Sunday, April 30, 2006


Dear readers of UO,

With a full-time job it's difficult keeping up with current events and recent publications. Beyond this, there are some really exciting things happening in Reformed Blogdom. The Reformed Catholicism, Federal Vision, and Theonomic movements all have their place, and I encourage all who are unfamiliar with them to spend some time over at Adversaria, Communio Santorum,, Rabbi Saul, Reformed Catholicism, Societas Christiana, and Theologia. These are just a few of the many great sites that approach the issues from both biblical and confessional angles. But be warned: keeping up with these guys is addictive and time consuming.

If you'd like an introduction to the current controversy over the Federal Vision, check out this new article by Joseph Minich.

On the subject of Theonomy, you might check out Kenneth Gentry's new book Covenantal Theonomy, which I have recently finished. Gentry has taken on the modest task of defending Greg Bahnsen's Theonomic Thesis (BTT): Old Testament standing laws continue to be binding in the New Testament unless they are rescinded or modified by later revelation.

I'll be referring to this principle in later posts as I explore the relation between civil law in Israel and the function of civil law in Christendom. Gentry ably defends Bahnsen against critics who charge that he fails to account for real discontinuities between the Mosaic covenant and the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.

You may also read John Frame's article defending Christian activism against Michael Horton a proponent of Meredith Kline's doctrine of a sphere of common grace that is religiously neutral. While not a capital "T" theonomist, Frame believes in the lordship of Jesus Christ over every sphere of life. Horton is a political liberal who is actively working to undermine the cultural and political influence of Evangelicalism in the United States. He misses no opportunity to get on various media outlets in order to disparage the worth of Evangelical worship, culture, and intellect. While not an Evangelical, I consider Evangelicals to be Christian brethren and allies against the secularization of America, which, contra Horton and others, is a Christian nation (though in danger of losing its way).

Horton seems to regard Evangelicals as the enemy. While I may disagree with some of their methods, I offer criticisms as a fellow believer who is concerned with their wellfare and in basic agreement with their cause. Please watch for a post I am working on, "What Dispensationalists Get Right." The real enemies are people who pretend allegiance to a country or religion but continuously cross the line by making destructive critiques that only serve to alienate and divide brethren. This is the mark of the modern liberal. I am confident that if Horton and his comrades over at Modern Reformation were up front about their political views, they would lose the majority of their influence and readership.

In an article written for Christianity Today, Horton writes:

"Is Jesus Christ Lord over secular powers and principalities? At least in Reformed theology, the answer is yes, though he is Lord in different ways over the world and the church. God presently rules the world through providence and common grace, while he rules the church through Word, sacrament, and covenantal nurture."

Frame comments:

"A reader might wonder what this distinction has to do with the question of Christian social activism. Nobody can doubt that God rules the world through providence and common grace, but how does that fact bear on whether or not Christians should try to change society? The answer is that 'providence and common grace' are code-terms for a complicated theological position that Horton works from, but does not express directly, in this article. That position is the Lutheran 'two kingdoms' doctrine... In other writings, Horton links this doctrine to Meredith G. Kline’s doctrine of a 'common grace' realm. The kingdom of 'common grace' or of God’s 'left hand' (Luther) is a realm in which the state rules by natural revelation, rather than by the whole biblical word of God. That realm is religiously neutral."

I have addressed this view in a previous post. There I had written, "A supposed separation between Christ’s providential and redemptive reigns... falls because Jesus was exalted with all power and authority as reward for his redemptive obedience. He holds no other royal office than Messiah. His rule is by definition redemptive: his priesthood is royal and his kingship priestly. He reigns in order to subdue all sinful opposition and to bring all things into a glorious unity. It is in and through the Church this wonderful goal will be accomplished." Please check the original post for the biblical references.

Frame continues, "I see no biblical basis for suggesting that any sphere of human activity is not to be governed by God’s full revelation, or that any human project should not acknowledge God."

Let the reader be clear: Michael Horton, following his mentor Meredith Kline, believes that Christians must base their various political positions on a-Christian grounds. It is not just that unchristian government can be legitimate: government can only be legitimate if it is conscientiously non-religious!

Meredith Kline makes this clear in his magisterial work on Genesis, Kingdom Prologue, when he writes, "The common grace institution of the state was designed to provide for a pragmatic cooperation in the political task between the woman's seed and the seed of the serpent. To fulfill that purpose, the state had to be a non-confessional, a-religious institution... Every form of state participation in religious confession, whether through constitutional affirmation, official pronouncement, public ceremony, or the like, is a transgression of the boundaries set in the divine ordering of the distribution of cultural and cultic [religious] functions among the institutions of the postlapsarian world" (179-80).

The implications of this view are too numerous to detail here, but at the very least Kline is repudiating the project of Christendom which lasted for over 1500 years. Meredith Kline and Michael Horton tacitly endorse the political apostasy of the Enlightenment and fear a restoral of Christian civilization. This goes a long way toward explaining why the wife of a prominent Klinean publicy anounced her support of civil gay marriage a few years ago.

This said, Meredith Kline is one of the most important biblical theologians of recent years. His Kingdom Prologue restores the book of Genesis for what it is: the foundation of biblical covenantal canon. Genesis is primarily a political document that explains the origin and development of human society from Creation through the Fall, the Deluge Judgment and Noahic Covenant, to the election of Abraham and his Seed. While I differ with Kline on many significant points, his work is where a new generation of Christian political thinkers must begin as they re-engage with Scripture.

The Enlightenment founders of modern political philosophy (Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau) may have used Scripture, but their thought was compromised by theorizing about a hypothetical state of nature that neither reflected the actual Edenic covenant, the post-fall situation, or subsequent covenants. As the apostasy from Christendom went into full swing, scriptural arguments were abandoned altogether. Kline himself is indebted to the Enlightmenment, and a competent criticism of his work will separate his genuine biblical insights from his dependance on Enlightenment secularist principles and ideals. Kline would never have come to his conclusions about common grace if the Enlightenment had not happened first.
It's astonishing how some who purport to uphold the sovereignty of God in salvation and private morality are consciously opposed to it in public affairs. My analysis of this phenomenon is that Calvinists who embrace political libertarian philosophy are in actuality antinomian in orientation because they deny that civil magistrates have a proper superintendance over the faith and morals of their people. This type of Calvinism actually functions as a schismatic and seditious heresy whose adherents deny the Scriptural teaching about the universal societal scope of the New Covenant (i.e., the Gospel will convert the nations). The sort of Calvinist who harbors deep misgivings about the elect state of the majority of professing Christians, both now or in our Catholic past, who believes that society cannot be considered Christian in any real sense because of the presence of non-elect, has long posed a challenge to the peace of Israel.

Being single has its benefits, and I've been able to cover a lot over the past few months. Please keep checking in as I slowly work on unpacking the theses outlined in my original post here at UO. The world is changing, the King is coming, and the Kingdom is now.


steve said...

Nice post.

One example of where Kline's view leads to is Misty Irons' infamous "conservative Christian" case for same-sex civil unions.

Misty was a student of Kline's, as well as the wife of Lee Irons, an ardent disciple and popularizer of Kline, who was defrocked because he denied that either the believer or unbeliever was under the law of God. This is, again, a direct consequence of Klinean ethics.

kevinhunor8614306716 said...
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Andrew Matthews said...

Good to hear from you, Steve. I'm not sure it's accurate to say Irons denies that believers and unbelievers are under the law of God.

If I recall correctly, Kline (and therefore, Irons) teaches that unbelievers are under the Common Grace Covenant (made w/ Noah). They are under an older administration of God's law, which apparently has different requirements for the civil realm than the Mosaic "theocratic" legislation. I think the personal ethics are basically the same.

For believers, the Mosaic covenant has come to an end, to be replaced by the New Covenant. The Decalogue, which was the heart of that older covenant, is no longer binding on believers in the particular form in which it was originally given. This is hard to argue against, since the Christian Church does not observe Saturday as the Sabbath.

Again, I think Kline affirms the ethical content of the individual commandments, but denies that the Decalogue itself belongs to the current administration of God's kingdom. For Kline and Irons, the only normative laws for believers are those that are re-stated in the New Testament canonical documents.

The New Testament itself apparently has nothing to say directly to the civil realm. We ought to proclaim Christ as king over the hearts of men, but not over states (except in a secret providential way). His formal rule over civil society is excluded on principle. This, I argue, is both Scripturally unwarranted and disastrous for society.