Law and Grace in Kline’s View of Israel

In his two plenary addresses at our recent 2014 Theology Conference, Lane G. Tipton develops several themes pertaining to obedience, merit, and the notion of a republication of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic economy. Much has been written of late on the subject particularly with reference to the works of Meredith G. Kline. Interpreters of Kline will sometimes draw a sharp distinction between law and grace and therefore between the operative principles within Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant in his thought.

To condense such a view, the Abrahamic Covenant was a covenant of grace, whereas the Mosaic Covenant instituted at Sinai with the people of Israel was a covenant operating strictly according to a works principle. Under this view, Kline is often pitted against John Murray and the biblical interpreters indebted to his theology. Yet Kline’s own writings indicate that such a view is foreign to his own formulations. For example, in his last published book, God, Heaven and Har Magedon, Kline writes:

The Old Covenant order, [Israel’s] by national election, was one of highest historical privilege. And while a works principle was operative both in the grant of the kingdom to Abraham and in the meting out of typological kingdom blessings to the nation of Israel, the arrangement as a whole was a gracious favor to fallen sons of Adam, children of wrath deserving no blessings, temporal or eternal. The Law covenant was a sub-administration of the Covenant of Grace, designed to further the purpose and program of the gospel. By exhibiting dramatically the situation of all mankind, fallen in and with Adam in the original probation in Eden, the tragic history of Israel under its covenant-of-works probation served to convict all of their sinful, hopeless estate. The Law thus drove men to Christ that they might be justified by faith. All were shut up in disobedience that God might have mercy on all (Rom 11:28–36; Gal 3:19–25). Indeed, in the unsearchable wisdom of God, Israel’s ultimate act of satanic rebellion against the Lord of Har Magedon—their repudiation of the Messiah, delivering him up to death on the Cross—became the occasion for the accomplishing of salvation and the gospel’s going out to the Gentiles (Rom 11:11, 12). [Meredith G. Kline, God, Heaven, and Har Magedon, pp. 128–129]

Kline developed similar themes in one of his first published works, a commentary on Deuteronomy in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 1962. In bookends to his own corpus, Kline challenges a prevalent interpretation of his covenant theology. If you’d like to learn more about this along with a fascinating and provocative development beyond Kline’s immediate application, listen to Lane Tipton’s plenary addresses from our conference:

10 Responses

  1. “The Law covenant was a sub-administration of the Covenant of Grace, designed to further the purpose and program of the gospel. By exhibiting dramatically the situation of all mankind, fallen in and with Adam in the original probation in Eden, the tragic history of Israel under its covenant-of-works probation served to convict all of their sinful, hopeless estate.”

    “The tragic history of Israel under its covenant-of-works probation…” This is where we are going to start having problems. But there is much more to the story. And I believe that the booklet Moses and Merit discusses this problem correctly. At least that is how I am understanding the situation.
    A portion addressing this is linked here.

  2. Chris

    Here are some particular Kline lectures that might be of interest to readers/listeners who are following this issue:





    I must note the irony that the same theological camp which tends to see Paul as addressing a “Jewish misinterpretation of the Law” now sounds as though they are accusing those of us who think Paul is giving inspired interpretation of the Law of misinterpreting Kline (who also believed that Paul is giving an inspired interpretation of the Law). Relax. I’m not claiming (or implying) that Kline is inspired. I just appreciate irony.

  3. Sorry I have bowed out of the conversation for a bit. I have a severe case of poison Ivy or Oak from clearing a path for a deer stand and four wheeler out at my Dad’s property a week and half ago. Finally went to the ER last night for steroids.

    Did you read the blog post where there is a response to Kline’s understanding on the Mosaic Covenant of Works Probation on that blog?

    1. Justin

      Mr. Snyder,

      I’m aware of your disagreements with Kline. I’ve read your comments on other threads, and posts on your site earlier this year. I was just wanting to clarify what you thought about Kline here.

      Kline is a controversial figure at present, so I’m aware of all of the problems that people have with his views. But I’m more interested in where there is agreement. Finding places of agreement will be beneficial, to the end of preventing representatives on both sides from adding more “overreaction” to “overreation”.

  4. Justin,

    As far as the controversy goes there are areas we are trying to look at and find agreement. If my memory serves me correctly Dr. Clark made a comment that Kline has been around for 50 years. How come this stuff has not come up before? The problem with that kind of thinking is that Kline’s later thoughts were not the thoughts of Kline in his earlier days. In fact, the books many people are referring to like his commentary on Deuteronomy is from the 60’s. His later publications are within the last 10 years of his life. It appears his views changed significantly during that time concerning the nature of the Mosaic Covenant. The process might have been slow but the changes in his nuanced Covenantal understanding had changed. So where agreement can be found depends upon what period of Kline’s life we will be looking at..

    I challenged Lane about this problem at the Conference. He overly synthesized the Kline of 1962 with the Kline of 2002 and the fit just isn’t there when it comes to the nature and substance of the Mosaic Covenant. I loved Lane’s Plenary Session on Republication and his use of Kline when Kline spoke more like those who agreed with WCF chapter 7. That isn’t hard to do when you reference his book ‘By Oath Consigned’ of 1969 or his Commentary on Deuteronomy in 1962. It becomes a bit harder to that when you get to Kingdom Prologue written 30 t0 40 years later.

    One thing I can find agreement on is that I believe Murray came up short in being overly reactive when it comes to the terminology Covenant of Works. I fully affirm a Covenant of Works and the bi-covenantal structure of the WCF. I believe that is harmful when people back away from good doctrinal terminology.

    Right now I am going to work my way through ‘Kingdom Prologue’ again and converse with some of the prominent guys concerning this matter. Lane asked me to look specifically at the book referred to above and at this particular section. So I am and I do find it problematic as I have noted above. I have some problems with this statement not all of it. “…(the tragic history of Israel under its covenant-of-works probation) served to convict all of their sinful, hopeless estate.” I can agree with this one. “The Law thus drove men to Christ that they might be justified by faith.”

    Lane also asked me to consider if some of these guys might be taking Kline farther than Kline intended to go. Jim Cassidy informed me that he believed that one particular person has done this. I am going to try my best to consider that angle also.

    Does that help a little bit?

  5. Mark G

    Has it actually been demonstrated that Kline’s views on the Mosaic Covenant changed over time? Does he say that he changed his mind, or are the views presented in By Oath, etc. inconsistent or contradictory to those presented in Kingdom Prologue? I’ve seen the claims but have not seen a thorough (not just selecting various statements of Kline apparently supporting one position or the other) presentation of Kline’s early and late views showing that Kline actually changed.

    I’ve seen debates on a variety of issues where conflicting sides claim Calvin agrees with them. I wonder if a similar thing could be going on with Kline. Are interpreters of Kline seeing what they want to see in accordance with their own positions?

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