Lane Tipton delivers the first plenary address at the Reformed Forum 2018 Theology Conference at Hope Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Grayslake, Illinois.
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Participants: Lane G. Tipton
We continue our #VosGroup series in pages 191–194 of Vos’ book Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments to consider the biblical conception of prophetism. Vos beings by considering critical theories of prophetism based on the term “prophet.” Vos instructs us that all quests for seeking the conception of the prophet in etymology, rather in the teaching of the text, the meaning and function of Nabi (the Hebrew word for prophet) in the biblical text, are fraught with uncertainty and speculation. (more…)
We discuss how a return to sola scriptura through confessional Reformed theology spares us from the errors of Roman Catholicism and modernism.
Reformed covenant theology, broadly considered, is facing a crisis regarding what constitutes “reformed” theology. The situation currently is one of chaos and confusion. Some claim that the way forward is by way of retrieving the theology of Thomas Aquinas, the angelic doctor of the Roman Catholic church, in the service of a so-called “Reformed” apologetic. The line of this argument is that if you follow the Roman Catholic theology and method of Aquinas, you will arrive at Protestant conclusions. Others enlist Aquinas in conversation with the likes of John Webster and Karl Barth, in the interest of retrieving “catholic” tradition in the development of a reformed theological identity. Still others, outside of our reformed circles, are engaged in ecumenical dialogue between Thomas and Barth (Bruce McCormack and Thomas Joseph White’s Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth: An Unofficial Dialogue, or Keith Johnson’s Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis, which helpfully to my mind points out the significant points of convergence between the two theologians).
It is very much worth pointing out that Van Til virtually predicted this in advance in his sadly neglected but highly important work Confession of 1967, where he says, “If now we live in a dialogical age and if only the church as ecumenical can meet the needs of such an age, then surely the Roman Catholic too must learn to see this fact. As Martin Marty says, “If Protestants and Roman Catholics wish to make possible a creative coexistence, to enrich our pluralistic society, and to profit from each other’s separate histories, they will have to participate in dialogue.…” And what does such “dialogue” look like? Again, Van Til says, “It was Hans Urs von Balthasar who, more than anyone else, has helped Barth to see that Roman Catholicism also begins its theology from the Christ-Event. Roman Catholicism, says von Balthasar, does not believe in direct revelation any more than does Barth. To be sure, Rome does speak of “faith and works,” of “nature and grace,” of “reason and revelation.” But this “and” is not, as Barth thinks, fatal to the idea of the primacy of Christ and of faith in Christ. The whole discussion between Barth and the Roman Catholic position may therefore start from the idea that revelation is revelation in hiddenness. ”The difference between Barth and Roman Catholicism will therefore be not of principle but of degree” (Confession, 119).
We continue our #VosGroup series in pages 187–190 of Vos’ book Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments to consider the word of God and prophetism. Prophetism is restricted to the word as its instrument. The prophetic ministry was a declarative, spiritual authority of one who speaks and writes in the words of Jehovah himself. There is the closest possible connection, then, between the prophetic office and the declaration of the Word of the Lord, as that Word is given by the superintending agency of the Spirit, who breathes out the prophetic Scriptures (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10–11; 2 Tim. 3:16). The effect of being restricted to the ministry of the Word of God was a heightening of the “spiritualizing” relation between Jehovah and Israel.
We continue our #VosGroup series in pages 185–188 of Vos’ book Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments to consider the unfolding of God’s plan as it moves from the period under Moses to that of the prophets. Prophetism marks an epochal movement in OT revelation. In other words, the “new happenings” of God’s mighty deeds in redemptive revelation bring enduring advancement toward consummation—each epoch builds upon and brings advancement to what has proceeded.
The new feature is “the organization of the theocratic kingdom under a human ruler” (185). God is seeking to confer himself on a holy people through a holy king in a holy theocratic realm. As such, Prophetism is a “Kingdom-Producing Movement (186–187). This is a critical point to grasp: prophetism is attached to the advancement of the theocratic kingdom. Prophetism therefore has no independent significance. Its entire rationale grows out of the producing and advancement of the theocratic kingdom of Jehovah.
This comes into even greater clarity as we recognize that the Word is the instrument of Prophetism (187–88). The essence, formally, of prophetism is that it “restricts” itself to the Word of God—the Word from the mouth of Jehovah. The Word of God “in reality did more than anything else towards the spiritualizing of the relation between Jehovah and Israel” (187).
We continue our #VosGroup series in pages 175–182 of Vos’ book Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments to consider ancestor worship and animism before moving to a summary of Part I of the entire book and specifically, revelation during the period of Moses.
The movement from the Abrahamic to the Mosaic is a movement from lesser to greater directness of access to God. This “greater access” appears especially when we consider what Vos called the “typical proportions” that Moses acquires in an “unusual degree” of Moses. And Exodus 32–34 is key in this regard. Not only does Moses offer himself vicariously to make atonement for sin (Ex. 32:30–33), illustrating the Melchizedekian priesthood of Christ, but he gains access to God in an unprecedented way.
God promises Moses “the divine presence and rest” in the land (33:12–14). God speaks to Moses “face-to-face (33:11)” in the tent of meeting and shows Moses his “glory” as he hides him in the cleft of the rock and declares his name (33:14–20). What Abraham saw in the form of a smoking firepot and a blazing torch, Moses sees in fellowship on a mountain—a mountain that looks back to the mountain of Eden and upward and forward to Mount Zion.
The essence of the covenant bond—the secret of God’s friendship—is with Moses in a unique way, as a sort of first-fruits in the Old Covenant. Moses sees God, knows God, fellowships with God. In fact, Exodus 34:27ff. Moses is on the mountain with God for 40 days and nights without food or water and his transformed in his countenance. He does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
A second major theme that Vos develops is that the tabernacle is a concentrated theocracy. That is to say, the tabernacle dwelling of God is the end to which the entire Exodus aspires–the reality to which it is directed. Finally, all of this conspires to help us recognize that the sacrificial system is a means to a higher end of fellowship with God.
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.
Eden and Canaan are earthly projections that both reveal yet veil the glory of the heavenly dwelling place of God. Had Adam passed probation, he would have been translated into the highest heavens in the presence of God where he would enter Sabbath Rest (Genesis 2/Ez. 28:14 and the mountain of God). When Christ finished his wilderness sojourn, he ascended into that very reality of Sabbath Rest—rest the first Adam did not enter (Heb. 1:3; 8:2, 5; 9:23–24; 10:12; 12:24; 4:9–10). Christ, as ascended, has entered rest—a rest he in the process of conferring on the church in this age (4:3) and will bring to consummation in the age to come (4:9–11).
The whole point of the land of Canaan in Hebrews—the way it relates to this big-picture creational concern—is that it was a place of rest (Psalm 95:7–11 is quoted in Hebrews 3:7–11). Israel was seeking to leave the wilderness and enter into the “rest” of God in Canaan. Canaan was a local, earthly expression of a corresponding heavenly Sabbath Rest (95:11/Genesis 2:2 as the two theme texts in Hebrews 3 and 4).
Canaan was an earthly type of Sabbath Rest, and some in Israel failed to enter the earthly typical land of rest because they lacked faith in the promised Messiah (Heb. 3:19). In a parallel way, the author of Hebrews grounds his exhortation that the church in this age press on to Sabbath Rest by faith in the ascended Messiah, so that none of us fail to enter that Rest.
We continue our #VosGroup series in pages 174–175 of Vos’ book Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments to consider totemism and Vos’s deep critique of biblicistic modernism. Totemism seeks to explain the distinction between the clean and the unclean by way of “a form of superstition” rooted in “savage tribes and families” who offered worship to certain animals and plants.
Biblicism is any approach to reading Scripture that does not take the creeds and confessions of the church as normed norms that faithfully and accurately reflect the teaching of Scripture, over against heresy and heterodoxy as it has arisen in various forms. You can be either a liberal or conservative, and you can still be a biblicist—it is no respecter of persons in that regard.
Modernism is that movement associated with the Enlightenment, rooted in Kantian philosophy, that seeks a de-supernaturalized history understood as a neutral realm of facts that leads toward an ethical ideal of true humanity (Schleiermacher is central in this regard). Modernists also take the Bible to be like any other historically conditioned book and thus an expression of community biography, rather than a history of progressive, organic, supernatural, covenantal revelation. In other words, modernism represents a neutral, anti-supernaturalistic, religion of ethics. It is Pelagianism come to historical self-consciousness—or come to consciousness of a purely immanent, natural, philosophy of history (Albrect Ritschl is a key figure here).
We continue our #VosGroup series in pages 173–174 of Vos’ book Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments to consider uncleanness and purification, a deep structure of Scripture, what Vos says, “forms a fundamental conception, which . . . has entered into the permanent fabric of biblical religion.”
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