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Today in OPC History

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March 14

Geerhardus Vos

Geerhardus Vos, the beloved teacher of such OPC theologians as J. Gresham Machen, R. B. Kuiper, Cornelius Van Til, John Murray and Ned Stonehouse, was born in Heerenveen, Friesland, the Netherlands on this day in 1862.

After a five year tenure at Calvin College, Vos accepted the newly created position of professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1893. For the next thirty-nine years at Princeton, Vos defended the orthodox doctrine of Scripture and the historical person and work of Jesus Christ over against the advocates of historical criticism. Unlike many of his Princeton colleagues, however, Vos labored in relative obscurity. OPC historian Charles Dennison wrote:

His Princeton years (1893–1932) had to be a disappointment to some. If they expected a man capable of hand-to-hand theological combat, what they received was a quiet, peaceful, even private man. He was more of an Isaac than an Abraham. A theologian’s theologian, hardly an aggressive spokesman for the cause, hardly energetically engaged in the courts of the church, Vos spent his time out of the limelight in class preparation and in extensive reading and writing. The bibliography of his writings covers thirteen pages and it reveals a different sort of Christian soldier in the battle for Reformed orthodoxy. In Vos, we are face-to-face with a theological intelligence effort. He studied the enemies’ movements so thoroughly that he was able to anticipate them. This is especially evident in the way he was answering Albert Schweitzer even before Schweitzer was publishing his most influential works. Positively, Vos remained a theologian capable of making even Murray and Van Til stretch.

In retirement, Vos fell into even greater obscurity. The handful of attendees at his funeral in Roaring Branch, Pennsylvania included no representatives from Princeton Seminary. Cornelius Van Til preached the funeral sermon from 2 Corinthians 5.

A fourteen-chapter biography of Vos by Danny E. Olinger has been published serially on in volumes 25–27 of Ordained Servant Online, beginning in October 2016 with “Geerhardus Vos: Life in the Old Country, 1862–1881” and concluding in March 2018 with “Appreciation, Legacy, and Posthumous Publications.”

Picture: Geerhardus Vos (lower left) and J. Gresham Machen (second row, middle) among the faculty at Princeton Seminary in 1927.

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