Speaking of Transformationalizationism

Ken Myers once upon a time took instruction from Meredith Kline about why the idea of Christian culture is wrongheaded:

The experience of human culture in all its diversity is the way we enjoy being human. And enjoy it we must. Being human is the most profound aspect of the creation for which we ought to give thanks. If we can enjoy the beauty of all else in creation, how foolish to resent or ignore the image of the Creator, the pinnacle of creation. It is being human, not being saved — it is the image of God in us, not regeneration — that established the capacity to recognize the distinctions between the beautiful and the ubly, between order and chaos, between the creative and the stultifying.

We were created beings before we were redeemed beings. God’s benediction on creation has not been entirely erased by the Fall. Jesus Himself is not only divine, He is human. Does he enjoy it, or simply endure it? Until our bodies are made new, like the body Jesus now enjoys, our calling is not to escape fleshly existence, nor to sanctify culture (since it is “common,” shared by believer and unbeliever, and cannot be made holy), but to so influence our culture as to make it more consistent with the created nature of man, and to sanctify our own lives, because we are also living in the Spirit, with our minds set on the things that are above.

We acknowledge this distinction between the holy and the common each time we partake of the Lord’s Supper. Every meal I eat, I eat to the glory of God, under the Lordship of Christ. But not every meal I heat has the significance and the power to transform that the Lord’s Supper has. It is a holy meal in a way last week’s visit to Burger King is not. Not everyone is allowed to eat this holy meal, but everyone is allowed to eat at Burger King. If there are deficiencies within the culture that have produced Burger King, the deficiencies are not due to the fact that it is not a holy place, but because it violates or compromises aspects of our experience as human beings. If we believe that to be the case, our goal as Christians would not be to sanctify the Whopper, to make it into a sacrament, but to attempt to influence our culture to make it more fitting for human beings bearing the image of God.

While our culture may not be holy, it should not be inhuman. (All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, 50-51)

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The Healthy Influence of Meredith Kline

His Vossian eschatology and two-kingdom outlook gave some of us room to avoid this:

Have you heard of the Benedict Option? If not, you will soon.

It’s the name of a deeply pessimistic cultural project that’s capturing the imaginations of social conservatives as they come to terms with the realization that the hopes and assumptions that animated the religious right over the past 35-odd years have been dashed by the sweeping triumph of the movement for same-sex marriage.

From the start, the religious right has been marked by two qualities: optimism and a faith in majoritarianism. The qualities are connected. Think back to Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. The name conveyed its ideology: A majority of Americans are morally and religiously conservative. To the extent that the nation’s politics and culture don’t reflect that, it’s because they have been co-opted by a secular liberal minority that has placed itself in control of such elite institutions as the media, Hollywood, the universities, the judiciary, and the federal bureaucracy. The proper response is to take back these institutions using democratic means, primarily elections.

In other words, play by the rules of the democratic game, and social conservatives will eventually triumph.

This sounded like a fantasy at first, since the movement began among evangelical Protestants, who never made up more than about 25 percent of the population, and whose style of worship and belief was profoundly off-putting to non-evangelical Christians, let alone to more secular Americans. But ecumenical and inter-religious efforts throughout the 1980s and early 1990s helped to forge an alliance among conservative believers in many faith traditions: evangelicals, but also Catholics, Mormons, Jews, and Muslims. This made talk of majorities at least plausible, and seemed to vindicate the optimism, too.

Is this the thanks Kline gets? Anyone who steers you clear of the transformationalism/sky-is-falling outlook that afflicts various sectors of modern neo- and New Calvinism, a perspective that Kline’s reading of the Bible contravenes, deserves an extra helping of gratitude (if that’s not a dirty word for the Lutheran challenged).

Say What You Will About Klineanism, At Least It's an Ethos

ProtoProtestant identifies one reason why Meredith Kline matters:

Revelation 20 knows nothing of a political dominion of the church over the earth during this millennial age of the great commission. That expectation is a delusion of the prophets of theonomic postmillennialism, who, in their impatience with the way through the wilderness, have succumbed to carnal cravings for worldly power. It is revealing that in order to defend their false forecasts they find it necessary to scorn as losers those whom the Scriptures honor as overcomers, indeed as “more than conquerors” (cf. Rom 8:35-37), the martyr-witnesses who overcome Satan “because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and they loved not their life unto death” (Rev 12:11). One cannot but be appalled at the railing of certain of these reconstructionist postmillenarians against the Holy Spirit’s soteric ministry thus far in the church age. What has been in the eyes of heaven a triumphant working of the Spirit of Christ, effecting the salvation of all God’s elect in every nation and every generation without fail, a sovereign fulfilling of the good pleasure of God’s will to the praise of his grace—this is dismissed by the pundits of this postmillennialist cult as dismal failure and a history of defeat. Nothing betrays more clearly than this blasphemous contempt for the gospel triumphs of the Spirit how alien to biblical Christianity is the ideology of theonomic reconstructionism. (Glory In Our Midst: A Biblical-Theological Reading of Zechariah’s Night Visions, 53-54)

Flattening Will Get You Nowhere

Mark Jones wonders what is so controversial about the view that the covenant with Adam was gracious:

. . . for the sake of argument, let’s say the Mosaic covenant has a meritorious element. Does that make it a republication of the covenant of works? Not necessarily. After all, you would have to re-define the covenant of works to make it a meritorious covenant. But what if you hold to the uncontroversial view that Adam, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, lived by faith in the Garden of Eden as he perfectly obeyed God’s law (for a time)? How is Sinai similar to that covenantal context and how is it different?

In other words, Adam was dependent on the work of grace to keep the law in a way comparable to what the Israelites experienced after the Mosaic Covenant. And as I gather from his interview (haven’t read his book yet), Jones also draws comparisons between Christ’s pursuit of holiness and the Christian’s similar endeavor. Lots of flattening in Jones’ reading of the Bible and history, though not much attention to Paul who may have provided a few reasons for not exalting every valley in redemptive history.

But surely Jones knows that his “uncontroversial” hypothesis is precisely has been contentious among confessional Reformed Protestants for as long as Norman Shepherd proposed the notion of obedient faith. In particular, Shepherd, if Cornel Venema’s review of The Call of Grace is a fair reading, had a similar habit of making the rough places of redemptive history plain:

. . . though this flattening of the covenant relationship throughout the course of history, before and after the fall, may have a superficial appeal, it has huge implications for the way we interpret the respective “work” of Adam and Christ, the second Adam. Shepherd makes clear that he rejects the traditional Reformed doctrine of a pre-lapsarian “covenant of works” that promised Adam life “upon condition of perfect obedience” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. VII.ii). To say that Adam’s acceptance before God justly demanded his performance of an obligation of obedience, is, Shepherd argues, tantamount to treating the covenant relationship as though it were a contractual one, on analogy of an employer to an employee, rather than a familial one, on analogy of a father to a son (p. 39). We should recognize that God always treats human beings on the basis of his sovereign grace and promise. Just as children never “merit” their father’s favor by their good works, so human beings never “merit” God’s favor by their obedience to the covenant’s obligations. However, life in covenant with God, though not “merited,” is nonetheless obtained only by way of the obedience of faith. This means that what God required of Adam, he requires of Abraham and all believers, including Christ.

Lest this interpretation of Shepherd’s view be regarded as a misreading of his position, it should be noted that Shepherd explicitly draws a parallel between what God obliges Abraham, Christ, and all believers to do as a necessary condition for their salvation. In his description of Christ’s saving work, Shepherd uses the same language that he earlier used to describe Abraham’s faith: “His [Christ’s] was a living, active, and obedient faith that took him all the way to the cross. This faith was credited to him as righteousness” (p. 19, emphasis mine). By this language Shepherd treats Christ as though he were little more than a model believer whose obedient faith constituted the ground for his acceptance with God in the same way that Abraham’s (and any believer’s) obedient faith constituted the basis for his acceptance with God. In his zeal to identify the covenant relationship between God and man in its pre- and post-fall administrations, Shepherd leaves little room to describe Christ’s work as Mediator of the covenant in a way that honors the uniqueness, perfection and sufficiency of Christ’s accomplishment for the salvation of his people.

So we offer a warning to Jones about his flattening lest he reduce the uniqueness of Christ’s epoch-making work in contrast to Adam’s epic failure. He may want to chalk Meredith Kline’s views of Moses up to the latter’s study of the Ancient Near East. But Jones should also pay attention to the other much more significant context for his views on republication — namely, the errors of Shepherd.

Development of Doctrinal Dispute Stalled

David Murray concludes his four-part series on Merit and Moses — the book that is anti-republication — by boiling it down to this:

. . . my own concerns about RP have grown as I’ve increasingly come into contact with people who are using the RP to argue against any place of the law in the Christian life. They hear RP teachers saying that Israel obeyed the law to merit the land, but the NT believer is no longer under that arrangement. Thus they conclude, we don’t need to obey God’s law any more. Again, I know that’s not what RP intends but it is such a complex and confusing system that even those who have heard it explained many times still struggle to understand and communicate it accurately. I remember the first time I heard the RP preached, I thought, “What on earth was that?” To some degree, I still feel that sense of bafflement. With theology, I’ve often noticed that the more complex a system, the more likely that it’s wrong.

What is striking about this conclusion is that Murray (David, that is) winds up basically where Norman Shepherd started — Christians in the 1970s believed they could dispense with the law (thanks either to D. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion or Jack Miller’s Sonship Theology). Shepherd opposed such antinomianism and wasn’t even contending with republication or 2-kingdom theology. He was, of course, sorting covenant theology out to some degree with Meredith Kline, who turned out to be one of the leading opponents of Shepherd. And Kline, as David Murray points out, represents for the authors of Merit and Moses the overreaction against Shepherd.

Has anyone yet to show us what the right reaction against Shepherd is? The folks who have been most vigorous in opposing where Shepherd led (i.e. Federal Vision) were some of the people who wrote for The Law is Not of Faith. Do they get credit for that? Not much. And what about the Murrayites (not David) who didn’t go the way of Federal Vision? Were they critical of Shepherd or Federal Vision? Or did they sit on their hands? Or how about the Obedience Boys? Have they had their innings with Norman Shepherd who argued for an obedient faith?

My contention is still that the very small world of U.S. conservative Presbyterian and Reformed believers has not yet gotten over Shepherd.

More Van Tillian Than Thou

The new book that critiques republication (the idea that the Mosaic Covenant had in some sense a works principle) is curious in various respects. But one of the more glaring (if the paper originally presented to the Presbytery of the Northwest upon which the book is based is accurate) is the contention that Meredith Kline botched covenant theology by regarding God’s work of creation as essentially covenantal. Here are the authors of Merit and Moses:

The republication view teaches that man was in covenant with God at the very moment of creation. This is an important shift from the traditional viewpoint. Ontological considerations demand that there be at least a logical distinction (rather than a chronological or historical sequence) between God’s creating man and his entering into covenant with him. The republication teaching now erases this confessional distinction (which is based upon the “great disproportion” between the Creator and creature), and thereby turns God’s providential work of establishing the covenant into an aspect of the work of creation. Thus, we may say that the two distinct acts have been conflated or collapsed into essentially one act in this new view. For all intents and purposes, the relationship between God and man is not first that of sovereign Creator over his finite creature, but is from the point of creation a relationship of “God-in-covenant-with-man.” For Professor Kline and those who have followed his lead in the republication position, it is improper to even consider man’s existence apart from covenant. Thus, man’s covenantal status seems to “trump” his creaturely status. (from the section, “Two Definitions of Merit, Part 2: The Republication Paradigm”)

But what if Kline was simply channeling Cornelius Van Til (who should count as much as Murray unless of course Kline compromises status purity)? Here is what Van Til had to say about creation and God’s covenants:

The philosophy of history that speaks to us from the various chapters of the Confession may be sketched with a few bold strokes. We are told that man could never have had any fruition of God through the revelation that came to him in nature as operating by itself. There was superadded to God’s revelation in nature another revelation, a supernaturally communicated positive revelation. Natural revelation, we are virtually told, was from the outset incorporated into the idea of a covenantal relationship of God with man. Thus every dimension of created existence, even the lowest, was enveloped in a form of exhaustively personal relationship between God and man. The “ateleological” no less than the “teleological,” the “mechanical” no less than the “spiritual” was covenantal in character. (Nature and Scripture)

So how do your reconcile competing human authorities? Maybe you appeal not to sacred cows but to sacred Scripture?

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.

Vossians and Neo-Calvinists Together?

I have puzzled often about the lack of support in Vossian circles for two-kingdom theology. Many Vossians I know — and I consider myself to be one — find the spirituality of the church agreeable but balk at 2k. Why 2k is distinguished from the spirituality of the church is anyone’s guess, or why Geerhardus Vos’ distinction between this age and the age to come do not put a kabosh on tranformationalism is another of those brain-teasers you see in the back pages of World magazine (NOT!).

With this perplexity in mind, Jim Cassidy’s post about Vos, Van Til, and Kline and their implicit rejection of 2k’s dualism is instructive.

On the one hand:

I want to once again reiterate my deep appreciation for the work done by 2K theologians. I believe their insights are important and essential for the church to hear today. In particular, in so far as they desire to highlight the spiritual nature of the church’s ministry, I am all on board. Furthermore, I am in general agreement and in sympathy with their critique of social transformationalism. I am also deeply indebted to their redemptive-historical hermeneutic for understanding the difference between what parts of God’s Word are applicable to the church or state today, and which are not.

On the other hand:

. . . where I disagree is on a fundamental, deep-structural level with regard to their covenant theology. And I disagree with them because of Geerhardus Vos, Cornelius Van Til, and above all M.G. Kline. . . .

That brings us to Kline. Kline dedicated his great work The Structure of Biblical Authority to his professor, Cornelius Van Til. That was appropriate as the work was thoroughly Vosian and Van Tilian. But while he hints at how God’s Word and creation relate in that book (thinking here of chapter 2), the full development of his thought would have to await his Kingdom Prologue. In that book, very early on (i.e., pp. 14-41 of the W&S edition), Kline introduces the concept of God’s “covenantal fiat” in the act of creation. This means, in short, that God’s act of creation IS covenantal. . . . this means that there is no place for Thomas’s nature/grace dualism, nor is there any place for German idealism’s dualisms as well. The very Word which God spoke at creation, testifies to God who spoke it through the things that have been made. At no place and at no time is creation silent. It always and everywhere speaks. This eliminates any and all notions of natural theology as understood by the Thomistic tradition, or as modernized by German idealism. Creation does not need to be perfected by grace. It is quite adequate for the knowledge of God, thank you very much.

Whether Jim believes 2kers disagree with this point is not entirely clear. But he should be aware of how important covenant theology is to both David VanDrunen (see his piece in the Strimple festschrift) and Mike Horton (see his dogmatics) at least in part because they studied with Kline. In other words, 2k is not opposed to Jim’s point about the covenantal context of creation. I suspect that most 2kers affirm it, especially of those who studied with Kline.

Where 2kers get off the Vos-Van Til-Kline-Cassidy bus is with Jim’s application:

. . . our call as Christians is to point the unbeliever to that reality and call him to repentance. Indeed, God’s common grace allows the unbeliever to function and even thrive in cultural endeavors, and we praise God for that fact. But such grace is only a restrainer. It is never to be confused with common ground. There is no safe territory upon which the unbeliever can stand and do right by one kingdom, but not right by another. In every kingdom he is wrong. Even his own cultural endeavors testify against him. And if we, as Christians, do not (lovingly!) point that out to him, who will? I am afraid that the 2KT may in fact cause Christians to lose their greatest apologetic and witnessing opportunities.

First, where does the Bible require believers when interacting in the public square to engage in apologetics? When Joseph, Daniel, Jesus, and Paul engaged pagan rulers, did they first explain the covenantal context of creation before carrying out orders or answering questions?

Second, the public square may presume a covenantal context, but do we need to go to first principles for everything we do with unbelievers in our neighborhoods and communities? Do we need to explain the covenant or creation before we explain to city council the need for a new stop light at a busy intersection? Do we need to appeal to the creator of the universe before opposing a pay raise for public school teachers? Do we even need to give a covenantal account of the universe before declaring war on Iraq?

I don’t mean to make light of Jim’s point. But I do sometimes wonder how folks who live and breathe the antithesis live side by side in this age with unbelievers upon whom Reformed Protestants depend to stay in their lane, keep up their yards, and cheer for the home team.

That Tears It, I'm Joining the Gospel Coalition

There I may be appreciated finally (since it is all about me, after all).

First it was Bryan Chapell video”>saying something very 2kish about the United States as a Christian nation. His answer was essentially, no. And that answer goes well with the 2k idea that the only Christian nation that ever existed was the state of Israel before the coming of Christ. Since that political order is no longer part of God’s redemptive plan, and since the institution God is now using to establish his kingdom — as in the WCF’s assertion that the visible church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (25.2) — Chapell seems to give 2kers room to maneuver within the Gospel Coalition without fear of being fear mongered.

Now comes an interview with Tim Keller where he encounters “This is Your Life” in a long interview. Part of his reflections on his theological formation includes the influence of Meredith Kline’s covenant theology for a redemptive historical understanding of justification by faith alone. Of course, Keller’s testimony is not solidly 2k since he also affirms Richard Lovelace’s scientific historical explanations of how revivals happen and Jack Miller’s pastoral practices in the New Life Presbyterian movement. But he does not flinch from affirming an Old Testament scholar who will in some conservative Reformed circles merit a thirteen-part series on how some Reformed authors are abandoning the faith once delivered to Kuyper.

So in conservative Reformed circles denying America’s Christian origins and affirming Meredith Kline’s teaching can get you sentenced to neo-Calvinist jail, but over at the Gospel Coalition the allies seem to think such ideas are neat.

Have I found a home, or what?

The 2k/Anti-2k Fault Line

For the most part, the critics of 2k do not care for (to put it mildly) the work or arguments of Meredith Kline (who happens to be arguably the most original and creative of Old Westminster’s faculty – and still remained theologically reliable). Those who argue for a 2k-position have generally drawn from the biblical theology of Kline. In my own case, spooked from greater investigation of the Old Testament through my boot camp in seminary Hebrew, I found my way to 2k through a New Testament scholar, J. Gresham Machen, who followed the Old School Presbyterian tradition of the spirituality of the church.

So one fault line in the contemporary debate is Kline and whether you draw from or trash his work.

The other fault line is Herman Dooyeweerd and the tradition of neo-Calvinism that he handed on to 20th-century Reformed Protestantism in the United States. Thanks to his understanding of worldview and the ascendance of neo-Calvinism among evangelical academics since 1960, Presbyterians and Reformed have lost touch with an older understanding of natural law and the two-kingdoms that was part and parcel of Reformed reflection from Calvin and Turretin to Witherspoon and Robinson. This is one of several useful points that David VanDrunen makes in his history of 2k thought in the Reformed tradition. After Dooeyweerd, arguments based on distinctions between general and special revelation, between civil and ecclesiastical realms, between Christ’s creational and mediatorial kingships sound foreign and un-Reformed. The reason is that dualism is bad.

And now to connect the dots comes a section from Meredith Kline’s Kingdom Prologue (thanks to our taller mid-western correspondent). Here we see the fault line clearly exposed even though Kline freely admits that his work is “most indebted” to the Kuyperians for developing a biblical world-and-life-view (after all, he studied with Van Til):

In backing away from the mistake of identifying the city per se with the kingdom of Satan, we must beware of backing into the opposite error of identifying it with the kingdom of God in an institutional sense, an error equally serious and even more common. In the midst of the threatening world environment to which man is exposed through the common curse, the common grace city offers the hope of a measure of temporal safety, but it does not afford eternal salvation. It should not, therefore, be identified with the holy kingdom of God, which is the structural manifestation of that salvation. . . .

Characteristically, members of [the neo-Dooyeweerdian school] have been critical of schematizations that distinguish between the city of man and the city of God. In particular, they would frown on the suggestion that the city of man is common, in the sense of non-holy. They believe that they detect a scholastic nature-grace dualism lurking in any such approach. . . . The Scriptures compel us to distinguish between the kingdom of God as realm and reign and to recognize that though everything is embraced under the reign of God, not everything can be identified as part of the kingdom fo God viewed as a holy realm.

. . . . Unfortunately, however, in a philosophical zeal for an abstract structural monism apparently, the neo-Dooyeweerdians commit themselves to a view of historical reality within which the Creator himself would not be allowed to respond to the Fall with appropriate modifications of the institutional structuring of the original creation. Specifically, he would not be free to introduce a structural dualism in which there coexisted legitimately both holy kingdom institution and non-holy institution. . . .

We must apparently assume that the neo-Dooyeweerdians are prepared to repudiate structural dualism anytime, anywhere in the divinely instituted order. Otherwise it is difficult to explain their out of hand rejection of any and all views that distinguish between the holy kingdom of God and a common sphere (including the state not identifiable as God’s kingdom as just so many examples of scholastic nature-grace dualism. But how fallacious such a stance is becomes manifest when the attempt is made to carry it through to the eschaton and apply it to the eternal abode of the damned. In dealing with the phenomenon we call hell it becomes evident how necessary it is to distinguish in God’s kingly rule between holy realm and sovereign reign. . . .

If philosophical theorizing is to remain under the control and correction of biblical revelation, the neo-Dooyweerdian assumption that all creation can be identified in monistic fashion with the kingdom-realm of God must be abandoned. . . . The sphere of the state, though not exempt from God’s rule and not devoid of the divine presence – indeed, though it is the scene of God’s presence in a measure of common blessing, is, nevertheless, not to be identified as belonging to the kingdom of God or sharing in its holiness. We may not deny to the Creator his sovereign prerogative of creative structuring and restructuring and authoritative defining and redefining. And least of all should we venture to do so in the name of honoring the universality of his kingly rule. (Kingdom Prologue, pp. 168ff)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Kline is saying that 2k is more biblical than anti-2k. He also argues that 2k does more justice to God’s sovereign rule – the Lord has the rights to create a common realm – than 2k’s critics do.

How do you like them apples?.