Herman Bavinck’s Saved by Grace: A Little Taste of Grace

Bavinck’s theology is looking for life; to articulate it, to revel in it, and to encapsulate it especially as it is found in the certainty and context of divine revelation. One of the best characteristics of Bavinck’s work is that his polemics and theological controversy are never battles over words and the consistency of artificial constructions. He is looking for the theory that best explains and enhances our shared experience and has found it in the Reformed expression of faith and life.

In many ways ‘Saved by Grace’ is the best introduction to Bavinck’s theology, if not a concise representative work on issues surrounding regeneration. Are infants ‘saved’? Is grace embalmed in baptism? Is there salvation outside of the institution of the Church? Finally, and most importantly, what is the role of the (new) covenant, the sacraments and the people within the church; is the church really that important? These are not the questions of dry lifeless academia but the stuff that truly concerns the life of Christ’s body. As J. Mark Beach says in the introductory essay, the Church cannot afford to get it wrong when it comes to understanding the work of the Spirit in the life of the Church, especially when there are so many Para-ministries competing for her time and attention.

The Reformed conception of the means of grace, says Bavinck, stands in the middle of two extremes. On one side of the spectrum is the Romanist view which ties regeneration to the institution of the Church. One is regenerated the moment she is baptized, and from there is engrafted into the Church to receive her fellowship with God through the ministry of the priest. On the other side are the Anabaptists, who conceptually divide nature (visible signs, i.e. sacraments) and grace in polar opposition. Bavinck argues, in generous terms, that these extremes minimize God’s role (if not presence) in the soul of the believer. For Bavinck, the Reformed concept of regeneration is rooted in God’s covenant. Infants, children, indeed, God’s people are saved by his goodness and not merely through a ‘conduit of grace’ (Baptism) nor an ‘ultra-spiritual’ people isolated from the world awaiting revolution. Supposing the Reformed view is the middle way, how does it reconcile nature and grace, the institution of the church in the life of the believer, and the Spirit’s internal and external calling through the sacrament and the Word? One suggestion is to procure a copy of Bavinck’s Saved by Grace, an indispensible work for any theological library.

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