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
Adam.

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

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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.

Conclusion

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.