22 July 2015

Criticisms of Klinean Republication

GPTS president J. Pipa acknowledges there is some historical precedent in the Puritan tradition which understood the Mosaic epoch as containing elements of Edenic symbolism. Meredith Kline and others have argued there is, on a typological level, a replication of the Edenic administration in Israel's presence in Canaan. Israel, a type of the Second Adam was placed in the land of milk and honey and given commands to keep that would determine whether or not Israel would be permitted to stay in the 'holy place'. A failure to do so would result in expulsion and exile.

However there has been considerable debate over the nature of the prelapsarian arrangement as well as disputation over what is the signification of the Mosaic Law.


Are we to understand the Old Testament and in particular the Mosaic epoch as being antithetical and in opposition to the New Testament? Covenantally are they operating under two different principles, one of works and the other of grace?

Are we to understand the Old Testament including Moses as being substantially united to the New Testament? Does it represent a seamless continuity in terms of the plan of God and how He has revealed salvation to the world?

Or does the Bible present to us a mixed picture, containing some elements of continuity and other elements of discontinuity?

Most people, particularly those in Reformed circles would answer the latter but there is little agreement on this point. There are numerous factions and considerable nuance within the various camps.

And yet for all that we can say that Pipa represents the branch of Reformed theology that tends to emphasize unity at the expense of disunity. Most importantly to him he believes the Westminster Confession teaches this. This of course adds a rather frustrating element to the discussion because in Presbyterian and Reformed circles it is the Confessional heritage that is the real source of the struggle. It's not simply a matter of what the Scriptures teach. There's a tradition to be considered and wrangled over. And there are denominational politics always in play which determine where the lines are drawn.

But even those who emphasize unity will acknowledge that certain aspects of the Old Testament are indeed obsolete. In Presbyterianism this is accomplished through the theological construct known as the Three-Fold Division of the law, that identifies the eternal 'Moral Law' with the Decalogue, creates a division called 'Civil Law' which they believe to be obsolete. But it is a qualified obsolescence. They believe its equity persists and is both applicable and employable by the Church vis-à-vis society. So in one sense it is not obsolete and this has been the source of considerable debate, especially in light of rising secularism.

Finally they create a division called the 'Ceremonial Law' which they believe to be abrogated.

Others like this author find this schema to be artificial, unsupported by both Old and New Testament data, out of synch with Redemptive-History and in fact harmful.

Despite these aspects of abrogation they insist there is a unity between the covenants and Pipa argues this viewpoint in a consistent and fairly thorough manner, in particular focusing on the fact that the calling of Moses was specifically tied in with the story of the Patriarchs. It is viewed as a continuation of that story which seemingly presents difficulties for those who wish to present the Mosaic epoch as a parenthesis or even digression within the larger narrative.

In no way does Kline (or those who broadly would identify with him) suggest otherwise. The Mosaic period is certainly part of the continuing story and one of the covenants of promise, fulfilled, affirmed and confirmed in Christ.

Yet, Kline and others have also insisted that there is another layer to the story, another theological dimension that must be considered. There are too many verses in the New Testament which contrast the glories of the New Covenant with the Mosaic order.

Pipa would insist these contrasts are not theologically inherent but are New Testament criticisms restricted to Jewish abuses and misunderstandings of the Mosaic arrangement.

In Reformed circles the debate has not been helped by the fact that over the past century Dispensational theology has taken the place of ascendancy in American Protestantism, a system built on covenantal dis-unity and an essential contrast between the Old and New Testament periods. In fact under Dispensationalism it's not even proper to refer to the present age as that of the New Testament or Covenant. It is yet future and part of a separate plan concerning the Jewish nation.

Re-working older theological formulae Kline argues that individuals are saved by Grace through Faith Alone in all post-lapsarian epochs. Yet, on a typological level the corporate body, the Hebrew nation of Israel was given another covenantal arrangement that echoed the Edenic framework. Israel, corporately speaking, had to exhibit obedience in order to retain their hold on and presence in the land. Again, the threat of disobedience was to be removed from the Holy Land of milk and honey and to be sent (like Adam) into exile, into the unholy world a picture of Hell itself.

Kline utilizes this works-principle in explaining the contrast between the Old and New Testaments, seen so plainly on the pages of the New and as also illustrative of Christ/the True Israel's role in being the Second Adam. Unlike the First Adam who failed and pedagogical Israel/Adam which also failed, the True/Second Adam/Israel succeeds in obedience and thus securing the Holy Land/Kingdom.

Many in Reformed circles have balked at this interpretation because it introduces aspects of disunity between the covenants. It creates an aspect of the Old Testament that is in effect antagonistic to the New and also indicates that great portions of the Old arrangement are in no way applicable to this present age. Or to put it differently, the Klinean view posits the whole of the Old Testament and specifically the Mosaic order is theocratic but rooted in typology and thus being fulfilled is no longer applicable to the New Testament age. This is devastating to the Dominionist/Constantinian programme embraced by many Calvinists.

That said not a few of Kline's appreciators are yet able to embrace a form of de jure Dominionism while at the same time rejecting the explicit de facto Dominionism that fuels a more formalized and overt Constantinian framework. On a practical level the 'equity' of the Old Testament order is not really applicable. The 'equity' ends up becoming a spring-board for a theological synthesis often identified as 'Christian Worldview' being applied to everything from the arts to politics and war. Far from being 'Biblical' it is in reality the fruit of philosophical speculation and rationalization.

This also plays out in terms of the doctrine of Sanctification and the place of obedience in the life of the believer. Rather than an open mandate applied by a broad range of Spirit guided wisdom, most Reformed believe the Old Testament law is specifically applicable to the lives of believers and that the law is not only a rule for society but also plays a part in the believer's personal ethics.

The Klinean system as well as some nuanced expressions of this theology eschews anything that smacks of 'works' and certainly any ethical appeals to Old Testament norms. The law-paradigm was specific to Eden and the Adamic arrangement and repeated typologically under Moses. For us to look to law as a guide would be to embrace the Adamic-merit paradigm and to reject grace.

Practically speaking for some of them the grace principle is so magnified as to all but eliminate ethical imperatives and/or any measure or elaboration on the doctrine of Sanctification. At this point it overlaps with aspects of Lutheran theology and the Law/Gospel hermeneutic which places all imperatives under the auspice of 'law', a category believers are not to try or endeavour to fulfill. Once again any such attempt or obligation is decried as a rejection of the gospel of grace.

Despite some difficulties with the broader Klinean outlook, Pipa fails to do justice to the full orb of Scripture and the various New Testament passages which clearly contrast the New and the Old Testaments. His theology won't accommodate these concepts and embracing them presents logical tangles compromising the integrity of his overall system. Besides the fact the Confession itself would have to be questioned and for Pipa the appeal to Sola Scriptura is de facto an invalid approach in a post-Confessional paradigm. As a Presbyterian, Westminster is given the final word.

At the same time while emphasizing unity he is hemmed in by concerns that have arisen due to the Federal Vision controversy and the teachings of Norman Shepherd. These sometime overlapping schools of thought teach the works principle is not incompatible with grace. In fact they would argue the law was never meant to be understood as operating in terms of a works principle at all, but that obligation and conditionality have always been inherent in the grace-based covenant arrangements and that remains true today.

One means of escaping the charge of works oriented salvation is to re-cast and re-think the concept of merit. They argue that to think in terms of merit is a mistake. No one can merit anything with regard to God, but obedience is called for and can be rewarded. This casts the whole of the Covenant of Works principle into doubt and represents a significant modification of Scholastic Reformed theology. This opens up a whole host of historical-theological questions and really begins to touch on more fundamental hermeneutical and prolegomenical issues. Perhaps without meaning to they have struck at the foundations of Confessionalism and Scholastic theology, a point on which they are to be awarded accolades even if one does not subscribe to the whole of their outlook.

I'm sure this is all somewhat frustrating for Pipa as he is forced to navigate these rather complicated waters. And yet for Pipa and many others I would imagine they find a certain comfort in viewing the Klinean theology so often associated with Westminster California and the theology of Federal Vision as extreme and opposite positions. Pipa and many affiliated with Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) and Westminster East (Philadelphia) believe they are holding the proper historic middle ground that maintains the right balance between covenantal continuity and discontinuity. They are avoiding the errors of Monocovenantalism while at the same time avoiding extreme disunity.

In truth, the extreme versions of Monocovenantalism end up leading toward Rome both in terms of theology and social ideal. The extreme emphasis on disunity has led to Dispensational theology and it's veneration of Judaism and certainly the downgrade of ecclesiology as a whole.

Not a few critics of Pipa and the mainstream Confessionalism he seeks to represent, view his positions as essentially reflecting 19th century interpretations of Reformed theological heritage. It is a Calvinistic version of Aristotelian Scholasticism with all its systemic nuances and its speculative worst.

Some (Amyraldians for instance) would argue the Confessional heritage detracts from the Renaissance Humanism of the Protestant Reformers. They believe Protestant Scholasticism actually represented a departure from Calvin and the other early Reformers. I still think that, but since I have no stake in the Reformed label, heritage or any kind of denominational affiliation, I abandoned that fight long ago.

History is full of false claims and anachronisms.

A small minority believe that historical Calvinism is itself defective and have sought to rework the whole of Covenant Theology. I'm thinking of some within the New Covenant Theology movement and even some who have been identified as the New Calvinism. We could also speak of Dutch inspired Neo-Calvinism which is not unrelated in certain ways to some concepts adopted by Federal Vision but that is outside the scope of this discussion.

They (and this author must be included) insist Scripture presents dynamics and tensions and in order for us to be faithful to Scripture, we must submit to Divine revelation and embrace all perspectives presented to us even if they seem extreme and seem to defy logical systematic expression. Synthesis must be subjugated to the text.

In addition it also must be pointed out that Pipa gets hung up on the issue of typology. This is systematics at its worst and most deficient. We see this typically when we hear preachers talk about the analogies with regard to the river Jordan etc...

Typology is symbolic. It can be pressed too far or teased out too literally. If this is done it will always break down.

The fact that under Kline's Republication view the corporate works arrangement present in the Mosaic order did not require 'perfect' obedience to him is decisive and demonstrates the fallacy of the structure. God always requires perfect obedience therefore the model is simply and patently wrong.

Though he views this argument as conclusive it actually demonstrates his own somewhat impoverished and rather rigid understanding of Scripture and in particular typology. It's a real expression of the difference between Grammatico-Historical hermeneutics or method versus Redemptive-Historical hermeneutics, sometimes (to the confusion of some) referred to as Biblical Theology. Many in Reformed circles have laboured to demonstrate that these approaches are not antagonistic but in fact complimentary. In fact it would seem that most who follow Kline embrace this view. Confessionalism in fact demands some sort of synthesis. Pure Redemptive-Historical hermeneutics doesn't really harmonize with the philosophical commitment to coherence that undergirds Systematic Confessionalism.

I am of the camp which would severely subjugate any attempt at Systematics to the dictates of Redemptive-Historical hermeneutics. Commentaries and Theology are indispensable. But it must be said that ultimately Systematic Theologies and Confessionalism rest on hermeneutical and authoritative commitments that undermine Sola Scriptura.

Ironically it is some in the Federal Vision camp who actually are determined to elevate Scripture over the Confessions. Sadly in their case, their Biblical-Theology, their understanding of Redemptive-History is inverted. The Old Testament is not subordinated to Apostolic interpretation and their subsequent Postmillennialism and the Dominionism that fuels it ends up generating a corpus of extra-Scriptural concepts and commitments.

Or to summarize the preceding statements in a slightly different way, it is the author's opinion that in most cases Biblical Theology is effectively and practically subordinated and while helpful to presenting a more truly Biblical (Bible-based) theology, still falls short. The Grammatico-Historical method is almost inherently wed to Systematics and it is the commitment to coherence that ends up dominating Scriptural interpretation.  

Pipa's Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS) embraces the Grammatico-Historical method and is actually somewhat hostile to Redemptive-Historical hermeneutics, despite their Biblical Theology classes and utilization of figures such as Vos.

I clearly recall a discussion with a Greenville professor who understood Biblical Theology as a way to unify Scripture and to integrate the whole. For example, he said that Biblical Theology could be employed to defeat the arguments of someone who would dare to suggest that choirs are not valid for the Church Age. Choirs are found in the Bible and therefore they can be utilized.

While I'm sure some of his colleagues might have cringed at such an explanation, it was clear to me that the professor had virtually no understanding of the topic.

The case against choirs is in fact a Redemptive-Historical argument. The Levitical order has been fulfilled, superseded and in fact abrogated. To 'flip' to the Old Testament and argue for the continuity of choirs is akin to arguing for the continuance of sacrifice, the priesthood or the Temple itself. It is to sew up the rent veil and to act as if the work of the Messiah is 'not' finished. For the professor, Biblical Theology is a tool of rationalization of a Monocovenantal scheme and in his case a Decretal dominated system.

Already thoroughly put off with Presbyterianism that discussion was the nail in the coffin. I wasn't going to continue to invest money for such an education and to apply myself to an ecclesiastical system I viewed as patently unbiblical. I was gone in short order and within a few years had blissfully washed my hands of the Presbyterian system. Praise be to God.

Finally a word must be said with regard to Kline's employment of Middle-Eastern Suzerainty treaties in his explanation of Biblical covenants. This has greatly upset a lot of people and I remember not a few people at Greenville decrying such a utilization as something akin to theological liberalism.

Studying other Middle-Eastern Suzerainty treaties is helpful for contextualization. Concepts and ideas that are difficult for us to understand are indeed illuminated by a study of the cultural milieu.

By way of example we might say that to understand the founding documents of the United States it is both helpful and perhaps even necessary to study Locke, Montesquieu and other Enlightenment thinkers that dealt with issues of personal liberty and limited government. That said, it's a mistake to take any of these authors and read their ideas directly into the text of the Declaration or Constitution. Jefferson and Madison were their own men and though borrowing from the ideas of others were not slavish devotees.

When it comes to the Bible we must be even more cautious. It is a revelation from God and yet God accommodates His people, condescends and speaks in terms they can understand. The Covenants of the Old Testament were birthed in a venue 3500-4000 years previous to our own. It was a different time and words and symbols would carry different meaning and connotation. Studying the context is necessary and helpful but we must be very careful not to impose the historically discovered cultural norms on the text. We can supplement but not supplant.

Have Kline and his disciples been faithful in this regard? They would think so. Others aren't so sure. But many of their critics seem to miss the point altogether.