The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Part 12 of Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics

Here it is. The final part. Now is the beginning of the end. 

Before I begin this section proper, I would just like to quote Bavinck in a bit of context regarding his view of the Holy Spirit being the organ by which we receive external revelation (Scripture): 

The Holy Spirit is the great and powerful witness to Christ, objectively in Scripture, subjectively in the very hearts of human beings. By that Spirit we receive a fitting organ for the reception of external revelation. God can be known only by God; the light can be seen only in his light. No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him [Matt. 11:27], and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit [1 Cor. 12:3] 
Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2003). Reformed dogmatics: Prolegomena (Vol. 1, p. 506). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

I think for Bavinck the reason he ultimately appeals to a subjective source for the validity of Scripture despite decrying others who do so is that for him the Holy Spirit is a very special subjective source, and in a sense it is not subjective but rather the being of God acting from within us. But the problem is that the Holy Spirit doesn't become another organ, a "sixth sense" from within us. When I was converted, I didn't suddenly feel like I had another sense, or organ, or whatever you want to call it. I still don't know when or how the Holy Spirit works from within me, except to say that it seems clear to me that He works through the means of my own God given faculties. This is also why I believe Bavinck will go so far as to say this about the gospel an the Holy Spirit: 
The Christian worldview alone is one that fits the reality of the world and of life. And finally, if it seriously and scrupulously performs its task, it will very definitely succeed in impressing opponents with the truth of Christian revelation, refuting and silencing them. It cannot truly convert people to God. Not even the preaching of the gospel is able to do that; only God, by his Spirit, can accomplish that. But subject to this working of God and as a means in his hand, apologetics, like the ministry of the Word, can be a source of consummate blessing. For this fact the early centuries of Christianity offer abundant evidence.
I italicized that sentence so that you wouldn't miss it. I think this is the fundamental problem in Bavinck's thinking. He so isolates the Holy Spirit as the ground for faith in God and all His revelation that he will even say that the preaching of the gospel cannot save sinners. Only God, BY THE SPIRIT, saves sinners. The impression again is that the Holy Spirit doesn't work with and through the gospel, but apart from it. The gospel is just noise, the occasion I suppose, in which the Spirit decides to convince sinners that God's Word is true and that they need to be saved. But how can the Spirit do this without the preaching of the gospel. What about when Paul says in Rom. 1:16 that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe? Perhaps by convert Bavinck merely means willing to believe, but again, does not the gospel and the Spirit together make one willing to believe? The Spirit takes the message and, working with the message of the gospel, persuades a sinner that they need to trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. It's not an either-or, it's a both-and. The gospel without the Spirit will not convert, but guess what? The Spirit without the gospel will not convert either.  
Apologetics as it has often been practiced was mistaken, however, in that (1) it detached itself from the Christian faith and thus put itself outside of, above, and before theology; (2) it so separated believing from knowing that religious truth came to rest in part (in natural theology, in exegetical and historical theology, etc.) or in toto, on purely intellectual proofs; and (3) that, as a result, it began to foster exaggerated expectations from its scientific labor as though by the intellect it could change the human heart and by reasoning engender piety.
This would be falling off the other side of the horse. We become pelagian if we think that through shouting loudly the gospel and pouring on the guilt  we can somehow emote people into the kingdom of God. The will is enslaved to sin. The Spirit sets the captives free. But the Spirit does so with the gospel, through the cross of Christ. To deny this is to become a hyper-Calvinist of sorts, to say that one does not need to preach the gospel because people can believe without the gospel. All that is needed is the Spirit, the gospel is not necessary. I don't imagine Bavinck actually believes this, I hope not at least, but I think this is an area of serious inconsistency in his thought. The intellectual proofs, and the gospel itself which is an intellectual proof of sorts (since it describes what Christ did in order to save sinners from sin and from God's goodness) produce saving faith in a heart that is not enslaved to sin. The Spirit loosens the heart's enslavement to sin, but again, by means of the gospel and indeed with intellectual proofs and evidences of all sorts. The gospel saves anyone who has spiritual life. Therefore it is the power of God unto salvation. 

Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2003). Reformed dogmatics: Prolegomena (Vol. 1, p. 515). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

At any rate, now we can begin this final section proper: 

Faith and its Ground


    In the previous chapter we considered the possibility that the human will or intellect of the “natural” person could be the means by which divine revelation is appropriated. Though we rejected this possibility, nonetheless it is true that Christian theology as an area of scientific inquiry must begin with the human subject. It is here that one finds the internal principle corresponding to divine revelation. Christian theology has always taken its position in the believing subject, in faith, in the believing community. The slogan that guides and controls Christian theology is per fidem ad intellectum (“through faith to understanding”).
So again now we see Bavinck admitting that we have to begin with subjectivism.  
    Scripture itself directs us to this, to the inner illumination of the Holy Spirit. The truth of God can be known only in faith. Though terms such as “rebirth,” “purity of heart,” “the Spirit of God,” among others, are used in Scripture for the internal principle, the means by which revelation is appropriated, the preferred term is “faith.” Since all knowledge is mediated through human consciousness, revelation too is known as an act of human consciousness, namely faith. Both objectively and subjectively revelation connects with nature, re-creation with creation. In all areas of life we start by believing. The universality of faith points to the importance of immediate, intuitive grasp of truth; our sure knowledge of reality is not limited to that which we obtain through our senses. It is immediate certainty rather than demonstrable certainty that makes life in community, in society, possible.
I doubt many today would say they have immediate certainty of much of anything. In the postmodern culture this will not make much sense. We can use it as an apologetic, saying that we trust our senses naturally, initially, but some may even question that we do that.  
    Nonetheless, general immediate certainty is not identical to religious faith. Saving faith has as its object, not simply God’s words and deeds as such, but the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Faith is also a matter of knowledge and truth, but above all it is trust and surrender to God. Knowledge of saving faith comes to us through the testimony of others (e.g., the apostles). The road to the human heart taken by the Spirit of God runs through the human head and human consciousness. This knowledge of saving faith is bound to Scripture, to the apostolic witness.
It is good to see that Bavinck recognizes that the Spirit of God works through the head and consciousness of man. That just makes what he said earlier about the gospel not converting and the spirit alone doing so all the more confusing. What is the Spirit putting into our head and consciousness? Is it simply a whispered voice that the gospel is actually truth, or is it the removal of a sinful, moral resistance to the truth of Scripture and the gospel so that we will now freely trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. I would say the latter. The gospel and God's Word is truth, and is very reasonable to believe that it is. Unbelievers will suppress this clear truth in unrighteousness and convince themselves it is not true, not because it isn't plain for us to see, but rather because they do not desire to believe it since it calls for them to submit themselves to God. The Spirit releases that antipathy to submission and with that bias out of the way, man can then see, and desire, the goodness of the gospel. The gospel is irresistible to the one who has spiritual life, who is not spiritually dead.   
    When faith is understood primarily as intellectual assent, as it is in Roman Catholicism, it becomes objectified as “historical faith.” Understandably, this faith was considered insufficient for salvation and had to be augmented. Still, in this way the Reformation’s sola fide was denied in favor of the meritoriousness of intellectual assent as preparation for the infused grace of justification. While this idea of faith as intellectual assent played only a preparatory role in Roman Catholic thinking, in Reformation thought faith was an act of the newly regenerated person who had been made new by the special grace of the Holy Spirit. Faith was religious through and through and had its own kind of certainty.
    Faith’s certainty rests on the testimony and promises of God himself and has the power victoriously “to overcome the world” (1 John 5:4). It is here, in the matter of certainty, that we see the real difference between Rome and the Reformation. The moral certainty that Kant argued for as the foundation of practical reason divorces practical and theoretical reason and thus cannot sustain the truth of Christian revelation. Whereas, on Kant’s terms, believing is a weaker form of knowing, in the Christian religion believing is certainty itself. The certainty of faith is as firm as that of knowledge, though it is more intense, unshakable, and ineradicable. Scientific theories do not produce martyrs; religion does.

I don't really understand what Bavinck means when he says belief itself is certainty for the Christian. I believe with certainty that God is, and that God has saved me from my sins. But I believe that due to certain reasons. The fact that I believe it is not what makes me certain that it is so, and if that is what Bavinck is arguing I don't know anyone who would naturally think that way. Islam also produces martyrs, but they do not have true saving faith wrought by the Holy Spirit. Others have died for the good of humanity at the hands of evil oppressors.  
    For this reason intellectual and historical proof cannot provide the final ground of faith. While revelation may be made credible by proofs, it is and remains a truth of faith, a gift of grace. Only the Spirit of God can make a person inwardly certain of the truth of divine revelation. God’s revelation can be believed only in a religious sense, on God’s own authority. The ground for faith is the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. This position, however, seems circular: We believe Scripture is God’s revelation because the Bible tells us so. Such circularity can be broken only by the inner conviction that God has spoken. This witness of God is the final ground of faith; our will to believe is, by God’s grace, the final cause of our faith.
Oh, such madness. To say that the circular reasoning is broken because we are convicted very strongly in our hearts that God has spoken is just silliness. How do you know, sir, that God has really spoken in your heart? "Well, because the Bible tells me he has." See, no circle has been broken whatsoever. In the end Bavinck leaves us with nothing but subjectivism, no means by which we can be sure of our faith, other than to appeal to some sort of mystical feeling of assurance that God has given us. It just "feels" right is not a very strong apologetic, but this is what Bavinck teaches, and he is supposedly the most influential figure on the apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. 

    While the church as the community of believers is the context within which the Spirit’s testimony is confirmed, Scripture’s authority is not granted by the church’s decision. The opposite is true: Scripture founded the church. Through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, Scripture is self-authenticating. Under pressure from the rationalism of the Socinians, Remonstrants, and Roman Catholics, even some Reformed theologians such as Amyrald weakened this inner testimony by identifying it with the illumination of the intellect.
Couldn't the illumination of the intellect be true, at least in some sense? I believe Bavinck also says that Turretin along with Amyrald and others taught this. Scripture is authoritative because it is God's Word, but we have to come to know and see that it is God's Word before we can submit to it. God, by removing our enslaved love for sin, removes the resistance to receive the gospel and God's Word as from Him. But again, this is done through means, through natural revelation, through the credibility of those who wrote Scripture, through what Scripture itself teaches in all its majesty, scope, harmony, and style. The very profundity of Scripture is a means by which the Spirit works to bring us to a place of trusting in Scripture.  
    In modern theology of the nineteenth century, the rationalism of Kant and Lessing and the romanticism of Schleiermacher contributed to a return of the conviction that the truth of faith is different and cannot be validated finally by proofs of reason. Though modern theologians are still far from Calvin’s doctrine of the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the turn away from external proofs to the religious subject as the final ground of faith is a salutary development.
Again, why the either-or? Why the dichotomy between proofs of reason and the religious subject? Also, Bavinck earlier mentioned that Calvin himself offered up proofs for the trustworthiness of Scripture, so if Calvin did view things as Bavinck claims he did, Calvin was inconsistent with himself, as Bavinck himself has admitted.   
    At the same time the uniqueness of faith’s ground and thus of theology as a science must not lead us to overlook the fact that all truth, all science, has a subjective starting point. All that is objective can be approached only from the vantage point of the subject; the thing in itself is unknowable and does not exist for us. All knowledge is based on a kind of agreement between subject and object, an agreement that originates from the divine mind of the Creator. It is the one self-same Logos who made all things in and outside of human beings. And it is the Spirit of God who is the source and agent of all life in humanity and in the world. All cognition of truth is a witness of the Spirit of God to the Word, by whom all things are made.
I like this more, but it sounds somewhat contradictory to what he said above. However, I would like to ask, if Christ representing the Father in human flesh for us, then did we not come to know God in Himself? By way of analogy, yes, but is not what Christ modeled for us a true and accurate depiction of God Himself? If Bavinck simply means that we cannot know God from the vantage point of being God ourselves, then of course I agree with that.  
    Nonetheless, the external source of the Christian religion is not God’s general revelation in nature but his special revelation in Scripture and in Christ. And it is the internal testimony of the Spirit that must correspond to that external source. This inner testimony is not a new revelation but recognition of a truth that exists independent of our subjective awareness. The parallel is with the moral law whose authority as God’s will is also self-authenticating. Christians believe the truth of Scripture because “God said it.”
Yes we believe the truth of Scripture because God said it, but how do we know God said it is the question. I would argue that the inner testimony of the Spirit is a new revelation under Bavinck's scheme because it is revealing to us the truth that exists outside of us. Isn't all revelation a revealing to humans of truth, and wasn't that truth there before it was revealed to humans? Of course it was there, because the truth being revealed is the truth of God Himself. Now I recognize that when a tribal people here the gospel for the first time they are not getting fresh revelation. But if the Spirit "reveals" to them that this is from God, isn't that revelatory in some sense? Isn't it a speaking of truth from God Himself into the hearts of these tribal people? Even if it is repeated isn't it a revelation of sorts? But if the Spirit is actually working through means, as I believe, with our intellect, with the external proofs, with the message itself, and if the Spirit removes our stony hearts, no new revelation has been added. Rather, eyes have been opened. Ears have been given to hear. Jesus made it clear that for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, the gospel is mighty to save (Mark 4:10-12; Matt. 13:15).   

Back to Bavinck:
    This does not mean, however, that believers have nothing but their subjectivity as a response to opponents of the faith. Unbelief too, it must be said, is also rooted in the human heart. In addition, the inner testimony of the Spirit is not private but universal. The church of all ages bears witness to Scripture as the Word of God. Nurtured in community, faith does not come into being by the insight of our intellect or a decision of our will but by the gracious and overpowering illumination of God’s Spirit. Because our wills are transformed and renewed, our believing is a free act of self-denial. True knowledge of God is compelling but never coerced.
Hard for me to follow his reasoning here. So the Spirit overpoweringly illuminates us, apparently apart from the insight of our intellect or a decision of our will, but yet our wills are transformed and renewed. So the Spirit overpowers us and yet then we believe by a free act of self-denial. The Spirit makes us willing to believe I think, but again, not apart from our minds grasping the gospel and seeing the reasonableness of it and understanding that it is possible, and reasonable, for the atonement to actually have occurred in history. 
    Opposition to faith also comes from within. Sins of the heart and errors of the mind gang up on faith as believers continue to experience the conflict within between “spirit” and “flesh.” God himself is the final ground of our faith and the testimony of the Holy Spirit is, in the first place, assurance that we are God’s children. The illumination of the Holy Spirit is not the cognitive source of Christian truth; it only seals in our hearts the truth of Scripture and salvation history. Faith is concentrated on the historic realities of redemption and results in trust that these historic acts are God’s saving acts for us. It is the same Spirit that inspired the apostolic witness that now seals the truth of that witness in believers’ hearts. Christians submit to Scripture because they believe it is a divine word, a word from God.
Agreed, we submit to Scripture and believe that it is a divine word of God because we believe it to be so, and the Spirit leads us to believe so, but not of Himself. Again, through means, but I am beginning to sound like a broken record.  
    This testimony of the Holy Spirit is not nullified by the variable responses to it among believers. Still, when it comes to convictions concerning Scripture itself, there is remarkable unity among different church groups. Scripture has been given to the whole church, and the Spirit’s testimony concerning Scripture is a cornerstone of the church’s very existence. The authority of Scripture, accepted in Spirit-inspired faith, is a powerful self-asserted authority. We believe it because God said it, and God’s speaking is the final ground of our faith. There is no power in the world comparable to that of Scripture.

Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2003). Reformed dogmatics: Prolegomena (Vol. 1, pp. 561–563). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Agreed, once we come to the place where we see that the Bible is God's Word, whatever God says, we believe, because He has spoken. I don't think I need to note my differences once more. 

Faith and Theology

We have now arrived at the final chapter, and likely the high point of my disagreement with Bavinck. Here goes: 

    The certainty of faith rests in the Word of God and does not require theological science. Some Christians even deny the validity and value of theology, favoring a simple, practical Christianity. Following Renaissance humanism’s repudiation of scholasticism, Reformation thinkers initially also concentrated on the practical benefits of faith. Over time antipathy to dogmatics became more general. Theology became regarded as the offspring of an ill-starred marriage between original Christian and Greek philosophy in which the pure, simple gospel of Jesus had been falsified. The life of Christian love was said to have been turned into cold and arid orthodoxy, a “knowledge” that conflicts with modern science.
    Some of these complaints against theology are valid. It has sometimes lacked appropriate humility and degenerated into hairsplitting. However, abuse does not cancel out use, and ignoring theology reduces the Christian religion to feeling. Not only is theology important for the sake of clarity; it is also important to avoid the one-sided interpretations of the gospel that arise from a split between faith and metaphysics. Efforts to locate a “pure” gospel behind the dogmas of the Christian church lead to a canon within the canon and break fellowship with the universal church of all ages. Invalidating the history of dogma also forfeits the opportunity to influence the culture and science of our own day. The Christian life slips into the pathologies of mysticism and separatism, and scientific thought is not freed from error by the truth of Christ.
For the life of me I do not understand why so many think of the gospel as something other than a bit of theology, and everything after the gospel as theology. Bavinck says we start with faith, and then that faith, when it actually wants to understand why it believes, begins to engage in theology. But why do we believe the gospel? Well, you know my reasons, but for Bavinck, he would say because the Spirit has told believers that the gospel is true. Only after having the warm fuzzy Holy Spirit feeling do we then begin to ask ourselves just why is this true, or something like that.  
    The validity of theology arises from the essence of the Christian faith itself as divine revelation addresses humanity in its totality and in all its life relationships. From the beginning Christian theology has used the insights of the philosophic tradition to understand and explain the faith. Christian theology did not simply adopt one philosophic system wholesale but borrowed from many, though always testing philosophies by revelation. Theology thus arises from the church as believers think through the precepts of the faith.
To be sure, when we first come to faith, we understand much less than we do as we grow in the faith and examine it more closely. But that is very different than saying we understand nothing or very little at the beginning of our faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. We have to have a basic understanding of the gospel, something I think Bavinck would agree with, though I am doubtful he would say we have to have an understanding of why we believe in the truthfulness and reality and goodness of the gospel, other than that something inside you, namely the Holy Spirit (and how we know it is the Holy Spirit and not just our own personal thoughts, who knows) has not made it probable that it is so, but absolutely certain.  
    Though theology moves “from faith to understanding” (Augustine), it is nevertheless distinct from faith and is a fruit of the church as organism rather than institute. The distinction between faith and theology is clear from efforts in the church to distinguish the basic truths that must be affirmed to be a Christian from the larger body of truths discussed by theologians. The Roman Catholic notion of “implicit faith,” as well as the Protestant distinction between “infused theology” (all believers) and “acquired theology” (scientific theologians only), or later between “fundamental” and “non-fundamental” articles of faith, all reflect the distinction between faith and theology both in content and scope. Sadly, these discussions led in some quarters to divisions among believers along the lines of head and heart, doctrine and life, and rationalism versus pietism.
I would say there is a distinction between basic theology and deeper, more advanced theology, but the gospel itself, and faith in it, is still at root theology.  
    Though the distinction between essential and non-essential articles of faith was important for ecumenical relations between different Protestant groups, it had the potential for reducing the faith to quantitative measurement. Such an arithmetic of belief obscured the qualitative gracious, personal, organic relation to Christ so important in the Reformation protest against Roman Catholic sacramentalism and its doctrine of implicit faith. For the Reformers all believers, in principle, share the same knowledge and trust in the grace of God. Theology deepens and broadens this faith-knowledge but remains inextricably connected to it. Theology is a source of faith; its “object” is accessible only through faith, it reflects on the content of faith, and it is to be done in faith. They both need each other. Faith preserves theology from secularization; theology preserves faith from separatism. Thus the church and theological schools ought to be in solidarity with each other.
On the whole I agree here.  
    Since theology is believing reflection on faith, we must also consider the role of reason in theology. Reason and faith must not be dualistically separated. Faith is, after all, not an organ or faculty next to or above reason but a disposition or habit of reason itself. Faith is a voluntary act of the human consciousness and as a habit becomes the natural breath of the children of God. Faith does not relieve Christians of the desire and need to study and reflect on faith, it spurs them on to that end. Theology requires disciplined preparation in the arts more broadly. This equips one for the task of building a theological system organically from the whole of Scripture in its literary diversity. Then follows the task of intellectually mining the material gathered from Scripture and recapitulating it into a meaningful system of thought in the language of the day.
Very odd to me that now Bavinck says that faith is not separate from reason but a part of reason itself. I say odd because I would agree that once reason finds something that is rational/reasonable, it would then be most reasonable to have faith in the reasonable thing. I guess Bavinck would say that if you are internally certain that the Holy Spirit has spoken to you that God's Word and the gospel is true, then the reasonable thing to do would be to have faith that this in fact is so, with absolute certainty.  
    The theological task also calls for humility. Full comprehension is impossible; wonder and mystery always remain. This must not be identified with the New Testament notion of mystery, which refers to that which was unknown but has now been revealed in the history of salvation culminating in Christ. Neither is it a secret gnosis available only to an elite, nor is it unknown because of the great divide between the natural and the supernatural. The divide is not so much metaphysical as it is spiritual—sin is the barrier. The wonder of God’s love may not be fully comprehended by believers in this age, but what is known in part and seen in part is known and seen. In faithful wonder the believer is not conscious of living in the face of mystery that surpasses reason and thus it is not an intellectual burden. Rather, in the joy of God’s grace there is intellectual liberation. Faith turns to wonder; knowledge terminates in adoration; and confession becomes a song of praise and thanksgiving. Faith is the knowledge which is life, “eternal life” (John 17:3).

Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2003). Reformed dogmatics: Prolegomena (Vol. 1, pp. 601–602). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

In the end Bavinck wants to say that Christianity isn't gnostic. He also wants to say that intellectual gifting doesn't have much to do with how much of God's Word one can know. That I disagree with, in part. Someone smarter than me can likely know and understand more of God's Word more quickly, and because of that advance farther in knowledge than I can, if they put their minds to it. There may even be some things that are simply difficult for me to grasp. While I agree that most all people can understand Scripture and even deep things of Scripture, it will be harder for some. But that's okay. God has given each of us different capacities, and the essentials are known easily enough for all to live in accordance with God's will in all their lives. 

To close, I would like to give a short analysis of what I think of Bavinck and his view that the Holy Spirit is what causes us to believe with certainty that God's Word is indeed His Word. I think Bavinck asserts this because of the attack on God's Word, and because Bavinck had bought into some of the philosophy of Kant and others. He wanted to look for another kind of certainty, the certainty of faith, because the philosophers of the day and the culture he was in had convinced him that he could not be certain of Christianity through proofs or evidences or the content of Scripture itself. He had to go beyond that, and in so doing, I think he does root the faith into a mysticism of sorts. It is the secret whispering, or the internal gut feeling, that now grounds our faith. We believe the Word of God is God's Word because the Bible tells me so, and I know that what it tells me is true because the Holy Spirit assures me that it is so. If you don't have this internal gut feeling, tough luck. 

I think Scripture tells another story. I think all men are without excuse due to the creation and the conscience within that God has given every person. I think all men would turn to God for forgiveness based on the evidence of their conscience and the evidence of God's creation but for their sinful hearts, their deadness in trespasses and sins. I think in glory we will see so much more of God displayed in His creation, even in what was His fallen creation, and from what He had placed in our hearts. We will see just how wicked we were in suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness, even in those who did not receive the gospel.  

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. 

Part 10 of Let's Read Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics

Well, we are now approximately halfway through Prolegomena. I did not intend to do more than five or six posts, and now we are our tenth. I hope to finish this in twelve posts, at most thirteen. I have been reading this a few chapters at a time up to this point, but now I have finished Prolegomena. Bavinck is quite fond of repetitiveness, so I don't think chopping the length of the posts down and adding more chapters will be much of a problem.

Special Revelation

Here is the summary of this chapter: 
    Religion cannot survive on general revelation alone; a special divine disclosure or manifestation is needed. All religion can be reduced to three basic means. First, religious belief desires a God who is near so that in almost every religion there are holy places, holy times, and holy images. Second, in all religions one can find the belief that the gods in some way reveal their will to human beings. Finally, there is a universal belief in the special assistance of the gods in times of distress. Belief in manifestation, prediction, and miracle are thus necessary elements in all religions. Biblical religion may share some forms with other religions (sacrifices, temples, priests), but its substance is categorically different. In Scripture God takes the initiative; the Messiah came forth only from Israel.
So for Bavinck while Christianity is in many ways a lot like other religions, it's also very different. Particularly, God is the one who initiates correspondence and was for Israel. When I look at all the other religions in the ancient near east, I don't get the sense that any of them would claim that their god was only for them. Not that I have studied that issue very much at all, but it seems to me that Israel's claim that they had the one true God was very distinct from other nations claims, who worshiped many gods and even incorporated other gods into their worship rotation. Bavinck does mention that he believes early religion was something like monotheism, but I don't know enough one way or another to comment on that.
    A frequent mode of biblical revelation is a perceptible divine presence, a theophany (angelophany). These manifestations do not presuppose God’s corporeality nor are they emanations of the divine Being. These appearances can be impersonal presence (wind, fire) or via personal beings (angels). Among God’s envoys the Messenger of God occupies a special place. This theophany is still incomplete; theophany reaches its climax in Jesus Christ.
    Prophecy, or “inspiration,” is another mode of revelation; in it God communicates his thoughts to human beings. This address can be an audible voice, a dream, a vision, or a communication by casting lots (Urim and Thummim). Again, in form these are similar to their function in nonbiblical religions, though significant differences remain. Unlike the Greek seers, the biblical recipients of revelation did not experience a suppression of consciousness. Biblical prophetic ecstasy occurred in a state of conscious wakefulness, and most revelations to prophets occurred apart from visionary experience but through the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit. This is confirmed by the New Testament’s testimony concerning the Old Testament’s prophetic word.
My impression of the OT is not that most of the prophets received revelations through inward illumination apart from visionary experience. But Bavinck points out:

"Also in the OT most revelations to the prophets occurred without any vision, e.g., in the case of Isaiah, Haggai, Malachi, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. Granted, the word “vision” was still frequently used for divine prophecy, but this also occurs where nothing has been seen (Isa. 1:1; 2:1; Amos 1:1; Hab. 1:1; 2:1; 1 Sam. 3:15; Obad. 1; Nah. 1:1; etc.). The revelation then occurs inwardly by the Spirit as the Spirit of revelation."

Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2003). Reformed dogmatics: Prolegomena (Vol. 1, p. 334). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

I also don't like using the language of inward illumination to describe new revelation. Bavinck makes it clear that in the NT, with Christ as our final revelation, we do not receive new revelation as we understand Scripture through the aid of the Holy Spirit, but the way He describes the role of the Holy Spirit in helping us understand seems very problematic to me. Mystical even, which he in essence will say later on.
    While the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament comes upon a person momentarily, it is not until the New Testament that the supreme and definitive prophet makes his appearance. While some individual believers are still equipped by the Holy Spirit for the office of prophet, it is more important to underscore the universal prophetic task of all believers. Prophecy as a special gift is destined to pass away in the New Jerusalem.
This too was a bit confusing to me. I don't think we think of there being "prophets" today. But Bavinck says:

"Certain special individuals are still equipped for the office of prophet by that Spirit (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 14:3; Eph. 2:20; 3:5; etc.), nor is true prediction lacking in the NT (Matt 24; Acts 20:23; 21:10; 1 Cor. 15; 2 Thess. 2; Revelation). Still, now all believers have the anointing of the Spirit (1 John 2:20) and are taught by the Lord (Matt. 11:25–27; John 6:45). All are prophets who proclaim the excellencies of the Lord (Acts 2:17f.; 1 Pet. 2:9). Prophecy as a special gift will pass away (1 Cor. 13:8). In the new Jerusalem, the name of God will be upon everyone’s forehead, and falsehood will be completely excluded (Rev. 21:27; 22:4, 15)

Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2003). Reformed dogmatics: Prolegomena (Vol. 1, pp. 335–336). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Continuing the summary now:
    In miracles God reveals himself by his works. Word and deed go together; God’s word is an act, and his activity is speech. God’s works are first to be observed in creation and providence, which are an ongoing work and a miracle. A distinction must be maintained, however, between the ordinary order of nature and extraordinary deeds of divine power. In a special way, the latter are miracles, God doing something new. Thus the history of salvation is replete with miracles until the consummation. The anticipation of this final glory can be seen in the powerful signs of the kingdom performed by Jesus as acts of healing and restoring creation. When Christianity became established, God began to manifest his power and glory in spiritual miracles. Miracles have ceased until the fullness of Christ’s kingdom comes in all its glory.
    God’s self-revelation to us does not come in bits and pieces; it is an organic whole, a grand narrative from creation to consummation. All nature and history testify to God the Creator; all things return to him. Fallen humanity sees this revelation only in part and with blinded eyes. A special revelation is needed that is provided in grace. In this revelation God makes himself known to us as the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This revelation is historical and progresses over the course of many centuries, reaching it culmination in Jesus Christ, the Mediator of creation and redemption. From this history we discover that revelation is not exclusively addressed to the human intellect. In Christ, God himself comes to us in saving power. At the same time we must not make the opposite error and deny that revelation communicates truth and doctrine. Revelatory word and deed belong together in God’s plan and acts of salvation.
I find it comforting and corroborating that the Christian faith expands a period of over a thousand years of revelation. There are witnesses to the truth of this revelation all along the way, at each step and development. I know of no other religion that can boast this.
    Finally, the purpose and goal of special revelation is God’s own trinitarian glory, his delight in himself. The aim of revelation is to re-create humanity after the image of God, to establish the kingdom of God on earth, to redeem the world from the power of sin, and thus to glorify the name of the Lord in all his creatures. In addition to the objective work of Christ in revelation and redemption, the work of the Spirit is needed to enable human beings to acknowledge and accept the divine revelation and thereby become the image of the Son. God redeems and reveals; we know, understand, and believe. Revelation and religion are distinct but not separable. Revelation is possible only if God has a personal existence distinct from the world and possesses the will and power to reveal himself in deeds and words.
This all sounds solid to me. Again, I think I have some substantial differences regarding the way in which the Holy Spirit enables human beings to acknowledge and accept divine revelation, but that the Holy Spirit indeed does this through means I certainly affirm.  

Revelation in Nature and Holy Scripture

Here is the summary for this chapter:

    The doctrine of revelation is misconstrued by naturalism and supernaturalism alike. Since naturalism considers the material and sensible world along with its internal laws to be all that there is, some notion of the supernatural is needed to affirm the reality of God. The term “supernatural” should not be used for the higher capacities of the human spirit such as morality and genius. Nor must the supernatural be confused with the miraculous. Though all miracles are supernatural, not all supernatural events are miraculous. While the distinction is helpful, the great risk here is that special (supernatural) revelation become dualistically detached from creation and nature. Special revelation should never be separated from its organic connection to history, the world, and humanity.
 This I agree with, and here Bavinck will make some good points, about how in essence everything is a revelation from God in so far as it is from His mind and He has brought everything about. My beef with Bavinck will be that he will argue that the unbeliever has no recognition of natural revelation because he is not capable of recognizing it. Bavinck likes to say a lot and make you doubt what he means, but I am fairly confident in saying that he believes only the regenerate can look back from his vantage point of faith and see God through natural revelation. How Bavinck squares this with Romans 1 I do not know. The unbeliever suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, and I would argue that some, like atheists, do so to the point where they convince themselves that there is no God nor any evidence for him. But they had to see something of God in natural revelation in order to arrive at that degree of suppression.
    Roman Catholic supernaturalism fails to keep this organic link between nature and grace. The result is a twofold conception of human nature and destiny along with a dualism of spiritual callings; the order of grace is elevated above nature, and all reality becomes sacred or profane depending on whether it has been sacramentally sanctified. Reality becomes holy only by an ecclesiastical act of consecration and is thus incorporated into the service of the church.
There's a lot of good stuff about the Roman Catholic church in here from Bavinck. Sadly I can't include much of it for the sake of brevity.
    The Reformation converted this quantitative antithesis between revelation and nature into a qualitative one. Grace was not opposed to nature but to sin. The reality of the incarnation militates against any nature/grace dualism; the gospel is not hostile to the world as creation but to the world under dominion of sin.
A very important point for all times. If we see nature as itself bad, or even inferior, then we are wrongheaded, for God Himself made all things and His Son became a man.  Creation is good, for God has made it. And if God's grace has as its scope the restoration of nature, then man and nature remain intimately bound together, and through nature we do glorify and enjoy God.
    If supernaturalism undervalues nature, naturalism exalts it at the expense of revelation. Rationalists and deists accept the idea of revelation only insofar as it satisfies the bar of reason. The arguments against revelation arise from the conviction that all revelation is at odds with reason and science, which do not need the hypothesis of God or the supernatural. In addition, even if revelation occurred, we would not be able to recognize it. This is not the end of the matter, however, since rationalism must still account for the universality of religion and the accompanying conviction among people that their religion is based on revelation. Shifting and conflicting interpretations indicate the elusiveness of a satisfactory purely scientific explanation.
Bavinck is opposed, as I think most presuppositionalists are, to ever putting revelation under the scrutiny of man and his reason. I agree that, once something is recognized as revelation, then we cannot question it, for God has spoken. The question remains, however, how do we know that it is indeed God who has spoken in Scripture. Bavinck does not answer that satisfactorily for me. He would probably accuse me of having a deistic mindset, but in all of his critiquing I never saw him precisely critique my position, so maybe he wouldn't think of me quite so badly.
    Scripture, however, resists all naturalistic and rationalist explanations of its origin and attributes it solely to an extraordinary operative presence of God the Holy Spirit. Scripture does not give us data to interpret; it is itself the interpretation of reality, the shaper of a distinct worldview. This theistic worldview is sharply opposed by monism, which reduces all reality to a single substance, either matter (materialism) or mind (pantheism). Theism, by contrast, honors the distinction between God and the world and the distinct realities of the world. Instead of monistic uniformity, theism aims at unity in diversity, honoring the multiformity of creation itself. This unity is not based on a single metaphysical substance but is rooted in the creative will of the Triune God.
    This worldview is fully compatible with the reality of revelation and miracles. Nature is not a machine, as deists claim, nor a finished product but in the process of becoming. Revelation and miracles are not contrary to nature but part of a nature caught up in an ongoing teleological development toward its divine destiny. Miracles are not alien intruders in a fallen creation but are incorporated in the divine design of the world itself and serve God’s work of redeeming and perfecting fallen nature. Revelation and miracles are not simply individual acts of God but follow a divinely planned order in a progressive history. In revelation God comes to us to bring us to him to dwell with us forever.
Bavinck points out that all of human history, including his miraculous interactions with it, are part of the plan, and in that sense are natural. It's an interesting and helpful concept though only insofar as combating deism and other belief systems that would reject this and miracles out of hand.

    Still, revelation and miracles constitute an order of reality that is essentially distinct from the ordinary order of nature. They are not simply the product of a heightened natural capacity of inspired human beings. Nor should they be linked to such esoteric phenomena as spiritism, hypnotism, and telepathy. The miracles of Scripture are a unique and an indispensable component of a Christian worldview. God’s presence and activity is neither restricted to the natural order nor excluded from it. Revelation and miracle are at the same time closely bound to the natural and distinct from it.
    Not only is there a close bond between religion and revelation but also one between revelation and scripture. Almost all religions have some texts that include myths, ceremonial rules, liturgical texts, priestly documents, and so forth. Many also have a sacred book or collection of books serving as sacred scripture. These scriptures contain the content of religion, its ideas, doctrine, dogma, which it owes to revelation, expresses in words, passes over from one generation to another, and finally renders permanent in scripture. The written word is the incarnation of the spoken word and renders revelation permanent, universal, everlasting. This must not be understood as Lessing did, namely in opposition to the truths of history. History is itself the realization of God’s thoughts, the expression of his divine plan. The truths of history are not “accidental” nor are the “truths of reason” universal in Lessing’s sense.
    In the Christian tradition truth is incarnational, based on the history of the incarnate Son of God in our space and time. It is a truth both historical and universal and is borne through history incarnationally, through the tradition of the church universal. For divine revelation to fully enter the life of humankind, it assumed the servant form of written language. In this sense Scripture too is an incarnation of God, the product of God’s incarnation in Christ. Twin errors are to be rejected. The first is to equate scriptural revelation with inspiration itself, thus separating Scripture from the history of redemption and revelation that stands behind it. It is worth noting that not all inspiration and revelation given by God is recorded in Scripture. The second error is to devalue the “letter” of the written Word in favor of the “spirit.” Scripture alone is the one certain revelation we have from God. For the church, revelation is found in the form of Holy Scripture.
This is to be understood so that we do not try to incorporate our own private revelations into what God is calling his church to do. The fact that there are other revelations that occurred in the past and yet were not recorded in Scripture is an indication that what we are to follow is only that which has been given to us in Scripture. That is not to say that the other revelations were not valid, but only that what God has intended for his church universal is complete and has been given to us only in sacred Scripture. Even if one were to claim they had a word from God today, it could not contradict Scripture, nor could it add to it, which also indicates that the revelation is unnecessary. The Spirit illumines Scripture for us, working with our mind and intellect, helping us see what the point of Scripture. It does not give us new revelation today, for Christ is our final revelation.  
    Revelation as a whole is not complete until the parousia of Christ. It is divided into two dispensations, the objective revelation of God in Christ (including the Old Testament time of preparation) and the dispensation of the Spirit, in which the objective salvation in Christ is subjectively appropriated by the believer. There is no new objective revelation in the dispensation of the Spirit; the Holy Spirit applies the finished work of Christ, God’s full gift and revelation to humanity. The effect of Christ’s work continues as history continues to be unfolded according to God’s purpose, until God is dwelling with humanity. The Spirit regenerates individual believers, gathers and indwells the church, and affects the consciousness of humanity. The life of the church is a mystery without the light of Scripture, while apart from the church Scripture is an enigma and offense. Until the consummation when revelation ends and Scripture is no longer necessary, church and Scripture are inseparably joined by God the Holy Spirit.
I like Bavinck's thoughts that the church, while being illumined by the Spirit to understand Scripture, is still carrying out redemptive history. Too easily I think of the close of Scripture as kind of like the end of redemptive history, at least until Christ returns. But there are many times in Scripture when new revelation is not being given, and yet redemptive history is still unfolding. Of course, all history is redemptive history, broadly speaking, and it is exciting to know that as believers we are a part of God's grand story, which is still unfolding. This helps combat a dispensational mindset that might push us towards thinking that once we are saved we need to just sit in our lifeboats and wait until Christ returns. No, there is work to be done, including evangelism, but then as Christians we are to glorify God in all that we do, especially in our work and culture making.

I do fear that Bavinck goes a bit too far. At one point he said that the early church was essentially ignorant of what the Christian faith really was, and only over time did they come to understand what it was that they even believed in. Taken literally, that would be impossible. We cannot believe and trust in that which we utterly do not know or understand. Yet Bavinck seems to make that the very paradigm of the Christian life, and faith itself is the beginning of theology. For Bavinck, we do not understand and then believe, but by believing, we then come to understand. 


The Inspiration of Scripture 

Last chapter for this post, I promise: 

    Evidence for the doctrine that Scripture is inspired by God is found already in the Old Testament. The prophets were conscious of being called by God and having a message that was not their own word but God’s. The same is true for the written prophetic word. Written prophecy is a later but necessary stage in the history of revelation, a way for the divinely inspired prophetic word to address future generations. The prophets did not, as is claimed by critical scholars, “invent” ethical monotheism. Prophecy presumes the Torah, though it is not simply inferred from it; prophecy is a covenant-renewing new revelation. The historical books of the Old Testament are properly prophetic history, a commentary on the divine acts of salvation history. The poetic books, too, presuppose an earlier, objective revelation from the covenantal God and apply it to the religious-ethical aspects of Israel’s life. Eventually, these writings were all received as an authoritative canon.
    For Jesus and the apostles, the books of the Old Testament canon had divine authority. This is reflected in the way they refer to the Old Testament as authoritative (“it is written,” “Scripture says”). In addition Scripture provides self-testimony of its inspiration in explicit passages such as 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:19, 21. Not only is the Old Testament frequently cited in the New Testament—commonly in the Greek translation of the LXX—but it is also always acknowledged as authoritative. This is not challenged by the various and diverse manners in which the New Testament authors cite the Old Testament. The New Testament ultimately, also in its use of the Old Testament, seeks in the power of the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the Christ. It is this apostolic testimony that led to the church accepting these writings as canonical. It is Christ himself who is the “Word” to whom Scripture bears testimony.
At this point I was digging Bavinck quite a bit. After all he says the apostolic testimony led the church to accept the writings as canonical. So there indeed was a reason. But later Bavinck will seem to say just the opposite, that basically it is the subjective impression that the Holy Spirit gives a believer that is the ground of our faith. Again, I think the Holy Spirit does give us saving faith, and trust that the Scriptures are indeed the Word of God, but always through means. Always through that which is evident and reasonable, such as the testimony of the apostolic testimony. Why Bavinck capitulates on this later I do not understand. If there was a process of recognizing Scripture as canon, then why wouldn't there be a mental process today for those who are coming to faith in Christ? Just because it is now compiled into a Bible does not mean that it takes on some higher, holier status than it did before it was completely compiled. It was holy from the beginning, because it was inspired from the beginning. So when we examine a text purporting to be from God Himself, it would be wise to make sure as far as we can that such a claim is reasonable. And once we come to see that it is divine, we must submit to it, wholeheartedly, without question. Even what we do not understand, we must submit to, and we must also strive to understand it, because God does not speak in contradictions, but in truth. And as believers we have the mind of God and can understand His Word rationally with help from the Holy Spirit.   
    From its very beginning, the Christian church has always accepted Holy Scripture as the Word of God, beginning with the Old Testament. As this recognition was extended to include the apostolic writings of the New Testament, the conviction that these were “divine writings” was the church’s universal belief. Formally speaking, the acknowledgment of Scripture as divine and authoritative revelation enjoyed undisputed sway in the medieval church. The Council of Trent affirmed this trust in the Scriptures, though it also extended inspiration to the church’s tradition. In the post-Tridentine era, Roman Catholic theologians developed a variety of views on scriptural inspiration, including differing convictions about the nature and extent of inspiration. Some maintained the more rigorous view that the Spirit of God exerted a positive influence on the authors, extending even to individual words. A less rigorous view rejected the verbal inspiration of Scripture and extended the notion of general inspiration to other writings as well, provided they contained no falsehoods. Yet others held to the view that the Spirit’s guidance was only passive or negative, preserving the authors from error. Finally, yet others limited inspiration only to the so-called religious-ethical teachings, allowing for varying degrees of fallibility for the rest.
    Modern Roman Catholic thought tends toward a middle way between the rigorous notion of verbal inspiration and ideas of limited inspiration. A growing trend among Roman Catholic theologians is “concessionism,” an attempt to affirm biblical inspiration in a general sense while also accepting many of the most radical conclusions of historical criticism.

I don't remember if Bavinck says this later or has already said it, but essentially the Roman Catholic church makes a parallel of Scripture and their own tradition, and in the end, tradition interprets Scripture, making it (though they deny this) the final arbiter of truth.
    By contrast, the Reformers fully accepted the God-breathed character of Scripture. They accepted inspiration in its full positive sense and extended it to Scripture in all its parts. However, in the eighteenth century rationalist criticism rose again and separated the “Word of God” from the Bible. The difference between the inspiration of biblical writers and all believers was seen to be only a matter of degree. Scripture, judged in many ways to be fallible and deficient, was still believed in some way to reveal God or at least the person of Christ. A great deal of attention is paid to the doctrine of biblical inspiration in the modern era, though critical hostility to the Bible seems to have increased.
    This is an unstable situation, intellectually and spiritually, and occasionally draws some theologians back to a higher view of inspiration and revelation. The situation in the church seems to be better than in the academy. There are still many Christians in whom remains the consciousness of Scripture as God-breathed and authoritative for teaching and practice. Efforts to undermine this confidence continue when modernists elevate the teaching of Jesus over that of the apostles. Others acknowledge a weaker form of inspiration but insist upon accommodating it to the phenomena of Scripture from which they deduce a view of inspiration at odds with Scripture’s self-witness. This is improper in that it opposes a theologian’s own scientific insight to Scripture’s teaching about itself. No doctrine about Scripture can be based on such a method.
Bavinck points out that since Scripture claims to be inspired, then to say that in some places it is and others it isn't is to push against whatever is inspired. In a sense it has to be all or nothing. Either all of Scripture is inspired, or none of it is, at least not without a mixture of error (and then are we even talking about inspiration?). I suppose one could argue that since the Bible is a collection of individual books that one individual book could be inspired and others not, but so many attest to the inspiration of other books in the Bible that it is a difficult thing to split up.
    Scripture says about itself that it is “divinely inspired” or “God-breathed” (θεοπνευστος, 2 Tim. 3:16). This verbal should be taken in a passive rather than active sense; the Bible is inspired as well as inspiring. Inspiration is possible because the Spirit of God is immanent in creation, though biblical inspiration may not be equated with heroic, poetic, or other religious inspiration. It is not a work of God’s general providence but of his saving purpose in special revelation. Prophets and apostles are people “borne by God” (2 Pet. 1:19–21); it is God who speaks in and through them.
    Inspiration should not be reduced to mere preservation from error, nor should it be taken in a “dynamic” way as the inspiration of persons. The view that inspiration consists only in actively arousing religious affections in the biblical authors, which were then committed to writing, confuses inspiration with regeneration and puts Scripture on par with devotional literature. At the same time a “mechanical” view of inspiration fails to do justice to the role of the biblical writers as secondary authors. One-sidedly emphasizing the divine, supernatural element in inspiration disregards its connection with the author’s gifts, personality, and historical context. God treats human beings, including the biblical writers, not as blocks of wood but as intelligent and moral beings.
God uses the gifts He Himself has given to His people to write Scripture. This is done in such a way that they write precisely what He wanted them to communicate, but it does not mean that they were given a dictation from God and told to write verbatim what He said. They spoke and wrote through their own personalities, and in many different genres throughout Scripture.
    Neither a “dynamic” nor a “mechanical” view suffices. The proper view of biblical inspiration is the organic one, which underscores the servant form of Scripture. The Bible is God’s word in human language. Organic inspiration is “graphic” inspiration, and it is foolish to distinguish inspired thoughts from words and words from letters. Scripture must not be read atomistically, as though each word or letter by itself has its own divine meaning. Words are included in thoughts and vowels in words. The full humanity of human language is taken seriously in the notion of organic inspiration.
    Critical opposition to this view of inspiration remains strong. While objections—e.g., from historical criticism—should not be ignored, we must not overlook the spiritual-ethical hostility to Scripture from the forces of unbelief. While not all questioning of Scripture reveals hostile unbelief, it is important to underscore the duty of every person to be humble before Scripture. Holy Scripture must judge us, not the reverse. The Holy Spirit opens our heart to trust, believe, and obey God’s Word in Scripture. Submission remains a struggle, also an intellectual one. We must acknowledge our limitations, the reality of mystery, our weakness of faith, without despairing of all knowledge and truth. Our hope is in Christ, the true man in whom human nature is restored. That is the purpose of Scripture: to make us wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15).
So Bavinck does seem to allow for some sort of examination of Scripture, but is quick to affirm that we must remain in submission to it. I think he would say that as we examine Scripture as believers we must never come to a point where we are questioning its truthfulness or goodness, but rather we must examine it carefully while remaining in submission to it. Of course as a believer I agree, but what if you are a believer and doubt, like Luther for a time, that James should be part of the canon of Scripture? If you are already having doubts and wish to examine it more closely, how do you go about doing so? That is a tough question I think.
    Salvation is in the one who considered nothing human as alien and through his Holy Spirit joins us to himself through a word that is also fully human and wholly true. The Bible is not given to us as a text for scientific investigation of creation, but it does provide principles for knowing and living that guide us all. These principles also guide scientists and are a source of blessing for science and art, society and state. Jesus is Savior, and the reach of his grace extends as far as the effects of sin’s corruption.

Agreed, and as an aside I would like to add that it seems much better that God has given us His Word over time, for reasons I mentioned above. It is quite helpful for my faith to look back and see the internal integrity and beauty of Scripture, that it is consistent and without proven error, and that it has done this, not by being dropped from the sky by God and given to us all at once at one point in time, but rather it has maintained this throughout the ages. And there have been witnesses all along the way to its truthfulness.   
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