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.