The Real Issue at Westminster Theological Seminary

Dr. Richard Gaffin has written a knock-out piece describing what is at stake in the recent retirement of Professor Doug Green at WTS (hat tip Nick Batzig).

Now, I have known for a long time that there were two different appraisals of Vos’s contribution to biblical theology. One version says that the Old Testament needs to be read first as if no New Testament existed (the so-called first reading). Only then is it followed by a second reading that takes the New Testament into account. This second reading is usually compared to Second Temple Jewish readings of the Old Testament that are in most ways “surprise” endings to the story. This is called the “Christotelic” hermeneutic. I firmly believe that the Christotelic version actually distorts Vos. One way to ask the question is this: are there any dead ends in the Old Testament? Is there any passage that does not speak of Christ?

The answer is that there are no dead ends. John 5 and Luke 24 prove this. We do not mean by this that Jesus is the antitype of every single element in the Old Testament. Rather, we mean that Jesus is the culmination of the entire story, and that the entire story progresses to Jesus. This involves the correct balance between ultimate truth and progressive development. The true reading of Vos involves an organic inter-related holistic approach to biblical interpretation, where Jesus is the natural outworking of the progressive nature of the Old Testament development.

However, I realized only recently that I still had some remaining shackles of the Christotelic interpretation, as I had until recently still thought of the “2 readings” of the Old Testament as valid. “Christocentric” is ultimately a better word for the true Vossian version of biblical theology than “Christotelic.” Read the article. You will be glad you did. The reports of the death of biblical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary have been greatly exaggerated.

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27 Comments

  1. July 1, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    link does not work :-(

  2. Richard said,

    July 1, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    The article is wonderfully written and well argued.

  3. Andrew Duggan said,

    July 1, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    wrfnet.org is having a problem, You can get it at the Google Cache.

  4. Bob S said,

    July 1, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Try the Aquila Report here.

    One of the money quotes/division of the issue:

    To seek to interpret the various Old Testament documents for themselves and apart from the vantage point of the New exposes one ultimately to misinterpreting them. The Old Testament is to be read in the light of the New not only because Jesus and the New Testament writers read it this way, but also because Jesus and the New Testament writers are clear about the continuity in intention and meaning that exists between themselves and the various Old Testament authors and what those authors wrote in their own time and place.

  5. Reed Here said,

    July 1, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Wondered if you’d pick up this Lane. Good stuff.

  6. tominaz said,

    July 1, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    A great article; sets the record straight.
    WTS – ’73

  7. Mark G said,

    July 1, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    “two different appraisals of Vos’s contribution to biblical theology”

    Maybe I am misunderstanding you. Although “Christotelic” and “Christocentric” (or “Christomorphic”) may represent different approaches to Biblical Theology, I’ve never considered them to be two approaches to Vos. Whereas reading the OT for author intent is top priority for Christotelism Vos Scripture as divine revelation is primary for Vos. A couple articles by Green that I read used a grammatical-historical/authorial intent first reading followed by a Christotelic second reading, more along the lines of Dan McCartney. I have a hard time seeing in what way this was Vosian.

    Gaffin’s point, I thought, was to show that Green’s hermeneutic is contrary to Vos.

    Goldsworthy and Vaughn Roberts are closer to Vos, although not covenantally oriented.

  8. July 1, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Bob S. (#4): That paragraph you quoted also provides the basic explanation as to why dispensationalism is such a completely wrong-headed way to interpret the Scriptures.

  9. greenbaggins said,

    July 1, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    I’m not sure why the link won’t work. It just worked for me.

    Mark, I am only using the idea of “Christotelic” as being an interpretation of Vos because its advocates do. I agree that Christotelic hermeneutics is contrary to the real Vos. But many are laboring under the impression that it is Vossian.

  10. Bob S said,

    July 2, 2014 at 2:18 am

    Clair Davis responds here.

    Dunno. Seems to me that the charge to teach the whole counsel of God in Acts 20:27 means systematic theology trumps biblical theology. We who live in the fullness of time and after the close of canon have no excuse to shirk the full mind of Christ 1 Cor. 2:16 in God.
    Does that mean systematics trumps Scripture? Hardly, but maybe we’re missing something in all this.

  11. Nathanael Johnston said,

    July 2, 2014 at 6:23 am

    So, if the only real contention is that Green and Fantuzzo differ from Vos then why were they shown the door? Is Vos the only true interprer of Scripture? Is Vos’s work a part of the Westminster Confession? Is WTS no longer able to tolerate any differences at all? And have you read Green’s article on Psalm 23? Because it’s amazing.

  12. Nathanael Johnston said,

    July 2, 2014 at 6:56 am

    The best analysis of the situation at WTS is still this piece by Dr. Evans: http://theecclesialcalvinist.wordpress.com

  13. Mark G said,

    July 2, 2014 at 8:34 am

    Bob S.

    Per Vos one cannot have ST without BT or BT without ST. It is true that ST considers revelation as a final product but one cannot properly do ST divorced from the fact that revelation first of all has a divine source and second is redemptive-historically progressive. Reformed theology is covenantal which is basically BT in a Vossian sense. For example, Barcellos makes a good argument that Vos’ formal development of BT is grounded in the Puritans (in “Reformed Family Tree”), especially using John Owen as an anchor.

    For Vos, the question of which is more important, BT or ST, am I a BT or an ST guy? is not even a valid question.

    Of course you’re free to disagree with Vos, but just sayin’.

  14. Mark G said,

    July 2, 2014 at 8:38 am

    By the way, just to add … Driving a sharp wedge between BT and ST harkens back to the critical scholars of the late 18th century such as Johann Gabler. That is one of the factors Vos aimed to correct in his formalization of Reformed BT.

  15. greenbaggins said,

    July 2, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Nathaniel, thanks for commenting. I, however, cannot go along with Bill Evans’s take on things. For my reasoning, see my latest post in response to Clair Davis.

  16. greenbaggins said,

    July 2, 2014 at 8:51 am

    To be more specific, WTS’s faculty believe, along with the board, that Green’s method is at odds with the Bible, and with the Westminster Standards. Your questions about Vos being the only interpreter of Scripture are not apropos. Vos is mentioned because the two readings guys believe that they are the true inheritors of Vossian tradition. WTS argues that they are not, but are rather distorting Vos.

    You say “any differences at all,” which is quite the extension of what WTS is saying. There are differences among the faculty (take the length of creation days as an example). It sounds like you think the issue of two readings is an unimportant issue. I beg to differ. The unity of the covenant of grace, and the validity of Jesus’ own words in John 5 and Luke 24 are at issue.

  17. Mark G said,

    July 2, 2014 at 9:57 am

    In my thinking it’s not ultimately about Vos or not Vos, it’s about the nature of Scripture, revelation, and the relationship between the OT and NT. How this is viewed affects one’s method and one’s methods say something about how these issues are viewed. The school has the additional concern of what message it sends to students and how it trains them as interpreters of the Bible. Do they want the professors speaking with multiple conflicting voices or with basically one voice. What has the priority (starting point); is the Bible (e.g., OT) primarily a human document or a divine document? That’s not a small matter.

  18. July 2, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Is the issue (or a large part of it) whether or not the OT is messianic on its own terms or that it becomes so through the hermeneutical lens of 2nd Temple Judaism as utilized by Christ and the Apostles? I realize it’s probably not that simple. It seems to me that both our Lord and His Apostles viewed the OT as a messianic document on its own terms (e.g., Luke 24; John 5; 1 Pet. 1; etc.). Also, it seems to me (and I am no expert on this) that some of the hermeneutical moves of 2nd Temple Judaism were not novel to them but grounded in the way the OT authors utilized antecedent texts, concepts, and themes. All that to say I think it best to view the interpretive method of Jesus and the NT writers as predating them and 2nd Temple Judaism.

  19. July 2, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    One more thought. I think this issue is related to the concept of Christ as the scope/target of Scripture found in the Confession and in the writings of the 17th (and 16th)-century men. I am pretty sure these men would say that Christ did not become the scope until recognized as such in the NT. If this be the case, then the NT does not reinterpret the OT in light of Christ; it interprets Christ in light of the OT. One example of this can be found in John 2 (…then the disciples remembered…). Another can be found in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 and his use of Psalm 16. David was a prophet who spoke of the resurrection of the Christ. That did not become the case once interpreted as such. Peter was a theologian, interpreting the recent events of his day in light of what God had already revealed. The NT is the record and the divine interpretation of the sufferings and glory of the messiah as promised in the OT, drawing out relevant implications for the church of the inaugurated new covenant era.

  20. Mark G said,

    July 2, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    richbarcellos

    I’ve really appreciated your book drawing connections between the BT of Vos and John Owen; “The Family Tree of Reformed Biblical Theology: Geerhardus Vos and John Owen” Great stuff.

  21. July 2, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Mark G, thanks for the appreciative words. I know this much about the book for sure…it has a nice cover. :-)

  22. Mark G said,

    July 2, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    richbarcellos

    Yes, very nice cover. I think it is a good solid contribution to Reformed BT of Vos. When I first got interested it appeared to have just dropped out of the sky or as only a reworking of critical scholarship. I then read Jonathan Edwards’ “East of Eden” and thought that seemed awfully BT for being a couple hundred years before Vos. However, it seems as so often is the case that much of what Vos did was formally develop what was already in his tradition. I haven’t finished it yet, but I think your book demonstrates that well.

  23. Mark G said,

    July 2, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    … I should clarify … “got interested in it where “it” is Reformed BT

  24. July 2, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    Dr. Fesko has a helpful piece on the antiquity of BT in the book in honor of Dr. Gaffin. He argues that BT is as old as the authors of the canonical Hebrew Scriptures. :-)

  25. Dave Sarafolean said,

    July 2, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Lane,

    As a non-Westminster graduate whose exposure to Vos was somewhat limited, I confess that I am sorting out a lot related to biblical theology.
    I am intrigued by your statement:

    “However, I realized only recently that I still had some remaining shackles of the Christotelic interpretation, as I had until recently still thought of the “2 readings” of the Old Testament as valid.”

    Could you flesh that out a bit for me? If you don’t wish to do that here send me a private message.

  26. Bob S said,

    July 2, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    13 Mark G

    I don’t have a problem with BT or exegesis or whatever. But at the end of the day you end up with ST. The Word of God cannot be broken, it is coherent and we need to confess what our exegesis and BT leads up to. That’s all I’m saying.

    Further more if Scripture commands us to preach and teach sound doctrine, then we’re obligated to do more than just parrot Scripture, with or without any understanding.

    Neither are you saying, if I understand you, that BT trumps ST, but incidentally there are some these days, who pretty much pooh pooh ST entirely because it is the fruit of “Enlightenment rationalism”, i.e. the Federal Version of reformed theology.
    And we doesn’t want to go there atall, thank you very much.

    cheers

  27. Mark G said,

    July 2, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    26 Bob S

    I don’t think I have any significant issues with what you say. I certainly agree that it is a mistake to pooh pooh ST because of critical scholars. I would not even necessarily object to doctrinal/topical preaching unless that was exclusive. However, I have seen sermons (and commentaries), especially on the OT that could have benefitted greatly by drawing connections to Christ, the gospel, and NT teaching. Moralizing is an extreme example of this, i.e., jumping from the OT to the practicalities of modern living with no NT gospel context. There can be a tendency in BT preaching to help people see how the gospel applies.

    Much of 18th century development in BT was carried out by critical scholars. I think Vos’ development of Reformed BT is a response to critical scholarship. I don’t think it is valid to reject either Reformed BT or ST because critical scholars do BT & ST. I mean really, Barth is considered to be Reformed, and Barthians have claimed Reformed in the WCF sense is against Calvinism.


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