God, Heaven, and Har Magedon

Kline, Meredith. God, Heaven, and Har Magedon.

While containing brilliant insights into biblical symbology, Kline felt obligated to include every one of his unique (and often controversial) positions into this book.

He begins on a promising note. There is a “meta” reality to heaven, as it exists beyond our dimension. It is a holy location and contains sacred architecture. It is a palace/royal court (Deut. 26.15). Heaven is a temple that names God’s throne-site (Psalm 11 and 47). It is even identified with God in Revelation 21.22. “Heaven is the Spirit realm and to enter heaven is to be in the Spirit, Rev. 4.1” (9). Quite good.

He notes that in the biblical story we see a parallel warfare between two mountains, the mount of the Lord (usually, though not always Zion) and Mt Zaphon. Further Armageddon is Har Magedon and is not to be confused with the plain of Meggido, but that the Hebrew actually reads Har Mo’ed, the Mount of Assembly. And this is the part of Kline’s argument that is truly good and noteworthy. Assemblies are “gathered together” throughout the Old Testament, and Rev. 16.16 points out the act of gathering.

Whenever Har Moed appears in the Bible (Isa. 14.13) it is sometimes paired with its opposite, Hades or Sheol. Revelation pairs it with the pit of Abbadon (Rev. 9.11).

At the end of the book Kline identifies Har Magedon with Mt Zaphon in the North (251ff). This is a promising line of thought. Zaphon was the domain of Ba’al and can be seen as the center of wickedness. This makes sense if Gog is the Antichrist figure and comes “from the North.”

Zaphon was the Caananite version of Mt Olympus. This makes sense when we remember that Zaphon is paired with the Abyss. In Revelation 9 Apollyon (Apollo) is from the abyss. Apollo is the demon lord of the Abyss. (That’s my argument, not Kline’s). Kline also notes that when Har Mo’ed is mentioned, it is sometimes paired with the Abyss (Isa. 14:13-15Rev. 16:16).

Exegesis of Revelation 20

Background is Isa. 49: 2424. He is a Warrior who binds the Strongman (Matt. 12:29). Kline elsewhere identifies Jesus with Michael the Archangel, so Revelation 12:7-8 = Revelation 20: 1-3 (162).

Against premillennialism he argues that the chiastic structure of Revelation 12-20 favors Gog/Magog happening before the millennium.

a. Rev. 12.9. Dragon
B. Rev. 13:14. False Prophet
C. Rev. 16:13-16. Dragon, Beast, False Prophet
B’. Rev. 19.19-20. Beast and False prophet
A’. Rev. 20:7-10. Dragon.

And since they all refer to the same time period, and to the same event, this means premillennialism is false. Maybe. The chiasm is good but chiastic literature doesn’t always refer to the same event (many of the historical books form one whole chiasm, yet refer to various events).

Kline admits that the biblical evidence supports premillennialism as well as amillennialism (170). Nevertheless, he argues that the millennium is the church age (171ff). Kline identifies the first resurrection in Revelation 20 as….I’m not quite sure. It seems he says “opposite of the second death” (176), so is it conversion? I think he is saying it is “the intermediate state of believers.”

Sed contra:

1* There are numerous premil responses to the claim that the binding of Satan = Jesus’s ministry. If the events refer back to Rev. 12, and Satan is bound and can’t deceive the nations, then what exactly was Satan doing in Rev. 13?

Response to 1*

Satan is not bound with respect to deceiving the nations. No reading of the text can support that. Satan is bound, however, in that he cannot lead the nations in an assault against the final Mount of Assembly until the last day.

2* He says the two resurrections, if interpreted literally, would confront us with a bizarre scenario (175). Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it is logically or textually false. And biblical supernaturalism is strange.

3* Interestingly enough, Kline doesn’t deal with the conclusion of Christ’s argument. If Christ has bound the strongman, then he is plundering his house. This is why the binding argument often fails.

Kline argues that postmillennialism is wrong because it cannot account for the final apostasy at the end (186). That is true. The only way postmillennialism can seriously get around that is to opt for some from of preterism, which has its own problems.

A Discussion on Common Grace

Kline tells us that we live in the common grace age, but he never gives us a detailed discussion of what is the content of common grace. Kline argued that some of God’s more extreme measures (Canaanite genocide) are actually intrusions of God’s final justice. Well, yes and no. True, that was a positive command and not to be repeated by the church today. However, we do not see biblical evidence of an ‘order’ or ‘sphere’ of common grace. Is this a time or sphere of common grace? But even if it is, God’s blessings fell upon elect and non-elect within theocratic Israel.

What does it mean to rule according to common grace? How could we even determine which application of “common grace” is more “gracey” or right than the other one? General Franco of Spain probably had more common grace than either Hitler or Stalin, yet one suspects that the modern advocate of intrusion ethics wouldn’t praise Franco’s regime.

As Klaas Schilder notes, it is true that sin is being restrained. But by similar logic the fullness of Christ’s eschaton is not fully experienced. Apparently, it is restrained. (and this is true. So far, so good) If the first restraining is “grace,” then we must–if one is consistent–call the restraining of the blessing “judgment.” Kline’s position falls apart at this point.

A Little Manual for Knowing (Meek)

Meek, Esther Lightcap.  A Little Manual for Knowing. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014.

Meek resists the claim that knowledge is reducible to information. If knowledge is just about information, then “how do we come to know in the first place?”  We must have some knowledge to begin the “knowledge journey,” but if knowledge is just information, then we can’t even begin.  This is why Plato reduced knowledge to remembrance (particularly of past lives).

A consequence of the “knowledge-as-fact” approach is that it divides the knower.  It assumes one can detach himself from the act of knowing.

Covenant epistemology: the knower “pledges himself to the yet-to-be-known, the way a groom pledges himself to a bride.”  This is quite different from when the postmodernist attacks rationalism.  The postmodernist quite correctly says that all knowing is done from a finite standpoint, with the implication that knowledge is relativised.  The covenantal knower, by contrast, sees knowledge in an almost eschatological light. In Meek’s words, knowledge is a “pilgrimage” in which “we journey together.”  “All knowing is a coming-to-know.”

Polanyi: “subsidiary-focal integration”

This book is unique among Christian epistemology texts in that she gives exercises at the end of each chapter.

Knowledge as love implies that knowing ← → Being go hand in hand. Reality is person-like, not an amalgamation of bits of information.  Meek argues, by contrast, that reality is a gift.  When I look at a thing, on first glance we see it as it is.  But in a Creator universe, the thing is also “what-it-promises-to-be” and “what-it-ought-to-be.”

Promise language then is covenant language. This is tied with the notion of “reality as gift.

Her thesis is “we love in order to know.” I don’t think this works as a global thesis, but in terms of some knowledge-situations it is probably accurate. This type of loving is an “active receptivity.”

There are some good thoughts on “cultivating wonder” as a mental habit.  In her nice phrase, “it is a trained readiness to be astounded.”

Covenantal knowledge involves a “pledge,” which is the “I do” of love. In this knowledge “we give ourselves to be known,” to pledge to the Other’s “being.” This is what Torrance and Polanyi mean by knowing “kataphysically,” according to the nature of the thing known.  The thing presses its reality upon your mind. Granted, this makes more sense in terms of religion, philosophy, and politics than it would in looking at a blank wall.

If these things about knowledge are true, then knowing also involves a “maturity in love.” This is where knowing’s “interpersonal” dimension is clearly seen.  We need other persons to help us mature and be the person’s we are.

She has a neat section on “The Void.”  The void doesn’t have to be evil.  It can just be the realization of non-being.  It can be how healing can begin.  It’s sort of like having the law preached to you.  She has a neat diagram on the four dimensions of humanness.

              Holy

Self ——- ——–         ————–   Situation

                      Void

In a moving line, Meek writes, “In the Void, we must cry out in hope for the gracious deliverance and inbreaking of new being.  This is a key act of inviting the real.”  In another diagram, she calls this “the knowing event.” “The Holy is the gracious possibility of new being.”  It is where “epiphany” happens.

Now we are going to add persons to the picture

Meek gives good guidelines for cultivating the real:  choose wise guides, for one.  Beginners don’t know a lot about philosophy.  I personally wasted years on dead-ends.  You must also “place yourself where reality is likely to show up.”

Knowledge as Indwelling

Now Meek moves into the territory of the Hungarian chemist Michael Polanyi and his idea of “Subsidiary-Focal Integration” (SFI). We will go back to Plato’s Meno.  If knowledge is simply about transfer of propositions, that which we do not know, then we can never cross the Platonic chasm between Knowledge and Becoming, since we are in the realm of Becoming.

Perhaps we are getting too far afield.  Meek’s point is that knowledge also involves a “subsidiary” dimension that happens below the surface of the focal. Perhaps we can reframe the above-mentioned Platonic problem this way:  let’s take Heidegger’s question on being.  What is being?  To ask that question presupposes some knowledge of being, otherwise we couldn’t use the word “is.”  Let’s say a toddler is learning.  He needs sentences to learn, yet he doesn’t know what a sentence is, so how can he learn?

“All knowledge and knowing has a ‘from-to’ structure.”  It is not “a linear relation.” Think in terms of clues and patterns.  There is no linear connection, yet your mind is already seeing the evidence for patterns.  It then makes a proleptic jump, which Meek calls “integration.” It’s like playing “Wheel of Fortune.”  Her conclusion: “As we indwell the subsidiaries, we creatively integrate to a sustained focal pattern…We actively shape clues to the pattern; and we passively submit to the pattern.”

And then comes the moment of epiphany: [it] feels very much like a gracious gift from outside us.”  Indeed, “embedded in epiphany is the shift from active to passive, from giving to receiving.  It feels like a shift from knowing to being known.”

Knowing as shalom: we know shalom when the tension in the knowing encounter is brought to a proper resolution.  It is the joy we experience in seeing the “natural fittingness” of something that was put together.  She has some interesting–but only tantalizing–suggestions on shalom and healing.  That definitely needs to be developed.

Catchy sayings:

* Covenantal knowledge is commitment, not curiosity.
* Knowing is inviting the real, welcoming the yet-to-be-known.

* We seek to indwell and be indwelt by the yet-to-be-known.
* Coming to know proves to be a process of moving from looking at to looking from in order to see transformatively beyond.

* IFM = indeterminate future manifestation.”  Any good integrative pattern promises future unfoldings of dimensions and horizons.

* Insight isn’t informational–it is transformational.

Conclusion

This is a dynamic little book.  Not all of her arguments are sufficiently developed, but I think she knows that, as she intends this to be a gateway to her larger works on epistemology.  This book succeeds where so many epistemology texts from post-evangelicals have failed.  Too often we hear that rationality ought to be “Embodied” or “situated.”  Fair enough.  Few really say what that means.  In other words, granted that knowledge is embodied, what would mechanism or the knowing act look like?  Meek actually develops an answer.

It’s also fashionable, especially among Reformed, to advocate a “coventanal epistemology.”  That usually means quoting Bible verses such as “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  That’s true, but by itself it tells me nothing of how knowledge works.  If I preface a trigonometry problem with “Fear of the Lord,” I still have to work the problem and the answer will be the same as if I didn’t say “The Fear of the Lord.” Meek’s approach reshapes the covenant question in terms of knowledge as gift, pledge, promise, etc.  Which is actually what a covenant is.

Reforming Apologetics (Fesko)

Fesko, J. V. Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019.

There is no way to write a review of this book that minimizes the potential for a literary bloodbath. I will start by stating the thesis in the most minimal of terms.  This allows me to divide the review in three parts: 1) how the Reformed orthodox viewed prolegomena and natural theology; 2) overlap between classic Reformed and Van Tillian methods; 3) disagreements with Van Til.

Side bar: I’ve read James Anderson’s series of reviews on this book.  Anderson agrees with much of Fesko’s presentation of natural law and common notions.  He does a good job outlining Fesko’s position.

The hero of this book is the Puritan Anthony Burgess. From Burgess, Fesko presents an eloquent and compelling account of the importance of the book of nature and “common notions.” The law of nature is the common notions which are on our hearts (Fesko 15). For Burgess, the boundary of the law of nature is “the moral law delivered by Moses at Sinai” (16).  

Aquinas: the principles of natural law are the same for all people.  The conclusions they draw are not (Aquinas, ST Ia-IIae, qu. 94, quoted in Fesko 34). As Fesko, commenting elsewhere on Turretin, notes, “Immediate principles admit, but the noetic effects of sin due to the fall corrupt mediate principles” (43).

Although the chapter on Calvin explains Calvin’s views, it serves an equally important function: it rebuts the “Christological monism” that tempted  historians and apologists for the last 200 years. That’s where people seek a unifying principle and deduce the rest of doctrine from it. This really only works with German idealism. In short, Calvin did not see Christ as the unifying principle of all theology and then deduced everything from him.

Following Richard Muller and others, Fesko notes that scholasticism was simply a method.  It involved lectio, meditatio, and quaestio/disputatio.  It was a classroom format.  You can find elements of it in Calvin.  Contrast the Beveridge translation of 1.16.9 with the Battles translation and you can see Calvin use scholastic terminology and methods.

I am not going to spend much time on Fesko’s analysis of Calvin.  The literature is overwhelming. I do not think Calvin is a Thomist, yet it is obvious that Calvin is not saying what Van Til thinks he is saying.

Regarding Thomas Aquinas, Fesko’s main complaint is that Van Til gave nearly zero evidence that he actually read Thomas. Perhaps he did.  That does not come out in his writings.   We will cut a few moves off at the pass. According to presuppositionalists, Thomas is wrong for trying to synthesize Aristotle with Christ. However, it is not clear why Thomas is wrong for using concepts from Aristotle, yet it is fine for Van Til to use even more dubious concepts from Kant.  

Regarding some of Thomas’s arguments, Fesko notes they are quia, not propter quid.  In other words, they reason from effect to the cause, not cause to the effect. This is important because we cannot know God in his essence; therefore, we cannot reason from God to the world (78ff).

My favorite chapter is the one on worldview.  There is a sense in which worldview talk is legitimate.  If by it one means a way of viewing the world, then there is no big problem.  That is not how it is used in the literature. Historic worldview theory (what Fesko labels HWT) seeks to deduce our understanding of reality from a single principle and provide an exhaustive (or near enough) explanation of reality (98).

Not surprisingly, Van Til embraces HWT. It provides “the true interpretation of human experience” (Van Til, CA, 38, quoted in Fesko 106).  This aspect of Van Til’s is fairly uncontroversial, so I will forgo the rest of the quotations. The problem is that if HWT is true, then there really cannot be any common notions between believer and unbeliever.

 James Anderson, though, has demonstrated that Van Til held to common notions, at least in theory.  Van Til rejected this later on (My Credo, JA, 21). There he moved to common ground, by which he meant the image of God.

Conclusion of the chapter: if one holds to HWT as defined above, then there is no legitimate place for natural revelation and common notions. Moreover, Scripture itself does not say that men will have unique knowledge regarding creation.  God specifically tells Job there are a number of things that he will not know (Job 40:4).

I am tempted to skip the section on transcendental arguments.  Fesko does not disagree with them in theory.  He says they can be useful when you find the rare unbeliever who has a coherent worldview.  

He includes a chapter on Dooyeweerd.  I predicted in 2005 that there would be a return to Dooyeweerd’s thought in the Reformed world.  It was a strange prediction, as Dooyeweerd is often incomprehensible.  It turned out to be true, though.

To some extent for Van Til, but largely for Dooyeweerd, historic Christian thought has been plagued by the nature-grace dualism.  This occurs when man absolutizes one of the modal spheres, usually the temporal one. Fesko counters this charge by noting a) Dooyeweerd mistakes duality for dualism, b) provides little analysis with the key sources, and c) uses a similar methodology to Adolf von Harnack.

Against this dualism, Dooyeweerd suggests the biblical ground motive of “creation, fall, and redemption.”  Here we run into a problem.  Dooyeweerd had elsewhere criticized Van Til for being too rationalist in getting his ideas from the Bible.  For Dooyeweerd, we cannot use the bible as an object of theology.  The problem, one among many, of which Dooyeweerd seems unaware, is that he got his biblical ground motive from the Bible!

Moreover, it is not true that Thomas Aquinas (and by extension the WCF) held to such a dualism regarding body and soul.  For Thomas, the soul in-forms the body. It is the form of the body.  It is not a ghost in the machine.  It is one organic unity.  Dooyeweerd mistook Thomas for Descartes.

And Dooyeweerd does not apply the same criticism to Calvin.  Calvin specifically praised Plato on the soul (ICR, 1.15.16)! Calvin is not this pure font of only biblical theology.  Even worse, Calvin said it was okay to start with the knowledge of man.  The ordo docendi is not the same as the ordo essendi.

When we say that Dooyeweerd used the same methodology that Harnack did, we are not saying that he was a liberal who held the same beliefs.  Rather, both believed that pure Christiant thought was corrupted by Greek philosophy.  

In his concluding chapter on epistemology, Fesko shows how Van Tillians and classical Reformed can work together. Fesko’s comments on covenant sound very Van Tillian. Man’s covenantal origin allows us to embrace the book of nature.

With Van Tillians, we agree that epistemology is about wisdom (Fesko 198). Man submits to God’s authority, remembers his law, and responds with praise.  We see a good example of this in Psalm 19.  

Forgetting God’s law is the opposite of knowing.  It is the same as disobedience. Van Til could have written this section.

There is one category confusion, though, that many Van Tillians make.They confuse axiology (the theory of value) with epistemology.  An unbeliever will almost always have the wrong axiology.  That does not mean he will have the wrong epistemology.  

Conclusion

This book should not be seen as an attack on Van Til. The chapters on historic Reformed methodology are beyond dispute.  The Reformed used the book of nature and believed in common notions.  Nor is this book uncritical of Thomas Aquinas.  Aquinas was wrong on the donum superadditum.  Finally, the real criticisms of Van Til should be appreciated for what they are.  Van Til did not engage in serious historical analysis.  That does not mean the rest of his project is wrong.  Fesko even thinks the Transcendental Argument has its place (although I have my concerns).

Sacramental Preaching (Boersma)

It is tempting among some evangelicals today to call everything “sacramental” (not unlike the recent phrase to use “kingdom” or “gospel” as an adjective modifying every single noun). As such, I wish the book had another title. In any case, a sacramentum points to and reveals the res. Thus, sacramental preaching will see Christ unfold in the Old Testament. It’s neither crude allegory nor typology.

I’ve criticized Boersma’s approach in the past. My problem is he uses “sacrament” as a term to cover everything, especially relating to hermeneutics. If he would simply use another term, maybe one such as “participatory” or even typological, then much confusion could be avoided. This book is closer to typology than to allegory, and as such it has a fair bit to commend it.

Each chapter contains a short sermon he preached to his students at Regent College. Each sermon is followed by technical “preacher’s notes.” The notes are where the real money is at.

The book is structured around blessedness:
1) Sensed Happiness
2) Pilgrim Happiness
3) Heavenly Happiness
4) Unveiled Happiness

Boersma suggests that patristic and medieval exegesis is 3-D, whereas modernity is 1-D. In a participatory metaphysics, there is always “moreness.” Modernity is characterized by lessness. (Postmodernism is characterized by nothingness). A sacramental reading simply means the text points to Christ.

Me: That’s fine, but I wish he would have actually defined “participation.” Platonists are sometimes notoriously vague on that point. On a similar note, instead of “sacramental” I am going to say “participatory.”

A participatory metaphysics points to (or makes present) realities beyond that of the physical. One neat benefit of participatory preaching is that it bridges the gap between exegesis and application, since we are “in Christ” and Christ is “in the Old Testament,” so in a significant way we have a link with the realities of the Old Testament. And as we open the text and find Christ, we find all the gifts he brings to us.

Boersma’s collection of sermons has an anagogical structure. In each sermon we successively ascend the mountain until we are face to face with Christ in the beatific vision. This, quite simply, is happiness. It is blessedness.

Song of Solomon, Motherhood, and Virginity

The tradition justified an allegorical reading on the grounds that it was so easy and “fitting” to find Christ in it. Secondly, as Boersma notes, a realist epistemology held that “objects of sensed experience lie anchored in the reality of the eternal, heavenly Word of God.”

So far, so good. Boersma’s next move is rather shocking for Protestants, though one should have seen it coming. If you feel that you can do an allegorical reading of the Song of Solomon, then there is no logical reason why you can’t see the Virgin Mary in it. Make of that what you will. Boersma takes this key point to highlight “virginity” and “motherhood” within the history of salvation. Gregory of Nyssa noted that life and death are connected. Motherhood implies grief. Virginity attempts an end-run around that cycle.

Nota Bene:

“How people interpret the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, says a great deal about how they understand the nature-grace relationship.”

The section on Nathaniel being a true Israelite is good. The backdrop is Jacob’s ladder. Jacob, however, was full of guile. Nathaniel is now face to face with the real Ladder, and there is no guile in Nathaniel.

There is a fascinating chapter on Ezekiel 1. Boersma makes the argument, which I can’t develop here, that the heavens opening means God is ready for battle. The wheel within a wheel is a war chariot of the heavens. Where else did the heavens open with angels? The nativity. Also, Boersma reminds us of Fra Angelico’s “The Mystic Wheel.” The wheel within the wheel is the Gospel within the Old Testament.

Theses on Reformed Natural Law

  1. There is an objective moral order to which we have cognitive access.
  2. Natural law is a participation, however indirectly, in the Divine Mind. (See this chart).
  3. Law is a rule and measure of acts directed towards the common good (Thomas, ST I-II, q.90).
  4. Politics is the art of associating men for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life (Althusius).
  5. God willed that each need the service and aid of others in order that friendship would bind all together and no one would consider another to be valueless (Althusius).
  6. Ownership of a realm belongs to the estates and administration of it belongs to the king [or relevant executive figure] (Ibid).
  7. Human law is not identified with natural law. It is practical reason. Human law is directed towards particulars (Thomas, Ibid, q.91).
  8. Natural law is unchangeable in its first principles, but changeable in its proximate conclusions (Ibid, 94).
  9. Thomist natural law employed a grace perfects nature scheme. It is not clear if Reformed natural law needs such a scheme.
  10. Moral virtue of rendering to others their due (ST 2a 2ae. 57.1). It is a balance of equity.

More could be written, but that would make it unwieldy. Early natural law had the state punishing heretics. Is this part of the esse of natural law? Not necessarily. As noted in Thesis 8, punishing heretics is a proximate conclusion and not binding.

Kingdom Prologue (Meredith Kline)

Kline, Meredith.  Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview. Two Age Press.

This is the cornerstone of Kline’s work, and any criticism of Kline must answer this work.  Like all of Kline’s work, it is brilliant, engaging, and controversial. Kline anticipated numerous developments in biblical theology, especially as they relate to man as vice-regent and covenant theology.

We can summarize this book around Creation, Common Grace, and Covenant.

Structure of the Covenant

The covenant began by acknowledging the covenant lord by name, followed by a historical survey of his previous dealings with the vassal (22).  Genesis 1-2 doesn’t have a preamble as such, but the covenant Lord does identify himself.

Creation

Genesis 1:1

It “denotes an event at a ‘beginning’ time that preceded the episodes delineated in verses 2ff” (24). A heaven already existed prior to God’s dividing the waters, which means “heaven,” albeit a created heaven, is not identical to “the sky.” This act of creating the heavens in verse 2 included the sun and stars, which would receive their thematic treatment on Day 4.

The creation account doesn’t have any sense of “war” or struggle (26).  Indeed, it was “royal construction” (27).  He doesn’t use tools.  “The word of his will is his all-effective instrument” (29). Creation week reveals God’s building his cosmic house.  The Sabbath is his enthronement (35). Cf. Isa. 66:1; 1 Chr. 28:2. Hebrews 4 notes a parallel between Israel’s dominion-rest and Yahweh’s Sabbath rest.

It is important to note that while Kline is setting the stage for his controversial “framework theory,” that is not the main point of this argument.

Common Grace

Unlike many popular accounts of common grace, Kline actually works through it.  Too often, especially in neo-Kuyperian circles, common grace is used as a mantra to justify what one already likes about the current order. To be fair, Kuyper himself did anchor it in the Noahic Covenant, and Kline will do so as well.

To understand Kline’s view of common grace, we need to see the difference between the Kingdom City (Metapolis) and the City of Man.  Megapolis is not exactly the city of man. It is the earthly sphere.  Metapolis is the kingdom city.  As Kline notes, it has “undergone eschatological metamorphosis at the hands of the Omega-Spirit” (100).  It is the temple of God’s presence.

Kline’s account of common grace is far more robust than neo-Kuyperian accounts.  He notes that “common grace and common curse are correlative to each other (154). Without a common curse, it is not clear why one would need common grace.  I think this is the point Klaas Schilder was trying to make against Abraham Kuyper.  Schilder was never clear about it, though. The goal of common grace is to provide an interim for the gospel to work (155).  

All of this is good and few Reformed would disagree. Kline takes this fact and expounds a new concept: the common.  Everything that is not sacred space is the common. The common opens the door for “holy redemptive history” (156).

Therefore, the non-common, the holy, is “the kingdom-intrusion.” It is the anticipation of the final redemptive judgment (158). This means in our modern civil government “we always have the responsibility, whether dealing with…laws of community life, to distinguish which features of Israelite law were peculiarly theocratic (or typologically symbolic) and which are still normative in our present nontheocratic situation (159).

Not surprisingly, Kline pushes back against Kuyperians and “neo-Dooyeweerdians,” particularly the desire to identify creation in a “monistic fashion with the kingdom of God” (171).   Although there are not many Dooyeweerdians today, there is a tendency to desire theocracy of some sort. Far from being a liberal, Kline’s vision of the state is quite conservative, almost libertarian at times.  The state “is not redemptive.  Accordingly, the state as an institutional embodiment of common grace is not designed to provide ultimate and complete solutions for malfunctioning society” (178).

This means the state has to be “non-confessional” (179). If the state is about justice, not justification, then the point of the state is not religion.

Covenant of Works

The covenant of works safeguards the principle of “do this and live.” This is in sharp contrast with the covenant of grace. Kline’s argument is that muting the works principle in the Adamic covenant creates a continuum between works and grace.  Pressed hard enough, the gospel is not seen as purely gracious (108).

Most Reformed would agree with him on this point.  Kline’s more controversial move, albeit not without precedent in the Reformed tradition, is applying the words principle on a typological basis to the Mosaic economy of Israel.  He is not saying Israel earned eternal life by works.  Rather, the works principle of Leviticus 18:5 must obtain.  Kline’s argument at the surface level is simple: if the Mosaic economy was purely one of grace, then why did Israel get rejected from the land?

Analysis and Conclusion

I do not think anyone fully agrees with Kline.  I do think he is a far more important thinker than many of his critics believe.  Some might not like his republication of the covenant of works, but it does have precedent in the Reformed world.  Even if one were to finally reject Kline on that point, his analysis forced Reformed people to think more rigorously on the covenant of works, especially in light of the Federal Vision heresy.

His take on common grace might be more difficult.  As it stands, this is not the traditional Reformed view on the civil magistrate.  That needs to be stated.  On the other hand, most NAPARC ministers are not lobbying Congress to reinstate the Solemn League and Covenant.  Moreover, I don’t think Reformed theocrats have fully worked out what it means to institute case laws in today’s world.  It is not as simple as banning abortion (the outlawing of which is justifiable on natural law grounds).  It is not as simple as promoting the sanctity of marriage (also natural law).

The references to natural law, which, surprisingly, Kline himself does not seem to employ, illustrate why this debate has always been difficult in Reformed circles. It is tempting to identify “neutral” with “common.”  Man cannot be neutral before God.  Man can live in common areas, though.  That is undeniable.  

For my own part, if Kline’s position is wedded to a robust natural law ethic, I think it is sustainable.  It avoids some of the disasters of antinomianism while avoiding any kind of legalism. Although this is an important book, I do not think it is Kline’s best book.  Moreover, this review did not touch on all the rich typological insights.  Those insights, if studied carefully, will richly repay one’s study.

Confession of Faith (AA Hodge)

Hodge, A. A. The Confession of Faith. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1869 [reprint 1958].

A. A. Hodge’s genius is in organization, much like that of his father, Charles. There is some overlap with his Outlines of Theology, but there is also new material relating to the law of God, the civil magistrate, and church courts.  Of particular interest are the study questions at the end of each chapter.

The Decree

Hodge distinguishes between “an event conditioned on other events, and the decree of God with reference to that event being conditioned” (65).  “The decree determines the nature of the events” (66).  In other words, an event is not always reduced to God’s efficient cause only.

The system of events is absolutely certain.  That in no way impedes the free actions of free agents.

Providence

Another evidence of the harmony between God’s decree and our free actions is our own self-consciousness. So Hodge: “We are conscious of acting freely according to the law of our own constitution as free agents” (96). Hodge is only noting that even given the truth of the divine decree, we have no evidence that we are automatons, quite the opposite.

Christ the Mediator

Christ’s mediation is indexed to his being Savior and Head of the Church. We prove this by noting what he specifically received when he discharged the terms of the covenant: upbuilding of the redeemed church (137).

When Hodge explains the unity of the two natures, he is on very dangerous ground. He writes, “It is impossible for us to explain philosophically how two self-conscious intelligences, how two self-determined free agents, can constitute one person” (141). At first glance it seems that this is Nestorianism, since he places two self-conscious intelligences within the God-man. I don’t think he is saying that, though.  Intelligences are minds, not persons. This is very thin ice, but Hodge is able to run across it quickly.

Free Will

We have free actions because “we are conscious, in every deliberate action of choice, that we might have chosen otherwise.” Moreover, we act from a “purpose or desire,” with “the internal state or heart, which prompted the act” (160).

Effectual Calling

Men are “entirely passive with respect to the special act of the Spirit whereby they are regenerated; nevertheless, in consequence of the change wrought in them by regeneration, they obey the call….” and are active (169). Regeneration and conversion are not identical. After regeneration, “the soul itself, in conversion, immediately acts under the guidance of this new principle in turning from sin unto God through Christ” (171).  “Making a man willing is different from his acting willingly” (172).

Justification

If one holds to the moral influence of the atonement, it’s hard to see how justification is any different from sanctification (180).

Faith = “assent of the mind to the truth of that of which we have not an immediate cognition” (202).

Knowledge = “perception of the truth of that of which we have an immediate cognition” (202).

Faith doesn’t mean there is no evidence.  It simply notes that the evidence is not immediately apparent to cognition.

Good works

Hodge has a good section refuting “works of supererogation.” Such a work, in theory, goes beyond what the law demands. This is false because God’s law is perfect and one cannot go beyond it.  Moreover, even the best saint in this life is unable to perfectly meet God’s law (225).

Following this, Hodge refutes the distinction between “commands” and “counsels.” He notes “that which is right under any relation is intrinsically obligatory upon the moral agent standing in that relation. If it is not obligatory, it is not moral.  If it is not moral, it is, of course, of no moral value or merit.  If it is obligatory, it is not supererogatory” (226).

Baptism

Every covenant God made with mankind included children (346). The Old Testament church is the same as the New Testament church. “Infants were members of the Old Testament church” (347). Christ and his disciples speak and act on the assumption that the children are in the same relation as they have always been.

The Lord’s Supper

The church must use “the common bread of daily life” (358). (No stale chiclets.)

Transubstantiation contradicts our senses and reason, for “reason teaches that qualities cannot exist except they inhere in some substance” (360). 

The true, Reformed position, rather, teaches “the body and blood are present, therefore, only virtually” (362). We receive Christ by faith, not by the mouth. The reader can decide for himself how close to Calvin’s view this is.

This is a handy volume on the Westminster Confession for study groups.

The Practical Philosophy (Dabney)

Dabney, R. L. The Practical Philosophy. 1897. Reprint, Harrisonburg, VA. Sprinkle Publications, 1984.

It’s the current year.  Nothing I can say can (or should) excuse Dabney’s more egregious faults.  I’ll only say this: apply the same standard across the board.  Aristotle believed in abortion and didn’t believe women were fully human.  Plato believed in sexual communism. Evangelicals voted for Trump.  Which historical figure can stand in that great day?

Should one read Dabney?  That depends. (It’s the current year.)  Should one make him a staple of his theological diet?  Probably not.  That honor would go to Shedd or Hodge.  On the other hand, if one wants to understand 19th century American intellectual thought (not simply Reformed thought), Dabney is required reading, if only to attack him. (It’s the current year.)

We can take it a step further.  There aren’t many Reformed treatments on the emotions and the will.  Before Richard Muller I can think of…well, none.  If you want to understand how 19th century thinkers, both Christian and non-Christian, thought about the will and the soul, then you have to read Dabney.  You simply won’t find any detailed treatment of faculty psychology from an American Christian on these issues.

In what is perhaps a surprising move from a Reformed theologian, Dabney stresses the importance of feelings.  There can be no motive or action without feeling (Dabney 5). Feelings do not ebb or flow, only their intensity does.  A state of calm is just as much “feeling.” Feelings are not independent, though.  As he later writes, “Feelings are conditioned on the presence before the intellect of an appropriate cognition” (105).

To feel nobly is better than to think acutely. A noble incentive of generous feeling energizes the will, which whets the intellect. Dabney makes a distinction between sensibilities and appetencies (10ff). Sensibility is passive; desire is active.  Desire or appetency: the soul acts from inward to outward (11). There is an element of spontaneity. Sensibilities are the occasions for the outflow of appetencies. My free agency doesn’t come into play when I experience sense impressions. This distinction necessary for free agency. Appetencies are the essential element for motive (14). A mere feeling is not necessarily a sensibility.

Book II is the most important part of the book, as he analyzes the nature of the will. When one chooses, one chooses something. This object presents itself to the mind as both attainable and good. The “conjoined function of judgment and appetency…prompts our own volition; it is the spirit acting in both these concurrent modes” (141). Our appetencies can remain dormant for a time. Our volitions do not.

It is better to speak of a “Free soul” than a free will. Faculties act efficiently on faculties.  “Thought is the soul thinking,” etc.The soul determines volition, “and that soul is self-determined to volition, and therefore free”(151). God’s foreknowledge doesn’t compromise the freedom of a creature (154). An infinite mind can arrange for the certain occurrence of an act. The fatalist sneaks in a hidden premise: God can only work through compulsory means. Our motives determine all our deliberate volitions (158). Inducements are objects of our desire that are capable of stimulating our sensibility. Motives are subjective appetencies

Argument: Whatever we deliberately choose, “it is because we have a motive for our choice” (168). To persuade someone, we have to get him to move his will to some inducement (172). This isn’t the cause of his actions. We have to change his subjective disposition. While we maintain free agency, we do not believe the will is in equilibrium at the moment of the choice. It is in some sense determined by “prevalent antecedent motives” (190). Up to this point, Jonathan Edwards is correct.  (He erred in making God the sole efficient cause in Original Sin).

The second half of the book deals in practical philosophy.  Dabney refutes various ethical theories.  Of particular interest is utilitarianism and Jonathan Edwards’ hedonism.  Jonathan Edwards’ view: virtue is benevolence to being in general (220). “Every judgment of beauty is analyzable into a perception of order and harmony.” New England Theology: love to being in general became affection of benevolence.

Refutation: Scripture doesn’t define love to God as benevolence to being in general. Loving God’s holiness is not the same thing as affection for kindness. This ethics is unworkable for most of humanity.  The average peasant mother doesn’t care about benevolence to being in general. On this reasoning, a son is better off saving a great stranger than his own father.

Dabney’s true genius lies in his take on wealth and economics.  (In one of the strangest ironies, he sounds very close to Tim Keller and the TGC men). Dabney has an excellent section on wealth that avoids communist decadence on one hand and gangster capitalism on the other hand.  We can desire wealth within its proper limits: The desire must not become inordinate (84ff). The desire must propose itself to pure and just objects. It must never become inequitable.

Unlimited luxury is sinful. God gives us wealth so that we may be stewards. It is objected that spending money on luxury items provides income for those who produce them.  Dabney responds: these luxuries “create wider mischief” (471). It degrades those who use them, and redirects capital and energy away from nobler pursuits.

On usury: medieval scholasticism said usury was wrong because money cannot reproduce. This is a fallacy because we know that capital lent does create new values (489). Moreover, usury laws merely drive up the prices of goods. Lenders know that their loans will become riskier. This means the supply of money is diminished and the demand is now increased.  The prices go up.

In conclusion, this is a valuable primary text for studying 19th century religious thought. Be that as it may, Dabney’s other views will prevent this from being more widely read.

The New England Mind: The 17th Century (Miller)

Miller, Perry.  The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954.

One reads Perry Miller for the same reasons one reads Edward Gibbon: the delightful prose and the breathtaking scope of his topic. Never go to Miller for accurate doctrine.  He gets much of it wrong.  That might not be accurate, though.  Miller has read the primary sources, and there are many of them.  How well he understood them is another question.

On Predestination

“….penetration of God’s sovereignty into his [the Puritan’s] personality” (Miller 17).

Piety

“Virtue is not, as Aristotle and the scholastics said, a mean between two ends, but an extremity itself” (46).

Peter Ramus

Many Puritans considered him as dying “equally for the cause of logic and of Christ” (Miller 117). Missionaries would translate Ramus and condense him down so the Native Americans could read him alongside the Bible.

Aristotelian systems divided the whole of logic into three parts: simple terms, proposition, and discourse (122ff). A simple term contains the predicable.  The key is that its logic didn’t focus on method so much as learning the predicables.

To Ramus most of this was unnecessary memory work and didn’t actually train the student to use systems and methods. By focusing more on method than memorizing predicables, a Ramist was able to show how the terms are interconnected, something Aristotelians could not always do.

Logic is divided into invention and judgment.  “Invention is the part in which are arranged individual terms, the concepts, the arguments or the reasons, with which discourses are constructed; in judgment are contained the methods for putting arguments together”(128).

Arguments can be either artificial or inartificial.  An artificial argument is the facts as they are observable (e.g., fire causes heat).   The argument is embedded in the thing itself. An inartificial argument is one whose cause is not immediately apparent.

The most important point is that the syllogism serves the axiom, not the other way around. This removes the tendency, probably common among scholastics, to reduce everything to syllogisms.  In other words, “judgment is made immediately from axiom, mediately from syllogism” (135).

Ramus went even further.  He simplified the syllogism “into two modes, which he called the simple and composite” (136). A simple syllogism is one of the standard three figures.  A composite is something like a hypothetical or disjunctive syllogism.  Whereas Aristotle emphasized the square of opposition, Ramus introduced the opposition in a catalog of arguments.

Ames: “Contradiction in the composite syllogism always ought to divide the true from the false” (138).

“Method proceeds from universals to singulars.”

Miller suggests that the division between Aristotelians and Ramists is like the one between nominalists and realists, with the former seeing logic as a product of the mind (146).

Invention: an act of faculty intelligence performed according to the law of truth.

Ramism ran headlong into a problem: how can one really assert the identity between arguments and things (155)?  They denied that concepts were merely mental and subjective, which would seem to be nominalism.  Both the medieval nominalists and the Puritans (at least as Miller reads them) believed in an almighty, albeit arbitrary God. By putting rationality in the nature of things, Ramus allowed the Puritans a God without the chaos.

Ames illustrated how art (i.e., the rule of making and governing things to their ends) moves from God to man: the mind of God → enacted by God → clothed with objects and forms → extracted from objects by the human mind.

While he was a Ramist, much of William Ames’ theology is quite Thomist.  He asserted divine ideas or “platformes” in the mind of God.  The idea of a thing preexists in the mind of God. Especially as relates to “art,” these divine ideas are the radii of divine wisdom (167).

“Affections” are “the instruments of the will as it embraces or refuses a thing” (253).

Ramus didn’t so much as attack Aristotle on rhetoric; he simply got rid of the unnecessary parts.  Ramus’s students, especially ministers of the Word, saw that forcing a sermon to fit the grid of “praecisio, significatio, extenuatiom digressio, progressio, regressio, iteratio, dubiatio” was useless, if not actually impossible (315).  Ramus argued that the logical form (which the student would have already covered in the dialectic) could carry the weight of the “rhetorical” aspect.  Ramus said a student was better off imitating Cicero than trying to reproduce an Aristotelian manual.

This view on rhetoric led quite naturally to the “plain style” of Puritan preaching.  By plain style they didn’t mean “ignorant.”  They meant setting forth the “reasons” and “use” of a text.

The Covenant of Grace

Here is where Miller gets in trouble.  He writes, “Accordingly, between 1600 and 1650, English Puritans were compelled, in order to preserve the truths already known, to add to their theology at least one that hitherto had not already been known, or at least not emphasized, the doctrine of the Covenant of Grace” (366). This statement is false on every level.

Maybe he isn’t saying that, though. A few pages later, he mentions that the covenant of grace was in earlier Reformers.  What he suggests, I think, is that the Covenant of Grace took on a new practicality among the New England Puritans who also happened to be Ramist, Federalist, and Congregationalist all at once (374).

The problem is not that Miller hasn’t read the sources.  I dare say few have read New England Puritanism as intensely as he did.  He limits his vision, though.  He is completely aware of any developments/origins of covenant theology outside of North America and some aspects of Perkins and Ames.

5 Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew

Boersma, Hans. Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 2021.

The idea behind this book is good; the book not so much. Boersma is correct that no one approaches the text without a commitment to metaphysics. Moreoever, we can only smile with amusement when someone says, “If you would just stay committed to the Bible,” presumably you would believe as I do. Unfortunately, much of Boersma’s discussion trades on ambiguities and straw men. To be sure, the book does have a few good chapters, namely the ones on metaphysics and heaven. The chapters are something like: No Plato, No Christ; No Plato, No Scripture; No Plato, no metaphysics; No Providence, no Scripture; No Heaven, No Scripture.

The Good

  1. We can’t simply appeal to “the bible” qua bible. We all come with metaphysics.
  2. If Christ is present in the Old Testament, then some form of a sensus plenior obtains. That seems to be unavoidable.
  3. He has a good section on Athanasius. However, Boersma doesn’t realize that Athanasius’s Christology undercuts Plato’s cosmology. If the Son is fully God, then we don’t have a Demiurge creating the world.
  4. Excellent chapter on metaphysics. His argument, though, might be inadequate. Key to the Platonic framework is the idea of “participation.” What does that actually mean? I’m not sure. Boersma never defines it. Aristotle, too, pointed out that ambiguity in Plato. It seems Platonism is simply a stand-in for Augustinianism and realism. I have no problem with that. He identifies 5 aspects of Ur-Platonism: 1) anti-materialism, 2) anti-mechanism, 3) anti-nominalism; 4) Anti-relativism, and 5) Anti-skepticism. On one hand this sounds like basic Christian wisdom. True, you find all of this in one form or another in Plato’s dialogues. But must it be called Platonism? Are we not leaving out other key aspects of Platonism?

    In a throwaway line that must have had the Revoice guys in mind, Boersma (rightly) says our primary identity is in Christ, not in some made-up social identity (which also applies, mutatis mutandis, to other post-Marxist constructs).
  5. Excellent chapter on heaven. He puts a halt on many silly “anti-imperial” readings. He notes that their (often shrill) us vs. them rhetoric is the very violence they seek to oppose. In fact, he specifically calls out left-wing agendas, noting they treat sin and redemption in this worldly structures. Moreover, something like the Beatific Vision is present in historic Christian reflection. Whatever else is true about the New Heavens and New Earth, we must retain the basic structure of the Beatific Vision.

The Bad

  1. We’ll start with the most obvious problem: allegory. Boersma’s section on typology was actually good. Unfortunately, he doesn’t like the contrast b/t typology and allegory. Typology links history to history. Allegory links history to some eternal archetype. What matters for him is allegory. Here is one problem: why even bother w/the original languages and the Hebrew-ness of Israel if the text is allegorical? All that matters is the “deeper meaning.” This is the fatal flaw in all allegorical schemes. Following upon that point, what criteria does Boersma have for saying “this deeper reading” is wrong while the other one is correct?
  2. He claimed Charles Hodge was a nominalist. Boersma said Nevin chose Plato and the Great Tradition while Hodge chose Francis Bacon. This is bad. Nevin chose German Idealism, not Plato.
  3. Boersma never defines biblical theology. At times it means “bad academics” and at other times it means “sola scriptura.” Even worse, he never defines sola scriptura.
  4. Very little of Israel’s story is connected with Plato. There is nothing Platonic about the Exodus, the Temple, or the Atonement. There is also nothing Platonic about the New Jerusalem descending to earth.

I can recommend other books by Boersma. I cannot recommend this one.