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Christ is Lord

The Apostle John wrote to a church suffering persecution. He comforted those in distress with the simple but fundamental principle: Christ is Lord. John wrote to the churches:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:4,5).

Christ is Lord over His Church. Christ is Lord over the nations. The Kingdom of God, ruled by Christ the mediator, extends to all things including all that is sacred and all that is secular.

Secular and Sacred

Evangelical Christians have grown wary of the word secular. Chastened by the modernist ideology of secularism, Christians have become used to denying the existence of a secular realm. Even Reformed theologians, influenced by a robust view of Christ’s Lordship, have been known to deny the existence of the secular. This month we will try to understand the secular/sacred distinction from a biblical perspective.

A Tale of Two Ages

To understand the reign of Christ over all things it is necessary to understand the two-age construction of redemptive history. Old Covenant saints understood that history was governed by God’s providence and was moving toward a Divinely ordained end. The great drama of redemption is being played out upon the stage of human history. From Israel’s patriarchs to her prophets, God’ people felt the weighty burden of an age that was passing away. They grasped the terrible power of death and the daily struggle against injustice. They looked beyond the struggles of their age and hoped in a Messianic age-to-when the righteous judgment of God would usher in the Day of the Lord and the end of all rebellion (Isaiah 13:9-11; Joel 2:32; Mal. 4:2).
John the Baptist, the last and the greatest of the Old Covenant prophets, was privileged to herald the coming of the Kingdom of God declaring, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 3:2).” John warned:
Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:10-12).
The Baptizer declared “apocalypse now” believing that the day of the Lord would consummate history, mete out justice, and usher in the Messianic age-to-come.

A Trans-Historical Intrusion

Jesus left little doubt that the Kingdom had come and that it was at work through His ministry. The New Testament provides dramatic accounts of Jesus casting out demons and waging an aggressive war against the principalities and powers of the dark kingdom. The message is clear: Jesus Christ, heir of David’s throne, has bound Satan and is looting his usurped kingdom (Matt. 12:29; Rev. 20:1-3).
Christ established the age to come by His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Still history continues. Sin and rebellion abounds. Rather than consummating history, Christ’s death, burial, and glorious resurrection created a trans-historical intrusion of the age-to-come into the midst of this present evil age. Worlds have collided and ages have been confounded. The author of Hebrews 2:8,9 presents the tension:
Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
The author of Hebrews is highlighting the tension between our “already and the not yet” experience of Christ’s Kingdom.
Biblical eschatology, with its already/not yet dimension, demands that Christianity be an inherently dualistic faith. This dualism is not material but eschatological. The believer is always both saint and sinner (Luther’s famous dictum simul iusta et peccator). In this life the believer enjoys dual citizenship within both the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God. Historically situated in this-age the Christian transcends history through his mystical union with Christ. In Christ we thus dwell in the-age-to-come.
In light of these dualistic tendencies, we return to our discussion of things secular and sacred. The secular, rooted in the Latin saeculum meaning age, refers to all that the believer enjoys, suffers, and tolerates of this present age that is passing away. The sacred refers to that which is set apart, consecrated, or holy. While it is clear that Christ is Lord over both sides of the dualism, it is an error to secularize the sacred or to make sacred the secular.

Two errors

In light of the two-age, already/not-yet nature of history we must avoid two errors. The first is the error of trying to perfect this age (or our experience of it) prior to Christ second coming. This is the error of the over-realized eschatology. This Gnostic tendency seeks to separate the wheat from the tares before the harvest (whether the field is considered as the world/nation/culture, the church, or the individual believer). Here the biblical distinction between secular (this-age) and sacred (the age-to-come) is overwhelmed. All of life becomes “worship” and things earthly are confounded with things heavenly. Such schemes often end in violence justified in the name of God.
The other error is that of the under-realized eschatology. Here the error is to undervalue the visible church of Christ as a colony of heaven and her means of grace as the power of the age to come (Hebrews 6:4,5). Undervaluing the power of grace to transform and ultimately perfect nature, the under-realized eschatology fails to challenge the believer, the church, and the culture to glorify Christ as King. Here the sacred is lost in a sea of secularism.

Christ is Lord

Opposed to both extremes is the recognition that Christ has been raised up to reign over all things in this age (the nations) and the age-to-come (the Church) and that every knee must bow not only in the realm of the sacred but also in the realm of the secular. Christ reigns over His sacred realm, the Holy Church, administering the gifts of the age-to-come through His Word and sacraments while reigning over His secular realm, the nations, with a rod of iron, preserving stability in this age that is passing away.
As Christians we can pray “Thy Kingdom come” but can never draw heaven down to earth. It is tempting to try to resolve the paradox of dual citizenship but impossible. Our earthly lives are filled with much joy but our joy is always mixed with heartache. We love much that is soon lost and we cling too much that is fading. Our pilgrimage includes a great deal of lament but it is a lament mixed with hope. Life is beautiful but it is a tragic beauty. Therefore, as a pilgrim people, we must walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7) and know that “at present, we do not see everything in subjection to Him. But we see Him who for a while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Heb. 2:8,9).”

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Huckabee’s pulpit squad better beware. It seems the IRS is on to them.

What Caesar gives he can take away. Best to mind your p’s and q’s.

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Augustinian Antithesis

The Eternal City’s Fall

In the year 410 A.D., the city of Rome was sacked and plundered by Alaric the Goth. The fall of Rome, the Eternal City, shocked the world and began the chain of events that culminated in the collapse of classical civilization. Expressing the lamentation of many Christians, Jerome wept and wondered, “What is to become of the church now that Rome has fallen?”

Confounded Cities

For nearly one hundred years, Christianity had held sway within the Empire. Persecution was replaced by propagation. The civil laws were reformed and Christ was corporately honored. The state was de-divinized. Christianity began to transform the Greco-Roman culture of classical antiquity, making life more comfortable and humane. Rome’s fall gave Jerome, and all Christians, much to lament.
To be sure, establishment had its disadvantages. Imperial privilege radically altered the church. No longer an institution of suffering pilgrims, the church became rich and powerful. Affluence and authority easily descend into decadence and corruption. The distinction between kingdom of God and kingdoms of men was confounded. Shepherds became politicians. Politicians became shepherds. The comforts of cultural Christianity tended to smother the former zeal of the suffering church.
Following the barbaric humiliation of “Christian” Rome, traditionalists, defenders of ancient ways and older gods, blamed the Empire’s woes on its new religion. Had the gods not forsaken the great city? Had Christianity not helped undermine the civic virtues of the old order and thereby weakened the state?
Augustinian Antithesis
In the midst of collapsing culture, a North African Bishop named Augustine stood up to defend the faith. In His classic work The City of God Augustine attempted to vindicate the faith while providing the church with a more biblical understanding of her relationship to the world. Augustine reminded us that spiritual opposition drives history forward. According to Genesis 3:15, human history plays out the fundamental spiritual opposition between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. According to Augustine these two seeds are two contrasting cities:

Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord (City of God, Book 14:28).

These two cities are not divided by geography, culture, or even politics. Rather, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent grow up together like weeds in the midst of a field of wheat (Matt. 13: 24-30). Where then does the Kingdom of God find its antithesis with the world? The Biblical/Augustinian answer is that the contrast transcends the mundane realities of this life and divides men according to their most profound spiritual allegiance.
Distinguishing the Kingdoms

The Kingdom of God is found in the hearts of fallen sinful men. Jesus declared, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” The kingdom of heaven exists on earth through the power of the resurrection applied to individual hearts. Spiritual regeneration, or rebirth, places a fundamental separation between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men. The two kingdoms are divided by their contrasting loves and final destinations.

Two Loves

The Kingdom of God, the visible church of Christ (WCF 25:2), is distinguished from the world by its God-centered, rightly ordered loves. Having its loves ordered according to the work of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly kingdom stands in stark contrast to the prideful self-love of earthly kingdoms. Here we encounter the ultimate question placed before Adam in the Garden of Eden: where do your loves truly lie? The Scriptures reminds us that love expresses itself in obedience (John 14:15) and in trust (Psalm 5:11). Would Adam love His God and trust His Word? Or would he seek to make himself a god defining good and evil apart from God’s revelation?
We must be careful. We must not define the difference between the City of God and the cities of men by moral virtue. It is flatly false to suggest that Christians are more moral than their unbelieving neighbors. Rather, it is the nature of its faithful trust and loving obedience that separates the church from the world. The church, the visible manifestation of God’s Kingdom on earth, lives out of humble gratitude knowing that her faith is ever weak and her love ever burning cold, but her help is in the name of the Lord. The authentic mark of the City of God is a humble faith, wholly dependent upon the righteousness of Christ, and a living gratitude for our divinely accomplished salvation.

Two destinations

All men are pilgrims. All of us approach the last great adventure. Death is the common experience of all mankind. As Hank Williams Sr. sang, “No matter how I struggle and strive, I’ll never get out of this world alive.” Pathetically, the kingdoms of this world seek to deny their pilgrim status. Their glory is the glory of “this world”, a glory that is already fading. Yet, against all hope, the world seeks to make eternal that which is passing. Whether on the plains of Shinar, or the research labs of Merk Pharmaceutical, the kingdoms of men seek to establish heaven here because they can expect only hell in the hereafter.
On the other hand, the City of God has made peace with its pilgrimage. It acknowledges that this world/age is passing away. It accepts that its ultimate hope and true loyalty belong to a heavenly city. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Heb. 13:14).” This is a liberating knowledge providing the City of God with a framework to embrace life’s tragic beauty. The City of God is thus enabled to enjoy life’s imperfect goodness, endure its pervasive sinfulness, and hope in its eschatological perfection.

Where Hope Lies

Christ reigns over all things for the good of His church (Eph. 1:22). As we have established Christ’s mediatorial reign creates an ideal duty for all nations and institutions to corporately confess His Lordship. In this age, the ideal is rarely approximated and never perfectly achieved. We rejoice in the approximation but we do so remembering that wisdom of the psalmist, “put no confidence in princes (Psalm 146:3).” There are two visible kingdoms in the midst of each nation blessed by the gospel, church and state. The Church is the Kingdom of God on earth, yet it contains tares in its field. The State concerns itself mainly with issues of this world that is passing away, yet many believers are found within it. The City of God and the City of Man are intermixed in Church and State. Sometimes Church and State are friends, but even where friendship is found, eschatalogical tensions remain unresolved. As long as wheat and tare grow up together in a common field, unity on matters earthly temporal, such as a patriotic love for the homeland, must always masks disunity on matters heavenly and eternal. Let us remember which Kingdom should captivate our hearts, own our ultimate allegiance and provide the center of our living hope.

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Talking Two Kingdoms

Sorry for the long silence… it took a while to convalesce from the FV discussion!

We are cooking up future “group” discussions and if there are topics you would like to see highlighted please let us know.

Until then we will be having a slight shift of focus. Since the inception of the DRC blog the “background” discussion has focused on the duty of corporate confession of Christ.

Starting today and for the forseeable future the background discussion will focus on the great Protestant doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. My immediately preceeding post should be taken as salvo # 1.

Bring it!

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A Kingdom Not of This World

Colliding Kingdoms

In 1596 James Melville, a leader of the Scottish Kirk, declared that King James the 6th of Scotland:
was God’s silly vassal and that there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland. There is Christ Jesus the King, and His kingdom the Kirk, whose subject King James VI is, and of whose kingdom, not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member he was.

Melville was standing upon a fundamental principle of Reformed social ethics— the distinction between the holy Kingdom of God and the secular kingdoms of men. Although James VI was King of Scotland, Jesus Christ was King of Zion. In the realm of the secular nation James enjoyed sovereignty, but in the holy church James was without distinction.

Melville’s showdown with King James is but one example of a common theme running through church history. The tense conflict between church and state continuously replays a more famous kingdom confrontation between King Jesus and Governor Pilate (John 18:36). Jesus had been arrested, tried by the Jews, and sent to the Roman civil governor Pontius Pilate for judgment. Jewish leaders capitalized on Rome’s violent impatience toward rebellion. They accused Jesus of treasonous sedition against Caesar’s Kingly authority. Had Jesus not declared, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28)?
Confronting Jesus with the charge of rebellion, Pilate inquired, “Are you the King of the Jews?” In order to understand Jesus’ response we must first consider the nature of worldly kingdoms.

Pilate’s Power and the Kingdoms of Men

Following the great flood, God legitimatized the use of the sword to restrain sin declaring:
And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image…’ (Gen. 9: 5,6).

In the order of common grace, flowing out of the cross of Christ, civil government must exercise lawful violence in order to prevent unlawful violence. This is the nature and function of the kingdoms of men— to exercises the sword in order to restrain evil and establish order. Although justice is a noble vision, order is the sine qua non of legitimate civil authority. As the meek Jesus stands before Pilate his the imperial sword, often marked by brutality and injustice, remains legitimate. The Apostle Paul reminded the church at Rome:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities… For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, and avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:1-4).

The Spirituality of the Kingdom

Against the violent backdrop of this world’s kingdoms, Christ vindicates Himself against the charge of sedition declaring, “ My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Emphasizing the spiritual nature of His kingdom, Christ explains, “if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews” (John 18:35,36). Far from the violence of nations, the Kingdom of God is defined by “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom” (John 3:3). The Kingdom of God is the realm of Spiritual renewal in Jesus Christ. It is the realm of the Holy Spirit’s application of Christ’s victory over sin and death. Therefore, the Kingdom of God is a “new creation” already enjoying the first fruits of Spiritual resurrection and renewal in Jesus Christ.
Confounding expectations, Jesus the Messiah did not come to judge but to be judged (John 12:47). Rather than raining down God’s just judgment upon the nations, Jesus Christ experienced the fullness of Divine wrath on their behalf. In doing so, Christ established His Kingdom in grace.
The Westminster Confession of Faith declares:
The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation (WCF, Chapter 25:2).

Thus, Christ’s kingdom of grace is His visible church. A colony of heaven on earth, Christ’s church is the eternal glory of the age to come piercing the fading glory of the present passing age. Preaching peace between God and sinner, the church looks forward to the glorious consummation of Christ’s universal Kingdom at His final coming. Thus, Christ reigns over a Kingdom of grace now and glory later.

Two Kingdoms Distinguished

As Christ stood before Pilate two kingdoms were in conflict. Before Pilate stood a king whose kingdom transcends the passing order of this present age. Asked, are you guilty of treasonous rebellion, Christ justified Himself as sinless by declaring, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Rather, He is king over an eternal realm, the concerns of which far surpass the mundane realities of earthly politics. In response, Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, brutal bearer of the sword, punisher of all rebellion against Caesar, justified Christ with his just pronouncement; “I find no guilt in him” (John 18:38).
Jesus Christ is seated with all power in heaven and earth. This means that Jesus Christ is king over all spheres of life including both church and state. This is a complex biblical truth. From Christ’s conflict with Caesar, to Emperor Henry IV’s chilly encounter with Pope Gregory VII at Cannossa, to the bloody struggles of the Scottish Covenanters against state interference with the church, the acknowledgment of Christ’s universal reign over all things has created tension and conflict. Whether for the Roman Papacy’s declaration of sovereignty over the affairs of church and state or the Anglican settlement granting civil authority over the affairs of the church, Christ’s universal mediatorial Kingship has been cited as justification. Both systems fail to grasp the full power of Christ’s declaration, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Rather, we who would declare Christ’s kingship over the nations must be able to properly distinguish the secular and non-redemptive reign of Christ over the nations (the kingdom of His power) from His holy and redemptive reign over the church (the kingdom of His grace). To distinguish thus illuminates the wisdom of the American religious settlement granting institutional separation of church and state. Although we often fail to acknowledge it, the adoption of the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution declaring, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” was a vindication of Covenanter principles and an authentic step forward in the application of Christ’s Kingship.

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Andrew Matthews

Darryl Hart writes: “by this point in the blog, surely you can see ‘how I get around the fact that the cultural mandate was reaffirmed as part of the redemptive promises…’ I don’t know how I could be clearer. You disagree, of course. But really, you don’t see how I separate the cultural mandate from redemption?”

Of course, I see what you are doing. I just don’t see how it can be sustained from Scripture. At some point W2K theologians are going to have to admit there are laws operative within the economy of grace. The third use of the law, including the cultural mandate, flows from, and is determined by, the new covenant established by Christ. We are not obeying the terms of the CoW (we are no longer in that position), we are obeying laws that have been transferred over into the CoG. As Q.44 of the Shorter Catechism states, we are to obey God’s commandments because “God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer.”

Darryl writes: “the Westminster Divines do not regard the cultural mandate as part of redemption. Questions 21 to 38 of the Shorter Catechism teach about Christ’s work and the application of it by the Holy Spirit. There the cover effectual calling, justification, adoption, etc. I look in vain for anything that approximates the cultural mandate or its subsidiaries.”

I have two questions in response: First, did Christ fulfill the cultural mandate or not? Second, why would duties of Christians be included under questions relating to Christ and the Holy Spirit? Shouldn’t they be included in the questions relating to our moral duty (Q.39-Q.81)?

Darryl writes: “Why would the Divines be silent? It could be they ran out of time or room. It could also be that they saw how to distinguish between the perishable and imperishable.”

The cultural mandate was not a question the Westminster Divines were concerned with. They assumed the possibility of Christian culture: it was all around them. It is only in recent times, due to pervasive secularization, that the cultural mandate has become an urgent question.

However, there are questions that touch upon aspects of the cultural mandate:

Q.49: God shows disfavor unto the third and fourth generations of those that hate him & shows mercy unto thousands (of generations?) of those that love him and keep his commandments. Doesn’t W2K deny that this is how God still works?

Q.59: The Divines affirm the perpetuity of the Sabbath ordinance, thus implying that all work carried out in the week should be done for God’s glory in anticipation of the Sabbath rest (the eighth day). The Sabbath was moved to the first day of the week to show that we now pursue our vocations on the basis of gratitude for redemption & the power of Christ’s life. We do all things (not just cultic activity) by Christ who strengthens us. (Of course, many take exception to the Confession on this point because they have been allowed to. Nevertheless, Sabbath observance is confessional while non-observance isn’t.)

Q.66: The Divines affirm that the keeping of the Fifth commandment is attended with the blessings of “long life and prosperity” with the qualification: “as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good.” St. Paul affirms this in Eph. 6:1-3. I happen to know that W2K people don’t believe this either in the sense it was intended by the Divines.

Q.102: The Divines affirm that we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, the destruction of Satan’s, and for the “hastening of the kingdom of glory.” W2K men transgress the spirit of this petition when they deny we should endeavor to take every thought captive to Christ.

Q.103: The Divines affirm that we pray for God’s kingdom to be “on earth as it is in heaven.” W2K men transgress the spirit of this petition when they work to keep the city of man oriented toward the love of self for self’s sake.

W2K is not true Augustinianism because St. Augustine spoke of two cities with two loves, while W2K speaks of two cities without reference to the driving motivation of each. As soon as it is admitted that there are only two loves, the question becomes how (and not whether) Christians are to influence the earthly city for a higher purpose. Since Darryl likes to refer to St. Augustine so much, here’s a quotation:

“[A] good and honest life is not produced in any other way than by loving, in the manner in which they should be loved, the proper objects of our love, namely, God and our neighbour… Here also is security for the welfare and renown of a commonwealth; for no state is perfectly established and preserved otherwise than on the foundation and by the bond of faith and of firm concord, when the highest and truest common good, namely, God, is loved by all, and men love each other in Him without dissimulation, because they love one another for His sake from whom they cannot disguise the real character of their love” (Letter 137, 5.17).

Finally, I deny that the Christian’s obedience is perishable. Our labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).

Darryl writes: “If you think the Divines were wrong, Andrew, what revised questions do you propose adding to the Shorter Catechism?”

I don’t favor revising any historic confession, which seems to be the (to my mind unfortunate) practice of American denominational Christianity. Rather, a new document should be drafted which addresses this particular issue.

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Andrew Matthews

A Non-redemptive Providential Reign of Christ?

“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘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: ‘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 two’” (Zech. 6:9-13).

In order to maintain his earthly people/heavenly people dichotomy, John Nelson Darby multiplied Christ’s priestly ministries. In studying Hebrews, Darby thought he discovered a distinction between Christ’s Melchizedekian ministry of blessing and another sacrificial ministry analogous to Aaron’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: “Well, 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.” Both Dispensationalism and W2K have an interest in denying the catholicity of the new covenant—its cosmic universality and authority—during the present “parenthetical,” as they call it, Church age.

While Meredith Kline employs “common grace” language, Darryl dislikes the term, since it is a legacy of Abraham Kuyper’s Neo-Calvinism. He prefers instead to talk about Christ’s providential rule vs. redemptive reign. This is basically a semantic difference, however. Darryl understands history in light of Kline’s cult/culture dichotomy. Having examined Kline’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 “dispensationalizing” Scripture turns out to be yet another destructive nature-grace dualism.

There is no providence/redemption dichotomy to be found in either God’s redemptive purpose, the post-Fall economy, or Christ’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 “complete coordination” must be understood in light of the incarnate economy of Christ’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. God’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 God’s intent all along to beatify creation. Compelling evidence for this is to be found in St. Paul’s teaching in Romans 8. Paul speaks of an intrinsic “desire” within creation for the liberty it will experience when God’s sons are revealed (Rom. 8:19). This desire, a desire for life—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 world’s originally created purpose and its anticipated deliverance seamlessly coincide.

St. Paul’s teaching in Romans 8 is not a metaphorical anomaly easily dismissed by sophistical rationalization. Creation’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 man’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 earth’s produce. However, the ground was cursed because of Adam’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 I’d like to recommend the traditional view against Kline that animal death did not naturally occur before the Fall. Indeed, Kline’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 God…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 se…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, “to produce the cult itself, the cosmic-human temple, was the ultimate objective in view in the cultural enterprise” (ibid., 89). We know that man’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. Kline’s hatchet job on the cultural mandate separates the means from the end, effectively destroying it. Man’s work is now not only rendered difficult by God’s judgment; it is drudgery, stripped of its God-glorifying potential. God is then glorified only in the intention of one’s faith and not in one’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 “neutral” technological and utilitarian principles, and oppose Christian transformationalists at every turn. W2K’s raison d’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 God’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)…Covenant-breakers though they were, Adam and Eve were predestined to become God’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 “the inauguration of the covenant of grace” (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).

Kline’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 weren’t they? Where else was the woman’s seed to come from that would defeat the serpent?

Yes, Adam and Eve broke the covenant. But God’s purposes for humanity and creation were not to be overthrown. This is the predestinarian error as opposed to true Calvinism: to underplay God’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 announces—and by his word, guarantees—that the woman’s offspring will destroy him (vv.14-15). Redemption is clearly in view.

Why then does Kline claim that God “did not have in view their personal identity as elect”? The answer is simple: he wants to literally divide the covenant into separate dispensations. But God’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 “be fruitful and multiply” is perpetuated in the service of redemption.

When he addresses the man, God declares that man’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 God’s graciousness maintained marriage, the propagation of offspring, and labor to sustain human life and realize “cultural satisfactions” (ibid., 154). For Kline, “cultural satisfactions” 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 hasn’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 mandate’s various duties despite new difficulties. There aren’t two covenants present in Genesis 3; there is only one.

I mentioned above that Kline also argues for common grace’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 discontinuity—a kind of crazy regulative principle—is at work in Kline’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 mandate’s original purpose through his labor, despite all the evidence of continuity; to deny that God’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 Adam’s sin, subsequent acts by succeeding generations led to further curses. The shedding of Abel’s blood led to Cain’s alienation from the ground (Gen. 4:10-12). By Noah’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 man’s blood, corrupt the earth. The provided examples show this “corruption principle” to be operative well before the “typological kingdom” 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 council’s prohibition of food associated with idolatry (Acts 15:29) and St. Paul’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 “idol food” 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 man’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 “corruption principle” is operative in the fallen creation that is not peculiar to the symbolic economy of the Mosaic covenant. Even now there is “fruit” forbidden to us.

Kline tries to evade the import of the scriptural data by restricting the clean/unclean distinction to various “intrusive” 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 Scripture’s teaching by faith and then seek to understand it. We do not begin by deciding what is first possible. God’s word defines what’s possible. Meredith Kline’s biblical theology is an attempt to accommodate Scripture—to domesticate it—to the modern secular mind’s sensibility. It’s time to identify this kind of theology for what it is—a form of godliness that denies the power thereof.

To be continued…

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