Paul's Passing Thoughts

Will the Creation Museum Add a Wing Dedicated to Geerhardus Vos?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on April 6, 2010

“The theological differences between Reformed theology born of traditional hermeneutics, verses Reformed theology born of  redemptive historical hermeneutics, are significant, and those who claim to be Reformed should know the difference.”

As my grandmother used to say: “nothing is sacred anymore.” Likewise, proponents of the “new Calvinism,” or “neo reformed movement,” or “the gospel driven life,” or “gospel sanctification,” or whatever other nomenclature you would like to attach, are busily writing articles that supposedly puts the beloved Creation Museum (just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio) into “proper perspective.” In their endeavor to save the church from the false gospel of exegetical interpretation of the Scriptures, they boldly proclaim that the age (how long ago they existed) of dinosaurs and how they became extinct is not the point; those dinosaurs were preaching the gospel, that’s the point. Therefore, attempts to arm our youth with creation science (what I thought the museum was doing, until being recently “corrected“)  instead of redemptive historical hermeneutics is supposedly misguided, and many of these pundits have said as much. Granted, our children’s contentions in a public school setting that evolution is not the point, but the fact that all of creation is the gospel, may initially get the attention of opponents; that is, until they start asking how the creation of birds is a gospel presentation.

One article even insinuated that the founders of the museum installed the “Last Adam” film presentation at the end of the scientific gallery to emphasize that the Genesis, chapters 1 and 2 account is really a gospel presentation, and specifically speaks of Christ and Him only. However, though I doubt the Creation Museum folks reprinted the article because they really understood where the author was coming from; never the less, does this mean they will soon be installing a new wing dedicated to Geerhardus Vos?

“Black’s evaluation gives testimony to how extremely complex the Vos hermeneutic is, relegating the followers of those who pontificate its supposed revelatory results to a Pope-like reliance.”

Some of you may be asking: “Who is Geerhardus Vos?” Well, he is known as the father of Reformed Biblical Theology. You say: “Oh, that’s the biblical theology of  the second phase of the Protestant Reformation (begun by Luther) by the likes of Calvin and Zwingli.” No. Biblical Theology originated in Germany under the liberal teaching and writing of Johann Philipp Gabler (1753-1826), who emphasized the historical nature of the Bible over against a “dogmatic” interpretation thereof. Nearly a century later, Vos (1862-1949) was instrumental in taking the discipline of biblical theology in a, supposedly, more conservative direction. Also known as redemptive historical hermeneutics, the debate that came out of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands (in 1940)  is helpful in defining the difference between biblical theology  and more orthodox forms of interpretation. The following quote is a helpful description:

“Redemptive-historical preaching is a method of preaching that was forged in the fires of debate in the Reformed churches of the Netherlands in the early 1940s. The debate concerned itself with the question: “How are we to preach the historical narratives of the Bible?” On one side of the question were the proponents of “exemplaristic” preaching. This method of preaching taught that the biblical narratives in general, and the Old Testament stories in particular, were to be preached as examples of how Christians today should (or should not) live their lives. Old Testament believers were held up as examples (or anti-examples, as the case may be) of how we should conduct ourselves.

On the other side of the debate were the advocates of preaching that was “redemptive-historical” (the term used to translate the Dutch heilshistorisch). They argued that Old Testament narratives are not given to us by God primarily to be moral examples, but as revelations of the coming Messiah. The narratives of the Old Testament served as types and shadows pointing forward in history to the time when Israel’s Messiah [however, more contemporary versions include superessionism] would be revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In support of this view, the advocates of redemptive-historical preaching drew heavily upon the text of Luke 24:27, where Jesus is teaching the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (English Standard Version). Further support was taken from verse 44 of the same chapter, where Jesus says, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

I might mention three things before continuing:

1. This hermeneutic is, by all accounts, very new  in church history. Catch my drift?
2. It’s contention against orthodox hermeneutics is strange when one considers 1Corinthians 10:6; “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” And 1 Corinthians 10:11; “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”

3. Furthermore, Luke 24:27,44 doesn’t say that every narrative and verse in the OT is about Christ, but rather that He fulfilled prophesies about Himself contained in the OT. There are no adjectives in these verses that suggest a plenary, OT soteriolgy.

Today, the RHH is primarily carried forward and propagated by Northwest Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, and Westminster Seminary California. The theological differences between Reformed theology born of traditional hermeneutics, verses Reformed theology born of  redemptive historical hermeneutics, are significant, and those who claim to be Reformed should know the difference.

However, “The Biblical Hermeneutics of Geerhardus Vos: an Analysis, Critique, and Reconstruction,” by Tim Black,  is probably the most extensive and technical work ever done on Vos hermeneutics. It is a massive work that cannot even be summarized here, but I would like to glean some relevant observations by Black that cast additional information on RHH that falls under the category of ominous. But before I do, let me interject that Black’s evaluation gives testimony to how extremely complex the Vos hermeneutic is, relegating the followers of those who pontificate its supposed revelatory results to a Pope-like reliance.

“But in my estimation, Black’s contribution concerning the likelihood of  Historicism  and Nature Freedom philosophies (Aristotle, Hagel, Compte, Marx) being a significant influence in regard to Vos’s biblical theology, is more worthy of mention:”

Vos believed that the Bible is a historical revelation of one person and one thing only; Christ and his redemption (Don’t worry, I am not going to park here long. You will soon see the relevance of this promise in the following). He also believed that the Bible’s revelation is organic, like in the following example: It is a living organism like a large plant. All that the plant will be is contained in the seed, but as the plant grows, it gives continuing revelation (in regard to Christ and redemption only) as to what was originally contained in the seed. Therefore,  the continued growth of the plant reveals the former. The Bible is a progressive revelation in regard to redemption, so everything from the beginning to the end is a evolving revelation in  regard to Christ and his redemption. So, the New Testament interprets the Old; the new is a more exact representation of the full revelation to come. So then, the Old Testament is a limited revealing of redemptions fullness. This is also accomplished on two different plains, the earthly and the heavenly. Black explains it this way on page 38:

“Everything which falls between these two ends of both history and Vos’s system is a gradual process of synthesis whereby the definitive antithesis between the age to come and this present evil age is “organically” synthesized through the progressive motion from “earth” to “heaven.” The earlier and lower moves to the later and higher.”

In other words, earth’s history is redemptive, and is growing toward its heavenly fullness in an organic synthesis. I would then add that creation must also be in the act of progressive sanctification as we also are, though Black never makes this point in his thesis. Hopefully then, you can at least see why proponents of RHH would say the creation account in Genesis is, in fact, a gospel narrative. But we now move on to the point that is easier to grasp: Biblical revelation (according to Voss) is by historical narrative rather than “textually presented ideas.” Black presents this Vos concept in the following ways:

1. “Rather, Vos emphasizes that the historical events (redemptive deeds/acts of God) which are described in Scripture are revelatory in themselves, and even form the central and foundational core to all other revelation”(page 23).

2. “As a result, despite his recognition [Vos] of the existence of a distinction between word and deed, he [Vos] focused on the deeds of God [historical deeds] as if they were more central than God’s words to Biblical revelation” (page 25).

3. “For the present let it suffice to say that the intuition arises again that for Voss, it is more important for the interpreter of Scripture to follow the organization of the historical events than to follow the organization of the text of Scripture” (page 26).

4. “Thus Vos finds it better to focus in Scripture first and foremost on the events rather than on the textually-presented ideas” (page 28).

Black also eludes to one of my own primary concerns with  RHH, an overemphasis on any one member of the Trinity always leads to trouble:

“Further, it appears that Scripture is not only primarily centered around Christ but rather around the Triune God, including Christ” (page 57).

Furthermore, Black also contends that interpreting Scripture through covenants would find much more biblical cause than redemptive history:

“As argued above, the particular purpose of Genesis 1-2 is not redemptive, but covenantal–its purpose is the presentation of the covenant” (page59).

“I propose, therefore, that we do not refer to our method of interpreting Scripture as “Redemptive Historical” but rather “Covenantal Historical” or even “Covenantal” under the assumption that the covenant has an historically-progressive aspect built into its structure. This is more true to the actual history to which Scripture refers, and concomitantly is more true to Scripture itself” (page61).

For sure. From a “plain sense of Scripture” viewpoint, as well as a pure biblical data perspective, a much stronger argument could be made for a “Covenantal Historical” hermeneutic if one was inclined to do so.

But in my estimation, Black’s contribution concerning the likelihood of  Historicism  and Nature Freedom philosophies (Aristotle, Hagel, Compte, Marx) being a significant influence in regard to Vos’s biblical theology, is more worthy of mention:

“It is the critical thesis of this SIP that Vos’s two main emphases were shaped in part by
the philosophical context within which he worked. It appears that his emphasis on the historical progress of redemption and revelation is influenced by Historicism, and that his view of the 2 ages is influenced by the modern Nature-Freedom scheme. Both Historicism and the Nature-Freedom scheme must be explained at this point. I do not know how to keep Vos’s two emphases separate in this critique, and so I will allow them to run together to some extent. Just as the 2-age construction seems to be found as the flower of the historical progression, the Nature-Freedom scheme appears to be built out of Historicism. I will begin with a discussion of Historicism, move to an analysis of the Nature-Freedom scheme, and then attempt to demonstrate the presence of both in Vos’s thought.

i) Historicistic

In order to understand Vos’s hermeneutics in context, it is necessary to understand the
nature of Historicism. It should become apparent in the following that Vos’s view of history and of the study of history follows the central structures of the basic ideas of Historicism.

The best understanding of the nature of Historicism to which I have been able to come is
summarized by Maurice Mandelbaum in his book History, Man, & Reason. Mandelbaum gives a helpful general definition of Historicism. His definition is that “Historicism is the belief that an adequate understanding of the nature of any phenomenon and an adequate assessment of its value are to be gained through considering it in terms of the place which it occupied and the role which it played within a process of development.” Mandelbaum fleshes this definition out throughout his book but the best summary of what he means is given in four points concerning the historicistic construction which is characteristic of Hegel’s thought as well as Compte’s and Marxism.

First, there is a unified historical process which involves all historical entities in its movement and which must be studied by the historian.

Second, beneath all historicistic thought “was presupposed an underlying substance or subject which changes. Thus, a pattern of change conceived in the terms made familiar by Aristotle and by Hegel is not to be construed simply as a sequence of related forms; these successive forms are regarded as having an inherent connection with one another because each of them is viewed as a phase in a single, unified process, and because each expresses some necessary feature of that process.”

Third, Mandelbaum notes that the the substance which changes has an organic nature. He states that ‘both Compte and the Marxists shared Hegel’s view that, during any phase of this developmental process, the various attributes of society were organically related to one another, forming a coherent whole.’


‘The second basic presupposition connected with treating history in terms consonant with the Aristotelian and the Hegelian views of developmental processes is the fact that the later stages of these processes were
considered as being higher realizations, or fulfillments, of what was only implicit in the earlier stages. To be sure, significant differences existed between the Aristotelian doctrine of the relation of act to potency and Hegel’s dialectical emphasis on the role of negation in change. Nevertheless in both cases the end was
conceived as representing a higher and more perfect level than had been attained in any of the developmental stages preceding it. This did not entail that, according to Hegel (or even according to Aristotelianism), the value of each of the earlier stages was wholly relative to the value of the end. Since the end could not be attained in one leap, but only through transformations from one stage to the next, each stage had its own value. That value, however, could only be adequately appreciated through understanding how each stage in the development was related to the goal-directed process of which it was a part….it is only in terms of the later stages of development, when latent powers have become fully explicit, that we are in a position fully to understand the nature of a developmental process and adequately interpret the earlier stages of that process. This familiar teleological theme is, of course, most manifest in Hegel’:

‘The living substance…is that which is truly subject, or what is the same thing, is truly
realized and actual (wirklich) solely in the process of positing itself, or in mediating with its own self its transitions from one state or position to the opposite….It is the process of its own becoming, the circle which presupposes its end as its purpose, and has its end for its beginning; it becomes concrete and actual only by being carried out, and by the end it involves.’’

Note here that although Mandelbaum calls this his second point elsewhere he considers it his fourth point. Mandelbaum’s summary of the essential features of Historicism, then, are 1) that it posits a unified historical process, 2) it posits a substance which changes according to the laws of that process, 3) it posits the organic nature of the substance, and 4) it posits that the not only the process as a whole but also each stage of the process and the organic substance which changes within that process all aim toward a goal and are all properly understood only in terms of the way in which they are progressing toward the attainment of that goal. Further, this goal-orientation assumes that the fulfillment of the goal is the best situation possible, and each stage along the way, although of some value in itself is yet not to be considered perfect. I must mention that every description of Historicism I have found has described it in similar terms to the terms used by Vos, but more importantly those descriptions have followed the general outlines which Mandelbaum has laid out.

While I do not think I understand Historicism as well as some other people, nevertheless it is undeniable that Mandelbaum’s general definition of Historicism fits Vos’s system to a ‘T,’ especially in regard to his focus on the progress of redemptive history toward the goal of heaven, and the fuller-meaning method of interpreting that progress which he roots in Paul’s eschatological interpretation of the Old Testament.’’”

Black continues on, in several pages filled with mind-numbing data and references to show the irrefutable correlations between Vos’s  hermeneutic and pagan philosophies.

The bottom line is this: the gospel driven life, New Covenant Theology, gospel sanctification, and most other things that come out of Westminster Seminary, stand or fall on Vos’s hermeneutic, and it ain’t lookin’ good for the standin’ part. Vos’s hermeneutic is new, disregards the plain sense of textual content, contains pagan philosophy, and in reality, is just plain goofy. Furthermore, Reformed folks need to determine what type of Reformed they are: Calvin, or Vos? Secondly, editors should get some discernment before they print silly articles that make “cool, green grass” that squishes “between our toes,” synonymous with the gospel. And these guys built the Creation Museum?!

Lastly, in Proverbs 8, wisdom is personified as a women. She’s not a story, neither is she a narrative; she is, understanding (v.1), truth (v.7), justice (v.8), knowledge (v.9), instruction (v.10), wisdom (v.12) fear of the Lord (v.13), counsel (v.13), righteousness (v.20), the first fruits of God’s works (v.22). And guess what?: before creation, she was with God:

“23 I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.
24 When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the earth or its fields or any of the dust of the world.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command,  and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30 Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.”

I conclude with a pleading for Christians not to be led away from Lady Wisdom, but I think I will let her do the talking:

32 “Now then, my sons, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not ignore it.
34 Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.
35 For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the LORD.
36 But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death.”

One Response

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  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on March 1, 2012 at 7:33 PM

    Reblogged this on Paul's Passing Thoughts.


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