Christianity is Paganism’s Fulfillment

Herman Bavinck anticipates Lewis in his his section on General Revelation in the Prolegomena to his Reformed Dogmatics:

In the Middle Ages Thomas not only asserted that as rational beings human beings can– without supernatural grace– know natural truths but also testifies that it is impossible for there to be “some knowledge which is totally false without any admixture of some truth” and in this connection appeals to the words of Beda and Augustine: “There is no false doctrine which does not at some time mix some truth with falsehoods.”  The Reformed theologians were even better positioned to recognize this by their doctrine of common grace.  By it they were protected, on the one hand, from the Pelagian error, which taught the sufficiency of natural theology and linked salvation to the sufficiency of natural theology, but could, on the other hand, recognize all the truth, beauty, and goodness that is present also in the pagan world.  Science, art, moral, domestic, and social life, etc., were derived from that common grace and acknowledged and commended with gratitude.  As a rule this operation of common grace, though perceived in the life of morality and intellect, society and state, was less frequently recognized in the religions of pagans.  In the latter context the Reformed only spoke of natural religion, innate and acquired, but the connection between this natural religion and the [pagan] religions was not developed.  The religions were traced to deception or demonic influences.  However, an operation of God’s Spirit and of his common grace is discernible not only in science and art, morality and law, but also in the religions.  Calvin rightly spoke of a “seed of religion,” a “sense of divinity.”  Founders of religion, after all, were not impostors or agents of Satan but men who, being religiously inclined, had to fulfill a mission to their time and people and often exerted a beneficial influence on the life of peoples.  The various religions, however mixed with error they may have been, to some extent met people’s religious needs and brought consolation amidst the pain and sorrow of life.  What come to us from the pagan world are not just cries of despair but also expressions of confidence, hope, resignation, peace, submission, patience, etc.  All the elements and forms that are essential to religion (a concept of God, a sense of guilt, a desire for redemption, sacrifice, priesthood, temple, cult, prayer, etc.) though corrupted, nevertheless do also, occur in pagan religion.  Here and there even unconscious predictions and striking expectations of a better and purer religion are voiced.  Hence Christianity is not only positioned antithetically towards paganism; it is also paganism’s fulfillment.  Christianity is the true religion, therefore also the highest and purest, it is the truth of all religions. What in paganism is the caricature, the living original is here.  What is appearance there is essence here.  What is sought there can be found here.  Christianity is the explanation of “ethnicism.”  Christ is the Promised One to Israel and the desire of all the Gentiles.  Israel and the church are elect for the benefit of humankind.  In Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

~Reformed Dogmatics Vol.1, 319-320

This entry was posted in Herman Bavinck by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

10 thoughts on “Christianity is Paganism’s Fulfillment

  1. Do you know, Steven, whether Bavinck believed in salvation outside of Israel/Church? If so, what is the object of assent/faith that justifies the pagan? I’m not sure if he even deals with this in his Reformed Dogmatics. I would look it up myself, but I don’t currently have access to his RD. I should just by myself a copy.

  2. Kevin,

    I don’t have any quotes ready for that question, but my guess is that Bavinck would hold to a standard view that the object of faith is the person and work of Christ.

    I don’t think he’s opening salvation to those outside the church, though he is affirming the goodness of creation and common grace which God distributes liberally.

  3. Steven, thanks for posting this. It seems as if Bavinck is touching on Bonhoeffer’s “man come of age”:

    … not just cries of despair but also expressions of confidence, hope, resignation, peace, submission, patience, etc….

    Is there more along these lines?

  4. This is pretty much the bulk of the section. He does address other religions specifically later, and he expands on these ideas, but says much of the same.

  5. Thanks, Steven. If you do come across anything in Bavinck that is pertinent to the “salvation outside the church” issue, then feel free to post about it!

  6. Boy, you trippin’

    Everyone knows that Roman Catholicism is the last Western paganism left. And even it is an endangered species.

    What I don’t get is what is the point of saying something is the fullfilment of paganism if it condemns virtually every practice that makes paganism, well, pagan: theurgical thinking, the worship of god and heroes, elaborate ceremonial, fertility processions, the rituals of the hearth, sacred geometry, etc. Go into Chartes Cathedral or a roadside shrine to the Virgin Mary and then go into your worship space or Joel Osteen’s megachurch and then tell me what is the fulfillment of paganism? Not too sure what is the point. Wahhabi Islam by this logic could also claim to be the fulfillment of paganism.

    But then again, I care little for the idea of Christianity itself if it doesn’t at least look pagan. I have some candles to light.

  7. Mr. Vasquez makes a good negative point. American evangelicalism couldn’t possibly be the fulfillment of paganism; it’s not rich enough by half.

    A Christianity which fulfills paganism must be grounded, tactile, and anti-gnostic to the very tips of its roots. I will, of course, disagree with Mr. Vasquez about where such a Christianity may be found.

  8. Pingback: Reading by the River « Full Contact Christianity

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