The Wonderful Works of God

Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God: Instruction in the Christian Religion according to the Reformed Confession (Westminster Seminary Press 2019). 549pp. Hardcover. $30.00.

It is a fascinating time in Anglophone Bavinck studies. There is a flood of Bavinck’s own words being put into English. This was kickstarted with Reformed Dogmatics at the start of the 2000’s and has picked up the pace with recent publications such as “Modernisme en Orthodoxie” (The Bavinck Review, 2016), Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers (Hendrickson Publishers, 2017), Philosophy of Revelation: A New Annotated Edition (Hendrickson Publishers 2018), “Religion and Theology” (Reformed Theological Review, 2018), Foundations of Psychology (The Bavinck Review, 2018), “Bavinck’s Notebook on Calvin’s Doctrine of Sin” (The Bavinck Review, 2019), The Sacrifice of Praise (Hendrickson Publishers, 2019), and Christian Worldview (Crossway, 2019). There are also a few noteworthy Bavinck projects on the horizon: Bavinck: A Critical Biography by James Eglinton (Baker Academic, 2020), Guidebook for Instruction in the Christian Religion (Hendrickson Publishers, 2020), On Theology: Four Speeches (Brill, TBA), Foremost Problems in Contemporary Dogmatics (Lexham Press, TBA), and of course his Reformed Ethics (Baker Academic, 2019). The flurry of books yet to come have left readers in the "already, not yet" when it comes to Bavinck. And one can’t forget to mention the publication of a couple noteworthy Bavinck dissertations in Cory Brock’s Orthodox yet Modern: Herman Bavinck’s Use of Friedrich Schleiermacher (Lexham, 2020) and Nathaniel Sutanto’s God and Knowledge: Herman Bavinck’s Theological Epistemology (T&T Clark, 2020).

The explosion of works on Bavinck brings us to another recent publication in the Bavinck corpus: The Wonderful Works of God: Instruction in the Christian Religion according to the Reformed Confession (Westminster Seminary Press 2019). This work is a beautiful re-typesetting of Henry Zylstra’s translation of Bavinck’s Magnalia Dei (J.H. Kok 1909), which was originally introduced to the English-speaking world as Our Reasonable Faith (Eerdmans 1956). Zylstra’s translation has been reprinted three times (Baker Book House 1977, Wipf and Stock 2002, and Eerdmans 2007). The new typesetting and slick cover make for an aesthetically pleasing reading experience. It also includes Bavinck’s 1909 preface, which was absent from all prior renditions of Zylstra’s translation, as well as a useful Scripture and subject index. The translation of the preface is thanks to the work of Bavinck scholar Nathaniel Sutanto. The introduction by Carlton Wynne also provides a helpful entry into the life and thought of Herman Bavinck.

The book has already received a number of complimentary reviews. For example, Brian Mattson generously described the work as “the best single-volume Reformed systematic theology ever produced.”[1] With the overwhelming positive reviews of the work in English, it might be illuminating to look at how the book was received in the Netherlands, and how Bavinck himself felt about the volume.

Dutch reviews of Magnalia Dei were, for the most part, glowing:

“It will soon become the handbook of Reformed dogmatics, accessible to interested members of the congregation, welcomed by religious teachers and other educators, and probably no less appreciated by students of theology, who will have to rehearse the whole of dogmatics sooner or later in a concise and yet fairly complete form.”[2]

Others noted its usefulness and clarity for instructing Christians and atheists alike in the foundations of the Christian faith.[3] Likewise, that it was perfect for all young and old, men and women alike who were in the workforce but desired to know more about Christianity.[4] Yet some saw the Latin title as a stumbling block to the Reformed reader. One reviewer argued that it conflated Rome and Dordt, rather than viewing it as drawn from Acts 2:11 (as Bavinck spells out in the preface).[5] Another quipped that the title was better suited for the 17th century.[6]

The most important critique perhaps came from Bavinck himself. He felt a particular shortcoming in the volume needed to be addressed with a revised second edition of Magnalia Dei. In the second edition, Bavinck included an additional chapter, titled “Ministries and Offices”. In the introduction to The Wonderful Works, Wynne notes both the existence of the second edition and that there were changes between the second and first edition (xv). The preface by Coenraad Bavinck, Herman’s brother, includes an indication of the deficiencies Bavinck felt, and why the chapter was added, he writes:

Many writings have been found in the legacy of my highly esteemed deceased brother. Of all of these he explicitly stated that they should not be published after his death.

With respect to this extreme will, however, an exception may be made regarding a written copy, which is found in an envelope, with the caption: "intended for an eventual reprint of Magnalia."

Anyone who has read the Magnalia Dei will have felt that the doctrine on the means of grace, on Word and Sacraments, and on the ministries in the Church, has been dealt with too briefly, sometimes with only a few sentences.

The discovered copy proves that my brother himself was also aware of this. Nonetheless he shortened it in the first edition, so that the size of the Magnalia would not grow much larger than was determined by design.

In the meantime, it remained his intention to supplement this incompleteness with a second edition of this work… A gap, an incompleteness, that existed, has now been removed.[7]

If there is one quibble to be made with this new edition of The Wonderful Works of God, it is that close enough attention was not paid to translation decisions made by Zylstra, who translated from the first and not the second edition of Magnalia Dei.[8] This is a notable reproduction of the first edition, and should therefore have a wide audience. Nevertheless, the gap that Bavinck felt remains incompletely filled in the present English edition.

Greg Parker Jr. (@g_parker_jr) is a PhD student in Systematic Theology at the University of Edinburgh, specializing in the relationship between dogmatics and ethics in the theology of Herman Bavinck. He is a co-translator and co-editor with Cameron Clausing of two books by Bavinck: The Sacrifice of Praise (Hendrickson Publishers, 2019) and the forthcoming Guidebook for Instruction in the Christian Religion (Hendrickson Publishers, 2021). 

Related Links

Theology on the Go: "Pastor Herman Bavinck Podcast"

"Why Every Fourth Grader Should Read Bavinck" by Steve Tipton

"Why God Is Not a Philosopher (and why Bavinck thinks theologians must be)" by Bruce Bagus

"Reformed Ethics Could Save Your Life" by Joel Heflin

"Herman Bavinck: The Bible and the Amsterdam School" by Carl Truman


[1] Mattson, Brian, “The Best Single-Volume Reformed Systematic Theology You’ve Never Heard of.” The Gospel Coalition, November 22, 2019. Accessed March 25, 2020/

[2] J. Campen, Sneek. “Magnalia Dei.” De Gereformeerde kerk, September 16, 1909. Accessed March 25, 2020.  [Dutch: Het boek blijft zich door zijn zakelijke en heldere manier van bespreken der dikwijls fijne leerstellige onderscheidingen aanbevelen en zal o.i. straks het handboek der gereformeerde dogmatiek worden, toegankelijk voor belangstellende leden der gemeente, welkom geheten door godsdienst - en andere onderwijzers, en niet minder gewaardeerd waarschijnlijk door studenten in de theologie, die in beknopten en toch vrij volledigen vorm het geheel der dogmatiek vroeger of later moeten repeteeren.]

[3] “Leestafel. 2. Magnalia Dei.” De Heraut van de Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, October 17, 1909. Accessed March 25, 2020.

[4] “Leestafel. 1 Magnalia Dei.” De Heraut van de Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, January 1, 1910. Accessed March 25, 2020.

[5] “Amsterdam, 18 Februari 1910.” De Heraut van de Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, February 20, 1910. Accessed March 25, 2020. This newspaper article defends Bavinck and references Dr. L.H. Wagenaar’s negative review of Magnalia Dei in the Zuider Kerkbode. I was unable to find Wagenaar’s original review.

[6] Bouwman. “Boekaankondiging. Magnalia Dei.” De Bauzin: Gereformeerde stemmen uit de Christelijke Afgescheidene Kerk in Nederland-Kerk-Nieuws-en advertentieblad, March 18, 1910. Accessed March 25, 2020. He connects the title to the work of Valerius Herberger’s work Magnalia Dei: Die Grossen Thaten Gottes

[7] Herman Bavinck, Magnalia Dei: Onderwijzing in de Christelijke Religie Naar Gerformeerde Belijdenis door Dr. H. Bavinck,Tweede Druk (Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1931), 8.

[8] It should also be noted that in a few places Zylstra redacts, or adds to Bavinck’s work (see pages 86, 103, 110, 178, 245-246, 317, 328, 367, 376, 389,  and 462 of The Wonderful Works of God (see the corresponding pages of Magnalia Dei (1909), 105, 124, 132, 212, 293, 373, 387, 435, 445, 460, 545)).