Two Kingdom Theology and God’s Covenantal Fiat – Part 2

“To identify the redemptive kingdom of the God…with the common causes of the city of man is profaning of the holy, a prostitution of the gospel, a diabolical repudiation of the atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ.”

– M.G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 286.

“The regeneration of all things must now be a gift before it can become a task.”

– Cornelius Van Til, “Nature and Scripture,” in The Infallible Word, 271

The two above quotations are of inestimable value for our understanding of the relation between the two kingdoms (notice here that we affirm two kingdoms; one non-redemptive, common realm and one redemptive realm manifest here on earth as the church). In this sense, both Kline and Van Til were adherents of a 2K perspective. There must remain an essential and fundamental distinction between the ethics, tasks, and marks of the kingdoms of this world on the one hand, and the Kingdom of God on the other. To confuse them or conflate them is to destroy the true nature of both. In other words, any application of a Van Tilian and Klinean covenant theology to the question of the relation between the two kingdoms must never fall into a theonomic/transformationalist perspective. Likewise, the perspective I outlined in the first post gives no quarter to theonomy or transformationalism.

But Kline and Van Til also give no quarter to at least two other notions: First, that there is any place, anywhere, in all of God’s creation to which the unbeliever may retreat and find value-free ground. Second, there is no place in all of God’s creation to which special revelation does not speak, interpret, and illuminate. Van Til makes his point clearly when he says (thanks to Warren Cruz for pointing this one out): “Even in Paradise man had to interpret the general (natural) revelation of God in terms of the covenantal obligations placed upon him by God through special revelation.” (Cornelius Van Til, ‘My Credo,’ 90). But Van Til goes on:


In paradise…man could not know from nature itself nor from himself in relation to nature that the result of eating from the tree of good and evil would spell his death. Hence we may speak of this revelation as being positive instead of natural. It had to be a direct communication of thought content on the part of God to man. Then too we may speak of this revelation as supernatural in opposition to natural. It was a revelation that man could not obtain by ever so diligent an application of his thought activity to the phenomena of nature.(Introduction to Systematic Theology, 67)


So, here Van Til expresses his concern over the use of the terminology “natural” as it tends to denote a reality which exists quite independent of “the thought content” of God. Natural revelation, theology or law has often been conceived in the tradition is as an entity which has a life of its own. At best, nature was understood as something which pointed beyond itself to God. But Van Til is here bringing nature and God’s revelation of his Word into a closer relation. In other words, the essence of God’s creation is that it is his Word, and that it can only be properly interpreted by man through God’s special revelation to man. Again, Van Til is particularly insightful:

It is of prime importance to observe that even in paradise man was never meant to study nature by means of observation and experiment without connection with positive super-natural thought communication given to him by God. Nature could not be observed for what it actually is except in relation to history, and history cannot be seen for what it is at any stage except it be viewed in relation to its final end. And only by direct supernatural revelation could man have an adequate notion of this end. (Introduction to Systematic Theology, 68)

So, back to the first point, there is no value-free place in all of creation. The created order is inherently covenantal and thus speaks. It speaks of the creator at every turn. That means that the so-called “common realm” may never be interpreted in an autonomous fashion. It is true, because of common grace, fallen man can still produce much which is good. But even the good that he produces shouts out against him. Therefore, culture is not a “safe place” for man in his rebellion. It is not value-free, neutral territory. 2KT advocates may agree with this, but I wonder how consistent it sits within their system. More on this anon.

Second, even in the common realm, the good which can be (and is!) done by the unbeliever must always and everywhere be interpreted in the light of special revelation. That he does not accept special revelation as true in no way gets him off the hook. Nature, culture, etc were never intended to stand alone. If he is not interpreting reality in light of the telos of God’s created order and redemptive plan, then he is malfunctioning in the common realm. That does not mean that he is functioning in a less productive way than the believer. Rather, because of God’s common grace he may in fact be functioning in a more productive way than the believer. But he is, nevertheless, malfunctioning.

So, is there anyway in which we can say that the “common kingdom” is “Christian?” This is an important question to answer, and to do so in such a way as to avoid confusing culture with the Kingdom of Christ. I affirm whole heatedly that it is a mistake to seek to “transform” culture, Christianize it, and to think that it is the church’s task to redeem it. Yet, I want to also maintain that even the common realm is not disconnected from God’s revelation (in its unified complex of being in the things that have been made as well as in Scripture). After all “the common kingdom” must not and never can be understood in a compartmentalized fashion – independent from Jesus Christ. So, I propose the affirmation of the following points which seek to relate the common kingdom to God’s revelation and the person of Jesus Christ.

  1. The common kingdom is (NB: not “must become”) related to God’s revelation and Christ himself in the sense that it is Christ who rules it by his Word and through his providential power (Col 1:16–17). Nothing happens in the created order without the express will and command of Jesus Christ. Here we stand unabashedly with Abraham Kuyper who rightly affirmed that there is not one square inch of creation about which Christ does not claim “mine!”
  2. The common kingdom is related to God’s revelation and Christ himself in the sense that the common realm is covenantal revelation of God. And in particular, it is properly the covenantal revelation of the second person of the Trinity (though in no way divided from the other persons). The foundation of the revelation of God in creation is the “Logos of creation” (Introduction toSystematic Theology, 69).
  3. The common kingdom is related to God’s revelation and Christ himself in the sense that its purpose is to serve the redemptive Kingdom, the church. Christ upholds the culture and the common kingdom for the sake of his church. In this way, the Noahic covenant preserves the creation, restricts sin, and maintains order in both space and time in order to be the stage upon which God brings about his redemptive purposes for his people. “It is the fact without which the whole of redemptive revelation would drop to the ground.” (Introduction toSystematic Theology, 68).
  4. The common kingdom is related to God’s revelation and Christ himself in that God’s special revelation for his people is the only authoritative interpreter of the common kingdom. The NT may not say much about the common kingdom and cultural pursuits, but it does speak—however general—to the nature of the created, common order (this, some current 2KT advocates affirm). Christ is testifying by his Spirit, through his Word, to his own acts in creation and history. For example, music was made by Jesus and for Jesus. Jesus was the one who ordained and providentially brought about the events of history, both sacred and secular. He not only ordained and brought about the acts of God in redemptive history, but he did so with regard to everything from what you did this morning, to the victory of the Allied forces, and to the earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan.

Therefore, we can not agree—without qualification—with Dr. Van Drunen that there are things in the created order which are “simply” universal human obligations, tasks, or events.1 In other words, baking cookies is never “just baking cookies,” either for the believer or unbeliever (both objectively and subjectively). While the particulars of the “rules” of cookie-baking are the same for both believer and unbeliever, they are both baking in a realm which—though common to both—is bearing testimony onto condemnation for the latter and testimony onto salvation for the former. It is the same creation for both, but that creation is being used for different ends. Furthermore, God’s special revelation applies equally to both believer and unbeliever in terms of understanding the created order. The same special revelation condemns the one but vindicates the other. In other words, dualism are never valid here.

Even though we understand that Van Drunen intends to speak of things in creation which both Christians and non-Christian have in common, we believe that his unqualified statement leaves open the door to misunderstanding. For instance, talk of “simply human” can mean a compartment in the created order which is value-free. Van Til calls this brute fact. However, all facts are God’s facts, and therefore are Christ’s facts (we are sure Van Drunen here agrees). In this way, then, all things are related to God’s revelation and Christ himself. In this sense, we can say that the common kingdom is Christian (though we do not make it Christian). After all, Christ came to reconcile all things to himself, whether in heaven or on earth (Col 1:20).

That said, however, we do agree with Van Drunen’s strong emphasis on making careful distinctions between which commands in the Bible are proper to the church and which are proper to the common kingdom. Though “common kingdom” remains somewhat problematic for me. I would prefer something along the lines of “The Realm of Christ’s Common Grace in Creation.”

1. David Van Drunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 168–9. We agree wholeheartedly with Van Drunen’s consistent affirmation that the common kingdom is not “neutral.” See for example the same volume, p. 15. However, the question remains: if there is no neutral territory in all of God’s creation, is it prudent to speak about “simply” or “universal” human obligations or tasks? If by that all he has in view is that both believers and unbelievers engage in them, then that is hardly a point of contention. If however, there is something more in view (i.e., that God’s special revelation is not necessary for the unbeliever in the common realm to function—ethically and epistemologically – rightly), then we must continue to demur.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Mark G

8 years ago


Thanks. I recently finished reading Kingdom Prologue and have been reading some on 2K theology, natural law and intrusion ethics. Your posts are helpful for understanding the distinctives in the thought of Kline and how & where this fits into this landscape.

Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Thanks Mark. I do want to emphasize that VanDrunen’s book “Living In” is a great resource for understanding Kline’s BT. He gets a lot right, in my opinion. However, what I think he does miss is the doctrine of pre-fall revelation as being inherently tied up with creation. Without that one will not be fully Klinean or Van Tilian with regard to epistemology and the Christ and Culture debate.

Mark G

8 years ago

Great, thanks! I’ve read some of DVD’s material on the web and found myself in general agreement. I plan to read his book and this will help me understand, think critically (in a positive sense) and evaluate as I do.

Brent Ferry

8 years ago


Thanks for the posts. It was good to talk with you at GA.

There is a sense in which general revelation sufficiently functions apart from special revelation; a sense which does not imply the existence of theological neutrality, brute facts, or depreciate the prelapsarian unity of general and special revelation. Namely, Rom. 2:14 says those “not having the law” (i.e. not having propositional revelation) “are a law unto themselves” (i.e. recipients of general revelation). Paul’s point in context is that general revelation, in the absence of special revelation, communicates ethical truth sufficient enough to hold a person morally accountable to God. I understand Van Drunen as developing that trajectory.

Thanks again!


Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Thanks, Brent, for these thoughts. Let me take a stab at a response to your reference to Rom 2. Here I am dependent upon some of the thoughts shared with me by my good colleague, Jeff Waddington.

I think we would all want to affirm the sufficiency of natural revelation for rendering the unbeliever without excuse for their rebellion against God. However, I think that we would also want to affirm that – due to the fall – the unbeliever can never have true knowledge apart from special revelation and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Here the insights of the Reformed Scholastics are helpful as they make the distinction between “theologia vera” and “theologia falsa.” The unbeliever can only have the latter, and never the former. As such, his knowledge and interpretation of the created order is always and everywhere skewed, because nothing in creation can be properly understood apart from a personal and true knowledge of the creator. In other words, Roms 2 can never be understood apart from Roms 1. They suppress the truth in their unrighteousness and as such can never properly know anything in the created order (even if and when they – by common grace – outperform their believing counterparts).

Please indulge me one more Scholastic reference (again, here I am dependent upon Waddington’s guidance). When we speak about epistemology, we must speak about the principium cognoscendi internum et externum. As you know, the internal basis for true knowledge is the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and the external basis for true knowledge is God’s revelation (in its two fold form of special and general). If this correct, it allows no gap in the knowledge of man between nature and grace. I still think that there is gap – however narrow – resident in DVD’s thought.

And I say that as a non-theonomic, anti-transformational, old school Presbyterian who whole heartily affirms the doctrine of the spirituality of the church in its other-worldly nature! 🙂

Brent Ferry

8 years ago

Jim, thanks for the response, brother! What about this?

In context, Paul’s main idea is that everyone is culpable, whether one has special revelation like the Jews, or not, like the Gentiles. Your line of thought may undermine Paul’s point, because if there is no knowledge of God’s righteousness apart from supplemental special revelation (which is how I read your 2-part post), then the unbeliever is not culpable.

Paul says, “sinned without the law… perish without the law… (12) Gentiles who do not have the law do instinctively the things of the law… not having the law… (14) law written on their hearts…. (15). These are clear affirmations of general revelation functioning in the absence of special revelation and in the absence of the internal ground of faith spoken mentioned in Rom. 1:16-17. Paul can say these things without an implicit nature/grace dichotomy. Why can’t DVD? Paul even uses the Greek word for nature when he says, “Gentiles… do instinctively [phusis] the things of the law.” Even that is not enough, however, to imply a systemic, Roman Catholic nature/grace paradigm.

What DVD is saying about general revelation seems to imply the Reformed categories of the first use of the law, civic good works, and analogical thinking (a VT’ian epistemology), more so than a RC nature/grace paradigm.

Not trying to be combative:)


Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Hi Brent,

No worries, brother, I regard this as iron sharpening and not combat!

In reference to your first point I would simply again point to the difference between theologia vera and theologia falsa. Can an unbeliever do theology apart from special revelation and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit? Yes, of course he can. He can write theology books, he can lecture on theology, and he can even preach. In every respect he is doing theology. But it is theologia falsa, because he is basing it on something other than special revelation illuminated by the Spirit. He has enough knowledge to know that there is a God, etc., but the God he preaches and believes in is not the true God. Why? Because, Rom 1, he suppresses the truth in his unrighteousness and worships the creature rather than creator. And for this, he is very culpable.

With regard to your second point, I think you’re trying to prove too much. Do they really do the law? If they do, then the implication is that they are able to please God apart from faith. The other implication is that – in the abstract – they are able to keep the Cov of Works. We know that can’t be right. So what then does Paul mean when he says they do the works of the law? He is speaking simplicitar, or in a certain sense? Obviously, it must be the latter (the former would imply pleasing God apart from faith). If the latter, then what is the sense Paul has here? I think what he has in view is God’s common grace, by virtue of the image of God in them and the written law on their heart, which constrains their sin so that we see even pagans doing good things. But that “good” is highly qualified. It is not a true good, in the most ultimate sense of the word (i.e., it is not the good that pleases God). And I think that is why there is no nature/grace gap in Paul.

Brent Ferry

8 years ago

Jim, this is helpful. Thanks for the replies.

Not sure where DVD says (or implies) that unbelievers can perform perfect works under natural revelation. Since DVD contextualizes his system within the covenant of common grace, any relative obedience he speaks of as originating from an unbeliever should be interpreted as embodying a quality of obedience that always falls short of the standards of God’s strict justice, postponed; a quality of obedience Reformed Theologies call civic good works, and a category of obedience that the Confession talks about. I read DVD assuming he is developing that trajectory, with all the standard qualifications we make about civic good works

When DVD talks about an unbeliever’s ability to follow principles of general revelation apart from Scripture, isn’t he talking about things like figuring out algebraic equations, building bridges, splitting atoms, and protecting private property from thieves? When VT affirms this sort of thing, VT says that the unbeliever is borrowing from the Christian world-view. Does DVD not affirm this too? Yet, when DVD makes similar statements, some argue against him like he is assuming a Roman Catholic, or a perfectionist, or a rationalistic paradigm. DVD is not talking about performing perfect works, or building a rationalistic theology though.

If DVD’s expressed assumption (a Klinean Biblical Theology) can account for the variables in his system, then it seems unnecessary to suggest that he is assuming a latent RC nature/grace dichotomy instead (or whatever else people are suggesting). DVD is building on Kline, not Rome. Put another way, if DVD’s statements can be interpreted from a Klinean perspective, then they should be. Right?


Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Hi Brent,

To begin with, I was encouraged to discover yesterday that one of your members is here at the Boardwalk Chapel! Sweet kid with many gifts doing a great job here! She is a testimony to your labors there.

My implied argument (though thinly veiled, I must admit), is that DVD (among others) is not actually advancing Kline’s insights. It is impossible, actually, to advance Kline rightly without Van Til. And DVD does not agree with VT on the most foundational point; namely, the prelapsarian need for special revelation to interpret general revelation. Kline, as you know, has this notion of the divine fiat which is in creation, and which explains creation. Creation is inherently covenantal, something DVD seems willing to deny at certain points and in certain respects.

That said, I am happy to go back and give him a second read and make sure I am not wrong. I further admit that there are more of his writings with which I need to become familiar. But, so far, this is how I size up the situation.

Mark G

8 years ago

Brent, Jim, I’ve been following this conversation.

Jim, since you are concerned about holding to special revelation in a prelapsarian covenant a la Van Til/Kline vs. some 2K views, you must think there is an important relationship/connection between special revelation before and after the fall. I suspect that the connection between the two is the revealer, the creator, the Christian God of the Bible.

At the same time the fall introduces a radical antithesis relevant to revelation before and after the fall, and between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent in the covenant of grace. Ultimately God enters into the history and chooses to especially reveal himself and his work to some out of the general lot of fallen mankind (e.g., in the covenant of grace and its various administrations through Adam, Moses, ultimately Jesus), In so doing God, especially in Christ, “verticalizes” eschatology such that ultimate heavenly kingdom realities enter this present world/evil age in inaugurated form. The ultimate kingdom of God in the new heavens and new earth becomes a present reality in inaugurated form. In a sense Christians are time travelers from the eschaton. They are citizens of another realm, i.e., the kingdom of heaven. Christians are not of this world but they are in this world to serve and obey Christ and to witness to him and His kingdom.

It seems to me that a problem in failing to recognize special revelation as inherent in the original creation covenant flattens out the antithesis & under emphasizes the creator-creature distinction. It makes room for nature & conscience being the point of contact between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The only point of contact between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent is the covenant making God of the Bible through His Word and Spirit.

I don’t have any seminary training so this may all be a muddle. Am I understanding / making sense?

Dr. Mark W. Karlberg

5 years ago

Merit and Moses: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication
by Andrew M. Elam, Robert C. Van Kooten, and Randall A. Bergquist
[from the website of Wipf and Stock]

Book Description.
What did writers in the Reformed tradition mean by suggesting that the Covenant of Works with Adam has been republished in the Mosaic Covenant? Not all forms of this doctrine of “republication” are the same. Merit and Moses is a critical evaluation of a particular version of the republication doctrine—one formulated by Meredith G. Kline and espoused in The Law Is Not of Faith (2009). At the heart of this discussion is the attribute of God’s justice and the Reformed view of merit. Has classic Augustinian theology been turned on its head? Does—or can—God make a covenant at Sinai with fallen people by which Israel may merit temporal blessings on the basis of works? Have “merit” and “justice” been redefined in the service of Kline’s works-merit paradigm? The authors of Merit and Moses examine the positions of John Murray and Norman Shepherd with respect to the reactionary development of the Klinean republication doctrine. Klinean teachings are shown to swing wide of the Reformed tradition when held up to the plumb line of the Westminster Standards, which embody the Reformed consensus on covenant theology and provide a faithful summary of Scripture.

Endorsements for Merit and Moses
“The doctrine of Republication has a Reformed pedigree. But in what sense? Recent understandings of Republication sometimes depart significantly from what one finds among Reformed theologians in the Post-Reformation periods. It is to the merit of these authors for dealing with this thorny issue by offering some important insights into the precise nature of the debate, such as discussions on merit and justice and the nature of typology. I hope all involved in the debate will give this book a careful and sympathetic reading—at least more careful and sympathetic than those who have publicly opposed Professor John Murray on this issue.”
—Mark Jones, Senior Minister, Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, BC

“I strongly recommend that everyone interested in the notion of Republication read the important book, Merit and Moses. By focusing on the guilt of every child of Adam and the only merit recognized by a holy God, the authors cut to the heart of Republication’s error. They show that to be the case by an insightful study of the Scriptures, of our most revered theologians—for example, John Murray, too often misunderstood and maligned by Republicationists—and of the Reformed confessions, showing that the doctrine of Republication cannot be harmonized with the teaching of the Westminster Standards.”
—Robert B. Strimple, President emeritus and Professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, CA

“In recent years, a number of Reformed writers have advanced the claim that the Mosaic covenant or economy was in some sense a republication of the covenant of works. According to these writers, the Republication doctrine was a common emphasis in the history of Reformed theology, and even forms an important part of the basis for the biblical doctrine of justification. The authors of this volume present a clear and compelling case against this claim. Rather than a reaffirmation of a forgotten, integral feature of Reformed theology, the authors argue that the modern republication doctrine seems inconsistent with the historic Reformed understanding of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. A helpful contribution.”
—Cornelis P. Venema, President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies, Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Dyer, IN

“This volume addresses a relatively recent appearance of the view that the Mosaic covenant embodies a republication of the covenant of works, a view that in its distinctive emphasis is arguably without precedent in the history of Reformed theology—namely, that during the Mosaic era of the covenant of grace, in pointed antithesis to grace and saving faith in the promised Messiah, the law given to Israel at Sinai was to function pedagogically as a typological overlay of the covenant of works made with Adam, by which Israel’s retention of the land and temporal blessings were made dependent on maintaining a level of meritorious obedience (works), reduced in its demand to accommodate their sinfulness. A particular strength in my judgment is their showing that the abiding demands of God’s holiness preclude meritorious obedience that is anything less than perfect, and so the impossibility of a well-meant offer to sinners of the covenant of works in any sense.”
—Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA

The Foreword is by William Shishko.

Regarding the OPC Denominational Study of the Mosaic Covenant and Republication
By Mark W. Karlberg, Th.D.

As the five-man study committee begins its work articulating biblical teaching concerning the “republication of the covenant of works” in the Mosaic Covenant, itself an expression of the single, ongoing administration of the Covenant of Grace (extending from the Fall to the Consummation), we take note of events leading up to the present state of upheaval within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and beyond. Three former students of Westminster Seminary California – now members of the OPC’s Presbytery of the Northwest – submitted a paper, entitled “A Booklet on Merit in the Doctrine of Republication presented to the Presbytery of the Northwest,” for its Stated Meeting in April of 2013. This was done in conjunction with its request to overture the OPC’s General Assembly asking for a denominational study for the purpose of guiding and instructing the churches on what has become highly contentious doctrine within the Reformed communion at large. That paper has been revised for publication as Merit and Moses: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock), released on July 10, 2014. Book endorsements include those of Richard Gaffin and Robert Strimple, timed for the start of the study committee’s work. Let no one be confused today where Gaffin and Kline stand! To be sure, differences between John Murray and Meredith Kline extend well into past history of Westminster Seminary. We have simply moved on to a new phase of the dispute, one bearing radically different implications and ramifications derived from Westminster’s current thinking on the subject of the covenants.

According to the view of Gaffin and Strimple, there is no works-principle functioning in the covenant God made with Israel through Moses, mediator of the old covenant. This means that the sole principle underlying the old covenant is the principle of (saving) grace, identical to what is the case in the new covenant. The blessings and curses of the covenant of law – fully and explicitly laid out in “the Treaty of the Great King” (the Book of Deuteronomy), as elsewhere throughout the Old Testament – are administered on the basis of Israel’s obedience or disobedience. If the position of Israel were secure in the earthly land of promise (Canaan) – which is the case for recipients of God’s saving grace with regard to reception of the heavenly, antitypical reward (life in the eternal kingdom yet to come) – there is then no place for curse and exile from the land. Such judgment upon Israel of old is, in the final analysis, inexplicable. What the Murray school of interpretation must conclude, to be theologically consistent (what is the aim of the systematician), is to say that believers under the new covenant are likewise subject to both the blessings and the curses of redemptive covenant in accordance with (non-meritorious) good works. This point is crucial: in this school of thought there is no genuine difference between the two economies of redemption, wherein reward is bestowed “on the basis of” or “in accordance with” the believer’s works of obedience. This is precisely the doctrine Shepherd and Gaffin have been eagerly advancing; and they have taken the argument one step further by eviscerating the law/grace antithesis entirely in their doctrine of the covenants (pre- and post-Fall).

Fundamental to the position of Shepherd and Gaffin is aversion to the works-inheritance principle, that which is antithetical to the faith-inheritance principle. With respect to the idea of the principle of works operating on the symbolico-typological level of temporal life in Canaan, Gaffin asserts: “the abiding demands of God’s holiness preclude meritorious obedience that is anything less than perfect, and so the impossibility of a well-meant offer to sinners of the covenant of works in any sense.” Now the real question is whether perfect, meritorious obedience was required of the First Adam in accordance with the probationary test given him in the original Covenant of Works at creation. This Gaffin and Shepherd vehemently deny. Had Adam kept covenant with God, not yielding to the temptation of Satan in assuming equality with God (specifically in regards to the knowledge of good and evil), he would not have “earned” or “merited” divine blessing, so Gaffin and Shepherd contend. Only the Second Adam, we are told, can merit the reward of the covenant made with his Father on behalf of God’s elect by his own obedience. Hence, Gaffin and Shepherd’s renunciation of the Reformed-Protestant law/grace antithesis, what is essential to teaching concerning the Gospel of justifying grace. The Gaffin-Shepherd contention is nothing other than the dogma of Neo-orthodoxy, now one of the doctrinal planks in New School Westminster. From this theological point of view, Westminster has moved well beyond Murray’s “recasting” of covenant theology. Yet, at the same time, Murray remains the sacred cow.

Clearly there is nothing but disdain for “public” opposition to the teaching of Murray on the covenants, Westminster’s most revered systematician. There is unity of mind within the Murray-Gaffin school today regarding “the reactionary development of the Klinean republication doctrine,” including what is seen as an over-reaching assault on Murray’s reformulation of covenant theology and an unwarranted, wholesale repudiation of Shepherd’s theology of the covenants, including Shepherd’s take on the doctrines of election, baptism, and union with Christ. On the matter of the history and development of Reformed teaching, the Shepherd-Gaffin school is flatly wrong. Setting aside questions pertaining to what individual Reformed expositors did or did not teach, past and present, both sides agree that the final arbiter is the Spirit of God speaking through the Scriptures. How then is Scripture to be interpreted in light of today’s contentious debate? The answer remains, as always, faithfulness to the teaching of Scripture as self-interpreting (free of human speculation and opinion).

A final word of caution: Do not be misled or misinformed. Read carefully and thoroughly, including writers on both sides of the controversy. If properly and faithfully conducted, the work of the OPC study committee should lead to trials in the courts of the denomination regarding the teachings of those holding heterodox opinions, notably as regards the doctrine of eschatological justification/judgment in accordance with faith and (good) works.

For a full account of developments at Westminster Seminary regarding the doctrine of the covenants and justification by faith (among other cardinal doctrines), see Mark W. Karlberg, Gospel Grace: The Modern-Day Controversy (2003), Federalism and the Westminster Tradition (2006), and Engaging Westminster Calvinism (2013). Foundational to these studies is my prior work Covenant Theology in Reformed Perspective (2000). All are published by Wipf and Stock. For a summary update on these matters see also my essay published as the Special May 2014 Issue of The Trinity Review (posted at http://www.trinityfoundation.org).



Reformed Forum
115 Commerce Dr., Suite E
Grayslake, IL 60030

+1 847.986.6140

Copyright © 2020 Reformed Forum