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