The OPC Republication Report, Part 10

In this post, we will cover Part I, Chapter 3, sections I and II of the report, dealing with creation, law, and covenant.

The committee makes a very important point with regard to creation and covenant, and that is that creation and covenant are not synonymous. It is quite true that the covenant of works was a special act of providence (providence set over against creation). However, the committee is equally clear that this point does not preclude republication views by itself, since some republication advocates appear to hold to a closer relationship of creation to covenant, whereas others do not (although they give no citations here, which would have been helpful).

The second section deals with the relationship of law and covenant, which is fairly complicated. They have in common that they both require perfect and personal obedience. However, law is something imprinted on the human heart at creation, whereas covenant is not. The WS’s treatment of both is fairly nuanced. Their description is that covenant is a broader category than law. However, the requirements of perfect and personal obedience, combined with the sanctions for disobedience and blessings for obedience have made republication a possibility, especially in Hodge and the Marrow men.

The OPC Republication, Part 9

In this post, we will address the interpretation of WCF 19, a vitally important point to the whole debate. For ease of reference, sections 1-3 of chapter 19 will be reproduced here in full:

19:1 God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it: and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

19:2 This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness, and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the four first commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six our duty to man.

19:3 Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.

I have not found republication arguments convincing on this section. For one thing, no republication advocate believes that the Mosaic economy required personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience. Of course, they usually have an answer for this difference, namely, that the works required in the Mosaic economy are typological.

For another thing, as the committee notes, the words “as such” in section 2 do not refer to “law as a covenant of works,” but rather to “perfect rule of righteousness.” So, while it is true that the three paragraphs need to be read together, and not as completely separate, this fact does not prove the republication theory.

However, I am just as equally unconvinced that this passage actively forbids all forms of republication. As the committee says, there is not enough evidence here to judge one way or the other. Not even section 6 is conclusive. I am not sure what significance the committee notices in the comma after “works” in section 6. It does not seem to me to affect the sense much, especially when one considers that the 17th century authors tended to be somewhat comma-happy, putting them in even in places where we might not.

Their conclusion is very cautious: at this point in their inquiry, they do not see the WCF as either blessing republication or condemning it.

The OPC Republication Report, Part 8

In this post we will address Part I, Chapter 2, section III B of the report, entitled “Not Names, But Things.” The main burden of the section is to note that Reformation era writers often relied on juxtaposition for qualification, especially when it comes to any kind of formulation of republication. Robert Baillie’s statements are an excellent example of this principle. The reason why it is important is that the juxtaposition needs to be seen and acknowledged, or else a particular writer might be relegated to the realm of the heterodox. Baillie’s own position is that the substance of the Mosaic covenant is the covenant of grace (or else the Old Testament fathers are lost), but that the clothing, as it were, is of the covenant of works, and is tied to temporal blessings. But this clothing does not change the substance of the Mosaic economy into anything mixed. If one part of Baillie is quoted, and another part ignored, then a highly distorted picture of his views could emerge. The committee recommends similar care with regard to modern advocates of republication.

This whole principle is then placed in a larger context of the word/concept distinction. They argue that it is not problematic to call the Mosaic covenant a covenant of works. The term itself does not convey much. It is rather what is meant by the terms in the way they are used that has to be ascertained. It is a good caution for anyone in the debate to slow down and listen more carefully. Sometimes I get the impression that critics of republication don’t always listen very carefully, or else they sometimes (not always!) listen to secondary sources before primary (like using Patrick Ramsey for interpreting Kline instead of Kline for interpreting Kline).

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 7

The OPC report speaks of a variety of views that were on offer with regard to republication. By the way, we are looking at Part I, Chapter 2, sections II and III-A in this post. The fact that the Westminster Assembly only explicitly rejected Tobias Crisp’s covenantal notions (Crisp believed that the New Covenant was substantially different than the Old Testament iterations of the Covenant of grace, such that they could not be considered as the same covenant in substance) does not tell us much more than that. This leaves us without clear standing on the question of whether more views than Crisp’s were either condoned or condemned.

However, support of an allowance of some forms of republication can be found in two points, according to the committee: 1. The presence of covenantal conditions in WLC 93 (the committee argues that bare precepts are more usual with the moral law per se, whereas the presence of conditions usually signals a covenant); and 2. The prooftexts underlying WCF 7.2’s description of the covenant of works are verses that apply to the Mosaic covenant. As the committee says, “How could the assembly think these passages relevant if a majority of its members did not see substantive continuities between the prelapsarian covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant?”

This leads us straight to a consideration of how the prooftexts function. While they are not a confessional issue per se, they do offer a window into the interpretation of the Westminster Standards, since they were carefully chosen, according to the extended quotation of Chad Van Dixhoorn. Hence, they make it into the report as part of an argument.

It seems clear that the committee is concerned to ensure that at least some views of republication are consistent with the Westminster Standards. Which ones are and which ones aren’t remain to be seen, but I am certainly in agreement with this assessment, even though I don’t think my own views would be described fairly as republication.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 6

In this post, we will address the first part of Chapter 2 of Part 1 of the report, which addresses the subject of typology. Typology is much disdained in today’s academia, since it assumes a Christian view of the Bible. Even in Fairbairn’s time (Patrick Fairbairn is the author of what is surely the most definitive work on the subject), typology was on the decline. What is typology? Typology is NOT allegory a mistake commonly made even today. Some have merely said that typology was akin to allegory. Others have said that there is practically no difference. The difference is actually rather easy to see. Typology sees a historical connection between something in the Old Testament and something in the New Testament. There is always a crescendo, or heightening in the process whereby the antitype is better than the type. The New Testament itself does this on several occasions. 1 Peter 3 refers to baptism as an antitype of Noah’s flood. Romans 5 calls Adam a “type” of Christ (verse 14). Again, in 1 Corinthians 10, things that happened in the time of Moses are called “types” for our benefit (verse 6). There is therefore a typology of the New Testament, at the very least, that we can explore. Allegory is not tied to two historical events. It takes one historical event and idealizes it, such that the pattern is attached to the air. It should be noted that the word “allegory” does not, of itself, point to the concept. Paul uses the word, but not the concept, of allegory in Galatians 4. Hagar and Sarah are types of historical realities, not idealizations. Therefore, even though Paul uses the word “allegorize,” he is not allegorizing.

The main question that the report addresses is the scope of typology. According to the report, those who hold to various forms of republication have a more expanded view of typology in the Mosaic economy. There are various aspects of the Mosaic economy that non-republication folks can see as typological. Examples here would include the Red Sea crossing and the Rock of 1 Corinthians 10. The question the report addresses is whether priestly obedience in the Mosaic economy can be assigned a typological function to point forward to an antitypical perfect obedience of Christ. The report seems non-committal on the question, but leans towards opposing such a view (their word is “unlikely”). This is only one particular aspect of the Mosaic economy, of course. It is not clear how other aspects of typology that republication advocates point to would be handled.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 5

In this post, we will cover Part 1, Chapter 1, section 2 of the report. This will cover the distinction between substance and administration of the covenant of grace.

The substance of the covenant of grace is the same during all the time of its various administrations, or dispensations. The covenant of grace has its beginning in the protoevangelion of Genesis 3:15, and grows, like a tree from a seed, into a huge kingdom that, with Christ as its Head and King, conquers all spiritual opposition. The substance of the covenant of grace is Christ Himself. Therefore, the covenant of grace is understood to be a covenant of saving grace. Christ as Savior is the substance of it. The writers also note, however, that conditions are also often described as being at the heart of a covenant: change the conditions, change the substance of the covenant.

There is both unity and diversity in the various administrations of the covenant of grace. The administration of the covenant differs going from Old Testament to New Testament as typology relates to the fulfillment of typology. Typology itself is a rubric under which we can organize the entire administration of the Old Testament iterations of the covenant of grace. So, the substance of the various iterations of the covenant of grace (or covenants, as the various dispensations can be called) is the same, even if the typological administration varies.

Although the grace God gave to the people of the Old Testament was true saving grace, the amount and clarity of that saving power was mitigated in the Old Testament times by virtue of the lesser stage of redemptive history. 2 Corinthians 3 is very clear in this regard. We have better access now to the grace and power of God than any Old Testament believer did.

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.

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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