In the 19th century a German theologian was asked what he thought about Hegel’s philosophy. He replied that it was a beautiful and powerful system, but it was like a loose tooth: he was scared to “bite down” hard. That’s how I feel about Ray Sutton’s That you may Prosper. As his 5 points go, there can’t be any disagreement with any of them. The danger comes when you put them together and filter the bible through them. But that points to another problem: even doing that, I still don’t see a danger. Here are the points. According to Sutton’s reading, which is based upon Kline’s, every covenant will have these points.
1. The transcendence and immanence of God
2. Authority/hierarchy of God’s covenant
3. Biblical law/ethics/dominion
4. Judgment/oath: blessings and cursings
By itself it wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the Tyler guys didn’t create mischief with it. Ironically, even later Klineans like Horton are saying similar things. That doesn’t make it right, of course, but it does lend to it an acceptability it formerly lacked. I am going to walk through some of the basic points:
Here is where it shines. Sutton (and Jordan, North, and Rushdoony) wonderfully contrast the Hebraic, covenantal religion with that of metaphysical religion. The former denies a continuum between creator and creature. As a result, salvation is not metaphysical, but ethical. This automatically leads to:
2. Authority and Representation
When I reread this part, I couldn’t help but see parallels to Oliver O’Donovan’s Desire of the Nations. Someone must mediate and represent God’s judgments. Ultimately, we see this in Christ though God did establish judges for the people. God manifests his transcendence through mediators–but this mediation is not ontological, but ethical and civil (which shows both the power and shortcoming of Pseudo Dionysius).
Sutton wonderfully draws the contrast between Ethical and Magical religions (see pt 1). The former is based on fidelity to God’s word. The latter on manipulating reality. Ethical religion’s relationship is “cause-effect” (though not entirely and absolutely so; that is why Sutton refines the model to read “Command/fulfillment”).
Interestingly, magical religions necessitate a chain of being ontology: as above/so below (74). Sutton should have fleshed this out more. Still, the connection on magic was spot-on.
Blessings, cursings, and rewards come through judgment. This often includes sacrificial judgment (and with our eyes on Christ, we see an echo to point 2, mediation). We are dealing with oaths and witnesses and because Christ’s death in is in view, we also see the Lord’s Feast. We shouldn’t be afraid of calling bread and wine symbols. They have power because God’s Word says they have power (Word and Sacrament!). This symbol of the Covenant represents God’s oath upon himself. This is Covenantal Ontology.
I’ll deal with the last point, Continuity, later.