Acton Institute Powerblog

The ‘Royal Road of Liberty’

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From Herman Bavinck:

Even a freedom that cannot be obtained and enjoyed aside from the danger of licentiousness and caprice is still always to be preferred over a tyranny that suppresses liberty. In the creation of humanity, God himself chose this way of freedom, which carried with it the danger and actually the fact of sin as well, in preference to forced subjection. Even now, in ruling the world and governing the church, God still follows this royal road of liberty. It is precisely his honor that through freedom he nevertheless reaches his goal, creating order out of disorder, light from darkness, a cosmos out of chaos.

Prolegomena, vol. 1, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), p. 479.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Chevy

    This may be a good place to discuss the liberties that Earl Paulk of the Chapel Hill Harvesters Mega Church in suburban Atlanta has taken with sexual indiscretion. For 40 years he has been in the midst of scandal as many of his staff have come forward after sexual “Kingdom” relationships. The latest scandals are about to go nationwide on CNN.

  • Krissy

    Can anyone explain to me what is going on in the Earl Paulk scandal? I’ve heard several conflicting stories and don’t know what to believe.

  • H. Bavinck seems to equate liberty with freedom. This overlooks an important distinction that was central to the thinking of the Framers of the Constitution. Unfettered freedom puts hedonistic expression on a par with such sacred rights as political speech, press, religion, assembly and petition. By contrast, liberty is a sacred order polls apart from license.

    During the first term of his Presidency, George Washington addressed the Congress on knowledge and its importance to “the security of a free constitution.” Echoing Puritan pioneers like John Winthrop of Massachusetts, President Washington contended that knowledge would improve the country by nurturing the people’s discernment…”to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness, cherishing the first, avoiding the last.”

    For more on this theme see chapter ten of Treatise on 12 Lights: To Restore America the Beautiful under God & the Written Constitution. Available online, gratis and in its entirety, at

  • Robert, as you noticed, Bavinck does seem to be using “freedom” and “liberty” as relatively synonymous terms, without any special technical usage of the latter. From the context of the passage, you would see that his primary concern is not political economy, but rather he is making a theologial point that impacts the conception of morality and the moral order.

    Of course, when Bavinck wrote this passage, he was originally writing in Dutch, and so “freedom” and “liberty” are translation choices made by the late John Vriend. I’m not sure what the terms are in Dutch, but again, you’d be right to point out that he’s not using them in a specialized sense.

  • Jordan,
    Your point is quite right. Moreover, I’ve found that too many educated people are unfamiliar with the key distinction between liberty and license.

    If you’re interested I have a subsection of chapter three entitled “Liberty vs. License” in the interactive book, Treatise on Twelve Lights.

  • Vicki

    Krissy, the story is appalling.

    Here’s a link that will help, hopefully: