Bavinck, Herman, John Bolt, and John Vriend. Reformed Dogmatics: sin and salvation in Christ. Vol. 3. Baker Academic, 2003.
Bavinck continues his theme that “grace restores nature.” He addresses all of the loci of theology following anthropology, which he dealt with in his previous volume. This volume is not as philosophically heavy as the first two, so it might be easier to read for some.
Origin of Sin
As is the case with most 20th century Dutch writers, Bavinck was quite attuned to the reality of spiritual warfare. “Then we learn that involved in the struggle of evil on earth there is also a contest of spirits and that humanity and the world are the spoils for which the war between God and Satan, between heaven and hell, is waged (Bavinck 35).
He gives a careful discussion on the contrast between “spirit” and flesh.” For Rome Adam’s transgression resulted in the loss of the superadded gift (43). In this case fallen nature is identical with uncorrupted nature. This is one of the reasons that Thomas Aquinas, while perhaps knowing better, gave the appearance of reducing flesh to the physical. Bavinck writes, “In this sense flesh is contrasted with spirit, though not with the human pneuma, which, after all, is also sinful and needs sanctification….but with the Holy Spirit, which renews the human spirit….and also consecrates the body and puts it at the disposal of righteousness” (54).
The Spread of Sin
The Reformation stressed that original sin is not just the loss of something but simultaneously a total corruption of human nature (98).
Good take on free will: Humans have lost “the free inclination of the will towards good” (121).
The Nature of Sin
Sin is not a “substance” or a thing, but an “energeia” (137).
Bavinck has a good section on “The Kingdom of Evil” (146ff). He notes the numerous subordinate spirits, which have their own subdivisions. He explores the connection between “devils” (a most inaccurate word) and the spirits of dead persons (he rejects this identity; it’s just interesting that he explored it).
The Covenant of Grace
Bavinck’s discussion of the pactum salutis is fairly standard, but in it he makes some comments which appear to give the Son an eternally subordinate role.
This doctrine of the pact of salvation… is rooted in a scriptural idea. For as Mediator, the Son is subordinate to the Father, calls him God…, is his servant… who has been assigned a task… and who receives a reward… for the obedience accomplished… Still, this relation between Father and Son, though most clearly manifest during Christ’s sojourn on earth, was not first initiated at the time of the incarnation, for the incarnation itself is already included in the execution of the work assigned to this the Son, but occurs in eternity and therefore also existed already during the time of the Old Testament… Scripture also clearly… sees Christ functioning officially already in the days of the Old Testament (214)
The language of subordination is clearly there. There is no denying it. Several other things are going on, though. Bavinck says the Son is subordinate as a mediator, and this mediation preceded time (in one sense). That’s all Bavinck is saying. He isn’t trying to drive an ideology with it. Moreover, in one sense Christ gives up his kingdom to the Father at the end, which would seem that his subordination is tied to that giving up the kingdom. Finally, in the previous volume Bavinck affirms the single divine will and the inseparability of operations, something no advocate of ESS can accept.
Later, Bavinck says that Christ’s mediatorial work is finished when he delivers the kingdom to His Father (481).
Covenant of grace: “The essential character of the covenant of grace, accordingly, consists in the fact that it proceeds from God’s special grace and has for its content nothing other than grace” (225).
Covenant and Election
“The covenant of grace is the channel by which the stream of election flows towards eternity” (229). Bavinck doesn’t make a strict identity between election and the covenant of grace, but for all practical purposes he does identify them.
The Person of Christ
Bavinck sees the Christological history as “East — unity of person,” West — distinction between natures” (255).
Rome and the East see a communication of divine gifts, but not attributes to the hypostasis. Lutherans see it to the attributes.
The Reformed say the person of the Son was immediately united with the human nature, and the divine nature was mediately united with it (276, citing Zanchi).
Nature and Person
Hegel said nature and person are related as essence and appearance (306). This, obviously, will not do. Rather, nature is the substratum, the “principle by which” a thing is. “Person” is the owner of the nature. He acts through the nature.
We Reformed say that Christ had an infused knowledge, but that knowledge was only gradually completed. “He did not yet share in the beatific knowledge here on earth” (312).
The Work of Christ
Survey of relevant passages dealing with redemption, sacrifice, etc.
“Christ is the mediator of both creation and re-creation” (363). Christ is a mediator in both natures.
Regarding the atonement, Bavinck points out that intercession and sacrifice have the same range. If the former is particular, so is the latter (466).
Salvation in Christ
Old Testament righteousness: it was not a personal quality of theirs but the case they represented (494).
Rome: Baptized children receive justification/infused grace. They receive “sufficient grace” later on (515). This illumines the intellect.
Reformed: regeneration, faith, and conversion are not preparations that a person has to meet, but they are fruits which flow from “the covenant of grace, the mystical union, the granting of Christ’s person” (525).
The Reformation captured the idea of grace much better. There was no opposition between natural and supernatural, but of sin and grace. “The Reformation rejected this Neoplatonic mysticism” (577).
It is not a substance, but “a restoration of the form of the creation originally imprinted on humans and creature in general” (578).
This is required reading for all interested in the history of dogmatics.