Books on the History of Covenant Theology?

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TheThirdandReformedAdam

Puritan Board Freshman
Does anyone know of any books that deal with the development of covenant theology over time (the various views and the contexts from which they sprang)? I'd like to find these resources for a couple of reasons: (1) I simply believe they would further aid me in understanding all of the minutia of covenant theology, and (2) I am currently writing a paper that argues for the presence of covenant theology in Christopher Marlowe's (1564-1593) play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.A good understanding of exactly what covenant theology was like at the end of the 16th century would be very beneficial.
 

Gforce9

Puritan Board Junior
Does anyone know of any books that deal with the development of covenant theology over time (the various views and the contexts from which they sprang)? I'd like to find these resources for a couple of reasons: (1) I simply believe they would further aid me in understanding all of the minutia of covenant theology, and (2) I am currently writing a paper that argues for the presence of covenant theology in Christopher Marlowe's (1564-1593) play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.A good understanding of exactly what covenant theology was like at the end of the 16th century would be very beneficial.

This would be an interesting read, Adam. Post when available.....
 

TheThirdandReformedAdam

Puritan Board Freshman
This would be an interesting read, Adam. Post when available.....
Here it is. Nothing incredible. Ended up leaning towards a more biblical examination of Faustus rather than a historical-theological examination. Had to do this in order to save time, as the essay has to be submitted tonight.
 

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psycheives

Puritan Board Freshman
Adam, actually I have not found a book that is satisfactory on this subject. When working on my historical MA thesis, I read Woolsey, Vos, Bavinck, Fesko, the Scottish historians and many others and they were often too light/skimming and/or slanted histories trying to back a pet perspective, making it seem like there was "ONE view." So my opinion is that no history book does an adequate job. My readings reveal 3 main streams of Covenant Theology and these rose and fell in popularity at different times. So I would advise you to take the following general framework and then read ORIGINAL authors:

Stream 1: Early Reformers talked about the Covenant of Grace, so might be called "Monocovenantals" in the BEST sense of the term (since today many Tri-Covenantalists use that term negatively). Monocovenantalism returns in 18-19th century Scotland as a strategy by some noteworthy theologians to combat Arminianism. [Not saying they were right or successful. Just that this was their strategy]

Stream 2: Next in history, the Covenant of Works was developed and so now you had two covenants - or the Bi-Covenantalists. Bi-Covenantalism never fell out of favor but struggled against Tri-Covenantalism. After the Marrowmen, this was the predominant view in Scotland until Monocovenantalism returned among some theologians. [Also read evidence the unconditional Bi-Cov view was used to combat Arminianism by Boston and Marrowmen]

Stream 3: Next in history, the Arminians (at least 3) taught a Covenant of Redemption. So now you have 3 covenants being used by the Tri-Covenantalists. A number of Reformed adopted the Tri-Covenantal scheme. This view found acceptance but also was resistance by theologians in every country, especially in Scotland. [Read John Fesko for history of Covenant of Redemption]

Detailed explanation from my thesis:

In the sixteenth century, some early Reformers (like Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531), Heinrich Bullinger (1504–75), and John Calvin (1509–64)) and early Reformed Confessions applied the 'covenant' term only to the one Covenant of Grace, and in this sense, they could be considered to have taught a single or one Covenant of Grace scheme or have been 'Mono-covenantal' in a historically orthodox Reformed sense.[1] Many have viewed the late sixteenth and the seventeenth century as representing a turning point or a defining period of development in the history of Reformed theology.[2] Faced with challenges from the Remonstrants, Amyraldians and Roman Catholics, theologians developed upon the views of the earlier Reformers, formulating additional theological constructions and applying the 'covenant' term beyond the historical arrangements.[3] First, the Bi-covenantal view arose with the theological construction of the 'Covenant of Nature/Life/Works' becoming common terms in the late sixteenth century (ca. 1580s).[4] Then, first the Arminian theologians Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) and Gerhard Vossius (1577-1649); then the Scottish theologians David Dickson (1583–1663) and Samuel Rutherford (1600–61); and then the Dutch theologians Gisbert Voetius (1589-1676), Herman Witsius (1636–1708), and Johannes Cocceius (1603–69) began teaching both a 'Covenant of Works' and distinct 'Covenant of Redemption' theological construction, popularizing Tri-covenantalism.[5] Fesko traces its acceptance as early as Dickson's speech:

As best as I can determine, since Dickson's 1638 speech... numerous theologians treat the subject as part of larger dogmatic works, but only three theological monographs on the subject and five historical-theological works have been written, for a total of eight entries. ... [After the first two monographs, the] church would have to wait nearly three hundred years before another monograph on the [Covenant of Redemption] would emerge [in 1990].[6]
Tri-covenantalism was not met without resistance, as Fesko explains, "Although widespread, the doctrine was not universally accepted."[1] Geerhardus Vos described resistance among Reformed theologians as early as the mid-seventeenth century.[2] Englishmen Samuel Petto (ca. 1624–1711) as early as 1674, Francis Roberts (1609–1675) in 1657, Benjamin Keach (1640–1704) in 1693, and John Gill (1697–1771) in 1769; Scottish theologians Robert Shaw (1795–1863), Thomas Boston (1676–1732), the Marrowmen, Adam Gib (1714–88), John Brown of Haddington (1722–87), and John Dick (1764–1833); American theologians James Henley Thornwell (1812–62), W.G.T. Shedd (1820–94), and A.A. Hodge (1823–86); and Dutch theologians Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) and initially Geerhardus Vos (1862–1949) are among only some listed by Fesko and Louis Berkhof as Bi-covenantalists who distinguished, criticized and "rejected" Tri-covenantalism.[3] Although some have seen this as a matter of contention, other theologians have viewed both Bi- and Tri-covenantalism as acceptable "orthodox" constructions that affirm most of the same essential elements.[4] It is often said that the language of the Westminster Standards (1646–47) represents this tension between Bi- and Tri-covenantalism.[5]

Despite early and strong resistance among English Bi-covenantalists, Andrew Woolsey portrays the reign of Tri-covenantalism to have lasted into the eighteenth-century, "Throughout the eighteenth century [Federal Tri-covenantalism] remained largely the accepted mode of theological expression in the Reformed churches, interrupted in Scotland by the Marrow Controversy. This debate raised a number of questions related to the covenants, such as the conditionality of the covenant, and the nature of assurance...."[6] The work of Bi-covenantalists Thomas Boston and the Marrowmen did the most in shaping a strong opposing strand to Tri-covenantalism.[7] These theologians stressed the eternal Covenant of Grace as an unbreakable, unilateral and unconditional covenant, and used Bi-covenantalism to guard the covenant from unbiblical notions of conditionality and mutuality that lead to legalism.[8] Donald Macleod describes Boston's formulation as a strategy against Baxterian legalism...

Following Boston and the Marrowmen, a strand of unconditional Bi-Covenant of Grace theologians (especially popular among Scottish theologians) continued through the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, guarding against the legalism introduced by the conditional Covenant of Grace theologians.[10] Fesko described Scottish theologian Robert Shaw's view that Bi-covenantalism was the predominant view in nineteenth century Scotland, "In fact, Shaw believed that the distinction between the two covenants has been 'long since abandoned by all evangelical divines.'"[11] Armed with their Bi-covenantal scheme designed to guarded against legalism, Reformed theologians would be tested with the coming onslaught of the Arminian revivals. [In the 19th century, Monocovenantalism returned in Scotland.]

Thus, there has never been a consensus on whether it is most helpful to speak of 1, 2 or a 3-covenant scheme. Theologians have disagreed here for important reasons.​
 
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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thus, there has never been a consensus on whether it is most helpful to speak of 1, 2 or a 3-covenant scheme. Theologians have disagreed here for important reasons.

I appreciate the attempt to distinguish things that differ, but it is clear that the Westminster Standards reached a consensus on the matter. There we have the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Moreover, the Sum of Saving Knowledge clarifies the teaching on the covenant of redemption, and this is necessary for understanding the covenant of grace as made with Christ from the two covenant perspective of the Westminster Standards.
 

psycheives

Puritan Board Freshman
I appreciate the attempt to distinguish things that differ, but it is clear that the Westminster Standards reached a consensus on the matter. There we have the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Moreover, the Sum of Saving Knowledge clarifies the teaching on the covenant of redemption, and this is necessary for understanding the covenant of grace as made with Christ from the two covenant perspective of the Westminster Standards.

Rev. Winzer, in your statement, I'm hearing something like a suggestion that Tri-Covenantalism was "the Reformed" view but I'm not sure if I'm understanding your intent correctly. Will you please clarify what you're trying to say? We have the 3FU and the Wstds. Which of the 3 covenantal schemes do you see as being acceptable under those confessions? All? 2? or 1? Thanks for your wisdom on the matter.
 
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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Rev. Winzer, in your statement, I'm hearing something like a suggestion that Tri-Covenantalism was "the Reformed" view and I'm not sure if I'm understanding your intent correctly. Will you please clarify what you're trying to say? We have the 3FU and the Wstds. Which of the 3 covenantal schemes do you see as being acceptable under those confessions? All? 2? or 1? Thanks for your wisdom on the matter.

"Tri-covenantalism" is a misleading term, and does not express the nature of the view for which some divines contended. Those who taught the covenant of redemption were simply speaking of the eternal covenant as made with Christ, and they regarded this as a separate covenant in the sense that the parties, promises, and conditions were distinct. This covenant, however, was not made with men, but with the God-man. In sum, there is one eternal covenant and two historical covenants. "Tri-covenantalism" as a term does not properly convey this idea.
 

psycheives

Puritan Board Freshman
"Tri-covenantalism" is a misleading term, and does not express the nature of the view for which some divines contended. Those who taught the covenant of redemption were simply speaking of the eternal covenant as made with Christ, and they regarded this as a separate covenant in the sense that the parties, promises, and conditions were distinct. This covenant, however, was not made with men, but with the God-man. In sum, there is one eternal covenant and two historical covenants. "Tri-covenantalism" as a term does not properly convey this idea.

Rev. Winzer, will you please help address three further points/questions so I might better comprehend?

1) Yes, Rev. Winzer, that sounds like the same definition I'm familiar with. So perhaps "Tri-Covenantalism" isn't the most ideal term but it is one term that emphasizes this view distinguishes a unique 3-covenant scheme (COR, COW and COG). If you know about a better term, will you please share? Whatever we call it, my point was that not all Reformed theologians held this view and some opposed it with strong arguments. Thus Tri-Covenantalism is not the one and only "Reformed scheme."

2) Would you please answer which of these 1, 2, or 3 covenant schemes do you see as being acceptable under the 3FU and the Wstds?

3) Most people I've spoken to and read argue at least the 2 and 3 covenant schemes are acceptable under our Confessions. However, I think we would acknowledge that most the early Reformed did not hold a 2-3 covenant scheme but spoke primarily about a single Covenant of Grace (even if they had aspects/elements in common with a COW). Would we agree? Such a view does not distinguish a COW so it seems it would not be acceptable under the WStds but would this view be acceptable at least under the 3FU?

Thanks for taking the time :)
 
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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
If you know about a better term, will you please share? Whatever we call it, my point was that not all Reformed theologians held this view and some opposed it with strong arguments. Thus Tri-Covenantalism is not the one and only "Reformed scheme."

I'm not sure what to call it, but it properly fits within the bi-covenantal scheme. Tri-covenantalism better suits the Cameronian scheme of three covenants, so the term might better be reserved for that.

2) Would you please answer which of these 1, 2, or 3 covenant schemes do you see as being acceptable under the 3FU and the Wstds?

The Three Forms do not reflect later developments, so they could accommodate a number of views; but I would defer to the brethren who function under that system to give a better account of it. The Westminster Standards speak of the covenants of works and of grace; but they also refer to the covenant of grace in two aspects -- as made with Christ and as made with the elect in Him -- and this would leave room for the covenant of redemption as taught by Scottish divines like Rutherford, Dickson, Durham, Gillespie, etc. Personally I agree with Shaw following the Marrowmen that the covenant of grace is made with Christ and with the elect in Him. If it were otherwise it would mean the elect would have to fulfil the conditions of the covenant of grace in the same way that Christ fulfilled the conditions of the covenant of redemption. Clearly that is not the case, and those conditions are fulfilled in the elect; and the earlier Scottish divines taught that the conditions were fulfilled in the elect, which makes me think of it as a debate more about words than substance.

3) Most people I've spoken to and read argue at least the 2 and 3 covenant schemes are acceptable under our Confessions. However, I think we would acknowledge that most the early Reformed did not hold a 2-3 covenant scheme but spoke primarily about a single Covenant of Grace (even if they had aspects/elements in common with a COW). Would we agree? Such a view does not distinguish a COW so it seems it would not be acceptable under the WStds but would this view be acceptable at least under the 3FU?

I think it confirms the development in the Westminster Standards to find a number of orthodox Dutch theologians who taught in accord with Westminster's federal system, e.g., Witsius, a Brakel; and Richard Muller has stated in his article on their use of the covenant of works that they "represent the normative form of Reformed federalism fashioned in the wake of debate over Cocceius' doctrine." Even Calvin had his own way of bringing out the legal relationship of Adam in the state of innocence; and grace manifests itself to be true grace when it is brought out in contrast to works, as stated in Romans. As a matter of development I would say that the Westminster Standards represent a healthy consensus on the covenants of works and of grace. There are many ideas contemporary with the Assembly which have been wisely omitted from the Confession and sufficient freedom is given to explain the covenant of works in a variety of ways.
 
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psycheives

Puritan Board Freshman
1) I'm not sure what to call it, but it properly fits within the bi-covenantal scheme. Tri-covenantalism better suits the Cameronian scheme of three covenants, so the term might better be reserved for that.

3) I think it confirms the development in the Westminster Standards to find a number of orthodox Dutch theologians who taught in accord with Westminster's federal system, e.g., Witsius, a Brakel; and Richard Muller has stated in his article on their use of the covenant of works that they "represent the normative form of Reformed federalism fashioned in the wake of debate over Cocceius' doctrine." Even Calvin had his own way of bringing out the legal relationship of Adam in the state of innocence; and grace manifests itself to be true grace when it is brought out in contrast to works, as stated in Romans. As a matter of development I would say that the Westminster Standards represent a healthy consensus on the covenants of works and of grace. There are many ideas contemporary with the Assembly which have been wisely omitted from the Confession and sufficient freedom is given to explain the covenant of works in a variety of ways.

Thank you for your reply, Rev. Winzer.

On point 3, yes I agree. We all affirm the development and the earlier elements within Calvin, early Reformers etc.

On point 1, ahhhh... I get it now. Yes that makes sense to apply Tri-Cov to Cameronian scheme in that context. Perhaps we could find a different term for Cameron? My concern is modern scholars have been using "Monocovenantalist" to attack anyone holding only a Covenant of Grace (not affirming a COW or COR) and also attacking "bi-covenantalists" for "rejecting" "the covenant of redemption." Example: Tri-Cov affirmer Dr. John Fesko in his historically-aimed work "The Covenant of Redemption" "attacks" the Bi-Cov guys for "rejecting the Covenant of Redemption." Thus, the Bi-coventantalists are being portrayed to some degree as contrary to "orthodoxy." My point with history is that the Tri-Cov scheme never "won" and the Bi-Cov scheme has never been discarded. In fact, in Scotland, following the Marrrowmen and Boston, the Bi-Cov scheme won out and the Tri-Cov scheme was discarded. Thus, any attempt to claim that Reformed Covenant theology developed from Monocov to Bi-Cov and then both were discarded in favor of Tri-Cov and so Tri-Cov is the only legitimate scheme, in my opinion is false. But this is one of the most popular "history of CTs" being told today.

So, many modern scholars are attempting to condemn Mono-Cov and Bi-Cov schemes as unorthodox or counter to our confessions and history. They insist that anyone who doesn't teach a unique COR is not Reformed. I would strongly disagree and argue they are using a false history to support Tri-Cov.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Example: Tri-Cov affirmer Dr. John Fesko in his historically-aimed work "The Covenant of Redemption" "attacks" the Bi-Cov guys for "rejecting the Covenant of Redemption."

I have this book on my to-read list so I can't offer any comment in relation to this book; but the interpretation that Boston, Shaw, etc., rejected the covenant of redemption is a poor reading of their theology. They affirmed the covenant of redemption in every sense that the earlier Scottish theologians taught it. The only alteration of substance is that they affirmed the covenant of grace with the elect is the same covenant made with Christ. This emphasises the unconditionality of the covenant to the elect. It means the covenant of grace is not dependent on conditions which sinful men will leave unfulfilled but on the work of Christ who has perfectly fulfilled all conditions.
 
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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thomas Boston, Works 1:333-334:

"The covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace are not two distinct covenants, but one and the same covenant. I know some great and good men have taught otherwise, alleging the covenant of redemption to have been made with Christ, and the covenant of grace to be made with believers; though they were far from designing or approving the ill use some have made of that principle. However, the doctrine of this church, in the Larger Catechism, is in express words, 'The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.' From whence it necessarily follows, that the covenant made with Christ and with believers, or the covenant of grace and redemption, are one and the same covenant. Only, in respect of Christ, it is called the covenant of redemption, forasmuch as in it he engaged to pay the price of our redemption; but in respect of us, the covenant of grace, forasmuch as the whole of it is of free grace to us, God himself having provided the ransom, and thereupon made over life and salvation to poor sinners, his chosen by free promise, without respect to any work of theirs to entitle them thereto."
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
James Walker, Theology and Theologians of Scotland, 44-45:

"I may add, though I have not time to enter into the subject, that in the Scottish doctrine of the Covenants you note some differences. Dickson and Rutherford spoke of both the covenant of redemption, and the covenant of grace or reconciliation: by the former, they meant the covenant between the Father and the Son; by the latter, a distinct and subordinate covenant based on the former between God and His people, under which, in fact, the blessings of redemption are administered: the former, so far as man was concerned, absolute; the latter having as its condition faith. Boston and Gib refused the distinction between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace, asserting that there is no such distinction in the Bible, — the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace in their view being only two names of the same thing, 'which in respect of Christ may be called a covenant of redemption, for He alone engaged to pay the price; while in respect of man, it is a covenant of grace, as all to us comes freely.' The later divines saw some tendency in the earlier doctrine to Neonomianism, or, as the covenant of reconciliation was external in the visible church, even a sort of bar to immediate dealing with the Saviour, and entrance by an appropriating faith into living union with Him. It is perhaps a difference in the same line when the earlier theologians say: 'The covenant was made with Christ, not as a public person representing many, but as an eminent chosen person, chosen out from among His brethren;' and the later teachers: 'Jesus Christ, the party contracting on man's side in the covenant of grace, is to be considered as the last or second Adam, head and representative of a seed.' The question is sufficiently intricate, and I do not believe there is any real difference between the two; only in the one case the vicarious was brought more distinctly out, in the other the representative."
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
I was taught that the Covenant of Redemption was purely between the persons of the Godhead. This stands in a different relation to the bi-covenantal scheme of Works and Grace which is between God and Man. The Father and Son stand on an ontological equal ground. The relationship of God and man is always benevolent and gracious on some level. Even in the Covenant of Works. Therefore from the standing point of ontological relation the Covenants between God and man are always considered to be bi-covenantal and the Covenant of Redemption is over them. The Covenant of Redemption includes the whole but is purely between the Father and Son.

The
The Salmurian Position: Trichotomous is a position that is a position which added the Covenant of Law. If you can get "A Puritan's Theology" by Jone's and Beeke it hits on the history of Covenant Theology. I would encourage everyone to get a copy and read chapters 13-19. I think they were very fair in explaining the history of Covenant Theology. The Trichotomous position is discussed under the Minority View and John Owen.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Cameron's view is as follows: "We say therefore there is a covenant of nature, another covenant of grace, and another subservient to the covenant of grace (which is called in Scripture, the Old Covenant)." Translated by Samuel Bolton in True Bounds of Christian Freedom (1656), 356. This is what I would call a tri-covenantal view, that is, there are three covenants made with man. A bi-covenantal view, to speak properly, would hold that there are two covenants made with man, a covenant of works and a covenant of grace.
 
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