How Christianity Transformed Our Understanding of History

Not only did Christianity place a higher value on history and life in the world; the changed attitude also produced historical actors and agents. Christians accepted responsibility to shape history, to redirect it, to fashion it in ways that they believed were more God-honoring and glorifying. Bavinck begins his ninth Stone Lecture, “Revelation and Culture,” with a reference to the famous saying from Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805–1880) that “man must be twice converted, first from the natural to the spiritual life, and then from the spiritual to the natural.” Bavinck affirms the “truth” in Blumhardt’s “somewhat paradoxical language, a truth which is confirmed by the religious experience of every Christian and by the history of Christian piety in all ages.”[2]

The first and highest desire and duty of human beings is to be in fellowship with God. We were created for fellowship with God, for Sabbath, and being reconciled with God and personally assured of our salvation is the first order of business for every living person on earth. But the truth that once we are reconciled with God, our “work begins then in dead earnest” and we “become co-workers with God” is broadened when we call attention to history and culture.

We are now thinking of work not merely in terms of basic survival but also in terms of taking responsibility for history, accepting a cultural, civilizing obligation with our work.  

[1] Essays on Religion, Science, and Society, ed. John Bolt, trans. Harry Boonstra and Gerrit Sheeres (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 96–97; Bavinck is citing Rudolf Eucken, Geistige Strömungen der Gegenwart (Leipzig, 1904), 190.
[2] The Philosophy of Revelation: The Stone Lectures for 1908–1909, Princeton Theological Seminary (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1909), 242.

John Bolt (PhD, University of St. Michael’s College) is professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is the author of several books, including Bavinck on the Christian Life: Following Jesus in Faithful Service, and the editor of the four-volume English edition of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics.

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