Michael Beck is a Reformed Baptist pastor in New Zealand. For some background, he has a great post on TGC called How (Not) to Plant a Church. Beck has a great podcast called Two-Age Sojourner. He is heavily influenced by Meredith Kline and that is reflected in the various episodes of the podcast (including an ongoing series with Chris Caughey called Meredith Mondays). With regards to covenant theology he is a bit unique in that he rejects the “20th century RB” view that the Mosaic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace and instead agrees with Kline that it was a typological covenant of works for life in the land. However, he also rejects 1689 Federalism’s view that the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. Rather, the Covenant of Grace is something distinct from every “exegetical” covenant in the Bible. From my listening you could perhaps describe his view as the 20th century RB view (that the previous administrations of the CoG included infants, but the New Covenant administration does not) with Klinean republication thrown in (Michael, correct me if I’m wrong here!).
Relevant episodes of his podcast include
- The Jeremiah 31 Linchpin (2/8/19)
- The Subservience of the Mosaic Covenant (1/27/19)
- Some Thoughts on 1689 Federalism (1/20/19)
- 1689 Federalism and the Galatians Stickler (1/21/19)
I reached out to him to offer some comments on his episodes on 1689 Fed and he asked me to just come on the podcast to just work through it with him. We wound up doing two episodes as he blindsided me with questions about Reformed Libertarianism 😉 They are
- Brandon Adams and Reformed Libertarianism (3/21/19)
- Brandon Adams and 1689 Federalism (3/22/19)
He subsequently had a follow-up discussion with Chris Caughey wherein he asked Caughey his view of the same questions.
- Covenant Theology and 1689 Federalism (3/25/19)
Here are my comments on the 3/25 episode with Caughey:
Confused by Exegetical/Systematic Distinction?
Just to clarify, I was not surprised or caught off guard by the idea, as if I hadn’t heard it before (Waldron makes this argument in his Exposition of the 2LBCF). Rather, I think it is a confusion. As was demonstrated in our discussion, after Pentecost Michael sees no distinction between the CoG and the NC. So the question is very simply the question of how the NC relates to the salvation of OT saints. Michael and others want to answer that question by creating a “systematic” covenant, called the Covenant of Grace, that is not mentioned directly in Scripture but is rather a logical deduction from the fact that OT saints were saved. I would simply say that conclusion flows from an untrue premise.
P1 Men were saved by the Covenant of Grace prior to Pentecost
P2 The New Covenant was not operative until Pentecost
C The Covenant of Grace is distinct from the New Covenant
I would argue that P2 is untrue (unbiblical), therefore the conclusion does not follow. The New Covenant was operative prior to Christ’s death (prior to its legal establishment). That’s why I provided the quotes at the end of the podcast from various paedobaptists, including Horton, denying P2.
The idea that the Covenant of Grace is something distinct from the covenants in the Bible arose (in my observation) from paedobaptists who did not like the idea that the Mosaic Covenant was itself the Covenant of Grace. Rather, they want to argue it was distinct from the Covenant of Grace, but it “administered” the Covenant of Grace. So that’s where this “exegetical/systematic” divide comes from. They can’t affirm the Mosaic was the CoG, while the majority reformed opinion historically was that it was, thus they had no need for the distinction as articulated by Michael (and all the modern reformed guys he’s read). That’s why I quoted Bullinger, Calvin, and Dickson all saying the Mosaic is the New is the CoG. Here is John Ball (whose work had primary influence on Westminster’s formulation):
Most divines hold the old and new Covenants to be one in substance and kind, to differ only in degrees… Some Divines hold the old Testament, even the Law, as it was given upon Mount Sinai, to be the Covenant of Grace for substance, though propounded in a manner fitting to the state of that people, time and condition of the Church…. It was so delivered as it might serve to discover sin, drive the Jews to flie to the the mercy of God revealed in Jesus: but it was given to be a rule of life to a people in covenant, directing them how to walk before God in holiness and righteousness that they might inherit the promises of grace and mercy.
A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (102)
Chris refers to this idea as “monocovenantalism.” Calling the Mosaic Covenant the Covenant of Grace is not monocovenantalism (they have used the label in that way in previous episodes as well). Monocovenantalism is the idea that the Adamic Covenant of Works was part of the single Covenant of God (which includes the Covenant of Grace). Michael seemed to dismiss the view of Bullinger, Calvin, Dickson, and Ball as some outliers (“the worst part of the reformed tradition”) who over-flatten redemptive history and are not sensitive to the changes in history. He said this is not a distinction between Kline and the reformed tradition but between Kline and a few of the worst. I want to make sure people understand that Kline rejected the majority view of the 17th century and that 1689 Federalism polemics are largely a critique of the majority view of the 17th century. As long as you think Ball’s view was “the worst part of the reformed tradition” held by a remote few, then of course you will dismiss and minimize 1689 Federalism’s criticism of it.
To be crystal clear: My interest is primarily biblical, not historical. But this discussion did not begin with Kline. He adopted language and concepts used before him (even if he used them differently). We must acknowledge and properly understand what those concepts were if we are going to have any meaningful discussion of the issues involved. We can’t hermetically seal Kline off from the broader discussion.
[Note: I revised this section because Michael let me know I misunderstood Chris’ – which I did. What you see below is all updated.]
@16:15 Chris: “I would see administered as a legal term. I don’t see how you can miss the Covenant of Grace being administered – Maybe not formally or as elaborately in Genesis 3:15, but I mean, if you can miss it in Genesis 15, something’s wrong, because God is ratifying a covenant that he’s making with Abraham and Paul and James appeal to Genesis 15 to argue for our justification.”
Abraham’s justification and the ratification of the Abrahamic Covenant are two separate events. The gospel was revealed to Abraham insofar as God promised that he would be the father of the promised seed of the woman who would come and bless all nations. Abraham believed that gospel revelation, and therefore he was justified. After that point God ratified the covenant, promising that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah. One of those things deals with the ordo salutis, the other deals with the historia. The ratification was that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah (historia), not that Abraham would be justified (ordo). Abraham was justified prior to the ratification. The ratification was not a means of Abraham’s justification. The ratification ceremony did not administer the Covenant of Grace to Abraham. The CoG was “administered” to Abraham prior to the ceremony when he believed the gospel that was revealed to him.
This is precisely what I would understand Paul’s point to be in Galatians 3. “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Notice that it is a matter of the Word preached and believed. “18 For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise, but God graciously gave it to Abraham through the promise [that Christ would come to bless all nations].” (NET)
More Than Revelation?
Chris said the best part of reformed theology just wants to say by “administration” that real human beings were really saved by Jesus Christ prior to the incarnation and that happened by believing the promises because they didn’t have the substance of the promise yet. Michael pointed out that’s exactly what 1689 Federalism affirms (see this post). Michael said that what he and Kline mean by “administer” is something more than just revealing the gospel. He said they mean it “brings the substance through the type and shadow.”
Chris agreed that “Redemption doesn’t happen solely by revelation. I mean, there are means involved too. Both the spoken word and something like what we would call a sacrament.”
Of course means are involved. That’s the whole point of saying that types reveal the gospel. But what is the spoken word if not revelation? The spoken word is simply speaking revelation. Understanding and believing that (written or spoken) word/revelation is how people are saved. Through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit (Heb 8:10-11), the elect are made to believe what is revealed, and thus they are saved through faith alone. Now, are people saved through sacraments? No, they are not. Note Isaac Backus: “The work of sanctification in believers is carried on by the ordinances of baptism and the holy supper, but they are not spoken of in Scripture as the means of begetting faith in any person; for faith cometh by hearing the word of God. Rom x. 17.” (For more, see Presbyterian vs Congregationalist vs Baptist Sacramentology)
So people are saved through revelation of the gospel, which includes the means of the Word spoken or written. Sacraments are not converting ordinances through which people are saved, though insofar as they are word pictures, they can proclaim and reveal the gospel to someone, and thereby play a role in bringing someone to saving faith.
The Blood of Bulls and Goats
Chris said that “Hebrews says the blood of bulls and goat could not take away sins, and yet, that was enough for believers under the Old Covenant before Christ had come to access the forgiveness that Christ’s blood would, in history, eventually, merit and earn for them. It’s that kernel and husk thing that you mentioned. They were accessing the real forgiveness that comes from Christ’s blood under the form of the blood of bulls and goats.” Michael: “Which we call ‘administered.’ Right?” Chris: “Yes, Christ’s blood was administered to them through the blood of bulls and goats.”
This is helpful in that it does pinpoint a difference in our views. 1689 Federalism does not believe that OT believers “accessed” Christ’s forgiveness through the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant. Christ was not sacramentally present in the goats. According to 1689 Federalism and the Subservient Covenant view, Old Covenant sacrifices served an Old Covenant function separate from their function as types. God required Israelites to make sacrifices everyday and additional sacrifices on special occasions in order that God would continue to dwell in their midst and bless them temporally according to the terms of the Mosaic Covenant (Deut 28). If the sacrifices were not made, Israel would be cursed. If they were made incorrectly, the priests would be killed (and since the priests represented the people, the people would be cursed). If one became ceremonially unclean or committed certain sins, their flesh could actually be cleansed by the Old Covenant sacrifices. In short, the Old Covenant sacrifices were every bit a part of Leviticus 18:5 as the rest of Mosaic law.
Note that the OPC Report on Republication rightly recognized that this was the Subservient Covenant understanding.
By adding obedience to the ceremonial law to the essential condition of the covenant, the subservient covenant position gives Mosaic typology a fundamentally works-based character, rather than an evangelical one. Proponents did not deny that these various types also signified spiritual benefits, but they insisted that they only did so “secondarily” or indirectly, while their primary reference was to temporal things promised in the covenant.169
 Cameron put it this way: “The Sacraments, Sacrifices, and Ceremonies of the Old Testament did set forth Christ, and the Benefits by Christ; not primarily, but secondarily…but the Sacraments of the New Covenant do shew forth Christ primarily, and that clearly” (as translated by Samuel Bolton in his True Boundes, 399). Thus circumcision primarily signified the separation between the seed of Abraham and the rest of the nations and sealed to them the earthly promise. The Passover primarily signified the passing over of the destroying Angel. The sacrifices and washings primarily represented only a carnal holiness. Only secondarily did these benefits signify Christ.
See also Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 9 and Samuel Renihan’s discussion of Cameron and subservient typology in From Shadow to Substance (p. 51, etc).
The OPC Report continues
From a [Westminster] confessional viewpoint, the basic weakness here is that it [subservient typology] reverses the true biblical priority of Christ as the substance and primary signification of these types and shadows. According to our standards, the purpose of these various types and ordinances was to function as an aspect of the covenant of grace, being means of administering the eternal and salvific blessings procured by Christ (WCF 7.5, 8.6, 17.5). He is the “substance” of the types and ordinances (not merely their secondary referent), even as he is the substance of God’s covenant of grace (WCF 7.6), while all else remains secondary or accidental. The subservient covenant effectively reverses this in insisting that these types primarily signify temporal benefits, and only secondarily signify Christ. As John Cameron stated, the subservient covenant leads to Christ only “indirectly” whereas the covenant of grace leads to him directly. It is difficult to harmonize the idea that Christ was the “substance” of all these types and ordinances and at the same time only their secondary referent…
[A]nything that functions as an “administration” of the covenant of grace must, in fact, administer grace to those who are under it. Such it is with the other types, ceremonies, and other ordinances delivered to the Jews. The administrative aspects of the old covenant were to function as the “outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates” to Israel “the benefits of redemption” (SC 88)… [T]ypology is a subset of the broader category of the administration of the covenant… According to our standards, typology is an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace in the Old Testament, which in turn is described as the outward means of the Old Testament era for communicating grace to the elect of that era. Saving grace was not simply administered merely as a consequence or by-product of these types.275 Rather, saving grace was present by and in these types, and in this way communicated grace to believers.276 In terms of our confessional definitions, to say that something is an administration of grace means that grace is communicated by and in that thing.
 This seems to be the distinctive typological construction of the subservient covenant position, discussed above.
Thus the two views are very clearly distinguished above. Where do Klineans fit? Right smack-dab in the contradictory middle. Klineans holds to the Subservient Covenant view that the Mosaic Covenant was a typological works covenant distinct from the Covenant of Grace, but they also holds that the sacrificial system administered the Covenant of Grace sacramentally in the Westminster sense. The Report notes “[T]he idea that the Mosaic covenant is in substance or kind a “works” covenant, but at the same time an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace, seems to create a hybrid position that combines elements of positions that viewed themselves as alternatives to one another.”
Klineans attempt to accomplish this feat by separating the sacrificial system from Mosaic law. Chris said that “‘the law’ in Galatians 3 only refers to the commands, not the priestly system and the sacrificial system and all of that. That’s where you see the CoG run through the Mosaic Covenant is in the sacrificial system.” He made the same argument in 1/27/19 episode. Thus he retains Westminster’s sacramentology only by removing the sacrificial system from Mosaic law. But you cannot remove the sacrificial system from Mosaic law, from the Mosaic Covenant. In all honesty it seems very strange that that would even have to be argued. The whole thrust of Heb 7-10 is precisely that the sacrificial system was part of Mosaic law, the Mosaic Covenant. I’m happy to argue more thoroughly if someone wants to present an exegetical argument for the idea that the sacrificial system was not part of Mosaic law, the Mosaic Covenant (Chris mentioned Gal 5:21, but I think he may have meant Gal 3:20? I’m not seeing the argument, so if he would like to make it, I’d be happy to respond).
I greatly appreciate Michael’s willingness to have me on to discuss these issues. I believe it has helped narrow the discussion. I would love to continue the dialogue as there is more than needs to be clarified and pressed (per the above). Kline did not simply adopt the subservient covenant view with modifications to eschatology. Rather, he adopted one aspect of the Subservient view but tried to mesh it together with Westminster sacramentology. I believe the result is contradictory and unbiblical.
For Further Reading
- Galatians 3:16
- Galatians 3:17
- Gal. 3:18
- Was the Old Covenant an Administration of the Covenant of Grace?
- Substance/Accidents = Substance/Shadows?
- 1 Cor. 10:1-5 – An Exposition
- 1 Cor. 10:1-5 – Paedobaptist False Inferences