Saturday, February 16, 2013

Rooted in God in Eternity

I'm currently reading Covenant Theology: a Baptist Distinctive (Solid Ground, 2013) - a late Christmas gift from my parents. It's short (161 pgs.) but makes the most of every page - a good review with thought-provoking ideas throughout (especially on the points of contact between Reformed Baptist theology and Calvinistic dispensationalists and Reformed paedobaptists). This does not mean that I'm in total agreement with the various contributors' efforts, though.

As I've been reading and teaching Covenant Theology, my conviction has grown that what we call the Covenant of Grace needs to be more consistently and purposefully described as an outworking of the eternal Covenant of Redemption between the Persons of the one true God (the Trinity).

For example, Earl Blackburn, commenting on Ephesians 2:12, traces all the biblical covenants back to a single biblical promise. He then comments in a footnote: "The promise, of course, being the one made to Adam in Genesis 3:15" (pg. 49, footnote 51). When we actually read Genesis 3:15, though, we see that Adam is not the one being addressed; the serpent is the recipient of this pronouncement, which is exactly what it is. Genesis 3:15 is not "the promise...being...made," but is the promise being announced in history. The promise had already been made, and it was not to the serpent, Eve, or Adam. The promise had been made in eternity by the Father to the Son. It was now being revealed as the single theme of all of Scripture - and the single purpose of all human history, in fact. The covenant of grace, as it is announced in Genesis 3:15, is not a promise given to Adam (or the serpent or Eve), but a revealing of a promise made in eternity from the Father to the Son. Fred Malone makes this point later: "...Scripture...records the progressive unfolding of God's Covenant of Grace announced [not a promise made to Adam, Eve, or the serpent] in Genesis 3:15, which was consummated in Jesus Christ and His New Covenant fulfillment" (pg. 75). This brings me to a point I'd like to make about the so-called "eternal covenant of redemption" and the "covenant of grace."

It seems to me that there's a lot commended to the idea that the eternal covenant between the Father and Son (and the Spirit Who applies it to the Father's elect in history) is actually the covenant of grace, and the application of it in human history on the pages of Scripture is the realization of that same covenant (not a separately-named covenant).

My business cards contain the following passage: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God,  Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,  but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, Who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Timothy 1:8-11). God's eternal covenant is the covenant of grace, which "has now been revealed" in human history. I don't  think we gain much by separating the eternal and temporal covenants and giving them separate titles (in fact, I believe we hide the root of it all by doing this!).

It's often said that the covenant of grace is made between God and His elect, but in making the temporal covenant of grace a revealing of the eternal covenant, we see that the actual members of the covenant are the Father and Son, and the elect are the promised of the Father to the Son in their covenant (John 6:39; 10:29; 17:2). I'm not trying to diminish the revelation, announcement, and carrying-out of this eternal covenant in history (a la John Gill's doctrine of eternal redemption), but trying to ground what happens in history in the intra-Trinitarian relationship from all eternity.

Just a thought. I love Covenant Theology, and find teaching it to be an act of worship with my whole being (and further see others worshiping through it in the Word and Spirit as they discover its simple-yet-endlessly-inexhaustible majesty). Still, I think taking this simplifying step (one not at all original to me - just sharing where I am on this) would help us naturally move from revelation history to communion with God in Covenant Theology - worship in the Word and Spirit through the Son to the glory of the Father. For this we have been made.

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“This covenant is revealed through the Gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by further steps until the full revelation of it became complete in the New Testament. The covenant of salvation rests upon an eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect” (London Confession of Faith 1689, 7.3).

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