The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Part 11 of Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics

The Attributes of Scripture

In what is our second to last post, we will cover two chapters: 
    A doctrine concerning Scripture’s attributes developed in the Reformation churches as a counter to Roman Catholicism on the one hand and Anabaptism on the other. The key issue was the nature and extent of scriptural authority. Rome honors church and tradition above Scripture, while Anabaptism respects the inner word at the expense of the external word of Scripture. In Roman Catholicism the precedence of the church over Scripture eventually led to the dogma of papal infallibility—Ubi papa, ibi ecclesia. Here, materially, Scripture is unnecessary. Over against this position, the Reformers posited their polemical doctrine of Scripture’s attributes: authority, necessity, sufficiency, and perspicuity.
I mentioned in the last post how Rome came to a position of the church and tradition becoming the infallible interpreter of the infallible Word of God. Now papal infallibility was determined in the RCC only after a long process, becoming official (I think) sometime in the 1870's or thereabouts. The RCC has come to the point that Scripture is not necessary, since we have the tradition and it ultimately makes pronouncements about the meaning of Scripture.   
    The issue between Rome and the Reformation has to do with the ground of authority. For the Reformers Scripture was self-authenticating; the church was founded on the truth of Scripture. For Rome, the church is temporally and logically prior to Scripture, which needs the church’s acceptance and recognition. Thus a Roman Catholic Church Council (Trent) established the canon of Scripture including the Apocrypha. The believer accepts Scripture “because, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author; and because they have been entrusted as such to the church.”
    While Protestants agree that the church’s testimony is a motive for faith, they do not believe it can be the ground of faith. Instead, the Reformation insisted that Scriptures are self-authenticating; the Holy Spirit who inspired the biblical writers confirms the inner testimony within the believer. Protestants did disagree among themselves about such issues as whether scriptural authority is only descriptive (historical) or normative (prescriptive). A balanced view acknowledges that while not all historical accounts in Scripture set prescriptive rules for believers, nonetheless the descriptions are true and also the Word of God to his people.
Here is where I have to disagree with Bavinck a bit. I don't think it is necessary to say that the church's testimony is not a ground of faith. Now Bavinck wants to make the Holy Spirit alone the ground. I can do that if he can concede that the Holy Spirit as the ground persuades a person by means of things like the church's testimony, the consistency of Scripture, the reasonableness and wisdom contained in Scripture, etc.  
    Modern theology has significantly devalued the coin of biblical authority. It picks and chooses for itself what parts of Scripture are normative (the “religious-ethical dimension”) even if they are fallible and encrusted with error. Others describe the nature of biblical authority as “moral”; items are included in Scripture only because they are true. Belief based on Scripture alone turns the Bible into a paper pope. However, the authority issue does not go away. All religion rests on authority as does every area of life, notably in such academic spheres as history. So, too, true religion rests on divine authority. However, contrary to the conviction of modern people, to believe in God and accept the authority of his word in no way diminishes human beings or robs them of their dignity. God’s authority is unique and ennobles us.
    The Reformation also parts with Rome on the necessity of Scripture. In Roman Catholicism the church, living by the Holy Spirit, is self-sufficient. The Bible, strictly speaking is not necessary; Scripture does need the church for its authority and interpretation. The tradition of spiritualist mysticism, too, does not really need Scripture. Communion through ascetic practice and contemplation was able to buy the believer into union with God. The same phenomenon—internal word above external word—led to rationalist critique of scriptural authority and necessity. Even if the Scriptures were lost, the religious-ethical truth of Christianity would survive. The “church” survives the vanishing of Scripture because it produced Scripture. The church lives by the “Spirit,” in whatever form.
    Protestants acknowledge that the external word alone is insufficient; it needs the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. For the conscious life of the church, however, Scripture is essential, indispensable for grounding the truth of the Christian gospel. The church, so believed the Reformers, needs Scripture to survive. Admittedly, there was a significantly long time in salvation history when God’s people did not yet have written Scriptures. Though the necessity of Scripture is not absolute, it has been God’s good pleasure to keep the church in truth by it. In our era of salvation history, Scripture is our only sure guide to apostolic teaching and preserves it for the generations. Unlike Rome, the Reformation believes that the apostolic period ended with the Pentecostal reality of the Holy Spirit’s being given to the church in accord with Jesus’ promise. There is no knowledge of or fellowship with Christ apart from Scripture. Scripture does have a provisional character, but until our Lord returns it is necessary. Scripture’s necessity thus provides a guard against all premature attempts to achieve the full glory of union with God in this dispensation.
I don't have much to say because I agree with all of this, and I think it's pretty clear. Scripture being a temporary thing is not something I often think about, but indeed in glory we will see Christ face to face and He will teach us. I believe Bavinck would affirm that the Scriptures in themselves are not sufficient to bring us into all godliness. In fact at one point Bavinck even says it is not the gospel but the Holy Spirit that saves us. Scripture of course says that it is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). I don't intend to take him out of context, and I recognize I am not giving a context, but that is the gist of what he said. Now I am sure we can agree that in a sense the gospel message itself is ineffectual to save apart from the Holy Spirit making man willing to believe the gospel. But Romans 1:16 says that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe. The belief is in the gospel, which is to say, our faith and trust is in the work of Christ to save us from our sins. So no matter the context I do not ever want to say that the Holy Spirit and not the gospel saves us. The Holy Spirit works with the gospel and brings us to faith by means of the gospel, but Bavinck doesn't seem to like that way of thinking. Yet his belief that faith precedes understanding seems to require that he say such things. That statement, in case you are wondering, is found on page 515, which I hope to treat in more detail later on, or perhaps even in an entirely separate post.   
    The Bible, according to Reformation conviction is also clear or perspicuous. This does not mean that the Bible is so transparent as to need no interpretation. Protestants too live in the history of biblical interpretation. Perspicuity does not mean that there are no mysteries or difficult passages in Scripture. What perspicuity means is that the path of salvation is clearly taught and explained. The mediation of church or priest is not essential for this mediation, and the Bible should therefore be the common possession of every believer. This teaching of scriptural perspicuity is one of the strongest bulwarks of the Reformation, though it does have a shadow side in the tragic divisions that are commonplace in Protestantism. Yet this shadow does not turn out the light of freedom set on fire by the common access to God’s Word for Reformation-era believers. While the divisions of the Protestant world contributed to the rise of secular rationalism, Rome’s hierarchical authority structure also failed to reign it in. Arbitrariness in Protestant Scripture interpretation must be acknowledged; the only antidote is a conscious application of the “analogy of faith.”
    Convictions about necessity and perspicuity lead quite naturally to the doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency. Unlike Rome, the Reformation tradition does not consider the Bible as in some sense inadequate and therefore needing to be augmented by ecclesiastical tradition. Rome argues that a number of doctrines and practices, going back to the apostles and our Lord himself, have been entrusted to the magisterial church through an oral tradition. Based on the criteria of Vincent Lerins for determining what is genuinely apostolic—that which is believed everywhere, always, and by all—the Roman Church claims that it has safeguarded the apostolic tradition in the person of the pope, who is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra. These criteria are distributive rather than copulative. Either universality or antiquity is sufficient to make it a dogma of the church. Distinguishing the listening church from the teaching church, Rome considers the former only passively infallible, while the location of active infallibility resides in the teaching church. Rome, however, has not defined the one and only proper means for determining what is a genuinely apostolic tradition or teaching. It is not clear whether the pope, for example, is infallible on his own authority or together with the other bishops and councils. Does a majority vote get full approbation, or must it be unanimous for it to be infallible? How these questions are answered is less important than the strong conviction that the pope is the “Vicar of Christ”; he is the voice of God to the world. From this it is little surprise to see the First Vatican Council (1871) declare papal infallibility.
Papal infallibility 1871, glad to know I was right on the date.  
    When the Reformation affirmed the perfection of Scripture, it did not deny that there were times when God’s people had little or no written word and lived by the revelation of oral tradition. However, with the completion of the canon, it denies that there exists another Word of God alongside it in unwritten form. It is also true that some of the church’s dogmas are legitimate inferences from Scripture. Furthermore, while acknowledging that the Bible does not contain all the divine revelation given to apostles, prophets, and our Lord himself, it does not believe that written forms of some dogmas were lost while only the oral tradition remained. The result is that the truly universal dogmas of the church are derived from Scripture, while Rome’s tradition produces only distinctively Roman doctrine such as papal infallibility and the bodily assumption of Mary.
I believe I touched on some of this in the last post as well.  
    There is an important reality of salvation history at stake here. The canon of the OT and NT was not closed until all new initiatives of salvation history were present. The work of Christ is complete. In this dispensation the Holy Spirit’s task is not to provide further new revelation but to apply the work of Christ. That work and word requires no supplement. At the same time there is value in tradition understood in its broad sense as the thought and action of a religious community in its customs, practices, mores, confessions, and liturgies. No intergenerational community can continue to exist without tradition.
    For religions of the Book, the need for tradition as an interpretive guide is essential. The distance of time between the writing of the book and our times means that the community’s tradition is its necessary connection to the past. Radical groups that deliberately set aside all intervening tradition to return, in a primitivist way, to the letter of the Bible alone doom themselves to extinction unless they adapt to a new age. The Reformation did not reject all tradition; it wanted only to reform tradition and purge it from its errors. What the Reformation rejected was an ecclesiastical tradition alongside Scripture. The only tradition that may be accepted is the one that is founded on and flows from Scripture. Our dependence on Scripture and Scripture alone will last until the time when Scripture and temple are no longer needed and we are all taught by the Lord himself and filled with the Holy Spirit.
This last bit is very important for today, when we see the "no creed but Christ" type churches in large numbers. Tradition is helpful, and Bavinck makes it clear that we in a sense need the tradition of our church to help us grow as believers. If we are constantly going back to square one, will we ever advance in our knowledge of God? Probably not. By advance in knowledge I mean: will the heights of our knowledge of God as contained in Scripture ever go beyond the high water mark that our fathers have reached if we, because we reject tradition, refuse to start our knowledge of God at the high water mark, and instead start again from the beginning? We may learn personally, but let's face it -- we are not the greatest theologian ever, and the greatest theologian of any given era had those who went before him who he had learned from. We need one another. We must stand on the shoulders of giants. We do not do this uncritically of course. I am disagreeing with a good bit of what Bavinck says, but I am also learning a good bit. 

We cannot elevate tradition to a place of infallibility, nor can we produce a pope or a group of theological elites and make them infallible interpreters of Scripture for us. The Spirit has been given to every believer, and we all interpret the Bible for ourselves, and indeed, we all teach one another. There are teachers, and pastors, and evangelists, but this does not mean that those who are not called to that particular position or office in the church should never evangelize or teach or even give a word of exhortation. Bavinck himself seems to say as much, and he also said early on that even non-reformed streams of Christian thought will be used by God to bring us into a clearer knowledge of Him. As the Spirit advances the knowledge of God in the Church, redemptive history continues to unfold. I would say that we still do not see very clearly just what it is that we are building toward in the kingdom of God. We know we need to live righteously, and proclaim the gospel, and have families (some of us know that at least), but how do we relate culture making and the dominion mandate to this dispensation? Will Christ return to a largely Christianized world, or will there be little faith on the earth? We are still wrestling through these questions, and many still believe in a premillennial rapture, which I mention just to point out that we have a long way to go in the area of eschatology, but what an important area that is!    

Part V: Faith (Principium Internum) 

Faith and Theological Method

Ah, and now we have reached the final part in Bavinck's Prolegomena. Also, my disagreement with Bavinck will become more pointed. Let us begin: 

   Revelation must be received as well as given. In the same way that human beings are connected to their external world by many relationships, so too they have a faculty for perceiving the divine. This religious capacity always occurs in the concrete and is instilled in us by our parents and religious caretakers in community. Faith does not arise from reflection; we live first, then we philosophize.
Firstly not everyone is born into a Christian family. Many are not. When the gospel is presented to an unbeliever, do we really want to say that that person came to faith apart from reflection? Surely this is not the case. We consider the gospel, the evidences, the meaning of it all, and then we put our trust in what we have reflected upon. Children do this too. I was four years old when I was saved by God, and He saved me through my father presenting the gospel to me. And I reflected on what he said, at the capacity that a four year old could of course, and I deemed what my dad said as very serious, and I felt a conviction for my sin, and a love for Christ who died for me. So I repented and believed the gospel. My faith has of course grown from the understanding that a child can muster to that which I can now muster as an adult, but from the beginning my faith was in something that I reflected on and processed with my mind, and I deemed it true. Now I surely deemed it true because of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit worked with and through the gospel, and all of Scripture, to persuade me. Why was I not persuaded apart from the Holy Spirit? Was it because the Bible and the gospel are silly and absurd and unbelievable and irrational? No. They would have been foolishness to me as a Gentile, and the gospel is a stumbling block to the religious person, the Jew, but this is not because the gospel itself is actually dumb. It is because fallen, sinful man finds it to be dumb because sinful man puts himself over against God and says that the good is whatever man deems it to be so, not what God says. When God speaks and asserts his authority, sinful man will not like this. It will be foolishness to him, or if he wants to try and earn salvation for himself, the cross will be a stumbling block, a crush to human pride. But when the Spirit gives eyes to see and ears to hear, the apparent goodness and truthfulness and reasonableness of the gospel shines forth, and therefore it is believed.    
    Critical reflection on faith does have a positive side, though it cannot compensate for lost faith. The nature of religion requires of theology its own epistemology. While the mystery of faith and the variety of grounds for faith must be respected, we can explore the means by which faith comes to fruition. The organ by which we obtain religious knowledge—intellect, heart, conscience—receives content from the outside. Religion presupposes and demands the existence, self-revelation, and knowability of God.
    Though human beings are by nature religious, this capacity is always expressed concretely, awakened by and accommodated to a historical religion. This capacity is also corrupted by sin and itself needs redemption. It is the confession of the Christian church that God’s redemption and revelation in Christ is subjectively applied to believers by the Holy Spirit. God’s objective revelation in Christ, recorded in Scripture, is the prior external source of religious knowledge (principium cognoscendi externum); the Holy Spirit is the internal source of knowledge (principium cognoscendi internum). While Rome teaches that the institutional church is the dwelling place of the Spirit, according to the Reformation this temple is the church as organism, the community of the faithful.
    The first theological activity in the church arose from apologetic need to defend the gospel against Jews and Greeks. Christian apologists compared their faith with the intellectual and practical content of paganism and judged the former to be vastly superior. Christianity was seen to be a blessing to the state, conducive to the prosperity of the empire and a benefaction to all humanity.
    Medieval scholastic theology turned this apologetic method into a division between natural and supernatural truth, between scientific reason and faith. In response to the Reformation, Roman Catholic thought turned to the church itself as the most compelling ground for belief in Scripture and revelation. Though Vatican I affirmed the internal help of the Holy Spirit, it also anathematized those who reject the church as a necessary external sign. External proofs are, for Rome, “preambles of faith,” the necessary foundation for supernatural infused grace. Human beings proceed upwards to the vision in degrees as on a ladder.
    The Reformation, in principle, opposed this hierarchical system of Rome and affirmed faith’s sole dependence on divine authority and the work of the Holy Spirit. Yet Protestant theologians too returned to notions of natural theology and sought historical proofs for the truth of revelation. Rationalism, in the form of Socinianism, Arminianism, and Cartesianism, infiltrated Protestant theology, resulting in significant movements such as deism and the history-of-religions method. By this historical-apologetic approach, scientific theology was divorced from faith and the church and became an objective, neutral, historical-critical method of research. The response of supernaturalism affirmed the divine authority of revelation but yielded to the radical divorce between piety and reason.
Bavinck says that Francis Turretin embraced the methodology of using natural theology and historical proofs to support the truth of revelation. I would want to use proofs and natural theology as well as supports, depending on what exactly is meant by that. I think we can and should engage unbelievers with the reasonableness of Scripture, and of course the gospel, which is a part of Scripture and a crucial piece of God's revelation. I believe the Holy Spirit works with these proofs. In the end, I think Bavinck would say the Holy Spirit only works with these proofs in the believer, after one has come to faith. The Holy Spirit will convince someone that the gospel and Scripture is God's Word because the Holy Spirit gives a conviction that the Bible is indeed the voice of God, and therefore on that authority must be submitted to. It is mystical, and Bavinck will admit as much later on. I hope those who have read this whole series will recognize how Bavinck has embraced a position he has so strongly critiqued in other philosophers, namely that he too is embracing a subjective starting point. He does admit that everyone must start with themselves, which is a good and happy admission, but why the critique earlier is confusing when he then turns around and does the same thing. He tries to argue that it is different because it is the Holy Spirit, but the question then becomes, how does one know it is the Holy Spirit? I think Bavinck would say it is an immediate knowledge, like the law of non-contradiction, or something to that effect. It seems to me like a fancy way of saying "when you confront the divine, there is no mistaking that." If we heard Jesus speak at the burning bush, that would hopefully persuade us of the divine, and whatever the divine said form the burning bush. I think Bavinck sees the Spirit working in a similar fashion in the hearts of those who are coming to faith. The Spirit "speaks" in such a way to the truthfulness of God's Word that it is unmistakable. While I agree that the Spirit does comfort us in ways that are hard to understand, indeed beyond our understanding, when it comes to saving faith I do not think proofs or evidences or the reasonableness of our own sinfulness and God's holiness are excluded. In short I have more of an answer to the question "How do you know the Bible is true and that you are saved through the cross of Christ" than to simply say "The Holy Spirit has persuaded me so." He has, but through means. Means which we should present to unbelievers, so that the Spirit can use them as well, coupled with the gospel, to bring them to faith.  
    While subjected to serious critique by such thinkers as Kant and Schleiermacher, the truth inherent in the historical-apologetic stance must not be lost. All believers have a duty, with gentleness and fear, to give an account of the hope that is in them and to confute those who contradict the gospel. A valid apologetic, however, follows faith and does not attempt to argue the truth of revelation in an a priori fashion. Christians need not hide from their opponents in embarrassed silence; the Christian faith is the only worldview that fits the reality of life. Apologetic intellectual labor should not lead to exaggerated expectations or deny the genuine subjectivity of Christian truth. Submitting to the validation of revelation by an intellectual priesthood provides feeble certainty. Finally, faith rests on the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which provides a sure certainty.
Again, see what I said above. This sure certainty isn't the Holy Spirit working in a vacuum.  
    In reaction and response to this divorce of revelation and reason, European intellectual thought of the nineteenth century yielded to romanticism, to the dominance and autonomy of the subject. Idealism sought objectivity from within the subject; the world (non-ego) was seen as the product of the human subjects’ mind (ego). The philosophic prophet of this restoration of idealism was Hegel, for whom the universe itself became a process of becoming, the evolution of the logical idea. From the theological rationalism of God, virtue, and morality, Hegel turned classic Christian dogma such as the Trinity and incarnation into speculative philosophic truths. Dogmas must be stripped of their historic symbolic forms to uncover their underlying idea. In this way theology and philosophy were reconciled, but the historic Christian faith was radically transformed. A personal God is exchanged for the absolute idea.
    While Schleiermacher shared Hegel’s subjective starting point, he took his position in experience, in feeling, rather than reason. Dogmatics was the fruit of the Christian community, a description of pious states of mind (consciousness) or the faith of the church. Here philosophy and theology are again separated, but a priority is given to philosophy. Following Schleiermacher, so-called mediating theology, took its departure in the consciousness of the church and linked it with Hegel’s speculative method in order to elevate faith to the level of knowledge.
    Whereas rationalism falsified the whole Christian religion, Hegel and Schleiermacher are to be commended for their courage in returning to the church and its dogma. Both rose above the vulgar rationalism of their day and pointed to the harmony of subject and object, thinking and being. Their error was the basic flaw of all speculative philosophy or idealism (from Plato to Fichte). They equate the two, believing that ideas are the real world. Created reality is an emanation of thought. The Christian teaching, by contrast, affirms that the essence of all things is due to the thought of God but the existence is due to his will, to his exercise of creating power. This speculative theology was therefore not innocent. Theology became anthropology, “pisteology,” or ecclesiology rather than the knowledge of God, a new form of Gnosticism. As a result the speculative method also led to the rejection of the Christian religion in toto. Christianity is history, a history of grace, and this can never be the conclusion of a mere logical system. Concrete religions do not flow from intellectual proof but from revelation and the religious nature of human beings. As an abstraction it is sterile; no one can live by it.
Again, much of what Bavinck says here I agree with. We could not, based on our minds alone, produce the message of the gospel, or all of redemptive history. From general revelation we get glimpses of what God is like, but forgiveness, grace, salvation? God must tell us He is like that, and working toward that, for us to know it to be so. But when He does reveal some of the tapestry of His divine plan, it is incredibly reasonable, and beautiful, and connected! So our minds then do begin to understand it, and indeed we systematize it in theology and with our minds. Bavinck knows this, but he seems to think if we try to present the story of redemption to unbelievers, it will be silly, and the gospel is something that apparently cannot save unless the Spirit just links us to faith in Christ in a vacuum.  
    When historical and speculative argumentation failed to bear fruit, many theologians turned to religious experience to derive grounds for the certain truth of Christianity. The influence of Schleiermacher is crucial for this development. With a waning faith in biblical authority, thanks to historical criticism, the Christian experience became the ground of certainty and opened the door to a scientific, religious-empirical approach to theology. Here too Christian certainty is not sought in external historical or rational proofs but in believing consciousness. The most thorough systematic formulation of a dogmatic theology in this vein was produced by the Erlangen dogmatician F. H. R. Frank.
Experience does corroborate the believer, and testimony can and should be given, and unbelievers may in part be persuaded by this when the Holy Spirit works in their hearts. To be salt and light, to live the Christian life, is a powerful message to the unbeliever, whether he believes it is from God or not. I have seen my righteous living, by God's grace, affect unbelievers before. It is another piece of evidence, though by itself, like any one "proof" by itself, would likely not bring an unbeliever to a point of faith in Christ as Lord and Savior.  
    According to Frank neither external proofs nor the authority of Scripture, church, and tradition are able to provide religious certainty, only the experience of rebirth. From the new life in Christ, believers are able to immediately posit the entire content of the truths of the Christian faith. Frank’s system contains an important truth: rebirth is necessary to see the kingdom of God. Had he restricted his insight to the epistemological issue—how does a believer arrive at certainty?—no objection would be raised. However, to infer content from experience and epistemology confuses being and knowing, objective truth and subjective certainty. This confusion is typical of modern thought in both its empiricist and idealist form. The major objection to this approach is its indifference to the reality of objective, historical facts on which Christianity stands or falls. The organization of dogmatics into a twofold system of certainty and a system of truth cannot be maintained, since the Christian certainty cannot be described apart from the truth to which it pertains. The charge of subjectivism against Frank stands.
Interesting that Bavinck says if Frank restricted his thoughts to the epistemological issue of the need to be born again in order to see the kingdom of God (which seems to mean that for Bavinck being born again is the way in which a believer arrives at certainty of his or her faith in God) he would have no issue with him. Again, I get the impression that the Holy Spirit works in a vacuum for Bavinck, that the Spirit whispers in our hearts "God is real, and so is His Word." And that is how we know. 
    Other efforts to ground theological certainty in experience by modifying Frank’s standpoint have not succeeded either. Certainty with respect to the truth of Christianity is not grounded in the Christian person but in the Word of God attested by the Holy Spirit. Part of the problem is the ambiguity of the word “experience.” Experience is crucial to all religion, but in Christianity it must be prompted by the Word of God, accompany and follow faith, not precede it, and always be subject to correction by Scripture. Scripture, not experience, is the norm for our faith. In the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, for example, we cannot simply exchange “I experience” for “I believe.” The effect of belief must not be confused with its content and ground. The truth of historic Christianity cannot rest on experience as its ultimate ground.
    Closely linked to the religious-empirical method associated with Schleiermacher and Frank is the ethical-psychological method, which is closer to Kant and accents ethical self-assertion rather than emotional experience. Here, Christianity is not a feeling, or a doctrine, or historical fact but a religious-ethical power addressed to the human conscience. This posture, which argues for the agreement or superiority of the Christian faith for human morality, goes back to the apologists and comes to strong expression in the work of Blaise Pascal (1623–62) and A. R. Vinet (1797–1847). It is possible, in this view, by practical reason to rationally infer the existence of God, freedom, and immortality (Kant).
    Kant’s divide between the world of pure (senses and facts of science) and practical (supersensible values) reason had a profound influence on theology. If the supersensible (noumenal) world is unknowable, theology as knowledge of God is impossible and becomes an examination of human moral conduct, a form of religious moral idealism. This understanding of religion and theology came to a highpoint in the cultural Protestantism (theological liberalism) of Albrecht Ritschl. For Ritschl religion and theology are not part of the world of nature and law but of the spirit and freedom. Christianity is an ethical religion, an ellipse with two foci: Redemption and the kingdom of God, the absolutely spiritual and the absolutely moral religion.
    This ethical-practical method of vindicating religion and Christianity has much to commend it. Here religion is judged by its ability to satisfy the human heart, to provide consolation and comfort for guilty consciences and troubled souls. To be true a religion must provide consolation, but, conversely, this provision does not prove a religion’s truth. Religious-ethical experience and appraisal cannot guarantee the truth of their object. It is not enough to seek and to meet people’s perceived needs. Efforts to postulate the reality of God, freedom, and immortality from practical, moral reason (Kant) demonstrate nothing more than the “good” within us. In the end what is produced was contained in the point of departure itself.
    Apart from these meager results, the very premise of efforts to postulate religion from practical moral experience is flawed since it turns the order of our experience upside down. Religion does not follow but is prior to morality; there is no morality without metaphysics, no sense of duty apart from an absolute power that binds the conscience.
But isn't that kind of Kant's point? The fact that we feel this categorical imperative, this impulse of morality, testifies to the existence of God? Doesn't Romans 2 speak of this? Paul speaks of the conscience of unbelievers in Romans 2:14-16 as a witness, leaving them without an excuse, something which will condemn them when they come before God to be judged. Certainly we can appeal to that as an evidence of the existence of God and a reason for our faith?   
    The most serious objection here is that this approach always proceeds from and ends in a radical dualism between faith and knowledge. This is intolerable and unnecessary. In its domain the heart is as good an organ for the perception of truth as the head. Faith with its grounds has as much validity as science with its proofs. The unity of the human spirit rebels against such a separation, and the variety of forms such separation takes demonstrates its arbitrariness. In particular the historical content of the Christian has an objectivity that is not reducible to religious experience. Redemption includes liberation from falsehood and discovery of the truth. Objective religion is not the product of subjective religion but is given in divine revelation; dogma is not a symbolic interpretation of spiritual experience but an expression of truth given by God in his Word.

Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2003). Reformed dogmatics: Prolegomena (Vol. 1, pp. 497–501). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
I agree with all of that of course. We through our experience don't pen the pages of Scripture. Our experiences can be wrong, untrue, and often are. We can misunderstand our experiences. But I still believe when Bavinck isolates the Holy Spirit as the ground of our assurance, apart from means, that he also makes the faith subjective to our experience, namely the internal experience of this convincing of the Holy Spirit, this whispering or whatever it may be that God's Word is true, despite what the evidence may or may not say, regardless of how we understand the gospel. 

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