Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics: No One is Taller than Himself

We are now setting out in volume 4 of Bavinck’s Dogmatics. Part 1: The Holy Spirit gives New Life to Believers covers faith and calling, justification and regeneration before dealing with the community of the church in part 2. Readers should not feel intimidated by the massive size of this book (940 pps. w/index) for one reason: application. As these few remaining articles hope to show, the sum of Bavinck’s theology upholds the industry of the gospel. Christ is preached; not to the elect; not to the reprobate; but to sinners needing redemption.

Sin had disrupted the world and wrecked havoc but humankind continued to exist. We owe it to the ‘external call’ of the law (vocatio realis), says Bavinck, that families, society, religion, arts and sciences have kept the human race from sinking into utter self-annihilation. But in terms of real salvation and divine calling, a calling unto fellowship in life eternal, this is only the bare minimum. The world, says John, did not know the Logos nor did it receive Christ (John 1:3, 10). The Gospel call (vocatio verbalis) of Christ does not cancel out the law mediated by nature and history but transcends it. How, you ask Bavinck? The Gospel is an invitation to faith in the grace of God, not an invitation to obedience to the law but is fully is accompanied by the witness of the Holy Spirit at work in the members of the church.

The tensions between law and gospel, faith and reason, accepting and rejecting, works, righteousness and so on will always be with us. On the broad spectrum between Reformed and Universalists one thing is certain: “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.” The trick, says Bavinck, is how to turn that faith into a reality. A problem is immediately raised once the God-appointed order becomes reinterpreted or flipped: preach a message that faith is produced in the choosing (created through human activity) and the gospel looses its certainty and definite character. Christ made salvation possible for anyone but not actual for no one. The imperative of salvation sinks to a moral example. Either God gives his grace or it evolves out of a long process of keeping rules and morals.

Can a pastor tell a dying man he has all the time in the world to believe in God’s grace? On the other hand not everyone accepts the message of the cross but rather reject it. Our next post will examine this willingness or unwillingness to faith in Bavinck’s masterful treatment.

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