Monday, May 11, 2009

Bavinck on God's Word in Servant Form


I've been reading the relevant chapters of Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1 in preparation for paper on inerrancy. (You can see an earlier version of it here). It is sometimes suggested that the Dutch theologian's emphasis on the servant form on biblical revelation meant that he had problems with inerrancy. Judge for yourself whether this is the case:
"The incarnation of Christ demands that we trace it down into the depths of its humiliation, in all its weakness and contempt. The recording of the word, of revelation, invites us to recognise that dimension of weakness and lowliness, the servant form, also in Scripture. But just as Christ's human nature, however weak and lowly, remained free from sin, so also Scripture is is 'conceived without defect or stain'; totally human in all its parts but also totally divine in all its parts." (Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1, Baker Academic, 2003, p. 435).
Unlike Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield, Bavinck did not reflect at length on the integrity and purity of Scripture. He regarded such matters as the domain of biblical scholars rather than dogmaticians. His treatment of the attributes of Scripture is limited to the authority, necessity, sufficiency and perspicuity of the Bible. The main opponent for Princeton theologians was sceptical liberalism, which is why they concentrated their firepower on inerrancy. In discussing the attributes of Scripture, Bavinck has Roman Catholicism in his sights, hence the difference of emphasis.

14 comments:

Jeff Carter said...

Can you explain to me why I should be concerned about the inerrancy of the Bible, if I have the Holy Spirit within me and am led by Him?

Exiled Preacher said...

Because the inerrancy of Scripture is due to the Holy Spirit inspiring the the Bible. The witness of the Spirit in the heart of the believer leads him/her to recognise the total reliability of Scripture.

Jeff Carter said...

Good. I agree with you if you are saying that the Spirit precedes the Bible. As you say, the Spirit inspires the Bible.

Is it not (theoretically) possible for a man to be led by the Spirit of Christ alone, with no reference to the Bible?

Rusty said...

Still finding that within the pews is that distant look of "help me with my unbelief."
As Peter, keep on reminding.

Exiled Preacher said...

Jeff,


It's difficult to answer your question without knowing where you are coming from. It is the Spirit of Christ who speaks in and through Scripture (1 Peter 1:10-12). Now that the canon of Scripture has closed, we should not expect fresh revelation from God. But the Holy Spirit enlightens our minds so that we may more fully understand what God is saying in Scripture.

The Spirit will never lead us to believe or do anything that is contrary to the Bible. But the Spirit may lead us in the way we apply the teaching of Scripture in certain situations. For example, he may prompt us to speak to a certain person about the gospel.

Also, it is the Spirit who gives a person the sense that they are called to the Ministry of the Word. That call must be recognised by the church and tested by Scripture (1 Timothy 3 etc), but we should not discount the direct work of the Spirit in this matter.

In assurance of salvation, we believe the promise of the Gospel in Scripture. There should also be the evidence of a changed life (the so-called 'tests' in 1 John - faith in Christ, love, obedience). But in addition, the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. (Romans 8:16).

Jeff Carter said...

Thank you for taking time to answer me. Here is where I am coming from:

Even the Bible points to the primacy of the Holy Spirit. Sons of God are those who are led by the Spirit; the importance given to Pentecost; the epistles of John speak thus: "You need no one to teach you, for the Holy Spirit is within you."

If I have God's Holy Spirit within me - for as Paul says, I am the temple of God - why am I chained to the Bible for guidance? Understand, I do believe the Bible was inspired by the Spirit and is necessary for the immature Christian who has not yet learned to fully hear the Spirit, but our ultimate destiny must lie in communion and obedience to the Spirit within. Do you agree?

Also, how did you come by the information that the canon is closed and that we should expect no fresh revelation from God? Did you read it somewhere or was it told to you by someone?

Exiled Preacher said...

Jeff,

My position is summed up admirably in

Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), Chapter 1:10, which reads,

"The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture."

Unless we are agreed that the supreme authority in the Christian faith is the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture, we are not going to get anywhere.

Jeff Carter said...

Unless we are agreed that the supreme authority in the Christian faith is the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture, we are not going to get anywhere.Maybe. Maybe not. Forget creeds. (By your own criteria, how can it be true since it's not in or from the Bible?) Why do YOU believe that the Holy Spirit speaks only through the Bible?

Exiled Preacher said...

I won't forget creeds thank you because they provide a handy summary of the teaching of Scripture. According to Scripture's own self-witness it is the product of the Holy Spirit. Check out 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 1:10-12 & 2 Peter 1:19-20.

Jeff Carter said...

I have NO doubt that the Bible is the product of the Holy Spirit. What I am asking is, Why do you believe the Bible is the ONLY conduit through which the Holy Spirit speaks?

Exiled Preacher said...

We seem to be talking past each other Jeff. I believe that the supreme authority for Christians is the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture. But if you review my earlier my comments, you'll see that I didn't claim that the Holy Spirit only speaks through the Bible.

The Spirit is active in the created order, speaking of God's power and wisdom in the world that he made. He speaks to the human, conscience, giving human beings a sense that God exists. But we need more than a general revelation of God in creation and conscience. In our sinful state we need to learn how we can be put right with God and live for his glory. We will only learn of this through the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture, 2 Timothy 3:15-17. It is in the Bible alone that the Spirit gives us saving revelation from God.

Rusty said...

To Jeff Carter,

Jeff,
The exchange of the "why should I be concerned," is remindful of the ongoing "battle for the bible."

Paul has been instrumental;
1 Corinthians 4:6, "Do not go beyond what is written."

Jeff Carter said...

To the Exiled Preacher and Rusty:

In our sinful state we need to learn how we can be put right with God and live for his glory. We will only learn of this through the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture, 2 Timothy 3:15-17. It is in the Bible alone that the Spirit gives us saving revelation from God.If this is true, how was anyone saved before the New Testament was penned. Come on now. You know good and well the Gospel was being preached, people were saved and the Spirit was filling people before the Scriptures were written. Are you not making an idol of the Bible, placing it above the Spirit? The Bible is not part of the Godhead. The letter killeth, but it is the Spirit that gives life. Not the Bible.

Exiled Preacher said...

Jeff,

This will have to be my last response to you, as I haven't the time to keep coming back to you on this one.

Before the NT the promise of salvation was revealed in the OT - 1 Peter 1:10-12. Before any of the OT was written God revealed himself and his redemptive purposes by speaking to people directly(eg the words of Genesis 3:15 before they were recorded in writing by Moses).

Now God has given us a complete Bible. It is through Scripture that the Lord speaks to reveal that he has acted to save us through the work of Christ. This salvation us made a living reality as the Spirit brings people to believe the message of the gospel to which Scripture testifies, (Romans 1:1&2, 10:14). Where else other than the Bible (or proclamation that is based on the Bible) may we find out about what God has done for us in Christ?

In context, the words "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:6), do not mean that the Bible kills us. Paul is talking about the law, which kills because we fall under its condemnation as sinners. Indeed Jesus said, "The words I speak to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63). And those words are now recorded in Scripture. We are brought to new life in Christ as God speaks to us through the Bible.

We do not worship the Bible, but the God who gave us the Scriptures. By his Word he continues to speak of salvation in the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. To sideline the Bible is to dishonour the God who has graciously given us his written Word that we might know his redeeming love and live for his glory.