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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dear Jamin,

lucyJamin Hubner offers his advice to a fan.

Apparently, a tender soul stumbled across some disturbing information that contradicts Jamin's anti-Dispensational meta-narrative.

He asks,

Hey Jamin,

I have recently wanted to become more familiar with the subject of dispensationalism vs. covenant theology. I am currently reading Dispensationalism by Ryrie and have Michael Horton's book on Covenant Theology (if you have a better recommendation I will purchase it). As I am downloading your lectures on apologetics, I decided to check for articles on this topic and came across your article Where Dispensationalism Came From. In Ryrie's book he mentions the dispensational scheme that Jonathan Edwards (not that Edwards was necessarily a dispensationalist) put forth in his work "A Compleat History or Survey of All the Dispensations". Would this not pre-date Darby? As I have not read this work by Edwards, perhaps I am missing the context, but Edwards' dispensational scheme has some similarities to the seven dispensations espoused by modern day dispensationalists.

In response to this specific question, Jamin replies,

Dispensationalists typically play the pre-Darby card in an effort to justify their system, but is rarely an adequate appeal. The idea is to make associations and draw similarities between Darby and previous thinkers (e.g. Ireneaus, Edwards, some Reformers, etc.) to say Dispensationalism goes back (for some, they would say to the Apostles, while others would say back to the Reformers, etc.). But in reality, the thinkers are simply not teaching Darbyism. Resemblances, vague parallels and similarities are not enough to dismount Darby as essentially the Father of Dispensationalism (nor dismount Scofield as perhaps the chief popularizer). But that's not to say we shouldn't acknowledge that Darby had previous influences and that attempts have been made to try and systematize redemptive history, address the application of biblical law, and solve various hermeneutical issues. Certainly there have been such attempts.

Yes Edwards pre-dates Darby (Edwards died in 1758, Darby in 1882). Edwards talked about dispensations - as did about any non-dispensational theologian during the Reformation to Modern Age.

Jamin is one of those YRR guys who counts himself liberated from the shackles of fundamentalist Dispensationalism. Like many of his youthful "born-again" Reformed ilk blogging these days, he tosses out the bath water with the baby.

It isn't that he was just taught wrongly about Dispensationalism. It is that Dispensationalism is cultic heresy of the rankest order that must be destroyed. Of course, Jamin doesn't necessarily speak against Dispensationalism with such warlike "take-no-prisoners" language. Rather, he paints Dispensational adherents as a bunch of biblically illiterate dullards enslaved to their traditions.

One of the theological urban myths Jamin has latched onto is the idea that Dispensationalism is erroneous because it has its origins with J.N. Darby in the 1800s. This can be a rather problematic claim, especially if it can be shown there were pastors and theologians who held to Dispensational ideas who predate Darby.

Additionally, Jamin thinks Covenant Theology has a "trail of blood" like lineage that can be traced all the way back to the Apostles. This of course is wishful historical revisionism and should be beneath a guy who hosts a so-called peer-reviewed theological journal.

I'll consider three problems with Jamin's response.

First, the historical reality is that Covenant Theology, as an organized theological system, is really just a couple of hundred years older than Dispensationalism, so one can say it is just as "new." The modern form had it's beginnings with the emergence of Calvinism. Dutch theologian, Johannes Cocceius, is often designated as the founder of Covenant Theology, publishing his work on Federalism in 1648 after the WCF was hammered out. He is basically the "Darby" of his day.

Additionally, even though there may had been first generation Reformers who laid some ground work for CT, like Caspar Olevianus and Zacharius Ursinus, it was the second, third, and even later generations of Reformers like William Ames and Hermann Witsius who began developing Covenant Theology as we know it today, as they built upon Cocceius's previous work.

And if we are gonna get a bit closer to home for Jamin, Reformed Baptist articulation of CT came nearly 100 years or more after the credo-Reformed articulation.

Secondly, Jamin is just as guilty of playing a "pre-Darby" card, or a "pre-Cocceius" card, and he is mistaken about that card. While it is true certain seed elements of Covenant Theology were written about by pre-Reformed theologians, it is just as true certain seed elements of Dispensationalism was mentioned by similar writers, if not, in some cases, the exact same writers.

Ryrie devotes an entire chapter to this, but Jamin, and his inquirer, over look it. Moreover, Jamin also misrepresents what Ryrie says on this matter. Even Ryrie is aware of over eager Dispensationalists who exaggerate the pre-Darby historical evidence. He writes,

The first strawman is to say that dispensationalists assert that the system was taught in postapostolic times. Informed dispensationalists do not claim that. They recognize that, as a system, dispensationalism was largely formulated by Darby, but the outlines of a dispensationalist approach to the Scriptures are found much earlier. They only maintain that certain features of what eventually developed into dispensationalism are found in the teachings of the early church. [Ryrie, 62].

We can say the same thing about Covenant Theology.

And then third, I am made to wonder if Jamin has even seriously read Ryrie's book or just merely second or third hand critiques of it. If he has, he didn't read closely, nor does his inquirer, because the "John Edwards" they mention is not the Jonathan Edwards most people know who preached "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and was instrumental in the First Great Awakening as Jamin suggests.

The John Edwards in question, as far as Ryrie is concerned, was a Calvinistic minister in the Church of England who lived from 1637 to 1716. He published two volumes entitled A Compleat History or Survey of All the Dispensations, and as Ryrie states, the purpose of his books was "to display all the Transactions of Divine Providence relating to the Methods of Religion, from the Creation to the end of the World, from the first chapter of Genesis to the last of the Revelation." [Ryrie, 66].

In order to keep this anonymous inquirer from being grossly ill-informed on the matters of Dispensational theology, I would refer him to my post highlighting some essential works in Dispensational thinking. Though Ryrie is an obvious choice with understanding background material, there are others who can also offer a fuller perspective on these matters.

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20 Comments:

Blogger The Squirrel said...

Really, I'm waiting to comment until after Steve has made his crack about talking/writing/typing squirrels...

Squirrel

10:34 AM, November 22, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I think that is his way of saying he likes you.

10:38 AM, November 22, 2011  
Blogger The Squirrel said...

Of course he does! Everybody likes squirrels! We're cute, fuzzy, and theologically astute!

:-)

Squirrel

11:34 AM, November 22, 2011  
Blogger steve said...

I'd be nuts to have a conversation with a squirrel.

11:56 AM, November 22, 2011  
Blogger The Squirrel said...

See? I knew I should have waited...

Squirrel

12:23 PM, November 22, 2011  
Blogger c.t. said...

Comparing the Dutch Second Reformation to J. N. Darby?

Anyway, don't you know Federal Theology is classical Covenant Theology systematized? To call yourself Reformed or Calvinist and to not accept, or understand Federal Theology is rather curious. It's like calling yourself an NFL quarterback and not knowing the rules of American football.

7:45 PM, November 24, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Hey ct,
Tell me one theologian who taught covenant theology as we know it before so-called federal theology was systematized. Just one will do.

5:31 AM, November 28, 2011  
Blogger c.t. said...

Well, you've got it backwards. Federal Theology is classical Covenant Theology systematized. The two Adams, Covenant of Redemption/Works/Grace. Federal Theology is the systematic theology side of covenant theology which resides more in the discipline of biblical theology.

This is why covenant theology is a bit mushy and all over the board. And also why its terminology is not now and never was set or agreed upon. Biblical theology and its laborers tend not to think about such things. Not in the 16th century, not now.

It's also why false teachers today choose to hide out in the realm of biblical theology. They don't have to lay their cards down on the table like systematic theologians do.

An aside: the existence of Geerhardus Vos and his work really ticks these false teachers off. Vos makes it very difficult for them to claim ownership of biblical theology in the modern day. It also makes it really impossible for them to impress anybody with their work in biblical theology. They can never get up to the level of Vos and some of his better students.

I guess your question needs to be re-phrased if any of the above is not relevant.

9:08 PM, November 28, 2011  
Blogger c.t. said...

I'll add to the above...

Because covenant theology is in the realm of biblical theology rather than systematic theology it (covenant theology) came before Federal Theology.

Calvin was a biblical theologian whose work was naturally followed by the Reformed systematizers or scholastics I suppose.

Obviously the great first and second generation theologians of the Reformation did both biblical and systematic theology, but there is a natural progression from the mining the raw material (biblical theology) to manufacturing that material into systematized doctrine.

9:13 PM, November 28, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

CT, you're not answering my question. Where do we see anything like Covenant Theology or Federal theology if you want to go with that designation, existing in any form before the 17th century?

You can go on and on about systematized theology compared to biblical theology all you want, but none of that matters if there is no CT or FT before the 1600s.

That's the point. Jamin argues (and perhaps you are too) that CT and FT existed all the way back to the apostles. That is of course wishful revisionism. We can perhaps identify some nascent CT ideas, just in the same way we can identify nascent Dispensational ideas.

The fact of the matter remains: CT/FT wasn't truly articulated until the 1600s, which is only 200 years before Dispensationalism was articulated.

7:13 AM, November 29, 2011  
Blogger c.t. said...

This subject matter is not easy when you first approach it. Biblical Theology as a discipline is difficult for people to understand. Federal Theology is even difficult and not a category, large category in its case, that even Reformed Christians today think in.

Let me just cite a single, simple work that very existence needs the large context of Federal Theology. Petrus Dathenus' Pearl of Christian Comfort. It's subject matter is law and Gospel. Law and Gospel itself is difficult subject matter for even Reformed believers today. But it's a good book to cite (written in the 1560s) because it in a quiet, unassuming way assumes what you say didn't exist.

I.e. I'm citing a small, relatively unknown (today) work to show you that what you say didn't exist no only did exist it wasn't even revolutionary, meaning it wasn't just being written about by the Bullingers and Olevianuses and so on of that era.

6:20 PM, November 29, 2011  
Blogger c.t. said...

If it's history you are looking for then Geerhardus Vos' essay the Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology is a good start:

http://www.biblicaltheology.org/dcrt.pdf

"Both Olevianus and Ursinus, the well-known Heidelberg theologians, stood in the closest connection
to the Zürich theologians. Olevianus had spent time in Zürich, and Ursinus had even been there
twice. It is, therefore, obvious that the influence which the covenant concept had on them is to be
attributed to this connection. Ursinus applied it in his Larger Catechism.4 We have two works by
Olevianus in which the covenant is dealt with, namely, the Interpretation of the Apostolic Symbol and
The Substance of the Covenant of Grace between God and the Elect, which saw the light of day in 1576
and 1585, respectively.
From that time on federalism did not recede from the Reformed system."

Vos spends some time also discussing even earlier references. Of course the Book of Romans could be mentioned as well...

Also keep in mind we are talking about the Reformation here. The Reformation's call was back to the sources. Back to apostolic biblical doctrine. We can't wave off the influence of the apostle Paul, for instance, when discussing Federal Theology.

6:39 PM, November 29, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

But it's a good book to cite (written in the 1560s) because it in a quiet, unassuming way assumes what you say didn't exist.

Did you read the cut off dates? 16 and 17th centuries. 1560 is the 16th century, that just a little over 300 years before J.N. Darby allegedly sucked Dispensationalism out of thin-air. That is hardly "historic" in the grand scheme of the Christian Church.

Also keep in mind we are talking about the Reformation here. The Reformation's call was back to the sources. Back to apostolic biblical doctrine. We can't wave off the influence of the apostle Paul, for instance, when discussing Federal Theology.

And the dispensationalists are returning to the sources. Many, many church fathers spoke of dispensations, so the argument "my Reformed sources trump your Reformed sources, doesn't really work in this instance.

6:54 PM, November 29, 2011  
Blogger c.t. said...

Well, you wrote:

>existing in any form before the 17th century?

and

>but none of that matters if there is no CT or FT before the 1600s.

and

>The fact of the matter remains: CT/FT wasn't truly articulated until the 1600s

I find the question of which is first or more ancient or how much more ancient, or just older, or what have you uninteresting. I think Reformed Christians have that same attitude across the board. We are interested in what the Bible teaches doctrinally.

But going back to my first comment above: you can't compare the Reformation to the 19th century.

Another central point: the five solas, especially justification by faith alone is the center of Reformation era doctrine. The battle was with a system of works righteousness which was and is bondage to the Kingdom of Satan itself.

When things were serious, when real doctrine was being fought for and died for, it was Federalism that came to the for.

9:25 PM, November 29, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I find the question of which is first or more ancient or how much more ancient, or just older, or what have you uninteresting. I think Reformed Christians have that same attitude across the board. We are interested in what the Bible teaches doctrinally.

And I am not interested in what the Bible teaches doctrinally? If the genetic argument wasn't so important to Reformed Christians (or better, CTers), then Jamin would not raise this argument. He does. Many of his ilk do. It is obviously important.

When things were serious, when real doctrine was being fought for and died for, it was Federalism that came to the for.

From Curt Daniel's work, The History and Theology of Calvinism

"In a broad sense, all Christian theologies are covenantal in that all say something about covenants. Yet in the technical sense of the term, Covenant Theology is Calvinistic. The term Federalism or Federal Theology is synonymous with Covenant Theology. Both terms come from the Latin word "foedus," or covenant."

"Federalism attempted to explain God's progressive plan in history, specifically regarding salvation."

"Now Cocceius was more interested in developing a "biblical" rather than a "systematic" theology, and was disgruntled with the predominant Bezan scholasticism he found in his day. He wished to modify this High Calvinism and saw in Covenant Theology the answer. ... Cocceius's Federalism became the standard form from then on (1640s)..." Daniel 57, 58.

These statements contradict a number of your claims, particularly your insistence that Federalism is different from Covenant Theology and the dichotomy between "biblical" theology and "systematic" theology.

12:30 PM, November 30, 2011  
Blogger c.t. said...

Most Reformed (i.e. non-dispensational Reformed) Christians don't understand the difference between biblical and systematic theology. Reading any straight biblical theologian like Vos or Kline is a shock to the brain that many don't ever get over or past. At first there are few points of reference. Many just leave it aside.

It should be a good shock to you though that there are foundational aspects of Reformed Theology that you are - or were - unaware of.

On the which school of doctrine was first... The thing is we are all going to stake our ground in the apostles eventually anyway, so, though we learn from church tradition or theologians ancient and modern, we aren't Romanists, so it comes down to the warrant of Scripture.

On your last point, I hardly said Federal Theology was *different* from classical Covenant Theology. Saying Federal Theology is classical Covenant Theology systematized is saying it is the same thing in different presentation. Again, it's the subject of biblical theology (raw material mining) and systematic theology (the manufacturing process, if you will) that is the difference.

You see it today. Prominent books on covenant theology have no interest in even maintaining a common terminology with other studies in covenant theology. And I am referring to theologians who are of the same school of Reformed Theology. They don't want a straight-jacket because they are self-consciously practicing the discipline of biblical theology and not systematic theology.

5:06 PM, November 30, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Most Reformed (i.e. non-dispensational Reformed) Christians don't understand the difference between biblical and systematic theology.

Oh really? Are you saying Cocceius was confused on this? Curt Daniel?

Reading any straight biblical theologian like Vos or Kline is a shock to the brain that many don't ever get over or past.

I have read both Kline and Vos and neither one of them I find particularly "shocking." I think you place too much faith in them as advocates for your view, whatever that may be.

I hardly said Federal Theology was *different* from classical Covenant Theology. Saying Federal Theology is classical Covenant Theology systematized is saying it is the same thing in different presentation. Again, it's the subject of biblical theology (raw material mining) and systematic theology (the manufacturing process, if you will) that is the difference.

You wrote,

"Federal Theology is the systematic theology side of covenant theology which resides more in the discipline of biblical theology.

This is why covenant theology is a bit mushy and all over the board.

Because covenant theology is in the realm of biblical theology rather than systematic theology it (covenant theology) came before Federal Theology."

Daniel's debunks this hard distinction. Especially if the two terms mean the exact same thing. You place a distinction upon the two as if one is lesser than the other, or greater than the other. Such a distinction doesn't exist.

5:28 PM, November 30, 2011  
Blogger c.t. said...

We've come to the limit of our conversation simply because you are attributing things to me that are untrue and I can't defend myself because of your obvious lack of familiarity with or understanding of the subject matter.

For starters, for instance to see the relationship of Cocceius to a, for instance, Herman Witsius, read J. I. Packer's intro to Witsius' Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man. Packer wrote it for those new to the subject:

http://gospelpedlar.com/articles/Bible/cov_theo.html

For the relationship of Federal Theology to classical Covenant Theology (I always put 'classical' in there for a reason) you really just have to see it in operation. Read Thomas Boston. Read anything classic on the subject of law and Gospel. The Marrow of Modern Divinity, or a Treatise on the Law and the Gospel by Colquhoun, or the aforementioned by by Dathenus, Pearl of Christian Comfort. The very subject of law and Gospel puts you directly in the heart of Federal Theology/classical Covenant Theology.

The spine of Federal Theology is the two Adams. The foundation is the Covenant of Redemption (which historically some Reformed Theologians fold - for better or worse, I won't go into it - into the Covenant of Grace), the Covenant of Works, and the Covenant of Grace.

5:46 PM, November 30, 2011  
Blogger c.t. said...

R. Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California has some of the most concise and helpful material to get an understanding of classical Covenant Theology anywhere:

http://clark.wscal.edu/covtheses.php

http://clark.wscal.edu/classicalcovtheology.php

I obviously have my disagreements with Clark which aren't worth mentioning, but those two links are gold.

5:57 PM, November 30, 2011  
Blogger c.t. said...

Here's a third good link to Clark's material:

http://clark.wscal.edu/briefhistorycovtheol.php

It was kind of hidden on his page, and took me awhile to find it. It's a concise run-through of the history of classical Covenant Theology. Clark is a historical theologian.

6:07 PM, November 30, 2011  

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