Michael Horton, in God of Promise, provides what is surely the most recent and complete defense of a covenantal theology reading of the Bible. And chp 5 sketches the fullness of this approach to the Bible. He calls it “From Scripture to System: The Heart of Covenant Theology.” I have major doubts that this chp sketches a move from Scripture to system, thinking as I do that there’s not enough Scripture to the System, but it is not my place here to engage in much evaluation. I’ll leave that to next week. Question for the day: What do you think of this covenant theology approach to putting the Bible together?
This chp engages in debate with Reformed scholars over the meaning and validity of the three major covenants: covenant of redemption, covenant of creation (works), and covenant of grace.
Covenant of redemption is an intraTrinitarian, eternal covenant commitment: “The Father elects a people in the Son as their mediator to be brought to saving faith through the Spirit” (78).
Horton contends this covenant is biblically justifiable through the very notion of election and by the notion John’s Gospel says the Father gave to the Son a people. Some Reformed theologians disagree with Horton on whether this “covenant of redemption” can be justifiably called a “covenant.”
Covenant of creation (works) is fundamentally the Adamic condition of humans being summoned to do what God has said and this condition must be fulfilled in order to inherit eternal life. This covenant of creation remains, and was fulfilled in Christ’s obedience, which is imputed to believers. So, that covenant of creation (works) abides as an eternally-necessary requirement before God. Humans cannot fulfill the law after the Fall.
Horton provides a battery of defenses, but it would require too much space on this blog to sum it all up. Inherent to this theory is a rather heavy emphasis on the typological function of Law and Sinaitic covenant.
Covenant of grace is based not on law but on promise. There are real partners (God and believers), real conditions (repentance and faith), but the meeting of these conditions is graciously given rather than performed. “Whatever stipulations … God puts on his people, they will never — can never — be the basis of his judgment of their status before him” (106-7).
Here’s a big one: Jesus fulfilled the covenant of works and believers are incorporated into his obedience.
Conclusion: if you don’t distinguish covenant of works from covenant of grace you end up destroying “by grace alone.”
The 6th chp, which I won’t engage here since it is not concerned as much with how to read the Bible, is a defense of the Calvinistic two-kingdom approach to the relationship of Church and State. It comes in a chp about common grace: there is Church, there is non-Church, and there is Common Grace. The covenant with Noah is the prototype. (Don’t know if readers know that Noah’s aftermath is directly connected to creation, and is often seen as a kind of second creation covenant.)
Here’s a question: What happens to this system if it demonstrated, from the Bible, that there is another condition in the so-called “covenant of grace”? That is, in addition to repentance and faith, if one adds obedience — in the sense of perserverance (rather than simply preservation)? Does this ruin the distinction between covenant of creation (works) and covenant of grace?
And another: Why do both Jesus and Paul say we will be judged by our works? Does this judgment determine our status before God?