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Review of “Recovering a Covenantal Heritage”

December 10, 2014 7 comments

Recovering a Covenantal Heritage is a collection of essays on Covenant Theology from a Confessionally Reformed Baptist perspective. It was published in December, 2014 by Reformed Baptist Associated Press. 527 pages. Edited by Richard C. Barcellos.

Blank bookcover with clipping pathReading the book stirred up a love for and worship of the Lord. It thoroughly developed in me a desire to see the church reformed according to the Word of God (Ch. 4) because, as Michael T. Renihan notes in Chapter 6 “The recovery of right baptism was Tombes’ personal, yet godly, obsession. He was concerned with the right practice of this ordinance for the good of man’s soul, not to win a theological point. The debate that raged in the seventeenth century was more than the mere academic production of print on paper. Tombes really believed that the right doctrine would have major repercussions in the church-at-large. I believe that Tombes was right on target. These ripples still affect the churches of our day.”

James Renihan’s very helpful Introduction helps readers to understand how this rich covenantal heritage was lost to baptists in the 20th century through the combination of revivalism, modernism, fundamentalism, and dispensationalism.

Chapter 1 “A Brief Overview of Seventeenth-Century Reformed Orthodox Federalism” places particular baptist covenant theology directly in that stream by demonstrating that throughout the seventeenth century, covenant theologians built upon one another while refining various points. Coxe retained these orthodox advancements while refining them through his understanding that revelation was “progressive and Christo-climactic.”

Chapter 2 (“Covenant Theology in the First and Second London Baptist Confessions”) does a marvelous job of showing how central covenant theology was to both confessions as a whole, rather than simply the focus of one or two paragraphs. James Renihan also demonstrates that these confessions were reluctantly accepted as orthodox even by those looking for any excuse to persecute the baptists. A hidden gem in this chapter is footnote 21, which states “21 Much of the following material is taken from or based upon my yet unnamed, forthcoming exposition of the 2LCF.” This work will be a blessing.

I did take exception to Renihan’s brief comment on LBCF 7.1 (69). I do not believe the Confession is stating that God’s condescension in establishing the covenant of works was rooted in God’s incomprehensibility. I did not find this explanation in Coxe. Rather, I believe the Confession is simply pointing out, per it’s proof text, that man owed obedience to God as image bearers and could not expect any reward for that obedience. Thus the reward of eternal rest/life for perfect obedience was a benevolent, or “condescending” (that is, something God was not obligated to do) offer to man. Coxe: “It implies a free and Sovereign Act of the Divine Will, exerted in condescending Love and Goodness; it is not from any necessity of nature that God enters into covenant with men, but of his own good pleasure.”

Chapter 3 (“By Farther Steps: A Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist Covenant Theology”) is a very encouraging chapter. When baptists today have struggled to work out all the knots of covenant theology, mostly unaware of historic formulations, it is exciting to work through this chapter and see how seventeenth century baptists had already thought through and answered these difficulties. The distinction between revealed and concluded, or “promise and promulgation” does not simply help baptist covenant theology make sense, it helps Scripture make sense. Much of the New Testament’s commentary on the Old Covenant, which continues to puzzle many covenant theologians, becomes rather crystal clear.

That said, make sure to take note of Richard Barcellos’ note in the preface: “It in no way pretends to be a fully worked-out Baptist covenant theology. It contains essays by thirteen different authors who do not necessarily advocate the fine details of every contribution, something that is quite common with multiple-author works.”

For example, in Chapter 3 (“By Farther Steps: A Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist Covenant Theology”) Pascal Denault explains “Samuel Petto considered that the Old Covenant did not have the same function for Israel as for Christ. For Israel it was a national covenant by whose conditions she received blessings and curses in its land (Deut. 28). For Christ, it was a covenant of works for which he had to accomplish righteousness actively and passively (Rom. 5:18-20; 8:3-4; Gal. 3:13; 4:4-5).” And goes on to note “This explanation from Petto demonstrates how he himself, and most of the Particular Baptists, considered that the covenant of works was reaffirmed with a different goal than at its first promulgation.”

While on the other hand, in Chapter 16 (“Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology”) Micah and Samuel Renihan are clear that “tenure in the land was what was in view in the Mosaic law [and all of the Old Covenant]” (not eternal life). And in Chapter 7 (“John Owen on the Mosaic Covenant”), Thomas E. Hicks, Jr. clarifies that Owen “did not believe that the Mosaic Covenant extended the promise of spiritual or eternal life at all… The Mosaic Covenant contained a reminder of the covenant of works, announcing the terms that belonged not to itself, but to the original covenant of works with Adam… what was promised to the Israelites for their faith, love, and obedience under the Mosaic Covenant was not eternal life (spiritual reality), but temporal, earthly blessings, including land and physical prosperity (physical picture).” And thus, Christ did not fulfill the terms of the Old Covenant for believers. Christ fulfilled his own covenant of works, the Covenant of Redemption.

[Note: Most particular baptists expressed agreement with Owen on this point, rather than Petto. Pascal Denault has since changed his stance on this. See the Q&A session of his recent lectures on 1689 Federalism for the Reformed Baptist Seminary.]

Jeffery D. Johnson holds to Petto’s view, yet his excellent Chapter 9 (“The Fatal Flaw of Infant Baptism: The Dichotomous Nature of the Abrahamic Covenant”) is written broadly enough to be interpreted in light of either view, depending on how one views the typology of the Abrahamic Covenant.

For more on this point, google Republication, the Mosaic Covenant, and Eternal Life 1689 Federalism.

In Chapter 4 (“The Puritan Argument for the Immersion of Believers: How Seventeenth-Century Baptists Utilized the Regulative Principle of Worship”), G. Steve Weaver, Jr. helpfully places the particular baptists within their proper context as Puritans, not Anabaptists (see Chapter 5 fn 54 “It also shows some adaptation on the part of the author to antipaedobaptist concerns. Therein is found a repudiation of the prejudicial use of alleged connections between Continental Anabaptists and Antipaedobaptists”). As Weaver notes “These Baptist pastors sought to apply the regulative principle more thoroughly than had Calvin or Burroughs and the Reformed/ Puritan tradition which they represented.”

An interesting note not mentioned by Weaver is that the Westminster Assembly voted 25-24 in opposition to requiring immersion. Wright, D. F. (2007). Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective (250–252) notes the debate that ensued for 3 days, with comments such as “if we say dipping is necessary, ‘we shall further anabaptisme’ (John Ley, and John Lightfoot).” Again, Puritan baptists were operating within the stream of theological discourse of their day, not outside of it.

Chapter 5 (“The Antipaedobaptism of John Tombes”) from Michael T. Renihan presents a very interesting history of figure I knew nothing about. Renihan notes that “The recovery of right baptism was Tombes’ personal, yet godly, obsession. He was concerned with the right practice of this ordinance for the good of man’s soul, not to win a theological point.” What is interesting is that Tombes remained a non-separating Purtian his whole life, while urging the Church of England to abandon the practice of infant baptism through the publication of thousands of pages of argument and response, which nearly cost him his livelihood, save for God’s providence. He responded to every objection he was given, going to great lengths to find answers, including moving to London specifically to have access to people and books that could help answer his quest for the practice of true baptism. The result was that he laid much of the theological foundation for particular baptists to build upon.

Chapter 6 (“The Abrahamic Covenant in the Thought of John Tombes”) summarizes Tombes’ voluminous work under the foundational argument expressed in syllogism:

Major premise: That which hath no testimony in Scripture for it, is doubtfull.
Minor premise: But this Doctrine of Infant-Baptisme, hath no testimony of Scripture for it;
Conclusion: Ergo, it is doubtfull.

Chapter 7 (“John Owen on the Mosaic Covenant”) from Thomas E. Hicks, Jr. demonstrates that Owen does not easily fit into existing categories of covenant theology, and certainly not into Ernest Kevan’s claim that all covenant theology fits into two groups: those who affirmed the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works and those who affirmed it was a covenant of grace. Owen denied the Mosaic Covenant offered eternal life, and thus it was neither the covenant of works nor the covenant of grace, but was a separate covenant concerning tenure in the land of Canaan – rejecting Calvin and the Westminster formulation of the Mosaic Covenant as of the same substance as the covenant of grace.

Hicks is right on the money when he notes that “In systematic theology, the nature of the Mosaic Covenant is relevant to the doctrine of justification. If the Mosaic Covenant is strictly a covenant of grace and if justification is a verdict rendered on the basis of one’s conformity to the terms of the covenant of grace, then theologians may find sufficient warrant to conclude that it is reasonable to include good works in the verdict of justification. On the other hand, if the Mosaic Covenant is a covenant of works, and if Paul and others are arguing against justification by obedience to that covenant, then an argument against justification by good works clearly emerges in the scriptural corpus.”

I would also love to see another of his comments teased out: “Careful study of Owen’s doctrine of the Mosaic Covenant could be useful in clearly delineating his political theory and explaining some of the theological motivation for his political action.” Though I am not certain this would be the case because Owen’s defense of certain political views appear to be refuted by his more mature views on the Mosaic Covenant.

In Chapter 8 (“A ‘Novel’ Approach to Credobaptist and Paedobaptist Polemics”), Jeffrey A. Massey recounts the history of the nineteenth century use of fiction as a polemic in the debate over baptism. As a filmmaker myself, his account of the debate over the proper use of fiction to advance biblical truth was particularly relevant to me. However, upon reading his summary of the novels written to defend various views of baptism, I can say I am thankful that none of the authors of this volume resorted to such methods.

Chapter 9 (“The Fatal Flaw of Infant Baptism: The Dichotomous Nature of the Abrahamic Covenant”) by Jeffrey D. Johnson helpfully presents the biblical data showing that the Abrahamic Covenant was a single covenant with two dimensions. This is similar to, yet different from Kline’s Two Level Fulfillment, and was articulated by seventeenth century particular baptists. His comments regarding circumcision symbolizing full obedience of the law from the heart (Deut 30:6) was particularly helpful.

He correctly notes “Importantly, the Mosaic Covenant did not replace, alter, or add to the condition placed upon the physical seed of Abraham in Genesis 17. It merely gave clarity to what was already required by circumcision. In other words, the Mosaic Covenant grew out of and codified the conditional side of the Abrahamic Covenant.” This is a point that is ignored by modern paedobaptist proponents of republication. On the other hand, John Murray (note mentioned in the chapter) recognized that “The obedience of Abraham is represented as the condition upon which the fulfilment of the promise given to him was contingent and the obedience of Abraham’s seed is represented as the means through which the promise given to Abraham would be accomplished. There is undoubtedly the fulfilment of certain conditions… the idea of conditional fulfilment is not something peculiar to the Mosaic covenant. We have been faced quite poignantly with this very question in connection with the Abrahamic covenant. And since this feature is there patent, it does not of itself provide us with any reason for construing the Mosaic covenant in terms different from those of the Abrahamic.” Murray greatly erred in transferring this principle to the New Covenant, yet he was faithful to the Old Testament text.

As mentioned above, I would take issue with Johnson’s statement that “the gospel that was promised in the Abrahamic Covenant was contingent upon the fulfillment of the law of the Mosaic Covenant,” depending on how it is interpreted. I do not believe Christ fulfilled the Mosaic Covenant, but rather the Covenant of Redemption. The moral law was foundational to both covenants, but I do not believe the Mosaic Covenant itself offered the reward of eternal life for obedience.

Chapter 10 (“The Difference Between the Two Covenants”) from John Owen is a helpful addition to this volume. Though it can be found in the Coxe/Owen volume, placing it here may force people to deal with his presentation within the context offered by the other chapters. I still have not seen any paedobaptists actually deal with Owen’s argument. Most seem to be entirely unaware of his unique contribution.

Chapters 11 and 12 (“The Newness of the New Covenant”) from James White is a cutting analysis of paedobaptist attempts to deal with the force of the book of Hebrews. The attempt to relegate the newness of the New Covenant to a difference in outward appearance, following Calvin, is simply untenable. White’s essay, at a couple of points portrays a slight “20th Century Reformed Baptist” view which may stand out to the careful reader (his comments regarding “extensiveness”). However, this does not detract from his superb polemic, which sufficiently demonstrates Westminster Federalism’s inability to deal with the text of Hebrews.

I thoroughly enjoyed Jamin Hubner’s two chapters (13 and 14) on Acts 2:39. He successfully demonstrates that the history of reformed exegesis of this passage has simply been loyalty to Calvin’s eisegesis, driven by a desire to defend infant baptism. I agree when he says “As a result, the Abrahamic Covenant and its features such as the recipients of circumcision are imported entirely into Acts 2:39 without any consideration as to what promise is being talked about in Acts 2:39, what the fulfillment of that promise looks like in the New Covenant, and what argument is being made in Acts 2 and how that argument is not altogether the same as Acts 3, and so on and so forth. In short, “The Paedobaptist ear is so attuned to the Old Testament echo in this text that it is deaf to its New Testament crescendo.”77 The attitude is “promise of the Spirit, Abrahamic Covenant, covenant of grace, it is all the same thing,” and “children, seed, same idea” when it comes to interpreting Acts 2:39.” In sum “An interpreter’s interest in hearing Old Testament overtones should not overthrow exegesis of the actual text.”

[Note, Hubner interacts with Owen’s exegesis of this passage at one point. It should be noted that the work quoted was written by Owen in 1644 – more than 30 years before he wrote his commentary on Hebrews 8.]

[Note again: A quote from Sam Waldron that Hubner references includes a comment that Paul did not believe the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works. Obviously this is in disagreement with the rest of the volume. That was not particularly the part of the quote Hubner was referencing.]

Richard Barcellos’ Chapter 15 (“An Exegetical Appraisal of Colossians 2:11-12”) was extremely helpful in making sense of the passage. He clarifies that the fulfillment of physical circumcision is circumcision of the heart, that is, regeneration. However, he then demonstrates that the baptism mentioned here is not water baptism, but spiritual baptism, which we access through faith. This spiritual baptism (vital union with Christ) is distinct from regeneration. “Baptism does not replace circumcision as the sign and seal of the covenant of grace. We have seen clearly that spiritual circumcision, not baptism, replaces (better, fulfills) physical circumcision. Baptism in Colossians 2:12 (i.e., vital union with Christ) is a result of spiritual circumcision (i.e., regeneration)… Paul does not say or imply that the sign and seal of the covenant is baptism… If it implies anything about water baptism, it implies that it ought to be administered to those who have been circumcised of heart and vitally united to Christ through faith as a sign of these spiritual blessings.”

Finally, Micah and Samuel Renihan’s Chapter 16 (“Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology”) is a fitting way to end the volume. The brothers cogently summarize the particular baptist covenant theology of the volume by interacting with more modern works, appropriating their insights where valid and drawing them to the correct conclusions. “The New Covenant is the final and full accomplishment of the covenant of redemption in history” and “The covenant of grace is the in-breaking of the covenant of redemption into history through the progressive revelation and retro-active application of the New Covenant” while “The Old Covenant is coextensive with and collectively representative of theocratic Israel, defined by the Abrahamic, conditioned by the Mosaic, and focused by the Davidic Covenants. The Old Covenant, and thus each of these three covenants, differs from the New Covenant not merely in administration, but also in substance.”

And there you have it. I recommend that you purchase the book, and read it too.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

June 14, 2014 4 comments

I just noticed that Stephen Cunha’s The Emperor Has No Clothes in on sale for $3.98. The book is a critique of Richard Gaffin’s doctrine of justification. I have not read Gaffin’s By Faith and Not By Sight because it was out of print – but it appears it has recently been re-published. Mark Jones wrote the forward to the second edition I’m which he calls it “a book that has been so deeply influential in my own theological thinking.”

I greatly appreciate any correction and interaction with Cunha’s critique of Gaffin. Here is my summary:

I was a bit guarded going into the book, expecting to read a very (perhaps overly) polemic work. But I was surprised to read a very simple, clear, concerned critique of Gaffin‘s view.
It stands out against the other works that have been written interacting with Gaffin because it is written by a layman (who has a firm grasp on the issues) and is thus very to the point and practical (whereas much of the writing between WS and WSC beats around the bush and requires a lot of reading between the lines).

Here are some summary quotes to give you a better idea:

The purpose of this book is to demonstrate and call attention to the fact that Dr. Gaffin is teaching a doctrine of justification that is contrary to the Westminster Standards, and, more importantly, to the Word of God. In this writer’s opinion, the key factors influencing Dr. Gaffin‘s distinctive teaching on justification are the application of the already/not yet concept to justification and, I shudder to say, a distorted understanding of the resolution between Paul’s assertion that justification is by faith alone and James’ assertion that justification is not by faith alone, which subtly, yet gravely, compromises the classic Law/Gospel antithesis taught by the Reformers (13)

The first chapter discusses Gaffin‘s view that the believer is still under judicial condemnation from the fall, and thus he dies. I found this chapter to be very worthwhile. It’s something I’ve only briefly considered. Cunha argues that our deaths are 1) not required, and 2) part of the Father’s loving process of sanctification, not condemnation. He discusses WLC Q85 in this regard.
The second chapter discuses how Gaffin‘s view of faith and works applies to his understanding of the supposed already/not yet aspect of our justification. Cunha notes:

According to Dr. Gaffin‘s view, faith and works are constituent parts of a faith/works complex that is necessary to obtain justification. Just as access to the flight is partially dependent upon the presence of a passport, so justification is made to be partially dependent upon the presence of good works. This goes beyond the traditional Protestant view that works are only evidential or declarative with respect to justification. When Dr. Gaffin refers to works as “the integral fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith” in justification, he acknowledges works to be the “fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith,” but denies that works are solely evidential with respect to justification.

It is clear that Dr. Gaffin denies that works are the ground or basis of a believer’s justification. What is not so clear is how works produced through faith can be pulled within the sphere of justification in a way that is beyond purely declarative of justification and, at the same time, not share any degree of instrumentality with faith, nor be a part of what faith itself is. Unless there is a new category of description that this writer is not aware of to characterize the relationship between works and justification, we are limited to the categories of ground, instrument, and evidence. If works produced through faith are in the smallest degree beyond purely evidential of justification, it follows that they must be, to some degree, either the ground or instrument of justification.

The third chapter is the longest and it addresses Gaffin‘s denial of an absolute Law/Gospel antithesis. Gaffin says:

From this perspective, the antithesis between law and gospel is not an end in itself. It is not a theological ultimate. Rather, that antithesis enters not by virtue of creation but as the consequence of sin, and the gospel functions for its overcoming. The gospel is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer. How so? Briefly, apart from the gospel and outside of Christ the law is my enemy and condemns me. But with the gospel and in Christ, united to him by faith, the law is no longer my enemy but my friend. Why? Because now God is no longer my enemy but my friend, and the law, his will, the law in its moral core, as reflective of his character and of concerns eternally inherent in his own person and so of what pleases him, is now my friendly guide for life in fellowship with God. These observations on faith and obedience may be reinforced by referring here briefly to the perennial debate over Paul and James on faith and works. On the coherence between them, in what is sometimes taken to be their contradictory teaching on faith and works in justification, it is hard to improve on what J. Gresham Machen wrote aphoristically, “as the faith which James condemns is different than the faith that Paul commends, so also the works which James commends are different than the works which Paul commends.”

Cunha comments:

The classic Protestant Law/Gospel antithesis is that there are two antithetical ways to obtain justification. Justification is obtained either through a course of perfect obedience to the law or through faith in Jesus Christ… Dr. Gaffin says that the Law/Gospel antithesis is “not a theological ultimate” and that the Gospel “is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer.” It is here where one may rightly question whether or not Dr. Gaffin truly understands the classic Protestant Law/Gospel antithesis. Understood properly, there is no need to move toward an end of removing an absolute Law/Gospel antithesis in the life of the believer because the Law/Gospel antithesis applies to justification only. Both now and throughout eternity, a believer will rejoice in the fact that he or she has been justified on the basis of Jesus’ atoning death and merits received by imputation through faith alone.

He also includes a very helpful discussion of Romans 2 in this chapter.
The fourth chapter discusses Gaffin‘s support and endorsement of Norm Shepherd and the similarities between their views of justification and works.
He concludes with some remarks about other work being done at Westminster East and its connection to Gaffin‘s view of justification, faith, and works.
Overall I found the book to be very readable and to provide a helpful summary of the concern/debate about Gaffin‘s views – much more so than what I had read previously.
If anyone has read the book, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Categories: books, justification

Review: Word Pictures

February 3, 2014 Leave a comment

I just posted a review of Brian Godawa’s “Word Pictures” over at my film blog if anyone is interested.

The book would have much more value if the thesis was framed in terms of the interplay between literal and non-literal (artistic) expression, rather than word and image. This spectrum would remove all the confusion surrounding Godawa’s categories and retain much of the valuable insights he offers in the book while avoiding some fatal pitfalls. The solution to the use of literal vs non-literal expression would then be to prioritize literal expression, rather than granting non-literal expression equal priority in the comprehension and communication of truth. However, that does not, therefore, mean that there is no value or place for non-literal expression. “For everything there is a season” (Ecc 3:1). Context is key. Gordon Clark offers a helpful explanation:

The Scriptures contain metaphors, figures of speech, and symbolism; for the Scriptures are addressed to men in all situations – situations in which their attention needs to be aroused and their memory facilitated, as well as situations in which plain information must be conveyed. But since symbolic language and metaphor depend on literal meaning, the most intelligible and understandable expressions are to be found in the literal theological statements, such as those in Romans

Categories: books, film

Timeless Christian Books Sale

October 3, 2013 9 comments

The first book I recommend on the problem of evil is Jay Adams’ The Grand Demonstration. I’ve given away several copies because of his down to earth, non-academic, edifying approach to the question. You can get it now for $4.50 + free shipping!

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Categories: books

Free eBook: Berkhof’s Systematic Theology

May 31, 2013 6 comments

Biblical Training sent me an email this morning saying you can get Berkhof’s Systematic Theology from their site for free in PDF and ePub formats. Not sure if this is available elsewhere:

http://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/systematic-theology-louis-berkhof

Categories: books

Trinity Foundation E-Books

March 25, 2013 2 comments

The Trinity Foundation has been adding e-books to their collection for $5/ea. You can get some great titles there like John Robbins’ Freedom and Capitalism, as well as Gordon Clark’s The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God. I recommend them all.

Categories: books

The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology

February 22, 2013 73 comments

I am now able to sleep at night: Pascal Denault has written the book I’ve been looking for.

Someone has finally put in print an analysis of what 17th century particular baptists believed about covenant theology. As amazing as it sounds, no other book has done this. Of the now numerous books published on baptist covenant theology, none of them have done what Denault has done. None of them endeavored to explain what the editors and signers of the 1689 London Baptist Confession meant when they modified Chapter 7 of the LBCF. Some have written how they personally interpret Chapter 7, but not necessarily how the London baptists did. Many reformed baptists have labored hard to reconcile their credobaptism with covenant theology, but for the most part they went back to the drawing board to do so, rather than standing on the shoulders of those who came before.

But, I don’t blame them. It’s not like you can find these primary sources on Amazon, or even in your library. For the most part, they’re just not in print. Reformed Baptist Academic Press did a great service in publishing Nehemiah Coxe’s treatise on covenant theology, but before that it wasn’t available in print. And still most of the other writings are not available. Denault notes: “I spent weeks communing with seventeenth-century theologians through their writings; sometimes reading them with a magnifying glass when only the original edition existed.”

The result is a unique combination of historical survey and modern polemic against presbyterian covenant theology. The value of returning to the source of 1689 confessional covenantalism is that it is decidedly different from the covenant theology of modern reformed baptists. Only two modern books articulate the same view: Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw in the Theology of Infant Baptism and A.W. Pink’s Divine Covenants (for the most part).

The most prevalent view amongst reformed baptists today is a modified version of presbyterian federalism. This is the one covenant, two administrations view. Denault notes “the Presbyterian paradigm of the Covenant of Grace consists in seeing only one covenant administered respectively by the Old and New Covenants. This notion was definitively rooted in Presbyterian theology when it was integrated into the standards of Westminster: “This covenant [the Covenant of Grace] was differently administered in the time of the law and in the time of the gospel […]” (39). Most reformed baptists agree with this view. In his Exposition of the 1689 LBCF, Sam Waldron notes “The truth is that the way or scheme of salvation has been one and the same in all ages of the world. In the revelation of this scheme of salvation all the divine covenants were involved. They were its historical administrations.” But they disagree with presbyterians over what constitutes the difference in administration between the old and the new. They will say that the old covenant eternally saved some of it’s members, but the new covenant eternally saves all of it’s members – and this is the newness of the new covenant. As James White argues:

The point is that for Niell [his paedobaptist interlocutor], the “counter-point” to which he is responding is an either/or situation: either the elements of the New Covenant described in Heb. 8:10 were completely absent in the Old Covenant (as he understands the citations he presents to assert) or they were present and hence cannot be definitional of what is ‘new’ in the New Covenant. But it is just here that the position of Reformed Baptists in general, and that seen in our exegesis, must be allowed to speak to the issue. We must agree that considered individually, each of the elements of the New Covenant listed in Heb. 8:10-12 can be found, in particular individuals in the Old Covenant… So, if some in the Old Covenant experienced these divine works of grace, but most did not, what then is to be concluded? That the newness of the New Covenant is seen in the extensiveness of the expression of God’s grace to all in it… Hence, when we read, “God’s law, the transcript of his holiness and his expectations for his people, was already on the hearts of his people, and so is not new in the new covenant,” 11 we respond by saying it is not the mere existence of the gracious act of God writing His law on the heart that is new, but it is the extensiveness of that work that is new. While some in the Old Covenant experienced this, all in the New Covenant do so… The newness of the New Covenant, as we have seen exegetically, is that all of these divine actions are true for all of those in it.

The Newness of the New Covenant

As White alludes, his position is representative of “Reformed Baptists in general”. The new and the old covenant do not differ in substance – they both renewed hearts, forgave sins, and saved eternally. They only differ in administration – some received this blessing in the old covenant, but all receive this blessing in the new covenant. But as Denault demonstrates, this view is not representative of seventeenth-century baptists.

Coxe summarizes the Baptist distinction as follows: “the Old Covenant and the new differ in substance and not only in the manner of the administration.”… his federalism can practically be considered as the standard of Calvinist Baptists [of the seventeenth-century]. (18) … Consequently, none of them endorsed the theology of one Covenant of Grace under two administrations (58). [Note: apparently 1 or 2 Calvinist Baptists did endorse the two administration theology]

Instead of the one covenant under two administrations view, seventeenth-century baptists held to “one covenant revealed progressively and concluded formally under the New Covenant” (61).

“[Chapter 7] is the most discordant passage of the confessions of faith. Knowing that the Baptists made every effort to follow the Westminster standards as much as possible when they wrote their confession of faith, the originality of their formulation of the Covenant of Grace is highlight significant. It is obvious that the authors of the 1689 completely avoided any formulation reminiscent of the “one covenant under two administrations” model that we find in the other two confessions of faith. This absence must be interpreted as a rejection of the theology behind this formulation and not as an omission or an attempt at originality.” (60-61)

The Baptists believed that before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of grace was not formally given, but only announced and promised (revealed). This distinction is fundamental to the federalism of the 1689 (62)… The Baptists considered that the New Covenant and it alone was the Covenant of Grace. In Baptist theology we find an equivalency between the Covenant of Grace and the New Covenant (63)…The Baptist understanding rested on another fundamental distinction: one between the phase where the Covenant of Grace was revealed and the phase where it was concluded. The revealed phase corresponded to the period preceding the death of Christ and the concluded phase corresponding to the time that followed. Therefore, Baptists considered that no other covenant, besides the New Covenant, was the Covenant of Grace.

Again, just to note the contrast between seventeenth-century baptists and modern reformed baptists, Waldron states

“Each use of the term to refer to a divine covenant in the bible refers to a covenant made by God at some specific historical epoch. None of these covenants may simply be equated with what the [London Baptist] Confession describes as ‘the covenant of grace’… The New Covenant has sometimes been equated with the covenant of grace. As the Confession remarks, ‘the full discovery’ of the covenant of grace ‘was completed in the New Testament.’… If this theological terminology [covenant of grace] is used, however, it must be guarded carefully in two ways. First, the distinction between the divine covenants [ie new covenant] and the covenant of grace must be maintained jealously. (107-110)

I don’t mean to criticize White and Waldron and others who hold their view. I only wish to make it abundantly clear what is being said in Denault’s book. It is easy to read another book on baptist covenant theology and categorize it with the others without realizing it’s uniqueness and it’s disagreement with other reformed baptists. Greg Nichols’ “Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants” has been lauded as a hallmark point for reformed baptists. Derek Thomas notes “Baptists who embrace their historic Calvinistic and Covenantal roots have long since needed a robust and comprehensive treatment of Covenant Theology that includes the nuanced interpretations of the biblical covenants that a baptistic hermeneutic requires. This treatment by Greg Nichols does just that and more.” The oddity is that this treatment that has long been needed, has long existed! And Nichols’ modern treatment is not representative of the older treatment already given. Whereas Denault spends the entire book explaining the meaning of the change in LBCF 7.3, Nichols gives it a paragraph and barely mentions any disagreement. This is fine if Nichols’ main focus is to explain his personal beliefs about covenant theology, but it is lamentable that paedobaptist scholars like Thomas inevitably see it as representing the Calvinistic and Covenantal roots of the 1689.

There is a lot to be learned from seventeenth-century baptists. In particular, Denault’s book helped iron out a few wrinkles in my understanding of baptist covenant theology.

His discussion of the Abrahamic covenant and clarification as to what Coxe said about it was very helpful. He shows how the baptists answered the claims of Petto and others who saw the Abrahamic covenant as unconditional but the Mosaic as conditional (a view echoed by Meredith Kline and Michael Horton). They answered Petto’s primary text for this view (Gal 3:16-17) by appealing to Galatians 4:22-31.

“The Baptists saw two posterities in Abraham, two inheritances and consequently two covenants… Not that the posterity of Abraham was of a mixed nature, but that Abraham had two distinct posterities and that it was necessary to determine the inheritance of each of these posterities on the basis of their respective promises… This understanding was vigorously affirmed amongst all Baptist theologians and characterized their federalism form its origin” (119-120).

But, very helpfully, Denault clarifies that this did not mean they saw two formal covenants with Abraham. They saw only one formal covenant – the covenant of circumcision (Gen 17). The other was seen only as a promise (Gen 12) (a footnote interacts with Jeffrey Johnson’s disagreement on this point, and is very helpful as well).

Denault also does an excellent job of illuminating the precise nature of the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of works, according to the baptists. I have previously objected to John Owen’s remark that the Mosaic Covenant law demanded perfect obedience. I preferred A.W. Pink’s explanation that only outward, national, general conformity to the Mosaic Covenant was required, since it was a national covenant. However, Denault notes that these two views are in harmony:

“In agreement with the Covenant of Works, the Old Covenant demanded a perfect obedience to the Law of God, but contrary to the Covenant of Works, the Old Covenant was based on a sacrificial system for the redemption of sinners… The slightest disobedience to the Law constituted a sin punishable by death (Rom 6:23), but not necessarily a transgression of the Old Covenant. It is necessary to make the distinction between the requirements of the Law of works affirmed under the Old Covenant and the requirements of the Old Covenant itself towards Israel. The maintaining of the Old Covenant depended on the Levitical priesthood (Heb 7:11) and not on absolute obedience… the obedience required was general and national in character. God graciously overlooked the many offenses. However, the covenant would be broken if Israel habitually sinned and were marked nationally as a rebellious people who disregarded God’s Word” (137-138).

There is much to be gained from Denault’s work. It fills a very necessary gap in the existing literature on baptist covenant theology. The work addresses many of the objections and concerns raised by modern paedobaptists against modern Calvinistic baptists. For example, the recently published “Kingdom Through Covenant” defense of “progressive covenantalism” is seen by many as “the” covenantal answer to paedobaptists by modern Calvinistic baptists. But Kingdom Through Covenant really looks very little like the seventeenth-century baptists. And what’s more, these older baptists avoided the pitfalls that Kingdom Through Covenant is precisely being criticized for (see my next post). Sadly, I doubt that Denault’s work will get the attention that Kingdom Through Covenant did, although it deserves to.

Enough already: go read it!