Saturday, June 16, 2007

A BRIEF CRITIQUE OF NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

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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'S INCONSISTENCIES

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.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Josh,

I know this is a rather old post, but I just found it and had to comment.

I believe you are right to have questions about NCT, and to consider that many of their teachings, albeit it a state of flux, are odd. They are worse than odd, they are not orthodox.

NCT takes the entire bible and reinterprets it starting at the book of Hebrews. There are currently two major stains of NCT; That which is espoused in public, and that which is taught at the local church level. The later is very cult like, at least in the manifestations I have observed.

Given that NCT is new, anyone looking into it would be wise to consider how NCT would work for the saints of the past. I contend, that given their view on the salvation of children alone, it would not.

NCT in its practical application is a VERY performance based system of salvation. Their practitioners establish a whole set of litmus tests that one must pass before one is considered to be a christian, all of which are works based. They are extremely anti-creedal, which oddly enough, is a creed in itself.

The "Jesus as the new Moses" idea is not new, and can be found in Roman Catholicism if one does just a little research.

My advice to anyone interested in NCT is to run as fast as possible in the other direction. They will be proven by history to be an odd sect at best, and a heretical cult at worst.

Peace,

Bob Sacamento

SGBC Cebu said...

Here's a critic on the article by Edwin Trefzger III
"Completed by the Spirit: New Covenant Sanctification in Paul"
by: pastor Jose Francis Martinez

http://sgbcblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/not-by-law.html

Gary Anderson said...

Unfortunately you don't gain a New Covenant perspective from legalists like Macarthur and Zaspel. Especially, I am speaking about law preaching versus gospel preaching:
http://www.newcovenanttheology.com/p/essential-blog-articles.html

Now, you can reject covenant theology without being a dispensationalist: http://www.newcovenanttheology.com/p/dispensationalismmessianic-judaism.html

Rev. J said...

Actually, there is no Christian Sabbath in the NT. Only the Lord's Day set aside to celebrate the resurrection. Of course, the Jewish belivers had both! Too, Christ set the tone when he said the Sabbath was made for man and not vice-versa. And even you don't see the logical priority of the NT you're lost indeed. For only in the NT do we really know who God is and what God is like and what is expected of us insidei out and, yes, Christ radically upgraded the Law to, you guessed it, the Law of Christ. The reasons reformed and all other traditional groups have to argue otherwise is because they wanted civil control of society and perspersecuted even orthodox separatists even in America. An interesting fact of history is that Catholics proved that the magisterial reformers were not truly sola scriptura during Reformation by pointing out that the Sabbath was not in fact a biblical doctrine for Christians.

Carlos Montijo said...

We recently started a podcast and are critiquing New Covenant Theology from a Reformed Baptist view. You can check it out here:

https://soundcloud.com/biblethumpingwingnut/sets/semper-reformanda-radio