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).
Pastor Sam Waldron recently gave a series of lectures at the Deep South Founder’s Conference on baptist covenant theology. He also participated in a moderated debate with a dispensationalist. You can find the lectures here: http://deepsouthfounders.com/ as well as on Sermon Audio (scroll down). I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Dr Waldron speak on several occasions and have always enjoyed it. He’s got a booming, authoritative voice and knows how to use it – which means its fun to hear him when he’s on your side, and maybe not so much when you disagree 😉
Whatever Happened to the Covenant of Works?
- I thought this was a great lecture. He took a solid stand for the absolute necessity of a covenant of works if we are to understand the gospel properly. He discusses his appreciation for Murray’s writings but explains that he is willing to call “the Adamic Administration” the Covenant of Works (while Murray was not). Additionally he answers or deals with several reservations or lingering questions I had, such as whether or not Adam had eaten of the tree of life before being banished from the garden (seemed to me like that was a distinct possibility). I haven’t been able to find these answers before and they satisfied my questions. (Though I’m still not convinced that Scripture teaches that Adam could have earned eternal life for his offspring – but he didn’t address objections to this point). He refers to Nehemiah Coxe as one among several reasons why the LBCF is in full agreement with WCF on this point. All in all, this is a great sermon!
Should You Believe in the Covenant of Grace?
- Point 1: “The theological concept of the covenant of grace cannot be strictly identified with any particular biblical covenant… The covenant of grace is often identified with one or another of the biblical covenants. But unless one adopts the view that all of the divine covenants are really one and the same (you wouldn’t want to do that), then the identification of the covenant of grace with any one of the biblical covenants is, in my view, naive. The reason I say that is, as defined by both the 1689 and the Westminster, the covenant of grace is an overarching covenant embracing all of history after the fall. That’s what it is, as I’ll show you in a second. That’s what they mean by the covenant of grace. Therefore it is seen as encompassing the several divine covenants of Scripture. In other words, all of the divine covenants of Scripture come into being at a certain point in history… But the covenant of grace, as we’ll see, defined by the confessions, is a covenant that is overarching of all history after the fall. The 1689 7.3… The Westminster also makes this point, but is even more clearly made in the Westminster Chapter 7 paragraph 5… Both of those statements make clear that the covenant of grace includes, for the Westminster, both its administration under the old covenant and its administration under the new covenant, what the Westminster calls there the law and the gospel. And the baptist confession makes clear, this covenant is first revealed to Adam. Now, beyond all doubt I think it’s clear to say the theological concept of the covenant of grace cannot be strictly identified with any particular biblical covenant... Unless one is willing, against the testimony of Scripture, to meld all the biblical covenants together, the covenant of grace cannot be identified with any one divine covenant.”
- “The New Covenant is often identified as the covenant of grace, sometimes, I think Spurgeon does this, actually. Hebrews 13:20-21 it is identified as the covenant of grace because it’s the everlasting covenant. Yes, but the point of the everlasting there in Hebrews 13 is that once it begins, it never ends, but the New Covenant begins with the advent of Christ…”
I found this lecture to be rather frustrating, especially in light of reading Denault’s work (which shows that the prevailing view of the signers of the confession was precisely the view that Waldron says cannot be – strictly identifying the covenant of grace with the new covenant, to the exclusion of all other biblical covenants). Of course, that book was published after Waldron’s lecture, so he doesn’t mention or interact with it. But Nehemiah Coxe’s work has been published for several years and Waldron does mention Coxe in his lecture on the covenant of works. In fact, he argues that Coxe’s view of the covenant of works should be given special consideration because he was likely editor of the confession. So if he is familiar with Coxe’s work, why does he completely ignore it and it’s relation to the confession here? Waldron states that the LBCF and the WCF are in complete agreement on this point, while Denault argues from the glaring differences between them that they represent two very different views. If Waldron has read Coxe, he must either think Coxe did not identify the covenant of grace with the new covenant, or that Coxe’s view is not represented in the confession.
I look forward to hearing more from him on this point in the future. This is exactly the kind of confusion I pointed out in my review of Denault’s book. Waldron gave a whole series of lectures at a conference on covenant theology supposedly representing the view of the London Baptist Confession, while in fact there is reason to doubt he has correctly explained the meaning of the confession. But I’m sure this will be discussed at some point after the publication of Denault’s book.
- Point 2: “The 1689 confession regards the new covenant as the definitive revelation of the covenant of grace… Notice the confession does not say the New Testament is the covenant of grace. It is the revelation, the definitive revelation of the covenant of grace. I think that that’s an important distinction.”
- Point 3: “The terminology of the covenant of grace is not as important as the underlying theology.”
- “The __ God to Israel was, according to Exodus 30:12-13, due to the Abrahamic Covenant. While on the other hand, conversely, the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant were dependent upon obedience to the Mosaic Covenant. To inherit the land, they had to obey. But this is the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant… How wrong it is, symplistically at least, to call the Abrahamic Covenant a covenant of grace and the Mosaic Covenant a covenant of works… these covenants are inseparable.”
- I agree
- Thematic unity of the covenants: Ephesians 2:12: the covenants of the promise (plural covenants, singular promise). Though other translations are possible (the covenants of promise). Waldron leans heavily upon this to argue for his overarching covenant with one substance, differently administered view. Benjamin Keach agreed with Waldron’s translation, but not his interpretation:
The Baptists believed that no covenant preceding the New Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. Before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace was at the stage of promise. According to Benjamin Keach, the expression “the covenants of the promise” that can be found in Ephesians 2:12 refers back to the Covenant of Grace. The promise in question was the Covenant of Grace. If we are talking about a promise, this implies that it was not yet accomplished and was not yet in the form of a testament or a covenant. The Baptists believed that the New Covenant was the accomplishment of the promise, or in other words, the accomplishment of the Covenant of Grace.
The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, Pascal Denault, 63
- Conclusion of Point 1: “We must not too quickly simply identify the Covenant of Grace with the New Covenant. We must not be guilty of that.” I don’t think the seventeenth century baptists did so quickly or simply, but I do think they did so.
Are the New and the Old Covenants Really One And the Same?
- I really enjoyed this lecture. It’s basically a summary of certain parts of the Reformed Baptist Manifesto. I thought he did a great job of showing the problems with the paedobaptist interpretation of Jeremiah 31. His use of John 6 was tremendous. Definitely recommend giving it a listen.
- There was one section that I found particularly interesting in light of the previous lecture (re: overarching covenant of grace with different administrations). “There is a clear difference between old covenant adoption and new covenant adoption. There was an old covenant adoption and there is a new covenant adoption and they are strikingly different. In Romans 8:14-16, to be an adopted son of God means that you’re led by the Spirit of God and an heir of glory. Whereas Romans 9:3-5 teaches that many were adopted in the old covenant sense who knew nothing of the Spirit of God… Romans 8:14-16… That’s clear, isn’t it? To be a child of God, to be adopted, is to be saved, to be an heir of glory, as v17 goes on to say. Romans 9:3-5… But Paul, you just prayed for their salvation! You just said that they were lost and separated from Christ? How can they be adopted sons of God? Well they can’t be, and they aren’t, in the New Covenant sense. But they were in the Old Covenant sense. There’s a difference between old covenant adoption and new covenant adoption. Becoming one of God’s people in the Old Testament was based on the flesh, but becoming one of God’s adopted sons in the New Covenant sense is based on the work of the Spirit. This is the difference between the old and the new covenant.”
- I think this is an excellent point! But I fail to see how it is consistent with the rest of what he believes about the old and new covenants. Were Abraham, Moses, or David adopted sons of glory, led by the Spirit? If so, then they must have been members of the New Covenant, because as Waldron says, that was not true of Old Covenant adoption. To be adopted in the New Covenant sense is to be saved. To be adopted in the Old Covenant sense is outward and of the flesh. So if any old testament saint was an heir of glory, led by the Spirit, saved, they must have been so by virtue of the New Covenant and not the Old Covenant. I would be very curious to hear how Dr. Waldron explains that in light of his view.
Debate: Covenant Theology vs Dispensationalism
- Overall I thought this was a decent debate. I wish they had gotten into it a bit more, had more examination time. But that’s usually the case with most debates. Give it a listen!
- One interesting question came during the cross-examination when Dr. Johnson was pressing Dr. Waldron on the use of a theological covenant in distinction from the biblical covenants. He said, “What do I lose by not calling Gen 3:15 a covenant?” Dr. Waldron’s answer was basically “Nothing, if you retain the meaning of the covenant of grace.” That question is central to the view of seventeenth century baptists. Nehemiah Coxe said (regarding Gen 3:15) “It must also be noted that although the covenant of grace was revealed this far to Adam, yet we see in all this there was no formal and express covenant transaction with him.” (57) Coxe and his contemporary baptists held to a revealed/concluded view of the covenant of grace instead of a substance/administration view. The covenant of grace was revealed as a promise prior to Christ, and then it was formally concluded as the New Covenant.
- One last note: I’m excited to hear 1689 federalism enter the dialogue with NCT and Dispensationalism
How’s that for a title? A friend has asked me a few times to define or give an overview of what New Covenant Theology is and who represents it. I’ve told him it’s a bit difficult because it’s a fractured group with varying views, and some with similar views not claiming the “NCT” label. However, I thought this chart might help clarify the landscape of non-dispensational, Calvinistic credobaptists.
law = 10
|Mosaic Covenant = Works||Christian
“law of Christ”
|Reformed Baptist #1:||New Covenant Theology:|
|Reformed Baptist #2:||Progressive Covenantalism:|
|Mosaic Covenant = Grace|
Be careful not to read more into this chart than is intended. Each author should be read on their own terms as each often has nuanced explanations of their position. I hesitate to place Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum on the chart as I haven’t had time to read through their new work yet, which is obviously nuanced – so I don’t want to misrepresent it. They clearly wind up on the right hand side of the chart, but I don’t know if it would be top or bottom. Given this fact, I hesitate to use the label “Progressive Covenantalism” in the bottom right because this is how they describe themselves… but I don’t know what else to call that position.
I welcome any and all comments, questions, corrections, clarifications, & additions. I hope this is helpful.