Bavinck on Grace & Nature

“Therefore, whereas salvation in Christ, was formerly considered primarily a means to separate man from sin and the world, to prepared him for heavenly blessedness and to cause him to enjoy undisturbed fellowship w/ God there, Ritschl posits the very opposite relationship: the purpose of salvation in Christ is precisely to enable a person, once he is freed from the oppressive feeling of sin and lives in awareness of being a child of God, to exercise his earthly vocation and fulfill his moral purpose in this world. The antithesis, therefore, is fairly sharp: on the one side a Christian life that considers the highest goal, now and hereafter, to be the contemplation of God and fellowship w/ him, and for that reason (always being more or less hostile to the riches of an earthly life) is in danger of falling into asceticism, pietism, and mysticism; but on the side of Ritschl, a Christian life that considers its highest goal to be the Kingdom of God, i.e., the moral obligation of mankind, and for that reason, (always being more or less averse to the withdrawal into solitude and quiet communion w/ God), is in danger of degenerating into a cold Pelagianism and an unfeeling moralism. Personally, I do not yet see any way of combining the two points of view, but I do know that there is much that is excellent in both, and that both contain undeniable truth.”

Herman Bavinck
De Theologie van Albrecht Ritschl (Theologicische Studien VI 1888 — pg.397)
Nature & Grace in Herman Bavinck — Jan Veenhof

The Pietist dualistically separates nature from grace and lays all the emphasis on the human being as Christian and so calls the person to give up his humanity (nature) in favor of the pursuit of his Christianity (grace). This can express itself in the Anabaptist who considers the world of nature evil and who thus seeks to completely withdraw from the world or it can find Roman Catholic expression where nature only finds its meaning where it is brought under the canopy of grace. In such an expression nature only has value where it is superintended by the hierarchy of grace as found in the Church. A third way this dualism can express itself is in the R2Kt Kantian system where nature and grace remain cordoned off from one another. In such a dualistic system grace neither calls the faithful away from the world as with the Anabaptist dualism expression nor does it seek to bring nature under the canopy of grace as in the Roman Catholic dualism. Instead what it does is it allows nature to operate independently of and uninfluenced by grace in a common realm that is neither of the devil (anabaptism) or under the mediation of supervening grace (Roman Catholicism). In the R2Kt dualism there is no attempt to solve the dualism that one finds attempted both by anabaptists (nature is all evil) or Rome (nature is controlled by grace).

Bavinck points out however that there is another side of the coin that traditional liberalism falls into. Liberalism of the Ritschl variety tended to deny a supernatural realm of grace and as such the realm of grace was collapsed into the realm of nature, with the result that the nature/grace realm was the realm that must be rescued by deliberate activism. Since there is no unique supernatural grace realm to give a clear word as to what this activism must look like the result of Liberal activism was always autonomous and anthropocentric, and inevitably resulted in a kingdom building effort that, though pursued in the name of Christ, invariably led to Hegelian statist control structures where the representative of the State became God walking on the earth.

As a theologian Bavinck was not satisfied w/ these dualisms, nor was he satisfied with the how Ritschl and other liberals collapsed grace into nature. Bavinck’s contribution to Reformed theology was the attempt to find a way where grace could influence nature without collapsing grace into nature. Bavinck was not satisfied w/ either a nature-grace schematic where nature and grace were divorced from one another but neither was he satisfied w/ a nature-grace understanding where the distinctions between nature and grace were obliterated.

Veenhof in his book suggests that Bavinck limned a third way where grace could be seen to influence nature without either nature swallowing grace or grace swallowing nature. Such a solution is thus a threat to all dualisms and pietisms on one side as well as all autonomously inspired Kingdom projects on the other that lose grace in the putative pursuit of the Kingdom of God on earth which is in reality the Utopian search for the Kingdom of man.

Bavinck’s solution ends up making him the foe of just about all other contenders.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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