Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics

The balance of objective special revelation and subjective special revelation:

“Scripture clearly teaches that God's full revelation has been given in Christ and that the Holy Spirit who was poured out in the church has come only to glorify Christ and take all things from Christ (John 16:14).
But to that end, accordingly, the activity of the Spirit is continually needed. For the special revelation in Christ is not meant to be restricted to himself but, proceeding from him, to be realized in the church, in humanity, in the world. The aim of revelation, after all, 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, in and through all this, to glorify the name of the Lord in all his creatures. In light of this, however, an objective revelation in Christ is not sufficient, but there needs to be added a working of the Spirit in order that human beings may acknowledge and accept that revelation of God and thereby become the image of the Son. Just as in the sciences the subject must correspond to the object, and in religion subjective religion must answer to objective religion, so external and objective revelation demands an internal revelation in the subject. Many people, accordingly, rightly attach great value to such an internal revelation. But it can come into its own only if it is positioned in relation to the objective revelation granted in Christ. Detached from or elevated above this revelation, it loses its criterion and corrective and opens the door to all sorts of arbitrariness and fanaticism. Even the very concept of subjective revelation is determined and controlled by that of objective revelation.”


I found myself nodding my head a lot during this section. As someone who grew up in a part of the church that is rife with ‘fanaticism,’ it’s refreshing to see the connection between objective and subjective. It seems growing up that the church I was in acknowledged both but did not consider their relationship, especially the ‘corrective’ nature of the scriptures. If God told/called you, God told/called you no matter what anyone/anything else said.
Sorry for the delay, it has been a busy 7 days.

Here is Bavinck working through what he calls ‘monism’ and ‘theism’

“The worldview that is opposed to Scripture and must in principle oppose all revelation can best be labeled monism. Monism, both in its pantheistic and in its materialistic form, strives to reduce all the forces, materials, and laws perceptible in nature to a single force, material, and law. Materialism only accepts qualitatively identical atoms, which everywhere and always work according to the same mechanical laws, and, by combination and separation, make and break all things and all phenomena. Pantheism only recognizes the existence of a single substance, which is the same in all creatures and which everywhere transmutes and transforms itself in accordance with the same laws of logic. Both materialism and pantheism are driven by the same urge, the urge and drive toward unity, which is characteristic of the human mind. But there is a difference. Materialism attempts to rediscover the unity of matter and law that holds sway in the physical world, in all other historical, psychological, religious, and ethical phenomena as well, and thus to transform all sciences into natural science. Pantheism, on the other hand, attempts to explain all phenomena, including the physical, in terms of the mind and to convert all sciences into the science of the mind. Both are naturalistic insofar as they may perhaps still make room for the supersensible, but not in any case for the supernatural, and with respect to so.
Pace and art, religion and morality, are content with this cosmos and the here-and-now.

The worldview of Scripture and of all of Christian theology is a very different one. Its name is theism, not monism; its orientation is supernatural, not naturalistic. According to this theistic worldview, there is a multipliciry of substances, forces, materials, and laws. It does not strive to erase the distinctions between God and the world, between spirit (mind) and matter, between psychological and physical, ethical and religious phenomena. It seeks rather to discover the harmony that holds all things together and unites them and that is the consequence of the creative thought of God. Not identity or uniformity but unity in diversity is what it aims at. Despite all the pretensions of monism, this theistic worldview has a right and reason to exist. It is a fact, after all, that monism has not succeeded in reducing all the forces and materials and laws to just one element. While materialism stumbles into psychological phenomena, pantheism cannot find a bridge between thought and existence and does not know what to do with multiplicity. Existence itself is a mystery and a miracle. That anything exists at all compels astonishment in the thinking mind, and this astonishment, accordingly, has rightly been called the beginning of philosophy. The more deeply human beings penetrate this existence intellectually, the more astonished they become, for within the sphere of existence, of the cosmos, we see various forces in action: in the mechanical, vegetative, animal, and psychological world, bus also in religious and ethical, aesthetic and logical, phenomena.”

Again, apologies for my inconsistency, please forgive me. We should now be back to our regularly scheduled program, d.v.

Here is Bavinck with a rather encouraging section on revelation. No revelation=no hope of a world to come. No revelation=a victory for death, in the end.

“Revelation is not an individual act of God in time, isolated from nature as a whole, but a world by itself, distinct from nature, to be sure, but still made for it, akin to it, and intended for it. In this system of revelation, which begins in paradise and ends only in the parousia, there is still much that is obscure and unexplained. But the outline of it can be discerned. Both in the history of prophecy and that of miracles there is discernible order and development. Revelation, too, has its own laws and rules. It is the beautiful assignment of the "history of revelation" to track them down and to discover the system that is concealed in its history. There are still many facts in it that cannot be understood in their true significance for, and connection with, the whole; also many words and deeds that cannot be subsumed under a specific rule. This need not surprise us and may by no means be exploited as a ground for unbelief. The philosophy of nature and history is likewise far from being finished with its work. It, too, is confronted at every moment by cruxes that it cannot unravel. Nevertheless, no one questions the unity of nature and the existence of a plan of history. By comparison with it, the situation of revelation is even quite favorable. Its outline is established. Beginning in paradise and ending in the parousia, it forms a grand story line that casts light on all of nature and history and thus, as Augustine puts it, by the ordinary protects the extraordinary from extravagance and ennobles the ordinary by the extraordinary. Without it we walk in darkness and go to the eternal rest of death without an answer to the question: what is the purpose of it all? But with it, we find ourselves in a world that, despite all the power of sin, is led to restoration and perfection. Israel is the preparation, Christ the center, the church the consequence, and the parousia the crown--that is the cord that binds the facts of revelation together.
Accordingly, faith in special revelation is ultimately one with faith in another and better world. If this world with its naturally immanent forces and laws is the only world and the best world, then of course we have to be content with it. Then the laws of nature are identical with the decrees of God; then the world is the Son, the Logos, the true image of God; then the order of nature in which we live is already the full and exhaustive revelation of God's wisdom, power, goodness, and holiness. But then what right do we have to expect that the "there" will one day become the "here,” that the ideal will become reality, that the good will triumph over evil, that the "world of values" will one day prevail over the "world of reality"? Evolution will not take us there. Nothing comes out of nothing (nihil fit ex nihilo). This world will never turn into a paradise. Nothing can come forth from it that is not in it. If there is no beyond (Jenseits), no God who is above nature, no supernatural order, then sin, darkness, and death have the last word. The revelation of Scripture makes known to us another world, a world of holiness and glory. This other world descends into this fallen world, not just as a doctrine but also as a divine power (δυναμις), as history, as reality, as a harmonious system of words and deeds in conjunction. It is work, no, as the work of God by which he lifts this world out of its fall and leads it out of the state of sin, through the state of grace, to the state of glory. Revelation is God's coming to humankind to dwell with it forever.”

376-377, bolded emphasis mine.
Here’s Bavinck on OT historical books.

“All the historical books of the OT were written by the prophets and in a prophetic spirit (1 Chron. 29:29; 2 Chron. 9:29; 20:34; etc.). In their speeches and writings the prophets not only refer repeatedly to Israel's history, but they are also the people who preserved, edited, and handed it down. But their purpose is by no means to furnish us with an accurate, connected story of the fortunes of the Israelitish people, as other historiographers aim to do. Also in the historical books of the OT, the prophets base themselves on the torah and from its viewpoint regard and describe the history of Israel Judg. 2:6-3:6;
2 Kings 17:7-23, 34 41). The historical books are commentary on the facts of God's covenant with Israel. They are not history in our sense of the word but prophecy; they are meant to be judged by another standard than the history How do books of other peoples. It is not their aim that we should acquire accurate knowledge of Israel's history but that in the history of Israel we should gain understanding of the revelation of God, his thought and his counsel. The prophets, both when they look back upon history and when they look forward into the future, are always messengers of the word of YHWH.”


This section got me thinking, how should be deal with their historical accuracy? If the point (which I tend to agree) is gain understanding in the revelation of God, does that give it a pass to be less accurate? These are things I’ve likewise thought about when it comes to the Gospels. How accurate, when it comes to details, should we expect the Gospels to be?
But their purpose is by no means to furnish us with an accurate, connected story of the fortunes of the Israelitish people, as other historiographers aim to do

I have no idea what Bavinck is referring to when he says "other historiographers aim to do" but in his essay and theological and religious studies, he seems to focus on the development of religions in cultures against facts and dates. In context here, it seems likely that he is teaching to leave fluid the possibility of dates of events and any systems that seek to "fill in the blanks" from king to king and prophet to prophet so that the commentaries can focus on the true history of covenant theology in Scripture and perhaps that that view should hold supreme in any history of any nation.

I would add that this is my two cents of course, except I am not sure it is even worth that much.
Bavinck here is dabbling in the NT’s use of the OT, something I find fascinating and complicated. Bavinck seems to go the ‘deeper meaning’ route; the NT authors find meaning that the OT authors were ignorant of. What are we to make of this? How does authorial intent inform our understanding of a passage? How do we safeguard against any number of crazy interpretations?

“In that connection we are often surprised by the meaning that the NT authors find in the text of the OT (esp. in Matt. 2:15, 18, 23; 21:5; 22:32; 26:31; 27:9, 10, 35; John 19:37; Acts 1:20; 2:31; 1 Cor. 9:9; Gal. 3:16; 4:22f.; Eph. 4:8f; Heb. 2:6-8; 10:5). In the case of Jesus and the apostles, this exegesis of the OT in the NT assumes the understanding that a word or sentence can have a much deeper meaning and a much farther reaching thrust than the original author suspected or put into it. This is often the case in classical authors as well. No one will think that Goethe, in writing down his classical poetry, consciously had before his mind the things that are now found in it. ‘Surely that person has not gotten far in poetry / In whose verses there is nothing more than what he had [consciously] written into them.’ In Scripture this is even much more strongly the case since, in the conviction of Jesus and the apostles, it has the Holy Spirit as its primary author and bears a teleological character. Not only in the few verses cited above but in its entire view and interpretation of the OT, the NT is undergirded by the thought that the Israelitish dispensation has its fulfillment in the Christian. The whole economy of the old covenant, with all its statutes and ordinances and throughout its history, points forward to the dispensation of the new covenant. Not Talmudism but Christianity is the rightful heir of the treasures of salvation promised to Abraham and his seed.”