Fifteen Tenets of Classic New Covenant Theology

I recently read on [what used to be ] a New Covenant blog site some concerns of a dear brother who questioned the viability of New Covenant Theology given the differences that exist between those who claim an affinity for it.  I thought it might be helpful to post what I believe are the major tenets of New Covenant Theology and try to assess what is essential to that position.

Years ago, I attempted to define the position of New Covenant Theology in a booklet entitled “The Cross, the Heart of New Covenant Theology.” I never intended that eschatology [the doctrine of last things] be an essential part of the New Covenant Theology position.  I had always been essentially a “Pan-Millennialist,” believing that everything would pan out O.K. in the end. Almost immediately, there were those who joined the movement who, as Progressive Dispensationalists, presented ideas that departed markedly from some of the ideas I had set forth.  Since one of them later wrote a book on New Covenant Theology, I suppose he has done more to define the position than I did.  Still, it seems to me there are certain positions within what I called “New Covenant Theology” that preclude a Dispensational view, progressive or otherwise.

In my view, any viewpoint that entertains a national restitution of Israel as the people of God, or a re-institution of the sacrificial system and Levitical priesthood etc., is not New Covenant Theology.

There are several key elements that I believe constitute New Covenant Theology without which it would be something else altogether.  I wish to simply list a number of them without a great deal of explication.  It is my hope that these tenets find general agreement among those who have claimed to hold to New Covenant Theology and provide a forum for a discussion of those details in which we disagree.  These tenets are as follows:

1.    Given that, biblically speaking, a covenant is a unilateral decree and not an agreement between two or more persons, we have no problem with the idea that there was a “pre-fall covenant of works” with Adam.  Its terms were these–you will die as soon as you disobey.

What we have difficulty with is the idea that God promised Adam and all his posterity eternal life based on his perfect obedience during a probationary period.  What he was promised was that he would certainly die if he disobeyed God’s one prohibition.  He would continue to live as long as he obeyed, but there is no evidence he would ever have been confirmed in righteousness at any point.

2.    We have no difficulty with the idea that every sinner who has ever been justified before God, was justified through faith alone, based on the redemptive work of Christ alone.  This does not mean God established an over-arching “Covenant of grace” in Genesis 3:15, and that every subsequent covenant is part of that covenant.

3.    The New Covenant and the Old Covenant are distinct covenants, not different administrations of the same covenant.

4.    The Law, the covenant by which God constituted Israel a nation before him, was a homogeneous whole.  There were certain elements of it that pertained to the civil state; others that pertained to the ceremonial system; still others were “moral” in nature.  Biblical writers never speak of these aspects of the law as though they are separable.  If Jesus has fulfilled the “Law.” it is not merely one or two aspects of the law he has fulfilled, but the entire covenant.

5.    Israel was a typical representation of the church.  As such, it was neither “the church” in the Old Testament nor were it and the church separate and eternally distinct peoples of God.  Nothing that is predicated of natural and national Isreal has the same meaning as the same terms used to describe the New Covenant people of God.  The Hebrews can be both Abraham’s seed and not Abraham’s seed at the same time.  The continuous relationship between the Old and New Covenants is that of type to antitype and promise to fulfillment.

6.    We believe there is a continuity in God’s righteous standard between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.  God requires no less under the New Covenant than under the Old Covenant.  In fact, we believe Christ’s law presents an even higher standard than did the Law of Moses.  Often mercy is more difficult to display than justice.

7. We believe the focus of the gospel is on what God has done in Christ rather than on what he is doing in us. We stand as righteous in God’s presence not only because we have been pardoned from our past sins but because we have the positive righteousness and active obedience of Christ imputed to us. His faithfulness and obedience up to and including his substutionary death on the cross [in itself an act of submission and active obedience to his Father] form the righteous basis of our justification before God. Justification is more than pardon. It is a declaration of a positive righteousness that we possess because we are in union with Jesus Christ the righteous one. We do not deny the necessity or importance or regeneration, but insist that we are what we are only “in Christ.” For this reason, New Covenant Theology is God-centered and Christ-centered rather than man-centered.

8.    The redemptive-historical approach stresses that this is the final age of human history. These are the last days. This is the time of fulfillment. We are those on whom “the fulfillment of the ages has come.” This does not mean God’s people have already fully and personally experienced everything that God has promised. Paul tells us in Romans 8:23 that we believers have the first-fruits, the pledge, of our inheritance, namely, the Holy Spirit. Yet, we, along with the rest of creation, go on groaning as we wait for the full enjoyment of all Jesus won for us at Calvary. The realm in which we are saved is the realm of confident expectation, not full fruition.

9.    The redemptive-historical approach does not minimize the reality that believers personally and individually enjoy the blessings that accrue from the redemptive work of Christ. Yet, the focus of this approach is not the individual’s experience, but God’s accomplishment of redemption in Christ. In Paul’s Epistles it is clear that, in his theological thought, all of redemptive history consists of God’s dealings with two representative men. All others are what they are in God’s sight by virtue of their relationship to one of these two men. A person is either in Adam or in Christ, whom Paul designated as the “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45). Accordingly, every person belongs to one of two spheres or realms. They belong either to the old creation (this world, this present age) in Adam or the new creation in Christ. When Paul writes about the “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17, Gal 6:15), he is not talking about something that God does in the believer, but about the realm into which the believer has been transferred in Christ. Similarly, when he talks about “the flesh,” he is not making reference to the “sinful nature.” He refers instead to the environment into which sinners are born in Adam. This is that which characterizes the realm or age to which man, in Adam, belongs.

New Covenant Theology teaches the gospel is more about what God has accomplished in Christ than it is about what he is doing in us. This does not mean we deny the work of God’s Spirit in us or depreciate its importance.  It is simply that we believe his principal work is the application or the redemptive accomplishments of Christ.

10     God assures us that the full inheritance is ours, but the best (the experiential enjoyment of it) is yet to come.

The idea of present eschatological fulfillment creates an “already/not yet” tension between that which is true of the believer because of His redemptive-historical union with Christ and that which is not yet true in his experience. “If any man is in Christ, there is to him a new creation, old (that which belongs to a former time) has passed away, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17).

11.    New Covenant Theology teaches that the Holy Spirit enables believers to do what the Law could only demand.  This does not mean New Covenant believers are without imperatives to be obeyed.  It simply means we will not be frustrated in our efforts to obey those imperatives.  Sin shall not have dominion over us since we are no longer under Law, but under grace.  Obeying rules out of gratitude is not legalism.  Legalism is the sense that I must obey rules to obtain or maintain God’s approval.

12.    New Covenant Theology does not teach that anyone has ever been without God’s Law in an absolute sense.  What we argue is that the Law in the sense of a covenant God made with Israel entered at Mt. Sinai and came to fulfillment at Mt. Calvary.

13.     Just as we are to interpret obscure passages in the light of clearer passages, so New Covenant Theology believes we are to interpret the Old Testament Scriptures in the light of New Testament revelation, not visa-versa.

14.    New Covenant Theology teaches that all the Law of God depends on two commandments–supreme love for God and appropriate love for ones neighbor.  Obedience to these two commandments is demonstrated in differing ways under different covenants.

15.    New Covenant Theology is in full agreement with neither  the assertions of Covenant Theology nor those of Dispensationalism.   Still, we readily acknowledge the correctness of their assertions when we find them to be consistent with the teachings of the Scriptures.


12 Responses to “Fifteen Tenets of Classic New Covenant Theology”

  1. April 4, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Much appreciated, my friend! Good post!

  2. April 4, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    Did you mean Gal 5:16 when you said ” They belong either to the old creation (this world, this present age) in Adam or the new creation in Christ. When Paul writes about the “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17, Gal 5:15), he is not talking about something that God does in the believer, but about the realm into which the believer has been transferred in Christ.”

    I see both ‘realm’ and that which is accomplished in the believer in the contrasts presented us by Paul. Maybe I’m not getting what you really mean.

    • April 4, 2012 at 8:13 pm

      Thanks for the correction brother. It should have read Gal. 6:15. I have no problem with the idea that something new, i.e., a new governing principle, is created in us in the work of regeneration. My only point is that Paul’s emphasis is on what and where believers are “IN CHRIST.” He was born in the realm of “flesh,” the “old creation,” that atmosphere of the human condition that is characterized by weakness and inability. He is raised in the realm of the Spirit, the new creation, the realm that his characterized by power and spiritual ability.
      Paul’s point is, what matters now is not external ordinances, e.g., circumcision, that belonged to the weak and beggarly elements of the old Creation, but a new Creation, characterized by the Spriit’s enabling power, of which believers are a part “In Christ.”

      In our experience, we continue to live in the old realm, but “in Christ,” we have been translated into the new realm. We are no longer under the law that belonged to the old creation, but under the reign of grace that belongs to the new. This is the contrast of Romans 8:1-4. What the law could not do/ that the righteousness required by the law might be fulfilled in us. . .

      I hope that clarifies with I am saying. Let me know.

  3. May 9, 2017 at 11:41 am

    I was just poking around here and found this – for the first time! We are, indeed, like minded, my dear brother! SDG!

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