It was some time ago that I was given a printed copy of an interesting article by Cornelius Venema from the Mid-American Journal of Theology, on the issue of republication. I have finally taken the time to read it, and felt extremely frustrated while doing so. Venema really does not like the book The Law is Not of Faith (hereafter TLNOF), and the 60+ pages in the journal is a response to it. He is welcome to disagree with republication theories of course, but I don't see any indication that he understands what republication itself teaches.
The current controversial topic in Presbyterian and Reformed denominations in the US is the issue of "republication." It is promoted by some P&R ministers and theologians, especially those from my alma mater, Westminster Seminary California. It is opposed by quite a few people, which accuse republication as being a theological novelty and heterodox at best. "Republication" deals with the relation between the Mosaic Covenant and the Covenant of Works. Those promoting republication teach that the Mosaic Covenant in some sense is a republication of the Covenant of Works. The question of what sense is however left rather vague and unclear, with multiple senses being promoted by various writers in TLNOF.
I have read TLNOF even before I began my studies, but held to republication before that. Of course, my "version" if you may might not be the same as what others who hold to republication hold to. My version is closer to Herman Witsius' idea of republication, although ultimately it comes from wrestling with what it seems the Scriptures teach in places like Romans 2:6-13. I will of course defend my version of republication here, but I do see in many who promote it some basic themes in common.
In that journal article, Venema defined the type of republication promoted and defended in TLNOF as being "a formal reinstitution of the covenant of works at some level" (p. 56). This is rather astonishing, since it seems to me that it is rather obvious that "republication" is not the same thing as "reinstitution." To "publish" something means that one states its content, to "institute" something means that one implements what it says. But before we go further, Venema cites Brenton C. Ferry's chapter in TLNOF with regards to the difference between "material" and "formal" republication. Supposedly, "material republication" refers to the republication of the law, while "formal republication" refers to something more definite. I however see confusion here, for if by saying "material republication" of the Covenant of Works, one refers to republicizing the "material" of the Law, then we are using "material" as a predicate adjective, i.e. republication of material (noun). However, if one understands the phrase philosophically, then "material republication," as opposed to "formal republication," refers to the actual publication of the substance of the Covenant of Works, since we are using the word "material" adjectivally. Material - substance, Formal - form, appearance! Philosophically therefore, we cannot and should not say that the Mosaic Covenant is a material republication of the Covenant of Works, since we certainly should not entertain the notion that the Mosaic Covenant in substance IS a Covenant of Works.
It is therefore rather interesting that the term Venema uses to describe "formal republication" ("reinstitution") is actually what happens in "material republication" (philosophical meaning), whereas the idea that the Mosaic Covenant in its essence is of the Covenant of Grace yet with the accidents of the principle of works is actually "Formal Republication." Now, here I think Berry is at fault, because he should have thought about Protestant scholastic usage of terms like "formal" and "material" before utilizing them in his own manner. What I would like to say here therefore is that it seems Venema has totally misunderstood what republication proponents are saying. Here, despite the difference among the contributors to TLNOF, it seems from my viewpoint that what they mean by "formal republication" is merely that the Mosaic Covenant as to its accidents seem to have a works principle to it; the Mosaic Covenant has a form that looks like the Covenant of Works. There is no "reinstitution" of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant, and thus Venema's critique on the issue of republication starts off on a wrong footing.