Sola Scriptura: Problems and Principles in Preaching Historical Texts

Greidanus, Sidney. Sola Scriptura: Problems and Principles in Preaching Historical Texts. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2001.

“Dare to be a Daniel!” What is the purpose of preaching?  Is it to tell the story of redemption or to preach a moralistic sermon that will give me a burning in the bosom?  Given the way I phrased that question, you might expect me to side with the former.  True, I intend nothing but the harshest criticism of pietistic preaching.  I agreed with every single criticism raised by the Schilderite school (or Redemptive-Historical [RH] school).  Unfortunately, the Schilderite school does not give us any realistic alternatives.

The RH’s challenge is quite simple: if the point of preaching is to give us moralistic advice, then you do not need the bible to do it.  Quite so.  The target is not just moralistic preaching.  Overly-subjective preaching or pietism is just as guilty. In pietism, the attention is on man and not on God’s finished work in Christ.

The exemplary approach sees the bible, particularly the Old Testament, as a source for illustrations (Greidanus 57). We will list a number of problems with moralistic/exemplar preaching:

* “Moralistic preaching is legalistic; it issues imperatives without the divine indicative” (79).

* Often the text itself does not tell us whether an action is good or bad (81).  A good example is David’s marrying Abigail.  David is clearly the hero of that story and the marriage, minus the dead husband, is quite beautiful.  The problem is that David already has a wife.  Such facts strain the “Go and do likewise” moment.

Problems with Subjectivist Preaching

* “The sad phenomenon of the scarcity in certitude also in our Gereformeerde Kerken is in no small measure due to the fact that these people have been taught to search for certitude where it cannot be found” (quoted in Greidanus 97).

Given the fatal problems with exemplarist preaching, do they have a comeback?  They have several, but only one of them is any good.  On a surface level reading it seems that the apostles appealed to Old Testament history as a model for today.  1 Corinthians 10 is such an example.  Paul writes, “Now all these things happened unto them for examples.”  Greidanus points out, however, that examples is tupoi/tupikos, types.  This is closer to redemptive-historical than moralistic preaching.

No matter, is not Hebrews 11 such a text?  It looks like it, but it might not help the moralist as much as one expects.  No one seriously preaches a “roll-call” text like Hebrews 11.  Maybe the author means something else.  On one hand, I do not find the RH rebuttals very persuasive.  On the other hand, this is not exactly what we would call a sermon today (yes, I know Hebrews was probably read aloud as a sermon).

The strongest text is James 5:16-18.  James clearly appeals to Elijah as a model for us today.

The RH have a ready solution to individualism:  the covenant and covenant history.  This seems right enough, and I do think the answer is in this direction, but there are some problems, which we shall note below.

Redemptive history is “the successive realization in time of God’s thoughts of peace for us according to his fixed plan, and the fulfillment in time of this work-program which Father, Son, and Spirit decided upon before time” (123). This approach points to Christ and not in a haphazard way.  It gives unity to history. It allows one to point to Christ without forcing Jesus into every river and house.

While such an approach is obviously superior to legalistic moralism, it has problems.

1) Schilder and other  RH guys use the eternal decree in a different way than Scripture does.  Schilder makes deductions from the decree concerning the course of history (174-175). Where Schilder might reason from the decree to history, sometimes Scripture moves in the opposite direction. 

2) Schilder sometimes has to look for the “new phase” in RH.  In some ways this is easy: Mt Sinai, Davidic covenant, and Pentecost.  In other areas it is not obvious and the preacher is thrown back upon the same speculation criticized in the moralistic preachers.  Even worse, this means the meaning is decided before the text is heard (179).

3) While progressive revelation is a legitimate category, Schilder more often uses it not to elucidate history, but eternal truths in God’s mind (182).

4) Scripture contains teaching (didache).  It is not clear how RH can include that within its narrative of redemptive history.

5) RH sermons run the risk of being lectures on redemptive history, and since there is only one redemptive history, the lectures start to sound the same.


As with many surveys of 20th century Dutch theological controversies, it is not always clear what the main point is.  Moreover, the book raises more questions than it answers.  To be sure, Greidanus has written several volumes explaining how to preach in such a way. In any case, this was a valuable text that serves as a cautious reminder to both sides of the debate.  It reminds us that neither moralistic legalism nor redemptive history fully exhausts the demands laid upon the preacher.


God, Heaven, and Har Magedon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exegesis of Revelation 20

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

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

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

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

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

Sed contra:

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

Response to 1*

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

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

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

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

A Discussion on Common Grace

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

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

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

Berkouwer: The Return of Christ

Berkouwer, G. C. The Return of Christ. Trans. James Van Oosterom. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972.

The book begins with a summary of then-current views on eschatology in general, along with needed rebuttals. There is nothing new or profound on that point, except that Berkouwer is rightly skeptical of any attempt to play off “apocalyptic” as a genre against whatever John was writing. Apocalyptic is kind of like “fulfill” or “already/not yet.” It usually doesn’t mean anything.

The book picks up the pace when Berkouwer surveys Dutch Reformed thought on the intermediate state. The problem is that all of the Reformed (and other Christian) confessions affirm that after death man is more or less conscious as a soul yet still awaiting the final resurrection. Most usually object to this doctrine because it seems to be a Greek dualism. Whether that is true or not, Revelation 6 presents souls under the altar–quite conscious–and praying to God.

What is even more interesting is that critiques of the intermediate state operate on the very time-eternity dialectic that they attack (40). Berkouwer footnotes Klaas Schilder as attacking the intermediate state (Schilder, “Is er een ‘tussentoestand?,’” De Reformatie, XXI (1947), 18-45). It is true that Schilder rejected the beatific vision. I would like to have seen actual footnotes, since Berkouwer hasn’t always interpreted Schilder correctly.

There is a neat discussion on Pope John XXII’s teaching on the intermediate state. John correctly noted that the departed saints could not have yet received the beatific vision, since they are praying to God–and somewhat upset–for God to judge and act. Unfortunately, both John and his medieval counterparts interpreted the white robe as the beatific vision, which led to the bizarre conclusion that the saints in heaven could fall. We will come back to this point in Berkouwer’s chapter on the beatific vision, since he notes several problems but doesn’t develop them.

With all of that said, Berkouwer is not always clear on whether he agrees with a personal, consciousness existence with Christ after death. He notes that the “nakedness” in 2 Cor. 5 does not refer to the separation of body and soul. Rather, given Paul’s Hebraic worldview, it refers to sin and guilt (58). We don’t want to be found wanting in that regard. That certainly makes sense.

With the plethora of solid materials today on the resurrection, we will only note a few highpoints from Berkouwer. When Paul speaks of a “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44), he doesn’t have in mind a New Age escape from the flesh. Rather, it is a body energized by the Spirit (Berkouwer 191).

Kingdom signs: they occur precisely where the bodily existence of man is threatened (200).

In his discussion of the New Earth, he points out how Reformed and Lutherans were always hung up by the limitations (but not illegitimacy) of substance language. Is the earth renovated or thrown away? “In the distinctions of eschatology in Reformed theology the reverse is the case: the accidents vanish, but substance remains” (221). Nonetheless, Reformed theology with its idea of the covenant saw a judicial aspect: “it is not a matter of annihilation, but a judgment in which something will remain.”

Regarding the more popular elements of eschatology–signs, antichrist, the millennium–Berkouwer doesn’t add anything new.

He returns to a problem in the beatific vision. Granted God’s simplicity, how can we see the essence of God? Before we answer that question, Berkouwer points us in the way of more biblical categories: “It is clear that when the Bible talks about God, it does not suggest abstract, metaphysical properties imparted to us in isolation from his relationship to man and from the mode of his revelation” (363).

When the Bible does talk about “seeing God,” it avoids empty categories like “seeing him as he is in himself.” Rather, “the beatific vision is correlatively joined to purity of heart” (379). In fact, it’s hard to even fathom a relationless “as He is in himself,” especially for the Thomists who see persons as relations (or the other way around).

The Bible does talk about seeing God “as He is.” Let’s just leave it at that. God gave us those words for comfort.

As with all of Berkouwer’s material, we get an amazing survey of church doctrine combined with astute analysis.

Bredenhof’s booklet on Federal Vision

Bredenhof, Wes. Federal Vision: A Canadian Reformed Pastor’s Perspective.

This is a decent primer. From what I can tell, as an outsider to Pastor Bredenhof’s denomination, this is somewhat a defense of Klaas Schilder from the interpretations given to him by some Federal Vision proponents.

Bredenhof has a helpful discussion of Schilder’s view. While Schilder did reject the language of internal/external relation to the covenant, he nonetheless held to a legal/vital distinction. It appears to be the same thing. Federal Visionists such as Wilkins completely reject that, as Wilkins defines the covenant as union with Christ (The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros & Cons, ed. E. Calvin Beisner (Fort Lauderdale: Knox Theological Seminary, 2004), 262).

Schilder said we make a distinction between sharing in a promise and sharing in what is promised. The former we partake of through baptism. The latter is a gift of the Spirit. This involves a vital union with Christ. I completely agree. I just don’t see how it is different from traditional formulations. Instead of internal/external, there is a new division between promise/what is promised.

Van Bruggen suggests it is the difference between being entitled to a check for $1,000 and having the actual $1,000 (or better yet, having real money like gold). Will you take the money to the bank?

Bredenhof clearly and carefully notes that Schilder uses neither the words nor the content of Wilkins’ definition of the covenant. He simply does not identify it with union with Christ.

Pace Theonomy

Schilder was more about cultural formation than transformation.

Bredenhof suggests that their theonomic hermeneutic played into a rejection of the law-gospel paradigm. That seems accurate.


Most of this discussion is fairly standard, but what is new calls attention to Leithart’s subsuming “loyalty and allegiance” under faith (Leithart, Baptized Body, 84). Faith is acting. This just seems wrong. Even Rome isn’t this crass

Gospel Assurance, Gospel Warnings (Washer)

Washer, Paul. Gospel Warnings and Gospel Assurance. Reformation Heritage Books.

While my views on churchly piety are on the opposite end of the spectrum, and while there is much in this book I disagree with, it is very well-written. Parts of it are quite elegant. For example, “Far too many evangelicals seem content to be ignorant of Scripture’s teaching, free from its reproof, untouched by its correction, and unshaped by its training” (Washer 124). Note how all the clauses balance one another.

I don’t disagree with him on looking for fruit, but he seems to think the general audience is living the carnal Corinthian life. I have a lot of sins in my life, but I am not sleeping with my step mom, getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper, or denying the Resurrection. Moreover, as RHB published this book, I would imagine that most of those reading RHB literature aren’t living the Corinthian life, either.

My next criticism deals with a more subtle point. He sometimes shifts between “conversion experience” and “looking for the fruit of sanctification.” The latter is biblical. The former can be okay, but it certainly isn’t required. And while we should look for fruit in our lives, how do I know I have looked long enough or not enough? If someone is of a more tender conscience, he will certainly not be satisfied that he has good enough fruit. What’s needed at this point is God’s promise in his covenant seals.

Side note: Dissertation/Thesis topic: Contrast Klaas Schilder’s emphasis on promise with Washer’s emphasis on fruits.

We can also make a distinction between certainty and certitude. Geisler makes this distinction in terms of epistemology and I have found it helpful. Certainty is objective. Certitude is not. I have certainty of God’s assurance to me because of his promise and covenant seals, not because of how intensely I can feel. My certitude, however, can waver depending on growth in grace, indwelling sin, etc.

When we look for evidence, or to use Washer’s favorite phrase, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith,” following John, he says the order is hear, believe, live, know. I don’t have a problem with that. The difficulty comes, and at times he seems to be aware of it, is that a true believer with a tender conscience can come to the conclusion that he isn’t saved. In fact, if all you have to go on is your inward experience and seeing whether you measure up, then you can almost certainly conclude you aren’t saved.

The Good

>>>Helpful observation that a new relationship with God entails a new relationship with sin (23).

>>>The call to examine isn’t a call to perfection, but to test the inclinations of our hearts (56).

The Bad

Here is the problem: it is true that we are called to examine ourselves, but Washer’s tendency is to leave it there. True, he tells us to “look to Christ.” That sounds good and I am going to suggest the same thing, but Jesus isn’t just floating anywhere (or even worse, floating in our emotional states). Jesus meets us where he has promised to meet us: the promise of the Word and the signing and sealing of the Supper. Washer doesn’t mention any of that.

To his credit, Washer sees where the problem is going. He notes that “the believer’s assurance of sonship may vary in strength and intensity. Though our strong assurance of salvation is the Father’s will, even the most mature saint may struggle with doubt as he fights against the foes arrayed against him—the flesh, the world, and the devil” (151 n40). This is why simply relying on “examining oneself” apart from churchly piety and the promises in the sacraments simply punts the problem.

In his chapter “Purifying the self,” he does many word studies on “purity” and even notes that in the New Testament it sometimes refers to ritual cleansing. He not once mentions the sealing power of God in baptism. Of course, we aren’t suggesting that baptism regenerates, but it is a sign and seal and this chapter provided a perfect moment for it.

That’s the first half of the book. That was Gospel Assurance. Believe it or not, that was the good news. Now we are getting to the bad news, the warnings.

Other emphases are missing. There is another angle to consider:

Nehemiah 8:10: “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Or consider the language of the Heidelberg Catechism, when asked why you are a Christian: “Because I am a member of Christ by faith and thus share in his anointing, so that I may
as prophet confess his name,
as priest present myself
a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him,
and as king fight with a free and good conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and hereafter reign with him eternally over all creatures.”

Instead of looking inward and failing to measure up, I know that Jesus poured the oil of his Holy Spirit on me. I am a king because I share in His anointing.

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.”

Review: Heaven–What is it? (Schilder)

As I understand the background to this book, the translation wasn’t the best one possible and that might account for the “choppy” feel it has. Nevertheless, there are gems of wisdom here.

Against Neo-Platonism: creation was replaced by emanation.  Gradation from highest to lowest, but no antithesis between holy and ungodly (Schilder 7).

Can we know God and heaven?  We speak thusly on the basis of God’s speaking to us.

Heaven is part of creation (11).  As part of creation and history, it unfolds.

The antithesis is between sin and grace, not nature and grace (24). There is no polarity between eternity and time, but between promise and fulfillment. We evaluate history by the word of God, not by abstract speculations about time and eternity.

Third heaven: simply a common figure of speech.

Since heaven has a history, we should avoid the tendency to separate space and time.

History of Heaven

Diatase concept:  God and creation are always distinct yet never divorced.  If God were wholly other man would not even be able to speak of differentiation.

“Above” and “below” lie in one field of vision.

Living soul vs life-giving spirit

A soul receives life, a spirit gives life.

Schilder plays off the contrast between “jolt” and “evolution.”  We can never attain heaven, even pre-fall, by evolutionary (or natural) processes.

God’s dwelling place with man

On the beatific vision

Schilder denies this medieval concept. Erases the distinction between God and man (63).

The Great Supper

The Supper is connected with the Lamb figure.  The feast is bound with Christ’s mediatorial death.  The marriage feast and the wedded life merge into one.

Against Dante and Neo-Platonism

When the Bible utters those beautiful words “the marriage supper of the Lamb.”  “Those who have been called to this supper have not been bathed in Lethe; on the contrary, they commemorate the center of history; they receive a perspective of history from its beginning to its end” (75).

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.

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.