A *Modified* Covenant Theology?


During our recent discussion regarding the Baptist Catechism, JM noted a website which advocates for a new Predestinarian Baptist position being called Modified Covenant Theology (MCT). That site lists the MCT position as over against those of Covenant Theology (CT) and New Covenant Theology (NCT). I’ve reproduced his listing here and included Dispensational Theology (DT) in order to have somewhat of a continuum of theological systems, current in Baptist life today. I’ve also attached a few notes of my own to each.  My appologies to the NCT and DT positions.  I think the NCT was not fully or fairy fleshed out in what I pasted here, and the DT position is my own chicken scratch and is based on the older and more consistent form of the system – not necessarily what they have evolved to today.


Note: If you are not familiar with Covenant Theology, please see my brief overview of Federalism:

Federal Theology: Works vs Grace. 

And see the work of AW Pink: Divine Covenants.


KEY:

CT = Covenant Theology
MCT = Modified Covenant Theology
NCT = New Covenant Theology
DT = Dispensational Theology

Adam

CT: Adam was perfectly righteous before he fell.

MCT: Adam was righteous according to the laws given to him but still needed the
righteousness of Christ.

NCT: Same as CT.

DT: Same as CT.

Notes: As far as I am aware, righteousness is righteousness – do the MCTs mean
to imply that there are degrees of being righteous?  According to 1828 Websters Dictionary, righteousness is:

RIGHTEOUS, ri’chus.

1. Just; accordant to the divine law. Applied to persons, it denotes one who is holy in heart, and observant of the divine commands in practice…

and the word ‘just’ indicates perfect moral uprightness, honesty, and conformance with moral law. Do we believe that man was created lacking in any of these? Do the MCTs mean imply that Adam was created deficient? Was not man made in the image of God? Is it not this very righteous image that is renewed in regenerate man (Eph 4:24)?

Adam’s Legal Arrangement and the Fall

CT: If Adam had kept the law he would have merited eternal life. This is known as the “covenant of works”. Adam broke the covenant of works and merited eternal death.

MCT: There is a covenant of works. If Adam had obeyed the laws given to him, he would have stayed in the garden, but not merit eternal life. However the point of giving this covenant of works was to cause the fall to demonstrate Adam’s need for an alien righteousness and point him to Christ. The Old Covenant is another form of this covenant of works.

NCT: There is no “covenant of works”. If Adam had obeyed the laws given to him, he could stay in the garden but that wouldn’t merit eternal life. He broke the law and merited eternal death.

DT: Adam lived in the dispensation of innocence. He could continue to live in the garden of Eden in peace and harmony with God as long as he lived in compliance with his responsibility for that age. Upon Adam’s Fall, the dispensation of conscience was ushered in.

Notes: Regarding the NCT position, Adam was subject to eternal death on one hand, but not an equal ultimacy on the other? I’ll admit that the Scripture is not explicit on this point and the reformed, in my opinion, draw an inference here.

On the topic of covenant: how is a binding arrangement between two parties not a covenant? How is a covenant based upon human work/merit not a covenant of works? I can understand the NCTs hesitation to affirm that Adam would have merited Eternal Life by obedience, but to deny the proper term “Covenant of Works” seems like a semantic ‘nit pic’ to me.

Definition of Covenant from Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:

COVENANT, n. [L, to come; a coming together; a meeting or agreement of minds.]

1. A mutual consent or agreement of two or more persons, to do or to forbear some act or thing; a contract; stipulation. A covenant is created by deed in writing, sealed and executed; or it may be implied in the contract.

2. A writing containing the terms of agreement or contract between parties; or the clause of agreement in a deed containing the covenant.

3. In theology, the covenant of works, is that implied in the commands, prohibitions, and promises of God; the promise of God to man, that mans perfect obedience should entitle him to happiness. This do, and live; that do, and die.

The covenant of redemption, is the mutual agreement between the Father and Son, respecting the redemption of sinners by Christ.

The covenant of grace, is that by which God engages to bestow salvation on man, upon the condition that man shall believe in Christ and yield obedience to the terms of the gospel.

Moral Law

CT: The “moral law” is fully expressed in the Decalogue.

MCT: All men are cursed by some form of law, not necessarily the same laws found in the original covenant of works or the Law at Sinai. There is a “moral law” that is revealed in nature which all men are obligated to obey. The OC Decalogue shines further light on this law.

NCT: There is no “moral law”.

DT: There is no “moral law”. Man is responsible for obedience to what has been entrusted to him in whatever particular dispensation he lives in.

Notes: This is a total ‘Miss’ on CT. CTers do NOT believe the ‘moral law’ is ‘fully expressed’ in the decalogue. Rather, it is a ‘summary’ of the eternal moral law – a summary of the very righteousness of Christ, the moral fabric of our creation, and the image stamped on all humanity (Gen 1:28) and is restored in regeneration (Eph 4:24!).

This moral law was summarized at Sinai to to convince of sin and drive men to a mediator and substitutionary sacrifice (the ceremonial law, a shadow of Christ). I wouldn’t say OC law “shines light” on the moral law, but rather summarizes and categorizes it. Remember, the blood of sacrifice was poured out upon the mercy seat; a box which contained this very summary of holiness. In my mind, that means that the moral law was a summary of the holiness demanded by God.

Question for the NCT/MCT: What is the law of I John 3:4? What is the Law written on heart in the New Covenant? What was the law of Matt 5:19? What is the law that a sinner cannot be subject to (Rom 8:7)? Which is the law that Paul said was holy (Rom 7:12)?

Covenant of Redemption

CT: The three persons of the Trinity covenanted with each other for the purpose of salvation of the elect.

MCT: Same as CT.

NCT: There is no covenant of redemption. There was just an eternal decree.

DT: Same as NCT?

Notes: I don’t understand the NCT position here. I know that some baptists (and Reformed as well) have rejected the idea that the Covenant of Grace (God’s Plan of Salvation) is a separate covenant from the Covenant of Redemption. Whether one or two, however, we must acknowledge that Christ has pledged his life (as a surety) for the elect before time, and in time came to perform that which he had pledged to do. Again, why this would not be called a covenant, I do not know. Many old theologians called it the Council of Redemption, etc., which is fine, but to side step it (for what purpose?), I do not understand, unless one is Arminian. This seems semantic to me as well.

Covenant of Grace

CT: God made a covenant of grace with Christ and His people. Christ’s people are found in all ages of history including Adam. The OC is a form of the covenant of grace.

MCT: There is a covenant of grace which is best understood as the new covenant instituted in eternity and constituted on the cross. All the elect of all ages are partakers of the covenant of grace. However, unlike CT, the OC at Sinai is not an administration of the covenant of Grace; but is a law covenant meant to bring condemnation.

NCT: There is no covenant of grace. God redeems His elect from every age; but the OC was a law covenant; therefore the term “covenant of grace” must not be used to describe these various covenants.

DT: Oh boy… see notes…

Notes: Correction to CT – I think it might be better stated that the OC was a dispensation of the covenant of grace. In other words, though it was a legal arrangement with the nation of Israel, it still served a redemptive purpose in God’s overall plan of grace. So, the OC itself was a legal (or works) arrangement with the nation of Israel, but still an integral part of God’s Plan to redeem fallen humanity.

The consistent dispensationalist sees Bible history as a series of dispensations of human works – each one a test of man’s obedience to some revealed truth.

I’m not sure what to say about the MCT position on the Old Covenant. Perhaps they don’t understand the CT position. To understand the New Covenant to be the consummation of God’s Plan of Grace seems correct to me, but I don’t see how it substantially differs from what CTers believe.

Christ’s Imputed Righteousness

CT: Christ kept the law for His people in the Covenant of Grace thus fulfilling the Covenant of Works which merited for them eternal salvation.

MCT: Same as CT. However, Christ’s active obedience involves far more than legal obedience; it was obedience apart from the law – obedience to the Father’s will in everything thus fulfilling the covenant of redemption. Christ’s righteousness is a divine righteousness which was imputed to all of His elect on the cross.

NCT: Christ kept the law for His people to become the perfect sacrifice, but the righteousness wrought through this obedience is not imputed to the elect. Only Christ’s righteousness through “passive obedience / death” is imputed to the elect. (not all NCT people deny vicarious law keeping.)

DT: Varies. I think some DTers hold to a governmental view of the atonement and some only see an expiation of sin in the atonement, but not so much an imputed righteousness.

Notes: A divine righteousness? I questioned above whether there are different forms of being righteous. As an aside, was Christ’s righteousness imputed on the cross, or is it imputed when it is received by faith?

NCT position again seems semantic to me. Was not Christ tempted in all points like we are, but unlike us, he did not fall? Christ could not have sinned, or he could not be our perfect unblemished substitute. If it is possible to sin by omission, then we need not only a passive righteousness, but an active righteousness. This seems implied in the NCT position, so they reject the label and accept the concept as far as I am concerned.

View of the different Covenants

CT: The covenant of grace can be found in all the covenants (excluding the covenant of works) because they are derived from the covenant of redemption.

MCT: The covenant of grace is best understood as the new covenant which is an overarching covenant and represented in all other  covenants excluding administrations of the covenant of works (eg. Sinai).

NCT: Since there is no covenant of redemption, all covenants are related and culminate in the new covenant.

DT: There are seven dispensations, each of which includes a testing of man with respect to obedience to God’s revealed will for that dispensation.

Notes: I don’t understand the summary of the NCT position here at all. Perhaps the MCT folks don’t understand it well enough to summarize it. I don’t understand the CT position, as described, either. The CoG is God’s Plan of Salvation – that plan is worked out in history from the Fall of Man to the Consummation of All Things. How can there be a biblical covenant where God’s Plan of Grace is not found? There is one plan of salvation!

I’m not so sure what to think about the MCT position, I need to mull it over more.

Abraham’s Seed

CT: The main heir to Abraham was Israel, the “church” of the OC. (Some would affirm agreement with NCT).

MCT: Same as NCT

NCT: The main heir to Abraham is Christ and His Sheep (spiritual Israel).

DT: The heir to Abraham is ethnic Hebrews. The Hebrews are the Apple of God’s eye, even today, and at the end of this dispensation, God will remove the faithful elements of his apostate church and return his full attention to the Jewish people and fulfill, in a carnal sense, all the promises to Abraham.

Notes: I think the CT position is mischaracterized here. The heir of Abraham is Christ and those that are Christ’s are joint heirs with Abraham. This is the central theme of my blog!

The Holy Spirit

This is a complicated subject and one that I am thinking through.  I’ll skip this for now.

The law as a rule of living

CT: The OC law is a rule for living, but only the “moral law”. The ceremonial and civil laws were abolished.

MCT: The OC was a covenant of works. The believer’s rule of living has always been Christ regardless of what age in which they lived. The OC law was given to drive the elect to Christ and cause them to rest in His vicarious obedience to the Father, including the fulfillment of the revealed law because this truly defines righteousness in terms of His life. Commandments involving timeless principles (from all covenants) are good as a rule of conduct, but the law of God is written on the heart of every believer and thus every believer is motivated to obey the law to Christ out of love and gratitude instead of obligation.

NCT: All of the OC law was abolished and only the laws of the NT apply to the believer.

DT: There is no moral law. Believers in this age are only responsible to respond to God’s offer of grace. There is no moral law, but smoking, drinking, dancing, and gambling are sins.

Notes: CTers do not believe the ‘OC law’ is a rule for living, we believe that the eternal moral law is a rule for living – this law was ‘summarized’ at Sinai, but is not equal with it. Regarding the MCT position, as CTers believe the moral law is a description of the very Holiness of God, the MCT position does not substantially differ from our view. The way the NCT position has been described here, it sounds very similar to the Roman Catholic view of Christ as a new law-giver.

Sign of the New Covenant

CT: The sign of the new covenant is baptism just like circumcision was in the OC. Many believe babies ought to be baptized just like babies were circumcised in the OC.

MCT: The sign of the covenant of grace is the circumcision of the heart which is the inner testimony and assurance of the Holy Spirit in the gift of saving faith. Water baptism is an outward testimony commanded by Christ to celebrate the reality of participation in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection through Holy Spirit regeneration unto belief in the gospel.

NCT: The sign of the new covenant is baptism and only believers ought to be baptized.

DT: DTers have been paedo-baptists and non-baptizers, but are usually baptizers.

Notes: Regarding the so-called CT position here, are there are no ‘Baptist’ covenant theologians? You need to subscribe to the “Abraham’s Seed” blog, if this is your understanding!

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7 thoughts on “A *Modified* Covenant Theology?

  1. Andrew,

    Great job on the summary. Thanks for the hard work.

    The Dispensational summary looks pretty classic (Chafer, Scofield, Ryrie). Just in case you want to add another one, how about Progressive Dispensationalism?

    There’s a good summary of it in a book by the same title co-authored by Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock.

    I read it awhile back and it seems to me that the primary adjustment that Progressive makes to Classic is an incorporation of “already, not yet” with regard to the kingdom.

    Thanks again for taking time to put the comparison together.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

    • Thanks, Greg. The comparison really comes from the website referenced by JM in his comments on another post. All I added was the DT stuff and my personal notes/questions. That is a good point about the progressive DT stuff. I thought about adding that. I think they would fit between the MCT and DT folks on the continuum line. The reason I did not is because the progressives seem so inconsistent and diverse that it would be difficult to pin them down w/o offending someone. I think the NCT stuff really needs to be fixed up in this comparison, also, in order to have a fair comparison. I have a few progressive DT books which I’m eager to read and think through, but I have too much else to do at this point.

      Regardless of where one stands, these are all man-made models and therefore all have short comings. I have learned from good brothers in all these camps and appreciate their stand on inerrancy.

      By the way, I’ve perused your site a bit and have greatly enjoyed what I’ve seen. You seem to be widely read as your quotes, of late, have come from a variety of sources. I wish I lived in central AR, so I could attend your study.

      God bless you, brother.

      Andrew

  2. Thanks. I am currently studying various covenants and this is helpful supplemental info.
    Question – The dispensationalists I know would acknowledge a Moral Law and man’s responsibility to it. (Not in a salvific way of course.) Am I missing something in your summary concerning this issues.

    • Shawn –

      If you are studying the covenants, please google for AW Pink’s very helpful book, “The Divine Covenants”. Fred Malone has a helpful and basic mp3 series on the covenants that you could probably google up, also.

      The problem with the dispensationalists is that they are presently not very consistent with their system. Historically, they believed that Israel made a rash error to accept the law and Mt. Sinai and should have rejected it in favor of grace. The dispensation of law ended at Pentecost, when the dispensation of grace began – no longer was legal obedience necessary for salvation, so there is no longer any law. Many dispensationalists have felt that we are no longer held responsible for moral obedience in this age, but rather that we are only tested on whether we accept/reject Christ as he is offered in the gospel. Dispensationalists do promote ‘walking in the Spirit’ and sancatification, but that sanctification is not necessary – only believing on Christ is necessary.

      Today, we see a sort of inconsistent mix within the camp as most seem to hold onto the pre-trib rapture and want to push the Kingdom of God exclusively into the Dispensation of the Kingdom (Jewish Millennium Age), but still teach 9 out of the 10 commandments as universal moral precepts. I’ve never heard a dispensationalist scholar say, outright, that there is a universal moral law that has existed from eternity, of which, the ten commandments are a summary. Perhaps some believe this. The people in the pew may believe it b/c they often have a mixed theology, but I’ve never heard any type of consistent dispensational scholar agree to something like that.

      Then again, I am no scholar on the issue, myself.

      Please do take a look at the work by AW Pink. I think you will be blessed by it.

  3. Hey, great summary Andrew. Since I wrote the original article (about 5-6 years ago I think), I’d be happy to discuss it with you. I think I did misrepresent some of the views on CT and NCT at the time. I wouldn’t call MCT a “Predestinarian Baptist” position though, as I tend to shun labels associated with baptism. – Brandan

    • Brandon –

      Hey, thanks a bunch for stopping by! I really appreciate the work you put into this. As I stated in my comments to someone else, any attempt to describe the views of another system will meet with objections and will fall short in some manner. I am excited to see Baptists discussing the Biblical Covenants and how the Bible fits together. I’d like to discuss further with you, if you’d like to. Perhaps we could blog through the main topics, point-by-point, defending our own position and challenging the other.

      By the way, have you read AW Pink’s book: The Divine Covenants? He begins with a very compelling argument for the belief in an Eternal Covenant (what CTers call the Covenant of Redemption, or Council of Redemption, a term I favor). Pink does not distinguish between the Cov of Redemption (made with the Father before time) and the Covenant of Grace, God’s Plan of Salvation worked out in time between Christ and His elect. After his chapter on the Eternal Covenants, he treats each of the Biblical Covenants and how they are outworkings of the Eternal Covenant – all culminating in the New Covenant. He considers, if I remember, the Old Covenant a mixed covenant. Individuals were saved by grace, but the nation was under a covenant of works. He interacts with Witsius and the reformed positions and solidly defends the Baptist view of the ordnances. I’d really like to blog through that at some point – perhaps with a team.

      Feel free to e-mail me if you’d like to discuss further. My address is my first name and then a dot and then my last name at gmail dot com.

      Talk to you soon!

      Andrew

  4. Andrew: “Hey, thanks a bunch for stopping by! I really appreciate the work you put into this. As I stated in my comments to someone else, any attempt to describe the views of another system will meet with objections and will fall short in some manner. ”

    Brandan: Hey, no problem! I wrote this I now think around 2003/2004! So it’s been awhile, and I’m glad to think about it again. Thanks for blogging about it. Looking back on it, I’d like to revise it some.

    Andrew: “By the way, have you read AW Pink’s book: The Divine Covenants? He begins with a very compelling argument for the belief in an Eternal Covenant (what CTers call the Covenant of Redemption, or Council of Redemption, a term I favor). Pink does not distinguish between the Cov of Redemption (made with the Father before time) and the Covenant of Grace, God’s Plan of Salvation worked out in time between Christ and His elect.”

    Brandan: I don’t recall if I have or not, but in reality, I don’t distinguish between the covenant of redemption / covenant of Grace. I have a hard time understanding why NCT folks would reject the idea of a Covenant of Redemption.

    Andrew: “He considers, if I remember, the Old Covenant a mixed covenant.”

    Brandan: Yeah, I see nothing but law and works in what I call the Old Covenant (mosaic covenant). However I believe that the post-fall covenant with Adam, the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Davidic covenants were administrations of the Covenant of Grace. I view the Covenant with Israel (what I call the “old covenant” or “mosaic covenant”) more like that made with Adam before the fall, or, the Covenant of Works.

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