The controversial Kerux review of The Law Is Not of Faith is now available on line. I cannot get past the first sentence: â€œFor the past thirty years, a shift in Reformed covenant theology has been percolating under the hot Southern California sun in Escondido.â€
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 Shepherdâ€™s teaching â€“ 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 Shepherdâ€™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, â€œOur Testimony on Justification,â€ 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, â€œwhat incredible folly!â€