20 Quotes from The Church Between Temple and Mosque

I picked up J. H. Bavinck's The Church Between Temple and Mosque to take a break from Charles Taylor's mammoth work, A Secular Age. I knew from discussions with Dan Strange that I'd be in for a treat, but I was unprepared for just how evocative and insightful the prose would be. Here are my top 20 quotes (from many more!) that I can't help but share. If these aren't enough to nudge you into reading the book yourself, I'm not sure what else to say. This text is worth a careful, slow read. Bring along a highlighter, and keep the cap off.


  • "It is possible to believe that religion, by its very nature is a response. It is not just a human characteristic, properly part of our equipment. In his religion, man feels that he is addressed by a supernatural power, that a god reveals and manifests himself to him. Religion is the human answer to divine, or at least allegedly divine, revelation. . . . Religion is never a soliloquy, a dialogue of man with himself. . . . In his religion man is aware that he is not alone, because he knows he is living in the immediate presence of someone who is infinitely greater than he is" (p. 12).
  • "Not infrequently man seems to flee from the same gods whose communion he seeks and whose blessing he craves" (p. 24).
  • "Man has the remarkable power to create a certain distance between himself and the cosmos, and to place himself upon a platform from which he looks upon the world as if it were something else. Of course, when he falls from a high rock, or is almost starved to death, or is seriously ill, he is reminded in a rather harsh way of his being only a particle; but as soon as he has regained his strength and his safety, he ascends his throne again and wields the scepter over his world. The world becomes his minion again, the object with which he can play his game" (p. 31).
  • "Being part of this mysterious universe in which he finds himself, having some notion of the norm which dominates life and of the riddle that he moves between act and fate, and struggling to be saved, man felt that there must be a divine power higher than himself, and he has ever reached for a vision of it" (p. 102).
  • "Every human life is essentially a choice and a decision. It says something and it does something" (p. 108).
  • "All questions force themselves upon man as one all-inclusive question: 'Who am I, small mortal man, in the midst of all these powerful realities with which I am confronted and with which my life is most intimately related?' This very simple question reveals all the problems of religion in a nutshell" (p. 109).
  • "The aerial of man's heart can no longer receive the wave length of God's voice, even though it surrounds him on all sides. But in his innermost heart man has turned away from God and now God has vanished out of his sight" (p. 116).
  • "Man is made after God's image and in His likeness, and God demands this image back; man must become 'man' again in the full and true sense of the word as God had meant it" (p. 128).
  • "It strikes us immediately that there is a remarkable analogy between what happens with man and with the cosmos. In this analogy man leads the way—what he does and what happens to him is, as it were, projected on a larger scale and receives cosmic dimensions. But man, who leads the way, must make the pattern of his behavior according to God's activity" (p. 138).
  • "The penetrating question of God: 'Where art thou?' still lies at the bottom of all human existence. Wandering man, who lost his certainties and could no longer find any meaning in his existence, is still sought by God" (p. 138).
  • "In the Bible things are only things, but they have a meaning; they are letters in God's speech, they are words in which He expresses His thought and thus their symbolic value far exceeds their intrinsic value" (p. 142).
  • "The redemption of man concerns all of nature. Right to the end man is in close connection with nature. They were one in creation; they were and are one in humiliation and curse; they will be one in redemption" (p. 143).
  • "The simple fact that one and one is two and that one minus one is zero shows in arithmetical form the majesty of God's justice. A thing that belongs to me I can give away only once. I can pass through every day of my life only once because one minus one is nought. I increase my guilt and responsibility when I go on with my mistakes, because one and one is two. . . . Arithmetic has something to do with God's justice" (p. 145-146).
  • "Ten minus one is much more than nine when I faithfully take God's presence into account. When the disciples thought that a few loaves of bread were not enough to feed a great multitude, Jesus reproved them and showed them how a number becomes a completely different power when He handles it" (p. 147).
  • "Every point on a circle is determined by its relation to the other points on the circle and also by its relation to the center of the circle; this could be an example of what the norm actually is. The divine law, or the ordinances, in essence are meant to safeguard the world in its living relationship to God. This means that everything, each constellation, each plant, each animal, each man, each atom, must be in the place where God has put it, and must not make itself larger than it is. It must not try to be like God and place itself in the center. As soon as it does this, the relationship to God is broken, and with it the cosmic relationship" (p. 152).
  • "Man can exist in God's great world only if he loves—loves his Lord and loves the creatures of the Lord. This love determines his place in the Kingdom. Love alone is the way to the shalom" (p. 153).
  • "Sin has an element of suicide. Man, who deserts his place in God's world and makes himself great, and pretends that he himself is a god, throws himself in the gulf of chaos and destruction. Sin punishes itself" (p. 157).
  • "Life in this world is not the laborious endurance of what an unpersonal karmatic power pours out over us, but it always remains a dialogue with God. No power breaks this dialogue, or comes in between the participants as a destructive power" (p. 158).
  • "Man is always busy with God; he flees from God or seeks Him; he struggles with God or finds Him. If we could fathom the life of man right to the bottom, we should see that the conversation with God, either in a positive or a negative sense, is the decisive theme" (p. 160).
  • "No matter how much man in his wickedness has repressed God's truth, when the word of the gospel comes to him, something deep within his heart may be touched. Then the engines of repression are stopped, as it were, and only then he sees clearly who he himself is, and who his God is, and what the Kingdom is for which God intended him" (p. 200).

Daniel Strange on J. H. Bavinck

Pierce Taylor Hibbs (MAR, ThM Westminster Theological Seminary) is Senior Writer & Communication Specialist for Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the award-winning author of many books, including Struck Down but Not Destroyed, The Book of Giving, and The Great Lie. You can learn more about his work at piercetaylorhibbs.com

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