The Reformation On Faith And “The Essentials”

A while back I wrote a personal attempt at tackling the issue of how to determine “the essentials” in doctrine, and concluded that there is no one answer to the question. I was encouraged to see similar comments in Bavinck’s prolegomena:

In studying the relation between faith and theology, we need to frame the question properly. It should not be: what is the minimum of truths a person must know and hold as true to be saved? Leave that question to Rome, and let Catholic theology decide whether to that end two or four articles are needed. Admittedly, Protestant theology, in the theory of “fundamental articles,” has given the impression of wanting to take that road. But it ended with the acknowledgement that it did not know the magnitude of God’s mercy and therefore could not measure the amount of knowledge that is necessarily inherent in a sincere faith. In addition, between the theory of “implicit faith” and that of the “fundamental articles” there is, for all their seeming similarity, an important difference… . [I]n the theology of the Reformation, it sprang from the fact that a number of different churches emerged side by side with confessions that diverged form each other on many points. For that theology, therefore, the focus was on the question concerning the essence of Christianity. Faith, on the part of Rome, is assent to an assortment of revealed truths, which can be counted, article by article, and which in the course of time increased in number. Faith on the side of the Reformation, however, is special (fides specialis) with a particular central object: the grace of God in Christ. Here an arithmetic addition of articles, the knowledge of which and the assent to which is necessary for salvation, was no longer an option. Faith is a personal relation to Christ; it is organic and has put aside quantitative addition. Rome, therefore, had to determine a minimum without which there could not be salvation. On the side of the Reformation, faith is trust in the grace of God and hence no longer calculable. (Reformed Dogmatics, 1:614)