Saturday, June 23, 2012

Geerhardus Vos and the Practical Uses of Biblical Theology

Biblical Theology deals with the history of the Bible, of God’s revelation and redemption of mankind from beginning to end. It is different than Systematic Theology which deals with “logical construction” (16). Vos states, “Biblical theology draws a line of development. Systematic theology draws a circle” (16). While both disciplines have their benefits, Vos points out several practical uses of the study of Biblical Theology, and they are worth noting. The Bible was never meant to be read as an instruction manual for doctrine, but as an unfolding historical revelation of God’s redemption of his people. So what are the benefits to studying the Bible in the historical, Biblical-Theological sense? Some of the practical uses Vos highlights are as follows:

         1.      “[Biblical Theology] exhibits the organic growth of the truths of Special Revelation” (17). We can imagine Special Revelation as a seedling, sprouting and growing into further maturity until it is a full blown tree, “inherently rich and complex, because God is so himself” (8). “…through exhibiting the organic structure of revelation, Biblical Theology furnishes a special argument from design for the reality of Supernaturalism” (17). Christians aren’t deists. We believe that God has been actively involved in his creation from the beginning, and the organic nature of Special Revelation proves this.

         2.      “Biblical Theology imparts new life and freshness to the truth by showing it to us in its original historical setting. The Bible is not a dogmatic handbook but a historical book full of dramatic interest. Familiarity with the history of revelation will enable us to utilize all this dramatic interest” (17). Special Revelation is a drama unfolding before our eyes. When we see it as such, the truth we find in its unfolding scenes and acts becomes vastly exciting.

         3.      “Biblical Theology can counteract the anti-doctrinal tendency of the present time” (17). Vos goes on to say that in his day (and most definitely in ours!), religion had become mainly about the “voluntary and emotional sides of religion.” Biblical Theology, on the other hand, shows us “what great care God has taken to supply his people with a new world of ideas” (17). While the Bible is not a manual for doctrine, doctrine is found in the fabric of the drama. God desires that we believe what he has revealed about himself-and us-and redemption.

         4.      “Biblical Theology relieves to some extent the unfortunate situation that even the fundamental doctrines of the faith should seem to depend mainly on the testimony of isolated proof-texts” (17). This is an important point. For how can one defend important doctrines of the faith in the space of a paragraph? The doctrines we hold would be more weighty to others (and us!) if proven to be stitched into the Biblical narrative. “In the long run that system will hold the field which can be proven to have grown organically from the main stem of revelation, and to be interwoven with the very fibre of Biblical religion” (18).

         5.      Finally, “The highest practical usefulness of the study of Biblical Theology is one belonging to it altogether apart from its usefulness for the student. Like unto all theology it finds its supreme end in the glory of God” (18). The main telos of Biblical Theology is not in the intellectual prowess or expertise of the student, but the glory of God.

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