Ending the Rabit Hole of Understanding Covenant Theology

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frog

Puritan Board Freshman
Hello,

I come from a Presbyterian background and as I’ve grown older I have learnt more of what the WCF summarises about Scripture. I have learnt about the trinity, atonement, doctrines of grace, justification, sanctification etc.. In all these things, there was a natural point at which I could pause/stop learning and come to some satisfactory coherent understanding. However, as I’ve started down the road of understanding covenant theology I don’t really see an end in sight - it seems like there’s constant difficulties in understanding the covenants; what makes the new covenant “new”? how does the mosaic covenant fit in with CoW and CoG? what is the nature of conditionality in the covenants? etc.. So many of these questions have a massive amount of literature devoted to them and it feels somewhat impossible to come to grips with it all.

Has anyone got any advice or guidance on how to learn covenant theology without drowning? Perhaps with different stages/depths of understanding covenant theology? E.g. for the trinity one might say the trinity is “three in one”, which sort of gets at the idea, but you can go deeper and explain that it’s “three subsistences in one being” and that “will is a property of being and so God has one will” and one can go on to learn deeper amazing things about our Triune God of perichoresis, eternal generation etc..
 

Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
Here is a suggestion using material that is quite user friendly and also theologically solid.

Dr McMahon's book "Covenant Theology made Easy" is a nice user friendly introduction to the subject. This is published by Puritan Publications which is a sister ministry to the Puritanboard.

I would recommend following that up with "Ruin and Redemption" which is a little more in-depth but is very helpful on issues like the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. You can purchase both together at Lulu publishers and save on postage.

You can also do the Ruin and Redemption as an online course. https://www.ruinandredemption.com/
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
Hello,

I come from a Presbyterian background and as I’ve grown older I have learnt more of what the WCF summarises about Scripture. I have learnt about the trinity, atonement, doctrines of grace, justification, sanctification etc.. In all these things, there was a natural point at which I could pause/stop learning and come to some satisfactory coherent understanding. However, as I’ve started down the road of understanding covenant theology I don’t really see an end in sight - it seems like there’s constant difficulties in understanding the covenants; what makes the new covenant “new”? how does the mosaic covenant fit in with CoW and CoG? what is the nature of conditionality in the covenants? etc.. So many of these questions have a massive amount of literature devoted to them and it feels somewhat impossible to come to grips with it all.

Has anyone got any advice or guidance on how to learn covenant theology without drowning? Perhaps with different stages/depths of understanding covenant theology? E.g. for the trinity one might say the trinity is “three in one”, which sort of gets at the idea, but you can go deeper and explain that it’s “three subsistences in one being” and that “will is a property of being and so God has one will” and one can go on to learn deeper amazing things about our Triune God of perichoresis, eternal generation etc..

It took me a little while to get a decent understanding of this but I am still learning myself. To get a better grasp you have to understand what a Covenant is and then walk through each major covenant slowly from Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David into the New Covenant. The Divine Covenants by Robertson is a good resource that does well covenant by covenant. Another resource that is practical and a Puritan Board member wrote is called Ruin and Redemption by Jon Bonker. If you want a more thorough exegesis and detail one of my seminary courses had us read a two volume book called "The Economy of the Covenants by Herman Witsius.

I would start with Robertson or Jon Bonker then advance to something like Witsius for deeper study.
 

Jerrod Hess

Puritan Board Freshman
In all honesty, I found Wilhelmus a Brakel's treatises on covenant to be most faithful and pastoral; it is also the cure for 1689 Federalism, specifically his covenant by covenant treatises found in Volume 4 of his systematic.

Covenant in general varies from writer to writer because it is an intricate topic. Although you may be able to fit most theologians into broader categories, there are also subcategories and camps within those broader spectrums. Some for example confess in eternity past there was a covenant made between the Triune God (primarily concerning the Father and Son) called the Covenant of Redemption; and that the Covenant of Grace is simply the Covenant of Redemption carried out historically/in time. Others at the same time would reject that idea, and only confess a Covenant of Grace, and a Covenant of Works; such usually say that the covenant that was made in eternity past was the Covenant of Grace, and not a separate moniker. (Think 3 covenant, versus 2 covenant views.) So for what it's worth, a lot of writers and theologians will confess the same ideas, but dispute and quibble over the names of God's dealings with men. Another example is the Covenant of Works often being named the Adamic Covenant, Edenic Covenant, Covenant of Life, etc. All that to say, I think the doctrine of Covenant is more of an intricate one, and far from monolithic. There are varying flavours of Westminster Covenant Theology, as there are many flavours of 1689 Federalism, the same goes with the Dutch.

I've still found Wilhelmus, Berkhof, and Bavinck to be most faithful. I have Colquhoun's treatise, whom I have yet to read. I've heard it is a one-stop shop for a great overarching view of covenant theology.
 

HisRobes4Mine

Puritan Board Freshman
In all honesty, I found Wilhelmus a Brakel's treatises on covenant to be most faithful and pastoral; it is also the cure for 1689 Federalism, specifically his covenant by covenant treatises found in Volume 4 of his systematic.

Covenant in general varies from writer to writer because it is an intricate topic. Although you may be able to fit most theologians into broader categories, there are also subcategories and camps within those broader spectrums. Some for example confess in eternity past there was a covenant made between the Triune God (primarily concerning the Father and Son) called the Covenant of Redemption; and that the Covenant of Grace is simply the Covenant of Redemption carried out historically/in time. Others at the same time would reject that idea, and only confess a Covenant of Grace, and a Covenant of Works; such usually say that the covenant that was made in eternity past was the Covenant of Grace, and not a separate moniker. (Think 3 covenant, versus 2 covenant views.) So for what it's worth, a lot of writers and theologians will confess the same ideas, but dispute and quibble over the names of God's dealings with men. Another example is the Covenant of Works often being named the Adamic Covenant, Edenic Covenant, Covenant of Life, etc. All that to say, I think the doctrine of Covenant is more of an intricate one, and far from monolithic. There are varying flavours of Westminster Covenant Theology, as there are many flavours of 1689 Federalism, the same goes with the Dutch.

I've still found Wilhelmus, Berkhof, and Bavinck to be most faithful. I have Colquhoun's treatise, whom I have yet to read. I've heard it is a one-stop shop for a great overarching view of covenant theology.
I’m also working through this issue, while attending a Baptist seminary. The logical conclusion would be for me to affirm either NCT, since I’m at SBTS, or 1689 Federalism. However, I do not believe NCT is biblical, and am not quite convinced of 1689 Federalism. Would you be able to give a synopsis of why a Brakel’s CT treatises are the cure for 1689 Federalism?
 

Jerrod Hess

Puritan Board Freshman
I’m also working through this issue, while attending a Baptist seminary. The logical conclusion would be for me to affirm either NCT, since I’m at SBTS, or 1689 Federalism. However, I do not believe NCT is biblical, and am not quite convinced of 1689 Federalism. Would you be able to give a synopsis of why a Brakel’s CT treatises are the cure for 1689 Federalism?
In summary, he shows the substance of the Old Testament (albeit in types and shadows) was Christ himself; that the Old Covenant dispensation was an administration of the CoG, despite an inferior dispensation. His systematic is free on Monergism if I remember correctly. I've also posted 5 out of his 10 arguments for the Mosaic administration being one of Grace notwithstanding its severity over at my blog https://askfortheoldpath.wordpress.com

For someone to agree or disagree of course is another topic, but I find his treatises to be next to none because they are so thorough, tackling every common passage that was disputed by the Socinians at that time (who also viewed the Old Covenant as different pertaining to its substance)
 
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Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
Where would you find Bavincks treatment on the covenants?
Comments on the covenants are to be found throughout all volumes of his Reformed Dogmatics. He particularly focuses on the covenant in vol 2 ch 13 and vol 3 ch 5. He also has some theologically rich reflection on the covenants in his book 'Saved by grace'.

Here is one of my favourite Bavinck quotes from vol 2 of his Reformed Dogmatics:

"Because God is the creator, man a creature; ... an infinite distance between the two is a given. No fellowship, no religion between the two seems possible; there is only difference, distance, endless distinctiveness. If God remains evated above humanity in His sovereign exaltedness and majesty, then no religion is possible, at least no religion in the sense of fellowship. Then the relation between the two is exhaustively described in the terms of "master" and "servant". ... Accordingly, if there is truly to be religion, if there is to be fellowship between God and man ... then religion must be the character of a covenant. For then God has to come down from His lofty position, condescend to is creatures, impart, reveal, and give Himself away to human beings; then He who inhabits eternity and dwells in a high and holy place must also dwell with those who are of a humble spirit (Isa 57:15). But this set of conditions is nothing other than the description of a covenant. If religion is called a covenant, it is thereby described as the true and genuine religion.This is what no other religion has ever understood; all peoples either pantheistically pull God down into what is creaturely, or deistically elevate Him endlessly above it. In neither case does one arrive at true fellowship, at covenant, at genuine religion. But scripture insists on both: God is infinitely great and condescendingly good; He is sovereign but also Father; He is creator but also Prototype. In a word, He is the God of the covenant."
Reformed Dogmatics 2:568 ff.
 

HisRobes4Mine

Puritan Board Freshman
In summary, he shows the substance of the Old Testament (albeit in types and shadows) was Christ himself; that the Old Covenant dispensation was an administration of the CoG, despite an inferior dispensation. His systematic is free on Monergism if I remember correctly. I've also posted 5 out of his 10 arguments for the Mosaic administration being one of Grace notwithstanding its severity over at my blog https://askfortheoldpath.wordpress.com

For someone to agree or disagree of course is another topic, but I find his treatises to be next to none because they are so thorough, tackling every common passage that was disputed by the Socinians at that time (who also viewed the Old Covenant as different pertaining to its substance)
Thanks! I’ll check both the blog and monergism out.
 
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