Biblical theology and apologetics at Princeton as developed during the time of Geerhardus Vos and B.B. Warfield are linked. This should make us very cautious when comparing Ridderbos to Geerhardus Vos while Ridderbos, during the 1944 split in the reformed churches (gereformeerd) in the Netherlands, sided with Kuyper over against Klaas Schilder:
“Schilder opposed Kuyper’s theory of ‘immediate regeneration.’ There was for him a failure to appreciate the regenerating Word”
As Paul Helm explains very well here that B. B. Warfield rejected Kuyper’s theory of ‘immediate regeneration’ as well:
‘But this faith that the prepared heart yields – is it
yielded blindly and without reason, or is it yielded rationally, and on
the ground of sufficient reason? Does God the Holy Spirit work a blind
and ungrounded faith in the heart? What is supplied by the Holy Spirit
in working faith in the heart surely is not ready-made faith, rooted in
nothing and clinging without reason to its object; nor yet new grounds
of belief in the object presented; but just a new power to the heart to
respond to the grounds of faith, sufficient in themselves, already
present to the mind.’
The idea behind creating a chair of biblical theology (held by Geerhardus Vos) was to apply this position. I suspect that inside ‘Abraham Kuyper’s’ church important strands were on the side of Warfield & Vos and not on the side of Abraham Kuyper concerning this issue. The 1905 compromise circled around this same issue. The 1834 (Helenius de Cock’s) seceders (of which Geerhardus Vos family was a descendant) did not accept Kuyper’s theory. At the same time it’s clear Abraham Kuyper’s democratization project would not have existed without the covenant theology of the seceders. Those who think otherwise should study history. Geerhardus Voses biblical theology, firmly rooted in Princeton’s covenant theology, is directly linked to the perspicuitas of scripture. Perspicuitas of Scripture is at the heart of Calvinism and was the motor of the Scottish Enlightenment. Bogue claims that Berkouwer and Jan Ridderbos thought that Princeton’s covenant theology had arminian tendencies:
“Dutch Calvinism (he obviously means the Berkouwer brand) tends to view
the Puritan doctrine of the covenant as the hole in the dike through
which the Arminian flood poured.”
In this context the question rises how H N Ridderbos ‘biblical theology’ fits into Princeton’s philosophical/theological framework. It could well be antithetical to it, completely opposite to the intentions Warfield and Geerhardus Vos had when they created the chair of biblical theology at Princeton.
Let’s see if we can find sources that confirm this reading.
To compare what Geerhardus Vos (or Princeton at the time) & H N Ridderbos understood as biblical theology we should offcourse first be clear on what Geerhardus Vos contribution to it actually was. There apparently are at least four different opinions on it. I myself agree with James Dennison’s view.
Comparing Gaffin to Dennison’s position might be helpful in understanding the difference between Vos and Ridderbos.
Interview with Gaffin on sanctification and justication might shed some light on this same issue.
B. B. Warfield’s statement on what biblical theology is, “Scientific theology rests…most directly on the results of exegesis as provided in Biblical theology”, is crystal clear, allthough Gaffin pretends it isn’t.
Richard Gaffin seems to dismiss Warfield’s crystal clear definition of the purpose of biblical theology and instead emphasizes the catch phrase ‘redemptive-historical’ and goes on to talk about Kuyper and Bavinck.
Warfield links biblical theology to what every believer can and should do: read the bible. I miss this aspect in Gaffin’s focus on the ‘redemptive-historical’. I also don’t think Gaffin is correct when stating that the approach of biblical theology is ‘historical’ while that of dogmatics is logical.
John Murray’s statement comes close to Warfield’s understanding of the purpose of biblical theology.
Focusing just on history (even redemptive history) won’t necessarily help bring out the correct meaning of the text. In fact reading the bible from back to beginning sometimes brings better results.
Biblical theology isn’t a history lesson, it’s showing how the case for it’s truthfulness is much stronger then those socalled enlightened spirits claim. It’s coherence transcends cheap shots against it’s authority.
Purpose of biblical theology is not to create a new class of supposedly smart professors at Universities who can then subsequently look down on the simple bible believers. Quite to the contrary, the purpose of biblical theology was to give believers the weapons to take down the nonsense and educate the church.
People like Klaas Schilder understood this.
Bill Dennison’s interpretation of Van Til’s apologetics confirms the link between Warfield’s idea of Biblical Theology and apologetics. He sees “Scripture interprets Scripture.” at the heart of Vos biblical theology and adds ‘Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.
has stressed that the analogy of Scripture is implicitly Biblical-theological’. Bill Dennison states:
‘this hermeneutical principle depicts the essence of the discipline of Biblical
I suspect comparing Herman Ridderbos to Geerhardus Vos will reveal that they represent completely different and incompatible approaches. Some might call Ridderbosses approach redemptive-historical but that in itself isn’t the heart of Biblical Theology, as Dennison explains in his article.
H N Ridderbos, just as Barth in a letter to Berkouwer, aimed to give fundamentalism a bad name by creating a false contradiction with ‘his’(?) redemptive-historic theology.
This instrumentalisation of biblical theology might explain some of the suspicion against redemptive-historic hermeneutic and preaching.
To understand the aim of biblical theology, a question James Dennison attempts to answer here, the comments by Rev Gosman at the inauguration of Geerhardus Vos are instructive.