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

>The Inherent Practicality of Eschatology

>As I have been studying and preaching from Micah, one thing that has struck me over and over again is the role that eschatology and history play in Micah’s prophecy.  In Micah there is a constant interaction between the two in a way that many of us are not used to thinking.  Typically when we think of eschatology and history we think of eschatology as the end of history or we think of history leading to eschatology.  But Micah sees it another way.  He sees eschatology shaping and guiding history.  But even here, he does not do so abstractly, but rather grounds it covenantally.  And he does this in two basic ways: through the covenant history of Israel and through the covenant history of the world.

First, he utilizes the covenant history of Israel.  Micah as the Lord’s prophet serves as the administer of the covenant that God cut with Israel at Mt. Sinai in Exodus and that was renewed in Deuteronomy.  This covenant by way of typology was eschatological.  It was given in Exodus 19 in the context of a theophany, which means that God manifested his presence, his eschatological presence, in history.  This theophanic presence revealed the Lord of the covenant but also what was at stake in the covenant.  On the typological level, life and death were being revealed in the covenant.  Obedience would lead to life in the land of Canaan, which was typological of life in heaven.  Disobedience would lead to being cut off from the land of Canaan, which was typological of hell. 

But this arrangement was not just in the covenant, but was already present in the giving of the covenant.  God’s eschatological presence was both a potential blessing and curse for Israel.  So, in his grace and mercy, he revealed to Moses how the people could remain safe (blessing) rather than dieing (curse) in his presence–they were to gather at the foot of the mountain but not touch it.  So we see eschatology intruding into history at the giving of the covenant where the substance of the covenant is revealed in the very situation of its ratification.

But the eschatology of the covenant was also manifested in the forward looking expectation of the covenant.  The fact that the covenant had terms that were to be kept directs us to understand that God would return at some point to execute the terms of the covenant.  In the future, God would judge and meet out either blessing or curse.  So, there was a forward looking expectation concealed in the covenant.  That which was revealed at the beginning would be manifest again in the future.

Second, he utilizes the covenant history of Israel to teach us about the covenant history of humanity.  Now, as I have said, this covenant with Israel, though administering earthly blessing or curse tied to the geographical land of Canaan, serves to help us understand the higher and greater realities of heaven and hell, but also serves to remind us of the more cosmic covenant that God had established with Adam and all his posterity.  In the second verse of chapter one, Micah calls for all the nations to hear and pay attention to what God is doing with his covenant people Israel.  The reason is because the time of Israel’s looking forward to God’s return to execute of the terms of the covenant with Israel is at hand–the future day of the Lord is about to no longer be future, it is about to be present.  The judgment that God is bringing upon his people for the rebellion of their covenant breaking is to direct the nations to understand the judgment he is going to bring upon them for the rebellion of their covenant breaking.

God had established the covenant of works with Adam in the garden of Eden, and this included everyone who would be born from Adam by natural generation, i.e., everyone human ever born in history that could trace his lineage to Adam.  Adam failed this covenant and as a result plunged all of humanity into the misery of sin and death.  This covenant in Genesis also had a forward looking expectation of God executing its terms.  Adam and all of humanity that fell in him rebelled and so are now liable to the curse of that covenant, which is eternal death.  The future judgment is going to intrude into the present and God is going to judge all the nations, and we know this because the future judgment of Israel that was built into the fabric of their covenant intruded into their present.  Through God’s historical dealings with Israel, we see a portrait of God’s historic dealings with mankind.  Eschatology that intrudes in history past that speaks of the eschatology of future history will become eschatologically present in the history of all of mankind.

Now, for many, this view of history seems very complicated.  It seems difficult to understand.  It seems very abstract.  So how is it inherently practical?  What does this have to do with the mom at home raising her children, or the person at work at their job, or the student at school?

Eschatology is inherently practical because it forms and shapes everyone’s life.  Our present lives are to be lived in light of God’s eschatological intrusions in the past as they help us to understand the consummate intrusion still coming in the future.  The stage in which our lives, and every seemingly mundane detail of our day to day existence, is lived out is the stage of God’s eschatological intrusions.  Each day that we are alive is to be lived presently in the recognition of what God has done in the past and what God will do in the future.  We cannot live faithfully as the covenant people of God without constantly reminding ourselves of the terms of the covenant.  But we also cannot live faithfully without constantly reminding ourselves of the future consummation of the covenant. 

When we don’t remember these foundational truths, we only see our lives in the present here and now.  And when we do that, we find ourselves tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and the wisdom of this present world.  For what is there to ground our faith?  Our vocation?  Our worship?  Our mission?  Everything we do is contingent on remembering the future that broke into the past and the future that still awaits the present. 

In Micah, the life of Israel was lived between the two advents of God–his advent at Mt. Sinai at the giving of the covenant and his advent in judgment when he utilized Assyria to wipe out the northern ten tribes in 722 B.C. and Babylon to take the southern two tribes into captivity in 586 B.C.  And yet, the message of Micah in calling us to see life this way is not to discourage but to give hope as his message reveals the hope that comes in that judgment.  For in this judgment, which is another type of the coming day of the Lord, we are directed to the day of the Lord that broke into history in the past that now shapes our present.  When the Lord, in another theophany, intruded into history and lived among men.  When the future became present in his bringing the curse of the covenant–only not against his people, nor against the nations, but against himself as he died the cursed death of the cross.  It is this day of the Lord that shapes our present and directs us to the future consummation that is coming. 

There has been an execution of curse that leads to life for sinners of all the nations.  And yet, there is still a future Day of the Lord that is coming.  And as believers find themselves united to Jesus Christ by faith, they are to live between these two advents ever looking backwards and forwards, so that they may live presently, as mothers and fathers and children and employees, etc., with their faith, obedience, vocation, worship and mission grounded firmly in Christ.  And so they may not find themselves living under the tyranny of the present and forgetting who they have been made and called to be in Christ. 

Geerhardus Vos once wrote, “Only one thing more, and that of supreme importance, needs to be remembered: all eschatological interpretation of history, when united to a strong religious mentality cannot but produce the finest practical theological fruitage,” (p. 61).  Everything we know about God, our very relationship with God and everything you do in your relationship with God is rooted in eschatology. Eschatology is the beginning, the end and the middle step in living in a saving relationship with God–you cannot live a faithful life in Christ apart from eschatology.  Eschatology, then, is inherently practical for living a life of faith in Christ.

>"’True’ and ‘Truth’ in the Johannine Writings" – Geerhardus Vos

>This morning in the men’s Bible study at Pasha Coffee & Tea, the men were discussing 1 John 218-27 with particular emphasis on John’s use of “true,” “truth,” “anointing,” and “abiding in you.”  In all these things, John seems to equate these words together with the Anointed One himself, Jesus Christ.  So what does all this mean?

Well, a helpful place to look is Geerhardus Vos’ article “‘True’ and ‘Truth’ in the Johannine Writings.”  In that article, Vos helps to show that John uses these terms in relation to Jesus and who he is as the eschatological savior come from heaven to earth and as such, his words share in his “otherworldliness.”  The truth of Christ and his words has more to do, then, than just speaking of their trustworthy character; his words are heavenly and come from heaven as he did.  As such, Christ abides in his people through his truth–truth that is bound up with his word, the Bible.  Here are a few snippets:

When Jesus is called “the truth,” it would be a rash judgment to assert that this can mean nothing else than that His words are the supreme, incarnate veracity. The noun can just as well mean, and undoubtedly, in view of the usage of the adjective, sometimes does mean, that the supreme reality of the things that compose His character is incarnate in Him. The fulness of “truth,” which, side by side with “grace,” resides in the Only Begotten, must mean far more than the reliability pertaining to His words;

It cannot be otherwise than that the words of Him who is by nature and origin the “veritable” One should partake of the same character precisely because they are His. His kingdom is not of this world (but of the heavenly world), and for this very reason He came from the higher into the lower world that He should bear witness unto “the truth,” and that every one that is of “the truth” should hear His voice (18:37).

He is simply “not of this world.” And what is true of Jesus is, of course, on the principles of the Johannine teaching throughout, in the statements both of Jesus and of the Evangelist, applicable to the disciples, for in no document is the identification of Jesus with the believer more emphatically affirmed.

What is practically involved is the principle of ultimate spiritual value in regard to destiny. The practical name for this is the principle of “otherworldliness.”

The life of faith is not just about trusting Christ’s word, though it does include that, but it is about trusting that his word is at work within us binding us to him so that we understand that the heavenly life of Christ has intruded in us now and is working within us until we enter in to the full consummation of our heavenly inheritance.  The truth of Christ shares in Christ’s nature and therefore binds us to him, which comes to us in the form of an anointing.  So, as the anointing you received from him abides in you . . .and is true . . . abide in him (1 John 2.27).

You can find the article in Vos’ Shorter Writings, or read the entire article online for free here.

>Sacramental Presence and Never-Failing Enjoyment of God


Commenting on Hosea, Geerhardus Vos writes:
Jehovah strengthened Israel’s arms and taught her to walk [7.15]; although the Giver of all nature-blessings, of corn, wine, oil, silver, gold, wool, flax, Jehovah is distinguished from the Baals, in that He has something more and finer to given than these:  loving-kindness, mercy and faithfulness [2.19]; in reality He gives, in and through all these things, Himself after a sacramental fashion [2.23]; He is personally present in all His favours, and in them surrenders Himself to His people for never-failing enjoyment.  Biblical Theology, Old And New Testaments, 261. 



>What is the Sabbath and why do we have it?

>Tomorrow is the Christian Sabbath, and as I think about it and prepare myself for it, I am reminded of a great quote by Geerhardus Vos:

Before all other important things, therefore, the Sabbath is an expression of the eschatological principle on which the life of humanity has been constructed…The Sabbath brings this principle of the eschatological structure of history to bear upon the mind of man after a symbolical and a typical fashion. It teaches its lesson through the rhythmical succession of six days of labour and one ensuing day of rest in each successive week. Man is reminded in this way that life is not an aimless existence, that a goal lies beyond. This was true before, and apart from, redemption. The eschatological is an older strand in revelation than the soteric, (Biblical Theology, p. 140).

The structure of the Christian week begins with the Sabbath, because the work needed for entering into the Sabbath has been completed by Christ. Now, as a result, the church gathers on the first day of the week for worship, fellowship and rest so that we are reminded that this life is lived out of the rest accomplished for us. But it also structures our lives so that we see that in our living out of our rest–it is headed somewhere.

Tomorrow we have the privilege of a grand foretaste of what is already ours in Christ and what has been at the heart of God’s creative and recreative activities. The Sabbath, and that heavenly fellowship to which it points, are not after thoughts in God’s mind and intentions. Before God created and redeemed, he existed as the Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in which he was self-existent and enjoyed the fullness of his own fellowship. He created, though, and created in order to bring his church into that fellowship. That is why he created and that is what tomorrow points to and anticipates. It is not something that God decided to do only after man fell into sin–tomorrow is a foretaste of God’s original intentions.

Heaven and eternal fellowship between the triune God and the church is, therefore, what should structure our enjoyment of the day for what it is. Tomorrow is a day of worship, fellowship, and rest that restructures our lives in this world to be lived in light of the world to come, in which, the enjoyment of that world intrudes into our lives here and now.

>The Kingdom of God and the Church–An Outline

>Much has been said in the last century and a half concerning the relationship of the Kingdom of God and the Church. Some have questioned if the Church is related to the Kingdom of God at all insisting that it was a sociological development by the apostles as a means of maintaining their control after Jesus’ death. Others have suggested that the kingdom is totally future and that the Church is merely a temporary phenomenon until God’s Kingdom program starts back up. Others have postulated that the kingdom is so present today that it should become become political and transform society (a Christian utopia if you will).

Given the importance that it plays in the teaching of the Bible and Jesus and the abuses that have occurred because of misunderstanding, we need some clarity. Geerhardus Vos provides this in his fine study on the Kingdom of God and the Church. Vos presents a thorough, yet, accessible treatment from a redemptive-historical perspective looking at it from just about every possible angle.

Well, making this book even more accessible, there is a great new resource for helping the reader grasp Vos’ argument. Over at Twenty-First Century Tabletalk, Michael Lynch has posted a full outline of the book. With the outline he helps walk the reader through not only the material, but the argument, including helpful quotes along the way.

If you want to read it but not spend any money, then you can read it online for free at Google Books.

[HT: James Grant]

>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!