Kline’s Reactionary Theology


Kline’s Reactionary Theology


This is a portion taken from a paper written by three OPC Ministers who were taught at Westminster Seminary California.  This portion explains reasons why they believe Professor Meredith Kline adopted some of the doctrines he did concerning a Republication not only of the Law but of a Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant.  In this portion they explain as does the book ‘The Law is Not of Faith’ (a book written by multiple authors) in Kline’s thought that Israel is to be considered a Corporate Type of Adam.  Is this the historical Reformed position?  It is something we need to figure out and decide.  Does this teaching protect the doctrine of Sola Fide as some desire?  You can decide for yourself.

The original booklet can be purchased from a link posted here.


Kline’s Reactionary Theology

pp. 19-24
As noted above, Kline and the authors of TLNF are correct to point to dangerous imbalances in the theology of Norman Shepherd and FV. But is it possible that even as Shepherd and FV represented a pendulum swing away from the WCF in one direction, Kline’s reaction to it might constitute a swing in another? We may identify three components of Kline’s teaching and writings intended to counteract the teaching of Shepherd and FV. In our view, these components also swing wide of the plumb line of the Westminster Standards.

1. Disagreement with Voluntary Condescension

In light of these controversies, Kline spoke of redefining the concept of grace to preserve the meritorious character of the covenant of works. Instead of the traditional Augustinian definition of grace as “unmerited favor,” Kline proposed viewing grace more strictly as “demerited favor” (i. e., favor granted after man’s fall in spite of demerit). He also questioned the Westminster Confession of Faith 7:1, which speaks of God’s voluntary condescension to make a covenant with Adam. (He told faculty members, including Robert Strimple in a private conversation, that he took a personal exception to that particular wording of WCF 7:1 [See Strimple, “WCF,” p. 8].) Since Murray and Shepherd spoke of gracious elements in God’s relationship with man before the fall, Kline did not want to use vocabulary like God’s goodnesskindness, or even condescension in entering into the covenant of works with Adam. Kline finally settled on speaking about God’s benevolence, but not in the context of the doctrine of God’s voluntary condescension (as outlined in WCF 7:1). Instead of referring to the necessity of God’s condescension in establishing the covenant with its reward of eternal life, he sees the bestowal of the reward of the covenant as “an aspect of God’s creational love.” He sought to guard the attainment of the reward as “a matter of works” in distinction from grace (Kingdom Prologue [2000], p. 112). As we will explore later in Part 2, this is the result of the conflation of creation and covenant in Kline’s system, which leads to the squeezing out of God’s voluntary condescension, and a recasting of the covenantal formulation of the Westminster Standards.

2. Israel as a Corporate Typological Adam with a Merit-Based Probation

As Kline reacted to Shepherd’s theology, he sought to demonstrate that the works principle was foundational to all of the divine covenants, and therefore, shut the door once and for all “to the sweeping denial of the operation of the works principle anywhere in the divine government” (Kingdom Prologue [2000], p. 108). One of the ways to do this is by comparing the two Adams, which is typical and necessary in Reformed covenant theology. If Christ’s mission is to prevail where the first Adam failed, then “Adam, like Christ, must have been placed under a covenant of works” (Kingdom Prologue [2000], p. 110)In the standard Reformed view of Romans 5, we understand that Paul draws a comparison between the obedience of the two Adams as the respective covenant heads of the covenant of works and covenant of grace: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Rom. 5:18).

But Kline does not stop with the comparison between the two Adams. He goes on to make Israel something of another “Adam figure” that he believes will fortify the two- Adam doctrine.

Likewise, the identification of God’s old covenant with Israel as one of works points to the works nature of the creational covenant. Here we can only state a conclusion that the study of biblical evidence would substantiate, but the significant point is that the old covenant with Israel, though it was something more, was also a re-enactment (with necessary adjustments) of mankind’s probation – and fall. It was as the true Israel, born under the law, that Christ was the second Adam. This means that the covenant with the first Adam, like the typological Israelite re-enactment of it, would have been a covenant of law in the sense of works, the antithesis of the grace-promise-faith principle (Kingdom Prologue [2000], p. 110).

Professor Kline taught that because the covenant with Israel provides the context for a historical re-enactment of the probation of the first Adam, it also republishes the covenant of works. The works principle in the Mosaic covenant would therefore provide additional evidence against Shepherd that Adam was in a covenant governed by the works principleIn other words, if it can be shown that Old Testament Israel was under a national works principle, then it is impossible to deny that Adam was under a works principle. The Mosaic covenant is designed to show that corporate Israel’s relationship to God is a re- enactment of Adam’s probation and fall. This retrospective reasoning going from Israel’s situation back to Adam’s would demonstrate that “there can be no a priori objection to the standard view of the original Edenic order as a covenant of works” (Kingdom Prologue [2000], p. 110). This also means, however, that the Mosaic covenant’s essential nature can no longer be characterized as a covenant of grace in Kline’s formulation (contrary to WCF 7:3). Instead, it corresponds to the nature of the Adamic covenant. In Kline’s words again, both the Adamic as well as the old covenant with Israel “would have been a covenant of law in the sense of works, the antithesis of the grace-promise-faith principle” (Kingdom Prologue [2000], p. 110)Thus, Kline taught that Israel was placed under a situation analogous to that of Adam, in which they were required to “maintain the necessary meritorious obedience” (Kingdom Prologue [2000], p. 109).

3. Israel’s Meritorious Works as Typological of Christ’s Obedience

Since Kline was seeking to show the importance of the republication view, in contrast to Shepherd’s covenant formulation, he continued to draw a line of continuity from the obedience of Adam through Israel, to Christ. In this way, Israel’s probation was not only a “re-enactment” of Adam’s, but also served as a type of the obedience of Christ. In Kline’s system, the works principle operating in Israel under Moses thus illustrates and anticipates the necessity of the imputation of Christ’s meritorious active obedience. For Kline, the works arrangement under which Christ is placed as Mediator only makes sense in connection with Israel’s works arrangement. This point is affirmed and explained in the following way.

It was therefore expedient, if not necessary, that Christ appear within a covenant order which, like the covenant with the first Adam, was governed by the works principle (cf. Gal. 4:4). The typal kingdom of the old covenant was precisely that. Within the limitations of the fallen world and with modifications peculiar to the redemptive process, the old theocratic kingdom was a reproduction of the original covenantal order. Israel as the theocratic nation was mankind stationed once again in a paradise-sanctuary, under probation in a covenant of works. In the context of that situation, the Incarnation event was legible; apart from it the meaning of the appearing and ministry of the Son of Man would hardly have been perspicuous (Kingdom Prologue [2000], p. 352).

… Thus, in addition to calling attention to the probationary aspect of Jesus’ mission, the works principle that governed the Israelite kingdom acted as a schoolmaster for Israel, convicting of sin and total inability to satisfy the Lord’s righteous demands and thereby driving the sinner to the grace of God offered in the underlying gospel promises of the Abrahamic Covenant (Kingdom Prologue [2000], p. 353).

In this way, by looking forward to Christ and backwards to Adam, Kline underscored the continuity of the works principle in redemptive history. It runs not only from Adam to Christ, but also through corporate Israel in between. We may thus modify the familiar slogan about federal headship in this way: “Where Adam and Israel failed, Christ prevailed.” In effect, there are now three Adams in redemptive history, with Israel’s meritorious works arrangement now functioning along with the first Adam’s, as precursors to the meritorious work of Christ. Kline thus taught that the works principle in Israel served to show the need for the active obedience of Christ to merit the reward of life. Whereas Israel once sought to merit its retention of the typological reward— temporal life in the land—now Christ has come to merit eschatological life.

In sum, this distinctive element of Kline’s Republication Paradigm is thus viewed as undergirding the doctrine of justification against the teaching of Shepherd and Federal Vision. It does this by showing that Israel serves as a type of Christ, as she both re-enacts Adam’s history and pre-enacts the merit-paradigm under which Christ is placed. Kline seeks to show unequivocally that the need for the imputation of the active obedience of Christ is anticipated in the Mosaic covenant in the “typological” and “pedagogical” works principle in the life of the nation of Israel (see following diagram).

Adam Israel Christ
Obedience Typological Obedience Active Obedience

According to Kline’s republication teaching, the failure to view the Mosaic covenant as a merit-based probation has serious consequences. For Kline, the works principle in Israel becomes a key plank for the doctrines of the covenant of works and Christ’s active obedience. Since Kline integrally links the Adamic and Mosaic covenants by way of a meritorious works principle, a modification of the latter would (in his system) lead to a necessary modification of the former. Kline is thus seeking to guard against Shepherd’s formulation of a gracious covenant with Adam. This explains (in part) the zeal with which Kline and other proponents have promulgated and defended the doctrine of republication. It is just as TLNF put it: “In short, the doctrine of republication is integrally connected to the doctrine of justification” (TLNF, p. 19).

Kline Is the Source of the Republication View in TLNF

In spite of the book’s claims to the contrary, we believe (with several reviewers of TLNF) that the Republication Paradigm was not the predominant view in the history of Reformed covenant theology. There are certainly those in the Reformed tradition who speak of the Mosaic covenant as reflecting aspects of the original covenant of works with Adam. But even these are quite different from the view proposed by Kline, which isolates the works element to the temporal arena and describes Israel’s obedience (and other Old Testament figures) as possessing a “meritorious” character. We also believe it is unfair that John Murray has been made the scapegoat who shoulders the blame for the errors of Norman Shepherd, as well as for any resistance with which the republication view is met. Although we acknowledge that certain points of similarity between the covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant can be found in previous writers, none of them argue a works-merit formula for Israel as a “corporate Adam”, as Kline and his disciples propose. Instead, in our view, the evidence shows that Meredith Kline is the architect of the contemporary Republication Paradigm described above. Kline was responding to a modern theological debate and discussion about the covenants, and his views are now being advocated by the authors of TLNF and other adherents of the republication doctrine. The present writers agree with the point Cornel Venema makes in his review.

First, the stimulus and source for this understanding of the typology of the Mosaic covenant is undoubtedly the biblical-theological formulations of Meredith Kline. In the writings of Reformed theologians in what I have termed the “formative” period of the formulation of covenant theology, the language of a “works principle” in the Mosaic economy is not found. However, this language is frequently employed by Meredith Kline in his biblical theology of the covenants of works and of grace, and it is evident that Kline’s formulations lie behind those of several of the authors of The Law is Not of Faith. The idea that the covenant of works was republished “in some sense” is a significant part of Kline’s understanding of the distinctive nature of the Mosaic economy (“The Mosaic Covenant: A ‘Republication’ of the Covenant of Works?” Mid-America Journal of Theology 21 [2010]: 89).

Thus, it is our belief that in the republication teaching presented in TLNF, we see the evidence of a pendulum swing in reaction to Norman Shepherd’s modern formulations of covenant theology.8

The Faithful Plumb Line of the Westminster Confession of Faith

On the one hand, Shepherd’s teaching led to a pendulum swing away from the Westminster Standards by rejecting the covenant of works. In its place, he recast the covenant of grace as a monocovenantal enshrinement of the gracious condition of covenant faithfulness from creation to consummation. This condition was imposed upon all alike, from Adam and his descendants, to Christ and all who are united to him by faith. This has led to serious doctrinal errors, especially regarding justification. We are grateful for how the authors of TLNF joined many others in the church in sorting out a number of these errors.

On the other hand, the Republication Paradigm of Kline and the authors of TLNF has led to a pendulum swing away from the Westminster Standards in the opposite direction. This has occurred by bringing meritorious human works into the covenant of grace after the fall (i.e., in the Mosaic covenant). It is laudable that the proponents of the doctrine of republication passionately reject the mixture of faith and works in the covenant with Adam against Shepherd. Nevertheless, it is of equal concern that a similar mixture of individual faith and national works are brought into the covenant with Moses after the fall (see following diagram).




Perfect Obedience Imperfect National Obedience Perfect Obedience

What is more, these (imperfect) works after the fall are said to be operating within a paradigm where a group of fallen sinners can merit or extract a blessing from God. In Kline’s writings, meritorious works become possible for other post-fall Old Testament figures prior to the Mosaic covenant (as we will see in Part 2). How can this be? We believe the concept of merit that lies behind the Klinean republication teaching raises serious doctrinal concerns. When evaluated against the measuring line of our Confession and other Reformed creeds, additional questions and concerns about the republication view emerge. We will address these concerns in the remainder of this booklet.

The result of the controversy surrounding the Shepherd-FV theology, was the establishment of an OPC study committee on justification. Their report has helped the church clarify these issues in light of Scripture and the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Standards. We believe the republication doctrine similarly leads to imprecise theological formulations, as well as the redefinition of established Reformed concepts (as we will consider in Part 3). This, in turn, leads to confusion. Our hope and belief, therefore, is that our presbytery will overture the general assembly of the OPC to establish a study committee to examine and consider this contemporary controversy.

Conclusion of Part 1

We need not fall prey to the confusion caused by the formulations of Shepherd and FV on the one side, nor those of Kline and the Republication Paradigm on the other. The Westminster Standards (and other Reformed creeds) embody the consensus formulations of historic Reformed theology. This plumb line has served as a faithful standard for faith and life for hundreds of years. More importantly, our church embraces the Westminster Standards as containing the system of doctrine taught in the holy Scriptures. Indeed, we may be assured that our confidence in our Reformed creeds is well-placed. They are proven guides and reliable signposts in navigating a Biblically sound course among many potential deviations.

 (8) Additionally, the recent work of James T. Dennison, Jr. (which has resulted in the publication of Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, Vols. 1-3 [1523-1599]; Vol. 4 [1603-1609] forthcoming), demonstrates that the Republication Paradigm of a typological works-merit covenant with Israel as a “corporate Adam” in the Mosaic era, is not found in any of the more than 125 Reformed confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Part 2 Intro
Redefining Merit: The Klinean Paradigm Shift

In Part 1, we spoke of a “Republication Paradigm” that differs in important respects from the Westminster Confession of Faith. We argued that these differences were the result of a pendulum swing against the paradigm of Norman Shepherd. In Part 2, we will seek to show how this pendulum swing resulted in a redefinition of the traditional concept of merit. This redefinition was first applied to the notion of Adamic merit in the original covenant of works. In the development of Kline’s teaching, it also came to undergird and shape Israel’s “typological merit” in the republication of the covenant of works under Moses.

Our purpose in this section is to demonstrate that the Republication Paradigm and the Westminster Confession of Faith represent two different conceptions of “merit.” One of the most significant differences between the two positions is the way in which the Republication Paradigm affirms merit for Old Testament figures after the fall. Clear examples of this can be found in the writings of Professor Kline and other contemporary authors. The difference between this view and the traditional position cannot be more striking. The traditional view rejects any possibility for merit on the part of sinful man, in any sense, after the fall. The Republication Paradigm affirms that a type of merit is possible on the part of fallen man.

What is at the root of these differences between historic Reformed theology (as expressed in the Confession) and the republication formulation? To answer this question, we must first speak about the different ways in which the term “merit” is being used (Ch.5). Then we will seek to explain how the Republication Paradigm is a system that defines merit in a particular way, in contrast to the Confession’s earlier definition of merit (Chs. 6-7). Finally, we will consider how the reformulation of merit is connected to the Mosaic covenant, as it was separated into two levels in Kline’s system. On the one hand, there was the grace level for the eternal salvation of the individual. On the other hand, there was a national, meritorious-works level for the retention of temporal earthly blessings (Ch. 8).0

Further, it is our belief that this redefinition of merit is not an isolated modification that leaves the broader Reformed system of doctrine unaffected. Instead, this new conception of merit has paradigmatic implications which significantly modify other key doctrines. This will be taken up in Part 3.

To read the rest you will have to purchase the book.

Or you can listen to them speak about this topic on You Tube.

I also recommend you read a follow up concerning Kline, Creation, Condescension, and Covenant Merit which I posted after this.


And here also.


By Robert B. Strimple