Reformed Theology is Covenant Theology

This morning I was reading from John Frame’s latest book, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief.  I am teaching my wife about Covenant Theology and this morning we are working through the Abrahamic Covenant.  As I was finalizing my thoughts and re-reading through Frame’s work on this, one of Frame’s footnotes from this section lead me to an article from Richard Pratt that I found very interesting, historically, about Reformed Theology.  It actually dovetails nicely with another book I recently completed entitled, Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive.

Here is the article:

The Scriptures were written over thousands of years, by many human authors, to meet the needs of God’s people in different times and places. Despite the diversity that resulted from these variables, biblical faith is highly unified. Behind the manifold details of Scripture is a rather simple, straightforward theological organization shaped by what Reformed theologians have called covenant theology.

Traditional Covenant Theology

While John Calvin himself acknowledged the importance of God’s covenants from time to time in his commentaries, he did not draw attention to their significance for the organization of Scripture as a whole. Yet, within one generation Reformed theologians began to see that the theology of the bible gives a central role to divine covenants. Since that time, it has been nearly impossible to separate Reformed theology from covenant theology.

The pinnacle of these early developments appeared in the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1646. It expresses a way of looking at covenants that we may call traditional covenant theology. In brief, the Confession speaks of God condescending to reveal himself to humanity in two covenants: the “covenant of works” in Adam and the “covenant of grace” in Christ (WCF VII).

This traditional twofold approach to covenant theology highlights at least two central teachings of Reformed theology. On the one hand, the covenant of works draws attention to the fact that humanity’s relationship with God was based entirely on human works before Adam fell into sin. Of course, Adam failed and cast all human beings as well as the entire creation under God’s curse.

On the other hand, the covenant of grace points to the Reformed teaching that salvation for human beings and the restoration of creation has always been entirely dependent on God’s grace in Christ. From the first promise given to fallen Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, to the last chapter in Revelation there has been only one way of salvation. The Confession admits that this long history is “commonly called the covenant of grace” (WCF, emphasis mine). Note 1 below. In other words, the phrase “covenant of grace” is theological terminology and not found in the Bible, much like the word “Trinity.” Even so, the doctrine of the covenant of grace expresses the teaching of Scripture that salvation throughout the Old and New Testaments is in Christ alone.

Although the contours of this twofold approach to divine covenants have characterized Reformed theology through the centuries, covenant theology has never been static. Throughout the centuries Reformed theologians have explored different aspects of covenant theology in a variety of ways. During the second half of the last century, covenant theology made some rather dramatic advances in at least two areas that we will sketch in this article: first, covenants and the history of salvation; second covenants and personal salvation.

Covenants and Biblical History

In the first place, recent covenant theologians have explained more thoroughly the prominence of biblical covenants in biblical history by discerning their function in the kingdom of God. Reformed theology has always emphasized that in a broad sense, God is the sovereign king over all of creation. Everything has been, is and will be the kingdom of God because he is sovereign over all. Continue reading