Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics: The Leap of Faith

Our ‘leap of faith’ here means that we have now jumped from mid-way of volume three (Sin and Salvation in Christ) into the beginning of volume four: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation in Bavinck’s magisterial Reformed Dogmatics. Some have suggested that faith is a ‘leap in the dark.’ In the movies, as in real life, this view of faith often comes down to the climatic moment that cuts the blue wire or dashes to the train station before she leaves forever. In Bavinck’s ongoing contest with modernism and the loss of objectivity, this idea of faith is pretty much disastrous for religion. There is great objective certainty in Deus dixit; God has spoken, revealing his glory in the message of the Gospel. But is it true for everyone? Bavinck’s reply has cause for alarm.

The one thing biblical theology is sure of is, “The Triune God produces all things in creation and new creation by his Word and Spirit.” The puzzler is how the call to faith has not achieved universal results. The outcome is in God’s hands, says Bavinck, which is not to say salvation is random or exclusivist. Far from it. The Gospel is delivered to sinners, not the ‘elect’ or ‘reprobate.’ When a person acknowledges the mystery of God’s will in salvation they gain insight into God’s glory. And like all spiritual knowledge, it must be given of God.

Soteriology has as many intellectual problems as the doctrines of the Trinity and two-natures of Christ. Regeneration proceeds faith is the correct explanation, but there are ethical considerations. For one, overemphasis on regeneration can lead people to feel uncertain about their faith. Infant baptism, for another, could be a presumption if personal faith takes priority. Arminian based views assuming that some grace is given to motivate the human will, or that the will can ascent to faith in God, ultimately deem the concept or regeneration unnecessary. This is a dangerous position in the modern era, says Bavinck, where concepts of moral empowerment gradually evolve from improved human character assume the meaning of ‘renewal’ and ‘rebirth.’ It sounds appealing, but it reduces God’s glory and sovereignty into the elephant in the room.

These theological problems are not intellectual fodder but go directly to faith as the principle of renewed life. For Bavinck, such theological assumptions affect the life of faith, and the quality of that life in direct, intimate communion with God in the Spirit. The mystery of God’s prerogative in salvation is as sticky as freedom, liberty and love. God’s grace is irresistible but is not coercive. It frees from the power of sin and it is created in love.

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