Herman Bavinck’s Saved by Grace: Place Your Order!

There is still plenty of time to register for the Great Bavinck Giveaway! Subscribe by April 20 to be included in the drawing for a free copy of Bavinck’s ‘Saved by Grace’ (RHB, 2008). See the March 16 post for details. Our last post examined the outset of the Reformed ‘Covenant’ view of grace. Bavinck suggests it’s the middle way between the high Roman Church and the Anabaptist view on the opposite end.

There is a ‘cog’ between transmitting grace and receiving grace for salvation. It is a very important cog. It’s where to place the first moment of ‘regeneration’ in the order of salvation. The question is: does regeneration happen before or after ‘calling’? Many within the Reformed camp assume regeneration happens before baptism and others similarly hold that it could also (not to exclude the former possibility) occur a few days into one’s life, as in the case of covenant children who die in infancy. That rule, explains Bavinck, is the concession that regeneration happens apart from the agency of the Word, or through the Word; it’s a matter of degree, not principle. What’s the point? The Reformed believe that grace is free: The Lord has instituted signs and wonders to accommodate the means of grace e.g. the Word and Sacrament which proceed from Christ by His Spirit. Sounds good, right?

On the other hand, argue the Anabaptists generally, the Sprit is opposed to nature. Regeneration precedes ‘calling’ through the Word. This means the Holy Spirit works directly, effectually, and irresistibly in the human heart in opposition to the Word or other material  means. The church, they contend, does not itself mediate grace. Nor does the minister directly convey grace to the believer. The scriptures for that matter do not contain the actual reality of grace, but from the Holy Spirit alone. In sales, it’s ideal to successfully cut the middle man. But in this case this is no way to save.

Bavinck grants that not everyone responds to the Word, or Church ministry in a saving manner but that does not render the ministry of the word “empty and useless”. Supposing the Anabaptist view of grace excludes all means of instrumentality, the person and work of Christ is historically unimportant – especially in the sense that Christ is the mediator of the new covenant. Spiritual life would begin and end in ‘secret’ or ‘internally’ with possibly no exterior means to verify its truth or existence, even perhaps a way to describe it. If the Anabaptist conception is correct the outworking of sanctification confined to exclusive separation from the world in all manner of dress, custom, and community.

Bavinck’s criticism sounds hard, but many if not a majority of non-Reformed evangelical circles constantly struggle with conceptual tensions between the sacred and secular in work (vocation) and cultural interactions. The place of calling and regeneration in the order of salvation determines more than doctrinal consistency. For Bavinck, the social aspect at the center of the debate affects the social impact of the ministry of the church and potentially leaves one’s personal relationship with scripture, sacrament, and church, at a very unnatural distance.

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