Selective Precision

While seeking to rectify Priscilla’s teaching of Apollos in Acts 18:26 with Paul’s ban on women teaching or exercising authority over men in 1 Timothy 2:12, I came across a very interesting website that explores the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism. As I read through several of the articles, a completely separate issue began to make its way to the forefront of my mind.

Marg Mowczko very rightly and accurately points out in her article Were There Women Elders in New Testament Churches? (Part 2) that the word used for “elders” in the New Testament is a third person plural adjective. Just like English, the Greek third person plural is gender neutral, which means that, in theory, “elders” could be a group of men, a group of women, or a mixed group. The precision with which Mowczko analyzes the word’s use in the New Testament and the instances in which it almost certainly includes women in the group is commendable.

She then says in her article 1 Timothy 2:12 in Context (Part 5) that “difficulties and uncertainties should preclude 1 Timothy 2:12 from being used as a definitive text or proof text on the issue of women in ministry.” In other words, Paul’s intended meaning is unclear, and one cannot claim to know with certainty how 1 Timothy 2:12 impacts the issue of women in ministry.

Then, only two sentences later, she says, “The language shows that it [1 Timothy 2:12] was not intended to be a universal, timeless ban on all women as teachers or leaders.” Wait a minute. I thought there were difficulties and uncertainties associated with 1 Timothy 2:12 that preclude anyone knowing whether Paul intended his ban to be universal or not.

As I contemplated what I had just read, it dawned on me that all Christians want the Bible to teach what they believe, but the real question is whether we want to believe what the Bible teaches.

It is very easy for us to come to the Bible looking for justification for our beliefs, applying exegetical and theological precision when it benefits us and then using more pliable methods when the text does not quite fit with what we already think. The real challenge is to recognize what we bring with us to the text and then analyze precisely how that presupposition influences our interpretation and then determine whether or not that presupposition has helped us arrive at the author’s intended meaning or whether it has prevented us from arriving at the author’s intended meaning.

No one comes to the Bible with a blank slate. We all look at the text through a particular lens. Our summons as those who desire to follow Christ is to ask whether our lens brings the meaning of the text into focus or whether it blurs the meaning. At different times, it will most certainly do both. When the lens clarifies the author’s meaning, we must by all means keep looking through that lens. When it obscures the author’s meaning, we must seek a new prescription or be in danger of following our own preconceived notions that were hatched somewhere in the recesses of our own psyche.

Receiving the Word With Great Eagerness

“The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

–Acts 17:10–11 NASB

All Christians should “receive the word with great eagerness,” but what exactly does that mean? If we were to take the phrase by itself, we might conclude that it means taking the word at face value and not asking any questions or applying any critical thought. Fortunately, though, Luke does not give us the phrase by itself. He provides an additional qualifying phase that tells exactly what he means by “received the word with great eagerness.”

Luke tells us that the way the Bereans received the word with great eagerness was by “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things [spoken by Paul] were so.” Think about that for a moment. Examining the Scriptures to determine whether the things spoken by the minister of the word is the way in which the word is received with great eagerness.

The lesson here is short and simple. Anyone who hears the word of God proclaimed by the mouth of a man has the obligation to examine the written word of God in order to determine whether the words spoken by the minister are congruent with the written word of God.

Tyrants would have us think otherwise. They wish us to accept their spoken word as if it were the very word of God without asking any questions. While it is true that we must accept the spoken word as if it were the very word of God, we must only do so when the spoken word is actually the word of God. There is only one way to determine if the spoken word is the word of God. That is by examining the Scriptures to see if the things spoken are congruent with what is written.

So, I encourage all Christians everyone to be Berean and accept the word of God with great eagerness by examining the Scriptures carefully to see if the things spoken by the minister are congruent with the words written in the Bible.

Reasoning From the Scriptures

“Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”

–Acts 17:1–3 (NASB)

What is most striking about this passage is that the Apostle Paul, the man who had the risen Lord appear to him and commission him as an apostolic missionary, reasons with the Jews from the Scriptures. What this tells the modern reader is, in short, that any theological conclusion we reach must come from the Scriptures.

For those within the various Christian traditions who still hold a high view of the Bible, this lesson is well-understood and embraced. What may not be understood as clearly, though, is Luke’s intended meaning of “from the Scriptures.” Everyone within my own theological tradition agrees that the Bible is the authoritative rule for all matters of faith and practice; but the Bible is sixty-six books, written in three different languages by more than forty authors over a period of more than a thousand years. All of which means that the Bible lends itself to various methods of interpretation.

So, the question I want to pose is this. When Luke says that Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures,” does he mean that Paul took information contained in Scripture and extrapolated from it, thus reaching conclusions that are not specifically written in Scripture but that have Scripture as their foundation, or does he mean that Paul reasoned with them to accept what God specifically says in Scripture? Luke does not feel the need to provide an answer to that question, but it is one that we must ask ourselves as we formulate our own theological beliefs.

The issue of baptism is a good example of what I am talking about. God does not specifically say anywhere in Scripture that infants of believers should be baptized. Yet, pedobaptists will argue that God says other things that, when put together, lead to the conclusion from the Scriptures that infants of believers should be baptized. Is that what Luke has in mind when he says, “from the Scriptures”?

Matthew Henry believes it is. He says in his commentary on Acts, “The preaching of the gospel should be both scriptural preaching and rational; such Paul’s was, for he reasoned out of the scriptures: we must take the scriptures for our foundation, our oracle, and touchstone, and then reason out of them and upon them.” In other words, we have the duty to take the information contained in Scripture and make rational arguments and conclusions based upon that information.

Though he would agree with Henry on the issue of Baptism, Calvin offers a much narrower definition of “from the Scriptures” in his commentary on Acts, saying, “The proofs of faith are to be sought only from the mouth of God. When we discuss human affairs, human arguments have their place; but in the doctrine of faith, only God’s authority must reign, and we must rely on it.” I admit that it is somewhat unfair to pit Henry and Calvin against each other as they would almost certainly agree on this issue if they were to sit at a table together and discuss it. Nevertheless, Calvin’s words highlight the fact that there is a difference between the authoritative words spoken by the mouth of God (and written in the Bible) and human arguments. It is one thing to reach theological conclusions based upon the inspired words of God, but is it another thing to reach theological conclusions based upon human reasoning that begins with the inspired words of God?

As I said earlier, Luke does not feel the need to answer this question. Yet, we must answer the question for ourselves if we are to trust the theological conclusions we reach. Christians have answered the question in different ways throughout history, so I will not say that one answer is right while another is wrong. Rather, my aim is merely to encourage all Christians to determine for themselves what they mean by “from the Scriptures.”

End Notes

John Calvin, Acts, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1995), Ac 17:2.

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), Ac 17:2.

 

Doctrine Always has a Place

The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.    –Acts 11:23–24 (NASB)

There are a number of really interesting things going on in Acts 11, one of which is what we see in Barnabas when he arrives in Antioch. The apostles in Jerusalem did not know anything about the church there. They had only heard that a great number of Greeks had turned to the Lord. So, they dispatched Barnabas to investigate.

Luke tells us that when Barnabas arrives, he witnesses the grace of God and is glad. This means that he observed the fruit of the Spirit among them. Somehow, apart from the direct work of the apostles, the gospel had reached the ears of the people in Antioch, and Barnabas was happy to see it. In other words, the gospel had been faithfully preached in a way that bore fruit. Barnabas surely would not have been happy if it were otherwise.

What he does next is a relatively small detail in terms of the overall message of Acts 11, but sometimes the minor points can be just as important as the main point. After approving of the teaching they had already received, Barnabas teaches them. Luke does not use that terminology, but encouraging “them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord” is nothing less than teaching.

In modern times, doctrine can sometimes be seen in a negative light, but doctrine is merely a word that refers to the content of what is taught. Barnabas came across a group of sincere believers whose doctrine was in order, and he gave them more doctrine.

Surely the lesson here for the modern church is that doctrine is important. Most doctrine is not essential, but neither is changing the oil in your car every 3,000 miles. I had a Buick LeSabre in college that would regularly go 10,000 miles or more without an oil change. Just because it is not essential does not mean it is not important. If it was good for Barnabas to give more doctrine to the church in Antioch, shouldn’t it be good for all churches everywhere to study doctrine?

The saying “doctrine divides” is catchy but untrue. The reality is that people divide because we think we are more important or better than others, sometimes because our non-essential doctrines are different from theirs. Doctrine itself does not divide. It edifies and therefore always has a place, and important place, in the church.

Jesus Came To Call The . . .

For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. –Luke 19:10 (NASB)

This simple statement has to be one of the deepest truths known in the universe. The Son of Man, Deity incarnate, came to earth not just to seek that which was lost but also to save that which was lost. And what was lost? Mankind was lost.

There are a few elements that set Christianity apart from all other religions, and this is one of them. God took it upon himself to enter our world, become one of us, and drag us out of this world and into his. This is the exact inverse of what the natural mind would expect. While other religions spur men to take it upon themselves to enter God’s world, Christianity rejoices at the fact that God has entered ours and delivers us into his.

As startling as this may be, there was no other option. A lost man does not even know where he is, much less where God is. It is easier to grasp water with the hand than for a natural man to seek and find God. If God and man are to be united, it can only be through God seeking and finding man.

Those who have spent time in the wilderness know that the most important thing is to remain aware of one’s location. If a man becomes lost yet refuses to acknowledge it, he has no hope of getting un-lost. The same is true on the spiritual level. When the scribes and Pharisees grumbled at Jesus for eating with sinners and tax collectors, Jesus responded by saying, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). The “righteous” were just as lost as the sinners and tax collectors. They just didn’t know it. The sinners and tax collectors knew who they were, and they knew what they needed.

Christians live in the interesting situation of having been found, forgiven, and legally justified through the life and work of Jesus Christ, yet our need of a physician persists. Fortunately, we remain in the care of the Great Physician. He has begun his work in us, but he is not finished. We remain just as dependent on him today as when we were lost in the wilderness. We knew what we needed then. Do we know what we need today? Sometimes, the simple Sunday school answer is the right answer.

The Trinity in the Resurrection

One of the most amazing statements to come from Jesus is found in John 2:19. In reference to his own body, he says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (NASB). He echoes the same theme in John 10, saying in reference again to his life in verse 18, “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”

Who talks this way? Some men may talk about laying down their life for a cause or another person; but no one talks about taking up us life after he has given it as a sacrifice, except Jesus. There are many unique things about the person of Jesus Christ, but one of the most extraordinary has to be his willingness to give up his life and his ability to subsequently walk out of the grave.

As profound as this is, there is something even more elaborate going on here. While Jesus claims to be the one who brings himself back from the dead, Paul clearly refers to the Father who raised Jesus from the dead in Galatians 1:1. So, we see both the Son and the Father depicted as the one who resurrects Jesus body.

Yet, there is still more. In Romans 8:11, Paul refers to the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead. Now, we have three actors in the play . . . the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit . . . and all three are said to be the one who raises Jesus from the dead.

The obvious conclusion, as Peter says in 1 Peter 1:21, is that God is the one who raises Jesus from the dead. While succinct teachings on the Trinity are hard to come by in the Bible, this is once instance in which all three Persons are described as engaging in the same act, an act that is distinctly reserved for deity.

So, while Easter is typically and rightly focused on the Son and his victory over death, let it also be a reminder that the God of the Bible is triune. He is one God who exists in three persons, each of whom act in harmony and agreement with one another in laying the cornerstone of the Christian faith . . . the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Filled With the Spirit

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father. 

-Ephesians 5:18–19 (NASB)

There are a few different ways in which a believer may be filled with the Holy Spirit. Those who began speaking in tongues at Pentecost are described as being “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). Peter is described in Acts 4:8 as being “filled with the Holy Spirit” as he proclaims God’s word to his accusers. Stephen is said to be “full of the Holy Spirit” at his stoning (Acts 7:55).

Setting aside the debate over the continuation of the charismatic gifts (it is safe to conclude that the total of four tongues events in Acts do not constitute everyday activity), there are two remaining ways in which believers may be full of the Holy Spirit today. They may be empowered for ministry, as Peter is in Acts 4; or they may be given strengths or abilities to help them in their personal life, as Stephen is in Acts 7.

All believers experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit on that personal level, beginning with regeneration and continuing on through the process of sanctification. Whether everyone is also equipped by the Holy Spirit for ministry is a topic for another day. The point of this article is to highlight the fact that every believer, in some way, is filled with the Holy Spirit.

What is most interesting about this point is the Greek word pleroo that is translated into English as “filled.” In all of its uses in relation to the Spirit in the New Testament, it is used in a metaphorical sense and carries the meaning of being generously supplied with something. In other words, the Holy Spirit does not literally fill up the body of the believer. Human bodies are actually full of tissue, bone, blood, and water (and some other physical stuff). Rather, when the believer is filled with the Spirit, he is generously supplied with the Spirit. In other words, the believer has generous access to God the Spirit. Do not take this as just a general reference to “the believer.” The reality is that every individual believer, including each one reading this article, has generous and direct access to God the Spirit.

Consider the implications of this for a moment. The Creator of the universe, the one who holds the breath of all mankind in his hand (Job 12:10), the one who spoke everything into existence and sustains it by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3), he gives all Christians generous access to himself through his Spirit. The is an amazing truth that brings to life the promise that God himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

This promise is true at all times, in all places, through all circumstances, for all of God’s people. Through trials and hardships, in times of apparent setbacks in maturity and sanctification, in times of rejoicing and times of grief, nothing can separate God’s people from his love (Romans 8:38–39) because he has, of his own volition and for his own joy, decided to generously supply his people with the Holy Spirit.

So, be filled with the Holy Spirit; and out of that fullness, speak to your Christian brothers and sisters in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and rend your hearts to God as the symphony of his people, always giving thanks to God for all things.

Evangelicals Believe In Santa Claus

Although most Evangelicals would staunchly deny that they believe in Santa Claus, that is simply not true.  I think it is fair to say that most Evangelicals believe that carrying on the tradition of Santa Claus is carrying on a tradition that is a lie.  Even worse, substituting Santa for Jesus is a cardinal sin. But even a cursory examination of an Evangelical’s doctrinal beliefs is sufficient to prove that the god he worships is none other than Santa himself.  Do you doubt what I have written?  Consider these truths:

  1. The evangelical god lives up there somewhere and keeps an eye on everyone, seeking to discover if they are naughty or nice, just like Santa does.  Nice people are those who are nice to their neighbors and naughty people are those who do not make the decision to exercise their free will to believe in Santa.
  2. The evangelical god really likes everybody, even the naughty ones, and will give everyone a gift whether he shows up on the naughty or the nice list, just like Santa does.  The belief that Jesus died for everyone, making salvation accessible to anyone who is willing to use his free will to accept the gift, is exactly what Santa does each Christmas.
  3. The evangelical god is semi-powerful in that he is able to do nice things but not really able to control the evil that is in the world, just like Santa.  Santa runs into all sorts of problems.  From thick fog conditions without Rudolph to malfunctions in his sleigh’s engine to unruly reindeer on Christmas Eve, Santa has his hands full trying to do nice things for the world.  In the same way the Evangelical god is constantly thwarted by his arch-enemy Satan who is able to prevent him from doing what he wants by planting thoughts into the minds of people which keep them from exercising their free will to accept Santa’s free gift of salvation.
  4. The evangelical god really enjoys hearing the prayers of his people, especially those that constantly nag him to give his people more stuff, just like Santa.  Indeed, all Santa ever does is ask people what they want for Christmas.  His only joy in life is giving stuff to people.  Santa loves it when he gets long letters from people listing all of the shiny things they want him to bring for them.  In the same fashion the evangelical god does little more than listen to an endless list of petitions for health, wealth and prosperity.  And, if my understanding of evangelical teaching is correct, all their god really wants to do is give people more stuff.  Sadly, his people often don’t get more stuff because they don’t exercise their free will properly or Satan comes along and spoils the party.
  5. The evangelical god thinks nothing of promoting his own glory, that would be selfishness in the eyes of an Evangelical, and spends all of his time day-dreaming of his true love….the people of earth.  In the same way Santa is the classic epiphany of selflessness.  He never thinks about himself and he has no desire to promote his own glory in any way, shape or fashion.  All he cares about is the sum total  of the individual human beings who walk about the earth.  Oh, he just loves them so much!
  6. The evangelical god gets sad when individual humans do not accept the free gift of salvation he brings to them on Christmas day, but he continues to leave that gift for them anyway.  Santa also loves all human beings so much he would send all of his gift-bearing elves to men even if the men they were sent to brutally murdered them each time they showed up.  Santa is infamous for not “giving up” on people, even though they make him sad when they are naughty.  He knows that if he keeps giving people gifts even  the most hardhearted will eventually be softened and use his free will to accept his gift.  That is what keeps Santa going year after year.  Santa would never shake the dust off his feet and abandon any human being, just like the evangelical god.
  7. The evangelical god loves everyone, whether they are naughty or nice, and has a wonderful plan for them that he can’t possibly bring to fruition because Satan and man’s free will keep getting in the way.  Santa is the same predicament.  He has a plan for niceness all around the world but despite his best efforts every Christmas Eve he is incapable of preventing sin, war, hatred, death and evil throughout the rest of the year.  And, just like the Evangelicals’ god is not the “author of evil,” Santa is never held responsible for his impotency and broken promises.  Every year he promises a boatload of good and happy things and every year the world continues to wallow in its sin.

I have news for you Virginia…..Santa does not exist.  He is an interesting myth and, unlike the Evangelicals, I believe he is a harmless myth when properly taught, but he does not exist.  In the exact same way the god of the Evangelicals also does not exist.  Their belief in him, however, is far from harmless.  It will condemn their souls for eternity.

New Covenant Nonsense: Covenant Theology

This is part of a series of posts on New Covenant Nonsense. Click here to see the entire series.


To describe the essentials of covenant theology I have selected two historic Reformed confessions. Those documents are the London Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Westminster Confession of Faith. I have extracted the statements relevant to covenant theology from each of these confessions and they are quoted below:

The Westminster Confession of Faith says this about the doctrine of the covenant:

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to Him as their Creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life except by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, and this He has been pleased to express in the form of a covenant….Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant (‘That covenant’ is a reference to the ‘covenant of works’ which had been previously stated in this confession as a covenant God made with Adam prior to the fall. The Baptists rejected the notion of a ‘covenant of works’ and did not include it in their confession, ed.), the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the Covenant of Grace: whereby he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in the scripture by the name of a Testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belong to it, therein bequeathed. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel; under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.
Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

The London Baptist Confession of 1689 says this about the doctrine of the covenant:

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to Him as their Creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life except by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, and this He has been pleased to express in the form of a covenant. Moreover, as man had brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace. In this covenant He freely offers to sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring from them faith in Him that they may be saved, and promising to give to all who are appointed to eternal life His Holy Spirit to make them willing and able to believe.

This covenant is revealed through the Gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by further steps until the full revelation of it became complete in the New Testament. The covenant of salvation rests upon an eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect. It is solely by the grace of this covenant that all the descendants of fallen Adam who have ever been saved have obtained life and blessed immortality, because man is now utterly incapable of gaining acceptance with God on the terms by which Adam stood in his state of innocence.

Although the Baptists and Presbyterians were united in their belief in regards to the “covenant of grace” in general, there are significant differences between the two confessions on the doctrine of the covenant of grace in particular. Both parties agreed that God saved His people by means of the covenant of grace. Both parties agreed that His people were saved by this covenant both under the Old and New testaments. Both parties agreed that membership in the covenant of grace was determined by the Triune God before the creation of the universe. As the London confession says, ” The covenant of salvation rests upon an eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect.” Both parties, however, did not agree on all elements of the covenant of grace.

The Westminster Confession goes into much greater detail about the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and how both fit into the covenant of grace. The London Baptist Confession omits, or ignores, all of these items. Indeed, the entire Old Testament period is described as a period in which God simply took “further steps” in revealing His plan of salvation. Those further steps are not described or detailed in any way.

The Westminster Confession goes into great detail describing the relationship of the sacraments in the two testaments. The logically necessary connection between circumcision and baptism is made. The unity of the two testaments had been an essential part of Reformed theology from the time of Calvin. Indeed, Calvin devoted two entire chapters in his “Institutes” to the topic. The Baptists were aware of this fact but made the decision to ignore the doctrines that were, in the mind of the Presbyterians, logically necessary if the doctrine of the covenant of grace was true. This, of course, allowed the Baptists to preserve their doctrine of credo-baptism.

It is my assertion that the Baptists were able to maintain their doctrine of credo-baptism only because they made the conscious decision to not push the doctrine of the covenant of grace to it’s logical conclusion with respect to the sacraments. The Presbyterians had done so and integrated it into their confession. The Baptists did not. The end result was a factionalized church in which a great deal of energy was expended in throwing theological bombs and calling each other names. That, of course, has continued down to this day. The war between credo-baptists and paedo-baptists continues.

Despite all of the theological infighting over the doctrine of baptism, a truce of sorts managed to evolve. Each group realized it was not going to change the other and Baptists and Presbyterians were able to coexist. Presbyterians accused Baptists of not following through on their doctrine of the covenant of grace and Baptists accused Presbyterians of going too far with their doctrine of the covenant of grace. Then, the new covenant theologians came along. They changed all the rules.

New Covenant Nonsense: Introduction

This is the first of a series of posts on New Covenant Nonsense. Click here to see the entire series.


There is a theological movement afoot that has gained ground in Evangelicalism in recent years that is, I believe, very dangerous. The members of this theological movement call themselves “new covenant” theologians and they allege that they are bringing an entirely new theological perspective to the Christian Church. In this essay I will prove that they are, in fact, just another version of the ancient errors of antinomianism, Marcionism and mysticism. The historical background from which they come allows them to believe that they are unique, but they are not.

In this essay I will attempt to describe what new covenant theology is. This is a difficult task to accomplish because there is a great deal of theological variety within the camp of those who refer to themselves as new covenant theologians. It is also a difficult task to accomplish because new covenant theologians pride themselves in not presenting a comprehensive system of theological thought that can be systematically analyzed. Instead, they have a very limited set of doctrines on which they make positive assertions and everything else seems to be made up as they go along. Nevertheless, I will endeavor to present theological positions that are generally held by the majority of those who call themselves new covenant. I will make every effort to present their views accurately and not create a straw man based upon the aberrant views of some new covenant extremists. (A note about punctuation. Some might consider new covenant theology to be worthy of being a proper noun and, therefore, subject to capitalization. I do not. All references in this essay to new covenant theology are lower case.)

I will also show where new covenant theology really comes from. New covenant theology vainly attempts to reconcile logically contradictory theological traditions. Although new covenant theologians believe they have succeeded in their attempt, I will prove they have failed miserably. Not only have they failed, they have created dangerous theological positions that flirt with theological heresy. In many cases the logically necessary conclusions that must be drawn from new covenant theological positions are heretical. A good portion of this essay will consist of dealing with a hodge-podge of theological ideas that are generated by a small number of new covenant positions. In each of those cases I will attempt to show that new covenant theology falls apart because it is inherently contradictory. The contradictory nature of new covenant theology does not seem to bother it’s proponents. They blithely go on making their limited number of theological propositions all the while ignoring the necessary consequences of their assertions.

As is the case with all modern heresies, a distinction must be made between heresy and being a heretic. I believe new covenant theology is necessarily heretical. It does not follow that all who hold to the views of new covenant theology are heretics. Indeed, I suspect most of the preachers of the new covenant simply refuse to push their theological positions to their logical conclusions and, therefore, avoid heresy in that manner. I draw no conclusions about the state of the souls of those who believe in the new covenant. It is none of my business. I will draw many conclusions about the stream of theological nonsense that is coming out of this camp of professing believers.
New covenant theologians love to present themselves as operating without a theological system. In one sense this statement is correct. Their doctrines are very limited in scope and they by no means present a comprehensive theological system to the Church. They then profess to take the theological high ground over their opponents, whom they allege are hopelessly mired in theological error because of the theological system that they have adopted. In this sense, new covenant theologians love to describe themselves as “biblical theologians” rather than “systematic theologians”. They believe that they avoid all of the eisegetical doctrinal errors inherent in a theological system and they profess to operate under a pure exegesis that deals with the biblical text alone. This claim will be examined.

As far as professing to not operating under a theological system is concerned, nothing could be further from the truth. New covenant proponents have a well established system and they use it constantly. I will prove that below. There is a great air of arrogance surrounding most of the adherents to new covenant theology. Just as Dispensationalists love to assert that they are superior to all their opponents because they are the only group to use the “literal” method of biblical interpretation, so new covenant theologians claim to be the only group without a man made theological system impeding their interpretations of the Bible. I will prove that most of them suffer from a tremendous amount of spiritual pride. Whether their pride is the result or the cause of their position is open to debate. Nevertheless, they are generally a group of men who are quite arrogant and prideful. This will be seen in what follows. Before discussing what new covenant theologians believe it is worth taking a moment to review what covenant theologians believe. Then, a comparison can be made. We will get to that in a moment.

I must make a comment about the credo-baptist/paedo-baptist debate. I have no intention of entering into a
debate on baptism. I adopt the paedo-baptist position and assume it throughout this essay. I consider all Baptists to be weaker brothers on the doctrine of baptism. I recognize and accept their convictions with respect to the doctrine of baptism. I also assert that a doctrine will be known by it’s fruits. No biblical doctrine, when pressed to it’s logical conclusions, can bring about confusion, contradiction and heresy. If a doctrine does bear this negative fruit, it is not a biblical doctrine. This essay will show that new covenant theology bears a tremendous amount of rotten fruit.

I will conclude this essay with some tales of the pastoral fruit of new covenant theology. In a very short period of time I have witnessed a massive amount of spiritual carnage that was the direct result of applying new covenant doctrines to pastoral/counseling situations. These men need to be held accountable for the damage they are doing. These men need to repent of their erroneous views and stop persecuting God’s people. But first, what is covenant theology?