Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Differences: Covenant Theology, New Covenant Theology, Dispensationism, and the Covenant of Promise

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on October 23, 2015

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10/24/2015 @ 2 pm Live Link:

Paul and Susan Discuss Bible Covenants

Listen to archived podcast at your convenience at same link.

If there is an area where the laity is very confused, it is in regard to biblical covenants. Listen in and join the conversation.

Notes for program, actual program material will vary.

Welcome truth lovers to Blog Talk radio .com/False Reformation, this is your host Paul Dohse. Tonight, another Paul Dohse parenthesis in our Heidelberg Disputation series, “The Differences: Covenant Theology, New Covenant Theology, Dispensationism, and the Covenant of Promise.”

Greetings from the Potters House and TANC ministries where we are always eager to serve all of your heterodox needs. Our teaching catalog can be found at

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Have you ever wondered what all of these theologies are that Christian scholars talk about, and what the differences are? This is another one of the ironies of the institutional church; these theologies go hand in glove with one’s gospel, but few parishioners know what their pastors believe in regard to this issue. It’s like psychology: people will go to any psychologist because they have the credentials, but there are roughly 200 different metaphysical schools of thought among them. Being interpreted, 200 different views of reality itself. So, people go and pay 85-100 dollars an hour while being clueless as to whether or not the therapist is Rogerian, Freudian, or whatever. They could be, and probably are, taking advice from someone who doesn’t even see reality the same way—it’s absurd.

Let’s start with Covenant Theology. What is it? Let’s borrow some excerpts from Wikipedia to define it:

Covenant theology (also known as Covenantalism, Federal theology, or Federalism) is a Calvinist conceptual overview and interpretive framework for understanding the overall flow of the Bible. It uses the theological concept of covenant as an organizing principle for Christian theology. The standard description of covenant theology views the history of God’s dealings with mankind, from Creation to Fall to Redemption to Consummation, under the framework of the three overarching theological covenants of redemption, works, and grace.

These three covenants are called theological because, though they are not explicitly presented as such in the Bible, they are thought to be theologically implicit, describing and summarizing the wealth of Scriptural data. Within historical Reformed systems of thought, covenant theology is not merely treated as a point of doctrine or a central dogma, but the structure by which the biblical text organizes itself…

The covenant of works (Latin: foedus operum), also called the covenant of life, was made in the Garden of Eden between God and Adam who represented all mankind as a federal head. (Romans 5:12-21) It promised life for perfect and perpetual obedience and death for disobedience. Adam, and all mankind in Adam, broke the covenant, thus standing condemned. The covenant of works continues to function after the fall as the moral law.

The term foedus operum was first used by Dudley Fenner in 1585, though Zacharias Ursinus had mentioned a covenant of creation in 1562. The covenant of works became common in Reformed theology by 1590, though it was not adopted by all, and some members of the Westminster Assembly in the 1640s opposed it. While John Calvin had spoken of a probationary period for Adam, a promise of life for obedience, and the federal headship of Adam, he does not speak of a covenant of works.

Though it is not explicitly called a covenant in the opening chapters of Genesis, the comparison of the representative headship of Christ and Adam, as well as passages like Hosea 6:7 have been interpreted to support the idea. It has also been noted that Jeremiah 33:20-26 (cf. 31:35-36) compares the covenant with David to God’s covenant with the day and the night and the statutes of heaven and earth which God laid down at creation. This has led some to understand all of creation as covenantal: the decree establishing the natural laws governing heaven and earth. The covenant of works might then be seen as the moral law component of the broader creational covenant. Thus the covenant of works has also been called the covenant of creation, indicating that it is not added but constitutive of the human race; the covenant of nature in recognition of its consonance with the natural law in the human heart; and the covenant of life in regard to the promised reward…

The covenant of grace promises eternal life for all people who have faith in Christ. He also promises the Holy Spirit to the elect to give them willingness and ability to believe. Christ is the substitutionary covenantal representative fulfilling the covenant of works on their behalf, in both the positive requirements of righteousness and its negative penal consequences (commonly described as his active and passive obedience). It is the historical expression of the eternal covenant of redemption. Genesis 3:15, with the promise of a “seed” of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head, is usually identified as the historical inauguration for the covenant of grace…

The covenant of redemption is the eternal agreement within the Godhead in which the Father appointed the Son to become incarnate, suffer, and die as a federal head of mankind to make an atonement for their sin. In return, the Father promised to raise Christ from the dead, glorify him, and give him a people. Two of the earliest theologians to write about the covenant of redemption were Johannes Cocceius and John Owen, though Caspar Olevian had hinted at the idea before them. This covenant is not mentioned in the Westminster Standards, but the idea of a contractual relationship between the Father and Son is present. Scriptural support for such a covenant may be found in Psalms 2 and 110, Isaiah 53, Philippians 2:5-11and Revelation 5:9-10. Some covenant theologians have denied the intra-Trinitarian covenant of redemption, or have questioned the notion of the Son’s works leading to the reward of gaining a people for God, or have challenged the covenantal nature of this arrangement.[citation needed] Robert Letham has criticized the idea of a covenant between the persons of the trinity as a departure from trinitarian orthodoxy and tending towards tritheism, pointing to the historical fact of tritheistic heresy in Presbyterian circles during the generations immediately following the Westminster Assembly.1

Here is the long and the short of it: God made a covenant of works with Adam, which failed, and Christ came to fulfill the covenant of works, through fulfilling the law, for all that believe in him. Let me start off by making this really simple: it’s the same idea that Paul was attacking in Galatians chapter three; It’s salvation by law, not promise. “But Paul! It’s Jesus who fulfills the law covenant, not us!” So what? So what? And, furthermore, so what? What part of “by promise” and “not law” does one not understand? Again, and once again, and moreover, again, it doesn’t matter who keeps the law, the law CANNOT give life, only the new birth can give life, “You must be born again.” This is what Paul is turning himself into a pretzel to try to make clear in his letter to the Galatians, particularly chapter 3. This is the most common theology proffered in the evangelical church.

Before we move on to New Covenant Theology, let’s look a little deeper at problems with CT. The following is taken from a TANC Publishing booklet that I highly recommend, “Biblical Covenants: An Overview and Relevance to the Gospel.” That is catalog #B009, but I have uploaded it to for your free reading pleasure.

God never made a covenant with Adam. How do we know this? Because when God makes a covenant, He states it as such. God never calls any arrangement He made with Adam a “covenant.”

In the Garden of Eden, God calls them “trees” not a covenant. How do we get “covenant” from “tree”? In the six actual covenants, God says, “I will make a covenant.” God’s work arrangement with Adam was never called a covenant. His relationship with Eve was never called a covenant. When God covered Adam and Eve’s nakedness after the fall, He didn’t call that a covenant either. In all cases it’s pure assumption. However, when God says, “I will make a covenant,” that’s not an assumption.

Curiously, Adam is said to have broken the covenant, but the issue is that he disobeyed and ate from the tree of good and evil which is a separate issue from these other considerations: his task of caring for the garden, being fruitful, etc. Clarifying what this covenant was exactly and how Adam broke it by eating from the tree is speculative at best. Whenever God makes a covenant, He calls it a covenant, He specifies who the covenant is to, and also specifies the terms.

Granted, the tree of life ends up in the New Jerusalem, but what we primarily look for as Christians is the city built by God, not the tree. The tree of life is one of the results of the Abrahamic covenant, but it isn’t THE covenant or even a salvific covenant. The tree is never called a covenant. Those who posit the idea that God made a covenant with Adam must now split that covenant into two different covenants: the Edenic covenant of innocence, or the covenant of works prior to the fall and the Adamic Covenant of grace. This is what happens when you make something a covenant that isn’t a covenant; you have to come up with more covenants to explain the first covenant that wasn’t a covenant.  You search in vain for the covenants of innocence, works, or grace.

Ultimately, Christians look for the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant, not some Adamic covenant. Let’s look at some Scripture:

2Peter 3:13 – But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

We aren’t waiting for a tree, we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth.

Hebrews 11:10 – For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

Abraham was looking for a city, not a tree.

The definition of a salvific biblical covenant follows:  they are NEVER based on anything man does, nor are they predicated on an agreement between God and man. Covenants are predicated on one thing and one thing only: God’s promises. The six covenants are covenants of promise. They are NOT agreements between God and man, they are promises TO man.

Let’s now look at New Covenant Theology. This theology has a fascinating history that is very recent. I am going to borrow from a comment I made on PPT the other day with some editing:

Jon Zens, is one of the core 4 of the Australian Forum which brought the real Protestant gospel of progressive justification back to the Protestant church in 1970. Jon Zens is the undisputed father of New Covenant Theology. What’s that? Well, Zens went to Robert Brinsmead and said, in essence,

“Hey Bob, we have a good gig here with rediscovering the real Protestant gospel, but Calvin missed the boat on the law’s relationship to gospel. The idea that Christ fulfilled the law of Moses so that His perfect obedience can be imputed to the believer will not hold New Testament water. The problem here Bob is that the simple theological math doesn’t figure and somebody is going to eventually figure that out. So, Bob, we need to say that Christ came to totally abolish the law and usher in the New Testament law of love which is defined by however the gospel narrative reveals truth to our conscience. Besides, this is more what Luther had in mind: all reality is interpreted by the gospel, viz, ‘Jesus.’ This is more Augustinian as well”

HOWEVER, in both cases, there is only ONE law which makes both false gospels. The key is the Spirit’s 2 uses of the same law. That’s the gospel: all other gospels are false.  I am posting a lengthy post on this tonight that I started working on at 6am this morning which is freewriting for our 2016 project. Under law is the Spirit’s first use of the law and is still in effect for the unsaved. They are “under law.” The second use of the Spirit’s law is for those under grace. It’s the same law, but it no longer condemns, but is used to love God and others. This is where the literal new birth is essential, but only given lip service by the other 2 camps. The old you that was under the law of Moses and its condemnation literally dies with Christ, and then is resurrected with Christ as a new creature under the same law, but stripped of its condemnation which frees the believer to obey God in love and for love–not justification. Under grace doesn’t mean you are no longer under the law, it means that you are no longer under its condemnation. Those under law are not totally depraved and can do good works, but the only wages they can receive are death and lesser condemnation. Those under grace can sin because of the weakness of the flesh, but can only receive life to more or lesser degree. This is what the slave/master construct is all about.2

Let me explain this a little further with another excerpt; this somewhat repeats the previous point but adds some additional points:

It is the idea that the law is the standard for justification. And since that is the case, a perfect keeping of it must be maintained by Jesus THROUGH faith alone by us in sanctification. That’s the simple math of Protestantism’s soteriology of death. Instead of the law being ENDED for justification paving the way for it to be the guiding instruction of the law of the Spirit of life for sanctification, the law is restricted to the single dimension of condemnation, sin, and death.

Hence, sin maintains all of its power over us because its ENDING for justification, or APART from justification, does not exist in Reformed orthodoxy. Clearly, the power of sin and death is the law’s ability to condemn, and “Christians” are kept under that condemnation with the prescription being a COVERING for sin by institutional absolution and the “active obedience” of Christ.

When those who have sense enough to be disillusioned take another look, this simple fact of law and gospel will be obvious to them. And during the resurgence of real Protestantism in the 70’s, a man named Jon Zens knew that this simple math posed a problem for the Resurgence in the future. He was viciously attacked by Reformed Baptists early on like Walter Chantry, but like all of the rest, Chantry was clueless. Zens was only trying to correct the faulty theological math.

What was his solution? It follows: Christ in fact came to end the law, and replaced it with…depending on which New Calvinist theology (NCT) camp you are referring to…the single law of love. Instead of ONE law with two different applications/perspectives/dimensions, two different laws: one abrogated, one ushered in. A helpful book that explains the many variants of this viewpoint is “All Old Testament Laws Cancelled: 24 Reasons Why All Old Testament Laws Are Cancelled And All New Testament Laws Are for Our Obedience” by Greg Gibson. Like all of the Reformed, Gibson is confused and fundamentally full of it, but he does an excellent job of explaining all of the variant positions of NCT. However, in the final analysis, all of it is the same old progressive justification song and dance.3


This is the dreaded nemesis of both CT and NCT. Let’s go back to Wki to get a beginning definition:

John Nelson Darby is recognized as the father of dispensationalism, which was later adopted, modified significantly and then made popular in the United States by Cyrus Scofield’s Scofield Reference Bible. Charles Henry Mackintosh, 1820–96, with his popular style spread Darby’s teachings to humbler elements in society and may be regarded as the journalist of the Brethren Movement. Mackintosh popularized Darby more than any other Brethren author.

As there was no Christian teaching of a “rapture” before Darby began preaching about it in the 1830s, he is sometimes credited with originating the “secret rapture” theory wherein Christ will suddenly remove his bride, the Church, from this world before the judgments of the tribulation. Dispensationalist beliefs about the fate of the Jews and the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Israel put dispensationalists at the forefront of Christian Zionism, because “God is able to graft them in again”, and they believe that in his grace he will do so according to their understanding of Old Testament prophecy. They believe that, while the methodologies of God may change, his purposes to bless Israel will never be forgotten, just as he has shown unmerited favour to the Church, he will do so to a remnant of Israel to fulfill all the promises made to the genetic seed of Abraham…

They also gave the dispensationalist movement institutional permanence by assuming leadership of the new independent Bible institutes such as the Moody Bible Institute in 1886, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola University) in 1908, and Philadelphia College of Bible (now Cairn University, formerly Philadelphia Biblical University) in 1913. The network of related institutes that soon sprang up became the nucleus for the spread of American dispensationalism.

The efforts of CI Scofield and his associates introduced dispensationalism to a wider audience in America through hisScofield Reference Bible. The publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 by the Oxford University Press for the first time displayed overtly dispensationalist notes to the pages of the Biblical text. The Scofield Reference Bible became a popular Bible used by independent Evangelicals and Fundamentalists in the United States. Evangelist and Bible teacher Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871–1952), who was influenced by Scofield, founded the Dallas Theological Seminary in 1924, which has become the flagship of dispensationalism in America. More recently, the Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, became another dispensational school.

The Grace Movement, which began about 1938 with the teaching ministries of JC O’Hair, Cornelius R. Stam, Henry T. Hudson, and Charles Baker has been labeled “ultra” or “hyper” dispensationalism.4

The last paragraph is really what I wanted to get to. Did the forest ever get lost in the trees with all of the eschatology debate; wow! What a mess! Add it to the election debate as well. Are you pretrib, post trib, premil, postmil, amil, prewrath, postwrath, 1 point, 2 point, 3 point, preterist, Arminian, Palagian, Semi-Pelagian, etc., etc., etc., etc. What should the focus really be here? Yes, aside from the rapture debate, and the future of Israel, what is the soteriology (doctrine of salvation)? And what is dispensationalism? The same old song and dance of progressive justification and its singular perspective on the law.

Enter in the Law Dispensation and the Grace Dispensation, the two primary or foundational dispensations of dispensationalism. If you follow this ministry at all you can see where this is going right away. Dispensationalism goes something like this: God used the dispensation of law to show mankind that it is impossible for him to keep the law…right…“perfectly.” So here comes Jesus to do what? Right, keep the law perfectly for us. Folks, it’s all the same stuff.

So how is the right theology, the biblical theology different, and what is it? It’s the covenant of promise. 5 Note footnote #5, it’s my latest post on the covenant of promise and it goes into a lot of detail. It’s not CT, it’s not NCT, and it’s not Dispensationalism. It is the promise made to Abraham based on one seed and the other promises (covenants) that are part of the one promise. This post explains the covenant of promise, but most importantly, how it is related to the gospel, and how everything else fits into it. Very difficult it was to find a defining paragraph in the article, but here is what I decided to use:

The covenant of promise is a gospel that stands in contrast to all other gospels which make the law of sin and death the standard for righteousness and a co-life-giver with God. There is only one mediator of life. Christ did not come to fulfill the law of sin and death, the Old Covenant, which holds sin captive. He came to end that law for those who believe. Nor did Christ come to be a substitute for that law in the lives of believers for that law is for the unbelieving—not the saved. Instead, Christ came to set the captives free from that law in order to serve the righteousness of the law in loving service with no fear of condemnation. There is no fear in love because fear has to do with judgment (1Jn 4:16-19).

With that let’s go to the phones.



2History of the Australian Forum is detailed in The Truth About New Calvinism vol.1

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