What Is Certainty? (III)
God Speaks to the Conscience of Every Person
We are investigating Herman Bavinck’s work The Certainty of Faith (De zekerheid des geloofs). In our last installment, we took due note of the fact that even though it is trendy to feign a lack of desire for certainty and knowledge, few live consistently within that life and worldview. In life and in death, people desire certainty, assurance. Because of Herman Bavinck’s commitment to Scripture and the Reformed faith, his little book is most helpful and practical for our topic.
Rather than pandering to the “unchurched” crowd, Bavinck states directly, “There are no atheists, no people without a heart or conscience. Or more precisely, God never leaves Himself without a witness. Whether it be through blessings or through trials, He speaks to the conscience of each and every person.” While it is true that there are those who suppress God’s truth in unrighteousness (cf. Rom. 1:18ff.) or to cauterize their consciences, “history also gives us incontestable evidence that the human has not been extinguished even in the most hardened sinner; the voice of the almighty and omnipresent God sets up a responsive chord somewhere deep in the heart. ‘There is no peace,’ says the Lord, ‘for the wicked’ (Isa. 48:22).”
When we reflect even for a moment, it is apparent that Bavinck’s approach truly frees up the pastor/preacher to do what the Lord has called him to do. We are not certain where that “responsive chord” in each individual in the congregation might be, but we do know that God knows where it is and, as Calvin put it, the secret watering of the Holy Spirit is sufficient to find that chord. What we need to do is to proclaim the Word of truth as clearly and as accurately as we are able. Or, as Bavinck puts it, “In order to live comforted and die happily, we need certainty about the invisible and eternal things above. We must know what we are and where we are going. We must know that our personhood is more than a ripple in the ocean, that the moral battle stands far above the natural order, and that the highest and purest ideals of the soul are not illusions but reality. We must know how we can be liberated from the accusations of our conscience and from the weight of sin. We must know that God is and that He is our God. We must be sure we are reconciled to Him and can therefore approach death and judgment without terror. In all this, our greatest need is for certainty.”
This is what I meant in the previous issue when I spoke of not playing games. This will come as a great shock to some I’m sure—well, you know what I mean—but Bavinck was a much, much better theologian than McLaren, Wallis, Bell, Pagitt, and others combined. He taught Dogmatics and Reformed Ethics in Kampen for twenty years and then was professor of Dogmatics at the Free University of Amsterdam from 1902 until his death in 1921. As intelligent as he was, he still spoke the simple, clear language of Scripture and confession.
Bavinck knows what many today do not seem to know or want to know, namely that “Mankind has sought for certainty all through the ages, although along the wrong roads and with the wrong methods. Every religion, no matter how distorted, seeks for the highest and holiest known to man. Every religion is born out of and sustained by the desire for eternal survival.” This is the exact opposite approach of McLaren, Wallis, and the whole liberal Social Gospel bag. Their concern is the hic et nunc—here and now. Why won’t McLaren talk about sin and Christ’s Second Coming? Well, the answer is: in part it’s theological and in part it’s pragmatic. It’s pragmatic in the sense that McLaren and Wallis understand that if they talk about sin and if they disclose that what theology they have is built on the precepts of Jürgen Moltmann’s universalism, some will leave, especially about the sin part. And that’s where the theological part enters. When McLaren descries a violent Second Coming you need to understand that he is rejecting a doctrine of the Second Coming that involves judgment and the separation of the sheep from the goats. In other words, McLaren is a universalist.
Simultaneously, what makes Wallis, McLaren,
Bavinck contends that when confronted by life’s deepest problems, science has often taken a stance that conflicts with the seriousness of these problems. This is true, but is further complicated by the fact that, just as in Bavinck’s day (there is nothing new under the sun) when the liberals sought a shift away from Scripture and towards the myriad of social problems facing the Netherlands, the mega-church shifted from biblical truth to a “let me solve your most recent problem” that turned the pulpit into a CEO-like weekly report, a stand-up comedy routine, or a church version of Dr. Phil. Pop-psychology was the order of the day and a meaty message from the Bible was supplanted by “slice-of-life” drama, liturgical dance, and the latest contemporary praise music. Being entertained in church just like we are in nightclubs, at the movies, and watching TV might be fun for a while, but “it leaves the heart unsatisfied.” Where does all of this stuff and fluff leave us “In the hour of suffering and in the face of death…?”
While Bavinck criticized science for failing to deal with life’s real issues, with the necessary changes being made (mutatis mutandis) the same can be said of both the mega-church and the Emergent church movements. Those movements are mistaken if they bypass the “serious problems of human life with an indifferent shrug. The consciousness of good and evil, the awareness of sin, righteousness and judgment, the accusations of conscience, the fear of death and the need for reconciliation are just as real as matter and energy, and size and number. In fact, they are realities of tremendous import, for they rule the world and mankind, life and history. To act as if they don’t exist betrays a lack of love for the truth…. And to dismiss them as outdated images and foolish delusions demonstrates an extensive superficiality.”
Although the mega-church and Emergent church movements believe that Christianity as we know it has had the biscuit, Bavinck was keenly and acutely aware that the State Church in Holland (Hervormde Kerk) had taken precisely the same approach. Liberalism was in and the Bible was out because it was outdated and irrelevant. Liberalism failed then as it always has. McLaren’s claim to be orthodox would be a good belly laugh if it weren’t so sad; if it didn’t leave those who invest their lives in his nonsense in such spiritual bankruptcy. If there is no sin, no judgment and no punishment, no hell (why is there only heaven?), then, says Bavinck, let the person making such a claim “give us sufficient, incontrovertible proof.” The only thing McLaren, Wallis, and the other Emergent church movement tribe has offered is an “it’s true because I say it is” approach, and I, for one, am not prepared to take old Bri at his word; Wallis even less so. If there is no hell, no violent Second Coming, “We should be absolutely sure of the truth of this denial—so sure that we can confidently live and die by it.”
Why is that? Bavinck offers a clear reason that I’ll close on this time: “At stake is our irrevocable eternity, so we need firm, unshakable, divine certainty on this point.”
 Herman Bavinck, The Certainty of Faith, (Harry der Nederlanden [trans.]), (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, 1980), p. 12.
 Ibid., 12-13.
 Ibid., 13.
 Ibid., 14.
 Ibid., 14-15.
 Ibid., 15.
Labels: The Certainty of Faith