Revelation and Reason in Herman Bavinck -- By: Bruce R. Pass

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 80:2 (Fall 2018)
Article: Revelation and Reason in Herman Bavinck
Author: Bruce R. Pass


Revelation and Reason in Herman Bavinck

Bruce R. Pass

Bruce Pass is an Anglican minister from the diocese of Sydney, currently completing a doctorate in systematic theology at the University of Edinburgh.

In his seminal study, The Relation of Revelation and Reason in E. Brunner and H. Bavinck, Eugene Heideman claims that reason knows no limits other than the limits of revelation and that Bavinck was unable to place limits on reason. This article revisits Heideman’s account of the relation of reason and revelation in Bavinck, suggesting ways in which it might be augmented and modified. Particular attention is given to the place reason occupies in Bavinck’s philosophy of mind and to the concept of mystery. These aspects of Bavinck’s thought are explored in detail, in order to locate Bavinck’s account of this relation within the broader Christian tradition and to demonstrate that the axes on which Bavinck charts the relation of revelation and reason differ to those Heideman proposes.

This question touches on the secrets of His Majesty.... It is not for us to enquire into these mysteries, but to adore them,” wrote Martin Luther in The Bondage of the Will.1 Similarly, John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, stated, “It is, indeed, true that in the law and the gospel are comprehended mysteries which tower far above the reach of our senses.... His wonderful method of governing the universe is rightly called an abyss, because while it is hidden from us, we ought reverently to adore it.”2 There is an Augustinian trajectory within Protestantism which maintains that there is much in divine revelation that surpasses the human mind and that such mysteries inspire God’s children to worship. It is on this trajectory that the thought of Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) belongs. Divine revelation is the cornerstone of Bavinck’s theology, yet he firmly maintained that an exhaustive description of what has been revealed lies beyond our creaturely capacities. Eternity in time, immensity in space, immutability in change, cannot be comprehended, but remain for us an “adorable mystery.”3 The notion of mystery occupies a pivotal

position in Bavinck’s theological epistemology, both in bounding the limits of reason and in conditioning the properly doxological character of creaturely knowing. This category of Bavinck’s thought has, however, remained curiously unexplored. Although Bavinck’s theological epistemology has attracted considerable attention in the recent ...

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