Series - DecipheringCT

Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 14)

Read the series. This and the previous installment use material from my article “The Eschatology of Covenant Theology,” originally published in the Journal of Dispensational Theology, 10:30 (Sep 2006).

The Eschatology of Covenant Theology (2)

The millennial options available to those who filter their Bible interpretation through the Covenant of Grace are, Amillennialism; Postmillennialism; and, what is sometimes referred to as Covenant (or Historic) Premillennialism. These options will now be reviewed below.

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 13)

Read the series. This and the next installment use material from my article “The Eschatology of Covenant Theology,” originally published in the Journal of Dispensational Theology, 10:30 (Sep 2006).

The Eschatology of Covenant Theology (1)

As well as encompassing the explicit scriptural covenants like the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants, due to its extensive character, the “Covenant of Grace” basically flattens out these more easily identifiable covenants and merges them into one. This can be seen in the following excerpt, which is one of the more blatant examples of using the Covenant of Grace as an interpretive “cookie-cutter” upon the explicit covenants:

This one plan was hinted at even as Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15), and when God covered them with the skins of animals, requiring the shedding of blood to be an adequate coverage (Gen. 3:21), thereby giving a type of Calvary where the blood of Christ was poured out in order to institute the new covenant and make adequate coverage for our sins. However, from man’s perspective, that plan has been unfolded in sections as he was able to grasp it, and these integral parts of God’s eternal whole have been referred to (by accommodation) as the covenant with Abraham, the Mosaic Covenant, the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31), and so forth. (William E. Cox, Biblical Studies in Final Things, 4–5. Emphasis added).

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 12)

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The Genius of Covenant Theology

Now that I have given sufficient coverage of the main tenets of Covenant Theology and have inserted some critiques, I want to pause to appreciate the comprehensiveness of this approach. This comprehensiveness adds substantially to its appeal. Here then are my thoughts on what makes Covenant Theology so formidable and attractive. I divide my observations into four braid categories which consider its coherence, its teleology, its Christ-centeredness, and finally, its ability to address different important aspects of Christian discipleship and teaching.

Here then are my personal thoughts regarding the genius of Covenant Theology. I do not agree with it, but I do respect it.

Coherence

The first thing that I want to call attention to is the coherence of the system. Starting as it does with the NT and the cross CT has a powerful leverage point for its exploration of the Bible Story. From this position it can venture into all areas of Scripture looking for foreshadowings of Christ and the “reign” that is envisaged to be operating today. This view of the reign aims to exalt Jesus after His passion and serves to define us as under His divine rule as we live out our lives with purpose in the here and now.

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 11)

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The Scholars Versus the Theological Covenants

So far I have tried to set out what Covenant Theology teaches in regards to its three major theological covenants. I have shown that variance exists, and have demonstrated how the covenant of grace is the grand operative in the system. We also saw that there are of necessity paedo-baptist and credo-baptist opinions about who is in the covenant of grace and about “Federalism” as well as about whether it is a republication of the old covenant or has always been one and the same with the new covenant. There are, of course, those who diverge even from these categories, but on the whole we now have a decent lay of the land.

Although I have pointed out that the theological covenants do not bear exegetical scrutiny well, I have not brought in the opinions of biblical scholarship on the Covenants of Scripture to see what they have to say on the merits of the covenants of redemption, works, and grace. In a previous post I said “No credible mainline scholar that I am aware of maintains that there are covenants in the first three chapters of Genesis (e.g., Nicholson, Barr, Mendenhall, Freedman, McCarthy, Rendtorff, or Hillers), and no scholarly evangelical dictionary article on “Covenant” I know sees the theological covenants present in Scripture.” I think it is important to back up that claim.

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 10)

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Credo-baptism and the Covenant of Grace

I have taken a quick look at the way paedo-baptist covenant theologians understand baptism as a sign of the New covenant aspect of the covenant of grace, but of course many Baptists are Reformed yet they reject the baptism of infants as unbiblical.

Baptists see the covenant of grace as incorporating the regenerate only, not the so-called “historical elect” — those who have been sprinkled as babies but have yet to express a personal faith in Christ. From the paedo-baptist point of view the mixed nature of the Mosaic [old] covenant continues with the New covenant. That is why they baptize infants. That is also why the Puritan John Ball claimed that “the Pharisees were in the Covenant of Grace all the while being excluded from its substance” (Pascal Denault, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, 48).

But this is not the case with credo-baptists. As the name suggests, these Reformed Baptists believe that a person must be born-again through personal trust in the Gospel to be included in the covenant.

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 9)

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Federal Theology and the Baptism of Infants

[W{hen Reformed people speak of “the covenant,” we are speaking of the one covenant of grace that runs from its seed-promise in Genesis 3:15, was expanded in detail to Abraham in Genesis 15, fulfilled in Christ, and continues throughout time until the consummation. Anyone who has or will ever be saved – in any period of human history – is a member of the covenant of grace. (Michael G. Brown and Zach Keele, Sacred Bond, 95)

When dealing with the subject of baptism we are still dealing with the covenant of grace; Covenant Theology’s main lens. As I’m treating infant baptism (paedo-baptism) here it is important to note that Reformed Baptists who hold to CT approach the subject differently. I will treat that separately.

The term “federal” comes from the Latin foedus which means “treaty” or “pact,” but has come to mean “covenant,” although the Reformers like Calvin and Beza were not dogmatic on the point. But the covenant in view is not any covenant that can be easily found in the Bible. As the quotation above shows it is the dominant covenant of grace that is dictating doctrine. Hence, it is not the biblical covenants that drive the theology of baptism and headship in CT.

It will help to cite a leading covenant theologian on the matter:

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 8)

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I ended the last post talking about how CT reduces the nation of Israel down to Jesus Christ and then interprets the Church in Him to be the “True Israel.” There is more to say about that, but first I think a little more orientation is required. I want to begin this installment with a definition of Covenant Theology from one of its major contemporary practitioners, Ligon Duncan:

Covenant theology is an approach to biblical interpretation that appreciates the importance of the covenants for understanding the divine-human relationship and the unfolding of redemptive history in Scripture. Blending insights from systematic and biblical theology, covenant theology explains the economic Trinity, communion with God, the person and work of Christ, the sacraments, justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the role of obedience in the Christian life, the believer’s assurance of salvation, the unity and progress of redemptive history, and more, in light of the Bible’s teaching on the divine covenants. (“Covenant Theology: An Essay”)

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 7)

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The Covenant of Grace (2)

It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of “the covenant of grace” to Reformed theology. When one reads of “the covenant” in the writings of CT’s the implication is that it is the covenant of grace. When it comes to CT’s comprehending the Bible as a “redemptive-historical” book, the thing that is powering this is the covenant of grace. Hence,

The covenant of grace tells us that the whole Bible is about one thing: God redeeming a people for himself through Jesus Christ. (Michael G. Brown and Zach Keele, Sacred Bond, 69)

The covenant of grace is the appearance in time of the Covenant of Redemption. As this is the case it could be said that the covenant of grace furnishes the ground of redemptive history. While both the covenant of works and the covenant of grace promised eternal life (R. Belcher, The Fulfillment of the Promises of God, 41), it is the covenant of grace which is superior in both its ability to give salvation and in its primal intent as God’s chosen way of salvation for sinners.

Then too, the covenants of CT; in particular the covenant of grace, sets the hermeneutical agenda for how the Bible is to be read. J. I. Packer wrote,

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