In the modern reprint of Herman Bavinck’s magnum opus, Reformed Dogmatics, editor John Bolt makes the following comment about the central theme of Bavinck’s theological system:
Here in this trinitarian, world-affirming, but nonetheless resolutely antithetical Calvinism, Bavinck found the resources to bring some unity to his thought. “The thoughtful person,” he notes “places the doctrine of the trinity in the very center of the full-orbed life of nature and mankind… . The mind of the Christian is not satisfied until every form of existence has been referred to the triune God and until the confession of the trinity has received the place of prominence in our thought and life.” Repeatedly in his writings Bavinck defines the essence of the Christian religion in a trinitarian, creation-affirming way. A typical formulation: “The essence of the Christian religion consists in this, that the creation of the Father, devastated by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and re-created by the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God.” Put more simply, the fundamental theme that shapes Bavinck’s entire theology is the trinitarian idea that grace restores nature.
The evidence for “grace restores nature” being the fundamental defining and shaping theme of Bavinck’s theology is not hard to find. In an important address on common grace, given in 1888 at the Kampen Theological School, Bavinck sought to impress on his Christian Reformed audience the importance of Christian sociocultural activity. He appealed to the doctrine of creation, insisting that its diversity is not removed by redemption but cleansed. “Grace does not remain outside or above or beside nature but rather permeates and wholly renews it. And thus nature, reborn by grace, will be brought to its highest revelation. That situation will again return in which we serve God freely and happily, without compulsion or fear, simply out of love, and in harmony with our true nature. That is the genuine religio naturalis.” In other words: “Christianity does not introduce a single substantial foreign element into the creation. It creates no new cosmos but rather makes the cosmos new. It restores what was corrupted by sin. It atones the guilty and cures what is sick; the wounded it heals.” 
Not sure how much I agree with this, but I do agree with a good amount of it, and anyway, it’s good food for thought:
We have a mighty contempt nowadays for the benighted ignorance which failed to recognize the self-evident truth that Church and State are in their nature separate and must be independent. But I take it that we have still no deeply reasoned solution of this vexed problem of our forefathers; –we have furnished no new solution for it at all, but have simply contrived to ignore it. We take as a matter of course what is now so obviously a matter of necessity. At bottom it is the state that ignores the Church. In our modern states, and especially in America, Church and State are no longer coordinates–they cannot be related to one another, neither can they be opposed–simply because there is no single Church in any way commensurate with the state. All that the state recognizes is a multitude of religious societies, –Christian or other, it makes no difference. If in America, for instance, there should be but one organic Christian society–one Church–I fancy that the old problem must again be recognized as a burning one. There is no solution for it except in the sincere recognition that the Church is a spiritual entity, and as such can never be coordinate with the state. But that recognition at the same time involves the inference that the Church cannot be organized in the terms of a secular society, that is, in terms of the state. [51n15]
One famous mortalist
One more reflection from Charles Hill’s book on the millennium. Hill notes that after the patristic period, the connection between chiliasm and a subterranean intermediate state was no longer held with such consistency. However, another regular connection between a particular view of the intermediate state and such a millennial position took its place. That is, instead of an infernal afterlife, now the idea of an unconscious soul-sleep was regularly paired with chiliasm: (more…)
I’ve begun to read Walter Lowrie’s classic work The church and its organization in primitive and Catholic times: an interpretation of Rudolph Sohm’s Kirchenrecht, and less than 20 pages in I’m already encountering some thought-provoking gems. Here is one:
But no satisfying idea of the Church as a legally constituted society has ever been formulated, nor ever can be; for a legal constitution (whether jure humano or jure divino) is opposed to the nature of the Church. It is here the “visible Church” that is meant, the kingdom of God, which “is not of this world,” and never can be ruled by worldly means (by a polity conformable to the kingdoms of this world), but only by God’s Spirit. And yet the one point upon which all denominations of Christians are united (except the society of Friends [Quakers–AF]) is the belief that some form or another of ecclesiastical polity (legally constituted organization) is divinely prescribed, or at the very least is practically necessary for the maintenance of a visible Church of Christ; and, further, that some legal constitution has from the beginning been in force. (9-10)
It is somewhat shocking to hear someone so bluntly argue that the church is in fact not a polis nowadays. It’s more hip to follow the anabaptists (or at least, so it seems to me). And another:
…if the privileges and and authority which were enjoyed by a plurality of bishops in the congregation had been accounted theirs by right (in the strict sense — as depending upon a fact in the past which was uncontrollable in the present), the authority of the single bishop could not have been established, or at least not without a contest which would have left imperishable traces. Similarly, if the equal authority in the Church which was enjoyed by all diocesan bishops in the third century had been legally secured to them, — that is, if the Church had been legally organized, as the diocese or parish already was, — metropolitan, patriarchal, or papal authority could not have been successfully asserted. (10-11)
This argument is suggesting, in other words, if the earlier forms of church government were understood to be mandated by divine right, then the church never would have changed them. But they seem to have done so quite organically, which suggests that the church the whole world over in the first few centuries understood church polity to be an issue of human prudence only, not one where God had mandated only one correct answer.
In the comment thread for David Fitch’s post about Reformed theology and mission, some discussion was had about the role of Old Princeton. I’ve recently been listening to an iTunesU lecture series from Reformed Theological Seminary on “The Legacy of Old Princeton“. One lecture in particular is focused entirely on the role of Princeton in missions:
The Last Command – 02
Another lecture discusses the old canard that the Princetonians were “rationalists”, apparently ignoring the place of piety and spiritual discipline in the Christian life:
The Last Command – 01
Finally, the first lecture discusses the ideas the Princetonians had about the place of reason and learning in the faith, addressing the common slur that Old Princeton was “fundamentalist”:
Faith and Learning
One choice quote from this lecture:
In a sermon preached to the Princeton students on John 1:14… Warfield said that Christians must cultivate an attitude of courage in the pursuit of truth, not leaving the field to unbelievers and enemies of the church, but must become leaders in every science. Failure in this has meant that Christians have borrowed from others false theories in philosophy, science, and criticism, have made unnecessary concessions to them, and have brought upon themselves–as they were compelled to change their positions from time to time–unnecessary disgrace.
There are three more lectures in the series I haven’t linked to here, two of them about faith and science, which may be of interest to some readers.
I recently saw the new silver screen release Thor, and it got me to thinking about the fate of the (truly) Western religions that existed prior to the advent of Christianity. One of the first things that inuitively occurred to me is that the Thor of the film is remarkably Christlike for a pagan deity, and my intuition was confirmed today by someone knowledgeable in the Norse religion:
To anyone schooled in Norse mythology, the Odin of the movie is almost unrecognizable, except for his long beard, lack of one eye, and possession of Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse (which provides an extremely cool special effects moment). Anthony Hopkins’ Odin is wise and good, full of benevolence and cherishing a horror of war. He’s kind of like a professor of English or some social science at an Ivy League university—wooly-headed enough to throw away the gods’ greatest weapon at a moment of dire military threat.
The Odin of the Vikings was most of all an extremely powerful magician, a wizard—not the nice kind of wizard like Gandalf, though he was one of Tolkien’s inspirations for the character, but the old kind of wizard—treacherous and murderous, with lies on his lips and blood under his fingernails. (more…)
HermanBavinck.org quotes an excerpt from an essay by Carl Trueman about the relevance of their namesake:
In conversation with theological students around the country, it often seems to me that one major problem faced by many is the development of a way of thinking theologically which neither retreats into a ghetto and adopts a ‘seek out and destroy’ mentality towards every new idea which crosses their path, nor capitulates unconditionally at the first objection to their faith which they cannot immediately answer. Such students need their theological confidence boosted by good role models of a kind provided neither by the tunnel-vision of the specialist scholars who epitomise the fragmented nature of the theological discipline today, nor the platitudes of self-appointed evangelical gurus whose latest blockbuster tells them what they know already. What they really need to do is to read someone like Bavinck…
Trueman comments on the difference between the way Bavinck did theology and the way it is done by contemporary theologians like Moltmann:
Second, Bavinck’s theology is rooted in exegesis. I was amazed some years ago when reading a book by (I think) Moltmann, to discover that it was only after fifty pages of theological construction that the first biblical text was cited. Any theology which is not at heart concerned with biblical exegesis is, I submit, not Christian theology at all, but, again, a form of religious philosophy, albeit dressed up in the language of Christian tradition.
I’m about half-way done Hill’s book, and it is quite excellent. I may post some more thoughts on the main argument of the book later, but I wanted to post an excerpt here relevant to the meaning of the “thousand years”.
The figure of a thousand years in this single biblical passage has given its name to the major patterns of Christian eschatology and, beyond Christianity, to a now widely used sociological category. Its original significance in this passage, however, is highly contested. Already from Edenic associations we have just seen we might expect that the reign that ensues in [Rev.] 20:4-6 will be in some sense a counterpart to the failed reign (Gen. 1:28) of Adam. We suggest here that alongside whatever numerological import it may or may not have, the figure of a thousand years also has to do with paradise imagery and depicts the ideal of Christ as the last Adam. (more…)
C.E. Hill’s Regnum Cealorum (2nd ed.) is a historical study of millennial views of the early church, and in his first chapter on the views of Irenaeus, he brings up a connection between millennial views and views of the intermediate state which many today do not:
Irenaeus’ objective in placing this discussion as prefatory to his extended treatment of the millennium should by now be plain. On the view of the non-chiliast orthodox (similarly with that of the heretical dualists) the righteous may enter the conspectus Dei immediately after death. These people must therefore be taught that there remains, before the just can be considered worthy to enter the divine presence, first a period of waiting in infernal abodes, then the resurrection of the just and the reign of the millennium. The millennium for Irenaeus serves the necessary purpose of training and gradually accustoming the righteous to apprehend God and his glory (paulatim assuescunt capere Deum, V.32.1; cf. V.35.1-2).
Irenaeus thus exposes a logical and systematic connection between belief in a heavenly intermediate state and refusal of the notion of a future, temporary kingdom of Christ on earth. It is a logical connection because, if the souls are ushered into heaven, into the very presence of God and Christ, immediately after death and not detained in refreshing subearthly vaults, a future, earhtly kingdom would seem at best an anticlimactic appendage to salvation history, at worst a serious and unconscionable retrogression. The millennium is then entirely redundant. It is a “systematic” connection because it would appear by inference that the heavenly intermediate state, in the system of his orthodox dissenters, is the opposing counterpart of the earthly millennium in the system of Irenaeus. As introducing the redeemed into direct fellowship with their Savior and their God this heavenly postmortem existence takes the place of the millennium. [19-20]
I look forward to more of Hill’s analysis. Only twenty pages in, and I’m already learning things I’ve never heard before.
In recent history there has been a revival among Reformed denominations of charismatic phenomena, and due to the strongly Protestant character of these traditions some sophistication has been needed in synthesizing the sola scriptura grounding of the traditions with a belief in a kind of continuing revelation. The functioning paradigm that many both popular and highly educated Reformed charismatics (in the latter category, Wayne Grudem and D.A. Carson, along with Sam Storms and John Piper) have adopted is that there are two kinds of revelation: one of the ultimately authoritative, scriptural kind, and another of less authority, which was functioning in the manner described in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and elsewhere in the NT. (more…)