I have noted how the method of MM is lacking: the book displays a troubling lack of both exegetical and historical-theological engagement. These are not minor issues. These defects affect their whole argument, since both types of engagement are necessary if they are to be successful in making their case. Without engaging Kline’s exegesis, and without engaging the historical-theological context of the Westminster Confession, they really have no right to draw the conclusion they want to draw, namely, that Klinean republication should not be tolerated because it “disturbs the system of doctrine” contained in the Westminster Confession.
Having aired my two criticisms as to method, I now want to take the time to accurately summarize the argument of the book. Their argument unfolds in three parts:
Part 1: Background to the Republication Paradigm (Chs. 1–4)
Part 2: Redefining Merit: The Klinean Paradigm Shift (Chs. 5–8)
Part 3: The Instability of the Republication Paradigm (Chs. 9–12)
In Part 1: Background to the Republication Paradigm (Chs. 1–4), they describe the origin of Kline’s views of covenant theology. Their claim in this section is that Kline formulated his views of merit and of the Mosaic covenant in the context of and in reaction to the erroneous teaching of Norman Shepherd, who taught at Westminster Theological Seminary from 1963 to 1982.
The authors of MM deploy the analogy of a pendulum that swings back and forth away from the central plumb line. The central plumb line of orthodoxy is represented by the Westminster Confession or, more accurately, their reading of the Westminster Confession. Just as Shepherd deviated from the plumb line in one direction, so Kline, in the heat of his polemical reaction to Shepherd’s deviation, deviated from the plumb line of the Confession in the opposite direction.
Shepherd deviated in the direction of mono-covenantalism, making all covenants, including the pre-Fall covenant with Adam, administrations of one covenant of grace. Shepherd’s error absolutely denies even a legitimate law-gospel contrast, that is, the contrast between the covenant of works before the Fall and the covenant of grace after the Fall. This denial of the contrast between the pre-Fall covenant of works and the post-Fall covenant of grace led him to deny the faith-works contrast with respect to justification.
Kline deviated in the opposite direction of republicationism, making a stark contrast between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, and then taking it a step too far by having the covenant of works republished in the Mosaic economy. If Shepherd made too little of the law-gospel contrast, basically erasing it, Kline’s error makes too much of the law-gospel contrast, even introducing a works or merit principle after the Fall in the Mosaic economy.
In future posts, I will challenge this interpretation of the origin and development of Kline’s view in relation to the Shepherd controversy. But for now, it must be noted that the “plumb line and pendulum” analogy sets the stage for the rest of the book by making it plausible to think that Klinean republication is contrary to the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession. We are all aware of the human tendency to over-react in response to an error, thus creating new errors. No evidence has yet been adduced showing that Kline’s views actually do disturb the system of doctrine, but the pendulum analogy makes it plausible and creates a presumption that Kline is guilty of serious theological errors.