KERUX: A JOURNAL
Editor: James T. Dennison, Jr.
Assistant Editors: Richard A. Riesen and David L. Roth
1. THE MEASURE OF THANKFULNESS: JESUS, PAUL AND THE LIFE OF PRAYER
2. HE MUST INCREASE, BUT I MUST DECREASE ..............................................................................................................................11
3. GEERHARDUS VOS: LIFE BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
4. BIBLICAL THEOLOGY: THE VIEW FROM THE PEW ....................................................................................................................32
5. BOOK REVIEWS ................................................................................................................................................................................52
KERUX is a publication of Kerux, Inc. and appears three times each year (May, September, December). Editorial offices are located at 1131 Whispering Highlands Dr., Escondido, CA 92027-4961. Correspondence should be directed to the editor at this address. Subscription rates for one year are: $15.00 (U.S. and Canada); $20.00 (Elsewhere). All remittances should be made payable in U. S. Funds. KERUX is: abstracted in Old Testament Abstracts, Washingon, DC and Religious and Theological Abstracts, Myerstown, PA; indexed in Religion Index One, Evanston, IL and the Elenchus of Biblica, Rome, Italy.
Visit our Website: kerux.com
ISSN 0888-8513 September 1999 Vol. 14, No. 2
This issue of Kerux is devoted to Geerhardus Vos and the book of Revelation. The Vos article is a surprise, being only recently discovered in The Union Seminary Magazine for 1902. With other Princetonians, Vos was invited to contribute to the journal of the seminary of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) at Richmond, Virginia. While Vos's article reprises themes familiar from his other descriptive biblical-theological treatments (i.e., "The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline," in Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., ed., Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation  3-24; and Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments ), there are some fresh insights which will enrich the Vos corpus. This article is not listed in the writer's bibliography of Vos, first published in the Westminster Theological Journal (1976) and revised in the Gaffin edited volume noted above.
The book of Revelation continues to fascinate and frighten the church. It's imagery intrigues and baffles at the same time. Our author's have provided penetrating insights for orienting the reader, preacher and student to "the Apocalypse." May the church be led to pray even more fervently "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
The Measure of Thankfulness:
Jesus, Paul, and the
Life of Prayer
Charles G. Dennison
In 1972, Harvie Conn wrote an excellent article for Christianity Today entitled, "Luke's Theology of Prayer."1 This article makes it clear the gospel of Luke is concerned to convince us that, with Christ's coming, a new day of prayer has arrived. Jesus' example and instruction in prayer, therefore, are meant to teach his disciples and us, his church, how to pray in the new day in which the kingdom has come and is yet to come in consummate glory.
We need only think of Christ's practice of addressing God as his Father, as well as his invitation to us to do the same. With his appearance, the new day of intimacy has dawned. But, further, Jesus encourages us to ask, seek, and knock to an unprecedented assurance that we will be heard. Not just the new day of intimacy with God but, truly, the new day of confidence in our access to him has arrived.
One way to gain a better grip on this new day of prayer is to look past Luke to the man many believe was his mentor, the apostle Paul. Consider Paul's prayers in light of what we have been saying. For instance, they con-
1 Volume 17 (Dec. 22, 1972): 6-8.
trast, in certain ways, the prayers we find in the Old Testament. The Psalms, since they are often called prayers, provide a helpful backdrop.
Unlike the Psalms, Paul's prayers overflow with profuse joy for others. The apostle is continuously thanking God for those to whom he writes. We do not find such expressions in the Psalms, or in the Old Testament prayers generally. Neither do we hear in Paul's prayers the anguished cries of distress so regularly punctuating the Psalms. Instead, Paul's prayers become studies in consistent, fearless wonderment, an explosion of thanksgiving, reflective of the radical transition that has now occurred in the history of redemption.
I have tried to capture the sense of this transition in a little rhyming couplet:
Nothing is the same
Not even our prayers!
Possibly, you find what I am saying a bit unsettling. Being Reformed and presbyterian, you are not accustomed to such distinctions as you move from your Old Testament to the New. In fact, you sense that I am positing a preliminary and provisional quality for the Old Testament, even implying an inadequacy for the Psalter.
This is particularly disturbing to you because you have always looked to your tradition to maintain, not only the unity of the Testaments, but the liturgical use of the Psalms which, in some quarters, means their exclusive use in the singing of the church at worship. You may not be an exclusive Psalmodist yourself; however, you have taken great comfort in the fact that such people and churches exist, since they connect you to your history and provide you a settled corner to which you can look, away from the burlesque of present-day liturgical chaos.
Please understand me. What I've said is not meant to suggest a surrender of the Psalms in Christian praise, much less a surrender in worship to the adolescent preoccupations of the contemporary church. However, the Reformed church does not serve her cause well when she dishonors her own regulative principle and defends a practice that falls short of the Scripture's intention. First of all, the 150 Psalms of the Old Testament never were the
exclusive content of praise for God's people in Bible times. But, secondly and more positively, the practice of singing Psalms and hymns in Christian worship rightly reflects our present situation: The old with the new; the content of the new rising in relationship to the pattern and reverence found in the old; but the new exhibiting the reality of what the old, even its songs, could only be the shadow.
As I continue with this message, I hope our further look into Paul's prayers will be helpful to us in understanding these things better. I have chosen Paul's letter to the Colossians as our route of entrance.
Just a word about background. Toward the end of the sixth decade in the first Christian century, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem. He was moved to Caesarea for two years before being taken to Rome. You can read about his journey to Rome in the latter chapters of Acts. Once in Rome Paul remained under arrest, many believe, into A. D. 62. During his imprisonment he wrote a block of letters that now are called his prison epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
While each of these letters is distinct, Colossians stands out at least in one regard: It was written to people Paul had never met. He tells us in chapter 2, verse 1, the Colossians, among others, had not seen his face. Now, we might not make much of this fact, except that it provides us a unique opportunity to observe the dynamics of Paul's involvement with those for whom he labored and prayed.
You see, Paul is self-conscious of the bond between himself and the living Christ. In fact, he deliberately patterns his own ministry after Christ's. If you need proof of this, look at Colossians 1:24. Here, Paul says he is doing his part for the church by filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. Without question, this is a difficult statement. What, after all, could be lacking in Christ's afflictions? Do we not hold to the finality and sufficiency of our Savior's sacrifice?
Without answering all the questions about this passage, let me say this much: Paul in this verse sees his own ministry in light of Christ's. But notice how clear this point is when we join 1:24 to 2:1. Paul provides his own exposition of the afflictions he is filling up when he writes, " . . . I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf . . . and for all those who have not personally seen my face."
Do you grasp what Paul is doing? He suffers in his ministry for these Colossians because Christ suffered in his ministry for his people. And just as Christ performed his service for so many who have not as much as seen his face, Paul does the same.
Here is the constraint and discipline upon the apostle. Not a vast following; not a so-called "successful ministry"; not an impressive record of statistics to showcase before a worshipful public; not even the collection of credits for future canonization. Instead, Paul, clear-eyed and clear-headed, is driven by his deep sense of vital union with Christ. His ministry testifies as to how Christ is coming to expression in him. In another prison epistle, he says it this way, "For to me to live is Christ . . ." (Phil. 1:21).
Paul's living in and from Christ comes to particular focus in his prayers. He reflects on his prayers for the Colossians in chapter 1, verses 3-12. Right away he tells these people he prays always for them (v. 3; cp. v. 9). So predictable a feature is this persistence in his prayers that we are liable to pass over it without much thought. We must not do this, especially in light of the things we have already said about Paul's awareness of his union with Christ. For that awareness opens up for us his motivation in prayer.
What do you think? Was Paul into what has now come to be called "spirituality," that is, those religious arts, practices, and techniques thought useful as the means to deeper involvement in the mysterious, hidden dimensions of human existence? Or was Paul an advocate of the "prayer as therapy" school, that approach by which one more important step to better mental health is honored in the interests of the gospel of "feeling good about yourself"? Or do
you think Paul believed in heroic feats of piety to secure for himself an elevated level of religious assurance before the majority, sanctification-shirking Christian public?
I've known ministers of the heroic piety type. I remember one in particular who would berate his hearers by telling them they had no real evidence of their sanctification until they had prayed the whole night through. Of course, this fellow was quick to tell us about his own experience and how it had changed his life. Now, I'm sure Paul prayed many a night through; not only does he not tell us about it but, I'm sure, his motivation in prayer was much different than that of this misdirected minister.
Let me point out two passages that move us in a different direction, one from Paul, another close by. Romans 8:34 reads:
Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
Hebrews 7:25 extends the thought:
Wherefore [Jesus] is able also to save them to the uttermost that come to God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
Is not the connection clear? What I have been contending for is this: Paul's motivation in constant prayer comes from his union with Christ. Just as Christ offers constant prayersince "he ever liveth to make intercession"even for those who have never seen his face, so also Paul, being bound to his Savior, does the same.
And you will note, this activity by Christ and by Paul, in and through Christ, has Old Testament foundation. In shadow form, the altar of incense, which perpetually offered up its fragrance through the morning and evening service of the priests, anticipated the ministry of Christ and his servants. These latter prayers become an expression of the purified sons of Levi (Mal. 3:3), as the dim and faint light of the former administration gives way to the luminous reality of glory.
But having accounted for Paul's attitude toward prayer, we still must say something about his attitude in prayer, namely his persistent thanksgiving for others. Here we are faced with a rather formidable challenge. I say this because, when looking at Paul's thanksgiving for others, we are immediately at a loss for an adequate biblical analogue for his practice. What grounding, we might well ask, does his thanksgiving have elsewhere in Scripture?
As we pointed out at the beginning of this message, the Old Testament prayers are devoid of thanksgiving for others. To be sure, someone might suggest we come close to the mark in Psalm 16:3. But this is a single and disputed text.
We may be accustomed to the Authorized Version's translation of this verse, ". . . but to the saints that are in the earth, to the excellent, in whom is all my delight," in which the Psalmist could be understood to be giving thanks for the saints. However, even the Septuagint (LXX) sees the saints here as the objects of the Lord's magnified pleasure, rather than the objects of the Psalmist's thanksgiving. It may even be that the LXX moved in this direction because it could find no further example in the Old Testament of saints giving thanks for saints.
When we turn to the New Testament, we might think of stretching the witness of certain texts in the interests of discerning the same pattern in Christ that we observe in Paul. For instance, could we squeeze such thanks by Christ from his prayer in John 17, although this is not explicit in the prayer itself? In other words, can we rightly posit Christ's thanksgiving for the elect for whom he so earnestly prays without the expressed sentiment being in the text?
Along the same line, we might infer Christ's present thanksgiving for others from the argument in Hebrews 2:12, where the writer speaks about the inseparable bond between Christ and his own against the background of Isaiah 8:17, 18. But again we lack an explicit statement.
Closer to Paul in Colossians is the conclusion we might draw from Ephesians 1:18. In this verse the apostle speaks of the inheritance God has in his
saints. In view are the riches of his glory which he delights in giving to his elect. The verse is suggestive of the final delight God takes in his people, a delight reciprocated toward God by the people themselves. The mutuality of this delight, expressive of the covenant and the inheritance God and his people have in each other, opens up for us the substance of the eternal state of glory.
What is striking, however, is that Paul speaks of a similar relationship between himself and the people he serves. In possibly the most instructive text in this connection and with language most likely unsettling to some, Paul tells the Corinthians that he is their boast and they are his in the day of the Lord (II Cor. 1:14).2 Paul's thanksgiving for others finds its anchor here; it derives from this future reality and becomes a present expression of it. Interestingly, Paul, in verse 11 of this same chapter, speaks about the many who give thanks in their prayers for him (v. 11). He understands this thanksgiving for him and his thanksgiving for others as partaking of the same heavenly world.
Drawing together these considerations, let me summarize what I'm contending for: Paul's thanksgiving for others is grounded in the mutual delight God and his saints take in one another, particularly as that delight reaches over into the realm of eternity and flows from the eschatological thanksgiving in glory. In the great day, we will rejoice in God as God rejoices in us. At the same time, we will boast in one another and, even presently, do so, particularly in our prayers. In this new day of prayer that has come in Christ, our prayers, like Paul's, grasp hold of the coming glory in our thanksgiving for one another.
But is it true that nothing of this can be perceived from the Old Testament? While we found no explicit expression of thanks for others in the Old Testament, this does not mean the foundation for such thanks is lacking.
2 The Greek word, which I translate here as "boast," is kauchema. This provides a literal rendering, e.g., " . . . you are our boast and you are ours . . . ." The KJV translation is as follows: " . . . we are your rejoicing . . . ;" the RSV translates more expansively and loosely, " . . . you can be proud of us as we can of you . . .;" while the NASV offers " . . . we are your reason to be proud as you also are ours . . . . "
In fact, that foundation may well be discerned in Psalm 16:3, despite what we said earlier. This Psalm is full of language about inheritance, with the third verse making its own contribution to that theme. As we saw in the New Testament and from Ephesians 1:18, here was the route into the mutual delight that not only God and his people take in each another, but God's people have in one another.
In the new day of prayer, this latter consideration opens up for us as never before. The reason for this may well be the diminishment of the creational and territorial focus for the inheritance in the New Testament and the ascendancy of that communion, belonging to God and his elect in the full range of their eternal blessedness.
In light of these things, I do not hesitate to say that you will be my boast in the day of Christ, if in fact I have been able to minister to you; and that you will be mine insofar as you have made my ministry your own. This being true, I presently give thanks for you always, Christ himself being the measure of my thanksgiving. I trust he is the measure of your thanksgiving for me.
He Must Increase,
But I Must Decrease
James T. Dennison, Jr.
John 3: 22-31
This is the last speech of the Baptist in the fourth gospel. This desert rat; this Elijah redivivus (who nonetheless disclaims that he is Elijahprofound Johannine irony that); this kerux of the fullness of timeJohn the Baptist utters his valedictory and disappears from John's story of Jesus. True, he is mentioned again by Jesus in chapter 5 where his testimony to the truth is compared with the testimony of Jesus himselfChrist's testimony incomparably greater than John's (5:36). And the Baptist's non-miraculous ministry is described by the crowds beyond the Jordan (10:41)contrasting Christ's ministry which is one miraculous sign after another with John who performed no miracles. So that even when he does not speak, John the Baptist is compared to Christ, related to Christ, joined to ChristChrist greater than John; Christ the one before all, even John; Christ the one above all, yeseven John. Christ is the center for John the Baptist; his last speech exegetical of his entire career"He must increase, but I must decrease."
A sermon preached at the Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster, California, on May 22, 1999 during the service of ordination and installation of Reverend Yong H. Kim as Associate Pastor of the Westminster Church (laboring at Theophilus Orthodox Presbyterian Chapel, Diamond Bar, California).
This last speech of this last of the prophets of the Old Testament erathis last speech casts us back to his first speech. If the last speech of the Baptist is the diminishing of himself in relation to Christ, his first speech is his renunciation of messianic pretense. "I am not the Christ" (1:20). Here is the key to the Baptist's identitya key already provided by the evangelist in his magnificent Prologue. But now from his own lipsno Messiah am I! Not me! There is no pretense in the Baptist; no ambition to be what he is not; no messianic delusions; no guru mentality; no identity crisis; no self-centeredness. "I am not the Christ; I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness make straight the way of the Lord." Not the Christ, and John the Baptist is content to be what he is not. John the Baptist is content with Jesus. It is very difficult for the modern church to comprehend this self-effacing spirit, for the modern church and its leaders are full of themselvesfull of what they are not. But to parade what they are; to parade what they wannabe; to parade what they lust after; to parade themselves: this is the mark of the modern church and its leaders. How incomprehensible is the Baptist to such a self-centered church.
But the Baptist, exempt from any narcissism, declares that indeed he knows who he is. He understands his role in the grand plan of Godin the sweep of the history of redemption. John the Baptist knows himself to be the harbingerthe voice of one crying make ready for the coming of the Lord! John the Baptist knows himself to be the Isaianic forerunnerthe herald of the Ebed Yahweh/Servant of the Lord. John the Baptist knows that he is a man of the desert in preparation for the eschatological transformation to be inaugurated "in the wilderness." What is on the verge of eruption in the days of John the Baptist is the inaugural fulfillment of Isaiah 40-66. Nothing less than the turning of the ages from anticipation to realization is at hand. The end of the age is upon him and John heralds the dawn of Isaiah's golden aeon. And he heralds that eschatological transformation with a water ritea passing through the waters in confirmation that the new age is upon himthe new Isaianic era is both upon him and upon the people of God. The old is behindwashed away in waters of ritual purification; but the newthe new age of the Christthe age of the Spiritthe age of the washing from abovethe age of the washing from out of heaventhat long-expected aeon is upon him.
And he sees! John the Baptist beholds the One upon whom the Spirit rests. John the Baptist beholds the One upon whom the Spirit out of heaven remains and abides. This One washes with no waterthis one washes with no natural orderthis One washes with the Spiritthe Spirit out of heaven. He who comes, brings the Spirit down from heaven and bathes his sons and daughters in the waters of everlasting life.
Here is a messenger of the natural order who proclaims a supernatural ordera baptism from abovea washing from heaven itself a cleansing which comes from the very arena from which the One who himself cleanses comes. John the Baptist knowsnot my baptism, his baptism. Not my natural washing in water, his supernatural washing in water. Not my temporal water rite, his eternal one. Not my provisional ordinance, his eschatological provision.
Yet John testifies that this One who has come is more than bearer of the Spirit; he is the Lamb of God. Yes, he is the supreme Passover Lamb; John the evangelist makes that clear in his crucifixion narrative, chapter 19:14. But John the Baptist, as if summing up all the Law and the Prophets in himself, John the Baptist as the last figure of the Old Testament eraJohn the Baptist sees every sacrificial lamb summed up, come to realization in this Lamb. This last Lambthis final Lambthis all-sufficient Lambthis Lamb who once and for all takes away the sin of the worldthis Lamb who will utter what no previous lamb ever uttered: "It is finished." Sin, guilt condemnation it is finished! I have covered all of your sins; I have remitted all of your guilt; I have cancelled all of your condemnation; I have put all of them to death in my death! Every lamb from the blood of Abel's to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53; every lamb from Mount Moriah to Mount Zion: every sacrificial lamb is completed and displacedyeah, replacedin me! This Lamb is your lambthe lamb who once and for all takes away your sin, and by his bloodby his precious blood shed for yousays, "It is finished." To you, this Lamb says, "It is finished; you have passed overyou have passed over out of death into life."
The eschatological bearer and bringer of the Spirit is the eschatological Lamb of God. He is also the Son of God. And the Son of God?He is God! Here is a Christological title which stands out boldly in John the Baptist's
inaugural proclamation of he who comes. For the first time, this majestic title for Jesus bursts from the lips of the Baptist at chapter 1, verse 34. And that title, Son of God, will occur on page after page of this gospel to chapter 20 verse 31 together with its concomitantthat the Son of God is the "I AM"the bearer of the theophanic name himself! Surely this fourth gospel is the supreme gospel of the deity of Christ. But the modern church simply cannot abide this. At every point, modernist reductionism brings Jesus downdown to the level of the creature. Currently the progressive theological view is to demythologize and reduce Jesus to a deconstructed Jewish peasantthe so-called marginal Jew. Nor is this a new heresyfrom Arius to the Socinians to the Unitarians to the Jehovah's Witnesses to the liberals, to the postmodern deconstructions of orthodox Trinitarian Christology, the culturally hip modern church cannot confess a Jesus who is God. Like God, shows us God, reveals what God is like, but as you well know from Machen's Christianity and Liberalism and Vos's Self-Disclosure of Jesus the liberal, modernist, postmodern church will not identify Jesus with God. For them, it may not be precisely clear who Jesus is, but it is always clear who Jesus is nothe is not the second person of the eternal Godhead.
But for John the Baptist, if Jesus is not God, God the Son, he is not the Lamb of God who takes away sin! For John the Baptist, if Jesus is not God, God the Son, he is not the heaven-descended Spirit-Baptizer. For John the Baptist, everything collapses if Jesus is not God, God the Son. So too for us. Only if Jesus is "our Lord and our God" are our sins covered. How desperately we need a covering for our sins; and how desperately we need God, God the Son, to cover them! Only if Jesus is "our Lord and our God" are we able to be washed by the baptism from heaventhe baptism of the Spirit. How desperately we need washed, washed from out of heaven; and how desperately we need the One from heaven!God, God the Sonto wash us with heaven's own baptism.
To this point, I have focused on the retrospective element in the Baptist's witness to Christ. This approach is not artificial; it is not contrivedit flows from our text as you will observe. Verse 28 of chapter 3 contains the backward glance to John's affirmations in chapter 1not the Christ, but the one sent before him to bear witness to who he is. But you will observe that John's
valedictory speech in chapter 3 contains more than a retrospective glance to chapter 1 and its plethora of Christological titlesMessiah, Spirit-Baptizer, Lamb of God, Son of God. You will observe that chapter 3 verse 29 contains the image of a wedding celebration. Surely this is more than a mere tantalizing connection with Jesus' invitation to the wedding at Cana in chapter 2. John designates himself the friend of the bridegroomthe friend who knows his role when the nuptial night arrivesthe friend who knows that from this time, the bridegroom and the bride are central. Jesus' first miracle was a sign that the wedding feast has arrived for the eschatological bridegroom and his bride. Not the changing of water into bloodrather a wedding gift from the eschatological guestwater into wine. John the Baptist is aware that the bridegroom has come and nownow all who love the bridegroom are guests at his marriage supper. Indeed, this is fullness of joy!
And verses 27 and 31 of chapter 3? With their references to the one from above, the one from heaven? Surely you see it! The testimony of the Baptist dovetails with Jesus' own remarks to Nicodemus: you must be born from above; you must be born from heaven. Heaven itself must birth youintruding its new life, its heavenly life, its regenerate life into your life. The life of heavenfrom abovetaking possession of those who receive itnow reborn, heaven-begotten children of God.
Now you understand why John the Baptist steps aside from John the evangelist's story of Jesus in chapter 3. From John chapter 4, Christ must increase. Christ's identity and saving work must increase and expand through the display of his miraculous signs, his marvellous discourses, his passion, resurrection and post-resurrection great commission of Peter and the disciples. This one baptized with the Holy Spirit promises to return to heaven and send forth the Spirit out of heaven to drench his people. This one designated Lamb of God will hang upon a cross at Golgotha so that heaven's own judgment in falling upon him will not fall upon usyea, the wrath of God will pass over because this Lamb's blood speaks life, not death. And this one from heaven, with the life of heaven, this one will diewill experience the very antithesis of heavenin a tombin a dark tombin the pit of sheolas a lifeless corpse; only to be born again on the third dayborn again by resurrection from the dead. Jesus himself born from above; Jesus himself regenerated via resurrectionso that we may be born againwe may be born
from aboveborn from heaven. Here is the majestic "increase" which John the Baptist saw only afar off, but you and Iwe have seen its fullness. Indeed, he must increase because his historyhis storyis the story of heaven's Sonheaven's childliving our history. Yes, living our history: birth, life, death, burialJesus lives our history that he may transform our history: new birth; new life, resurrection from the dead, a place prepared for us in his Father's many mansions.
If the modern church cannot see John the Baptist as any other than a peculiar wilderness figure, it is because the modern church does not perceive the heavenly witness of the Baptist. And more tragically, if the modern church cannot see Jesus as any other than a man ("he's only a man, he's nothing but a man"), it is because the contemporary church is too self-centered too self-absorbed, too political, too manipulative, too bureaucratic, too personality-centered to allow the Son of God his rightful preeminence. Whether the Reformed Church can understand her moment in history short of the third millennium, God knows. But the indications are not salientdivisions, personal agendas, squabbles, majoring in minors, overstuffed egos, guru mentalities, movers and shakers together with their wannabees! What does any of this wood, hay and stubble have to do with Christwith Christ increasing and youyes, you!decreasing. Liberal reductionism is moralism; conservative reductionism is fundamentalism. But they both have the same systemic root: both are tyrannical.
Hear then the last word of the final prophet of the Old Testamenthear the valedictory of this Elijah: Christ must increase, you must decrease. No! Not the Arminian down the streetyou, you must decrease. No! Not the apostate mainliner on the corneryou! you must decrease. You have no other legacyno other testimonyno other heritage: it is Christ and the increase of Christ or it is nothing! As a particular person said, It is not about us; it is not about us!it is about Christ!
John the Baptist begins with heavenJohn the Baptist begins with heaven's ChristJohn the Baptist begins with understanding himself. I am not the Christhe must increase, I must decrease. Hear this prophet members of the Reformed church; give ear to this desert rat, fathers and brethren of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. For if you increase and Christ decreases; if
you increase and Christ decreases, you will demonstrate that you are not from heaven, you are not born from above, you are not guests of the bridegroom, but like Nicodemus in chapter 3, you are teachers of Israel and have not yet begun to understand these things.
But come, join Nicodemus in John chapter 19; and as you take heaven's child and tenderly lay his body in the tombas you await the heaven-intruded resurrection-life of the third dayyou too will become what Nicodemus became; you will become a master in the New Israelthe Israel born from heaven as Nicodemus finally confessed himself to be; Nicodemus born from above, at last centering his life upon his Lordcradling his Lambcradling his Lamb from the crosscradling his crucified Lamb in his arms.
Fathers and brethren, brothers and sisters, it is Christ who must be central. For Christ alone brings heaven down to your soul in a blazing new birth. Christ alone brings heaven's declaration that all your sins are forgiven in the blood of this Lamb; Christ alone brings heaven's invitation to the wedding to the eschatological wedding to the marriage supper of this Lamb.
I leave you with Christthe bringer of the birth from abovethe baptizer with the Holy Spiritthe forgiver of all your iniquitiesthe very Son of the Fatherthe host at the eschatological wedding feast. Surely you realize even more than John the Baptistsurely you realize, Christ must increase, Christ must increase, but wewe must decrease.
Life Between Two Worlds
James T. Dennison, Jr.
There were not many present that Wednesday afternoon; not many present at all. No one was there from his denomination; no one was there from the institution he had served for nearly thirty-nine years. Only one person from his family appears to have been there. A man and a woman from the local Methodist Church were there. They sang a hymn. Ironically, the institution to which he had declined to transfer at its formation in 1929 was therein the person of her most noted Dutchman; no antithesis hereDutchman paying tribute to Dutchman. Cornelius Van Til was there with his Dutch friend, Rev. John De Waard; John De Waard, pastor of Memorial Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York. Van Til of Westminster Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; De Waard, graduate of Princeton Seminary and member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Two Dutchmen were there to bury their countryman, conducting his casket from the village Methodist Church to a simple hillside cemetery. Van Til, De Waard and the casket of Geerhardus Vos in the tiny village of Roaring Branch, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, August 17, 1949. And there in that grassy cemetery, they laid his remains next to those of his wife, Catherine; Catherine Vos who had died September 14, 1937. Geerhardus interred in the mountain village not far from the summer house where Catherine and he and their four children passed so many pleasant hours between May and September. Pleasant morning hours of study followed by the mile-long walk to the post office in town. Afternoon reading on the porch with the children followed by an-
other walk to the post office. And evenings in the study once more, surrounded by his books and journals and papers. And on Sunday? the walk to the Methodist Church for worshipthe only church in the village. The ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. worships in a Methodist Church; the Professor at the premier Old School Reformed Theological Seminary passes his summer Sabbaths in an Arminian church. And as ironic and incongruous as his church life in Roaring Branch is the surreal photograph of his open casket on that August afternoon in 1949his open casket flanked by Van Til and De Waard. Geerhardus Vos buried in an obscure mountain village, in an obscure mountain cemeteryall but forgotten by the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., all but forgotten by Princeton Theological Seminary, all but forgotten by the evangelical and Reformed world of post-World War II boomers. At his graveside, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Westminster Seminary. But fifty years later, he remains obscure not only in the Presbyterian Church (U. S. A.) and Princeton Theological Seminary; fifty years later, he remains an enigma to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Westminster Seminary.
But not to Cornelius Van Til fifty years ago; not even to the Cornelius Van Til of his own student days at Princeton Seminary 1924-25. "Dr. Vos was the greatest pedagogue I ever sat under." That is what Dr. Van Til told me in 1981 when he visited Westminster in California for his first and only time. And yet, even at Princeton, Vos was an enigma. Never active in Presbytery; not easily understood by the majority of his students (though J. Gresham Machen said, "if I knew half of what Dr. Vos knows"); ever in the background of the seminary culturehis only prominence (besides his profound scholarship) the regular walks with his friend, B. B. Warfield. Yet after the First World War, that profound scholarship virtually disappears from the pages of the journal of the Seminary he served. And his most penetrating work, The Pauline Eschatologyprivately published by the author in 1930. Imagine thatno major publisher interested in a book that revolutionized Pauline Theology for all those who penetrated itindeed for all those who found Vos's exegesis of the mind of Paul a Copernican revolution. Was Vos marginalized because of his thick Dutch accent and his intricate Germanic style? Was Vos isolated even at Princeton after 1918 because of his sympathies for the German Kaiser during World War I? What did he do to be placed on the periphery; what didn't he do to attain a place in even Princeton's tiny
spotlight? Was it too hard to follow his lectures? Was it his distinctive approach to the organic character of revelation? certainly unpopular with students demanding Sunday School level instruction at a Theological Seminary. Was it his fragile health? a metabolism racked easily by fatigue, insomnia, nervousness? Was it his retiring personality? a personality which passed up appointment to Abraham Kuyper's Free University in Amsterdam out of deference to his parents; a personality which rejected William Henry Green's initial pleas to leave the backwater of Grand Rapids and join the faculty of his Princeton alma mater in the critical year before the Briggs heresy trial reached its climax; a personality which saw him rarely invited to speak beyond the chapel of Princeton Seminary; a personality which could not move out of Princeton in 1929, nor out of the Presbyterian Church, U. S. A. in 1936; a personality which led him to board a train in Seattle, Washington in 1926, leaving his wife and children to make their way by car from Seattle to Princeton without him.
It is the thesis of my remarks that the fundamental explanation of Geerhardus Vos lies in the fact that he was a man of two worlds. From his boyhood in Friesland with parents born in Germany; to his adolescent immigration from the Netherlands to the United States; to his seminary education first in Grand Rapids and then in Princeton; to his post-graduate study first in Berlin and then in Strassburg; to his teaching in the Christian Reformed Seminary and then in the Presbyterian Seminary; to his retirement in Santa Ana, California where he attended a Covenanter Church, followed by his transfer to his daughter's home and the Christian Reformed culture of 1940's Grand Rapids, Michigan. In these and so many other ways, Geerhardus Vos lived between two worlds.
He was born in the old world. It was in Heerenveen, Friesland on March 14, 1862 that Aaltje Beuker Vos delivered her firstborn. Reverend Jan H. Vos, pastor of the Christelijke-Gereformeerde Kerk in Heerenveen was the proud father. Geerhardus was the first of four. His brother, Bert John, destined to be a distinguished Professor of German at Johns Hopkins University and Indiana University was born in 1867. And there were two sisters: Anna, also born in Heerenveen in 1864 (she became the wife of a Christian Reformed Church minister); and Gertrude, the baby, born in 1870 (she never
married). Jan Vos and his wife were German by birthnatives of Graafschap, Bentheim, Germany. The region was known as Ostfriesland, the northwest corner of Germany, contiguous to the Netherlands. Vos and his wife's brother, Hendericus Beuker, were products of the very tiny Old Reformed Church of Bentheim, Germany. Yet they journeyed to Holland for their theological education; both graduated from the Theological School in Kampen. The Old Reformed Church, stretched between the German and Dutch worlds, was to produce several notable scholars and pastors for the Dutch Christelijke-Gereformeerde Kerk and the American Christian Reformed Church.
Geerhardus Vos was Friese/Dutch by birth to parents who were German by birth. He would master the language of both worldsVos was fluent in German and Dutch. But in the years following Geerhardus's birth, these two worlds with these two languages were increasingly in tension. While it would be too much to suggest that Vos's father's numerous short pastorates (six congregations in twenty-three years; not quite four years per charge)that Vos's father's numerous short pastorates were due to the strain of these German and Dutch worlds, nonetheless there is a family tradition that German nationalism was a factor in the Jan Vos family immigrating to America in 1881. Jan Vos's old world ministerial career (1858-1881) coincided with the meteoric rise of Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Germany. Bismarck's goal was a united GermanySouth Germans and Prussians forging a national unit which would broker the destiny of EuropeFrance over against Russia; Russia against France; Russia and France against Britain. Bismarck's war with Austria (1866); his Franco-Prussian War (1870-71); his Austro-Hungarian pact (1879): every plank in this carefully crafted foreign policy was intended for one goalto advance German power and influence. When Jan Vos boarded a ship in 1881 with his wife and four children, he was not merely participating in the "Great Century of Immigration"; he was not merely answering the call of the Spring Street Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids; he was not merely reconsidering a call to America he had rejected in 1877. When Jan Vos boarded that boat in 1881, he was hearing the rattling of sabersGerman sabersand he gathered his family and headed for the new world.
Nineteen-year-old Geerhardus came to Grand Rapids fresh out of the Gymnasium of Amsterdam where he had distinguished himself by earning academic honors. In America, Geerhardus once more found himself between
two worlds: his father's pietistic German-Dutch background and the emerging Americanization of the immigrant Dutch community. The Curators of the Theological School in Grand Rapids (what we now call Calvin Theological Seminary) proposed Geerhardus as the bridge between the two worlds: he would lecture and preach in both Dutch and English. And so Vos was to be shapedshaped by his Dutch tradition and shaped by the practical needs of an immigrant community. Two years of theological training in Grand Rapids were followed by two years at Princeton Theological Seminary. The two worlds again: from the pedantic Dutch Reformed Theological School to the academic bastion of Old School Presbyterian orthodoxy, Princeton Seminary. From a small band of pastor-professors with few academic credentials to William Henry Green, Francis Landy Patton, A. A. Hodge, Casper Wistar Hodge. You will note I mentioned two years at Grand Rapids, two years at Princeton. Some of us (rather than saying "equal time" for the Christian Reformed and the Presbyterians), some of us will sayit's not fair! No one should be that brilliant. But in his earliest extant letter dated August 17, 1883, Geerhardus Vos lists his academic accomplishments as sufficient reason for skipping the junior or first year curriculum at Princeton. "I have studied theology" for two years; I have experience in all the branches of Theology offered in the first year of the Princeton curriculum; I have completed Hebrew and I have a diploma certifying my performance. May I be admitted to the middler or second year class? He was admitted; and two years later he justified his own precocity and boldness by writing a booka book mind youas competition for the Hebrew fellowship. The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes (written in 1885; published in 1886) included an Introduction by Vos's esteemed Old Testament Professor, William Henry Green. This rather uninspiring defense of the Mosaic provenance of the Pentateuch nonetheless demonstrates Vos's meticulous scholarship as well as his ability to master mountains of liberal-critical opinion.
Hebrew fellowship prize money in hand, Vos now recrossed the Atlantic from the new world to the old in order to pursue doctoral studies at he University of Berlin. Unlike most native Americans, he did not first have to "learn the language." Geerhardus Vos could sit comfortably in classrooms taught by August Dillmann (the great critical Bible commentator), Bernhard Weiss (author of the revolutionary Biblical Theology of the New Testament), Herman
Strack (of the justly famous Strack-Billerbeck Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Midrash): Vos could sit in all these classes and soak up the stimulating variety of the latest German critical schools. And he could do it criticallythat is, by evaluating all he read and heard against the concrete, supernatural character of the Old and New Testaments.
And yet, Berlin was too bigtoo diversetoo stressful. So Vos moved west to Strassburg in the fall of 1886. Strassburg, in Germany, but on the French border in Alsasce-Lorraine. Geerhardus now perfected his facility in the French language. And he sat at the feet of the premier liberal critic and reconstructor of the Pauline Theology: H. J. Holtzmann. Holtzmann mesmerized Pauline studies in the late nineteenth century, reducing the apostle's impact to a form of religious idealismin particular, a form of Hellenistic or Greek religious idealism. Or perhaps it would be better to say that Holtzmann reduces the Pauline Theology to Hellenistic moralisma religion of Greek ethics. Certainly for Holtzmann, eschatology is not the key to Paul's theology. Paul's religion is but a faint echo of the religion of Jesus so that for Holtzmann the dialectic is the religion of Paul versus the religion of Jesus.
What acute tension must have swirled through the brain of the twenty- four-year-old Dutch student from Grand Rapids. His Reformed piety, his Princeton orthodoxy dismissed as irrelevant to the task of the New Testament Pauline theologian. Vos's two worldsthe orthodox and the critical were in collision and that at firsthand. Would the student capitulate to the charm and applause of the modern scientific approach to Paul; or would he retain his orthodox commitments while retreating to safe "old paths"? Or would he do something completely unforeseenreplace his two worlds with something better? Would Vos begin to understand at Strassburg that the two worlds were not horizontal; No, the two worlds were vertical-horizontal by way of interface and overlap?
At Strassburg, Vos also encountered the premier philosophical encyclopedist of his timeWilhelm Windelband, whose History of Philosophy remains a standard text. Vos's letters indicate his appreciation for Windelband's scholarship while rejecting his Neo-Kantianism. He attended his lectures eagerly. Yet this Geerhardus Vos is best known to us for his biblical exegesis and biblical theology. How is it that in his Ph. D. program, he spends long
hours in lectures on the history of philosophy? Because Vos understood, as few students today understand, that every intellectual movement is undergirded by philosophy. Even Old Testament, New Testament, and Pauline Theology of the late nineteenth century was driven by philosophy. If Holtzmann is a post-Hegelian idealist, Graf-Kuenen-Wellhausen (inventors of the Documentary Hypothesisthe hypothesis that Moses did not write the Pentateuch)Graf-Kuenen-Wellhausen were evolutionists, reducing the Old Testament to the evolutionary spiral from the primitive to the complex. And that is why when we read Vos, we are reading a man who understandsunderstands the critics and unmasks their presuppositions by reducing their systems to the horizontal plane, above which no critical approach can rise. And, I may add, Vos unmasks the agenda of conservative systemseven fundamentalistic and broad evangelical moralismwhich imitates liberalism by reducing the Biblical text to the horizontal. For modern conservatives, "practical" is a synonym for non-eschatological.
Ironically, Vos's Ph. D. dissertation at Strassburg was not in New Testament, not in Old Testamentit was in Semitics. His advisorTheodor Nöldekewas an expert in Arabic and Syriac (significantly, Vos would in fact teach Arabic and Syriac at Princeton Seminary). Vos's dissertation was a brief exercise in textual criticismArabic textual criticismthe collation of an Arabic manuscript describing the conflict between two Islamic sects in the Middle Ages. It was written in German, again underscoring his parental ancestral roots as well as his gift with the language.
I must confess to bewilderment about the choice of topic for Vos's Ph. D. It was a "safe" choice; it would engender no controversy in the theological faculty at Strassburg. It would accomplish the goal which the Christian Reformed Synod at Grand Rapids had intended when it gave Vos permission to study in Europe so he could return and teach at the Seminary in Grand Rapids. But permit me to venture an explanation of this unremarkable choice for an unremarkable Ph. D. dissertation. Geerhardus Vos realized that he could not live in the critical world of Holtzmann, Wellhausen, even Dillmann and Weiss. He also realized that the Dutch pietistic world expected predictable things from him on his return to Grand Rapids. The Ph. D. was, for the Curators of the Christian Reformed Synod, only a necessary evil. He had been allowed to
go abroad on the condition that he return to Calvin Seminary as the young poster boy. In fact, the Christian Reformed Synod guaranteed his return to the Seminary by appointing him Professor of Theology in the summer of 1886during his transition from Berlin to Strassburg. Vos's two worldsacademic and pietisticwere again in collision. He chose the easy way outa noncontroversial Ph. D. topic. Get the degree and go home, as expected.
In partial support of my suggestion that the Ph. D. topic was the easy way out, let me review the famous incident of the spring of 1886; the incident in which Vos, while still in Berlin, encountered Abraham Kuyper for the first time. Kuyper had launched the Free University of Amsterdam in 1880 in order to counter the meddling of a secular state and the liberalism of the church in Calvinistic higher education. Six years later, Kuyper needed a Professor of Old Testament Theology and he contacted Vos in Berlin. Vos's letters to Kuyper (May, June, October 1886), reveal the fragile state of his health (he confesses to a nervous condition which makes it very difficult for him to travel), his esteem for Kuyper and his University, and his affection for his parents and their wishes. The fundamental reason Vos gives for declining Kuyper's invitation to teach at the Free University is the wish of his parents that he return to Grand Rapids and the new world. I detect here an underscoring of his father's desire to quit the old world with its uncertainties. I do not detect here any latent hostility to Kuyper and his theology. And finally I detect here resignationa resignation on Geerhardus's part to the path of dutyparental, institutional, new world. Geerhardus Vos went to Strassburg in the fall of 1886 because he could not go to Amsterdamhe was on his way home to Grand Rapids. And the Ph. D. was the academic means to that end.
Vos would later remark that he regretted the decision not to join Kuyper and the faculty at the Free. But God knew! God knew that Geerhardus Vos would have been a very different man if he had become part of Kuyper's political-ecclesiastical movement. And so God sent Geerhardus Vos to that backwater Grand Rapids in preparation for his real workthe supreme, Reformed, Biblical Theologian of the English-speaking world. Indeed, where would we be if all Vos's articles and books were in Dutch!
The homecoming occurred in the summer of 1888. Doctoral degree in hand, Geerhardus Vos left the old world for the second timefor the second
nd last time; Geerhardus Vos left the old world for the last time and came home to Grand Rapids. As Professor of Didactic and Exegetical Theology, he was expected to lecture 22-25 hours per week, prepare his own syllabi in Philosophy, Dogmatics, Systematics and non-Christian religions. There are some who believe he even wrote a Greek Grammar (I remain dubious about this identification because the handwritten copy of that Grammar in the Calvin archive does not appear to me to be in Vos's hand.) Now as if all this were not enough, Vos was also expected to preach in English in Grand Rapids Christian Reformed churches. You see, he was regarded as the keystone in the emerging Americanization of the Dutch community. The immigrant church was blending with the culture and language was the first step to bridging the division between the Dutch-speaking and English-speaking worlds. The Christian Reformed Church was in transition from 1885 to 1912—she was seeking increasing accommodation with her environment. Geerhardus Vos was once again caught—caught between two worlds: the world of his pietistic roots and the emerging American world (indeed, the emerging American Dutch world) full of Manifest Destiny. Only the nationalism of American Manifest Destiny in the minds of Kuyperian Calvinists became imposition—imposition of Calvinism upon the burgeoning American culture. Vos was caught in a polarization which increasingly emphasized world-view over the text of the Bible. Once more, his two worlds in constant tension.
That tension erupted in 1891. Like Abraham Kuyper, Vos was a supralapsarianat least during his years as Professor of Reformed Dogmatics at Grand Rapids. Unlike Kuyper, Vos was more moderate in his supralapsarian expressions. But a significant element in the Dutch community viewed the Canons of Dort as distinctively and uncompromisingly infralapsarian. Vos was caught in the controversy which boiled over to the pages of the Grand Rapids newspapers. I should note that Vos may have been lulled into this debate by his Princeton Seminary education. By that I mean, old Princeton was tolerant on the matter of the ordo salutis (order of the decrees in the plan of salvation). Vos's Princeton Professor of Systematics, A. A. Hodge, admitted that supralapsarianism was the most logical approach, but Hodge went on to reject it as out of accord with God's justice. But A. A. Hodge, as his father Charles Hodge before him, argued that the Westminster Standards did not exclude supralapsariansindeed, the original moderator of the Westminster
Assembly, William Twisse, was a supralapsarian, as was Calvin's successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza. But Vos's very tepid endorsement of supralapsarian- ism unleashed a firestorm of discussion. L. J. Hulst, editor of De Wachter, was particularly vehement in his defense of Dort and his suggestion that the young professor at the denomination's seminary was "troubling Israel."
Vos wrote to Kuyper at Amsterdam and B. B. Warfield at Princeton seeking advice and information. From Kuyper, he requested detailed clarification and elaboration of the views of many of the fathers at the Synod of Dort (1618-19). To Warfield, he registered his disagreements with some of Kuyper's views and requested books and information on the covenant theology of the English Reformers and the members of the Westminster Assembly. The "useless bickering" (as Vos called it) was revealing the insular character of the Dutch community in Grand Rapids. In February 1891, Vos wrote, "There is very little theological development in our little church." In June, he wrote "a lack of historical sense and historical denial can lead to dangerous things." And then he adds, "Lately I have more and more come to the conclusion that in the long run I do not want to stay in my present position." Three years after returning to his new world home, Vos regards himself as a stranger and an alien in Grand Rapids. By 1891, Vos has been forced by circumstances to come to grips with the narrow, provincial character of his ecclesiastical environment.
But when the opportunity to escape arrives, he demurs. When William Henry Green pleads with him to accept the newly created chair of Biblical Theology at Princeton Seminary, Vos declines. Why? Why, when Green's appeal of March 1892 was so eloquentan appeal in which he uses the pertinent analogy of dikes in Holland akin to the banks of the Mississippi and the one engineer who is needed to stop the overflowing flood of devastating rationalism? Why does Vos refuse to stop the floodwaters of destruction? I believe the hold of the old world was still too strongwhether from duty, loyalty, humility, reticencewhatever; Vos could not break away from his parents and the culture of his Dutch Grand Rapids world.
But William Henry Green persisted. Green saw more than Vos saw. He saw the man exceptionally qualified and capable, conversant in the languages of the critical discussions, exposed to liberal criticism firsthand, committed
to Biblical supernaturalism and Reformed orthodoxy. And he saw the theological scene as a veteran of the struggles for orthodoxy in the declining American religious world. He saw the powerful and deleterious influence of Charles Augustus Briggs at Union Theological Seminary, New York. He saw the emerging reductionism of American Protestant Christianity to the fatherhood of God and the social brotherhood of man. He knew of the demands for revision of the Westminster Standards in his own beloved PCUSA. Green saw the downward spiral of a broadening Protestantism all around him and he begged Geerhardus Vos to join the Princeton faculty in stemming the tide.
Green's persistence was rewarded. By February of 1883, Vos relented and agreed to move to New Jersey in the middle of September in order to take up his duties as the first Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Abraham Kuyper rejoiced! He said Vos's decision to move to Princeton enabled him to avoid "academic suicide." Vos himself acknowledged that he left behind the factions within his own Dutch culture. The old world of Grand Rapids was behind him; the new, exciting world of Princeton was before him.
Geerhardus Vos poured himself into that world. The classroom was his podium and his energies were devoted to communicating the rich content of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Oh, he preached occasionallymostly in the chapel of the Seminary on Sunday afternoons; rarely in the PCUSA churches in Princeton or Philadelphia. You know those extant sermons; the book Grace and Glory published with six messages during his lifetime; the definitive edition published in 1994 with ten additional sermons, most of which were uncovered by me from his personal sermon notebook in 1975. But it was teaching which dominated his life from 1893teaching Old and New Testament Biblical Theology, Old Testament Eschatology, The Pauline Eschatology, Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Eighth Century B.C. Prophets, Messianic Consciousness of Jesus, Discourses of Peter in Acts, Gospel of John, Arabic, Syriac. You will recognize some of these courses in the titles of his books.
His first year at Princeton was a whirl of activity. He took up bachelor residence in Hodge Hall and began teaching classes at the end of September 1893. On April 24, 1894, he was ordained an Evangelist by the Presbytery of
New Brunswick, PCUSA. Two weeks later, May 8, 1894, he delivered his famous inaugural address ("The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and a Theological Discipline") to a full house at the First Presbyterian Church, Princeton. It was this congregation that Vos and his family would attend throughout their Princeton years. On September 7, 1894, he married Catherine Frances Smith of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her world changed for she had been raised a Congregationalist. He and his new bride settled at number 52, Mercer Street, on the campus of the Seminary, in a spacious house provided for Seminary professors. B. B. Warfield's home was not far away and Vos and Warfield walked about the campus almost daily. The Systematician and the Biblical Theologianbest of friends!
After that first eventful year, matters settled to a routine. Preparation and teaching of classes, occasional preaching in the Seminary chapel, writing books and articles, summers in the mountains of north-central Pennsylvania. And there were children. Deja vuas he was one of four, so he fathered four. Johannes born in 1903 who would become Professor of Bible at Geneva College, Beaver Falls, Philadelphia (my and my two brothers's college Bible teacher); Bernardus born in 1905; Marianne, born in 1906, destined to write several noteworthy children's books; and Geerhardus, Jr., born in 1911.
And it was in that routine worldthat routine between two worldsthe academic world of Princeton; the sylvan world of Roaring Branchit was in that routine world that Geerhardus Vos perceived two other worldstwo very different worldstwo worlds which made his pilgrimage not routine, not ordinary, not humdrum, but semi-eschatological. The summers in that huge house in Roaring Branch, surrounded by his wife, his family and in his study his books, journals and papersthose summers were where the juices flowedwhere Geerhardus Vos's creative, penetrating juices flowed. Here in this quiet mountain setting, his body had rest, his mind had rest, his soul had rest to work on the Wordon Paul and Hebrews and the Kingdom and Schweitzer and Boussett and Gressmann. In that peaceful mountain village, Geerhardus Vos penetrated the Word of God as few before or after him have done. I am convinced that the burial of Geerhardus and Catherine Vos in that tiny cemetery a few steps from the site of their summer houseI am convinced that their mortal remains beneath that Pennsylvania sod is exegetical. Not Grand Rapids, not Princeton, not Santa AnaRoaring Branch! That is the spot he
loved above all on earth; for that is the spot where the tension between the two worldsthe two disparate worlds of old Europe/new America, old Grand Rapids/new Princeton, old Dutch provincialism/new Presbyterian cosmopolitanismRoaring Branch is the place where the two disparate worlds were transcendedtranscended by God's own worldsthe present world and the world to come. I am convinced that the remarkable diagram on page 38 of The Pauline Eschatologythat diagram which lays out the overlapping relationship between the present age and the age to comethe diagram of that semi-eschatological world in which Paul lived, in which the church lives, in which Vos lived, in which you and I livethat diagram would never have been sketched were it not for Roaring Branch. Why did Vos stop his theological writing after his retirement in 1932? Because he was never to return to Roaring Branch after the summer of 1932never to return until his body was laid to rest beside the body of his wife on August 17, 1949. Why is it that only poetry comes from his pen after his retirement in 1932? Because he didn't need his books, his journals, his papers in his Roaring Branch study to write the poems. He only needed his memory, his senses, his profound expression. Why did Vos leave the preparation of several of his books to his son Johannes Geerhardus after 1932? Because much of his preparation forif not his actualwriting was done in the study of that summer house in the mountains of Pennsylvania. It is at Roaring Branch that the world to come possesses Vos even as the Christ who possessed Geerhardus Vos wrought most powerfully, most effectively upon his mind and heart in that tiny mountain village. Worship each Sunday in the lone Methodist Church in town? It could never preclude what Vos already apprehended. Divisions over J. Gresham Machen and the reorganization of Princeton Seminary in 1929? They could never destroy what Vos had graspedwhat he, by his own testimony in his letter of condolence to Machen's brother written four days after Machen's death in Bismarck, North Dakota on January 1, 1937; what he by his own testimony had taught his student and colleaguethat this world has been overlaid by the world of the resurrected Christ and that no one who believes in himno one will ever be put to shame. Divisions over denominational politicsover Machen's suspension (which Vos formally protested in writing before the Presbytery of New Brunswick), over the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church? over the ugly-head of fundamentalism ever divi-
sive, ever intolerant, ever tyrannicalVos was content to belong to a world in which the "already" was supplemented by the "not yet."
The body of Geerhardus Vos returned to Roaring Branch for the last time on that August day in 1949. Two Dutchmen who remembered were therebut no one else was there. No one from his own denomination; no one from the institution he had served for thirty-nine years; no one from Grand Rapids. Geerhardus Vos at last no longer belonged to two worlds. He had been joined in glory to his Risen Saviorjoined to Jesus in that never-ending world. Geerhardus Vos had come home at lastto his beloved eschaton!
Biblical Theology: The View
From The Pew
It is my task and my honor to continue our discussion of biblical theology, now from the point of view of a layperson in the pew. The two basic questions to answer in this hour are: what is biblical-theological preaching from a layperson's perspective, and how does such preaching impact us who sit in the pew?
I recognize that there are as many answers to these two questions as there are people in this room or anywhere who have heard biblical-theological preaching. Most of us here have; so if I asked each of you to describe it, I wonder what you would say. And I wonder how different our responses would be.
Would you say it is a faithful, essential kind of preaching . . . or might you rather say frustrating, esoteric? Would you say it is a concrete, personal kind of preaching . . . or might you rather say abstract, impersonal? Would you say it is a profoundly practical kind of preaching . . . or might you rather say highly impractical? Would you say it is a properly intelligent kind of preaching . . . or might you rather say overly intellectual? I wonder what you would say, but my guess is that most of us would agree on this: that biblical-theological preaching is a non-standard, even a radically different kind of preaching of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What is the nature of biblical-theological preaching, and what is the layperson's view and experience of it? There are many possible answers, but only one will be voiced in our discussion this hour, and thus it will serve today as the representative view from the pew. I think it is helpful for you to know it is a representative view that has at one point or another embraced every negative opinion and critical objection just mentioned. But it is a representative view that now confidently takes a most thoroughgoing, affirmative stand on biblical-theological preaching both its method and its message.
Today the representative view is seen through the eyes of a regular, ordinary member who sits in the pew and hears biblical-theological preaching on the Lord's Day at New Life Mission Church in La Jolla, Californiaa Reformed Presbyterian church of the PCA denomination, which has been my beloved church family these past four years. Before becoming a member at New Life Mission Church in La Jolla, I had been actively involved and deeply rooted in a non-denominational Calvary Chapel church fellowship for about eight years. And prior to that, I belonged to and was raised, virtually from birth, in the Roman Catholic church.
I mention my personal history because I want you to see in my life perhaps what you see in your own: a spiritual pilgrimage. And in the story of my pilgrimage, were you able to detectthough it was brief and given in reverse orderdid you notice a definite progression? There was a progression from knowing God abstractly and impersonally only in terms of mastering the mechanics of a ritualistic religion . . . to then knowing God concretely and intimately in a personal relationship . . . and then even further in a covenant union.
And in the story of my pilgrimage, did you notice the critical transitions? There was a transition from a pew where the primacy in the Roman Mass was not the preached Word . . . into a pew where I was first brought in contact with the person and work of God the Son through today's prevalent style of gospel preaching that is practical application-oriented . . . and now into a pew where I am seeing and experiencing the furthest penetration yet into the all-important meaning of the historical life, the vicarious suffering, the substitutionary death and glorious resurrection-ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ for me . . .
for us, his Bride, through that unique style of gospel preaching I now prefer, which is redemptive-historically oriented.
Here again I am driving at a major emphasis and my favorite aspect of biblical-theological preachingnamely, understanding my covenant union with Christ. And I will reiterate the point: I am persuaded that our sense and experience of covenant union with God is most deeply penetrated through Vosian biblical-theological preaching because it approaches Scripture in a redemptive-historical way.
I will mention early on also that I intend to firmly press home the husband-wife/groom-bride themes in my definition and evaluation of biblical-theological preaching. For I see covenant union like a marriage relationship. Of course, marriage is the classic paradigm in Scripture to describe God's relationship with his people (Eph. 5:22-33). When I first became a Christian, I readily understood this. I am married to Christ. My relationship with God is no longer one of wrath but one of love. But it has been only over the past four years that I have understood the profound implications of knowing a covenant relationship with God. And I am amazed still at how fundamental is this biblical notion of a covenant for experiencing the full provision of God's grace offered to us in the gospel.
Before I can effectively define biblical-theological preaching, I need to describe my view of the pew. And it will be a corporate view because in recent years I have come to know the important biblical principle of covenant headship under Adam and Christ. I once viewed myself strictly in terms of my personal, individual identity. But now I see that Scripture gives priority to the corporate aspect of who we are, which is why I will be focussing today on the corporate aspect of who we are in the pew. We are similar to one another, aren't we? For one thing, as I have already implied, we are similar in this: each of us is on a journey going somewhere. And each of us began the journey in the very same way.
Can we not confess with one voice?
Born into disobedience as children of wrath with a corrupted nature
Now I am ready to give the layperson's definition of biblical-theological preachingthe kind of preaching my heart now loves because it is the glorious proclamation that the Triune God has accomplished an infinitely great
1 Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.
saving work to reverse this devastating, hellish curse upon us. It is the glorious proclamation that the Preeminent One, who is separate from his creationutterly distinct from the creatures he made actually condescended to our desperate need and became in the Person of Jesus Christ an object of salvation in order to become the agent of our salvation.2 I need to say more, but I want you to hear it in the very words of the minister who preached itto illustrate preaching that is faithful to the text of Scripture and thus faithful to our Lord . . . faithful to the preaching legacy of Geerhardus Vos . . . And if I may be so bold and presumptuous to speak on behalf of those who sit with me in the pew, it is the kind of preaching that we are so hungry for:
(In this particular excerpt, the preacher is proclaiming Jesus Christ out of Habakkuk 3:13 _ "Thou didst go forth for the salvation of Thy people, for the salvation of Thine anointed. Thou didst strike the head of the house of the evil to lay him open from thigh to neck.")
"Christ didn't have any sin. he wasn't in need of salvation. The Messiah doesn't need to be saved himself. But don't you see, that is precisely the point. Habakkuk's proclamation of Christ at this juncture is so thorough, so deep, so profound that he sees the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, to be so absolutely identified with his people that he takes to himself their condition in totality. And it will be by so giving himself over to this identification with them out of his love and in it, becoming the object of salvation that he will also become the agent of their salvation. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:21 _ 'He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.'
2 Taken from a sermon preached by Reverend Charlie Dennison at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, PA, November 12, 1995. I want to note here that I hardly knew Charlie Dennison personally. It is his brother, Reverend Jim Dennison, who is my friend and who has richly encouraged me in my understanding of the gospel over the past four years. Jim commended his brother's exceptional preaching to me, so I have become familiar with Charlie's work from listening to his sermons on audio tape. I am deeply grateful for both Dennison brothers, whose gospel ministries have greatly benefited my life.
" . . . Christ enters the flesh of sinful humanity and on the cross takes to himself our offenses that he, with all his own in him, might undergo the salvation that they are to experience. The Christ who needs no salvation undergoes salvation that those who need salvation might be saved! The One who needs no justification, needs no adoption, needs no sanctification undergoes all of these things in order that those who do need these things might experience them in the full!"
We are so hungry for such preaching that reveals what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, our Eternal Husband, for us who are collectively in the pew, the Lamb's Wife.
Biblical-theological preaching is perhaps at its simplest (yet I will suggest its most essential) level the telling of the greatest and most important love story that we will ever hear in this life. Who doesn't enjoy a great, classic love story? And this one is like no other because this one, in fact, is not fiction, not fable, not myth: The Great Prince came and slew the wicked dragon to rescue the damsel in distress whom he loved even from the foundation of the world. And he married her and brought her into the rich and glorious Kingdom of his Father where they now live happily ever after.
Biblical-theological preaching is telling the great, true love story about our Perfect Bridegroom who left his Father to cleave to us, his Bride:
It is telling the story about our Groom's journey
of that ugly, awful coffin, so to speak,
Yes, a monumental reversal has transpired in the history of redemption. In resurrection-union with Christ, we have entered God's heavenly
3 Romans 5:15-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22
presence and glory even now. And we experience the highest foretaste of heavenly riches and realities when we come together in the pew on the Lord's Day.
The proper "view from the pew," in my mind, flows out of a proper view of the Day itself. I see now that it is an exclusive covenant privilege to be called out of the profane world to gather in the holy assembly on the Lord's Day. I see with the eyes of faith now that we are joining together in that worship service with all the people of God throughout all the ages and participating with them in the life and activities happening in the heavenly places even now.
I never saw going to church on Sunday like this before! We are foretasting the end of the world each week. Biblical theologians have taught me that our week is indeed a Sabbatically-structured week.4 We can rejoice that our week begins in the New Creation. And when we gather on the first day of the week, the biblical-theological minister explicitly exhorts us to come into the pew as participants, and not as mere spectators.5 We are encouraged at every opportunity in the worship service to participate with the holy assembly that is in heaven already. We are encouraged that when we are singing, we are participating with the heavenly choir. When we are interceding with the pastor in the Shepherd's Prayer, we are participating in who Christ is, who intercedes for his people. When we are hearing the faithfully preached Word, we are encountering Christ himself face-to-face.
With this eschatological perspective on the Day, I see in you preachers a most high calling. It is our ultimate hope to actually see God face-to-face, and your preaching is the means of grace by which we can foretaste a personal encounter with God every week. Indeed Christ, our Emmanuel-God, is constantly present with us, but he comes to us in a specific, fuller sense through your preaching. As I see it, the preached Word is the very highlight of our week! Needless to say, if Christ is not preached, we in the pew have the right to be gravely disappointed. But we have come to expect that Vosian redemptive-historical preaching will satisfy the deepest needs of the Eschatological
4 Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (S. Hamilton: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 1993) 51.
5 I am indebted to Reverend Charlie Dennison for this insighttaken from a sermon he preached at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, PA, November 9, 1995.
Wife who sits in the pew. For it is the deepest thirst and the highest passion of the Wife to truly see, covenantally know and intimately experience her Husband and his satisfying, overflowing, divine love for her. That's what she wants . . . that's what we want . . . .
And that's what we get with redemptive-historical preaching because it is preaching that understands the very nature of Scripture itself: to present to us, first of all, the Person of Jesus Christ and sees the centrality of Christ in Scripture to the extent of teaching us that all things in heaven and earth have their full meaning only in relation to who Christ is. Everything in Scripture gets its meaning and value in the death and resurrection of Christ, doesn't it?
Creation: is about the glorious re-creation inaugurated by Christ's resurrection.
Adam: is about Christ, the Last Adam, whose death and resurrection re- versed the curse upon us.
Circumcision: is about Christ, the True Circumcision, who was cut off from the Father on the cross at Calvary so that we would no longer be cut off.
Exodus: is about the greater, fuller exodus from sin and death through Christ, the Greater Moses.
Wilderness: where Christ journeyed to be tested for us and for the first time in history man beat the Devil.
Conquest: is about Christ, the Greater Joshua, who won the great cosmic battle against our sin and death at his resurrection.
Theocracy: is about the final, transcendent kingdom of Christ, the Greater David.
Vosian redemptive-historical preaching has opened my eyes to see that the Lord Jesus Christ himself is the very embodiment of the history of redemption.6
Temple. Lamb. Fountain. Head. Husband. Family. Church. Wedding: A
6 James T. Dennison, Jr., "The Exodus: Historical Narrative, Prophetic Hope, Gospel Fulfillment." Presbyterion 8 (1982): 1-12.
wedding is about anticipating the Great Wedding Feast of Christ and his Church at the end of the Age. Who wouldn't prefer preaching that makes Jesus Christ the focus and meaning of all things in heaven and earth? Preaching that is Christ-centered is the most faithful kind of gospel preaching.
Perhaps what is intriguing about my accolades of biblical-theological preaching is that I did not always like it. Maybe I should not say "like it" but rather that I did not feel as comfortable with it as I do now. I liked it enough to stick with it, and I am glad I did because I learned that biblical-theological preaching, for the most part, is something that you have to break into slowly. That was the reality for me . . . and probably for most people. For me, because I had to radically change the way I listen to a sermon. I had been a Christian for about eight years when I first heard this kind of preaching. I was conditioned to expect certain things in a sermon which are very different from what I expect now.
You know the first thing I'm going to say, don't you? Some of the first questions I asked were, "Why is this strange preacher not giving me any practical applications? Why is he not explicitly making the meaning of this text relevant to the particular situations of our contemporary lives? Isn't the whole objective of studying the Word of God to obey itto apply it to our lives? This is so basic, yet this preacher seemingly won't encourage us this way." I think this is a very popular reaction of people, especially newcomers into the biblical-theological pew. Can you hear it now? Have you said it yourself: "You want me to change the way I listen to a sermon?! I am outta here!" But I have learned that those of us who stay do go on to understand more and more. It begins to click. I know I can only speak for myself, and I will say this: The confusion and frustration are diminishingprobably never completely because I think I will be ever challenged, in a good way, by this kind of in-depth preaching . . . which is meat, not milk.
So why does a Vosian preacher not give "practical applications?" I want to answer this question; I want to share with you what I have learned.
I see it as part of the larger question of why the covenantal view of the gospel is so important to me. If I am to make an intelligent, wise decision about which church I want to attend committedly . . . where I want to be fed spiritually . . . where I want to serve God faithfully, I know now that there are two
important questions that need to be answered sufficiently well for me from the pulpit. The first question, in particular, needs to be answered precisely because it has life and death significance. And because the second question is so organically related to the first, you might also think that an imprecise answer to it is just as life-threatening.
You know what I'm going to say, don't you? The first question must
be: How can a sinner be saved? You can probably guess that I am going to
say that the covenantal view gives the most faithful answer. You can also
probably guess, by my brief history which I gave earlier, how radically and
how often the answer has changed in my mind and heart.
One might say, "Don't be so divisive, Diane. We are all saying the same thing. This is a petty battle of words, just a difference in terminology." Is it just a difference in words? Or is it a difference in mindset?
I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior:
It is frightening to consider that at the end of the Day the difference in words might even be the difference between heaven and hell.
The second most important question that needs to be answered sufficiently well for me from the pulpit is this: Now that we understand that we have been saved by grace, how then should we live? Yes, I think the covenantal, biblical-theological view gives the most faithful answer to this question. I have observed that this question is generally answered from the pulpit in one of two ways: the practical, application-oriented way, or the eschatological, heaven-oriented way.
This question of how we should view and live the Christian life deals directly with a certain theological concept that sooner or later a person in the biblical-theological pew will have to reckon with and want to understand adequately because it answers that question we wonder about: "Why does a biblical-theological preacher seemingly not give applications in his sermons?" I want to answer this popular question today. I want you to hear how a layperson deals with this issue. This means I will have to discuss that theological concept of the indicative-imperative relationship in Scripture. Can you imagine how inadequate I feel right now defining this concept in front of all you pastors and scholars?! Very . . . but I'm going to give it a shot. See if I've got it right: The "indicatives" are the factual statements in Scripture of the way things really are for us nowthe way life really is because of Christ and our resurrection-union with him. The "imperatives" are the commands in Scripture that we are to obey. In light of this, I will now define application-oriented preaching.
We are humbled by Old Testament history. Israel's repeated failures to obey God's commandments drive us to the glory of New Testament revelation. God has acted definitively in Jesus Christ to provide his people with a new ability to obey. The New Israel is called to respond to God's grace in grateful obedience. This is an indisputable biblical truth: We are to obey God. And this is what application-oriented preaching labors to emphasize. I have observed that application-oriented preachers do talk about what Christ has done for us; they do discuss the indicatives. But I have also observed that they emphasize applicationsthe imperativesin their preaching. At this point, let us recognize that God's Word is already filled with imperatives for us to
obey. In the Holy Scriptures, there is no lack of applications for every area of life. I only have to refer to Ephesians 5 and 6 to illustrate the point: Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. Slaves, be obedient to your earthly masters with fear and trembling in sincerity of heart as to Christ. Masters, give up threatening your servants. And still another example would be: Disciples, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow God.
There are so many wonderful, divinely-inspired applications provided for us in the Bible already. I want to suggest something now that my pastor pointed out to me.7 Application-oriented preachers add their own applications on top of the applications that are already in the Scriptures. They flesh out for us what we must do to obey God; they elaborate for us with great care and detail the imperatives. The applications. The imperatives. Our obedience. This is their concern for us in the pew. This is their message to us: we are to obey God. "We" is the subject; "God" is the object.
At this point, I think it is appropriate and beneficial to offer you another profound insight from Reverend Charlie Dennison:
(Here Reverend Dennison is proclaiming Christ from Ephesians
"God in His grace must act if I am to obey at all. The act of God must precede. But having set these things in orderhaving gotten hold of this biblical truth, or better: this truth having gotten hold of us, we still fall short of the full splendor and glory of the New Testament revelation. For it will not simply be that God acts in Christ before we are called to obey: the indicative will precede the imperative. But mar-
7 My pastor is Reverend James Lee of New Life Mission Church in La Jolla, CA.
8 This excerpt is taken from a sermon preached by Reverend Charlie Dennison on September 8, 1996 at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, PA. In this sermon, he gave an excellent excursus on the indicative-imperative relationship in Scripture. I am largely indebted to him for the indicative-imperative principles set forth in this section of my discussion.
vel of marvels, God himself will actually obey in Christ before we are called to obey. . . . It is all of him. God's actions: so marvelous is it. His actionhis indicativeincludes within it our imperative! All of the commands that are laid upon us are already found in him! Here is the fuller, more glorious meaning of Christ's perfect obedience. He is God acting to fulfill God's own laws for us and in us before we can obey. God in Christ obeys for us. He accomplishes it. There is the fullness of the accomplishment. There is nothing left out. You can only enter into it. You can only take advantage of it. It is already done."
Such preaching as this confronts us in the pew with another indisputable biblical truth: God has fully obeyed for us in Jesus Christ. And this is what biblical-theological preaching labors to emphasize! In this emphasis, "God" is the subject; "us" is the object. Recognizing the contrast between these two different kinds of preaching has revolutionized not only how I listen to a sermon, but how I live my daily life.
I was having dinner with a friend one night, and he challenged me to think further on this matter: "Diane, why does Paul make a statement about Christ and then give us applications? How is our union with Christ related to the applications already in the Scriptures?"9 As we talked about it, he helped me to see that you biblical-theological preachers spend your time and efforts in another direction, emphasizing something wholly different. Your high concern for us is the connection between the indicative and the imperative. This is your issue. This is what you labor to flesh out for us in the pew.
Why?! I think I know why now. My pastor once told me, "When my congregation comes into the pew, I presume that you want to be holy. The Holy Spirit is working in your lives. The problem is not what to do because, in fact, the Scriptures are already filled with applications that teach us what to do. What is lacking is the motivation to do it." So I thought a lot about that and have thus concluded: Unlike the application-oriented preacher whose empha-
9 Taken from a conversation with Mr. Tim Lim, who was an intern at my church.
sis is on what we do, the biblical-theological preacher elaborates on the relationship between the indicative and the imperative to make us richly conscious of this: What is our motivation for doing what we do?
The answer: Our motivation is intimate fellowship-communion with our God, who is our obedience! Please follow me on this: God has fully obeyed for us in Jesus Christ. Obedience is our blessing because in being obedient, we are participating in who God is. And in this participation, we are experiencing fellowship-communion with him in the most intimate way. And in this fellowship, we are foretasting our future lifethe life of the Age to Come even now!
Why doesn't the biblical-theological preacher emphasize practical applications in his sermons? Why does he rather spend his time bringing out Christ in the text and emphasizing our new identity in him? I want to quote a young, budding biblical-theological preacher, who was an intern at our church. He preached a very good sermon on Romans 6:1-11, and he mentioned something which answers these questions quite well: "We know what we ought to do, that's not the problem. The problem is getting started, starting your moral engine and getting to it. That fuel which should drive us to be obedientto follow in the way that we ought to dothat's our problem. Why should we be good instead of bad? Knowing what we ought to do, why ought we to do it? Paul in our passage answers by presenting to us Christ and his redemptive benefits. The answer is this: your identity. Since you have been united with Christ by faith, you don't have an independent identity. You are wed to Christ! Just as a woman: as long as she is single, she has her own identity. But once she is married to her husband, she takes on his name and can no longer live as though she was a single woman. To do that would be insulting to her husband and to deny the ordinance of marriage."10
Biblical-theological preaching explicitly calls us to lose our independent identity. Does this offend our modern minds that value rather a strong sense of individuality? Would we say that this kind of preaching calls people to lose their freedom and become robots of a fatalistic God, whofirst of
10 Taken from a sermon on Romans 6:1-11, preached by Mr. Sean Choi at New Life Mission Church, La Jolla, CA, July 27, 1997.
allchose us to belong to him even if we did not want it? What does it mean that our salvation and even our daily lives are all of him? Where do I come in? When I first started thinking about what Calvinists were saying, I asked these questions. And I began to learn somethingnamely, not to have such a high opinion of myself and such a low opinion of God.
The very sinfulness of sin is what I love in my identity apart from God. My freedom apart from God? It is to do only what my wicked nature pleases. But God intervened and called me to lose my wicked identity to enjoy the truest and greatest freedomthe freedom now to partake of the divine nature. Without being God, we are united unto God (2 Pet. 1:4)! A complete reversal in my thinking has occurred. To experience true freedom, I must lose my independent identity! Is this fatalistic? Robotic? By God's grace, my mind is going in another direction: covenant of grace . . . covenant of love . . . covenant of marital union.
The Vosian Perspective: The Eschatological Husband faithfully kept all of the obligations of the covenant to earn the condition of blessings forevermore for his Wifefor us who sit in the pew. And now weshecan only enter in and take full advantage of all the blessings. And her greatest blessing: to fully enjoy the husband she already possesses; to take on his identity more and more; to take on his very thoughts as to know his mind more and more; to take on his very desires as to know his heart more and more. Covenantal Life: Not seeking to attain what she does not yet possess, but living out what she already possesses in him!11
Can you see why I prefer to sit under this kind of gospel preaching and teaching?12 This is how one of my Sunday School teachers, Reverend Jim Dennison, exhorted us to be a disciple: "Only Jesus can take up the cross. Only Jesus can deny himself. Only Jesus can fulfill what it means to follow God and be a disciple. Because he did it, we can. I could never be a disciple unless Jesus Christ had been a disciple for me."
11 I am indebted to Reverend Jim Dennison for this insight.
12 The following sermon "bites" were compiled based on preachings and teachings by the Dennison brothers, Jim and Charlie.
What about being a husband? In the biblical-theological pew, I am hearing the proclamation to men that there is an already full obedience that hus-bands can enter intothe obedience that is found in Jesus Christ and no where else. Godly men love their wives passionately because they themselves taste of passionate intimacy with their Lord. By loving their wives as Christ loves his Wife, men are discovering and living out who they really are.
What about being a wife? I am hearing the proclamation to women that it is Christ alone who embodies and incarnates submission. So in our submission to our heads in the home and in the church, we women are reflecting, experiencing and enjoying the very submission of Christ.
What about being a slavea servant in the workplace? I am hearing that God the Son became the slave for our sake. Christ fulfills everything a servant must be. True servanthood cannot be fulfilled apart from resurrection-union with Jesus Christ, says the biblical-theological preacher.
What about being a father? In my opinion, the most edifying kind of gospel preaching gives primacy to the Triune God even when the topic is about fathers: Fathers know how to be good fathers because they fellowship in the Spirit with the heavenly Father and participate in who he is. They know the heavenly Father because the Only Begotten Son has come and explained the Fatherhood of God to us as never before.
What about being a sona child? Once again, I must quote Reverend Charlie Dennison directly, for I cannot say it any better. As I heartily commend his gospel ministry in this discussion, it is my fervent hope that the hearers _ both laypeople and preachers/teachers alikewill be reminded and stimulated by what he says to glory afresh in our Chief End and in our Chief Delight:
(Here Reverend Dennison is proclaiming the Risen Christ from Ephesians 6:1"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.")
"The obedience that is 'in the Lord' is the obedience found in the Lord himself, who according to the gospel not only obeyed perfectly his earthly parents and while on earth his heavenly Father for usfor us!that obedience was for us! But this One, who is now called the Lord, is alive, raised
from the dead, forever living obediently in his Father's glorious presence! And it is this which is placed at your disposal. . . . But the obedience to which you (children) have been called and into which you have entered is the already perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ, who because he is living now continues to be One into whom you may enter by faiththrough whom and by whose gospel his obedience avails for you. And you are impelled because you are in him to obey as he obeys!"13
After a while, the central, essential message of biblical-theological sermons becomes clear: Give up your life so that it might be found in Christ alone. Not only is Jesus Christ everything to us, but he is everything for us. He is our All in All (1 Cor. 15:28). He is, in fact, our Life (Col. 3:3-4). Christ himself is our Greatest Gift, our True Inheritance!
In the second half of my discussion, I have been seeking to answer the question: How has biblical-theological preaching impacted my life? I have been answering it in terms of how biblical-theological preaching has drastically changed the way I listen to a sermon. In my final point, I want to address this: What are these strange notions of "participation in the text," "identification with the text," "living in the text?" I was baffled by this concept for a long time, and now I am here to explain it?! It is a scary thingmaybe even arrogantto presume that I know what this means because even Reformed scholars, church leaders and homiletics experts are baffled by these notions. Perhaps in their case, it is more the criticism of being "too vague to denote a purposeful ethical preaching thrust."
Perhaps tomorrow Doug Clawson will elaborate for us what is a "purposeful ethical preaching thrust." But in this discussion, this layperson simply wants to share how she has been truly blessed by participating in the text. Ironically, it is a simple matter, I think. I remember my pastor saying, "Par-
13 Preached by Reverend Charlie Dennison on November 17, 1996, Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, PA. It is this unforgettable sermon which helped me to see more clearly than ever before what biblical-theological preachers are laboring to do for us, over against application-oriented preachers.
ticipation in the text occurs naturally and universally." His point is that biblical-theological training is not required to identify with the text. I have discovered that this is true. I am learning now to experience a biblical-theological sermon like I experience watching a movie or reading a story in a book. And as I mentioned before, the gospelthe gospel story of salvationis greater than any other story because it was actually written for us in the pew. And what's more, it was written about us!
I want to restate a previous point: Pastors, preachers and teachers of a biblical-theological orientation encourage us to come into the pew as participants, not as mere spectators. This is biblical. They point to the Apostle Paul and what he wrote in Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself up for me." We know that Paul was not even at Christ's crucifixion. However, he speaks about it not only as if he were present at that event but as if he were a very participant with Christ in that event. A past event becomes a present situation for the Apostle Paul. A past eventa seemingly remote historical eventbecomes a present situation for us in the pew, says the biblical-theological preacher.
Such a preacher would also point to the Apostle John, who describes in the last book of the Bible what will happen to us. This is our future: "Behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'" (Rev. 7:9-10). The biblical-theological preacher calls us to live in this text. He exhorts us to see ourselveswith the eyes of faithas being included among those gathered together at that grand assembly before God's glorious throne, wearing garments provided by Christ's righteousness. When we identify with this text, a future event becomes a present situation for us in the pew.
So no longer then can the Bible be a story about ancient people in a faraway land or even about a distant future. But all past and future events on the line of biblical, redemptive history become present situationsa now re-
ality _to us, for us, with us and in us . . . in the pew! This is better than a movie! When we are being shown in every portion of Scripture heaven itself intruding the earthly sphere or what is earthly being translated into the heavenly sphere, we are identifying with it; we are experiencing it ourselves. And marvel of marvels, it is not fantasy. It is concrete, historical reality that hopefully, in faith, becomes a present situation to each one in the pew.
This perspective does not make good sense, I think, if the Bible is, first of all, presented as a book of doctrines for us to analyze. But this perspective makes a lot of good sense if we see the Holy Scriptures in the way the Vosian biblical-theological preacher presents it to us: as a progressive unfolding of the story of our salvation.
No application? Not in a traditional sense, I find. But in each and every sermon, I am seeing that an implicit "application" is always there. Implicitly . . . and sometimes I even hear it most explicitlythe preacher asking each one of us perhaps the greatest of identification-application questions: Are we included in this story? In the story of Christ's salvation? In his personal history?
I praise the Lord that I recognize now that my personal history is an inclusion in Christ's personal history; that the story of my pilgrim journey is an inclusion in his pilgrim journey; his exodus is my exodus; his perfect righteousness alone is my righteousness; his death is my death; his resurrection is my resurrection . . . for I have been taught that he is my Life, right?
Am I getting it . . . finally?
Mutuality. Reciprocity. Covenantal Love. Union. Identification. Participation . . . with our Preeminent, Triune God and his Final, Transcendent Kingdom!
On behalf of those who sit with me in the pew, we thank our Covenant Lord for his faithful servantsyou Vosian biblical-theological preachers and teachers: for your labor of love for us; for faithfully teaching us to have our hearts in eternity; for constantly reminding us that we are . . . even now . . . infinitely rich in heavenly places in Christ!
R. C. Sproul. The Last Days According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998, 253 pp., $16.99 cloth. ISBN: 0-8010-1171-X.
For evaluative purposes, writers of popular religious literature can be placed upon a continuum from helpful to harmful. At one end then are those whose work upon topics of enduring interest is characterized by good exegesis, sound reasoning, thorough research, and an arresting style. At the other end are those whose work upon topics oriented toward various contemporary trends is characterized by bad exegesis, faulty or weak reasoning, slipshod research, and a self-absorbed style. Generally speaking, R. C. Sproul's 44 previous books stand firm as helpful writing. With The Last Days According to Jesus however, I detect a possible slippage.
As the title indicates, the book is an inquiry into the character of New Testament eschatology, with particular attention given to exegesis of the apocalyptic discourses within the gospels.1 At the heart of Sproul's recommendations is a modified version of preterism. The term preterism derives from the Latin praeterire, which simply means "to go by" or "to pass by."2 As a form of
1 First, Sproul's approach to eschatology is traditional insofar as it is understood basically as the "last things," e.g., the millennium, Antichrist, parousia, final resurrection of believers, etc. Second, the apocalyptic narratives under review are Mk. 13, Lk. 21, and Mt. 24.
2 From Merriam-Webster's Deluxe Dictionary, Tenth Collegiate Edition. (Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, Inc.), 1998.
eschatology, preterism teaches that such prophecies as those concerning the Great Tribulation (Mt. 24:21), and the Beast (Rev. 12:1-8) were fulfilled by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.3 While there are a few important variations among preterists, here the most significant variation exists between what Sproul calls "radical" and "moderate" preterism. Radical preterism teaches that all New Testament prophecies have been fulfilled (including the final resurrection and the parousia), while moderate preterism teaches that while most prophecies have been fulfilled, the final resurrection and the Second Coming have not occurred. Thus, The Last Days According to Jesus is Sproul's argument for just this moderate form of preterism.
The Text: A Summary
As his introduction indicates, Sproul's point of entry into the exegetical issues germane to witness of the New Testament concerning the last things is, ironically, not New Testament studies. Rather, his exegetical interest in preterism serves his apologetic interest in maintaining the veracity of Jesus' words: contrary to critics, Jesus prophecies concerning his kingdom and his return did not fail. Sproul opens with a summary of the vitriolic accusations of Bertrand Russell against Jesus. Specifically Russell attacks the prophetic integrity of Jesus' words concerning his coming and kingdom (Mt. 10:23, 16:28).4 According to Russell, "The Son of Man did not come and all of Jesus' hearers died without seeing the coming of the kingdom of which Jesus spoke." Or, from another angle, "this generation" did, in fact, pass awaywithout "all these things" having occurred (Mk. 13:30).
To buttress his case that the credibility of Jesus is under attack from within biblical studies, Sproul takes the reader on a seven-page, whirlwind tour of post-enlightenment, critical exegesis in eschatology from G. W. F. Hegel to
3 Kenneth L. Gentry, "Postmillennialism" in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 24 ff.; cf. David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Fort Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 39-44.
4 Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a British mathematician and philosopher whose anti-religious sentiments were interspersed amidst his wide publishing output.
O. Cullmann, discussing the Religonsgeschichtliche Schule, D. F. Strauss, A. Ritschl, A. Harnack, A. Schweitzer, and C. H. Dodd.5 Finally then, the appeal of preterism for Sproul resides in its focus upon the "time-frame references" and the destruction of Jerusalem in New Testament eschatology (p. 25), in a manner which provides a compelling answer to the critics while not jettisoning confessional views concerning the inspiration of Scripture.6 Sproul concludes by introducing J. Stuart Russell, "the most important scholar of the preterist school."7
In chapter 1, Sproul exegetes a section of the apocalyptic narratives, especially focusing on Mt. 24:1-33. Essentially, Sproul's recitation of J. S. Russell's argument is as follows: Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple (v. 2), which occurred in 70 A.D. The disciples ask when "these things" will occur, and "what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age" (24:3 NASB). The disciples, therefore, expected the destruction of the Temple, the parousia of Jesus, and the end of the age (tou aionos), to be three aspects of one event, not differentiated by a noticeably long lapse of time. Thus, that vv. 4-13 were fulfilled in the first century can be documented by historical investigation of the periodwars, famines, uprisings, and indeed, false Christs all appeared within the first century.
Further, v. 14 is fulfilled, according to the preterist argument, in that the inhabited, Roman world heard the gospel (Col. 1:6, 23); hence, the "end" is not cosmic in scope, but rather the end of the Jewish age.8 Mt. 24:15-22 then
5 While acknowledging him in a footnote, Sproul's summary is clearly taken from Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1962), xi-xxxiv.
6 Of note is the very personal tone of Sproul's inquiry. He indicates that his educational experience (B.A., Westminster College; B.D., Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; D.R.S., Free University of Amsterdam) was dominated by professors whose historical-critical reading of Scripture was bolstered by the parousia-delay hypothesis saying, "One of my chief professors in college was a doctoral student under Rudolf Bultmann" (p. 14). (Sproul's professor was Norman Ratcliff Adams who studied with Bultmann at Marburg in 1935.)
7 J. Stuart Russell, a 19th century British Congregationalist, published The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord's Second Coming (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). Baker Book House reprinted the book in 1983, and again in 1999 (significantly, with an introduction by R. C. Sproul).
8 The coming of the "end" is treated in chapter 3, which is entitled 'What 'Age' Was About to End?".
refers to a continuous progression of events, all of which transpired before the destruction of Jerusalem. As vv. 23-27 elaborate upon the character of the tribulation (which is the destruction of Jerusalem), so v. 28 refers to the Roman conquest of the Jewsthe Jews are the "corpse" and the Romans are the "gathered vultures." Finally, tendentious for the orthodox view that the final parousia has not yet occurred, Sproul is ambivalent on the following Russell's (radical preterist) exegesis of the "coming of the Son of Man" (v. 27).9 Yet he concurs with Russell that, in keeping with the prophetic language of Is. 13:9-10, 13 and 34:3-5, its portents are purely figurative. The parable of the Fig Tree (vv. 32-34) as well then refers to the immediate destruction to befall Jerusalem.
Closing in upon the "time-references," chapter 2 focuses especially on the meaning of the phrase "this generation" (he genea aute). Russell interprets the phrase as indicating those, and only those, who heard Jesus' words, and would die within thirty to forty years of Jesus' statement (roughly, a generation). This interpretation then is opposed to the view that "this generation" is a qualitative denotation: it refers to a certain type of people (wicked, righteous, or both). The former view includes, and is limited to, the contemporaries of Jesus; while the latter view includes, but is not limited to, Jesus' immediate audience. How one understands the phrase "this generation" (specifically in the Olivet Discourse) relates to one's understanding of the phrase "all these things" (panta tauta) in Mt. 24:34. Does the latter phrase include v. 29 only, or vv. 30-31?
Sproul outlines three interpretative options: first, the entire discourse is fulfilled literally in historic (e.g., near) proximity to Jesus' own words; second, the time referent is figurative (e.g. a qualitative descriptor), and the events proximate to the parousia are to be fulfilled literally; third, the time referent is literal (e.g., a quantitative descriptor), and the parousia related events are figurative. Sproul opts for the last view, with qualification. Here he registers unambiguous disagreement with Russell; thus differentiating his own moderate preterism from the radical preterism of Russell, querying as to whether, within Russell's view, there remains a future eschatological hope for the church.
9 This is treated thoroughly in chapter 3.
In chapter 3, Sproul argues that the "Day of the Lord" spoken of throughout the OT10 commences with the visitation of God's redemption in sending Christ (Lk. 1:68), whose forerunner was indeed Elijah (Mal. 4:5; cf. Mt. 11:14). Yet the ominous character of OT "Day of the Lord" finds its New Testament counterpart in the prophecies of Jesus (Lk. 19:43-44), which were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Those who rightly detect a preteristic already/not-yet dynamic, hear Sproul: "Here is an 'already and not yet,' but one that spans about forty years, not centuries or millennia."11 Additionally, the phrase "the end of the age" is divested of its typically understood, futuristic import: it likely refers to the end of the Jewish age (where Jewish age is contrasted with an [undefined] Gentile epoch) in 70 A.D. Thus, the "last days" refers to the time-period between John the Baptist and the destruction of Jerusalem.
Sproul takes up a preterist reading of Pauline eschatology in chapter 4, arguing that the "wrath to come" of I Thess. 1:10 is identical to the wrath that "has come" spoken of in 2:16 (and thus, somewhat oddly, interpreting the aorist ephthasen, as an indicator of the certainty that judgment will transpire).12 The Corinthians believed the parousia was near (I Cor. 1:7-8). Thus, the "end" referenced (v. 8) is not the consummate arrival of the saints before God in judgment, or the end of one's life. Rather, it refers to the same "end" of which the gospels speak: the end of the Jewish age. This is, for the preterist, related to the judgment by fire on the "day," in I Cor. 3:13-15a judgment that occurred in 70 A.D.13 Sproul also links Rom. 2:4-6, 2:16 with 13:11-12 asserting that the "day at hand" of 13:12 is the catastrophe of the fall of the Temple, which thus fulfills 2:4-6 and 2:16. Concluding with a excursus in Hebrews, Sproul claims that preterists argue that the "second" appearance of 9:28, and the "approaching" Day of 10:25, are understood in the context of the nearness
10 Sproul cites Obad. 15; Joel 1:15, 2:1-2, 11, 31; 3:14-18; Amos 5:18-20; Zeph. 1:7-17.
11 Sproul, Last Days, 81.
12 Sproul's argument here depends upon Jonathan Edwards' treatment of this text in his sermon "When the Wicked Shall Have Filled Up the Measure of Their Sin, Wrath Will Come upon Them to the Uttermost" in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman, 2 vols. (1834; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 2:122-125.
13 The preterist argues that most passages concerning the "end" in Paul refer to the destruction of Jerusalem. Sproul cites I Cor. 7:19-31, 10:11 as well.
of 10:37, suggesting that the epistle's audience would later believe that the destruction of Jerusalem was a parousia of the Lord in judgment.
With the first half of the book devoted to the major theological exposition of preterism, the last half concerns itself with "bringing it all together." Understandably then, in chapter 5 Sproul narrates the reader through a brief history of intertestamental Judaism, culling together the Jewish and Roman historiographical efforts of Josephus and Tacitus to set up the apocalyptic significance of the Jewish war (66-70 A.D.), culminating in the razing of the Temple in 70 A.D. After establishing the credibility of Josephus as an historian, Sproul cites instances showing that Josephus also believed that the events of the Jewish War had "prophetic import . . . fulfill [ing] ancient prophecies."14 Citing Josephus' recording of various apparitions: a star resembling a sword, a bright light shining around the Temple, chariots in the clouds, as well as earthquakes, and a "great noise," Sproul marks their formal similarity to such Scriptural accounts as Ezek. 1:22-28, 10:15-19, and II Kings 6:17. These events, narrated by Josephus, accompanying the destruction of the Temple, indicate "the radical fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy in the Olivet Discourse . . . " as well as "the parousia of Christ in his judgment-coming."15
As chapter 6 argues, the time references in the book of Revelation are related primarily to contemporary events; the focus of divine judgment within the book refers to that which would be executed upon the Jewish nation. Enlisting the work of Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., by marshaling internal and external evidences, Sproul fixes the date of authorship before 70 A.D. (against current consensus of a date in the 90s).16 Without a pre-70 composition of Revelation, the preterist case as a whole is severely weakened, and its interpretation of the Apocalypse fails.
14 Sproul, Last Days, 119. Amidst the onslaught when the Roman armies hurled a huge stone on the city, Josephus records some Jews as saying "The stone cometh," which apparently contains a textual variant that reads "The Son cometh." The explanation in favor of its inclusion (which Sproul adopts) is that Jews were mocking the Christian hope of the coming of the Son of Man.
15 Sproul, Last Days, 127.
16 It is important to note that Sproul is heavily indebted to the work of Gentry, who devoted his doctoral dissertation (Th.D., Whitefield Theological Seminary) to the topic, which was published as Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989).
The goal of chapter 7 is to distinguish clearly between partial and full-preterism. Within his commentary of the current intramural debates among preterists, Sproul attacks full-preterism in the interests of creedal orthodoxy: he wants to maintain the final resurrection and the "final coming" of the Lord.17 Demonstrating that the New Testament teaches that the final resurrection (I Cor. 15), and the rapture of believers (I Thess. 4:13-18) will be visible, he distances himself from full-preterism, criticizing the lack of hermeneutical consistency of even J. Stuart Russell.
Chapter 8 outlines a preterist interpretation of the Antichrist. Herein, Sproul is reserved, often merely providing a digest of the opinion of others, with little or no comments. Nevertheless, he seems to argue that the Antichrist is a contemporary individual figure (I Jn. 4:1-4). Furthermore, Sproul suggests that the "man of lawlessness" (II Thess. 2:3-11) is a contemporary of Paul, and identical to the Antichrist of I John. Finally, Sproul follows Gentry in maintaining that the Beast of the book of Revelation (Rev. 13) is a contemporary, who (through a numerological cryptogram) is judged to be Nero.
In the last chapter, Sproul summarizes the standard millennial positions: Amillennialism, Dispensational and historic Premillennialism, and Postmillennialism. While he asserts that "[s]ome form of preterism could conceivably be incorporated in all [millennial views]," he clearly believes that it is most consistent with the Postmillennial position.18 Within Postmillennialism, Sproul distinguishes (quoting Gentry) between "pietistic" and "theonomic" postmillennialism, asserting that one can consistently hold to preterism without also holding to theonomy.
Finally, The Last Days According to Jesus concludes with several addenda: a five-page appendix that simply quotes Mt. 24:1-25:46; another appendix (17 pages), the Olivet Discourse in synoptic parallel version; a one-page glossary of terms; chapter notes; a six-page "works cited" section (formatted to be consulted by the reader); and name and Scripture indices.
17 Sproul, Last Days, 170.
18 Sproul, Last Days, 201.
With that extended summary, my intention is to represent the preterist viewpoint and Drs. Sproul's position relative to preterism as accurately as possible. In doing so, it is my interest to provide the readers of this journal with an adequate sampling of Sproul's most salient arguments. And I offer the following criticisms with deep respect for Drs. Sproul, as a minister of the Word whose abilities in his areas of competence are matched by his diligence for theological integrity to the Scriptures as the Word of God written.19
Concerning the published form of the text: in keeping with Sproul's uncommon mastery, this book is popular in style. As such, it contains 15 tables or charts, over 25 extended quotations of Scripture, nearly 10 occasions for a point-by-point summary of arguments, and as many text-boxes presenting information relevant to the paragraphed text. (I detected only one typographical error.20) Yet, while I have not read all of Sproul's previous works, the text of The Last Days According to Jesus is overly protracted. I believe he could have presented his argument, without substantive changes, in less than 100 pages (not 251 pages). Usually, the text consists in little more (and often nothing more) than cutting and pasting quotes from commentaries, selected from within a narrow compass of exegetes. I often wondered if Drs. Sproul had done any research of his own, apart from comparing and contrasting secondary sources.21 Such an approach has the distinct disadvantage of limiting the inquirer to the interpretative options surveyed (or those in their near proxim-
19 As well, I have neither space nor ability to provide a complete analysis of moderate preterism. What I offer then, are merely intended as suggestive remarks for further study.
20 On p. 74, the Greek work ktisis is cited as a cognate of the English word "crisis." I believe krisis was the intended Greek word.
21 For example, it is interesting to note that in the book, within 131 consecutive pages of the published text, J. Stuart Russell's name appears 131 times; and afterward, within the next 70 consecutive pages of text, the name of Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. occurs 70 times, (neither of these counts include the third person personal pronouns, the antecedent of which would refer to Russell or Gentry). Also, when the sources on the "Works Cited" page do get beyond citations of Sproul's most commonly consulted secondary sources, careful reading of bibliographies in the secondary sources reveals that Sproul's inquiry doesn't often get beyond those.
ity), all of which may of course be false.22
This is not to denigrate Sproul's rational ability to compare and contrast, or to arrive at reasonable exegetical conclusions within the scope of his investigation. (Indeed, on numerous occasions throughout the book, Sproul castigates many exegetes for committing various informal fallacies of logichis favorite being the fallacy of "question-begging"highlighting again his abilities and focus in apologetics.)
The most pressing exegetical issue is, of course, a redemptive-historical critique of preterism that accounts for the time-references of the apocalyptic narratives with sensitivity to the whole of New Testament eschatology. However, since I believe the most basic elements of such a critique have been formulated elsewhere, I shall limit my scope of inquiry to the success of Drs. Sproul's original intent to protect the integrity of Jesus' words from the assault of criticism.23 With his commitment to preterism then, I was left wondering, how thoroughly Drs. Sproul had considered the implications of his position for biblical supernaturalism in hermeneutics. Without wanting to neglect the difficult exegetical and theological issues involved, my most serious concerns with the book reside just here.24
22 One particularly clear instance of such danger occurs in a chart, listing adherents to various millennial positions. The text under the heading "Amillennialism," before the chart reads, " the majority report among Reformed thinkers tends to be the amillennial position" (p. 195). Then however, on the chart, of the eight amillennialists listed, all are 20th century figures, and five are Dutch. In contrast, among the 23 postmillennialists are such names as Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin, B. B. Warfield, O. T. Allis, J. G. Machen, and John Murray. Sproul's list bears striking similarity to the list Gentry provides in Three Views, 15-18.
23 Richard B. Gaffin Jr., "Theonomy and Eschatology: Some Reflections on Postmillennialism "in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, eds. William S. Barker, and Robert S. Godfrey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1990), 197-224.
24 Another area of inquiry could be apologetics. A more thorough analysis could articulate the extent to which Sproul's commitment to "classical apologetics" motivates his overall hermeneutical interest in preterism as well as some of his own exegetical reasoning. Whereas, were one approaching the apocalyptic narratives with the view that the testimony of Jesus Christ in the text of Scripture authenticates His own testimony, the exegetical procedure would perhaps have interesting differences.
Under the flag of preteristic postmillennialism, Sproul attempts to navigate biblical eschatology safely into an orthodox harbor between the shallow banks of the Weiss/Schweitzer consistent eschatology school on the one side, and the realized eschatology of Dodd on the other. Yet, for its attempts to secure the prophetic integrity of Jesus (without de-eschatologizing him), and to refute the charge that the early-Christian hope was modified at least and disappointed at most because of the so-called parousia delay, I fear that the preterist disdain for redemptive-historical eschatology leaves as its only option, a co-opting of the naturalistic interpretive method of biblical criticism, despite its recoiling at their conclusions. 25
Let me illustrate: fundamental to Reformed hermeneutics concerning the nature of Jewish biblical prophecy is the principle sometimes called prophetic perspective. This term refers to the belief that in the Old Testament, and continuing through the ministry of Jesus, prophecy is without the historical differentiation that it clearly receives in the epistolary literature of the New Testament. Tersely then, what the foretelling prophet sees as one event, the New Testament differentiates into two events. Sproul alludes to this approach, and rejects it as an interpretive method because it makes the prophets appear disingenuous.
As an example, the disciples ask Jesus the time of the Temple destruction and his coming (Mt. 24:3). To interpret Jesus' answer (vv. 4-31) according to this prophetic perspective would interpret the events as historically differentiated (i.e., the destruction of the Temple occurring in 70 A.D. and the "Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory" to be fulfilled at the end of human history). This historical foreshortening characteristic of the prophetic perspective approach proceeds here on the basis that the disciples' assumption that the two events would immediately follow one another (and thus occur as one event) is false. One way in which it is known to be false is that the clear interpretation of the words of Jesus concerning the
25 Of redemptive-historical exegesis in eschatology, I have here in mind, the work of such men as Geerhardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos. Sproul cites Ridderbos, but disposes of his redemptive-historical reading of the apocalyptic narratives on the grounds discussed below.
coming of the Son of Man includes the gathering of his elect and the sending forth of his angels (v. 31). From clear texts throughout the rest of the New Testament (Mt. 13:24-30, 40-43) this has not occurred, but will occur at the end of human history.
Throughout the book, time and time again, Sproul rejects such interpretations primarily because he considers it to be dubious that Jesus would have answered his inquirers when their questions contained false assumptions. It seems that if appropriately understanding Jesus' answer to a given question demands that his answer conform to the assumptions of the questioner, then a certain amount of socio-historical investigation concerning the nature of the assumptions is necessary. This information may, or may not, be contained in the text of Scripture. Thus, the various levels of cultural, intellectual, and historical assumptions of the complex life-world of Second Temple Judaism becomes the interpretive key for understanding the words of Jesus. The exegetical riddles often associated with Jesus' responses dissolve to form historical and socio-cultural riddles associated with Jesus' own life context: to arrive at the meaning of Jesus' words, a perhaps endless historical investigation concerning the possible assumptions of his inquirers is necessarily launched. That is to say, if Jesus' answers to various questions should not be interpreted as criticisms of the assumptions contained within those questions, then a number of difficulties arise.
If we are to understand Jesus' answers to his questioners in this way, is it still possible to interpret Jesus' words as ever providing a critique, even a radical rebuke of the thought forms of the intricate interpretative world of first century Palestine, revealed in the questions themselves? I do not see how it is possible. In this schema, an examination of the facts of history or culture (regarding the various conceptual models, or "world-views" determined to be functioning within the late intertestamental period) become the final determinants as to what Jesus' must have meant or not.
In keeping with this view, Sproul seems to find the redemptive-historical interpretations that render "generation" or "age" as denoting more qualitative overtones than quantitative (i.e., describing a quality of people or life more prominently than a temporally delimited quantity of people or years) quite ridiculous. I'm almost curious as to whether he would affirm the accusation of
the consistent eschatology school, that redemptive-historical exegesis arose in an effort to combat the embarrassment that came upon the early church because of the supposed parousia-delay. Since adopting the prophetic perspective approach to prophecy is characteristic of redemptive-historical exegesis (thus asserting that many of Jesus' answers to questions are concerned at a most basic level to actually overturn the assumptions of the questioner specifically with regard to the particular question in view), this approach would not be considered sufficiently historical according to what the preterist method seems to imply. Namely, that to be historical in one's interpretation means to exegete Jesus' answer to questions in terms that conform to (and do not go beyond or contradict) the assumptions of the questioner, which are knowable insofar as they are explicated from the contemporary intellectual context. This is the naturalistic, anti-supernaturalistic hermeneutic of modern biblical criticism, the logical conclusions of which, it appears, Sproul has unwittingly embraced.
So then, while detesting the conclusions of those historical-critical scholars who believe the testimony of Jesus to be incredulous, has Sproul's version of preterism left us with any other option? In order for his interpretive method to be consistent, which takes the assumptions of the questioner as normative for the thought-patterns of Jesus' responses, it can have no theological ax to grind. Sproul's criticism of the redemptive-historically motivated "prophetic perspective" would, it seems, be in essential agreement with Schweitzer's complaint against Wilhelm Weiffenbach's "dogmatic exegesis." Schweitzer castigates:
He is not content to merely render the history intelligible; he is . . . urged on by the hope that perhaps a way may be found of causing that 'error' of Jesus [his failed apocalyptic expectation] to disappear and proving it to be an illusion due to the wont of sufficiently close study of his discourses. But the historian simply must not be an apologist.26
26 Albert Schweitzer, The Quest for the Historical Jesus: a critical study of its progress from Reimarus to Wrede (New York: Macmillan, 1950) 234.
If Sproul insists upon consigning the interpretation of the words of Jesus primarily to the socio-cultural context of ancient Judaism, without letting Jesus have interpretative authority over those very categories of thought, such that he even answers questions that contain false assumptions, then he will, I believe, be left with a Jesus subject to the dictates of this critical-historical method. And despite the changing criteria or lack of consensus as to just what constitutes the precise nature of historical understanding, one element remains constant and determinative: in modern critical scholarship where "historical" understanding represents the highest form of knowledge, human interpretive autonomyanti-supernaturalistic autonomy(over and against the text of Scripture) is the controlling motif.27
Sproul's program in support of moderate preterism is then to be rejected. Despite his intentions for theological orthodoxy, his casting of the preterist hermeneutic represents a decline in hermeneutical self-consciousness and acquiescence to historical-critical criteria for exegesis. I love R. C. Sproul. His efforts on behalf of our common faith have served as source of strength and encouragement. Yet the recent popularity-upsurge of preterism is a dark cloud on the horizon of biblical eschatology.28 The remedy? only a biblico-theologically informed, rigorous accounting of New Testament eschatology is suitable. Hence, I wish Sproul had not published this book.
In this, the 50th anniversary year of the death of Geerhardus Vos, readers of this journal will appreciate the words of one of the greatest Reformed preachers of our age: words which are particularly apropos for Sproul and should be axiomatic for all future endeavors concerning the relationship between historical scholarship, exegesis, and theological eschatology.
27 Among scholars in the recent so-called "3rd Quest for the Historical Jesus," it is precisely this hermeneutical commitment which views Jesus' contemporary Jewish context as the mechanism for maintaining interpretative control over the meaning of Jesus' words, that serves the critical interest to divest Jesus of the self-consciousness that the church has historically affirmed as the clear teaching of Scripture. In actual fact, this approach represents a denial of the analogia fide in the interest of human autonomy in historical research.
28 The Last Days According to Jesus is in its 3rd printing, with over fifty thousand copies in print.
The historian, as well as the theologian, for that matter, must fight against the tendency to place the Bible in its "ancient setting," while the church sits in the so-called modern world. Such an approach cannot adequately grasp the covenantal and corporate interest of Scripture, nor can it appreciate fully our participation in the drama the Bible represents. Regardless of how far removed in time we are from the actual events, we remain essentially participants in, not spectators of, the history of salvation.29
Gerard Van Groningen, From Creation to Consummation. Sioux Center, IA: Dordt College Press, 1996, xii+604 pp., cloth, $36.95. ISBN: 0-932914-34-9.
The cover doesn't indicate it but this is only volume one of a projected three volume set. When completed, the treatment will still not extend beyond the Old Testament, which hardly warrants the title, From Creation to Consummation (FCTC). The work is of mixed genre. While there is an emphasis on biblical theology, the organizing principle for the macrostructure is not covenant or kingdom but the literary corpus of the Old Testament. Volume one is devoted to Gen. 1:1 to 2 Kgs. 25:30 (divided into creation and patriarchal periods, the latter strangely extending into the Mosaic era and up to the Israelite monarchy); volume two, to the prophetical books; and volume three, to "the Wisdom/Poetic literature and the Post Exilic writings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther" (p. ii). As a sort of survey of these books, FCTC includes discussions of authorship, digests of narrative contents, and the like. The result is a huge tome with the biblical theology entangled in extraneous material. Unfortunately, too, indications abound of less
29 Charles G. Dennison, "Report of the Historian," in the Minutes of the 64th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (1997), 312.
than careful editinglike the attributing to the reviewer's son (Meredith M.) of a couple of books written by his fatherone of the author's seminary professors, once upon a time.
Turning to the substance of Van Groningen's (VG) biblical theology, happily he appreciates the foundational character of creation and seeks to highlight the eschatological aspect of the historical process, emphases dear to the Vosian hearts of the Kerux readership. As a unifying and integrating core VG proposes a complex of "three factors the kingdom, the covenant and the mediator" (p. 72). It is in his exposition of these three and especially in his oversimplified view of their continuity that the clouds gather over what at first promised to be a sunny prospect.
As for the mediator strand of the threefold "Golden Cable," as he calls it, we might naturally suppose "mediator" would refer specifically to the role of Christ in establishing the new covenant, a role typologically portrayed by Moses in administering the old covenant. But such a mediatorship would not qualify for the "Golden Cable" because it was not by itself a continuity factor throughout all history, there being no such mediator in the original covenant in Eden. Does then "mediator" refer to the role of federal representative headship? Both the first and second Adams functioned in that capacity and thus this was a feature of preredemptive as well as redemptive covenant. However, the mediator concept as developed by VG is not narrowly identifiable with any single role. It rather embraces a variety of functions performed by various agents in the program of God's kingdom and covenants, including the generality of mankind as vicegerents of God's kingship over the cosmos. The trouble is, of course, that broadening the meaning of "mediator" to include all of the above blurs its significance as an interpretative, integrating concept and blunts the cogency of appeal to it as a strand of continuity in the unfolding of God's kingdom. Better to reduce the "Golden Cable" to two strands.
Of greater consequence is a cluster of problems relating to VG's handling of God's kingdom and covenants. We begin with his confusing of the holy kingdom with the order of common grace. Critical in this connection is the interpretation of the post-Flood covenant (Gen. 8:20-9:17). VG identifies that covenant with the covenant described in the immediately preceding narrative, the covenant that commissioned the construction of the ark as the means of
deliverance from the Flood judgment. These are patently distinct and very different arrangements. The one revealed to Noah before the Flood (Gen. 6:13ff.) was a sub-administration of the Covenant of (Saving) Grace. It was made with the believer Noah and his household in sharp distinction from the rest of mankind, who are emphatically excluded. Symbolically in the ark, it provided for the holy covenant family a typological experience of the messianic salvation and of the holy consummated kingdom of the new heavens and earth. The subsequent covenant of Gen. 8:20-9:17 was, on the contrary, inclusive of all mankind; it was made with all the earth (Gen. 9:13, 17). Involving as it did believers and unbelievers alike, it had to do with the common city of man, not the holy city of God. The benefits it afforded were strictly secular, not the eternal blessings of saving grace. And this secular world order had a temporal terminus (Gen. 8:22); it was not to be consummated in glory but terminated in judgment (cf. 2 Pet. 3:7). By identifying these radically different covenants, VG obliterates the distinction between the holy and the common and precludes the possibility of a genuine doctrine of common grace.
To the same effect is VG's identification of the covenant of Gen. 8:20-9:17 as continuous with the original covenant in Eden. He appeals to the presence in both these covenants of a creational element and of prescriptions for the cultural forming of the creation on its earthly level. The sharing of the creational element, however, carries little weight since that is a dimension of all human experience. And the appeal to the cultural prescriptions contained in both covenants is simplistic; it ignores the complications introduced by the Fall, in particular the distinction between the holy and common spheres.
Man's world outside of Eden is no longer the holy kingdom of God. To be sure, God's sovereign rule extends over the fallen earth in the present age, just as it will over Hell in the world to come. Nevertheless, just as Hell is not part of the eternal holy kingdom of heaven but exists outside the boundary walls of the sacred New Jerusalem, so the post-Fall world order on the accursed earth is not a continuation of the holy kingdom order in Eden. Hence the cultural program prescribed in the Gen. 8:20-9:17 covenant for the generality of mankind in this present non-holy world order is not a resumption of the (original) cultural mandate and, therefore, yields no support for the alleged continuity of the post-diluvian and creational covenants.
It is important to do justice to the continuity of the creational aspect of God's kingdom as we work out our worldview, if we would avoid the reductionist religious outlook of Fundamentalism. But it is equally important to recognize the discontinuities resulting from the Fall and the introduction of the common grace principle, if we would avoid the reductionist political dogma of theonomic dominion theology. Or stated positively, the recognition of the non-holy, religiously indiscriminate character of the common grace order is vital for the development of a genuinely biblical view of culture, especially for a proper assessment of the nature and functions of the basic institutions of family, state, and church.
By the double mistake of identifying the common grace covenant of Gen. 8:20-9:17 with both the creational covenant order and the redemptive covenant of salvation in the ark, VG identifies the preredemptive and redemptive covenant orders. In the attempt to maintain continuity between these two he ends up denying the radical discontinuity that obtains between them with respect to the principle of eschatological inheritance.
VG asserts that the covenant with Adam was not a covenant of works, it was not a probation arrangement in which obedience would earn an eschatological reward (cf. pp. 68, 98). He thus falls in with the deviant, anti-Reformed school of thought that vehemently repudiates the idea of meritorious human works, even in the case of the original creation covenant. With the elimination of the works principle from preredemptive covenant, the works-grace contrast traditionally affirmed between preredemptive and redemptive covenants disappears. Taking its place as the principle of kingdom inheritance is some hybrid principle allegedly common to the preredemptive and redemptive situations, a principle called "grace," but falsely so, for it is not the pure grace of the biblical gospel. Further, if there is no probation as an opportunity for eschatological advance there is no beyond-probation state for Adam to gain or for Christ, the second Adam, to win for his people. There is no place for the truth of Christ's active obedience as that which earns for his own an eternal place with him in the heavenly kingdom of the Consummation.
It is important to maintain the continuity of all the administrations of the Covenant of Grace over against the unbiblical discontinuities foisted on re-
demptive history by Dispensationalism. But to deny the discontinuity between the preredemptive Covenant of Works and the redemptive Covenant of Grace is to be guilty of a more serious error than Dispensationalism. It is to subvert the gospel and darken the way of salvation.
Inevitably VG mishandles the works-grace issue as it faces him again when he comes to the old covenant and its relation to the new covenantthe law-gospel question. His treatment of this matter is not at all adequate, especially considering the intense interest in it in the world of biblical scholarship and the bitter controversy over it in our theological circles. Perhaps his slighting of the issue betrays VG's uncertainty as to how his rejection of the law-gospel contrast is to be squared with the massive exegetical evidence indicating that, at the level of the typological theocratic kingdom, a works principle was operative in the Mosaic economy.
Defending his rejection of the concept of meritorious human works in the creation covenant, VG offers a peculiar argument of his own: there was no place for merit because, he asserts, there was nothing to meritAdam already had everything in the relationship to God and the world that came to him as a creational gift. That assertion contradicts the obvious. Vos rightly declares that according to the apostle Paul "the only reasonable interpretation of the Genesis-account" is "that provision was made and probation was instituted for a still higher state, both ethico-religiously and physically complexioned, than was at that time in the possession of man" (The Pauline Eschatology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952] 304). VG, however, must deny that any additional new benefits would be involved in either the Spirit's transformation of man's spiritual nature advancing him to the state of confirmed righteousness prerequisite to reception of the eternally guaranteed felicity of the Sabbath state or in man's physical glorification, the supernatural, consummating transfiguration that renders the cosmos a new heaven and earth for him. In the flat continuity of kingdom history that VG propounds there is no room for eschatology; the eschatological acts of God that propel man towards the Consummation get de-eschatologized and the Consummation itself becomes just more of the same. VG has missed the message of the Sabbath.
I regret the negative nature of this review, triggered by VG's support of my opponents in controversies over precisely those biblical theological issues
I regard as most critical at this time. There is much valuable material in FCTC, developed by VG through arduous labors over a long professional career of faithful service preparing students for Reformed ministry. I especially appreciate his solid stance on the doctrine of Scripture and his steadfast adherence to conservative positions on key higher criticism questions at a time when there is a trend towards compromise within our community of seminaries.
Meredith G. Kline