Thursday, February 05, 2015

Bavinck on General Revelation, Nature, and Grace

Yet objectively nature is antecedent to grace; general revelation precedes special revelation; Grace presupposes nature. To deny that natural religion and natural theology are sufficient and have and have autonomous existence of their own is not in any way to do an injustice to the fact that from creation, from nature and history, from the human heart and conscience, there comes divine speech to every human. No one escapes the power of general revelation.

Elsewhere, Bavinck comments upon the notion that all humans “have a habit and disposition” to worship, vis-à-vis some, any known or unknown deity – it is said that either man creates God or God creates man. Man is said to be a “religious” being. The need for “religion” derives from a “question of truth” by which every human being naturally “posits the reality of its object” and “it automatically falls under the heading of truth or untruth”.

After a long analysis, especially of 19th century science (“naturalism”) and philosophy, Bavinck says of “religion” that “God is the great supposition of religion. His existence and revelation are the foundation on which all human religion rests”. He defines “religion” as “a disposition or virtue” that arises directly from God’s revelation of himself.

“Corresponding to the objective revelation of God, therefore, there is in human beings a certain faculty or natural aptitude for perceiving the divine. God does not do half a job. He creates not only the light but also the eye to see it (“Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 1, pgs 278-279).

This concept not only stifles those who say that we (Christ’s own church) need an “infallible Magisterium” to tell us what is or isn’t revelation from God; but it helps us to live our daily lives as we understand that God reveals himself “in everything”.

Thus, “religion” [that sense in every human being which perceives “revelation”] belongs to the essence of a human. The idea and existence of God, the spiritual independence and eternal destiny of the world, the moral world order and its ultimate triumph—all these are problems that never cease to engage the human mind. Metaphysical need cannot be suppressed. Philosophy perennially seeks to satisfy that need.

It is general revelation that keeps that need alive. It keeps human beings from degrading themselves into animals. It binds them to a supersensible world. It maintains in them the awareness that they have been created in God’s image and can only find rest in God.

General revelation preserves humankind in order that it can be found and healed by Christ and until it is. To that extent natural theology used to be correctly denominated a “preamble of faith,” a divine preparation and education for Christianity. General revelation is the foundation on which special revelation builds itself up.

From “Reformed Dogmatics”, Vol 1, pgs 321-322.

This is foundational material. It is the background to Bavinck’s entire program, as he discusses nature and grace (a topic which I’ll be focusing on, Lord willing, in the coming weeks and months, as one of the key differences between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism – in conjunction with my ongoing discussions of the Leonard De Chirico and Gregg Allison works on Roman Catholicism.

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