A couple of days ago I brought up the idea of ‘intrusion ethics’ which has become popular in some quarters of Reformed Churches and Seminaries. This hermeneutical idea is most closely associated with Dr. Meredith Kline, who first floated the idea in an article written over 50 years ago, and is now heavily pushed by the academic community at Westminster West in California, where Dr. Kline taught for a number of years.
What I intend to do in this article is to spend a little time defining ‘intrusion ethics’ and the hermeneutic to which it belongs. Also I hope to give some examples of how ‘intrusion ethics’ work as well as looking at the implications for ‘intrusion ethics’ when they are consistently followed. Finally I hope to critique ‘intrusion ethics’ with a view to introducing grave doubts in the reader as to the legitimacy of this hermeneutic.
In order to understand ‘intrusion ethics’ we must first understand that originally it was developed as a means to understand the incremental growth of the covenant of redemption after the fall. The thinking was that in redemptive history God was pleased to introduce (thus intrusion) a sort of eschatological reality (an in breaking of the consummation in physical time and place) into the period of delay that represents the time of common grace, the period of time that lies between the historical bookends of the fall and the full consummation. The purposes of this redemptive-historical ‘intrusion ethic’ were twofold. First, the ‘intrusion ethic’ serves to bring God’s people into contact with the yet future consummation thus revealing that God dwelt in the midst of His people. Second, the ‘intrusion ethic’ serves to foreshadow and adumbrate the fullness of the consummation age that is promised and is yet to come and presumably finds its inaugurative fulfillment in the advent of the Christ. Dr. Kline offers that, “The Covenant of Redemption all along the line of its administration, more profoundly in the New Testament but already in the Old Testament is a coming of the Spirit, an intrusion of the power, principles, and reality of the consummation into the period of delay.”
By Dr. Kline’s lights this time of intrusion is a time where in the context of divinely sanctioned redemptive-historical temporal forms a time of preparation for a later age of fulfillment is commenced. This ‘intrusion time’ both suggests and veils (suggesting by veiling) the consummation that is yet to come. Within this ‘intrusion husk’ there is an abiding kerygma that anticipates itself.
Thus far this is really quite excellent stuff. The problem though comes in with the application for what Klineans do is they use this ‘intrusion time’ as what seems to be a dispensationalizing tool in order to invalidate those portions of the Scripture that putatively belong only to the ‘Old Covenant intrusion time.’ For example, laws that were given to God’s people as applicatory and explanative of the Moral law are seen as no longer valid for this ‘non Old Covenant intrusion’ time. Klineans hold that the case law as part of and along with the Theocracy that ruled God’s people in the Old Testament was part of the intrusion husk that fell away with coming of the reality of all it foreshadowed.
Now, Klineans don’t believe that the ‘intrusion time’ was taken away with the advent of He who is the consummative Kingdom. Instead they seem to hold that the intrusion time remains but that it is characterized and takes shape differently. Again here we would have to agree with this assessment in general. Who could disagree that there was a certain ‘eschatological nowness’ (thus the presence of ‘intrusion’ in the Old Covenant) about God’s Kingdom in the Old Covenant that informed the clear ‘eschatological not yetness’ of the coming Kingdom? Likewise who could disagree that there remains a certain eschaotologial ‘not yetness’ (thus the necessity for an intrusion) about the eschatological ‘nowness’ of the present Kingdom? The problem with the Klineans seems to be that they have either weighted the Old Covenant time of the ‘not yet’ with to much eschatological ‘nowness’ or they have characterized the age of ‘eschatological nowness’ with to much ‘not yetness.’ This problem is seen when Kline says, “While, therefore, the Old Testament is an earlier edition of the final reality than is the present age of the new covenant, and not so intensive, it is on its own level a more extensive edition, especially when considered it its own more fully developed form, vis., the Israelite Theocracy.’ What Dr. Kline is saying here is that the Old Covenant, at least in some sense, has more of the consummation in and about it then we have in the Church age even after the consummation has come in Christ Jesus.
It is sheer speculation but one can’t help but wonder if this staggering admission is due to the strongly affirmed a-millennial tenets of the Klineans school of thought. Certainly the idea that consummation will only come in a catastrophic in breaking fashion would be served by a redemptive historical hermeneutic that insists that the very means (the application of God’s Law Word to all of life) for seeing the already present consummative mustard seed Kingdom incrementally grow must be held to be null and void for the Church age. By dismissing the applicability of God’s Law Word to every realm due to its putative uniqueness to the Old Covenant – only a a-millennial story line can possibly bring in the consummation.
Another Klinean School tenet that is served by this redemptive-historical hermeneutic is their insistence on divorcing common and sacred realms. If God removed the ‘intrusion ethic’ of the Old Covenant time with the intrusion of He who was the incarnation of God’s Law Word then there is no Scriptural standard by which God’s people, as a covenantal entity, can measure what happens in the shared common realm. In other words by insisting that with the disappearance of the Old Testament Theocracy along with the case law that governed it what the Klineans have done is, by means of Theological interpretation, created a secular realm.
While it has been hinted at already, another problem with this reading is that in some respects it burdens the Reformed person in their explanation of how it is that the New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant. If in the Old Covenant God’s people, corporately and covenantally speaking, had God’s laws to live by but in the New Covenant we have to appeal to controversial notions of Natural Moral law in order to be ruled then clearly the person in the Old Covenant had a better covenant, in the respect just mentioned, then God’s people currently living. In this respect at least it must be questioned how it is that the New Covenant is a ‘new and better’ covenant.