Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Underdogism of Geerhardus Vos



The following short bio on Vos once again brings to the fore the fact that the greats were Underdogs.


Geerhardus Vos: Life Between Two Worlds by James T. Dennison, Jr.

There were not many present that Wednesday afternoon; not many present at all. No one was there from his denomination; no one was there from the institution he had served for nearly thirty-nine years. Only one person from his family appears to have been there. A man and a woman from the local Methodist Church were there. They sang a hymn. Ironically, the institution to which he had declined to transfer at its formation in 1929 was there—in the person of her most noted Dutchman; no antithesis here—Dutchman paying tribute to Dutchman. Cornelius Van Til was there with his Dutch friend, Rev. John De Waard; John De Waard, pastor of Memorial Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York. Van Til of Westminster Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; De Waard, graduate of Princeton Seminary and member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Two Dutchmen were there to bury their countryman, conducting his casket from the village Methodist Church to a simple hillside cemetery. Van Til, De Waard and the casket of Geerhardus Vos in the tiny village of Roaring Branch, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, August 17, 1949. And there in that grassy cemetery, they laid his remains next to those of his wife, Catherine; Catherine Vos who had died September 14, 1937. Geerhardus interred in the mountain village not far from the summer house where Catherine and he and their four children passed so many pleasant hours between May and September. Pleasant morning hours of study followed by the mile-long walk to the post office in town. Afternoon reading on the porch with the children followed by another walk to the post office. And evenings in the study once more, surrounded by his books and journals and papers. And on Sunday? the walk to the Methodist Church for worship—the only church in the village. The ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. worships in a Methodist Church; the Professor at the premier Old School Reformed Theological Seminary passes his summer Sabbaths in an Arminian church. And as ironic and incongruous as his church life in Roaring Branch is the surreal photograph of his open casket on that August afternoon in 1949—his open casket flanked by Van Til and De Waard. Geerhardus Vos buried in an obscure mountain village, in an obscure mountain cemetery—all but forgotten by the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., all but forgotten by Princeton Theological Seminary, all but forgotten by the evangelical and Reformed world of post-World War II boomers. At his graveside, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Westminster Seminary. But fifty years later, he remains obscure not only in the Presbyterian Church (U. S. A.) and Princeton Theological Seminary; fifty years later, he remains an enigma to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Westminster Seminary.

But not to Cornelius Van Til fifty years ago; not even to the Cornelius Van Til of his own student days at Princeton Seminary 1924-25. "Dr. Vos was the greatest pedagogue I ever sat under." That is what Dr. Van Til told me in 1981 when he visited Westminster in California for his first and only time. And yet, even at Princeton, Vos was an enigma. Never active in Presbytery; not easily understood by the majority of his students (though J. Gresham Machen said, "if I knew half of what Dr. Vos knows"); ever in the background of the seminary culture—his only prominence (besides his profound scholarship) the regular walks with his friend, B. B. Warfield. Yet after the First World War, that profound scholarship virtually disappears from the pages of the journal of the Seminary he served. And his most penetrating work, The Pauline Eschatology—privately published by the author in 1930. Imagine that—no major publisher interested in a book that revolutionized Pauline Theology for all those who penetrated it—indeed for all those who found Vos's exegesis of the mind of Paul a Copernican revolution. Was Vos marginalized because of his thick Dutch accent and his intricate Germanic style? Was Vos isolated even at Princeton after 1918 because of his sympathies for the German Kaiser during World War I? What did he do to be placed on the periphery; what didn't he do to attain a place in even Princeton's tiny spotlight? Was it too hard to follow his lectures? Was it his distinctive approach to the organic character of revelation? certainly unpopular with students demanding Sunday School level instruction at a Theological Seminary. Was it his fragile health? a metabolism racked easily by fatigue, insomnia, nervousness? Was it his retiring personality? a personality which passed up appointment to Abraham Kuyper's Free University in Amsterdam out of deference to his parents; a personality which rejected William Henry Green's initial pleas to leave the backwater of Grand Rapids and join the faculty of his Princeton alma mater in the critical year before the Briggs heresy trial reached its climax; a personality which saw him rarely invited to speak beyond the chapel of Princeton Seminary; a personality which could not move out of Princeton in 1929, nor out of the Presbyterian Church, U. S. A. in 1936; a personality which led him to board a train in Seattle, Washington in 1926, leaving his wife and children to make their way by car from Seattle to Princeton without him.

It is the thesis of my remarks that the fundamental explanation of Geerhardus Vos lies in the fact that he was a man of two worlds. From his boyhood in Friesland with parents born in Germany; to his adolescent immigration from the Netherlands to the United States; to his seminary education first in Grand Rapids and then in Princeton; to his post-graduate study first in Berlin and then in Strassburg; to his teaching in the Christian Reformed Seminary and then in the Presbyterian Seminary; to his retirement in Santa Ana, California where he attended a Covenanter Church, followed by his transfer to his daughter's home and the Christian Reformed culture of 1940's Grand Rapids, Michigan. In these and so many other ways, Geerhardus Vos lived between two worlds.

He was born in the old world. It was in Heerenveen, Friesland on March 14, 1862 that Aaltje Beuker Vos delivered her firstborn. Reverend Jan H. Vos, pastor of the Christelijke-Gereformeerde Kerk in Heerenveen was the proud father. Geerhardus was the first of four. His brother, Bert John, destined to be a distinguished Professor of German at Johns Hopkins University and Indiana University was born in 1867. And there were two sisters: Anna, also born in Heerenveen in 1864 (she became the wife of a Christian Reformed Church minister); and Gertrude, the baby, born in 1870 (she never married). Jan Vos and his wife were German by birth—natives of Graafschap, Bentheim, Germany. The region was known as Ostfriesland, the northwest corner of Germany, contiguous to the Netherlands. Vos and his wife's brother, Hendericus Beuker, were products of the very tiny Old Reformed Church of Bentheim, Germany. Yet they journeyed to Holland for their theological education; both graduated from the Theological School in Kampen. The Old Reformed Church, stretched between the German and Dutch worlds, was to produce several notable scholars and pastors for the Dutch Christelijke-Gereformeerde Kerk and the American Christian Reformed Church.

Geerhardus Vos was Friese/Dutch by birth to parents who were German by birth. He would master the language of both worlds—Vos was fluent in German and Dutch. But in the years following Geerhardus's birth, these two worlds with these two languages were increasingly in tension. While it would be too much to suggest that Vos's father's numerous short pastorates (six congregations in twenty-three years; not quite four years per charge)—that Vos's father's numerous short pastorates were due to the strain of these German and Dutch worlds, nonetheless there is a family tradition that German nationalism was a factor in the Jan Vos family immigrating to America in 1881. Jan Vos's old world ministerial career (1858-1881) coincided with the meteoric rise of Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Germany. Bismarck's goal was a united Germany—South Germans and Prussians forging a national unit which would broker the destiny of Europe—France over against Russia; Russia against France; Russia and France against Britain. Bismarck's war with Austria (1866); his Franco-Prussian War (1870-71); his Austro-Hungarian pact (1879): every plank in this carefully crafted foreign policy was intended for one goal—to advance German power and influence. When Jan Vos boarded a ship in 1881 with his wife and four children, he was not merely participating in the "Great Century of Immigration"; he was not merely answering the call of the Spring Street Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids; he was not merely reconsidering a call to America he had rejected in 1877. When Jan Vos boarded that boat in 1881, he was hearing the rattling of sabers—German sabers—and he gathered his family and headed for the new world.

Nineteen-year-old Geerhardus came to Grand Rapids fresh out of the Gymnasium of Amsterdam where he had distinguished himself by earning academic honors. In America, Geerhardus once more found himself between two worlds: his father's pietistic German-Dutch background and the emerging Americanization of the immigrant Dutch community. The Curators of the Theological School in Grand Rapids (what we now call Calvin Theological Seminary) proposed Geerhardus as the bridge between the two worlds: he would lecture and preach in both Dutch and English. And so Vos was to be shaped—shaped by his Dutch tradition and shaped by the practical needs of an immigrant community. Two years of theological training in Grand Rapids were followed by two years at Princeton Theological Seminary. The two worlds again: from the pedantic Dutch Reformed Theological School to the academic bastion of Old School Presbyterian orthodoxy, Princeton Seminary. From a small band of pastor-professors with few academic credentials to William Henry Green, Francis Landy Patton, A. A. Hodge, Casper Wistar Hodge. You will note I mentioned two years at Grand Rapids, two years at Princeton. Some of us (rather than saying "equal time" for the Christian Reformed and the Presbyterians), some of us will say—it's not fair! No one should be that brilliant. But in his earliest extant letter dated August 17, 1883, Geerhardus Vos lists his academic accomplishments as sufficient reason for skipping the junior or first year curriculum at Princeton. "I have studied theology" for two years; I have experience in all the branches of Theology offered in the first year of the Princeton curriculum; I have completed Hebrew and I have a diploma certifying my performance. May I be admitted to the middler or second year class? He was admitted; and two years later he justified his own precocity and boldness by writing a book—a book mind you—as competition for the Hebrew fellowship. The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes (written in 1885; published in 1886) included an Introduction by Vos's esteemed Old Testament Professor, William Henry Green. This rather uninspiring defense of the Mosaic provenance of the Pentateuch nonetheless demonstrates Vos's meticulous scholarship as well as his ability to master mountains of liberal-critical opinion.

Hebrew fellowship prize money in hand, Vos now recrossed the Atlantic from the new world to the old in order to pursue doctoral studies at he University of Berlin. Unlike most native Americans, he did not first have to "learn the language." Geerhardus Vos could sit comfortably in classrooms taught by August Dillmann (the great critical Bible commentator), Bernhard Weiss (author of the revolutionary Biblical Theology of the New Testament), Herman Strack (of the justly famous Strack-Billerbeck Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Midrash): Vos could sit in all these classes and soak up the stimulating variety of the latest German critical schools. And he could do it critically—that is, by evaluating all he read and heard against the concrete, supernatural character of the Old and New Testaments.

And yet, Berlin was too big—too diverse—too stressful. So Vos moved west to Strassburg in the fall of 1886. Strassburg, in Germany, but on the French border in Alsasce-Lorraine. Geerhardus now perfected his facility in the French language. And he sat at the feet of the premier liberal critic and reconstructor of the Pauline Theology: H. J. Holtzmann. Holtzmann mesmerized Pauline studies in the late nineteenth century, reducing the apostle's impact to a form of religious idealism—in particular, a form of Hellenistic or Greek religious idealism. Or perhaps it would be better to say that Holtzmann reduces the Pauline Theology to Hellenistic moralism—a religion of Greek ethics. Certainly for Holtzmann, eschatology is not the key to Paul's theology. Paul's religion is but a faint echo of the religion of Jesus so that for Holtzmann the dialectic is the religion of Paul versus the religion of Jesus.

What acute tension must have swirled through the brain of the twenty- four-year-old Dutch student from Grand Rapids. His Reformed piety, his Princeton orthodoxy dismissed as irrelevant to the task of the New Testament Pauline theologian. Vos's two worlds—the orthodox and the critical were in collision and that at firsthand. Would the student capitulate to the charm and applause of the modern scientific approach to Paul; or would he retain his orthodox commitments while retreating to safe "old paths"? Or would he do something completely unforeseen—replace his two worlds with something better? Would Vos begin to understand at Strassburg that the two worlds were not horizontal; No, the two worlds were vertical-horizontal by way of interface and overlap?

At Strassburg, Vos also encountered the premier philosophical encyclopedist of his time—Wilhelm Windelband, whose History of Philosophy remains a standard text. Vos's letters indicate his appreciation for Windelband's scholarship while rejecting his Neo-Kantianism. He attended his lectures eagerly. Yet this Geerhardus Vos is best known to us for his biblical exegesis and biblical theology. How is it that in his Ph. D. program, he spends long hours in lectures on the history of philosophy? Because Vos understood, as few students today understand, that every intellectual movement is undergirded by philosophy. Even Old Testament, New Testament, and Pauline Theology of the late nineteenth century was driven by philosophy. If Holtzmann is a post-Hegelian idealist, Graf-Kuenen-Wellhausen (inventors of the Documentary Hypothesis—the hypothesis that Moses did not write the Pentateuch)—Graf-Kuenen-Wellhausen were evolutionists, reducing the Old Testament to the evolutionary spiral from the primitive to the complex. And that is why when we read Vos, we are reading a man who understands—understands the critics and unmasks their presuppositions by reducing their systems to the horizontal plane, above which no critical approach can rise. And, I may add, Vos unmasks the agenda of conservative systems—even fundamentalistic and broad evangelical moralism—which imitates liberalism by reducing the Biblical text to the horizontal. For modern conservatives, "practical" is a synonym for non-eschatological.

Ironically, Vos's Ph. D. dissertation at Strassburg was not in New Testament, not in Old Testament—it was in Semitics. His advisor—Theodor Nöldeke—was an expert in Arabic and Syriac (significantly, Vos would in fact teach Arabic and Syriac at Princeton Seminary). Vos's dissertation was a brief exercise in textual criticism—Arabic textual criticism—the collation of an Arabic manuscript describing the conflict between two Islamic sects in the Middle Ages. It was written in German, again underscoring his parental ancestral roots as well as his gift with the language.

I must confess to bewilderment about the choice of topic for Vos's Ph. D. It was a "safe" choice; it would engender no controversy in the theological faculty at Strassburg. It would accomplish the goal which the Christian Reformed Synod at Grand Rapids had intended when it gave Vos permission to study in Europe so he could return and teach at the Seminary in Grand Rapids. But permit me to venture an explanation of this unremarkable choice for an unremarkable Ph. D. dissertation. Geerhardus Vos realized that he could not live in the critical world of Holtzmann, Wellhausen, even Dillmann and Weiss. He also realized that the Dutch pietistic world expected predictable things from him on his return to Grand Rapids. The Ph. D. was, for the Curators of the Christian Reformed Synod, only a necessary evil. He had been allowed to go abroad on the condition that he return to Calvin Seminary as the young poster boy. In fact, the Christian Reformed Synod guaranteed his return to the Seminary by appointing him Professor of Theology in the summer of 1886—during his transition from Berlin to Strassburg. Vos's two worlds—academic and pietistic—were again in collision. He chose the easy way out—a noncontroversial Ph. D. topic. Get the degree and go home, as expected.

In partial support of my suggestion that the Ph. D. topic was the easy way out, let me review the famous incident of the spring of 1886; the incident in which Vos, while still in Berlin, encountered Abraham Kuyper for the first time. Kuyper had launched the Free University of Amsterdam in 1880 in order to counter the meddling of a secular state and the liberalism of the church in Calvinistic higher education. Six years later, Kuyper needed a Professor of Old Testament Theology and he contacted Vos in Berlin. Vos's letters to Kuyper (May, June, October 1886), reveal the fragile state of his health (he confesses to a nervous condition which makes it very difficult for him to travel), his esteem for Kuyper and his University, and his affection for his parents and their wishes. The fundamental reason Vos gives for declining Kuyper's invitation to teach at the Free University is the wish of his parents that he return to Grand Rapids and the new world. I detect here an underscoring of his father's desire to quit the old world with its uncertainties. I do not detect here any latent hostility to Kuyper and his theology. And finally I detect here resignation—a resignation on Geerhardus's part to the path of duty—parental, institutional, new world. Geerhardus Vos went to Strassburg in the fall of 1886 because he could not go to Amsterdam—he was on his way home to Grand Rapids. And the Ph. D. was the academic means to that end.

Vos would later remark that he regretted the decision not to join Kuyper and the faculty at the Free. But God knew! God knew that Geerhardus Vos would have been a very different man if he had become part of Kuyper's political-ecclesiastical movement. And so God sent Geerhardus Vos to that backwater Grand Rapids in preparation for his real work—the supreme, Reformed, Biblical Theologian of the English-speaking world. Indeed, where would we be if all Vos's articles and books were in Dutch!

The homecoming occurred in the summer of 1888. Doctoral degree in hand, Geerhardus Vos left the old world for the second time—for the second and last time; Geerhardus Vos left the old world for the last time and came home to Grand Rapids. As Professor of Didactic and Exegetical Theology, he was expected to lecture 22-25 hours per week, prepare his own syllabi in Philosophy, Dogmatics, Systematics and non-Christian religions. There are some who believe he even wrote a Greek Grammar (I remain dubious about this identification because the handwritten copy of that Grammar in the Calvin archive does not appear to me to be in Vos's hand.) Now as if all this were not enough, Vos was also expected to preach in English in Grand Rapids Christian Reformed churches. You see, he was regarded as the keystone in the emerging Americanization of the Dutch community. The immigrant church was blending with the culture and language was the first step to bridging the division between the Dutch-speaking and English-speaking worlds. The Christian Reformed Church was in transition from 1885 to 1912—she was seeking increasing accommodation with her environment. Geerhardus Vos was once again caught—caught between two worlds: the world of his pietistic roots and the emerging American world (indeed, the emerging American Dutch world) full of Manifest Destiny. Only the nationalism of American Manifest Destiny in the minds of Kuyperian Calvinists became imposition—imposition of Calvinism upon the burgeoning American culture. Vos was caught in a polarization which increasingly emphasized world-view over the text of the Bible. Once more, his two worlds in constant tension.

That tension erupted in 1891. Like Abraham Kuyper, Vos was a supralapsarian—at least during his years as Professor of Reformed Dogmatics at Grand Rapids. Unlike Kuyper, Vos was more moderate in his supralapsarian expressions. But a significant element in the Dutch community viewed the Canons of Dort as distinctively and uncompromisingly infralapsarian. Vos was caught in the controversy which boiled over to the pages of the Grand Rapids newspapers. I should note that Vos may have been lulled into this debate by his Princeton Seminary education. By that I mean, old Princeton was tolerant on the matter of the ordo salutis (order of the decrees in the plan of salvation). Vos's Princeton Professor of Systematics, A. A. Hodge, admitted that supralapsarianism was the most logical approach, but Hodge went on to reject it as out of accord with God's justice. But A. A. Hodge, as his father Charles Hodge before him, argued that the Westminster Standards did not exclude supralapsarians—indeed, the original moderator of the Westminster Assembly, William Twisse, was a supralapsarian, as was Calvin's successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza. But Vos's very tepid endorsement of supralapsarian- ism unleashed a firestorm of discussion. L. J. Hulst, editor of De Wachter, was particularly vehement in his defense of Dort and his suggestion that the young professor at the denomination's seminary was "troubling Israel."

Vos wrote to Kuyper at Amsterdam and B. B. Warfield at Princeton seeking advice and information. From Kuyper, he requested detailed clarification and elaboration of the views of many of the fathers at the Synod of Dort (1618-19). To Warfield, he registered his disagreements with some of Kuyper's views and requested books and information on the covenant theology of the English Reformers and the members of the Westminster Assembly. The "useless bickering" (as Vos called it) was revealing the insular character of the Dutch community in Grand Rapids. In February 1891, Vos wrote, "There is very little theological development in our little church." In June, he wrote "a lack of historical sense and historical denial can lead to dangerous things." And then he adds, "Lately I have more and more come to the conclusion that in the long run I do not want to stay in my present position." Three years after returning to his new world home, Vos regards himself as a stranger and an alien in Grand Rapids. By 1891, Vos has been forced by circumstances to come to grips with the narrow, provincial character of his ecclesiastical environment.

But when the opportunity to escape arrives, he demurs. When William Henry Green pleads with him to accept the newly created chair of Biblical Theology at Princeton Seminary, Vos declines. Why? Why, when Green's appeal of March 1892 was so eloquent—an appeal in which he uses the pertinent analogy of dikes in Holland akin to the banks of the Mississippi and the one engineer who is needed to stop the overflowing flood of devastating rationalism? Why does Vos refuse to stop the floodwaters of destruction? I believe the hold of the old world was still too strong—whether from duty, loyalty, humility, reticence—whatever; Vos could not break away from his parents and the culture of his Dutch Grand Rapids world.

But William Henry Green persisted. Green saw more than Vos saw. He saw the man exceptionally qualified and capable, conversant in the languages of the critical discussions, exposed to liberal criticism firsthand, committed to Biblical supernaturalism and Reformed orthodoxy. And he saw the theological scene as a veteran of the struggles for orthodoxy in the declining American religious world. He saw the powerful and deleterious influence of Charles Augustus Briggs at Union Theological Seminary, New York. He saw the emerging reductionism of American Protestant Christianity to the fatherhood of God and the social brotherhood of man. He knew of the demands for revision of the Westminster Standards in his own beloved PCUSA. Green saw the downward spiral of a broadening Protestantism all around him and he begged Geerhardus Vos to join the Princeton faculty in stemming the tide.

Green's persistence was rewarded. By February of 1883, Vos relented and agreed to move to New Jersey in the middle of September in order to take up his duties as the first Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Abraham Kuyper rejoiced! He said Vos's decision to move to Princeton enabled him to avoid "academic suicide." Vos himself acknowledged that he left behind the factions within his own Dutch culture. The old world of Grand Rapids was behind him; the new, exciting world of Princeton was before him.

Geerhardus Vos poured himself into that world. The classroom was his podium and his energies were devoted to communicating the rich content of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Oh, he preached occasionally—mostly in the chapel of the Seminary on Sunday afternoons; rarely in the PCUSA churches in Princeton or Philadelphia. You know those extant sermons; the book Grace and Glory published with six messages during his lifetime; the definitive edition published in 1994 with ten additional sermons, most of which were uncovered by me from his personal sermon notebook in 1975. But it was teaching which dominated his life from 1893—teaching Old and New Testament Biblical Theology, Old Testament Eschatology, The Pauline Eschatology, Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Eighth Century B.C. Prophets, Messianic Consciousness of Jesus, Discourses of Peter in Acts, Gospel of John, Arabic, Syriac. You will recognize some of these courses in the titles of his books.

His first year at Princeton was a whirl of activity. He took up bachelor residence in Hodge Hall and began teaching classes at the end of September 1893. On April 24, 1894, he was ordained an Evangelist by the Presbytery of New Brunswick, PCUSA. Two weeks later, May 8, 1894, he delivered his famous inaugural address ("The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and a Theological Discipline") to a full house at the First Presbyterian Church, Princeton. It was this congregation that Vos and his family would attend throughout their Princeton years. On September 7, 1894, he married Catherine Frances Smith of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her world changed for she had been raised a Congregationalist. He and his new bride settled at number 52, Mercer Street, on the campus of the Seminary, in a spacious house provided for Seminary professors. B. B. Warfield's home was not far away and Vos and Warfield walked about the campus almost daily. The Systematician and the Biblical Theologian—best of friends!

After that first eventful year, matters settled to a routine. Preparation and teaching of classes, occasional preaching in the Seminary chapel, writing books and articles, summers in the mountains of north-central Pennsylvania. And there were children. Deja vu—as he was one of four, so he fathered four. Johannes born in 1903 who would become Professor of Bible at Geneva College, Beaver Falls, Philadelphia (my and my two brothers's college Bible teacher); Bernardus born in 1905; Marianne, born in 1906, destined to write several noteworthy children's books; and Geerhardus, Jr., born in 1911.

And it was in that routine world—that routine between two worlds—the academic world of Princeton; the sylvan world of Roaring Branch—it was in that routine world that Geerhardus Vos perceived two other worlds—two very different worlds—two worlds which made his pilgrimage not routine, not ordinary, not humdrum, but semi-eschatological. The summers in that huge house in Roaring Branch, surrounded by his wife, his family and in his study his books, journals and papers—those summers were where the juices flowed—where Geerhardus Vos's creative, penetrating juices flowed. Here in this quiet mountain setting, his body had rest, his mind had rest, his soul had rest to work on the Word—on Paul and Hebrews and the Kingdom and Schweitzer and Boussett and Gressmann. In that peaceful mountain village, Geerhardus Vos penetrated the Word of God as few before or after him have done. I am convinced that the burial of Geerhardus and Catherine Vos in that tiny cemetery a few steps from the site of their summer house—I am convinced that their mortal remains beneath that Pennsylvania sod is exegetical. Not Grand Rapids, not Princeton, not Santa Ana—Roaring Branch! That is the spot he loved above all on earth; for that is the spot where the tension between the two worlds—the two disparate worlds of old Europe/new America, old Grand Rapids/new Princeton, old Dutch provincialism/new Presbyterian cosmopolitanism—Roaring Branch is the place where the two disparate worlds were transcended—transcended by God's own worlds—the present world and the world to come. I am convinced that the remarkable diagram on page 38 of The Pauline Eschatology—that diagram which lays out the overlapping relationship between the present age and the age to come—the diagram of that semi-eschatological world in which Paul lived, in which the church lives, in which Vos lived, in which you and I live—that diagram would never have been sketched were it not for Roaring Branch. Why did Vos stop his theological writing after his retirement in 1932? Because he was never to return to Roaring Branch after the summer of 1932—never to return until his body was laid to rest beside the body of his wife on August 17, 1949. Why is it that only poetry comes from his pen after his retirement in 1932? Because he didn't need his books, his journals, his papers in his Roaring Branch study to write the poems. He only needed his memory, his senses, his profound expression. Why did Vos leave the preparation of several of his books to his son Johannes Geerhardus after 1932? Because much of his preparation for—if not his actual—writing was done in the study of that summer house in the mountains of Pennsylvania. It is at Roaring Branch that the world to come possesses Vos even as the Christ who possessed Geerhardus Vos wrought most powerfully, most effectively upon his mind and heart in that tiny mountain village. Worship each Sunday in the lone Methodist Church in town? It could never preclude what Vos already apprehended. Divisions over J. Gresham Machen and the reorganization of Princeton Seminary in 1929? They could never destroy what Vos had grasped—what he, by his own testimony in his letter of condolence to Machen's brother written four days after Machen's death in Bismarck, North Dakota on January 1, 1937; what he by his own testimony had taught his student and colleague—that this world has been overlaid by the world of the resurrected Christ and that no one who believes in him—no one will ever be put to shame. Divisions over denominational politics—over Machen's suspension (which Vos formally protested in writing before the Presbytery of New Brunswick), over the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church? over the ugly-head of fundamentalism ever divisive, ever intolerant, ever tyrannical—Vos was content to belong to a world in which the "already" was supplemented by the "not yet."

The body of Geerhardus Vos returned to Roaring Branch for the last time on that August day in 1949. Two Dutchmen who remembered were there—but no one else was there. No one from his own denomination; no one from the institution he had served for thirty-nine years; no one from Grand Rapids. Geerhardus Vos at last no longer belonged to two worlds. He had been joined in glory to his Risen Savior—joined to Jesus in that never-ending world. Geerhardus Vos had come home at last—to his beloved eschaton!

Escondido, California


1 comment:

  1. Considering that it was Geerhardus Vos who convinced Abraham Kuyper to do the Stone Lectures at Princeton in 1998 it's ironic to read how 'Vos was caught in a polarization which increasingly emphasized world-view over the text of the Bible'.

    ReplyDelete

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