Monday, June 27, 2011

Bavinck on The Divine Counsel

Pelagianism scatters flowers on graves, turns death into an angel, regards sin as mere weakness, lectures on the uses of adversity, and considers this the best possible world. Calvinism has no use for such drivel. It refuses to be hoodwinked. It tolerates no such delusion, takes full account of the seriousness of life, champions the rights of the Lord of lords, and humbly bows in adoration before the inexplicable sovereign will of God. (Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2: God and Creation, Herman Bavinck, p. 394).  
I'm still making my way through Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics. His treatment of the Divine Counsel in Volume 2: God and Creation is outstanding. He begins by delineating the biblical teaching. Bavinck cites dozens of proofs texts, but he does so in a thoughtful way. His handling of the biblical materials shows that the dogmatician is sensitive to the unfolding progress biblical revelation. He takes into account the different aspects of the New Testament's teaching on the sovereign purpose of God; the divine "will", "counsel", "purpose", "foreknowledge", and so on. 

True to his own theological method (see here), Bavinck doesn't stop there. Dogmatics is not simply concerned to assemble the biblical data on a given subject. The task of the theologian is to reflect on the Bible's teaching and think through its implications. And so Bavinck delves into the Pelagian controversy. He demonstrates that Pelagianism, which asserts the free will of man over and against the sovereign will of God, fails to do justice to the Bible's teaching. The theologian offers a robustly Augustinian view of the divine counsel, defending the absolute sovereignty of God. However, he is not afraid to offer some correctives to traditional Augustinian/Reformed conceptions of predestination. Bavinck criticises both infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism. Both systems fail to take into account the what he calls the "organic interconnectivity" of the counsel of God, "neither the supralapsarian not the infralapsarian view of predestination is capable of incorporating within its perspective the fullness and riches of the truth of Scripture and of satisfying theological thinking." (p. 391).

Bavinck questions the idea that God chose to save the elect in order to glorify his grace and to condemn the reprobate in order to glorify his justice. He points out that all of God's attributes - his grace and justice will be fully revealed and glorified in the new creation. While it is true that both election and reprobation redound to the glory of God, that is not what made the election of some and the reprobation of others necessary. Election and reprobation can only be explained by reference to the sovereign will of God. We can go no further than that. (See p. 389, 391-392).

The elect are chosen in Christ, but this does not mean that Christ is the meritorious cause of election, "The Son did not move the Father to love; electing love arose from the Father himself." (Bavinck cites John 3:16, 2 Timothy 1:9 & Ephesians 1:4, p. 401-402). The elect consists of particular individuals, chosen by grace. But, explains Bavinck, "in Scripture the elect are not viewed separately, that is atomistically, but  as a single organism. They constitute the people of God, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. They are, accordingly elect in Christ (Eph. 1:4), to be members of his body. Hence, both Christ and the church are included in the decree of predestination." (p. 402-403).

Furthermore Bavinck reasons,
Its is not that Christ was thereby the ground and foundation of election; but the election of the church is the very first benefit bestowed on the church; and even this benefit already occurred in union with Christ, and above all it has its goal, not as its foundation, that all other benefits - rebirth, faith and so forth - will be imparted to the church by Christ. In this sense, then, the election of Christ logically precedes our own. (p. 404) 
It might be added that if the divine counsel is the counsel of the Triune God (which it surely is), then the Son together with the Father and the Holy Spirit is the one who elects and the one in whom we are elected for salvation. 

Some object that the Augustinian doctrine on sovereign election in Christ is detrimental to evangelism and the free offer of the gospel. But Bavinck counters that it is Pelagianism that leaves the sinner without hope. It teaches that the virtuous are chosen because of virtue. Where does that leave poor sinners? "The purpose of election is not - as it has been so often proclaimed - to turn off the many but to invite all to participate in the riches of God's grace in Christ. No one has a right to believe that he or she is reprobate, for everyone is sincerely and urgently called to believe in Christ with a view to salvation." (p. 402).

In this post I offer but a rough sketch of Bavinck's deeply biblical, richly nuanced, and God-glorifying teaching on election. Dogmatics should aim at the same effect as Scripture. Theology should lead to doxology, Romans 11:33-36. That is certainly the case with Herman Bavinck's The Reformed Dogmatics


Jonathan Hunt said...

Now the PTS mag is out, you need to update your bio!

Exiled Preacher said...

I'll be working for PTS until the end of July. Then I'll update the bio.

Stephen said...

Hi Guy,
I have just started reading Vol 1 with a couple of other local pastors. It's hard, but good fun.

Exiled Preacher said...

I tried to get a reading group going in our area, but sadly there wasn't enough interest. Ah well.