Vos Group #45 — Excursus: Reformed Dogmatics

Vos Group takes an excursus to discuss Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics. In this series, like all of his works, Vos presents the “deeper Protestant conception” of covenantal union and communion with the Triune God. We discuss how the immutable Creator does not change in the freely willed “new relation” to creation—only creation does, and that the Roman Catholic view of the image cannot deliver the “essence” of religion, which is communion with God.


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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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Greg Mead

2 years ago

As of 4/13, each of these volumes is on sale as Kindle books at $6 each. It might not be ideal for some but it is still an excellent deal. Thanks for your work and precision on this and so many other things! God Bless!

Camden Bucey

2 years ago

Thanks for the notice. That’s great, and I hope this will help more people get into this series. Each one is a gem.

Tyler Cowden

2 years ago

Dr. Tipton (and anyone else who would like to respond),

I really enjoyed the episode, and look forward to the day when I can read through more of Vos’ work directly (currently working through Bavinck’s RDs). I did have one question for you, though, based on the episode and on some comments in your review article. When you write,

“Thus, the absolute God remains absolute both behind (ad intra) and in (ad extra) the ‘new relation’ brought to pass by God’s free act of creation. This is the substance of what we term a logical, but not real, change in the God-world relation” …


“God freely wills a ‘new relation’ that introduces no change in God as he wills that ‘new relation.’
Hence, while not introducing change in God, either ad intra or ad extra, the absolute God freely wills
a bona fide ‘new relation’ in the act of creation, yet undergoes no change himself.” …

1) Could you unpack a little more of what you mean by this “logical, but not real” distinction, in terms of a change in the God-world relation?
2) If we deny any real “ad extra” change, how do we ensure our covenant-theological predication, in terms of the dynamic changes of redemptive history, do not become merely equivocal, but remain *meaningfully* anthropomorphic/analogical descriptions? Should we just focus on speaking of changes in *relations* rather any changes “in God” in ANY sense–and if so, (back to the first question) in what sense are they not “real?”

Thanks and God bless!

Lane G Tipton

2 years ago

Excellent question! I am going to seek to clarify this issue myself in a forthcoming volume, published with Reformed Forum, hopefully by the early fall.

But, to preview that discussion, let me turn you to Bavinck and Van Til on the same issue from Vos’ RD that we addressed in the episode.

Bavinck says “Scripture necessarily speaks of God in anthropomorphic language. Yet, however anthropomorphic its language, it at the same time prohibits us from positing any change in God himself. There is change around, about, and outside of him, and there is change in people’s relations to him, but there is no change in God himself” (RD 2, 158).

Van Til, quoting Bavinck, strenuously denies that “God changed when he actually created the world and when, in the person of the Son, he became flesh. Bavinck insists, and rightly so, that all these efforts are foredoomed to failure. The Scriptures speak anthropomorphically of God, and could not do otherwise, but for all that, God, in himself, is immutable. “There is change round about him; there is change in the relation of things to him; but there is no change in God himself” (Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology, 211).

I will try to expand on this within a few months myself. However, we should all keep reading Vos, Bavinck and Van Til for the answer to that very good question!

Tyler Cowden

2 years ago

Thank you for your response! I appreciate it, and will look for that coming work. To be forthright, I have been very sympathetic with your good colleague, Dr. Oliphint’s, formulations in this area, and am not sure that they cannot withstand some of the critiques that have been leveled at them. In other words, I’m not sure they’re inconsistent at all with the concerns spoken of above with regard to God’s immutable absoluteness, etc. My hope is that in the near future, possibly through some fresh articulations/nuancing on Dr. Oliphint’s part (e.g. maybe not using “attributes” in the way he has chosen to previously in RFF/GWU, maybe not using “created” or “covenantal” in the *exact* same way as before), and through willingness on the more bare “traditionalists'” part to admit that they have not in fact always carefully avoided equivocism in their interpretation of various biblical passages, the doctrine of God debate (which I’m glad has been freshly ongoing lately) can reach a new height of insight and biblical balance and nuance. I have also enjoyed reading some of Dr. Poythress’ work lately (looking forward to receiving the ‘Theophany’ book), and found utterly profound some of his comments in ‘God-Centered Biblical Interpretation’ regarding the “divine ectype” of the Logos’ work of ruling the created order in the particular ways in which He has chosen to do so. Looking forward to the Church’s continual growth in the knowledge of the Son (Eph. 4)! Thanks again.

Ibrian Caramidaru

2 years ago

I wonder if Dr. Oliphint listened to this episode? I am so called that RF, through the teaching so masterfully delivered by Dr. Tipton, is on track with classical theism when it comes to the relationship between God and the world!


2 years ago

I do want to note publicly how deeply I appreciate Dr. Oliphint’s useful critique of Aquinas in his recently published book with P&R. He shows himself in that work to be a pursuer of “the deeper Protestant conception” in his proper opposition to Aquinas. Given the radical defects of historic Roman catholic theology of creation and sin, I find it hard to fathom how a reformed theologian would disagree with his expressed concerns.

I also look forward to his revision of God With Us.

Stephen Smith

2 years ago

In Richard Muller’s comments in the Eeerdmans edition of Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, he states that one problem with Vos’ (and others) Reformed Dogmatics is that they do not contain a prolegomena and this has caused an unfortunate distortion in Reformed Theology. Do you think Bavincks Reformed Dogmatics has an important correction here? [This of course is not to deny the important contribution Vos made to Reformed theology. I look forward to reading his Reformed Dogmatics soon.]

Andrzej Stelmasiak

11 months ago

That is why I have put Van Til’s’ Introduction to Systematic Theology’ next to my Vos RD set. I know that it is not the same but I guess that’s the best thing we can have for now – unless they’ll discover some forgotten notes of Vos on the subject in Dutch.



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