Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics: Lost & Found

There’s a TV show with a highly fantastic plot relevant to Bavinck’s formulation of God’s independence. On this show, survivors of a plane crash form tribes and collectives to solve problems and battle wits with other tribes and collectives on a supernatural island. The island itself is a character exerting powerful forces on the other players, challenging them to make hard decisions and drive mysterious agendas and sub-plots forward. There is dramatic tension between the island’s supernatural power and the character’s free-will, as they work to uncover various crimes and riddles that meet them week to week. The show’s title sums it up perfectly: Lost. Lost’s concept is a pitch perfect demonstration of the pantheistic worldview: mysterious spiritual energies conducting a select people along a chosen path, through a sacred place towards enlightenment. So where’s the fatal flaw? For Bavinck and the reformed, it’s a strange case of freedom vs. independence.

Our knowledge of God, patterned after scripture, does not limit God because it is established in him: creation is revelation and scripture affirms it. Pantheism, argues Bavinck, cannot acknowledge God’s independence from the cosmos. They say personality and self-consciousness are contradictory in a boundless being. If so then God’s perfections is the power that holds everything together and directs the cosmic order. That’s not to say God’s power and disposition change with the wind but its close.

Christian theology holds that God’s absolute being is perfect, independent (aseity) and unchangeable – attributes included. If he changed he would diminish or, from an ecological point of view, deplete. Every creature is dependent but has “a distinct existence of its own” (cf. Ps. 24:1). Self-preservation and the free agency of humankind, argues Bavinck, is a weak analogy of God’s independence but proffers enough natural proof to confirm the aseity of God according to scripture. The name of God revealed to Moses (Ex. 3:6) affirms God’s independent immutable being is full of grace: what God was to the patriarchs he will be for his people forever. Pantheism can never arrive at a description of grace or special providence in the believer’s life. When free-will is the highest virtue illumination becomes elusive and nature can only provide so many clues. It’s like a TV show running in syndication. Reruns do not add additional insight: their contents are frozen, doomed to repeat the same scenario over and over. But within the church, the activity of theology and doxology come fresh insight and new strength from the one in whom we live, move, and have our being.

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