The Imago Dei Shapes the Visio Dei: Bavinck’s Covenantal Formulation of the Beatific Vision

Hans Boersma has criticized Dutch neo-Calvinism broadly and Herman Bavinck specifically regarding what he alleges to be a deficient development of the beatific vision in their eschatology. He asserts that Bavinck was simply “too much interested in the hustle and bustle of human activity in the hereafter to give any real thought to a positive articulation of the beatific vision.” Moreover, Boersma claims Bavinck “nowhere positively understands the doctrine” and that “I suspect there is a reason Bavinck did not have a great deal of interest in developing a theology of the beatific vision: the overall drift of his eschatology is simply too this-worldly to do so.”

However, I find that Bavinck and other neo-Calvinists were rightly disassociating from a confused participatory sacramentalism that ultimately blurs the lines between the Creator-creature distinction. Regarding the visio dei, Bavinck is not resistant to the doctrine itself but towards both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy’s mystical metaphysical speculation that is imposed over the biblical revelation in their development of the beatific vision.

I will make the case that Bavinck consistently and compellingly applies his central theological tenet of “grace restoring nature” covenantally and Christologically to his anthropology. The result of this is that the imago dei shapes the visio deo, such that the beatific vision is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s intention for humanity as we dwell forever with the risen and glorified Christ. I aim to unpack how Bavinck understands the covenant of works to presuppose and typify the covenant of grace so that the beatific vision is the personal, covenantal, and eternal communion between God and man in and through Christ, the God-man.

I will build this case in conjunction with Cory Brock and Nathaniel Gray Sutanto’s essays responding to Boersma. Brock maintains Bavinck was demonstrating “epistemic humility” in not speculating about the beatific vision beyond the scriptural revelation, while Sutanto highlights Boersma’s ignorance of the crucial insights Bavinck offers on the beatific vision as it relates to Christology in volume 3 of Reformed Dogmatics. My contribution will build of the insights of Brock and Sutanto, and unpack how for Bavinck a wholistic and robust doctrine of the imago dei shapes the visio dei within his covenantal framework.

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