Three students from Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary produced a paper (which can be found here) critical of a stream of thought rightly embodied in the impressive persons of Meredith Kline and Michael Horton. This article has, I think, some weaknesses, but it certainly got me thinking. First, it highlights some aspects of what might be called the Klinean version of covenant theology that have been troubling me for a few years. In other words, I find myself in a great deal of sympathy with the positions and criticisms of the paper. Thus, there’s very little original content to my questions below (which makes me happy). Other Reformed brothers are having similar problems, and our thinking on these issues is quite similar. Second, it clues me in that, even though covenant theology is a topic that I’ve studied with a good deal of energy and attention, there’s still a great deal more for me to learn. I am quite willing to learn from Kline and Horton, as I consider them both my teachers. Consequently, a good deal of patience, humility, and brotherly love is requisite. In the spirit of brotherly love, here’s an article of similar length that I have not yet read. It’s by Lee Irons, and it defends Kline’s covenant theology. I’m quite interested to hear any responses from these articles or to my question below.
Okay, I’ll now take a few brain cells and a minute or two to ask a series of questions of the theologians that follow or defend the Klinean model of covenant theology. I ask these questions in earnest. As I’ve already admitted, I have a great deal of studying yet to do; maybe these brothers can lend me a helping hand.
- Is the Mosaic covenant (MC) a dispensation of the covenant of works (CoW) or the covenant of grace (CoG)? If the MC is characterized as primarily a recapitulation of the CoW, then why has historic Presbyterianism held that the MC is a dispensation of the CoG (WCF, ch. 7)? How do Klineans harmonize this?
If the MC is seen principally as a recapitulation of the CoW, then how is the MC not a case of covenant regression? That is, from Gen 3:15 through Noah and Abraham, we have a progression of the CoG, but when we hit Moses, not only do we hit the brakes, but we regress all the way back to the garden.
- The CoW was made with Adam in a state of original righteousness. Israel at Sinai was a group (not an individual) of fallen people. This is a major discontinuity that makes the “recapitulation” fairly incongruous, which needs explaining.
- The MC included the sacrificial system, which the CoW did not. Sacrifices (as such) are not part of the CoW, but part of the CoG. Why, then, would the MC be primarily seen as a recapitulation of the CoW?
- Finally, the MC is completely couched in the Abrahamic covenant, which is doubtless a dispensation of the CoG. The promises of the land are not to Moses, but to Abraham. How, then, did the MC become a recapitulation of the CoW?
When I look at all of this with a clear head (!) and a cup or two of coffee in me, it appears that the “recapitulation” aspect of the MC amounts to nothing more than this: “Do this and live.” The do-this-and-live aspect of the MC reminds God’s people that they cannot do the law, and, thus, causes them to look outside themselves for a Redeemer. One would be hard pressed to say that this aspect of the MC qualifies it to be characterized primarily as a recapitulation of the CoW. In short, the first use of the law is not identical with the CoW, though there are important similarities between the two.
Well, that traces out some of my thoughts and questions with regard to the Klinean model of covenant theology. But there are further problems, it seems to me, when this model of covenant theology is linked up with a more aggressive two-kingdom theology and a rigid law/gospel hermeneutic. I fear that this combination has a tendency toward antinomianism and a removal of Christ, divine law, and Christianity as such from the public square. The tricky thing for me is that there is a great deal I agree with in all these theological positions, but there are more radical versions of them that, it seems to me, contain errors.
Again, I want to see this discussion progress carefully and with brotherly love. I don’t like brothers in Christ talking past one another. We have a great deal in common (mostly a common Lord who commands us to love one another), so let us pursue the peace, unity, and purity of the church of Christ in our discussions.