Danny E. Olinger
Reviewed by: Sinclair B. Ferguson
Date posted: 07/23/2006
A Geerhardus Vos Anthology, edited by Danny E. Olinger. Published by P&R Publishing, 2005. Paperback, 375 pages, list price $19.99. Reviewed by Prof. Sinclair B. Ferguson.
Perhaps even a non-American can risk a baseball analogy: the editor of this volume stands at the plate with two strikes against him. The first is that it is an anthology, and these are rarely satisfying. The second is that it is a Geerhardus Vos anthology. One might hazard a guess that even the home fans have already turned against him! But to the delight of home fans and even visitors, Danny Olinger hits a game-winning home run with A Geerhardus Vos Anthology. Simply put, it is a "must-have."
How can Vos's Dutch-American theological prose (still dense, despite the best efforts of his editor-son, J. G. Vos) possibly be reduced to an anthology without distortion? Only because the editor's enviable familiarity with the Vos corpus, and his willingness to devote time to mining these jewels, unite in a book that can be turned to again and again with enormous profit.
Two things in particular stand out. First, these selected quotations (ranging from a sentence or two to half-page paragraphs) allow Vos's insights to stand out in all their inherent power. Geerhardus Vos's original writings are demanding reading for theological students, never mind for those without academic training. That is partly a stylistic matter, but mostly it is a matter of the weight and profundity of his thought. He takes most readers into rivers of biblical theology in which they are unaccustomed to swimming. For some, the depth of the water and the speed of the current prove to be too much. Against that background, the value of this anthology lies partly in the way Vos 's "big ideas" are highlighted and stand out in bold relief. The reader can absorb them slowly, one by one, as it were, and reflect on them before moving on. This creates the appropriate Vosian Velcro strips in the mind that then make it easier to grasp the whole of his thought when we turn to various works in their entirety.
The second outstanding feature reminded this reviewer of the comment that the young J. Gresham Machen made following a sermon preached by Vos in the Princeton Chapel. He described Vos as having a larger "bump of reverence" than some of his colleagues. (Was it also this that Professor John Murray found so compelling about him?) This deeply reverential spirit - false dichotomy between the deepest and most complex expressions of theology and a sense of wonder, faith, and love for the triune God-saturates these pages.
Clearly Dr. Vos wrote in a spirit of awe, thrill, and intellectual-spiritual pleasure as he gazed believingly on the realities of the biblical revelation that he sought to convey in his lectures, sermons, and books. That is why this book belongs not only on the study desk, but equally on the bedside table. But if you keep it in the latter place, remember that it is a (legal!) stimulant.
The value of this anthology is enhanced by the editor's twenty-seven-page introduction to Vos's writings and by the clear identification of each quotation. A Geerhardus Vos Anthology is really a remarkable piece of work. Danny Olinger has placed us in his debt by his labor of love in editing it, and the publisher has enhanced this with an attractive book that is pleasant to read.