A Question About Covenant Theology

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.






5 responses to “A Question About Covenant Theology”

  1. Justin Avatar

    Final­ly, I can post again!

    Okay, Rick, I know absolutet­ly noth­ing of Covenant the­ol­o­gy. But, the crazy thing is is that the day before you post­ed this, I just start­ed research­ing Covenant the­ol­o­gy. Wierd, huh?

    Could you please explain what the Reg­u­la­tive Prin­ci­ple of Wor­ship is? I’ve heard of it, but I know noth­ing of it either.

  2. Rick Beckman Avatar

    The Reg­u­la­tive Prin­ci­ple of Wor­ship is a prin­ci­ple of prac­tice that reg­u­lates how we are to worship. ;)

    Oh, you want­ed more? lol. Well, it is the belief that only God Him­self has the right to define how He is to be wor­shiped. It is a smack in the face to all “I wor­ship how I want to wor­ship” and “That’s just how we do things here” crowds.

    If God com­mand­ed us to do some­thing in wor­ship of Him, we are to do it no ques­tions asked. If God did not com­mand us to do some­thing in wor­ship of Him, we ought not do it. Both adding to and tak­ing away from God’s com­mands is sin­ful, after all, and even the most innocu­ous of activ­i­ties can become tra­di­tions of man.

    For a good overview of the sub­ject, check out Joe More­craft’s How God Wants Us to Wor­ship Him.

  3. Justin Avatar

    Haha­ha! Well, yeah, I sort of want­ed a lit­tle more than that. (:

    Thanks for the infor­ma­tion though, it helps.

    Also, have you heard of this web­site called “A True Church”? I am so con­fused about it’s mes­sage. Well, not entire­ly, I under­stand what they are say­ing. But, I mean, I am con­fused as to what to label them. I can only con­clude that they are Hyper-Calvin­ists, and even then I am hes­i­tent. Would you please check it out for me, if you have the time? Thanks.

  4. Rick Beckman Avatar


    If it is that site to which you refer, I have been there before and found it very cult-like. Mr. Fish says he knows of no oth­er pas­tor that is in the truth. If the way was as nar­row as he has made it out to be, the glo­ri­ous thou­sands men­tioned in Acts would­n’t have been saved, nor would there have been so many church­es in so many cities for the apos­tles to vis­it, write to, love, and min­is­ter to.

    Beware of any man or min­istry that claims they are cor­rect and that no one else they know of is.

  5. Justin Avatar

    Yes, that one. And thanks. I could tell that they are unChris­t­ian. All they need­ed to say was Pas­tor Spur­geon was a false preach­er, and I knew they were wrong.

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Rick Beckman