Jesus the Law Restorer: Law and the Imitation of Christ in Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics
Jessica Joustra (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary, Free University of Amsterdam) is assistant professor of religion and theology at Redeemer University and an associate researcher at the Neo-Calvinist Research Institute at the Theological University of Kampen (NL). She is an editor and translator of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity and associate editor for the Bavinck Review.
“Jesus matters,” asserts Reformed philosopher James K.A. Smith. A seemingly innocuous claim in Christian scholarship, one might assume he was lauding the Reformed, specifically neo-Calvinist, tradition for its well-known insistence that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human life of which Christ, who is Sovereign of all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” Smith’s claim, however, is a critique, not a praise of the Reformed tradition. He continues by offering an important insight into an area of theological deficiency, speaking specifically of theological ethics: “in the Reformed tradition, we also speak more about creation than we do cross, and we speak more about law than we do Jesus.” In other words, the Reformed tradition needs to continue to mine its own resources—and the resources of other theological traditions—to explore the ways that Jesus matters, not just as the one who secures our salvation and makes cosmic worldview claims, but as the one who guides our life.
This essay seeks to mine the theological resources within the Reformed tradition on Jesus and theological ethics as a means to respond to Smith’s charge, looking to Reformed dogmatician and ethicist Herman Bavinck’s understanding of the centrality of imitation of Christ in the Christian life. But as we will see, Bavinck’s understanding of the imitation of Christ does not stand in isolation; he pairs the imitation of Christ with a traditional Reformed emphasis on the law. Thus, this essay will also ask a question: given his ongoing insistence on the law’s role in Christian ethics, does Bavinck’s understanding of the imitation of Christ meaningfully show the way that Jesus matters in the Christian life? I will argue that because Bavinck ties the imitation of Christ to another central image in his work, grace restores nature, the answer is both yes and no: Bavinck’s understanding of the imitation of Christ results in Jesus Christ bringing something functionally new (a new understanding of the law), though not fundamentally new (for he is not a new lawgiver, rather a law-restorer).
Read the full article: Jesus the Law Restorer: Law and the Imitation of Christ in Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics
 Richard Mouw and James K. A. Smith, “An Anabaptist-Reformed Dialogue: Continuing our Conversation with Richard Mouw,” in Comment Magazine, September 20, 2013, https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/an-anabaptistreformed-dialogue-continuing-our-conversation-with-richard-mouw/.
 Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty,” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998), 488.
 Mouw and Smith, “Anabaptist-Reformed Dialogue.”