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Bavinck on the “Implanted” Knowledge of God

A listener of Christ the Center raised a useful question about Bavinck, noting that he denies the speculative conception of “innate ideas” in Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, pp. 69–73 and wondered what such a denial might imply. 

In response to that excellent question, we should grasp that Bavnick clearly denied the philosophically speculative notion of “innate ideas” that leads to mysticism. However, while Bavinck denied the speculative notion of innate ideas found among the philosophers, he endorsed the notion of “implanted knowledge of God” found in Calvin’s theology of the sensus divinitatis. Bavinck says,

At the same time we must speak of the “implanted knowledge of God” in some sense. This means simply that, as in the case of language, human beings possess both the capacity and the inclination to arrive at some firm, certain, and unfailing knowledge of God. We gain this knowledge in the normal course of human development and in the environment in which God gives us the gift of life. From the entire realm of nature, both exterior and interior to us humans, we receive impressions and gain perceptions that foster in us the sense of God. It is God himself who does not leave us without witness.

Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:54

It is this original capacity and inclination before the fall that received the “impressions” from God in his self-disclosure that was “interior” to Adam as the image of God. In that way, God did not leave created Adam without a witness. This Calvinistic notion of “implanted knowledge of God” differs from the philosophically speculative notion of “innate ideas.” God did not create Adam with abstract “innate ideas” but with a personal “implanted knowledge of God” that underwrote his natural religious fellowship with God—a fellowship that according to Bavinck precludes the need for ontologically reproportioning grace as found in the donum superadditum (see RD 3:576–77). This is Bavinck’s way of stating what Vos termed the “deeper Protestant conception” of the image of God (see Vos’ RD 2:13–14).

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