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.

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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.

Glory in Our Midst (Kline)

Kline, Meredith.  Glory in Our Midst: A Biblical-Theological Reading of Zechariah’s Night Visions. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2001.

This isn’t a technical commentary or even a popular verse-by-verse one.  It is more of a structural reading of Zechariah’s night visions.  It also functions as theological meditations, though I am not sure Kline would have seen it that way.  In many ways Kline’s scholarship has held up quite well in Middle Eastern studies (more on that below).

Before beginning on the focus of the book, I am going to analyze, or at least mention, the appendix where Kline gives the structure of Zechariah’s night visions. One should note that there are some lacunae in this review. Part of that is because I didn’t see all the chiasms matching up. Maybe they did, but without some visual picture it is hard to see. Kline argues that “the book of Zechariah is a diptych with 6:9-15 as its primary hinge…and that the main part of each side panel of this diptych is itself a diptych formation with 3:10 and 11:1-17 respectively” (Kline 241). In chiastic form it would look something like this:

Overall structure:

A (1:10ff) World Mission of the Lord of Hosts
B (Visions 2) Focus on holy land/remove unholy elements
C (Vision 3) Focus on divine presence/theocracy
C’ (Vision 5) Focus on Divine presence/theocracy
B’ (Vision 6) Focus on holy land/remove unholy elements
A’ (6:7ff) World Mission of the Lord of Hosts

Diptych 1

A
B (2:1-14)
C (2:5-17) Divine summons to return
D  (3:1-10)
A’
B’
C’

Diptych 2

A
B (10:1-14)
C (10:5-12) Divine summons to return
D (11:1-17)
A’
B’
C’

The real value in the book is Kline’s keen attention to thematic elements that are often lost in discussions on eschatology.  First, The Deep.  The Deep is the chaotic danger to Yahweh’s creation. It first appears as the unstructured chaos.  As revelation progresses, it becomes an active antagonist. It later became a synonym for Sheol (Pss. 18:4ff; 69:1, 2, 14, 15). Indeed, “the deep represented the world power which had subjugated Israel and terminated the Davidic dynasty” (31).

Following his discussion of the myrtle trees (Yahweh’s people?), Kline states, “The actual character of the process of redemptive eschatology is such that heaven breaks into the history of this world beforehand, particularly in the reality of the Spirit, re-creatively fashioning God’s people in the image of his glory (20).

The Mount of Assembly

Armageddon isn’t a specific location.  It is the war for Yahweh’s assembly. It is Har Mo’ed, Yahweh’s enthronement mountain. At the end of time, Antichrist, the Gog-warrior, comes from Zaphon, “the heights of the North,” “to attack Zion, the true mountain of divine assembly” (49).

Along these lines, Kline gives a fascinating discussion of ziggurats and altars.  A ziggurat represented a mountain.  It was “the cosmic mountain, the axis or access between heaven and earth” (61).

Cool point: the Hebrew for the riders who are going to destroy evil is “Harashim.”  Kline calls them dragon-slayers (63).

Building the Temple-City

Yahweh’s temple-city is a metapolis.  It is the Beyond-City of eternity. It doesn’t need walls because God’s fiery presence fills the eternal city to its unwalled limits (76).  Building this temple is a covenantal, royal task (149ff).  Kline outlines some covenantal language and structures:

  1. Matt. 28:18-20.  Covenantal pronouncement; has elements of presence, authority, and continuation.

Judicial Sanctions

Consistent with the covenantal language is Kline’s connection of baptism and judgment waters, particularly as they destroy the Egyptian army (109).

Imagers

Our image is one of ethical purity, dominion, and eschatological luminosity (114).  The latter is our receiving an investiture from Yahweh as he re-creates us in his Glory-Spirit.  Moreover as imagers, we bear God’s Name (Rev. 22:4).

The Spirit and the Church

We are the Menorah (Rev. 1:20). We are the ectype of God’s archetypal temple.

Key quote: “The field of history is a courtroom in which God’s people give testimony to his name over against the blasphemies of the idol-worsipers” (138).

Conclusion

This can’t function as one’s primary commentary on Zechariah.  It isn’t an exegetical commentary.  It is valuable, however, in giving the big picture, structure, and biblical theological overview of Zechariah.

Review: Horton, Covenant and Salvation

Horton attempts to give a full-orbed defense of Reformed soteriology, utilizing current scholarship, identifying potential weaknesses, and communicating this in a new and cogent manner. And he has largely succeeded.

Similar to other projects, Horton places salvation within a covenantal framework, drawing largely upon the findings of Meredith Kline. In short, Horton posits a “Tale of Two Mothers,” referring to Galatians 4. After a brief discussion of Ancient Near Eastern Suzerain Treaties, Horton shows that God’s promise to Abraham was unilateral, involving no stipulations nor any potential sanctions on Abraham. This continues through the Davidic covenant and finds its fulfillment in Christ. The Sinaitic covenant, on the other hand, is specifically sanction-oriented. The difference between these two covenants is crucial to Horton’s later argument. Horton asserts: “The deepest distinction in Scripture is not between Old and New Testament, but between covenants of law and covenants of promise that run throughout both” (17).

Horton then responds to the New Perspective on Paul. Contrary to the myths about Lutheran re-readings, Horton demonstrates from Sanders’ own findings that the 2ndTemple Rabbis (and probably Sanders himself) were semi-Pelagian. If they were semi-Pelagian, as Sanders’ own writings attest, then the “Lutheran” critique isn’t eisegesis at all. Horton then advances an interesting critique of N. T. Wright. Horton points out that Wright conflates the Sinaitic and Davidic covenants. So when the covenant “climaxes” for God’s people, is it the covenant of promise (David) or the covenant of bondage and death (Sinai, Galatians 3-4)?

Horton has a sharp section on justification and imputation. Justification, on Horton’s gloss, is not a legal fiction because Christ is the covenant-head, and if the justified are “in Christ,” then they possess his covenant status (105). Horton shows that a lot of Wright’s arguments on covenant and salvation, while sometimes shedding helpful light on the issues, really don’t make sense outside Palestine. When the Philippian jailer asks what he must do to be saved, is he really talking about the end of national Israel’s exile? If works of the law mean ethnic markers, then why is Paul accused of antinomianism?

The second part of the book deals with different ontologies. Contrary to the Radical Orthodoxy group, Horton posits a “Covenantal Ontology” which is focused on “meeting a stranger” rather than “overcoming estrangement.” The latter is an application of almost all descendants of Platonic ontologies of anti-bodiement.

Covenantal Ontology: The pactum salutis is the intra-Trinitarian covenant made in eternity. It is realized in the biblical covenants. See also pp. 182-186.

Horton notes that Radical Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism presuppose something along the following lines: overcoming estrangement. By this he means a paradigm that promises enlightenment and a liberation of nature beyond itself (155).

EXCURSUS: A RESULT OF A PLATONIC SWALLOWING-UP?
Several times throughout this book Horton advances a critique of Platonic Divine Simplicity, but never calls it such. He has a section on John Milbank and offers a full-orbed convincing critique of Milbank. As readers of Milbank know, he is strongly committed to the neo-Platonic doctrine of absolute divine simplicity. To put the matter briefly, such a view of simplicity negates or mutes distinctions. Horton then goes on to say, “As speculative metaphysics (specifically ontological participation) swallows up the horizon, Christology is swallowed by ecclesiology, and redemptive mediation has to do with overcoming metaphysical binaries (finite/infinite, material/spiritual,invisible/visible, corporeal/incorporeal, temporal/eternal, and so forth) rather than ethical and eschatological ones (sin/grace, death/life, condemnation/justification…this age/age to come” (165. /END EXCURSUS

The book ends with placing the traditional Reformed ordo in a communicative context. Horton wants to avoid some of the hang-ups the Reformed scholastics had when they used medieval categories to challenge Rome. Instead, Horton argues we should use communicative categories, which makes sense since Christ is the Word. Horton suggests we should see effectual calling as a speech-act whereby God creates a new reality. This isn’t that bad a suggestion, since it mutes the charge that Calvinism forces a God who forces the unbeliever’s will. God does no such thing. Rather, he creates a situation, renewing the will (does renewal = violence? I hope not, 223). Throughout Scripture we see the Spirit “bringing things to life, into existence” (Ezekiel 37). Is it so hard to imagine he can do this to the human will?

Interestingly, at the end of the book Horton employs the essence/energies distinction to critique a number of non-Reformed position. Even more, he draws upon Reformed scholastics who evidently employed something like it.

Horton has done heroic work. Milbank had offered a very challenging critique of Reformed ontology. Horton meets it head-on and and redirects it. He gives the most convincing (and charitable) critique of N.T. Wright.

Frame, Review: Doctrine of the Word of God

A fitting end to a fine series. This isn’t Frame’s best work ever (that would either be DG or DCL) but it is good and there are legitimate reasons for this volume’s limitations. Frame wanted to get his book on Scripture out, but he also suspected he might die beforehand. So he gave a shorter version of it. The first 330 pages deal with a perspectival doctrine of Scripture. The last three hundred are book reviews.

Scripture is an organic revelation, but Frame doesn’t mean by organic what 19th century pantheists supposedly meant. For Frame, “Revelations in Scripture, world, and self presuppose and supplement one another; one cannot understand one of them without reference to the others” (Frame 350).

Frame’s book isn’t just another book on Scripture and how it is inerrant or from God or something. Rather, it calls forth our obedience, and this ties with the above thesis: “Every obedient response to Scripture involves knowledge of creation and self” (364). For example, whenever I reason about or from Scripture, that presupposes I know what logic is and how to use it.

The Personal-Word Model

“The main contention of this volume is that God’s speech to man is real speech” (3). Authority: the capacity to create an obligation in the hearer (5).

Covenant and Canon

God’s relation to us is always covenantal, so we should expect a written, covenant document (108). A canon naturally arises because we need to record God’s spoken words to us, and our God is a God who speaks.

Frame builds upon Meredith Kline’s 4 or 5 Point Covenant Model to show the unity of Scripture (148ff):

(1) Revelation of the Name of God
(2) Revelation of God’s mighty acts in history
(3) Revelation of God’s Law
(4) Revelation of God’s continuing presence to bless and curse
(5) Revelation of God’s institutional provisions.

Covenantal revelation is both personal and propositional (153). God reveals his Name, but he does so in propositions (and sentences and declarations).

Our relationship with God is covenantal, and in covenants God speaks to his people (212).

Some of the chapters were quite short and I wish Frame extended his analysis. However, the book reviews show remarkable analysis and depth. See especially his reviews of Enns and Wright.