Who Owes Me Three Dollars?

February 15, 2007

Christian Mind Paper Part VII

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 4:17 am

Covenant and Systematic Theology

The covenant, and specifically the covenant redemption, in my view, is the seed which germinates into a full blown biblical theology and a fully explicated systematic theology. If a discussion of Biblical theology is about the organic development through the Bible of the redemptive acts of God, the acorn to oak metaphor, then the covenant of redemption is the seed that gives birth to the acorn. Likewise, this same covenant contains within it the basis for those individual doctrines that form the basis for our reformed systematics. Therefore, the covenant of redemption is indispensable for doing theology. We express nearly all we know about the trinity in covenantal terms. It under girds the whole thesis of this paper by defending the assertion that God is a covenantal being. God’s covenantal nature, then, becomes the basis for God’s covenantal relationship with his creation. Further, God’s mode of revelation to his creatures is by means of a covenantal document administrating that relationship.

The following are a few of the areas where the covenants steer a clear path to a solid orthodox understanding of systematic theology.


Before rolling their sleeves up to do real systematic theology, theologians like to get the preliminaries out of the way. They call this the prolegomena of theology. The boundaries for this discipline are somewhat subjective but generally they include discussion of the knowledge of God, an understanding of revelation (God’s special revelation and general revelation) and of scripture as well. Hear what Herman Bavinck has to say about the task of prolegomena in theology:

Normatively, theology should begin with revelation, proceed from faith, and articulate its own first principles (principia). By principia in general is usually meant the basic cause and ground of reality as well as the means by which we come to know them. Thus, Aristotle, for instance, distinguished principles of being, of existence and of knowing. Theologians also adapted this terminology. By way of revelation God makes himself known to us as the primary efficient cause of all things. Holy Scripture is the external efficient cause of theology, and divine revelation also requires the internal illumination of the Holy Spirit. We thus identify three fundamental principles for theology: God is the essential foundation (principium essendi); Scripture is the external cognitive foundation (principium cognoscendi externum); and the Holy Spirit is the internal principle of knowing (principium cognoscendi internum). The foundations of theology are thus trinitarian: The Father, through the Son as Logos, imparts himself to his creatures through the Spirit.1

Strongly hinted at in that last sentence of Bavinck’s is how the covenant of redemption informs our view of just how the covenant is a verbal sort of thing. The Father speaks through the Son and that speech is made effective (does not return to him void – Is. 55:11) by the Spirit fulfilling his part of the pledge made in the covenant.

This leads to an understanding of what Scripture itself is. The covenantal model of speech hinted at above suggests that it is Jesus Christ who is the content of Scripture. And the Holy Spirit is the agent that both brings Scripture to light (inspires its writing) and causes it to not return void by effecting those who read it. But who are these two? They are the two covenant members who have pledged to work the covenant of redemption for the father. Scripture, then is documentation of the outworking covenant of redemption, which in history is formulated by the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.

In this model, all the data we read prior to the introduction of Abraham, and the subsequent royal grant treaty made there, is prologue – historical background that explains how this covenant comes about. Major and minor prophets are conducting a covenant lawsuit against the party in the treaty who has defaulted on their obligations. The historical narratives that precede the lawsuit portions are essentially the documentation that is introduced as evidence of covenant unfaithfulness against the defaulting party. They also serve as a witness to the faithfulness of the God (Suzerain) whose laws they have failed to obey.

The law sections are self-described as covenantal documents.(See Exodus 24:7) The violation of the laws contained within these sections, then, are what is being adjudicated by the prophets in their covenant lawsuits with Israel.

The wisdom literature is not so easily categorized. The book of Job has been characterized as one written to goad the covenant breaking Israelites into covenant faithfulness by displaying the righteousness of Job and his attitude in the face of severe adversity. This is an even more plausible interpretation if one accepts the contention that Job himself is not a covenant Israelite. In any case, the book in my view clearly points to the one who is covenantally faithful, the suffering servant, Jesus Christ.

1Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Prolegomena (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 207.



  1. The question where do I defend my thesis that God is a covenantal God has been asked. Well, here it is:

    Therefore, the covenant of redemption is indispensable for doing theology. We express nearly all we know about the trinity in covenantal terms. It under girds the whole thesis of this paper by defending the assertion that God is a covenantal being.

    So, the very presentation of the covenant of redemption amounts to my defense. God is covenantal because he is trinitarian.

    Comment by ineedsheetmusic — February 15, 2007 @ 4:39 am

  2. A major gaffe in this paper occurs in this section just posted. I intended to go back and fill in this section on other areas of scripture and clarify how Psalms, Proverbs and the New Testament generally fits into the covenantal model. I never got back to it and handed it in in this incomplete form.

    Comment by ineedsheetmusic — February 15, 2007 @ 4:14 pm

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