Bradley G. Green

Nullus Intellectus Sine Cruce


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Bradley G. Green
Bavinck on Nature and Grace PDF Print E-mail
Written by Brad Green   
Sunday, 30 August 2015 22:59


For a number of reasons, I have been ruminating upon how a Protestant is to think about the relationship between Nature and Grace.  A part of this comes from reading the extremely stimulating work of Leonardo Chirico, particularly his 2003 book, Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatical II Roman Catholicism.  It is a wonderful book.  Central to De Chirico's thesis is that there are two key axioms which are at the heart of the systemic nature of Roman Catholicism.  There is (1) Rome's understanding of the Nature/Grace relationship, and (2) Rome's understanding of the Church as the continuing Incarnation of the Son.

My interest here is on the relationship between nature and grace.  In reading De Lubac a number of years ago (his Augustinianism and Modern Theology), I learned that Roman Catholicism had their own very long and very intense debate on the nature and grace, on the exact way to understand the nature of grace in the garden, and so on.

Herman Bavinck was quite happy to affirm that in some sense grace "perfects nature".  In an article by Jan Veenhof (translated by Al Wolters), Veenhof discuss the issue of nature of grace in Bavinck.  While Bavinck (like Thomas Aquinas) can speak at one level of how grace "perfects nature", Bavinck could nonetheless argue that Rome and Protestantism (at least in its Reformed iteration) sees the nature/grace dynamic or relationship in quite different ways.

According to Wolters (in his Translator's Introduction): "Central to the religious vision underlying the cosmonomic philosophy is Bavinck’s insight that grace restores nature, i.e., that creation is not abol- ished but integrally renewed by salvation in Christ" (p. 11).

Again, although Bavinck can uses Thomistic language of grace perfecting nature, he also sees a fundamental divide between Rome and Protestantism on this issue.

Veenhof writes (at times quoting Bavinck):

'With “this imposing Roman Catholic system the Reformation came into collision at virtually every point.” The sixteenth-century Reformation was not only a reformation of the church but also an “entirely different and new conception of Christianity itself”: The Reformers, going back to the New Testament, replaced the dualistic world and life view of Catholicism, and its quantitative opposition between the natural and the supernatural, “with a truly theistic world-view and a qualitative opposition”' (p. 15)

It might be fair to say Bavinck (and Protestantism more generally?), in contradistinction from Rome, views creation differently in two complementary ways. Creation is both (1) more fundamentally good and graced from the very beginning (the "divide" between nature and grace is less stringent), but (2) after the fall nature is more marred and corrupted by sin than is generally understood in traditional Roman Catholicism.  As Veenhof writes: "Because of the way in which the Reformation established the relation of nature and grace, the cosmos of course immediately gains significantly in importance" (p. 15)

Bavinck himself can write:

"It does not mean an annihilation, but a restoration of God’s sin-disrupted work of creation. Revelation is an act of reformation; in re-creation the creation, with all its forms and norms, is restored; in the gospel, the law; in grace, justice; in Christ, the cosmos is restored" (p. 18).

If Rome wants to elevate nature, the Reformed Protestant wants to repair nature: reparatio not simply elevatio.

But notice this emphas on repairing and not simply elevating does not entail a "lower" understanding of creation, but really sees creation in a "higher" sense--creation was radically and thoroughly good because created.  It has not lost all trace of goodness with the entrance of sin in the world.  But due to sin, nature has a great need: repair, not simply elevation.

As Veenhof writes (again quoting Bavinck):

'The Holy Spirit, who acts in continuity with God’s directives in natural life, “seeks by His grace to restore the whole of natural life, to liberate it from sin and to hallow it to God”' (p. 18).

Finally, summarizing Bavinck:

'Grace militates against sin in the natural, but it does not militate against the natural itself; on the contrary, it restores the natural and brings it to its normal development, i.e. the development intended by God' (p. 19).

For Evangelical Protestants to know how to relate to our Catholic friends means we must both understand what Rome is saying, as well as understand what our own tradition has said over the years.  Bavinck is a helpful older guide to read on the way.


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Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 September 2015 06:23 )
Dooyeweerd on Rome and Nature and Grace PDF Print E-mail
Written by Brad Green   
Wednesday, 26 August 2015 16:19

So many gems in Dooyeweerd's In the Twilight of Western Thought: Studies in the Pretended Autonomy of Philosphical Thought.  This summer I benefitted from reading Leonardo De Chirico's book Evangelical Theological Perspectives on Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism. I found it to be a very helpful read, and I am still reflecting on De Chirico's insights.  At the heart of De Chirico's book is the argument that to truly understand Roman Catholicism, one must grasp its systemic nature, and in particular the existent of two key axioms at the heart of the system: (1) Rome's understanding of the relationship between nature and grace; and (2) Rome's understanding of the Christ-Church relationship, where the Church is seen as the continuing of the incarnation.  With this summer reading still in my mind, I found the following in Dooyeweerd's In the Twilight of Western Thought, which seems in fundamental agreement with De Chirico.  Dooyerweerd suspects that there is a slide toward "pretended autonomy" (or we might say, a "functional autonomy") in Thomas Aquinas' understanding of the relationship between nature and grace.  Dooyeweerd is concerned that in Thomas' understanding, the notion of a "natural sphere" which can be understood "by the natural light of human reason alone" eventually leads to a form of (pretended) philosophical autonomy.  Dooyeweerd writes:

"This scholastic motive of nature and grace, which entered Roman Catholic doctrine, deprived the central theme of the Word-revelation--namely that of creation, fall into sin and redemption by Jesus Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit--of its radical and integral character.  By accepting a natural sphere of life, which was supposed to be related to the human intellect alone and apart from any religious presupposition, it paved the way for a philosophy which did not acknowledge any other authority than human reason." (p. 47)

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 26 August 2015 17:05 )
Dooyeweerd on Descartes on Creation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Brad Green   
Tuesday, 25 August 2015 09:13


I am currently reading Herman Dooyeweerd's In the Twilight of Western Thought: Studies in the Pretended Autonomy of Philosophical Thought (the subtitle alone is worth the price of the book).  There are so many gems in this book.  Dooyeweerd is attempting to show that modern philosphical thought (in general) pretends to be autonomous and neutral, but is nothing of the sort.  All philosophical thought is ultimately rooted in and driven by some set of religious convictions or axioms.  Dooyeweerd speaks in terms of "ground motives".  Here is Dooyeweerd on the pretended autonomy of Descartes, and the implications of Descartes' project:

"Humanist philosophy eliminated the so-called supra-natural sphere.  Nor would it accept a given world-order founded in divine creation.  This was incompatible with its religious basic-motive which implied the absolute autonomy of human reason.  It could not accept any order of the world that does not originate from from the autonomous and free human reason itself.  Therefore, the Cartesian philosophy started with a methodological, theoretical destruction of the world as it presents itself in the given order of human experience.  After this methodical destruction of the given world, only the thinking human ego with its innate mathematical ideas is left.  And this thinking ego, which seeks the criterion of truth only in itself, sets itself the task of recreating the world in the image of its mathematical pattern of thought" (p. 48)

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 August 2015 09:17 )
Letham on the Old Testament and the Trinity PDF Print E-mail
Written by Brad Green   
Saturday, 22 August 2015 06:47

Students:  Here is Letham's chapter on the Old Testament and the Trinity, until your books arrive.

Download this file (%5bUntitled%5d.pdf)Letham on OT and Trinity[Letham on OT and Trinity]3414 Kb

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Thomas Oden on the Nature of Theology PDF Print E-mail
Written by Brad Green   
Wednesday, 19 August 2015 12:20

Attached is a brief piece by Thomas C. Oden on the nature of theology.

Download this file (Oden on Theology.pdf)Thomas Oden on Theology[Thomas Oden on Theology]855 Kb

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Last Updated ( Monday, 24 August 2015 20:01 )
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