Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology (1)
We have arrived now at the point where I can turn my attention to a full-on critique of Covenant Theology. In doing so I want to remind my reader of what I wrote in Part Twelve of this series, where I recorded my very real appreciation for CT even as a dissenter from its tenets. But we are in a position now to record that dissent more plainly and categorically.
Before beginning, however, I will provide Vos’s summary quotation.:
“…the leading principle of the covenant…is nothing but the open eye and the clear vision of the Reformed believer for the glorious plan of the grace of God, which arouses in him a consciousness of the covenant and keeps it alive, and which causes him to be so familiar with this scriptural idea and makes this train of thought so natural to him. How else could he receive and reflect the glory of his God, if he were not able to stand in the circle of light, where the beams penetrate to him from all sides? To stand in that circle means to be a party in the covenant, to live out of a consciousness of the covenant and to drink out of the fullness of the covenant.” – Geerhardus Vos, “The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology”, in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, 256.
It is always quite difficult to find a single quote from a covenant theologian that actually defines it accurately without giving the impression that CT emphasizes the covenants as we find them in the Bible. It doesn’t. It stresses made-up covenants that are imposed upon the covenants of Scripture. The trouble is that what Vos called “the consciousness of the covenant” acts upon the covenant theologian so that when he comes across, say, the Abrahamic covenant, he cannot see it without also seeing the covenant of grace. Hence, many CT’s define their system by referring to the covenants of the Bible without bringing up the theological covenants that drive the whole system. This leads the uninitiated to believe that Covenant Theology will even-handedly expound the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly, Davidic, and New covenants and see where they lead. As I have shown, that is just not the case.
I do not put this false definition down to disingenuousness. As Packer well said, CT is a hermeneutic; a way of reading Scripture. And before it is a hermeneutic it is a mindset, exactly as Vos indicates above. With that said then, let me proceed to list my main reasons for rejecting Covenant Theology as a properly biblical understanding of God’s Word. I shall then examine each reason in turn:
- CT is a mainly deductive approach to reading the Bible.
- CT starts its reading of the Bible in the wrong place.
- CT relies upon covenants found nowhere in Holy Writ.
- CT deals with everything it meets in the pages of Scripture using these false covenants.
- CT is not open to follow the covenants of God where they lead.
- By assuming, without sufficient warrant, that the New Testament must be used to [re]interpret the Old Testament, CT in practice denies to the OT its own perspicuity, its own integrity as inspired revelation, and creates a “canon within a canon.” To paraphrase George Orwell, in CT “all Scripture is inspired, but some Scripture [the NT] is more inspired than others [the OT]”.
- By allowing their interpretations of the NT to have veto over the plain sense of the OT this outlook creates massive discontinuities between the wording of the two Testaments. This is all done for the sake of a contrived continuity demanded by the one-people of God concept of the Covenant of Grace.
- CT thus interprets the Bible with different rules of hermeneutics depending on the presuppositions above.
- Though they would consciously deny the charge, it is undeniable that CT ‘s way of reading the Bible (as above) creates a major problem philosophically in that it strongly implies that God equivocates. More seriously still, the manner of equivocation means that equivocation belongs to the essential nature of the Godhead.
- CT reads Christ into passages where He is plainly not in view.
- CT interprets the Bible from an anthropocentric rather than a Theocentric point of view.
- CT is implicitly supercessionist in its eschatology.