WCF vs NCT: Which is More "Spiritual"?

One of the most persistent caricatures of Reformed orthodoxy is that it was (and remains) a lifeless, dead orthodoxy. Apparently some enthusiastic supporters of the so-called (self-described) “New Covenant” theology have taken up this view as a way of contrasting the piety of WCF with their own. Martin explains. Iain Campbell also commented on this at Ref21. Three of my colleagues have edited (and two more have contributed) to a volume on the role of the Mosaic law in redemptive history: The Law is Not of Faith.

This is a superior approach to the problem of continuity and discontinuity between Moses (the Old  Covenant strictly speaking) and Christ (or the New Covenant). More on this volume to come.

One of the problems in the so-called NCT, in the materials I’ve read, is that neglects the existence of natural law and the relation between that law and the decalogue. In other words, though there certainly are distinctively Mosaic (and Old Covenant), and purely typological elements in the decalogue that expired with the death of Christ, the decalogue was also a republication of the natural law or the moral law or the covenant of works. 

The doctrine of republication is an historic Reformed doctrine. For more on this see the following:

Herman Witsius on Republication.

Is the Natural Law Theocratic?

More on Republication

The “Novelty” of Republication…In 1597?

Here is part-one of a three-part essay on republication.

John Owen on Republication.

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  1. Until of late, I’d been pretty captivated by the NCT approach. Doug Moo’s neo-Lutheran perspective in “Four Views on Law and Gospel” is a pretty powerful and persuasive contribution to the NCT view. I don’t know if you’ve read this Scott, but I thought Bahnsen’s reply to Moo was quite interesting.

    Moo’s point is that the whole OT law cannot be seperated into ceremonial, moral and civil; it is all of a piece. The whole law is a shadow of the NT law of Christ. He argued that unless a command is explicitly renewed in the NT, then it is done away with.

    Bahnsen replied and made the point that the command not to commit bestiality hasn’t been renewed in the NT!

  2. Here’s another Owen quote on republication:

    “It is also true, that God did never formally and absolutely renew or give again this law as a covenant a second time. Nor was there any need that so he should do, unless it were declaratively only, for so it was renewed at Sinai; for the whole of it being an emanation of eternal right and truth, it abides and must abide, in full force for ever. Wherefore, it is only thus far broken as a covenant, that all mankind having sinned against the commands of it, and so, by guilt, with the impotency unto obedience which ensued thereon, defeated themselves of any interest in its promise, and possibility of attaining any such interest, they cannot have any benefit by it. But as unto its power to oblige all mankind unto obedience, and the unchangeable truth of its promises and threatenings, it abideth the same as it was from the beginning.”
    – John Owen, Works, vol. 5, The Doctrine of Justification By Faith, ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 2007), 244.

  3. Ironically, the theonomists also deny the three-fold distinction. A pox on both their houses.

    No one is claiming that the threefold distinction is taught explicitly in the Pentateuch but it’s a useful way to account for the abiding validity of the creational/natural/moral law.

    Denying the threefold distinction seems to lead either the antinomianism (the loss of the moral/natural law) or legalism (conflation of the moral/natural law with the 613 commandments of the Torah).

  4. “Ironically, the theonomists also deny the three-fold distinction. A pox on both their houses.”

    LOL! Watch out Scott, they’ll be picking up rocks.

    I think that those who deny the distinction in theory, apply it exegetically and practically!

  5. RSC: Can you point to some of the stuff you’ve read on the NCT which criticizes WCF piety? I know of some that (obviously) take on the Reformed understanding of the covenants, but not much on the application to piety. Thanks!

  6. Matt,

    When I say “piety” I refer, e.g. to the confessional Reformed view of the Sabbath. That’s an important part of our piety. See the chapters on the Sabbath and worship in RRC.

    I don’t know but I wonder what their view of the means of grace is? The NCT folk I’ve read are all Baptist, so we have a very different view of the nature of the covenant of grace, its administration, and the I suspect, the nature of the Spirit’s operation through the means of grace. Louis Berkhof calls the sacraments, “channels of grace.”


    yes, I think that’s right unless one becomes complete antinomian. In re the theonomists, I’ve been on their hit list for a long time. They are perhaps more consistent in their rejection of the threefold distinction.

    Theodore Beza wrote a short treatise in defense of the distinction on which I hope to work some day.

  7. I think that the NCT view of the Lord’s Supper is that it is a mere memorial feast and baptism does nothing than other get one wet and show your friends you’ve had a “personal transformation”.

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