I call it “a hundred page headache.”
Since my library does not have enough books on the Trinity I was drawn to Eternal Covenant by its subtitle: How the Trinity Reshapes Covenant Theology. Perhaps it should have been entitled how one idea of Meredith Kline’s reshaped some people’s covenant theology. This was tough reading, for me.
I had been wanting to read up on the Federal Vision. I didn’t know I’d bought a book connected to the Federal Vision. The connections to Cannon Press and Peter Leithart were clear. He also offers James Jordan, whom one of my professors called a “hug-able theonomist”, a debt.
The book really centers on the so-called Covenant of Works and in what way the Covenant of Grace is eternal. There is an issue about the nature of that covenant. Reformed theologians have been all over the map on this issue, as Ralph Smith lays out for people at the beginning of the book. He uses this, in part, to illustrate that the Westminster Confession of Faith could use some revision in this matter.
He approaches this discussion on the Covenant of Works from two angles. One is the nature of “merit” used by the Westminster Divines. He argues they had a more “intellectualist” position of strict justice, condign merit, found in medieval theology. Kline argued against this for righteousness as “covenant faithfulness” which Smith argues is similar to N.T. Wright’s view. I don’t know enough about either’s use to make as case as to whether or not they use it the same way. But on the surface, there seems to be a point of contact between the Federal Vision and the New Perspectives on Paul though they arrive there from different roads.
The second angle is from the imago dei. If Adam is made in the image of God, he asserts, then covenants are inherent and essential to his being. He argues for this on the basis of his (generally correct) view that the Trinity has always been in a covenant relationship with one another. All they make is in covenant relationship with them.
I wonder if we are splitting hairs, in some sense. Either way, Adam was in a covenant relationship with the eternal Trinity. The question is, what was the nature of that relationship. This is part of the long and winding road that may have lost me (that and taking lengthy breaks- I read it over the span of at least a month). He argues that this covenant, or test, was for his education and maturity following Jordan instead of Bavinck.
And this is one of the issues for me as I read this book. He interacts with lots of material I have not read. I’ve read some of Kline’s work, but not Kingdom Prologue which is at the center of his arguments. I have not read Jordan’s or Leithart’s works. I have read some Bavinck, but apparently not enough.
I don’t know if he is properly interpreting all or any of them. Beats me.
What I know is that I’m not entirely comfortable with all his conclusions. I’m there when it comes to the Trinity being in an eternal covenant that govern their relationship instead of just our redemption. But I’m not comfortable with his discussion of the covenant with Adam. Death is a severe penalty. It sounds like more than a test for maturity to me. I am not comfortable with how THAT reshapes his understanding of covenant theology. I’m still trying to sort out all he meant.
I am reminded of Deuteronomy 29:29.
29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
When we try to base on theology on more of the secret things (and therefore speculation) than the revealed things, we distort things. We end up in dangerous places. I fear that is what he is doing. He’s trying to peer into the secret things. He is reinterpreting revealed things on the basis of those speculations. I am more than a little uncomfortable; I’m scared. Maybe I’m scared because I’m stupid. Maybe I’m scared for good cause. May God help me to understand which it is.