The Biblical Idea of Revelation
For Bavinck, there are two distinctions to bear in mind about his idea of revelation. First, he distinguishes between the revelation of God to all men through nature and man’s attempt to evade the true God through man made religions. Second, he distinguishes between God’s revelation to Israel and the idolatry of surrounding nations. For Bavinck, religion and revelation are not one and the same. The difference is similar to that of the difference between the Creator and his creatures. He thinks Gwatkin is right in saying that “not every thought of man, but only true thought, echoes God’s thought, and that religions can be viewed as divine revelations only so far as they are true” (p.19).
Bavinck reports that during his time, there would be a new appreciation about the mentioned distinctions between revelation and religion and the supranaturalistic worldview. He quotes Titius’ claim that theologians from Kahler to Troeltsch believe “that supranaturalism and Christianity stand or fall together” (p. 20). Based on Loofs’ opinion says Bavinck, the reason why the supranaturalism of 16th and 17thcentury was not taken seriously by the natural science and history was because it “was of too clumsy construction” (ibid.). So he agrees with Titius that a decisive battle between immanentistic religion and “robust theism has not yet been fought out” (ibid.).
Theism in the biblical sense as Bavinck understands, emphasizes both his transcendence and immanence. Bavinck upholds the biblical view of God that he is not far from any one of us, but that “in him we live, and move and have our being.” It is true that God dwells in heaven but heaven is part of the created universe. So for Bavinck, “When God is represented as dwelling in heaven, he is not thereby placed outside but in the world, and is not removed by a spacial transcendence from his creatures”(p.21). He also says, “Although God is immanent in every part and sphere of creation with all his perfections and all his being, nevertheless, even in that most intimate union he remains transcendent” (p.22).
Bavinck describes the idea of revelation of old theology as “external” and “mechanical” (p.22). It identified revelation simply with Scripture. In his case, he acknowledges both the historical and psychological components of revelation. It is in this way that he perceives that “special revelation” has taken numerous elements and is founded on “general revelation” (ibid.). He recognizes the connection of both the Old and the New Testaments with their surrounding settings. He understands revelation not as one time event but underwent progressive development, which appreciates both historical element and human individuality.
Bavinck welcomes such trend for it contributes to a better understanding of revelation. Unfortunately, the existing inclination is to focus only on the historical and psychological elements of revelation at the expense of the content of revelation. In the language of Bavinck, the current interest is on the how rather than the what, the process rather than the content, the similarities rather than the distinction. The aim should be for a better understanding of revelation not the removal of it.
For Herman Bavinck, belief in the uniqueness of revelation “is the starting point and the foundation-stone of Christian theology” (pp.23-24). The existence of God is the primary foundation of revelation. Bavinck says “If God does not exist, if He has not revealed Himself, He cannot be known, all religion is an illusion and all theology a phantasm” (p.23).
It is Rationalism, which discredited Christianity and its supranatural character and idea of revelation “as a mass of fables” (p.24). Bavinck understands the relationship between revelation and reason. He states “Christianity rests on revelation, it has a content, which, while not in conflict with reason, yet greatly transcends reason” (p.25). He argues, “If revelation did not furnish such a content, and comprised nothing but what reason itself could sooner or later have discovered, it would not be worthy of its name” (ibid.). He adds, “What neither nature nor history, neither mind nor heart, neither science nor art can teach us, it makes known to us” (ibid.).
Bavinck has a “holistic” concept of revelation. He recognizes both creation and redemption. He states:
In creation God manifests the power of his mind; in revelation, which has redemption for its center, he discloses to us the greatness of his heart (p.26). Revelation, while having its center in the person of Christ, in its periphery extends to the uttermost ends of creation. It does not stand isolated in nature and history, does not resemble an island in the ocean, nor a drop of oil upon water. With the whole of nature, with the whole of history, with the whole of humanity, with the family and society, with science and art it is intimately connected…In every moment of time beats the pulse of eternity; every point in space is filled with the omnipresence of God; the finite is supported by the infinite, all becoming is rooted in being…The foundations of creation and redemption are the same. The Logos who became flesh is the same by whom all things were made (p.27).
Reference: Bavinck, Herman. The Philosophy of Revelation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953.