Thursday, March 09, 2006

dispensational and covenantal theology compared

I was doing some research for a paper I am writing for a new class at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. The class is "grace theology seminar." This is the first time Central has offered this class, so we are kind of the lab rats. Anyway, my topic involves comparing dispensational and covenantal ideas of grace. This may well be described as a vague topice, because there really is a great deal of overlap in the concepts of grace between the two systems. However, I was told that it may be helpful to look for areas of non-overlap.

Naturally I began doing some reading on the covenant of grace (the primary of the two or three covenants recognized by covenantal theologians), and found that covenantal theology defines the covenant of grace as "That gracious agreement between the offended God and the offending but elect sinner, in which God promises salvation through faith in Christ, and the sinner accepts this believingly, promising a life of faith and obedience." Not too much difficulty there. It seems straightforward and biblical (although some may wonder what "faith in Christ" means, especially as it relates to OT saints).

My difficulty came when I read a little further. As Berkof sees it, the covenant of grace allows for the non-elect to be included. On page 276 of his Systematic Theology, He states, "In both the Old and New Testament, the covenant as a historical phenomenon is perpetuated in successive gernerations and includes many in whom the covenant life is never realized." I have yet to understand exactly what this means, but it seems that he is saying that the kids of the elect (who can very well be non-elect) somehow participate in the covenant of grace. The answer may be in the phrase "historical phenomenon." But initially, it would seem that the non elect share the covenant of grace with the elect.

I do not know all the ramifications of this. Upon further reading in Berkoff I may find that it does not make a large difference at all. My real question is, does the literature of covenant theologians since 1941 (when Berkoff's Systematic was written) fall into line with this? And if so, to what extent, and with what interpretation?

I guess I still have a lot of reading to do.