This is the second in a series of personal reflections on why I cannot embrace Covenant Theology. Part One can be read here.
1. Covenant theology depends for its credibility upon theological covenants with virtually no exegetical proof. This is especially the case with the “Covenant of Grace.”
The “Covenant of Grace”, which is often simply called “the covenant” by CT’s, wields tremendous, we might say decisive hermeneutical power over CT’s biblical interpretation (see next post in this series). But before one gets to use such a potent hermeneutical and theological device, one needs to prove that it is actually Scriptural.
As Herman Witsius defines it,
“The Covenant of grace is a compact or agreement between God and the elect sinner; God on his part declaring his free good-will concerning eternal salvation, and everything relative thereto, freely to be given to those in covenant by, and for the mediator Christ; and man on his part consenting to that good-will by a sincere faith.” – The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, 1.165 [Bk. 2. Ch.1.5].
Witsius goes on to make it clear that the covenant insures there is only one people of God (the Church) in both Testaments. This means, for one thing, that whenever one comes across any passage which seems to point to a separation of, say, OT Israel from the NT Church, this must not be allowed to stand, since the “covenant of grace” does not permit it. Therefore, CT’s must first demonstrate if it is possible to establish a “Covenant of Grace” from the text of Scripture rather than from human reason, and then they must show that this covenant is the very same covenant as the Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants which are very clearly found within the Bible.
So what is the exegetical basis for the Covenant of Grace? Well, don’t hold your breath! Even dyed-in-the-wool CT’s like O. Palmer Robertson admit that there is slender exegetical apparatus from which to derive it (he thinks the “covenant of works” fairs better, expending much effort on making Hos. 6:7 refer to a pre-Fall covenant). In reality i would say there is no exegetical justification at all!
Reformed theologian Robert Reymond, who boldly claims that “The church of Jesus Christ is the present-day expression of the one people of God whose roots go back to Abraham” (New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 525f.), does no better in coming up with actual biblical texts which support this extra-biblical covenant. He, like all CT’s, insists the issue be settled by the Scriptures (528 [though insisting the OT be interpreted via his interpretation of the NT!]), but he begs leave to spiritualize the texts when it suits (511 n.16). That way he can maintain that the land promises “were never primary and central to the covenant intention” (513 n.19). Quite how one can read Genesis 12-17 and come away believing that the land was not a primary issue escapes me. For more on Reymond’s position see my review of his book, especially sub-heading (5).
Following the reasoning of CT’s as they dive in and out of selective passages (often avoiding the referents within the context) can be a mind-numbing experience. One needs to try to keep in mind what they are attempting to prove: that God has made one covenant with the elect of both Testaments to guarantee that there will be one people of God, the Church, inheriting heavenly promises in Christ. For example, Robertson says, (more…)