Home > C. H. Spurgeon, Calvinism, Christian Authors, church history, Covenant Theology > The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology (Review: Pascal Denault Book)

The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology (Review: Pascal Denault Book)


Pascal-Denault-book-coverFollowing up on this post, I am now reading through Pascal Denault’s “The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology” (now available in Kindle format for $3.99).

As previously noted, from reading Charles Spurgeon I had an idea of Baptist Covenant Theology, particularly the definition of the Covenant of Grace. Pascal Denault’s book provides more details, including a thorough explanation of the Westminster “Covenant of Grace” (with both “substance” and “administration” of the “Covenant of Grace” within the Old Covenant) and a look at the writings of the 17th century Baptists, including Nehemiah Coxe and Benjamin Keach – as well as John Owen, who, though he held to infant baptism, nonetheless viewed the covenant of grace in the same way as did the Baptists (who themselves also referenced Owen’s writings).  Denault has done an excellent job with primary sources, and good presentation including basic charts showing the differences between Westminster CT and “1689 Federalism.”

At the most basic level, the Baptist idea of the Covenant of Grace is that all people throughout history are saved the same way, through faith in Christ and His atonement on the cross; those who believed pre-cross had that (then future) work applied to them. As John Owen observed: “I will take here for granted, that no man was ever saved but by virtue of the New Covenant, and the mediation of Christ in that respect.” So this has been an interesting discovery — a theological term to describe how I have understood this for the last few years, as even the understanding among Calvinist/ Progressive Dispensationalists I have associated with. The “covenant of Grace,” the Baptist definition, is the term to describe the fact that redemption was promised throughout the Old Testament, starting at Genesis 3:15 with further revelation to Abraham and Moses, but still a promise not fulfilled/completed until its ratification in the New Covenant at Calvary.

Specific scriptures in support of this idea:

  • Hebrews 5:17-18
  • Hebrews chapters 7 through 9, with specific texts including Hebrews 8:6
  • Romans 3:25-26: “the time of God’s patience is situated between the fall of man and the death of His son; this is the period where the Covenant of Grace was not formally concluded in the blood of Christ.”
  • Galatians 3:17-18

At least a few Presbyterians did not understand the Baptists’ definition, such as Herman Witsius, who took the Baptist idea to mean that the “writing of the law upon the heart” was only a blessing for New Testament saints – and pointed to Old Testament texts and the life of David as plain examples of this blessing in the Old Testament era. As Denault observes, only radical groups such as the Socinians believed that. The 17th century Baptists “did not claim that the benefits of Christ’s death did not exist before New Testament times, but that they existed by virtue of it.”

It is said that the 1689 confession, and its definition of covenant theology (as contrasted with the Westminster confession and its view), was largely forgotten or “lost” throughout the 20th century, only returning to the notice of scholars within the last few years: apparently in consequence of the “downgrade controversy” of Charles Spurgeon’s later years, followed by the years of divide between evangelicals and fundamentals and the rise of dispensationalism. In agreement with this history, as an example I note that S. Lewis Johnson, in all his years of ministry (the 1960s through the mid-1990s) often mentioned the 17th century confessions, including the Westminster, Savoy, Heidelberg and Canons of Dort, but never once mentioned the 1689 confession. Accordingly he rejected the “covenant of grace,” yet his actual teaching of the basic idea of Christ’s work applied in advance to Old Testament believers, and the ratification of the New Covenant at the time of Christ’s death on the cross, is quite similar to the basic 17th century Baptist construction – the common root of course found in actual scripture teaching.

Given this background, I now dislike even more the teaching of “New Covenant Theology,” especially because presentations of it at local churches have dishonestly presented only one view they disagree with: the Westminster Confession definition of covenant theology.  NCT (at least what I have seen, and others have observed similar) only interacts with the paedobaptist version of CT and never with the historic baptist construction (baptist CT or “1689 federalism”) that had already been developed long before NCT. It turns out that NCT’s “improvement” halfway-point between Westminster-style CT and classic/revised dispensationalism — with sharp division between OT and NT law including that the nation of Israel never was a believing people but only a “type” or “picture” of the “real people of God… in the New Covenant era” – has common history of beliefs not with Protestant Reformed tradition, but with radical groups including the Socinians, embracing the very error that Witsius denounced.

 

 

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  1. January 20, 2015 at 7:54 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

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