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.

Christian Church and the Old Testament (Van Ruler)

Van Ruler, A. A. The Christian Church and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. trans. Bromiley.

The book’s initial purpose is to justify the Christian’s use of the Old Testament. He does, however, put the brakes on more fanciful readings. For the reader today much of it is dated, as is most OT work post-Vos (and certainly post-Beale). Nonetheless, there are a few fascinating and controversial sayings that are worth engaging.

He wisely points out that the OT’s identifying God as “Yahweh” and even “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” puts to rest any generic “God-in-general” god of the ecumenical movement (Van Ruler, 17; the comments on the ecumenical movement are mine, not his).

He argues that Calvin used the model of progressive revelation (II.x.2). On one level this is obvious. God didn’t give Adam and Eve a complete canon of Genesis-Revelation. That sounds silly, I know, but there are super-internet-covenanters today who say that any use of “history” or “organic” or “progressive” = pantheism. I leave that to you. On a more substantial note, however, we must question how glibly we can say that “Jesus” is in the Old Testament. He certainly is (1 Cor. 10; he is the Rock from which our fathers drank). Here’s the problem, though. If Scripture (and texts in general) have only one meaning–the meaning for the original audience is the intended meaning–then we need to ask if the original audience saw Christ as the rock. Indeed, that’s a tall (but not impossible) claim. Van Ruler questions that we can simply put Jesus wherever we want in the OT, since such knowledge, at least for the original audience, needed the death and resurrection at the very least (21).

Good quote by Kuyper: If our ideas of the Old Testament can’t incorporate national Israel in them, then those ideas are wrong” (Uit het Woord, II, 1, 180). Outstanding. In our conservative circles we might not realize how radical this claim is. A particular Israel is hard to square with “universal messages” or “timeless truths” or the ecumenical movement.

If you are somewhat familiar with Van Ruler, then you know the dangerous area he is now taking us. “The whole concern with Scripture is not with Jesus Christ” (69). That’s a fairly startling claim. What does he mean by it? He says the Spirit embraces more than Jesus does. That’s a vague statement and I am not sure how to take it. He then echoes 1 Cor. 15 that the Son’s mediatorial kingdom will come to an end. (Side note: Berkouwer claimed in The Return of Christ that Van Ruler said Jesus’s humanity will fade away, but Van Ruler doesn’t say that here). Van Ruler does leave us with a startling suggestion, though: “Jesus Christ is an emergency measure that God postponed as long as possible.” Suffice to say he probably isn’t a supralapsarian.

He does point out the wisdom of Reformed Christology and how it is anchored (and further develops) in Reformed anthropology. We believe that original righteousness “was natural rather than supernatural.” Rome believed in a pure nature to which was super-added a gift of grace. So far this is standard dogmatics. From it Van Ruler draws the inevitable but not always obvious conclusion: this means that Jesus doesn’t add a “higher life” dimension to created life. This is why with Reformed we say that grace restores, rather than perfects nature.

Principles of Sacred Theology (Kuyper)

I am a sympathetic critic (with emphasis on critic) of Abraham Kuyper. I fully reject what he says on covenant, common grace, and the church. This book, though, is quite interesting and worth reading.

Argument: theologically science should begin organically because knowledge is inter-related.  It is the unbelieving world that can’t integrate knowledge (I:iv).

Science: a collected body of knowledge independent from the activity of the knower.  It is a “connected form of knowledge.”

If there were no organic relationship between subject and object, “then thinking man in our age would have an entirely different object before him” than in other times (II:1).  Kuyper is addressing the old problem regarding the relationship of universals to particulars.

Threefold relationship:

  1. Organic relation between object and our human nature
  2. Relation between that object and our consciousness.
  3. Relation between that object and our world of thought.

Older scholastic view of faculty: 

Faith

“The formal function of the life of our soul which is fundamental to every fact in our human consciousness” (37).

Chapter 3: The Twofold Development of Science

The Christian is determined by a palingenesis, which leads to an enlightening, which changes a man in his very being (50).  Kuyper: “This regeneration breaks humanity in two.”

Chapter 5: Theology in the Organism of Science

Theology finds its object in the revealed, ectypal knowledge of God (81).

DIVISION III

Chapter 1: The Conception of Theology

The Influence of Palingenesis upon Theology and Science

It implies that all existing things are in ruins and that there is a way they can be restored (83).

Conception: the way of knowledge which we travel.

Idea: views the end independently

Man: man is no spirit but a spiritual being and exists simultaneously psychically and somatically, so that a great deal of his inner life manifests itself without the person being conscious of it (97).

(Kuyper rebuts the donum superadditum on pp. 104-105)

Common grace: the act of God by which he negatively curbs the operations of Satan (111).

Revelation, Humanity, and History: revelation goes out to humanity taken as a whole.  Since humanity unfolds itself historically, this Revelation also bears an historic character.  Since this humanity exists organically, having a centrum of action, this Revelation also had to be organic, with a centrum of its own (112).

For Hegel and Schleiermacher, man is the archetypal theology and God is the ectypal theology.  True being and knowledge is only in man, while knowledge of God is a dim imprint.

Regeneration and Knowledge, Again

“Regeneration is not an element in knowing, but in being” (142ff). What I think he is saying is that regeneration penetrates to the whole man.

A principium of knowledge is a living agent, and it is from this agent that knowledge flows.  As such, obviously, the bible is not an agent.  Nevertheless, it is proper to call Scripture the principium unicum theologiae if understand as a plant, “whose germ as sprouted and budded” (143).

Sharpening our antithesis:  if Holy Scripture is the principium of theology, then there is an antitheis between this principium and the common principium of our knowledge (153).

Really good section on the relation of natural and special revelation.  Rather than two mechanical principles that never really integrate (e.g., as in Protestant and Roman Catholic scholasticism), they “possess a higher unity, are allied to one another, and, by virtue of this unity and relationship, are capable of affecting each other” (157).  Their unity is God, as he is the source and object of both kinds of knowledge.  

Question:  Can Natural Revelation judge Special Revelation (159ff)?

Muslims isolate the principium of knowing from the principium of being (175).  I think Kuyper means is that there is no organic connection between the two.  Kuyper mentions a “dictated inspiration” in connection.

But for the Christian, what binds these streams together–the recreative divine energy?  Kuyper wants to avoid the idea of “inspiration” as some kind of donum superadditum.

Summary of sub-section: the special principium in God directs itself as the principium of knowledge ot the consciousness of the sinner, bringing about inspiration/illumination.  As principium of being, its spiritual and material re-creative acts are called miracles.  The world of thought and the world of being do not lie side by side, but are organically connected (178).

On Miracles

Miracles organically recreate the cosmos from within.  Away with silly discussions of “violating natural law.”  Renewal in Scripture is not a new power or a new state of being, “but simply a new shoot [that] springs from the root of creation itself” (182).

Covenant and Election (Van Genderen)

schilder

Van Gendere, J. Covenant and Election.  Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 1995.

Have you ever wanted to know the intricate details of 20th century Dutch covenant theology?  Van Genderen is here to tell you. It is a survey of Dutch responses to the problem of Covenant and Election in the early 20th century.  The problem is if we identify election with the covenant of grace, then election tends to crowd out the covenant. This had disastrous results with Abraham Kuyper.  On the other hand, if covenant is free from election, we have Arminianism (and today, the horrors of Wilsonism) creep back in. I am not entirely sure what his conclusion is.  On one hand, he fully rejects identifying election with the covenant of grace (or more precisely, the scope of the two aren’t identical). On the other hand, he doesn’t go as far as Klaas Schilder, either.

Van Genderen’s problem is that if the covenant is established only with the elect, yet Genesis 17 says Yahweh will be a God to us and our children, then on what basis do we put the sign of the covenant on the children and claim those problems?  This was the problem Kuyper faced. This is why some Kuyperian churches of 800 members might have only 14 take communion. For Kuyper only the baptism of true covenant children is a valid baptism (Van Genderen 25). Therefore, at every baptism the church must presuppose regeneration and election.  

Van Genderen has a fantastic section on Karl Barth’s problematic theology.  For Barth, election is identical with the doctrine of God. The problem with Barth’s claim that in divine election of Jesus as the elect and reprobate man makes faith superfluous.  True, Barth emphasized it, but there was no need. The divine “no” and “yes” in Christ reduces unbelief to an ontological impossibility (41).

Per covenant and creation, Barth has the wild claim that the first man was at once the first sinner.  

Van Genderen does move towards a construction of how we should see covenant and election.  The covenant is not a contract (63). God and man don’t negotiate. Rather, it is promise + demand + threat (69). Election doesn’t overshadow everything; the promise does.

He holds to individual election, but wants to place our experience of it within not only Christ, but the church community.

He ends with some thoughts on Schilder, which we can only wish were more developed.  With Schilder we see the covenant God as the speaking-to-man as responsible party. A proclamation always comes with an urgent call to accept it. The covenant is a legal status “defined by the speaking God, the God of the Word” (99).

This is a good historical survey in some parts but is woefully underdeveloped in others.  There is brief mention of Olevian and the substance/administration distinction, but no discussion of how Schilder himself would have interacted with it.

Everlasting Covenant (Kamphuis)

Kamphuis, J. An Everlasting Covenant. Launceston, Australia: Publication Organization of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, 1985.

This summarizes the fallout between the true, Schilderite take on theology, and the post-Kuyperian subjectivism.  It differs from other defenses of Schilder, however, in that it really analyzes Kuyper’s thought, even from his apparently less harmful works on principia.  Kamphuis’s thesis is that true Covenantal thinking in the church arises from the preached Word.  It meets us with objective promises and threats, bypassing our morbid introspection. While this sounds like something Doug Wilson would say, it need not go that route.  The key to the difference between Kuyper and Schilder is that the former, like some Wilsonite bloggers, believed in presumptive regeneration, which guts the covenant of its power.

schilder

There is a place for examining ourselves, but it should never be the main point.  The covenant word is what we “hear” and respond to in obedience (Kamphuis 21). When God establishes his covenant in time, he never asks us if we are one of the secret elect, but if we accept the promises of Jesus.

Kamphuis’s key argument is that for Kuyper there is a connection between scholasticism and subjectivism.  This sounds odd, given that scholasticism is usually accused of anything but red-hot piety. I think, though, we are looking at a scholasticism at the tail-end of Dutch theology, and not what we would normally call scholasticism.  In any case, for Kuyper the antithesis is when the new man is regenerated. It produces a change in consciousness. So far, so good. Unfortunately, that is not all.

According to Kamphuis’s reading, for Kuyper “Regenerated man is in contact with the [Platonic] ideal world….The regenerated man sees the idea of real things, the eternal idea, that of justification, that of the church” (24), etc.  From here it is a small yet quick move to eternal justification, an eternal church. It is also a covenant dislocated from time. How do you know you are really in it?

A note: I am not so sure Kuyper said all of this.  I haven’t been able to corroborate these sources.

If justification is from eternity, then all you need to do is be aware of it.  All that is outside the eternal idea is a mere semblance to this world. This leads to a chilling sacramentology: “When we apply this to the Covenant and baptism it means that Kuyper did not hesitate to speak about a–deceptive–appearance.  For there are ‘true partakers of the covenant’ and ‘those who are partakers of the Covenant in appearance only’ (Kuyper, De Leer der Verbonden, p.341).  This has some consequences whenever a sacrament is distributed to the non-elect people, “As often as this sacrament is distributed to the non-elect people, the Lord God ‘retracts his grace from it, so that they do not receive the real sacrament as yet.’ Kuyper formulates it in an even clearer and more frightening way when he says: “Sometimes there is a pseudo-baptism, just like there can be a pseudo-birth among men, so that no baptism took place or no child is born” (Kamphuis 24-25).

How did we get here? It is because of presumptive regeneration. In order to avoid the nominalism of the state church, baptism had to be applied only to the regenerate.  This is a problem with infant baptism, unless the infants are already regenerate.  If they aren’t regenerate, reasoning by modus tollens, then it wasn’t a real baptism!

Chapter 3: Stirrings of Reformation

The problem with the ‘42 Synod is that it made self-examination proceed from uncertainty, and not from objectively revealed promises (37).

The Schemes of Internal/External, Substance/Appearance

The parts of the covenant: Schilder’s camp interprets the parts of the covenant as “promise and demand” (57).  The baptismal liturgy connects “the promise and the demand of the one and only Covenant for all the baptized” (58).

The covenant promise–conditional and unconditional: God demands that we believe his promise.  Nevertheless, Schilder rejects the idea that there is some condition in man himself which he must meet before he can accept God’s promise (59).

Schilder was skeptical about Berkouwer’s use of “correlation” in the covenant.

Concrete-historical.  God’s decree of election does not always refer to the infinite mind of God, but also to his works in their mutual relations” (65).

Schilder on the Covenant of Redemption

He rejects the idea that the covenant of Grace = the Counsel of Peace.  Rather, Jesus reconciles God and men by inter-cessio (intercession) not pro-cessio (Precedence). If the Covenant of Grace is removed to heaven, then it has no bearing on time (72).

Kuyper’s followers made a doctrinal statement that by virtue of God’s promise the children of the covenant must be ‘taken for regenerated and sanctified in Christ’ (quoted in Kamphuis 74).

In Christ and by the Spirit.  Schilder interpreted the phrases:

  1. a) Sanctified in Christ means by virtue of participating in the covenant, being entitled to the promises of justification.
  2. b) this justification becomes ours in time through faith
  3. c) consequently, having by washed in the blood, then the washing by Christ’s Spirit springs from it.

Summary: the problem of history is the problem of the covenant controversy (86). This means covenant wrath in history is real. And if there is wrath in the covenant, then it is also a judicial covenant (that would have also been true of blessing, but it is more clear in wrath).

The good of the book: it outlines the problem with the post-Kuyperian churches.  It also provides a wealth of primary sources.

Problems with the book: when he is contrasting the official Dutch church with the Liberated church, Kamphuis will give a statement and it is not clear about whom he is speaking. Further, the formatting of the book is weird.  On one hand it is meticuously outlined (“5.1, 5.2, et.c), but the topics don’t always “connect.” It gives the feel it was written in part for a denominational newsletter.

Pro Rege volume 1 (Kuyper)

kuyper

Kuyper, Abraham. Pro Rege volume 1. Lexham Press. Kindle.

This book falls under the category of “Good Kuyper.” This is the Kuyper of the antithesis, not the abstracted Kuyper of common grace (though, admittedly, elements of the latter are present). The book begins on a strange note: The Dutch Empire and Islam. Kuyper remarks that the Queen of the Netherlands ruled over more Muslims than she did Christians. Kuyper saw the writing on the wall: no longer could anyone pretend to be a “Christian Netherlands.” How are you going to enforce Article 36 of the Belgic Confession? How can you have a Christian voice in society without committing to either theocracy of secularism?

kuyper

This book is a series of meditations on Christ’s kingship. It is not sustained analysis. Kuyper analyzes Christ’s kingship according to his exaltation and its operation. Of particular importance is Kuyper’s analysis of the spirit realm. Granted, our understanding of ancient near eastern texts and languages is much more sophisticated today, and there are some things Kuyper couldn’t have known, but still–he was probably the most insightful prior to recent developments. He writes, “Nothing has done more damage to the church’s confession of Jesus’s kingship than the marked increase in indifference towards the spirit world, whether toward angels or demons” (loc. 427).

Christ as Organic Head

Kuyper has received a lot of unnecessary (and often inept) criticism on his use of organic metaphors. Supposedly this is “pantheism” or “Hegelianism” or some rot. It’s biblical. It’s John 15. Kuyper writes, “The Head of the body is a mystical-organic concept, and it points to the organic communion of those who are one in faith, hope, and love” (loc. 1015). While there is an external aspect of his work (preaching of the gospel and a righteousness extra nos), there is an organic aspect: we really are connected to each other via our head.

Something that arises from the very processes of life is organic. Now, if Kuyper is arguing that Christ arises from the human processes of life, and only that, then yes, he is a pantheist. But that is specifically not what he is arguing. Christ’s organic kingship will one day organically communicate itself to us that we will be kings and reign with him (5348).

The Typology of the World City

Kuyper read the signs of the times and saw a systematic darkening of culture. This is manifested in the “world cities,” which in themselves focus the evil. By rejecting the unity of Christ, it seeks a unity of its own (loc. 1750). These are antitypes of Babylon.

What Kind of King?

Evidently Kuyper was already familiar with the false spiritualism of “not of this world.” While it is true that his kingdom is not earthly, the contrast, spiritual, does not mean something nebulous like “gushy pious thoughts.” It means, but not limited to, power of the spirit realm and revelation of knowledge. Echoing George Gillespie, Kuyper rightly argues that political authority does not flow from Christ as mediator, but from God in creation (loc. 2240).

The Essence of Dominion Man

Kuyper, anticipating Klaas Schilder, links man’s essence with dominion and the royal charter (2515).

Miracles

While he is a cessationist, Kuyper pushes back against the claim “Miracles don’t real no more.” On a more serious note, Kuyper, following the New Testament, notes that Christ’s power to do miracles usually stems from his human nature, not his divine. That’s why he did stuff “in the power of the Spirit.” Indeed, “it remained a human power to the very end” (2914).

While Kuyper is most famous for common grace, and I think that eventually dooms his project, he makes a very pertinent observation that undoes his whole take on common grace: “there is a process that grows in intensity. Similar events return again and again, but every time they return, the same struggle manifests itself with increasing ferocity. The outpouring of God’s wrath begins” (7829). In other words, the eschatological war against the wicked is intensifying in history. Gary North and Klaas Schilder could have written that exact paragraph.

Conclusion

We commend Lexham Press for getting this in English. We further commend them for making it easily accessible at $5.99 on Kindle. We don’t agree with everything Kuyper said. But this is a pretty good volume. My main criticism is that it is too wordy. Some chapters probably could be excised and others could be shorter.

Review: Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church

Van Reest, Rudolf. trans. Theodore Plantinga. Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church. Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 1990.

The Golden Age of Dutch Theology came in the person of Kuyper, yet within Kuyper were the seeds of its own destruction. The younger generation either went with the worst of Kuyper’s theology or with liberal Protestantism.

The Problem with Scholasticism

Schilder seems to equate “scholasticism” with Kuyper’s bizarre views on covenant, and Kuyper’s view:

(1) We baptize on the presumption that the child at the baptismal font is already regenerate.

(2) Yet some children are not saved.

Therefore, (1) must become

(1*) Their baptism was not a genuine baptism after all (Van Reest 47).

But if no one knows whether his baptism is real, then only the most morbid self-examination can follow:

(3) You must use the distinguishing marks as a checklist.

The payoff, or lack thereof, is you can’t ever go to the Lord’s Supper.

But is Scholasticism just shorthand for Kuyper? I don’t think so, though Schilder is never clear. It seems to be when a church starts with faulty presuppositions and draws conclusions from them. Over time this builds up into a system which can never be challenged by Scripture (50-51).

Woe to you, my people

Key part of the Solomonic thesis: “When people become Solomonic, their concern is not for the Truth alone, or for belief in the Scriptures and faithfulness to the confessions” (251).

Van Reest details the tragic events unfolding in the 1930s. Schilder, along with a few others, saw that National Socialism was pagan in its root. This is often forgotten. In the 30s “Nazi” did not mean Jew-killer, and this explains why H.H. Kuyper and V. Hepp could implicitly support the Nazis and formally rebuke Schilder for attacking the Nazis.

Schilder was arrested for writing Reformed articles against the Dutch Nazis. He was soon freed, yet began writing again. He barely escaped a concentration camp and had to go into hiding. His story is the stuff of heroism and suffering.

Sadly, the Synod deposed Schilder for not holding to Kuyper’s doctrine of presumptive regeneration, yet they did not attack him on doctrine, but on church order. They said he was schismatic in not obeying the order of Synod. Yet his leading accusers, HH Kuyper and V. Hepp, ignored previous synods’ warnings against Dutch Nazi youth groups.

Nor should they have deposed him without his being there. But had he been there, the Nazis would have deported him to a concentration camp.

Those events then led to the Liberation of 1944. But it does not appear that the Synodocratic forces won. Consider Van Reest’s words:

“The spirits of the men at the synod were also very low. You could see it in their faces and in the slack way they walked. They had run completely stuck with their ecclesiastical scheming, but there was no way out for them…

G.C. Berkouwer sat there in the president’s chair, a sunken heap of a man” (356).

Plantinga, the translator, then ends with how the Liberated churches fared in America.

The book reads like hagiography, which it probably is. Still, it contains valuable first-hand information about a great theologian during one of the darkest hours of the 20th century.

Covenantal Relations in the Trinity

One of the Reformed Thomist criticisms of Kuyper, Vos, etc., is that they posited covenantal relations in the Trinity.  And this is bad because of Hegel or something.  I want to do two things: actually see what they say and see what Scripture says. And perhaps note why Reformed Thomists resist this point so much.

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We always come back to him for some reason

By way of prep reading I recommend Ralph Smith’s website.

First of all, what is a covenant?  Answering this question is a nightmare, but we can give it a try:

 

 

 

 

From the beginning of God’s disclosures to men in terms of covenant we find a unity of conception which is to the effect that a divine covenant is a sovereign administration of grace and of promise. It is not compact or contract or agreement that provides the constitutive or governing idea but that of dispensation in the sense of disposition…. And when we remember that covenant is not only bestowment of grace, not only oath-bound promise, but also relationship with God in that which is the crown and goal of the whole process of religion, namely, union and communion with God, we discover again that the new covenant brings this relationship also to the highest level of achievement. At the centre of covenant revelation as its constant refrain is the assurance ‘I will be your God, and ye shall be my people’. The new covenant does not differ from the earlier covenants because it inaugurates this peculiar intimacy. It differs simply because it brings to the ripest and richest fruition the relationship epitomized in that promise. [Emphasis added.]

So we can at least get the term “relationship” derived from it.  Following Van Til I argue (Or posit) that the relationships between the persons of the Trinity is covenantal:

The three persons of the Trinity have exhaustively personal relationship with one another. And the idea of exhaustive personal relationship is the idea of the covenant (“Covenant Theology” in The New Twentieth Century Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge).

Let’s take Jesus’s words in John 17: “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (This is often taken to prove the divine oneness of the Trinity, but I don’t think that is the point of this passage).  That Jesus is using covenantal relation language is evident from verse 11:  that they may be one even as We are.  Jesus isn’t asking the Father that we have the same divine nature as they do.  Rather, it is that we have the same covenantal relation in unity.

Kuyper on Covenant:

If the idea of the covenant with regard to man and among men can only occur in its  ectypical form, and if its archetypical original is found in the divine economy, then it
cannot have its deepest ground in the pactum salutis that has its motive in the fall of
man. For in that case it would not belong to the divine economy as such, but would be introduced in it rather incidentally and change the essential relations of the Three
Persons in the divine Essence (quoted in Hoeksema 295).

I think Kuyper is saying something like the following:

  1. If the covenant is ectypal, then it isn’t part of God in se (if you want to use those categories).
  2. Therefore, it is accidental to the being of God.
  3. Therefore, it would call into question the Pactum Salutis, which must refer ontologically and not economically.

Ralph Smith concludes and sums up Kuyper’s position:

If Father, Son, and Spirit do not relate to one another in covenant essentially in their fundamental intratrinitarian fellowship, why should the contemplation of man’s fall and redemption introduce something new and different in their relationship? And how should we think of God as the unchangeable God, if intratrinitarian relationships have been fundamentally and essentially changed in the pactum salutis? (Smith 23).

Mutual Exhaustion in the Covenant

Van Til said the members of the covenant mutually exhaust the scheme.  Granted, there probably is a better way to say it, but I think it is worth unpacking.  Smith writes,

First, the covenant idea, he says, is nothing but the representative principle applied to all of reality. This makes the whole creation covenantal in the nature of the case. God does not enter into a covenant with man after creating him, for man is created as God’s image. Man is God’s representative and therefore a covenantal being from the first. The same is true in a general way for the rest of creation, since all the creation is a revelation of God, representing Him in a secondary sense. As Van Til says, the representative idea must be applied to all reality.

I think what CVT is saying is that when God creates, he creates covenantally.  It is a representational principle, but who is representing what?  CVT doesn’t specifically state it, but the covenantal relation in the Trinity is being represented. Smith again,

Second, Van Til sees the source of this representative, which is to say, covenantal
principle in the eternal relations of the persons of the Trinity. The covenant in God is not merely a covenant between Father and Son, nor is it merely an agreement entered into for the sake of the salvation of the world. To quote again one sentence from the previous paragraph: “the Trinity exists in the form of a mutually exhaustive representation of the three Persons that constitute it.”

In this sentence Van Til clearly defines the eternal, internal relations of the Persons of the Trinity as representational and therefore covenantal.

In conclusion, Van Til:

In the Trinity there is completely personal relationship without residue. And for that reason it may be said that man’s actions are all personal too. Man’s surroundings are shot through with personality because all things are related to the infinitely personal God. But when we have said that the surroundings of man are really completely personalized, we have also established the fact of the representational principle. All of man’s acts must be representational of the acts of God. Even the persons of the Trinity are mutually representational. They are exhaustively representational of one another (Survey of Christian Epistemology. 52-53).

Why do Reformed Thomists get up in arms about this?  My guess is that a covenantal ontology really doesn’t mesh with Thomism.  It’s hard to square covenant with the idea that relations = persons, for then the covenantal relations between the persons would also be persons.

Notes on Schilder’s Christ and Culture

by Klaas Schilder, 1890-1952.

Translation of Christus en Cultuur

ISBN 0-88756-008-3

The numbers represent the sections in the book.

(2) The Christian must engage culture because we are prophet, priest, king. It is our task.

(3a) Part of our difficulty is that we deal in abstractions when we speak of “church and culture.”  The cultural ideal cannot be a master key that opens any door we want.

(3c) Whenever we come up with programs like “Christ and x” or “Christ and y,” we almost always devalue both.

(3e) What is culture? Must we go to the world’s culture-philosophers for a definition?

(4) Schilder indirectly critiques Kuyper here.  He notes those who want to promote Christ in “all areas of life.”  He argues that it is a big leap from “law of nature” (the direction of a certain sphere) to the specific sovereign in that sphere.

(6a) Part of the difficulty in “Christianity and culture” is that “Christianity” is an abstraction.

(7) Schilder’s reading of Revelation posits a struggle between the Seed of the Woman and the seed of the serpent.

(8) Jesus is not a “concept” for culture.  He cannot be abstracted from his work and atonement.  We cannot isolate “Jesus” from “Christ.”

(9) The church has often abstracted the four gospels from the larger narrative.

(10) Jesus didn’t give us anything about a theory of the arts.

(11) We gain knowledge of our cultural task from the office of Christ.

(12) Not everything Christ does is meant to be imitated.  His office is his office alone.  We must first see the justice flowing from Christ’s office before we see it imitated in the marketplace.

(13) A Two Adam Christology can help us here.  The first Adam’s task involved the creative unity of cultural work.  Christ, as Second Adam, takes up the first Adam’s office.

(14) thousand years: the dominion of peace in which Christ equips his office-bearers.

Schilder: As the Logos-Mediator-Surety He is the hypostasis, the solid foundation, the original ground, the fulfiller, redeemer, and renewer of culture—a cultural sign which shall therefore be spoken against.

Translation: the debate between Christ and Culture can only happen on Christ’s terms.

(15b)  Covenant: God’s speaking to Adam was of mutual relation of promise and demand. The Second Adam recapitulates the dominion order of the First Adam.

(16) Covenant and Culture: man’s covenantal role is to cultivate the earth.  The world God made must unfold.

(18) Common grace:  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.  If the first restraining is “grace,” then we must–if one is consistent–call the restraining of the blessing “judgment.”

Schilder then advances the argument that “development” and “corruption” belong to nature, not grace.  They are temporal.  And if it is nature, it can’t be grace.  Hence, it can’t be “common grace.”

NB: Schilder comes very close to a nature-grace dialectic.

Key argument: There is indeed “common” grace in culture (grace for more than one person). But there is no universal (or general) grace for all men. Therefore Abraham Kuyper’s construction was wrong. There is indeed also a “common” curse in cultural life (a curse shared by more than one person). But there is no universal (or general) curse. “Common” can sometimes be the same as universal, but it is not necessarily always so. Something can be common to all people, but it can also be common to more than one person, not to all. In the present scheme “common” is intended to mean: shared by many, not by all people. There is a common (not: universal) grace in culture, as far as the redeeming work of Christ is shared by all those who are His—which grace has an effect upon their cultural achievements.

Bottom line:  common grace is common to the elect, not to all.  They share the common grace in culture.

(19) Yet Christ’s person, in taking upon humanity, is connected with culture. There is grace, but it is not a lowest-common denominator common grace.  These gifts are eschatologically tied to Christ’s purpose.

(20) God is holding back both the full manifestation of Satan and the full manifestation of a godly culture.

(21) On Antichrist:  real, future figure.

(24) Conclusion: To establish koinonia in the sunousia, as members of the mystical union of Jesus Christ, that is Christian culture.

(25) “First of all, we must emphasize that, since there is a cultural mandate that existed even prior to sin, abstention from cultural labour is always sin.”

(26) Common grace revisited: our cultural mandate is common command, common calling, not common grace.

(27) Nature, too, has a history.  Christ is guiding that history.  By implication, he is King of the World.

(28) Some conclusions: One’s awareness of his office will always urge him to turn to the revelation of God’s Word, in order to learn again what the norms are.

 

Always Obedient (Schilder)

I want to thank the Rev. John Barach for spurring my interest in Schilder.  Barach’s lectures on covenant and election were a big help, also.

obeient

History

History, including the covenant, is a unity because it is a work of the Triune God (ix).

Cultural Mandate

Schilder connects the cultural mandate to man’s office before God.

Schilder on the Covenant

In the covenant God treats man as a responsible being who is either for him or against him, all or nothing (alles of niets!).

Schilder starts from the historical deeds of God. God establishes the covenant ‘in time.’  God’s grace doesn’t touch our life the way a line touches the edge of a circle.  It enters into our existence.  The covenant of grace continues the covenant of works.  The difference is in means, not essence.

The New Covenant is bilateral.  There are “threats” in it.  This gives life to preaching and responsibility.  God speaks to man as a responsible partner.  Precisely because the covenant comes to us with legal warranties, it incites our trust in Him.

Baptism seals the promise of the Gospel.  But this promise demands our faith.  In my baptism I receive a concrete address from God–a message that proclaims to everyone who is baptized, personally: if you believe you will be saved (28-29). We do not identify election and covenant.

Schilder on Christ and Culture

Kuyper wanted to use the term “common grace” instead of culture.

Schilder:  Jesus can’t be isolated from his office, Christos.  If Jesus is king, then the world should be brought back to its rightful owner.  Christ regenerates his people back to obedience.  The result should be a Christian culture.

Def. of culture: the totality of work to be done in this world (42).  The cultural mandate implies that the world has to be developed. Key difference between Schilder and Kuyper: Kuyper explained culture as a result of common grace.  Schilder replaced common grace (at least for Christians) with a mandate (59 n35).  Kuyper sees it as the result.  Schilder sees it as the work.

Schilder rightly connected dominion with being created in the image of God.

Schilder on the Church

Kuyper’s view of the church (75ff):

  1. The institutional church is a mother.
  2. The church is an organism.  We are knit together in one body.
  3. Immediate regeneration.
  4. Local church is the basic unit of the church.
  5. Pluriformity of the church

Schilder agreed that the church is a mother. Schilder, unlike Kuyper, stressed the mediation of word and sacrament in the covenant.  Covenant is not defined by regeneration.

Schilder did break with Bavinck in one area: covenant faithfulness leads to institutional church faithfulness (79).  God makes his covenant with believers and their children.  There are not two sides to the covenant, substance and form, but rather two reactions to the single covenant of grace (80).

Church Militant, Church Triumphant

Earlier reformed view: the church militant is on earth; the church triumphant is in heaven.

Schilder: the church on earth triumphs daily by faith.  The church in heaven is not wholly at rest, as it still prays for the coming judgment (Rev. 5; 6).  The old distinctions are still good, but they can’t be absolute.

Summary of theses on the church

  • Visible/invisible church is misleading, because we can never observe the church in its fullness–since the final elect person has not yet been gathered.
  • Our ability to see the church is time-bound, historical.  This is good, since Schilder spoke of historical/eschatological long before Wilson.
  • Being/well being can be misleading.  Can never disengage itself from the “gathering/coming together” of believers.
  • We are co-workers with Christ in a real sense if we gather in obedience.

Schilder on Heaven

Proposition: it is only on earth that we can think of heaven” (102).  Schilder wants to avoid a static view of heaven.  That’s not as shocking today as we have fully embraced the idea of “new creation.”

Schilder holds to the pactum salutis (105).

Schilder on Revelation

He was one of the first to oppose Barth. How do we know God?  We know him because of his condescension to us in the covenant (118). There is a “boundary” between God and man, but it is not a “death line”–Barth’s great chasm between life and death.