New Coke and New Covenant Theology

I rarely take the time to respond to another writer on another blog. It’s not my favorite thing to do; I just think it looks bad. However, exceptions must be made and the time has come to graciously, and humbly respond. Over on Soveriegn Grace Theo[blog], Maverick Witlouw wrote a post  expressly saying that Westminster doesn’t work. According to him, Westminster is practicing a replacement theology not a fulfillment theology. Per his post, Westminster just botches the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

But this cannot be so. I get that 1689 Federalists, Progressive Covenantalists, and New Covenant Theologians are trying to take historic Reformed Covenant theology and align it to their view. But this isn’t the way we come to theology or the Scriptures. All it is is theological New Coke, a changing and rebranding of what has been held to historically.

new_coke

So let’s discuss Mavericks critiques and see if they hold sway.

Witlouw seems to be upset that Westminster states that there is continuity in the covenants. He calls it “inference”  and argues that the Divines forced this in order to make room for infant baptism. At the end of the day I think it is fair to sum up Witlouw’s argumentation as this: “What’s new about the New Covenant?” And this is the common objection among all Reformed Baptists. Dr. Stephen Wellum makes the same case in “Believer’s Baptism”. This isn’t unfamiliar territory. Witlouw tips his hand when he cites Hebrews 10:16, the restatement of Jeremiah 31 New Covenant passage.

We can sum up the NCT logic behind this passage very easily. The New Covenant is “not like” the Old Covenant. As they see it, there is a transition from external membership to internal membership. Membership is no longer based on families, but is rather based on faith alone. Therefore, they argue, infant baptism is not valid because infants cannot express faith.

The problem they run into is this: Circumcision is not founded in the Mosaic Covenant, but rather the Abrahamic. Here’s the issue. In the New Testament, the term Old Covenant is always looking at Moses, not Abraham. It’s always looking at the Law from Sinai, not the Ram in the Thicket. The error of Reformed Baptists is that they conflate Abraham and Moses together as well as the New Covenant and the Covenant of Grace. That is not to say that they are not united, but they would state that God’s covenant with Abraham is radically different than the New Covenant, divorcing God’s promises from the Covenant of Grace.

However, Scripture does not teach this. Abraham is our Father because he was faithful. He believes God and is given the covenant sign of circumcision to be given to him and to his children after him. But Reformed Covenant theology is not arguing for salvation ex opere operato. We are in no way stating that an infant is secure based on their baptism. Federalists are once again confusing the sign with the thing signified. Baptism, like circumcision is a sign. Signs point to something. And even way back in Deuteronomy 10:16 where people are called to circumcise their hearts. It is not a saying of “Oh you’re for sure in”. Regardless if the sign was circumcision or baptism, the call has always been “cleanse your heart, reach out to Christ by faith.”

“But New Covenant membership is based on faith and regeneration, not baptism.”

But again, this is a conflation of terms. The Covenant of Grace has always said that faith was needed. Children in both the Abrahamic (Gen 17) and New (Acts 2:8-10) Administrations of the Covenant of Grace have been included. This is why the Philippian jailer’s family is baptized “because of his faith”. But faith was always a covenant requirement. True sons of Abraham have always had faith. So yes we look hopefully for our children to come to faith. But we know that if they do not reach out in faith, they are covenant breakers.

So what IS new? At the end of the day it is this: The New Covenant is better and different because we have the substance of Christ instead of the shadow of the Law. We do not have to come to God through a priestly mediator because Christ Himself is that mediator. We do not have to appease God through sacrifice and ceremony, because Christ is the sacrifice and ceremony. The difference is that we have what the Old Covenant veiled. This does not make it meaningless. But let’s trace Federalism to its conclusion by a simple question.

If the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace as Federalists say, how were people saved before Christ? Was Abraham saved by faith? Was he regenerated? If so, we have a regeneration, a so called “New Covenant” prior to the New Covenant. Yes they have the same substance because salvation has always been found in Christ alone by faith alone. Abraham, Moses, and Peter were all saved the same way. The difference is one had merely type and shadow, but today we have fulfillment.

Therefore, my recommendation is that Maverick go back and look again at what Covenant Theologians are saying. That he go read O Palmer Robertson’s “Christ of the Covenants” or “Far As the Curse is Found” by Michael Williams. I’d recommend dealing with what we’re really saying. And I’d strongly recommend he ditch the New Coke Theology for Classic Westminster.

Heavy Burdens and Carrots on Sticks

whenidontdesiregod [A Review of “When I Don’t Desire God” by John Piper // Chapter 3 – The Call to Fight for Joy in God]

It’s chapter 3. Piper has had the Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2 to lay out his terms and his goals, and then tell us how to get there on a practical level, but I’m still seeing admonition without application. Whenever you have admonition without application it becomes a burden that’s too heavy to bear, and that’s going to affect how I rate the book from here on out.

At the Beginning…

Johnny Pipe gives us a lot of truth to chew on at the beginning of the chapter. I really appreciate how he points out that when we prefer anything above Christ it is in, and then he illustrates that point by bringing Jeremiah 2:12-13 into the conversation.

“Be astonished, O heavens, at this,
And be horribly afraid;
Be very desolate,” says the Lord.
“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
– Jeremiah 2:12-13, NKJV

He then culminates this point with this powerful line:

“Esteeming God less than anything is the essence of evil.” (Page 34)

Then, I think he starts to get off track a little bit….

The Divine Carrot on a Stick

He goes on to tell us that “A person who has no taste for the enjoyment of Christ will not go to heaven.” That is a true statement, but I think the problem is that Piper is using Heaven as a divine carrot on a stick and telling us that there’s something we have to do or we’re not going to go to Heaven. Yes, you must repent of your sin and wickedness, and believe the Gospel, but the problem with what Piper seems to be doing is that he seems to be making Heaven the focus instead of Christ Himself.

I tend to agree with the sentiment of what John Green said:

“I am going to take this bucket of water and pour it on the flames of hell, and then I am going to use this torch to burn down the gates of paradise so that people will not love God for want of heaven or fear of hell, but because He is God.”

Now, before the evangellyfish get all twitchy on me, I want to make it clear that I know that it’s not possible to do such things, and even if it were, I’m not sure that I would want to do such things. I simply agree with the sentiment because I feel like too many evangelical Christians simply participate in social Christianity for what they feel like they can get from God and not simply because of who He is.

I firmly believe that people who love the thought of Heaven more than they love Christ Himself will wind up in Hell. I believe in a literal Heaven, I believe in a literal Hell, I believe that those are eternally conscious places where people will end up based on God’s eternal judgement, but when you spend your life trying to work for a place in Heaven, then you are proving that you love the creation (Heaven) more than the Creator (God.) I don’t believe Piper is doing Christendom any favors by telling us that Heaven is on the line if we don’t fight, especially since he hasn’t even told us how to go about fighting.

Quite honestly, this book so far hasn’t brought me any comfort or solace. On nights when I have stepped over the boundaries of God’s love, or when I feel like I’m not even saved nor have I ever been, if I’m taking the warnings of this book seriously, then I’m left to think “I haven’t fought enough for joy.” I don’t feel like any heart broken Christian should feel that way when they’re faced with doubts and fears of their salvation. They’re supposed to be driven to the cross, and reminded of God’s love. They’re supposed to be reminded of what God has proclaimed over them at their baptism. They’re supposed to hear the voice the Almighty proclaim over them, “They shall be mine.” (Malachi 3:17)

Most people who pick up a book entitled, “When I Don’t Desire God” probably want to know if there’s hope for them. They want to desire God more because genuinely love Him and they’re reading this book with the understanding that this author is going to offer them comfort, but instead they’re being told that the reason they feel all of these doubts is because they’re not fighting hard enough. I see a major problem with that.

Practical Pacifists

If you don’t know how to fight and you’ve got an attacker coming at you, you’re just as screwed as a Quaker. Why? No one has told you what to do or how to defend yourself. This is what we’ve gotten so far in the book. Piper tells us to fight for joy, he tells us what’s on the line, and he doesn’t give us any weapons. So far, I find this depressing because I’ve got the weight of all this admonition on my back, but I’ve got nothing to do with it, but allow my legs to buckle underneath the load and now I’m forced to deal with the implications of everything Piper has said so far on my own.

Concluding Thoughts and Rating

Admittedly, this book is becoming increasingly harder to read simply because I don’t want to burden myself with anymore exhortation unless there’s some kind of practical way I can live that out.

Does the Christian need to fight for joy? Yes, I think so, but I think it would just be easier if Piper would just tell us that the fight looks different for everyone because we’re not dealing with formulas, we’re dealing with individual souls.

Also, for every week that he doesn’t give us application, I’m going to knock .5 beard strokes off the rating.

This chapter gets 1.5 out 5 beard strokes.

Peace out, fam.