Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics: The Up & Up

When it comes to decision making, tomorrow often never comes. For Bavinck and the Reformed, this adage is too true for the Pelagian doctrine of regeneration. Assuming the final cause of salvation (faith and belief in the Gospel) rests in the ability to accept or deny most people won’t bother; the quality of the message waffles, and those who cannot exercise choice (infants, etc) are simply discounted from the conversation. On the other hand how does God bestow his grace to an indifferent and hostile world? The answer, says Bavinck, is simple.

The Holy Spirit is the cause of regeneration. He is not the instrument, say as a pen, but he is the author, say as the creator of the concept and the reality. The Gospel is preached and offered to human beings not as ‘elect’ or ‘reprobate’ but as ‘sinners’. This creates many conceptual problems which are not intellectual mind-games, but genuinely impact the quality of an individual’s faith in the life of the church body (or community). Bavinck’s treatment of the doctrinal development of baptism on this point is well worth consulting, especially as baptism physically represents all these issues in one tub.

There is more to life and salvation than just a Pelagian antithesis to saved by grace alone. In modern culture, perhaps in post-modernity as well, there will always be the notion that salvation, strictly speaking, is cultural improvement and social redemption. Self-aware spirituality is in many ways the height of being whereas Bavinck and the reformed see it as the minimal qualification defining a human being. Bavinck’s quote with a citation from Euken deserves to be presented in full:

When Christianity acts as a religion of redemption, it by implication assumes the existence of a sharp contrast between what humans are and what they ought to be. It expresses their inability to reach the summit by gradual self-improvement, and proclaims a transformation by elevation by an immediate intervention of the divine [Holy Spirit]. And this is confirmed by the general experience of the spiritual life. For it shows, “how the Spiritual Life is unable to find its necessary self-reliance in the world of ordinary experience; we have seen a breach between genuine spirituality and the world taking place; and we have seen how the effects of all this … toil in vain without an inner elevation through the energy of an absolute life.”

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