Engaging With 1689 (3): Administration Or Intrusion?

I had intended to move on to consider the work of Nehemiah Coxe but life intervened. In the interim I was reminded of a document that I think might clarify some of the differences between what I am calling the PBs and the Reformed. If you are just joining the discussion you will want to start with part 1.

Abraham And Moses
There are several issues that separate the Baptists of all sorts from the Reformed theology, piety, and practice. They include biblical hermeneutics, i.e., how the two traditions read Scripture, covenant theology, i.e., how the various covenants of Scripture relate to one another, and eschatology. The Baptist traditions as a group confess a more realized New Testament eschatology in distinction from the Reformed who have a more semi-realized or inaugurated eschatology. One of the great questions that separates the Reformed and the Baptists is the role of Abraham in redemptive history. Under part 2 we had a lengthy discussion in the comments box about this very question. More than one person wrote to ask me why Reformed Christians place so much emphasis on Abraham? We do not. It only seems to Baptists as if he plays an outsized role because, in their systems, he is either identified with Moses or rolled up within the OT covenants as just one more example of the same phenomenon.

The relationship between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants in particular has been a frequent topic on the HB. See these resources. In short, following the early Christian fathers (e.g., Barnabas, Justin, Irenaeus) and the mainstream of Western theology, the Reformed saw a distinction between Moses and Abraham. The latter’s role in redemptive history was more fundamental than that of the former. Both Abraham and Moses were typological of heaven and of the coming new covenant but Abraham’s relation to the covenant of grace was more fundamental. The Mosaic covenant had a twofold character: legal and gracious. It was both an administration of the covenant of grace and an administration of the typological, non-saving covenant of works. It was under Moses and not under Abraham that God made a national covenant. It was under Moses and not Abraham that God instituted a sacrificial system. It was under Moses and not Abraham that God instituted a state-church and a judicial laws. According to both Galatians chapters 3 and 4 Moses and Abraham are distinct in significant ways. For Baptists generally, however, the ways they are alike are sufficient to regard them as essentially the same thing. This is a great difference between the Reformed and the Baptists.

The Reformed place such emphasis on Abraham because the New Testament does. According to our Lord, he is the paradigm of New Covenant believers (John 8:56). According to Paul, in Romans 3 and 4, he is the paradigm of New Covenant believers. It is notable that Paul did not appeal to Moses but to Abraham as the father of all believers. Paul regularly juxtaposes Abraham and Moses just as he juxtaposed the Old Covenant with the New. According to Paul in 2 Corinthians 3, the Old Covenant is the Mosaic covenant, not the Abrahamic. Hebrews does precisely the same thing and for the same reasons as Paul: they read Jeremiah 31:31–33 the same way. They understood that Jeremiah was contrasting the Mosaic, Old Covenant with the New. He was not contrasting all the OT covenants with the New. On these themes see the larger essay on the New Covenant. See also the extensive curriculum linked at the end of the essay.

A second issue that persists is the difference of opinion about how to characterize the differences between the PBs and the Reformed regarding the administration of the covenant of grace under the various typological OT covenants. It seems clear to me that there is a sharp difference. As I understand the PBs, the covenant of redemption (the pactum salutis) controls their reading of redemptive  history. It seems to me that, for them, the OT covenants are witnesses to the covenant of grace but they are not the covenant of grace itself. For the Reformed the Noahic covenant in Genesis 6 and the Abrahamic covenant, with its three aspects of land, seed, and promise (“I will be a God to you and to your children”) is an administration of the covenant of grace. The Mosaic covenant was a temporary, national, legal administration of the covenant of grace (for the reasons already given). So too the Davidic. The rabbis counted 613 commandments imposed on Israel under Moses. Those commandments were not in force under Abraham. The Davidic and Solomonic administrations focused on the expansion of the national people. They and the Mosaic are, in those ways, distinct from the Abrahamic administrations.

What is The Lutherans speak of the presence of Christ in the Supper with three prepositions: “in,” “with,” and “under.” These seem apt to describe the Reformed view of how the covenant of grace is present under the typological administrations. The covenant of grace was in the Abrahamic. It was under the Abrahamic. It was with the Abrahamic covenant. The various OT administrations were the church. Where does an unbeliever ordinarily (i.e., by divine ordination and in the normal course of things) find the preached gospel and the administration of the keys of the kingdom? In the visible church. So it was then. That’s where the covenant of grace and it was present then. It was not only signified. It was not only or primarily future. There were future realities to come but the covenant of grace itself was in, with, and under the types and shadows.

My friends Sam and Micah Renihan have used other language, however, which I think illustrates the differences. They speak of the covenant of grace “in-breaking” and, as has been noted earlier, it is revealed in the types and shadows but not actually administered:

One of the most distinctive features of this covenant was that God immutably promised to bring about these blessings apart from any merit on Abraham’s part, and for that reason the Covenant of Circumcision can rightly be called a covenant of grace. But can it rightly be called an administration of the Covenant of Grace? If the Covenant of Grace is the accomplishing of the Covenant of Redemption in history, the retro-active application of the New Covenant, then what do national promises have to do with Christ’s redeeming and gathering of the elect? It must be noted that although all the Abrahamic promises typologically reveal the New Covenant, in their substance and essence they are distinct from it. Abraham knew that Canaan was not heaven.

In the PB reading of redemptive history, “administration” can only exist when the reality is fully present, as it is, for them, only in the New Covenant.

So, for the PBs, God is certainly working graciously through the Abrahamic covenant(s), but as they write, they are different in “substance” from the covenant of grace. They are not the covenant of grace, which is, for them, reserved for the “accomplishment” of redemption.

This is a major difference between the two traditions. For the Reformed, the OT covenants were typological administrations of the covenant of grace as it was then. They were not mere witnesses to future realities. When Sam and Micah speak of the covenant of grace “in-breaking” they are borrowing and modifying a category from Meredith Kline, who taught that there are, under the types and shadows, “intrusions” of the final judgment into redemptive history as, e.g., in the case of the Israelite holy wars against the Canaanites. Their use of “in-breaking” as distinct from “administration” is a kind of “intrusion” of grace into redemptive history.

I hope, however, it is clear that that, for the Reformed, the covenant of grace is regarded as in, with, and under the OT covenants and that the New Covenant is organically linked to them. It is, as I have tried explain before, the Abrahamic covenant (and for that fact, in important ways, the Noahic etc) without the types and shadows. In short, the covenant of grace is one in substance and various in administration in redemptive history.


A Curriculum For Those Wrestling Through Covenant Theology and Infant Baptism

from The Heidelblog http://ift.tt/2CdiIzY


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