I’ve been discussing the Prog Covenantal/NCT Hermeneutic with my cousin recently. He is a pretty staunch Wesleyan/Arminian in his soteriology (I’m staunchly Calvinistic) and I am wondering what specifically it is about the NCT hermeneutic that is inconsistent with his soteriological position?? Just so I have an answer for him
Breton, thank you for the question. In short, I think that it is possible for one to be an Arminian and hold to the core tenets of New Covenant Theology (see http://www.ptstn.org/nct.html). That being said, I am a Calvinist, and most advocates of NCT whom I personally know are as well. Furthermore, NCT has predominantly emerged from within Reformed circles, but there may already be or eventually be an Arminian branch of NCT. Perhaps the tenet (from the link above), where there would be the most significant difference of opinion would be ‘Distinctive 1 – The Plan of God’’ with regards to how one understands God’s redemption being implemented, how the salvation of God’s elect is secured & applied to the elect. This distinctive defines the plan of God in the following manner: “one plan of redemption, centered in Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10; 2 Cor. 1:20; Col. 1:18), implemented according to God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 1:11; 3:11; 2 Tim. 1:9), and securing the salvation of God’s elect (Rom. 8:28-32).” Has a specific objection been brought you regard this?
Now, NCT has at times been questioned for implying or openly teaching that salvation was not identical for believers in the Old and New Testament eras. For example, Bill Barrick from The Master’s Seminary writes: “NCT holds that the Israelites redeemed from Egypt were physically redeemed, but not spiritually redeemed because the Mosaic Covenant was based on works. This leads to the strange position that OT saints were not saved until after the death and resurrection of Christ.” Barrick’s analysis errs in that he does not fully grasp what NCT teaches regarding the nature of the Mosaic Covenant and the nation of Israel. Hence, he concludes that NCT promotes the view that salvation was not the same for Old and New Testament believers.
NCT, however, unashamedly teaches that Old Testament saints were saved in the exact same manner as New Testament saints: by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Gary D. Long writes: “Paul, like Abraham, had believed the gospel, and God had accounted their faith for righteousness. The way of salvation was the same in both the Old and New Testaments: justification by faith alone. God had declared them righteous by faith that it might be by grace (Rom. 4:16). That is why Paul gloried in the cross of Christ (6:14).” In fact, NCT wholeheartedly agrees with Barrick’s own statement regarding salvation: “…OT and NT believers are all saved by the same grace through the same faith in the same Savior and His atoning work. OT saints looked forward to Christ’s atoning work and the NT saint looks back on it – but it is still forgiveness of sins and eternal life as the outcome, based upon the work of Christ.” NCT emphatically declares that all saints throughout history are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Regarding the Mosaic Covenant, NCT teaches the Old Covenant was a conditional (Exod. 19:5-6) treaty which God established with the ethnic descendants of Jacob at Mount Sinai – a covenant which formed the nation of Israel as a geopolitical entity, the sign of which was the Sabbath (Exod. 31:15-17), which was temporary in terms of its purpose and duration (Heb. 8:7-13), and which was superseded by the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-33). On what grounds was the Old Covenant conditional? Exodus 19:5-6 declares: “Now therefore, if ye will obey My Voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine: and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” Notice the very clear cause and effect relationship in God’s declaration to the people of Israel: if they will obey Him and keep His covenant, then they will be His very own possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. Thus, the Old Covenant set national Israel apart from all other nations as God’s special covenant people (cf. Eph. 2:11-16) on the condition of Israel’s obedience.
Did Israel fulfill her covenantal obligations? No, she did not. While Moses was atop Mt. Sinai with God, the Israelites fashioned a golden calf and worshipped it saying, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (Exod. 32:8). When Moses descended the mountain and witnessed this harlotry with his own eyes, he smashed the first set of the Ten Commandments, symbolizing Israel’s breach of the covenant (Exod. 32:19). After destroying the calf of gold (Exod. 32:20), he gathered the Levites who went through the camp slaying “about three thousand men” (Exod. 32:28). Sadly, such harlotry largely defines Israel’s history as God’s special covenant people. In Jeremiah 31:32, Yahweh through the prophet Jeremiah described the Old Covenant as “the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them.” Although God punished Israel whenever the nation broke covenant with Him, He would always raise up members of Israel’s elect remnant to renew the covenant until the time He saw fit to terminate it.
Under the Old Covenant, Israel was a mixed multitude. While there always existed a believing remnant in the nation of Israel (Rom. 11:5), the vast majority of Israelites were unbelievers. Consider Jeremiah 9:26b: “all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart” (cf. Rom. 9:6). Other Scripture passages which evince this fact are Hebrews 3:15-19, 1 Corinthians 10:1-10, Isaiah 1:9; Romans 9:29, etc. Unlike the New Covenant, the Old Covenant did not guarantee to its members the internal work of the Spirit. In other words, membership in the Old Covenant community in no way indicated that an Israelite was spiritually redeemed and empowered by the Spirit to keep the Torah, live righteously, and please God. It is precisely for this reason that the Apostle Paul describes the Old Covenant as a “ministry of death” (2 Cor. 3:7) and “condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:9). The internal working of the Spirit was only experienced by a small remnant of the OC community to whom God freely and sovereignly chose to extend it in order to fulfill the spiritual promises made to Abraham. That being said, those individual Israelites who were recipients of God’s sovereign grace in the Old Testament era experienced salvation immediately upon the exercise of Spirit-wrought faith.
Barrick, “New Covenant Theology and the Old Testament Covenants,” 165.
Gary D. Long, “The Grace of God and Departures from It,” PTSJ 1.2 (Feb 2015): 9.
Barrick, “New Covenant Theology and the Old Testament Covenants,” 177.