Bavinck's Covenant Theology - important implications for apologetics

Discussion in 'Covenant Theology' started by Stephen L Smith, Dec 8, 2018.

  1. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Puritan Board Junior

    I have been reflecting on a powerful argument in Bavincks Reformed Dogmatics 2:568 ff.

    "Because God is the creator, man a creature; ... an infinite distance between the two is a given. No fellowship, no religion between the two seems possible; there is only difference, distance, endless distinctiveness. If God remains evated above humanity in His sovereign exaltedness and majesty, then no religion is possible, at least no religion in the sense of fellowship. Then the relation between the two is exhaustively described in the terms of "master" and "servant". ... Accordingly, if there is truly to be religion, if there is to be fellowship between God and man ... then religion must be the character of a covenant. For then God has to come down from His lofty position, condescend to is creatures, impart, reveal, and give Himself away to human beings; then He who inhabits eternity and dwells in a high and holy place must also dwell with those who are of a humble spirit (Isa 57:15). But this set of conditions is nothing other than the description of a covenant. If religion is called a covenant, it is thereby described as the true and genuine religion.This is what no other religion has ever understood; all peoples either pantheistically pull God down into what is creaturely, or deistically elevate Him endlessly above it. In neither case does one arrive at true fellowship, at covenant, at genuine religion. But scripture insists on both: God is infinitely great and condescendingly good; He is sovereign but also Father; He is creator but also Prototype. In a word, He is the God of the covenant."

    It seems to me there are some weighty implications arising from this:
    1. This is a fine commentary on the WCF (and 1689 BCF) 7:1.
    2. Refomed apologetics must be covenantal. In the best sense, Bavinck builds on Vos' essay "The doctrine of the covenant in Reformed theology" and shows its implications for apologetics.
    3. It shows that Reformed Christianity solves the problems of both deism and pantheism. God is God. There is a creator-creature distnction. But God graciously condescends by way of covenant to relate to humanity.
    Thoughts?
     
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  2. Harley

    Harley Puritan Board Sophomore

    I really appreciate these thoughts. A regular theme of conversation in evangelism is people not knowing who God is. Everyone is in the dark about God because He cannot be understood apart from revealing Himself.

    On a different issue, people don’t understand why hell is eternal because they don’t understand just how high God is. Everyone thinks God is like himself, perhaps a half-inch taller.

    Not sure yet how to bring this down to a street man’s language and thought, but it needs to be tried.
     
  3. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable Staff Member

  4. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Puritan Board Junior

    As you said we need to start with a Revelational epistemology.

    Yes bringing it down to a street man’s language and thought is challenging but I think the quote gives us a foundation to practically show the folly of Deism, and also Pantheism.

    Thank you. I have most of Oliphint's works and I appreciate his covenantal approach to apologetics. That said, I have not seen him utilise this particular Bavinck insight.
     
  5. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Puritan Board Junior

    Any other takers? It seems to me it is one of Bavincks most powerful statements on Covenant theology, as well as an excellent commentary of WCF 7:1.
     
  6. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I agree it's a good commentary on what the WCF notes about the distance between Creator and creature. Taken further, you'll notice that the WCF continues to the Covenant of Grace and then, most importantly, to the Mediator of that Covenant - the Lord Jesus Christ.

    In effect, we have no fruition with God apart from Christ as Mediator of the CoG. Sinclair Ferguson reflects on Thomas Boston's points about this when we attempt to abstract theology as a set of principles apart from Christ instead of seeing our thoeology and fruition in that theology as part of Union with Christ. All evangelical graces flow from that so that we should never view any of our theology as detached from that union. In fact, Paul states that in Christ are hidden all the riches of wisdom and knowledge. Thus, we apprehend true theology not by discovering it apart from Christ but by our union, we are united to the One in Whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found.

    I also believe that all knowledge is by way of revelation (both natural and special) and, apart from regeneration (again union with Christ) we can have no true fruition in any sphere of knowledge because there is no "fact" that is apart from its relation to the Creator.
     
  7. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Puritan Board Junior

    You make some important points here Rich. The only thing I would add, when talking about the doctrine of the covenant, is that it is the Triune God who relates to His creation, and reveals truth to them. And it is the Triune God who saves His people - each member of the Trinity has an important but distinct part to play. Carl Bogue's helpful book on Jonathan Edwards Covenant Theology helped me to see this more fully. Here is a helpful summary https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/jonathan-edwards-on-the-covenant-of-grace/
     
  8. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Does this inform us in presenting the gospel or does it give us hope in doing so? Apart from showing the folly of reaching God through our good works, would this be anything more than white noise when falling on deaf ears? Certainly it gives us great hope in the only One who has bridged that gap between man and God, and confidence that the Spirit will illuminate his word and bring new life.
     

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