For too long I’ve not posted on the theology of my favorite thinker, Herman Bavinck. His bibliology is among the most impressive features of the Reformed Dogmatics and it remains instructive for any of us today who hold that theology is ultimately a matter of reflecting on and elaborating the divine teaching of Holy Scripture. Here I’ll sketch briefly his understanding of the necessity of Scripture in hopes of generating some discussion.
In line with classic Protestant thinking about the Bible, Bavinck contends for its necessity over against Roman Catholicism, mysticism, and rationalism. Rome, says Bavinck, has abandoned the notion that Scripture funds the being of the church and has propped up the church with its teaching office as autopistos (trustworthy in and of itself) and sufficient for norming doctrine and praxis. Mysticism also disregards the necessity of Scripture but by undervaluing the external word and overemphasizing the importance of the internal word delivered to the heart of the individual believer in communion with God and by the Holy Spirit. Rationalism too undermines the necessity of Scripture by identifying that internal teaching of the Spirit with the natural light of reason and suggesting that the latter provides all the furnishings for the content of faith.
However, on supposition of God’s decision to address his people in the canonical writ, we’re obliged to affirm the necessity of Scripture. For Bavinck, the Bible itself is an instance of God’s self-revelation and, therefore, the church cannot be its author. The church “may be older than the written word, but it is definitely younger than the spoken word” (Reformed Dogmatics, 1:470). In other words, absolutely, the word creates and governs the church, even if subsequently God organically (not mechanically) employs human agents to inscripturate the word for future generations. With the passing of the first century, “the time-distance from the apostles grew greater, their writings became more important, and the necessity of these writings gradually intensified. The necessity of Scripture, in fact, is not a stable but an ever-increasing attribute” (ibid.). The Bible, then, is a divine gift for the transmission, preservation, and propagation of the word of God: “The sound of a voice passes away, but the written letter remains” (ibid., 1:471).
Intriguingly, the historical amplification of this attribute concerns not just the death of the apostles but also the phenomena of modern life:
To the degree that humankind becomes larger, life becomes shorter, the memory weaker, science more extensive, error more serious, and deception more brazen, the necessity of Holy Scripture increases. Print and the press are gaining in significance in every area of life. The invention of printing was a giant step to heaven and to hell….It is true that religious literature remains for many people the primary nourishment for their spiritual life. Still, this proves nothing against the necessity of Holy Scripture. Since directly or indirectly, all Christian truth is drawn from it. The diverted stream also gets its water from the source (ibid., 1:472).
More could be said, but any thoughts on Bavinck’s theological moves or the implications for the proliferation of both skeptical and religious literature that we currently see?