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What is New Covenant Theology? (Part 2)

As I mentioned in my first post, the Bible is like a jigsaw puzzle. Theological systems are attempts to put the pieces of the Bible together. How well you do this will determine how clearly you see the grand mosaic of Scripture. And that’s why I love New Covenant Theology.

I believe New Covenant Theology best puts the pieces of the puzzle together. So over the next several posts we will be looking at seven distinctives of this theological system suggested by Blake White. But before we jump into these distinctive, we first need to get a lay of the land. And to do this, I want to give you a brief introduction to the other two major theological systems: Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology.

For this post we’ll start with Covenant Theology (CT). Though every view has variations, CT typically views the Bible as consisting of three overarching covenants:

1. The Covenant of Redemption. This is the covenant made in eternity past between the members of the Trinity. It is basically an agreement to work together to redeem fallen humanity: the Father in sending the Son, the Son in taking on flesh and dying for the sins of the elect, and the Holy Spirit in empowering the Son to accomplish his mission and applying the benefits of his death to the elect.

2. The Covenant of Works. This covenant is made in the garden between God and Adam, who stood as the representative for all mankind. It promised life for obedience and death for disobedience. Adam, and all mankind in him, broke this covenant when Adam sinned and came under it’s curse. This covenant is still in effect, the substance of which is found in the moral law i.e. the Ten Commandments.

3. The Covenant of Grace. Immediately after Adam’s fall, God promises to raise up a descendant of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15). This promise is viewed as the historical inauguration of the Covenant of Grace. All subsequent covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants) are viewed as differening administrations of this same gracious covenant, which culminates in the sacrificial death of the Better Adam, Jesus Christ. Viewing the Bible this way leads CT to stress the unity of the Bible across the covenants. Here are some examples:

  • CT argues that both Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church are mixed (regenerate/unregenerate).
  • CT replaces infant circumcision with infant baptism as the new sign of entrance into God’s covenant people.
  • CT views the Ten Commandments are the eternal moral law of God.

Opponents of CT often criticize it for using non-scriptural language. After all, none of these three covenants are mentioned explicitly in the Bible. But it is important to remember that CT views these covenants as “theological formulations.” This simply means that CT is trying to take the vast data of Scripture and synthesize it. Thus they might use non-biblical terms in order to better explain the whole of biblical revelation. One example of this is the way theologians use a trinitarian formulation, including non-biblical words, to better explain the scriptural data affirming one God in three Persons.

 What do you find helpful/non-helpful about Covenant Theology?

Comments(7)

  1. Reply
    Todd Morikawa says

    Hey Brother! I would love to hear how you are able to distinguish between NCT and CT, as I find myself going in and out of both over time. It’s still hard for me to see NCT as a true middle ground, as it feels almost 90% CT. Am I way off?
    For starters, haven’t there always been Baptistic thinkers since the Reformation, which would make your first and second bullet points under “Covenant of Grace” not fully accurate?
    Enjoying your blogs. Blessings!

  2. Reply
    Andy Barlow says

    Todd, great to hear from you. And thanks for interacting with this post. I am by no means an expert on these issues, so maybe we can help each other out.

    To your first point, NCT probably feels much closer to CT when compared to classic dispensationalism. But I think it does fit nicely between CT and the latest forms of progressive dispensationalism. But I’m not sure what percentage that would be on a scale?!

    To your second point, those bullet points probably should have said that CT tends toward those views. There have been many Baptists since the Reformation (e.g. 2nd London Confession) that ascribed to CT. However, if you read the chapter on confessor baptism in Schreiner/Wright’s book, you’ll see that CT, as we know it today, was invented to find a way to uphold infant baptism without affirming baptismal regeneration. So historically this system was built around viewing the covenant community as mixed. My bullet points weren’t fully accurate in that, there have always been baptists since the Reformation that held to CT. But I believe they were accurate in that CT, at it’s core, was formulated to uphold an anti-baptist theology.

    I think those baptists who first ascribed to CT were attracted to it b/c it is deeply Calvinistic and affirms that God has one gracious plan in Christ. These are good instincts. But I don’t think one should adopt the whole system because of them.

    What parts of CT / NCT do you go back and forth on?

    • Reply
      Todd Morikawa says

      Touche` on the percentage thing! As well as your assessment of classic DT vs. Progressive.

      And I think you hit on the obvious reasons for my struggle with CT, namely, all-things Baptist ecclesiology. Nowadays, I hold tightly to a covenant of redemption– I sort of just can’t not see it anymore (as any Calvinist would have to see something of that nature). I don’t think any CTer would disagree with me, but I would state explcitly that a covenant of works and grace would simply be the working out of the one covenant of redemption. So rather than three over-arching covenants, it’s one (maybe that makes me NCT, I don’t know, but the thing is I really do think there is the teaching of a covenant with Adam– of works– and a covenant with a second Adam– also of works, but that means grace for the elect). I see Jesus as the Sabbath. I see the Lord’s Day as the Lord’s Day. I don’t like the invisible vs. visible church distinction that most Reformed Baptists seem to hold to. I think Jesus built the church to whittle away that distinction (why church discipline is so vital).

      Concerning NCT, perhaps the best way to summarize my critique is simply that it does not feel like they give enough credit to CT. I say, as some have already started saying, just call it Progressive Covenantalism. As I read your seven statements summarizing NCT, my first thoughts were that only 3, 4, and 5 I might have questions about. I think I could say all seven, just depending on definitions. And maybe I’m all confused because I see myself as Reformed Baptist, and am thinking that all Reformed Baptists would have had to have held to so many of these things the last 400 years, while all would have called themselves Covenant theologians. So, would you say that, based on CT roots, that you would look back at most Reformed Baptists and simply classify them more as NCT? Feel free to push back on anything.
      glad for this forum to connect again

      • Reply
        Andy Barlow says

        First, I think you are probably more accurate when you speak of one overarching covenant (Cov. of Red) with the Cov of Works and Cov of grace being the historical outworking of the Cov. of Red.

        Second, it seems to me (I may be wrong) that you end up doctrinally where NCT ends up (one plan of God, Law fulfilled and transformed in Christ, Christ as the true Israel [and all in Christ as true Israel], fully baptist ecclesiology, etc). I think the clearest dividing line is in terms of what you do with the Law. Baptists who hold to CT view the 10 commandments as eternally binding, and hence are Sabbatarians. They do with the Sabbath (and Law) what Presbyterians do with circumcision. B/c they hold to the fundamental unity of the Covenant of grace, they carry over old covenant practices in a one to one fashion into the new covenant. The outer shell might change (sabbath on sunday, baptism replaces circumcision), but both camps fundamentally miss the typological nature of these OT institutions. And I would argue that it is a result of impressing the wrong grid (covenant of grace) upon scripture, and then reading everything in light of that grid. The covenant of grace is good in that it affirms that God has one plan to save a people by grace. But it is bad b/c it too often blunts the distinctions between the actual covenants of Scripture.

        Third, I agree that progressive covenantalism is probably a better term. But NCT works as well b/c their fundamental premise is that both CT and DT have failed to fully understand the New Covenant.

        Fourth, you’re right that CT and NCT have a lot of similarities. I’m not sure if I am qualified to answer your last question. I think that Baptists have been divided on these issues since their inception. NCTers claim the 1st London Confession and CTers claim the 2nd London Confession. Interestingly, if you read the 2nd London Confession, it’s often almost verbatim of the Westminster Confession.

        Thanks for the interaction. Keep it coming. I’m learning a lot, and your questions/incites force me to keep thinking carefully. Thanks, bro.

  3. Reply
    Jeremy Statton says

    Great job with your blog. The design is very good, easy to read and easy to navigate. It looks like a professional job, although you look like a nerd in glasses. : )

  4. Reply
    Andy Barlow says

    Thanks. I’m going for a nerdy/grungy look. At least I got the nerd part right. I have tons of questions. I’d love to sit down sometime and get tips from the blog ninja i.e. Jeremy Statton!

    • Reply
      ZMOW5G8Fdph says

      I’ve read Genesis few times but some how I’ve never remember that the robniaw was sign of the covenant between God and us. When I see a robniaw, it will have different meaning. Just couple of month ago, when I was driving to work, I actually saw a beautiful double robniaw. May be it was meant for me to remember the convenant, twice as much. Also, Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed not quite eye for an eye but I believe when God talks about blood , I don’t think He is talking about death but be kind to each other. God’s love for us is very evident in todays SWIM, Never again will all life be cut off by waters of a flood , I feel this way when I have to discipline or punish my children. Although, they deserved it, I feel hurt inside as I am giving them punishment, and once it has been done, I have same thought, like I never want to punish them again. Just like our children, we continue to mis-behave but God will always love us, even when He is punishing us.

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