knowledge of late nineteenth century theological Dutch. My spoken Dutch was much more limited: I could work through complex technical material (although I had never heard much of it pronounced), but my everyday vocabulary and range of expression were not extensive. My early attempts to converse dried up quickly and required a lot of patience from my Dutch conversation partners (bedankt voor jullie geduld, Marinus en Wolter!).

Three years in a Dutch university context transformed that. I seized every opportunity to improve my Dutch: I went to language classes, absolutely refused to speak English to my colleagues, watched Dutch TV, read Dutch newspapers, read a lot of Dutch theologians (in Dutch) other than Bavinck, went to Dutch church services (twice!) every Sunday, and got to know our Dutch neighbours. At the end of my first year there, I gave my first public lectures in Dutch, and started to preach in Dutch church services. By the end of my time in Kampen, my home life was in a mix of English and Gaelic, but the rest of my life took place in Dutch. It became comforting and familiar – almost like a second mother-tongue, something I could play with and enjoy. It became a big part of my identity and experience. When I first returned to Edinburgh, I felt bereft of the language. I remember the palpable sense of relief upon meeting a Dutch postgrad and being able to have a long conversation in Dutch. Continue reading

On choosing a theologian

In response to my earlier post On training as a systematic theologian, DTKLeven asked:

How would you recommend one go about choosing which master to apprentice under?

I don’t think there is one definitive answer to this. Here, though, are my initial thoughts based on the model of training in systematic theology outlined previously (that prior to writing one’s own constructive systematics, there is much worth in a period, as a PhD student and early career academic, spent interpreting the works of another established theologian): Continue reading

On theology and language learning

Theology, done well, addresses the whole person: body, soul, affections, desires, virtues, faults, history, present and destiny. It also addresses all of human life and culture. It was only with hindsight that I began to see the shape that theology itself gave my own studies while a seminarian. In learning to be a theologian, I learned to be a historian, a constructive systematician, a reader of ancient texts (in their original languages), an interpreter of those texts and a translator of those languages, a preacher, a pastor, an analyst of culture(s), a writer, and many other things. Or at least, I started trying to learn those things. Continue reading

How should theologians speak?

Theologians spend a great deal of time considering what they have to say. How should we give account of particular doctrines, their distinctive content and relationships to each other? A separate issue, one that receives far less attention, concerns not what theologians should say, but rather, how they ought to say it. The particular tone of voice used by the theologian in speaking theologically is an area quite distinct from the positive content of theology itself.

Continue reading