The Idea of a Philosophy of Revelation 3

Return to Hegelian Idealism

The kind of freedom mentioned in the foregoing section did not last long for by the turn of the century from the 19th to the 20th, an important change took place. Bavinck narrates that foremost investigators in science have abandoned the “mechanico-chemical” explanation of all phenomena and events and an attempt has been made to incorporate the ideas of Darwin into an “idealistic worldview.” Darwin, adhering first to a deistic concept of the world and later became an agnostic, had actually left a space for different concepts of the Absolute. Thus, the idea of evolution has returned to Hegelian idealism.

As a result, says Bavinck, “The mechanical concept of nature has been once more replaced by the dynamical; materialism has reverted to pantheism; evolution has become again the unfolding, the revealing of absolute spirit. And the concept of revelation has held anew its triumphant entry into the realm of philosophy and even of natural science” (p.14).

Such intellectual movement did not spare theology. A “new theology” has emerged attempting to relate evolution to revelation, to reconcile science and religion, a shift from transcendence to immanence “and finds its highest expression in “ ‘the gospel of the humanity of God and the divinity of man’ ” (p.14).

In this new theology, it is viewed that “Everything is a manifestation of God” (p.15). Man is not “ ‘simply what he is, but all he yet may be’ ” (ibid.). It is claimed that Christianity illustrates this in the person of Christ. “In Christ, humanity and divinity are one” (ibid.). “All men are potential Christs” (ibid.).

Bavinck critiques this new trend in theology. He said that it is “nothing but a repetition of the pantheistic worldview, which has been embodied in the systems of Erigena, Spinoza, and especially Hegel” (p.16). Many are happy for this transition from the intellectualism of 19th century to a return to religion, mysticism, metaphysics, and philosophy and so a room for the conception of the idea of revelation has once again been re-opened. Bavinck warns that this trend possesses an “egoistic character” (p.16). It “seeks God not above but in the world and regard Him as identical with that of the creature” (ibid.).

Thus the empirico-scientific worldview assumes a different form and this time, it is a religious form. However, this is not easy to detect for it dislikes itself to be designated as religion. The idea of evolution is no longer satisfied to be perceived as “science” either by the side or against Christianity but to usurp the place of Christianity as the new “dogma” and “religion” (ibid.).

Monism and the Persistence of Supranaturalism

Bavinck then mentions an old term that describes this new intellectual movement. The term is monism. Bavinck identifies Haeckel as the one who designates monism to this intellectual movement claiming to be the true science and true religion.  As a form of religion, monism offers an immanent God. As such, Bavinck says, monism “can never satisfy man’s religious and ethical needs” (p.17). In monism, there is no power above the world. It offers no permanent peace and rest, which according to Bavinck, are the things that man seeks in religion. Man seeks strength, life, personal power, pardon from sin and joy to triumph over a world of sin and death. Monism as a religion cannot give what man seeks.

The kind of religion man needs, says Bavinck, is not a religion that shut us up in but lifts us up high above the world. A religion that in time imparts eternity; in death gives life; in change provides stability. Bavinck argues that “this is the reason why transcendence, supranaturalism, revelation are essential to all religions” (ibid.). They characterize the Mohammedan nations, Christendom, Greek Church, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

So regardless of this intellectual evolution both in philosophy and theology, Christianity maintains its supranatural character. The Bible still occupies its unique place in the church. Bavinck claims, “all our modern civilization, art, science, literature, ethics, jurisprudence, society, state, politics are leavened by religious, Christian, supranaturalistic elements and still rest on the foundation of the old worldview” (ibid.). Bavinck quotes Troeltsch saying, “ ‘The stamp of this education, Europe bears deep in its soul up to today’ ” (ibid.). Bavinck is confident that “much therefore will have to be done before the modern, pantheistic or materialistic, worldview shall have conquered the old theistic one” (ibid.) And in view of the past history of mankind, Bavinck believes that this will never happen. Marx therefore is wrong in his prediction.

The persistence of supranatural worldview and the idea of revelation says Bavinck, is neither simply due to “stubborn conservatism” nor “incorrigible lack of understanding” (p.18). There is actually essential difference between the supranatural worldview and the one offered by this new trend in theology and philosophy. Bavinck says that Friedrich Delitzsch affirms this fact. Delitzsch argues that the Old Testament idea of revelation was similar with that found in Babylonian religion. However, such connection was discredited by many due to an attempt to modify the idea of revelation “so as to make of it humanly mediated, gradual process of historical evolution” (ibid.). Delitzsch finds it acceptable personally but admits that it is “a weak dilution of the Biblical and theological conception of revelation” (ibid.).

Reference: Bavinck, Herman. The Philosophy of Revelation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953.


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