Guest Post By Tyler Helfers
One of my passions in serving as a campus minister is to introduce our students and faculty to dead, Dutch theologians. Perhaps it is an obligation because I serve in the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and study at Calvin Theological Seminary. However, I tend to think it is because of the tremendous gift these men are to the Church, and how, even today, their works remain relevant to faith and practice in our academic setting.
While I could talk of Vos, Kuyper, Schilder, Dooyeweerd, Van Til, Berkouwer, or Ridderbos, I find myself drawing most often on two others: Herman Bavinck and J.H. Bavinck. In a society that champions the sovereignty of self, and increasingly convinced that religion is irrelevant to the common way of lifea, the works of both Bavincks—a balance of cultural nous and confessional fidelity, missional zeal and Kingdom vision—serve as a blessing and bright hope for the future of both the church and wider culture.
Nature and Grace
At the heart of Herman Bavinck’s theology is the principle that “grace restores nature.” According to Bavinck, the religious antithesis should be between grace and sin, not between grace and nature, as posited by the dualistic approaches of both Roman Catholicism and the Anabaptists.b Bavinck writes:
Grace restores nature and takes it to its highest pinnacle…The re-creation is not a second, new creation. It does not add to existence any new creatures or introduce any new substance into it, but it is truly “re-formation.” In this process the working of grace extends as far as the power of sin.c
The implications of this are profound and all encompassing. Not only are fallen human beings reconciled to God and restored to fellowship with Him, but also enabled by the Holy Spirit to once again live out their created purpose (vocation). However, the re-forming effects of grace are also extended to the whole of nature, including the world of culture, society, and politics.d
As it relates to campus ministry, the blessing of this principle is twofold. First, it guards against the twin dangers of separatism and secularism. Much of what is encompassed under the banner of “campus ministry” is nothing more than an Anabaptist separatism that Bavinck describes as “[only] rescuing and snatching of individuals out of the world which lies in wickedness; never a methodical, organic reformation of the whole, of the cosmos, of the nation and country.e” Thus, ministries engage primarily in evangelism, Bible study, and providing a sub-culture for Christian students (as opposed to a holistic approach to discipleship and working for reformation of the broader campus culture). On the other hand, the principle thwarts the efforts of secularism to relegate faith in general, and the work of Christ in particular, to private life and the heart. As a result of the way in which God is at work, faith cannot help but find expression in the public square, and do so in ongoing, relevant ways that point to Christ and the Kingdom.
- a) Christopher Dawson, Religion and World History: A Selection from the Works of Christopher (University of California: Image Books, 1975), 257. He goes on to explain that the “process of secularisation arises not from the loss of faith but from the loss of social interest in the world of faith. It begins the moment men feel that religion is irrelevant to the common way of life and that society as such has nothing to do with the truths of faith.” (back)
- b) Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Abr. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 82. (back)
- c) Ibid, 498. (back)
- d)Ibid, 83. (back)
- e) Jan Veenhof, “Nature and Grace in Bavinck,” Pro Rege 34, no. 4, (June 2006), p. 17. (back)