Right Chronology, Wrong Westminster Professor

Plain as nose
The controversial Kerux review of The Law Is Not of Faith is now available on line. I cannot get past the first sentence: “For the past thirty years, a shift in Reformed covenant theology has been percolating under the hot Southern California sun in Escondido.”

This is an amazing opening because for thirty years the sideline Reformed world has experienced a controversy over the refashioning of covenant theology and the doctrines that flow from it. But Westminster California was not the place where the controverted doctrines came from. Did the reviewers for Kerux notice anything about Federal Vision, or Evangelicals and Catholics Together, or Norman Shepherd? Of course, not. These are real controversies conveniently ignored to go after the alleged real culprit: WSC and its part-time professor, Meredith G. Kline.

Atop the bluff of a former orange grove, a quiet redefinition of the Sinaitic covenant administration as a typological covenant of works, complete with meritorious obedience and meritorious reward has been ripening. The architect of this paradigm shift was the late Meredith G. Kline.

Again, this is truly dumbfounding. The doctrine of justification has been up for grabs in the heart of conservative Reformed and Presbyterian communions such as the OPC, PCA, and URC. The doctrine has received further questions and revisions in the broader Protestant world thanks to the already mentioned Evangelicals and Catholics Together, the Federal Vision, and the New Perspective on Paul. And yet, Kerux decides to lower the boom on Kline and WSC.

It should be noted that Kline, as a professor at Gordon-Conwell, was one of those who thirty years ago supported the Westminster faculty who were opposed to Shepherd’s teaching – among them, W. Robert Godfrey, Palmer Robertson, Robert Knudsen, and Arthur Kuschke. And since then it has been Klineans who have been clearest on justification, its centrality to the Reformed doctrine of salvation, and its priority to sanctification. At the same time, it has been those who have either defended or been silent about Shepherd who have been some of the biggest critics of Westminster California.

Consequently, it is an odd historical judgment that Kerux offers, and one that draws attention away from the real source of controversy in Reformed circles.

But the problems of historical analysis only get worse for the authors of the review. Not only was Kline an important critic of Shepherd but his students have been at least partly responsible for bringing a measure of calm to that controversy within the OPC thanks to the leadership of WSC faculty on the study committee on justification. That report was clear regarding the defects of Shepherd’s views and their ties and affinities to the Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul.

And in case anyone actually thought WSC was ambiguous about justification, the seminary has issued a statement on the doctrine, “Our Testimony on Justification,” which counters the Shepherdian claim that justification needs to be set free from its Lutheran bondage. It declares:

. . . some who claim to be Reformed suggest that too many Reformed people have a Lutheran view of justification and need to develop a distinctively Reformed view of justification. These critics usually claim that they accept the Reformed confessions, yet at the same time claim that Reformed theology needs to be changed and clarified to be distinctive. Such critics, called neonomians in the seventeenth century, today are perhaps better labeled covenant moralists.

Our testimony is directed primarily to this third group who claim to be genuinely Reformed. These covenant moralists teach, contrary to the Reformed confessions and/or historic Reformed conviction, some or all of the following:

that the Reformation doctrine of justification is not fully biblical;

that the Lutherans and Calvinists have different doctrines of justification;

that the Reformation misunderstood Paul on justification;

that justification is not by faith alone, but by faithfulness, i.e. trust in Christ and obedience;

that the idea of merit as a way of explaining the work of Christ for us is unbiblical;

that Christ died for our sins but he did not keep the law perfectly in our place (his active obedience);

that Christ does not impute his active obedience to us;

that obedience or good works is not only the fruit or evidence of faith, but is also part of the ground or instrument of justification;

that our justification is in some way dependent on the final judgment of our works.

As the faculty of Westminster Seminary California we believe that we must issue this testimony especially in relation to those who claim to be Reformed in their attack on the Reformation doctrine of justification and who claim to uphold the teaching of the Reformed confessions.

So for the last thirty years, Westminster California has through its faculty, both in the courts of the church and individual authors, during debates about Shepherd, ECT, Federal Vision, and the New Perspective, been on the right side of the doctrines of grace. Now along comes Kerux to re-write history and say that not Shepherd, Richard John Neuhaus, Chuck Colson, nor N. T. Wright was the problem but Meredith G. Kline and his students. To borrow a line from Harry Emerson Fosdick, “what incredible folly!”

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  1. Posted January 24, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    I’m too tired to keep track of this crazy threading, so I’m out of here for now.

  2. Posted January 25, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    On p. 236ff of Kline’s Kingdom Prologue we see that regarding the sort of typological works-principle grants to sinners such as Noah (and Abraham, etc) because the Lord considered him to be righteous (Gen 7:1), there is a clear refutation of any heretical idea that such arrangements are an ultimate result of anything other than sola gratia.

    ” It is, of course, the gospel truth that God’s dealings with Noah found their ultimate explanation in the principle of God’s sovereign grace. This covenant grant to Noah came under the Covenant of Grace whose administration to fallen men deserving only the curse of the broken creational covenant [of works] (and Noah too was one of these fallen sons of Adam) was an act of God’s pure mercy in Christ. ”

    This applies to God’s dealing with Abraham and Israel too. This shows clearly that Kerux is simply wrong about Kline. If, perhaps, some Klineans have not been as precise in every case, that remains to be seen.

  3. Christian
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 3:14 am | Permalink

    Interestingly this passage from the Marrow of Modern Divinity, Edward Fisher, appeared on the PuritanForum recently, on the subject of Adam breaking all of the Ten Commandments in eating of the fruit

    Nom. But, sir, methinks it is a strange thing that so small an offence, as eating of the forbidden fruit seems to be, should plunge the whole of mankind into such a gulf of misery.

    Evan. Though at first glance it seems to be a small offence, yet, if we look more wistfully 5 upon the matter it will appear to be an exceeding great offence; for thereby intolerable injury was done unto God; as, first, His dominion and authority in his holy command was violated. Secondly, His justice, truth, and power, in his most righteous threatenings, were despised. Thirdly, His most pure and perfect image, wherein man was created in righteousness and true holiness, was utterly defaced. Fourthly, His glory, which, by an active service, the creature should have brought to him, was lost and despoiled. Nay, how could there be a greater sin committed than that, when Adam, at that one clap, broke all the ten commandments?

    Nom. Did he break all the ten commandments, say you? Sir, I beseech you show me wherein.

    Evan. 1. He chose himself another God when he followed the devil.

    2. He idolized and deified his own belly; 6 as the apostle’s phrase is, “He made his belly his God.”

    3. He took the name of God in vain, when he believed him not.

    4. He kept not the rest and estate wherein God had set him.

    5. He dishonoured his Father who was in heaven; and therefore his days were not prolonged in that land which the Lord his God had given him.

    6. He massacred himself and all his posterity.

    7. From Eve he was a virgin, but in eyes and mind he committed spiritual fornication.

    8. He stole, like Achan, that which God had set aside not to be meddled with; and this his stealth is that which troubles all Israel,—the whole world.

    9. He bare witness against God, when he believed the witness of the devil before him.

    10. He coveted an evil covetousness, like Amnon, which cost him his life, (2 Sam 13), and all his progeny. Now, whosoever considers what a nest of evils here were committed at one blow, must needs, with Musculus, see our case to be such, that we are compelled every way to commend the justice of God, 7 and to condemn the sin of our first parents, saying, concerning all mankind, as the prophet Hosea does concerning Israel, “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself,” (Hosea 3:9).

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