This article originally appeared on my website at

Neo-Calvinism was a 19th century movement which sought to promote Christ’s economic Lordship over all spheres of life. While not making much of a movement in the United States, it was primarily active in the Netherlands, with the help of the leaders of the movement: Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. Though they extended their reach to the United States with the help of their contemporary, none other than Geerhardus Vos, it ultimately did not succeed in the way that Kuyper and the younger Bavinck envisioned. However, if Vos was active in this movement, why don’t we hear more about his contributions to it besides being an aide in translating articles? [1] and did he grow towards or away from it? This is what we will be exploring in the current article. While Vos was from the Old World—indeed, a man of two worlds—he was not completely active in the movement started by the Prime Minister from the Netherlands. The thesis that will be set out and proved is that Vos as a theologian continually grew away from Abraham Kuyper and his movement due to many reasons. Nevertheless, with us exploring how he grew away from this tradition of his Old World, we will examine his own theological development, seeing chronologically what and how it affected him. Though Vos was first highly passionate about Kuyper and what he was doing, he changed, a result of being stuck between two different worlds, reflecting his eschatological viewpoint.

To understand Vos’s stray away from the theological movement then, we must first to come to understand Vos’s entire upbringing and life as a theologian. Though certainly much detail will not be given as there is a plethora of biographical information on Vos[2], I do believe it is necessary to examine his stray away from Neo-Calvinism in four different stages. First, from 1881 to 1886; second, from 1886 onward to 1898; third, from then on to 1912; and lastly, from 1912 until his death in 1949. As this is now correctly set up, we may now dive into the first part of his theological development.

II. 1881-1886​

What was the young Vos passionate about? and why? Of course, it can be safe to assume that Vos was passionate about his own world and those endeavors in it, which included Kuyper. This also includes his opinion against liberal theology, which inspired his defense of the Mosaic authorship against the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis[3]. However, this is not what will be covered in this current article. Shifting back to our main topic, Vos first immigrated to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1881 with his family, a popular immigration spot for the Dutch Reformed. Though he had other options, he chose to follow his family, going into the New World. The New World obviously came as something very different to what he was used to, something that would naturally come for anybody.

Around this time too, Abraham Kuyper founded the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. As he was aiming to separate from ecclesiastical and governmental ties, he did so with this university, establishing it as the first Reformed University in the Netherlands. Back to Vos, after graduating from the theological school of Grand Rapids in 1883 and Princeton in 1885, he went back to the Old World, attending the University of Berlin for Old Testament Studies, which is where Kuyper comes in. While he just started being a student at the university, Kuyper reached out to him, offering him a spot as an Old Testament Professor at his university, which was due to the first Old Testament Professor leaving and going back to the pastorate. While I do not desire to make a long treatise on this, I want to highlight this part quite a bit.

Though Vos did end up denying this offer to become the professor, he certainly gave right reason. According to a letter to Kuyper, he states the main reason for him denying the offer is because he did not want to do something either out of his parents sight or out of his parents wishes. He writes:

Had not such tender motives as the relation between parents and child mixed up in our consideration and made that choice totally inevitable, that would not have been done. The impulse of undivided sympathy with the glorious principle that your institution represents and seeks to propagate drove me, as it were, within her walls. It would have been an honor and a delight to me to be permitted to serve the Free University with my frail energies.

The circumstances, as they have formed themselves under God’s rule, apparently do not allow that. My parents cannot view the case in the same light in which I learned to look at it as of late. In case I, against their advice and wishes, dared to follow the inclination of my heart, I would bring grief to them, from which I have to save them at any cost. Taking this into consideration, I see no other way than to choose the field of activity assigned to me in America[4].

However, as James T. Dennison Jr. does not detect “any latent hostility to Kuyper and his theology” [5] in Vos, this is true. Indeed, Vos does end the letter saying that “The Free University will always have in me a warm friend and a firm advocate”, ultimately showing that through all of this, that he would have taken his offer in a heartbeat. Yet, how did this influence Vos’s later development as a theologian? As we will see, Vos still did support Kuyper’s principles, just not for much longer.

III. 1886-1898​

After 1886, Vos’s first semester at the University of Berlin, he transferred to the University of Strasbourg, finishing up his Ph.D. in Semitic languages. Though something not to be extensively covered, James T. Dennison Jr. writes this about his dissertation idea: “It was a "safe" choice; it would engender no controversy in the theological faculty at Strassburg”[6]. After this then, Vos set sail back to the New World, to teach at the Theological School of Grand Rapids, after the Synod appointed him to be the professor of systemic and didactic theology in 1886. Vos now was completely in the academic scene. However, controversy nevertheless did arise, with the one he looked up to: Abraham Kuyper.

For understanding what happened with Vos and Kuyper in 1891, it is necessary to see the intermediate context behind it. Vos writes to B.B. Warfield right before the controversy erupted, saying this:

Is Dr. Kuyper correct in representing his theory as the proper Calvinistic view of infant baptism? Did the older theologians really mean that baptism in each case presupposes regeneration as an accomplished fact…It seems to me that Dr. Kuyper approaches more or less to the Lutheran view of baptismal grace, though of course with the necessary restrictions.

Vos was deep in the waters, in the midst of cross-fire between Kuyper and Lambert J. Hulst, Curatorium at the theological school which Vos taught at[7]. Vos was reportedly in a bit of trouble by his endorsement of Kuyper’s adamant supralapsarian position. Hulst objected against it, saying that it was not confessionally supported, specifically in the Canons of Dordt. Yet, Vos said in another letter to Warfield, that he was solely moderate in his supralapsarian view[8], something that possibly could have even changed later in his life. Nevertheless, this is what I argue as a turning point in Vos’s view on Kuyper and his Neo-Calvinistic movement. Though this was brief, this would only be the start in the drift from the person who he looked up to. Vos however was never completely against Kuyper. As we will see later though, Vos not only grew away, but indeed, matured in his theological development, developing in his own theological opinions and slowly questioning Kuyper’s motives[9].

Things were relatively quiet for Vos in relation to Kuyper until 1898. He did indeed send more letters to him, yet they were not filled with much content[10]. To give an overview of 1898, a very prominent time for Kuyper and Vos, I do think it is necessary to give context of what was happening leading up to it. I desire not to spend much time on this, but think it is particularly important to see what Vos was up to during this time, as we will understand properly what was going on in Vos’s mind in 1898.

Vos in 1893 began teaching at his former seminary, Princeton. Though it took quite the bit of begging from William Henry Green—his gifted Old Testament Professor who wrote the introduction to Vos’s first book The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes—, and the convincing of Warfield as well[11], Vos gave in, filling in the first chair of biblical theology at Princeton. During this time, his workload dramatically shifted, from teaching 23-25 hours a week to 2 hours each week, which left him more time to independently study[12]. During this time too, Vos had his start in Reformed biblical theology. As I argued, Vos’s main interest was always in the practice of biblical theology[13], which can be seen in bits and pieces throughout his first work mentioned above. Yet, during these next few years, Vos’s theology was—for a lack of better words—developing. Due to him beginning to teach the subject, he started to think of what would be the foundation for conservative biblical theology[14]. He ultimately chose the foundation to be the doctrine of the covenant for a few reasons. First he says that “the circumstances have just inspired my interest in the covenant idea” (italics mine)[15]. Second, he says this:

It seems to be that when the covenant represents an archetypical covenant in eternity the absolute and unchangeable, that then also the different covenant gifts as they historically follow each other can represent the development of revelation. Moreover the covenant idea is neither purely theoretical, nor purely practical, so that it contains in itself word as well as deed revelation. Finally, it presents this benefit that each following covenant development resolves organically from the preceding, while in Scripture the new covenant every time occurs as a benefit in a former covenant.

He later writes that “you can sense how I think about all this in rough outline[16]… I would like to view it, as earlier dogmatic, now also historical”[17]. Third, he writes to Bavinck saying this too:

Naturally it was not my intention to take the covenant idea as a guiding principle in Biblical Theology to the exclusion of Revelation. I also give the latter priority. Biblical Theology is for me the History of Revelation. But beneath that I place the covenant concept, because God has revealed himself in the covenant[18].

Seen here, as he started teaching biblical theology, he came to the conclusion that the covenant fits the purposes he was trying to achieve and show in the practice, which was in plainer words, the way in which God has revealed Himself throughout history.

This is not the only thing that Vos was doing during this time. With him having more free time than before he began to personally study topics such as Old and New Testament among other fields[19], and began publishing more reviews in the Presbyterian and Reformed Review. Of course, this is not solely because he had more time; it is also because he now taught at Princeton, the seminary who led the Review. During this time though, Bavinck had sent Vos his first volume of Gereformeerde Dogmatik, which Vos ended up reviewing in the Review. One of the only conservative books he reviewed, he enjoyed it, writing about how “the appearance of this first volume of a Dogmatics from his hand marks an important step in the revival of Calvinism, which has been the most prominent feature of the religious life in Holland for a few decades past”[20]. Now that we understand the preceding context, we may now go to 1898, a time which was monumental for Kuyper, and Vos too.

1898 marked the next step in Vos’s theological development, and Kuyper’s desire to spread Neo-Calvinism to many different places other than his home country. Yet, what happened in 1898? Was it as important as other events in Vos’s life with relation to Kuyper? It arguably is. In that year, Kuyper delivered the Stone Lectures, an annual series of lectures by a special guest, which in this case was him. Kuyper first was chosen to deliver these Lectures in 1896[21], in addition with being bestowed the Doctorate of Divinity on him. However, due to some issues, in which the lectures kept getting delayed, he did not deliver them until 1898. During this time, Kuyper probably stayed with Vos[22], something debated by Vos and Dutch Reformed scholars. Yet when Kuyper delivered these, he delivered them with confidence. He wanted to see a revival of Calvinism in all spheres of life in America, hence the content of his lectures. Unfortunately, the lectures fell flat, with only about 50 people attending each lecture, and with the American people not really understanding them as much as Kuyper wanted them to. These lectures did not just fall flat for the students and possible professors that were there, it fell flat in a way for Vos too. As Vos was maturing during this time, I think it can be reasonably assumed and argued based on Vos’s later works, this was the moment when he really began to stray away from Kuyper’s movement. So, while Kuyper continued on in his political and ecclesiastical endeavors, as we will see, Vos did not just mature as a theologian, he became the founder of something great, something that taught not Christ’s supremacy over all activities of life, but the organic flow of God’s self-revelation to the creature[23].

IV. 1898-1912​
After this time, things were relatively quite again for the well-respected Vos. Through establishing himself as a well-rounded theologian, he then sought to contribute more and more to the field of biblical theology, starting after the Stone Lectures were delivered. In 1900 through 1903, we can see an almost foreshadowing—if you will—on what his later work would be. During this time, as he was distancing himself from Kuyper and his work since he established himself in the New World[24], he wrote articles such as: “The Ministry of John the Baptist”; “The Pauline Conception of Redemption”; and “The Nature and Aims of Biblical Theology” among the many he published. Yet, these articles barely compare to what was published in 1903, Vos’s second book, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church. Though it was somewhat a combination of his articles on the Kingdom of God, it proved to be very influential in his field, as it sought to teach the present and future inaugurations, the supernaturally mysterious already not yet of the Kingdom. This was not the only subject that proved to be influential during this time for Vos. As Vos was reviewing many books, he started to dig deep into Paul’s theology, tracing his own thinking and becoming a foremost Pauline expert. He reviewed books like The Testimony of St. Paul to Christ Viewed in Some of Its Aspects[25] and Jesus und Paulus[26]. In addition, he wrote articles on Paul’s theology, understanding his doctrines in light of what scripture taught. All things culminated though in 1912, when he wrote the article that would shape the rest of his theological career, and probably his life

“The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit” was published for the centennial of Princeton Theological Seminary under the title Biblical and Theological Studies. In it, Vos wrote a tremendous essay on how the Spirit is from the aeon to come and the conferring of the Spirit upon Christ in His exalted state, among the theological nuances discussed in it. This essay proved to be very pivotal in his thought, since it reflects his later themes in his life which he would write on. Vos therefore was now “doing his own thing”, working avidly in the field of biblical theology, lecturing in the classroom, and taking daily walks with Benjamin B. Warfield, the great systematician. But what happened to correspondence with Kuyper? Well, after the Stone Lectures—which Vos did enjoy[27]—Vos never sent another letter to Abraham Kuyper. As we discussed, this was mainly due to him going in his own direction, seeking to be in the classroom and the New World rather than politics and the Old World. Since Vos was already a well known biblical theologian by his work in the Princeton Theological Review and own publications, he was not even close to where he first stood in relation to Abraham Kuyper. The rest of his life though, would not change much.

V. 1912-1949​
After he published what would be known as a proper turning point in his theological development, Vos’s correspondence with others was slim to none[28]. Just as his personality was, he rarely sent letters during this time, antithetical to what his earlier life was like. What was the reason for this? There are many possibilities, yet something that could be brought up is not just the nature of his personality, or being a person stuck between two eschatological aeons, but the difference from the Old World to the New World. While surrounded by the influence of people from his Old World (e.g., Kuyper and Bavinck) during the times when he sent more letters, as he grew as a theologian in the New World, he faded into obscurity in some ways, probably accepting it as he was a calm, quiet person. Vos kept going though in his biblical-theological studies, reviewing books and writing many more articles for the Review. As I said, not much did change in his life, but he did start writing about the Messianic conscious of Jesus—teaching it earlier too, defending the historically Reformed orthodox position against the modernists view. In short, the modernists taught that Christ did not know he was the Messiah[29], arguing that his main role was to be a teacher and leader. Vos therefore saw nothing factual about this. This idea about the Messianic consciousness spawned him to write a book, combing lecture and writing material, titled The Self Disclosure of Jesus. This however, turned to be Vos’s second to last book, as what would come next still puzzles scholars today.

With Princeton crumbling to liberalistic pieces, J. Gresham Machen starting Westminster Theological Seminary, and Vos ailing in age and health, he decided to publish his last book, The Pauline Eschatology in 1930. Though he published a few articles before 1930, after the release of the book, Vos retired in 1932, sticking out the 3 years after the reorganization. Therefore, Vos lived a lowly life during these last years after the publication of the “Eschatological Aspect of the Spirit”, not changing much, if at all. He stayed the quiet person he was, and stopped writing articles and books after the self-publication of The Pauline Eschatology. Yet why did Vos stop writing? and why did he go away? and what even influenced his eschatology? Vos expert James T. Dennison Jr. has an answer. He argues this:

I am convinced that the remarkable diagram on page 38 of The Pauline Eschatology—that diagram which lays out the overlapping relationship between the present age and the age to come—the diagram of that semi-eschatological world in which Paul lived, in which the church lives, in which Vos lived, in which you and I live—that diagram would never have been sketched were it not for Roaring Branch [Vos’s summer house]. Why did Vos stop his theological writing after his retirement in 1932? Because he was never to return to Roaring Branch after the summer of 1932—never to return until his body was laid to rest beside the body of his wife on August 17, 1949. Why is it that only poetry comes from his pen after his retirement in 1932? Because he didn't need his books, his journals, his papers in his Roaring Branch study to write the poems. He only needed his memory, his senses, his profound expression. Why did Vos leave the preparation of several of his books to his son Johannes Geerhardus after 1932? Because much of his preparation for—if not his actual—writing was done in the study of that summer house in the mountains of Pennsylvania. It is at Roaring Branch that the world to come possesses Vos even as the Christ who possessed Geerhardus Vos wrought most powerfully, most effectively upon his mind and heart in that tiny mountain village[30].

This, is why Vos retired at Princeton and sought to be without his academic work. Needless to say, this encapsulates Vos’s thought as a theologian. Therefore, without all these historical contexts Vos lived in, God knew he would have not been the same person we are indebted to today. But, overall, what was his opinion of Kuyper anyways? This right here, is what I want to conclude with and answer.

With Kuyper going to be with the Lord in 1921, Vos’s theological views did indeed not change. With the most prominent time coming after 1898 in his theological development, after, he slowly grew away from Kuyper’s views, with him continually growing as a theologian until 1912, where he then did not change his views, becoming an unbelievable mature theologian. Therefore, while he did separate himself from Kuyper’s views starting virtually in 1886 after he was offered a job at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam, and in 1891, when he was in between a theological feud, he still was indebted to Kuyper and viewed him as a great friend. Even through him not envisioning the success of Neo-Calvinism that Kuyper and young Bavinck saw, he saw Kuyper probably as the figure he once looked up to. And with him even maturing as a theologian and arguing for his own views, this never changed the fact that Kuyper was a brother in Christ, someone who was a pilgrim stuck between two aeons, just as he was. While Vos and Kuyper may be with the Lord now, they still speak today, and their theological differences do not change the fact that the God who bought them—and us—with the blood of the Lamb, is gracious to those “who love [Him]… who are called according to His purpose”[31].

[1] The articles I am referring to here are Recent Dogmatic Thought in the Netherlands and The Future of Calvinism, both by Herman Bavinck. See or for these articles.
[2] See Olinger, Danny Geerhardus Vos: Reformed Biblical Theologian, Confessional Presbyterian (Philadelphia: Reformed Forum, 2018). Hereafter will be referred to as Geerhardus Vos
[3] This is also called the documentary and development hypothesis, which denied the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, arguing by critical reasoning that the laws and books of Moses originated from post-exile work
[4] Dennison Jr., James The Letters of Geerhardus Vos (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, 2005), 120-21. Hereafter will be referred to as Letters
[5] Geerhardus Vos: Life Between Two Worlds by James T. Dennison Jr.
[6] Life Between Two Worlds
[7] See Olinger, Danny Geerhardus Vos: Reformed Biblical Theologian, Confessional Presbyterian (Philadelphia: Reformed Forum, 2018), 40-41
[8] Dennison Jr. Letters, 149-50
[9] An example of this is found in another of the letters to Warfield, saying this:

1.) That all infants to be baptized must be presumed to be regenerate. This is found to be the view of some of the older but not nearly of all Calvinists. Dr. Kuyper lays it down as the Calvinistic view. Not a few (Heidegger) argue that God’s ordinary way of regenerating his elect is under the hearing of the word, and that those of the children of believers destined to grow up and to hear the word are not as a rule regenerated until then (Heppe, Die Dogmatik der evangelisch-reformirten kirche, p. 453). Dr. Kuyper wishes to have us consider and treat all baptized children as regenerate. This tenet is far-reaching in its practical effects and I feel a great hesitancy about adopting it. 2.) That the sacraments convey a specific sacramental grace not conveyed by the word. Dr. Kuyper says there is grace of the root, grace of the branches, grace of the fruit, but sacramental grace belongs to none of these. It is a thing altogether but itself. Its specific character consists in its effect upon faith. Faith at the beginning has an individual nature, but by this sacramental grace it receives a social character as it qualifies for being the instrument of the communion of saints in the mystical body of Christ. Thus baptism is not the means of the first ingrafting into the body of Christ, but still the means of effecting a closer union with the body of Christ. So at least I understand Dr. Kuyper. He is very positive but not very lucid on this point. But supposing my interpretation of his view to be correct, I would ask: is it consistent with the Reformed principle that the grace offered by the word and the sacraments is specifically the same? Do not all the Reformed theologians agree in this, that the sacraments are means of Grace because and in so far as they are seals? Dr. Kuyper separates these two things. The sealing efficacy of the sacraments and their mystical operation as means of grace are with him distinct. This seems to approach the Lutheran view. To be sure there is an immense difference between Dr. Kuyper’s theory of baptism and the Lutheran doctrine for: (a) according to the Lutheran, baptism is the instrument of regeneration, according to Dr. Kuyper it is the instrument of a grace following regeneration; (b) according to the Lutherans, this grace is communicated to all baptized children, whereas, Dr. Kuyper limits it to the elect; (c) according to the Lutherans, it works through the water in the word, according to Dr. Kuyper by an immediate act of the Holy Spirit operating within. Notwithstanding these points of difference however, there is agreement in the assumption of a specific sacramental character” (Dennison Jr. Letters, 162-64).

What I am not inferring here is that Kuyper was completely against Kuyper; he was solely skeptical of his opinions. This partially led him to stray away from the movement and Kuyper as a whole.
[10] What I primarily mean here is that there is not much important information in relation to Kuyper and things that he was doing.
[11] Dennison Jr. Letters, 170
[12] Dennison Jr. Letters, 175
[13] See my article Understanding the Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes in its Broader Context on and
[14] This is first seen in the letter in to Herman Bavinck on July 3rd, 1893, where he writes such:

I have reflected on the question of how to deal with the subject, so that justice will be done to both the demand of the unity and the historical development and to both the theoretical and practical character of revelation, while at the same time deducing the principle of how to deal with the subject from the scriptures (Dennison Jr Letters, 175).

How long was Vos thinking about this? We can reasonably guess based on his other works during this time, with it probably being in 1891 or 1892.
[15] Dennison Jr. Letters, 176. What are these circumstances? Generally they were the historical context he was living in, yet more specifically there is not a clear answer
[16] This suggests how early Vos was in developing his view of biblical theology
[17] Dennison Jr. Letters, 176
[18] Dennison Jr. Letters, 176
[19] Dennison Jr. Letters, 187
[20] The Presbyterian and Reformed Review 7:356-363. [1896]
[21] See Dennison Jr. Letters, 191
[22] Olinger Geerhardus Vos, 94
[23] This argument is reflected well in Danny Olinger’s biography of Vos, where he writes this:

Vos was becoming more Presbyterian; Kuyper was becoming more enamored with politics. Less than three years after his triumph at Princeton. Kuyper’s Anti-Revolutionary Party swept the 1901 general elections in the Netherlands. For the next four years, he served as prime minister of the Netherlands.
Vos concentrated on his own writings, no longer spending the countless hours translating Kuyper’s (or Bavinck’s) Dutch works into English. Vos’s writings also reflected an increased focus upon biblical-theological themes (such as the kingdom of God) and less of a focus upon the themes raised by Kuyper’s Neo-Calvinism. If the life and though of the nineteenth-century Vos was dominated by his Dutch Reformed upbringing, in the twentieth-century, his friendships and the focus of his scholarly works would be connected to Princeton, Presbyterianism, and Reformed biblical theology (Olinger Geerhardus Vos, 95-96).
[24] This is seen with him publishing not just in the Review, but in other journals and dictionaries, specifically starting in 1898, the year the Stone Lectures were delivered. Of course, I do not believe there was a huge and dramatic shift in Vos’s thinking after the Lectures were delivered, but it definitely helped him become more Presbyterian as Danny Olinger writes
[25] See The Testimony of St. Paul to Christ Viewed in Some of Its Aspects (R.J. Knowling). PTR 5:324-328.
[26] See Jesus und Paulus (Julius Kaftan). PTR 5:496-502.
[27] Vos writes to Bavinck about his own Stone Lectures that would soon be delivered, saying “the latter [a draft totally in harmony with the English idiom] was lacking in the lectures delivered by Dr. Kuyper, and the influence of the otherwise so excellent lectures suffered from it” (Dennison Jr Letters, 207). It is clear that Vos still supported Kuyper as a person; he just grew away from his movement and endeavors.
[28] See pages 212 to 248 in Dennison Jr.’s Letters for Vos’s correspondence with others for the remainder of his life
[29] You probably are wondering “why would someone deny that Christ knew that He was the Messiah. Well, when you become extremely critical of the scriptures, and deny supernaturalism, that is the conclusion you will get
[30] Life Between Two Worlds by Dennison Jr.

[31] Romans 8:28​