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Bavinck and Barth on Revelation

Bavinck in the first volume of his Reformed Dogmatics is very clear about revelation becoming nature. God reveals himself in, by, and with nature. Bavinck is clear that revelation is not “abstractly supernatural,” somehow floating above and apart from nature (442). Here the saying is relevant that grace perfects nature (443).

Barth, however, rejects the idea that revelation becomes nature. Revelation cannot become one with nature. Rather, in revelation (which is the transcendent act of God in Jesus Christ) God takes up nature, destroys it, and replaces it. This is because nature has no capacity for grace. There is an infinite qualitative difference between eternity and time, God and nature. God in his act of revelation cannot become nature, but rather through grace says no to nature as he takes it up, destroys it, and makes it something wholly new.

This view of nature seems wholly akin to an Anabaptist notion of nature. Nature according to Anabaptistism, and for Barth, is inherently problematic. It is not-God, and as such is sin, fallen, and evil. Nature has only non-reality, non-existence. Contrary to Bavinck’s notion of grace perfecting nature, for Barth grace obliterates nature. Death and nothingness is eschatology.

This is, of course, a similar view of nature as one might find in so much of American evangelicalism, especially of a pre-millennial sort. The body is bad, something to be shed that our souls might go to heaven to be with Jesus forever. This world is something to be shed, to be escaped, to be raptured out of. We must be careful in amillennialism that we do fall prey to a similar trap. Jesus will purge the world with fire, at the palingenesis. But he does not do so to destroy it. He does it to renew it, and perfect it as a New Heavens and New Earth. This is Bavinck’s view, and I believe it is the most consistently Reformed.


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