Friday, May 23, 2008

New Covenant Theology

I am reading and enjoying the book New Covenant Theology by Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel.

(The title is meant to be read: New Covenant Theology, not New Covenant Theology.)

I won’t say I’m swooning, but Wells and Zaspel, and the NCT community in general, present some attractive arguments.

In a nutshell, NCT is an alternative to the big-two biblical frameworks: dispensationalism and covenant theology. (Here is Wikipedia's NCT nutshell.)

Dispensationalism, in its classic variety, is piecewise discontinuous, to use a mathematical term. The bible and redemptive history are subdivided into (typically) seven dispensations. (We are in the sixth, not the seventh and last—which is the so-called millennial kingdom.) During each dispensation, God deals with and tests His people in a certain, specific way.

Covenant theology stresses that there is just one overarching covenant, a covenant of grace. It has been in effect under two administrations (which to confuse matters, are also called dispensations), the Old Testament era and the New Testament era. While it is acknowledged that grace is more obvious for the NT era, nevertheless there is just one covenant.

In utter contrast to dispensationalism, covenant theology stresses continuity. As such, it emphasizes as much as reasonably possible the “sameness” of the two administrations. The church is one entity: Israel in the OT, what we call the church in the NT. There are two manifestations of the sign of the covenant: circumcision (then) and infant baptism (now.)

Up to that point I have always been more or less comfortable with vanilla Presbyterian covenant theology.

But covenant theology’s emphasis on continuity has, in one area, always left me decidedly uncomfortable. That is the way they deal with Mosaic Law. Their position more or less demands they preserve as much as possible, usually making some nebulous distinction between ceremonial law and moral law. I don’t see this teaching made explicit anywhere in the New Testament. And abuses of this position lead to the abomination known as theonomy.

New Covenant Theology approaches scripture with an almost obvious hermeneutic, something in between dispensationalism and covenant theology, but considerably closer to the latter. NCT does have a single and substantive discontinuity: an Old Covenant for ancient Israel, and a New Covenant for the world. Mosaic law, including the Ten Commandments, was for the Old Covenant. The moral teachings of Jesus and the apostles are the regulations for the New Covenant. The church is not a continuation of Israel, but an entirely new (though not unforeseen) entity, instituted by Jesus.

It is important to note that NCT does not teach that the Old Testament is to be ignored. Indeed it acknowledges that 2 Tim 3:16 was in fact referring to the Old Testament, which remains profitable. What NCT teaches, however, is that logical priority be given to the New Testament.

For those who have read my posts on the law, you might recall that my position is aligned with that of NCT. I have written that Jesus’ two great commandments are the proper basis of the Christian’s moral law--along with additional teaching from the Jesus (Sermon on the Mount) and the apostles.

I’ll report more on NCT at a later date. I still have many questions about how the NCT theologians deal with references to Israel in the New Testament.

But, to say the least, I'm intrigued.

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