A Teaser Post for a Forthcoming Post on Covenant

As a teaser, the post I am working on–which should be finished by the end of this week–has to do with Myk Habets’ and my thesis number 3 from our EC book; this thesis:

[A]Thesis Three

Adam-and-Eve-GardenThere 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.

What I want to do with this is, by engaging with a bit of Karl Barth, discuss why the employment of ‘Covenant’, as in its dogmatic conception (like Covenant of Grace) is not an artificial interpretive device, but one that necessarily flows from the theo-logic of the biblical text itself. Just as the the doctrine of the Trinity theologically shapes all of Scripture, likewise, I will argue, so does the Covenant of Grace, properly construed.

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