Review of Concise Reformed Dogmatics
, J. Van Genderen and W.H. Velema (translated by Gerrit Bilkes and Ed M. Van der Maas), Phillipsburg: P & R, 2008. Hardcover, 922 pages, $59.99.
This volume was first published in Dutch in 1992 as Beknopte Gereformeerde Dogmatiek. In terms of adoption as a textbook for Reformed systematic theology training, it became the Dutch equivalent of Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. Consequently, it seemed a good idea for the John Calvin Foundation to make efforts for the publication of a translation. Perhaps a translation would even supplant Berkhof in the English-speaking world as a standard text.
Concise Reformed Dogmatics (CRD) was authored by two men who served as professors at the Theological University of the Christian Reformed Churches (CGK — Christelijk Gereformeerde Kerken) in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. The equivalent of the CGK in North America are the Free Reformed Churches. J. van Genderen passed away in 2004 and so was not able to contribute to the publication of the English translation. His colleague W.H. Velema, however, did participate – even though he originally authored only chapters 8, 9, and 12.
As far as the translation goes, the John Calvin Foundation found itself in the unusual position of having two complete English translations, one by Gerrit Bilkes and the other by Ed van der Maas. A team of editors merged the two translations and the resulting work was published in its present format by P & R. Unfortunately, as we will see, the end product leaves much to be desired in many formal respects.
With regards to content, confessionally Reformed readers of CRD will find much with which to be pleased, stimulated, and challenged. The book reflects a serious commitment to the authority of Scripture and to the derivative authority of the Reformed confessions. Van Genderen and Velema endeavoured to build on the foundations laid by John Calvin and Herman Bavinck. They clearly state that their goal was to write a Reformed systematics. Furthermore, they indicate that for them “Reformed” means “confessionally Reformed which implies that we hold that the Reformed confession must be allowed to speak for itself” (xi). That approach (and its successful execution) deserves applause.
This is an excellent volume to consult if you do not want to invest in Bavinck (which is a bit more expensive) and Berkhof is too challanging for you but you do not want a simplified tome such as Grudem’s or Geisler’s (so many more problems with those two). It interacts with the theology of the end of the last century in a basic and sufficient way (from a pastoral perspective) but would not last 30 minutes in a serious debate on those they criticize. It is an excellent Reformed proclamation of our dogmatics that criticizes wolves in sheep clothing but cannot take the place of serious study. This is one of those books that you will not read all the way through but will consult from time to time.
I have used the CRD with much profit but have likewise detected a disturbing large number of typos and gaffes. Having edited a few books myself I know just how embarrassing this can be when these kind of things are pointed out after you thought you had read the mss. backwards, forwards and upside down trying to produce a clean manuscript for the publisher- only to discover much too late that you missed some!
Thanks Rev. Wes for the review, read it twice. It was very indepth. I’m reading the book all the way through, very beneficial. Looking forward to Horton’s Systematic Theology.