The Black List - Eternal Covenant Part 2Tolle Lege - Take and Read Book Reviews
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The Black List – Eternal Covenant Part 2
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
Smith Speaks Out, Well Sort of…
A Response to Ralph Smith’s Response to Me
By Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
Ralph smith, after reading my critique of his work, “Eternal Covenant” responded (if one can call it that) with the following one pager (his words are normal, mine are italicized as a response):
A Brief Response to Mr. McMahon
by Ralph Allan Smith
Not all critiques are worthy of detailed response. One such example is the essay “Blurred Vision: Theological Degeneration In Ralph Smith’s Misconceived Covenantal Theology” by C. Matthew McMahon. McMahon’s is a blurred critique. Only a few words are necessary.
Actually, since Smith interacted with almost none of the important points, and those he did interact with were too brief to be meaningful, I am unsure why he would think only a “few” words are necessary. My critique followed his work, and cited it step by step, chapter by chapter. I reproduced, in quotes, almost a sixth of his book. He does not tell us why my critique is blurred. He just says it “is”. I produced for him the reasons he is a blurred Federal Visionist at heart. He produced nothing below that would change that critique. He says it would take too much time.
First, I am said to be a liberal. Evidence for this is found in my “redefinition” of the word covenant to mean “relationship” rather than “agreement.”
Smith does not deal with any of the liberal scholars he quoted, nor of my specific points in noting those liberals, and others who teach the same doctrine. He says nothing of them here. To say that it is simply set in the context of “redefinition” is an understatement.
Ask yourself how many liberals you know who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and six-day, young-earth creationism. After you finish writing the list, add me.
Smith has missed the point completely. Whether or not he believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, or six-day creationism, or the hypostatic union, or the deity of Christ does not change the fact that he is blatantly following in the footsteps of liberal theology. Does that mean he is as liberal as Rahner, or LaCunga, or Barth? Not necessarily, though he likes their ideas. Rather, Smith is liberal in his attempt at redefining orthodox theology, as I made very clear. As I said, “With any modern theologian 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.” This Smith has done all through is book, and does not interact with any of the specifics I had set down between his liberals connections with Barth, et. al. and his present work.
Second, my “redefinition” of the word covenant comes from John Murray and his book The Covenant of Grace. The entire book is devoted to refuting the idea that a covenant is merely an agreement. Murray wrote,
From the beginning of God’s disclosures to men in terms of covenant we find a unity of conception which is to the effect that a divine covenant is a sovereign administration of grace and of promise. It is not compact or contract or agreement that provides the constitutive or governing idea but that of dispensation in the sense of disposition…. And when we remember that covenant is not only bestowment of grace, not only oath-bound promise, but also relationship with God in that which is the crown and goal of the whole process of religion, namely, union and communion with God, we discover again that the new covenant brings this relationship also to the highest level of achievement. At the centre of covenant revelation as its constant refrain is the assurance ‘I will be your God, and ye shall be my people’. The new covenant does not differ from the earlier covenants because it inaugurates this peculiar intimacy. It differs simply because it brings to the ripest and richest fruition the relationship epitomized in that promise. [Emphasis added.]
For a diagnosis of Murray’s change and reformulation of the Covenant of Grace, see this article that explains its deviancy.
Why Smith is praising Murray here is not a good thing. However, as I also stated, Smith is selectively quoting Murray.
O. Palmer Robertson, too, denies that a covenant is merely an agreement.
So Robertson says that it is “merely an agreement” or “not an agreement?” Which way are you going Mr. Smith? Or are you cutting and pasting pieces?
He wrote, “Extensive investigations into the etymology of the Old Testament term for “covenant” (berith) have proven inconclusive in determining the meaning of the word. Yet the contextual usage of the term in Scripture points rather consistently to the concept of a “bond” or “relationship.” And again, “A long history has marked the analysis of the covenants in terms of mutual compacts or contracts. But recent scholarship has established rather certainly the sovereign character of the administration of the divine covenants in Scripture. Both biblical and extra-biblical evidence point to the unilateral form of covenant establishment. No such thing as bargaining, bartering, or contracting characterizes the divine covenants of Scripture. The sovereign Lord of heaven and earth dictates the terms of the covenant.” [The Christ of the Covenants, pp. 5, 15. Emphasis added.]
Robertson is slowly following Murray on certain points. However, Robertson does say that a covenant is “A bond in blood sovereignly administered by God” – that is Robertson’s definition of covenant. Smith’s definition revolved around “covenantal love”. This is not the same as a bond in blood. If there are practical applications of the pact or agreement (which the Westminster Confession of Faith upholds) then love is certainly part of that further rendering in Christ. But again, not the way Smith is defining or rather, redefining these terms. If we were to step back 100 years or earlier, the deviations on this point (against, doing away with modernity) we would not have these issues at all.
For a more in-depth look at what Smith is missing and what Robertson means overall, read Current Reformed Thinking On The Nature Of The Divine Covenants, by O. Palmer Robertson in the 1978 Westminster Theological Journal Volume 40 (Vol. 40, Page 63). This paper is very helpful to demonstrate Smith’s misapprehension and selective quotations of both Kline and Murray, and how Smith’s “covenant love” is different than Murray’s, Kline’s and Robertson’s conceptions. As Robertson defines covenant, “A covenant is a bond of life and death sovereignly administered. Both law and promise function in the covenant.” This is not Smith’s “covenantal love” or the Federal Vision’s “covenantal faithfulness.”
For the record, I include the notion of agreement within the larger idea of relationship. Obviously the Father, Son, and Spirit agree with one another.
This is not the same as an agreement based on the merit of the Son, or the Covenant of Redemption – something Smith denies. Again, one must not be duped by his redefinitions.
But a covenant is more than just a contract or agreement.
No. The practical application of the Covenant of Redemption, and Covenant of Grace has ramifications that overflow from the agreement. But one is not the other. It should be noted that Smith says nothing, again, on the Hebrew or Greek text.
God’s covenant with His people is epitomized in the expression: “I will be your God and you shall be My people” (Lev. 26:12; cf. Ex. 6:7; Lev. 11:45; 22:33; 25:38; Num. 15:41; Deut. 26:17; 29:13; Jer. 7:23; 11:4; 30:22; Ezek. 36:28; etc.). This is not a contract or agreement, but a relationship of love.
This is just bad exegesis, or rather, a non-use of exegesis at all. It is interesting that Smith does not mention Genesis 17. Genesis 17:8, “And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” This was the practical statement based on the covenant “cut” (a pact or agreement God made with Abraham) in Genesis 15 and 17. The Scriptures Smith quotes, here, again, are the practical outworking of the already established covenant (pact or agreement) in the texts cited, and the covenants previously established. God will be a God because of….what? God says:
Genesis 9:9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you,
Genesis 9:15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you
Genesis 15:18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram
Genesis 17:2 that I may make my covenant between me and you,
Being a God to us, and being God’s people, is an after affect of the work of Christ and the agreement in the Covenant of Redemption.
Third, I am said to be a tritheist. I have written a short essay on tritheism that provides a longer answer to this and there are three lectures available on WordMp3.com that include an answer to this aspect of Rick Phillips critique of my position.
Whether Rick Phillips has critiqued Smith or not is not the point here at all; the book he wrote still redefines Trinity as, “God is three persons united in covenant love.” If he has retracted that, then I will have to hear those MP3s, and read his article. If that is the case, then he should withdraw the book, and I will withdraw my article. But I am going to assume, and probably rightly, that those are going to be attempts at further revision. We will have to see, and I will add a postscript to this as a result.
Suffice it to say I suggested that Kuyper’s view of the covenant among the Persons of the Trinity should be added to Van Til’s understanding of the Trinity. In so saying, I have not denied my commitment to the doctrine of the Trinity as historically defined. Like Van Til, I am offering a supplementary idea. Or, to state it more accurately, I am reminding people of the supplementary idea offered by Abraham Kuyper.
Smith must be joking here. He specifically states that the Westminster Confession of Faith should be rewritten in these areas. How is this upholding historical orthodoxy? Where does the WCF say that the Trinity is “God is three persons united in covenantal love?”
There are so many detailed misrepresentations in the essay that it would be tedious for me to deal with them and more tedious for you read them.
Cite them. One by one, and demonstrate how they misrepresent you. Otherwise, that statement is not helpful. We are after treating the truth as TRUTH, are we not? I cited you step by step. The reactions I have had so far from the paper have been in line with my criticisms (but that is coming from the Reformed community).
If anyone has the time and interest to deal with the issue fairly, let them read my three books, Paradox and Truth, The Eternal Covenant, and Trinity and Reality, as well as the essays on the net that answer Phillips, including the recent essay on tritheism, and my net-book, The Covenantal Structure of the Bible. That is really not a lot of reading. I am sure there may be places to criticize and I have received some criticism that has been helpful. I would be glad for more. And if I have the opportunity to rewrite one or more of my books, I hope I can do better the next time.
As time permits, I will read them to gain a more insightful understanding how the other four works and lectures will somehow overthrow or change the work that was critiqued here. I am not sure how those works will explain away the problems in this work.
I am not surprised by criticism. Anyone who publishes must not only expect it, but humbly seek it. I was surprised, however, by the kind of criticism that came.
I never imagined that I would be accused of heresy and tritheism for endorsing John Murray’s definition of the covenant, Van Til’s ideas about the Trinity, and Abraham Kuyper’s view of a Trinitarian covenant.
As far as I know, and as far as the Reformed community is concerned, Murray, Van Til and Kuyper never said, “God is three persons united in covenant love.”
But that is the world of popular Reformed theology in our day — a clear indication that we really do need reform.
I am curious to know what “popular” Reformed theology is? Is this historical reformed theology? If you mean that the historic consensus concerning orthodoxy is not on your side, you are right. The Reformed community is always in need of reform, but reform is never and will never mean “redefining”. As I said, “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…”
What didn’t Smith tell you that were stated against him besides his tri-theism and liberalism?
He said nothing of the specific charges of liberalism against him, quoting Barth, Rahner, LaCunga, and others of like sort.
He said nothing of his intrepid dispensationalism, though unknowingly (??)
He said nothing surrounding his misconstrued problems denying merit and the Covenant of Works.
He said nothing of my defense of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
He said nothing about the charge that he is not a good historical theologian.
He said nothing about my excursus on Turretin or Owen as examples of his misapprehension of Covenant Theology and its historic formulations.
He said nothing about his leanings and advocacy of the NPP that I demonstrated.
He said nothing about the formulations of the Law of God I demonstrated.
He said nothing biblical about the term “covenant”, other than quoting Robertson and Murray in this “rebuttal”.
He said nothing about his relationship with the Federal Visionists.
He said nothing of justification, or imputation.
What did Smith say?
“God is three persons united in covenant love.”