Body and Soul, Word and Spirit

Maagd_in_de_tuin seal of the free university of amsterdam

Seal of the Free University of Amsterdam. Motto: Auxilium nostrum in nomine Domini (“Our help is in the name of the Lord”)

Herman Bavinck became the professor of theology at the Free University of Amsterdam in 1902. Bavinck’s four-volume Reformed Dogmatics is no stranger to this blog, but I’d never read any of his sermons or speeches before Bruce Pass recently posted a translation of the speech Bavinck gave at the commencement of his professorship in December of 1902. The title of the speech is Godsdienst en Godsgeleerdheid, or as Pass translates it, Religion and Theology. Immediately noteworthy on a first read-through was the following description of the experience of the Christian life:

The pure, the spotless, the reasonable service is this: to present body and soul as a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice to God. Now, does this mean that it is self-evident that one is by nature so inclined and capable of this and that all of this obtains without serious struggle? To believe in God against the appearance of all things, to hold fast to Him as though seeing what is unseen, to depend on Him with upright faith, certain hope, and ardent love and moreover, to mortify our old nature, to forsake the world, and to walk in a new, godly life – shall that come about through a frame of mind akin to melancholy, through the kindling of the twilight of our souls? Whoever claims this has as little knowledge of God as they do of their own heart. No, because religion is not a relationship, voluntarily entered into and determined in every detail by us, but a service required of us by God. It is a demand placed before us by Him, an obligation laid on us by Him. Therefore, all true religion is a sacrifice, a sacrifice of our whole heart and of our entire soul and of all of our might unto the will of our heavenly Father and because it is a sacrifice, religion is and remains a struggle until the end of our lives. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the spirit; what I will, that I do not do.

But is that all? Should religion be nothing more than command on command, rule upon rule, here a little and there a little? How would we, Christians who stand in the freedom with which Christ has set us free, be able to claim that? Besides, religion was not only that in the days of the Old Testament, when it was confessed with joy that the fear of the Lord is the principle of all wisdom and the pious sang, ‘How I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.’ Above all it is no more that in the days of the New Covenant, in which the spirit of slavery to fear has made way for the Spirit of adoption. Religion is not only obligation; it is also a disposition and desire. It is a matter of the head and the heart, faith and love, idea and affection, theory and praxis, doctrine and life together — a service certainly, but a service of love which never fails.

God did not give us his Word alone, but also His Spirit. The Word is first. All of our thinking and living, all of our ways, must conform to that Word. What wisdom would we have, if we were to reject the Word of the Lord? If we do not turn our face to the law and testimony, our eyes shall never rise to the dawn of knowledge. All self-righteous religion is an abomination to the Lord, but God has conjoined to the Word His Spirit, by whom he enlightens and renews us and gives us a desire to walk according to His commands. Therefore, the Christian religion is not only rectitude of mind but also purity of heart, not only knowledge but also trust, not just an idea of the intellect but also an inclination of the will, not only illumination of the consciousness but also a conversion of one’s being, in a word — a matter of the whole person, of body and soul together. For whoever is in Christ, is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, everything has become new.

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Fighting as He Went

Borghese Gladiator 2

Borghese Warrior outside of Schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin

One of the great mysteries of the Christian faith is how Jesus could be both fully God and fully man. How does an infinite God take on finite human nature? What does this condescension tell us about God? What does it tell us about man? And how do we understand this God-man, who was “born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5)?

Herman Bavinck has a ninety-page section called ‘The Person of Christ’ in the third volume of his Reformed Dogmatics that focuses solely on questions like these. Here I just want to quote for later reference one paragraph of that larger section which deals with the “essential distinction between the holiness of God and the holiness of Christ as a human being:”

The goodness or holiness of Christ according to his human nature is not a divine and original goodness but one that has been given, infused, and for that reason it must also–in the way of struggle and temptation–reveal, maintain, and confirm itself. Infused goodness does not rule out acquired goodness. The latter presupposes the former; good fruit grows only on a good tree, but the soundness of the tree still has to be shown in the soundness of the fruit. Similarly, Christ had to manifest his innate holiness through temptation and struggle; this struggle is not made redundant or vain by virtue of the inability to sin (non posse peccare). For although real temptation could not come to Jesus from within but only from without, he nevertheless possessed a human nature, which dreaded suffering and death. Thus, throughout his life, he was tempted in all sorts of ways–by Satan, his enemies, and even by his disciples (Matt 4:1-11; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:1-13; Matt. 12:29; Luke 11:22; Matt. 16:23; Mark 8:33). And in those temptations he was bound, fighting as he went, to remain faithful; the inability to sin (non posse peccare) was not a matter of coercion but ethical in nature and therefore had to be manifested in an ethical manner. (314-315)

Brimful of God

In his chapter on the names of God in the second volume of his Reformed Dogmatics, Bavinck quotes Augustine:

On earth, a fountain is one thing, light another. When you are thirsty, you look for a fountain, and to get to the fountain you look for light; and if there is no daylight, you light a lamp to get to the fountain. But he is both a fountain and a light: to the thirsty he is a fountain, to the blind a light. Let [your] eyes be opened to see the light; let the lips of [your] heart be opened to drink of the fountain. That which you drink, you see and hear. God becomes everything to you, for he is the whole of the things you love. If you attend to visible things, well, God is neither bread nor is he water, nor light, nor a garment, nor a house. For all these things are visible, individual, and separate. What bread is, water is not; what a garment is, a house is not; and what these things are, God is not, for they are visible things. God is all of these things to you: if you are hungry, he is bread to you; if you are thirsty, he is water to you; if you live in darkness, he is light to you, for he remains incorruptible. If you are naked, he is a garment of immortality to you when this corruptible shall put on incorruption and this mortal shall put on immortality.

To which Bavinck adds: “God is immanent in the whole of creation. The pure of heart see God everywhere. Everything is brimful of God.”

Ai-Weiwei-Fountain_1716502i

Ai Weiwei, Fountain of Light

“the whole world in its interconnectedness”

figura dos corpos celestes - velho

Bartolomeu Velho, ‘Figura dos corpos celestes’

After proclaiming Christ as “the Savior of the whole person and the whole world,” Bavinck discusses how special revelation is aimed at exactly this. Another chunk from his Reformed Dogmatics (1.346):

Clearly emerging from all this, finally, is the purpose of special revelation. The final goal again is God himself, for he can never come to an end in creation but can only rest in himself. God reveals himself for his own sake: to delight in the glorification of his own attributes. But on the journey toward this final end we do after all encounter the creature, particularly the human being, who serves as instrument to bring to manifestation the glory of God’s name before the eyes of God. Precisely in order to reach this final goal, the glorification of God’s name, special revelation must strive to the end of re-creating the whole person after God’s image and likeness and thus to transform that person into a mirror of God’s attributes and perfections. Hence the object of revelation cannot only be to teach human beings, to illuminate their intellects (rationalism), or to prompt them to practice virtue (moralism), or to arouse religious sensations in them (mysticism). God’s aim in special revelation is both much deeper and reaches much farther. It is none other than to redeem human beings in their totality of body and soul with all their capacities and powers; to redeem not only individual, isolated human beings but humanity as an organic whole. Finally, the goal is to redeem not just humanity apart from all the other creatures but along with humanity to wrest heaven and earth, in a word, the whole world in its organic interconnectedness, from the power of sin and again to cause the glory of God to shine forth from every creature. Sin has spoiled and destroyed everything: the intellect and the will, the ethical and the physical world. Accordingly, it is the whole person and the whole cosmos at whose salvation and restoration God is aiming in his revelation. God’s revelation, therefore, is certainly soteriological, but the object of that salvation (σωτηρία) is the cosmos, and not only the ethical or the will to the exclusion of the somatic and physical, but everything in conjunction. For God has consigned all human beings under sin that he might have mercy upon all (Rom. 5:15f; 11:32; Gal. 3:22).

He later circles back on this theme and puts it more succinctly:

Included in objective revelation, i.e., in the person of Christ and in Scripture as his word, is everything human beings need to know God and to serve him. The revelation of God was completed in Christ and recorded with complete adequacy in Scripture. But this revelation in Christ and in his Word is a means, not an end. The end is the creation of a new humanity, which will fully unfold the image of God. Therefore the whole revelation must be transmitted from Christ to the church, from Scripture to the [believer’s] consciousness. God seeks a dwelling place in humanity (1.588).

Romanticism’s Great Fault: What Art Cannot Do

Herbert_Draper_-_The_Lament_for_Icarus_-_Google_Art_Project

Herbert James Draper, ‘Lament for Icarus’

Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck, in a section of his dogmatics concerning the origin of religion, writes that romanticism’s great fault as a whole was to confuse art and religion:

One then, naturally, also slips into the error of confusing and equating religious feeling with sensual and aesthetic feeling. Known to us all from history is the kinship between religious and sensual love and the passage from one to the other. But equally dangerous is the confusion of religious and aesthetic feeling, of religion and art. The two are essentially distinct. Religion is life, reality; art is ideal, appearance. Art cannot close the gap between the ideal and reality. Indeed, for a moment it lifts us above reality and induces us to live in the realm of ideals. But this happens only in the imagination. Reality itself does not change on account of it. Though art gives us distant glimpses of the realm of glory, it does not induct us into that realm and make us citizens of it. Art does not atone for our guilt, or wipe away our tears, or comfort us in life and death….Aesthetic feeling, accordingly, can never take the place of religious feeling, anymore than art can replace religion. Granted, the two are connected. From the very beginning religion and art went hand in hand. The decline of the one brought with it the decay of the other. The ultimate driving force of art was religion. (Reformed Dogmatics, 1.267)

Bavinck further stresses the centrality of religion to the human life:

[R]eligion is distinguished from all the forces of culture and maintains its independence from them all. Religion is central; science, morality, and art are partial. While religion embraces the whole person, science, morality, and art are respectively rooted in the intellect, the will, and the emotions. Religion aims at nothing less than eternal blessedness in fellowship with God; science, morality, and art are limited to creatures and seek to enrich this life with the true, the good, and the beautiful. Religion, accordingly, cannot be equated with anything else. (Reformed Dogmatics, 1.269)

Arguing later that religion is a product of revelation, Bavinck returns to this contrast between religion, science, and art to explain how humans aim at something entirely unique when they are concerned with religion:

The distinction between religion on the one hand and art on the other supplies us with the same concept of revelation. Nature, the world all around us, is the source of our knowledge and the teacher of art. But in religion that same world comes under consideration from still another viewpoint, viz., as the revelation of God, as the disclosure of his eternal power and divinity. In religion humans are concerned with something very different from what their aim is in science and art. In religion they do not seek to increase their knowledge, nor to satisfy their imagination, but aim at eternal life in communion with God, true transformation of their being, liberation from sin and misery. In religion they are concerned about God because they realize that in God alone they can find peace and rest. For that reason religion requires another source than do science and art; it assumes a revelation that causes God himself to come to people and bring them into fellowship with him. (Reformed Dogmatics, 1.277)