Archive for the 'By Oath Consigned' Category

By Oath Consigned - intro

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

Sometime in the late 90s, I mentioned to Dr. Kline that many people liked By Oath Consigned (BOC) as a concise introduction to his covenant theology, so much so that BOC was being circulated in various unauthorized forms. I was surprised at his reaction. He expressed his strong disapproval that people were still reading that book. It was as if he wished the book would just be forgotten. He said that, ironically, the passages on covenant theology were the ones that needed the most extensive revision. He still stood by the main outline of his interpretation of circumcision and baptism, including his case for infant baptism. But if people wanted to know his mature views on covenant theology, he said, they should read Kingdom Prologue (KP). Besides, he revisited his argument on circumcision and baptism in KP anyway, so nothing would be lost if people read KP only.

It would have been nice if he had issued a revised and updated version of BOC, but now that Dr. Kline has gone to be with the Lord, we who admire his theological insights will have to sort things out ourselves. I might have let this slide, but I recently received an email from pastor James Grant asking me how Kline changed his view of the New Covenant since writing BOC. So with Kline’s death and James’s email, I decided now would be a good time to re-read BOC and blog my way through it.

Before I do that, though, let me mention two things I know he wanted to change. As recounted above, both are related to covenant theology.

First, I know he would have wanted to revise the statements in BOC which imply that the New Covenant is a breakable covenant that includes blessings and curses just like the Mosaic Covenant. I clearly heard him say in ”Prophetical Books” (Westminster Seminary California, 1995) that the New Covenant has no curses. When asked, “What about those who are members of the New Covenant for a time, but who later fall away?” he answered: “They are under a curse, but not the curse of the New Covenant. They are under the curse of the Adamic covenant of works.” He appealed to John 15:6 where the non-elect branches are cut off and then gathered up and taken somewhere else to be burned.

Second, he clearly changed his mind about what he wrote regarding the pre-fall covenant of works. In BOC he had written that grace is present in the pre-fall covenant and that the offer of eschatological consummation in that covenant “was a display of the graciousness and goodness of God to this claimless creature of the dust” (BOC, p. 36). Kline changed his mind on this point and thought it better to restrict the word “grace” to its more specific meaning, viz., favor shown to those who have forfeited God’s blessings through sin.

(It should also be pointed out that BOC was published in 1968, before the Shepherd Controversy. As Kline saw it, Shepherd denied the concept of merit in the pre-fall covenant of works and then began reworking the doctrine of justification to obscure or deny the merit of Christ. Kline’s concern was that if the first Adam couldn’t merit anything, neither could the second. Hence the danger of bringing grace into the pre-fall covenant. This controversy helped Kline to sharpen his thinking in this area.)

So these are the two most important problems with BOC as expressed by Kline himself. As I blog through the book, I’ll highlight any other areas where I think Kline probably would have wanted to revise his formulations. Stay tuned.