The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology, by Geerhardus Vos ★★★
This book was read by me on a Kindle device. I had read a concise treatise on Covenant Theology by JI Packer, and was hoping that Vos would offer more illumination. Vos actually muddied the waters. The strength of this short volume is how Vos elaborates on the history of Covenant Theology, beginning with Calvin, but focusing on the Heidelburg theologians Ursinus and Olivianus, and then moving on to Coccieus, and others in that time period. He spends much time distinguishing Reformed Theology from Lutheran Theology, suggesting that Lutheran theology starts from man as its foundation and works up, whereas Reformed Theology begins with God and works down. I felt that much of this argument was artificial and that contemporary Lutheran theologians would probably take issue with this. Vos labors much to identify the covenant of works that precedes the covenant of grace; thus, the book’s title should have been “Doctrine of the Covenants…” rather than the singular for covenant. Vos ends with a discussion of how the doctrine of covenants affects the position of paedobaptism.
The historical aspects of the book were interesting. His arguments for covenant theology were poor. His leaning toward supralapsarianism becomes quite plain. His intolerance for theological fine points that vary from his is remarkable. He does not present any Scripture argument for his position; I don’t believe I saw a single quoted Scripture verse. He is replete at quoting the voice of historical theologians, a strange approach for a man steeped in the sola Scriptura tradition.
So, I started reading the book with enthusiasm and ended with disappointment. Vos’s writing style is muddy. Most phrases needed to be re-read, even when he was stating simple theological premises. For this reason, I do not recommend this book to others. I’ve found that reading Vos is ponderous and thus left to theologically constipated folk. I welcome recommendations for a better text on this topic. Perhaps a recent book on the covenants by Michael Horton would be in order?
My favorite expression…”theologically constipated ” read Voss a couple of decades ago. You put aptly in words I couldn’t articulate. Thanks for your review brother.
Hey, Brinsmead and Paxton’s Present Truth magazine and books in the 1970s did a good job of presenting the basic doctrines, and with compelling motivation.
I have on my bookshelf a few other Systematic Theology books of stodgy theologians. Add to Vos the one by Louis Berkhof. Augustus Strong is only somewhat better, but Wolfhart Pannenberg is actually interesting to read.
At a more profound level beyond theology as such is the historical foundation of Christianity, illuminated in the books by E. Raymond Capt, Steven Collins, W.H. Bennett, George F. Jowett, Frederick Haberman, Adam Rutherford, Elizabeth Hill Elder, and others, all providing the ignored or forgotten facts that tie the history of the early church to the biblical accounts or those of the patriarchs and destiny of the Israelites.