Challenging Covenantalism: The Covenant of Redemption

What motivated God to initiate His saving work?

That is a fair and appropriate question to ask. The Covenantalist avers that it was an

“…inter-Trinitarian pact made in eternity past, in which the Father designed, the Son agreed to undertake, and the Spirit agreed to apply the results of redemption.”  (http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/qna/worksgraceredmpt.html , accessed 10/2/2012).

According to CT, God the Father and God the Son undertook a “pact”, or covenant, that Christ would satisfy the Father and do so on behalf of the elect. This is the foundation, they say, of all the other covenants. However, unlike the other covenants of CT, this particular covenant does not get as much press.

According to Witsius again, the initial passage that speaks of this Covenant of Redemption (CR) is Luke 22:29, which reads, “…and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you.” (Herman Witsius, The Economy Of The Covenants Between God and Man, vol.1 [London: Thomas Nelson, 1822], p. 166) If I were to presuppose a conclusion, like CT does here, I can easily concede that this would speak of a kingdom which was “covenanted” to Jesus before time. However, right hermeneutics would ask, “What does the context say?” Thus, in the next verse we read, “…that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Just as is taught by our Lord in and Matthew 19:28 and  elsewhere, which we will cover in a future post, this is not a kingdom promise because of a covenant between the Father and the Son in eternity past. This kingdom is reserved for the covenant fulfillment of David’s promise of 2 Samuel 7:13,16 (cf. Psalm 89; see also Daniel 7:22; Revelation 20:4). The teaching of the inherited kingdom of Jesus Christ is a vast, and easily verifiable, teaching of Scripture. Nowhere in that amount of data is an ‘inter-Trinitarian pact’ spoken of or alluded to. It is easily, and consistently, taught by reason of the actual covenants historically promised by God. The entire paradigm of the true, biblical, covenants, then, is undermined by the illusory covenants of CT. This is a very grave error.

A further error that I see repeated by CT is taking actual terms, events, and truths and superimposing the “covenantal” structure over them such that they become actually subject to the philosophy of CT. As R. Scott Clark has written, “Covenant theology structures all of Biblical revelation.” (R. Scott Clark, “Theses on Covenant Theology”, http://clark.wscal.edu/covtheses.php, accessed 10/2/2012). It this true? Does CT actually structure all biblical revelation? No, this is not true, since the Bible does not actually teach CT. However, what is happening is that CT is ‘extrabiblical’ and this  extrabiblical system is being imposed upon inerrant Scripture. The Covenant of Redemption is a very good case in point.

Michael Horton has written, “The covenant of redemption, therefore, is as clearly revealed in Scripture as the Trinity and the eternal decree to elect, redeem, call, justify, sanctify, and glorify a people for the Son” (Michael Horton, God of Promise [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006], 82). Is that true?

Taking apples and pasting them to an orange tree does not make the orange tree an apple tree.

You can’t take the fruit of God’s true work in time, and affix it to a man-made system and redefine what God has actually done! In an effort to support his claim, Dr. Horton refers to those wonderful passages in the gospel of John wherein Jesus teaches that the Father has given some (people) to the Son (see John 6:39, 10:29; 17:2, 4-10 etc.). However, just to get straight to the point, if we will once again notice the context of John 6:37-30, for example, we will see repeatedly that this “giving” is the result of the sovereign will of the Father (e.g. John 6:37, 38, 39, 40). So, in that scenario, how is it that there was an agreement between the Son and the Father, to say nothing of the Father and the elect? Otherwise, the Father’s will would not be free to do all that He would, and thus be sovereign. The Father’s will would be bound to an agreement, or some other motivation, that would actually add to His will. That would not, then, allow for absolute sovereign freedom to do all according to the kind intention of His will (Ephesians 1:5). Herein is the irony:

Covenantalists make ideal Arminians.

Instead of asserting and maintaining the biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty, they insist that God’s free will was actually bound by an agreement made between the Father and the Son prior to creation. Thus, the elect, too, can agree to the terms of this agreement, and/or other agreements, and enter into the redemption that is insisted upon because of this so-called Covenant of Redemption. In other words, man, once again, has a say in his salvation. This impugns the sovereignty of God, which those holding to CT so strongly, arrogantly, insist they believe. Yet, when compared with Scripture, we see the arrogance of man contributing to the pure, undefiled, will of God to sovereignly elect whom He will according to His kind intention.

What does the Bible actually say about all this?

The Father commanded the Son to enter into human history and become a Man; man who was made in His own image and likeness, and die the death that man so-rightly deserved. The Spirit of God empowered Christ by giving Him signs and wonders such that He would fulfill Scripture which said the Messiah would perform such signs verifying Who He was. The Son would be punished by the Father, die, then rise again. He would then ascend to share the throne of His Father until He re-enters earth and assumes a throne promised to the Seed of David, Himself the Seed of Abraham, thus the Seed of the woman. He would rule, fulfilling the promises upon which the true, biblical, covenants were made in history, for a time, as promised to Israel. Then, to restore the sovereign rule of the Father over everything, He, the Son, will return all things to the Father, and subject Himself to Him as well. Did/will all of this happen because of a covenant? No. This is all

“…according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will…to the praise of His glory.” Ephesians 1:11b, 12b

Does His glory involve a pre-temporal pact? No. It is the simple exertion of sovereignty. It is simply the will of the Father commanding the subjected (but not inferior) Son who obeys because He loves His Father, and for no other motivation (John 14:31). Thus, sending the Spirit to, in fact, create new creations from dead and sinful ones. The Son will subject all things to the Father once again, after He has vanquished all His enemies, so that the Father’s supremacy will be restored over all creation and the Father may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28), just like it was before Genesis 1:1. To add to that scenario is to add to actual revelation. It is to add to God’s purposes. It is to add to God and Who He actually is and what He has actually done. CT does this. Covenantal Theology needs to be held accountable for the confusion it has caused.