The OPC Report on Republication, Part 4

In this post, we will cover Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 1 of the report, on defining terms. I am slightly puzzled by the organization here, as the first part of the report was also defining terms. Maybe there should have been one introductory section defining terms. However, we will plow on, and look at their definitions of covenant and law.

Interestingly, they do not define what a covenant actually is. Of course, that part of the definition is not as relevant to their subject matter as the difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The differences related to the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace resolve into several points: 1. The federal heads (Adam versus Christ); 2. The requirements (perfect and perpetual obedience versus grace); 3. Pledges (the tree of life versus the Holy Spirit). The similarity between the two covenants hinges on the Creator/creature distinction: both covenants require God to condescend if there is to be any covenantal tie at all between God and man. Of course, the most important thing to safeguard here is that the acquisition of eternal glory happens in a completely opposite way in the two covenants. For humans, it was works in the covenant of works, grace in the covenant of grace. However, when viewed from the standpoint of the respective covenantal heads, it was works in both cases, although Adam would have earned it for himself and his posterity, whereas Christ earned it vicariously for us.

The section on law distinguishes among three definitions (these are distinct from either the three uses of the law, or the three parts of the law, with the exception of the third definition): 1. Redemptive-historical, as in “the time of the law” versus “the time of the gospel”: 2. The Mosaic economy in general, or the Torah, which is most often the way Paul uses the term; and 3. Particular laws, referring to the three parts of the law.

There is nothing particularly controversial here, though the next section on the distinction between the substance and the administration of the covenant of grace is certainly disputed in certain quarters. More on that in the next post.

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The OPC Report on Republication, Part 3

This post will take us to the end of the introduction section of the report. In this section, the committee writes to distinguish between a more general works principle, and a more narrow works principle.

The more general works principle is defined thus: “Broadly defined, a works principle is merely communicating obligations with sanctions.” They take care to distance this term from the Old Testament scholarship’s definition of retribution theology, a la Koch. They say unequivocally that there is at least an echo of a works principle in the Mosaic covenant. Equally clearly, however, they assert that salvation is by grace through faith in the Mosaic covenant. How these two ideas are both true will, I’m sure, be seen in the rest of the report. The works principle in view has a great deal to do with Jesus’ person and work. This principle helps us understand how it is that Adam failed to attain the glorified state, whereas Jesus attained it.

The more specific sense of a works principle has to do with external blessings. Writers (like Kline) who talk in this way are separating the idea entirely from a works salvation view, and are instead tying it (typologically, in Kline’s case) to the pactum salutis, the eternal intra-Trinitarian covenant, as well as the accomplishment of salvation in history.

Some thoughts on the progress so far: 1. Starting with definitions is a very helpful way to proceed, especially in a thorny area of theology, and also given how much misunderstanding there has been in the discussion. 2. As I have already noted, the tone is one of light, not heat. This is so essential to any kind of understanding, that I will keep reiterating it as I go along, especially because this is a blog, and blogs have not always been known for preserving light instead of heat.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 2

Sections 2-4 of the “Mandate” portion of the report have to do with terminological distinctions and definitions. This may not be the most riveting part of any report. However, the importance of defining one’s terms becomes rather clear when recent Federal Vision debates are kept in mind. We cannot enter the realm of this debate without carefully defined terms. It helps us to frame the issues with clarity, however difficult the rest of the conversation might become. Three terms are defined in these three sections.

First up is republication itself. The problem of definition concerning this term is the most acute, since there are so many different versions of republication. However, all forms of republication do have this element in common: they all hold that the covenant of works is, in some sense, repeated or republished in the Mosaic economy. That is as much as can be said of all the views of republication, because some republication views believe that there is a national covenant with Israel concerning the land, and others do not. Some believe in various forms of merit (on which, see more below) and others do not, or believe in different merit. Some believe that this republication is an overlay on top of a covenant of grace and is therefore subservient to the covenant of grace, while others do not. So the definition offered above, which is the same as in the report, is narrow enough to have value, and yet broad enough to encompass all the republication views. It should be noted (as the report also does) that the words “in some sense” are not meant as a dodge, but as a recognition of the many varieties of republication on offer.

The next term up for discussion is typology and symbol. Typology refers to an Old Testament historical pattern (whether person, place, thing, or idea) that foreshadows a fulfillment in the New Testament. It says that God works the same way throughout history, only with a crescendo. The money quote here is: “In a very real and profound sense, when we study the history of Israel, we see that she was not behind the times but was actually ahead of her time.” Reformed Christians will quickly recognize that typology centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and that this is how Jesus is actually IN the Old Testament. Why is this definition important for the discussion of republication? Questions concerning how the Mosaic economy foreshadows Jesus are an integral part of the debate, especially when one considers the exegetical questions swirling around Galatians 4:21-31.

The third definition has to do with merit. I rather wish the report had defined condign and congruent merit, and not just pactum. They sort of hint at it with the term “proper.” Of course, that follows the Westminster Standards, and one could argue that such is the better course. I believe that problems concerning the definition of merit are some of the most snarly questions in the whole debate, especially because Meredith Kline was not always very clear about how he used such terms. Anyway, condign merit means that the action is directly proportional to the reward, as when a person goes to buy a car and pays the exact amount of money that the price tag has on it. The analogy is not quite exact, since money can buy many things, whereas condign merit is usually a narrower conception. However, the idea is similar. Congruent merit is a Roman Catholic category not used anywhere in Reformed circles that I am aware of, although it is helpful to know its definition. Congruent merit implies that a person has the proper kind of merit, just not enough. So, if a son has $5k to buy a car, but the car is worth $10k, then the son has to have some help to get there (usually from moneybags father). His $5k would be congruently meritorious, but not condignly so. Pactum merit, or ex pacto merit, is very different from condign and congruent, in that the merit in view in “pactum” merit is NOT of the proper kind to merit the reward offered. It only merits by virtue of an agreement. So, in the analogy of the car, the father and the son make a pact whereby the father will buy the son a car if the son’s GPA is 4.0. Obviously, the son cannot take his report card to the car dealership in order to buy a car: it is the wrong kind of merit. However, because of the agreement the son can merit a car by virtue of studying hard and getting good grades. It was reassuring to see the OPC report mention the wisdom of embracing the category of ex pacto merit in the light of Karl Barth’s theology, the Federal Vision advocates, and the New Perspective on Paul scholars. Pactum merit describes how Adam would have achieved the glorified state. Since his obedience was already owed, it could not be viewed as condign or congruent merit. Adam could only merit the glorified state by God saying so, as the committee phrases it. It could also be called “fiat” merit, I suppose, although that does not convey the nature of an agreement, so I suspect that pactum is better.

One last point on these three sections has to do with the definition of grace. The committee rightly distinguishes between the pre-Fall situation and the post-Fall situation by saying that if the category of grace is invoked to describe the pre-Fall situation, it cannot be considered redemptive grace. The Westminster divines preferred the term “voluntary condescension” in chapter 7 of the WCF. The definition of grace will be much discussed in these posts, as I have become convinced that it is helpful to say that grace is not just “unmerited favor” but actually “demerited favor.” In other words, in a redemptive situation it is not merely the case that we have not merited eternal life. It is that we have merited the opposite, and I mean that we have all condignly merited Hell both in Adam (through the imputation of sin, and the generational passing on of original sin) and in ourselves (through our actual sin). Incidentally, it is helpful to remember that the helpfulness of the categories of merit is not limited to positive meriting of good things, but can also be applied to sinners meriting eternal punishment in Hell. The committee is comfortable using the term “grace” to describe the pre-Fall situation, but only in a modified sense, since there is no redemption before the Fall. I have no quarrel with using the terms this way either, as long as one is careful to note the difference between pre-Fall and post-Fall definitions of grace (and thus come to virtually the same place). We could say that before the Fall, grace is unmerited condescensive favor, while after the Fall, grace is demerited redemptive favor. One could also simply say that before the Fall, God acted towards us by means of voluntary condescension, while after the Fall, God exercises grace (understood as demerited favor).

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 1

The idea that the covenant of works has, in some sense, been republished in the Mosaic economy is an idea that has recently generated much more heat than light. On the one hand, proponents have not always been very clear in their presentations of the idea. It is a highly complex issue, requiring a great deal of nuance in order to avoid problems. On the other hand, critics have become so polarized against any form of republication (in reaction to some of the more extreme formulations) that all forms of the idea have sometimes been drawn and quartered as heretical. Surely there is room for a more sober analysis! We have it in the OPC report. I plan on blogging my way through this report in the next few weeks, and hopefully help shed some light on this complex series of ideas. Of the “Mandate” section, we will cover just the first two sections today.

A salutary emphasis of this report is on careful exegesis, cautious statements, and accuracy of expression. The report commences with a discussion of its mandate. The OPC has been troubled by these questions, particularly in the Presbytery of the Northwest. In other words, this issue arose in the church courts. It is not simply an academic question. It is an issue affecting the purity, peace, and unity of the church.

Republication is an enormously complex issue, and the nature of the Mosaic economy one of the most difficult Old Testament concepts to address. This the writers of the report acknowledge often. It is also an issue about which Reformed theologians have disagreed. Hodge favored a national covenant view of republication, while Murray rejected any form of republication. This ought to make us extremely cautious about our conclusions, as well as extremely charitable concerning those with whom we disagree. To jump to the conclusion of the report, some forms of republication are consistent with the Westminster Standards. Therefore, great precision, patience, and charity must characterize any discussion of these things. More light, folks, not more heat.

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