Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics: The Superadded Gift (Part 3 of 3)

Our three part series on the superadded gift (SG) was pretty difficult and challenging. This was especially true in our small group study but we’re still friends despite any differences as we wrestle through Bavinck’s analysis and (to quote Thomas Watson) the treachery of our own hearts. This post briefly recaps and reflects on Bavinck’s main points on the superadded gift.

Bavinck’s method for writing typically follows the pattern of thesis, antithesis, followed by synthesis (Jaarsma). He starts, for instance, at basic definitions of terms (sin, freewill), demonstrates how they are used by various writers and movements (Pelagius, Augustine, Mysticism, Pantheism), and follows through their interpretations from theory to practice (Roman Catholic view of concupiscence, superadded gift). In our reading Bavinck was very successful in handling the distinction between human freewill and the divine command. Pelagian and semi-Pelagian views of human freewill are always at odds with divine sovereignty, unevenly matched in comparison, and never definite. Anyone who has ever worked on the problem has probably said or heard, “but I have freewill, I can choose to believe” at any point within the topic. Bavinck is basically saying, ‘yes, you have freewill; it is an integral part of human nature. But there is a distinction, an order, and progress in the relationship between God and the creature. God gives freewill, God also gives a command: those are independent but not mutually exclusive. The original relationship and integrity with God was destroyed when sin took advantage of the commandment.’ Here, Bavinck’s presuppositions sticks close to its guns: God has revealed his will despite sin and rejection.

By the conclusion of chapter two, and the summary opening of chapter 3, Bavinck’s analysis of the SG is hard to follow. At first he seems to agree with the general 19th century view that the SG was a ‘bridle’ to keep the ‘war’ of flesh/spirit at bay. After demonstrating the doctrine from Augustine to Trent he presents the antithetical views of the Reformers, especially Calvin. Chapter 2 concludes with discussions of imputation and total depravity, losing sight of the SG until the next chapter. The problem created a lot of work trying to nail Bavinck down; what looks like inconsistency is merely one of organization. This small detail created a little uncertainty in our readings but well worth the effort. He agrees that the SG kept the flesh and spirit at bay, but the drift of his analysis of total depravity and the ethical-spiritual nature of sin seem inconsistent or perhaps just groaning under the weight of the data.

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