An Irenic Polemic

One website reads this way:

“Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) is widely celebrated as one of the most eloquent divines in the Reformed tradition, and through the ongoing labor of translation teams, editors, and publishers, his vast writings are being offered to the first generation of English-only read.” [SOURCE]

Herman Bavinck writes on the subject of “Certainty in Roman Catholicism” in his booklet, The Certainty of Faith:

“The Roman Catholic Church, following St. Augustine (354-430), even denies the possibility that a Christian can be sure of his eternal salvation apart from a few exceptions and then only by a special revelation from God.  The certainty attainable by keeping the decrees of the church is, and remains, nothing more than an opinion, a surmise, an opinioconjecturalis.  No matter how much it may seem so, this certainty, a complete ineradicable certainty.  There is no room for such in Rome’s system, for it does not see salvation as assured in Christ and sealed in the heart of the believer by the testimony of the Holy Spirit.  Salvation depends on good works and as such is always only conditional.  The Roman Catholic Church never allows the Christian to become independent and to stand on his own feet.  It never sets him loose but always retains a hold on him, even years after his death in purgatory.  The church alone can open and close the gates to heaven.

In Catholicism, therefore, the Christian faith does not turn on the question:  How do I know that I truly believe and how can I be sure of my salvation?  It concentrates on a much different question, namely:  How do I keep the decrees of the church and how, according to its judgment and pronouncement, do I earn eternal life?  As long as the layman does what the church says, he need not worry;  the church takes care of the rest.  But in his attempt to win eternal life by good works the Catholic Christian can take one of two directions.  He can make it very easy on himself and, if not in theory yet in practice, he can ask himself:  How little can I get by with?  He can also take eternal life seriously and demand from himself strict observance of all the church demands, and even further, compel himself to do more than is required.

As a result, in Catholicism there are always two kinds of Christians:  those who occasionally go to confession and mass, observe the required fasts and for the rest live quite a superficial, carefree life, trusting in the church for their salvation;  and those who are dissatisfied with such externalities and attempt to live a purely religious life through mysticism and asceticism, in separation from the world and denial of the flesh, thus come before the face of God.

Far be it from us to immediately denounce the latter with the protestant judgment that since such piety issues from a false principle — righteousness by works — it is therefore worthless to God.  For no matter how much truth that judgment may contain, before we utter it we must remind ourselves that the Catholic righteousness by good works is vastly preferable to a protestant righteousness by good doctrine.  At least righteousness by good works benefits one’s neighbor, whereas righteousness by good doctrine only produces lovelessness and pride.  Furthermore, we must not blind ourselves to the tremendous faith, genuine repentance, complete surrender and the fervent love for God and neighbor evident in the lives and work of many Catholic Christians.  The Christian life is so rich that it develops to its full glory not just in a single form or within the walls of one church.

Nevertheless, Catholic piety, even it its best form, is different in character from that of protestantism. It always remains unfree, unempancipated, formal, legalistic.  Complete inner certainty of faith is lacking.  It always leaves room for the question:  Have I done enough, and what else should I do?  Rome deliberately keeps the souls of believers in a restless, so-called healthy tension.  Spiritual life fluctuates between false assurance and painful uncertainty.  Catholicism does not understand the word of Holy Scripture that the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God and that all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Herman Bavinck, The Certainty of Faith; underlining mine–CD)

Here are a  couple commendatory paragraphs from one fellow, giving us some reasons “Why [we] should read Bavinck”:

“3. Broadly Catholic. Despite its clear Reformed emphasis, Bavinck’s theology is broadly catholic in the best sense of the term. He’s well-attuned to the riches to be discovered across the wider Christian heritage. Indeed, Augustine and Aquinas appear to get more play in his doctrine of God than Calvin, Luther, or even later post-Reformation sources.

4. Irenically Polemic. Bavinck’s method involves lengthy, charitable expositions of viewpoints he wishes to dispute—Roman, Lutheran, Remonstrant, Socinian—so that he might, by contrast, better develop the unique strength and nuance of the Reformed position. Bavinck writes with a generous spirit that makes him slow to cast anathemas.” (Derek Rishmawy)

Not only does Bavinck utterly reject the teaching of Hebrews 11:1: “And faith is of things hoped for a confidence, of matters not seen a conviction,” he further commits insidious spiritual porneia with ignorant God-haters who are seeking to establish a righteousness of their own (cf. Romans 10:1-4).

“Furthermore, we must not blind ourselves to the tremendous faith, genuine repentance, complete surrender and the fervent love for God and neighbor evident in the lives and work of many Catholic Christians.  The Christian life is so rich that it develops to its full glory not just in a single form or within the walls of one church.” (Bavinck, The Certainty of Faith).

If the apostle had Paul followed the “irenic polemic” of Herman Bavinck, then he would NOT have so blindly anathematized those zealous Judaizers for mere ignorance of a theological subtlety (Romans 10:2-3; Galatians 1:8-9, 5:2-4).

Proverbs 21:27 says:

“The sacrifice of the wicked [is] hateful, how much more [when] he brings it with an evil intent!”

God hates false, self-righteous religion (cf. Proverbs 12:10).  Those God-haters who are establishing their own righteousness may be used by God to benefit believers in various ways (cf. Romans 8:28), but that does NOT mean that God does not hate the self-righteous boasters or that they will somehow set themselves before His eyes because they did something outwardly “nice” to a true believer.

“For You [are] not a God enjoying wickedness; nor shall evil live with You. The boasters shall not set themselves before Your eyes. You hate all workers of iniquity. You shall destroy those speaking lies; Jehovah will despise the man of blood and deceit. But I, in the plenty of Your grace, I will come [into] Your house. I will worship in Your fear toward Your holy temple, O Jehovah. Lead me in Your righteousness, because of my enemies; make straight Your way before me. For [there is] no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is engulfing ruin; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. O God, hold them guilty; let them fall from their own counsels. Drive them away in the multitude of their transgressions, for they have rebelled against You. But let all who put their trust in You rejoice; let them shout for joy forever, because You cover them. And let those who love Your name be joyful in You. For You, O Jehovah, will bless the righteous; You will surround him with favor, as [with] a shield.” (Psalm 5:4-12)

The clear conclusion from this post is that Herman Bavinck (as detailed in the above quotes) is a God-hater who commits spiritual whoredom with those MUCH LESS SUBTLE than the Judaizers whom Paul engaged in a true loving polemic with.

“Love has patience, is kind; love is not envious; love is not vain, is not puffed up; does not behave indecently, does not pursue its own things, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)

“…and in all deceit of unrighteousness in those being lost, because they did not receive the love of the truth in order for them to be saved. And because of this, God will send to them a working of error, for them to believe the lie, that all may be judged, those not believing the truth, but who have delighted in unrighteousness. But we ought to thank God always concerning you, brothers, beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to salvation in sanctification of [the] Spirit and belief of [the] truth, to which He called you through our gospel, to obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-14)

Herman Bavinck rejoices in the zealous unrighteousness that is “not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2-3), and he receives NOT the love of the truth that Christ is “the end of Law for righteousness to everyone that believes” (Romans 10:4).

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