REDEMPTIVE HISTORY AND BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION, The Shorter Writings of Gerhardus Vos; edited by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.; Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1980; 559 pp., $17.50. (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko)
This book is an important publishing venture on the part of Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, for it makes available a large number of writings of a notable theologian which had previously been difficult to obtain. Gerhardus Vos was born in the Netherlands, but received a considerable amount of his training in the Christian Reformed Church, However, at about the age of 30, Vos accepted an appointment to the newly created chair of Biblical Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary where he served for 39 years until his retirement. Although he is mistakenly called sometimes “The Father of Biblical Theology,” his work in this field has greatly influenced theological development in our day.
The book is divided into four parts: major biblical and theological studies; shorter biblical studies; addresses; book reviews. In addition, it contains also a biography of Vos and a bibliography of his writings. Because of the wide variety of writings found in the book, it is difficult to give a thorough review. Some of the material presented here is undoubtedly far more important than other material. In the first section, the chapter, “The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline” was particularly interesting. It contains the inaugural address which Vos delivered as Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton. In it Vos develops his conception of Biblical Theology in distinction from Systematic Theology. Perhaps a quote from this chapter would be of interest.
The specific character of Biblical Theology lies in this, that it discusses both the form and contents of revelation from the point of view of the revealing activity of God Himself. In other words, it deals with revelation in the active sense, as an act of God, and tries to understand and trace and describe this act, so far as this is possible to man and does not elude our finite observation. In Biblical Theology both the form and contents of revelation are considered as parts and products of a divine work. In Systematic Theology these same contents of revelation appear, but not under the aspect of the stages of a divine work; rather as the material for a human work of classifying and systematizing according to logical principles.
Biblical Theology applies no other method of grouping and arranging these contents than is given in the divine economy of revelation itself (pp. 6, 7). Biblical Theology, rightly defined, is nothing else than the exhibition of the organic progress of supernatural revelation in its historic continuity and multiformity (p. 15).
It is not our purpose to get involved in this review in a discussion of the relative merits of Biblical Theology over against Systematic Theology. The controversy is not new. It was at bottom the controversy which raged in the Netherlands already in the 16th and 17th centuries between the followers of Cocceius and Voetius, the former of whom can more rightly be called the father of Biblical Theology. It is interesting also that, in that controversy, the Cocceian Party repeatedly accused the Voetians of scholastic theology, while the followers of Voetius accused the Cocceian Party of Dispensationalism. And both were ofterrcorrect in their criticism. And, while the defenders of Systematic Theology really won out in Reformed Theology, more recent years have seen a resurgence of Biblical Theology in both Reformed and Presbyterian circles. The question is interesting and important, and a reading of Vos is essential to understand what Biblical Theology is really all about. Vos not only defines it in the chapter quoted above, but also shows how it works out in subsequent chapters. While both methods of theologizing undoubtedly have their weaknesses (simply because theology has to do with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ) it nevertheless seems to me that the dangers of Biblical Theology are real and all but impossible to overcome; that, therefore, the approach of Systematic Theology is the preferable one.
But this is not intended to leave the impression that there are not other important writings in this book which deal with different questions. Also in the first section there are two very important and thought-provoking articles on the doctrine of the covenant. The first is on, “Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke.” The latter word, which may be strange to most readers, is the Greek word for “covenant”—at least it is usually translated this way in the book of Hebrews and throughout the New Testament. But on occasion it is translated, “testament.” And this is what the article is all about. It is excellent.
The second chapter will be of interest to many of our readers. It is on, “The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology.” While necessarily somewhat brief, it gives the reader a bird’s-eye view of the history of this doctrine in continental theology.
There are, of course, many other subjects treated, but these three chapters alone are worth the price of the book. Especially our ministers, but also all those who are interested in theology, ought to purchase the book.
THE CREATOR IN THE COURTROOM “SCOPES II”, The Controversial Arkansas Creation-Evolution Trial, by Norman L. Geisler (in collaboration with A. F. Brooke II and Mark J. Keough; Mott Media, 1982, 242 pp., (paper). (Reviewed by N. Hanko)
The purpose of this book is to give a clear unbiased report of the 1981 Arkansas Creation-Evolution trial. The authors accuse the judge, William Overton, and the news media of being biased in favor of evolution. Because there was no one from the Christian media present at the trial, the secular news reports are the only reports available.
The purpose of the trial was to examine Act 590 of the state of Arkansas to determine if it was in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution (separation between church and state). Act 590 requires balanced teaching of evolution and creation-science in the public schools.
Those who opposed the Act are typical of the unbeliever: anything to do with creation or anything biblical is forbidden. They do not even want a creator to be hinted at in public school teaching.
The defendants at the trial attempted to prove that Act 590 was not in violation of the First Amendment. Their claim was that creation is a science and evolution a religion.
They also attempted to prove that Scientific Creationism can be separated from religious creationism. When separating creation and the flood from the biblical narrative, they were forced to talk of a creator as a vague and supernatural being who operated according to laws which are no longer in existence today and to speak of a young earth 6,000 10,000 years old. But they were forced to prove creation from scientific data, something which cannot be done, since “through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God” (Heb. 11:3).
The decision made by Judge Overton prohibited the enforcement of Act 590 and ruled it unconstitutional. Although Judge Overton was biased in his opinions, this was not the reason for the outcome of the trial. “While the statistical figures may be impressive evidence against the theory of chance combinations as an explanation for origins, it re quires a leap of faith to interpret these figures so as to support a complex doctrine which includes a sudden creation from nothing, a world wide flood, separate ancestry for men and apes, and a young earth” (page 179).
The defendants produced an excellent case against evolution, but did not produce much in favor of creation-science. Their basic mistake was trying to separate creation from religion. This cannot be done.
Dr. George Marsden, Professor of History at Calvin College, testified against the Act. At one point in his testimony he referred to Fundamentalists as “militantly anti-modernist” and concerned chiefly with “spreading the faith.”
This is a worthwhile book for those who are interested in the continuing battle between the creationists and the evolutionists in the context of public school instruction. It also shows the foolishness of evolution in a very convincing manner, but shows the error of the creation-science position in attempting to maintain creationism apart from Scripture.
THE PROBLEM OF PLEASURE, by John H. Gerstner; Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1983; 27 pp., $1.50 (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko)
I found this book to be a delightful little book written in a delightful manner which I carried with me with growing eagerness to read what Gerstner considered to be the solution to “the problem of pleasure.” But the “solution” proved to be a complete let-down.
The argument of the book runs like this. While theologians and philosophers have written again and again about “the problem of pain,” this is not really a problem because of sin and the divine need to punish sin if God is truly God. The wicked do not suffer in this life as much as they deserve to suffer, but the righteous do suffer when one would expect that they should not. Yet this is divine chastisement.
We would truly have a problem if there were no pain in the world. Hence the problem is: Why is there any pleasure? Especially if one considers that sin is infinitely heinous and God is infinitely holy, it is difficult to understand why there can be any pleasure at all.
This problem is magnified when we consider that Scripture speaks of the fact that God hates the wicked for their sin—and yet sends blessings upon them. This is the real problem.
There are, says Gerstner, only two possible solutions to that problem. The first is that God is making the wicked fat for slaughter. Gerstner does not completely reject that idea, but finally resolves the whole dilemma by saying that the real reason is that all may be given opportunity to be saved: “Now the problem of pleasure has its answer in full. God has spared you, not that you be damned, but that you be saved from the damnation that otherwise would inevitably have been your destiny. Now Jesus Christ stands at the door of your heart and offers to come in and dwell with you forevermore.”
And so a delightful little book is spoiled.