The Republication Debate Gets Muddy

Editor’s Note: The recent so-called Republication Debate is between subscribers of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF).  What is the proper interpretation of the WCF regarding the Covenants?  Both the editor of this site and Brandon Adams subscribe to the 1689 London Baptist Confession (which has its own understanding of Covenant Theology) and thus are commenting from outside the Presbyterian world on this matter. Please see these considerations on this matter as well.


Mark Karlberg wrote an article explaining that the current Republication debate in the OPC is a debate between Meredith Kline’s covenant theology and Richard Gaffin’s (note: Not between Kline and Murray).

Mark Jones responded, in scorn. But Jones’ reply was revealing, and it confirmed exactly what Karlberg said.

To clarify, there are at least 3 different groups involved in the debate:

Group Adamic Mosaic WCF
1 meritorious works grace through faith


2 meritorious works meritorious works (for typological land)


3 grace through faith grace through faith


So when Karlberg says this is a debate between Gaffin’s view and Kline’s view, and he says Kline represents historic reformed orthodoxy, he is correct (in part). Gaffin’s view that the Adamic covenant was not meritorious is not orthodox. (However, some of Kline’s particulars on the Adamic covenant are also not representative of WCF: see comment box)

But Karlberg is incorrect if he means that Kline’s view of the Mosaic covenant represents WCF. It does not.


“It was not a meritorious covenant… Adam clearly could not merit (eternal) life… In my view, the only person who can merit anything before God is Christ because of the infinite value of his person and work… let’s say the Mosaic covenant has a meritorious element. Does that make it a republication of the covenant of works? Not necessarily. After all, you would have to re-define the covenant of works to make it a meritorious covenant.”

Karlberg is correct when he says:

“In terms of the doctrine of New School Westminster, the real question, however, is whether perfect, meritorious obedience was required of the First Adam inaccordance with the probationary test given him in the original Covenant of Works at creation. As leading spokesmen, Gaffin and Shepherd vehemently deny this to be the case. Had Adam kept covenant with God, not yielding to the temptation of Satan in assuming equality with God (specifically in regards to the knowledge of good and evil), he would not have “earned” or “merited” divine blessing, so Gaffin and Shepherd contend. Only the Second Adam, we are told, can merit the reward of the covenant made with his Father on behalf of God’s elect by his own obedience. Hence, Gaffin and Shepherd’s [and Jones’] renunciation of the Reformed-Protestant law/grace antithesis, what is essential to teaching concerning the Gospel of justifying grace. The Gaffin-Shepherd contention is nothing other than the dogma of Neo-orthodoxy, now one of the doctrinal planks in New School Westminster.”

Here’s what Sam Waldron [Reformed Baptisteditor] says:

“[T]here is no place in Shepherd’s theology for anything like the dichotomy between law and gospel that lays at the foundation of justification sola fide for the Reformation. If there is no such thing as meritorious works, if Christ’s work was believing obedience, if the obedience of faith is the righteousness of faith, then we are clearly dealing with a system of doctrine that has no way to express the Reformation’s contrast between law and gospel. Such a system cannot consistently affirm the justification sola fide squarely built on this contrast.

Allegiance to The Westminster Confession is often understood as subscription to its “system of doctrine.” The Westminster Confession accurately represents the Reformation system of doctrine when it grounds its soteriology on a contrast between the law (“the covenant of works”) and the gospel (“the covenant of grace”). Shepherd has no place for such a structure in his theology and cannot, therefore, affirm consistently the “system of doctrine” taught in the Confession he cites so often in his writings.

-Faith, Obedience, and Justification: Current Evangelical Departures, p. 186″

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