Over the next few days I want to outline and assess an important new book, Merit and Moses: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication, written by three OPC pastors, Andrew Elam, Robert Van Kooten, and Randall Berquist.


Merit and Moses is a response to The Law is Not of Faith, and especially the main thesis of that book, that the Mosaic Covenant is in an important sense a republication of the Covenant of Works.

Unlike The Law is Not of Faith (TLNF), Merit and Moses (MM) is readable, brief, consistent, and relatively simple. It obviously helps to have the truth on your side.

Before you decide to switch off from what you may think is some irrelevant academic debate, note that the authors of TLNF state that if we disagree with their view of the Mosaic covenant “we will be necessarily impoverished in our faith” and “see in only a thin manner the work of our Savior.” To disagree with republication is “not optional,” they say, because it paves the way for the erosion of the Gospel and of the doctrine of justification by faith.

So what’s this all about? The question can be stated like this:

Was the covenant of works republished in the Mosaic covenant? TLNF says Yes. MM says No.

Today I want to summarize Part 1 of the book, which explains the historical context for the debate. To simplify it as much as possible, I want to set it out in a Q&A format.

The most important parties in this debate are three Westminster Seminary professors (John Murray, Norman Shepherd, and Meredith Kline) and the Westminster California faculty who authored TLNF.

1. What’s foundational to the covenants? Law or grace?

  • John Murray’s answer: The succession of covenants in the Bible was a sovereign administration of grace and promise (this includes the Mosaic covenant)
  • Meredith Kline’s answer: Law rather than grace was foundational (including a works principle in the Mosaic covenant).
  • Kline insisted that without this works principle in the Mosaic covenant, the law/gospel distinction is lost.
  • TLNF follows Kline whereas MM largely follows Murray.

2. How many tiers are there in the Mosaic covenant?

TLNF takes a two-tiered approach to the Mosaic covenant:

  • On one level there is a principle of grace for the eternal salvation of the individual Israelite.
  • On another level there is a principle of works, a national meritorious works level for the enjoyment of earthly blessings.

3. What is republished in the Mosaic covenant? The moral law or a meritorious covenant?

  • Murray and other Reformed theologians believed that the moral law given to pre-fall Adam was re-affirmed (summarized and republished) at Sinai.
  • Kline and TLNF go further and say that not only was the moral law republished but the merit-based arrangements of the covenant of works was republished, making retention of the promised land and its blessings conditional on the merit of Israel’s obedience. Israel thus becomes another Adam figure, meriting blessings from God by their works.
  • This makes the obedience of OT Israel substantially different to the NT saints who are freed from this meritorious works-arrangement through the death of Christ.

4. Why do Kline and TLNF view John Murray as the bad guy? (pp. 12-14)

Kline and TLNF say:

  • That Murray recast covenant theology especially the classical reformed doctrine of the covenant of works.
  • That Murray rejected the notion that the Sinaitic covenant was in some sense a repetition of the covenant of works.
  • That Murray was monocovenantal in that he affirmed only a covenant of redemptive grace and blurred the distinctions between the covenant of works and grace.

5. How would John Murray respond if he was alive? (pp. 15-17)

He would say something like this:

  • I did want to recast one point of covenant theology, that is the idea of a covenant being a mutual agreement between two parties. It is more of a relationship initiated by God and sovereignly administered.
  • I admit that I preferred the label “Adamic administration” rather than “covenant of works.” I had two reasons for that. First, I was afraid “covenant of works” would give the idea that there were no elements of grace in the pre-fall arrangements whereas all Reformed theologians have seen the “covenant of works” as a voluntary condescension on God’s part involving much grace.
  • Second, I also was reluctant to use the term “covenant” for the pre-fall arrangement because I wanted to preserve the word “covenant” for all redemptive administrations of grace from God to man.
  • However, although I prefer different language, I totally believe in the essence of the covenant of works.

6. What’s the verdict on Murray? (pp. 17-22)

  • Although Murray quibbled unnecessarily about the phraseology of “the covenant of works” he did not reject the essence of the covenant of works that makes it distinctive from every other covenant arrangement.
  • Murray affirmed that life was promised to Adam and to his posterity and guarded the substantial differences between the covenants of works and grace.
  • Murray was therefore in no way to blame for Norman Shepherd’s subsequent departures from some of the historic doctrines of the faith and opening the door to the Federal Vision error.

7. What did Norman Shepherd believe and teach? (pp. 23-27)

  • Monocovenantalism: Shepherd denied the covenant of works/grace distinction because he saw no place for merit in covenant relationships between God and man. All divine/human covenants, including the covenant of works, was like a marriage or a father/son relationship.
  • Covenant condition: God required the condition of covenant faithfulness in every covenant administration, pre- and post-fall. God’s promise secured or guaranteed the believer’s covenant inheritance but that inheritance can only be received on the condition of the believer’s covenant keeping. That single condition is the same for Adam, Israel, Christ and the NT believer.
  • Justification: Shepherd denied the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, and taught that only the passive obedience of Christ was imputed.

As Murray taught the opposite, he can in no way be blamed for Shepherd’s teaching or Federal Vision.

8. So how did Meredith Kline respond to Shepherd’s error? (pp. 28-38)

Kline overreacted to Shepherd’s attempted rejection of merit in any covenant relationship between God and man by arguing for works of merit in the Mosaic Covenant (and others). He taught the following:

  • Disagreement with the idea of voluntary condescension: Kline refused to use vocabulary like God’s goodness, kindness, or even condescension in God’s entering in the covenant of works with Adam.
  • Israel was a Corporate Typological Adam with a Merit-based Probation. Against Shepherd, Kline argued that the works principle was foundational to all of the divine covenants and therefore made Israel a second Adam figure who also had to merit divine blessings through a covenant of law.
  • Israel’s Meritorious Works as Typological of Christ’s obedience: Adam’s and Israel’s meritorious works arrangements function as precursors to the meritorious work of Christ. The works principle in Israel showed the need for the active obedience of Christ to merit the reward of life.

9. Can you summarize this debate simply? (pp. 38-40)

  • Shepherd rejected the covenant of works and said there was only one covenant from creation to consummation, and that this was a covenant of grace that required of Adam and all believers the gracious condition of covenant faithfulness.
  • Kline and his followers rejected Shepherd’s mixture of faith and works pre-fall but have ended up with a similar mix of individual faith and meritorious works after the fall in the covenant of grace.
  • This results in the imperfect works of sinners meriting or extracting a blessing from God, quite different to NT faith.

Tomorrow I’ll summarize Part 2 of Merit and Moses, which examines how Kline and his followers in TLNF have redefined merit. In the meantime why not buy the book and read along with me.

  • http://www.housewifetheologian.com/ Aimee Byrd

    Thanks for this helpful summary. I have been waiting for my copy to arrive in the mail, will be following these posts.

    • David Murray

      You’re welcome! Glad it was a help to you.

  • Jeffrey Waddington

    Excellent summary David.

    • David Murray

      Thank you, Jeffrey.

  • Christopher Caughey

    My copy of the book is on its way, but if your summary is accurate, there are some things that are simply not true. While Kline did say that law (not works) was the foundation for all covenants back in the 1960s (when he wrote By Oath Consigned), he had a much more nuanced and helpful analysis by the end of his teaching career. It would be helpful to at least incorporate the mature thought of a theologian with whom you are going to disagree. Second, Kline absolutely did talk about God’s goodness and kindness in his dealings with prelapsarian Adam. What he eventually became unwilling to say was that there was grace before the fall. So the authors of Merit and Moses will have to successfully argue that goodness and kindness equal grace, and that Kline understood and intended that equation.

    There are other problems here as well, but I need my copy to arrive before I say much more.

  • R. Martin Snyder

    Thank you so much for taking the time look at this issue Dr. Murray. I have been plucking away at this topic for the past three years. I have been blessed to get acquainted with Robert Van Kooten.
    http://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.com/

    This explains why I was drawn into studying this topic.
    http://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/why-i-was-drawn-into-the-nuanced-republication-and-mosaic-covenant-study/

    • hautzeng

      These (including your blog posts and comments, Mr. Snyder) have indeed been very, very helpful. Thank you both!

  • John Barach

    “Norman Shepherd’s subsequent departures from the faith…”

    Wow.
    That’s pretty strong language. Are you (or the authors of this book) saying here that
    Norman Shepherd has departed from the faith ( = committed apostasy)?
    Nothing that you go on to say in your summary of Shepherd’s views
    seems to warrant such a verdict.

    • David Murray

      It was “faith” in the objective sense of doctrine rather than “faith” in the subjective sense of believing. However, I appreciate that the language can be ambiguous, so I’ve clarified it.

  • R. Martin Snyder

    Hey Chris,
    The authors of the book understand that the Kline of ‘By Oath Consigned’ is not the Kline of ‘Kingdom Prologue’. We even discussed that issue on the Puritanboard 3 years ago. Karlberg recognized the mistake that Ferry made in his response to OPC Pastor Patrick Ramsey in trying to refute his Westminster Journal article ‘In Defense of Moses’ by referencing BOC instead of KP. http://www.puritanboard.com/f30/kline-karlburg-not-confessional-concerning-mosaic-69258/#post887978

    Concerning the Prelapsarian Covenant and grace I would mention that it isn’t that grace needs to be qualified as goodness or kindness alone. It requires the unmerited aspect of goodness and kindness. God’s condescension was gracious in that it was unmerited and full of gifts that Adam never merited. That is what needs to be understood. And that has long been a Reformed understanding concerning Adam as a created being. The booklet does a good job explaining that. One of the problems in this matter is that the Covenant of Works is turned into a creational entity which characterizes the natural relationship between God and man. In this scheme human morality is, in its very essence, made a covenant of works. Grace is only operative where sin abounds. And that is just wrong. It is too narrow of a definition of grace which is something I have addressed many times. There is the narrow understanding of grace and a broader understanding depending on the context. The same is true for how we understand the Gospel.

    For anyone who is interested there is a video presentation that was given at Presbytery that discusses the topics the booklet addresses. http://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/opc-pnw-republication-session-2/

    • Christopher Caughey

      Again, I’m still waiting for this booklet to arrive. But David’s summary of Merit and Moses’s assessment of Kline is: “Disagreement with the idea of voluntary condescension: Kline refused to use vocabulary like God’s goodness, kindness, or even condescension in God’s entering in the covenant of works with Adam.” That is factually in error. Kline specifically says that God’s covenanting with Adam displayed God’s goodness and kindness. But Kline also denies that such covenanting before the Fall was gracious. And it is for that reason that Kline says that “condescension” is not a helpful category. The creator-creature distinction is always a given. The question is: What is the biblical data about the particular covenant under review? I remain unconvinced that that question is scandalous.

      I understand your opinion about grace. I suppose I will have to wait for further explanation. The way Kline actually formulated that is: “Grace presupposes a violation of God’s justice.” Thus, if his justice has not been violated, there is no reason for his favor to be unmerited or, (I believe, more helpfully), demerited.

      • Martin

        Good explanation Christopher,
        thanks

  • Martin

    Murray intentionally recast the Reformed debate and set the new parameters in place that gave rise to the monocovenantalism of Shepherd, and the rejection of works in both Eden and Sinai.
    I have one question. In what universe do you consider that a covenant is gracious when a penalty for failure to comply could involve the consumption of your children? If Adam’s penalty was death, I would take that anytime over the penalty for breaking Moses.

    • R. Martin Snyder

      @ Martin,

      I don’t think you understand the differences between the Prelapsarian Covenant made with Adam and the Mosaic Covenant. The historical Covenant Theologians of the past who believed God was gracious in condescending to Adam do not believe that the Covenant of Works was in any way an administration of the Covenant of Grace. Adam’s one transgression left his whole prodigy under the severe wrath and eternal curse of God. In Moses’ Covenant repentance is initiated by God in man even when the fathers disobeyed God. Remember how Moses refused to circumcise his own children? His wife intervened as God administered grace and mercy upon them. I don’t think you fully understand the death that was brought on by Adam’s one transgression and the severity of it if you would rather be condemned by Moses. Besides, in Adam we all die. Not in Moses. Romans 7:12-14 says, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.” The Law didn’t kill Paul. It actually revealed his problem and took him to Christ.

      • Martin

        Hello Martin,

        I can assure you that I do understand the issues around federal headship, but you haven’t answered the question. If the Mosaic Covenant was gracious, and it contained a penalty that would mean the consumption of your own children for failure to comply, would you happily enter such a gracious covenant?

        • R. Martin Snyder

          The word ‘If’ is a qualifier I don’t need to answer but I will. Either the Mosaic Covenant is an Administration of the Covenant of Grace or it isn’t. I believe it is as the Bible and our Confessions indicate. I have been placed in that Covenant by God. I am no longer an alien to the commonwealth of Israel and no longer a stranger to the Covenant having hope in the living God. I am joyful in Christ who is able to save and keep me. I trust him who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Job 13:15 Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.

          God is faithful and just. He is gracious and merciful. Why would I refuse such a good God? He redeemed me from the penalty of the first Adam. What is there not to love about that? He proved himself gracious and merciful to all the Patriarchs and Fathers. He has proven himself the same way to me.

          • Martin

            The Mosaic Covenant is not an administration of the covenant of grace, as the WCF makes clear. The covenant of grace can be found within it, but the covenant itself is a Covenant of Works. Murray made the case that there are only gracious covenants, and that is where the Reformed community went off the rails. Why can’t you answer the question, even though ‘if’ is a qualifier. You accept that the Law is gracious, now explain how a gracious covenant requires the consumption of your children in the inevitable event of non-compliance. You can slam-dunk the argument if you can explain this.
            Respectfully,
            Martin

          • R. Martin Snyder

            Were does the WCF make clear that the Mosaic Covenant is not an administration of the Covenant of Grace? And what is your name Martin? Your real whole name. I don’t have much appreciation for those who post anonymously. I usually don’t reply to such.

            Would you please supply me with a reference of the Covenant requiring the consumption of children? That would help me answer you better. Thanks.

          • Martin

            Hello again Martin,
            Martin is my real name, if you want more details, post your email address and I will send them to you. I have a policy of not putting any unnecessary information on the Web – it is a good policy and I am sticking with it. I don’t know why you can’t accept a discussion from someone you don’t know; I don’t believe I am being discourteous or defaming anyone. I am simply discussing the Scriptures with you. Whether you choose to reply or not is your prerogative, but please do not mistake wisdom for cowardice.
            Concerning the WCF, 19.1 & 2 speak of a law that was a covenant of works. WCF 19.2 commences with “This law”, which I assume refers to the law just described in WCF 19.1. If you believe it to be another law you should explain how. But it does not end there. WCF 19.6 declares that true believers are not under the law as a covenant of works. Any fair reading of this would suggest that the law was in its default mode, a covenant of works, for everybody else, especially Israel.
            WCF 7.5 Refers to different administrations of the covenant of grace. It suggests that aspects of the law could be used by the Spirit to instruct the Elect concerning the covenant of grace. It does not, however, say that the law is a covenant of grace or an administration of it.
            The horrible outcome for covenantal disobedience under Moses is Deut 28:53-57.
            Regards,
            Martin

          • R. Martin Snyder

            If you are referring to the Deuteronomy passage You are missing the preceding passages. The abandoning of the Covenant of Grace. Apostasy. There are many passages in the New Testament that deal with sin and apostasy.

          • Martin

            Hello Martin,
            There are two prerequisites for the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28. Blessings come to those who fully obey, and curses come to those who disobey. there is no mention of apostasy at all, just disobedience. I cannot find any place under the Old Covenant that would suggest that an Israelite can voluntarily opt out of the covenant; they could certainly worship other gods, but this did not remove them from the Mosaic Covenant, only being put to death could do that. They remained under the covenant, even if they did worship other gods. So the curses were for Jews who disobeyed and they are a provision within the covenant for people under the covenant.
            If you are of the view that certain people did obey the terms of the covenant and consequently receive blessing from God as a consequence of it, you may find yourself in conflict with Paul who believes that there was no Jew who was righteous according to the Law – apart from the glorious Lord.
            Regards,
            Martin

    • David Murray

      Martin, just briefly because I’m at family camp. One answer to your question might be to examine the present terms of the covenant of grace which incorporate worse threatenings for rebellion than the death of our children.

      • Martin

        Sorry David, you will need to explain further. Do you mean to say that God punishes severely those who are in the New Covenant (Covenant of Grace) for there transgression, or do you mean that God punishes severely those who have departed from the New Covenant? It would appear to me that if a person is in Covenant with Christ in the NC, then they are secure. If a person was in the Covenant of Moses however, they can be punished in any number of ways for their transgression – even being removed from His book (Exod 32:33). Even in Exile, Israelites were still in the Mosaic Covenant. They did not rejoin when they returned.
        Hope the camp went well,
        Martin

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  • Matt the Lessor

    I’m still confused why they pulled this down as a PDF draft (previously free as a download)….and are now charging $10 for a Kindle version and $17 for a softback. If the goal is to get this critique out there to the masses, is this really the best way to go?? Maybe ‘strict justice’ requires them to recoup some of the costs the OPC Presbytery of the Northwest has spent on this issue over the past 3 years?!?!?

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