Saturday, April 4, 2015

Reflections on Baptist Covenant Theology

I alluded in my previous post to the fact that I journeyed quite awhile in studying the facets of Covenant Theology.  There is a sense in which the question comes by many, "why does it really matter?  Can't we just preach the gospel?"  I believe I understand some of the heart behind the question.  There are many who get so caught up in the particulars of theology and forget the doxology or  evangelism that is to accompany our theology.  However, I think the question is ultimately short- sighted.  For starters, God is pleased to reveal Himself and His plan in particular ways, and His people are to learn those ways.  This brings Him glory, and this is for our good.  But beyond this, there are a variety of reasons why Covenant Theology matters (and I am speaking of the Federalism/Covenant Theology of the 1689).  See:  Or, get a copy of "Recovering a Covenantal Heritage" (CLICK HERE), and check out specifically Chapter 16 by the Renihan brothers.

First, I believe it to be the overarching structure through which the totality of Scripture is unfolded.  The triune God covenants before creation to redeem a people for God.  This Covenant of Redemption (pactum salutis) is then the arrangement through which the Godhead acts in Scripture.  Jesus brings a Covenant of Grace, or New Covenant based out of this original Covenant of Redemption.  The Baptist Confession (1689) 7.3 reads. "This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency."
The agreement among the Godhead is nothing to ignore, and it is not simply a theological fact, but a foundational arrangement that serves as a foundation to the rest of the biblical storyline.

Second, the arrangement of the Old and New Testaments as one moving story is best seen in Baptist Covenant Theology.  Dispensationalism errs in placing divisions in the text, and in making the Old Testament the interpreting lens of the New Testament, vs. the New Testament, newer revelation, interpreting the Old.  Conversely, I think New Covenant Theology does the opposite.  It lops of the Old Testament and avoids truths (and there are a variety of limbs on the New Covenant Theology tree) such as the continuation of the moral law and a Covenant of Works with Adam, and it errs in failing to see revelation as truly progressive.  These two systems do an injustice to the overarching movement of Scripture, not to mention give its adherents (in my opinion) less than helpful implications regarding the people of God (e.g., Dispensationalism would consider the church a "hiccup" so to speak...a plan B, and NCT causes a lack of delighting in the moral law of God continuing throughout all times.)

Thirdly, while I love my Presbyterian brothers and sisters, their Covenant Theology (which I cut my teeth on and adopted without paedobaptism for many years) causes the Covenant of Grace to be rooted in the Covenant of Redemption...but not completely.  The ecclesiological implications, which will not be discussed at length here, result in the carrying over of typological structures and applying them to the Church.  To them, fleshly seed is still a focus when spiritual seed has always been the ultimate telos, or goal.  Now, so many of my dear friends hold this position, and we have much in common, so there is not an ounce of animosity here.  On the contrary, thanks for your continued faithfulness to so much that we share in the Reformed tradition.  I just think in the end, that 1689 Federalism is the best system flowing out of the pages of Scripture.

Fourth, I believe a right understanding of God's work in covenant gives us even greater delight in the gospel (notice I didn't say any greater saved-ness).  We get to see the gospel through the vantage point of God's unfolding covenantal plan culminating in the New Covenant, and this brings greater understanding.

Fifth, I think the Covenant Theology of the early Particular, or Reformed Baptists with its rich focus on a Trinitarian and Sovereign work of God in salvation helps to guard against error (Arianism, Pelagianism, Sabellianism, Arminianism, Prosperity gospel and more).  Of course, you don't have to be a Reformed Baptist to avoid these, but the early Reformed Baptist Federalism automatically rules each of these out.

Sixth, isn't there beauty in understanding how the pages of Scripture move us to Jesus.  His blood shed to bring a New Covenant...a covenant progressively revealed in the previous Biblical covenants, and His perfect keeping of the Covenant of Works in our stead puts Him center stage in Scripture.   Jesus agrees to a Covenant of Redemption, He keeps as the Second Adam the Covenant of Works, and He accomplished a Covenant of Grace, thus saving us and honoring His agreement with the Father in the beginning.  The Father can truly say of the Son, "In Him, I am well pleased."

Thursday night, many of us around the world heard the words "This is my blood of the covenant" as we gathered at the Communion table.  We were reminded yesterday of the word "tetelestai"--"It is finished", and tomorrow we will celebrate, like we do every Lord's Day, "He is Risen, just as He said."  And in all of these things, and in what comes in the Scriptures before and after them, God's Work in covenant helps us to see with greater clarity.  Not sure?  Dig in and study and see if this system of theology doesn't bring you to greater adoration for Christ and His kingdom work. In summary and written better than I could write it:
"The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant."-LBCF 7.1

Grace and Peace as you celebrate the Lord's Day, and His resurrection tomorrow.