Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Forms of Covenant Theology Part 2: 1689 Federalism and New Covenant Theology

Last time we examined the 3 major forms of Covenant Theology. This week we will examine a new form of Covenant Theology called New Covenant Theology. This form is very close in almost every aspect to 1689 Federalism. However, there are some important differences.

I was contacted by a few individuals who were unsure how they differed after watching part 1 of this series. In this video I explain the two major differences between the systems. One difference concerning a covenant in the Garden of Eden, and the other difference concerning the nature of the Decalogue.

I hope you are edified and encouraged. I don't use any quotes from New Covenant Theologians in this presentation since I'll be covering what they believe in more detail in Part 3 of this series.


  1. Brother, I have to say, I think the previous lecture did a better job of accurately representing the issues (perhaps because you held to neither?).

    1) It is true that some NCT hold to *a* covenant in the garden. But none of them hold to a covenant of *works* in the garden. None of them believe that Adam could have earned eternal rest (a higher state than he was created in) through his obedience to the law. So this does, in fact, remain an important point of disagreement. It greatly affects how one views the law throughout the rest of Scripture, thus it can't be dismissed as irrelevant. Pointing to Barcellos' table of contents is quite misleading. It's called "Getting the Garden Right" for a reason: the doctrine of the Sabbath depends on a particular view of the Garden and the covenant of works. Yes, the rubber hits the road in the 4th commandment, but the disagreement starts back in Genesis.

    2) It is not the case that NCT and 1689 Federalism agree on everything other than the Decalogue. NCT rejects not just the Adamic Covenant of Works, but also the Covenant of Grace. They deny that all men throughout history have been saved by the Covenant of Grace (which 1689 Federalism argues is the same thing as the New Covenant). This leads to significant differences in soteriology, namely union with Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as well as one's understanding of the church (did it start at Pentecost, or was Abraham part of the body of Christ when he was saved?).

    3) Regretfully, I'm not looking forward to the debate. It looks like you will be a respectful, able representative of NCT who will endeavor to properly understand and debate the subject. I'm not certain Hall will be the best representative of the position. We will see.

    Thank you for the opportunity to discuss.

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  3. Brandon, thank you for your comment. I agree with your first point and you'll note that in the lecture, I pointed out that NCT disagrees with some of the characteristics of the covenant in the garden. But this is insignificant, as I also showed in the lecture that Barcellos' book on the Garden did not spend much time on the garden, but on the Sabbath. But again, I agree with your first point that there are differences in discussing the nature of the covenant in the garden.

    2. You're second point could not be more wrong. NCT affirms that the Covenant of Grace is the New Covenant and all men are saved by the merits of the NC. There is no disagreement on that between 1689 Fed and NCT.

    3. You SHOULD be interested in the debate.

    God bless.

  4. Brother, I find it a bit strange for you to draw such significant conclusions just from viewing the table of contents of a book. As someone who is familiar with the content of the book, I can assure you that the garden plays a central part of the book/argument (which is called "Getting the Garden Right" not "Getting the Sabbath Right"). The fact that you are so easily dismissing the significant differences between 1689 Fed and NCT on the Adamic Covenant reveals that you're not quite grasping some of the central issues involved in the disagreement. I would encourage you to study the issue more. Perhaps read Barcellos' "The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis" which is a shorter book that contains some of the material that will be found in the not yet published GTGR. It makes a big difference in how "the law" is interpreted in NT epistles.

    2. Can you please show me a source? All the sources I have seen argue against it. See: (page 18, question 3)
    "Admittedly, 1689 Federalism’s view of the foederus gratiae is much closer to NCT than that of Westminster Federalism. That being said, substantial differences remain between 1689 Federalism and NCT on this particular point. Modern 1689 Federalists both identify the foederus gratiae as the New Covenant and teach that the foederus gratiae was revealed to Adam in the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15. In contradistinction, all forms of NCT do not identify the New Covenant as the foederus gratiae... NCT maintains that 1689 Federalism’s understanding of the foederus gratiae still flattens the redemptive-historical distinctions of the biblical covenants, though considerably less than Westminster Federalism. For example, 1689 Federalism teaches that all Old Testament saints received the indwelling Holy Spirit prior to Pentecost, a teaching which runs counter to such texts as John 7:38-39; 14:16-17; Luke 24:49; and Acts 1:4-5,8. By identifying the protoevangelium of Gen. 3:15 as the
    foederus gratiae which in substance is the New Covenant, 1689 Federalists apply the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a promise unique to the New Covenant age, to the Old Testament saints before Pentecost. Thus, the redemptive-historical distinctions of the biblical covenants are ‘flattened’."

    3. I'm interested in worthwhile discussion of the issue. I am not necessarily looking forward to this particular debate.

    Thank you again for the chance to discuss this.

    In Christ,

    1. It's ok. I don't mind if you find it strange that I draw significant conclusions from the table of contents. You can't judge a book by it's cover, but sometimes you can make a valid judgment based on the ToC. Even Tom Ascol just today said that the difference between NCT and 1689 Fed comes down to the Sabbath; and he's the publisher of "Getting the Garden Wrong." If I'm wrong for saying that the only significant difference between NCT and 1689 is the Sabbath, then you'll have to say the same about Ascol.

      You say that I'm "dismissing the significant differences between NCT and 1689 Fed" and that's fine. I'm willing to be educated. Please tell me what these significant differences are.

      2. I'd love to show you a source. The 1st London Baptist Confession which many NCT authors, churches, and pastors use as their confession.

      Chapter 10, "Jesus Christ is made the mediator of the new and everlasting covenant of grace between God and man, ever to be perfectly and fully the prophet, priest, and king of the Church of God for evermore."

      However, if you're waiting for NCTers to use the term "covenant of grace" don't hold your breath. NCTers do not like to replace Biblical terminology. For example, if Scripture uses the term New Covenant, we're going to stick with the term that the Holy Spirit inspired. We don't think it wise to change the terminology that God ordained. Why not just call it the "New Covenant"? But if you press a NCTer to use the term, he will readily confess that the Covenant of Grace is the New Covenant, same as 1689 Fed.

      As Dr. Wellum has said in "Kingdom Through Covenants"

      "I'd like us to put a moratorium on the term 'covenant of grace' and use the Bible's terms." You see? It's not the existence of the Covenant of Grace that is disputed, but it's the term itself. "Let's stick to the language that God used" is the NCT cry.

      Did you just confess that 1689 Fed teaches things that "run counter to Scripture"? Perhaps you'd like to rephrase?

      As far as whether or not the OT saints were filled with the Spirit, there are those in 1689 Fed who are on both sides of the fence. Equally, in NCT there are those who are on both sides. That issue is not a defining issue and since there are individuals in both camps which hold to both views, it cannot be used as a distinguishing mark.

      3. You of course recognize that if the Sabbath can be disproven, then the whole of Reformed Theology falls to the ground. As Phillip Ross has said,

      let me say that biblical law, with its Sabbath, is no easily dispensable part of the Reformed doctrinal infrastructure. . . . Attempts at performing a precision strike on the Sabbath produce an embarrassing amount of unintended damage. Strike out the Sabbath and you also shatter the entire category of moral law and all that depends on it."

      and again,

      "the concept of ever-binding moral law defined as the Ten Commandments is so foundational to the theology of the Westminster Confession that the whole structure depends on it. Foundational supports may be pulled out and everything sit in precarious suspense for a time, but as soon as someone moves or the structure faces stress—‘KerPlunk’—the church loses her marbles.

      This structural risk does not apply exclusively to Westminster theology, but to Reformed theology in general."

      You see? The primary difference is in the view of the Decalogue, just as I showed in the lecture. And the Decalogue falls at the point of the 4th commandment. Thus, the core issue is the 4th commandment.

      Surely, you're interested in the arguments? I tell you what, when I finish my book, I'll send you a copy. How's that?

  5. 1) You have misunderstood Ascol's statement.

    2) I provided you with references to NCT authorities specifically rejecting 1689 Federalism's doctrine of the Covenant of Grace and you responded with a quote from a 1689 Federalism document. That's not helpful. The disagreement is not a matter of labels/words but of doctrine. "if you press a NCTer to use the term, he will readily confess that the Covenant of Grace is the New Covenant, same as 1689 Fed." I have done so and they have insisted that there is disagreement. Did you not read the quote I provided? Or do you reject that NCT journal article's view? The fact that you think it's just a matter of labels/words demonstrate, yet again, that you're not grasping the issues involved.

    "Did you just confess that 1689 Fed teaches things that "run counter to Scripture"? Perhaps you'd like to rephrase?" Sorry, I don't know what you are referring to.

    "As far as whether or not the OT saints were filled with the Spirit, there are those in 1689 Fed who are on both sides of the fence."

    No, there are not. 2 LBCF 8.6, 10.2, 11.4, 11.6, 13.1, 14.1. If someone denies that, they do not hold to 1689 Federalism. (That's the benefit of having a confession to point to)

    3) Yes, please do send me a copy and I will post a review and hopefully we can interact.

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