Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Three Forms of Covenant Theology

Over the past twenty years, thousands of young Christians have been leaving behind the Dispensational and Arminian theologies of their parents. This is a good thing in my opinion. I think the Dispensational ideas have been hurtful to Christianity. But with the many young men and women of my generation leaving Dispensationalism, the question is, "where are they going?"

Most young Christians, the Young, Restless, and Reformed, and many other young people, are heading into the Reformed school of thought. This is a good thing. But as they enter they are usually unaware of what "Reformed" actually  means. Some think that holding to Calvinism makes one "Reformed."  Some think that holding to the "5 Solas" makes on Reformed. Those things, and others, are important aspects of Reformed Theology, but they do not form the basis of Reformed Theology. And at it's core, "Reformed" means that one holds to one of the Confessions which underpin Covenant Theology, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith (for Presbyterians) or the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (for Baptists).

However, what many don't realize is that there are 3 forms of Covenant Theology?
There is actually a Covenant Theology for Presbyterians, a different form of CT for Baptists, and a third, which is a mix of the Presbyterian and Baptist forms.

1. Westminster Covenant Theology
2. 1689 Federalism
3. A freakish blend of 1 and 2. It is sometimes referred to as 20th century Baptist Covenant Theology.

In the video below I'll try to adequately describe all of the views for you, so that you can begin to understand what being Reformed is and why the difference between Presbyterians and Baptists has nothing to do with Baptism, but everything to do with the way they view the Mosiac Covenant vs. the New Covenant. (The Abrahamic Covenant is of great importance as well, but I'll save that for another day)


I seek to study well and confirm all positions before I speak about one. I want to bring correct and unbiased views when I present information. However, every time I put forth someone's theological position, they respond by saying, "that's not a correct representation of the position."  Additionally, within each view there are sub-groups which may vary on various aspects. So for the record, I'm posting links so that each position may be able to speak for itself.

The major points that I'm trying to get across are

1. Presbyterianism =  One Covenant of Grace with Two administrations (the Mosaic vs. the New)
2. 20th Century RB = One Covenant of Grace with two administrations (with the exception of infant baptism)
3. 1689 Federalism = Two distinct covenants (Mosaic and New; the New being the Covenant of Grace)

The first link connects to the Westminster Confession which posits that there is only one covenant and two administrations.

The second link is from the blog of Brandon Adams who is a scholar and a man of understanding who specializes in 1689 Federalism (as well as all other Reformed topics), and is more than adequate and qualified to communicate what 1689 Federalism (this Historical Baptist view) teaches. Clearly, the 1689 view rejects the Presbyterian view and sees two completely different covenants.

The third link is again from Brandon Adams who contrasts the 1689 Baptist view with the 20 Century Baptist view.

The forth link is posted at Brandon Adam's blog but is an argument from Sam Renihan against the 20 Century view and for the Historic 1689 view.

For more information, is a great source.

Link 1: The Westminster/Presbyterian view posits one covenant and two administrations (paragraph 5 and 6)

Link 2: The 1689 Reformed Baptist View rejects the Presbyterian view of one covenant of Grace with with two administrations

Link 3: The most popular view of the 20th century is the freakish blend of view 1 and 2.

Link 4: A 1689 Federalist seeks to correct a 20th Century Baptist View of Covenant Theology


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I had never heard of the 20th century Baptist view until earlier today. It ain't a Baptist view at all!

  3. Good stuff. Thanks! I might have misunderstood about 1689 Federalism: but it sounded like are you saying that they reject BOTH the tripartite division of the law AND 1 covenant / 2 administrations?

    1. 1689 Federalism will be discussed more in depth in part 2 of this series which should post tomorrow some time.

      1689 confirms that all of the Mosaic law has passed away, but they return to the Decalogue, and bring it into the New Covenant, and they also affirm the tripartite division in the Mosaic law. Be sure to watch part 2 when it gets released tomorrow.

  4. I made a comment the other day, but it looks like it didn't make it through. Just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to try to understand and accurately represent these views. I think the video is a helpful simple introduction.

    A couple brief notes.

    1) Not all Presbyterians believe a covenant was made in Genesis 3:15. See Berkhof, for example.

    2) There are more than 3 forms of covenant theology. Just as you see some different variations among baptists, there are different variations amongst paedobaptists. Historically, the subservient covenant view was held by those who rejected Westminster's formulation. Today, those following Meredith Kline have basically adopted the subservient covenant view (the idea that the Mosaic covenant is not the covenant of grace). It is currently being debated with the OPC GA to determine if it is a tolerable view (it is contrary to WCF).

    3) Note that link #3 is to a blog search, not to a particular post.

    Thanks again for studying the view. I look forward to discussing it more with you, Lord willing.