As some of our readers know, Geerhardus Vos was an excellent Dutch Reformed theologian and professor around the turn of the 20th century. At one point, he wrote out his notes from his systematic theology class and kept them in five volumes, which were transcribed and printed in 1910 (in Dutch). Lexham Press has done the good work of translating and publishing these volumes for the public – both in hard cover and in e-format (on Logos Bible Software). I have the first three volumes in my Logos Reformed library, but since I don’t like reading lengthy and detailed books in e-format, I decided to get the print version. I’m glad I did! Below are my thoughts on volume one, Theology Proper.
First of all, I should mention that Vos’ treatment of systematic theology is presented in a series of questions and answers. In this first volume Vos covers 1) the knowability of God, 2) the names, being, and attributes of God, 3) the Trinity, 4) God’s decrees in general, 5) the doctrine of predestination, 6) creation, and 7) providence. There are a total of around 400 questions and answers in these seven sections. For example, here are a few random questions: a) “How do theologians divide the external works of God?”, b) “What are the main divergent theories regarding the origin of the universe?”, and c) “What must be maintained regarding concursus?”. Some of Vos’ answers are just a few sentences, others are several paragraphs broken into outlines with subpoints.
In this volume, Vos shows to be a thoughtful Reformed theologian who interacts with philosophy, alternative views, and the exegesis of Scripture’s words and texts. For instance, Vos goes into depth about the decrees and will of God and also spends much time on exegeting Romans 9 in his lengthy discussion of predestination and election. There aren’t many footnotes and Vos doesn’t refer to other theologians extensively, but it is clear that he understands the issues and topics of theology.
Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics is not for beginners; it’s not even what one might call an intermediate systematic theology resource. It’s advanced and detailed – some places require a few reads to get the gist of Vos’ argument and meaning. The theology is deep: he covers classic Reformed doctrines like God’s free and necessary knowledge, the economy of God, the concepts of God’s freedom, the external works of God, concursus, and so forth.
Interestingly, I found that sometimes Vos seems to be too brief; it seems like he doesn’t complete his thoughts from time to time and sometimes the reading is a bit choppy. Why is this? Well, readers should be aware that Vos didn’t write and edit this theology work for mass publication – as the introduction says, it was meant for the classroom (these are something like Vos’ lectures in detailed outline). Also the translation is formal rather than dynamic, so it’s not overly polished using modern grammar and syntax. These aren’t critiques, but things the reader should know before he or she begins to read. I’d hate for someone to dig in and be confused or upset that this isn’t exactly like Berkhof or Bavinck in style (though it is in content)!
The binding, editing, and layout are done well. There’s a Scripture index, a topical index, and a list of all the questions (without the answers) in the back of the book, which makes for easy referencing. Everyone who worked on these volumes (and is still working on them!) deserves a hearty “thanks” from those of us who will benefit from them for years to come. Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics is an excellent addition to my theological library. I’m certainly looking forward to having them all on my shelves!