The Father of Reformed Biblical Theology

At my church, I lead a discussion group that is currently reading Geerhardus Vos’ Biblical Theology.  I was pleased to be asked to do this as Vos is one of my favorite theologians and has probably had the most influence in shaping my approach to scripture and preaching.  Although Vos has been acknowledged as the father of Reformed Biblical Theology and has done much in shaping current trends in Reformed hermeneutics (the study of how you interpret the Bible), many are unfamiliar with this key figure.  So, here is a brief sketch of his life, ministry and approach to scripture that originally appeared in the Ordained Servant (Vol 8, No. 3, July 1999) and was co-authored by one of my mentors, John Muether and Darryl Hart. Continue reading

Dennison Sermons on History of Salvation

In an earlier post, I highlighted an interview with Danny Olinger on the life and ministry of Geerhardus Vos, especially with his contribution to Reformed Biblical Theology. What Vos does so well is help with how the Bible fits together by looking at it through the lens of the history of salvation. I commented, “If you have ever struggled with how to understand how the Bible fits together, or have desired to learn how to read the Bible with more understanding, then you have to read Vos.” The Bible is the self-revelation of the Triune God, in which he unfolds himself and his plan of salvation progressively through time. Vos uses the analogy of a rose. In the OT you find the seed that over the course of time begins to sprout and grow until you have the rose in full bloom.

In the interview, Danny suggests that one of the best ways to see the Biblical Theology of Vos in action is in the preaching of Charlie Dennison. Mr. Dennison was formerly the Historian for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and pastor of Grace OPC (where I was previously the intern). In light of that recommendation, I have decided to post here, 27 Sermons that Mr. Dennison preached on “The History of Salvation.” These sermons are not for the faint of heart as they are rich in substance and the application of Christ, as they show forth the glory of God in Christ from the beginning to the end of biblical history. Continue reading

>Teaching Children Biblical Theology

>

This past weekend, my family stayed with some of our closest friends and the topic of training our covenant children in scripture came up.  They, like us, were raised Baptist and were taught the Bible as a loosely held together collection of stories that provided moral lessons.  And unfortunately, this scenario still takes place today.  When the Bible is taught as a loose collection of stories, children don’t learn the big picture of what God is doing with history and in history to provide salvation for his people, of which covenant children are a part.  They are hindered in understanding their place in the covenant and understanding the rich promises they have inherited.

Secondly, it leads children to miss God and his redemptive acts and instead focus on the people in the accounts–their character (or lack thereof) and their behavior.  Most often in children’s books,Sunday-school lessons and other teaching materials, the Bible is taught from the perspective of “Be like David,” or “Don’t be like Saul,” or “Do things like Mary; don’t do things like Martha.”  This approach to the Bible inevitably leads to a moralistic and legalistic understanding of the Christian life.  It is important to remember that although the Bible does teach ethics and does give commands that are to be obeyed–these things are contingent upon the redemptive work of God in Christ.  The biblical order is Christ’s work on behalf of the church, and then the church’s response because of that work.

For Reformed parents, then, as we seek to train up our children in the scripture, we should keep the covenantal continuity of the Bible in mind in order to rightly utilize the biblical pattern of understanding God’s redemptive acts in Christ and then how to live by faith in response to those acts.  So we need to teach the Bible; we need to teach the stories of the Bible,; we need to teach about the people in the Bible; but we need to include in this how the stories teach God’s redemptive acts in Christ, how those stories fit together to show the over arching plan of God in Christ and then how to properly respond by faith in Christ.

To this end, I want to provide some helpful resources for teaching the Bible from this perspective to children.

For smaller children:

First,Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Story Book Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name.  To see the front and back covers and two sample stories, click here.  There is a deluxe edition that also includes the stories narrated in audio on CD.  You can listen to samples here.  There is also a sample video that can be seen here.

Next, there is Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book by Starr Meade.  You can see the “Table of Contents,” “Note for Parents from the Author,” and two sample stories here.

A third option is The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm.  You can see the “Table of Contents” here, as well as several sample chapters.

For older children:

The gold standard for older children is Catherine Vos’s, The Child’s Story Bible.  Catherine Vos was the wife of the father of Reformed biblical theology, Geerhardus Vos.  This story Bible is rich and is even a great resource for the parents to read for themselves.

Another good one for older children is Starr Meade’s, Grandpa’s Box. This book takes the unique angle of communicating the history of redemption through devotional stories told by a grandfather to his grandchildren.

I hope these suggestions help you in teaching children the Bible the way God communicated it and meant for it to be understood!

>Schreiner on Preaching and Biblical Theology

>Tom Schreiner was one of my New Testament professors when I attended Southern Seminary. One of the things I really enjoyed about his approach to the New Testament was that he purposely sought to read it using a redemptive-historical hermeneutic. While at Southern, I was wrestling with the biblical theology of Geerhardus Vos and Meredith Kline on my own, and although Schreiner’s biblical theology and hermeneutic was not exactly the same as theirs (it seemed to lack the eschatological dimension), it was helpful to hear and learn his approach as a means to helping me better understand my private reading in Vos and Kline.

In the article “Preaching and Biblical Theology” in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (the theological journal of Southern Seminary), Schreiner provides a helpful perspective for why biblical theology is so necessary and foundational for preaching the Bible:

If we do not preach the OT in terms of the whole canon, we will either restrict ourselves to moral lessons from the OT, or, what is just as likely, is that we will rarely preach from the OT. . . . if we do not preach the OT canonically, in light of biblical theology, it will too often be passed over in Christian preaching. And in doing so, we not only rob ourselves of wonderful treasures from the word of God, and but we also fail to see the depth and multifaceted character of biblical revelation. We put ourselves in a position where we do not read the OT as Jesus and the apostles did, and hence we do not see that the God’s promises are yes and amen in Jesus Christ.

Reading the OT canonically does not mean that the OT is not read in its historical cultural context. The first task of every interpreter is to read the OT in its own right, discerning the meaning of the biblical author when it was written. Further, as we argued above, each OT book must be read in light of its antecedent theology, so that the storyline of scripture is grasped. But we also must read all of scripture canonically, so that the OT is read in light of the whole story—the fulfillment that has come in Jesus Christ. We always consider the perspective of the whole, of the divine author in doing biblical theology and in the preaching of God’s word. We read the scriptures both from front to back and back to front. We always consider the developing story as well as the end of the story.

Our task as preachers is to proclaim the whole counsel of God. We will not fulfill our calling if as preachers we fail to do biblical theology. We may get many compliments from our people for our moral lessons and our illustrations, but we are not faithfully serving our congregations if they do not understand how the whole of scripture points to Christ, and if they do not gain a better understanding from us of the storyline of the Bible. (1o/2: Summer 2006, 97-98).

You can read the entire article here.

>Jonathan Edwards Saw It Without Reading Vos

>In the introduction to his sermon on Psalm 72.6 “Like Rain upon Mown Grass,” Jonathan Edwards makes this observation about reading the psalm christocentrically:

It is observable that the Holy Spirit, in some of the Psalms, has a twofold aim
and intendment, the one more immediate and the other more ultimate. They
have respect more immediately to some person that is an eminent type of
Christ. But their principle and more ultimate respect is to Christ
himself. So many of the Psalms have a more immediate respect to David; but
the main respect is to Christ, the son of David. So some of the Psalms
have a more immediate respect to Solomon, but ultimately respect Christ,
(Sermons and Discourses, 1739-1742, available
online
).

The importance of recognizing this christocentric principle is in understanding the main thrust of the Holy Spirit is to communicate truths about Christ, his reign and his kingdom, and not necessarily about Solomon’s kingdom. By reading the Psalm christocentrically, Edwards understands that the blessings of the psalm are eschatologically focused.

Jesus comes down from heaven like rain from the sky. Jesus’s heavenly person and benefits become the priority of the psalm. Just as the grass is nourished and quenched by rain from the sky, so believers are nourished and refreshed by his heavenly presence and work. This presence is twofold: first, in the incarnation of the first advent and second, in his coming in the second advent on the great day of judgment. The result in one of his applications is to encourage believers, because they have experienced the blessing of Christ come down from heaven, to forsake worldliness and renounce the vanity of exaltation in this life. Life in Christ is a life of humbly looking to Christ and not the world or the self for one’s blessings and for righteousness. Look to Christ who alone can revive the soul and be refreshed!

Edwards christocentric reading naturally leads to the eschatological unfolding of the Psalm. Now, if only Edwards would have applied this to every psalm! If only he could have read Vos.

>Where Does the Story of Christmas Begin?

>With every Christmas season there is much that surrounds us that reminds us of the birth of Jesus. There are live nativity scenes at churches, little knick-knack nativity scenes in homes and a lot of talk about the birth narratives of Jesus as found in the Gospels. But what all of this can do is create the confusing notion that the narrative of the incarnation is a New Testament narrative that begins in Bethlehem. This near-sighted reading, however, robs the narrative of its history and its power.

So where does the narrative of the incarnation begin in the Bible? Check out what Dr. Mohler has to say in his post, “Where Does the Story of Christmas Begin?”

>Charlie Dennison On The Rhetoric Of The Bible

>What is the relationship of preaching and rhetoric? In Homiletics, or the study of preaching, what principles should drive the way the preacher communicates the scripture? Many have taught that in Homiletics, the preacher should borrow the standards, or principles, of classical rhetoric and apply them to the preaching task. But this raises an important question: just how sufficient is the Bible? Do we have to go outside the Bible in order to learn how to effectively communicate the Bible? Is the effective communication of God’s word dependent on man’s communication theories and devices? Or, is the scripture sufficient for not only providing us the right content for sermons, but also the means by which that content will be effectively communicated?

Charlie Dennison offers his perspective in his lecture “The Bible and Rhetoric,” “I don’t think the Bible is interested in [the science of public communication].” What we find in the Bible is God’s sovereign, preserved speech, in which he discloses himself to his people that they might by his grace partake with him in a transcendent bond of perpetual fellowship. Preaching, therefore, is communicating not ideas that we hope lead to good morals and ethics (classic rhetoric) but a person and an event by which this perpetual bond will come about. Therefore,

Because the event of God’s self-disclosure is central to biblical or Hebraic reality, rhetoric within the Christian context could never be summarized by the traditional categories of classical rhetoric. . . . Biblical reality must first of all be proclamation. Proclamation not of an idea, but of an event. Not of a thought in someone’s head to be argued for or defended, but an event most certainly having taken place.

The rhetoric of the Bible is not about getting people to believe ideas, it is about proclaiming the certainty of an event that centers in the event of God’s self disclosure–principally his final revelation of his ultimate saving act as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Central and foundational to this self revelation of God is a covenantal dimension that is lost and nonexistent in classical rhetoric as it treats persons as if they exist in a vacuum of the here and now. Yet, the rhetoric of the scripture is inherently covenantal an intrudes itself upon the listener with a completely different way of thinking, so that the consciousness of the audience is to be drawn into the event–because covenantally the audience was there and must learn to find their lives there in the event of the intrusive saving act of God, especially as it is realized in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ–to which all of the Bible points. So that now, although I am separated from the historical event of Jesus by almost two thousand years, covenantally I can say with the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2.20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Was not Paul himself absent from the crucifixion and resurrection historically just as I was? Yes, but not covenantally and redemptively. By faith both Paul and I (and all who receive and rest Christ by faith) are united and bound up with Christ and his story. The Bible is the history of God’s event and action of redeeming a people for his glory through Christ–all the Bible is Christ’s story–all the Bible is your story.

The rhetoric of the Bible is to get you to find yourself there and then to live by faith in light of it. The rhetoric of sermons, therefore, should be the same as the rhetoric of the scripture. This is not a baptized version of classical rhetoric, for it is classical rhetoric’s opposite.

Classical rhetoric keeps the audience outside of the text–which is the complete opposite intention of the text. It leaves the audience in a position to read about what happened in the past and how others lived in those events. The audience is left outside looking in, with no other action to take than from a supposed position of neutrality to either accept what happened and try to emulate or not emulate the persons involved and discover principles that can be practiced, or, to reject what happened and not care. Classical rhetoric does not allow the audience to connect with the Bible’s rhetorical intention, which is to covenantally draw the audience into the story–into the life of Christ himself, and to live by faith in Christ.

This does not mean that the pastor is not responsible to still communicate clearly and accurately; it does not mean that the pastor is not responsible to communicate passionately; it does not mean that the sermon is not supposed to have movement and can just be running commentary and rambling on about historical details or cultural insights. Sermons should have a main idea that is developed, that is unified, that is clearly set forth, that has movement that drives to a climax and conclusion. But not because secular philosophers and communication experts say it, but because this is what we see in the redemptive-historical pattern of the revelation of God. And the purpose is not to teach ideas to merely persuade persons to action–but to proclaim the event of revelation itself and draw the audience into the event to strengthen their faith that they may walk in the confidence of the gospel. And that communication should be shaped not by the clever and eloquent techniques and devices of sophists, but by the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A gospel shaped proclamation (humiliation that leads to exaltation because of union with Christ in his humiliation and exaltation) of the gospel is the Bible’s rhetoric for effectively drawing the Christian into the gospel into order to believe it and live by it. Not only is the gospel to be proclaimed in the content of what is said–but in the manner in which it is presented. The pastor should be so bound up with Christ and find his life hidden in Christ, that even his method of argumentation, his rhetoric, preaches Christ.

Dennison closes with this summary of the Bible’s rhetoric,

[The Bible] co-opts rhetoric and transforms it into an extension of the biblically declared saving work of God, where the event of God’s accomplishment dominates all ideas about that event. The Bible, therefore, intends its presentation to bring the hearer into the direct and spiritual contact with God’s saving act. . . . The message and the method in the Bible’s rhetoric are so intertwined that in the end, the method itself communicates the message. The world’s rhetoric, for all its artistry and scientific precision, in the end, by contrast, too often comes off only transparently contrived, but anemic, if not vacuous.

This lecture is a must listen for everyone, pastor and lay person alike. For not only does it speak to the rhetoric that should be used by the minister in the pulpit, it speaks to the rhetoric that the congregation should expect to hear from the minister. Ultimately, it will transform how we read and understand the Bible itself.

>Greg Beale – From Symbolism to Significance: The Book of Revelation

>Greg Beale has done much in shaping my understanding of hermeneutics, exegesis and Biblical Theology. Last year when I preached the the oracles to the seven churches in Revelation, Beale’s commentary was a primary source. Beale is the Chair of Biblical Studies and Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School and will soon be leaving to become Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Although I do not agree with everything that Beale says, I am indebted to his work.

A couple of years ago, Beale gave a five message series on Revelation looking specifically at how to understand the symbolism of Revelation while looking at some of its major biblical-theological themes:

This five message series is a very helpful introduction.Beale has an amazing ability to dig deep into the text and the scripture as a whole to unearth some large gold nuggets of insight, and yet, he is quite gifted to clearly communicate what he finds so that the average layperson can easily follow. If you are looking for help in learning how to approach the Book of Revelation correctly, then sit back and learn from Dr. Beale. It will change how you understand the Book of Revelation and the whole scripture.

If you like what you hear, then you can pursue the subjects further in some of Beale’s recent books:

If from listening to Beale you become interested in his approach to hermeneutics, exegesis an biblical theology, then you can read these books edited by Beale:

If you are interested in further resources by Beale, then you must see the list compiled by my friend James Grant over at his blog In Light of the Gospel. His is the most complete compilation I have seen so far.

[HT: Monergism]

>You Want to Learn to Read the Bible? Grab Some Vos

>The guys over at Reformed Forum have provided another great interview:

The Christ the Center panel had a fascinating conversation with Rev. Danny Olinger, general secretary for the Committee on Christian Education for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and editor of The Geerhardus Vos Anthology, about all things Vos. Rev. Olinger gives the listener a brief biographical sketch of the life and ministry of Vos and gets to the heart of Vos’ contribution to Reformed theology: Biblical theology of a Reformed and orthodox variety. Several key aspects of Vos’ work are explained, including the expression “eschatology precedes soteriology.” By the end of the discussion, listeners will understand the importance of Vos for a proper grasp of Reformed theology in general.

If you have ever struggled with how to understand how the Bible fits together, or have desired to learn how to read the Bible with more understanding, then you have to read Vos. However, if you are not the reading type, then at least listen to this interview–its a great start!