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WHAT ARE THE MAJOR CHARACTERISTICS OF NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY?

By
Dr. Gary D. Long

As presented at the 29TH annual Sovereign Grace Doctrinal Conference
Saldo, Texas
October 9, 2004

New Covenant Theology is a developing system of theology that provides a more biblical way to interpret the Scriptures. It is based upon a redemptive history approach to understanding the fulfillment of God's eternal kingdom purpose on earth. Its principles of interpretation, i.e., its hermeneutic, are based upon a biblical theology that stresses the theology of the Bible itself. NCT challenges the basic theological presuppositions of the Covenant of Grace system of Covenant Theology and the two redemptive purposes of Dispensational Theology. The driving motive of NCT is BACK TO THE BIBLE. NCT emphasizes the inductive study of the Bible. A major objective of NCT is that its hermeneutic will help bring doctrinal unity in this sin-wrecked world by breaking down the middle walls of doctrinal partition that exist within the theological systems of Covenant Theology (CT) and Dispensational Theology (DT). The following is a partial list of NCT characteristics.

  • The discernment of the Holy spirit is absolutely essential for accurately handling the Word of God (I Cor. 2:13-14; II Tim. 2:15) and that the most important principle of interpretation is “contextual exegesis.” Contextual biblical exegesis demands grammatical / historical / theological principles of interpretation.
  • The imputation of Adam's first sin is to all mankind (Rom. 5:12d, 18a-19a), the elects' sins to Christ (II Cor. 5:21), and Christ's righteousness to the elect (Rom. 5:18b-19b) are vital for the Christian faith. Without the doctrine of imputation the whole doctrine of the substitutionary atonement and justification by faith alone in Christ alone are undermined (Rom. 5:12-19).
  • God's plan of salvation is revealed and administered through the unfolding of biblical covenants in the flow of redemptive history, not through the theologically deduced system of CT's Covenant of Works/Covenant of Grace/Covenant of Redemption schema.
  • The Law of God is both absolute and covenantal (Matt. 5:17-20). God's “absolute law” is innate, written on the heart of man created in the image of God. It is God's unchanging standard of righteousness. God's “covenantal law,” however, is written and changeable according to the covenant being administered.
  • The love of God and the love of neighbor are the two greatest commandments (Matt. 22:36-40) upon which the whole Law and the Prophets hang. This means that the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue, hang upon these two greatest commandments, not the reverse as CT teaches.
  • The Ten Commandments are a covenantal outworking of the two greatest commandments in redemptive history not the reverse. They were given through the hand of Moses to the nation of Israel first at Mount Sinai (Exod. 20).
  • The Fourth Commandment, the Sabbath commandment, being the sign of the Mosaic Covenant (Exod. 31:15-17), is not a creation ordinance as taught by CT.
  • The Ten Commandments are not eternal moral law first written in the heart of man at creation and forever binding upon all mankind as CT teaches in its confessions of faith e.g., the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and the 1689 Confession. In fact, the term “moral law” does not occur in the Bible. Although under any given covenantal administration, man is morally obligated to obey all of God's commandments, yet the Bible does not separate God's law into three parts: moral, ceremonial and civil. Historically, this threefold separation was not substantially taught until the time of Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century and in the 16th century by Calvin.
  • The Decalogue is not “transcovenantal” and, therefore, does not function outside the Old Covenant as a unit as much of CT teaches.
  • Christ came not to destroy the OT Scriptures but to fulfill them, which includes the Decalogue. The New Covenant law is called the law of Christ which is distinguished from Mosaic law and from the Gentiles who do not have a written revelation of God's law (I Cor. 9:20-21).
  • The law of Christ is not to be equated with the Decalogue. Although the law of Christ, the law of the NC people of God, is related to the Decalogue in that it incorporates nine of the Ten Commandments, the law of Christ is a better law than the law of Moses (Matt. 5:21-48; Heb. 7:19) because (1) it is a higher revelation of the righteousness of God (Matt: 5:20); (2) it is based upon a higher standard of love (Matt. 4:44); and, (3) Christ's inauguration of the New Covenant brings in things that are qualitatively “newer,” expressed in developing the theological significance of such basic concepts as new wineskins, new teaching, new commandment, new creation, new man, new name, new song, new Jerusalem and all things new (Rev. 21:5).
  • Christ merited righteousness for the elect by His total obedience to the will of the Father in His life and death (Matt. 3:15; Rom. 5:19).
  • The OC Sabbath commandment is typologically fulfilled by Christ for the people of God who rest in Him by faith (Heb. 4:9-10).
  • New Covenant believers are in-lawed to Christ; they are not under the OC law of Moses but under the grace of the NC (Rom. 6:14). NCT does not equate the law of Christ with the Decalogue as do many holding to CT.
  • The indwelling Holy Spirit is the norm for Christian living. NCT does not teach that the Ten Commandments are the only objective standard for evaluating the Christian life. Rather, NCT emphasizes that it is the Spirit who enables the Christian to have a godly walk (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:16-18).
  • The Church, which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18), was first formed in history when the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost not in past history under the OC. Most holding to CT see the Church existing in the OT before Pentecost. NCT does not. Contrary to DT, NCT sees only one redemptive purpose for the people of God, which is the Church, the good olive tree (Rom. 11), the body of Christ (Eph. 2:13-22; 3:1-12).
  • The ordinance of water baptism is the pledge of membership in the New Covenant for believers alone and the sign of the New Covenant is not baptism, rather the sign is the cup, which memorializes the New Covenant in Christ's blood (I Cor. 11:25).
  • The “now-not yet” principle of interpretation is essential to understand the teaching of the NT. The Christian experiences the commencement of “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3), yet he still awaits the consummation of these blessings at Christ's return. The End has come! The End has not come! The whole theology of the NT is qualified by this tension: between the “already” or “now” and the “not yet” (I John 3:2).
  • The “recapitulation” principle is essential to understand the NT prophetic Scriptures (Matt. 24:4-14 and 24:15-31; Rev. 11:15-12).
  • The “blessed hope” will occur when Christ returns (Titus 2:13) to earth bodily and visibly (Acts 1:11) at the Second Advent to resurrect, judge and consign the saved to heaven and the lost to a Christless eternity (John 5:28-29).
     
    Dr. Gary Long is President of Providence Theological Seminary in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Feel free to visit their website, ptsco.org for more information.
     


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