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The Black List - Eternal Covenant

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The following is a long critique on Ralph Smith’s work. Auburn Avenue Theologians praise this book. It is written by Ralph Smith, missionary to Japan, and is an attempt to redefine “covenant” and “Trinity” in light of the New Perspectives on Paul. It is classic Theological Modernity in action.

The Black List – Eternal Covenant
Critiqued by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Eternal Covenant: How the Trinity Reshapes Covenant Theology
by Ralph Smith
Canon Press, Moscow, ID: 2003.
102 Pages, Paperback

Blurred Vision: Theological Degeneration In Ralph Smith’s Misconceived Covenantal Theology
By Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

With any modern theologian[1] one reads, there is always the inherent characteristic of redefinition. Modern theologians take old ideas, strip them of their meaning, reinvent these ideas with cultural relevancy, and then pass them off as biblical teachings, simply from a “new” angle. However, new angles usually represent old deviant ideas and heretical concepts repackaged as the truth.

For example, Karl Barth was strongly opposed to liberal theology and fought against the modernist tendency to place humanity in the position of God. This sounds admirable until one looks at Barth’s theological training, and his theological outlook. Barth was a liberal among liberals. Barth drew his epistemology from Immanuel Kant, through the teachings of Albrecht Ritchel and Wilhelm Herrman. Soren Kierkegaard had an enormous impact on him through existentialism (though he denied that same influence of existentialism later on), as did Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s Karamozov which demonstrated a bold-faced void of humanistic philosophy that molded his apologetical thinking. He was influenced by the liberal theological method of Herrmann, the atheism of Franz Overbeck and Ludwig Feuerbach, and the pietism of Jean Blumhardt. Barth is considered a “healthy” “Modern Theologian.” He viewed truth based on faith rather than evidence.[2] He taught fideism. The Bible, for Barth, is not written revelation, it merely is a record of revelation.[3] This makes the Bible a witness to revelation, but not revelation itself. It is a thoroughly human book, and is fallible. For example, when he says “The Bible is the word of God,” he does not mean what orthodox Christians mean. Instead, he had redefined it using liberal theology. According to Barth it meant that God’s being is at work within the Bible, and is simply used as a gateway to God (which is really existentialism). So when Barth used terms like God, Bible, Jesus Christ, revelation, and the like, he means something very different than what historic Christianity has taught. He had diligently redefining the truth to make it culturally relevant to the era in which he lived, and he accomplished this using liberal theology, and became the father of neo-orthodoxy.

Ralph Smith’s book, The Eternal Covenant fits nicely into the mold of Modern Theology. This book, by its own acclamation, is an attempt to do away with historic orthodox formulations of ideas surrounding the word “covenant.” It also has offered a redefinition of the orthodox theological formulations in the doctrine of the Trinity, the theological strata that surrounds a theology of imputation (both from the Fall in Adam as well as the work of Jesus Christ in His active and passive obedience), and ultimately the doctrine of justification – how the believer is accepted by God and by what means he is accepted before God. Smith says his book is a “reflection” on James Jordan’s comment, “Reformed theologians had often seen the covenant as a Trinitarian pact.”[4] Smith then says that “because in my own reading of Reformed Theology, I had not noticed the “Trinitarian” aspect of the covenant.”[5] So, Smith has written this book as a reflection of setting the record straight. However, one must wonder how much Reformed Theology he has actually read to miss such an integral part of Covenant Theology, as will be seen, for Covenant Theology is profoundly Trinitarian. Yet, Smith says that as a result of this “reflection” the book stands as a challenge to the historic position and definition of covenant in the overall framework of Covenant Theology, as well as a redefinition of the Trinity.

Smith will argue that the form of unity within the Trinity is “covenant”, not “ontological being.” This unity is seen in perichoreisis, the mutual indwelling of each “person of the Trinity” in one another as “deeply penetrating”. Though he is aware that this dabbles in Tri-theism, and attempts to overcome that problem with an “ontological intersection” of “covenant” and “being,” his redefinition of Trinity is nothing more than Tri-theism. He will, of course, as any good modern theologian, blatantly deny that he has fallen into Tri-theism, or any other error (much like Barth denied his existentialism). Yet, nonetheless, he will propagate the “new” concept of the Trinity as: “God is three persons united in covenant love.” The only means of escape that he offers for this Tri-theism is an elastic definition of “covenant” which redefines the manner in which God saves, or relates to both Himself, and to men. Covenant will no longer follow the Biblical view of being a pact or agreement (as so formulated by the Bible and the confessions of history[6]) but will come to mean something quite different, in order to support his redefined view of the Trinity. Ultimately, Smith’s views are purposefully associated with the New Perspectives on Paul, and the theology surrounding the Auburn Avenue Theology, both of which propagate heretical ideas that redefine the Faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3-4) (They offer a complete overhaul in redefining terms for election, faith, imputation, covenant, and Reformed Theology as a whole). Smith, though, is not just redefining “covenant” but is also redefining the nature of God. Whenever one peers back in history and finds heresy, it is almost always associated with Trinitarian errors.[7] Smith is no exception, and as a Modern Theologian has attributed greatly to a pernicious Trinitarian error.

Prefatory Note:

The evaluation of Smith’s book will follow this notation, and it is given to ensure the reader that Smith’s work was considered carefully. A separate section embodying a critique will comprise the last part of this paper. There will, however, be undocumented interaction to some extent as the overview of Smith’s position is set forth. The purpose of this is to remind the reader that key points have been befuddled, and that there are certain concepts to be reminded of later on. The evidence and documentation of that interaction will be provided at length when the critique is given of Smith’s information.

Overview of Smith’s Teaching:

The book is divided in the following manner: There is a short “Introduction”, and then chapter one covers the question, “Is There a Covenant in the Trinity?” Chapter two covers “The Character of the Covenant.” Chapter three covers, “Implications of a Trinitarian Covenant.” Then there is a short conclusion. There are innumerable references to ideas or materials that are simply stated and not backed up by references or evidence.[8] There is very little Scriptural support through the book, and there is no exegesis present on any key passages for clarification. The work is more of a contemplation, as he so stated in the preface, rather than an exegetical attempt at furthering the Auburn teaching. It is though crucial to understand what Smith is saying in the book, since it is used heavily by Auburn teachers as those following the new Federal Vision. The ideas in Smith’s work can easily be found in The Federal Vision.

Introduction:

Smith begins the introduction with the following statement. “The most illustrious names in the history of Reformed theology have affirmed a covenant relationship between the Father and the Son…”[9] Smith is setting a standard for the recent book, The Federal Vision which has set forth the same precedence for the term “relationship” by Auburn teachers. The following statement made in the Introduction (written by Steve Wilkins) to The Federal Vision echoes Smith’s statement, “Covenant is the central teaching of the Word of God; it describes the relationship with the Triune God through Jesus Christ.”[10] Covenant is said to be a relationship for the Auburn teachers. Smith emphasizes this point by pressing that it is “backed” by the reference to Reformed theologians, the most illustrious, who say that “covenant” is a relationship between the Father and the Son. But “covenant relationship” is a redefinition and restatement based on Smith’s overall theological bent. He is going to try and prove that covenant is a relationship, but assumes that all Reformed theologians teach this by his statement. The most illustrious Reformed theologians in church history did not believe “covenant” was a “relationship” but is a pact or agreement following the Hebrew meaning and the biblical data. This will be evaluated later and documented by some of the very same theologians Smith cites in his first chapter.

Smith says that the Puritans and Dutch theologians address “important issues that have to do with the interpersonal relations among the Father, Son, and Spirit.”[11] Smith, though, finds this troubling since many of them do not deal with the Spirit, and do not formulate a “healthy” doctrine of the Trinity in their covenant theology. This he sees as detrimental to theology overall since “covenant” is central to the Bible’s teaching, not only for God’s “relationship” with men, but God’s “relationship” within Himself. He quotes Karl Barth at length in a footnote stating that for God, “whether in respect of His properties, or as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – there is no need of any particular pact or decree.” Smith is going to follow the neo-orthodoxy of Barth to a great degree. He agrees with Barth that Covenant Theology and the Reformed view is “dualistic and that it errs in making the covenant of grace secondary to the covenant of works.” Though this a clear mistake, as will be shown, Smith affirms Barth whole-heartedly. Smith, for whatever reason, believes that Reformed Theology holds paradigmatic the Covenant of Works as the central covenant and not the Covenant of Redemption, though, as he will say in chapter 1, many Reformed Theologians through history have held to a Covenant of Redemption. Why he believes the Covenant of Works replaces the centrality of the Covenant of Redemption is connected with a failure to understand the Law, and that the Law is a reflection of the character of God – a reflection of His being, not a covenantal relationship.

Chapter 1:

Smith begins chapter 1 with the question, “Is there a Covenant in the Trinity?” He then takes a survey of history (a brief survey) that covers some of the main Reformed theologians.[12] Smith says that, “so many Reformed theologians do recognize that the persons of the Trinity from eternity relate to one another in covenant.”[13] This is a falsity. The theologians he quotes do not define the Trinity in the same way Smith defines the Trinity and the idea of covenant as “relationship.” He says, “given this fact, we need to investigate why it should be that the doctrine of the covenant is seldom seen to be grounded in this Trinitarian relationship.”[14] Before Smith defines and explains exactly what he means by this “relationship”, he is already assuming everyone accepts his ideas, and that Reformed theologians have taught this. Note, this is “fact” to Smith.

He then surveys the Reformed opinion on whether or not there is a covenant in the Trinity. It must be noted that this inquiry is not the same as historical theology will contemplate. Reformed thinkers have defined “covenant” as a “pact or agreement” between the Father and the Son. But Smith’s characteristic procedure throughout the book is to subtly introduce a new Trinitarian Theology while redefining “covenant” as a mutual indwelling in the inter-Trinitarian relationship. This however is not what Reformed Theologians have ever taught.

Smith first quotes John Murray. His purpose in quoting Murray is to affirm Murray’s denial in some sort of covenant in the Trinity and also denies the Covenant of Works. However Murray states that Adam in the garden was a time of, “intense and concentrated probation”[15] following Gerhardes Vos. However, Murray does not like the term “Covenant of Works” itself because he sees, incorrectly, some elements of grace in the Adamic administration. But Murray mixes the idea of “grace” with “goodness”. God is good in the garden, not gracious. This is the point Smith wants his readers to see about Murray. Though Murray is well equipped to handle the idea of probation, Smith wants his readers to focus on Murray’s ideas of a denial of the phrase Covenant of Works; or at least a denial of the term.

Smith then quotes O. Palmer Robertson saying that he explicitly denies the Covenant of Redemption. Smith then says that Robertson “excludes the possibility of a Trinitarian covenant.” It is important to keep in mind that there is a large difference between what Smith believes this means, and what Reformed theology has always taught concerning the Covenant of Redemption. They are mutually exclusive. Robertson states, “the intention of God from eternity to redeem a people to himself certainly must be affirmed.”[16] In other words, Robertson is following the Westminster Confession. He is using the phrase, “intention of God from eternity,” to replace the phrase “Covenant of Redemption.” This is the same historical formulae that Westminster followed, which will be more fully explained later. In any case, Smith is trying to demonstrate, for whatever reason, that Robertson does not see the Covenant of Redemption as biblical. But Robertson says that such a reality, without the terminology, must be affirmed.

Smith then moves to the older Reformed theologians. Smith says, “Early Reformed theologians such as Olevianus, Cocceius, Witsius, and Voetius all affirmed a covenant between the Father and the Son.”[17] This is true, but “covenant” to these old Reformed Theologians always meant “a pact or agreement”, not a relationship. Smith does not actually quote any of these men, but rather relies on secondary information through Heinrich Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics. He quotes R. Scott Clark on Olevianus demonstrating that “the covenant is nothing more than a way of describing the relations which obtain among the persons of the Trinity.”[18] Smith is unsatisfied with this saying that this is “typical of Reformed theology” though he quotes nothing to determine this, and attempts to say that “the covenant never quite becomes truly Trinitarian.”[19] Again, one must distinguish between Smith’s ideas and Reformed Theology in general on the doctrine of the Trinity.

Next, Smith quotes Richard Sibbes, David Dickson, Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Brooks, John Owen, and Thomas Manton. Smith gives little documentation for “offering the usual reasons”[20] these men give for their position. They all, he says, are Covenant Theologians of the same order, but do not bring a full discussion on the Trinitarian aspects of covenant in their writings. To make an assertion like this categorically demonstrates Smith’s lack of insight into these men and their writings.

Francis Turretin is quoted next, demonstrating that from his second volume on soteriology, there is mention of the covenant being Trinitarian. For Smith, though, covenant will be seen as primary to Theology Proper, not to soteriology.

After this Smith quotes John Flavel and Thomas Vincent. He makes special note of Vincent since his work on the Shorter Catechism was recommended by most of the good puritans of the day, and then tries to set as rivals Thomas Watson against his “friend” Thomas Vincent for writing a similar Catechism but without the Covenant of Redemption/Covenant of Grace distinction. Watson, following the Westminster model, formulated the Covenant of Grace into two parts: the Covenant of Grace before Adam as represented as a pact and agreement between the Father and Son, applied by the Spirit, and the outworking of that covenant in time with men. This Smith does not mention.

Next, he mentions Witsius, very briefly, and says that Witsius does not speak about the Spirit, nor of a Trinitarian covenant. Smith moves on to Thomas Ridgeley, Thomas Boston, and then quotes the Westminster Standards. All of this is mere exercise at this point. There is very little interaction overall. John Gill is quoted at length, and then Charles Hodge. Shedd, Dabney and A.A. Hodge are given short paragraphs, Lewis Berkhoff and Herman Hoeksema are also quoted. Hoeksema is quoted primarily for his references and teachings on the work of Abraham Kuyper. Smith sees Kuyper as the first theologian to talk about the covenant as primarily Trinitarian.

Smith treats these men in order to assert that, “what our cursory review of Reformed Theology indicates is that Presbyterian theologians considered the idea of a Covenant of Redemption to be the fount of soteriology.” Though this is blatantly not the case, Smith believes he has helped his reader see that this is what Reformed theology has always taught. This he believes is inadequate since “covenant” is Trinitarian, and is primarily the mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity with one another. He finds that Reformed theology needs to be updated. He says, “for them, the covenant is an agreement.”[21] Then, out of nowhere, he concludes his survey by saying, “Rather than the Covenant of Works determining the form of the Covenant of Redemption, Kuyper’s insight suggests that the Trinitarian covenant is the true prototype of every covenant.”[22] For Reformed theology the Covenant of Works does not determine the Covenant of Redemption. Why Smith says this is because he is following a skewed model of Reformed Theology. None of the theologians he mentioned takes the Covenant of Works and forms the Covenant of Redemption from it, or alludes to do so. Quite the opposite, as the Westminster Confession of Faith demonstrates, the Covenant of Redemption, or the decrees of God (chapter 3 in the Confession) set the covenantal framework for “covenant” as a “pact or agreement” in time under the guise of both the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Redemption.

Smith then moves onto biblical arguments. This is a strange section indeed. Instead of first offering biblical arguments for the theologians he just quoted in over ten pages, he attempts to deter the reader from falling into dispensationalism. Smith does not want his reader to fall into that error. He then offers a truly “Trinitarian covenant” instead of the dispensational model that many have fallen into today. Smith says, “there are three distinct lines of argument for a belief in a covenant relationship among the person of the Trinity.”[23] He then quotes Karl Rahner, a modern liberal Roman Catholic theologian (one of the most influential and most read Catholic theologians of the 20th century), where Rahner says, “the economic Trinity reveals the ontological Trinity.” This is a statement of cultural relevance that Rahner is well known for making. His theology surrounds the divinization of humanity, among other things, and Smith is quoting him as a primary argument for his theological view! He does not start with the being of God, but rather, as Smith is inclined, he starts with the work of God. God’s work primarily demonstrates His being. Since God works by Covenant, this must be essential to his ontology. Rahner is called the “transcendental Thomist” officially founding His theology upon Thomas Aquinas as understood through Roman scholastic theologians. He tried to integrate Thomas Aquinas’ theology into the post-Enlightenment era (which was an impossible task since Aquinas held to a theology of revelation, and Rahner (as well as other modern theologians) to a Kantian transcendental philosophy. Rahner attempted to take this transcendental Kantian dialectic and demonstrate how God and revelation cohere with the basic domains of the human mind and will. Rahner’s theology is characteristic of modern theology in that it is non-systematic and offers a modem of theology for the “continuing creative recovery” of the Christian tradition in culture. This is exactly what Smith is doing as well, though Smith believes Rahner to be more radical than he is.[24]

Smith says that God reveals who He is by His Word and His works.[25] He places the cart before the horse in stating that revelation of God’s being is primarily seen in His works which are revealed in His word; instead of saying that His being is first revealed and then that determines His works. He says that the first work God did was in creation, and this was a relationship He had with creation.[26] This is the kind of Creator God is – relational. God also had a relationship with Adam in the garden, and this was a covenant, but not the Covenant of Works. It was a relational covenant of love and grace. This demonstrates, he says, “that the covenant is something essential to the eternal reality of God.”[27] This is an ontological statement. Covenant, for Smith, is an ontological term, as well as a descriptive term of the work of God. It is, as he says, “and aspect of God’s own being.”[28] He says that since God is a covenantal God in time, it is reasonable to say He is a covenantal God in being in eternity. This is a non-sequitir, but Smith says that unless Covenant Theologians can give a better answer to the question, “Where did this covenant reality come from and why does it dominate history so utterly?” then the reader seems to be left with Smith’s ideas about covenant ontology. There is an answer, something Smith completely overlooks, which is grounded in the character of God – the answer Reformed theologians and scholastics have been giving for centuries. This will be treated later in the critique under explaining “the Law.”.

Smith then moves on to the “elements of the covenant” where he gives two qualifications: 1) passages often quoted for the Covenant of Redemption and Covenant of Grace where “not a few are less than clearly helpful.” This is a strange statement since Reformed Theology has held these truths for hundreds of years being exceedingly clear on what they mean, and exegetically poignant (which cannot be said for Smith since he offers no exegesis at all.) He disagrees with Witsius, saying that where Witsius sees covenantal themes, most people would not. Now, he does not “quote most people” anywhere. He simply makes an empty assertions one after the other. 2) The notion of an “agreement” he says, is not “adequate” to define covenant. Again, he offers no Hebrew or Greek exegesis to back up what the words actually mean. Instead, he simply follows James Jordan’s conceptions of Trinitarian covenantal theology.

Finally, Smith begins to quote a few Bible verses. He attempts to demonstrate that covenants comprise parties, conditions and blessings. He quotes a number of passages that he offers as proof texts for the Trinitarian covenant, which Jesus exemplifies in His “relationship with His disciples, but also in his relationship with his Father.”[29] From this he begins to extrapolate some good material on the Covenant of Redemption, though he dispenses with the term altogether and clouds that theological idea with simply saying “covenant.” The problem is that “covenant” to Smith means something greatly different than what he is extrapolating to the Reformed Theologian. He is beginning to redefine his terms.

Next. Smith overviews “covenantal language” that is found in the Bible. He says that the language in John 17, the High Priestly prayer of Christ, is language that reflects a relationship with the Father and a relationship with the disciples. He says that Jesus desires the disciples to enter into a relationship that embodies being “one in covenantal faith and obedience.”[30] Then he makes a radical dispensational statement in saying, “In both the old creation dwelling with man, and the new creation dwelling in man, there is an analogy to the mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity, not indeed in its ontological meaning but in its covenantal significance.”[31] Two things are to be noted. 1) Smith is making a radically common dispensational statement in his use of “with” and “in”. Those elect in the Old Testament are as much saved as those in the New Testament. His dichotomy here, his discontinuity, is as radical as Walvoord, Ryrie and Schaffer, those he warned his readers about previously. 2) He is retracting his previous ontological statement about the meaning of covenant, to say that covenant is not necessarily ontological, but covenantal. Which is it? Smith seems to be unsure.

Smith then quotes Geerhardes Vos who says that the covenant in eternity among the Trinity does not proceed from man, but is something which takes place in the counsel of God. Here, as Vos states and Smith mimics, the Covenant of Redemption is the high point of Reformed Theology. In actuality, a part of Smith’s misunderstanding of the Covenant of Redemption is that it is the first of the covenants to deal with after setting forth one’s Theology Proper. Smith says, though, “it still cannot be denied that the focus of the Covenant of Redemption is man, for it is a covenant to redeem man from sin.”[32] He says that Reformed Theology in this way, ascends no higher than soteriology. This is simply wrong. It is historically wrong, and theologically wrong. The Covenant of Redemption is not primarily soteriological, but primarily intertrinitarian (something Smith is trying to rescue by redefining something that needs no redefinition, but simply needs to be understood properly through Theology Proper and the Law of God.)

Smith then quotes both Kuyper and Hoeksema in order to come to a concluding idea bout the inter-Trinitarian covenant. He says that through Kuyper’s definition, and Hoeksema’s clarification of Kuyper, one can rest easily in the idea of Covenant as “the relationship between the persons of the Trinity.”[33] Smith says that almost whenever the Bible speaks of covenant, it speaks of love. As with most of his assumptions throughout the book, he offers nothing in support of this. He then says that the covenant is to be viewed theologically, instead of soteriology. This is a misnomer since something soteriological, is part of theology. What Smith means is that the “covenant is a relationship” in the Trinity, and this is the paradigm for all of theology. Would that include soteriology? For Smith, and the Auburn theologians, the answer is yes – but only in a redefined context.

Then, Smith finally makes his radical departure from orthodox theology. He says, “The life of God is covenantal life. God is three persons united in covenantal love.” This is a redefinition of God, which embraces a tri-theism. It is a grave digression from the orthodox formulations of traditional Trinitarian Theology. Smith is aware of the danger of his statement and attempts to rescue himself from his Tri-theism. This moves him into chapter 2 where he discusses the character of the covenant and the theological idea of perichoreisis, or mutual indwelling. Smith believes that will rescue him of his Tri-Theism, and set the record straight for redefining Reformed Theology’s understanding of “covenant”.

Chapter 2:

Smith begins by recapping his previous chapter, and then states, “If covenant is Trinitarian, it must be basic to the fellowship of the three eternal persons, not merely something brought in to solve the problem of man’s sin.”[34] From this misunderstanding, he begins to define the covenants, or rather permanently redefine them in his theological structure. He says, “If the biblical covenants between men or the covenants that God grants to men are patterned after the divine directly or indirectly, we can look to them to discover the nature of the Trinitarian covenant, even though they also may contain elements that would be inappropriate for the Trinitarian covenant.”[35] He then begins to trace the biblical covenants, and skips the Adamic covenant altogether. He says that the covenant, in general, “teaches the beloved the way to ever richer enjoyment of that love.”[36] How does one enjoy the covenant? He appeals to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:37-40 and the command to love God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength. He then says this is not “mere forensic stipulation.”[37] Smith then says “with Paul” that the whole law can be summed up in the command to love our neighbor, quoting Romans 13:10. This however misuses the bigger picture. The information that Christ is appealing to is the Deuteronomisitc commentary on the Ten Commandments, and that the whole Law, the tablets of the Law, is the reflection of the character of God. This is seen by Christ in keeping the law as a forensic stipulation to perfection, or eschatological fulfillment. Smith simply does not have this on his radar at all. For Smith, keeping the command is to “keep covenant”, and without love and righteousness commingled, there is no real covenant faithfulness. This is helpful for him to redefine the “covenant” as relationship since it will do away nicely with the Covenant of Works. He then quotes James Jordan’s definition of covenant as a concise summary of what he is trying to convey, “ the covenant is a personal-structural bond which joins the three persons of God in a community of life, and which man was created to participate.”[38] Smith then says that, “this can be paraphrased in similar terms to stress that the covenant is a bond of love that structures the community life of the three persons of God.”[39] Be aware, here Smith is saying that God’s essence is not that which governs the internal life of the Trinity, but the actions of God in covenant love. Later, he will try to merge these two, as he did in chapter one, being very careful in trying to escape his Tri-theism. He summarizes this finally by saying, “The Bible, therefore, finds covenantal unity in the covenant of love among the persons of the Trinity, an eternal covenant that defines the fellowship of Father, Son and Spirit and in which man was created to participate.”[40] There are no biblical verses to speak of here, but this is what he says the Bible says. Smith has also included man, now, in this covenantal fellowship – that which he says humanity was created for – but fails to distinguish exactly how this fellowship occurs. He saves that for his next point on perichoreisis.

Smith quotes Catherine Mowery LaCugna.[41] He says, quoting her, “Fellowship among the person of the Trinity, “is the unifying force that holds together the three coequal persons who know and love each other as peers.”[42] He then critiques Reformed theology as having offered and “underdeveloped form” of a “god” who is transcendent, and not one that is eminent. One wonders which Reformed theologians he is reading to perceive that sense, but offers no information as to why he says it. He then offers a resolution to the dilemma of God seeming transcendent over immanent (the Latin vs. Greek usage of the concepts) by perichoreisis. Perichoreisis is the traditional word to describe the mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity. He says in a footnote that perichoreisis will encompass both covenantal and ontological aspects (Smith is blatantly flip flopping here. Is he able to make up his mind on this point?). He then quotes Van Til to clarify what he means for perichoreisis. This will refer to the Trinity being “mutually exhaustive of one another.” He then makes an abstraction from this and says every time “in” Christ or “in” the Father is seen in the Bible, this refers to a covenantal relationship (the reader being aware that “relationship” has been redefined by Smith), and that what theologians used to think is ontological, is really covenantal. Then he gives a most incredible statement, “In God, ontology, the mutual “inness” of the three is related to an eternal covenant among the persons, but it is not easy to say how.”[43] He is correct to say that it is not easy to see how this can be, and rather, it is quite impossible to prove. He is trying to say, carefully, that ontology equals covenant for God. Here then, the covenant becomes a “metaphysical necessity”[44] in God.

In Smith’s conclusion of this chapter, he says, “The biblical language of the covenant and the most relevant examples of covenant relationships suggest that it is not adequate to depict the covenant among the person of the Trinity as an agreement.”[45] This statement, in conclusion, is made with no biblical warrant on any verse, or any text, or any proof whatsoever. He simply assumes that by osmosis exegesis has occurred, and that through the quotations of LaCunga, Jordan and Van Til, that the reader will assume the same theological conclusions for biblical theology over systematic theology.

Chapter 3:

In this last full chapter, Smith is going to imply relevancy from his liberal theological formulations at redefining both “covenant” and “Trinity”. Because Reformed theologians have relied on a Covenant of Works framework for their theology, the potential for an intertrinitarian covenant and fellowship of love has not climaxed. Smith says that Reformed Theology, at its center must grow, and as a result this new paradigm shift must take place. This is classic liberalism speaking. Reformed Theology and its banner of semper reformanda (always reforming) has never meant redefinition, but rather the refining of thoughts and theological doctrines already present. One does not throw away the main tenants of Covenant Theology to make room for a new paradigm and call it Reformation. Instead, they must call it liberalism radically affected by the Enlightenment (something Federal Visionists are trying to avoid!).

He begins by using Lee Iron’s idea (a disciple of Meredith Kline, though not espousing Kline’s views), to antiquate (a good modern theological term) the Covenant of Works. Irons says that Westminster is asserting a medieval idea surrounding merit and reward. This, Smith picks up and calls the “medieval voluntarist” view. He says that merit is impossible before God. If Smith was more aware of Reformed theology, he would know that merit by men is impossible before God, but not for Jesus Christ. He says, following Irons, that the Covenant of Works is built upon the medieval notion of merit that is unbiblical and theologically detrimental. So, “to revise the traditional theology in a more biblical direction” is what Smith says Irons is doing. Smith says that merit is now seen simply as “covenantal faithfulness.” Smith then makes another remarkable assertion about merit, “It is also remarkably similar to the views of N.T. Wright, who claims that “the idea of God’s righteousness was inextricably bound up with the idea of the covenant.”[46] Not only is this remarkably similar, but is right on the money. Wright and Smith are theological bedfellows. The writings of Wright have had a major influence on Auburn Theology in general, and the New Perspectives of Paul saturate their writings.[47] Smith is no exception to this.

Smith then says “the Covenant of Works is unbiblical.”[48] This has implications not only on the purpose for the probation Adam had in the garden, but also for the image in which he was created. Smith says that the image of God must be redefined as well since the Covenant of Works is not essentially necessary for Adam’s existence.[49] He then confuses the blessing of the Tree of Life, something that Adam and Eve were able to eat from while they were in the garden, with the blessing they would have received if they had been obedient, or “covenantally faithful.” Instead of eternal life as the reward, Smith says that Adam would have gained “covenantal maturity” (or a knowledge of good and evil). Smith believes that Adam and Eve started at the “highest blessing and life.” But this does injustice to the entire narrative of the probationary period. There would have been no test if this was the highest point for Adam and Eve. Even Smith’s covenant maturity would have been unnecessary. Yet, as a result of his denial of the Covenant of Works, Adam is said to have been in a covenant of love, an extension of the Covenant of Love that exists in the Trinity. Smith then remarkably quotes Meredith Kline out of context, and rewords, blatantly, Kline’s view of covenant by replacing the word “grace” with the word “love” believing he has won his reader over to a newly redefined idea of “covenant.” According to Smith, no longer is Reformed Theology covenantally anthropological, but rather Trinitarian.

Smith then realizes he must deal with the objection to this denial that is the connection between the Covenant of Works and the Gospel. Smith says, “To deny the covenant of works is to deny the traditional parallel between Adam and Christ and to undermine the biblical doctrine of justification.”[50] This writer would rephrase this to say, “To deny the Covenant of Works is to deny the biblical parallel between Adam and Christ and to undermine the biblical doctrine of justification.” In attempting to overcome this objection, Smith looks at a number of theologians such as Murray, Kline, Bavinck, Gaffin and Daniel Fuller. He decides that the Westminster Confession of Faith revels in double talk. Smith says it does not expound on what it means that “Adam could obtain merit” before God. It is obvious that Smith is unaware of the writings of the Puritans and framers of the Assembly, though he supposedly surveyed them for this book. In fact, the Westminster Assembly knew exactly what they meant in defining “merit” and what Adam could have accomplished if he would have upheld the Covenant of Works. Smith, though, in his covenant confusion, has superimposed onto Westminster his own theological misapprehensions. He concludes this section with stating, in opposition to Reformed Theology and Westminster, that grace is always involved in covenant. Smith says, “Adam’s sin is the rejection of God’s covenant love.”[51] Smith says that neither Adam nor Christ have to earn anything, and that merit, in this sense, is useless. Instead, they are simply to be faithful in covenant. In this way, he believes, the doctrine of imputation (of Adam’s sin to humanity or Christ’s righteousness to His elect) remains unscathed.

Next, Smith attempts the revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith in a footnote on page eighty-three. He says, “the term Covenant of Works in the Westminster Confession of Faith could be revised to mean simply “a covenant on which obedience is required to the degree that even one sin would bring everlasting damnation, unless grace intervened,” or something similar.”” Though this is not what Westminster thought concerning any of these redefined terms, this is what Smith thinks would mature Reformed theology.

One of the most ridiculous statements Smith makes in the book is when he says, “Revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms along these lines suggested would not entail a contradiction of the theology of the covenant that they teach, nor does it undermine the doctrine of justification.”[52] The key word here is “they”. The only possible way this statement would be true is if the Assembly redefined traditional orthodoxy to meet Smith’s requirements. Otherwise, this statement is simply a matter of theological blindness to historical theology. He says, though, “it is far better, I believe, to affirm that the covenant defines the fellowship of love in the Trinity, rather than being simply an agreement or series of agreements.”[53]

Smith then wraps up this chapter with an appeal to the covenant structure of the Bible, to worship, and to eschatology. He, along with all dispensationalists, says, “The covenant in Christ is the truly new covenant which places the Church on wholly different grounds.”[54] This is an amazing statement coming from someone who just spent the better part of his work trying to demonstrate a consistency in “covenant” love. Eschatologically speaking, and quite amazingly, Smith believes that “Redemption in Christ is restoration to the original position in the garden and to the commission given to the first Adam, but it is more. In Christ our position is even higher than it was in the garden, for Christ is both God and man, and in Him we are united to God in the most intimate fellowship imaginable…We are to conquer the world in the name of Christ and for the glory of God.” Smith’s dispensationalism is getting the best of him as he progresses. First, he needs to choose whether Christ restores the Christian to the garden state, or if He does not, or whether Christ restores the Christian to something greater. Smith seems to affirm both, and this is contradictory. Secondly, Adam was given the cultural mandate to affirm the glory of God in the world. Why Smith would think that Christians have a different task is another testament to his inept apprehension of theology. This should be a clear reminder of what happens to the overall structure of understanding the Bible when major portions and systematics are neglected or misappropriated.

In the last section on worship, Smith makes a rather glib statement about the giving of the law (no doubt to his massively under estimated use of the Law in relation to all the topics he has thus far discussed). He says, “God’s gift of the covenant to the nation of Israel at Sinai might be thought of as including a sort of covenant initiation ceremony.”[55] This is an understatement of titanic proportions. This was not only a reinstating of the Law from the garden, but it was a greater and more complete demonstration of the character of God. Because Smith blatantly overlooks the character of God in Theology Proper, his Trinitarian covenantal scheme continues to fall by the wayside. It is overarchingly wrong because of major themes he has completely neglected to incorporate in his thinking, and it is very transparent that his theology is lacking on these issues. These ideas for Smith comprise a Christian worldview in which, as he thinks, has rescued Reformed Theology from theological error on the nature of God’s inter-Trinitarian fellowship, and how that fellowship overflows upon men.

Overview Conclusion

The last two pages of Smith’s book deal with main conclusions drawn from the study itself. What is Smith’s conclusion to the whole matter at hand? He says, “The Westminster Confession is in need of revision.”[56] Covenant concepts in the Westminster Confession of Faith are inadequate, and Smith has offered a resolution to revise the Standards. (Those of The Federal Vision have picked up on that notion time and time again, especially in their own redefinition of terms throughout their main work, The Federal Vision.) The covenant of love provides the modern theologian with the necessary link between biblical theology and systematic theology, and a revision of terms is of utmost importance to bring covenantal theology into maturation.

A Critique of the Most Prominent points in Smith’s “Eternal Covenant”

Smith has digressed from historical orthodoxy to implement a blatant and over-arching liberal schematic for covenant theology that uses as its primary focus, the same teachings throughout the New Perspectives on Paul. Also, in reading through this work, it becomes manifest that Smith has not really dealt with any of the traditional historians adequately, and has actually underestimated their theology surrounding the term covenant. Both of these points give way to six main points to critique: 1) Smith’s undeniable foundation in The New Perspectives in Pauline Theology, 2) Smith’s inadequacy of the Biblical data on “covenant” (i.e. his disregard for biblical exegesis), 3) Smith’s implied, and inescapable, Tri-theism, 4) God’s ontology in perichoresis, 5) Smith’s denial of the Covenant of Works, 6) Smith’s inadequacy of historical theology, shown in the evisceration of “merit” from covenant concepts, and inadequacy surrounding the Confessionalism of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Smith’s Liberal New Perspectivism

The New Perspectives on Paul (NPP) have a foundational impact on the overall tenure of Smith’s work. Smith carries the thoughts behind the NPP as a vehicle for his redefinition of the Trinity. It is no doubt, then, that one would find him quoting liberal theologians, or those avowing the NPP or Auburn Theology, such as N.T. Wright, Peter Liethart, and relying heavily on James Jordan. Smith is pressing the reader to accept “covenant faithfulness” as an overarching redevelopment of the transmutation from Hebraic and Greek covenant concepts to the NPP’s concept of faith and, in particular, faithfulness.

Smith follows much of liberal theology’s momentum through and into the NPP stance. Consider the teachings of the following men: Ernst Kasemann states that “the righteousness of God” is really “God’s covenant faithfulness” found in Romans 3:25.[57] This idea of covenant faithfulness is transmitted upon the corporate body where justification becomes corporate instead of individual. Krister Stendahl also follows this concept in taking “Righteousness of God” as referring to the vindication of His people in the eschatological end.[58] This leads one into corporate justification based on covenantal faithfulness. E.P. Sanders teaches that salvation is by membership in the covenant, and that all in covenant are able to uphold the law since God never intended that non-ability to keep the law perfectly. God never expected men to keep it perfect, but to try through repentance and atoning works. True obedience, according to the Second Temple writings and Sanders’s interpretation of the rabbinic sources, consisted of one’s intentional pattern of covenantal faithfulness (in other words, one’s desire to accept the bounds and obligations of the covenant and to live in the covenant as a faithful participant of the community.[59] James Dunn is responsible for coining the term “NPP” and continues the motif of “righteousness” as “covenantal faithfulness.” This covenant faithfulness is a process of stages that will be ultimately vindicated at the last day by God in eschatological justification of the corporate body. Covenant faithfulness, then, for Dunn, is demonstrated by the external markers God gave the people (i.e. the Law) not as soteriological, but as ecclesiological.[60] N.T. Wright has taken these same themes and brought them into the church, and down into the pew. His interest is to take the theology that liberalism has dictated based on Kasemann, Sanders, Dunn Stendahl and others of basic NPP formulations,[61] and make it culturally relevant for the church. God’s people are said to be righteous, according to Wright, based on covenant faithfulness. This covenant faithfulness translates in a Jew-Gentile community where justification does not answer one’s righteous standing before God as an individual, but whether Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians can share table fellowship.[62] It is echoing the “communal” aspects of the broader community. Justification does not treat “conversion” but the “process of living.”[63] “Justification, at the last, will be on the basis of performance, not possession.” Yet, this performance does not rest on the Christian, nor on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the Christian. It is the badge of covenantal faithfulness now, and the future justification contemplates the believer’s covenantal obedience in the end. Thus, God, for Wright, will vindicate the covenant community that has been faithful. Justification speaks in terms of their final acquittal.[64] Faith in the NPP is deemed “faithfulness”. As a result, the basic doctrines of salvation as historically taught (regeneration, justification, sanctification, etc.) are twisted and turned into a Semi-Pelagian works salvation that rests on “covenantal faithfulness” rather than justification. Most NPP teachers deny that justification is at the core and center of Paul’s theology.[65] So what does one make of Smith’s covenant faithfulness?

In following the previous terminology and line of thought, Smith’s book is a hearty candidate for the NPP group, and part of the published material of Canon Press (one of the publishing arms of Auburn Theology). Auburn theology following Norman Shepherd and N.T. Wright has consented on the liberalism of Kasemann, et. al., and Smith has followed suit. When Smith uses “covenant faithfulness” or “covenant relationship” (which covers his language through most of the book) he is not only redefining theology as it stands with the individual’s justification, but is also reading this new twist placed over the relationship of the Trinity. Even from the initial introduction Smith says that he is defining a “covenant relationship”; as the covenant relationship God has with man, so is His own relationship. It is ecclesiological, rather than soteriological since God could not form such a union other than by Trinitarian fellowship. When one is leaning on the writings of those like Barth, Rahner, Jordan, Liethhart, LaCunga, Fuller, Shepherd, and Irons for positive support, it is then easy to distinguish the source of the ideas. Others he quotes, hoping to gain their weight in somewhat of a confusion of quotations are Van Til, Plantiga, Murray, Kline, and even Calvin by way of Philip Walker Butin (though only footnoted). The latter quoted are not helpful to his overall thoughts on the subject. Instead, he quotes them to gain certain short-sighted ideas; for none of them would agree where he ultimately took the book – to a liberal stance that is relevant for culture in covenant relationships. So in those cases they remain as “proof texts”.

Smith’s Christianese

Smith makes no attempt whatsoever to define the biblical idea of covenant, and demonstrates no exegetical contemplation on original sources in his book at all. Instead, Smith is defining James Jordan’s ideas of covenant. He says, “This essay was originally provoked by a comment made by James Jordan…”[66] At key times in the book, he rests on Jordan’s thoughts, “What we see in the covenant is both love and law. James Jordan’s definition of the covenant attempts to do justice to both dimensions, “the covenant is a personal-structural bond which joins the three persons of God in a community of life, and in which man was created to participate.”[67] In terms of the garden of Eden and Adam, he says, “James Jordan expounded a view of the covenant as definitive of the original condition and not something added on…Jordan’s view what Adam looks forward to is not the gift of life, but maturity in the covenant…”[68] Also, he says, “With Jordan’s definition of the covenant, the unity of the biblical doctrine of the covenant in God becomes clear.”[69] Jordan’s definition (given above) is also reiterated on page eighty-nine when Smith deals with Covenant and Eschatology (in the same manner as the prominent NPP teaching[70]).

The biblical arguments Smith sets forth appear from pages 31-43. He critiques dispensationalists for deriding the Covenant of Redemption. He does not begin with biblical arguments. After he reproves the dispensationalist for missing the Covenant of Redemption (something Smith is overthrowing from the historical standpoint of Reformed Theology) he then gives his first “argument” “from the Bible.” He quotes the liberal Catholic Karl Rahner, “the economic Trinity reveals the ontological Trinity. God works in history in a way that reveals His essential nature.”[71] There is a huge problem with this, aside from the fact that Rahner, when he said this, was imposing a liberal schematic on making theology culturally relevant. The problem lies with placing the cart before the horse. God’s character is not formulated based on what He does, but rather, upon who He is. Smith is looking at God’s result of covenant (i.e. action) and reading that back into an essential aspect of His character; as if one could do the same for the concept of “trees” found through the entire Bible. God made trees. Trees make air for men and relate to men in a certain light – their health and well-being. God must, then, have trees or an aspect of trees in his own nature, or at least inter-Trinitarian because by His works (this is what Smith said) we know Him, and yet, He made many trees. But any thinking person regards this as nonsensical. Instead, the Doctrine of God begins with God in Himself. The working immanency of God (i.e. special revelation in the Bible) was given to divulge to men salvation history (i.e. biblical theology) so that they may be able to formulate both redemptive history (which is biblical theology) and the God of redemptive history (which is seen in systematic theology). God’s nature is not a derivative of a biblical story (as N.T. Wright would have people believe) but the overarching statements of God’s character are formulated to act as a cohesive structure for the foundation of the character of God, ultimately seen in redemptive history as the Law of God. This is why Smith’s book is so utterly devoid of cohesive systematics – he is appealing to God’s works to demonstrate the character of God (i.e.. focusing on biblical theology) at the expense of a cohesive systematic theology which requires a comprehensive attainment of the Bible’s basic doctrine of God (which obviously takes much more work than pulling out “covenant relationship” from the biblical “story”). This is also why the Law plays an especially minimal role in his work, and why it is misrepresented by him (and NPP advocates) as covenant faithfulness. The economic Trinity is secondary to understanding, first, who the Trinity is in being than in operation. Theologians must first know who God is before they contemplate what God does. Smith has reversed this and states it as one of the “primary” arguments for a “covenantal relationship” in the Trinity.[72] To see God ontologically as “covenantally faithful” is taken from his view of reading what God does into who He is.

Orthodoxy differs from this and appeals to systematics. After affirming God has given men revelation in the Scriptures, Westminster next takes that foundation and asserts the God of the Scriptures: “Q7: What is God? A7: God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.”[73] After this, systematic theology teaches the Trinity in succession. Again, the Westminster Larger Catechism states, “Q8: Are there more Gods than one? A8: There is but one only, the living and true God. Q9: How many persons are there in the Godhead? A9: There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties. Q10: What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead? A10: It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity.” In no systematic theology will any theologian appeal to “God’s covenantal faithfulness” as a primary attribute of ontology, or an essential aspect of His nature. Instead, “covenant faithfulness” for God is set in the context of soteriology, not Theology Proper, unless one applies it to the glorification of God. The Westminster Confession of Faith says, “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.”[74] This is action not being.

“Covenant” in general, whether in terms of berith or diathakay, both refer to an agreement, over the idea of “covenant faithfulness”. The Hebrew tyrIB. berith and Greek diaqh,kh diathakay can mean a number of things depending on the parties. It can mean an immutable ordinance made about “a thing”, such as with Jer. 33:20, “Thus says the LORD: ‘If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season, ‘then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levites, the priests, My ministers.” It can be a testament that cannot be changed. (Heb. 9:15-17). Also, it can mean a sure promise, though not mutual, Ex. 34:10, “And He said: “Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.” (In this case there are not two parties involved but just God.). It can mean a precept, such as in Jer. 34:13-14, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying, “At the end of seven years let every man set free his Hebrew brother, who has been sold to him; and when he has served you six years, you shall let him go free from you.” But your fathers did not obey Me nor incline their ear.” Here it refers to a general rule or statue. It can also mean a mutual agreement between parties, with respect to something, as in Gen. 14:13, “allies with Abraham.” Here the allies were Abraham Mamre, Eschol and Aner. Or with Gen. 26:28-29, “an oath…covenant…” the parties are Isaac and Abimelech. In 1 Sam. 18:3 it says, “Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.” Here it is with Jonathan and David. These are parties mutually contracted in an agreement. The “covenant” idea originally came from the “sense of cutting”. When used with God and men, the three elements of the “covenant” that are seen are 1) A promise of eternal life, 2) Prescription of the conditions for obtaining the promise, and 3) Penal sanction against transgressors of the conditions of the Covenant. God requires the complete sanctification of the parties involved in the covenant or threatens punishment. That is the basic Old Testament and New Testament meaning of the Scriptural words for “covenant”. Nowhere in the exegesis of berith or diathakay can one impose “covenant faithfulness.”

Smith rejects the previous ideas of covenant, and instead institutes a completely foreign idea. He says that God cannot be known apart from His works.[75] In the sense that he is saying this, it is an absolute fabrication.[76] God can be known solely by the word of God. In the word, though, God reveals who He is by descriptions of His character that are blatant and forthright. “God is spirit,” is a helpful example, as is, “God is love.” (John 4:24 and 1 John 4:16. God is faithful also (Deut. 7:9; Hos. 11:12; 1 Co. 1:9; 10:13; Tit. 3:8; 1 Pet. 5:12) but to demonstrate “faithfulness” as an attribute of ontology is to mix providence with Asiety. Demonstration of “works” flows from the worker and may not necessarily be part of the work except to describe his relationship to creation, not His ontology (and will be clearly seen in looking at Smith’s Tri-theism). This goes back to mixing systematic theology with the execution of God’s decrees in providence. Smith says, “If history reveals truth about who God is in Himself, then it reveals that the covenant is something essential to the eternal reality of God.”[77] This is a non-sequitir. How many times could the exegete set up a theology of “trees” in the Bible? Are trees essentials? The word “covenant” is found roughly 275-300 times in the Scriptures. The word “tree” and its derivations run 380 times. Maybe a theology of “tress” is more likely to be part of God’s overall working with men than covenant? He created them (Gen. 1:11), has special trees (Gen. 2:9), sat with Abraham under the tree (Gen. 18:8), are used as spiritual metaphors prominently throughout the Bible (Psalm 104:16; Song of Songs 2:3, Matthew 7:17), Jesus saw Nathanael under the tree (John 1:48), trees were used to crucify Christ (Acts 5:30; 1 Peter 2:24), and they are also used in covenant concepts (Romans 11:17; Rev. 2:7). It is certainly possible to build a theology of “trees” from what God has done with them. But, contrary to New Age ideas, God is not a tree, and trees are not in God properly speaking. His being, ontologically, and His relationship to men, practically make a use of trees, as they are prominently seen throughout the Bible, but are not part of His eternal makeup. Smith has his theology backwards. God must be seen as He is in Himself first, through His revealed word.

If “covenant faithfulness” is not part of the Biblical idea of “covenant” in God, then what roles does the “covenant” play in eternity? The Covenant of Redemption is a theological term to describe the Trinitarian pact or agreement between the persons of the Godhead to deal faithfully with one another in the glorification of God’s being. Smith thinks, for some strange reason, that “covenant” ideas in historical orthodoxy revolve around “soteriological ideas.” This, however, is the application of the expression of God’s being in the agreement that God sustains to glorify Himself. Ontology is the highest point of “covenant” for God. Covenant is the means whereby God is glorified. That is the first and primary aspect of God’s covenant action.

The Covenant of Redemption may be defined as “The Father gives the Son to be Head and Redeemer of the elect; and the Son presents himself as a Sponsor or Surety for them, and the Spirit applies this covenant in time through the Law and Covenant of Grace.” This pact and agreement is between God and the Mediator, not the elect and God. The elect simply reap the benefits of this agreement between God and the Mediator in the Covenant of Grace. Scripturally this is seen in Luke 22:29, “And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me.” The Greek word diati,qemai diatithemai, “to dispose of a covenant” may be better worded “and I engage by covenant unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath engaged by covenant unto me.” Also is Hebrews 7:22, “ by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.” He is a Surety – He engages on behalf of His people to uphold God’s promises – and He undertook to perform that condition where His people could not. Also is Galatians 3:17 that the old way, “…cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.” Where the contracting parties are, on one side God, on the other Christ; and the agreement between both is ratified. Christ is the seed to which all the promises of God are made and complete. He is the executor of the testament as in Psalm 119:122, “Be surety for Your servant for good,” or in Isa. 38:14, “I am oppressed, undertake for me…” What will God do for the expiation of the sin of the elect? He becomes their surety. Zech. 6:13 takes this into another direction, “…the counsel of peace will be between them both…” This is between the surety, who is the Branch, and God. Is there peace between the members of the Godhead? Where is peace needed? – Between man and God. Both Isaiah 4:2 and Zech 1:12 talk of Christ being the Branch of the Lord. It is a future tense in the Hebrew which presses us to conclude that what is being talked about is fulfilled later in time by the Surety to come – “At the exaltation of Christ, and the peace advanced by him from heaven, there will be a manifest execution of this counsel.”[78]

The economic relationship between the Father and Son, that is Christ calling God Father and God calling Christ servant, points to the Covenant of Redemption. Isaiah 49:5-6, “And now the LORD says, Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, So that Israel is gathered to Him ( For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, And My God shall be My strength), Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.” In this servanthood, the whole nature of the covenant exists. Christ calls God his Father, and the Father calls Christ His servant. The Spirit will then ultimately apply this work to the elect. Thus, the glorification of God is profoundly Trinitarian without falling headlong into Smith’s New Perspectivism.

In covenant the contracting parties are the Father and Son. The messianic Psalm, 16:2, says, “O my soul, you have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord, My goodness is nothing apart from You.” (cf. v. 10) Isaiah 53:2, “For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him.” It is a proposal by the Father (John 10:18) which includes a promise and right to ask for help based on the promised obedience of the Father. In John 10:18 Christ says, “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” In John 12:49 Christ says, “the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment..” In Psalm 2:8 the Father speaks to the Son, “Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession.” In Isaiah 53:10-12 the Suffering Servant is seen in the covenant with the Father, “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. 11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.” The Covenant is accepted by the Son, and works on behalf of God to uphold His righteousness, which is not covenant faithfulness but an upholding of the Law of God. John 14:31 says, “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do.” Psalm 40:7-8 states, “Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. 8 I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.” This is where Smith misunderstands how the covenant of grace is conditional upon obedience: Christ accepted such obedience on behalf of the elect, thus the elect, and they alone, will be able to keep such a covenant with God because of Christ and the power of the Spirit of God working through them. This performance is seen clearly by the Son’s actions on behalf of the elect in the Covenant of Grace. John 19:30 says, “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” Christ died on behalf of the elect, bringing the Law into a soteriological relationship with the Covenant of Redemption. At no time was Christ ever indebted to the Father by way of grace. Instead, He had to adhere to the contract, or agreement, by way of obedience to the Law.

Smith fails to realize that the Covenant of Redemption is the vehicle or tool that God uses to glorify Himself (which is the chief reason for creating the world) and that the Law (the perfect reflection of His character) is upheld in the work of Christ and the application of that work by the Holy Spirit. The Covenant of Redemption has ontological application only in that it serves God, and is not part of God’s being.

Smith’s Tri-theism

Here, the only point to be criticized, since it is the main point of Smith’s work, is to look at the two sentences that climax for Smith into an ontological shift in God’s descriptive nature as Trinity, and his application of mutual indwelling. Smith says, “The life of God is covenantal life. God is three persons united in covenantal love.”[79] Smith had worked backwards to gain insight into God by observing His works to define His ontological makeup. Smith says that “covenantal faithfulness” is part of the ontological aspect of God, as seen in overview previously, though he seems to waffle between whether making the final leap to that definition until the end of the book. Smith is careful because there is a problem that this definition has in store for the esse of God. So he adds in the use of perichoreisis. Perichoreisis is the indwelling of God with one another – these are borrowed ideas of Van Tillian concepts of exhausting the relationship of God with one another in the unity of the Godhead. It is the Trinity exhausting their fellowship with one another in perfect covenantal unity. Covenant faithfulness, then, is the underlying unification principle in Smith’s thesis. The problem here is that this is activity (covenant faithfulness) and not being (God’s substance). God’s activity, or action, is not the same as His essence, (as was previously satired by His creation of trees). What, then, has Smith done here?

Smith has redefined what it means that God is God. The orthodox formulations of Nicea and Chalcedon (something Smith at no time anywhere in his work speaks to) had defined the Trinity in terms of His transcendent being first, not His actions. God is God in His essential being. Along the same lines the Westminster Confession of Faith, which borrowed ideas from the early creeds, said, “In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity.”[80] God is unified not in a covenantal bond of love, but by His essence, or substance. The three persons are united in their being as one God in three persons. Smith does not use this definition because the use of it would destroy his own thesis, which is his purpose for writing the book in the first place – redefining the Trinity, and redefining the Trinity’s relatability to culture, or with men. This is not a further revision of an accepted concept; it is an overthrow of traditional orthodoxy and a replacement of concepts – he is trading an orthodox biblical concept for a liberal heretical concept (cf. Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 2:18; John 1:14, 18; Heb. 1:2-3; Col. 1:15; John 15:26; Gal. 4:6). It must be noted that Smith does not use language to state, “I believe in three gods bound in covenantal love.” But the statement “God is three persons united in covenantal love” is just the same. It is Tri-theism. Even with an attempt to use perichoreisis as a means to stay within “orthodox boundaries” the thinking reader will not be duped. No matter how much each individual person “penetrates” the other, that still does not make the Father the Son, or the Son the Holy Spirit in essence. Rather, it makes them three persons, bound in action. The Trinity becomes, then, Tri-theistic.

Smith’s and the Covenant of Works

Smith denies the Covenant of Works as something the Westminster Confession of Faith should revise. This is because he sees the Covenant of Works as leading the way to defining “covenant” in general. For Smith, this then leads him to believe that the covenant is essentially soteriological, and not ontological, but Smith has missed the reason why God created the world – for His glory. Aside from this, Smith says that Reformed theologians use the Covenant of Works as a base of operations for all other covenants. This is simply not true. That is Smith’s misrepresentation of Reformed Theology, and part of the underdeveloped theological framework he is working from. The base of God’s covenant, whether it is the Covenant of Redemption, the Covenant of Grace, or the Covenant of Works, is the Law.

The Law is well defined in the Westminster Larger Catechism, “Q93: What is the moral law? A93: The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding everyone to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.” (cf. Deut. 5:1-3, 31, 33; Luke 10:26-27; Gal. 3:10; 1 Thess. 5:23; Luke 1:75; Acts 14:16; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:10, 12). Specifically, the Law, being the will of God, is a direct reflection of who God is, not only of what He requires of men. The reason He requires this obedience in any covenant He makes, is that the Law reflects perfection if it is upheld in perfection. This perfection is the character of God in all its glory. If one were to keep the Law perfectly, that one would perfectly reflect the character of God. The Law of God, then, demonstrates the character of God. Adam was given the character of God in the garden by way of “Do this and live.” If he would have “done this” he would have reflected the perfect character of God in holiness.

Smith denies that Adam is in the garden on probation and that the Covenant of Works is actually the sharing of the eternal “covenant of life” that the Tri-theistic God enjoys by way of covenantal bond. Adam is supposedly sharing in this eternal union by way of God’s grace in the garden.

Smith first overlooks the problems already presented on God’s being. He then says that the “covenant of works as traditionally conceived is clearly antiquated because of its notion of merit.”[81] “Merit” will be discussed under the critique of historical theology in a moment. Here, though, Smith attempts to remove “merit” from the covenant in the garden because the covenant in eternity has no place for merit, but rather is based on covenantal faithfulness, not faith. The paradigm shift he makes with the Trinity in eternity overflows as a newly revised definition onto every angle of “covenant”. He was worried that Reformed Theologians had no replacement of “covenant” concepts that were not part of his definition, and stated specifically that Reformed theologians would have to come up with a new way of explaining this unity. Rather, Reformed Theologians simply go back to historical orthodoxy as rightly interpreted, instead of standing on a superficial interpretation of historical theology as Smith has done. There is nothing to revise. Smith’s revision is what has caused the problem, not the original formulation of Adam ‘s probation in the garden, or the idea of merit.

The Covenant of Works is a term used to describe the probationary period of Adam in the garden as priest and protector of God’s holiness. God gave him specific commands to follow. He was able to eat of the tree of life, but not of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This presents a problem in Smith’s mind because eating of the tree of life seems to be “eternal life” as Smith would have described it. What could be more? Smith says that men will be brought back into a state as in the garden in the consummation, and then says they will be brought into an even higher state because of Christ. But this is doubletalk. Either, God’s people will be brought back into a state in the garden (where one sin could cause a fall, where man must keep the Law perfectly and in perseverance, etc.) or they will be brought to the highest to heavens, where the earth will be transformed, and a new state of being in perfect holiness, reflecting the Law perfectly and in comely satisfaction of the work of the Covenant of Redemption takes place. The book of Revelation points to the latter and the new Jerusalem is not like the garden – it is better. It was that reward which Adam would have sought to gain. Not the status quo in the garden.

The Covenant of Works did include promises and Adam could have attained to a higher state. This though is the result of a comprehensive systematic theology. Man’s natural conscience teaches him, that God desires not to be served in vain, nor that obedience to his commands will go unrewarded and for nothing. Heb. 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” If God is a rewarder, and Adam would have kept the Law given, then it is easy to see that Adam would have attained a higher position in the economy of eternal life, something he did not possess yet – not maturity, but reward. Adam was not able not to sin – something specifically designed into the consummation of the Covenant of Grace. True faith is rooted in the word and promise of God, and Adam knew this. As Rom. 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” The tree of life in the garden represented the promise of eternal life. It would have a been a nonsensical statement for God to prohibit Adam from eating of the tree if something good were not to come from not eating. It was a seal of the promise of God to Adam if He obeyed. If no promise had been made, man would have lived without hope and lack of hope is characteristic of the fall. So it is impossible that this would have been the case. This is seen in Eph. 2:12, “that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” In Gen. 4:7 God’s word to Cain was, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” This concept is not something one accepts post-fall, but also pre-fall. If Adam did well something good would have come of it. Perfect obedience to the Law merits perfect reward. The very threatening infers a promise. Surely, Adam would have had a continuation of the joy set before him. God promised Adam eternal life, that is, the most perfect fruition of himself, and that forever, after finishing the course of his obedience. But the promise made to man was eternal life.

Because Adam sinned and did not uphold the Covenant of Works, Jesus came to do what the Law could not do because man sinned. As Rom. 8:3 says, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.” Had it not been for sin, that law would have brought men to eternal life. Rom 7:10 describes the law as giving life, “And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.” Jesus came to procure eternal life therefore it was promised to man from the beginning. If Adam persevered, he would have received what we receive by faith in Jesus Christ. The law itself was ordained to life. Gal. 3:21, “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.” Christ, the second Adam, earned eternal life for His people through obedience to the Law – this is seen both in His active obedience and His passive obedience. He did what Adam did not do. This should be plain to anyone thinking through the two Adams. If there was no reward, what kind of covenant would it have been? God would act unjustly against His character of rewarding those who diligently seek Him and all of Theology Proper would come crashing to the ground. God would then violate His character. Adam would have received a greater reward, and a greater manifestation of God’s character in him in keeping covenant with God.

The nature of the promise of God to Adam for eternal life is foundational to understanding the Law and merit. God owes nothing to man. Man cannot merit anything from God. Whatever is promised to him should be viewed as the goodness of God, not grace. There was no grace in the garden. There is an immense difference between God being good in the garden and God being gracious. Grace is always associated with the fall and with sin. In the garden this was not so. Augustine says, “God became our debtor, not by receiving anything, but by promising what He pleased. For it was of His own bounty that he vouchsafed to make Himself a debtor.” It is true that God cannot punish a holy creature. It would be wrong for God to send a creature to hell that is just and holy. He would be denying Himself. Job 37:22-23 says, “He comes from the north as golden splendor; With God is awesome majesty. As for the Almighty, we cannot find Him; He is excellent in power, In judgment and abundant justice; He does not oppress.” God cannot refuse to grant a holy creature the communion of Himself. If He did, that would throw His character in confusion. He would be saying that He does not delight in holiness and true piety. The promise of the Covenant of Works contained greater things designated “eternal life”; this is a higher degree of happiness in God and confirmation in holiness.

The Law (the observance and reiteration of the character of God) is foundational to everything God does in covenant with Himself and with men as an agreement to uphold that constitution based on penal sanction. Regardless of whether one speaks of the Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Grace, or the Covenant of Works, the Law plays a primary role. There is the necessity of the penal sanction for sin. This is based on the majesty of God, the holiness of God, and the Justice of God (essential attributes). God is a jealous God for His own glory and majesty. Exo. 34:14 says, “for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” God cannot deny Himself, or His supreme majesty. 2 Tim. 2:13 says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” It’s the manifestation of the jealousy of God that is seen against sin, or against Lawlessness. He must punish wickedness – this is de-merit. This is due to the holiness of God. A holy God cannot be joined with a sinner without satisfaction made to His justice. 2 Cor. 6:14 says, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” In verse 17, whoever touches sin cannot commune with that which is holy. It is not acceptable to the holiness of God to cultivate a friendship with a sinner, so long as he continues as a sinner. This is the covenant breaker whom God rejects. A holy God cannot look upon sin. Hab 1:13 says, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness.” A holy God hates sin and the sinner. Deut. 25:16 states, “For all who do such things, all who behave unrighteously, are an abomination to the LORD your God.” Unless God punishes the sinner, He becomes like the sinner in denying Himself. Justice is an essential attribute of God as well. Rom. 2:5 states, “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” God’s justice demands sin be punished with death. Rom. 1:32 says, “who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.” This must be done for God to stay consistent with His character. The Law must be upheld at any cost. This is the difference between Smith’s seeker friendly, culturally relevant bond of covenantal love within the Tri-theism of God, and orthodox biblical theology resting on the essential attributes of God which dictate His actions. The penal sanction of death is based upon the just nature of God. Eternal death is not an arbitrary sanction. It depends on the holy nature of God As Job 33:12-13 says, “For God is greater than man. Why do you contend with Him? For He does not give an accounting of any of His words.” Eternal death for sin is a just act based on holiness and Law. Sin is infinite in relation to its attack upon God who is infinite (and not in an absolute sense since there are degrees of sin), therefore punishment must be infinite as well. It is committed against an infinite God, so sin must be of infinite duration. It cannot be removed but by Christ’s blood; it stands forever. Smith misses the larger picture of God’s Law and therefore desires to use his redefined Tri-theistic covenant bond of love to superimpose over the garden account, and subsequently through all redemptive history.

Smith’s Inadequate Use of Historical Theology

There are historical theology misunderstandings, or misstatements in Smith’s work. This is not uncharacteristic of NPP advocates.[82] Smith is not familiar with the history of the development of Covenant Theology. If he was familiar, he would easily be able to demonstrate the reason why the term “Covenant of Redemption” is used sometimes and not at other times, and why the Covenant of Grace may be divided or not divided into two sections. Two of Smith’s quotable Reformed Theologians will suffice to prove the point: Francis Turretin and John Owen, as well as the Westminster Confession of Faith.[83]

First, concerning Francis Turretin, Turretin says that Reformed orthodoxy “holds a twofold decree according to a twofold order of the works of God: the one of providence, the other of predestination.”[84] In predestination God eternally decrees the salvation of men based on the pact in which is regulated by the agreement of the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father. Thus, he says, “Therefore, the destination of salvation to the elect ought to be conceived before the destination of Christ to obtain that end.”[85] For Turretin, election is coextensive with God’s decree to save men through Christ. He differentiates between the pact made with men (between God and man) and the intertrinitarian covenant between the Father and the Son. He says, “it is certain that a twofold pact must be attended to here or the two parts and degrees of the one and same pact.” This is critical. Turretin uses the terminology of “Covenant of Grace” while at the same time making a differentiation between how that covenant is applied to man, and how that covenant was formed before the foundation of the world as a covenant between the Father and the Son. Turretin does not use the more refined terminology of the “Covenant of Redemption”, but does say “the former is the agreement between the Father and the Son to carry out the work of redemption.”[86] This is the same thought process that later theologians will use the designation Covenant of Redemption (just a decade later with Witsius). Turretin, instead, simply divides the Covenant of Grace into two sections (the same division that the Westminster Assembly made in the Westminster Confession of Faith).

John Owen templates the structure of “covenant” in “do this and live.” He demonstrates that the Covenant of Grace is a continuation, or completion of all previous covenants, and is ultimately based through Redemptive History on the Covenant of Redemption (i.e. the works based covenant to fulfill the demands of the Lawgiver), “The new covenant [i.e. the Covenant of Grace] as a re-collecting into one all the promises of grace given from the foundation of the world, accomplished in the actual exhibition of Christ, and confirmed by his death, and by the sacrifice of his blood, thereby becoming the sole rule of new spiritual ordinances of worship suited thereunto, was the great object of the faith of the saints of the Old Testament, and it is the great foundation of all our present mercies.”[87] Within the Covenant of Redemption, where the Son enters into a covenant with the Father to “do His will” for the Redemption of his elect, Owen also describes this “covenant” as a “compact”. He says, “The third act of this sending is his entering into covenant and compact with his Son concerning the work to be undertaken, and the issue or event thereof.” Owen describes the Covenant of Redemption as a covenant where the Son must work, based on the Father’s decree to send Him to save and redeem sinners, “so as that God might be everlastingly glorified in the work which he was designed unto, and which by him he had to accomplish.”[88] Defining “covenant” in terms of the Covenant of Redemption as conditional is the norm for Owen’s overall theological structure. However, this definition for Owen does not simply rest in the above ideas. Though “covenant” in general is an agreement between two parties, and is the essential definition of “covenant,” yet, it also must be more precisely clarified since covenants made by and with God are of a peculiar nature based on God’s inability to change or waiver. So Owen makes the difference between the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace where Turretin does not, but they both mean the exact same thing.

The Westminster Confession of Faith followed Turretin in its formulation of the covenant structure, and then the Sum of Saving Knowledge, a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, followed Herman Witsius’ structure, which became a standard of orthodoxy. The Westminster Confession of Faith divides the Covenant of Grace from the Decrees of God. Chapter 3 in the Confession revolves around Predestination (that which Turretin says is the Covenant of Grace in eternity and makes that division). The Westminster Confession of Faith uses chapter 3 as the “Covenant of Redemption” but utilizing Turretin’s terms “predestination” “decrees” etc. Then, in chapter 7 of the Confession, it treats the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace in time. It says, “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant (Isa. 40:13-17; Job 9:32-33; 22:2-3; 35:7-8; Psa. 113:5-6; Luke 17:10; Acts 17:24-25).”[89] A distinguishing characteristic for these terms is to divide what is happening in time with men, and what is happening “outside” of time with God in His agreement with the Father, Son and the application of the Covenant of Redemption by the Spirit. Yet, the Confession also uses Witsius’ terminology, or even Owen’s for that matter, when it describes the application of the Confession to the practice of pastoral ministry and evangelism in the Sum of Saving Knowledge. The Sum of Saving Knowledge states, “The sum of the covenant of redemption, is this: God having freely chosen unto life, a certain number of lost mankind, for the glory of his rich grace, did give them, before the world began, unto God the Son, appointed Redeemer, that, upon condition he would humble himself so far as to assume the human nature of a soul and a body, unto personal union with his divine nature, and submit himself to the law, as surety for them, and satisfy justice for them, by giving obedience in their name, even unto the suffering of the cursed death of the cross, he should ransom and redeem them all from sin and death, and purchase unto them righteousness and eternal life, with all saving graces leading thereunto, to be effectually, by means of his own appointment, applied in due time to every one of them. This condition the Son of God (who is Jesus Christ our Lord) did accept before the world began, and in the fullness of time came into the world, was born of the Virgin Mary, subjected himself to the law, and completely paid the ransom on the cross: But by virtue of the foresaid bargain, made before the world began, He is in all ages, since the fall of Adam, still upon the work of applying actually the purchased benefits unto the elect : and that he doth by way of entertaining a covenant of free grace and reconciliation with them, through faith in himself; by which covenant, he makes over to every believer a right and interest to himself, and to all his blessings.” It then goes on to say in the next section, “For the accomplishment of this covenant of redemption, and making the elect partakers of the benefits thereof in the covenant of grace, Christ Jesus was clad with the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King: Made a Prophet, to reveal all saving knowledge to his people, and to persuade them to believe and obey the same; Made a Priest, to offer up himself a sacrifice once for them all, and to intercede continually with the Father, for making their persons and services acceptable to him; And made a King, to subdue them to himself, to feed and rule them by his own appointed ordinances, and to defend them from their enemies.” This terminology is no different from what Turretin had described, or Witsius, or Owen. Reformed theologians agree as to the substance of these covenants, as does the Confession, though the term Covenant of Redemption may or may not be used.

Smith, in opposition to this line of thinking, or rather ignorance of it, says, “After 1650, English and Scottish Reformed Theologians largely follow the Westminster Standards, though the question of whether there are one or two covenants is not addressed in them.” Bluntly, yes they are. Smith is making a nonsensical statement. The Westminster Standards and the Theologians after them rely on Calvin and Turretin for their formulations of covenant. Witsius later, who talked extensively about the Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Works, and Covenant of Grace, makes these distinctions apparently contrary to Smith’s statement. Owen does this, Ezekiel Hopkins, Thomas Manton, Thomas Goodwin, and most other Reformed thinkers of the dates in question.

Smith also says, “The term covenant of works in the WCF could be revised to mean simply “a covenant in which obedience is required to the degree that even one sin would bring everlasting condemnation, unless grace intervened,” or something similar.”[90] This statement is footnoted. This is based on his statement, “None of the essentials – not federal headship, nor the importance of Jesus’ active obedience to the demands of the covenant, nor righteousness, not law nor imputation – are diminished. Revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms along these lines suggested would not entail a contradiction of the theology of the covenant they teach, nor does it undermine the doctrine of justification by faith.”[91] First, the Westminster Confession of Faith cannot be revised using Smith’s understanding and redefinition of a Tri-theism based on covenantal faithfulness. His revision above would never be accepted by them, and is not accepted by those who uphold the Confession. This is not what the Westminster Divines said or implied in any way. Their definition is one of a pact and agreement for covenant. As for his attempt to incite one to believe that none of the essentials would be diminished, that has already been seen as incorrect. Federal headship would be overthrown based on Smith’s misconceptions of Law, since it is the underlying development of covenant as a pact or agreement to be fulfilled in holiness. Jesus’ active obedience is overthrown because the demands of the Law as a pact or agreement in the Covenant of Works which Smith denies, no longer exists, and thus, merit for His elect no longer exists. Christ fulfills the righteousness of the Law (merit) for the elect. This is what Smith calls “covenant maturity”. Rather, Christ fulfills the demands of the Law and His active obedience to the righteousness which Adam failed to uphold (merit). The demands of the covenant change radically with Smith’s definition of covenant from “faith” to “covenant faithfulness” and change the meaning of righteousness. Righteousness is the perfect fulfillment due God in light of the Law, and only this gives the doctrine of imputation meaning with both what Adam should have accomplished and what Christ did accomplish. When the Law is so utterly revised, or rather in this case, neglected and overlooked, the meaning behind “covenant agreements” in general destroys conceptions of Theology Proper and soteriology (all well as other crucial aspects of theology). For the NPP advocates, then, this covenant faithfulness overthrows justification as well, and it becomes a corporate eschatological liberalism that is employed, rather than justification by faith alone based on the work of Christ under the Law. Smith cannot have his new Tri-theism and “covenant faithfulness” and claim the historical orthodoxy he is trying to redefine. Waters says rightly that NPP theology, “has been found attractive to Reformed men because of the latter’s ignorance of historical and systematic theology. The NPP has been embraced by many ministers and teachers who have taken vows to uphold confessional standards that teach the contrary. Such men have accepted NPP formulations either as acceptable expressions of these standards or as improved expressions of these standards.”[92]

Also, Smith desires to do away with the “medieval” idea of “merit.” Smith states “the view” of the Westminster Confession of Faith “implies an outmoded medieval concept of merit.”[93] The idea of merit, according to Smith “a la” Jeremy Irons is voluntarist understanding following, he says, God’s voluntary action of goodness to condescend to man and reward him. This, he says, is covenantal thinking of medieval Dominicans. Again, Smith quotes non-Reformed Theologians (Jeremy Irons and David Steinmetz) to support the idea that the Westminster Confession of Faith is following Roman theology. Again, this is the specific problem of those tempering with Modern Theology to suit historical formulations they are not accustomed to really handling.

The Hebrew concept of reward and punishment is the underlying factor for Westminster (i.e. Turretin’s and Calvin’s) understanding of penal sanction following Augustine – who was not a medieval theologian. Dominican Theology (which was theologically opposite to Augustine’s theology on merit) following Thomas Aquinas’ ideas, is not what Westminster followed at all. In all actuality, Augustine himself saw merit as a very important aspect of theology and this translated through to Calvin, and to Turretin. Merit for Turretin is explained in the Covenant of Works with Adam, “since man has all things from and owes all things to God, he can seek from Him nothing as his own by right…not by condignity of work and from its intrinsic value (because whatever that may be, it can be no proportion to the infinite reward of life) but from the pact and the liberal promise of God.”[94] It seems, rather, that Smith is reading into Reformed Theology a system of Roman merit and demerit based on venial and mortal sins that is not part of the Reformed Theological view of the biblical idea surrounding reward and punishment (even Turretin denies this in relation to Christ’s sacrifice as something explicitly Roman Catholic; cf. Turretin’s Institutes, vol 2, page 102). It seems Smith is unaware of this. Really, Smith seems to be building a straw man to knock over with “covenantal faithfulness.” He has relied on Irons instead of understanding Westminsterian theology.

Smith also says he is against dispensationalism, but makes the same claims that dispensationalists make. He says in speaking of the Old Testament and New Testament, “In both, the old creation dwelling “with” man and the new creation dwelling “in” man, there is an analogy to the mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity…”[95] This is a dispensational statement par excellance. Men in the Old Testament were as indwelt as men in the New Testament with the spirit of God. Did Jesus believe that men like Abraham, or any Old Testament saint among the Israelites, were saved and indwelt by the Spirit having the law written on their hearts? Yes. Jesus says in John 3:3 and 3:5 that “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” If Noah, Abraham and Moses were not born again, they did not, they cannot, enter heaven. This is why Jesus was so forthright with Nicodemas in understanding the continuity of His rule and reign and the Old Testament. In John 3:10 he rebukes Nicodemas for misunderstanding the role of the Spirit, His indwelling and regeneration, when He says, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” Nicodemas, a ruler of Israel, should have known about the indwelling power of the regenerating Spirit of God in changing the heart of the people of God. (cf. Ezek. 11:19; 18:31; 36:26). The implications here are enormous. If Nicodemas is a ruler of the Jews, and a teacher of the people of God, this operation of the Spirit of God should have been something he knew about and something he was teaching the people of God as the prophets had always done. The operation of the Spirit of God indwelling and regenerating the heart was an Old Testament doctrine. Even 1 Peter 1:11 is quite plain, “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” Here Peter is referring to the “prophets (verse 2).” Certainly, Old Testament saints were indwelt by the Spirit of the same Jesus that rose again from the dead four-hundred years after those prophets had long died. Indwelling by the Spirit of God is not a New Testament doctrine. Smith then says later that, “The covenant in Christ is the truly new covenant which places the Church on wholly different grounds. In Christ, the covenant has been fulfilled and the new humanity is not able to live for God and His kingdom by the blessing and power of the Holy Spirit.”[96] So the Old Testament saints were not able to live for God? And they are second class saints while those in the New Covenant are on a “wholly different” ground? How then were Old Testament saints saved? Smith has fallen into dispensationalism while rebutting it since he seems to be unaware of the discontinuity and continuity issues surrounding Reformed Theology.

Conclusion

Although more could be said on Smith’s reshaping of “Trinity” and “covenant”, the information given should suffice to demonstrate his errors. Smith has taken a dangerous deviation from orthodox theology and has fallen into a Tri-theistic covenantalism that demonstrates a departure from history and the Bible. God is no longer one God in essence united in three persons, but three persons united in covenantal love. This begs a redefinition for Smith for the concept of “covenant”, not as a pact or agreement, but as a relationship beginning with the Trinitarian unity of covenantal love. Covenant, then, as pact or agreement is not the manner in which God saves. Rather, he extends the covenant relationship He already experiences within himself as an ontological reality, and superimposes it on His relationship with man. Smith, really, has simply pressed forward some logical applications of the NPP and Auburn theology to become culturally relevant to the church and world. This is typical of Modern Theology.

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[1] I use the term “theologian” here loosely for modern times. Modern theologians are those liberals, neo-orthodox, or existentialists, ranging from the Enlightenment to the 21st century and simply apply Bible language to secular ideas and call it theology. Modern theologians have been influenced by the Enlightenment, and existential theology, as well as demonstrating an apt liberalism throughout their writings. Most forms of traditionalism are eviscerated as unhelpful, and the notion of redefining old concepts is essential to every one of their theological views, from Karl Barth to Karl Rahner.

[2] Church Dogmatics, 1:2:17.

[3] Church Dogmatics 6:1:5-7.

[4] Smith, Ralph, The Eternal Covenant, (Moscow, Cannon Press: 2003), Page 9.

[5] Smith, Eternal Covenant, Page 9.

[6] As will be seen, Smith vigilantly attacks the Westminster formulations of the Trinity and covenant in attempts to say that the Westminster Confession of Faith needs to be updated. This is not atypical for Modern liberal Theologians. It is common for them to “update” historical theology that, to them, is out of date. Any perusal of a modern theologian such as Bonhoeffer, Jungel, Tillich, Bultmann, Rahner, Barth, Schillebeeckx, Pannenberg, Moltmann, etc. demonstrates this “updating” process, and the process of collating the Bible with redefinitions of historic concepts. That is why they are defined as “Modern Theologians.”

[7] The first quarter of the age of the early church (from 200 A.D. to 500 A.D.) was an especially tumultuous time of Trinitarian error. However, the church, following Nicea and Chalcedon, defined the Trinity as “being one substance”, not “being in one covenant,” as Smith will argue.

[8] This writer counted too many to number. Statement after statement is made without proper reference or interaction by the author. He either assumes his reader knows what he means, or assumes he is right in what he is saying.

[9] Smith, Page 11.

[10] Wilkins, Steve, The Federal Vision, (Monroe, Athanasius Press: 2004), Page 11. Emphasis mine.

[11] Smith, Page 12.

[12] It must be noted that this section of his work seemed as though he was not interested in actually diving into the teachings of the theologians he quotes, but simply provided very short paragraphs to entertain the idea that they interacted with notions of “covenant” in Trinitarian theology, and where they stood on the issue Smith is trying to vindicate. For some reason Smith believes that by this short survey he is creating a precedence for himself. But this, in light of the actual teaching of these theologians, will prove detrimental to his thesis overall. None of the theologians he quotes will turn “covenant” into a “relationship” and do away with the idea that “covenant” is a pact or agreement. This will be investigated under the critique.

[13] Smith, Page 15.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Murray, John, Collected Writings of John Murray, vol 2, (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 1977), Page 50.

[16] Robertson, O. Palmer, The Christ of the Covenants (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1980), Page 53.

[17] Smith, Page 17.

[18] Smith, Page 18, footnote.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Smith, Page 21.

[21] Smith, Page 30.

[22] Smith, Page 31.

[23] Smith, Page 33.

[24] Smith, Page 33, footnote.

[25] Smith, Page 33.

[26] Smith, Page 35.

[27] Smith, Page 37.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Smith, Page 39.

[30] Smith, Page 42.

[31] Smith, Page 42. Smith is actually quoting his previous work, “Trinity in Covenant.”

[32] Smith, Page 45.

[33] Smith, Page 46. This is Smith’s point all along. And this relationship is a redefined term according to Smith’s theological view of the trinity.

[34] Smith, Page 49.

[35] Smith, Page 50.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Smith, pages 51-52.

[39] Smith, Page 52.

[40] Smith, Page 53.

[41] There are a number of liberal, neo-orthodox and Roman Catholic theologians who are dealing with “Trinitarian” Concepts. Some examples are Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, Karl Rahner, The Trinity, trans. J. Donceel (Grm. ed. 1967; New York: Herder & Herder, 1970); Eberhard Jüngel, The Doctrine of the Trinity. God’s Being Is in Becoming, trans. H. Harris (2d Grm. ed., 1966; Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1976); Bernard Lonergan, The Way to Nicea: The Dialectical Development of Trinitarian Theology, trans. C. O’Donovan (Rome ed., 1964; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976); Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, trans. M. Kohl (Grm. ed. 1980; London: SCM Press, 1981); Colin Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991); Catherine Mowery LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991); Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1993), and Trinitarian Perspectives: Toward Doctrinal Agreement (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994). Smith is obviously taking some of these ideas (having already quoted from Barth, Rahner and LaCunga) and redefining Reformed theology to suit modern theology.

[42] Smith, Page 54.

[43] Smith, Page 55.

[44] Smith, Page 56.

[45] Smith, Page 58.

[46] Smith, Page 64.

[47] For a solid overview of this see Guy Prentiss Waters book, Justification and the new Perspectives on Paul, and then read The Federal Vision by Steve Wilkins, et al. The information in the former will aid the reader in his survey of the latter, as well as any work written by N.T. Wright such as What Saint Paul Really Said.

[48] Smith, Page 65.

[49] Smith, Page 66.

[50] Smith, Page 75.

[51] Smith, Page 81.

[52] Smith, page 83.

[53] Smith, page 84.

[54] Smith, page 87.

[55] Smith, Page 93.

[56] Smith, Page 101.

[57] Waters, Guy Prentis, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, (Phillips burg, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing company: 2004), Page 22.

[58] Waters, Page 30

[59] Waters, Page 51.

[60] Waters, Page 116.

[61] It should be noted that all these theologians do not agree on everything across the board. There are variations in tune, but the music still plays the same.

[62] Waters, Page 131.

[63] Waters, Page 132.

[64] Waters, Page 133.

[65] Guy Prentis Waters well done overview of the teachings of the New Perspective is a must read for comparing the thought of the main exponents of these theological trends. Guy Prentis Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, (Phillips burg, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing company: 2004).

[66] Smith, Page 9.

[67] Smith, Pages 51-52.

[68] Smith, Pages 80-81.

[69] Smith, Page 87.

[70] Cf. Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, in his chapters of Kasemann, Sanders, Stendahl, Schweitzer and Dunn.

[71] Smith, Page 33.

[72] Smith, Page 33.

[73] Westminster Larger Catechism Question 7.

[74] Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 7.

[75] Smith, Page 83.

[76] The Word of God given to men is a work of God, but theologians do not begin theology with the Bible as a work unless they are expounding the doctrine of Scripture as revelation, not as action as Smith is trying to do.

[77] Smith, Page 37.

[78] Witsius, Herman, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: 1990), Page 170.

[79] Smith, Page 47.

[80] Westminster Confession of Faith, 2:3, Of God, and of the Holy Trinity.

[81] Smith, Page 62.

[82] Douglas Wilson shows a grand ineptness at historical theology in his work Reformed is Not Enough and N.T. Wright does the same in his work What Saint Paul Really Said, as do the Auburn men in The Federal Vision and The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros and Cons. These works demonstrate their ignorance of basic church history, but also of Confessional standards. As the maxim goes, if one is ignorant of history, they are apt to repeat it.

[83] It would not be difficult to “summarize” all of the old theologians Smith quoted in his first chapter to correct Smith’s thesis. Space does not allow a comprehensive overview of all their theology at this time. What suffices with Turretin and Owen is, though, a cross section of what they did concur in their theological views, including the addition of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Covenant of Grace.

[84] Turretin, Francis, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1992) 1:428.

[85] Turretin, Institutes, 1:352.

[86] Turretin, Institutes, 2:177.

[87] Owen, John, Hebrews, vol 6 (Carlisle, Banner of Truth Trust: 1991), Page 113.

[88] Owen, Hebrews, vol 3., Page 378.

[89] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 7:1.

[90] Smith, Page 83.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Waters, Page 204.

[93] Smith, Page 62.

[94] Turretin, Institutes, vol 1, Page 578.

[95] Smith, Page 42.

[96] Smith, Page 87.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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