Gerard Van Groningen, From Creation to Consummation. Sioux Center, IA: Dordt College Press, 1996, xii+604 pp., cloth, $36.95. ISBN: 0-932914-34-9.
The cover doesn't indicate it but this is only volume one of a projected three volume set. When completed, the treatment will still not extend beyond the Old Testament, which hardly warrants the title, From Creation to Consummation (FCTC). The work is of mixed genre. While there is an emphasis on biblical theology, the organizing principle for the macrostructure is not covenant or kingdom but the literary corpus of the Old Testament. Volume one is devoted to Gen. 1:1 to 2 Kgs. 25:30 (divided into creation and patriarchal periods, the latter strangely extending into the Mosaic era and up to the Israelite monarchy); volume two, to the prophetical books; and volume three, to "the Wisdom/Poetic literature and the Post Exilic writings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther" (p. ii). As a sort of survey of these books, FCTC includes discussions of authorship, digests of narrative contents, and the like. The result is a huge tome with the biblical theology entangled in extraneous material. Unfortunately, too, indications abound of less
than careful editinglike the attributing to the reviewer's son (Meredith M.) of a couple of books written by his fatherone of the author's seminary professors, once upon a time.
Turning to the substance of Van Groningen's (VG) biblical theology, happily he appreciates the foundational character of creation and seeks to highlight the eschatological aspect of the historical process, emphases dear to the Vosian hearts of the Kerux readership. As a unifying and integrating core VG proposes a complex of "three factors the kingdom, the covenant and the mediator" (p. 72). It is in his exposition of these three and especially in his oversimplified view of their continuity that the clouds gather over what at first promised to be a sunny prospect.
As for the mediator strand of the threefold "Golden Cable," as he calls it, we might naturally suppose "mediator" would refer specifically to the role of Christ in establishing the new covenant, a role typologically portrayed by Moses in administering the old covenant. But such a mediatorship would not qualify for the "Golden Cable" because it was not by itself a continuity factor throughout all history, there being no such mediator in the original covenant in Eden. Does then "mediator" refer to the role of federal representative headship? Both the first and second Adams functioned in that capacity and thus this was a feature of preredemptive as well as redemptive covenant. However, the mediator concept as developed by VG is not narrowly identifiable with any single role. It rather embraces a variety of functions performed by various agents in the program of God's kingdom and covenants, including the generality of mankind as vicegerents of God's kingship over the cosmos. The trouble is, of course, that broadening the meaning of "mediator" to include all of the above blurs its significance as an interpretative, integrating concept and blunts the cogency of appeal to it as a strand of continuity in the unfolding of God's kingdom. Better to reduce the "Golden Cable" to two strands.
Of greater consequence is a cluster of problems relating to VG's handling of God's kingdom and covenants. We begin with his confusing of the holy kingdom with the order of common grace. Critical in this connection is the interpretation of the post-Flood covenant (Gen. 8:20-9:17). VG identifies that covenant with the covenant described in the immediately preceding narrative, the covenant that commissioned the construction of the ark as the means of deliverance from the Flood judgment. These are patently distinct and very different arrangements. The one revealed to Noah before the Flood (Gen. 6:13ff.) was a sub-administration of the Covenant of (Saving) Grace. It was made with the believer Noah and his household in sharp distinction from the rest of mankind, who are emphatically excluded. Symbolically in the ark, it provided for the holy covenant family a typological experience of the messianic salvation and of the holy consummated kingdom of the new heavens and earth. The subsequent covenant of Gen. 8:20-9:17 was, on the contrary, inclusive of all mankind; it was made with all the earth (Gen. 9:13, 17). Involving as it did believers and unbelievers alike, it had to do with the common city of man, not the holy city of God. The benefits it afforded were strictly secular, not the eternal blessings of saving grace. And this secular world order had a temporal terminus (Gen. 8:22); it was not to be consummated in glory but terminated in judgment (cf. 2 Pet. 3:7). By identifying these radically different covenants, VG obliterates the distinction between the holy and the common and precludes the possibility of a genuine doctrine of common grace.
To the same effect is VG's identification of the covenant of Gen. 8:20-9:17 as continuous with the original covenant in Eden. He appeals to the presence in both these covenants of a creational element and of prescriptions for the cultural forming of the creation on its earthly level. The sharing of the creational element, however, carries little weight since that is a dimension of all human experience. And the appeal to the cultural prescriptions contained in both covenants is simplistic; it ignores the complications introduced by the Fall, in particular the distinction between the holy and common spheres.
Man's world outside of Eden is no longer the holy kingdom of God. To be sure, God's sovereign rule extends over the fallen earth in the present age, just as it will over Hell in the world to come. Nevertheless, just as Hell is not part of the eternal holy kingdom of heaven but exists outside the boundary walls of the sacred New Jerusalem, so the post-Fall world order on the accursed earth is not a continuation of the holy kingdom order in Eden. Hence the cultural program prescribed in the Gen. 8:20-9:17 covenant for the generality of mankind in this present non-holy world order is not a resumption of the (original) cultural mandate and, therefore, yields no support for the alleged continuity of the post-diluvian and creational covenants.
It is important to do justice to the continuity of the creational aspect of God's kingdom as we work out our worldview, if we would avoid the reductionist religious outlook of Fundamentalism. But it is equally important to recognize the discontinuities resulting from the Fall and the introduction of the common grace principle, if we would avoid the reductionist political dogma of theonomic dominion theology. Or stated positively, the recognition of the non-holy, religiously indiscriminate character of the common grace order is vital for the development of a genuinely biblical view of culture, especially for a proper assessment of the nature and functions of the basic institutions of family, state, and church.
By the double mistake of identifying the common grace covenant of Gen. 8:20-9:17 with both the creational covenant order and the redemptive covenant of salvation in the ark, VG identifies the preredemptive and redemptive covenant orders. In the attempt to maintain continuity between these two he ends up denying the radical discontinuity that obtains between them with respect to the principle of eschatological inheritance.
VG asserts that the covenant with Adam was not a covenant of works, it was not a probation arrangement in which obedience would earn an eschatological reward (cf. pp. 68, 98). He thus falls in with the deviant, anti-Reformed school of thought that vehemently repudiates the idea of meritorious human works, even in the case of the original creation covenant. With the elimination of the works principle from preredemptive covenant, the works-grace contrast traditionally affirmed between preredemptive and redemptive covenants disappears. Taking its place as the principle of kingdom inheritance is some hybrid principle allegedly common to the preredemptive and redemptive situations, a principle called "grace," but falsely so, for it is not the pure grace of the biblical gospel. Further, if there is no probation as an opportunity for eschatological advance there is no beyond-probation state for Adam to gain or for Christ, the second Adam, to win for his people. There is no place for the truth of Christ's active obedience as that which earns for his own an eternal place with him in the heavenly kingdom of the Consummation.
It is important to maintain the continuity of all the administrations of the Covenant of Grace over against the unbiblical discontinuities foisted on re-demptive history by Dispensationalism. But to deny the discontinuity between the preredemptive Covenant of Works and the redemptive Covenant of Grace is to be guilty of a more serious error than Dispensationalism. It is to subvert the gospel and darken the way of salvation.
Inevitably VG mishandles the works-grace issue as it faces him again when he comes to the old covenant and its relation to the new covenantthe law-gospel question. His treatment of this matter is not at all adequate, especially considering the intense interest in it in the world of biblical scholarship and the bitter controversy over it in our theological circles. Perhaps his slighting of the issue betrays VG's uncertainty as to how his rejection of the law-gospel contrast is to be squared with the massive exegetical evidence indicating that, at the level of the typological theocratic kingdom, a works principle was operative in the Mosaic economy.
Defending his rejection of the concept of meritorious human works in the creation covenant, VG offers a peculiar argument of his own: there was no place for merit because, he asserts, there was nothing to meritAdam already had everything in the relationship to God and the world that came to him as a creational gift. That assertion contradicts the obvious. Vos rightly declares that according to the apostle Paul "the only reasonable interpretation of the Genesis-account" is "that provision was made and probation was instituted for a still higher state, both ethico-religiously and physically complexioned, than was at that time in the possession of man" (The Pauline Eschatology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952] 304). VG, however, must deny that any additional new benefits would be involved in either the Spirit's transformation of man's spiritual nature advancing him to the state of confirmed righteousness prerequisite to reception of the eternally guaranteed felicity of the Sabbath state or in man's physical glorification, the supernatural, consummating transfiguration that renders the cosmos a new heaven and earth for him. In the flat continuity of kingdom history that VG propounds there is no room for eschatology; the eschatological acts of God that propel man towards the Consummation get de-eschatologized and the Consummation itself becomes just more of the same. VG has missed the message of the Sabbath.
I regret the negative nature of this review, triggered by VG's support of my opponents in controversies over precisely those biblical theological issues I regard as most critical at this time. There is much valuable material in FCTC, developed by VG through arduous labors over a long professional career of faithful service preparing students for Reformed ministry. I especially appreciate his solid stance on the doctrine of Scripture and his steadfast adherence to conservative positions on key higher criticism questions at a time when there is a trend towards compromise within our community of seminaries.
Meredith G. Kline