I’ve been reading (and enjoying) What is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul, but the chapter “Nicknamed Covenant Theology” was a little disappointing to me. It was, in fact, the chapter I looked forward to the most!
As I understand Reformed Theology, it is characterized by the following things:
- The Five Solas
- TULIP Soteriology
- The Regulative Principle of Worship
- Covenant Theology
The first three items I’m absolutely okay with. The Five Solas, in theory, are accepted by most, if not all, Protestants, although there probably are significant variations in that acceptance. The second point I have become convinced of in 2006, and the third I stumbled upon myself in the Scriptures before I even knew that it had a name. But that last one… What exactly is covenant theology? I had no idea.
About all I knew regarding it was that it was a framework of scriptural understanding, akin to dispensationalism. Having read about and espoused dispensational thought on numerous occasions, this interested me. Reformed Theology seemed to have it right on concerning so many other important issues, could they be right about this overarching framework of thought and theology?
When I got Sproul’s book (What is Reformed Theology?), I was eager to get to the chapter concerning it.
However, the chapter left much to be desired. It didn’t explain why covenant theology was right; it merely explained what it was on a very entry-level basis. I know that it views the Scriptures within the context of three covenants: the covenant of redemption, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. The first concerns the three members of the Godhead in eternity past, who purposed together in a covenant that each of them would play a specific role in redeeming mankind (Christ’s being sent to die, the Spirit being sent to testify of Christ, and so on). The covenant of works, between God and man, had man working for life, with the punishment for sin being death. Christ was sent to fulfill this covenant, vicariously living the perfect life that no other man could. The covenant of grace, also between God and man, was instituted just after the Fall; by having faith in God, He would accept the vicarious sacrifice of the Messiah yet to come (or who has come, in our case today).
Sproul briefly mentions that reformed theology recognizes various dispensations (or administrations) throughout history, stating that these are different from dispensationalism’s dispensations. I’m not clear on why they are so different. What makes these two systems of thought incompatible?
I would appreciate anyone’s thoughts on the matter.
As a brief aside in closing, I very much like what Sproul said concerning the Law of God; so often the Lord is accused of being cruel because the Law calls for sins to be punished by corporal or capital punishment, but if you think about it, all sin deserves immediate death. The very fact that the Law allowed some sins to “slide by” without an immediate execution should be seen as God’s showing mercy upon man.
Far too often are sins excused nowadays (“Nobody’s perfect.”) that the preceding paragraph may leave little impression on most readers, but for those who take God (and sin and man) seriously, such a showing of the mercy of God, even in the Law, ought to be cause for praise.
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