This is a continuation of last week’s series on Covenant Theology. Today’s post evaluates logic verses revelation.
CT teaches that there was a covenant between God and Adam before the Fall whereby he was appointed the representative head of mankind under the stipulations of that covenant. Also, according to the dictates of this covenant he was to stand for an undefined period of time in a probationary status, rendering perfect obedience to God (presumably obeying the law written on his heart). According to the dictates of this covenant, Adam’s federal headship and probation created a situation such that, if he succeeded he would merit by his own works, for himself and all his posterity (and God would owe him, and all his posterity, according to strict justice) freedom to eat from the tree of life. This would secure for him, and his progeny, eternal life and inability to sin thereafter.
However, if he failed, he would, according to the demands of the covenant of works, be punished by losing his original righteousness, becoming spiritually dead, and becoming liable to physical and eternal death. Because of Adam’s appointment as covenant head, all his progeny, upon his sin, would be counted guilty of his sin according to the stipulations of the covenant of works, and would be punished accordingly by losing their original righteousness, becoming spiritually dead, and becoming liable to physical and eternal death.
CT then goes on to teach that since there was no provision in the covenant of works to restore fallen man, there was nothing man could do regain his right standing with God. Also, all men born would now be bound by the stipulations of the covenant of works, but not in a probationary state as Adam was. However, according to CT, God, out of pure grace, instituted another covenant: the covenant of grace. According to the stipulations of this covenant, another, Jesus, was appointed as covenant head of all those that God chose to redeem out of the mass of humanity that was condemned under the requirements of the covenant of works. This status of federal head of the covenant of grace enabled Jesus to stand before God once again in a probationary status.
God worked out his plan through several varied administrations of the covenant of grace for thousands of years. These various administrations of the covenant of grace took the shape of the covenants that are actually spoken of in the Bible. When the fullness of time came, the Son of God incarnated and stood on earth as the promised, and long awaited, federal head of the covenant of grace. He rendered perfect obedience to God during his life by obeying the stipulations of the covenant of works, as reduplicated in the Mosaic Law. He satisfied God’s wrath justly due to the elect by his death, thus satisfying the punishment demanded by the covenant of works. Thus, he merited for himself and all that were chosen to partake of the covenant of grace in eternity past; the inheritance originally promised to Adam if he would have succeeded during his undefined probationary period under the covenant of works.
The above synopsis is representative of CT’s general framework. As mentioned earlier, proponents of CT are not all in agreement, and there are competing narratives when it comes to formulating the general framework by which all of divine revelation is to be categorized and understood. The greatest problem with the above framework and its various competitors within CT is that none of them are actually taught in Scripture. CT’s covenantal framework is the foundation for interpreting Scripture and theologizing, yet it is itself artificially constructed from the idle speculations of men.
The Bible nowhere teaches that God made a covenant with Adam under the stipulations of which he would stand as a covenant head of mankind for and undefined probationary period. There is not a trace in Scripture of the idea that under the stipulations of this supposed covenant Adam was to walk in perfect obedience for this undefined probationary period, and that if he was successful he would have merited, by pure self-righteousness, everlasting life along with all his future progeny. The whole framework that CT posits is nothing more than speculations loosely derived from selective biblical data about what Scripture is silent on.
These are then interpolated backwards to fill in the blanks of divine revelation. What is filled into the blanks is then allowed to control how what has been revealed by God is to be categorized and interpreted. In light of this procedure there are several questions that must be put to the proponents of CT. What gives them leave to speak for God where God has chosen to be silent? What credentials do they possess that enables them to fill in the white spaces of Scripture with their own logical inferences and then build a theology upon those inferences as if those inferences are themselves divine revelation? Which version of the framework constructed by CT is divinely revealed; the three covenant, two covenant, or one covenant version; the one where Adam was to earn eternal life purely by his own merit or the one where grace was to be given, or was at least necessary for success?
It would not be so unfortunate if CT merely contented itself with speculations about which Scripture says nothing, but because it then goes on to build its theology from the framework derived from these speculations CT ends up with faulty understandings of several key doctrines.
Continue the series here
Ken, thanks for the series on CT, it’s been really useful. Just wondering about the influence of CT on our understanding of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Is double imputation biblical or system-logical? CT has struck me for a long time as circular reasoning, the problem is, it’s so engrained in reformed confessions (both baptistic and Presbyterian) that few stop to examine it’s biblical veracity. People need to adopt the Berean spirit on this. Keep up the good work!
Funny you should mention that. When the last part of the series is posted the imputation theory you mention is called out for basically being the deliverance of the system of CT, rather than being a result of sound exegesis. I also argue that the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin as it is sometimes understood in CT circles suffers from the same flaw.