James White doesn’t know what 1689 Federalism is

James White is a tremendous preacher, teacher, apologist, and reformed baptist. I greatly value his ministry.

However, there is some confusion regarding his covenant theology. People have asked him before if he agrees with 1689 Federalism and he has said yes. However, I have suspected for many reasons, that he misunderstands the question, thinking it is simply a question about the 2nd London Baptist Confession, and that he doesn’t actually know what 1689 Federalism is.

That suspicion was basically confirmed in his recent debate on baptism with Gregg Strawbridge.

Strawbridge: “So the New Covenant only includes regenerate people in your point of view?”

White: “The New Covenant does, certainly.”

Strawbridge: “And is that distinctive of the new covenant?”

White: “That’s what Hebrews 8 says, yes.”

Strawbridge: “Was Abraham regenerate?”

White: “Of course.”

Strawbridge: “How so? He wasn’t in the New Covenant.”

White: “He’s in the covenant of grace. This is a well known position. We’re not saying that the only people who are regenerate were in the New Covenant. There were regenerate people under the Old Covenant. The point is that those individuals who were regenerate under the Old Covenant were called the remnant. There is never a remnant of the New Covenant.”

Strawbridge: “Is Abraham called the remnant in the bible?”

White: “No, but the remnant are those people in Israel who are differentiated from those who do not have a true faith.”

Strawbridge: “The remnant becomes part the later history of Israel when various things fall away. I believe that. But what I’m saying is that if what’s new about the New Covenant is regeneration–”

White: “No, it’s not. You’ve misunderstood our position. I’m sure you know that Reformed Baptists believe that there were regenerate people under the Old Covenant. The point was that the Old Covenant did not guarantee the regeneration of everyone that received that received its signs.”

Dr. White’s response was very clearly an articulation of the modern or “20th century Reformed Baptist” view, as opposed to the 1689 Federalism view. Which is completely fine, if that’s what he believes. But my suspicion has been that, because he is so busy, he’s simply unaware of 1689 Federalism and the covenantal heritage being recovered.

That suspicion was confirmed in his chat chan today:

brandonadams: In cross-ex Strawbridge asked White how Abraham was regenerated if he wasn’t in the new covenant. White responded by appealing to the covenant of grace under multiple administrations, stating that regeneration is not exclusive to the new covenant, but the extent of regeneration in the covenant is the difference…
[09:07am] DrOakley: I was totally amazed that he, a former Reformed Baptist, even asked the question.
[09:07am] brandonadams: why?
[09:07am] DrOakley: Because he should know better.
[09:07am] DrOakley: He should know we believe there were regenerate men before the cross! Good grief!
[09:07am] DrOakley: That would be like me asking him if he’s a Trinitarian or something. Just silly.
[09:08am] brandonadams: Dr White, have you had an opportunity to study 1689 Federalism yet?
[09:08am] • DrOakley stares
[09:08am] DrOakley: No, brandon, never heard of the 1689. What’s that?
[09:09am] brandonadams: i’m not asking if you’ve studied the confession. I’m asking if you’ve studied 1689 Federalism, which is a specific covenant theology that is different from modern reformed baptist covenant theology

[09:16am] brandonadams: Dr. White?
[09:16am] DrOakley: Yes?
[09:17am] brandonadams: Have you studied 1689 Federalism?
[09:17am] brandonadams: i’m just trying to find out if you studied and reject it, or if you haven’t had time to study it yet
[09:17am] DrOakley: Are you suggesting modern Reformed Baptists have misunderstood their own confession?
[09:17am] brandonadams: yes
[09:17am] DrOakley: I see.
[09:18am] brandonadams: And James Renihan says the same thing
[09:18am] DrOakley: No, I do not invest much time studying every little off-shoot idea out there, sorry. There are…many.
[09:18am] DrOakley: Can’t keep up with them all.
[09:18am] DrOakley: Is it a major movement?
[09:18am] brandonadams: yes
[09:18am] DrOakley: Lots of books on it?
[09:18am] brandonadams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvPoAnMGuGE
[09:18am] brandonadams: yes
[09:18am] DrOakley: I see.
[09:18am] DrOakley: Great.
[09:19am] brandonadams: http://1689federalism.com/
[09:20am] brandonadams: I’m asking because 1689 Federalism teaches that Abraham was a member of the New Covenant because regeneration is a blessing exclusive to the New Covenant. It rejects the multiple administrations view of the covenant of grace and identifies the new covenant alone as the covenant of grace
[09:21am] DrOakley: I see.
[09:22am] DrOakley: I would think the writer to the Hebrews would have mentioned such a claim.

I don’t blame Dr. White at all. He’s got a lot on his plate. But I just want to avoid confusion for people out there who have studied 1689 Federalism. James White does not hold to it. He does not know what it is. He may hold to it in the future, but at the present time, he holds to the modern reformed baptist view of covenant theology. His chapters as they appear in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage are consistent with 1689 Federalism, but it was written many years ago as a journal article and he has clearly not read any of the other chapters in the book (which, again, is totally fine – he’s busy).

26 thoughts on “James White doesn’t know what 1689 Federalism is

  1. Hugh McCann

    Brandon, White’s not the only confused and ignorant one out here.
    Will you make up a chart with
    the modern or “20th century Reformed Baptist” view
    the 1689 Federalism view,
    the 1646 WCF view[s],
    other pertinent Baptist views,
    and/ or Owen’s view?


  2. For future reference, non-regulars who come in to log the channel, and post those logs in public are typically precluded from re-entry. I’m one of the channel admins, incidentally.


  3. jonathan bennett

    Brandon, just for clarification: you are saying the James White holds to a “fulfilled Sabbath” view? If so, my reading of him is much different.


    1. I’m not certain what he holds. I just know years ago when I was studying the issue he told a caller the best treatment of the issue was D.A. Carson’s edited “From Sabbath to Lord’s Day.” His comments were brief and he didn’t want to talk about it. I haven’t investigated beyond that.


  4. Tony Hernández

    Hi Brandon good afternoon, I’m new studiyng the Covenant Theology views, but i want to ask you please, if Owen’s thought was consistent with 1689 Federalism, why did he remained as a paedobaptist then, which one was his argument to baptize babies as a mature theologian?


    1. Hi Tony. Owen’s thought developed over the course of his life. The view that 1689 Federalism appeals to was articulated very late in his life shortly before he died. Who knows what might have happened if he had lived longer. That said, he also did not necessarily hold to every part of 1689 Federalism’s understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant (though some important parts he did). For more on this, see the following resources:


      http://www.1689federalism.com/from-shadow-to-substance/ (a whole section is devoted to your question)



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