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Reading Meredith G. Kline: Where to Begin?

John R. Muether

If someone were to begin to read the works of Meredith Kline, where are the best places to start? I am often asked that question, and I have my list of a dozen or so pieces that fall in chronological order, from “The Relevance of the Theocracy” to “Covenant Theology Under Attack.” I began to wonder, however, how others might respond to that question. And so, I polled several former students and colleagues of Kline, from different eras and schools (Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia [WTS], Gordon-Conwell Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts [GCTS], and Westminster Seminary California in Escondido [WSC]), who offered a variety of approaches.

Miles Van Pelt, who teaches Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson (and who studied with Kline at GCTS), commends Images of the Spirit as an accessible and rewarding first read. “It’s a good introduction to Kline’s thought and a place where he defines many of the terms he uses.” Beyond that Van Pelt points to the studies that form appendices to Structure of Biblical Authority. In particular, he cites “The Two Tables of the Covenant” and “The Old Testament Origins of the Gospel Genre.” After that, the reader should proceed to By Oath Consigned.

Mark Futato (Kline student at WTS and teaching colleague at WSC, and now my colleague at RTS Orlando) divided the challenge into two particular categories: creation and covenant. For creation, “Because It Had Not Rained” and “Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony” present Kline’s framework interpretation, first in an early and simpler expression and then in a later and more sophisticated form. For covenant, “Intrusion and the Decalogue” masterfully handles challenges in Old Testament ethics, such as conquest, and his first two books Treaty of the Great King and The Structure of Biblical Authority brilliantly connect covenant and canon.

“Hands down, one must read Kingdom Prologue for his mature thoughts and God, Heaven, and Har Magedon for his contemplations on heaven,” suggested Peter Lee, OPC church planter and professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., (and Kline’s student at WSC). Venturing into Kline’s articles, Lee added two pieces that pair together well: “Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium” and “Covenant of the Seventieth Week.” “Dr. Kline was critical of both dispensational premillennialism and postmillennialism,” Lee explained. “These articles are a tour-de-force challenge to both.”

Finally, a reading of Kline ought to expose the reader to his expertise also in the New Testament, and Lee suggests two articles in particular. “Gospel Until the Law” is important for three reasons. “First, it shows the importance Dr. Kline placed on the covenant of works with Adam. Second, it is one of the key New Testament texts he often cited to support his view of a works-principle in Moses. Third, it shows that he was just as insightful as a New Testament exegete as he was of the Old Testament.” Lee concluded by insisting that “we don’t really get Kline unless we end in the book of Revelation.” So, he urged that “The First Resurrection” find its way into an introductory reading list.

Bryan Estelle, a student and later a colleague of Kline’s at WSC, ventured into less familiar works. In the 1950s Kline had contributed to a “Bible Book of the Month” series in Christianity Today, and Estelle offered that his introduction to the Song of Songs was “perhaps one of Meredith’s most popular and accessible pieces.” He added that an alert reading will detect an adumbration of his later views on republication. Secondly, he pointed to the posthumously published Genesis: A New Commentary, which provides “the easiest access to Kline’s thoughts on Genesis.” Finally, “The Oracular Origin of the State” is an important work on Kline’s view of the state.[1]

T. David Gordon, recently retired from teaching at Grove City College (and a former colleague of Kline at GCTS for over a decade), reminds us not to overlook the obvious. The Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline, an anthology edited by grandson Jonathan Kline, “is very good, because it ranges well across his career. I thought they were extremely well-selected. I have been enjoying reading back through them (some for the first time), and I think they are very representative of his writing.” In particular, Gordon noted that the collection “has good examples of how Meredith sometimes began with what appeared to be a small, technical linguistic matter that turned into something profoundly significant (such as “Double Trouble” and “Abram’s Amen”). At this point, when I meet someone totally unfamiliar with him, I recommend this collection.”

My respondents found it a challenge to keep their lists short. As varied as the answers were, a consistent feature in all of their responses was the inclusion of a particular work published about the time the respondent actually studied under him. Understandably, those paradigm-shifting moments made a great impression on each of them. Together, these suggestions underscore that there are many approaches to begin one’s reading.

The reader should not despair at the seeming obscurity of some of these suggestions. All of these works are easily accessible on the Meredith Kline website (https://meredithkline.com). There you will find a complete bibliography and electronic texts of older and hard to find pieces. In addition, any student of Kline will be enriched by listening to the 190 episodes in the Glory-Cloud podcast (https://glorycloudpodcast.libsyn.com), recorded from 2016 to 2020. Hosted by three Kline experts (Chris Caughey, Lee Irons, and Todd Bordow), this remarkable resource includes an introduction to Kline’s life and work, discussions of his significant articles, multi-episode analyses of his books (including 40 episodes on Kingdom Prologue and two dozen on God, Heaven and Har Magedon), and interviews of interpreters of Kline. Particularly worth noting are several installments devoted to “Meredith Kline Applied” that explore how his thought sheds light on contemporary challenges to the church.

Wherever you begin with Kline, you will find yourself challenged by his writing style, even in the more accessible and introductory materials. And so, it is fitting to conclude with suggestions about how to read Kline, and here we are helped by two OPC pastors who were among the last of Kline’s seminary students when he retired from WSC in 2003. Brett McNeill, who pastors Reformation OPC in Olympia, Washington, had the advantage of hearing Kline in the classroom before he encountered him in print. “Listening to Kline and getting used to the cadence of his rhetoric,” McNeill suggested, “made his syntax far more understandable for me, and this has been the experience of many others.” He urges students of Kline today to do the same through recordings of Kline’s lectures that can be found on the internet, including the Meredith Kline website listed above.

Zach Keele, pastor of Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church, wisely adds that a reading of Kline should be slow and deliberate. He writes:

It is not unusual to hear that [Kline’s] writing is difficult and inaccessible, but another estimate is more fitting. Although he may use language that is unfamiliar in everyday parlance (and he enjoys his hyphens!), Dr. Kline can weave together beautifully rich sentences, where form and meaning are wonderfully matched. In this way, Kline resembled the authors he spent so much time studying: the prophets. The blackbelt skill of the prophets was the rhetorical creativity they pulled from the law and the culture around them to foretell the greater realities to come. Meredith G. Kline was the student who followed the example of his teachers. . . . I encourage readers to go forth and not just learn, but enjoy.[2]

Works of Kline Cited

“Bible Book of the Month – Song of Songs.” Christianity Today 3 (April 27, 1959): 22–23, 39.

“Because it Had Not Rained.” Westminster Theological Journal, 20 (1957/58): 146–57.

By Oath Consigned: A Reinterpretation of the Covenant Signs of Circumcision and Baptism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968.

“The Covenant of the Seventieth Week” in Law and the Prophets: Old Testament Studies in Honor of Oswald T. Allis. Edited by J. H. Skilton. Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1974, 452–69.

“Covenant Theology under Attack.” New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. 15:2 (Feb. 1994): 3-5.

Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline. Edited by Jonathan Kline. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2017.

“The First Resurrection.” Westminster Theological Journal, 37 (1974/75): 366–75.

Genesis: A New Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2016.

God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2006.

“Gospel Until the Law: Romans 5:13–14 and the Old Covenant.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 34 (1991): 433–46.

Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 39 (1996): 207–22.

Images of the Spirit. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980.

“Intrusion in the Decalogue.” Westminster Theological Journal, 16 (1953/54): 1–22.

Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2006.

“Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony.” Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith, 48:1 (Mar. 1996): 2–15.

The Structure of Biblical Authority, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1975.

“The Old Testament Origins of the Gospel Genre.” Westminster Theological Journal, 38 (1975/76): 1–27.

“The Oracular Origin of the State” in Biblical and Near Eastern Studies: Essays in Honor of William Sanford LaSor. Edited by G. A. Tuttle. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978, 132–41.

“The Relevance of the Theocracy.” Presbyterian Guardian, 22 (Feb. 16, 1953): 26–27, 36.

Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy, Studies and Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963.

“The Two Tables of the Covenant.” Westminster Theological Journal, 22 (1959/60): 133–46.

Endnotes

[1] Estelle himself applies some of these Klinean principles in his own recently published book, The Primary Mission of the Church: Engaging or Transforming the World? (Fern, Rosshire: Mentor, 2022).

[2] Zach Keele, Review of Essential Writings of Meredith Kline. Modern Reformation, 28 (Nov–Dec 2019), 57–58.

John R. Muether serves as a ruling elder at Reformation Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Oviedo, Florida, Dean of Libraries at Reformed Theological Seminary, and former historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Ordained Servant Online, December 2022.

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Ordained Servant: December 2022

Meredith G. Kline at 100

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Meredith G. Kline’s Family Life

Commentary on the Book of Discipline of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapter 3.1–3

What Is Essential to the Doctrine of the Church? A Review Article

The Completion of C. S. Lewis by Harry Lee Poe

Profound Devotion: A Review Article

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