Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Herman Bavinck on Creation

I recently finished reading Bavinck's treatment of the doctrine of creation (Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2: God and Creation, Baker Academic 2006, p. 473-507). Very helpful it was too.

Bavinck's treatment of creation is rooted in his doctrine of the Trinity. Indeed, he states that "If God were not triune creation would not be possible (p. 420)". The triune God is the communicating God. The Father communicated the full image of God to the Son. If God was unable to communicate himself to his Son he would be even less able to communicate himself to the creature.

Creation was a concerted act of the Trinity. The Father made all things by his Word and through his Spirit. The unity in diversity of the created order is testimony to the unity in diversity of the one Creator God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The divine goal in creating the universe was the glorification of his own name, Romans 11:36.

The eternal God made the world not in time but with time. Time is the necessary form of the finite. The finite creation is in the process of becoming, while the infinite God is pure being. Creation entailed no change in God. He did not become active in making the world with the implication the he was inactive before the creation. Even without the creation God was not idle. He is pure actuality with an infinite fullness of  communicative life in his triune being. The act of creation involved no effort on God's part and did not exhaust his power or wisdom. "He can act while He reposes, and repose when He acts (p. 428)."

Although Bavinck's four volume dogmatics were originally published in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, Bavinck's theology is remarkably up-to-date. He wrestles with the relationship between ancient near eastern literature and the Genesis account, still very much a live issue today. He does not neglect to address the theory of evolution. Detailed attention is given to the challenge of the science of geology to the Bible's depiction of the creation of the earth.

Bavinck's handling of Genesis 1 is interesting. Without positing a "Gap Theory", which he rejects, he holds that "the creation of heaven and earth in Genesis 1:1 and the unformed state of the earth in Genesis 1:2 are anterior to the first day." The work of the six creation days is that of separation and adornment. Day one did not include the original act of the creation of all things out of nothing (p. 478-480).

On day four (Genesis 1:14-19), Bavinck argues that the appearance of the lights in the heavens, "does not imply that the masses of matter of which the planets are composed were only then called into being, but only that all these planets would on this day become what they henceforth are to be to the earth (p. 481)." This anticipates the view of Edgar Andrews. The scientist suggests that Genesis is using phenomenological language at this point rather than depicting the moment when the sun, moon and stars came into existence. (See Who Made God?, EP, 2009, p. 106).

What of the theologian's view of the six days of creation? He rejects an attempt to co-ordinate the days Genesis 1 with lengthy geological periods. Not for him either what would nowadays be called the "framework hypothesis" that sees the creation days in terms of ideal or logical order rather that chronological sequence. So, he's a "twenty-four hourer" right? Not exactly. Bavinck holds that it is "not likely" that the divine actions depicted in each of the six days of creation took place within the span of a few hours. Rather, what we have here is the "workdays of God", or "the time in which God was at work creating (p. 500)". This does not amount to "theistic evolution", but an assertion of the singularity of the six days of creation.

Bavinck regards estimates of the age of the earth amounting to millions of years as "fabulous" - by which he means not "wonderful" but "incredible" (p. 490). But, he admits the Bible provides no exact data as to the age of the earth (p. 506). Changes to the planet made by the Great Flood need to be taken into account when it comes to understanding the geological  strata.

The dogmatician was aware of developments in the scientific world. But he was not willing to reinterpret the Bible to harmonise its teaching with naturalistic views of  origins. Indeed, he thinks that theologians are misguided when they constantly yield ground in an effort to co-ordinate biblical teaching with scientific theories,
As the science of divine and eternal things, theology must be patient until the science that contradicts it has made a deeper and broader study of its field and, as happens in most cases, corrects itself. In that matter theology upholds its dignity and honour more effectively than by constantly yielding and adapting itself to the opinions of the day. (p. 507) 


James Miller said...

Hi Guy,

I'm interested that you say categorically that Bavinck was no proponent of the framework interpretation. Does he anywhere address this explicitly?

From what you say, it sounds as if Bavinck was advocating a view that is very similar to the framework view in some respects. He seems to be advocating what's known as the analogical view. That the days are God's work days and by analogy are related to our days.

Is this anything like what Bavinck teaches?

The only difference between the framework and the analogical view is that the latter sees the days as being in sequential order, whereas the framework sees them in topical order. Other than that both share a figurative interpretation of Genesis 1.

Guy Davies said...

He discusses four different views, p. 490-495 of RD Vol 2. What we call the framework hypothesis he calls the ideal theory. According to the ideal view, the 6 days are not to be seen as chronologically ordered periods of longer or shorter duration, but the logical order of created being.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

I must say I read Bavinck on the day of creation differently - I understood him to be closest to the '24 hour day' position, although admitting agnosticism on the precise length of the first triduum.

puritan said...

I have reread Bavinck and I agree with Pr Mark Henderson, it seems Bavinck was a 24hr 6 day creationist with an open timespan for the first 3 days.