Ramifications of the Folly of Covenantal Theology

The conflation of the two Covenant regimes of ‘law’ confuses the Christian himself/herself. And how could it not be so? If the underlying ethos and emphasis of the Mosaic Code is justice and the law of Christ is graciousness; the nature of their respective forms of holiness will differ. The admixture is akin to plowing with an ox and a donkey yoked together. 1 Each ethos and emphasis has its own tangential proclivities, pulling away from the other. Those conceiving of Christ’s ruminations as adjuncts to the Mosaic code; to conceive His admonitions in the tinted light of the Old Covenant justice; will underestimate the extent of graciousness, we are called to live by. (“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called.”2)

Cursory observation of the different faith traditions writings and behaviours gives confirmation that while the Dispensationalist is prone to promote grace and graciousness at the expense of justice, the Reformed and orthodox Protestant tradition becomes hooked on justice at the expense of grace/graciousness. The tendency and danger of the former is toward antinomianism and lawlessness; of theological innovations without Scriptural warrant which lead to ethical travesties. The shameless and irksome rush to forgive the rapist and murderer of their children before the parents have given due consideration of their child’s and their own loss, the evil and the injustice, is one manifestation of this unsound form of graciousness.

The tendency and danger of the latter is toward high Pharisaic moralism and legalism; of dutiful observance of the “Christian Sabbath” and tithing, which clean and plain rendering of New Testament does not give warrant; of a tendency towards de facto hierarchical marriage and disciplinarian child rearing; of disingenuous dismissal and override of Scriptural injunctions concerning liberty of conscience and of civic impositions of Biblical law. The historical reputation of dour and anal-retentive Calvinists is not entirely without warrant; although those who were most enlivened and zealous in the Reformed tradition are far less sourpussed than their lessers. However, that dynamic validates the contention. That is; lesser minds and less lively hearts within those traditions will be prone to stultifying legalism and anal-retentive moralism. It is built into the emphasis.

Cursory observation also perceives a historical Dispensationalist propensity to ‘otherworldly’ and Separatist unconcern for the particulars of sociopolitical affairs; at least, until that unconcern allowed their adversaries to threaten their very ability to remain Separatist. Or to perceive that the only legitimate form of morality is private morality. Having denigrated and ignored the counsel contained in the Mosaic Law, but more so in the Prophets, this emphasis on private morality forms of sociopolitical governance lends major private actors to oppress the weak and defenseless and to promote a ruthless and heartless law of the jungle within a rotting hulk of a civilized framework. However, the call to peace must include social peace as well a private peace. And extreme disparities in wealth have overwhelmingly demonstrated historically to lead to civil conflagration. And Scriptures and history demonstrate, though counterintuitive to human belief, that civil conflagration has not been conducive to the purity and spread of the Gospel (i.e. Thirty Years War, American Revolution).

On the other hand, those conceiving of Christ’s ruminations as adjuncts to the Mosaic code; to conceive His counsels in the tinted light of the Old Covenant social justice and forms; have been prone to subscribe to varying degrees of theonomy; of imposition of Biblical norms on an unwilling populace. The problem in this day and age is that because of the major error that a moral law of God, innately inscribed on the hearts of men exists; these theonomic pretensions are abhorrent to the unbeliever.

Contrary to prevailing belief and longstanding theological assumptions; the Biblical norms, desired by Christendom to impose, are incomprehensible to large sections of society. It is not a matter of suppression of Law, which the unbeliever knows innately or thoroughly, through natural revelation. Although suppression of that which an unbeliever knows is scripturally, rationally and empirically valid; that which an unbeliever knows of the natural rhythms of existence is only partial and limited. Not all has been inscribed in the heart. Therefore, what evils that the unbeliever does, will have some basis in ignorance for some as well as some basis of suppression of knowledge in others. This is even true of regenerated Christians!

In clean and plain rendering of the New Covenant to which the converted are called, there is little in the way of sociopolitical advocacy or in promoting private and social virtues through sociopolitical means enjoined by New Testament Scriptures. A call to peace, which must include social peace as well a private peace, is encouraged. Prayer for the welfare and wisdom of sovereigns is another enjoinment. And if one takes 2nd James discourse to heart, those who pray for the welfare of others must be willing to be the conduit by which such is achieved.3 However, if the New Covenant becomes adjunct to the Old; the theonomic pretensions become manifest; although there is neither warrant by Christ, nor by Apostles nor the first three centuries of Christian history.

Endnotes:

  1. Deuteronomy 22:10. Also 2 Corinthians 6:14
  2. 1 Peter 3:9
  3. James 2:14-16
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3 thoughts on “Ramifications of the Folly of Covenantal Theology”

  1. Wow, another over-educated but well-spoken semi-Pelagian antinomian heretic. Sir, in light of relativistic chaos of post-modernism you would do well for yourself (and perhaps for others) to re-examine the basic tenets of Reformed Theology before you write drivel of which you know little. It would help much if you first prayed for a regenerate heart with which to gain “ears to hear, and eyes to see.”

  2. My dear Greg Wolak:

    I am not sure how to respond to this aspersion. However, even as one purported to have an unregenerate heart, I know enough to trust the counsel of God not to “render evil for evil, or railing for railing”. If you have an issue with an article, a calm and respectful critique is Biblically called for. (“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” 1 Peter 3:15). What you provided is just Goebbelesque labeling without substantiation.

    The bemusing fact lies in your first line. “Wow, another over-educated but well-spoken semi-Pelagian antinomian heretic.” I really take the greatest exception to your slander about being over-educated. Presuming that it means credentialed in some way, that is provably not true. That which I know comes out of long spiritual gauntlet of which John Bunyan was greatly acquainted (Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners).

    I was not aware that there is such a thing as a semi-Pelagian who actually subscribes to the framework of the Sovereignty of God (which is more than just the Canons of Dordt or that reductionist creed called TULIP). You will have to inform me how semi-Pelagianism and Calvinism can be reconciled. John Owen would very much understand me; who also stated that TULIP should only act as a pedagogic entry into understanding that Sovereign framework. If you had bothered to read a few more blog entries, you might come across https://entsoltech.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/the-problem-with-t-u-l-i-p/ in which my complaint about TULIP is that it does not go far enough.

    As to being an antinomian, I am fully acquainted with historical Covenant theology of the WCF variety. I just happen to be a New Covenant Theologian; much like Paul Washer, John Piper, Mark Driscoll and pretty much most of the “New Calvinists”. It is not that the New Testament doesn’t have principles to be faithfully abided out of faith in the counsel of God in Christ. It is that the ethics and ethos of God cannot be contained only in the fingers and toes of rules and regulations. It is greater than that. New Testament adages are far more demanding than the Mosaic Law. And they are written, or perhaps scarred would be better characterization, on the heart rather than on tablets of stone.

    One of the primary beefs with historical Covenantal theology is that a covenant, by definition, scripturally and otherwise, cannot be changed unless there is an amending formula within the covenant. The Mosaic Covenant does not have an amending formula. Contracts/covenants are voided when they are changed in the absence of an amending formula. Christ Himself condemned attempts by the Pharisees (Matthew 15, Mark 7) for this reason. Old Testament Scriptures also warn against adding or subtracting from the Law. And if Christ is modifying the Mosaic covenant, He would be both lawbreaker and hypocrite. And it stretches credulity that He merely expounded the Mosaic when some of New Testament ethical prescriptions are flatly contradicted. Therefore, He was fashioning a New Covenant for a new telos (purpose). To add the New Covenant to the Old Mosaic Covenant is new patch on old cloth, new wine in old wine skins. The attempt to resolve the two tears apart at the seams or bursts.

    I am not going to bother dealing with the aspersions about heresy or being unregenerate.

    As to praying for regeneration; regeneration happens at the same moment that one has faith in Christ. We are commanded to believe and not wait for some sign of regeneration or our Election before we believe. Otherwise, we disobey His direct command to presumptively wait upon knowledge access to His Sovereign design.

    And faith in Christ means acting on the premises (out of trust of Christ), which includes the Scriptural declarations about reality, His counsels, His promises, His warnings etc. Having perfect theology is of no value if you do not act upon that which one claims to believe.

    Regeneration logically precedes Faith (as an act of God’s direct choosing) but temporally they occur at the same time. (I share that position with John Piper). We cannot see Regeneration. It works on Sovereign God’s level of existence to which humanity is not privy. True faith and fidelity in Christ is all we see at this human level. But signs of Regeneration (a.k.a. works) will show up and be recognized in time.

    Finally, postmodernism is only a theme and variation of ancient skepticism, which doubts the existence of truth and my corollary ethics. My peace on Truth https://entsoltech.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/truth/ attempts to deal with that issue.

    I will leave your entry on my blog; because it sort of proves the point I was making about the psychological consequences of those who hold old Covenantal Theology. It should be a warning to you about flaming mean-spirited opprobrium against others. Such things can be used against you to hurt your own cause.

    In Christ

    Johnny

    1. Dear Greg:

      I am going to try to take another stab at responding to your comment; based on what I can garner from it. My initial reaction was out of offense and being defensive behind a matter-of-fact response. There was nothing wrong in what was said. But it was rather cold.

      It troubles me when I see someone claiming to be Christian, making comments in such disparaging tone. It contributes to the hatred of Christ by potential converts. Now this statement may sound Arminian. But it is not. For as I have argued in https://entsoltech.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/the-problem-with-t-u-l-i-p/, I believe that many a person will have been lost because of the very behaviour of God’s Elect or the tares who purport to be God’s Elect. God is not the author of this evil. He has simply allowed evil to be committed in His name as the means by which the non-elect become hardened. However, God will still judge those who made others stumble by such ungodly and ungracious behaviour. I am not overly offended. But I do worry when I observe the message boards and the mean-spirited way that ‘Christians’ respond in kind to their secular interlocutors.

      My first thought was this. However, as much as you know your theology; if “you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16) is true, is the manner by which you approached the subject indicative of you being from a good tree? Do you indicate having that “wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere”? (James 3:17) Of course, you may be young in the faith. I don’t know. But if you claim that I am antinomian in principle but you violate at least a half dozen major New Testament scriptures in practice in that one paragraph of disparagement, is there not something wrong with this picture?

      My experience with those heavily proud of Reformed Theology is that they often repeat the same error as the Romanism that they rejected. Although in theory, accepting that their theology is subject to reproof by Scriptures, in practice they rearrange the interpretation of Scriptures in order to justify their new found infallible Reformed Magisterium. There is much of worth in what the early Reformers had to say. But they were themselves fallible. In Martin Luther’s “The Estate of Marriage”, he justified mixed-faith marriages and other strange ideas. I reject Calvin’s belief that God is impassible. It was a huge mistake for Reformers to give the Estate of marriage over to civil authorities and the grounds by which they did it (Two Kingdoms theory). We are now paying the repercussions. I consider marriage to be a private affair between a man, woman and their God that neither any ecclesiastical or civil authority has right to define. I could go on and on with disagreements; usually of a secondary nature. And these disagreements should be governed by the Romans 14 injunctions about Liberty of Conscience. I do not in any way believe that Luther and Calvin are not Christians. I do doubt that many of those in the 17th were; in the period of the cold, formal and so-called Lutheran/Reformed Orthodoxy; in the period of the Thirty Years War and when the WCF was written. It was against this cold orthodoxy, lacking spiritual vitality, that Tennett (“The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry”) and Edwards reacted in the 1st Great Awakening.

      I see several problems with your comments. First, if another person disagrees with Covenantal Theology, you hold a person to be a heretic. There are so many things wrong with Covenantal Theology. I have already delineated one; that the nature of covenants means that they cannot be changed unless there is a contained within them an amending formula. To change without the amending formula is unjust and violates due process by a God who is very much about due process. Therefore, the New Covenant was really New and not some new administration of the same old Covenant. Or, on what scriptural or rational basis does one arbitrate the ‘moral law’ from all the other elements of the Mosaic Constitution? And if that delineation is arbitrary and inscrutable, it is by definition and the attributes of justice, unjust.

      However, if you are call somebody a heretic because they don’t agree with your peculiar theology; an anathema on a theological tenet, which both the tenet and the anathema against that tenet has no Scriptural sanction; what does it say about your basis of Justification? Are you not adding ‘mental works’ to practicable faith in Christ? If you do this, does one not have to have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed in perfect theology in order to be saved? If you believe that; you will not be justified or saved for the same reason that no person will be saved by following the law or any regimen of good works or sanctification. You (nor anybody else) have perfect understanding. You have added to a disposition of practicable faith in Christ (which navigates a person to safety ‘Through many dangers, toils, and snares’). You have added to a Justification on the basis of Christ’s blood and life alone (imputed punishment and righteousness. You have said that Christ is not enough. One must also have all the right beliefs to the nth degree, no matter how secondary or tertiary.

      And I am much worried for you about your statement “prayed for a regenerate heart”. The Scriptures clearly states “All that the Father gives me shall come to me; and him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37). Now you might concentrate on the first part. But anybody who trusts Christ for their justification and His promises and counsel (which involves actually living by in trust of that counsel) etc, Christ will in no wise cast out. Even if it were possible that one was not one of the Elect, the Scriptures say in no wise or case cast out. Those who commit to trusting Christ, no matter what may come, give indication of being one of the Elect. We humans are weak. Obviously God must sustain us. However, if you wait for signs of Regeneration or being one of the Elect, you may miss the promise and spend the rest of your eternity in Hell with your perfect Reformed theology because you failed to obey the promise of Christ.

      In Christ,

      Johnny

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