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Archive for the ‘Covenant Theology’ Category

Francis Schaeffer’s paedobaptist covenant premillennialism appears to be rarely held today, although apparently it was commonly held among the Bible Presbyterians and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES), both of which he ministered in during his career.

The following is Schaeffer’s view in a nutshell and basically explains why he takes prophecy “literally” but why he wasn’t a dispensationalist even though he was a pre-tribulationist. It is from the second half of the message on the Covenant of Grace in the Westminster Confession of Faith series that was taught at L’Abri in the early 1960s. (This series includes the sermon from which his little book on Baptism was drawn.)

This is basically an introduction to a series of messages on the Abrahamic Covenant in which he emphasizes what he terms the unity and diversity of the covenant. This transcription is very lightly edited to remove repetition, etc. My apologies for any grammatical errors.
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Schaeffer:

We have here two halves in the first three verses of the Abrahamic Covenant. [He then quotes Gen 12:1-3.]

Here we have two halves and we must not get the two halves confused. There is a national, natural promise here to the natural seed of Abraham who are the Jews. But there is also the spiritual portion. The Covenant of Grace is operating here. The Covenant to Noah is under the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant to Abraham is under the Covenant of Grace. It is not aside from the Covenant of Grace. It is a part and a portion of the Covenant of Grace.

What you have is the two halves given. There is the half that deals with the Jews as the Jews, a nation. And I would say that Romans makes very plain that God is not done with the Jews. This portion of the covenant still stands. As a matter of fact, I would say immediately that if it doesn’t stand, then we cannot trust God, because he says in reference to his covenant to the Jews, as Paul is speaking to the Jews concerning national, natural Israel, his brethren according to the flesh, he says “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” He’s talking about the national, natural portion of the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant to the Jews as Jews. But we mustn’t forget that that isn’t all there is to it. There is a spiritual portion, a spiritual and personal element that is shown here: Looking forward to the coming of Messiah and an individual’s partaking in personally in it.

Those who tend to take the amillennial position tend to lose the diversity of this and confuse the national, natural portion with the spiritual portion. But there are many many people today who make the opposite mistake. And that is that they lose the unity, the failure to understand the total unity of the Covenant of Grace from the promise of Gen 3:15 onward, including the fact that there is a unity to those of us who are born again, now on this side of the cross, a unity with these promises, the spiritual side of the promises made to Abraham. Let us not lose the diversity. There is a difference between the promise made to the nation of the Jews as Jews and the spiritual portion, but let us equally beware of losing the unity, There is a unity to the Covenant of Grace. To say in passing, this is the reason I am not a dispensationalist. There is a unity.

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I recently discovered a great number of lectures by Francis Schaeffer.  Evidently these are the “L’Abri tapes” that I first saw mentioned in True Spirituality.

I haven’t listened to very many of these yet, but this includes lectures that appear to be the basis of several of his books. These include True Spirituality, No Little People, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History, Genesis and Science, A Christian Manifesto, The Mark of the Christian and The Finished Work of Christ, among others. I must confess that I am less familiar with his well known apologetical works than I am with some of his others but I’m sure much of that material is there in embryonic form as well.

Overall, a wide variety of topics are covered, from cultural analysis, theology in general (including a series on the Westminster Confession of Faith), apologetics, the arts, etc.  There are also a good many lectures on eschatology, including an exposition of the book of Revelation.  It is well known that Schaeffer was premillennial, which was not uncommon among Presbyterians of his day, particularly among those of his background.  The titles of some of them seem to indicate that he was pretribulational as well.  But those lectures appear to be from the early 1960’s so I don’t know if he ever changed his views as did some others like James Montgomery Boice, for example.  I haven’t read that much of Schaeffer’s work, but I hope to remedy that soon.  However, I have noticed allusions to a future for Israel in some of his writings that were published in the 1970’s.  I do think it’s interesting that a leader who was known for teachings on cultural and other issues would have taught so much on prophetical themes. But most if not all of those lectures were from the early 1960’s, prior to him becoming a popular evangelical leader in the United States and beyond.

There is also a large amount of video material available online as well, perhaps most notably the film version of How Should We Then Live?

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Approximately 20 years ago when the Lordship Salvation controversy was raging, John MacArthur referred to himself as a “leaky dispensationalist.”  It seems that this was largely in response to allegations by dispensationalists that he was in danger of  abandoning dispensationalism in favor of Reformed theology. The accusation went beyond an affirmation by MacArthur of all five points of Calvinism, which I think he had yet to affirm at that point.  Largely the accusations centered around an embrace on the part of MacArthur of what was considered a more Reformed understanding of discipleship.  (James Montgomery Boice also inveighed against what he called “The Dallas teaching” around the same time, although he had abandoned dispensationalism some years previously.)

Through the years it seems there has been some of confusion about what this “leaky dispensationalism” means, especially on the part of those who really aren’t that familiar with Dr. MacArthur.  But evidently what is meant by the term is that, unlike their opponents in the Lordship debate, MacArthur, his associates and proteges (i.e. The Masters Seminary) believe that dispensationalism merely deals with ecclesiology and eschatology and does not impact soteriology, etc.  Thus, they rejected the teaching of traditional dispensationalism (and Dallas Theological Seminary in particular) with regard to sanctification and perhaps other issues.  With regard to ecclesiology and eschatology, I don’t see much difference between their views and those of more traditional dispensationalists with the exception of their lack of emphasis and/or abandonment of the concept of seven dispensations.

This was brought home for me in a recent series of posts on the Cripplegate blog as well as a message at the 2012 Shepherd’s Conference by Jesse Johnson.  The message addressed Ray Comfort’s “Way of the Master” evangelistic method.  (That’s something I’m not going to get into here.)  But along the way, they lay out their view on the law.

Given the theological commitments of these men, holding the view of the law that they do is not surprising.  But must admit that I was astonished by the assertion by Mike Riccardi that Tom Schreiner and Douglas Moo are covenant theologians!    I’m sure they would be surprised to learn that they are covenantal!  If it were not for that, I probably would not have been inclined to respond at all.

Here is the response I posted to the comments linked above:

Mike,

I’ve enjoyed many of your posts in the past and have benefited from many of the posts on The Cripplegate by other authors as well. And I recognize, as I’m sure all do, that the text of Scripture is what really matters. I’ve long thought that the practice of tossing out labels is often a way for one to dismiss someone without reckoning with his arguments, whether it be due to unwillingness or inability. But, when accurately used, labels can simply be a convenient way to note the basic outlines of a disagreement or controversy that has been going on for generations. If the dispensational label here is illegitimate then shall we abandon the use of labels like Arminian as well?

Tom Schreiner is not a covenant theologian. That is, unless you’re operating from a point of view that consigns all non-dispensational theologians to the covenantal camp. Doug Moo is also not a covenantalist. One need look no further than his essay against covenantalism’s view of the law in “Continuity and Discontinuity” to see that. Besides this, both of them reject the idea of “one covenant of grace with two administrations” and perhaps other things that covenantalists usually teach with regard to theological covenants that they infer from the Scriptures.

No covenant theologian could agree with Schreiner’s view of the law. The threefold division of the law and the perpetuity of the moral law as found in the Ten Commandments (and the believer being under them as a rule of life i.e. the Third Use of the Law) is one of the hallmarks of Reformed covenant theology. Were one to compare Schreiner’s teaching on the law with that of the Westminster Standards or any other detailed Reformed confession or systematic theology of that general persuasion, (including covenantal Baptist ones) the differences are very clear.

While I’m not sure whether or not he would accept the label since there’s still no consensus on what exactly it is, (as opposed to what it opposes) Dr. Schreiner is closer to New Covenant Theology than he is to either dispensationalism or covenantalism. NCT’s position on the law (all flavors of NCT in this case) is much closer to that of dispensationalism than the essentially covenantal view that is being criticized in this series of posts. Now, NCT and related views do typically state that the Church is the “New Israel” and often does so in less nuanced ways than many CT’s have done. But NCT’s (and Schreiner’s) view of the moral law is about as far from CT as the east is from the west. A reaction against CT’s view of the moral law was the primary impetus behind the development of NCT in the first place.

Through the years, I’ve noticed a tendency for more traditional dispensationalists to place anyone who disagrees with them on things like pre-trib and related teachings into the covenantal camp. You see the same thing with many covenantalists doing the reverse, consigning men like Schreiner and Moo into the dispensational camp because of their views on the law and a rejection of their understanding of the covenant of grace. In this case, for you to assert that Schreiner and Moo are covenantal when they are anything but suggests to me a rather narrow dispensational orientation (and perhaps, education) that has more of an impact on your thinking than you may realize.

A few years ago I defended The Masters Seminary (TMS) against some young Reformed men who appeared to reject dispensationalism for superficial reasons.  But I must say if this is in any way representative, then those who have left the school asserting that the education there is excessively one-sided and perhaps superficial with regard to the examination of other views may have a point. Admittedly I am only looking on from afar.  I hasten to add that it appears that TMS (and MacArthur in general) have done very good work in training pastors in expository preaching as well as emphasizing Biblical counseling.

The Executive Director of Grace to You, (and renowned blogger) Phil Johnson, does accept the threefold division of the law.  But he has been significantly impacted by Spurgeon, (which may account for the difference?) and has noted in the past that he is not affiliated with TMS in any direct way.

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I first met Bro. Jeffrey Johnson several years ago at a Bible camp that I used to attend periodically.  He and his father, Don Johnson, preach there frequently.  (Part of a message by Bro. Don Johnson was previously featured on this blog.)  Jeff and I stayed in touch for a few years, but after relocating a few years ago, I lost touch with him.  However, through the wonderful world of Facebook we recently reconnected and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he has recently published a book, The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism. Pastor Keith Throop has recently posted a helpful review of this book.  I hope to post my own review in the coming weeks.  In the interim, Jeffrey was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding his ministry, his book and related activities.

For our readers who may not be familiar with you, tell us a little about yourself, your background, conversion, call to the ministry, and your current ministry.

I grew up in Batesville, Arkansas in a Christian home and under the prayers of my mother and the solid Biblical preaching of my father. God saved me by His grace at a young age. When I was a teenager, however, I remember mentally disagreeing with my father’s preaching on the doctrines of grace.  Yet, in my college years, the Lord not only brought me to a personal understanding of these truths, He called me into the gospel ministry.  After graduating college with a B.S. at Central Baptist College in 2000, I became the pastor of Grace Bible Church in Conway, Arkansas, where I have been actively ministering for the last ten years.  In 2008 I received my M. Min. and in 2010 my D. P. Th. from Veritas Theological Seminary.  I am currently married, my wife’s name is Letha, and we have one son named Martyn.

(You can listen here to part of a recent interview in which Jeffrey goes into some more detail about the ministry in Conway)

How did you come to have such interest in the issue of covenant theology and infant baptism that led to you writing such a weighty book?  Were you at one time drawn to the paedobaptist position?

A few years back, a close friend and a very able preacher assisted me in ministry at Grace Bible Church. Pursuing further education, he enrolled at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. Sometime afterward, he relayed to me that he was thinking about becoming Presbyterian. I did not start this study thinking, “I am going to write a book critiquing infant baptism.” Rather, the process started as a personal letter to this friend stating a few of my concerns about paedobaptism. Yet, many years passed by and I was still unable to lay down my pen and conclude my study upon the subject. Entering in the doctoral program at Veritas Theological Seminary, Dr. Gentry, who was overseeing my doctoral studies, encouraged me to expand on my research and utilize it in my dissertation at Veritas Theological Seminary. (Ed. note: Veritas Theological Seminary is not to be confused with Veritas School of Theology)


What was the writing process like?  How long did it take?  Were there any unexpected hurdles in seeing the project come to fruition?

The writing process was very hard; I now wonder how the Puritans were able to pump out so many volumes without a computer.  The biggest difficulty I had in writing this book was that I never felt completely satisfied. I worked, reworked, and then started the process all over again until I felt like I had hammered out all the lumps, only to see new problems glaring back at me, almost as if they were mocking me. Furthermore, there seemed to have always been one more book to read upon the subject. Even now, I see mistakes in my manuscript. It is almost as if I had to say to myself, “No more research, no more editing, and no more outside input.” What began as a simple letter to a friend turned out to be a seven-year project, so one can imagine how grateful I was when I first held the published edition in my hand. One of the biggest blessings of the writing this book was the friendship I gained with Richard Belcher. Dr. Belcher played a huge role in the editing of this work. I do not think this book would have been published without his constant assistance, encouragement, and corrections. I owe a great deal to him.    

Was The Fatal Flaw to be self published all along?  What led to that decision?

I did not seriously think about publishing until after the manuscript was submitted to Veritas Theological Seminary. Through the encouragement and prompting of Dr. Belcher, who was one of the official readers of my dissertation, I began seriously to consider the idea of publishing the work. I submitted the manuscript to various publishers, but all along Dr. Belcher encouraged me, for the sake of time, to self-publish the work. Seeing that I had always been interested in books, printing, and the publishing process, I decided (with the help of Mack Tomlinson) to go ahead and start a new Reformed publishing company.

What can you tell us your publishing house, Free Grace Press, including what has been published thus far as well as any future projects you are able to tell us about?

We are very excited about the future of Free Grace Press. We have two books that we anticipate releasing in the next few months. By the end of the summer, Lord willing, will publish Dr. E. A. Johnston’s latest book “Asahel Nettleton: Revival Preacher, A Biography.” E. A. Johnston, Ph.D, D.B.S. is a fellow of the Stephen Olford Institute for Biblical Preaching and the author of several books, including A Heart Awake: The Authorized Biography of J. Sidlow Baxter (Baker, 2005), and George Whitefield: A Definitive Biography, 2 vol. (Tentmaker, 2007). In the fall, we will release Mack Tomlinson’s book In Light of Eternity: The Life of Leonard Ravenhill.  Mack Tomlinson is an Elder and Itinerant Minster, Providence Chapel in Denton, Texas.  In addition, as the resources become available, we hope to publish additional works by past and contemporary Christian authors that seek to promote the sovereign and free grace of God.


The Fatal Flaw
received several impressive endorsements prior to its publication.  Now that it has been published, what kind of response have you received?

A few people, who are in the publishing business, warned me not to be discouraged with a slow start. Yet, without other books to compare, I have been quite pleased with the success that we have had and with the overall reception of the book. For instance, one store, which started out with a case of books, sold out in less than a week. The international sales have been the most surprising. We have sold multiple books to Canada, England, Austria, and New Zealand. We are only a few months in and we have already sold more than we had anticipated for the physical year.


We see on the back cover of your book that your son is named Martyn.  Is this an indication that you are an admirer of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones?  What kind of influence has he had on your own ministry?

Our son is named after Martyn Lloyd-Jones. My wife and I both enjoy the writings of Lloyd-Jones, and Iain Murray’s biography on Lloyd-Jones has been one of the more influential books that I have read. And, it did not hurt that we also really like the name Martyn.

Where can The Fatal Flaw be purchased?

The Fatal Flaw can be purchased at:

CVBBS

Solid Ground Christian Books

Amazon

Richbarry Press (call for ordering information)

Free Grace Press

And, of course at eBay

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About a year or so ago, a group calling itself the Nicene Council (made up largely of partial preterists) issued a statement under the name The Ninety-Five Theses Against Dispensationalism.  While their aim is true in some cases, overall the statement merely reiterates the myths and misunderstandings about dispensationalism that Dr. Michael Vlach dispelled in his little book that I reviewed last year.

Dispensationalism has always been a despised system, and it appears to be at a low ebb today among academics and younger pastors.  This is at least in part due to the resurgence of Calvinism that we have seen over the past fifty years, and especially in the past few decades.  (Overall I regard this as a welcome phenomenon.)  No doubt the antics of some popular dispensationalists haven’t helped matters.  As I had noted previously, it seems that some have simply dismissed dispensational and premillennial views in general on that basis alone.  This is often coupled with the perception that dispensational views made a relatively late appearance in church history.

Dr. Paul Henebury is attempting to remedy this, although he admits to being a somewhat reluctant defender of normative or classical dispensationalism.  (With that I can identify!  I’m not sure whether I’m a dispensationalist at all at this point, or at any rate don’t find the name to be particularly helpful.)  Dr. Henebury has just concluded a series of posts Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism that I believe will be of interest to both friends and foes of dispensationalism.

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