Our Evangelical Calvinism Book: Thesis 3. “There is one covenant of grace.”

*The following represents Thesis #3 from our forthcoming book (March 2012): Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eds. Myk Habets and Robert Grow. Foreword by Alasdair Heron. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications. There are a total of 15 Theses in this particular chapter (which happens to be chapter 15 in the book); and they have been co-written by Dr. Myk Habets and myself — some of them represent more of one us (as author) than the other, and some reflect more of a good blend between the both of us. To read more about how I am going to unfold some of these here at the blog, click here. The formatting in the post has all the markings required by the publisher for their type-setting process; I am too lazy to remove those for the blog. We look forward to your feedback! Here is Thesis #1  and Thesis #2 if you missed them.

[A]Thesis Three

There is one covenant of grace.

According to Evangelical Calvinism there is one covenant of grace, in contrast to two or more Divine covenants variously propounded by Classical Calvinism. Following Calvin, the Scots Confession of 1560 clearly teaches the unity of Scripture based around the idea of one covenant between God and humanity. It is when the covenant idea moved from being an organizing principle of Scripture to a theological principle of a system that what we now know as Federal Theology came into being. Within such a scholastic federal system the one covenant found within Scripture is now amplified to three covenants expounded in systematic fashion: the pactum salutis or “covenant of redemption,” the “covenant of works,” and the “covenant of grace.”[1]

As I. John Hesselink stated in the Cambridge Companion to John Calvin: [EXT]Reformed theology has often been described as covenantal theology, and rightly so. However, it is Heinrich Bullinger, not Calvin, who first emphasized the role of the covenant. Nevertheless, Calvin gave classical form to the doctrine of one covenant of grace, in contrast to the later Reformed notion of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The covenant takes several forms…but the basic covenant promise is one: ‘I will be your God and you shall be my people’ – and the substance of all the covenants is Jesus Christ.[2][/EXT] Evangelical Calvinism thus rejects the theology of two or three separate covenants in Scripture because we believe that it artificially collapses the tension of God’s personal work in Christ into a schematized system that does not honor the radical and dynamic personalist disclosure of God’s redemptive history as mediated penultimately through Israel; and ultimately, in and through Christ. As a corollary, the emphasis on “one divine decree” flows from the fact that God is one; in accord with this, we should expect that God’s gracious activity towards us is consonant with who he is as the One and only living God (as per thesis 1).[3]


[1]For an introductory work on the Reformed understanding of the covenants see Horton, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology.

[2] Hesselink, “Calvin’s Theology,” 85-86.

[3] See further in chapters 4 and 7 earlier in the volume.



  1. Indeed the whole ‘covenant of works’, is simply a theological idea, and later pressed-out in Puritan theology. I agree I don’t think we can press this threefold division. We can have a “Federal” headship and theology, that is simply seen more in the one covenant and in the so-called ‘Federal-Vision’, which does not over play these divisions, and sets itself in the “one divine decree”.


  2. Fr Robert,

    Welcome to Evangelical Calvinism 😉 . I think this point is so often lost, today, within the Federal schema of things. One will of God theology fits with the idea that there is but one God, and fits with the revelation of salvation history.


  3. I must confess that I do not see warrant for a covenant of redemption or grace in which the other covenants are set. I see evidence for a creation covenant by virtue of the created order but I do not see evidence for calling it the covenant of works. Rather, all the historical covenant require “works” in that the covenant has obligations of the covenant party. I am covenantal but not of the kind formulated from Reformation.


  4. Ian,

    The Covenant of Grace that ‘EC’ follows is one laid out from the life of God, antecedently, of which its reality is become known through its temporal outworking in the history of salvation in the election of Christ’s humanity for us; as it is prefigured in the life and history of the Jews or God’s Covenant people, of whom all humanity is (in Christ’s humanity for us). This is definitely a theological reading, but not one that I think is at odds with what the inner theologic of scripture and the life of Christ in the incarnation demands.

    You’re right though, there are going to be different ways to deal with this question; it is really an issue of hermeneutics. And here you get to see how us EC’rs, Myk and I in particular, have dealt with this 🙂 .


  5. Bobby: I have come to see that even Calvin does not press a covenant-works, theologically. But the Covenant that demands “Christian” obligations within the life of grace. Sadly, Calvin has been pressed all over the place historically. And yet Calvin’s “voluntarism” actually helps me to see that the will is placed prior to intellect in the inward causality. I think here would be your Scotist idea in Calvin. Funny, reading again ‘the Problem of Intellect and Will’ in the chapter by Muller (The Unaccommodated Calvin), has lead me in this direction. And I have been affected again by reading about Aquinas, in Gilson who says, that “the understanding and the will reciprocally include and move each other.”


  6. Fr Robert,

    Interestingly, voluntarism is not my friend; but I think that these elements were present in Calvin’s construal, at least relative to his doctrine of God (see Muller’s “Decree”). I’ve read Muller’s “Unaccommodated” and Gilson on Aquinas (in the long past), both helpful for sure. Ultimately, as you know, I follow an onto-relational anthropology which comes from, you know, TFT. But components of this are definitely present in Calvin’s understanding of things; esp. his unio mystica. I’m glad to see, though, that you are driven more to Calvin on this though.


  7. Bobby,

    Yeah, I think reading ‘Barth’ thru the eyes of Webster again has been helpful for me, and Calvin certainly needs to be seen outside of Puritan eyes. But, I have been reading the Catholic Dominican, Gilles Emery’s book: The Trinity, An Intro. to Catholic Doctrine on the Triune God. I am just very Trinitarian by my own faith and experience. And you know I love TFT’s ‘The Trinitarian Faith’, etc.

    Btw, on a secondary note, I am quickily looking again at a few E.P. Sanders books: Paul, A Very Short Introduction, and his ‘The Historical Figure Of Jesus’. I have always been able to access him better than NT Wright. I suppose since Wright is an Anglican, I expect more ecclesiology from him. He did so disappoint me as a Anglican bishop.


  8. Fr Robert,

    I am glad to hear that your are engaging Barth thru Webster; I like to do that to, to the extent that I have. And yes, being Trinitarian is my way too.

    Never read much of Sanders, but certainly know of him.


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