Readers of this blog will know that I have a particular interest in John Owen’s covenant theology. His commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13 was a breath of fresh air when I first read it several years ago, and I have done what I can share Owen’s view with others. Part of that process has involved challenging misrepresentations of Owen’s view such as Iron Can’t Sharpen Iron Without Honesty and McMahon’s Misrepresentation of John Owen. Amidst discussion of “republication” I have been disappointed by the neglect of Owen’s view as part of that discussion. Although his view of the Mosaic Covenant fits very closely with Kline’s and with “republication”, he doesn’t fit the modern paradigm because he recognized this meant he departed from the WCF. Modern proponents are very eager to retain their allegiance to WCF, so they say as little as possible about Owen.
Last night at the airport I read a new post on the Puritanboard by R. Scott Clark: Of Red Cats and Republication. Clark tried to correct misunderstandings about republication and urged people to read Brenton Ferry’s thesis paper, which is a taxonomy of reformed covenant theology. There was one statement I took issue with:
3) This history of the doctrine. Through the history of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there were several versions of the view expressed in a wide variety of ways. In no way did any of those views imply that the Mosaic covenant was not also an administration of the covenant of grace
I responded to Clark with the following (paraphrased as best I can remember, since it’s no longer online):
I second Rich’s plea for more sober rhetoric. I think much of the rhetoric has distracted from the important issues involved in republication (and I have been guilty of created more heat than light when I’ve written on this topic as well – something I’m seeking to repent of). I only want to comment on one point Dr. Clark made. He said:
In no way did any of those views imply that the Mosaic covenant was not also an administration of the covenant of grace
This may be a good example of the problem bad rhetoric creates in this discussion. Is John Owen to be considered one of these various views? If so, then Dr. Clark’s statement is false and he is guilty of over-stating his case.
Having shown in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition to the old covenant, so I shall propose several things which relate to the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace.
John Owen : Exposition of Hebrews 8:6
Dr. Clark encouraged Rich and others to read Brenton Ferry thesis paper to better understand this historical situation. The odd thing is, Ferry’s paper supports my objection that Dr. Clark’s statement is false:
To be sure, others before Kline, such as Bolton and John Owen (1616-1683) were compelled to dislocate the Mosaic Covenant from the Covenant of Grace, perhaps because they did not ascribe as much significance to the typological function of the Jewish covenant.
…Later on Jeon says, “Owen admits that in a sense the Sinaitic Covenant was ‘a distinct’ covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace….” But for Owen, the covenant made at Sinai was distinct in every sense.
…Owen’s arrangement consists of the Covenant of Redemption made between the Father and Son in eternity, the Covenant of Works made with Adam before the fall, the Covenant of Grace made with believers, and a “particular, temporary covenant” made with Israel.
…Owen separates himself from the classic-administrative view, adopting the subservient view. Why not subsume the discussion about Owen under the Subservient Covenant where it belongs?
…The first view that overly limits the Mosaic Covenant is that the covenant was only a carnal, temporal covenant. His concern is to protect the soteric nature of the Mosaic Covenant. About leading proponents of this view, he writes, “Papists have led the way, and Socinians and Anabaptists follow.”103 We might also add Reformed leaders like Owen. This is what Bolton calls the Subservient Covenant view.
…Owen’s view of the carnal, Mosaic Covenant is apparently no respecter of theological systems.
…Owen’s approach highlights the organic question, contrasting his subservient position with the common administrative view. Again, with Owen we see points of contact between his view and Socinians, Roman Catholics, and Lutherans on the organic question.
So it seems Dr. Clark is correct to say there were a variety of views, but incorrect to say that “in no way did any of those views imply that the Mosaic Covenant was not also an administration of the covenant of grace”. Furthermore, in Ferry’s response to Ramsey, he admits that the subservient view was contrary to the WCF (but argues Kline’s view isn’t subservient). Thus Dr. Clark is wrong to suggest that all the various views were equally confessionally acceptable.
Having very clearly demonstrated from quoting Owen and quoting the thesis paper Dr. Clark recommends to everyone that Dr. Clark’s statement was false, what was the response?
My post was deleted with the following note from the moderator:
Brandon, you’ve been shown before that your reading of Owen is inadequate.
I’m not inclined to give you much leeway to promote a view that sets Owen at odds with himself, based on a failure to distinguish between how a commentary and a dogmatic treatise function.[/Moderator]
In other words, I’m not allowed to discuss this issue any more on the Puritanboard. Someone prominent on the board disagreed with me, so obviously I’m wrong (please do read the link the moderator refers to, it’s laughable). Apparently it doesn’t matter that both sides of the republication debate have published papers supporting my statements about Owen (in addition to Ferry, see the Kerux review).