Review: More Than Heaven: A Biblical Theological Argument for a Federal View of Glorification by T. Jeff Taylor

Even Reformed theology has continually grappled with the major question concerning the relationship between good works and our everlasting condition. Even some who reject the idea that our good works contribute to our final entry into glorification have argued that they play a role in determining the number of rewards that we will enjoy in the new creation. Jeff Taylor, following a biblico-theological trajectory set by Meredith Kline, rejects these premises, arguing that Christ’s merit determines justification, glorification, and an equal reward—namely the everlasting blessed state—in the new creation.

Taylor makes his argument in three parts. The first outlines bicovenantal federalism grounded in the covenant of works and the pactum salutis. These chapters defend the existence and nature of these two covenants, showing how Adam and Christ are the two representative heads for all humanity, determining our everlasting state in heaven or hell. Part two then traces the development of the covenant of grace through redemptive history, navigating the historical covenants that culminate in Christ and His new covenant work. In part three, Taylor brings his federal and redemptive-historical structures to bear in arguing that Christ as the last Adam has fully merited glorification for the elect as their representative according to the pactum salutis.

This book’s major strength is obvious in a more indirect way. Students have long complained that Meredith Kline wrote in a complicated and dense fashion, often leaving his readers with the need to reread and ponder his material for some time before grasping the scope and strength of his arguments, especially pertaining to how he integrates very particular arguments for the linguistic links between various passages. Taylor, however, has arguably produced the clearest, most readable, and most straightforward synthesis of the main contours of Kline’s covenant theology. Readers of Kline will recognize most of Taylor’s arguments as coming from or being related to some portion of Kline’s corpus. The presentation, however, is far punchier and digestible than Kline’s own. Clearly, Taylor has spent years mastering and summarizing Kline’s views and way of thinking exegetically.

Taylor’s book could then easily serve as an introduction to Kline or a survey of his biblical theology. It organizes Kline’s positions topically, whereas most of Kline’s arguments concerning the various covenants are laced into more descriptive, biblico-theologically organized works. For those who have struggled to understand Kline, read Taylor, who will guide you well into Kline’s first layers, making him easier to grasp upon later reads.

Taylor’s main argument is that the two-Adam structure of redemptive history entails that the works of believers can in no way contribute to their glorification or rewards in heaven. His contention rests on the claim that the Scripture presents the ultimate reward as everlasting life, which has been merited by Christ for His people according to the pactum salutis. The implication would be that passages concerning rewards and final judgment must be read through this lens and interpreted according to where one stands in relation to Christ. This point deserves some more careful unpacking.

Taylor’s argument shows thorough consistency in demonstrating that a sinner’s justification by faith alone on the basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness precludes the possibility of a reconsideration of our everlasting condition on the basis of our works. Since Christ has fully merited heavenly reward through His fulfillment of the covenant of redemption, believers are entitled to that full reward because they are united to Christ. The force of the argument demolishes any notion of a second justification or second aspect of justification—taking consideration of believers’ works—at the last judgment.

There are a few ways that this book could have been stronger though. Without questioning the claim that Christ’s merits earn both glorification and an equal reward for all believers, sometimes the argumentative wires got crossed. The question “Does God account for a believer’s works in respect to granting glorification?” is not the same question as “Does God grant varying rewards based on believers’ good works?” Taylor knows that these questions need different answers but sometimes overlapped the presentation of argument too much to keep his points clearly distinct. In this respect, his argument that Christ has earned glorification for his people apart from their works appears stronger than his argument against the varying degrees of rewards, which ends up assuming that glorification entails equal reward.

The reason that these lines get crossed is likely because of one misstep in organization. If Taylor had argued that our justification on the basis of Christ’s merits entails glorification by grace alone first, then followed up with his argument that the biblical terminology of reward always refers simply to glorification, the lines of argument may have remained clearer. There were a few other minor missteps along the way too, such as suggesting that Adam was in one sense justified before he sinned (p. 237)— since the whole premise of the covenant of works was that Adam had to earn justification to warrant glorification—and poorly phrased paragraph that might suggest that the whole Trinity came in the incarnation as the second Adam (p. 242).

As a final but somewhat excursory note of reservation, I was not convinced by Taylor’s exegesis of 1 Corinthians 3–4, concerning how he explained Paul’s metaphor about the builder using lasting or perishable materials. The problem here is that Taylor seems to have loaded the issue of soteriology into this passage when does not belong there, which is worth noting because it is the same false start made by those who argue that this passage concerns our works playing a role in our entrance into heaven. Taylor should have questioned the first premise more thoroughly.

1 Corinthians 3–4, especially Paul’s building metaphor in 3:10–15, is not about salvation but about effective ministry. Taylor presumes that the laborer whose work does not endure is a false teacher, but there is good reason to think that Paul was simply talking about poor or ineffective rather than unregenerate ministers. To hold his position, Taylor has to make a highly tendentious argument that σῳζω, which typically means “save,” means “continue to exist” in 1 Corinthians 3:15. This move is risky 1) because it seems to import a very arcane meaning into a regularly occurring New Testament word, and 2) because it potentially opens the door to threats against the very view which Taylor argues concerning the security of salvation. If a regularly occurring word for salvation here means “continuing to exist forever in punishment,” then the clarity of our terms for soteriology becomes less fixed.

By suggesting that Paul’s point in this metaphor concerns effective and ineffective ministry, we actually strengthen Taylor’s overall argument. This view properly contextualizes Paul’s discussion so that neither the issue of glorification nor of varying degrees of personal rewards in heaven is in view. Even accepting the idea that every believer receives equal reward in the new creation, we still recognize that not every ministry was equally effective. Someone may have taught the true gospel but relied on foolish means, so failed to win as many people to the truth as could have been. This seems to be more what Paul had in view. In this respect, we can accept the normal meaning of σῳζω, so that 1 Corinthians 3:15 means that the less effective minister is still saved by the merits of Christ—Taylor’s very point— but the fruits of his labor that relied on less heaven-worthy means do not make it through the final judgment. The pastor of a wobbly evangelical megachurch can have true faith, and thus be saved, but the massive buildings and media empire built will be wiped away at the final judgment. The pure proclamation of the gospel, however, will see all its fruits in the new heavens and new earth because the Word of God is gold, silver, and gemstone building material.

The point of dwelling on this exegetical instance is that we should not read our proper concern to formulate our soteriology well, clearly, and precisely into every passage of Scripture, particularly if it concerns another matter. Although Paul’s discussion of the building work has the timing of the final judgment, we can easily but improperly relate it to soteriology by overlooking that the whole discussion is a metaphor and a metaphor about something other than personal salvation. We need not overplay our argumentative cards concerning these issues because it will weaken our case regarding the passages where we need to argue most forcefully.

Taylor’s book will encourage readers with its clear presentation of Kline’s covenant theology, its readable outline of redemptive history, its engaging illustrations and insightful exegesis, and its celebration of how Christ alone is sufficient to grant everlasting life to His people.

© Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.


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12 comments

  1. What is the reformed view of the excellent question: “Does God grant varying rewards based on believers’ good works?”

    • Hi Leslie,

      Great question!

      We ask and answer this in Heidelberg Catechism 63:

      63. Do our good works merit nothing, even though it is God’s will to reward them in this life and in that which is to come?

      The reward comes not of merit, but of grace.

      The reward is not payment for services rendered. Believers are not in a covenant of works (do this and live) but a covenant of grace (for God so loved the world…). The Father is pleased to give “rewards” to his adopted sons and children, heirs with Christ.

    • Understood.

      If rewards are of grace, and they are, and it seems like a very difficult question to answer with any certainty. The owner of the Vineyard can do whatever he wants.

    • Well, only the Lord knows. I am making revisions and I am heading towards page 700 of 1200. I hope to finish this round of revisions before the end of the month. Then it goes back to the publisher and you know the rest.

  2. I really like the Heidelberg Catechisms’ scripture reference for Q&A 63 which is Luke 17:10
    It excludes all types of “rewards” for what are simply our vocations. Some have what may seem to be greater vocations than others and in the “mind’s eye” a large vocation may imply a large reward and vice versa. But there is no merit whatsoever in God’s equation. We are simply unworthy servants and only perform our duties.

  3. In his review HP asserts that “1 Corinthians 3–4, especially Paul’s building metaphor in 3:10–15, is not about salvation but about effective ministry.” Hold on; not so fast. If the passage is about effective ministry and not salvation, then how is it that 1 Cor 3:15 is about the contractor’s salvation? In other words, what if 1 Cor 3–4 is not about effective vs ineffective ministry, but about true ministry vs false ministry (i.e., ministry that follows the apostles vs ministry that follows the super-apostles)? Granted, the meaning of σῳζω is still a challenge to be met, but the context would then not be as HP construes it.

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