Book Review

“Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline”

Zach Keele
Jonathan G. Kline
Friday, November 1st 2019
Nov/Dec 2019

Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline
Introduction by Jonathan G. Kline
Biographical Sketch by Meredith M. Kline
Hendrickson, 2017
330 pages (hardcover), $29.95

In a festschrift for Professor Moshe Greenberg, Tehillah le-Moshe (Eisenbrauns, 1997), the editors’ appreciation honored the scholar in the following manner: “His life-work is a demonstration that the study of ancient texts does not necessitate losing contact with the vital currents of the spirit and the intellect” (xxi). Such an estimation fits well with Meredith G. Kline (1922–2007), whose scholarly life paralleled Professor Greenberg’s in many ways. In fact, just as Professor Kline’s dissertation on The Ha-bi-ru was hitting the press in 1956, Greenberg had completed his doctoral work on a similar topic just a year previously (The Hab/piru, 1955). Kline engaged with Greenberg’s work. Yet—like Greenberg, an eminent Old Testament scholar—Kline spent his life’s work researching ancient texts. In our present age, such intellectual effort appears to hold little value for the fast-paced issues of the immediate. Hendrickson’s collection of the Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline, however, proves nothing could be farther from the truth. As readers work their way through this collection of essays, it is clear how engaged Dr. Kline was with the ancient text of Holy Scripture and how thoroughly acquainted he was with the other ancient texts of Israel’s contemporaries. His work in the texts was not only skilled at the highest level, but it was also permeated with respect and honor for the sacred word of God within its cultural context in order to serve the church in its own context.

In this volume, Jonathan G. Kline (Dr. Kline’s grandson) collected sixteen articles and essays written by Dr. Kline over his fifty-plus-year academic career in Reformed seminaries and the church. The earliest essay dates to 1958 (“Because It Had Not Rained”), and the latest to 1996 (“Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium”). It’s debatable whether or not these are the best of Dr. Kline’s writings, but they are a superb sampling of his life’s work and show his versatility and breadth as a scholar and churchman. In this regard, the value of this volume stands out. Even in our digital age, some of these articles remain tucked away in hard-to-find journals. Now that they are in one place, readers can enjoy his captivating biblical theology.

The selected essays, well chosen by Jonathan Kline, are all at their base level exegetical essays. From Genesis 2:4, “Because It Had Not Rained,” to Zechariah 1:8, “The Rider of the Red Horse,” to Revelation 20:4–6, “The First Resurrection: A Reaffirmation,” Dr. Kline’s labors span the entire canon of Scripture without ever leaving it. It’s an academic discipline that exercises the intellect and models biblical scholarship. For readers without training in Hebrew, Greek, or the ancient Near East, the rigor of Dr. Kline’s linguistics will be difficult to follow. This, however, should not be a deterrent to working through this collection of essays, for sprinkled through his philological labors are devotional nuggets and ecclesiastical gems.

A few examples will whet the appetite. For instance, at the conclusion of “Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus,” Dr. Kline pastorally applies the conclusions of his exegesis concerning widespread abortion by saying, “It is hard to imagine a more damning commentary on what is taking place in enlightened America today than that provided by this legal witness out of the conscience of benighted ancient paganism” (102). In “Feast of Cover-over,” he compares the similarities and differences between that first pesah and the cross of Christ by concluding, “No epiphany of glory for [Jesus] here—rather, the epitome of scorn” (167). The primary audience for these essays is trained pastors and scholars, who should carefully interact with Dr. Kline’s exegesis. While not every detail will be met with acceptance, his scholarship demands the respect of engagement, not dismissal. Nonetheless, from Dr. Kline’s masterful ability to harvest from ancient texts, any thoughtful Christian can read and find nourishment for the spirit and mind, all centered on Christ and God’s glory. In the spirit of the Reformation, Dr. Kline is, from alpha to omega, an exegetical theologian invigorated by love for his Savior. A higher compliment I cannot pay.

In a similar vein, a second commonality unites this sampling of Dr. Kline’s life’s work: his devotion to the service of the church. Although there is no mistake that the majority of his work is technical and in discussion with the broader academic guild, he plows these technical rows for ecclesiastical fruit. All his research is framed by how Holy Scripture actually binds the conscience of the believer and so regulates the teaching of the church. In this service, he regularly parleys with traditional interpretations, especially with respect to Genesis 1–2, Genesis 6, and Revelation 20. It is evident, however, that his motivation is not to be contrarian or novel; it comes out of a deep conviction of the authority of sola scriptura and Christian liberty. Like our Reformed forefathers, Dr. Kline was ever alert to how human traditions and opinions can be popularly canonized within the church and therefore must be regularly weighed against rigorous exegesis of Holy Scripture. Even as he labored at a high level, Kline’s love for the average saint in the pew never lost focus. He served the pastors in the pulpit, who in turn fed the saints Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, all in service to our Great King.

A final remark is necessary concerning his writing style. It is not unusual to hear that his writing is difficult and inaccessible, but another estimate is more fitting. In the introduction, Jonathan Kline notes the creativity within his scholarship. 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 black-belt 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. As a reviewer, then, I encourage readers to go forth and not just learn, but enjoy.

Zach Keele is pastor of Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Escondido, California, and lecturer in Greek, Hebrew, and English Bible Survey at Westminster Seminary California. He is the author of a commentary on Judges for the Rafiki Foundation (2009) and several articles and book reviews in New Horizons, the denominational magazine of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Friday, November 1st 2019

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