Step Morgan: All right, everybody, well I have 12:01, so we are past time. Thank you all so much for joining us on the call today. My name is Step Morgan. I’m Director of Admissions for RTS Jackson, and I am delighted that you guys have joined us today. We’ve been looking forward to this event for some time. I think you’re really going to enjoy it. A couple of housekeeping details: if you don’t mind, go ahead and turn off your video so that we just have the presenters present via video. Presenting today, we have Dr. Ligon Duncan, who is the CEO and chancellor of RTS. He’s also the President of RTS Jackson and the John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology. We also have Dr. Guy Waters. Dr. Waters is the James M. Baird, Jr. Professor of New Testament here in Jackson. He also serves as the academic dean for our Houston and Dallas campuses. We have Dr. Miles Van Pelt, who’s the Alan Hayes Belcher, Jr. Professor of Old Testament Languages, and he’s our academic dean here in Jackson, also academic dean for the program that we partner with in Brazil. We have Dr. Ben Gladd, Associate Professor of New Testament, Dr. Bruce Baugus, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology. Each of these men have contributed to the forthcoming volume on covenant theology that we’re about to discuss. Dr. Mike McKelvey, Associate Professor of Old Testament, also contributed to that work but is currently on sabbatical this semester, so he won’t be presenting with the call. But if you are able to get your hands on this book in a few weeks, you’re going to appreciate his contribution as well. Well, we’re not here to hear from me. We’re here to hear from these other men. So let me just cover two more housekeeping details. The makeup of this group today includes our current students, alumni, supporters, and other friends of RTS, and some prospective students as well. So we’ve got quite a mix. We love inviting our prospective students to see what kind of folk we are, and what kind of things we talk about. And so this is, for them, a little preview event of what RTS Jackson is about, and what it’s like. So if you’re a prospective student on the call today, [we] want to remind you that you are eligible through the end of the month to have your application fee waived as a bonus for having participated in this event. So if you’re a prospective student, if you wouldn’t mind putting your name in the chat box, so that will have a record of your participation today. Also, everyone on the call today is eligible to purchase this forthcoming volume from Crossway at the discounted rate of 50 percent. So this is a 60 dollar book, so by my math, it’s a chance to buy it for $30. And at the end of the call, I’ll have the discount code that you’ll need for that. Let’s see. I think somebody has hit ‘share.’ And I’m not sure how to unshare their share.
Miles Van Pelt: It’s Emily Dier’s screen.
Step Morgan: Emily, can you hit—there, thank you very much. Sorry about that. Despite being on Zoom for many months now, we’re all still learning, and that’s just fine. So as I was saying, everybody on the call is eligible to purchase the book from Crossway. That would be a preorder. The book doesn’t release until later this month. The discount code’s going to be good to Friday, so stick around through the call and we’ll have information on how to take advantage of that in the chat box. OK, I think that’s all in the way of housekeeping details right now. How about I pray for our time together, and we’ll hear from these faculty members? Let’s pray. Father, we thank you for the advantage of technology. We thank you that though we’re scattered across your good earth, we can join together for a few minutes, and we can consider the wondrous truth that you have condescended to your people and that you have established covenant with them. Father, we thank you for each of these professors who have labored so diligently to produce this work in service to the church. We ask that you would make this time edifying to those of us who are able to be on the call, and that you would make it a time that’s glorifying to you. In Christ’s name we pray, amen. So, each of these men contributed to the work in various ways. All of them submitted a chapter or more. But one, in particular, had a unique role. That’s Dr. Guy Waters, serving as one of three editors. So Dr. Waters, if you don’t mind, tell us, what is the purpose of this book? How did it come about, and what was it like to edit such a large volume in such a large team? And are there lessons to be learned from that? Most of us on this call are Presbyterian, and so collaboration in ministry is important to us. So tell us a little bit about the book and what it was like to spearhead such a big project.
Guy Waters: Thank you, Step, and thank you for putting this call together. It’s been an encouragement to see faces familiar from years of service at RTS and new faces. I think this is the closest I’ll get to being on an episode of This Is Your Life. So it’s been an encouragement. All good ideas, of course, originate with our chancellor, Dr. Duncan, and this is one of them. He approached me, asked if I would oversee a project of gathering faculty to write on the subject of covenant theology. And he articulated what I had long been sensing but had not articulated as a great need in the church. As I’ve traveled around the U.S., as I’ve traveled internationally, as Reformed theology is taking root in different parts of the world, covenant theology is part of our heritage, but there aren’t that many resources. There are some good resources, but not as many as you would think, to assist and equip the church to embrace covenant theology, particularly in our Westminster standards. And one of the blessings of being at RTS is that we have a large and qualified faculty in all disciplines, so we have the resources from which to draw men who have expertise in Old Testament, New Testament theology, church history, practical theology. And so we were able to bring together a representation of our faculty to provide the church a readable but scholarly introduction to the major branches of covenant theology, to help equip students, to help equip pastors, to help equip teachers within the church, people who want to grow, people who want to help others grow, in something that lies at the very heart of the fabric and message of scripture. It was a tremendous privilege to work with colleagues to be able to read their work months before anyone else can—I’ll say that selfishly—to see the whole project come together. I think it’s a fantastic project and I trust others will agree when they get their hands on it in a couple of weeks. The professionalism, the pastoral heart, the scholarly mind of our faculty I’ve known about, because I’ve worked with them for over 13 years, but I’ve been able to witness it in a new and wonderful way. And I think this book promises to be a great blessing to the church. So it was a great encouragement to me professionally. It’s great encouragement to me as someone who’s in the church, serves the church, and a great encouragement to me personally. So I’m really looking forward to this book’s release.
Step Morgan: That’s great. Well, I have been looking forward to getting my hands on it. I’ve had the opportunity to read excerpts of the book, and I think a lot of people are going to be well-served by this. Ligon, Dr. Waters has said that you were the brainchild and impetus, you wrote the foreword to this book. And if we needed a reason to read the book, you give it to us in your first sentence, when you say, “Reformed theology is covenant theology.” Can you tell us a little bit of what you mean by that? I know covenant theology is near and dear to your heart. Last I heard, the number of times you taught that course for our students, it was north of 30. So tell us, why do you say covenant theology is Reformed theology, and what’s the framework you want to lay out for us as we enter that book?
Ligon Duncan: Well, to back up even a little bit further than the question, Step—and then I promise I will get around to asking your question. It’s a good question—as Guy indicated, this was a whole faculty project, and the biblical studies faculty of RTS had done an Old Testament, New Testament biblical-theological introduction to the Bible that Crossway had published a couple of years ago. It was very well done and very well received. I started talking with the provost and the deans about, what are some ways that we get our whole faculty working together, ST faculty, biblical studies faculty, church history, pastoral theology, how can we get everybody working together? And covenant theology was just a natural area to work in, because there’s an aspect—covenant theology is a blending of both biblical and systematic theology. And so to do justice to it, you have to work not only in redemptive-historical categories, you have to work in dogmatic-topical categories. And so as we looked at, you know, different things, projects that we could do, this just seemed like a very, very important one. Because, to go along with the first sentence of the book, historically, Reformed theology is a school of historic, orthodox Christianity. And one of the things that is a hallmark and an emphasis of that school of historic orthodox Christianity, is covenant theology, and it’s been that way from the very beginning. From the earliest days of the Reformation, covenant theology was an important aspect of what the magisterial reformers, and then into the 17th century, the Reformed Protestant scholastics. It was an important part of what they were doing theologically in order to remedy some of the bad theology of especially late medieval Roman Catholicism, and then also to respond to some of the bad reforming takes that were going on in the 16th and 17th century. So, for instance, the Anabaptist view of redemptive history is very much in Ulrich Zwingli’s sights when he articulates ‘covenant’ as a theological category in his thinking in Zurich in the early 16th century. And let me say, the Reformers aren’t coming up with that as a category de novo, they’re going back to the early church fathers. And so they’re not only reading the Bible, but they’re reading the Bible with the aid of the early church fathers, and they find the early church fathers see the importance of covenant as a theological category. So really, from the earliest days of the Reformation, covenant was very, very important to Reformed theology. And I say that—that’s important to know because there has been a school of historiography in the last 75 years that has basically said, “Covenant theology is a 17th-century thing, it’s not a 16th-century thing.” But I think the most responsible scholars of the history of Reformed theology now, especially since the work of Richard Muller started to unfold in the early 1980s, the most responsible scholars now realize, no, covenant theology is not a 17th-century thing. It’s something that’s woven into the very fabric and foundation of the Protestant Reformation.
Step Morgan: That’s great. And on the call, we have a mix of people. We have folks who are alumni from many years ago and have gone on to do further academic work, and then we’ve got folks who are just dipping their toes in the water. One of the things that I appreciate about your foreword, for those who are perhaps new to covenant theology and are just beginning to, perhaps, grasp the significance, is that you give us very concrete, practical outworkings of covenant theology. So covenant theology, you said, deepens our understanding and our experience of the atonement, assurance, sacraments, and the continuity of redemptive history. And so, can you maybe expand on that a little bit, and just talk about how it’s important that we, particularly as ministers and future ministers, are well-grounded in covenant theology for the benefit of the congregations that we serve, for the sake of their understanding of their own assurance, and the significance of atonement. So as we get into the chapters that you guys have contributed to the work, some are discussing the recent controversies on new perspectives on Paul. Why is it so important that ministers be well-versed in covenant theology?
Ligon Duncan: Well, Step, one of the reasons that I emphasize those four things is a lot of people when they hear the word covenant theology, if they’re coming out of an evangelical framework, they may hear the term covenant theology as an alternative to dispensationalism, and immediately run to the issue of eschatology. Now, it is true that covenant theology has opinions about eschatology, and those opinions are not the dispensational opinions about eschatology. But that’s really not the origin of covenant theology. Covenant theology was much more important in other theological categories, than in the categories of eschatology in the 16th century. And one of them was the doctrine of the atonement. And what’s so evident, is that when Jesus—the only time as far as we know that Jesus does a full, redemptive-historical exposition of the relationship of his death to the covenants, is in the upper room with the disciples on the night of his betrayal. And so, at the very moment where it is most important that they understand the meaning and significance of Jesus death, Jesus himself basically says to them, “You can’t understand what is going to happen tomorrow to me, unless you understand what the Bible teaches about the covenants and the fulfillment of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic, and New Covenants. You really can’t understand the meaning and significance of my death without understanding the Bible’s theology of the covenants.” It’s also absolutely important for understanding assurance of salvation, because covenants are all about a way that God assures us of the certainty of his promises to us. And it’s also absolutely essential to understanding sacraments or covenant signs. You really can’t understand biblical sacraments unless you understand how covenant signs function in a covenant framework. And then, of course, in terms of redemptive history, you can’t understand the flow of redemptive history if you don’t know the Bible’s teaching about the covenants, and the Reformers zeroed in on all four of those applications in the 16th century. That’s not a late development. That’s something that they’re doing immediately, and showing the importance of the covenants for each of those very important topics and categories. And so practically that’s, you know, that’s important for every Christian to understand. It’s certainly important for pastors and people that are involved in discipling Christians to understand the Bible’s teaching on the covenants in order to speak to those topics.
Step Morgan: So in the book—and this book is comprised of contributions from faculty across the entire RTS system, not simply the faculty here in Jackson. And there are three major parts, divisions. One is looking at the biblical covenants themselves. The second is looking at historical theology, as you mentioned, Ligon. How has covenant theology developed and been communicated in the church over time? And then part three is [unclear; possibly ‘clatter’?] on theological studies. So Miles, Ligon just mentioned several of the biblical covenants. Your contribution looks at the Noahic covenant. Can you tell us, can you give us an overview of your chapter and the significance of [the] Noahic covenant to covenant theology?
Miles Van Pelt: Sure, I’d be happy to do that, Step. What I’m going to do is, I’m just going to read the first two sentences in my chapter, because really, the rest of that chapter is just the fleshing out of those particular concerns mentioned. So I write, “The Noahic covenant recorded in Genesis 9 is a universal, unilateral, non-redemptive administration of the covenant of grace, restoring and securing the principle of common grace in this world that was suspended during the judgment ordeal, the Flood. This covenant of common grace assures a period of delay from God’s final eschatological judgment until the covenant of grace should be accomplished in its various historical administrations,” which include the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and new covenants, just like Dr. Duncan just mentioned. So the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9 occurs in the context of the Flood judgment ordeal, kind of begins with Noah’s naming in Genesis 5 and his birth and the birth of his three sons at five hundred years. Then you’ve got the “sons of God” and the “daughters of man” issue that precipitates God’s regretting that he had made humanity and the announcement of the Flood. Then you’ve got the Flood itself, and then, the Noahic covenant, which restores a period of common grace where the elect will live with the non-elect until the covenant of grace should be fulfilled. And so, you can say it this way: the covenant of common grace is the playing field on which the covenant of grace works itself out.
Step Morgan: Thanks, Miles. We also, in this volume, take a look at how the New Testament writers are utilizing the Old Testament scripture and the biblical covenants in writing the New Testament in carrying out their mission as ones sent by Christ to communicate his word to his church. Dr. Waters, do you want to tell us—you’ve got two chapters that you contributed, one on the covenant of works in the New Testament, and the other specifically on “covenant” in Paul, can you give us an overview of each of your chapters and what you’re trying to communicate in those?
Guy Waters: Sure, Step. So, the two chapters that I drafted are “covenant” in Paul and the covenant of works in the New Testament, and they dovetail one another. At first blush, many people have said covenant is not that important to Paul. He only uses the word about nine times. Most of those refer to the Old Testament. And over half of those nine uses of the word fall in three chapters. So some people, scholars, have dismissed covenant in Paul. And I take the opposite view. I think for Paul, covenant is the framework within which he sees and guides us to see creation, redemption, and consummation. And the two passages, I think that are central, our 1st Corinthians 15 and Romans Chapter 5. And that’s where Paul is going to help us understand the person and work of Christ as covenant mediator or representative over and against Adam, as the representative of humanity in the covenant of works. And what Christ does, according to Paul, is two things. He is going to deal with the problem of our sin, and the problem of our sin originates in Adam. Of course, we’ve added on much, much sin to that. And he is also going to do what Adam failed to do, and that is, to bring human beings to consummation. He’s going to bring us into the life of the age to come. And from the moment a sinner puts his trust in Christ, he or she is justified, counted righteous, and has a title to everlasting life. We are sure of eternal life because of the work of our covenant head, Jesus Christ. And that integrates God’s work and purpose for all of history to a head in the Lord Jesus Christ. So it’s a thrilling vista of what God is doing in the world, and particularly in the gospel, and in the rest of Paul’s letters is a fleshing out of the details. But the importance of covenant for Paul is that it touches on the gospel itself. So if we want to be skilled, capable in articulating the gospel and understanding the gospel, we’re going to have to reckon with covenant in Paul and across the New Testament to do that well.
Step Morgan: Thanks. The other chapters contributed by the men on this call relate to the doctrine of covenant throughout the church. Ligon, you’ve already mentioned that we can see this in the writings of the early church fathers. You want to tell us a little bit more about your chapter on that topic and its significance to covenant theology?
Ligon Duncan: Yeah. What I try to do is, I try to give a really quick synopsis of what I found in my own doctoral work on that topic so that in one short chapter, you kind of have a bullet point outline of what to look for if you’re reading the church fathers on your own. And so the chapter is a little dense, it’s a little list-y. I’ve got, you know, I’ve got lots of lists for what you find in different, you know, apostolic fathers and apologists, Irenaeus, Tertullian, et cetera. But it’s designed to get you quickly into that material and understand why covenant was an important theological category for them. Covenant was important to Zwingli and Calvin and Bullinger, and then to 17th century Reformed theology, for slightly different contextual reasons than it was important to second-century orthodox Christian fathers. So, for instance, one reason that covenant is an important category is, you had Gnostics in the second century essentially denying that the Old Testament was a Christian book. And a lot of that flowed from their doctrine of God. But a lot of that showed up in their redemptive history. And early Christian fathers basically said, “No, no, no, no, you’re reading redemptive history wrongly,” and they use the covenants in order to show how you’re supposed to read redemptive history correctly. And so, there were contextual controversies that led to the theological use of covenant in the second century. Another one is catechism. We lost Irenaeus’ work, and it’s usually translated today as the Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. We lost it for eighteen hundred years, and then it was discovered in a Syriac translation at the beginning of the 20th century, and it reads almost like a second-century version of Palmer Robertson’s Christ of the Covenants, and it’s written to, basically, to teach Christian candidates for baptism biblical theology and the whole scope of redemptive history. And so, catechism was an important reason why covenant was important to second-century fathers. Responding to the Gnostics was an important reading. Engaging with Jewish teachers who denied that Christians were the legitimate heirs of the Abrahamic promises also led to the theological usage of covenant in the early church fathers. And the Reformers knew this. The Reformers were reading not just Augustine, and not just the major church fathers, they were reading, sometimes, obscure church fathers, or at least collections of quotes from those church fathers, or excerpts of their works, because the Reformers were very interested to say, “We’re not just Bible guys. We’re not saying, ‘Hey, we’re forgetting 1500 years of history and we’re going to open the Bible, and it’s going to be me, Jesus, and my Bible, and I’m going to read my Bible better than you Tridentine Roman Catholics.'” What they said is, “No, actually, we—the best of the early church is on our side. And they read the Bible the same way we read the Bible.” And covenant was one of those important categories. And so, that’s one reason why that chapter is there, Step, just to get people into a quick feel for why this was an important topic, even as early as the second century, right after the days of the apostles.
Step Morgan: Thanks. Bruce Baugus, you talk about going back to the sources in your chapter on public theology in the Dutch Reformed tradition. Can you tell us, give us an overview of your chapter and its emphasis?
Bruce Baugus: Yeah, well, it fits in with what Ligon was saying then and earlier as well that, you know, one of the sub-areas of interest in covenant theology, Dutch covenant theology, has been subject to that kind of analysis that Ligon referred to earlier in which it sort of drops in out of the blue from the sky in the 17th century. And there’s one particular lightning rod for some of this, a fellow named Cocceius, who some people identify as the father of federal theology. And what’s interesting is that people that tend to take that line can’t agree on whether or not he’s representing rationalism, or a return to the Bible, or all kinds of things. So what I’m trying to do in my chapter is just take this body of covenant theology that develops in, almost sort of the Dutch front of international Reformed, of the international Reformed movement, and put it in its context and show that it’s not coming out of the blue. These people are rooted in what’s going on in Germany, and Switzerland, and across the Channel, and so forth. It is a Dutch front, and it is Dutch, and is peculiarly Dutch in certain ways, but it belongs to this international Reformed movement that is happening in Europe through this period of time, and it’s rooted in these sources. And yet, the thing that’s happening through the time period that I’m focused on, and really in the Dutch tradition, is that it’s taking on the proportions of a new sort of locus within theology. Now, it’s not new as a topic or a theme or as a subject or of a matter of great interest. But it’s starting to receive the kind of attention that you would put alongside of, say, Christology, or soteriology, or something like that, which is reflected in RTS’ curriculum today that we have, of course, focused on covenant theology, for example. And so that’s what I’m up to in the book, or in the chapter that I contribute to the book, and just trying to show, look, this is rooted in what has come before. This is developed very richly, all the way up until you get to people like Witsius, one of the one of those who’s written one of the classic, sort of, works on covenant theology and the Reformed tradition that belongs to the Dutch tradition, and it continues to inform everything that’s going on downstream as well.
Step Morgan: Great. So, Ben Gladd, you take a look at what’s been going on in the last fifty years in New Testament studies in particular, and have to zero in even further from there, given that that’s a broad field, and speak mainly to work in the gospels and in Paul. Can you give us an overview of your chapter and what you’re trying to accomplish in that chapter?
Ben Gladd: Yeah, I typically exegete the Bible for a living, but in this essay I’m exegeting scholars, and I do so on two fronts. I look at the gospels, and then I look at Paul, and it’s a really, really hard question. The question is so deep and it’s so massive, that a lot of scholars really don’t ask it. And that is, what is Jesus’ relationship to Israel? How does Jesus relate to God? Not in a Christological way, but in a covenant. So these questions are so massive, that most don’t even start to answer the question. So I kind of play around with the little things, essentially is, Jesus relates to God as just, of course, second person of the Trinity, and as Adam. But the way in which he fulfills the covenants—so, I kind of work that out a little bit, but I turn my attention then to various readings of Paul and it’s going to coincide with Guy’s essay, except I try to trace it through the last 50 years or so. And I start to get into issues on the New Perspective. I don’t know if you all have heard about the New Perspective. I see many old students in here, so I’m sure that you guys are keyed in on it. At least that’s what I hope. The new perspective started in the late 70s with a guy by the name of Ed Sanders or E.P. Sanders, a BFF of Guy Waters, I’m told. I’m kidding. I’m kidding. He’s laughing. Managed to get the camera shake with Guy Waters. He started, really, a revolution, not of just how to interpret Galatians and Romans, but really how to interpret so much of the Old Testament in virtually all of the Second Temple of Judaism. It’s such a massive overhaul of biblical studies, it really had been—it’s going to work its way up into systematics and even pastoral theology, so it really is a massive thing. I tried to just touch on it, articulate it, what is the New Perspective? It’s the idea that Israel does not—God graciously entered into a covenant with Israel, and that Israel, when it does works, it does those works to maintain that particular relationship. And so, then, when we make our way, when we march our way into Second Temple Judaism, the first century Jew is not trying to work their way to heaven, essentially. That they are merely doing works in order to hang in there, to stay inside the covenant, not to get into the covenant. And that’s going to affect—as you could imagine—that’s going to affect how we read Galatians and Romans, where Paul is bringing these things out. So the New Perspective, then, is going to reread Galatians and Romans and say, “Oh, Paul is upset at the Galatians, not because the Galatians, these Gentiles, are trying to get into the covenant, but because they’re trying to keep, essentially, Gentiles out of the covenant by insisting on Sabbath regulations and diets and those sorts of things.” So I try to just cover that very briefly. You may have heard of guys like James Dunn, or you probably really heard of N.T. Wright. Those are huge proponents of the New Perspective. And by far, Tom Wright is the—he’s probably the most well-known scholar in the world that’s within biblical studies and maybe even theology. He is probably number one in the world, so he is a huge proponent. He aggressively pursues this line of thinking, and it has massive effects, really, on how do we view our relationship with God? Do I do works to hang in there? That’s really essentially what we’re trying to ask. And the answer is no. My relationship on God is not dependent on my works, but upon Christ’s works applied to my account. I don’t know, Step, if you want me to keep going. I don’t know what our time limit is. Guy Waters, I mean, he’s done so much work in this. I mean, Guy really should have written the chapter anyways, but he already wrote two chapters, so he’s like, I don’t have time for that.
Step Morgan: Well, this would be a good place to pause and just to say to everyone on the call, we’ve got Dr. Gladd looking at the clock. We’ve got a little over 20 minutes left. This is your chance to join me in asking questions, for asking them to put the cookies on the bottom shelf. But for those of you who are excited to have access to these world class scholars, this is your chance to hear them give the very nuanced technical responses. So if you’ve got questions for these guys, put them in the chat box there, and we’ll get to as many of them as we can. So I’ll go first with my “put the cookies on the lower shelf, please.” If I’m new to covenant theology and I read that foreword, I go, “Well, yeah, assurance is important to me. I struggle with doubt, and I hear Dr. Gladd saying that leading scholars, people with huge followings like N.T. Wright, they’re tinkering with the gospel there, I want to make sure I don’t get atonement wrong. This is important.” What would you guys suggest for the layperson who is just beginning to see the significance of covenant theology and realize it’s not something you can escape? You’re going to get it right or you’re going to get it wrong, and may not even be aware that you’re doing it. How do we begin to venture into covenant theology well?
Ligon Duncan: Step, a good one-stop bookshop address that is Dick Belcher’s new book, and I can’t even tell you the name of it right now. It’s something like, “the fulfillment of the promises,” or something. Do you have the, do you have the title, Step?
Step Morgan: I’m gonna pull it up right now.
Ligon Duncan: Yeah, it’s an introduction to covenant theology, and it’s not super technical. Now, you know, it may be challenging for the average layperson, but for a seminary student, a pastor, you know, serious Christians that are used to reading hard stuff. If you can read Herman Bavinck, it’ll be a walk in the park compared to reading the full-size four-volume Bavinck Reformed Dogmatics, and is something like “the fulfillment of the promises.” It’s an introduction to covenant theology. Christian Focus Mentor, I think, did it. Yeah, somebody—thank you. The Fulfillment of the Promises of God: An Explanation of Covenant Theology. There it is. That’s a good, quick, you know, get you into all the discussions—some of which you’ve already mentioned, Step—so that you understand how covenant theology functions. Another one that just is good at a popular level, frankly, it’s something that everybody probably wants to have in their toolkit if they’re teaching a Sunday school class, or even a preaching series, is Palmer Robertson’s little popular-level book called Covenants: God’s Way with His People, and that that book will actually get you into some of those issues. Obviously, as Ben Gladd already said, anything that Guy Waters has written on the New Perspective is going to be helpful to you if you’re wrestling with that issue. And on the assurance side, any good exposition of Reformed covenant theology is going to help you in that area.
Step Morgan: Super! Thanks. One other thing I would add from your foreword, you talk about how much covenant theology is the foundation of the Westminster Standards. And so, for guys who are maybe already teaching Sunday School and they’re hearing this for the first time, something like the Shorter Catechism is going to give them good, safe guardrails to stay in, as they’re doing this more in-depth reading. Well, we do have a number of questions coming in the chat box. One is, is there any discussion of the priestly covenant in its relation to the system of covenant theology? I mentioned before there are a number of contributors beyond the Jackson faculty. Guy Waters, perhaps you are in best position to speak to that, given that you’re familiar with the work as a whole.
Guy Waters: Yeah, the way, Step, that the biblical chapters are arranged is that we move, more or less, sequentially through the canon, Old Testament to New Testament with emphasis or stress on the major covenants that are benchmarks in God’s unfolding gracious covenant, ones, particularly that the New Testament writers identify. God’s covenant with Abraham, the Mosaic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant, culminating, of course, in the New Covenant, as fully revealed in Christ. So that’s the pattern that we trace. And of course, the priesthood, the sacrifices, are dealt with largely in the chapter on the Mosaic Covenant. But that’s the sequence. That’s the rationale behind our our biblical contributions.
Step Morgan: So follow up question to that one. Someone asked, “Are there areas of covenant theology that could use further work?” Any of you guys have thoughts on that?
Bruce Baugus: Yeah, I think all of covenant theology deserves further work. And, you know, we’ve talked about how basic covenant theology is, in some respects. You know, your Bible comes to you in the form of Old Testament and New Testament. And it might not be—you know, many Christians, I don’t think, are aware that the word “testament” there is really the word for “covenant.” And this, you know, once you start to get into covenant theology, one of the things that you should take away from that almost immediately, is that covenant is the shape of your life, because it is the shape of your relationship to God. And that’s true for everybody. It’s true for those who are under grace and under the covenant of grace, through faith in Christ. And that’s also true for those who are still under death and the condemnation of the law, that all this has to be understood covenantally until the end. And because covenant is that comprehensive, there’s there’s no end to the sort of work that needs to be done on covenant. Now, there are particular areas, I think, that deserve particular attention, of course. But I don’t think that, you know, we’ve reached an end of the development of covenant theology by any means, and the ongoing diversity within the Reformed tradition, even, on understanding covenant theology continues to be an area that receives a lot of attention, and is fruitful for the life of the church.
Ligon Duncan: Piggybacking on that, Step, I would say that covenant theology considered from a redemptive historical standpoint, the hardest part is relating the Mosaic Covenant to the New Covenant. And most evangelicals have a hard discontinuity in their biblical theology between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. And there’s been a lot of thought done in Reformed circles that, I think, is better than the thought that sort of gets done in generic evangelical circles about the relationship between the Mosaic and the New Covenant. But, that is still the biggest area of divergence and disagreement within the Reformed tradition. Now, interestingly, in our own time, a lot of really good work has been done on that. So, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church recently did a study committee that looked at the whole issue of the republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic Law, which is really, really helpful, and gives you sort of a taxonomy of views on that issue. John Fesko, in his new book On the Covenant of Works, comes up with his own slightly different taxonomy on that that is very, very helpful, and I really feel like we’re probably closer than we’ve ever been before to being able to chart out sort of the rails of a Reformed approach to relating the Mosaic to the New, and relating the Mosaic economy to the covenant of works. But I think that’s an area that still, work needs to be done in, and I always tell my students that that’s the hardest area that we’re going to cover from a redemptive history standpoint in this course.
Step Morgan: You’ve just spoken to several people’s questions, there. One is asking the degree to which dispensationalism or even a Reformed Baptist view is contrasted to—how much are the authors in this volume contrasting views versus presenting the Reformed view?
Ligon Duncan: And Guy can speak to this, because he edited the whole thing. But we do try to give interaction with alternative accounts of redemptive history, so we try to interact with so-called “new covenant” theologies. We try to interact with, sort of, 1689 Reformed Baptist federalism. We try to interact a little bit with New Perspective, Federal Vision kind of things. We try to interact with some of the main common alternatives out there. Somebody asked, I noticed in the chat, is Reformed Baptist theology consistent with covenant theology? And I would give a qualified yes to that, recognizing that if you’re talking about 1689 federal Baptist theology, the big difference between that redemptive-historical approach is it views—the Abrahamic covenant in the Old Testament is not the same covenant of grace as the covenant of grace in the New Testament, sort of a precursor to that covenant of grace. Whereas covenant theologians would see the New Covenant as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, vis à vis Acts 2, which just basically says that through Jesus aand the pouring out of the Spirit, the Abrahamic covenant is fulfilled for both Jews and believing gentiles. And so, that’s the big difference between, sort of, 1689 federal Reformed Baptist theology, and sort of classic covenant theology. But you would have a lot of Reformed Baptists prior to the 1970s that would essentially adopt a classic covenant theology framework. And very frankly, I think Spurgeon adopts something more like that because he’s influenced by Congregationalist, Presbyterian, and Anglican Puritans. He adopts more that than he adopts a 1689 Baptist framework. So that’s—it’s sort of, what kind of, you know, “what sort of Reformed Baptists are you talking about?” is sort of the answer to that question.
Step Morgan: Great. One quick follow-up from Miles asking—
Ligon Duncan: Step, I think Guy Waters was going to follow up.
Step Morgan: Yeah, please do.
Guy Waters: Very briefly, I just wanted to speak to that previous question. The bulk of the book and the emphasis of the book is on a constructive presentation of covenant theology. But we are very mindful, and we winsomely interact with views with which we differ. So Mike Glodo, serving at Orlando campus, has a fine chapter on dispensationalism. Scott Swain—this is one of the earliest published interactions with the covenant theology of Gentry and Wellum at Southern Seminary, and it’s really well done. Dr. Gladd, of course, interacts with New Perspective. Nick Reid and I get into the question of republication on the exegetical side, Old Testament and New Testament. So if and as you encounter these questions, you face these issues, there is material in the book that I think will help guide you forward.
Miles Van Pelt: Step, I’m going to add to that, that there are several chapters in Dick Belcher’s book in the back that deal with those exact same questions, and maybe more introductory in their orientation. And I just, I’ve read the whole book and I’ve found an excellent.
Step Morgan: Well, Miles, while you’re at the mic, someone’s asked, they’re sort of thinking through what you said about the Noahic covenant perhaps being non-redemptive, but I think I heard you say that it serves a redemptive purpose, and it’s the context that redemptive history is playing out in. The question was, well, how do we preach Christ, then, from the Noahic covenant if it’s non-redemptive?
Miles Van Pelt: Yeah, thanks for that question, . . . I’ll get you for that. That question is related to the question about the number of covenants that appear in Genesis 6-9. There is the first mention of the word covenant in the Hebrew Bible in Genesis 6, in the context of the word grace as well. And then there’s the covenant, the explosion of covenant terminology in chapter 9. Some scholars see the covenant in Genesis 6 and the covenant in Genesis 9 as the same, and some see them as two different covenants. So the view I happen to take—and I’ve held both views before, and so this is just my current view on this issue—is that the covenant in Genesis 6 is different than the covenant in Genesis 9, and the covenant in Genesis 6 is made with Noah individually, and it’s the covenant of preservation, the preservation of the seed through the Flood judgment ordeal, so that the promise of God will be maintained. Because, right, God promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the seed of the serpent, and that hadn’t happened yet. And so if he wipes out all of humanity, how would that happen? And so God creates this covenant with Noah, or enters into this covenant with Noah, to preserve the seed. And he accomplishes that when he remembers Noah in the Flood, and preserves the family through that. Then in Genesis 9, there is the covenant of common grace that is restored, so the period of delay. So in Genesis 3, God could have entered into eschatological judgment with Adam and Eve, and terminated everything at that point. But he instituted the covenant of grace, and [to] institute the covenant of grace, you need a period of delay, or common grace, when the when the righteous and the wicked will live together until God could accomplish his plan. And that period of common grace was suspended during the Flood, and then reinstituted in Genesis 9. And so when I say non-redemptive, I don’t mean—all the covenants in some sense are redemptive—but this is a covenant made between between God and all of humanity, and all of the animals, and even the world itself. And so—and it’s not a covenant to save or redeem them, but it’s a covenant to allow life to go on so that he can save and redeem them.
Step Morgan: Zooming back up a level of abstraction, what would you guys say to those who are asking, “How do I approach teaching and preaching covenant theology in a congregation, and particularly if I’m in a congregation that this would be new territory for them?”
Ligon Duncan: Well, I’ll jump in real quick, I think all of these men have good things that they could offer, and my guess is everybody else on this call has actually done this in the context of local church ministry. But real quickly, I’d say if I had a congregation that just knows almost nothing about the biblical covenants, a great thing to do would be to do a preaching series or a teaching series just on the biblical covenants, and just work from Adam all the way to the New Covenant, just textually through some of the major covenant passages, and tie some things together for them. Because even seminary students, who typically are people who’ve done a little bit more study of their Bibles, a little bit more reading and theology before they even come to seminary, invariably tell me that after studying covenant theology and after studying biblical theology, they read their Bibles better. They see how the whole Bible fits together. And I think a lot of Christians read the Bible sort of atomistically. They read certain texts, and they don’t know how they relate to other texts. And I think one of the wonderful things about the era that we’re living in right now, is the attention to what scholars in Miles’s and in Ben’s and in Guy Waters’s world called intertextuality, and how texts in the Bible operate off of—and so there’s not only study of the Old Testament’s use in the New, there’s study of the Old Testament’s use in the Old. So we’re paying attention to how those texts play off of one another and draw on one another. And that just helps people say, “Oh, wow, this Bible, even though it’s written over 1500 years by maybe 40 people or so, in three languages and a smidge of another in all sorts of different world contexts, and in 66 English books, it actually is one story.” And, you know, that gets people excited about reading their Bibles.
Step Morgan: That sounded like a secret advertisement for “ordinary means of grace” ministry. Well, we’re approaching the top of the hour—
Miles Van Pelt: Let me just follow up on that for a second, because Ligon captures something that’s very important, is that our entire Bible is covenantal. In terms of its structure and design, you can’t turn a page of the Bible without there being covenantal information. So really, the best way to communicate that is to continue to use that covenantal language wherever you’re at in scripture, from beginning to end. And so the Kingdom of God is administered through those covenants. And so you can’t have a kingdom without a covenant. That’s why they’re picking up on that language in some of these more recent books.
Step Morgan: Well, everybody, we’re approaching the top of the hour, and I want to acknowledge that our faculty may have appointments at one that they have to hop off for, but if one or two are able to stay on, we’ll be happy to keep going. I’ve posted the link to that discount code that I mentioned in the chat. This is from our friends at Crossway, the publisher of this book. They want to get it in your hands. It’s not ready for shipment yet, but it will be soon. You can preorder it at a 50 percent discount via that link. However, that link expires this Friday. So if you want to get it at half-off, get it now. That link is going away soon. I know that shipping is covered for those within the US. There were a couple UK and Canada. I believe the arrangement is, you can still make use of the discounted price, but you would have to cover the cost of shipping on those. Well, thank you all so much for joining us. How about we close in prayer and then if one or two can stick around, great, and if not, we’ll look forward to gathering again next month. Dr. Waters, would you mind praying that this book would be of great use to its readers, and pray for these folks who have taken time to join us to increase their appreciation for covenant theology.
Guy Waters: Sure, let’s pray. Father, we’re grateful that you have brought us together. You have brought us together from around the world. And we rejoice that in all of our differences, we share one savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and a common salvation in him. And you have brought us together this hour to learn more of your ways with us in scripture and in history. We pray that you would deepen our faith. We pray that you would increase our love. We pray that you would bless our endeavors to serve the Lord Jesus Christ where you have set us. We pray that you would be with each person here on this call, that your blessing would rest upon them, that you would encourage them, stir them through the time we’ve had together. We pray for this book, that as it would point others to the truth of scripture, to that degree, we pray that it would be a blessing to many. And so we commit all of this in the matchless name of Christ. It’s in his name we pray. Amen.
Step Morgan: All right, folks, well, we know that some of you are on your lunch hour and will have appointments to get to. Please feel free to leave the call when you have to. But if you have a minute or two more, we’ve had other questions come in via the chat. Someone would like to know if there’s a specific discussion of human responsibilities in the covenant of grace throughout the work. I think the easy answer there is yes, but Dr. Waters, do you want to speak to that a bit more?
Guy Waters: Yeah. You know, that’s one of, as you intimated, Step, that’s one of the meta-questions within covenant theology. Looking at the one hand at the sovereignty of God, looking, on the other hand, at the responsibility of man. And these are not truths that offset one another. This is not a contradiction. But they’re held together in harmony. And that’s exactly what covenant theology shows us. Not just the “that,” but also the “how.” And in each administration of God’s gracious covenant with us, we see the same principle: that our salvation is of the Lord, and we do nothing to save ourselves or to commend ourselves to God’s salvation. It’s his work. But part of that work of salvation is not only to rescue us from the guilt of sin. It is to rescue us from the dominion, and ultimately the presence and influence of sin. And so, God’s covenants come with stipulations, with conditions. And part of the gracious supply of God’s gracious covenant with us, is that he equips us with the faith, hope, and love that we need to serve the Lord and to grow in holiness to become more and more like Christ. That’s the goal of God’s covenants, that Christ would be firstborn among many brethren. So I think covenant theology helps us see, on the one hand, the sovereignty of God in salvation. On the other hand, that doesn’t resign us to passivity. On the contrary, it engages us to the full to be who God made us and redeemed us to be.
Step Morgan: This is an interesting question that I think Ligon has already spoken to. But I’ll repeat it here. One attendee on the call today works for a large public university under the umbrella of mental health/health . . . support to students. And they wonder how might an agnostic-leaning student benefit from reading this work? I think that’s probably not the intended audience when you guys put pen to paper, but rather, this person who’s serving that person. But Ligon, you recommend O. Palmer Robertson’s book, its introduction to covenant theology. Are there some popular-level works that an agnostic-leaning student might find helpful, that would be consistent with sound covenant theology?
Ligon Duncan: I think what I’d want to know is, I’d want to know a lot about that agnostic student before I made a recommendation. I do think there are some things that could be very helpful. I mean, I think, you know, for instance, I can picture a relatively intelligent, well-read agnostic student being completely unaware of the amount of intertextual biblical theology that has been done in the last 50 years, and having no idea of the thousands and thousands of, you know, what used to we would call cross-references in the Bible might be. And so, it might be that something like Ben Gladd and Greg Beale’s, The Story Retold, which, you know, which does that for you in the New Testament books. Might be up—there it is, right there—might be something in some agnostics hands that you want to put. Now, on the other hand, if you have an agnostic that’s been influenced by the New Atheists or something like that, I’m probably going to go a different direction. In other words, if you have an agnostic who’s read Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, and maybe the guy at North Carolina, Bart Ehrman, I might put Pete Williams’ book, Can We Trust the Gospels? in his hand, first, before I then moved on to something that was more biblical-theological. But I think that, you know, at the sort of freshman religion intro-level kind of coursework that you get, my guess is that the standard kind of experience that a person would get in state and private universities, is that the Bible is just a patchwork of a bunch of contradictory human theologies and speculations about God. And when you understand biblical theology, that becomes a very un-plausible way of reading the Bible. And so, I would have to know more about who that agnostic person was before I knew what book recommendation I’d start off with. I’d probably start wherever the area of their biggest problem was, you know, and it may be—there may be some sort of meta-theological issues that they need to work through. Or it, you know, it may just be a basic ignorance. You know, the fact of the matter is a lot of intelligent people out there have never read the Bible through once. You know, it’s really harder to read through the Bible that it is to read through something like Lord of the Rings, because Lord of the Rings does the work for you in terms of pulling together the story over a duration of, you know, fictitious time, but over a duration of time. Reading the Bible is a little bit more like reading the Silmarillion, which is very hard to read unless you’re really into Tolkien and you’re really into the chronology and the timeline, because the Bible is like a library of books, and unless you have somebody to walk with you through the biblical-theological unfolding chronologically, it can be daunting and challenging, and people can quit in Leviticus, you know, when they’re starting to read through. So I’d have to know more about the agnostic.
Step Morgan: It sounds like you’re encouraging me to find a good church that does ordinary means of grace—
Ligon Duncan: A pastor that preaches the Bible.
Step Morgan: Yeah. Someone wants to know the extent to which the book touches on “two kingdoms,” tensions that pop up in covenant theology.
Ligon Duncan: Guy, you have any recommendations on that?
Guy Waters: Well, in direct answer to the question, Step, we don’t have a dedicated chapter. It is an important question, but not one that touches on the marrow of covenant theology, and at least what this book is about. I do think that once you complete a read-through of the book, you get a sense that what God is doing in covenants is the work of redeeming sinners unto salvation, and that that equips us to go out into the world and to live for Jesus Christ, and that provides them the framework within which that important set of questions has to get taken up, which, as I understand it, relates to the calling and competency of the church to engage in matters that are secular, relating to the world, politics, economics and so on. So I think the book sits at a, just a prior stage to that set of questions, but will equip readers to move into those questions knowledgeably.
Step Morgan: Thanks. All right, gang, we’re going to wrap up in just a moment. So we’ve got one more question.
Ben Gladd: Step, Kurt Gray asks really good question here at 1:03 p.m., to be precise.
Step Morgan: I was about to say that one too, yeah.
Ben Gladd: Yeah, it’s good. It’s a good question. He says, I’ve heard Carson say that the Bible is held together by 15 to 20 threads—sounds like Don—that stretch from Genesis through Revelation. Would this be consistent with the idea that covenant being the main theme throughout? That’s a terrific question. It really is one of the main differences between [garbled; audio desync]. Just how fundamental is covenant to the Bible? And so we would say that covenant is not a thread. It’s the whole tapestry, or whatever the metaphor would be. It’s the controlling thread, that the other 14 to 19 threads would be a sub-thread or a sub-theme. I don’t know if Ligon and Guy wanted to talk more about that. That’s a terrific—that would separate us from many Baptists. Most Baptists? I don’t know, Ligon, if you can articulate that—
Ligon Duncan: And a lot of Reformed-leaning evangelicals, you know, people that would affirm Reformed soteriology, like Don. And a guy who has been a real blessing to the church in terms of the work in biblical theology that he’s done, but he would be a little bit antsy about classical formulations of Reformed covenant theology. And part of the way I answer that question is that the Bible itself at crucial points will privilege covenant as the category by which it structures the unfolding of the plan of God. And if that’s the case, in other words, if Acts 2 is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, which Peter explicitly says it is, then you have to ask the question in light of Ephesians 1, when Paul says that this plan was a plan that God unfolded from before the foundation of the world—that is, he planned this before time—so if Acts 2 is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, and that plan is something that God planned before the foundation of the world, if the unfolding is covenantal, is the plan covenantal? And covenant theology answers, “Yeah, the plan’s covenantal. You don’t have an unfolding that’s covenantal when the plan is not covenantal.” And then suddenly, you have a covenant of redemption, a pre-temporal covenant of redemption, which you know, gives a lot of biblical-theological guys heebie-jeebies. You know, even some of our guys, Ben. You know, Dick Gaffin, who’s a, you know, a super guy. Guy Waters studied under, Dr. Gaffin. And he gets really nervous. My dear professor, Palmer Robertson, gets really nervous about an idea of a pre-temporal covenant of redemption. But you know, it’s fascinating how sophisticated what we would call pre-modern exegetes were when they were asking questions about how the text of scripture and the themes of scripture relate to some of these kinds of realities. And you know, what I keep finding Ben is, man, these guys have thought about a lot more than we give them credit for thinking about. And that’s one of the reasons why we see covenant as so central a category.
Step Morgan: Well, Dr. Duncan, Dr. Waters, Dr. Baugus, Dr. Gladd, what should I have asked, but did not? As we wrap up, anything else that you guys wanted to say? We still have about 70 folks on. Anything you would like for them to know?
Ben Gladd: Only, Step, that the discount that our participants can buy the book is exactly the discount that I, the editor, am offered to buy the book. So it’s an advantage—
Ligon Duncan: . . . a bit angry about that, right? Edit 800 or 900 pages to get the same discount as you guys can get, right?
Ben Gladd: Guy, do you have it? Has it arrived?
Guy Waters: Not in hard copy, no. I’ve seen it in PDF in proofed form, but I don’t have it in hard copy. I think two weeks from today is the scheduled release.
Ben Gladd: You should get it any day now. Typically, you get it, you’ll probably get it before. You should get it. Post it on your Instagram account. That’s an Instagram story right there.
Guy Waters: Yes!
Step Morgan: Well, thank you all so much for your time. This has been a very edifying hour and plus. Thank you for the work that you did to make this book a possibility. I am eagerly looking forward to holding it in my hands, and excited to see how this will get used in service to Christ’s church in years to come. So thank you all for your work in writing and editing, and for the time that you spent with us today. And thank you all for joining us on the call. We’ll have our next event on—I don’t want to misquote the date. It’s in the first week of November. It’ll be a preview event again for our prospective students, but more of the same for our home folks. It’ll be on Wednesday, November 4th, 12-1pm central time, and we look forward to seeing you again then. Everyone have a wonderful day.
Ben Gladd: Bye, everyone. Thank you.
Ligon Duncan: Bye bye! Thanks, y’all. Enjoyed it. Good to see you, Bob, and David, and Rob and all sorts of good friends of mine that are on this call.