Is 1689 Federalism Novel?

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TheInquirer

Puritan Board Sophomore
I was having a discussion with someone about 1689 Federalism and whether the view was "new" or "novel." I think most of us are rightly suspicious of anything new being put forward.

What I have appreciated about the 1689 Federalists I have learned from (Sam Renihan, James Renihan, Brandon Adams) is the work they have done to show the historical continuity of ideas the position stands upon. I am quite convinced it is not new at all but rather, for a variety of reasons, little known and not well understood.

Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley seem to agree. Here is an excerpt from Reformed Systematic Theology Vol. 2 that I came across today:

"Like the Presbyterian Westminster Confession, the Second London Baptist Confession affirms that God saves all his people throughout history by one covenant of grace rooted in the 'eternal covenant transaction' between God the Father and God the Son. However, the Baptist Confession does not state that the old covenant and the new covenant are two administrations of the one covenant of grace--the doctrine of Westminster. Instead, it speaks of the progressive revelation of the gospel that culminates in the new covenant, leaving the relation of the old and new covenants undefined.

Many if not all of the early subscribers to the Second London Baptist Confession held a distinctly Particular Baptist view of the covenants, a view that some theologians now call '1689 Federalism.' Nehemiah Coxe and Benjamin Keach taught that God's dealings with Abraham involved two covenants, just as Abraham had physical offspring (ethnic Israel) and spiritual offspring (believers in Christ, Gal. 3:7). At this point, their views were closer to those of Luther than to Reformed theology. . . .

Early Baptist theologians held a variety of views on the covenant. The Second London Baptist Confession does not specifically teach the doctrine of Coxe and Keach, but leaves open or undefined the relation of the covenant of grace to the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. It allows for diversity among those who subscribe to it." (RST, vol. 2, 551-552.)

They go on to say other Calvinistic Baptists of the time held to a view closer to Westminster (Purnell, Bunyan, Gill) but that Coxe and Keach's view continued with later Baptist theologians like R.B.C. Howell (1801-1868).

If you have come across 1689 Federalism here or elsewhere, you have probably seen John Owen (a paedobaptist) mentioned frequently. Why would Baptists cite John Owen for support? Simply to demonstrate that the one covenant/two administrations view of Westminster was not held to by all in 17th Century England. By citing Owen, 1689 Federalists are simply saying that their conception of the relationship between the old and new covenants is not novel and actually aligns with Owen's thinking on the topic.

Additionally, I have further been intrigued by Brandon Adams' study of Augustine and how Augustine believed that OT saints were saved by way of the New Covenant. Brandon cites from many of Augustine's work here - https://www.1689federalism.com/augustine-proto-1689-federalist/

There are other historical theologians quoted in 1689 Federalist works showing continuity with their ideas. Sam Renihan's book "From Shadow to Substance" interacts with many.

You may not agree with 1689 Federalism, but from what I have seen, I do not believe it is fair to charge the view with either being "new" or "novel." The historical roots seem fairly well established.
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I am a Reformed Baptist and, yes, this is a novel doctrine. It is baptist identity politics. If you notice in the earlier writings of its advocates, they are all about identifying themselves as "not presbyterian" and claim that Covenant Theology was invented to defend infant baptism. This is why I am still suspicious of it.

John Owen was not a baptist. LINK: John Owen was not a baptist
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Sophomore
Perg, I think if you re-read what I wrote you might better understand my point and will notice what I said about Owen ;) I don't think your "identity politics" charge is fair either.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Perg, I think if you re-read what I wrote you might better understand my point and will notice what I said about Owen ;) I don't think your "identity politics" charge is fair either.
They are trying to make theologians like Owen and Augustine fit into their scheme when they do not, in fact, fit. Baptists want their own covenant theology...so they invented one.

It's like trying to bury a 6-foot corpse in a 5-foot coffin... you gotta mash things in that don't fit or lop things off that should remain intact.

You are correct when you state, "Early Baptist theologians held a variety of views on the covenant." But by "early" you mean the 1700s, which is not early in the perspective of church history. There were not 2 covenants for 2 different seeds of Abraham...this idea really took hold less than 50 years ago with Reisenger's faulty work, "Abraham's Four Seeds."
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Sophomore
There were not 2 covenants for 2 different seeds of Abraham...this idea really took hold less than 50 years ago with Reisenger's faulty work, "Abraham's Four Seeds."

Aren't Beeke and Smalley saying Keach and Coxe taught this idea in the 1600s?

But by "early" you mean the 1700s, which is not early in the perspective of church history.

I don't mean 1700s. Covenant theology itself is fairly "late" in development in church history - 1500s at the earliest but 1600s when it gets really defined, though the seeds of the ideas are found earlier. Calvin formulating covenant theology in the 1500s and the Baptists a century later so that really isn't too far apart.

They are trying to make theologians like Owen and Augustine fit into their scheme when they do not, in fact, fit.

I think you are presenting that incorrectly and pejoratively when it doesn't need to be. No one is saying Owen or Augustine were Baptists. They are simply saying there are connections between some of the distinctives of 1689 Federalists and these other theologians. They are simply showing historical continuity and refuting the charge their distinctives are "novel." No 1689 Federalist is calling either Owen or Augustine a Baptist so I think you are misunderstanding what is being taught and presenting the views in an uncharitable light.
 

Jason F.

Puritan Board Freshman
I would not say that Reformed Baptists view the relation of the old and new covenants as "undefined". There are many things revealed in the Old Testament as "shadows" and "types" that are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. I would use the same terminology to describe the early administrations of the covenant of grace before it is perfectly revealed in the New Covenant.
 

brandonadams

Puritan Board Sophomore
I would not say that Reformed Baptists view the relation of the old and new covenants as "undefined".
Note that Beeke is specifically commenting on the 2LBCF there. He says the 2LBCF does not go into the detail that Coxe and others did. The confession leaves the matter undefined, while individual particular baptists did define it in more detail.
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
You may not agree with 1689 Federalism, but from what I have seen, I do not believe it is fair to charge the view with either being "new" or "novel." The historical roots seem fairly well established.

I don't believe that 1689 Federalism is new by the works that were created in the 1600s were lost. Reinahan can be credited with rediscovering the perspectives of the Baptists in that era. Much of the framework does not seem to be entirely complete. Based on my assessment between Covenant Theology and 1689 Federalism the core divergence is based on Typology.

I think that stating that Covenant Theology forces an infant baptism is a weak argument. The Reformers were not afraid to push against doctrines that diverged from mainline thinking. They were willing to die for their views. One interesting thing you will find is a comment from a friend of Zwingli named Balthasar Hubmaier (Anabaptist). Zwingli denied this claim and wrote many tracts against him.

Here is an excerpt:

"On May 1, 1523, the day of the saints Philip and James, two men, Ulrich Zwingli and Balthasar Hubmaier, stood by the moat of Zurich and discussed the topic of baptism. Both were educated men, pastors who had broken with the Roman Catholic church. Both were championing the Bible as the sole source of Christian truth and practice. And both, according to Hubmaier’s account, agreed that day that the practice of infant baptism should be discontinued.2"

EDIT ****
Quote above specifically pulled from
Reprinted with minor changes from the American Baptist Quarterly VIII (Dec. 1989): 276–290, with permission of the American Baptist Historical Society, Valley Forge, PA 19482.

which is found in

Schreiner, T. R., & Wright, S. D. (2006). Believer’s baptism: sign of the new covenant in Christ. B&H Publishing Group.
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Aren't Beeke and Smalley saying Keach and Coxe taught this idea in the 1600s?



I don't mean 1700s. Covenant theology itself is fairly "late" in development in church history - 1500s at the earliest but 1600s when it gets really defined, though the seeds of the ideas are found earlier. Calvin formulating covenant theology in the 1500s and the Baptists a century later so that really isn't too far apart.



I think you are presenting that incorrectly and pejoratively when it doesn't need to be. No one is saying Owen or Augustine were Baptists. They are simply saying there are connections between some of the distinctives of 1689 Federalists and these other theologians. They are simply showing historical continuity and refuting the charge their distinctives are "novel." No 1689 Federalist is calling either Owen or Augustine a Baptist so I think you are misunderstanding what is being taught and presenting the views in an uncharitable light.
Maybe you are right. Maybe I am too hard on them. But every 5 years or so I return to the US and the Reformed Baptists grill me on their new minor theological hobby-horse, and it turns me off. These 2ndary issues take precedence over missions and I get asked what I think about the latest thing to come down the theological pike...and I find none of it all that important to the unreached masses. Truthfully, I'd like to just turn Presbyterian and be done with a lot of them. But you all got your problems too, I guess. The OPC seems like a safe haven.
 

SeanPatrickCornell

Puritan Board Junior
Maybe you are right. Maybe I am too hard on them. But every 5 years or so I return to the US and the Reformed Baptists grill me on their new minor theological hobby-horse, and it turns me off. These 2ndary issues take precedence over missions and I get asked what I think about the latest thing to come down the theological pike...and I find none of it all that important to the unreached masses. Truthfully, I'd like to just turn Presbyterian and be done with a lot of them. But you all got your problems too, I guess. The OPC seems like a safe haven.

You seem like the kind of guy that lets your emotions override your brain.

I ought to know, as it takes one to know one. The struggle is real.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
You seem like the kind of guy that lets your emotions override your brain.

I ought to know, as it takes one to know one. The struggle is real.
The important things in life ought to stir you, no?

Let's just say I do everything in life vigorously. Moderation might not be my strong suit. I should be banished to the jungle. ;)
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Truthfully, I'd like to just turn Presbyterian and be done with a lot of them.
I've seen you make similar statements many times here on the PB. What's stopping you? If this is "truthfully" where your convictions lie you should definitely do it.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I've seen you make similar statements many times here on the PB. What's stopping you? If this is "truthfully" where your convictions lie you should definitely do it.
I just don't think the household baptisms necessitate infant baptism. And yet church history seems to favor the doctrine. But of course, the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration also emerged early as well. We speak of covenant theology being undeveloped until late in church history...well, being a baptist was also not well developed until the 1700s as well (unless you count all those heretical groups). Maybe not only 1689 Federalism but being a baptist is a novel doctrine.

Here of late I am pretty disgusted with the baptists discarding the ancient creeds on the Trinity. Maybe that is my beef. When you reject Nicea and the Athanasian Creed...sumting wong.
 

retroGRAD3

Puritan Board Junior
The OPC seems like a safe haven.
The OPC is pretty good on most things in my experience. However, they aren't always the best at the RPW. My own church has an orchestra during the singing which my wife and I are concerned about. The churches I have visited that seem to be better in this area are the Free Reformed and the URC. I have never been to an RPCNA church, but I hear they do Psalms only and no instruments. If there was one of those in my state, I would likely attend there.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
The OPC is pretty good on most things in my experience. However, they aren't always the best at the RPW. My own church has an orchestra during the singing which my wife and I are concerned about. The churches I have visited that seem to be better in this area are the Free Reformed and the URC. I have never been to an RPCNA church, but I hear they do Psalms only and no instruments. If there was one of those in my state, I would likely attend there.
I am not always the best at the RPW, so maybe we are a good fit.
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
I just don't think the household baptisms necessitate infant baptism. And yet church history seems to favor the doctrine. But of course, the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration also emerged early as well. We speak of covenant theology being undeveloped until late in church history...well, being a baptist was also not well developed until the 1700s as well (unless you count all those heretical groups). Maybe not only 1689 Federalism but being a baptist is a novel doctrine.
So from your perspective everyone's doctrine is novel in certain respects. All things being relatively equal, then, why not become Presbyterian according to your expressed desire?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
So from your perspective everyone's doctrine is novel in certain respects. All things being relatively equal, then, why not become Presbyterian according to your expressed desire?
Let me sign off and sleep before I come over to the dark side. I'd have to re-raise all my support probably if I did. I am not certain of my baptismal convictions, I admit.

To stay on topic, I will say that the Bible's main theme is one of continuity and unity and not the disunity and discontinuity, or Dispensationalism-lite, as advocated by most baptist perspectives on the covenant. God has one plan and one people.
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Sophomore
Perg, you seem like a really great guy and you have suffered much from the Kingdom and I respect you a lot for it. I haven't had the negative baggage with RBs you have had so I guess I don't have to sort that all out when evaluating the system.

My only hope is we can discuss the differing views and evaluate them fairly according to their merits. And like the writers of the 1689 LBCF, hopefully we leave room for disagreement and tolerance where needed.
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Junior
Looking briefly over their Federalism site just yesterday reminded me of why I am uneasy with their ideas: it is because I get the distinct impression that they are looking only one-dimensionally at the covenants. They seem to allege that Abraham received land and progeny promises that were completely fulfilled. End of story. That the Israelites apostatized after Solomon is on them: at least God gave them the land like He said.
But to me the land and physical descent promises were secondary to what those things signified: they were pictures of a bigger reality, one that is bearing full fruit in the New Covenant. Abraham indeed has many children: a spiritual seed innumerable of the elect, who, like him, believe God. And like him, they seek not a city made with men's hands, but one that is eternal in the heavens. And just as his physical children were circumcised because of their relation to him as a type, his spiritual descent are baptized when they enter the family of the faithful by regeneration and adoption (but only then).
Then further along, Jesus declared that he did not come to abolish the Mosaic law but to fulfil it. We are still liable to the "do this and live" of the Ten Commandments, and will be judged according to them at the Last Day. Believers, in union with Christ, are regarded as perfect law-keepers--keepers of the Mosaic moral law--because he kept the law for us. Sinners are judged by that same law, because it is still in force today. The types and shadows of ceremony were fulfilled by Christ because they were all about Him--they had nothing to do with anything but Christ, and in his work he accomplished all that those things foreshadowed. We do not do the pictures any more, because the substance has come: Christ is the substance of all those types that came before. So there's perfect continuity, a line of Grace stretching from the first fall until now. One people of God, saved by union with Christ in all ages, living under the same ultimate promise of redemption, but simply doing it during different times.
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Sophomore
Ben,

I think you may be misunderstanding. For example, here are some quotes from Sam Renihan's book "The Mystery of Christ:"

First, on one level, some of the Abrahamic promises were fulfilled:

"The Scriptures carefully record God's fulfillment of His promises. God gave the land of Canaan to Abraham's descendants." Joshua 21:43-45, Nehemiah 9:7-8, 1 Kings 4:20, Hebrews 11:12 given as references. (94-95)

Additionally:

"The Abrahamic Covenant anticipates the New Covenant in two ways. First, it promises the New Covenant. Second, it typologically pictures or prefigures the New Covenant." (99)

"Typologically, the Abrahamic Covenant is a picture of something other and greater than itself. Its people, land, and kingship were pictures of a greater, and other, people, land, and kingship. As Meredith Kline said, 'We have found that in the course of biblical revelation two distinct levels of fulfillment, one provisional and one prototypal, the other messianic and eternal, are clearly distinguishable in the king promise given to Abraham. What is true of the promise of the king must inevitably be true of the promise of the kingdom, both kingdom-people and kingdom-land.'" (99)

"The Abrahamic Covenant promises a particular offspring through whom the nations of the world will be blessed. From the beginning, therefore, there is in the Abrahamic Covenant an anticipation of a transnational blessing that includes people beyond the borders of the Abrahamic people (Romans 4:10). The Abrahamic Covenant looks forward to one through whom all the nations can be united and blessed, not just one people in one place. The typology of the Abrahamic Covenant and its special relation to Christ according to the flesh make it a covenant of guardianship. The purpose of the Abrahamic Covenant is to bring the New Covenant into existence by bringing its founder, head, and mediator into existence." (99-100)

The types and shadows of ceremony were fulfilled by Christ because they were all about Him--they had nothing to do with anything but Christ, and in his work he accomplished all that those things foreshadowed.

Don't types work on two levels - a historical referent and a future referent that is an escalation? I would say the OT sacrificial system is functioning in a couple of ways - as purification for worship and life in Canaan for the Israelites on one level and ultimately pointing to Christ on another level. There is a type of atonement that is functioning under the Levitical system (Renihan offers the atonement language of Leviticus 5:14-19 for support) but that atonement is only partial. As Hebrews tells us, the blood of bulls and goats could not purify the consciences of the worshiper. Whatever purification it did accomplish, it was partial and incomplete in its historical function and pointed forward to a perfect and complete sacrifice to come in its typological function.

We do not do the pictures any more, because the substance has come: Christ is the substance of all those types that came before.

You might like Sam Renihan's book, "From Shadow to Substance." :) although I recommend reading "The Mystery of Christ" first to get an overview of 1689 Federalist Covenant Theology.
 

Challer

Puritan Board Freshman
The OPC is pretty good on most things in my experience. However, they aren't always the best at the RPW. My own church has an orchestra during the singing which my wife and I are concerned about. The churches I have visited that seem to be better in this area are the Free Reformed and the URC. I have never been to an RPCNA church, but I hear they do Psalms only and no instruments. If there was one of those in my state, I would likely attend there.

I'd be concerned, too!

I am not always the best at the RPW, so maybe we are a good fit.

I'd say there are some things worth striving to be better at. :)

With that being said, you're both welcome over here any ol' time. We sing mostly psalms, some with a piano accompaniment so we can hold a tune, others a cappella. I think aside from a few folks who are gifted musically, the rest of us probably don't have enough musical talent combined to fill up our pianist's pinky. However, we do it unto the glory of God. Other than that, we've got a plurality of elders but are otherwise independent. We also don't baptize unbelievers (to include infants). But if you find yourself in North Georgia on some occasion, I do hope you'll stop by!
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Perg, you seem like a really great guy and you have suffered much from the Kingdom and I respect you a lot for it. I haven't had the negative baggage with RBs you have had so I guess I don't have to sort that all out when evaluating the system.

My only hope is we can discuss the differing views and evaluate them fairly according to their merits. And like the writers of the 1689 LBCF, hopefully we leave room for disagreement and tolerance where needed.
Deal. You are hard to argue with; you are too nice! I will do so.
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Junior
Ben,

I think you may be misunderstanding. For example, here are some quotes from Sam Renihan's book "The Mystery of Christ:"

First, on one level, some of the Abrahamic promises were fulfilled:

"The Scriptures carefully record God's fulfillment of His promises. God gave the land of Canaan to Abraham's descendants." Joshua 21:43-45, Nehemiah 9:7-8, 1 Kings 4:20, Hebrews 11:12 given as references. (94-95)

Additionally:

"The Abrahamic Covenant anticipates the New Covenant in two ways. First, it promises the New Covenant. Second, it typologically pictures or prefigures the New Covenant." (99)

"Typologically, the Abrahamic Covenant is a picture of something other and greater than itself. Its people, land, and kingship were pictures of a greater, and other, people, land, and kingship. As Meredith Kline said, 'We have found that in the course of biblical revelation two distinct levels of fulfillment, one provisional and one prototypal, the other messianic and eternal, are clearly distinguishable in the king promise given to Abraham. What is true of the promise of the king must inevitably be true of the promise of the kingdom, both kingdom-people and kingdom-land.'" (99)

"The Abrahamic Covenant promises a particular offspring through whom the nations of the world will be blessed. From the beginning, therefore, there is in the Abrahamic Covenant an anticipation of a transnational blessing that includes people beyond the borders of the Abrahamic people (Romans 4:10). The Abrahamic Covenant looks forward to one through whom all the nations can be united and blessed, not just one people in one place. The typology of the Abrahamic Covenant and its special relation to Christ according to the flesh make it a covenant of guardianship. The purpose of the Abrahamic Covenant is to bring the New Covenant into existence by bringing its founder, head, and mediator into existence." (99-100)



Don't types work on two levels - a historical referent and a future referent that is an escalation? I would say the OT sacrificial system is functioning in a couple of ways - as purification for worship and life in Canaan for the Israelites on one level and ultimately pointing to Christ on another level. There is a type of atonement that is functioning under the Levitical system (Renihan offers the atonement language of Leviticus 5:14-19 for support) but that atonement is only partial. As Hebrews tells us, the blood of bulls and goats could not purify the consciences of the worshiper. Whatever purification it did accomplish, it was partial and incomplete in its historical function and pointed forward to a perfect and complete sacrifice to come in its typological function.



You might like Sam Renihan's book, "From Shadow to Substance." :) although I recommend reading "The Mystery of Christ" first to get an overview of 1689 Federalist Covenant Theology.
I agree with much of this, but I have to deny that the Abrahamic covenant was merely "looking forward" as they claim. It is being fulfilled now: what it really meant, what the physical aspects of it pointed to, is coming to pass; Abraham is rejoicing seeing Christ's day accomplished. He believed it in the past, it is coming true even now.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
If you have come across 1689 Federalism here or elsewhere, you have probably seen John Owen (a paedobaptist) mentioned frequently. Why would Baptists cite John Owen for support? Simply to demonstrate that the one covenant/two administrations view of Westminster was not held to by all in 17th Century England. By citing Owen, 1689 Federalists are simply saying that their conception of the relationship between the old and new covenants is not novel and actually aligns with Owen's thinking on the topic.

They are probably citing John Owen as a result of his adherence to the Cameronian view of the three-fold covenant (referring to John Cameron, not the later Covenanter, Richard Cameron). It may be thought that this view lends support to 1689 Federalism as opposed to Westminster doctrine of the covenants. I am not convinced that this assumption is correct, because I believe that the Westminster Standards accommodate the Cameronian view while not officially endorsing it. You could, however, argue that the Cameronian view fits better with 1689 Federalism than with the Westminster Standards, though I will leave that question to 1689 adherents.
 

brandonadams

Puritan Board Sophomore
I agree with much of this, but I have to deny that the Abrahamic covenant was merely "looking forward" as they claim. It is being fulfilled now: what it really meant, what the physical aspects of it pointed to, is coming to pass; Abraham is rejoicing seeing Christ's day accomplished. He believed it in the past, it is coming true even now.

Bart, I encourage you to more thoroughly study the position, as you don't seem to quite grasp it yet. Nothing you said is contrary to 1689 Federalism. Three resources in particular might help you:

  1. Samuel Renihan's book "The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, and His Kingdom"
  2. Renihan's lecture on the Abrahamic Covenant at the recent SCRBPC https://www.sermonaudio.com/search....esc=SCRBPC+2021&seriesOnly=true&sourceid=trbc
  3. A JIRBS essay on Galatians https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2021/06/04/promise-law-faith-a-review-article-jirbs-20/
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Junior
Bart, I encourage you to more thoroughly study the position, as you don't seem to quite grasp it yet. Nothing you said is contrary to 1689 Federalism. Three resources in particular might help you:

  1. Samuel Renihan's book "The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, and His Kingdom"
  2. Renihan's lecture on the Abrahamic Covenant at the recent SCRBPC https://www.sermonaudio.com/search....esc=SCRBPC+2021&seriesOnly=true&sourceid=trbc
  3. A JIRBS essay on Galatians https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2021/06/04/promise-law-faith-a-review-article-jirbs-20/
The question is: is it worth the bother? The Federalists say, "You Vanilla RB's have it all wrong. You need to read pages and pages of dead guy quotes in order to engage."
I say, "Well, from what I can glean through the fog of words, you seem to be saying X."
You: "No, actually we're in total agreement with you there, you just don't understand."
Me: "How about telling me in plain terms, without quotes, without links, without incomprehensible Venn diagrams, exactly HOW does Vanilla RB differ from Federalism?"
Because perhaps it doesn't very much at all, and these endless discussions are all for nothing.
I continually express my views here in relatively brief posts: could you please extend to me the same courtesy?
 
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