6 comments on “Was There Really a Covenant of Works?

  1. This has been brought up elsewhere, but the late Meredith Kline wrote ‘Covenant Theology Under Attack,’ attacking N. Shepherd, D. Fuller and J. Murray for their affirmation of pre-fall grace for Adam. (The OPC’s mag ‘New Horizons’ omitted his references to Murray & Shepherd.)*

    Kline prophectically sounded the alarm and connected the dots from Murray to Fuller & to Shepherd, and today we have the descendents of the former in J. Piper, of the latter in the Visionary Federalista.

    Kline: ‘Murray did at least affirm the possibility of meritorious human work, with obedience receiving a just reward, but he limited this to a situation where the reward would perfectly balance the value of the work. (For Murray that meant an obedient Adam must remain in his original state without advancement.) This qualification restricted the possibility to a theoretical moment at the beginning before the covenant was superimposed on this primal state of nature, since on Murray’s (mistaken) definition of covenant, “grace” came with covenant, and that spelled the end of any momentary hypothetical administration of simple justice.

    ‘The door left ajar by Murray was thrown wide open to Fuller’s theology by Murray’s successor. Norman Shepherd rightly rejected Murray’s notion of a state of nature. (Such a pre-covenant situation never existed; the world was created a covenantal order from the outset.) However, this meant that for Shepherd, who adopted Murray’s equation of covenant and “grace,” there was no place at all left for a covenant of works or meritorious human obedience or simple justice. Though the ensuing controversy over Shepherd’s views led to his departure, his teaching was not officially renounced by ecclesiastical or seminary arms of our movement, and key elements of the Fuller-Shepherd theology continue to be advocated among us.’

    * The original (w/ link to OPC version): http://www.fpcjackson.org/resources/apologetics/covenant%20theology%20&%20justification/kline.htm


  2. Speaking of PCA confusion:

    “Covenant Confusion” — the title of an essay by Rev. Richard Phillips — accurately describes the current state of Reformed theology (though that is not the meaning of the title for Phillips). Covenant theologians have longstanding disagreements about various aspects of covenant theology. Some believe in a Covenant of Redemption, some do not. Some see the Covenant of Redemption as so important that without it, Covenant Theology itself would be in danger. For others, the Covenant of Grace alone is necessary. When it comes to the Covenant of Works, there is basic disagreement about how it should be understood. More importantly there are many, especially among Reformed theologians in the Dutch tradition, who deny the existence of a Covenant of Works. Complicating all of these various differences are diverse definitions of the covenantal idea itself. In short, there is hardly a single aspect of the traditional covenantal theology that is not the subject of one sort of dispute or another. For many Reformed church members, I suspect the doctrine of the covenant is enshrouded in mystery.

    In plain terms, covenantal muddle is the situation we face. I think this is the sign of a deep underlying problem. But whether I am correct or not, confusion reigns in the world of Covenant Theology and a simple call to return to the Westminster Confession is a counsel of despair. It ignores the fact that the current confusion is in part a result of the inadequacy of the Confessional standards to answer certain questions. The example of the theological differences between two important theologians illustrates this perfectly. No one in the 20th century was more devoted to the Westminster faith than John Murray and Meredith Kline. But they both not only suggested profound revisions to the traditional faith, they also disagreed deeply with one another about a proper understanding of that faith. If John Murray and Meredith Kline, both seeking to be faithful to Westminster, cannot find in that confession a way out of the confusion, neither will we. It is time to go back to the Bible.

    Richard Phillips does not seem to realize that the title of his essay describes the symptom of an illness that has long plagued the Reformed world. Nor does he seem to understand that it was to offer a way out of that confusion…

    Excerpted from “Covenantal Confusion? An Attempt to Understand the Confused and the Confusion” by Ralph Allan Smith found at


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