Written by Cory C. Brock, James Eglinton, and N. Gray Sutanto |
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
Bavinck’s claim is that every person must honestly deal with the assumed faith necessary even in the sensory and knowledge processes themselves. Facing this reality leads directly to the necessary relationship between metaphysics and science. One needs faith as a habitus, Bavinck supposed, because it is the means of disciplining reason, lest it fall by way of the pride of life.
Faith in Pursuit of Knowledge
Because faith aims toward knowledge—or, we might state differently, because faith seeks understanding—the emergence of Christian science is not merely a novel response to modernist positivism. Rather, it is a historic Christian practice, and a necessity of life in a fallen world. Without sin, Christian science would be wholly unnecessary. There would be no breach in the consciousness between religion and knowledge apart from the rupture-induced act of denying the word of God in the egocentricity of becoming like God in knowing good and evil. Sin damaged the self to the extent that knowledge of a fact no longer coincides with knowledge of God. For this reason, Herman Bavinck offers both an argument for the necessity of faith in doing science and a narrative of the emergence of Christian science in Christian history.
With regard to the emergence of Christian science in Christian history, Bavinck makes the magisterial claim that the apostles of Christ “planted the banner of truth in that world of unbelief and superstition.” He suggests that in the first century, skepticism and mysticism displaced the former highly ordered orientation toward systematic investigation (here he likely has Aristotle in view). Against that backdrop, in its unparalleled sweep of the Roman Empire, Christianity offered the world a religion of truth. While Christianity proved distinctively attractive because of the grace it offered (alongside its claim of a resurrected Messiah), Bavinck’s account also makes the striking point that Christianity is a religion of grace precisely because it is first a commitment to truth. If the one God is truth, and his revelation in Jesus Christ is the unveiling of the truth, then all God does and says is truth. Christianity seeks not only to unveil truth but to make the first-order claim that God defines all truths, because God is truth and the author of essences. Thus, by the Spirit, “whoever believingly takes hold of this gospel is of the truth, is reborn through the truth, and is sanctified and freed [by it]. They are in the truth and the truth is in them.”
Bavinck’s historical narrative then turns to focus on how this approach to truth broke through a culture of superstition in the “world of the Gentiles.” The patristic fathers proved, as quoted above, that “Christianity was the true philosophy, and Christians were the real philosophers. They knew [wisten] reality in truth, they knew who God was, and now, equipped with this knowledge, they also had a different and better insight into the essence of the world, of nature and history.” Eventually, a positive approach had to be found with respect to the knowledge produced by the schools of the time, one that eschewed both the extreme of Tertullian’s denial of the good of pagan philosophy and the Alexandrian exaltation of pagan philosophy. The temptation of Christians throughout history, Bavinck notes, has always been to one or the other: to separate faith from reason or to synthesize them in a syncretistic manner. It is the age-old tension between “world worship and world flight, culture idolatry and culture contempt, Enlightenment [Aufklärung] and pietism.” Despite this perennial struggle, Bavinck argues, a clear wisdom emerged, which he promotes in Christianity and Science and throughout his wider corpus: neither wholesale rejection nor acceptance of pagan insight.
Bavinck’s own effort to avoid either error is thoroughly Augustinian, reflecting Augustine’s general insight that truth is made known by the coherence of authority and reason within a framework of faith. For “science [wetenschap] can thus teach only a little, and that little only to a few. It does not know the way to the truth, for it does not know Christ, and thus it often leads to dead ends.” Although Bavinck certainly does regard Augustine’s pairing of authority and reason to be at times dualistic, this Augustinian insight—that faith is a “gift of God” necessary for all knowledge, for all science—is valuable to him. Indeed, it leads to a further point regarding the necessity of the emergence of Christian science; namely, the logic of the necessity of faith as it relates to the possibility of knowledge. He explains this in the following remark: