A Non-redemptive Providential Reign of Christ?
â€œThe word of the Lord came to me: â€˜Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the high priest, Yeshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the Lord almighty says: â€˜Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from this place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the twoâ€™â€ (Zech. 6:9-13).
In order to maintain his earthly people/heavenly people dichotomy, John Nelson Darby multiplied Christâ€™s priestly ministries. In studying Hebrews, Darby thought he discovered a distinction between Christâ€™s Melchizedekian ministry of blessing and another sacrificial ministry analogous to Aaronâ€™s priesthood. The Klinean-W2K theology accomplishes the same effect in the particular way it distinguishes between common and redemptive grace. The intent is to maintain an earthly secular kingdom (culture) parallel with a heavenly kingdom of redemption (cult). For example, Darryl Hart writes: â€œWell, maybe we could choose the wise, strong and high and reputable if two ways are at work, the way of redemption and the way of creation-providence.â€ Both Dispensationalism and W2K have an interest in denying the catholicity of the new covenantâ€”its cosmic universality and authorityâ€”during the present â€œparenthetical,â€ as they call it, Church age.
While Meredith Kline employs â€œcommon graceâ€ language, Darryl dislikes the term, since it is a legacy of Abraham Kuyperâ€™s Neo-Calvinism. He prefers instead to talk about Christâ€™s providential rule vs. redemptive reign. This is basically a semantic difference, however. Darryl understands history in light of Klineâ€™s cult/culture dichotomy. Having examined Klineâ€™s arguments for common grace in Kingdom Prologue, I have found them to be exceedingly weak (See below). In the final analysis, the Klineo-Hartian method of â€œdispensationalizingâ€ Scripture turns out to be yet another destructive nature-grace dualism.
There is no providence/redemption dichotomy to be found in either Godâ€™s redemptive purpose, the post-Fall economy, or Christâ€™s mediatorial ministry. Rather, considerations may be brought to bear from each which imply a complete coordination of divine creative and redemptive acts in every era prior to the eschatological consummation. What I intend by â€œcomplete coordinationâ€ must be understood in light of the incarnate economy of Christâ€™s two natures united in his single hypostasis. It is time to exorcize the Nestorian spirit from the Reformed subconscious once and for all.
A. Godâ€™s Redemptive Purpose
First, redemption, broadly considered, is the activity God undertakes to save his created works from the ravages of sin, death, and corruption. It is quite literally the salvation of the kosmos (John 3:16-17). The argument being made here is that it was Godâ€™s intent all along to beatify creation. Compelling evidence for this is to be found in St. Paulâ€™s teaching in Romans 8. Paul speaks of an intrinsic â€œdesireâ€ within creation for the liberty it will experience when Godâ€™s sons are revealed (Rom. 8:19). This desire, a desire for lifeâ€”not annihilation, was inherent within it from the very beginning, part of its nature as created by God. This is because all creation was to be glorified with Adam after the probationary term of the CoW expired. Therefore, the worldâ€™s originally created purpose and its anticipated deliverance seamlessly coincide.
St. Paulâ€™s teaching in Romans 8 is not a metaphorical anomaly easily dismissed by sophistical rationalization. Creationâ€™s corruption and consequent suffering is integral to the narrative structure of redemptive history. When Adam fell, sin came into the world, and death by sin (Rom. 5:12). Also, the ground was cursed to yield thorns and thistles, and generally to impede manâ€™s labor, which had once been a joyous task (Gen. 3:17-19).
There is thus a relationship between creation and the fate of humanity. Man was to rule and subdue the earth, rule the animals, and be sustained by the earthâ€™s produce. However, the ground was cursed because of Adamâ€™s sin, and the principles of death and corruption entered the created order. This means, at the very least, that the structure of organic life was biologically altered. At this point Iâ€™d like to recommend the traditional view against Kline that animal death did not naturally occur before the Fall. Indeed, Klineâ€™s work is largely an attempt to demystify Scripture. He seems intent on providing theological reasons to explain away the mystical-cosmological features of biblical revelation, effectively dissolving much of the material into insubstantial abstraction: ceremonial symbol (e.g., the typological theocracies of the Ark and Israel) and literary metaphor (e.g., the framework hypothesis).
B. The Perpetuity of the Cultural Mandate
Meredith Kline argues that the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:26-31) was altered after the Fall. He writes:
The common culture that is the direct fruit of common grace is not itself identifiable with the holy, Sabbath-sealed redemptive kingdom of Godâ€¦Another way of saying this is that common grace culture is not itself the particular holy kingdom-temple culture that was mandated under the creational covenant. Although certain functional and institutional provisions of the original cultural mandate are resumed in the common grace order, these now have such a different orientation, particularly as to objectives, one cannot simply and strictly say that it is the cultural mandate that is being implemented in the process of common grace culture. It might be closer to the truth to say that the cultural mandate of the original covenant in Eden is being carried out in the program of salvation, since the ultimate objective of that mandate, the holy kingdom-temple, will be the consummate achievement of Christ under the Covenant of Grace. On the other hand, the genealogical and earthly aspects of the original cultural mandate that were to consummate its preconsummation history are not part of the redemptive program per seâ€¦As brought over into the postlapsarian world, the cultural mandate undergoes such refraction that it cannot be identified in a simple, unqualified way with either the holy or common enterprises. (KP, 156-7, bold face added).
Here we see that Kline held that the original mandate had as its goal consummated glorification. He writes, â€œto produce the cult itself, the cosmic-human temple, was the ultimate objective in view in the cultural enterpriseâ€ (ibid., 89). We know that manâ€™s confirmation in a state of righteousness was promised in the sacrament of the tree of life and was to be granted after Adam completed his probationary test. Humanity was to fill and cultivate the world in anticipation of his future glorification. Kline believes he can affirm the perpetuity of the cultural mandate post-Fall, and at the same time say it has been refracted. The question I have been raising is whether Kline has indeed preserved anything like the original cultural mandate in his theological reading of Scripture.
The answer is no. To refract a beam of light is to bend it. A prism can be used to break light up into its constituent spectral colors. Kline says that the post-fall economy divides the cultural mandate into parallel redemptive and common grace rays, and redirects cultural labor under common grace to a different end, a dead end. Here, then, is the source of the W2K providence-redemption bifurcation. Prisms are used to produce beautiful rainbows of light. Klineâ€™s hatchet job on the cultural mandate separates the means from the end, effectively destroying it. Manâ€™s work is now not only rendered difficult by Godâ€™s judgment; it is drudgery, stripped of its God-glorifying potential. God is then glorified only in the intention of oneâ€™s faith and not in oneâ€™s labor.
It should be noted that W2K proponents work with demonic persistence to strip temporal vocations of any intrinsic transcendentally oriented character. They applaud pagans who organize society on â€œneutralâ€ technological and utilitarian principles, and oppose Christian transformationalists at every turn. W2Kâ€™s raison dâ€™etre is to desacralize human life and to keep it profane.
Kline has two arguments that the common grace order was established to be secular: 1) Adam and Eve were addressed in the post-fall arrangement as representatives of common humanity, not as Godâ€™s elect and, 2) The Sabbath was not to be observed outside Eden, the Sabbath sanctuary.
Kline finds special significance in the fact that on the occasion of the protoevangelium, the first gospel, God addressed all three offending parties: Satan, Adam and Eve. He writes,
In pronouncing his verdicts, the Lord followed the sequence in which guilt had been incurred in the temptation and Fall. Judgment, therefore, moved on from the devil, by whom the temptation was first conceived, to the woman (Gen. 3:16) and then to Adam (Gen. 3:17-19)â€¦Covenant-breakers though they were, Adam and Eve were predestined to become Godâ€™s covenant people once again through redemptive grace. Before long they were displaying faith and hope in the salvation promise contained in the curse of Satan (Gen. 3:15). Nevertheless, the divine revelation addressed directly to them (Gen. 3:16-19) did not have in view their personal identity as elect individuals; it rather contemplated the mankind that had been represented in Adam and in him had broken the covenant (ibid., 134).
Here we have simultaneously what Kline calls â€œthe inauguration of the covenant of graceâ€ (ibid., 143), and the inauguration of the common curse/common grace order. It can be clearly seen that whatever common grace is for Kline, it is founded by and for the Covenant of Grace (CoG).
Klineâ€™s methodology is that of the Darbyite dispensationalist. Where there is only one covenant, he tries to find two. He wants so badly to find both a redemptive and a common grace covenant, that he imports predestination into the scriptural context.
Wonderful things in the Bible I see, things put there by you and by me.
Adam and Eve not viewed as elect? What is he talking about? Were they elect or werenâ€™t they? Where else was the womanâ€™s seed to come from that would defeat the serpent?
Yes, Adam and Eve broke the covenant. But Godâ€™s purposes for humanity and creation were not to be overthrown. This is the predestinarian error as opposed to true Calvinism: to underplay Godâ€™s steadfast commitment to ensure that his creative purpose is achieved. This can only arise from a hesitation to affirm that the Lord is truly good. Seeking to glorify God, an imbalanced piety says that God could have destroyed all creation and started everything over after the Fall. No, he would not. For his own sake, God initiates a covenant of grace to save the world.
Immediately after confronting the man, God pursues a line of interrogation until he reaches the source of the rebellion: Satan (Gen. 3:9-13). Without asking Satan his side of the story, God pronounces judgment upon him and declares warfare between Satan and the woman(!). He also announcesâ€”and by his word, guaranteesâ€”that the womanâ€™s offspring will destroy him (vv.14-15). Redemption is clearly in view.
Why then does Kline claim that God â€œdid not have in view their personal identity as electâ€? The answer is simple: he wants to literally divide the covenant into separate dispensations. But Godâ€™s word cannot be broken. The contextual chain of thought remains intact: When he next speaks, God addresses the woman, taking up the difficulty she will experience in laboring to bring forth her seed (v.16). In doing so, the original mandate to â€œbe fruitful and multiplyâ€ is perpetuated in the service of redemption.
When he addresses the man, God declares that manâ€™s toil will be both painful and wearisome, that the earth will not easily yield its produce as before (vv.17-19). The original mandate to cultivate the earth is perpetuated despite the fact that death has entered the picture. Adam and Eve must have breathed a collective sigh of relief. Kline is surely correct to note that Godâ€™s graciousness maintained marriage, the propagation of offspring, and labor to sustain human life and realize â€œcultural satisfactionsâ€ (ibid., 154). For Kline, â€œcultural satisfactionsâ€ must mean anything other than works done to glorify God, because he thinks he has successfully divided redemptive cult from common grace culture. But he hasnâ€™t.
Everything we have seen so far shows that God has graciously carried over the cultural mandate into the post-Fall phase of history. He has done so in the context of his announced redemptive plan. He affirms the perpetuation of the mandateâ€™s various duties despite new difficulties. There arenâ€™t two covenants present in Genesis 3; there is only one.
I mentioned above that Kline also argues for common graceâ€™s secularity on the basis that the Sabbath was not institutionally reissued after the Fall (ibid., 155-6). Did it need to be reissued? God sanctified the seventh day (Gen. 2:2-3) so that man would labor six days and rest the seventh (Ex. 20:8-11). Was Adam to laboriously toil without respite, without following this pattern? Was Adam to pursue cultural ends without reference to the final rest of which the Sabbath is a sign? To ask these questions is to answer them.
A principle of discontinuityâ€”a kind of crazy regulative principleâ€”is at work in Klineâ€™s theology here. In fact his treatment of the Sabbath is nothing more than an argument from silence. To assume that man is no longer to pursue the cultural mandateâ€™s original purpose through his labor, despite all the evidence of continuity; to deny that Godâ€™s original purpose remains intact, despite his gracious intervention, evinces a presumptuous wresting of the word of God.
C. The Corruption of the Earth
After God cursed the ground for Adamâ€™s sin, subsequent acts by succeeding generations led to further curses. The shedding of Abelâ€™s blood led to Cainâ€™s alienation from the ground (Gen. 4:10-12). By Noahâ€™s time, the earth was corrupted so much by violence that God wished to destroy it (Gen. 6:5-7, 12-13). And though after the Flood, God promised never to comprehensively curse the ground again (Gen. 8:21), sinful and violent men have further defiled it. Later, the land of Canaan vomited out the nations that had originally settled it due to the defilement they perpetrated (Lev. 18:24-28). All this is to show that, according to Scripture, death and sin, especially the shedding of manâ€™s blood, corrupt the earth. The provided examples show this â€œcorruption principleâ€ to be operative well before the â€œtypological kingdomâ€ of Israel was established in the land of Canaan (Numbers 35:33-34). The Israelites were even commanded to destroy the livestock of particularly wicked peoples (e.g., 1 Sam. 15:3). The same principle forms the basis for the Jerusalem councilâ€™s prohibition of food associated with idolatry (Acts 15:29) and St. Paulâ€™s teaching about food associated with demonic idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14-22; Cf. 2 Tim. 2:20-21). This is confirmed by the fact that the council grouped â€œidol foodâ€ together with blood-eating and sexual immorality. The reasons for this particular association will become clear in my dicussion of the Noahic covenant.
The corruption of the earth by sin provides an explanation for the biblical differentiation between clean and unclean animals. The ground is where blood is shed and corpses are left to rot. This defiles the earth (Gen. 4:10; Num. 35:33-34; Cf. Deut. 21:22-23) and the creatures that move upon it, especially carnivorous animals (Lev. 5:2; 11:1ff.; 17:15-16). To engage in a bit of speculation, we know that once an animal tastes human blood it acquires a taste for it. There may be a partial explanation here for the disorder and violence of the natural world. However, it can hardly be denied that a cosmic imbalance occurs when the image of God is destroyed (or murderously attacked) (Gen. 4:10; Num. 35:33). Such is intuitively understood by every man whose moral sense has not been entirely extinguished.
Even the killing of an animal is not meaningless, but contributes to the disruption of the created order. When animals are slaughtered their blood must be poured out and buried under earth (Lev. 17:13-14). This is because burial is a kind of temporary atonement, a restoration of balance in creation. Since life is in the blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:10ff.), the consumption of animal blood entails an unlawful taking of what belongs only to the Lord (Lev. 17:11) and is indicative of manâ€™s transformation into a bestial deity who wastes and destroys creation for satiating his own lusts. It is plain that the prohibition against blood-eating has validity outside the Mosaic dispensation (Gen. 9:4; Acts 15:20, 29), and is therefore obligatory for Christians as well. Therefore, a â€œcorruption principleâ€ is operative in the fallen creation that is not peculiar to the symbolic economy of the Mosaic covenant. Even now there is â€œfruitâ€ forbidden to us.
Kline tries to evade the import of the scriptural data by restricting the clean/unclean distinction to various â€œintrusiveâ€ theocratic dispensations. Another strategy he employs is to restrict the blood prohibition to altar communities (ibid., 256-62). What his explanation does not account for is why all animal blood is disallowed, and not just that of animals designated for sacrifice. His account also fails when he tries to explain the presence of the blood prohibition in the so-called postdiluvian common grace covenant. I will return to this issue in my discussion of the Noahic covenant in the next installment of this series.
The Bible presents a metaphysical view of reality that constantly leaps off its pages. God sovereignly created the world to be enchanted by supernatural powers. Angelic beings govern creation. The Fall affected creation metaphysically. Sin is the principle of corruption and death. Both righteous acts and sin affect the world. Demonic possession happens; exorcisms are performed. Symbolic actions have cosmic ramifications. The water of baptism is the washing of regeneration. We should take care that we accept Scriptureâ€™s teaching by faith and then seek to understand it. We do not begin by deciding what is first possible. Godâ€™s word defines whatâ€™s possible. Meredith Klineâ€™s biblical theology is an attempt to accommodate Scriptureâ€”to domesticate itâ€”to the modern secular mind’s sensibility. It’s time to identify this kind of theology for what it isâ€”a form of godliness that denies the power thereof.
To be continuedâ€¦
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