I want to once again reiterate my deep appreciation for the work done by 2K theologians. I believe their insights are important and essential for the church to hear today. In particular, in so far as they desire to highlight the spiritual nature of the church’s ministry, I am all on board. Furthermore, I am in general agreement and in sympathy with their critique of social transformationalism. I am also deeply indebted to their redemptive-historical hermeneutic for understanding the difference between what parts of God’s Word are applicable to the church or state today, and which are not.
However, where I disagree is on a fundamental, deep-structural level with regard to their covenant theology. And I disagree with them because of Geerhardus Vos, Cornelius Van Til, and above all M.G. Kline.
Now, what I am about to argue does not have universal agreement in the history of Reformed Theology. In fact, we might notice an important difference among the Reformed due to advancement and refinement. For example, one of the noticeable differences between Kline and the great Reformed Scholastic theologian Francis Turretin, is how each relate creation and covenant. What is the relation between creation and covenant? Is covenant something which is, as it were, laid on top of creation (i.e., coming subsequent to creation)? Or is it some thing coordinated, correlative to creation at every point? Francis Turretin seems to advocate the former perspective. First, there is creation and then—subsequent to the act of creation—there is the act of God establishing a covenant with Adam (IET, 8.3.II-III). While I am deeply indebted to Turretin for his doctrine of the Covenant of Works (among many other things!), I must here register a slight objection to his view. To answer the question why I object, I must go back to Vos.
Vos was instrumental in my understanding of how God’s acts in redemption are made known to us living today, thousands of years after the events. We can only know of God’s once and for all acts of redemption in history through his revelatory, inscripturated Word. Further, Vos provides us with a theological framework for understanding how we are to know not just the facts of redemption, but their meaning and significance as well. In this way he provided a faithful, biblical construction which answered the higher critical biblical theologians of his day. Whereas the critics separated fact from meaning (drawing from their post-Kantian German idealism which was founded upon a fundamental epistemological dualism), Vos said that the very God who gives the facts also – with those facts – gives the meaning of them as well. In other words, one can never place God’s redemptive deeds and his revelatory Word in a dualistic relation.
Fast forwarding to Van Til, the great apologist built on his professor’s work and showed how the Bible does not allow for any “brute facts.” That is to say, God does not give us uninterpreted facts. But Van Til went deeper than Vos. He applied the latter’s insights about God’s redemptive-historical events to God’s act of creation. So, not only does God interpret his acts in redemptive history, but he also interprets his act of creation. In his great article “Nature and Scripture,” Van Til pushed God’s covenantal, revelatory Work back before the fall. Even in the garden God did not leave man to interpret and understand nature quite independent of his covenantal, revealed Word. God interpreted the creation to Adam at every turn. So says, Van Til: “revelation in nature was never meant to function by itself. It was from the beginning insufficient without its supernatural concomitant.” (Wooley, The Infallible Word, 275).
That brings us to Kline. Kline dedicated his great work The Structure of Biblical Authority to his professor, Cornelius Van Til. That was appropriate as the work was thoroughly Vosian and Van Tilian. But while he hints at how God’s Word and creation relate in that book (thinking here of chapter 2), the full development of his thought would have to await his Kingdom Prologue. In that book, very early on (i.e., pp. 14–41 of the W&S edition), Kline introduces the concept of God’s “covenantal fiat” in the act of creation. This means, in short, that God’s act of creation IS covenantal. To create is to reveal himself in and to the very creature he calls into existence by the mere power of his Word. So, for Kline, he advances Van Til even further. Not only does God interpret nature through his special revelation, but for Kline creation is—by virtue of it being a product of God’s covenant Word—a Word revelation. Creation speaks (cf. Psalm 19:2). It is inherently covenant-Word-revelation. To put it another way, if God never spoke another Word, creation would be sufficient to testify to the creator. To cut to the chase then, this means that there is no place for Thomas’s nature/grace dualism, nor is there any place for German idealism’s dualisms as well. The very Word which God spoke at creation, testifies to God who spoke it through the things that have been made. At no place and at no time is creation silent. It always and everywhere speaks. This eliminates any and all notions of natural theology as understood by the Thomistic tradition, or as modernized by German idealism. Creation does not need to be perfected by grace. It is quite adequate for the knowledge of God, thank you very much.
In conclusion, if we are to remain faithful to Kline, we must say that God’s creation is covenantal. It is formed by divine, covenantal fiat. And because of this, nature reveals the triune God at every point. And our call as Christians is to point the unbeliever to that reality and call him to repentance. Indeed, God’s common grace allows the unbeliever to function and even thrive in cultural endeavors, and we praise God for that fact. But such grace is only a restrainer. It is never to be confused with common ground. There is no safe territory upon which the unbeliever can stand and do right by one kingdom, but not right by another. In every kingdom he is wrong. Even his own cultural endeavors testify against him. And if we, as Christians, do not (lovingly!) point that out to him, who will? I am afraid that the 2KT may in fact cause Christians to lose their greatest apologetic and witnessing opportunities. This is because while the unbeliever and the believer may not have any epistemological or ethical common ground, Christians do have a point of contact with him at every point. And that is because we all live in the arena of God’s covenantal fiat. And thus, we dare not be silenced: neither in the church nor in the public square. In fact, the latter is arguably the best place to bring both Law and Gospel to bear upon the consciences of fallen men.