20 July 2010

Answering a few questions......

This is a response to a comment left earlier today. I ended up running a bit long, so I decided to just post it as an article. Others may find it helpful as well.

Here's the letter:

I enjoy your blog and your perspective. I too am ardently against Christians vying for control of government. It is a distortion of the true calling as the people of God - we are not to outwardly coerce moral living through control over others, but to seek inward transformation through evangelism and by being a light through our conformity to Christ. It is through our humility, servitude, submission, and even suffering (in other words, our Christ-likeness) that we transform culture. That being said, I have a couple of questions for you. I personally dislike labels and have avoided them for the most part. As of late, however, I adopted the title of reformed as an easy method of identification. There is much I respect that came out of the reformation, the puritans, the Westminster Confession, etc., so I finally just adopted that name so that I didn't have to get a dumb look and say "ummm..." every time someone asked me what denomination I belonged to. First, I was curious if there is a larger movement, or some sort of name or label for what you are representing, or do you stand alone. Second question: even if we say that the OT law is not binding on men and women today, is there not still indirect application to the degree that God's law reflects aspects of his character. In other words, I would not say that obedience to the Mosaic law is required of anyone today (especially not those in Christ), however can we not view God's provision and care for the poor and needy within the law, for instance, as having significance in our understanding of God. Especially as this care is reinforced in the NT writings. Can we not learn from aspects of God's character reflected in his law? Just curious as to what your take is on this.

And my response:

Thanks for your encouraging words. I'm more than a little glad that you also see the distortion of God's Kingdom which seems to reign in the Church right now. I agree, we win by suffering and losing so to speak...a wisdom the world can't grasp. By being slaughtered we are more than conquerors.

I feel the same way about labels. There's no doubt that I'm somewhere under the Reformed umbrella and I was determined to be so for many years. As you say, there is much to respect, but over time I also realized I hadn't 'arrived' quite in the way I would have once thought. We seem to have forgotten that factionalism is sin. But the labels do give us a place to start.

As far as a larger movement......no. Of course I'm hitting several things here. Some are doctrinal, some are about method, some historical. In all of these, there are some who agree with me strongly on one area, some who agree with part of what I'm saying on more than one. I don't know of anyone else who's putting this all together in quite the way I am.

As far as the anti-Constantinianism, there are indeed others who are picking up on this....but I'm definitely a little on the extreme side for most folks. Some of the things I'm saying are just too much for some to swallow. I struggled for a long time. I was wearing a military uniform when I first started wrestling with it! It's been pilgrimage and I'm still learning. But the more I learn the further I'm moving away from the Christian Right viewpoint I was taught as a child. I've probably delved into some of the history more than many have. As far as sociology and history, I read everything from the Neocons to the extreme left. Sometimes one group will ask questions the others won't. It doesn't mean I have to accept their answers, but even asking the questions helps me understand more. I find with a lot on the Christian Right, they refuse to even ask certain questions or even entertain certain realities....about the poor for example. If you go to American Vision, there's an article up right now, a few down from the top on poverty. It's the classic example of horrible Biblical interpretation and the politicizing of Christian Theology. It's abominable and completely contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

I'm not sure how familiar you are with some of the different Reformed camps. So I'll throw these out there and feel free to email back and ask for clarification or if just want to keep talking. We can talk via email if you don't want to do it on the discussion board. My email's over on the left margin.

The Biblical Theology movement, sometimes also called the Redemptive-Historical camp tend to be strong adherents of Two Kingdom theology. So in their writings and on their websites you will find discussions quite critical of the Christian Right and Constantinianism. They are viewed as enemy #1 by the Theonomic camp. But....they are firmly entrenched in the Reformed tradition so there are other points where I part company with them. I'm not terribly concerned about following historic Presbyterianism and though the Westminster Confession is a remarkable document, it is far from perfect. If you want some specific websites, or books, I'd be happy to recommend some.

There are some other people....like the Scattered Sheep website, and the Sola Dei Gloria site who seem to be of a similar mind. I'm not completely sure where they coming from overall. They seemed to be broadly Reformed and yet also appreciative of aspects of the Anabaptist heritage. For me, while I appreciate the Anabaptists, I tend more toward the pre-Reformed groups which I've been studying for years. They are like the Anabaptists in some ways and yet different. But those two sites are definitely worth a look. There's some thinking going on and I am very encouraged.

You will also find some New Covenant Theology Baptists who also are very critical of Constantinianism. I'm not sure where you're at regarding Covenant Theology and Baptism etc..... For me, I appreciate them on topics like the Kingdom, but we part ways after that. I've interacted with them a bit. They're good folks and overall having a positive effect in Christian circles, if anything by just speaking out against Theonomy.

But with all these folks, I've only found a few who have burrowed into Protestant and American history with the critical eye I'm advocating. It just goes too far for many. I just think of us as being in Early Constantinian Rome....most went along with it. There were a few who were very alarmed. You'll find even with a fair number of the NCT or BT/RH folk a great deal of sympathy with Republican type politics. I was really encouraged by the video recently posted on Scattered Sheep. I linked it on this blog.

I'm not sure how much you've read here, but I hope anyone will see I'm rejecting both political camps quite strongly. They're both operating with a certain circle. What am I advocating instead? Pragmatic solutions. I'm not looking for perfection. What I would like to see...is Christians not worshiping the state, and not supporting bloodshed. To that end, I care little for what type of government or economic order we have. I would prefer as much social liberty as possible, sometimes that also means the sinners get to sin. But what the Constantinians don't understand is the sinners still sin even when they're pretending not to. And just because my pagan neighbour can't shop on Sunday....it hardly means his actions are pleasing to God. And it has a negative effect, a growing resentment and hostility to Christianity. Sadly it's not the gospel per se they end up hating....it's the cultural Christianity. I think that's what the sixties was largely about, rejecting the veneer of the previous generations, and I think today....they view it as payback time. I hope you know what I mean, but in one sense I can't blame them. Cultural Christianity, since it is just moralism with gospel is very repugnant.

So I kind of stand alone. Not entirely on any one issue, but the package I'm presenting...yeah.

The law is complicated and multi-layered and the term is used in different ways even in the NT. Part of the confusion with guys like IronInk is that he can only seem to view it in social-civil categories. There are some who focus on the Law/Gospel distinction and always want to use the term Law to refer to God's commands.

I would argue the Law sometimes refers to commands, and certainly in the Mosaic covenant referred to a Holy Society. But often in the NT it refers specifically to different categories in the History of Redemption. It served specific purposes in the OT, typology, the schoolmaster, a hypothetical works arrangement for the Nation etc....It was a period in time with a specific purpose in God's plan that was meant to be fulfilled and superseded by the administration of the gospel. IronInk calls me Dispensationalist. No, they only see disunity and thus have 2 people of God...Israel and the Church. IronInk only sees unity and confuses Theocratic/Typological Israel with the Church. I'm saying there's unity and disunity. In one sense we are Israel and in another sense....we're not. Both Dispensational Theology and Theonomy read the NT in light of the Old and I'm arguing we have the read the OT in light of the NT.

In the NT we certainly have Law. The Law of Christ. All of God's Laws including Moses in some sense reflect His character or reflected the redemptive-typological lessons He was teaching. Some laws are intrinsic....they are commanded because they indeed reflect the Good....something about who God is and how He has structured the universe.

There are other commandments which are good only because they are commanded. Like burning incense or the kosher laws.....not something that is tied in with the order, the fabric of the universe, rather something that is for a season, good and Holy, because God commanded it for a specific arrangement, a time and place.

The Mosaic code is sometimes presented as a continuity with the NT. That's because it's rooted in Christ and even the typology points to the Gospel and yet also showed it was impossible for them to keep it...driving them to Christ.

But in another sense Moses is contrasted with the Christ. Taking Moses, just as Moses, and not in light of Christ....it's an administration of death, weak, beggarly, unable to save, a yoke, bondage etc....

There are multiple layers here. The danger is when we pick up on one aspect and run with it. We have to see it all. It's wondrous. People like IronInk have a very small concept of God and the Bible is more like a mathematics code to be arranged rather than a glorious representation of Jesus Christ from start to finish.

So yes, we can read the Mosaic Law and learn about the Messiah, we can learn about the character of God, but we have to understand the Theocratic context, it's anticipatory and typological nature...and we have to understand what it means that Christ has fulfilled these things. Often this is looked at as a question for Systematic Theology. It's a question about Redemptive-History. It all pointed to Him, He was the goal...that's where it was going. The Telos or end. To appeal back to Moses in any way is to fail to acknowledge Christ's supremacy, His completed work, and His glorification. It's like saying the Messiah hasn't come. We don't want the temple and sacrifices again, because Christ has fulfilled those things. The same goes for the Penal Codes the Theonomists argue.

What is the Law of Christ? This is the universal moral law that many look for in the Decalogue. But the Decalogue was a form-preamble for the whole Mosaic code and has been fulfilled.

Now the Theonomists jump up and say.....so we can kill, steal, lie?

Of course not. The Decalogue most certainly reflected the universal law. Even before the Decalogue Abraham knew it was wrong to kill, steal, and lie. He knew it was wrong to worship other Gods and would have known something of how God is to be worshipped. All this was without the Decalogue.

Even in the Decalogue you'll find (if you read the whole text) aspects which are, (if you use the Westminster 3-fold terminology)....ceremonial or judicial. It's not the universal intrinsic moral law. It can't be.
The issue of the Sabbath was one I wrestled with years ago. I used to be a hard-line Sabbatarian. As in the Isaiah 58.13 variety. I wouldn't even talk about the weather with you on Sunday. Every word had to be devoted to the Lord. I was very superstitious about it. I was an Saturday evening to Sunday evening Sabbatarian. I remember feeling a certain awe as the sun set on Saturday. Quite moving really, but as we all learn....our emotions don't validate the truth. Though perhaps even in one sense I benefited from it, I had to later repent.

But I was always troubled by the fact that if the Decalogue was the intrinsic universal moral law...how could they change it? The Sabbath can't be changed from the seventh day to the first day! Even if you accept the standard argument, it is self defeating. Because if the day was an element or form added to the intrinsic moral law that could be changed....then the Decalogue cannot be the universal moral law. It might point to a universal moral law..... That was the beginning. I had to stop, start over and look at the whole issue anew. It's difficult.

The OT law was a time of tutelage. I always use the example of my son's bedroom. When he's little and I want him to clean his room I have to say, "Look, you have to empty the rubbish bin, sweep the floor, dust the shelves, straighten the books, make the bed, etc...."

He's young so he needs it all spelled out. Maybe even how to sweep or dust, or make the bed...in detail.

But when he's older I just say, "Go clean your room." And he knows what to do.

It is much the same for us. In terms of Redemptive-History we are in the New Covenant. Even though it doesn't seem like it, in terms of God's development we are the adults. We don't need to be told what kind of clothes to wear, what to eat and what not to. We don't need to be told to set time apart to worship God. We don't need a series of Thou Shalt Not's......

Instead we are told....Do. We are no longer children under a tutor, we are sons, heirs. We should know and live the Law of Christ.....

Love God and love your neighbour, which even Christ said was the heart of the law...or what it pointed to. It was there, but not as clearly. They should have known it, but it was obscured. To put it another way, they couldn't see the forest through the trees.

We so desperately want checklists that tell exactly what to do. But we're not given that in the NT. We're supposed to exercise wisdom and be guided by the Spirit. The Spirit helps us apply the Word. Then we will know and understand why some things are okay in certain situations and other times they're not. Don't misunderstand! It's not because the truth is relative, nor am I saying we can sin...I'm saying sometimes we should not do things that are permissible not because they are sin or tend toward sin, but because our actions are to be guided by love.

Paul is clear, all things are lawful (he doesn't mean it's okay to sin).....but not all things are expedient. He talks about the meat offered to idols. He doesn't say it's relative. He says it's fine to eat, but we should love our brethren and if they'll stumble by us eating it in front of them...don't eat it. It will actually be wrong for you to do it in that case....while 30mins later at home, it would be fine.

American piety so often is about these lists, usually man-made based on cultural taboos. We need to reject that whole mentality. We should live boldly but with wisdom. We're not antinomians, but we're not legalists.
There's a security in checklist thinking. But it's false and tends toward harm and confusion. What I'm advocating seems to fluid, too loosey-goosey. It's not, but it means we have to be on our toes, thinking, praying, and loving our neighbour.

I think the Proverbs are interesting because it seems like so many contradict. Answer a fool, don't answer a fool. Wisdom is what we need.

As far as the poor and needy, I'm not sure if you mean for us personally or for society? I'll briefly hit both.

Personally....100% absolutely yes. And we don't explain it away by appealing to stewardship and things like that. We are take Christ's words seriously. It is absolutely incompatible with American values. We need to change. I am baffled by the Christian Right and the Theonomists when they literally gut the teachings of Christ and instead substitute Adam Smith and Thomas Sowell. With wisdom and selflessness we need to love our neighbours.

Socially?....we want a stable and peaceful society. We want justice and fairness and we Christians should have no desire for outrageous wealth, nor should we be content with terrible poverty surrounding us while we do well. IF, and that's a big if....I were to subscribe to a Constantinianism I see no reason why we wouldn't combine the Mosaic Code with the teachings of the NT. You sure wouldn't get the same kind of vision we get from the Christian Right.

This is what Protestant Constantinianism did in Europe in the 19th century. This is largely where we get all the Christian Social Democratic type parties. They viewed it their Christian duty to help the poor, introduce labour laws, socialized medicine, etc.....the exact opposite of what happened here. There are historical reasons for that which I'm happy to go into if you're interested. If I advocated Christian government I could just as easily advocate that. Funny how you don't have the nationalism and pride, the cut-throat competitiveness and militarism in the modern social democracies. Could they be in some ways more Christian than we are?

But, I would say we don't want the government in any way to declare itself in Covenant with God. It immediately corrupts the Church with a false Kingdom idea and profanes God's Word.

We want peace and stability, to be left alone that we might go about the work of the Kingdom...which indeed can and should include helping people. So does it matter what type of government we have? Not really. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Our society allows us considerable freedom but is fraught with dangerous traps and teaches us many anti-Christian values. If you live in a socialist society, like in the European countries, you'll find the same thing. There are in some ways, less freedoms, in some ways more. There is stability and higher standard of living, but there is also a greater emphasis on social conformity which can be a bad thing for Christians. We have our problems with conformity here too. It depends on what strata of society you come from and what circles you run in. I've seen Christian friends crushed by social pressures as they sought higher rungs on the ladder.

So yes, I agree with you, and I think you're asking the right questions. I hope we can keep interacting. Please feel free to disagree, I won't be offended......

Sorry it was so long, but I didn't want to just shoot off a one liner.

If you're interesting in looking into the law issue a bit more. There's a book in the Point/Counterpoint series called Five Views on the Law. It's excellent. You have everything from Bahnsen arguing the Theonomic position to Moo arguing the view I agree with most. He calls it the modified Lutheran view....but quickly separates himself from Luther's model. It's really the Redemptive-Historical view.

I hope that helps. Please stay in touch. Your note was a great encouragement to me.

John A.


Anonymous said...

Could you define "The Law of Christ" for us?

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

Sure, who's writing?

I don't mind if anyone posts anonymously, but just for the sake of clarity could you give some kind of label, even if it's just a nickname or whatever.

In a nutshell I would basically argue the same position held by Irons. It's the Eternal Law as manifested in the New Covenant. Since it is a reflection of the Eternal law it's not too hard to find in the Old Covenant as well, though it (at times) seems to be buried under several layers and indeed there are other arrangement considerations at work in the Old Order.

Basically, Love God and love your neighbour. It's the Kingdom Ethic, that we seek first the Kingdom and lay up our treasures there. We live as those who are dead and alive.

Anonymous said...

How do the Scriptures define the "Law of Christ"?

Where would we find the Scriptures teaching an "Eternal Law"? Is this a "code" like the Mosaic?

Label: Christian

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...


Galatians 6.2 is a good place to start.

Eternal law is a concept gleaned from the various references to 'law' found in the NT. As I stated in the article above and in many others I've written here the NT deals with OT in different ways.

Sometimes the Mosaic Law points to Christ.
Sometimes it's an opposition.
Sometimes it's a typological category fulfilled by the NT.
Sometimes it's a code..as in stipulations of a Covenant...and thus pointing to something.
Sometimes it's a code alone, which is how the Jews took it (and many Christians for that matter) and were rebuked by Christ and the Apostles.

I'm not sure how little or how much you're looking for, so I'll stop there for the moment.

Christian said...

Where might we find NT references to the Law of Christ as "eternal" code?

Is the Law of Christ particularly a "code"?

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

I didn't say it was an eternal 'code'.

We are united to Christ, and thus we are to be Christ-like as it were. It's definitely not like a manual or checklist for us to follow.

Christian said...

Is the Law of Christ particularly a "code"?

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

Well, I guess you would have to define code. I wouldn't describe it that way.

I would describe it as the Christian life, the Christian Ethic that flows out of our Union with Christ.

Like I said, there are elements of the Mosaic code that also contain this.....but there are other layers or considerations in Moses that sometimes seemed to obscure it.

A big debate would be....during the Sermon on the Mount, was Christ expounding the Mosaic Law as it ought to have been understood, or was expanding the Law...as in elaborating the spirit over the mere letter, a higher ethic for the New Covenant.

Or something of both.

A friendly question....please don't take it the wrong way. Do you have something in mind you're building up to? Or are you genuinely just asking and interested in understanding this.

If it's the latter, I can certainly point you to a couple of things to read which you might find helpful.

I hope I'm not being to confusing....I'm not meaning to, but as you can probably appreciate, it's a weighty topic.

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

But Christian,

If you think I'm somehow teaching law-righteousness, you're mistaken. That's not what I'm saying at all.

If it's Code or Christ....

then certainly Christ. I think you may be missing what I'm saying.

But...that's certainly nothing new....(smile)

Anonymous said...

Thanks; Code or Christ is a good way of framing things.

Apostolic def:

"code" = Rom.2:27 and 7:6

"law of Christ/Spirit/Faith" = Rom.8:2; 8:4; 3:27

Is the "Law of Christ/Spirit/Faith" an internal "code"?

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

Yes, Code or Christ....that's how you put it in your post.

I don't agree with your take on Romans 7. I think the common BT/NCT take on that passage is mistaken.

Aside from that, we've already agreed, the Law of Christ is not a code.

I'm not going to box myself in by system-commitment by defining these terms in a rigid way....by forcing everything through a particular lens.

Anonymous said...

The concern with lenses is to be appreciated.

Okay. Law of Christ does not equal Code, as Paul says.

If it is an ethic, how does that differ from code? If it isn't an ethic, what else might it be?

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

Redemption Applied

Anonymous said...

1) Law of Christ is not essentially an external 'code' we abide by.

2) Law of Christ is not merely an ethic.

3) Law of Christ is redemption applied.

But what then might the Law of Christ be then? We're back to the original question.

Also, I'd be interested in knowing what the "Eternal Law" is, biblically speaking?

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

We're IN Christ...or as some might say...UNDER Christ. With that status is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit which teaches us to love God and our neighbour.

Again it's not a code or checklist we follow. Because we're in Christ, we are Christ-like.

Why do I have a feeling that won't satisfy you. I think you have a different notion as to what 'law' might mean. I think you might say it has to mean the same thing in every case.

The Eternal Law is a bit more of complicated subject. It is God's revealed Moral Will, which Adam had in the garden, was repeated in the Ten Commandments and is repeated again in the NT's law of Christ. However, each of those epochs manifested this in their own form. SO......the Ten Commandments is not the eternal moral law of God as the WCF says, but a form...an obsolete one...but certainly not absent of value.

It's always communicated in covenant form, but each manifestation points back to basic provisions concerning who God is and his Character. So there's no verse reference for the Eternal Law...but it's the foundation of all other covenant manifestations of moral law

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

If you're looking for me to simply say the Law of Christ is Christ period or something like that...I've already said that, but I won't reducte the scriptures to just that. There are implications. The question is it something we try to do or emulate or is it something that flows out of being in Christ.

Obviously you find my answers unsatisfactory. Nothing new. Rather than keep at this, why don't you just go ahead and say what it is you're getting at.

I have a pretty good idea of where you're coming from. Conversations from the past as well as your own posts over the years have made that pretty clear.

You will disagree but I think you've done a big pendulum swing. You're system sounds great and tries to elevate Grace, but the problem is the NT is replete with verses that don't make sense with what you're trying to say.

I agree with you.......but there's so much more. These truths are both very simply but also quite complicated. There are layers.

I think we've been having this conversation for about 13 years now. I'm sorry you think I teach a works salvation. I don't think you've ever understood what I'm saying....which is fine.

But I won't reduce the Gospel and Saving Faith to mere assent and once saved always saved. That's not only cheap and easy...it's just not what the Scriptures teach. It's a system, like many others it makes sense...except for all the problem texts.

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

By pendulum swing I mean......

You've apparently abandoned the oppressive legalism which once so dominated your thinking...that's great. That's not easy to be around, I can assure you.

But that doesn't mean the other extreme is the correct answer.

For some, if you suggest the gospel must produce fruit and is conditioned by it...that can indeed tend to a legalistic understanding and shake their assurance. I don't know if that was your experience.

But in that case it doesn't necessarily follow that the doctrine was wrong, it may have been what was done with it.

Any doctrine has the potential to be abused.

On the other hand, a robust understanding of Grace and the utter lack of necessary works is also fantastic...and true. But for some this can lead to presumption and false assurance.

Doesn't mean it's wrong either, just means it's subject to abuse.

I think it's always proved vexing that I say...BOTH are right.

If there's a problem with that, then I think basic questions need to be answered regarding...

doctrine of scripture
the nature of theology
the method of theology

We might be answering those differently, hence the difficulties.

Hence your difficulty in grasping what I'm saying about the Law of Christ. I'm dealing with RH dynamics....your system I would guess is pretty linear and two-dimensional.

In addition I'm arguing a theological dynamic in that the Law of Christ

is the NT expression of the Eternal Law
is union with Christ (married to another)
is also the Christ-likeness that flows out of our union and being regenerate. Love God and your neighbour.

You might not appreciate the distinction but the latter point is not an ethic or check list.
It's a fruit of regeneration not something to aspire to in terms of a wage, or points.

Like I said in the latest post...qualitative not quantitative

Anonymous said...

Appreciate your taking time to explain! I'll take some time and think it over. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

1) Law of Christ is not essentially an external 'code' we abide by.
2) Law of Christ is not merely an ethic.
3) Law of Christ is Christ, indwelling by the Spirit, thereby ruler of our hearts through faith, bearing fruit unto God.

The Law of Christ/Spirit/Faith is the personal work of God within those he possess, the results of which bears out a two-fold love, of God and neighbor. The former being generated by his love *for* us; the latter being his love shed *in* us.

The Law of Christ is the Indwelling Incarnate (Spirit written on the heart) to which former shadowy types pointed. This New Law differs in *form*...being the living God in us, not merely his code outside of us. This New Law differs in *function*...causing his own people to obey, not provoking them to sin.

The New and Old Law bear the likeness to their respective covenants. The New is the fullness of all prior covenants, in Christ's fulfilling all the old Law and Prophets, which testify to him. The New Law and Spirit of Prophecy is Christ himself. Christ is the Incarnation of all former types: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc; none of which covenants continue binding in form or function upon the people of God under the New Covenant.

A great salvation, indeed!

Thanks again.

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

I agree with the first three paragraphs.

In #3 your point about the New Law not provoking to sin is excellent. That's quite important in terms of how the functions are indeed different in this epoch. That was well put and by raising that point it does help to make the distinction which the word "law" whether Adamic, Mosaic, or New doesn't convey.

In par. #4, I agree....maybe.

The only question I hasve would be in regard to Abraham and David. Adam and Moses have nothing to do with us. We're not under them in any way. Noah is obviously a little different. I agree with Irons that there's really two arrangements there, the Common Grace Cov. and a Redemptive aspect. Either way...Noah's not something we're under.

But as far as David....while not under David, I'm sure you would agree the Kingdom promise is pertinent now...right? You haven't turned pre-mil too have you? Just asking.

And as far as Abraham, here I know we'll disagree, because I don't think you go along with the form/substance paradigm anymore...at least not if you're into NCT. Obviously, I still hold to the form of Abraham being gone, but the substance of Abraham as being directly tied to the New Covenant. I think the Abrahamic was the New in typological form...or you could say the New but pre-Christ in terms of chronology.

Now the Abrahamic has another level which typologically tied it in with the whole Old Order. Circumcision was both corporate and individual, and had both a redemptive-typology as well as being tied in (later) with the whole Mosaic order which again was two-fold...redemptive/anticipatory and legal/reiterative (eden repeated)

So I can agree that none of these covenants are binding in FORM. Absolutely, you are correct. We don't have circumcision or the Davidic Israel.

In FUNCTION....depends what you mean. On the surface I can heartily agree, but I would want to qualify it.

I'm not sure how much sense that made. I think you probably know where I'm coming from on that.

We agree....sort of (smile)

A great salvation indeed!

Just curious, have you read Irons or Moo on this topic? If you're NCT, you probably wouldn't go along with Irons 100%, but I would have to think in general you would appreciate what he's saying. As far as Moo, I think his little essay in the Point/Counterpoint series is invaluable. I re-read that thing a couple of times a year. I think he does a great job dealing with the multiple layers of the issue.

And of course he relegates the Theonomic interpretation of the law to its right place...the rubbish bin.

We'd agree on that! That's one theology I cannot abide. We left the OPC to the south of us for that very reason. When the Theonomist took over, we were done. He's gone now, but the elder that's basically running the show is hardline Hoeksema-ite and a fan of John Robbins and Gordon Clark. I'm not a Van Tillian, but that whole Clark-Hoeksema Hyper-Calvinist stuff is not my cup of tea.

David said...

Could you give a basic definition of the form/substance paradigm?

Could you direct me to where I might fight that Moo article? I'd love to read it.

What is the distinctive of NCT? The majority of the authors that I've read are coming from a reformed or covenant theology viewpoint (Kline, Vos, Hoekema, Ridderbos, Horton, Goldsworthy, Beale). I appreciate much of what I've read there. I've also read short explanations of NCT, and some lists of their beliefs, but overall it seems quite similar to covenant theology. What do they perceive to their biggest difference, and what are the ramifications of their theological differences as it is worked out? I did notice that they see the New Covenant as being the apex of God's self-revelation. They don't see the New and Old Covenant as two separate, but equal, instances of the covenant of grace. This seems okay to me. The Old Covenant was shadow and pedagogue, the New is apex and fulfillment. What am I missing?

Sorry. I'm always tossing a bunch of questions at you.

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

To varying degrees Covenant Theology (CT) believes that there is an underlying post-fall Covenant. The theme I will be your God and you will be my people keeps coming up over and over again. He has one people, the one tree, the one vine, Israel etc….
The question is how do the OT/NT differ?
Is the difference one of form…that substance of the Covenant is administered in different forms….
Or is there just total discontinuity.
Now among the CT camp, there are variations. The Klinean group sees the Mosaic period as a sort of parenthesis between Abraham and the New Covenant.
The Theonomic group see Abraham and Moses as pretty much a singular unit and downplay the form shift when you come to the NT.
Some Theonomists even extend the substance back to the pre-fall era….Redemptive Grace in the Garden.
The Klineans are quite vocal against this and echoing the old Puritan/Westminster model…they view the Mosaic Covenant as being a typological repeat of Eden. Israel is being Adam again under a works arrangement in the land of milk and honey. On a personal level they’re still saved by grace through faith etc… but corporately they are under a works arrangement.
The Federal Vision folks and the Norman Shepherd crowd reject this and see the entire OT as gracious.
From my standpoint each camp is right in part…except maybe the Theonomists. However, some camps are much better in their understanding of these things. I think it’s multi-layered and quite complex.

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

Dispensationalism of course completely rejects the unity-substance aspect and only sees discontinuity…in fact making the Church Age a parenthesis, a sort of plan B.
NCT, tends to see it pretty much in terms of OT vs. NT. We have Law and we have Gospel. That’s a little different than the Lutheran category. God willing when I put up HyperSola pt4 I’ll get into the Law/Gospel thing a bit.
Anyway, NCT is rabidly anti-Theonomy (which is good) because they’re emphasizing the Disunity without being Dispensationalist. Remember the Disp. System sees the Jews as Israel. NCT sees the Church as Israel but does not look for the underlying unity with the OT.
The other Commentator (may I call you GospelMuse?) may want to add to that. Feel free.
So….Disp and NCT see disunity but differ on the definition of Israel.
CT sees varying degrees of unity and varying degrees of disunity depending on what camp you belong to.
Hope that helps some. Feel free to follow up and don’t ever apologize for asking lots of questions.
The Moo article can be found here:
The Irons stuff can be found at the Upper Register. You mentioned you already were listening to his series The Unfolding Mystery. Awesome.
NCT is very similar to CT in that it sees Israel as the Church. It’s a form of Replacement Theology as our opponents like to call it.
I think NCT folks are rather interested in Kline and would appreciate some of Horton and certainly Beale. I like all the people you mentioned, but as always with qualification. Sometimes I really disagree with Horton, but overall I have more in common with him than difference I might have.

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

I think it goes without saying that all NCT folk are going to be Baptistic. The Paedo- arguments are based on some form of continuity…the substance of the covenant framework extending from Abraham to the NT.
GospelMuse, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think NCT would see
‘the New and Old Covenant as two separate, but equal, instances of the covenant of grace’
That’s more a CT position…..and even the Klineans wouldn’t feel comfortable putting it that way. CT often refers to the substance, that overlapping arrangement, the I’m your God and you’re my people as the CofG.
I think NCT would largely reject the CofG concept.

So there are similarites, but also significant differences.

How does the OT relate to the NT? One of the biggest questions in all of Theology and Church History. HUGE implications.

An almost total unity-Rome, Orthodoxy, Theonomy

A total disunity- Dispensationalism

NCT kind of falls inbetween total disunity and

Unity/disunity- Everyone else, lots of variations and different ways of framing it.

Ironically, American Evangelicalism is largely Dispensational but loves to turn Theonomic when it comes to the Culture War. They like to pull American policy straight from the pages of the Old Covenant.

The other doctrine from the OT they REALLY like is Tithing. You better believe they all turn into Theonomists when it comes to that. (smile)

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

To David cont….
That just deals with the Redemptive-Historical issues regarding the relationship between the Old and New.
In addition there is the whole debate over how the Covenant itself is defined.
---Covenant Nature----
Do the Scriptures use Covenant only in the eternal/eschatological sense?
That is to say, is Covenant understood always and only in relation to election?
Or, can Covenant be understood as both in relation to Election and thus an Eschatological category, or can it also be understood as a temporal/administrative category? That’s the Means I’m always talking about.
Rome is interesting because they define the Covenant only in terms of the visible. The visible represents the Eschatological as it were. The Supper, Baptism, they are the thing in of itself. The visibles are the substance.
Baptists and some Reformed usually define Covenant as solely Eschatological. To be in Covenant…is to be saved…really, truly eschatologically saved.
Thus you get (to me) the strange expressions like….he has the sign of the covenant but isn’t in the covenant. I’ve heard people from RS Clark to John Robbins say things like this.
That makes no sense to me.
I would say if they have the sign, they’re in. Now if we want to understand this in temporal (form) vs. eschatological (substance) categories, I could indeed say, X is in, but lost. While Y might not be in (say, someone converted in Antarctica reading their Bible) and yet is in.
Not all who are of Israel are of Israel.

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

But those who are not of…are still called Israel. It’s still a category, just in light of eschatology, they’re not really in.
Now either you’re following me or are totally confused. I’m using form/substance here to refer to the nature of the Covenant in time and eternity. The previous comments dealt with it in terms of Redemptive History…a single substance under various forms. Salvation is the same in all ages, administered under different forms.
But here it’s much more subtle.
Defining it in merely as eschatological/eternal/invisible sense works great as far as system-thinking.
So does Rome’s hyper-visibilism.
But I think (and I’m in a minority to be sure) this is a multi-faceted issue that can be framed in different ways. Covenant is a complex category, which can refer to Redemptive Historical epoch, administrative visible means, and eschatological reality. In the end, the latter is all that matters. We would all agree on that. But as I’m always saying…we don’t know who’s elect, so we can’t construct ecclesiology with data we don’t have. God has given us the means.
The problem I think is…let’s face it…the Scriptures are not a systematics text. The Theology of Scripture is not taught in outline form. It would be nice if it was….but I’ve come to believe it really can’t be. This will sound a little loose, but the definitions are often driven by the perspective.
Even if you don’t agree…does that make any sense?

Anonymous said...

You'll have to excuse me for a time...I'd like to interact straightway, but have things to tend to. Hoping to chime in perhaps this week sometime.

At the moment...I will only say that my own concerns are not to uphold a particular theological system (though I much appreciate some of the thinking in NCT), but to seek to understand well the Scriptures themselves. I'm certain you all can appreciate that. And just the same, my own understanding currently leans heavily toward the branch (there are basically 4 each) of NCT that rightly appreciates the redemptive-historical dynamics of Scripture, particularly as they center on Christ himself.

More soon, hopefully. I do appreciate the opportunity to see how others perceive NC thinking as held by NCT in general. I trust that our brothers who labor under the banner of NCT will continue bring to the table much food for thought.

FWIW, I've read very little in the NCT realm...and probably won't anytime soon. My own views happen to coincide with much of NCT, but much of their development did not take place within the camp proper but on the basis of redemptive-historical thinking, well applied, I hope, in reading the Scriptures.

Best to you both, John and David.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you've already read these articles. These are helpful in understanding what some are calling NCT:

1) http://breusswane.blogspot.com/2011/05/what-is-new-covenant-theology.html

2) http://christourcovenant.blogspot.com/2009/02/all-proponents-of-nct-believe-christ.html

Protoprotestant said...

Thanks...that's GospelMuse right?

I will certainly check those out. I've read a bit of J. Zens but it's been awhile.

I do remember an explicit rejection of the Covenant of Grace.

Anyhow...I'll check those out.

GospelMuse said...

FWIW: As I best understand Zens, generally speaking, his views are not consider to be a sounder form of NC thinking.

Yes, the COG paradigm is not going to be found in NC thinking. Though there are of course gracious elements to the Old Covenant...that Covenant itself wouldn't be seen as gracious, as is the New Covenant. OC is per Code (Do this and live!). NC is per Christ (Having done this that we might live!).

The driving force behind NC thinking is "Christ as the unity of all redemption and revelation." This makes the idea of "covenant" to be something other than a primary motif, though it certainly factors into the role of Christ as hermeneutical key.

Unity is thought to be in Christ himself, filling up and fulfilling all covenants leading unto the Incarnation. Essentially, Christ is understood to be the incarnation of all that the OC Law demands and OC Prophets promise. Hence, typologically speaking, Christ is the link between the OC covenants as they unfold throughout the OT.

All OC typological (ectypal) realities are subsumed in Christ, the archetypal reality.

Christ would be understood as the colligate of all redemption and revelation, and not a theological category of 'covenant of grace'.

Hope that helps a bit.

GospelMuse said...

To be honest...I personally know very little about Zens. Hearsay would have it that he is a bit off-base at points. Again, I'm not all that familiar with him, so I couldn't say for sure.

Having just glanced at his stuff...I'd be interested in reading more of it.

David said...

I had actually read the first article mentioned above (the one on Vossed World) before. That actually is what led me to ask specifically what the difference between classic reformed and NCT is, because so much of what I read there in that numbered list seems to be compatible with what I'm reading in the contemporary reformed circles regarding the primacy and centrality of Christ, the fact that all of the scriptures point forward to him, that OT events typologically foreshadow that which is eventually fulfilled in him, etc. #27 and 30 are maybe the closest thing I see to a difference, but even those I could see being accepted by both camps. Perhaps there aren't clear lines and there is much overlap between these theologies. Was just curious.

Protoprotestant said...

NCT and particularly the Vosian branch of CT see strong Redemptive-Historical discontinuity.

But they separate on the point of continuity.

NCT doesn't see any kind of substantial or covenantal continuity. Anticipation/fulfillment to be sure, but now that we're in the NT, the old system in its entirety is done away with.

The Vosian/Klinean group sees a dynamic, where there's a definite substantial or covenantal connection between Abraham and the NT.

Chronologically Abraham was part of the OT
but theologically his covenant in essence was NT, just out of time sequence and thus under a different form....Paul's arguments in Rom. 4 and Galatians 3 etc....

The Mosaic Covenant overlaps with the Abrahamic and fulfills more than one role. On the one hand it's typological, pointing to Christ, the Law is a picture of Christ the Saviour/Judge.

But then on another level when Moses is taken alone, it's Adam in the Garden again, a covenant contrasted with the glory of the NT...an administration of death.

NCT is great on the RH discontinuity. They (in my opinion) see this much better than the bulk of the Reformed community.

BUT...they restrict the OT, casting it into a monolith, seeing the Law only in terms of provoking to sin (which is true) etc....

To put it simply, I would say NCT is good as far as it goes....it just needs to go a lot farther. There are more layers and dynamic tensions there then the school seems to allow.

Admittedly it's difficult and certainly the tendency right now in Reformed circles and even the larger Evangelical world is toward recognizing unity/continuity. These folks are fighting culture war and emulating Israel gives them lots of theological ammunition.

David said...

Cool. That's helpful. That's what I was looking for. Just trying to get a feel for where the "discontinuity" is between these two views. Thanks.

GospelMuse said...

NCT Continuity: OC/NC continuity exists in the Person of Jesus. He's in the OC shadows and then comes forth in NC glory. ALL of Scripture is the revelation of Jesus.

NCT Discontinuity: ALL prior covenantal form/function is transformed (reformed - Heb.9.10) in the Person of Jesus, who is the New Covenant himself (Isa.42&49).

NCT View of OC Law:
1) Provoked sin/Promised life
2) Represented Adam
3) Prefigured Christ (then)
4) Incarnate in Christ (now)

Key difference between CT and NCT...
CT emphasis: continuity of covenants
NCT emphasis: Fulfillment in Christ

Protoprotestant said...

I'm afraid I can't agree with these models first and foremost because all of Covenant Theology can't be lumped into one statement like that. There are many divergent schools of thought, some better, some worse.
I also cannot agree with how NCT is being characterized. I don't accept that it's doing what is claimed in these points or in all the points Bresson makes.
For example in #4, he claims NCT interprets Scripture after the manner of Christ and the NT writers' use of the OT, or that it interprets the OT as thoroughly typological in #9.
See, I would argue that it does this only in part. NCT has made certain commitments which actually prevent it from doing this.
I would argue the NT deals with the OT on several different levels. Sometimes it is indeed Moses v. Christ...Moses is the administration of death.
Sometimes Abraham is viewed as 'chronologically' part of the Old order.
Sometimes Abraham is viewed as 'theologically/redemptively' part of the New order. NCT doesn't recognize this despite the fact that Paul's arguments in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 depend on it...which is kind of critical if anyone in the OT was going to be saved!
Not to mention all the little statements like in Philippians 'we are the circumcision,' or in Ephesians, 'the commonwealth of Israel...covenant(s) of promise' contradicting #79, and that's just for starters. In addition even if you don't accept paedobaptist arguments based on Colossians 2, the very fact that he makes the comparison shows there is level of continuity, directly contradicting NCT/Bresson #27.
Admittedly some CT folks don't see the discontinuity, but not all.
NCT doesn't recognize the differences between historical contrast, redemptive-historical contrast, and redemptive-historical continuity all of which are present in the NT.

Protoprotestant said...

This sort of two-dimensional commitment forces NCT to also restrict the definition of law. While I wholeheartedly agree with #40-42....#43 exposes this problem. Law is only defined on one level, it has to mean Mosaic covenant, even though the NT uses the term in several different ways. This also doesn't adequately deal with the OT tension (not contrast) between Abraham and Moses that Paul deals with in Galatians 3. The Mosaic period was a parenthesis that sometimes is viewed from the NT by itself, sometimes with Abraham, sometimes contrasting Abraham.
#47-49 are very good, but with #50, while I agree the law per se doesn't sanctify, I'm hesitant to agree because of the restrictive use of law....not to mention Covenant.
This is beyond what I hope to do in a comment, but this ties in with the mistaken Law/Gospel hermeneutic espoused by many. While there is a L/G hermeneutic when it comes to Redemptive-History, there is not one in terms of referring to all commands and imperatives as Law. Otherwise there's lots of law in the NT, lots of imperatives tied in with the Christian life...and yes, Christian growth.
NCT views law as merely being married to Moses or Christ...which it is, on one level. But there's more than one way to define law....
Since they don't do this, there effectively is no eternal standard reflecting God's character, goal, struggle, or anything else in the Christian life. These are all lumped under law. They can be interpreted that way, but necessarily so...and again, I'm sorry the NT is filled with commands, warnings, injunctions, exhortations, etc... you cannot escape them.
Romans 7 is allegorized in violation of basic hermeneutical principles regarding narrative. Paul allegorizes in Galatians but says so. Romans 7 is didactic, but it is incompatible with this system's view of the Christian life. So instead they make it into a parable regarding the Jews....life under the law.
Since that's all reckoned 'law' then it's not for us to do or strive to do...it's done by the Holy Spirit. Right....ultimately the Holy Spirit is moving us....but to formulate it the way NCT does, we end up with effectively no doctrine of sanctification...certainly not a dual-tensioned definitive/progressive view of sanctification.

Protoprotestant said...

We end up with saving faith being reduced to intellectual assent. There is a real danger here of antinomianism and easy believism. It's funny, that's what the Theonomists accuse me of, but then when I'm arguing with NCT's and many other Baptists...I sound like a Theonomist (smile).
And certainly there is no room for any kind of concept of Means or Administration. Covenant is only defined eternally, and can't be conceived in the multiple layers demonstrated in the NT. Needless to say, NCT is Baptistic which if that's what the NT teaches, then fine. But I can't reconcile that with many portions of Scripture....with regard to the Church, Sacraments, Children etc...
It does strive to be Christocentric and that's certainly commendable and correct. But by missing the totality of the NT teaching, it makes several key mistakes and falls back into the old system-traps that so many other traditions fall into. While it's better than some if not many other alternatives, it misses the mark at several very important points.
What's the crux of the problem? In my opinion, system thinking. They anchor on several points....good ones to be sure....and then the rest of Scripture is subjected to the logic test (system). I refuse to do that. I'd rather have a system that's dialectical, defying two-dimensional logic and from outset confusing to the Western-trained mind...but submits itself to revelation as it is given.