Deciphering Covenant Theology (24)

Part Twenty-Three

Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

10. CT reads Christ into passages where He is plainly not in view and employs Him (particularly His first coming) as the lens through which Scripture must be understood.

Covenant Theology is grounded in an overarching approach to reading Scripture as a redemptive-historical story. This entails reading the OT in light of the NT, and especially in light of the Gospel. Because of this procedure the OT is often used as a typological palette from which Christ is portrayed. What ends up happening is the OT is often treated not as a story in its own right, but as a series of types and foreshadowings of Christ. This is achieved in several ways:

One way this is done is by reading Christ into every story and narrative in the OT. C. H. Spurgeon once said that from anywhere in the Bible one should be able to get to Christ. But that assumes the whole Bible was written with that purpose in mind. However, there are many places where Christ is not present and no amount of typology can make Him present. One thinks of Judah’s fornication with Tamar his daughter-in-law in Genesis 38; Job’s suicidal complaint to God in Job 7; the idolatry of the tribe of Dan in Judges 18; or the death of the man of God in 1 Kings 13. Yes, by inverting the lessons of these stories one may get to Jesus, but the stories themselves do not refer to Him. The redemptive-historical way of interpreting Scripture that CT employs goes beyond this and stipulates that Christ. is part of the meaning of the text. It turns reading Christ into all of Scripture into a habit. Here, for example, is OT scholar Iain Duguid:

“Centrally, the Old Testament is a book about Christ, and more specifically, about his sufferings and the glories that will follow—that is, it is a book about the promise of a coming Messiah through whose sufferings God will establish his glorious, eternal kingdom.” – “Old Testament Hermeneutics,” in Seeing Christ in All of Scripture, edited by Peter A. Lillback, 17.

He continues by claiming that this is Jesus’ own meaning in Luke 24:25-27 and 44-47 (18). While Duguid agrees that few people would have understood the OT messianic prophecies before Christ, the NT does assign these prophecies to Christ as the fulfillment. But how? Don’t most of the OT messianic prophecies emphasize the earthly reign of Christ from Jerusalem on this earth (e.g., Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-10; Jer. 23:5-6; Zech. 14:16-21)? Well, since Christ supposedly fulfills these predictions now we must not take them too literally. For instance:

“While God actually was manifesting his lordship through David’s line, this human monarchy was serving at the same time as a typological representation of the throne of God itself. David’s reign was intended to anticipate in shadow-form the reality of the messianic Redeemer who was to unite with the finality the throne of David with the throne of God.” – O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, 249.

CT’s believe that Christ is reigning on David’s throne now; David’s throne being God’s throne. Ergo, if the Davidic King is reigning we must look for His kingdom in the spiritual realm, not as it is depicted in the OT (which was a storehouse of types and shadows of today’s fulfillment). This is the inevitable outcome of the idea of the covenant of grace. Richard Pratt Jr. admits that,

“Many evangelical Christians today find it difficult to believe that everything in Scripture after Genesis 3:15 concerns God’s kingdom administered through the unfolding of one covenant of grace.” – Reformed Theology is Covenant Theology

The covenant of grace, remember, is the non-textual “covenant” in Christ with the elect of all ages, the one people of God. CT’s also believe that saints of every age were saved by believing the same Gospel about Christ that we believe, except in shadows and types. But this view faces a wall of contrary facts regarding His name, the nature of and knowledge about crucifixion, the belief in only a general resurrection, etc.

Allied with the above is the view that the Church is in the OT. Although it is easy to find CT’s of both paedo- and credo-baptist persuasion saying that the Church began at Pentecost, what they usually mean is that the full Jew-Gentile revelation of the Church is what began, there was always only one people of God, a single elect set. I previously quoted Keele and Brown’s view that,

[God] promises to form a community of people for himself whom he will set apart from the offspring of the devil and one day rescue from the latter’s fierce hostility…This community can be traced throughout redemptive history…not by bloodline, but by those who believe in God’s promise.  As Paul says to Gentile Christians in Galatians 3:29: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”  Thus, Genesis 3:15 reveals God’s first formation of his church. – Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored, 62.

The church has always existed and the covenant of grace has been active since the Fall. In Christ the people of God dwell as in a temple.

“Christ is the epitome of God’s presence of earth as God incarnate, thus continuing the true form of the old temple, which actually was a foreshadowing of Christ’s presence throughout the OT era…Likewise, Israel’s temple was a symbolic shadow pointing to the eschatological “greater and more perfect tabernacle” (Heb. 9:11) in which Christ and the church would dwell and would form a part.” – G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 632, 634.

So, interpreting the Bible this way means using Christ as the lens through which it must be understood. It is a prior decision. Messy details such as the tribes of Israel, nation states in the kingdom, Jerusalem on earth being the place of pilgrimage, Israel being the head of the nations on earth, the temple being the focal point of earthly Jerusalem, etc., can be smoothed over. Even in the Beale quote above Hebrews 9:11 has been treated this way. In Hebrews 9 the “greater and more perfect tabernacle” is the actual sanctuary in heaven of which Moses’ tabernacle was a copy (see Heb. 8:5; 9:24). Beale’s hermeneutical concerns make him misuse the text.

Part 25


4 thoughts on “Deciphering Covenant Theology (24)”

  1. Good day Dr Paul Henebury,
    I hope that when you have completed Part 2 of ‘The Words of the Covenant’, you will consider writing a separate book about this topic (deciphering covenant theology). Perhaps deciphering CT is included in Part 2 (the Woprds of the Covenant). Either way, I hope these musings make it into a published book.

  2. Good article Dr. Henebury. I am new to your writings but so far am appreciating what I read. Looking forward to reading more. -Seth

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