Towards a Realist Conception of Theology: An Argument Based on the Works of Bavinck and Plantinga

Bertrand Rickenbacher

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis - Research and graduation internal

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The most basic realism in theology question is: If God exists, is it possible for human beings to really know something about him, and to formulate true theological affirmations or do human beings only know what they believe or think about God, but not God himself? The aim of this thesis is to propose an account of a realist conception of theology – i.e., which answers positively to this basic question – by bringing together the works of the early twentieth century Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck and the contemporary American philosopher Alvin Plantinga. This proposal will be prepared and then elaborated in four chapters. The first chapter is an introductory chapter which presents the background, the relevance and the scope of our research. It also displays the method of inquiry and ends with the formulation of the research question: In what way can the bringing together of Bavinck’s prolegomena to dogmatic theology and Plantinga’s theory of warrant (with its theistic extensions) strengthen the contemporary case in favor of a realist conception of theology? The second chapter, which provides for the first pillar of our argument, is devoted to the exposition and the discussion of Bavinck’s argument in favor of a realist conception theology as mainly developed in his Reformed Dogmatics 1: Prolegomena. Bavinck’s work is worth being studied since he has been much involved in the realism in theology debates of his time and has proposed a thoughtful defense of a realist conception of theology. The third chapter presents and discusses Plantinga’s work on warrant (and some of its connected adjunctions), insofar as it is related to the scope of our research. Even though, as we will see, Plantinga does not develop a specific argument to bolster his realist view – he rather finds himself convinced of realism all along and can only try to rebut arguments against it – our hypothesis is that his epistemological work can contribute to improve the case of a realist conception of theology in an interesting way. This chapter provides for the second pillar of our synthesized model. The fourth chapter is dedicated to answering the research question on the basis of what has been found in the previous chapters. It proposes a synthesis of the works of Bavinck and Plantinga which leads to the formulation of the Bavinck/Plantinga model of a realist conception of theology. We hold that this model is comprehensive, since it starts with a basic theory of human knowledge and ends with methodological reflections on theology as a science. It is consistent, since its different facets are strongly linked to each other. It is cogent, since it interacts in a constructive way with other contemporary defenses of realism. Finally, it leads to the defense of the role played by theology as a truth-seeking discipline, in church, academy, and society.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • van den Brink, Gijsbert, Supervisor
  • Pouivet, R., Co-supervisor, -
Award date20 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2021


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