Home > 1689 federalism, General > Chris Caughey’s Open Letter

Chris Caughey’s Open Letter

Chris Caughey is a co-host of the new Glory Cloud Podcast focusing on the teachings of Meredith Kline. He was a student of Kline’s at Westminster Seminary California. He recently completed a PhD study on 17th century views of the Mosaic Covenant, including what appears to be a rather good look at Owen. I may be mistaken, but I think his study may have been done under Crawford Gribben (at the very least Gribben has read it and recommends it – I have not read it). I appreciate Caughey’s perspective. He recognizes that there was a view of the Mosaic Covenant in the 17th century (the Westminster view, though he might quibble with what it does or does not allow) that is unbiblical and logically leads to very serious errors.

I mention all this because someone recently sent me an Open Letter that Caughey wrote in response to Micah and Samuel’s Renihan’s paper “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology” which was originally delivered a lunch-time lecture while they were students at WSC and has since been published in the volume Recovering a Covenantal Heritage.

I do not know when Caughey wrote his open letter, so I don’t know if he would still affirm what it says or not. Much of his concern stems from misunderstanding the purpose of the paper/presentation and (apparently) not having studied the literature. He criticizes them for not providing a full exegetical defense of their position. But that was not their intention. Their intention was to provide a brief overview of Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology. They reference Nehemiah Coxe and others, as places readers can turn to to read a book-length exegetical defense of the position. Since then many other publications have become available (see http://www.1689federalism.com for a list). It does not appear that Caughey had studied that material at the time of his Open Letter.

That said, someone still asked about it and it provides an opportunity to point people to resources that address Caughey’s helpful questions. So here we go:

You make the surprising claim that the covenant of grace (which began at Genesis 3:15) is the “retro-active application of the New Covenant.” Doesn’t this create more problems than it solves? In what way is Ishmael a member of this retro-active, elect-only New Covenant? What about Esau?

I don’t know what problem Caughey has in mind here. If Ishmael and Esau were reprobate, they were not part of the New Covenant/Covenant of Grace. If they were elect, then they were. It appears the “problem” likely is coming from Caughey’s identification of the Abrahamic Covenant with the Covenant of Grace. But since that is not a view the Renihan’s share, it’s not a problem for them.

[W]hat is the relationship between the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Circumcision? Are you wanting to try to make a theological move similar to Kline’s (actually Paul, I will argue) with regard to the Mosaic covenant – a move which says that the Mosaic Covenant is a distinct, historically parallel, related-to-the-covenant-of-grace, but not identical to it?

Yes.

[C]an you show me the commitments which distinguish the two covenants? Perhaps distinct sanctions? Is the lord of the covenant the same in each? I gather that at least the servants of the two covenants are different

The Covenant of Circumcision is made with Abraham and his physical offspring promising to make them a great nation and give them the land of Canaan, and also promising that the Messiah would come from them (Rom 9:5).

The Covenant of Grace (New Covenant) is made with Christ and the elect in Him (Abraham’s spiritual offspring) promising union with Christ and all its blessings (regeneration, faith, justification, sanctification, glorification, eternal life).

Where is the Covenant of Grace at this particular point in redemptive history (i.e., during the time of the Covenant of Circumcision)? How can it be identified?

As Owen explains, it operated “invisibly, in the way of a promise, put[ting] forth its efficacy under types and shadows. It “had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it.” “When the new covenant was given out only in the way of a promise, it did not introduce a worship and privileges expressive of it. Wherefore it was consistent with a form of worship, rites and ceremonies, and those composed into a yoke of bondage which belonged not unto it.”

Does Paul’s analogy of the olive tree in Romans 11 allow for your distinction between the Covenant of Circumcision and the Covenant of Grace?

Yes. See The Olive Tree.

If there is an exegetical argument for this innovation, you must make it plain.

We have. You just need to read more.

Paul argues for our justification by appealing to Abraham’s justification.

Yes, we are saved the same way Abraham was: through New Covenant union with Christ our mediator. As Owen said “The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant.” And as Calvin admitted “There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.”

To argue that because Abraham was justified through faith alone the Abrahamic Covenant is therefore the Covenant of Grace is an invalid argument because it’s missing a premise.

For more see:

[I]n Galatians 3, Paul uses “the Promise” as shorthand for the Covenant of Grace.

See Gal. 3:18 – Generic Law and Promise, or Sinai and Messiah?

What is the antitype of Ishmael and Esau’s circumcision?

They were circumcised as the physical offspring of Abraham, which was typological of the spiritual offspring of Abraham. See Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel. Paul also uses Ishmael and Esau as types of reprobation (with Isaac and Jacob being types of election in Christ). Augustine notes that Ishmael was an image of an image – referring to the fact that in Galatians 4 Ishmael is made a type of Israel, which in turn is a type of the church. See They are not all Israel, who are of Israel.

[Y]ou say that the Mosaic Covenant “conditioned the enjoyment of the Abrahamic blessings.” Do you read Galatians 3:15-18 that way? That seems to be exactly the opposite of what Paul is arguing there. There, Paul says that once a covenant has been ratified – as Abraham’s had been in Genesis 15 – conditions cannot be added to it… [Y]ou say that “The extent to which those blessings would be enjoyed, however, depended upon the obedience of the people of Israel.” Is that how you read Galatians 3:17-18?

The Renihans’ comments were in reference to the Abrahamic blessings concerning the land of Canaan. Horton agrees:

Eventually, God’s promise was fulfilled: Israel did inherit the land. As mentioned previously, God promised a holy land and everlasting life. As becomes clearer with the progress of redemption, the land was (like Adam’s enjoyment of Eden) dependent on works — the obedience of the Israelites. The Mosaic covenant, with its ceremonial and civil as well as moral laws, promised blessing for obedience and judgment for disobedience. Once again, God would fight for his people and give them a new Eden, a land flowing with milk and honey. God would be present among his people in the temple as long as they were righteous.

But (also like Adam) Israel failed and in its rebellion violated the treaty with the great king, provoking God to enact the sanctions of this works covenant. The lush garden of God became a wasteland of thorns and thistles, as God removed his kingdom back up into heaven, the children of Israel being carted off to Babylonian exile.

A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002; p. 22)

Note that Horton distinguishes between two promises made to Abraham: a holy land and everlasting life. Earlier he says “Two sorts of things are promised by God in this covenant: a holy land (Canaan) and everlasting life.” This can be understood as the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, which we are strongly in favor of. We would simply clarify and improve upon Horton’s statement. What was promised to Abraham and his offspring was not everlasting life, plain and simple. What was promised was that a Messiah would be born from them in order to bless all nations. The actual blessing of all nations refers to the establishment of the New Covenant in the death of Christ. The Abrahamic Covenant did not grant everlasting life (regeneration, faith, justification, etc) to anyone. It promised that a Messiah would come from Abraham to establish the New Covenant and grant everlasting life to all nations. (Note that everlasting life was never, even during Abraham’s time, restricted to the line of Abraham and thus it was never restricted to the Abrahamic Covenant. If it came to men during Abraham’s time apart from the Abrahamic Covenant there is no reason to assume that it must have come to Abraham through the Abrahamic Covenant.)

Thus Galatians 3:17-18 does not teach that the Abrahamic blessings regarding the land of Canaan were not conditioned upon obedience to the Mosaic law. It teaches exactly the opposite. The strange part is that Caughey agrees. He apparently wants to separate the blessings of the land of Canaan from the Abrahamic Covenant. This is a common (and strange) move by Klineans. See

Far from reading Abraham’s covenantal dispensation as typological, Paul reads it as eschatological. Paul’s inspired interpretation of “and to your seed” and his analysis of “inheritance,” does not fit well with your construct.

This is a strange argument. The fact that Paul interprets “your seed” as referring to Christ, and by consequence the elect, and not as referring to the rest of Abraham’s physical seed (Isaac, Jacob/Israel) who it has immediate reference to in Genesis 17, and the fact that Paul’s analysis of “inheritance” refers not to Canaan but to eternal life somehow demonstrates that God’s promises to Abraham were not typological?

What about the law given at Sinai – that law which Israel swore an oath to obey? What is the significance of Leviticus 18:5/Galatians 3:10-12?… Certainly the ceremonial, sacrificial, and priestly system of the Mosaic Covenant typologically revealed grace and the forgiveness of sins – but not the law.

This is a strange objection. He’s trying to object to the Renihan’s statment that “every single element of the Mosaic economy typologically revealed and set before the eyes of the Jews the Covenant of Grace wherein true righteousness is found, true forgiveness of sins, and true holiness could be found.”

Note: the law typologically revealed that “true righteousness is found” is Jesus Christ, the head of the Covenant of Grace. This is a point that Caughey makes together with Lee Irons repeatedly in their podcast, so I don’t know what the problem is. Apparently Caughey thinks the Covenant of Grace has nothing to do with Christ’s obedience to the law.

I must object that the Abrahamic covenant was national.

Again, a common, strange argument made by Klineans. See again

I must also object to a certain sense of the Abrahamic Covenant being temporary.

Is anyone today looking for their offspring to inherit the land of Canaan? Does anyone today expect the Messiah to be born from them?

You make an assertion about the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants being distinct in essence and substance from the covenant of grace. Exegetically, I agree with you that regarding the Mosaic and Davidic (as per Rom. 5, Rom. 10, Gal. 3, etc).

Again, a strange attempt to separate the Abrahamic covenant from these others. See

as your quote stands right now, it comes off as selective editing of Kline in order to make him say what you want him to say.

No, it’s agreeing with one point a theologian makes but coming to a different conclusion from it. It happens a lot in theology.

[H]ow do you know [that the Covenant of Grace is made with the elect]? What is the exegetical evidence for this construct? While I agree that the Covenant of Redemption was made between the persons of the Trinity to secure the salvation of the elect, I do not agree that the membership of the Covenant of Grace is co-extensive with the Covenant of Redemption.

“The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the elect is a perfectly Scriptural idea, as appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-12.” (Berkhof)

See also Owen on Hebrews 8:11 “The proposition is universal, as to the modification of the subject, “all;” but in the word aujtw~n, “of them,” it is restrained unto those alone with whom this covenant is made… Where there is not some degree of saving knowledge, there no interest in the new covenant can be pretended…Persons destitute of this saving knowledge are utter strangers unto the covenant of grace; for this is a principal promise and effect of it, wherever it doth take place.”

And Augustine on Jer. 31:34 “Now all these predestinated, called, justified, glorified ones, shall know God by the grace of the new testament [covenant], from the least to the greatest of them.”

As well as James R. White’s two chapters in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage.

I have often thought of making the case that of unbelievers being united with Adam, “in Adam” as a parallel to Paul’s language of —- (Greek). However, that does not work out, exegetically.

Huh? Adam was not the federal/covenant head of all mankind?

If the membership of the New Covenant were made up only of the elect, then does that mean that Paul is teaching that the elect can lose their salvation in his olive tree analogy in verses 16-24?

No. See The Olive Tree.

Or what about the warning passages in the book of Hebrews – Hebrews 2:1-4 – 6:4-8 – 10:26-31? Why warn people whom God has sovereignly decreed to save, that they might possibly perish for unbelief?

Because we don’t know who the elect (members of the New Covenant) are.

I know Tom Schreiner says that the warning performs the perlocutionary function of actually causing the perseverance. But with all due respect to Tom, that is not persuasive to me at all. The warning passages are meant to be frightening – but they are meant to be frightening to the unbeliever who is a member of the (New!) covenant.

Which is begging the question.

Regarding Hebrews 6, see Owen’s excellent comments. For Hebrews 10, see Hebrews 10 & John 15.

[T]he most straightforward way to read Romans 11 and the warning passages in Hebrews is that the New Covenant membership includes believers and unbelievers.

Yes, that’s how a paedobaptist would read those passages. So?

The wheat and the tares will not be separated until the Final Judgment.

The field is the world, not the New Covenant.

Since there is no command to baptize only those who have made a credible profession of faith, credobaptism is invalid and unbiblical.

Caughey doesn’t understand the regulative principle. He has just argued from the normative principle. The regulative principle does not require a positive prohibition. Everything aside from what is commanded is prohibited. Baptism upon a credible profession of faith is commanded. All else is prohibited.

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  1. November 15, 2016 at 4:44 am

    I love seeing interaction like this,… it helps clarify my own understanding. So just wanted to say, appreciate it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dave
    November 15, 2016 at 7:12 am

    👍🏻 Very helpful, Brandon. Thank you. I’ve had a copy of Caughey’s letter for several years and have puzzled at his circular reasoning and confusion. I hope he reads this response and reconsiders his views.

    Liked by 1 person

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