Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics: 10 for 10

God does not change, Bavinck said, because he is. He is independent of time and has life in himself. To say that God becomes as pantheism assumes diminishes his character. As Bavinck’s analysis of God’s immutability moves forward to discuss God’s infinity his conclusions are reassuringly warm: God’s eternality is not static, monotonous, rigid immobility but is unlimited in virtue and creative potential. For Bavinck and the Reformed the ‘sad’ truth is that this doctrine is often far from serene and meditative, but is used as scientific fighting words within and without Christian theology. But when it comes to Bavinck’s view of time and eternity we have to ask, for argument sake, is he on the right track? While some say yes, others might say no.

Scripture affirms that God is eternal and that his being is not determined by time (Isa. 41:4; Rev. 1:8; Ps. 90:2; 93:2, et. al.) or measured by time. Bavinck defends the Scriptural view against the twin rivals of Deism and pantheism which confuse the concepts of time and eternity as mathematical quantity and not as quality: “gradual, not essential.”  Deism’s own definition of eternity as time infinitely extended in two directions (past/future) is false, says Bavinck, because time serves for God’s existence. Pantheism asserts that eternity is the substantive cause of time which “pulls God down into the stream of time” (Spinoza) causing God’s existence.

Bavinck’s solution to these arguments rests mainly on Aquinas’ and Augustine’s response to Aristotle: the AAA for theological breakdowns. E.P. Heidemann observes that Bavinck sometimes relies too heavily (i.e. conveniently) on Thomas, or Aristotle.[1] Or in this case Augustine. “Time began with the creature” is a more reliable statement than vice versa: Time, whether intrinsic or extrinsic is something that can be measured and used to measure the duration of things in motion. Hence, concludes Augustine and Bavinck, there can be no time in God. Boethius (bk. V) is also brought in as supporting evidence, but, unfortunately for the reader, Bavinck does not (here) treat the Boethian problem that time violates God’s eternality (p. 163). This will eventually flare up into problems with divine foreknowledge and human freedom in Nelson Pike’s classic God and Timelessness and Paul Helm’s ample reply in Eternal God (ch. 6). For some, Bavinck’s discussion of time is out-dated but he does have the one thing that others do not.

God’s eternity is identical with his being and therefore regarded as the fullness and glory of his being. Bavinck does not often employ analogies anywhere in his work, and compared to older classical works e.g. Stephen Charnock, this keeps the discussion fresh and forward moving. Following Thomas’ analogy, God does not inhabit eternity like an idle person suffering from boredom, but like “a cheerful laborer, for whom time barely exists and days fly by.” There is difference between time and eternity but the distinction is a formal one assuming time is innate without self-existence and consciousness. God’s consciousness alone comprehends time, making time subservient to his eternal rule (1 Tim. 1:17).

[1] This criticism centers on Bavinck’s epistemology of God’s revelation as extra and intra: revelation permeates the creation every second which, says Heidemann, comes too close to the Greek idea of the hule.

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