An old Covenant of Works precis

This is from my covenant theology class at RTS.  Sure, I was confused, but that’s also because no one on either side really knew what was going on.

Jacob Aitken
Covenant Theology
Professor Ligon Duncan
2 March 2006

Covenant of Works Precis

I. It is important, before exploring the covenant of works, to have a definition of what a covenant is.

A. God’s covenant with man is a bond in blood, sovereignly administered by God                 (this is Palmer Robertson’s definition, which I now reject.  A number of covenants                are not dealt with in blood.)
1. There is a difference in creation between God and man, known as the C                               reator-creature distinction.
2. Therefore, it is God and not man who sets the terms of the covenant.
B. It calls for faith in his promises and obedience to his commands (I got in                                  trouble      for this line because the pre-fall covenant was seen to be strictly                           law,          no faith).
II. God entered into a covenant with Adam in Eden, before the Fall.
A. Although the word is not there, it has a covenantal format and the doctrine                           can be deduced from other scriptural passages.
1. Hos. 6:7 speaks of a covenant broken with respect to Adam.
B. Adam’s position in the covenant was federal.
1. Adam represented the whole of humanity.
2. This is key to maintaining the Adam-Christ parallel.
a. Rom. 5:12ff. and 2 Cor.5:14ff. speak of Christ paralleling
Adam’s work and triumphing where Adam failed.
b. Christ is the new humanity, the greater and greatest Adam.

                 C. The covenant was eschatological in design.
1. Adam’s state was probationary.
2. While created very good, he was not created “ultimately perfect” and
his state by definition pointed to another Adam.

a. This does not prove conclusively that Christ would have come
into the world regardless of Adam’s obedience in the garden.
b. It does suggest that Adam’s condition was temporary.
c. Beyond that, however, one cannot reasonably speculate.
III. The covenant in the garden, while one of works, was gracious as well.
A. The terminology of works, while not the most accurate, does clearly guard the
work of Christ and his relation to Adam and the believer’s relation to Christ.
1. With Herman Bavinck one will state that the covenant was one of
works, but it was also non-meritorious in nature: it is a gracious
covenant as well (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 2, 572).
2. Adam’s condition was gracious in a sense in that he was blessed by
God, set forth in a proto-paradise, and given a companion for love and
for help.
3. Yet this gracious existence was conditional upon Adam’s obedience.
B. The Covenant of Works, if gracious in one sense, therefore implies continuity between the
testaments, given the obvious fact that the New Covenant was gracious as well.
1. Scripture speaks repeatedly of an eternal covenant.
2. God has always had one plan of redemption for his people.
3. However, there are differing degrees of administration in these plans.
a. In this case, the CoW is still in effect. It has been executed by Christ.
b. Believers, however, do not relate to God by works, but by faith.
C. Christ, however, given the CoW schema, operates and executes the eternal
covenant on the basis of works: His active obedience undoes the Curse of

Sources used:
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics volume 2: God and Creation
Peter Lillback, The Binding of God.
Rowland Ward, God and Adam.


Uneasy tension of choosing and eschatology

A brief history:

In college and seminary I was a postmillennial reconstructionist.  To put it delicately today, I am not. When I left seminary I understood the reasons behind Historic Premillennialism.  Exegetically, I still think it is the strongest case.  My own position, rather, was a mix between postmil and premil.

When I left the EO debate I was a convinced historic premillennialist.  I stayed like that for about 3 or 4 years. One of the reasons that historic premillennialism won by default was that idealist Amillennialism was just so bad. It’s gnostic.  But when I read the Reformed Scholastics I realized that they had a very interesting eschatological timeline worked out.  Ultimately, I couldn’t accept it. It’s tied in with historicism, which says the Pope is the Antichrist.  Mind you, it’s easy to pick on Francis today, and he deserves it, but he isn’t the eschatological Man of Sin who sitteth in the temple of God.

So that couldn’t work.  So here I am today.  I feel a strong tug in my heart back to historic premil.

Is the Holy Spirit a product?

I don’t want to get into Filioquist metaphysics.  Confessionally, I am a Protestant and that means I am in the Filioque tradition.  So let’s get this out of the way up front:  do I hold to the Filioque?  I think later Protestant thinkers, in terms of seeing it in Speech-Act format, perhaps have the resources to constructively engage this debate.  But if we are asking do I hold to the Filioque in terms of Augustine, Thomas, and the 4th Lateran Council, the answer is absolutely not.  It is dialectics.

I want to thank Jay Dyer for doing the leg work on this.  Here is the problem: if you say that the Holy Spirit is from the Father’s (and Son’s) will, you are an Arian. Or so St Athanasius says:

Hence the Son, not being (for He existed at the will of the Father), is God Only-begotten , and He is alien from either. Wisdom existed as Wisdom by the will of the Wise God. (De Synodis).

That’s straightfoward enough.  Arian theology says that the Son is a product of the Father’s will (and presumably, the Holy Spirit is a product of the Son’s).    But here is what Western theology states:

Ludwig Ott: “The Holy Ghost proceeds from the will or the mutual love of the Father and Son.” (Sent. certa.). 

Augustine:  “But if any person in the Trinity is also to be specially called the will of God, this name, like love, is better suited to the Holy Spirit; for what else is love, except will?” (De Trinitate, Schaff edition, p.234).

Here a person of the Trinity is identified with the operation or attribute of God.  The Filioquist can get out of this by saying Augustine is saying that the Holy Spirit *is* (=?) the will of the Father, not a product of the will of the Father.   True, that is a different claim.  But if will is a faculty (or operation or function) of essence, then the Holy Spirit is an operation of the essence–and now we are right back at saying he is a product of the essence.

End of a year, shoring up conclusions

My theology doesn’t “change” much anymore, although I do explore different emphases and distinctives.  I consider myself in the Reformation tradition, even if I don’t “truck” with current TR distinctives.  The following is a list of what I found that works and what is a dead end.

Dead Ends

  1. Pop level presuppositionalism.  The thing is, we can’t all be Bahnsens.  Further, name a big league (bigly) debater of Bahnsen’s caliber.  Sye doesn’t count.  Really, you can only say “Yeah, well how do you know that?” enough before it’s evident that you are clueless.
    1. So what’s my alternative?  I don’t know.  Present a coherent case for Christianity and offer defeaters.  That’s the best I can do.
    2. The thing is, modern presup has no clue about the current moves and discussions in philosophical theology.
  2. Internet Covenanter thought.  If you are a godly member in an RP type church, bless you.  Stay there and be fed.  My beef isn’t with you.  But at the same time, the type of Covenanter thought one finds on Facebook is intellectual cancer.  There is no depth of thought nor constructive engagement with the past, nor could there be.
    1. RP Covenanter thought is Donatism. Which splinter group is pure enough?  You see this with Steelites.
      1. We can take this a step further: on one covenanter page the question came up, “Can one read Dabney, given his terrible views on race?”  On a pastoral level that’s a fair question.  I’m not a Dabney fan by any stretch and the average person shouldn’t read Dabney.  But the question is deeper: can we read anyone who isn’t “pure enough?”
      2. And once you start asking that question, you end up with being the only pure group (think Steelites, Greg Price, Dodson, etc)
    2. Necessarily, this means that much of church history is off-limits.  Think about it: if anyone who isn’t using psalms only and no instruments is a Baal worshiper.
      1. Don’t try to point to quotes from Aquinas on using the Psalms.  True, the medieval church and early church didn’t rely on instruments, but these guys also had icons, incense, and sang Gregorian and Ambrosian hymns.   So they aren’t you.
      2. I’ve dealt with Covenanters before in the past, so I won’t say more here.

Let’s go to a happier note.  Here are some valuable moves I’ve learned (okay, that sounded like a karate movie).

  1. Hans Boersma.  I read Heavenly Participation a few years ago and it had a big impact on me. I don’t accept his Radical Orthodoxy reading of philosophy, but his Platonic worldview did cash out in several ways:
    1. Heaven is more important than politics.
    2. The emphasis on “heaven” keeps one from following all of the “redeeming the body” fads.
    3. Dear Reformed people: do you want a good response to NT Wright?  Don’t try to rebut him on Paul.  Just show him Boersma’s view on heaven.
    4. However, I don’t hold with his emphasis on the Nouvelle Theologie.  De Lubac had a few good books but most of the time he just cited sources.  Further, Nouvelle Theologie was incapable of dealing with the modernism that followed Vatican II.
  2. Analytic Theology.  It’s simply too powerful a tool to ignore.  Yes, some of them go off the deep end and do nothing but quote truth tables all day.

Safe Sects: Healing

North on Charismatics, Calvinism, and Healing.  Summarizes my own journey.  Let’s put aside all of the “in your face” stuff like prophecy and tongues. I understand the case against continuationism. I really do. (I admit. I don’t understand any case for or against tongues). But where in the New Testament do you get the idea that Jesus will pull the plug on healing once the ink is dry on Revelation?

Cessationists say, “But where is healing today?”  To which I say, Look around.  The evidence is there if you want to find it.  But the case for healing is more than just the overwhelming amount of evidence.  It is the nature of the covenant.  I love what North writes,

If God heals in history, then He must bring judgment in history. To deny the one is to deny the other. Yet the modern church denies either or both of these aspects of God’s work in history. Churches do not want judgment, for it begins at the house of the Lord (I Peter 4:17). So, they reject the biblical idea of healing. They are consistent — consistently wrong.

The apostle James presupposed something we don’t know. Oil has judicial qualities.  It’s not just “advanced medicine.”

Modern charismatics aren’t completely correct, to the extent that they are individualists.

On the other hand, by preaching physical healing through the authority of the church, the charismatics raise a crucial issue: establishing the limits of God’s healing in history. God heals individuals, not cultures, insist the traditional charismatics. By what theology can such limits be placed on God’s healing? Dispensationalism? But dispensationalism denies the legitimacy of all church-invoked, church-administered healing, not just cultural healing. Traditional dispensationalism is in this sense consistent; charismatic dispensationalism isn’t.


So that was fun

A friend of mine shared my previous blog post on several facebook groups.  Most thought it was entertaining, but it did irritate several groups of people–the very groups in that blog post. A few of my old seminary friends saw it and verified everything I said, and then some.  RTS Jackson was a few years from shutting down.

Others who went there said the Southern Presbyterian element wasn’t as strong as I made it out to be.  Maybe.  Certainly, the racial element was gone, thankfully.  At the same time a lot of professors had left, so there’s that.  But then again maybe the Southern Presbyterian element wasn’t strong simply because it is not a theologically strong school.  They say they want to train pastor-theologians.  That’s a stretch.  Most of the classes are surface-level.  You simply can’t spend a long time on a theologian or a section of theology. They are more interested in churning out preacher-boys.

Someone said I was bitter.  I’m not. I mean, I was from 2007-2011 but not anymore.  I bring it up so that others don’t end up going there and wasting time and money.

One FV “Dark” guy (think old biblical horizons list) saw the post and said it was a waste of time.  There is a streak in some federal vision theology that has a “if ya ain’t with us, yer gin us!”  But that’s a small streak.

FV, Shepherd, and where the bodies are buried

I’ve put off doing an autobiographical post on my relationship to the Federal Vision for quite a while.  Maybe for several reasons.  Too much blood still on the floor. RTS never distinguished between those who were mentally Baptists (e.g., RTS) and Covenantal, thus making everyone who wasn’t a Southern Presbyterian a Federal Visionist.

I’ll go ahead and put my cards on the table. I don’t consider myself Federal Vision for reasons that will be apparent. I like what Norm Shepherd says on Covenant and Election.  I consider myself a Schilderite.

But this post isn’t just bashing RTS, as fun and necessary as that is.  I’ve forgiven them.  They stole money from me but it was for the best.  But RTS did represent a certain moment in American Presbyterianism that does need to be addressed.

There isn’t a strict logic to this post, but it will follow some general order.  I didn’t write it all at once since I have a bad case of carpal tunnel syndrome. A note of interpretation: when I write “FV” in negative connotations, I mean certain young bloggers.  The older FV generation, the “conference speakers,” so to speak, have been the soul of kindness to me.

Federal Vision, the Good and the Bad

What is the Federal Vision?  I don’t really know. Few do, actually.  Proponents say there isn’t one view.  Critics are impatient with that answer because it seems like FV is evading the issue.  But there isn’t one view. Doug Wilson has nominally rejected the label.  For years Jordan and Leithart were polar opposite from Wilson.  No one has heard of Steve Schlissel in a decade.  It doesn’t make sense to speak of a monolithic FV view.

Let’s take the book Federal Vision.  Look at the essays.  Barach’s essay is Schilder 101.  I have some questions about it but there is nothing “new” to it. Simple, post-Kuyper Dutch theology.  Horne and Lusk rightly (which even critics acknowledge) point to the Baptist nature of the American experience.  Jordan’s essay is controversial.  I grant that.

My Seminary Experience

I was a postmillennial theonomist when I went to seminary.  Yeah, you can see what RTS would have thought about that. To be fair, most of the profs in person were great guys.  Most people actually are decent people in real life.  Really, it wasn’t the profs themselves who were the problem.  It was the adjunct people they got to teach classes. They were usually local pastors.

On the kindest analysis, they were simply incompetent.  Realistically, some were mentally unhinged.  It’s not simply, “Oh, you’re a theonomist, then you are wrong.”  Rather, it was, “Oh, so you don’t fall into my interpretation of a unique slice of Presbyterian taxonomy, then you deny justification by faith alone.”

But enough bashing RTS.  I was involved with several FV guys (who no longer wear the label).  They really wanted me to become Federal Vision.  I didn’t.  I was under the authority of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church at the time and I didn’t have any business joining unique movements.  Did I like some of the FV thoughts?  Sure, but I challenged the FV  to show me what ecclesiastical obligation from the OPC that  I had to join FV.

In any case, I was probably more influenced by Norman Shepherd. I was new to covenant theology and NS’s views really made a lot of sense. Further, the OPC dealt more with Shepherd than FV.

But as irritating as some FV  were, the Southern Presbyterians weren’t making it any easier.  I got points taken off in Covenant Theology because I quoted Peter Lillback’s The Binding of God. If you affirmed conditions in the Covenant of Grace, or affirmed other than a strict works principle in the Covenant of Works, watch out.

I remember that Herman Bavinck’s volume 3 of Reformed Dogmatics came out during our week long Christology class (yes, only a week long.  That’s how important knowing about Jesus is.  That’s why Eastern Orthodox eat our lunch on Christology discussions).  I went up to the adjunct, the aforementioned mentally unhinged prof, and said, “Isn’t it great that Bavinck’s volume on Christology came out?”  He gave me an “Are you kidding?” look?  I wonder if he even heard of Bavinck.

It’s not hard to see that FV and American Reformed world would end up with a messy divorce. I don’t think FV always alleviated their critics’ concerns about regeneration.  But even more problematic, there was a strong Baptistic mentality in the Jackson area.  This was about the same time that Reformed Baptists were gaining a presence in American life.  The Gospel Coalition was just hitting the stage.  Mohler was the intellectual voice of conservative Christians.  Therefore, it made more sense to move on that wavelength than to ask how “covenant and liturgy” were related.

I guess it’s good I left RTS when I did.  I never dealt with the Gospel Coalition until I came out of the EO orbit in 2012.  And further, from what I’ve gathered, there are some Critical Race adherents working for RTS now.


One thing the Federal Vision did was make clear the latent division lines in the Reformed world. From the RTS perspective, only a certain amalgam of Scottish and Southern Presbyterian thought counts as acceptable Reformed theology.  Bavinck might get grandfathered in, but he is so close to Kuyper, and Kuyper is basically the evils of theonomy that you are better off not associating with Bavinck.

Van Til was another problem. RTS didn’t like him but they knew it was not wise to anger the OPC (and thus lose precious tuition money–their finances were in a bad shape for a few years). As long as you didn’t actually “do” anything with Van Til, you were okay.

In a weird way, it kind of reflects the Clarkian taxonomy of American Presbyterian life.  The OPC, for them, was bad because it had “Dutch” elements.

I’m not angry with RTS anymore.  They meant it for evil (that is, their stealing $30,000 from me not counting tuition) but God meant it for good.  My only real beef with FV is with certain proponents who have more or less faded from view.  There is a post by a former FV guy that (accurately) says where FV, at least the younger disciples, are weak at.  The older guys–the original four or five–know the source material better than most.  I am going to tag onto what he said and add my own thoughts.

  • FV guys really don’t know the post-Calvin sources that well.  Well, neither does the average Reformed guy.  Really, who does?  This stuff is only now being translated into English.
  • FV claims catholicity but isn’t really in line with the larger Reformed world.  Maybe.  I am not in the CREC nor am I in NAPARC, so I can’t say.