. . . though this flattening of the covenant relationship throughout the course of history, before and after the fall, may have a superficial appeal, it has huge implications for the way we interpret the respective “work” of Adam and Christ, the second Adam. Shepherd makes clear that he rejects the traditional Reformed doctrine of a pre-lapsarian “covenant of works” that promised Adam life “upon condition of perfect obedience” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. VII.ii). To say that Adam’s acceptance before God justly demanded his performance of an obligation of obedience, is, Shepherd argues, tantamount to treating the covenant relationship as though it were a contractual one, on analogy of an employer to an employee, rather than a familial one, on analogy of a father to a son (p. 39). We should recognize that God always treats human beings on the basis of his sovereign grace and promise. Just as children never “merit” their father’s favor by their good works, so human beings never “merit” God’s favor by their obedience to the covenant’s obligations. However, life in covenant with God, though not “merited,” is nonetheless obtained only by way of the obedience of faith. This means that what God required of Adam, he requires of Abraham and all believers, including Christ.
Lest this interpretation of Shepherd’s view be regarded as a misreading of his position, it should be noted that Shepherd explicitly draws a parallel between what God obliges Abraham, Christ, and all believers to do as a necessary condition for their salvation. In his description of Christ’s saving work, Shepherd uses the same language that he earlier used to describe Abraham’s faith: “His [Christ’s] was a living, active, and obedient faith that took him all the way to the cross. This faith was credited to him as righteousness” (p. 19, emphasis mine). By this language Shepherd treats Christ as though he were little more than a model believer whose obedient faith constituted the ground for his acceptance with God in the same way that Abraham’s (and any believer’s) obedient faith constituted the basis for his acceptance with God. In his zeal to identify the covenant relationship between God and man in its pre- and post-fall administrations, Shepherd leaves little room to describe Christ’s work as Mediator of the covenant in a way that honors the uniqueness, perfection and sufficiency of Christ’s accomplishment for the salvation of his people.