William Evans has responded to my critique. In reply I want to ponder what he means by “extrinsic covenantalism” and to try to achieve a measure of clarity by defining our terms. “extrinsic covenantalism” is is new terminology for me. His paradigm seems to be shaped by 19th-century debates. Mine is shaped by my study of the 16th and 17th centuries and, to a certain degree, by the contemporary discussions (e.g., Federal Vision, NPP etc).
He calls my view narrow. Well, if by “narrow” he means “that view held by most of the Reformed from the 1530s through the 19th century and confessed by the Reformed churches Germany, France, Switzerland (German and French), and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries and today” then, yes, I plead guilty to holding a “narrow” view but that strikes me as an odd definition of narrow.
As I explained above, “covenant” is a biblical term. The principal Hebrew term, Berith, is used 289 times in the Hebrew Scriptures (BHS) and the Greek term, Diatheke, occurs 33 times in the Greek NT (NA 27).
It is not a peripheral or marginal term in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. It occurs the first time in Genesis 6:18 and is used repeatedly in Genesis 12, 15, and 17 to describe the way that God relates to us. It is true that it isn’t the only way to describe the way God relates to us but it is an important term and is fairly described as comprehensive.
It is notable that Zechariah, in Luke 1:72, characterizes the advent of our Lord in terms of God’s “remembering his holy covenant” is instructive. This is a typical OT way of speaking. The Spirit preserved this testimony to help us understand the person and work of Christ. The synoptic gospels (Matt, Mark, Luke) all record the same institution of the Lord’s Supper. Our Lord said “this is my blood of the covenant” (Matt 26:28 and Mark 14:24). Luke says, “blood of the new covenant” (Luke 22:20; on which Paul capitalized in 1Cor 11:25). Thus, the very sacrament instituted by our Lord for our frequent observance, in which, as we confess, we are fed by the true body and blood of our Lord or even the “proper and natural” (Belgic Confession Article 35) body and blood of Christ can only be understood in covenantal terms. His blood is the new covenant. To say that is to invoke all of the ANE categories of which some now want to be rid. I was taught to read Scripture in light of its original context that still seems right. If Scripture was given in a covenantal context and if, through Jeremiah, God promised a new covenant (ch. 31) and the NT claims that Jesus inaugurated that new covenant, then how can we avoid covenantal hermeneutics?
In Acts 3:25, Peter, preaching on Solomon’s Porch, appealed to the covenant. Stephen (7:8) also did in his sermon. Paul appeals to it in Rom 11:27. Paul characterized his entire ministry as the ministry of the new covenant (2Cor 3:1–14). He clinched his argument with the Judaizers by an appeal to the history of God’s covenants with Abraham and Moses (Galatians 3:15–17). Geerhardus Vos thought that the theme of “covenant” was so strong in Hebrews that he titled it the “Epistle of the Diatheke” (covenant). Certainly, it is not possible to understand Hebrews without getting to grips with its covenant theology particularly in chapters 7-10 and then again in his benediction. The term for covenant (diatheke) occurs about 15 times in Hebrews alone.
Then there are allusions to the covenants beyond the express discussion of the Abrahamic covenant. E.g., Ps 110 one of the most frequently quoted passages in the NT. Some argue that it is the most frequently quoted OT passage in the NT. The turning point in Ps 110 is vs. 4 which is Adonai’s (The LORD) oath to Adoni (my Lord). In the ANE context (c. 1000 AD) it seems impossible to understand this oath, on which the NT spends so much time, except as a covenant between the Father and the Son. This is how Hebrews understands it and I doubt we want to call the writer to the Hebrews “narrow.”
Reformed theology did not invent covenant theology. Several of the 2nd-century fathers appealed to the biblical notion of “covenant” for roughly the same reasons that the Reformed turned to the category of “covenant” to reply to the Anabaptists in the 1520s and 30s: to express the fundamental unity of salvation in the history of redemption. God is one. There is one God and Father, one baptism, one salvation. Covenant is the way that Scripture articulates that unity and so the fathers appealed to it in their defense of the unity of Scripture and of God against the dualists (both Gnostics and Marcion). The Fathers, like the Reformers after them, appealed to the covenants also to express the progress of revelation and redemption. They didn’t use it to “flatten out” redemptive history.
Any biblical teaching can be corrupted and, gradually, the medieval church did redefine what the covenant was and how it operates, if you will. They turned grace into law and substituted duty for gift. The Reformation reclaimed the category in light of the Protestant re-reading of Scripture. Like the fathers we expressed both the unity and progress of redemptive history by using the language of covenant.
There are different “covenant” theologies. The Medieval theologians offered a few different covenant theologies. In the 17th century, the Baptists a version and the Reformed had a version. The Lutheran orthodox, for a time, developed a covenant theology in response to the Reformed (Gerhard discussed “covenant” quite a lot). This is because how one understand “covenant” is the result of how one understands a number of biblical passages and themes. The Reformed covenant theology was an expression of the great insights of the Protestant Reformation.
The word “extrinsic” has been terribly important in the history of Protestant theology. Though my dialogue partner seems to be using it negatively, it has not historically been used pejoratively. We’ve used it or synonyms in a couple of ways that I know. We distinguish between an “extrinsic” and an “intrinsic” ground of justification. THE pan-Protestant view was that the ground of our justification before God is and must be extrinsic to us. The medieval church had taught an intrinsic ground, i.e., that God justifies us on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity which was said to be the result of infused grace and cooperation with grace.
The Protestants, however, beginning with Luther, read the Scriptures to teach something quite different. The righteousness by which we are declared righteous is not within us, nor is it the product of grace and cooperation with grace but Christ’s perfect righteousness, in medieval terms, his condign (intrinsically worthy) merit, achieved for us and imputed to us. In that sense, the distinction between “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” is the difference between being a Protestant and being a Romanist. Anyone who denies that ground of our acceptance with God is outside of us, is not a Protestant.
Another place the distinction between “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” might be important is the distinction between an external relation to the visible and an internal or spiritual relation Christ. Historically the Reformed have always affirmed that Paul’s teaching that a Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly (Rom 2:28) and that “not all Israel is Israel” (Rom 9:6) means that there are two ways of relating to the covenant of grace: externally and internally.
Not everyone who has an external relation to the covenant of grace also has an internal relation. The latter is the result of the Spirit’s sovereign work, through the means of grace (preaching of the Gospel) to raise one to life spiritually (to regenerate) and to create faith and through that faith to unite one to Christ. Thus, ordinarily, all believers have an external (or extrinsic) and internal (or intrinsic or Spiritual) relation to the covenant of Grace and to Christ.
A third place “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” might be relevant is our spiritual relation to Christ. As I’ve explained at length in earlier posts, the doctrine of union with Christ is most important to Reformed theology. Calvin wrote that what Christ accomplished for us is of no value to us if he remains outside of us. In order to benefit from Christ’s work we must be personally united to Christ by the Holy Spirit, through faith. That union must become communion. In that sense, the extrinsic righteousness of Christ is intimately related to our intrinsic, if you will, spiritual connection to Christ.
There has been, however, a great lot of emphasis in contemporary Reformed theology on “union with Christ” and not all of it has been equally clear or helpful. E.g., some have characterized union with Christ as the “central” teaching of the Scriptures as understood by the Reformed. Setting aside the methodological question whether there is such a thing as a “central” Reformed teaching, it is a stretch to say that Reformed theology orbits around the doctrine of union with Christ.
Others have characterized the doctrine of union with Christ so that it becomes a vehicle to return to the mysticism of certain medieval theologians. In this model, union becomes a kind of ladder by which we either climb or are drawn up into Christ’s being. In this model relationship becomes being and its hard to see how this is a biblical way of thinking and it certainly isn’t a confessional way of thinking.
Finally, some emphases on union have sought to marginalize the Protestant doctrine of justification, to put it in a sort of box. The Protestant formulae are recited but then faith is limited to a sort of technical status in justification and when we’re done with justification, where our older writers talked about faith these writers now want to talk about union. Indeed, as I suggested in the previous post, I worry about an unintentional move by some toward the doctrines of Andreas Osiander (1498–1552). Osiander brilliantly and devilishly co-opted the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone and united it to a doctrine of justification on the basis of the indwelling Christ. This seems to me to be case where the relation eclipses the forensic.
What the orthodox Reformed have always desired is that every professing Christian would have new life by the Spirit and that their outward profession would be matched by inward possession of all that the sacraments signify and that Christians would rest for righteousness with God on the extrinsic righteousness of Christ and that the same Spirit who brought them to faith would continue to work in (intrinsically) by grace, through faith and by the power of the mystical, Holy Spirit union that we have with the risen Christ.
That, I believe, is the faith of almost all the orthodox Reformed writers in the 16 and 17th centuries, of our Reformed confessions, of Thomas Boston and the Erskines in the 17th and 18th centuries, of Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, the Hodges, Warfield, and Machen, in the 19th and 20th centuries. Narrow? I suppose it comes down to definitions.