Covenants in Theology: New Chapter by Steve Childers and John Frame

September 27, 2019 — Leave a comment

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Professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their almost 90 years of experience (Frame 49 Systematic Theology, Childers 22 Practical Theology & 15 in church planting and pastoring) to help you apply theology to life and ministry. Study the 8 foundations Scripture provides for developing sound theology.

A theology that is sound and faithful to Scripture must reflect the story of God’s unfolding covenants in history.

In the Scriptures, the Lord sovereignly establishes his covenant with his creatures, in which he binds himself by his own oath to keep his promises. The Old and New Testaments describe the special relationship God has with his people as a covenant. Like the Trinity, the concept of covenant is more than a narrow point of doctrine. It also gives us a conceptual overview by which we are to understand all of Scripture.
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This chapter will help you learn that the topic of biblical covenants is not an isolated topic in theology but one that can help us understand all other theological topics.

Covenantal Foundation

The Scriptures teach that God, as Triune Lord, has a unique way of carrying out his plan of redemption in the unfolding eras of Creation, the Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. It’s through a series of covenants.

The biblical word for covenant is translated from the Old Testament Hebrew ב ִריתְּ (berith) and the New Testament Greek διαθήκη (diatheke). A covenant is an oath-bound agreement between two or more parties. Marriage is an example of a covenant.

In the Scriptures, the Lord sovereignly establishes his covenant with his creatures, in which he binds himself by his own oath to keep his promises.
The Old and New Testaments describe the special relationship God has with his people as a covenant. Like the Trinity, the concept of covenant is more than a narrow point of doctrine. It also gives us a conceptual overview by which we are to understand all of Scripture.

We’ll study the biblical covenants in greater depth later in this series, but let’s start with a brief survey of the major covenants that will shape our understanding of theology.

The Eternal Covenant of Redemption

Theologians call the most foundational covenant in Scripture the Eternal Covenant of Redemption because it takes place before time among the persons of the Trinity (e.g. Titus 1:1- 2). In this covenant:

  • The Father establishes God’s plan of salvation (Eph. 1:3-6, cf. Rev. 13:8).
  • The Son agrees to accomplish the plan (Eph. 1:7-12, cf. John 10:17-18).
  • The Spirit agrees to apply the work of the Son to fallen humanity and creation (Eph. 1:13-14, cf. Rom. 8:19-23).

The Triune God carries out his Eternal Covenant of Redemption in a series of other covenants after the world was created, starting with the covenants God made with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

The Edenic Covenants

The covenants God made with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden are often called the Covenant of Creation, the Covenant of Works, and the Covenant of Grace.

In the Covenant of Creation, God reveals his basic design for humanity and creation in a series of commands, called the creation ordinances. These include the responsibility of productive work (Gen. 1:26-28, 2:15), a Sabbath rhythm of life (Gen. 2:1-2), and the institution of marriage (Gen. 2:24).

In the Covenant of Works, God makes a covenant with Adam as the representative of all humanity and promises to bless him if he keeps the conditions of this covenant, by continuing to obey God’s will in all things. When Adam and Eve disobey by eating of the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God keeps his promise to curse them (Gen. 2:16-17, 3:14-19).

The Covenant of Grace

But God did not abandon his plan for humanity and the world. Instead, he announced his Covenant of Grace by promising a Savior, called the “seed of the woman,” (Jesus Christ) who would destroy Satan and redeem God’s people (Gen. 3:15).

Following the Flood, God reveals his Covenant of Grace in his covenant with Noah, promising to never destroy all life on earth in that same way (Gen. 8:20-9:17).

Later, God makes a covenant with Abraham and promises him a prosperous land and a great nation, through which he would bless all the families of the world (Gen. 12:2-3).

With Moses, God’s Covenant of Grace includes the more formal, written statements of God’s will and character which we call God’s law (Exod. 20, Lev. 18:5, Gal. 3:10-14). Under God’s covenant with David, God establishes his throne and kingdom on earth at a temple on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem and promises that one of his descendants would sit on his throne forever (Ps. 78:60-72).

The New Covenant

Through the Old Testament prophets, God reveals his promised blessing of a New Covenant, which is the culmination of the Covenant of Grace, through which he pledges to keep all his previous covenant promises (Jer. 31:31-34). Again, God promises a coming anointed King in the line of David, the Christ, who will be a perfect covenant-keeper on behalf of his people.

Nothing would thwart God’s mission to redeem and restore fallen humanity and creation. How would God do this? Through the Christ of the covenants. Under God’s Covenant of Grace, Jesus Christ accomplishes for us what Adam failed to do in the Covenant of Works (Rom. 5:1- 12, 1 Cor. 15:22).

A theology that is sound and faithful to Scripture must reflect this story of God’s unfolding covenants in history. Therefore, in this series you’ll learn that the topic of biblical covenants is not an isolated topic in theology but one that can help us understand all other theological topics.


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