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.


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


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.


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.


Bavinck on Covenant and Election

Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 3 : Sin and Salvation in Christ by  Herman Bavinck - Hardcover - 2006 - from ThriftBooks (SKU: G0801026563I3N00)

or more specifically, the relationship between the covenant of grace and election. Taken from Reformed Dogmatics vol. 3.

“The two are not so different that election is particular while the covenant of grace is universal” (229).

This at first seems to rebut the Schilderite claim that election and the covenant of grace is coterminous. But Bavinck’s language about the covenant of grace being universal is misleading. I’m not sure who in the Reformed camp would claim that. In the next sentence or two Bavinck says,

“But the two differ in that in election humans are strictly passive but in the covenant of grace they also play an active role.”

Note that Bavinck is not positing a division between the two in the above sentence. He simply notes that “the covenant of grace describes the road by which these elect people will attain their destiny. The covenant of grace is the channel by which the stream of election flows toward eternity.”

On the next page he says in the proclamation of the covenant of grace “there are actually no demands and conditions.”

“The Covenant of grace is unilateral: it proceeds from God; he has designed and defined it” (230). It can only be spoken of in a bilateral sense when it is “to be consciously and voluntarily accepted and kept by humans in the power of God.”

So far Schilder and Bavinck do not really agree. Bavinck ends with some exhortations which the later Schilder would probably endorse: “The covenant of grace does not deaden human beings or treat them as inanimate objects. On the contrary, it totally includes them with all their faculties and powers…It does not kill their will but frees them from sin.”

At the end of the chapter Bavinck affirms “the external and internal sides of it” (232).

Christ on Trial (Klaas Schilder)

Schilder, Klaas. Christ on Trial. Trans. Henry Zylstra. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprint 1950.

It’s hard to describe what this book is.  These are *not* Schilder’s sermons.  They are meditations. And while they aren’t strictly exegesis, they remained rooted in the text and the life of Israel, which also means they aren’t allegorical gush, either. While this isn’t the best introduction to Schilder, some of Schilder’s key themes (e.g., Covenant, munus triplex, a titanic war between angels and devils) are here.

“Jesus represents a mysterious priestly essence which, according to the Spirit, incorporates into the true priesthood, and ministers the grace of a priest to all those who know of it by reason of the fact that they are included in the Messiah through faith” (Schilder 23).

When Christ is on trial, he places “the issue of his Office before the spiritual tribunal, for the institution of any office in Israel is messianic in its purpose” (38).

The Covenant God Breaks the Deterministic Circle of Life “Under the Sun.”

We need a personal, covenant God to rescue us from the type of picture that the author of Ecclesiastes says about “life under the sun.”  In other words, redemption must come from beyond nature.  “If God does not become the covenant God, if God does not become Father, if the Almighty does not say ‘I am Jaweh,” if the voice of general revelation is not drowned out by the thundering approach of special revelation, then the rashness of the weary-circuit rider of time will ever again deal the blow against God’s own Son” (64).

Schilder describes the end of Christ’s life as  “maschil,” a riddle of intentional concealment.  A maschil is a testing, “proving designed to give him an opportunity to say what he wants” (81).

Schilder has the best comments on predestination ever put to paper: “God never gives a human being a prophecy about his future perdition.  Predestination is God’s warfare against fatalism, and the preaching of it is that also.  For he has also predestined the fact of responsibility.  No one is ever told that his perdition is absolutely certain, and that he lies under the irrevocable judgment of a hardening of heart.  Such an announcement , certainly, would dull the predestined awareness of responsibility.  In fact, it would break down predestination” (105).

Later on he notes that “election means calling, privilege implies task, to may is to must” (379).

“Even less is this God a ‘being’  who lives only in the hearts of men.  No, this God of Daniel is united with the world and with the sea of men in an abiding covenant” (143).

On Common Grace

“Hereafter every man is duty bound to conform himself not to common but to special revelation.  Hereafter any prophecy derived from common grace unattended by a sincere desire for special grace is but a rejection of Christ into the vicious circle of this hopeless life” (152-153). Common grace can never be abstracted from Christ’s judicial office (533).

While there isn’t an apparent structure to this book, it is there.  Christ ascends the “mountain” and in his recapitulates the three offices (314ff). 

Covenant hearing: “We human beings must grow in attention, must develop in the capacity for and the act of hearing.  The river bed along which the stream of revelation is slowly driven must be worn deeper and deeper in our inner life” (200).

Schilder elsewhere hints at an eschatology, though he never develops it.  He sees history as an “age-old conflict between the world empire and the people of revelation” (224). He identifies Rome with the horn of the beasts of Daniel. He specifically says Antichrist will spring from this horn (321).

Like many Dutch Reformed in the early 20th century, Schilder is very attuned to the titanic war of spirits that is being played out.  He writes, “If we really had eyes to see that invisible world in all of its movement and life, it would have our undivided attention…He, especially, who lets the Holy Scriptures have their say in this matter will direct the attention of his soul to these spiritual forces in the air” (244, 245).

Commenting on the confrontation between Christ and Herod, Israel and Esau, he writes that “The Bible knows that there is such a thing as a spiritual communion which inheres in successive generations” (373).  He is coming very close to saying something like “bloodlines” and “generational curses.”

On Allegory: since modern day allegory is purely subjective, it is a profanation to God’s word (266).

Speaking of the shedding of blood and the crucifixion, Schilder makes a few modern-day applications.  “The church has become lax in its dogmatic thinking” by allowing groups of “mystical poets and artists–first by permission, later by request” to control the aesthetics.  Indeed, he laments a “so-called spiritual eroticism…which prefers to accentuate the blood of Jesus rather than His soul, His soul rather than the hidden powers which inhere in him as the Christ” (511).

Of course, Schilder holds to the blood of Christ, but not as a merely artistic fetish.  From here he makes a fascinating point which should be obvious but I’ve never heard anyone say it: His blood had to be shed (so far, so good). The obvious conclusion: for the soul (or life) is in the blood (513). 

He then adds that the circulation of blood won’t be part of man’s perfected state. He connects the circulation of blood with the urge to eat and procreate.  The circulation of blood remains within the vicious circle of “life under the sun.”

Covenant and Election (Van Genderen)


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.

Theology of the Old Testament vol 1 (Eichrodt)

“That which binds together indivisibly the two realms of the Old and New Testaments…is the irruption of the Kingdom of God into this world and its establishment here” (26).  

The Meaning of the Covenant Concept

  • Factual nature of divine revelation (37).  “God’s disclosure of himself is not grasped speculatively.”  As “he molds them according to his will he grants them knowledge of his being.”   
  • A clear divine will is discernable.  “You shall be my people and I shall be your God.’ Because of this the fear that constantly haunts the pagan world, the fear of arbitrariness and caprice in the Godhead, is excluded” (38).  
  • The content of that will is defined in ways that make the human party aware of the position (39).  
  • Divine election and kingdom:  Jer. 2:1; 1 Sam. 8:1-10; this dual pattern provides the interpretation of Israelite history.  
  • The bond of nature religion was broken (42).  The covenant did not allow an inherent bond in the believer, the order of nature, and the god.   Chain of being is broken. Divinity does not display itself in the mysterium of nature. Election is the opposite of nature religions (43).  Israelite ritual does not mediate “cosmic power.” “One indication of decisive importance in this respect is the fact that the covenant is not concluded by the performance of a wordless action, having its value in itself, but is accompanied by the word as the expression of the divine will” (44).  

The History of the Covenant Concept

Eichrodt discusses the dangers the covenant idea faced.  Canaanite ideas quickly muted the sharp sounds of the covenant.  “The gulf set between God and man by his terrifying majesty was levelled out of existence by the emphasis laid on their psycho-physical relatedness and community” (46).  It is interesting to compare this description with Paul Tillich’s claim that the church placed the intermediaries of saints and angels over the Platonic hierarchy of Forms.  

Refashioning of the Covenant Concept

Dt 4.13, 23 understands berith simply as the Decalogue.   A shift to the legal character. Man can violate the conditions of the covenant, but he cannot annul it (54).  

The Secular LAW

The Cultus

“Alien from primitive Yahwism, and introduced into the Yahweh cultus predominantly as a result of Canaanite influence, were the massebah, the Asherim and the bull image” (115).  The Canaanites believed this was a transference of the particular object of the divine power effective at the holy place as a whole.

  • Special places were always seen, by contrast, as memorials to Yahweh’s self-manifestation (116).

Pictorial Representations

“The spiritual leaders of Israel, however, always made a firm stand against this adoption of heathen image-worship, regarding it as an innovation which contradicted the essence of Yahweh religion” (118).  


“Indicative of the pattern of Old Testament piety is the fact that the dominant motives of prayer never included that of losing oneself, through contemplation, in the divine infinity.  There was no room in Israel for mystical prayer; the nature of the Mosaic Yahweh with his mighty personal will effectively prevented the development of that type of prayer which seeks to dissolve the individual I in the unbounded One.  Just as the God of the Old Testament is no Being reposing in his own beatitude, but reveals himself in the controlling will of the eternal King, so the pious Israelite is no intoxicated, world-denying mystic revelling in the Beyond, but a warrior, who wrestles even in prayer, and looks for the life of power in communion with his divine Lord.  His goal is not the static concept of the summum bonum, but the dynamic fact of the Basileia tou Theou” (176).

The Name of the Covenant God

Exodus 3:14:  “This is certainly not a matter of Being in the metaphysical sense of aseity, absolute existence, pure self-determination or any other ideas of the same kind.  It is concerned with a revelation of the divine will” (190).

The prophet Isaiah connects the fact of Yahweh is King with Yahweh’s eschatological act of salvation.



Covenant and Echatology (Horton)

Horton, Michael. Covenant and Eschatology.  Westminster/John Knox Press.

Instead of giving us Plato’s Two Worlds, Horton shows us Paul’s Two Ages. It is this which structure the rest of theological prolegomena. Horton is not giving us a systematic theology, but showing what theology would look like using the Covenant.

Eschatology after Nietszsche

Horton does not shrink from the challenges offered by Feuerbach, Nietzsche, and Derrida. In fact, he mostly agrees with them! If we see Christian theology–particularly Christian eschatology–as dualistic, then it is hard to jump over Lessing’s Ditch. The theology of the cross demands “deferral” against all theologies of glory, of any subsuming the many/now into the One/not yet (24).

It is with the Apostle Paul and the Two Ages that we are able to overcome these dualities without reducing identity and difference into one another. Horton points out that “above and below” are analogical terms, not ontological ones (and while he doesn’t make this conclusion, this allows Christianity to avoid the magical connotations of the Satanic “as above so below” formula; covenant is always a war to the death with magic religions).

The Platonic Vision

Further developed in this contrast between is the difference (!) between covenantal hearing and Platonic (Greek) vision.

A theology of glory corresponds to vision (the direct sight of the One into one’s nous) rather than hearing (God’s mighty acts mediated in historical and material ways…Both crass identification of God with a human artifact (idolatry) and the craving for a direct sight of God in majesty spring from the same source: the desire to see–without mediation–and not to hear; to possess everything now and avoid the cross” (35).
A Pauline Eschatology is able embrace both arrival and differance: the age to come arrives in the first fruits in Christ’s resurrection, yet it is deferred until the consummation of the ages. Horton further notes,

The Platonic paradigm of vision is based on the notion that this realm of appearance is a mirror or copy of the realm of eternal ideas…The Platonizing tendency also created a dichotomy between theoria and praxis, the former linked to the contemplation of the eternal forms, the latter to action in the real world (252, 253). In the covenantal approach, what dominates is the ear, not the eye; God’s addressing us, not our vision of God (134)


Drawing upon Vanhoozer, Ricoeur, and Wolterstorff, Horton outlines the basics of Speech-Act theory. He proposes (correctly, I think) this model as fitting with the covenantal drama he outline earlier. He hints at how speech-act is able to overcome challenges from postmodernism: “But unlike deconstruction, speech-act theory locates the activity in actors (say-ers) and not in signs (the said) (126).

Horton ends with suggesting how a covenantal, speech-act hermeneutics would be lived out within the church. This book truly was a bombshell. If Horton’s arguments stand, the biblical covenantal religion is the only option for man. Conversely, those traditions built upon Platonic and Hellenic frameworks must fall

God of Israel and Christian Theology (Soulen)

Soulen,  R. Kendall. The God of Israel and Christian Theology. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996.

Criticisms of supersessionism must be anchored in Romans 9-11.  Unfortunately, liberals, while rightly condemning the church’s treatment of Jews in the past, tend to posit dual covenants with Israel and the Church.  A better criticism of supersessionism acknowledges that God’s call is irrevocable and the church’s future is anchored in God’s covenant to Israel, not the other way around.

Thesis: Christians cannot claim to worship the God of Israel by making God indifferent to Israel (Soulen 4).  The question of supersessionism hinges on whether baptized Jews must negate their Jewish heritage in order to be Christians?  The post-Constantinian church said yes. The book of Acts appeared to say no.

Israel and Election

Soulen makes the argument that corporate election is just as offensive as “individual election.” What sense does it make for a universal God to elect a minority people?  This is the scandal of particularity. Soulen counters by noting that love can’t be merely abstract. A pure “agape” love abstracted from any particularity is meaningless.  

This determines whether the church will seek an “abstracted” divinity behind God’s election of Israel. Soulen frames his discussion around what he calls a “canonical narrative,” an understanding of “the inner configurations” and “interrelationships” of the canon (14).  All such construals, as in our example of supersessionism, contain their own promises and problems. They have their own “grammar.”

The standard model’s main problem is that it makes God’s dealings with Israel largely irrelevant for how God will deal with creation.  Soulen’s main problem with the standard model is that it makes Israel obsolete (29). This involves hermeneutics as well: on the standard model, do you need the Hebrew scriptures to make decisive judgments on how God deals with creation? Take the four points of the standard model:

1) God creates
2) Adam and Eve fall
3) 1st Advent
4) 2nd Advent

All four of these propositions (or if they are stated in propositional format) are true.  However, with the exceptions of Genesis 1-3, you can formulate this system without regard to the Hebrew Scriptures. We see this early on with Justin Martyr, who advocates what is sometimes called (fairly or unfairly) replacement theology (Dial. 11). 

How biblical is Justin’s Logos-theology?  Despite a surface-level similarity with John 1:1, it doesn’t have much biblical support.   It is “the principle of divine revelation that sprung forth from the transcendent God” at the moment of creation (35).  What it isn’t is the life-giving, creative Word of the Covenant God. To oversimplify, cosmic history replaces salvation history.

Irenaeus’s perspective, on the other hand, is a bit more ambiguous.  He championed the unity between the Old Testament and the New, yet Israel still functions like a 5th wheel.  Missing from Irenaeus’s account, however, is the center of the Hebrew scriptures: God’s covenant dealings with Israel (45).

Christian Divinity without Jewish Flesh: The Legacies of Kant and Schleiermacher

Schleiermacher saw only three true monotheisms.  Of the two, Judaism and Christianity are the better ones.  Since Judaism, though, is still committed to non-spiritual things like land and Torah, they can’t fully develop their “God-consciousness.”  Judaism and its doctrine of election is too particular.

Schleiermacher’s project removes the inner connection between Judaism and Christianity and leaves only an external relation. If Jesus were truly Jewish, he could never bring about our universal God-consciousness (76).

Consummation at the End of Christendom

Barth and Rahner do well to expose the semignosticism within the classical model, yet they never fully escape gnosticism. Barth begins on a promising note as he replaces Schleiermacher’s “God-consciousness” with “creation and covenant.”  Unfortunately, Barth never fully lets the covenant model rescue him.

God’s covenant actions, for Barth, “summon the human creature beyond the dynamism of its natural being” (Soulen 85).  Covenant is the internal logic of creation.  

Barth goes on to say that Israel’s election is the medium for God’s consummating work in the world.  This is a vast improvement over Justin and Irenaeus. Because of God’s fidelity to Israel, we believe he will be faithful to us (89).  

Unfortunately, what Barth gives with one hand he takes away with the other.  His “Christomonism” swallows up his emphasis on God’s particularity with Israel.  Christ isn’t just the center of Barth’s theology. It is the whole field. With the person of Jesus Christ, carnal Israel comes to an end.  So far that’s standard covenant theology. Barth then takes it in a bizarre direction: not only does Israel’s history in particular come to an end, human history in general ends (CD III/2, 582).

Soulen makes the poignant criticism that models of Barth and Rahner (and any such model that downplays “historical particularity”) finds itself unable to speak a new word.

Summarizing the problem: the traditional model makes God’s identity as the God of Israel largely irrelevant.  If Israel is just transient, why does God make a big deal of being the God of Israel?

Constructing a New Model (Or Finding an Older One)

Working Conclusions

1) “The God of the Hebrew Scriptures acted in Jesus for all the world” (178 n3).

2) Consider how the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” reinforce the standard narrative.  The apostles used the term “Scriptures” for the Old Testament. We could probably say something like “apostolic witness” for the New.  While Soulen doesn’t explicitly make this point, neither of these terms threaten issues about infallibility or authority.

3) Israel is the form of God’s intercourse with history.  God’s “history with Israel and the nations is the permanent and enduring medium of God’s work as the consummator of human creation” (110).

4) Instead of an “economy of redemption” where everything is subsumed under “getting saved,” Soulen posits an ‘economy of blessing,’ where Israel will bring shalom to the nations (however we want to frame that around Christ’s mediatorial work).  This blessing is anchored in Yahweh’s gifts to Israel of People, Torah, and Land.

5) God’s historical fidelity to Israel is the narrow gate that opens to the New Creation (133).

Isaiah 19 posits an economy of blessing where the distinctions between Israel, Egypt, and Assyria are maintained, yet all experience Shalom.


While we acknowledge that the standard model has big flaws, Soulen needed an extensive analysis of Galatians 3.  How do we tie in the blessing of the nations from Abraham to the promise of the Seed in Galatians 3? Further, he completely avoided Romans 11, which would have only strengthened his case.  This is baffling. He should have spent more time on Romans 11 and less on Bonhoeffer.

Covenantal Apologetics (Oliphint)

Image result for covenantal apologetics oliphint

I’ve long suspected that we need to ditch the term “presuppositional.”  I don’t think Van Til ever really used it and among both his defenders and critics, engaging the term often reveals hopeless ineptitude.  So right off the bat we can judge Oliphint’s book a marginal success, even if he doesn’t get anything else right. But I think he does.

This is a marked improvement upon his Battle Belongs to the Lord, which was so elementary that it was helpful to a very few. I should note my sympathies. While I am an anti-Thomist, I don’t consider myself in the “Van Til” school.  I’m rather more of a mix between Bavinck and Schilder. I have affinities with Van Tillianism, but nothing more.

We comend Oliphint for always wanting to go beyond mere “slogans” and platitudes.

Ten Tenets of Covenantal Apologetics

(1) The faith we defend must include the Triune God, not an abstracted Being of Being. Oliphint notes that when we “being with” the Triune God, this doesn’t necessarily mean in a temporal sense.  It doesn’t mean we have to begin each apologetic session with “In the Name of the Transcendental Argument.” This point is surprisingly lost on most young Van Tillians.

(2) God’s covenantal revelation is authoritative by what it is.

(3) The truth of God’s covenantal revelation brings a change in man.

(4) Man as image of God is in covenant with the Triune God for eternity.

(5) All people know God and knowledge entails covenantal obligations.

(6) Those in Adam suppress the truth.

(7) There is a covenantal antithesis between Christian theism and its opposite.

(8) Suppression of the truth is total, but not absolute.

(9) True covenantal knowledge connotes God’s mercy, which allows for persuasion.

(10) Every fact is covenantally conditioned.

God as “I Am”

Creation doesn’t change God’s aseity, but it does introduce a new relation.  God’s covenant binds him, as it were (Heb. 6:17-18). God has taken an oath, which is judicial, covenantal language.

Paul’s Apologetic

The language in Acts 17:24ff is covenantal: God appointed boundaries, created the world, is close to us (which entails obligations).

Image, Knowledge, and Lordship: By virtue of being created, we are vice-regents. God has committed himself to his covenant and his creation.

Key points:

* If man’s mind is derivative, then self-consciousness always presupposes God-consciousness.

* Everybody is related to a covenant head, either Adam or Christ.  Even apart from sin’s entrance into the world, man is in covenant relationship with God (WCF 7:1).  Covenantal Apologetics, therefore, explores how this relationship affects our reasoning processes.


*  The book’s style is uneven.  It goes from dialogue to an evaluation of philosophical essays on eternity, with little warning.  And while it makes good points concerning Owen’s distinction between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit, it seemed tangential to the chapter.

** While the section on the problem of evil was very good (more on that later), his dialogue between Christian and unbeliever seemed more like an essay.  This is not how people talk.

*** I agree with him on opposing the false elemental philosophy of the age (Col. 2:8), but this is far more than simply saying no to the Zeitgeist.  If we are going to bring up the stoichea, then we need to really develop the thought: elemental spirits, principalities, etc.

**** The danger in writing manuals on presuppositional apologetics is one of the One and the Many (if I may engage in extended punning). None of these books can stand alone.  A presup author will say, “X religion fails to account for y.” And since this isn’t a book on X religion, this claim is almost never developed, which calls for a book on y or z.  To an extent that’s only natural. At this point, though, the apologist must either engage in the particulars of Islam or Mormonism, or simply concede that he is just quoting bible verses.  He has to show why X is false on its own terms and not simply chant “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.”

To be fair to Oliphint, though, his dialog with the Muslim was pretty good.  There are some very interesting suggestions on Allah’s simplicity, which Oliphint doesn’t pursue.  Oliphint’s interlocutor does provide some hints:

“Let’s suppose that Allah is absolute oneness, as you say. That means that there is no differentiation in him whatsoever. This means, as you say, that even the revelation of his will, the Qur’an, is his eternal speech. But I remain puzzled as to how the transcendent One can have speech at all? If it is identical to him, it cannot be differentiated. “

And Oliphint gives the conclusion: What is speech where there is no difference?

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.


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.

Study notes on Caspar Olevian and Substance

I will write a formal review later.  R. Scott Clark has several fascinating sections reconstructing German Calvinism in the 16th century, along with rebutting the Heppe-thesis and such.  The review will cover those parts. This book is so useful on justification and covenant, that it could  serve the brethren and sisteren if its better quotes were put in an easily accessible bullet-point format.


The Basic Argument

“Considered objectively, the substance of the covenant is comprised of God’s saving acts in Christ and the explanation of those acts in Christian theology” (Clark xviii). The double benefit refers to the objective work of Christ for us and the sanctifying work of Christ in us.


The first few chapters place Olevian in his humanist and scholastic context.  It’s important at this point to get his Aristotelian terminology understood.

Primary substance: indivisible substances extra intellectum (Clark 60).  Think this-man, that-tree.

Secondary substance: think classes and kinds.  God is a primary substance.  The primary substance, if you will.  More importantly, “God” is not a genus, so he can’t be a secondary substance.

Olevian on Substance and God

Substance of the covenant: objective truths of the Christian religion summarized in Apostles’ Creed (67).


Olevian’s Trinitarian Doctrine of God

“Medieval soteriology….thought of infused grace (gratia infusa) as the means of final justification, Calvin made it the office of God the Spirit to infuse the elect, subsequent to justification, with the grace of sanctification” (83).

A person, as per the Trinity, is a subsistence “unsustained by any other” (97).

Trinity, Creation, and Substance

Substance is defined as “being’ because ‘being proper’ belongs to it” (101). Yet for Olevian substance is shorthand for “all that God has done for us in Christ. It was shorthand for the twofold benefit” (102).  The substance of the covenant describes the special relations between God and the elect.

Olevian’s Federalist Christology

Contrast with Lutheran Christology

  • genus maiestaticum: Christ’s humanity transformed by personal union with his deity (107).

Reformed Christology

  • Christ’s taking the form of a servant meant he had to take a true human nature, with all of its frailties (111).
  • extra calvinist

Brevis Admonitio: A Christological Federalism

“Olevian assumed a distinction between deity and humanity on the basis of his understanding of natura.  Chemnitz, on the other hand, assumed the possibility of different relations between Christ’s humanity and divinity on the basis of his understanding of degree (gradus) and class (genus)” (121).

Christ died as “sponsio” of the New Testament (130).

Justification: The First Benefit of the Covenant of Grace

Justification: First Part of the Double Benefit

  1. “Forgiveness of sins (remissio peccatorum) is the first “offered benefit” (oblatum beneficium) which is received by faith” (151).
  2. Christ’s righteousness is the ground of our justification, and is externally imputed to the believer.

Romanist View

Per Canisius:

  1. Justification is an ontological matter, a transformation (Clark 156).
  2. The beginning of justice is sufficient to satisfy God.  God “holds his judgment in abeyance until final justification or sanctification is achieved” (meritum de condigno; 156).
  3. Justification is a result of the mediation of grace.
  4. These benefits are applied in baptism (158). They are complex, not duplex.
  5. Christ fulfills these internally in us.  For Olevian, Christ has already fulfilled all righteousness (159).

Olevian’s Response

  1. Christ has already fulfilled all righteousness and we benefit through faith.
  2. “The voice of nature or law of the covenant requires that justice before God must be either completely proper or alien to oneself” (159).
  3. “Justification cannot be something accomplished within us, since Christ has already accomplished it externally” (160).

Sanctification: The Second Part of the Double Benefit

Our “renovatio was also promised on prevenient, unmerited divine mercy” (185).

Key point: Olevian’s Trinitarianism and “focus on God the Spirit, combined with the use of the covenant which had the effect of creating a locus in his theology for a doctrine of evangelical obedience without threatening his doctrine of justification by imputation” (187).

In other words, Olevian’s strong sanctification theology never fell to the dangers of Federal Visionism.


He held to a monergism in justification but saw a mutuality in the administration of the covenant of grace (190).

Means of Grace

“Because repentance is sanctification, it cannot be a condition of the remission of sins” (198).

There is an organic relationship between the sign and substance, so that “the signs themselves entail covenant stipulationes” (200).

Children are in the covenant, but the Lord’s Supper is a feast of covenant renewal, and infants are not eligible for it (205).