Saturday, August 01, 2009

0 Marrow Theology: Geerhardus Vos on Garden Eschatology

Another voice on the question of Adam's covenantal relationship with God prior to the Fall comes from Geerhardus Vos, from his book The Eschatology of the Old Testament. He makes a very important point concerning eschatology in general that we often miss - and which is helpful in addressing the errors of the monocovenantal perspective.

Vos writes,
"It is not biblical to hold that eschatology is a sort of appendix to soteriology, a consummation of the saving work of God. Eschatology is not necessarily bound up with soteriology. So conceived, it does not take into account that a whole chapter of eschatology is written before sin. Thus it is not merely an omission to ignore the pre-redemptive eschatology; it is to place the sequel in the wrong place. There is an absolute end posited for the universe before and apart from sin. The universe, as created, was only a beginning, the meaning of which was not perpetuation, but attainment. " (p. 73, Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament)
In other words, when we append eschatology to soteriology - that is, when we make all eschatological pronouncements somehow active only in the era of redemption - then we miss the fact that God had placed something in Adam's view before he fell into sin. God promised something - something more than simple existence forever in the probationary state in which Adam lived prior to his fall. He promised a further paradise. Vos:
"This goal was not only previous to sin, but irrespective of sin. For the sake of plainness, let us distinguish between the goal as an absolute, perfect, ethical relation to God and as a supernaturalizing of man and the world. These elements are intimately related, but logically distinct. Both of these elements could have been realized apart from sin and redemption. The ethical element could have been carried to the highest point of unchangeable rectitude. Similarly the supernaturalizing element could have been realized apart from sin. The relation of these two is also conceivable on the same basis, i.e. apart from sin. In sum, the original goal remains regulative for the redemptive development of eschatology by aiming to rectify the results of sin (remedial) and uphold, in connection with this, the realization of the original goal as that which transcends the state of rectitude (i.e. rising beyond the possibility of death in life eternal). The nonredemptive strand explains the preeminence of the natural (physical) element in biblical eschatology. Thus, it is not a mere questin of the conversion of man (absolute ethical relation to God), but of the transformation and supernaturalizing of the world." (pp. 73-74, Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament)
For the same reason that covenants can be considered outside of the redemptive era (this is a key claim of some who err in covenant theology - that all covenants between God and man MUST be redemptive) so, too, can and must eschatology be considered in the pre-redemptive era. There was an end - a goal - for creation, presented to Adam by God that was above his present state at his creation. He was not to remain in his state of suspended animation, as it were, but was to come, along with all creation, to a point of consummation and an era of confirmed hope. We gain insight, as I've already written, into that which Adam was to expect, by looking at what Scripture says about our eternal state. We cannot be satisfied to envision Adam's "eternal life" as consisting of anything but that which our own will consist in after That Day. Vos continues along these lines:
"Two principles stand out in this primeval eschatology. First, the intimate conjunction between eschatology and ethics. We have here the possibility of an attainment of a higher state, but it is conditioned by obedience... Second, as to its content, it is highly religious. Highest life is characterized by the most intimate connection with God." (p. 75, Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament)
The most intimate connection with God, according to Vos, is a confirmed state of full rectitude - something that Adam did NOT have in the Garden - and hence something to which he must have looked forward prior to the Fall. This promise of a higher state, higher than Adam's "very good" creation, was the promise of the covenant in which he was created.... a covenant requiring perfect obedience to God's commands - the covenant of works. This conclusion is very had to deny... unless one is willing to do great violence to the Word of God. I think now (finally) I'll be returning to The Marrow of Modern Divinity and the Covenant of Grace.



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