Doctrinal Recovery from Works-Based Dispensationalism
Dr. Meredith Kline influenced my theology in such a basic and global way, it is misleading to list off the things I learned, but I will mention the two most important things I learned from him.
First, as a recovering dispensationalist, I learned from him the big picture that made sense of the Bible as a whole. He explained the flow of covenant history from creation, to the fall, to the promise, followed by the two-level fulfillment of the promise, first typologically in Israel, then anti-typically in Christ.
Kline also explained so many of the strange things about the Old Testament – like the destruction of the Canaanites, the scary laws of the Israelite theocracy, and why the exile had to happen. His understanding of the Mosaic covenant as a republication on the typical layer of the Adamic covenant of works was for me the linchpin that held everything together.
After being raised with a dispensational understanding, he gave me back my Bible. He took all of the weird things in the Old Testament and explained them in a unified, systematic way so that the whole plot of the Bible was seen as leading on a single track to its climactic, eschatological fulfillment in Christ.
Second, he explained the gospel of justification by faith alone in a way that offered tremendous assurance. Taking up Paul’s theology of the two Adams in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, Kline explained the gospel on the basis of the federal theology of the Creator’s covenant of works with the first Adam and the Father’s covenant of works with the second Adam.
Kline also taught that heaven must be earned, but that by Christ’s merit heaven has been earned for his people. This understanding of the gospel is precious to me because is provides the assurance that in Christ we are “beyond probation,” since the right to heaven has been won and cannot be revoked. Christian obedience is merely the evidence of the genuineness of our faith, but not in any way the condition or means of receiving the right to heaven.
There was a polemical context to Kline’s teaching on justification, but the point was his love for Christ. He wanted to make clear that there was a direct connection between the meritorious work of Christ as the last Adam and the believer’s entrance into heaven. There is nothing in between. Not even the believer’s Spirit-wrought sanctification or our perseverance in good works.
Meredith wanted to say that Christ’s obedience unto death is the immediate cause and ground of our receiving the eternal inheritance. He wanted the sheep to have this full assurance by looking not to themselves or their own imperfect obedience, but to Christ and Christ alone as the all-sufficient guarantor of the new covenant.
It was clear to me, as he taught this, that this understanding of the gospel was not merely a doctrine, but that he had a personal relationship with Christ, and that Christ was the anchor of his soul lodged within the veil on the other side of glory, thus guaranteeing that he too would be brought safely there in due time....
My wife Misty and I experienced a painful miscarriage when we were seminary students. In our sorrow we were looking for answers, so we went around to the various seminary professors to ask whether our baby would be in heaven. They all said Yes, of course, and offered various theological explanations. But Meredith’s answer was the best and the simplest. When I asked him why he was so sure that our baby would be in heaven, he said, “Because God is a good heavenly Father. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father’s knowledge.” That was it! No complex covenant theology here. Just simple, child-like trust in the heavenly Father, as Jesus taught.
It was amazing to me how Meredith with all of his profound understanding of theology combined it with such a joyful confidence in God. I will conclude with this final anecdote. One time I expressed to him that I was fretting about the state of the church with all of the confusion going around about justification. He said, “God will take care of his own truth.”
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