Covenant Theology

Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 3)

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In my introductory comments on Covenant Theology I have called attention to what I call its storytelling, its strongly deductive nature, and its adamant belief that the NT, understood especially as the fulcrum of the cross and resurrection, drives the approach. But drives it where? I might answer that question in a few different ways depending whether I choose to emphasize eschatology or soteriology, but in terms of the latter it means “redemptive history.” Redemptive history, or “the history of redemption” is the main overarching framework that CT is concerned with. The goal of the Bible’s storyline is the salvation of the elect.

Now without any doubt the salvation-historical motifs of Scripture are fundamental to its story. Whether or not it gives a wide enough perspective to fit all the important themes within it is another matter. CT’s also believe that there can be only one people of God. Older CT’s like Francis Turretin, John Owen, David Dickson, and Herman Witsius make it clear that they identity this one people of God with the church. As with a number of other things, modern CT’s tend to be less forthcoming, but a writer from the last generation puts it clearly:

Let us here insist that there was a Church in Old Testament times; and that the Old Testament and New Testament believers form one Church – the same olive tree (Romans 11). (W. J. Grier, The Momentous Event, 33)

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 2)

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I am still writing some introductory remarks about Covenant Theology. I still think that we need to say something more about how to orient oneself to CT thinking. If I just move to outline the three basic covenants of CT I will obscure an important truth that should be out in the open right at the start. That important truth is this: Covenant theologians do not begin their thinking with the OT. They do not start at Genesis 1. They start at the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Okay, can we move on now? No. You see, CT doesn’t simply get going at the cross and empty tomb, it ends up there too! The cross and the resurrection are the hub of the whole system. The theological covenants which we shall look at are a logical outgrowth of this starting and ending point. Of course, this shouts circularity, but we ought to note the fact that all reasoning in a circle is not necessarily fallacious, just so long as you have selected the correct circle (i.e., not a vicious circle); a circle which can incorporate all the data and present it coherently. I am not a covenant theologian. Therefore, I do not think CT’s have chosen the correct circle to reason in.

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 1)

This series is bound to annoy covenant theologians who stop by to read it. To them I want to say that my purpose here is certainly not to irritate anyone. If a CT has any problem with what is asserted in these posts he is very welcome to challenge it (giving proof where necessary).

For those readers who want a quick historical intro to CT perhaps my “A Very Brief History of Covenant Theology” will help.

First Things First

I have been reading covenant theology (CT) for many years; close to thirty. In that time, I have read numerous Systematic Theologies by covenant theologians, including Hodge, Dabney, Bavinck, Frame, Horton, Reymond, as well as expositions of CT by the likes of Warfield, Packer, Horton, Vos, Witsius, Owen, Turretin, and Robertson. I attended a staunchly Reformed CT seminary in England. I went to several churches where CT was preached for extensive periods. By far the majority of books I have read in the last thirty years have been written by covenant theologians. I know covenant theology.

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Review: Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture

Covenant Theology by Michael Horton, Progressive Covenantalism by Stephen Wellum, Progressive Dispensationalism by Darrell Bock, Traditional Dispensationalism by Mark Snoeberger - P&D

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Review of ‘Covenant’ by Daniel I. Block (Part 4)

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In this final installment of my review of Covenant we turn to look at Daniel Block’s discussion of covenants in the NT. This is the section of the book that I was most looking forward to as many scholars (e.g. I. Howard Marshall) have written about the relative unimportance of covenant in the Gospels, Paul and General Epistles. In one sense (a rather superficial sense) they are right; the NT writers do not seem as concerned with covenants as their OT counterparts. But this is only on the surface of things. Upon closer examination, and provided one has not forgotten about them, it becomes apparent that the Apostolic authors thought much in covenant terms. With this in mind I eagerly read Block’s Part Four, “Covenant in the New Testament.”

Block gives 229 pages to the study (394-623), and even though he insists upon using his (to my way of thinking) confusing naming of the covenants (i.e., Cosmic and Adamic (=Noahic) covenants; the four part Israelite covenant composed of Abrahamic, Mosaic, Deuteronomic & New, plus the Davidic covenant), I could still mostly follow his argument. But I think casting the covenants into this mold makes them not only confusing but tame; they simply don’t look influential in Block’s presentation. And this creates a problem for his presentation of covenance in the Gospels and Paul; it’s all rather pedestrian (which is epitomized in his Conclusion on pages 615-623).

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Review of ‘Covenant’ by Daniel I. Block (Part 3)

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The “Law” was not Law even though it was Commanded

As we move on from Block’s discussion of what he calls “the Cosmic covenant” (i.e. Noahic) the “Adamic covenant” (?), and the “Israelite covenant” (i.e. the Abrahamic and the Mosaic together!) we next encounter the “New Israelite covenant” (275ff.). For reasons I shall attempt to explain this is what most call “the New covenant.”

But before we do that I need to refer the reader to Block’s position on the possibility of obeying the Torah. He rightly says that the word means “instruction” more than “law.” Then he goes on to say on page 264 that,

“YHWH’s expectations, expressed by the laws he prescribed for his people, were both clear (Deut. 29:4, 29…) and attainable (Deut 29:29..30:1-14).” Italics original.

On the next page he avers,

“The ethical and ceremonial performances that YHWH demanded of the Israelites were both reasonable and doable. Not a single command was impossible.” (265)

But notice that Block calls this torah by the name “commands” which “YHWH demanded.” Sounds like law to me! My mind runs to Acts 15 and the Jerusalem conference where certain Pharisees wanted to instruct the Gentiles to keep the law [nomos] of Moses (Acts 15:5). Peter’s response to this was incisive:

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Review of ‘Covenant’ by Daniel I. Block (Part 2)

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Block’s Definition of Covenant

Daniel Block’s Covenant: The Framework of God’s Grand Plan of Redemption is a big book around 700 pages long. It is very noteworthy when a prominent OT scholar takes up the challenge to write a book on the biblical covenants, and I am grateful to have such a work to study and repair to.

One of the most important tasks that lies before a writer of such a book is that of definition. If you are going to be writing about the covenants then it is well to put forward a decent definition of just what a covenant; a biblical covenant no less, is. Here is Block’s definition:

A covenant is a formally confirmed agreement between two or more parties that creates, formalizes, or governs a relationship that does not naturally exist or a natural relationship that may have been broken or disintegrated…Covenants typically involve solemn commitments establishing the privileges and obligations that attend agreements. (1).

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