Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Main Contours of Covenant Theology

As I remember, I've linked previously to this PDF of Steve Wellum's outstanding chapter, "Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants," in this book, edited by Schreiner and Wright (Shawn, not N.T. or Ben). I don't think I've ever interacted at all with the text. My plan, over the next few days, is to post a handful of particularly helpful passages from the chapter. Here's the first:
Let us examine the main contours of covenant theology. The “covenant of grace” is contrasted to the first covenant made with Adam, the “covenant of works.” The covenant of works was made with Adam as the head and representative of the entire human race. To him and his entire posterity, eternal life was promised upon the condition of perfect obedience to the law of God. However, due to his disobedience, he, along with the entire human race, was plunged into a state of sin, death, and condemnation (see Rom 5:12–21). But God, by his own sovereign grace and initiative, was pleased to make a second covenant—the covenant of grace—with human beings (specifically, the elect), wherein the God of grace freely offered to sinners life and salvation through the last Adam, the covenantal head of his people, the Lord Jesus Christ (West. Conf. 7.2–3). Thus the covenant of grace began immediately after the Fall with the promise of grace in Gen 3:15. This promise was then progressively revealed and fulfilled in history through variously administered covenants with Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David. Ultimately it was brought to fulfillment in the new covenant inaugurated by Jesus Christ in his victorious cross work on our behalf.

But it is important to stress that for covenantal theologians even though there are different covenants described in Scripture, there is, in reality, only one overarching covenant of grace. That is why one must view the relationships between the covenants in terms of an overall continuity. Booth underscores this point in his comments on the “newness” of the covenant inaugurated by our Lord. He states, “The new covenant is but a new—though more glorious administration of the same covenant of grace.” Thus, under the old covenant, the one covenant of grace was administered through various promises, prophecies, sacrifices, rites and ordinances (e.g., circumcision) that ultimately typified and foreshadowed the coming of Christ. Now in light of his coming, the covenant of grace is administered through the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. But in God’s plan there are not two covenants of grace, one in the OT and the other in the NT, but one covenant differing in administration but essentially the same across the ages (see West. Conf. 7.6).

This brief overview of covenant theology raises several issues that we will address in four points. First, how is the new covenant new? Second, whether the covenant of grace is conditional or unconditional. Third, who are the parties to the covenant of grace? Fourth, the relationship between the covenant of grace and the Abrahamic covenant. Examining these four issues will show us the rigorous logic of covenant theology’s argument for paedobaptism. [footnotes omitted here, but available in the PDF]

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