Apology for Covenant Theology and Trinty Position Paper

Jesus said, “‘Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.’” (Matthew 13: 51, 52, NKJV) Christian scholars having become  disciples in the kingdom of heaven/God, as masters of the household (Gk. οικοδεσποτη, oikodespotei=house-depot) are custodians of the treasured truths of the Gospel wisely bringing out old things by inheritance and new things by investment. The ongoing developments of covenantal theology studies are Gospel treasures from the treasury of the kingdom of heaven/God. There is a theological inheritance of orthodox Christian truths securing the value of these studies that must not be debased. The historic orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity is one of these treasured truths. The reality of the Trinity confounds over-literalizing Scripture and forced human logical necessity about God’s self-revelation. Bringing out the realities of the Holy Trinity in connection with covenant theology as the Triune God’s means of condescending for meaningful communion with His image-bearers is a truth as old as original creation established by God’s eternal purpose. However there are disputes and divisions over the meaning of covenant as related to orthodox Christian doctrines. Terms, labels, and categories have been coalesced into a Reformed thematic corpus springing up in the 17th century from orthodox theological roots then recovered and nurtured by 19th & 20th century Dutch Reformed theologians, and now into the opening two decades of the 21century the theme of Biblical covenant has expanded beyond the theologically Reformed community. These categorically used terms and labels are often loosely assumed and generalized as well as conflated within the theme of Biblical covenantal formulations, e.g. covenant/contract/compact/treaty/family-bond/communal life, etc., council/counsel, compact of salvation/covenant of redemption, et al. The purpose of this position paper is to identify blindspots in the use of terms and labels, as well as to clarify and refine more Scripturally precise and consistent applications of these terms within the revealed covenantal theme, and to present a reformulation of a covenant theology schema secured in the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity. A reformulation of a covenant theology schema starts by recognizing that the Scripture use of the term covenant presents a pattern with changing content. Covenant is not of the essence or an attribute of God’s nature. While acknowledging the historic orthodox Chrisitan categories of God’s decree/decrees, there is no decree of covenant. This consideration addresses the confusing and problematic issue of the intra-Trinitarian relationship to covenant. The Scriptural pattern of Divine covenant involves hierarchy, exercise of power, delegated authority, subordination, conditionality, consequences, etc. through the elements of promises, oaths, visible/tangible pledges predicated on faith or violated in unbelief for future inheritance or judgment.  So covenant(s) is revealed to be a means originated and implemented by the condescending works of the Trinity. 

 God’s eternal decrees of creation, providence, predestination and election are comprehensive and are the basis for the means of His works in time and space history, both the means and the works are identified through general and special revelation ultimately realized by the incarnation, resurrection, and glorification of the 2nd Person Son of God, e.g. ex nihilo creation, Adam and Eve created as discrete image-bearers, the Lamb of God slain before the foundations of the world, Jesus, the God-man, was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, et al. Included in the pretemporal works of God, known and planned eternally before being executed in time, is the Trinitarian Counsel of Peace. Notice should be taken that counsel and covenant are not synonymous terms, so the Counsel of Peace is not a covenantal transaction. The Counsel of Peace is the Trinitarian formulation working out the mutual resolve of equal ultimacy between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comprehending all details for reconciliation between the uncreated-Creator as Heavenly Father and sinful image-bearers to be restored as king-priests. By the Counsel of Peace there is no necessity, redundancy, or subordination introduced into the classical Trinitarian consilium Dei, i.e. the unrevealed immanent relationship and communications secret to the Triune God, via the opera Dei externa, i.e. the works of God outside of Himself, opera ad intra, i.e. decrees, so that there is no conflating with the opera ad extra, i.e. revealed works, discretely attributed to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit knowable from creation and Scripture. The disputes over the terms pactum salutis & covenant of redemption can be avoided by relocating them within the covenantal schema of the Counsel of Peace and not the intra-Triniterian Council–ad intra. By the works–ad extra and mission–pactum salutis, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit originate and implement the Everlasting/Eternal Covenant as the means of accomplishing the decrees. “‘In predestination [decree] the divine persons act communally, while economically it is attributed to the Father. In the covenant of redemption [pactum salutis] they are related to one another judicially. In predestination [decree] there is one, undivided, divine will. In the counsel of peace this will appears as having its own mode of existence in each person.’” (Vos, “The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Thought,” 246. Quoted in Laurence R. O’Donnell III, “NOT SUBTLE ENOUGH: An Assessment of Modern Scholarship on Hermen Bavinck’s Reformulation of the Pactum Salutis Contra ‘Scholastic Subtlety’, Mid-America Journal of Theology, (2011), 89-106,101).