A while ago I had mentioned that I was doing a study on New Covenant Theology. The purpose of this blog entry is to discuss elements of New Covenant Theology I appreciate, while critiquing the elements I disagree with. I hope to be biblical in this brief discussion.
APPRECIATION OF NCT
New Covenant Theology is a way of interpreting Holy Scripture which places more focus on the discontinuity between the testaments. It sees all of the Old Testament Law as having passed away, even in its moral aspects. As such, New Covenant theologians see the Ten Commandments as being only for Israel, and not for the nations or the New Testament Church. Instead, they see the Sermon on the Mount given by our Lord Jesus as the normative New Testament ethic.
Surprisingly enough, I think that there are elements of this idea that I can agree with. It seems clear to me that from 2 Corinthians 3 that indeed, all of the Law has passed away. But what do we mean by this? I think that is simply to say that, all of the Law has been transformed and written on the hearts of God's elect in Christ, like a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel do the same analogy in their book New Covenant Theology. I appreciate this aspect.
However, what is quite unfortunate is the way I think NCT treats the ethic of Scripture because of this. I think it comes to unfortunate hermeneutical difficulties, and confusion. It is to here which I now turn.
CRITIQUE OF NCT AND CONCERNS
The way Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel in their book flesh out the differences between the testaments is disturbing. Christ is pitted against Moses to the point of contradiction between the two, with no other claim other than that Christ is "higher than" Moses. Indeed, Christ is higher than Moses. But not to the point of contradiction! In fact, even John Macarthur, the dispensationalist, argues that in Matthew 5-7, Christ is not giving us different laws, but is instead correcting the distortions of the Pharisees.
This is the way that John Reisinger views the Sermon on the Mount as well in his Abraham's Four Seeds. It is problematic at best to see Jesus simply dismiss the OT Law. Our Lord does not dismiss the Law (Mt 5:17ff), but rather fulfills it in such a way that brings its fullest intent to bear upon us as Christians.
Indeed, Greg Welty has written numerous articles critiquing this problem in NCT. It seems that NCT does not take a systematic approach to the Scriptures. For example, the law against lust was indeed even *in the Ten Commandments themselves!* "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife." The Proverbs also bear numerous passages dealing with the avoidance of lust.
Wells and Zaspel argue that it was OK to hate your neighbor in the OT, but is not OK in the NT. I refer the reader here to Welty's excellent articles, which also mentioned Scriptures that mention loving the pagan, even in the OT.
When all is said and done, what scares me about NCT is that it seems to be content with saying that the NT even contradicts the OT on certain ethical principles, because Christ is "higher than" than the OT.
WHAT ABOUT THE SABBATH?
NCT believes that the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Christ, and I think I would agree with this. Wells and Zaspel discuss the practical implications of this, and look deeply into Romans 14 and other texts. Again, I would agree, but why can't we say that, for example, the Sabbath has passed away, but the Lord's Day is now its replacement? How far do we take this? Can we meet as the local church body on any day of the week that we want, and disregard Sunday? Is our only obligation to meet? Can we treat the Lord's Day like any other day, merely going to church, but then going out to a movie, or working, or discussing the cares of the week and financial issues?
Indeed, the Lord's Day has been given as a gift to believers. I plan on posting on this in the near future.
NCT'S CRITIQUE OF THE "COVENANT OF GRACE" CONCEPT
NCT also critiques covenant theology's idea of the unity of the covenant of grace by saying that we should instead speaks of the "gospel of grace" or the "purpose of grace." The problem it has is that we should not look at the Scriptures in this way because it imposes a system upon them which is not there, and which can lead to a host of problems.
However, as covenant theologians, when we speak of the unity of the covenant of grace, we ARE speaking of God's purpose of grace, expressed by means of the various covenants administered throughout Scripture. Indeed, most biblical scholars today (even non-covenantal theologians) admit that the concept of covenant is at the core of Scripture. (I'm sure many NCTers would also say the same.) Not everything has been fulfilled yet, even in the Abrahamic Covenant. (Many NCTers would no doubt agree here as well.)
DOES THE NEW TESTAMENT HAVE "LOGICAL PRIORITY"?
Related to this idea, should we give the New Testament "logical priority" over the Old? I believe that that depends on many things exegetically. For example, I don't think that we can accurately understand the Book of Revelation without giving the OLD Testament a sort of "logical priority." And we cannot understand many of the types and shadows of the OT without giving the NT the logical priority.
In other words, it is not that exegesis is over systematic theology. It is that exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology are all on the same plane. As one of my friends pointed out to me in a recent discussion, you can't do exegesis without systematic theology, and you can't do systematic theology without exegesis. No doubt, many good exegetes agree about this.
ARE ONLY THE ELECT IN THE NEW COVENANT?
I am going to leave the reader with this last point, but you may recognize that this is also a problem with traditional Reformed Baptist thought. Both Reformed Baptists and New Covenant Baptists will say that only the elect are in the New Covenant. But this is certainly problematic for now, for numerous reasons, Scriptural and practical. In an upcoming post, I will be discussing this.
In conclusion, it is clear that I did not intend for this post to go into deep detail, nor did I intend it to be a major paper. (Indeed, as a husband and father of four, with a bedridden wife currently, I do not have the time.) However, I wanted to give my readers something to chew on.
It is for those reasons above that I cannot in good conscience embrace New Covenant Theology.
ADDENDUM: STEVE LEHRER'S VIEWS
Steve Lehrer is a New Covenant theologian who has recently written a book called New Covenant Theology: Questions Answered. My critique of his book could well be summed up above as well as I critiqued Wells, Zaspel, and Reisinger. However, there is more.
Lehrer is kind of an aberrancy from mainstream NCT in that he (1) denies the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, and (2) holds to some sensationalistic ethics which many NCTers would outright reject.
As far as his denial of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ to the believer, I would refer my readers to past blog entries (especially toward the beginning archives of this site).
But one example of an ethic which Lehrer holds to is that, if it is not repeated in the NT, then it must be permissible. Lehrer believes that, were it not the law of our land, incest would be permissible, because it is not repeated in the NT.
His thing is to ask us why we believe that incest is not permitted. As a covenant theologian, I have my answers. Perhaps Lehrer is more of a consistent NCTer. But if this is where NCT leads logically, then what do we make of this?
Lehrer argues that bestiality would not be permissible, because it would be "committing adultery," and that law is repeated in the NT. But how far do we take this? Would it be OK for someone to marry an eight-year old girl? After all, that is not even discussed in either the OT or the NT!
Furthermore, why would bestiality be adulterous? Lehrer attempts to explain why, but he forgets that adultery as such is defined as "adult"ery," between two "consenting adults."
I am very concerned about Lehrer's views, and I do hope that he might reconsider some of the dangers of his ethical and hermeneutical positions.