Thursday, September 29, 2011

Herman Bavinck on Human Destiny

I'm steadily working my way though Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2: God and Creation by Herman Bavinck. I have to say that Bavink's is the most remarkable and satisfying work of systematic theology that I have yet to read. He really puts Berkhof and Reymond in the shade. 

I've just finished his treatment of the doctrine of man, which is divided into three chapters, Human Origins, Human Nature and Human Destiny. Briefly, in the first of the three chapters Bavinck interacts with Darwinism and sets out the biblical teaching on the origin of man and the unity of the human race. Then we come to his discussion of human nature. The theologian disputes the Roman Catholic view that man was made in a 'state of nature' with the capability of achieving the image of God and with it life everlasting by meritorious good works. Instead, Bavinck advocates the scriptural position advocated by the Reformers that man was originally created in the image and likeness of God. 

The image is not located in one aspect of human nature, such as the soul. Rather,  "the whole human being is image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers and gifts. Nothing in humanity is excluded from God's image; it stretches as far as our humanity does and and constitutes our humanness." (p. 561). So much for the origins and nature of man, but what of his destiny? That's the bit I really want to concentrate on in this post.

Yes, God created human beings in his image. But that does not mean that in Adam and Eve humanity achieved its fullest potential. The goal of humanity was everlasting life in the presence of God. That destiny could not be achieved on the basis of merit or reward. God owed even unfallen humanity nothing. Eternal life is a gift freely bestowed by God upon his human image bearers, not a just desert awarded for effort. 

On what basis, then did God promise to grant humanity the rich blessing of eternal life?  According to Bavinck this is where the so-called "covenant of works" comes into its own. It is by means of a covenant that the transcendent and infinitely glorious Creator relates to his human creatures. He voluntarily bound himself to humanity by entering into this covenantal relationship with them. Bavinck finds direct biblical evidence for the 'Adamic covenant' in Hosea 6:7 (ESV). He argues cogently in favour of the translation, "like Adam they transgressed the covenant".  But he asserts that regarding the arrangement with Adam as a covenant is not solely dependent on the Hosea text. Even if the word "covenant" were not used, then "one may doubt the word provided the matter is safe" (p. 569). When God calls people into a relationship with himself, laying obligations upon them and obliging himself to them, then that is, in essence, a covenant. Followers of John Murray's view concerning the "Adamic administration"  would do well to consider Bavinck's arguments on this point.     

Accordingly, Bavinck sees Adam's life in the Garden of Eden as a probationary period. If for that period Adam had continued in obedience to the command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then God would have bestowed upon Adam and all humanity in him the blessing of everlasting life. Adam stood in a federal or representative relation to the rest of humanity. His actions for good or ill would affect the destiny of the whole human race. Bavinck appeals to the broken symmetries between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 to justify his case. 

When it comes to the fulfilment of human destiny in Christ, the Saviour does not simply restore his own to the position of Adam before the fall. "He positions us not at the beginning, but at the end of the journey that Adam  had to complete." (p. 573). Adam was capable of choosing to sin. He was not immortal. Should he sin, he would die. In Christ believers will be raised immortal to sin no more, 1 Corinthians 15:45-49. As the theologian elaborates in a later volume of Reformed Dogmatics
Christ was the second Adam. He came not only to bear our punishment for us but also to obtain for us the righteousness and life that Adam had to secure by his obedience. He delivered us from guilt and punishment and placed us at the end of the road Adam had to walk, not at the beginning. He gives us much more than we lost in Adam, not only the forgiveness of sin and release from punishment but also and immediately - in faith - the not-being-able to sin and not-being-able to die. (Reformed Dogmatics Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, Baker Academic, p. 395).
In him the tribes of Adam boast,
More blessings than their father lost
(Jesus Shall Reign, Isaac Watts) 


Mostyn Roberts said...

Delighted to meet another Bavinck fan. He is immensely satisfying. Glad also to some of his argument for the importance of the covenant of works put up!

Guy Davies said...

Bavvers is the best. I find Berkhof a little clinical. Reymond is more exegetical, but his exegetical decisions are sometimes a bit dodgy.