Hermeneutics

Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 27): Summation (1)

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Covenant Theology and the Bible

In an article at TableTalk Stephen G. Myers writes,

Covenant theology seeks to use the biblically prominent covenants to inform our knowledge of God and of His work. Specifically, covenant theology contends that God has been working throughout history to gather His people to Himself through covenantal relationship.

There is a problem here. The three theological covenants of CT are not prominent in the Bible. Moreover, the concept of covenantal relationship ,while part of the genius of CT, can and has been explained along separate and arguably more biblically defensible lines. For the rest of the article Myers uses Scripture in service of “covenants” of which Scripture is silent. His article is packed with passages, but when analyzed in context none of them are about the theological covenants of redemption, works, and grace. Indeed, many of them are specifically about the named covenants in the Bible.

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 26)

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Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

12. CT is implicitly supercessionist in its eschatology.

This final problem with Covenant Theology is vehemently denied by more and more who adopt its ideas. They will feel aggrieved by the accusation that CT teaches replacement theology. That is, CT’s today will object strongly when they are characterized as teaching that the Church has taken over the covenant blessings God gave to the nation of Israel. According to Sam Storms,

Replacement theology would assert that God has uprooted and eternally cast aside the olive tree which is Israel and has planted, in its place, an entirely new one, the Church.  All the promises given to the former have been transferred to the latter. (Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, 195)

And here is Greg Beale:

The notion of Christians being part of God’s Israelite family is expressed well in Galatians…Paul views Christ to be the summation of the true Israel and understands all, whether Jew or gentile, whom Jesus represents to be true Israel… The identification in Gal. 3:29 that both believing “Jew and Greek” (3:28) are “Abraham’s seed” is, then, a reference to them as the continuation of true Israel. (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 671)

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 25)

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Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

11. CT interprets the Bible from an anthropocentric rather than a Theocentric point of view.

From what has been said before about CT’s redemptive-historical hermeneutic based upon the primacy of the covenant of grace it becomes clear that although it seeks to glorify God in its overall approach, CT comes from a perspective which is man-centered. Because it casts its net around the salvation of the elect and not around God’s broader concerns with creation the point of view tends to be from the ground up, not from heaven down to earth. Although the Bible is written from our earthly starting point, it is a revelation from above and concerns the whole Plan of God in relation to His created sphere.

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 24)

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Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

10. CT reads Christ into passages where He is plainly not in view and employs Him (particularly His first coming) as the lens through which Scripture must be understood.

Covenant Theology is grounded in an overarching approach to reading Scripture as a redemptive-historical story. This entails reading the OT in light of the NT, and especially in light of the Gospel. Because of this procedure the OT is often used as a typological palette from which Christ is portrayed. What ends up happening is the OT is often treated not as a story in its own right, but as a series of types and foreshadowings of Christ. This is achieved in several ways:

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 23)

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Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

9. Though they would consciously deny the charge, it is undeniable that CT ‘s way of reading the Bible (as above) creates a major problem philosophically in that it strongly implies that God equivocates. More seriously still, the manner of equivocation means that equivocation belongs to the essential nature of the Godhead.

Imagine that several years back I promised you in writing that once I turned sixty you could have all sixty of my volumes of Systematic Theology. I have Calvin and Berkhof and Chafer and Hodge. I have Bavinck’s 4 volumes and Oden’s 3 volumes. Dabney, Griffith-Thomas, Reymond, Frame, Garrett, Horton, Ryrie, Geisler, Pannenberg, Migliore, Lewis & Demarest, Letham, McCune; you name it, I’ve probably got it. Who knows, you say to yourself, he might even throw in his sets of Berkouwer, and Barth, and Brunner, and Warfield, and Murray! Great, you think, I’ll borrow a truck.

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Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 22)

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Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

8. CT thus interprets the Bible with different rules of hermeneutics depending on the aforementioned presuppositions.

Covenant theologians will often display a varied array of hermeneutical practices, sometimes in the same passage. This is because the theological covenants require conformity to their dictates. The conformity includes the OT being interpreted on the basis of a particular understanding of the NT; a first coming hermeneutic when dealing with most prophetic texts; one people of God throughout Scripture; hence no national future for Israel in the kingdom; the covenants of God that can be found easily in Scripture must be subsumed beneath the covenant of grace (particularly); and those same covenants can be morphed out of recognition by their “fulfillment” in the Church.

We should remind ourselves that J. I. Packer said that Covenant Theology is a hermeneutic or way of reading the Bible. Others have said the same, but my focus here is how CT’s understand this (although I might say that Progressive Covenantalists employ the same hermeneutics, more or less, as CT’s do).

Here is a sample:

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The Double-Edged Sword of Dispensationalism: Destructive as Methodology, Constructive as Outcome (Part 4)

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Illustrating how a self proclaimed (leaky) dispensationalist can apply the same methodology (theological precommitments predetermine outcomes), John MacArthur states the precommitment this way: “God’s law is a manifestation of His nature. What God has commanded, moral attitudes and behaviors, is a reflection of His nature.”43 MacArthur recognizes this (pre)commitment has implications and explains them as follows:

“So, to come along and say that the law is unimportant is to say that the very nature of God and the will of God as reflected in His law is insignificant and unimportant, which I see as a blow or a strike against the very character of God. That is why, at the end of Romans 3, Paul says, after talking about justification by grace through faith alone, he says, ‘Do we nullify the law?’ And then he says, me genoito, ‘No, no, no, God forbid: but we establish the law.’”44

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The Double-Edged Sword of Dispensationalism: Destructive as Methodology, Constructive as Outcome (Part 3)

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Case Study: Methodology and Outcome Pertaining to the Character of God, Law, and Implications

The Premise

Basic dispensational thought asserts its derivation as Scriptural and as arrived at through the exegetical process, and consistently applied LGH principles. Because of this fundamental principle of origination, dispensationalism cannot simply be an eschatological addendum to an already established system—it must be the direct product of Biblical study. Thus dispensational thought should be philosophically and theologically comprehensive and have great interdisciplinary importance. It ought to be synonymous with Biblical worldview

This idea is nowhere more evident than in relation to the basic understanding of the character of God and how He works. If dispensationalism is the product of Biblical exegesis according to the LGH, then any and every theological affirmation ought to be not just subject to scrutiny by Biblical content, but the Biblical origin of the idea should be demonstrable and readily connected to the most normative understanding of passages being studied.

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