Vos, True Religion, and General Assembly

August 27, 2018

by Carlton Wynne

Geerhardus Vos has been called the “father of Reformed biblical theology.” As many readers are aware, he is known for investigating and displaying the organically integrated and historically unfolded character of biblical revelation. In fact, the Bible was, for him, best understood as the revelatory record of “the history of special revelation,” all centered upon God’s accomplishment of redemption for his people, with the work of the incarnate Christ at its core.

Therefore it may surprise some to learn that Vos also developed another, equally grand theme, one that reveals the pastoral heartbeat of his scholarly labors. This theme in no way detracts from his profound excavations of the Christ-centered unity of covenant history and the Scriptures, since he repeatedly shows how it derives from the glorious self-disclosure and activity of God across that history, as well as the Spirit-born witness and interpretation of that redemptive work by the human writers of the Bible.

Vos urges us to join him in scaling the heights of God’s loving purpose across covenant history.

But it is a theme that, to my eye, and at least from a more global perspective, transcends (or better, traverses) the biblical theological exegesis for which Vos is so rightly revered. That theme, in short, is true religion.

“To be a Christian,” Vos declares, “is to live one’s life not merely in obedience to God, nor merely in dependence on God, nor even merely for the sake of God; it is to stand in conscious, reciprocal fellowship with God, to be identified with him in thought and purpose and work, to receive from him and give back to him in the ceaseless interplay of spiritual forces.” (“Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, 186). The intimate fellowship of the covenant bond between God and man, secured in the Christ of history for his people, is “the essential character of the Christian religion” (ibid.). This is the crest and climax of all of God’s activity and loving purpose for the religious consciousness of his people throughout the ages. It was promised by divine grace in ancient history, foreshadowed in tabernacle worship, preeminently displayed in Christ’s earthly life, and it now progressively permeates and defines the Christian’s resurrection life in union with the life-giving Savior (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-4; 1 Corinthians 15:45). Best of all, it will constitute the all-consuming activity of the saints in the everlasting disclosure of God’s glory in a new heaven and new earth that is perfectly suited for that purpose (2 Peter 3:13; cf. Romans 8:21; Revelation 21:3, 23–24).

Throughout his writings, Vos urges us to join him in scaling the heights of God’s loving purpose across covenant history in order to survey the beauty and richness of the divine glory before that final day. But he also calls us to make our sin-killing, rejoicing-in-righteousness, child-like fellowship with the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit the driving principle of our lives, whether as pastors, students, laypeople, daily workers, parents or children.

. . . continue reading at Reformation 21.


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Carlton Wynne

Dr. Wynne (PhD, Westminster) is assistant professor of systematic theology and apologetics at WTS.

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