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This post continues a series on Covenant Theology. The criticism offered below falls within the context of the previous posts (beginning here). Please feel free to offer criticism, comments, and observations but failure to read the other posts could enfeeble one’s own remarks.

Flowing from CT’s faulty understanding of mankind’s relationship to Adam’s sin is its faulty understanding of the righteousness of Christ imputed to believers. CT’s understanding of salvation is based on the covenant of grace. In the same way that Adam stood as the covenant head of the covenant of works, so Christ stands as the covenant head of the covenant of grace. As was discussed above, CT views the demands of the covenant of works as binding upon all men of all times. As such, it was not enough for Christ to simply die in the place of sinners as a substitute and bear the wrath of God on their behalf. If that were all that happened then man would be no better than being placed back in a probationary state like Adam. Men would still need to merit their own righteousness by works in order to be rewarded with eternal life. In this scheme salvation by grace alone has a weird twist to it. Sproul’s sentiments are typical of proponents of CT,

Ultimately the only way one can be justified is by works. We are indeed justified by works, but the works that justify us are the works of the second Adam. To be justified by faith means to be justified by faith in the works of Christ. Our faith is not the ground of our justification. Faith serves as the instrument by which we receive the benefits of the works of Christ, the sole ground of our justification.[1]

Salvation is only by grace in that it is by grace that believers take part in a works based salvation. Salvation here is by the works of the law (the law contained in the covenant of works). The caveat is simply that it is not the individual’s works of the law, but Christ’s, which merit this works based salvation. There is an obvious objection based on what Paul teaches in Scripture. “Paul repeatedly makes the categorical statement that justification comes apart from (χωρὶς) Law-works. Since he does not qualify this statement by specifying whose works are excluded, he seems to be saying that justification per se is not based on works––not only works done by man, but works qua works.”[2]

Or, put another way, “Where Paul seems to be saying that justification is by definition ‘not earn-able by works,’ covenant theology adds the important qualifier, ‘performed by mankind.’ Since it seems to stray from Paul’s own description of justification, the vicarious active obedience teaching must be viewed as suspect.”[3] There is perhaps no clearer example of this than comparing Sproul’s comments with Galatians 3:21 in which Paul says, “If a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.” Apparently Paul was unaware of the logic of CT; for, according to CT, there was a law given that was able to impart life: the law of the covenant of works fulfilled by Christ. Righteousness, for CT, is indeed based on the law: the law of the covenant of works fulfilled by Christ.

Conclusion

The preceding discussion has surveyed the two broadest categories that one could group the various streams of thought which lead to the development of CT: hermeneutics and polemical theology. A critique of CT has also been offered along these lines with the addition of two specific areas of theology where CT, because of its basic assumptions, proposes errant beliefs. It has been shown that CT is an artificial framework that was constructed from biblical concepts that were extrapolated in order to fill in the whitespaces of Scripture. This framework then served as a means for categorizing and interpreting all of Scripture by creating a basis of Christological unity between the testaments along the lines of a type-antitype relationship. This framework was a theological contrivance driven by suspect hermeneutics and polemical theology hastily constructed amidst the fires of controversy during the Reformation.

Though much has been said in this blog that is critical of CT, it should be noted that I do not consider CT to be “damnable heresy.” What seems to rescue CT from itself is that the artificial framework for interpreting Scripture is extrapolated from Scripture. In an odd sort of way, this enables to CT to have a biblical conception of all that is essential to Christianity, while at the same time flattening out divine revelation according to its artificial framework. The real Christological unity[4] of the testaments is lost to CT’s artificial unity. That being said, CT does not propose a false gospel. This being the case, proponents of CT should be considered brothers in Christ and interacted with accordingly. It is hoped that further study will serve to disabuse some of CT’s artificial overarching framework.

[1] R. C. Sproule, Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie that Binds Evangelicals Together (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, 1999), 160.

[2] Andrew V. Snider, “Justification and the Active Obedience of Christ: Toward a Biblical Understanding of Imputed Righteousness” (ThM thesis, Master’s Seminary, 2002), 85.

[3] Ibid., 101.

[4] Much better than CT’s proposal is, Walt C. Kaiser, The Promise Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008). I am in basic agreement with Kaiser’s approach, though I do not affirm all the particulars. Regardless, his approach to biblical theology (contra CT’s) is, I am convinced, the proper way forward for establishing the Christological unity between the testaments.

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