Evaluating Herman Bavinck on the Beatific Vision

(Joint Proposal with Ryan Modisette)

The adequacy of Herman Bavinck’s account of the beatific vision has generated much debate recently (Boersma, 2018; Allen, 2018; Eglington, 2020; Brock, 2021; Allen, 2022; Sutanto, 2022). While Hans Boersma and Michael Allen have criticized Bavinck for “naturalizing” eschatology, Eglington, Brock, and Sutanto have each in his own way defended Bavinck from this criticism. In this paper, we argue that in order to assess the adequacy of Bavinck’s account, both internally (with respect to the consistency of Bavinck’s account) and externally (with respect to its potential contemporary ressourcement), one must first clarify how Bavinck conceives of the relationship between nature and glory. In other words, we argue that Bavinck’s position on the beatific vision ultimately remains ambiguous because he rejects the concept of elevating grace, a notion that seems necessary for him to claim that the beatific vision consists in an immediate contemplation of God that surpasses the present mode of revelation (RD IV, 722). 

To demonstrate this claim, we highlight the ambiguity between “restorative” and “elevating” grace in Bavinck’s rejection of the donum supperadditum. Having demonstrated that Bavinck’s disavowal of the donum supeadditum leads him to deny the legitimacy of “elevating grace,” we then argue that Sutanto has given a reading of Bavinck’s account of the beatific vision that is consistent with Bavinck’s privileging of restorative grace (e.g., because of the focus on physical sight, human nature, etc). In the third section, however, we discuss texts from RD IV and elsewhere where Bavinck clearly says more than Sutanto’s reading – and Bavinck’s own theological system – can provide. In particular, we raise the concern that Bavinck seems to eliminate the category of elevating grace only to reinscribe the theological judgment implicit in that concept onto the final eschatological state of the blessed. We conclude that clarity on the adequacy of Bavinck’s position cannot be gained until Bavinck scholars specify how the immediate vision of God coheres with Bavinck’s own clear rejection of elevating grace.

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