Merit and Moses (Part 3)


Over the last couple of days I’ve been outlining Merit and Moses: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication (hereafter MM), a response by three OPC pastors to The Law is Not of Faith (hereafter TLNF). You can read part one here and part two here. Today I look at the third and final main section of the book which looks at the instability of the Republication Paradigm (hereafter RP).

1. What was republished in the Mosaic covenant? (79-82)

All reformed believers understand that the same moral law given to Adam in the covenant of works was republished at Sinai in the Ten Commandments.

The RP goes further and says that the actual covenant of works was republished at Sinai, which is contrary to the vast majority of the Reformed tradition and the Westminster standards.

2. What does the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) say concerning the essential elements of the covenant of works?  (83-84)

The essential elements are the condition and the reward.

  • The condition or stipulation required of Adam was personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience to God’s law and the prohibition on eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
  • The reward is eternal life, with humanity having the fruition of God as their blessedness and reward.

3. So do we find these essential elements in the RP view of the covenant of works as republished in the Mosaic covenant? (84-85)

No, instead we find:

  • That God required of Israel a measure of sincere, relative, imperfect, and national religious obedience.
  • And the reward was temporal, consisting of continuing tenure of the promised land.

4. What are the problems with this? (86-90)

First, the RP attributes to a covenant of works under Moses the kind of obedience (imperfect and sincere) that the Confession says belongs only to the covenant of grace. How can Israel’s imperfect obedience, which is inherently demeritorious (and thus deserving of God’s judgment) be called meritorious and thus properly belong to a covenant of works?

Second, it substitutes a merited reward of temporal life for the merited reward of eternal life in the covenant of works.

Third, as a covenant of works can only be enacted with sinless man, it is impossible for God to renew a covenant of works with fallen man. The idea of God making a covenant of works with Israel seems to deny the reality of God’s penalty pronounced upon sinful man, rendering it impossible for him to obey Him and thus requiring a covenant of grace after the fall.

Fourth, unless we draw a clear line of distinction between the pre-fall covenant of works and the post-fall covenant of grace, and unless we keep the essential elements of the covenant of works separate from the essential elements of the covenant of grace, we end up with theological confusion.

5. What does the WCF say about the essential elements of the covenant of grace? (90-91)

  • In WCF 7.3 the condition or stipulation required of sinners is faith in Christ, which is given by grace.
  • The reward of complying with the condition is eternal life through Christ, again which is the gift of grace.
  • This the essential parts of the covenant of grace are all of grace in contrast to works.

6. How does the WCF conceive of the Mosaic covenant? (91-92)

It is an administration of the covenant of grace and not in any way a covenant of works as confirmed by the Confession’s insistence upon there being only one covenant of grace: “There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.”

7. So how does the law function in the Mosaic covenant? (92-94)

The preface to the ten commandments proves that just as in the New Testament, the believer’s obedience is to be understood in the light of their deliverance from bondage with the law serving as a rule of life to inform them of the proper expression of their faith (reverent thankful obedience for God’s gracious redemption) and to help them see their need of Christ and His perfect obedience.

8. So what about the blessings and curses of the law in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28? (94-96)

While such blessings and curses appear to support the idea of a works principle, the WCF 19.6 is absolutely explicit that they are never to be viewed as part of a covenant of works but rather serve to help the believer use the law as a rule of life by reminding him of the chastisements he can expect when he rebels and the blessings he can expect by grace when he obeys.

9. How does the RP line up with the Confession’s teaching? (96-99)

Although the RP says that the covenant of works was not republished as a covenant of works per se, but rather as part of the covenant of grace that pointed to the person and work of Christ, the RP often presents the Mosaic covenant as a stark contrast to the Abrahamic and New Testament administrations of the covenant of grace.

10. In summary, what are the key points of concern about the RP view of the Mosaic covenant? (100-104)

First, the RP view of the Mosaic covenant ends up with two essentially different sets of conditions and rewards in the one covenant whereas according to the WCF it is impossible to argue that a single covenant contains two essentially different sets of conditions and rewards, creating a tug of war between two opposing principles that usually results in works overcoming grace.

Second, the RP’s inability to clearly delineate a pure works covenant from a pure grace covenant may adversely impact the doctrine of justification.

Third, justification rests upon a clear distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Just as Norman Shepherd undermined the doctrine of justification by blurring works and grace in the covenant of works, so the RP risks doing the same by blurring works and grace in the covenant of grace.

Pages 105 to 112 are very similar to some of yesterday’s summary and will not be repeated here.

11. In what ways does the RP destabilize the biblical concepts of merit and justice? (113-117)

First, if God could covenant to accept Israel’s imperfect obedience as meritorious, theoretically He could have decided to do the same with Christ, thus rendering Christ’s perfect active obedience unnecessary for our salvation.

Second, if ontological considerations are removed from definitions of merit and justice, it is no longer necessary for Christ to be God as God can simply decide whose obedience would be worthy of an infinite reward.

Third, by reducing merit to one category (simple justice) common to Adam, Israel and Christ, the RP undermines the singular glory of Christ’s uniquely meritorious obedience.

12. How does the RP differ from the WCF in its view of a believer’s good works? (118-123)

The WCF says that under the covenant of works, man’s works are accepted and rewarded on the basis of perfect and personal obedience. However, in the covenant of grace, man’s sincere yet imperfect obedience is accepted and rewarded on a principle of grace – on the basis of the imputed righteousness of another. (WCF 16.6)

In other words the nature of these works and the basis of their reward are quite different and emphasize the graciousness of the covenant of grace. This means that the only possible way for man to obtain a reward for his obedience after the fall is through a covenant of grace. This is true not only in the spiritual realm but also in the temporal realm (Larger Catechism 193).

The RP blurs this distinction because although it still holds to the classic traditional doctrine in the realm of individual spiritual salvation, it says that in the national and temporal realm Israel’s imperfect though sincere obedience is rewarded on a principle of merit not grace.

13. What are the problems with this? (124-133)

The first problem is that by teaching a believer’s works can merit temporal blessing, it contradicts the classic reformed teaching that “in Adam, and by our own sin, we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life” (WLC 193).

The second problem is that the same act of obedience by an Israelite can merit a reward on one level (apart from grace) and be rewarded by grace alone on another level. This results in a kind of spiritual schizophrenia in the life of the believer because the same act of obedience produces both (1) humble gratitude for being blessed by grace and (2) a proud sense of entitlement to reward for his obedience.

The third problem is a flawed and confusing typology. In the traditional view, the land functioned as a type of heaven, received by grace though faith. In the RP, Israel’s meritorious obedience retains the land and is said to be a type of Christ’s meritorious obedience to obtain salvation. This could surely only result in Israel thinking that if the land was hers through her works so would heaven be.

The fourth problem is that it radically separates the Old Testament believer’s experience from the New Testament believer. The sincere imperfect NT believer is rewarded on a principle of grace not works. Yet the same imperfect act by an OT believer is  rewarded on a principle of merit.

As that completes the outline, tomorrow I’ll conclude the series with an assessment of Merit and Moses.


Merit and Moses (Part 2)

In my previous post, I outlined part 1 of Merit and Moses: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication (hereafter MM), a response by three OPC pastors to The Law is Not of Faith (hereafter TLNF).

Today I will outline part 2 of the book which examines how the Republication Paradigm (hereafter RP) has redefined merit.

1. What is the thesis of part 2? (pp. 41-42)

The thesis of part 2 is that in trying to combat Norman Shepherd’s teaching, Meredith Kline and his followers in TLNF swung too far in the opposite direction resulting in the Republication Paradigm (RP) and a redefinition of the traditional Westminster concept of merit in the covenant of works with Adam, and in the Mosaic covenant with Israel.

2. Why is this so important? (41-42)

It’s important because the RP affirms that a type of merit is possible on the part of fallen humanity as opposed to the traditional view that rejected any possibility for merit on the part of sinful people after the fall.

3. What is the traditional view of “merit”? (43)

In traditional Reformed theology, merit is defined as any work to which a reward is due from justice on account of its intrinsic value and worth and requires two essential things:

  • Moral perfection, and
  • Ontological equality

4. Can humanity merit blessing or favor from God?  (43-46)

Regarding moral perfection, yes before the fall but no after the fall because no sinner can render personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience to God and therefore merit any kind of blessing from God – temporal or eternal.

Regarding ontological equality, never because there is such an infinite distance between God and humanity, the Creature and the creator.

5. What does RP teach about this? (46-48)

By redefining the traditional concept of merit, the RP says that Adam could in strict justice merit favor before the fall and that certain OT figures (including Noah, Abraham, and Israel) did merit some outward blessings of this life in the promised land.

6. In what way does the RP redefine the concept of merit? (49ff)

In contrast to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), the RP redefines the concept of merit by doing away with the two requirements for merit – moral perfection and ontological equality.

7. How does the WCF put ontological equality at the center of covenant theology? (49-52)

In its preface to the section dealing with the covenant of works, the WCF emphasizes the infinite ontological difference between God and humanity in order to show that man owed God obedience before the fall as a creature without God owing humanity anything in return (WCF 7.1). Therefore the covenant of works was a “voluntary condescension” on God’s part to allow acts of obedience already owed to God without right of reward to actually merit eternal life.

8. Is there any difference between Adam’s possible merit in the covenant of works and Christ’s actual merit in the covenant of grace? (52-58).

Adam’s merit is often called covenant merit (it was a merit that God graciously covenanted to let Adam earn). This is a lesser category than Christ’s merit, often called strict merit, which he perfectly rendered to God’s perfect justice in the covenant of grace.

In Adam’s case, God condescended to reward a lesser being, a creature, in the covenant of works (covenant merit), whereas Christ’s obedience was not only perfect but from someone with ontological equality with God and thus his merit is called strict merit.

9. Why did the RP redefine merit? (59-60)

Norman Shepherd rejected the concept of merit in any of God’s covenantal dealings with humanity, including the covenant of works, by appealing to the ontological disproportion between man and God.

Overreacting against this rejection of merit anywhere, Kline went too far in the other direction, adding merit where it has no place by reformulating the idea of merit apart from ontological considerations.

10. How did the RP redefine merit? (61-65)

The RP redefined merit in three steps:

  • They conflated and collapsed creation and covenant together by teaching that man is in covenant with God at the moment of creation, leaving no logical space for a voluntary condescension of God as creator to become God the covenanter.
  • The covenant of works is therefore devoid of any divine kindness, grace, or love but is simply a matter of strict and simple justice.
  • Merit and justice are determined without any reference to ontology.

11. What are the consequences of this? (66-69)

This means that in the RP only the terms of a particular covenant may decide what is “just” and “meritorious.” In other words merit is what God says it is in any particular covenant arrangement, which may be perfection (as in the covenant with Adam) or it may be something less than perfection (as in the Mosaic covenant).

So, for example, in the Mosaic covenant, God may decide to make an arrangement in which he promises temporal-typological blessings on the basis of Israel’s imperfect , sincere, national obedience instead of the perfect entire, and personal obedience which was required of the two covenant heads, Adam and Christ.

In summary it means the merit can be defined apart from any ontological considerations and does not even require moral perfection on the part of man.

12. Does that mean that Mosaic Covenant is a covenant of works? (70-72)

No and yes.

No, in the sense that in the Mosaic covenant there is a grace level for the eternal salvation of the individual.

Yes, in the sense that there is a national meritorious works level for the retention of temporal earthly blessings in the promised land, which is a type of the kingdom of heaven.

On this latter level, the Mosaic covenant is continuous with the covenant of works pre-fall and is discontinuous with the Abrahamic covenant.

13. Are there any other ways in which the RP modifies the Mosaic covenant? (73-74)

Yes, first of all, Israel is elevated to the status of being a corporate Adam that undergoes a “covenant of works probation” in a garden/land analogous to the first and last Adam. As the authors of TLNF put it, both of God’s sons, Adam and Israel lived under law-governed circumstances.

And second, Israel’s Adamic status serves a teaching purpose, demonstrating that through her inability to obey God’s law and merit an earthly inheritance, that she cannot earn salvation by her works, and needs the imputation of Christ’s active obedience.

14. In what sense then does the Mosaic covenant involve a republication of the covenant of works with Adam? (75)

Both Adam and Israel are under a covenant of works in the sense that both Adam’s and Israel’s obedience can merit blessings from God. For Adam it was eternal blessing. For Israel it was temporal blessing.

15. Did Israel succeed and keep this covenant? (76)

There seems to be some confusion here with some supporters of RP saying yes an others saying no. Some say that God did not enforce the works principle strictly and sometimes gave the temporal reward for relative (imperfect) obedience.

16. So what’s the problem here? (76-78)

The problem is “How can God make a covenant of works with sinners in which he must lower the bar of his righteousness and accept imperfect obedience as the basis for earning his favor?”

In the traditional paradigm, God can never be placed in a sinner’s debt. He can never be in a position or enter into a covenantal arrangement which requires that he justly reward the sin-tainted works of fallen man.

Tomorrow we will look at part 3 of Merit and Moses which exposes the instability of the republication paradigm, and then I’ll offer an assessment of the book.


Merit and Moses (Part 1)

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.


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