Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1: Proper Theology by Geerhardus Vos
Book Review and Takeaways
Daddy, do you know what Cat in the Hat said?
Thus began my breakfast one morning between Christmas and New Years.
Lowering my coffee, I replied, “No, what did the Cat in the Hat say?”
Explorers never stop exploring.
Thanks to Dr. Seuss via my attentive daughter, Daddy’s breakfast was served with life lessons that morning.
In one of my favorite reads last year, The Lost City of Z, explorer Percy Fawcett gives his life for the sake of traversing the dark, Amazonian rainforest. Time after time, he returns to South America in hopes of finding an ancient city of riches and wonder.
Fawcett leaves his British home for the Amazon on behalf of the Royal Geographic Society. The President of the Society during Fawcett’s missions once proclaimed this:
There [is] not a square foot of the planet’s surface to which the Fellows of this Society should not at least try to go.
Not a square foot.
There’s still more to see, more to find, and more to learn.
Whether on morning cartoons or in real-life cross-Atlantic missions, the truth remains.
Explorers never stop exploring.
With this mantra firmly centered in my mind as I prepared for a new year, I resolved to explore. To explore new things, new authors, new ideas, new countries, new hobbies.
But as Fawcett shows us, this commitment to exploration drives you to return to the familiar and explore again. Old jungles and old paths. Old things, old authors, and old ideas.
So in 2017, I am exploring the new. You might hear about it this year; that is, if my return to the old blog, obtains new steadfastness.
But in 2017, I am also exploring the old. One way in which this has already happened is a return to the study of systematic theology.
I recently finished Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1: Proper Theology by the Dutch professor, Geerhardus Vos. Until recently this work, which is part of a greater five-volume set, was not available in English. Thanks to translator Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., most of us have new territory to explore.
In the same spirit as my reads of 2016 list, below is my take on the book.
Book in a Nutshell: This head-spinning work presents Vos’ teachings on the doctrines of God (His names, being, attributes), the Trinity, God’s decrees, predestination, creation, and providence. Based on lectures given at Calvin Theological Seminary in the 1890’s, this text is delivered in a question-answer format rather than a more typical paragraph format.
Reaction: I have studied this type of material often in the past, but I found this quest back into the jungle of systematic theology refreshing. Sections of the book can be overwhelming as Vos demonstrates his mastery over weighty topics, but he has a knack for distilling his position in crisp summary statements. I enjoyed the format as it enables easy start-stop reading. One of the greatest strengths is the set of indexes in the back of the book that will make returning to it for further study and teaching all the more profitable. If you have never read a book like this before, it might be more helpful to first explore a more accessible venture like Wayne Grudem’s work.
GoodReads Ranking: 5 out of 5 stars
On my exploration, I discovered a few treasures I couldn’t hoard all to myself.
1. God’s Infinity and Our Imagination – God in his perfection has no limits and no restrictions however impossible it is for our limited minds to grasp it.
“We cannot make a concept of the infinite with our thinking… However far we proceed in our imagination, we know that we have not arrived at the end, that we could still take one more step.”
2. Rest – Vos asserts that in God’s rest on the seventh day, there are two aspects. Negatively, rest means “ceasing from creating”. Positively, rest involves “taking pleasure in the finished work”.
True rest is both stopping work and enjoying the fruits.
Think about how we rest. Do we do both? Or do we merely cease from work and forget to enjoy? Maybe, a lot of us feel like we never rest because we only go half way. Maybe, we have to move past stopping and start enjoying.
3. A God Who Governs – Back in 2008, during the national championship game, I prayed that God would let the Memphis Tigers win. I really did. Sadly, God said no.
A lot of people, Christians included, might think this silly. Surely, we think, God doesn’t care about something so meaningless. Vos has my back, however. He writes, “Scripture teaches us that nothing (emphasis mine) is excluded from God’s governing, be it small or large, free or necessary, good or evil (win or lose?).”
Reformed Christians have long taught that the providence of God is exhaustive (in case you missed it, exhaustive includes basketball). Greek philosophers like Aristotle believed the gods only concerned themselves with important matters, but the God of the Bible is no mere Zeus. When we think the same way as Aristotle, we are thinking about God’s heavenly reign as king in an earthly way.
So the current application here is simple: For whatever reason, God didn’t want Nick Saban and Alabama to win again. Bama Christians will have to recite Romans 8:28 to themselves until next year.
4. Straight Talk – When you read a systematic theology work, you will be confronted with controversial issues. There’s no way around that. Geerhardus Vos doesn’t pull punches.
ON THE TRINITY – “Is the Son God in the sense that one can speak of only one God?… Everyone must take sides [Vos argues Yes!]. No one can be saved from it with vague answers.”
ON FREE WILL – “The decree of God also embraces the free acts of men… it is completely absurd and impossible that what is most important… in world history would be beyond the control of God.”
ON GOD’S JUSTICE – “One does not convince such people, one stops their mouth.”
My trek through the Dutch-Reformed Amazon delivered more than enough plunder to make the effort worthwhile. I am glad I made the journey.
But with Dr. Seuss still in mind, the journey continues. I have already begun the initial leg of Vos’ second volume on Anthropology and I have other jungles, caves, and rivers to explore this year as well. Most of them are Russian.
What are you exploring right now? Maybe it is a new author or artist or hobby. Feel free to share some your plans below.
Maybe you don’t have an answer. Whether its an old Dutch professor, a classic novel that has sat on your nightstand for months, or a foreign language waiting to be learned and spoken, let the Cat in the Hat keep you on your toes and push you down a path, any path.
Explorers never stop exploring.