Publisher: Lexham Academic
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
Given the centrality of “grace restoring nature” to neo-Calvinism1, as Gayle Doornbos notes in her earlier review2, we might be surprised that it takes six chapters to get to “Creation and Re-Creation”!
But as Doornbos argues, herein lies the wisdom of this volume. Throughout the chapters that precede these, Brock and Sutanto have painted a beautiful, rich picture of neo-Calvinism’s “distinctive dogmatic contributions”3 that, as we’ve already seen, are (1) “orthodox yet modern,” (2) “self-consciously holistic,” and (3) “organic, not mechanical.”4 Appropriately, the theme that grace restores nature is necessarily woven throughout each chapter. Before we unpack this claim, we need to see how it fits in—and arises from—Bavinck and Kuyper’s theological convictions as a whole. In this chapter, readers finally get to dig into the nuances of that claim, with Brock and Sutanto as expert guides.
“Appropriately, the theme that grace restores nature is necessarily woven throughout each chapter.”
Brock and Sutanto begin by underscoring the centrality of the nature/grace relationship in neo-Calvinism:
- The relationship between creation and salvation is one of the most prominent and tenacious matters appearing in the whole of the neo-Calvinist theological tradition or Kuyper and Bavinck, the relationship between nature and grace (read: God’s work of creation and redemption) remained an eye-catching motif across both corpuses. In their logic, the nature-grace relation is a supreme concern of Scripture and is therefore central to their dogmatics.5
As they continue, Brock and Sutanto offer a clear-eyed, theologically precise, thoughtful analysis of neo-Calvinism’s claims about creation and re-creation’s relationship, highlighting the ways that Bavinck and Kuyper’s articulation of the nature/grace relationship offers both a distinctive neo-Calvinist theological accent (especially as it relates to their second and third claims about neo-Calvinism as “self-consciously holistic” and “organic, not mechanical”) and situates neo-Calvinism within church catholic (as a theological movement that is orthodox and modern).
One of the interesting additions in this chapter is a move from the late 19th and 20th century Dutch roots of neo-Calvinism to a contemporary debate in the reception of neo-Calvinism and the beatific vision. While much of the book sticks to unpacking Bavinck and Kuyper, with primary sources as their fodder, here Brock and Sutanto take us to a present debate that underscores both what Kuyper and Bavinck themselves taught and how the tradition has been both misunderstood and, potentially, misapplied. At the heart of this debate is the question: is neo-Calvinism so focused on the goodness of God’s creation (that is being and will be restored) that we forget the true goal and end of creation: the glory of God? Or, as Brock and Sutanto summarize the charge: “Bavinck’s theology is creation-affirming to the point of glory-negating.”6 They deftly show this not to be the case.
“At the heart of this debate is the question: is neo-Calvinism so focused on the goodness of God’s creation…that we forget the true goal and end of creation: the glory of God?”
But this contemporary debate, while Kuyper and Bavinck themselves got it wrong, highlights a way that neo-Calvinist reception can and has also gotten them wrong: “later aspects of the neo-Calvinist tradition,” argue Brock and Sutanto, “may participate in the overmaterialized eschatologist that downplay the immediate presence of God in the face of Christ.”7 In other words, the ad fontes quest to the central dogmatic claims of neo-Calvinism is not just for new initiates. Those who have been steeped in the political, philosophical, ecclesial impulses of neo-Calvinism also benefit from a full-throated dogmatic encounter with Bavinck and Kuyper – and may even find themselves corrected by a robust introduction to their theological claims. And here, Sutanto and Brock deliver. What is God’s original intent for creation that he is – and will – restore by his grace? One that is swept up in the glory of God, that encompasses all that God has made. “God will make his dwelling place with humankind, Immanuel, God with us.”8
We could then rightly ask: what was humanity created to be, and thus, to what will humanity be restored? Here again, Brock and Sutanto underscore the way neo-Calvinism’s distinctive emphases as both “self-consciously holistic” and “organic, not mechanical” are present in their understanding of “Image and Fall.”
The “image of God in humanity,” Bavinck and Kuyper argue, “is an image of the Trinity. Hence, precisely because God is triune, humanity too, will be shaped by the pattern of unity-in-diversity.”9This picture of humanity has radical implications for the way we shape and order our lives now, anticipating God’s coming kingdom. As Brock and Sutanto articulate, “sin loosens and atomizes, the Spirit renews and rebinds,”10 not only individually, but corporately.
“We were created to glorify God, as God’s image, as a ‘single organism comprising a unity-in-diversity in creaturely form.’”
In the coming kingdom of God, restoring God’s original intent for his creation, Christ will be all in all, the “center of the glory of the kingdom.”11 But such a visio Dei, for Bavinck and Kuyper, cannot result in a “dichotomy between spiritual and earthly goods.”12 We were created to glorify God, as God’s image, as a “single organism comprising a unity-in-diversity in creaturely form.” 13
Given these claims, it’s no surprise that this theological vision propelled important insights in politics, philosophy, cultural engagement, public life, education, and more. Bavinck and Kuyper not only modeled lives that engaged many spheres, but also they were prolific in their writings on each of these topics. These insights, as Brock and Sutanto show, are rooted in their distinctive dogmatic theology. We are wise to dwell on these distinctly theological contributions, with Brock and Sutanto as faithful guides, as a way of both refining and correcting our reception and driving us deeper into wonder and praise for the God who brings about re-creation’s end, when God will “make his dwelling place with humankind, in a consummated and sanctified cosmos.”14
Check out our latest podcast with host, Dr. Justin Bailey, and authors of Neo-Calvinism: A Theological Introduction Cory Brock and Gray Sutanto.
This review is the fourth in a series of five that will engage “Neo-Calvinism: A Theological Introduction”. Neo-Calvinism is a distinctive of Dordt’s historical background.
“Orthodox, Holistic, and Organic” – part 1, by Gayle Doornbos
“Total, Unified, Catholic World” – part 2, by Laremy DeVries
”Do Modern Christians Know God Differently?” – part 3, by Geoffrey Fulkerson
See, for example, Al Wolters argument in Comment Magazine in 2005 that neo-Calvinism has a “distinctive focusing . . . In theological shorthand that intuition can be formulated in the phrase: ‘grace restores nature,’” Jan Veenhof’s argument that “Bavinck’s view of the relation of nature and grace is a central part—indeed, perhaps we may even say the central theme—of his theology,” and E.P Heideman’s argument “that grace does not abolish nature, but renews and restores it…may be called the central thought of Bavinck’s theology.” ↩
Gayle Dornbos, “Orthodox, Holistic, and Organic: A Review of the Introduction and Final Chapter of Neo-Calvinism: A Theological Introduction,” In All Things, Feb. 2, 2023. ↩
Cory C. Brock and N. Gray Sutanto, Neo-Calvinism: A Theological Introduction (Lexham, 2023), 7. ↩
Brock and Sutanto, Neo-Calvinism, 8. ↩
Brock and Sutanto, Neo-Calvinism, 133. ↩
Brock and Sutanto, Neo-Calvinism, 168. ↩
Brock and Sutanto, Neo-Calvinism, 173. ↩
Brock and Sutanto, Neo-Calvinism, 184. ↩
Brock and Sutanto, Neo-Calvinism, 185. ↩
Brock and Sutanto, Neo-Calvinism, 197. ↩
Brock and Sutanto, Neo-Calvinism, 182. ↩
Brock and Sutanto, Neo-Calvinism, 180. ↩
Brock and Sutanto, Neo-Calvinism, 192. ↩
Brock and Sutanto, Neo-Calvinism, 294. ↩
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