The Fundamentals of New Covenant Theology – Part 8: NCT Described (II)

The Fundamentals of New Covenant Theology

Part 8: NCT Described (II)

 

“NCT challenges the theological presuppositions of the one overarching covenant of grace teaching of CT, including its understanding of the “moral law” of God and the nature of the Church.” (Long, New Covenant Theology, NCT Described [http://www.ptsco.org/NCT%20Brochoure%20Text%202013.pdf]) 

 

Explanation:

This blog post will address Covenant Theology’s “one overarching covenant of grace,” while the next two posts will respectively focus upon Covenant Theology’s understandings of the law of God and the people of God – understandings which wholly depend on the theologically-constructed covenant of grace.

Covenant of Grace

Chart created by Zachary S. Maxcey, PTS Blog Administrator©

Covenant Theology, as its name readily suggests, holds the concept of covenant to be the central, unifying theme of God’s Word. Hence, its emphasis on the covenant of grace. Essentially, Covenant Theology understands this covenant to be an over-arching post-fall covenant which God forged with the first Adam and of which all subsequent biblical covenants are outworkings.[1] Moreover, adherents of Covenant Theology equate God’s one overarching redemptive purpose (Eph. 1:10; 3:10-11; 2 Tim. 1:9) with the covenant of grace. In other words, all the explicit biblical covenants (i.e. Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Phinehaic, Davidic, and New) are different expressions or historical administrations of this single, overarching Covenant of Grace.

Proponents of New Covenant Theology respectfully reject Covenant Theology’s over-arching covenant of grace for a variety of reasons. First, New Covenant Theology proclaims that Covenant Theology’s view of the biblical covenants (i.e. that each is a different administration of the one, overarching Covenant of Grace) significantly “flattens” the differences and redemptive-historical distinctions between the biblical covenants. Simply put, the covenant of grace deemphasizes the discontinuity of the biblical covenants, while at the same time overemphasizing the continuity of the biblical covenants. Second, New Covenant Theology asserts that God’s eternal purpose is not to be understood as a covenant (e.g. the over-arching covenant of grace Covenant Theology). Rather, it is an unnecessary theological deduction, since Scripture does not define God’s eternal purpose (Greek: prothesis; Eph. 1:10, 3:10-11; 2 Tim. 1:9) as a covenant (diathēkē). Third, the historically-documented debates between Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Anabaptists (among others) clearly evince that the covenant of grace was theologically constructed to justify the unbiblical practice of infant baptism. Zwingli was among the first of the Reformers to theologically equate New Testament baptism and Old Testament circumcision in a covenantal mold;[2] Heinrich Bullinger further developed this covenantal concept into the so-called covenant of grace. New Covenant Theology readily maintains that infant baptism is the theological Achilles’ heel of Covenant Theology. Furthermore, New Covenant Theology questions why Reformed Baptists (who hold to believer’s baptism, not infant baptism) still zealously cling to a theologically-deduced covenant whose primary purpose was to justify the practice of infant baptism (which it does not).

 

[1]Like the first-generation seventeenth-century English Particular Baptists, proponents of New Covenant Theology identify both the ‘covenant of grace’ as the New Covenant and the Old Covenant as a ‘covenant of works.’ However, unlike these Particular Baptists, many New Covenant Theology advocates still believe that God forged a pre-fall covenant and a post-fall covenant with Adam. However, those New Covenant Theologians who do so refuse to define such covenantal arrangements as do Covenant Theologians.

[2]See William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963; reprint 1975, 1996).

 

5 Comments

  1. Manfred

    I taught on Baptist covenant theology a while back and provided charts to explain the paedo-baptist view and the Baptist view. Message and charts available here: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=8261322081

    1. zmaxcey (Post author)

      Thanks much for the charts. I will definitely check them out.

  2. brandonadams

    Just saw your footnote. I don’t know who specifically you have in mind, but 17th century particular baptists did not deny the pre-fall covenant of works with Adam

    1. zmaxcey (Post author)

      Brandon, it depends which group of 17th century Particular Baptists one is talking about: first-generation or second-generation. Please notice that I stated “the first-generation seventeenth-century English Particular Baptists.” The views of the first-generation 17th century Particular Baptists are clearly exemplified in the 1646 First London Baptist Confession of Faith, while the views of the second-generation Particular Baptists are clearly articulated in the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession. Furthermore, a significant theological shift occurred between these two groups, more so than 1689 Federalists are willing to admit. I say this, because my general impression is that 1689 Federalism assumes complete uniformity between these two iterations of Particular Baptist Theology.

      Some of the first-generation 17th century Particular Baptists did not hold to the pre-fall Covenant of Works with Adam. For example, consider these excerpts from Thomas Patient’s The Doctrine of Baptism, and the Distinction of the Covenants:

      “There are Two Covenants Held Forth in the Scriptures, One of Grace and One of Works. First, I shall make it appear to you that there are two covenants held forth in Scripture, the one a Covenant of Grace, and the other a Covenant of Works. An absolute covenant and a conditional covenant. The Covenant of Circumcision [i.e. Old Covenant] was not a Covenant of Life, but a Covenant of Works. Secondly, I shall prove, that the Covenant of Circumcision was no Covenant of Eternal Life, but a conditional covenant, a Covenant of Works” (Chapter 6).

      “Two Covenants, the One of Works, the Other of Grace, or the One the Old, the Other the New. To the first: there are Two Covenants mentioned in the Scripture. This is very plain. One is a Covenant of Eternal Life, the other is a Covenant of Works in which eternal life was not conveyed or given, as appears in Jeremiah 31:31-34” (Chapter 6).

      “The Old Covenant Vanished Away. That which waxes old is ready to vanish away. He means the old covenant, that typical Covenant of Works, which ran upon the fleshly line of Abraham till Christ came out of the flesh of Abraham and so put an end to that covenant in the flesh. This you have further proved in Heb. 9:15,16. There is again mention made of Two Covenants or Testaments, the first and second” (Chapter 6).

      “Now I come in the next place to prove that the Covenant of Circumcision is no Covenant of Eternal Life, but a typical covenant, yea a Covenant of Works. It is also called by the Lord, a Covenant in the flesh, Gen. 17:13. Therefore, to be sure, it is no Covenant of Eternal Life” (Chapter 7).

      The pre-fall Covenant of Works with Adam is conspicuously absent from Thomas Patient’s description of the Covenants, not to mention the 1644 and 1646 editions of the First London Baptist Confessions of Faith. In fact, the only covenant that Patient mentions with Adam is a post-fall ceremonial covenant of worship. More so, Patient identifies the Covenant of Grace as the New Covenant and the Covenant of Works as the Old Covenant. Most if not all advocates of 1689 Federalism with whom I have interacted, are unwilling to acknowledge the amount of theological discontinuity existing between the 1644/1646 and 1689 Baptist Confessions.

      So, why the theological shift between the first-century and second-century 17th century English Particular Baptists? During the period from 1660 to 1688, the English Particular Baptists and other ‘dissenting’ groups suffered intense persecution at the hands of the English monarchy and Anglican Church. The continual ‘smear’ identification of the English Baptists with the excessively radical wings of Continental Anabaptism (not to mention Socinian Theology & Arminian Theology) by the Crown and state Church of England contributed greatly to the hostile attitude and oppression which assailed the movement during this time. The resulting persecution influenced many Baptists, especially the Particular Baptists, to ally with the Presbyterians and other ‘dissenting groups’ (see B. R. White, The English Baptists, 111). This development explains why the Second London Confession of 1689 (1689 SLBC) aligns much more closely the Westminster Confession of Faith than all versions of the FLBC (Ibid., 119). Lumpkin also describes this development:

      The renewal of persecution brought dissenting groups nearer to one another and especially brought Baptists and Congregationalists nearer to Presbyterians. Defiance of the Conventicle Act [of 1664] by the large Presbyterian party, which had been the dominant ecclesiastical group under the Commonwealth, made enforcement of that Act all but impossible. Observing the success of the Presbyterians, other Dissenters were emboldened. Moreover, it was important that Dissenters form a united front, which might be demonstrated by a show of doctrinal agreement themselves….The Particular Baptists of London and vicinity determined, therefore, to show their agreement with Presbyterians and Congregationalists by making the Westminster Confession the basis of a new confession of their own….[Their] purpose was clearly stated as showing: ‘…our hearty agreement with them (Presbyterians and Congregationalists) in that wholesome protestant doctrine, which, with so clear evidence of Scriptures they have asserted.’ (Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 236)

      In another place, Lumpkin details how the 1689 SLBC differed from the earlier FLBC: “As a matter of fact, there are numerous and marked difference between this Confession [1689 SLBC] and that of 1644. To be sure, certain phrases were taken from the former confession, and there are evidences that other reminiscences from it were included, but, nevertheless, a number of significant and far-reaching changes were made. Among the innovations were treatment of such subjects as the Scriptures, the Sabbath, and marriage” (Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 237) Although not specifically addressed by Lumpkin, the two most profound differences between the FLBC and the SLBC relate to the Law of God and the covenants.

  3. brandonadams

    Thanks for the reply (btw, do I have any comments on other posts stuck in queue?)

    In fact, the only covenant that Patient mentions with Adam is a post-fall ceremonial covenant of worship. More so, Patient identifies the Covenant of Grace as the New Covenant and the Covenant of Works as the Old Covenant. Most if not all advocates of 1689 Federalism with whom I have interacted, are unwilling to acknowledge the amount of theological discontinuity existing between the 1644/1646 and 1689 Baptist Confessions.

    Brother, the second-generation baptists also identified the covenant of grace as the new covenant, and some of them also identified the Mosaic Covenant as the covenant of works (while also acknowledging it’s first institution pre-fall), while the others recognized the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works for life in the land of Canaan. The majority (all but one) rejected Westminster’s “one covenant under multiple covenantal administrations” model and identified the covenant of grace with the new covenant, demonstrating that they were in continuity with what they had previously confessed and were not engaging in a theological shift to be closer to paedobaptists for political reasons. Many modern reformed baptists do not identify the new covenant with the covenant of grace, but the second generation particular baptists did, and that was reflected in their modification of the WCF.

    So, why the theological shift between the first-century and second-century 17th century English Particular Baptists?

    You have not demonstrated a theological shift. There is not an explicit Adamic Covenant of Works mentioned, but that was common for early confessions, from which the 44/46 was adapted. The study of covenant theology was a development during the reformation and the Westminster Confession, as well as the debate that occurred during it and after it, was an important advancement in the discussion. The second-generation baptists were part of that discussion and they agreed with the doctrine of the Adamic Covenant of Works. It is much more of a refinement than any kind of theological shift.

    The resulting persecution influenced many Baptists, especially the Particular Baptists, to ally with the Presbyterians and other ‘dissenting groups’ (see B. R. White, The English Baptists, 111). This development explains why the Second London Confession of 1689 (1689 SLBC) aligns much more closely the Westminster Confession of Faith than all versions of the FLBC (Ibid., 119).

    Brother, I would encourage you to study more of the history. The first generation were just as much under persecution, if not more so. The first confession was specifically written to correct the Anabaptist smear, and it was based upon an older paedobaptist separatist confession. So the first confession is just as guilty as the second of allying themselves with paedobaptist confessions. In chapter 2 of “Recovering a Covenantal Heritage”, James Renihan notes

    when these early Baptists wished to declare their common agreement with the Puritans around them, rather than creating new doctrinal standards, they employed and edited well-known paedobaptist Confessions in order to highlight the many doctrines held in common with the broader Puritan movement….

    The First London Confession (1LCF) is a seminal statement of Particular Baptist faith and practice.4 A product of the political and religious upheavals of early 1640s London, it was an attempt by seven small and relatively new churches to mitigate growing concerns about their doctrines and intentions in the metropolis. Religious toleration was virtually unknown, and rumors abounded that this burgeoning group of illegal congregations held nefarious views similar to the execrated Anabaptists of Münster in northern Germany. Cries for the civil magistrate to take action were sounding forth. The situation was certainly volatile, and the representatives of the churches determined that the best course of action would be an honest declaration of their faith, hoping that this act would convince their concerned opponents of their peaceful orthodoxy. The 1644 edition of the Confession was their first attempt. It was criticized by some leading opponents resulting in a revised edition published in 1646…

    The method used in writing this Confession (and its successor) is important to notice. The document(s) are not de novo5 productions, but rather adaptations of important theological works already extant. The broad framework for the 1LCF is drawn from the 1596 True Confession of an English Separatist church which was gathered in exile in The Netherlands, and probably composed by Henry Ainsworth. This was supplemented by many excerpts from The Marrow of Divinity, an important theological work penned by the leading theologian of the exiles and separatists (and well- respected by non-separating Puritans as well), William Ames, and significant quotations from the 1603 document The Points of Difference probably co-authored by Ainsworth, and some other sources…

    Especially important to note is that paragraph xii (as well as much of the following material) is not present in the 1596 True Confession, but actually is drawn directly from William Ames’ The Marrow of Sacred Divinity.16 The Baptists were not afraid to adopt the covenant theology of the most mainstream of Puritan theologians in their common Confession.

    I would encourage you to read the chapter, and the whole book. The idea that 1689 Federalism was simply the result of persecution, and not a further development and refinement of the same covenant theology found in 1644/46 is unfounded.

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