What does it mean to be a resident alien, to live in this physical world, but anticipate the next--a "spiritual world," as it were? Moreover, how can Christians unify their existence, knowing the call of the kingdom of God in the here and now to make the world a better, healthier, more prosperous place, but at the same time, follow the injunction to "store up treasures in heaven" rather than here on earth? Do you ever wonder if life is really pointless if indeed there is a judgment day coming? I mean, in light of eternity, heaven and hell, the separation between the righteous and the wicked, doesn't that make life seem grossly insignificant? How do we deal with this very real paradox?
Maybe you've decided, "Well, at least I'm saved, so I guess I'll just live a normal life in light of that far ahead future time." That life you live could occur in one of two ways: You decide that life is meaningless and you seek to live in comfort and enjoyment. After all, you're saved: what else could matter? Or, you decide life is meaningless and live your life in terms of asceticism: you eschew "storing up treasures on earth" and live as a minimalist. Maybe you decide to "go into ministry" or "become a missionary." After all, there are souls out there who need saving, and it's "spiritual" work that matters most, anyway.
Herman Bavinck, the early 20th century Dutch Reformed theologian dealt with this tension as well. His paradox is ours. Bavinck's tension came to a zenith at the Leiden theological school because of its modernist approach to the Bible and theology, which basically means that the Bible was treated as a literary document to be analyzed from various scientific fields (anthropology, archeology, psychology of religion, & textual criticism--investigating the way in which texts form over time), rather than as an inspired document revealing God's plan of salvation for man in Christ. Nevertheless, Bavinck was the better for it. He writes, "Leiden has benefited me in many ways: I hope always to acknowledge that gratefully. But it has also greatly impoverished me, robbed me, not only of much ballast (for which I am happy), but also of much that I recently, especially when I preach, recognize as vital for my own spiritual life."
So, Bavinck was a man between two worlds, and dealt with a dualism common in all of us who claim Jesus as Lord, yet try to synthesize our earthly lives with our heavenly call. In other words, in light of one's future, eternal, fellowship with God and judgment day, how can one's life here on earth have any real meaning at all? Moreover, do our hobbies (for example), have any real meaning or significance? Do we even have the right to experience comfort, wealth and happiness while others suffer from tyranny and poverty? Bavinck wrestled with these important questions. One biographer writes of him, that he was a "Secession (separatist, pious) preacher and a representative of modern culture. In that duality is found Bavinck's significance. That duality is also a reflection of the tension--at times crisis--in Bavinck's life. In many respects it is a simple matter to be a preacher in the Secession Church, and, in a certain sense, it is also not that difficult to be a modern person. But in in no way is it a simple matter to be the one as well as the other."
This is the paradox which I feel as a Christian: it is to have one foot in heaven in and one on earth, as it were. It is to engage culture, but also to hold it at arm's length. It is to plant a garden and enjoy its food, knowing that the food that lasts is Jesus himself. It is to play a game with friends and laugh, knowing full well that true communion is with God himself. It is to enjoy life, but know that it will end some day. And that there will be a judgment day, too. This is a real tension that Bavinck feels as well. He says in this lengthy quote:
"Therefore, whereas salvation in Christ was formerly considered primarily a means to separate man from sin and the world, to prepare him for heavenly blessedness and to cause him to enjoy undisturbed fellowship with God there, Ritschl [a 19th century liberal Protestant theologian] posits the very opposite relationship: the purpose of salvation is precisely to enable a person, once he is freed from the oppressive feeling of sin and lives in the awareness of being a child of God, to exercise his earthly vocation and fulfill his moral purpose in this world. The antithesis therefore, is fairly sharp: on the one side, a Christian life that considers the highest goal, now and hereafter, to be the contemplation of God and fellowship with him, and for that reason (always being more or less hostile to the riches of an earthly life) is in danger of falling into monasticism and asceticism, pietism and mysticism; but on the side of Ritschl, a Christian life that considers its highest goal to be the kingdom of God, that is, the moral obligation of mankind [contrary to Ayn Rand & Frederick Neitzsche] and for that reason (always being more or less adverse to the withdrawal into solitude and quiet communion with God), is in danger of degenerating into a cold Pelagianism and an unfeeling moralism. Personally, I do not yet see any way of combining the two points of view, but I do know that there is much that is excellent in both, and that both contain undeniable truth."
You can see why Bavinck was and is considered a giant of a theologian. But notice the tension--the paradox that he feels between the social gospel of the 19th century liberal Protestant and his view that salvation means being free to live in this life, in vocation, in obligation to mankind for the greater good, for the here and now. On the other hand, Bavinck sees the truth in the historic, orthodox claim that salvation from sin means to separate humans from sin and "the world." The question is, how do we do both? Bavink answers brilliantly by bringing together an other-worldly pietism with a this-worldly modernism, through a synthesis that has at its heart a trinitarian worldview of Christianity and culture. The next post will be on how the doctrine of the Trinity serves in that capacity, along with the dominating principle of Calvinism, espoused by Abraham Kuyper, which he called "sphere Sovereignty."