Hiding Behind Kilts

The release of the new book Merit and Moses, a critique of the republication doctrine (that the Mosaic covenant was “in some sense” a republication typologically of the covenant of works) got me thinking about a certain anomaly in contemporary Reformed circles regarding a certain Mr. Murray (his given name was John and he did not have the extra one of Courtney). The endorsements of this book show an arresting feature of the Westminster Seminary tradition and reception of Geerhardus Vos.

After Vos, his successors broke into two camps, one represented by Murray, the other by Meredith Kline, who took markedly different views of covenant theology. After Murray and Kline, came Norman Shepherd, Richard Gaffin, and Bob Strimple. They pretty much all sided with Murray against Kline on matters of moment. And then came VanDrunen, Horton, and Fesko. They followed Kline and have been taking their lumps ever since.

Generally speaking, the anti-republicationists are anti-Kline and pro-Murray. Here’s a sampling:

For the past thirty years, a shift in Reformed covenant theology has been percolating under the hot Southern California sun in Escondido. 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, who taught at Westminster Escondido (WSCal) for more than 20 years. Many of Kline’s colleagues, former students (several now teaching in Escondido) and admirers (Mark Karlberg, T. David Gordon, etc.) have canonized his novel reconstruction of the Mosaic covenant—it is “not of faith”, but of works and meritorious works at that, albeit ‘typological’. What may now be labeled the “Escondido Hermeneutic” or “Kline Works-Merit Paradigm” has succeeded in cornering an increasing share of the Reformed covenant market in spite of its revisionism and heterodoxy. This newfangled paradigm has managed to fly beneath the radar of most Reformed observers, in part because of the aggressively militant demeanor and rhetoric of its advocates and defenders. Especially vitriolic have been attacks by the Kline acolytes upon Norman Shepherd and Richard Gaffin. . . . (1)

While it is certainly true that Murray clearly and self-consciously broke with the majority of the Reformed tradition on several points of doctrine, his teaching on the nature of the obedience required in the Mosaic covenant was not one of them. In fact, a strong case can be made that his position on the essential nature of the obedience required in the Mosaic covenant represented the mainstream consensus of Reformed theologians. Furthermore, some of Murray’s key exegetical observations (which, incidentally, these authors simply pass over rather than critically engage) lend his thesis strong support. (63)

Now the endorsements for the anti-republicationist book:

“The doctrine of Republication has a Reformed pedigree. But in what sense? Recent understandings of Republication sometimes depart significantly from what one finds among Reformed theologians in the Post-Reformation periods. It is to the merit of these authors for dealing with this thorny issue by offering some important insights into the precise nature of the debate, such as discussions on merit and justice and the nature of typology. I hope all involved in the debate will give this book a careful and sympathetic reading—at least more careful and sympathetic than those who have publicly opposed Professor John Murray on this issue.”
—Mark Jones, Senior Minister, Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, BC

“I strongly recommend that everyone interested in the notion of Republication read the important book, Merit and Moses. By focusing on the guilt of every child of Adam and the only merit recognized by a holy God, the authors cut to the heart of Republication’s error. They show that to be the case by an insightful study of the Scriptures, of our most revered theologians—for example, John Murray, too often misunderstood and maligned by Republicationists—and of the Reformed confessions, showing that the doctrine of Republication cannot be harmonized with the teaching of the Westminster Standards.”
—Robert B. Strimple, President emeritus and Professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, CA

“In recent years, a number of Reformed writers have advanced the claim that the Mosaic covenant or economy was in some sense a republication of the covenant of works. According to these writers, the Republication doctrine was a common emphasis in the history of Reformed theology, and even forms an important part of the basis for the biblical doctrine of justification. The authors of this volume present a clear and compelling case against this claim. Rather than a reaffirmation of a forgotten, integral feature of Reformed theology, the authors argue that the modern republication doctrine seems inconsistent with the historic Reformed understanding of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. A helpful contribution.”
—Cornelis P. Venema, President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies, Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Dyer, IN

“This volume addresses a relatively recent appearance of the view that the Mosaic covenant embodies a republication of the covenant of works, a view that in its distinctive emphasis is arguably without precedent in the history of Reformed theology—namely, that during the Mosaic era of the covenant of grace, in pointed antithesis to grace and saving faith in the promised Messiah, the law given to Israel at Sinai was to function pedagogically as a typological overlay of the covenant of works made with Adam, by which Israel’s retention of the land and temporal blessings were made dependent on maintaining a level of meritorious obedience (works), reduced in its demand to accommodate their sinfulness. A particular strength in my judgment is their showing that the abiding demands of God’s holiness preclude meritorious obedience that is anything less than perfect, and so the impossibility of a well-meant offer to sinners of the covenant of works in any sense.”
—Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA

Let the reader decide.

But also consider this. Mr. Murray was a strong proponent of exclusive psalmody, arguably the lone holdout of prominence in the OPC. And yet those who follow Murray on covenant theology are willing to argue quite decidedly against singing psalms only or even singing the imprecatory psalms (about which Murray had no qualms). Dick Gaffin recently wrote:

Among my continuing reservations about the Psalter-Hymnal project (March issue), here I’m only able to raise one concern about its commitment to total psalmody. The imprecations in Psalm 137, among others, have in view the Old Testament situation, when God’s covenant people were one nation, a single geopolitical entity (Israel), and their enemies were likewise ethnically and geopolitically defined (Babylon and Edom here). But now, after Christ’s finished work, that spiritual enmity, inseparably national, has ceased. Now the realization of God’s eternal saving purpose, anticipated throughout the Old Testament, is universal. His elect are no longer found only within Israel, but within every nation. Under the new covenant, the church is “in Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13) in a way it was not under the old: no longer are Jews in holy hostility towards non-Jews; now, in Christ, they are reconciled to each other (Eph. 2:11–22).

I recognize that the ethnic references like those in Psalm 137 are not only literal but also typological. Akin to the symbolic references to Babylon in Revelation, they point forward to the final destruction of the enemies of God’s people. Still, singing explicitly genocidal curses in public worship, without a whole lot of preparatory explanation (and perhaps even with that), risks leaving the impression that the congregation is calling on God for the large-scale destruction of people with Gentile ethnicity like most of us in the New Testament church. (20-21)

(Could there be some kind of ambivalence at work here with typological readings of the OT?)

So what I am wondering is what would happen to this argument against total psalmody if Orthodoxy Presbyterians knew it departed from Mr. Murray. I mean, if it is fair game to raise concerns about views that do not follow Murray’s reading of creation or the Mosaic covenant, why is that okay when it comes to Murray’s singing of David? Maybe the OPC needs to kick away the crutches, prepare for sacred cows to be wounded, and through delegated assemblies let word and Spirit do their work.

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More 2K Hysteria

Rabbi Bret apparently thinks he has another smoking gun to support his beef against 2k. Cornel Venema has written a review of The Law Is Not of Faith for the Mid-America Reformed Seminary journal and the good Rabbi is content to rely on reviews rather than actually read the book to bolster his vendetta against Westminster California..

What is worth noting is that the gun Venema shoots doesn’t smoke the way that Bret does. Compare the following quotations, from Bret about the toxic nature of 2k, Venema on the authors views of republication (of the covenant of works), and also the heated words of the Kerux review (which Bret adds for good measure).

First Bret, ever charitable and ever showing the effects of listening to too much Rush:

Even though R2K theology was disciplined in the Lee Irons’ case it has not yet been eliminated from the Reformed Church. This is due to the fact that R2K theology has many high profile Doctors (and at least one Seminary) who are dedicated to breathing life into this dismal theology. Dr. Venema’s work in the Mid-America Journal of Theology is one more effort to pull back the curtain to expose a committee of Ozzes who are working overtime to infect the whole Reformed Church with their virus theology.

Now from Kerux, more like Michael Medved than Rush, but nonetheless guilty of fear-mongering:

The goal of Ferry and Fesko’s contributions was to position the idea that the Mosaic covenant is in some sense a covenant of works within the mainstream Reformed tradition. However, because of their misquotations, misrepresentations, and (at times blatant) misreading of the primary documents, their essays are both significantly flawed. Far from providing the Reformed churches a definitive settled word on the matter, they have only further muddied the already murky historical-theological waters on the Mosaic covenant in the Reformed tradition. Though both authors attempt to write with a detached, objective, and “historical” tone, careful analysis reveals that both authors are governed far more by their polemical interests than they let on. Their chief interest seems to be in legitimizing their own views on the Mosaic covenant rather than faithfully representing the consensus position of Reformed orthodoxy.

Curious that the waters of the Reformed tradition are murky, but Fesko and Ferry’s motives are not. I wonder what goggles you wear for that kind of vision.

And now Venema (thanks to Bret – I have yet to see the review):

Though Ferry cites Calvin as an example of this kind of formal republication (a forerunner to R2K Mosaic covenant as republication ‘in some sense’ of the covenant of works –BLM), I will argue in what follows that Calvin does not conceive of the Mosaic covenant as a republication of the covenant of works. Calvin’s view is much closer to what Ferry terms a ‘material’ republication view, (the view that in the Mosaic covenant we have a mere reiteration of the moral obligations that belong to the moral law of God in any of its distinct promulgations throughout the course of history) since Calvin affirms that the Mosaic Law reiterates the requirements of natural (moral) law that was the rule of Adam’s obedience before the fall. The position Ferry terms a ‘material’ republication view, is … the most common view in the Reformed tradition and hardly warrants being termed a ‘republication’ of the covenant of works in any significant sense. Ferry’s taxonomy here and throughout is rather confusing and, for that reason, unhelpful.

A couple of matters worth pondering: 1) if Venema had issued warnings akin to what Kerux published or what Bret opines, the Rabbi would have quoted them. So this is the best that Bret can do in finding ammunition against Westminster California. Since Venema doesn’t go near calling into question the faithfulness of ministers of the gospel, he is shooting blanks compared to Bret’s own toxic bullets.

2) Has Bret or the reviewers of Kerux ever considered that Brent Ferry, a good friend and former student, did not attend Westminster California? Now this could be proof the spread of the virus. It could also mean that people who read sources – not just reviews – learn a thing or two about the Reformed tradition and even its variety and pluriformity. In which case, Westminster California is not the font of these apparently objectionable views.

Another point worth making is that Bret and Kerux’s authors seem to think that Murray is on the orthodox side of matters covenantal. I myself believe that Murray got more right than he got wrong. But for a theologian, who questioned the reality of a covenant of works, to be held up as the standard of Reformed orthodoxy by which to bludgeon the contributors to The Law is Not of Faith is well nigh ironic. If Bret and Kerux’s reviewers can look past some of Murray’s quirks, why not Ferry and Fesko?

Finally, over at the Puritan Board Venema’s review has provoked discussion and Mark Van Der Molen, who is to Kloosterman what T. H. Huxley was to Charles Darwin, says that Venema’s review raises the same “red flags” that the Kerux review did. Well, not to put to fine a point on it – Venema does not. He does not hyperventilate about republication bringing down the witness of the Reformed churches. Instead, he engages in an academic review. Surely, an attorney should be able to spot the difference between a hostile witness and a lawyer’s summary arguments.

Meanwhile, Bret and Van Der Molen continue to ignore the CRC, the communion most worldviewish and Kuyperian. If denying positing two kingdoms is leading churches astray, what happened to Bret’s own communion where a world and life view is more synonymous with orthodoxy than the Canons of Dort.

If these guys can be so wrong about how to read texts and conditions within churches, why should we trust their analysis of the culture or politics? The answer is – no reason.

Where's Waldo (Two Days After) Wednesday: WSC on Union

Historically Reformed theologians have recognized that union with Christ is not merely one aspect of the order of salvation but is the hub from which the spokes are drawn. One can find such conclusions in the theology of Reformed luminaries such as John Owen, Herman Witsius, and Thomas Boston, to name a few. That union undergirds the whole of the order of salvation is evident from Paul’s book-end statements that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and that only those who are in Christ will be raised from the dead and clothed in immortality. In fact, we may say that there are three phases of our union with Christ, the predestinarian “in Christ,” the redemptive-historical “in Christ,” the union involved in the once-for-all accomplishment of salvation, and the applicatory “in Christ,” which is the union in the actual possession or application of salvation. These three phases refer not to different unions but rather to different aspects of the same union.

Given these conclusions, it is no wonder that the Westminster Larger Catechism states that justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever other benefits flow from Christ to the believer manifest the believer’s union with him (Q/A 69). When we see that our being found “in Christ” underlies the whole order of salvation, including the legal portions, such as justification and adoption, hopefully we begin to see how the Reformed understanding of the relationship between justification and union are not in any way at odds or redundant. From here, we can identify three concepts that we must understand to have a proper understanding of the relationship between union with Christ and justification: (1) that the legal aspects of our redemption are relational; (2) justification is the legal aspect of our union with Christ; and (3) that justification is the ground of our sanctification.

Justification and Union with Christ: The Legal Is Relational

We should make two important observations concerning the relationship between justification and union with Christ. First, there is the unchecked assumption that just because justification is legal in character therefore means that it is not relational. For some unknown reason, whether in the theology of nineteenth-century liberalism or contemporary expressions from Lusk, for example, both think that the so-called legal and relational are incompatible. Yet, we must understand that there are such things as legal relationships. Or, in terms of our redemption, there are legal aspects of our relationship with God. For example, Paul tells us that we have received “the Spirit of adoption as sons” (Rom. 8:15; cf. Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). Here is a clear instance where we see the wedding of the so-called legal and relational categories-adoption is a legal term but is also bound with it is the idea of sonship, a relational term. However, rather than see adoption as legal and sonship as relational, we should understand that the legal and filial are both relational. (John Fesko, “Toward A More Perfect Union?” Modern Reformation)

Fesko's Forensic Friday

Why does Paul insist upon the imputed active obedience of Christ in our justification? Why is this necessary aside from the fact that the Scriptures teach its necessity? The answer lies in the nature of our justification. We must recognize that the ground of our justification is not our sanctification, or the transformative aspect of our union with Christ. To base our justification in our sanctification is to change the judicial ground from the work of Christ to the work of the believer. The good works of the believer, even those that are the result of the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, are at the end of the day imperfect. . . .

It is only the obedience of Christ, therefore, that can be the ground of our justification, not only the obedience that he offered in his vicarious suffering throughout his entire earthly ministry, his passive obedience, but also his perfect law-keeping that he offered on our behalf to his Father, his active obedience.

In terms of union with Christ and justification, Berkhof therefore explains that “justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing condition, but on that of a gracious imputation-a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner. The judicial ground for all the special grace which we receive lies in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is freely imputed to us.” What we must realize, then, is that the ground of our redemption is the work of Christ; correlatively, we should also recognize that the ground of our sanctification is our justification. In other words, apart from the legal-forensic work of Christ, received by imputation through faith, there is no transformative work of the Holy Spirit. Or, using the title of John Murray’s famous book, apart from redemption accomplished, there can be no redemption applied (see WCF 11.3; Larger Catechism, Q/A 70). (John Fesko, “Toward A More Perfect Union?Modern Reformation)

Thanks to Heidelblog