Saturday, December 29, 2007

Defending the doctrine of Active Obedience against New Covenantal Theologians (part 2)

[continued from here]

The denial of the Active Obedience of Christ and also of the Covenant of Works is a result of a flawed hermeneutical method used by the New Covenantal Theologians Steve Lehrer and Geoff Volker. We would now look and analyze the verses used to support their position, to see whether their arguments against the two positions hold.


In this article, Lehrer and Volker treated the Covenant of Works almost as an afterthought, as they didn't make much of the topic. Nevertheless, they mention what they felt were key pointers in Scripture which occasion the rejection of this doctrine. In summary, they reject it because it is not found in the Bible, the word 'covenant' indicates discontinuity of which the Covenant of Works is not, and the word 'covenant' was never used to describe the relation between God and Adam in the Bible and such a theory is mere speculation.

First of all, contrary to their assertion, the Covenant of Works is abundantly found within the pages of Scripture. As I have shown in an earlier article, the Covenant of Works is implicitly stated in Scripture. Lehrer and Volker certainly did not dispute for example the argument that the elements of a covenant (parties, stipulation, promise, threat) were present. They disputed the rendering of Hosea 6:7 as talking about Adam as a person, or as talking about the covenant being with Adam, which is not supported exegetically. Regardless, we can concede that to them, since the Covenant of Works, and Covenant Theology, does not depend on only one single text for support. Nevertheless, this verse still stands as not been sufficiently addressed and the point still remains.

A fundamental issue with Lehrer and Volker is their view of the various biblical covenants being an indication of discontinuity. As stated, this is more in line with the views of Dispensationalism. Nevertheless, let's look and see whether such a view is supported by Scripture. Lehrer and Volker certainly did not defend this point of theirs in this article, which is regrettable. And it can be seen abundantly within the pages of Scripture just the opposite; that the biblical covenants indicate continuity in Scripture. For example, the Mosaic Covenant was made to the people of Israel as a continuation of the Abrahamic Covenant to bless them as God's Covenant people. And such continuity can be seen in the doctrines of grace, which the New Covenantal Theologians profess to believe. The Covenant of Grace runs throughout the entire history of the OT and the NT, and the entire history of the world. Most definitely, seen in that light, the Abrahamic Covenant with its promise that all the nations would be blessed through Abraham, and the Davidic Covenant of the eternal throne of David's line, would find fulfilment in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the New Covenant instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh certainly is the full revelation of the Covenant of Grace. Since that is so, what kind of discontinuity is possible with the introduction of the differing covenants? If the doctrine of grace with its attendant Covenant of Grace be admitted, how can anyone find any discontinuity in the covenants? Unless you are talking about surface differences, or difference in the way they are administered, but then if you use that, then virtually anything done in a different era would be a discontinuity. Since the worship of God before and after the exile was different (compare the worship of God during David's time with Solomon's time with Nehemiah's time), are there any true discontinuities? Or how about God's plague upon Israel for immorality (Num. 25:1-9) compared with God's seeming indifference (as in no direct punishment) against it later, especially in the times of prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah? Was there a disconinuity then? We can thus see that the assertion that covenants mark discontinuity to be a position totally unsupported by Scripture.

Regarding the Covenant of Works being not described as a covenant, Lehrer and Volker concedes that even if is not being described as such in Scripture, the term is valid if it is taught in Scripture. However, since the concept of 'covenant' has an important place within theology, and they think that the Covenant of Works does not have ample evidence to warrent it being a covenant, thereby the term should not be used. Thus, they reject it being a covenant while labeling the central concept the "Principle of Works". So the question before us is whether it is truly a covenant. Certainly, their acknowledgement of the central concept and the various elements that make it a covenant, while renaming it the 'Principle of Work' is logically suspect. Most definitely, since the concept describes a covenant by definition, it is wrong to deny it being called a covenant; the only thing before us therefore is not whether it is or is not a covenant, but what part and importance does this covenant have in Scripture. To think otherwise is logically inconsistent, and would be analogous to saying that it is wrong to call Rick Warren a heretic even though it may be admitted that he denies the Gospel. Or to make it simpler, it would be to say that sodium chloride on a chemical bottle is not salt because the label on it contains the words 'Sodium Chloride'. Ridiculous.

So, for the importance of such a covenant, which is also tied in with the objection that such is theological speculation on par with 'What is the weather in heaven like', I would most definitely submit that this Covenant of Works is definitely not as unimportant or as speculative as the authors would have it to be. The parallels made between Christ and Adam, an important evidence for the Covenant of Works, seen in for example Rom. 5:12-21 clearly shows the importance and non-speculative nature of the doctrine. As Christ is the federal representative of the New Covenant, so was Adam of the Covenant of Works. The denial of the Covenant of Works therefore undermines the parallel being built between Christ and Adam, and thus of the nature of the New Covenant as well.

Seeing as to how much proof has been offered for the Covenant of Works, perhaps the only reason why such proofs are refused it because of the NCT (New Covenantal Theology) hermeneutic. More specifically, it is the denial of the theory of Necessary Consequence that would allow the authors to deny the Covenant of Works while embracing its concepts, and to insist that unless it is explicitly stated as such, and not being a necessary consequence. Logically, what they are asking for is that in the conditional 'If p then q', they would only admit it (q) as biblical if the Bible says 'q', but would not if the Bible says 'p'.

Thus having defended the doctrine of the Covenant of Works, let us look into their denial of the doctrine of Active Obedience, which suffers from the same error.

[to be continued]

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