Bavinck on the Continuation of Prophecy and Miraculous Gifts

Part of my self-imposed summer reading this past summer was to read through all four volumes of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. I only ended up getting about half of the way through (although riveting, it is dense), but it was a very enriching experience. Herman Bavinck was a Dutch Reformed theologian who lived from the middle of the 19th Century to the early part of the 20th Century. He was a companion and colleague of Abraham Kuyper, the well-known theologian and Dutch statesman. Reformed Dogmatics has been described by John Frame, professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, as “by far the most profound and comprehensive Reformed systematic theology of the twentieth century” and “the fountainhead of Reformed theology for the last hundred years”. J.I. Packer, himself no small name in theology, places Bavinck among the greatest theologians in the history of the Church, saying, “Like Augustine, Calvin, and Edwards, Bavinck was a man of giant mind, vast learning, ageless wisdom, and great expository skill.” With such glowing endorsements, I couldn’t help but grab a copy and read through it. I hope to finish it at some point. For now, I just wanted to post a short paragraph within the work that caught my eye some time ago. It has been sitting in my “drafts” folder for months, so it needs to be published.

I grew up in a Charismatic church. And, while I am not Charismatic, I am not fully able to call myself a cessationist. I am a very cautious continuationist. The reason for this is that I cannot from Scripture argue for the cessation of the so-called sign gifts (prophecy, healing, and tongues). And yet, at times, I have a hard time reconciling the absolute, final authority of Scripture in light of such things as prophecy. Well, I don’t want to delve into all of the questions and issues related to the topic. However, I do think that Bavinck, when discussing the difference between general and special revelation, makes a good point here and really gives me—a person who cannot deny the possibility of a sign gift’s use yet sees utter abuse in a lot of the Charismatic movement—comfort. He says:

No new constitutive elements can any longer be added to special revelation now, because Christ has come, his work is finished, his Word completed. The question of whether the gift of prophecy (prediction) and of miracles has continued after the apostolic age and still continues is, therefore, of secondary importance. The testimonies of the church fathers are so numerous and powerful that for the most ancient times this question can hardly be answered in the negative. But even if those extraordinary gifts and powers have in part remained in the Christian church, the content of this special revelation, which is concentrated in Christ and recorded in Scripture, is not enriched by them; and if, in line with Augustine’s view, they have diminished or ceased, special revelation is not impoverished by this fact (emphasis added).1

Again, this was comforting to me. This speaks to both those who insist on seeking some special revelation from God, as if Scripture were not sufficient, and to those who insist that, if indeed these gifts are still distributed, then Scripture’s value and power is somehow affected negatively.

In the end, Bavinck gives the meaning and goal of all revelation: the glorification of Jesus Christ himself. If any revelation—whether prophecy or any other utterance—does not do this, it cannot be of God (John 15:26, 16:14).

The case is different when with Rome people believe in an ongoing progressive revelation in the tradition, or with the ‘enthusiasts’ in a special inspiration of God in the pious individual, or with the evolutionists in the surpassibility of Christianity. Scripture clearly teaches that God’s full revelation has been given in Christ and that the Holy Spirit who was poured out in the church has come only to glorify Christ and take all things from Christ (John 16:14).2


Bibliography

  1. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 347.
  2. Ibid.
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