New Covenant Theology & 1689 Federalism (Part 1 – Introduction)

New Covenant Theology (NCT) has principally emerged, historically speaking, from the theological confines of Covenant Theology (CT). In fact, this is the assessment of Michael Vlach, a Dispensational theologian: “NCT appears primarily to be a movement away from CT.”[1] Vlach concludes this for two chief reasons: (1) “New Covenant theologians…have devoted most of their attention so far to explaining and defending their system in contrast to CT” and (2) “…some of the key theologians of NCT received their theological training within an environment of CT.”[2] In brief, Vlach’s assessment is both fair and generally accurate.[3] As one would expect, there exists a great deal of common theological ground between NCT and CT – especially its baptistic branch, 1689 Federalism. For example, there is significant agreement in such areas as the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the interpretive priority of the New Testament Scriptures, the Protestant Solas, God’s absolute sovereignty in all things, the Doctrines of Grace, the Church being composed of believers, believer’s baptism, the centrality of preaching, church polity, and eschatology. That being said, there are also significant, though non-essential, differences between these two theological systems. Richard Barcellos, an advocate of 1689 Federalism, aptly writes:

…the issue of the Sabbath is not the only thing upon which we differ. New Covenant Theology adherents often tout this as the only difference between us….though we differ on the Sabbath, our differences cut much deeper than this subject alone. Those differences are exegetical, theological, and historical. It is improper, therefore, for those on either side of this issue to claim that the Sabbath is the only issue dividing us.[4]

Such differences would generally include: 1689’s covenantal superstructure (i.e., pactum salutis, foederus operum, foederus gratiae), the Sabbath, the tripartite division of the Mosaic Law, the Ten Commandments as moral law, defining the Law of Christ, the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit, water baptism as the sign of the New Covenant, and understanding the relationship between the first and second generation seventeenth-century English Particular Baptists (as well as their confessions of faith). The purpose of this blog series is twofold: (1) to emphasize the vast theological common ground between NCT and 1689 Federalism, and (2) to clearly and fairly articulate the differences between these two systems.


[1]Michael J. Vlach, “New Covenant Theology Compared with Covenantalism,” TMSJ 18/1 (Fall 2007): 202.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Although NCT is primarily a movement away from CT, many NCT proponents, such as this author, have emerged from a predominantly Dispensational background.

[4]Richard Barcellos, “Book Review of New Covenant Theology,” Cited in Appendix A, A Reformed Baptist Manifesto: the New Covenant Constitution of the Church (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2004), 102.

Leave a Comment