Dr. Clark: question on NCT & Trinitarian hermeneutic

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john_Mark

Puritan Board Freshman
In your These on Covenant Theology you state:

6. "New Covenant" Theology
1. Like Dispensationalism, "New Covenant" theology (NCT) is not sufficiently Trinitarian in its hermeneutic

Do you have any further writing showing this so as to understand better this proposition? I apologize if this has been discussed before and I missed it. I would like to get a better grasp on NCT and this line of thought.

Thanks.
 

pastorway

Puritan Board Senior
I would be interested in this as well, because of all that we can say about NCT, this charge is not near anything that I would imagine could be substantiated.

Phillip
 

R. Scott Clark

Puritan Board Senior
Originally posted by john_Mark
In your These on Covenant Theology you state:

6. "New Covenant" Theology
1. Like Dispensationalism, "New Covenant" theology (NCT) is not sufficiently Trinitarian in its hermeneutic

Do you have any further writing showing this so as to understand better this proposition? I apologize if this has been discussed before and I missed it. I would like to get a better grasp on NCT and this line of thought.

Thanks.

Dear J_M,

Dispensationalists tend to worry about reading Christ into the Hebrew Scriptures.

By contrast, a Trinitarian hermeneutic is one that refuses to read the three persons of the Trinity out of redemptive history. In other words, the Holy Spirit embedded a witness to the Trinity in the Hebrew Scriptures and the same Spirit who inspired Paul also inspired Moses and the Prophets. The same Son who became incarnate was saving and mediating revelation and salvation before the incarnation. Reading Scripture this way is what I mean by a "Trinitarian hermeneutic." It means seeing the Holy Trinity operating in concert through creation and redemption.

My criticism of NCT (and Dispensationalism) is that they do not see God the Son (and perhaps God the Spirit) operating in the history of redemption as they should. God the Son did not suddenly appear in the New Covenant. He was operating as Mediator and Redeemer before he became incarnate. God the Son is the Logos, i.e., the Mediator and Revealer. He did not become the Mediator and Revealer in the incarnation.

I see evidence of this in NCT when Tom Wells argues that the historic Reformed terminology "covenant of grace" has been a "mistake." He affirms a unity of God´s purposes through the ages, but says that to use the word "covenant" to describe that unity is not helpful. Like the classic Dispensationalists, Wells teaches that the Christ founded his Church in the NT. It is not clear how NCT can avoid the Scylla of teaching two (or more) ways of salvation. The fact that they pull back from such conclusions is to their credit, but the theological question is: where does one´s hermeneutic lead? What are the consequences?

Though there is a formal acknowledgement of the Trinity, this "˜theology´ is not substantially Trinitarian. He does not recognize that God the Son incarnate was speaking in the Hebrew Scriptures. They miss this because of their overly strong view of the "substantial" (their word) novelty of the New Covenant. Any proposal of radical soteriological discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments must face squarely the overwhelming weight of the Patristic, Medieval, Reformation, and post-Reformation reading of Scripture to the contrary. Any radical discontinuity proposal will necessarily have grave difficulties becoming the Charybdis of Marcionite (two gods) heresy. It is not entirely clear how NCT can avoid this problem.

Further, superiority is not necessarily substantial discontinuity. That the NT teaches its own superiority over the Mosaic epoch is to be expected on the progressive covenantal reading of the Bible. It is not clear how the proponents of NCT can account for superiority.

Reformed Federal theology has always taught that there is a discontinuity between the Mosaic and New Covenants.

The claim that not a single reference to Diatheke (Greek for "covenant" or "testament") demands reference to a single covenant is ridiculously mechanical on its face. Counting noses is not doing theology. The substance of the covenant of grace pervades the Scriptures of the Diatheke so that it this analysis of the word is not compelling. Paul´s entire argument in Romans 3-4 hinges on the substantial unity of the covenant with Abraham. He is the father of all who believe. God made a covenant with him.

Implicit in this hermeneutic is a rejection of the analogy of faith and the analogy of Scripture. It doesn´t really appreciate the way the Hebrew Scriptures themselves understood and exposited the Decalogue. It doesn´t understand the reciprocal relations "general equity" of the law, general revelation/natural law (Rom 1) and the golden rule, and the relations of all of these expressions of God´s moral will to the divine nature.

The NCT seems to be unaware of its rather heavy nominalism, i.e., that the law is nothing more than an arbitrary divine imposition upon history to be changed again by divine will. Certainly in orthodox Protestant theology there is a place for a certain divine voluntarism, but it has always been balanced by certain realism as well.

This sub-Trinitarian hermeneutic is a problem that plagues evangelicalism generally. It leads to folk reading their bibles as if we had to do with the Father under the Hebrew Scriptures, the Son in the Gospels (and sometimes it is even implied that we're sort of alienated from the Father under Christ, so that we had more intimate fellowship with God under Moses!), and the Spirit in the Epistles.

We should not flatten out the history of redemption. The time of types and shadows is just that, and we don't need to make every epoch of revelation identical to every other, but we ought not to read the bible atomistically either.

I hope this helps.

rsc
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
My criticism of NCT (and Dispensationalism) is that they do not see God the Son (and perhaps God the Spirit) operating in the history of redemption as they should. God the Son did not suddenly appear in the New Covenant. He was operating as Mediator and Redeemer before he became incarnate. God the Son is the Logos, i.e., the Mediator and Revealer. He did not become the Mediator and Revealer in the incarnation.

You're gonna get some emails as a result of that one brother! :lol:

I agree with you, but there are many who don't. I'd like to see some of them respond to your post.
 

pastorway

Puritan Board Senior
I'd like to meet a NCT adherent that actually believes this......

I do not know one dispensationalist or NCTer that holds to this view put forth. Not one. I was a Dispensational until about 7 years ago and never ran across these ideas about the OT.

I am baffled in fact, because if this is an accurate view of the NCT hermenuetic then someone forgot to tell the NCTers I know.

Phillip
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Originally posted by pastorway
I'd like to meet a NCT adherent that actually believes this......

I do not know one dispensationalist or NCTer that holds to this view put forth. Not one. I was a Dispensational until about 7 years ago and never ran across these ideas about the OT.

I am baffled in fact, because if this is an accurate view of the NCT hermenuetic then someone forgot to tell the NCTers I know.

Phillip
Which part? I used to be in Dispensational Churches as well and found it to be pretty accurate. As a general criticism of a line of thinking goes it won't line up with every person but it is a good general critique.
 

R. Scott Clark

Puritan Board Senior
Originally posted by pastorway
I'd like to meet a NCT adherent that actually believes this......

I do not know one dispensationalist or NCTer that holds to this view put forth. Not one. I was a Dispensational until about 7 years ago and never ran across these ideas about the OT.

I am baffled in fact, because if this is an accurate view of the NCT hermenuetic then someone forgot to tell the NCTers I know.

Phillip

The essay to which I referred above is: Tom Wells, "What is This Thing Called New Covenant?," Reformation and Revival 6 (1997) (and the related essays therein - the whole issue served as sort of a primer to the movement published, ironically, just before the editor started promoting Norm Shepherd and Covenantal Moralism. A strange sort of dialectic from quasi-antinomianism to neo-nomianism).

rsc
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Just a point of clarification for those who are unaware: Wells is not the editor of Reformation and Revival, and is not a promoter of Shepherd. John Armstrong is.
 

pastorway

Puritan Board Senior
So, Dr. Clark, have you based your assessment of the NCT hermenueitc on one old article (1997 is old within the movement) while those who hold to NCT will admit that the system is not yet complete?

There is some within the NCT world with which I whole heartedly disagree, and yet also some with which I agree. If you compare the two systems, NCT and CT have more in common than any other 2 systems out there.

Theological Systems Compared

I have not ever been aware of the hermenuetical approach you have evaluated in any Dispensational churches I was invovled with or with any of the people I know who are NCT. Even some I have talked with this week as a result of this post who are very much NOT adherents to NCT claim that you have painted a picture that is inaccurate. You are burning up straw men.

The hermenuetic you present and rebut is, to be sure, faulty. But I do not think we can affirm in any way that this is THE hermeneutic of New Covenant Theology.

Phillip



[Edited on 11-24-05 by pastorway]
 

Wannabee

Obi Wan Kenobi
Well, I don't have a handle on CT, and just a little on NCT. But, if I've learned anything I've learned dispensational hermeneutics and this simply baffles me.

Worry about reading Christ into the OT? Well, sorta. The second person of the Trinity doesn't have to be read into the OT because He's found throughout - as Mediator. Why be guilty of eisegesis (I-see-Jesus) when His presence is so clear? Christ (the anointed one) is the title of the Messiah though, so in this sense I'd have to agree on this particular statement as it stands.

The work of the Spirit is seen from creation on. I guess I just don't get the comments in regard to Him.

Salvation is by faith alone. That much is clear. It is also clear that Jesus said, "I WILL build my church." Not I AM or I HAVE BEEN... This doesn't necessitate a new way of salvation.
Reformed Federal theology has always taught that there is a discontinuity between the Mosaic and New Covenants.
Good comment. Though I'm ont sure I would make "New Covenants" plural.:)

The law is not an arbitrary imposition, but rather an incredible divine gift to God's chosen people that teaches them something that no other people had been taught before... how to worship YHWH, according to His instruction. Obedience then, as it is now, was a sign of faith. God had to give them a ears to hear and eyes to see then just as He does now (Deu 29:4).
This sub-Trinitarian hermeneutic is a problem that plagues evangelicalism generally. It leads to folk reading their bibles as if we had to do with the Father under the Hebrew Scriptures, the Son in the Gospels (and sometimes it is even implied that we're sort of alienated from the Father under Christ, so that we had more intimate fellowship with God under Moses!), and the Spirit in the Epistles.
I've heard of people saying this sort of thing, but the brush stroke is too broad. This only represents a certain strain within dispensationalism, and not any NCTheogs that I know.

Progressive revelation????

While I agree that what is represented in this post is wrong, it is apparent that this post doesn't represent either dispensationalism or NCT accurately.

[Edited on 11-24-2005 by Wannabee]
 

R. Scott Clark

Puritan Board Senior
Originally posted by pastorway
So, Dr. Clark, have you based your assessment of the NCT hermenueitc on one old article (1997 is old within the movement) while those who hold to NCT will admit that the system is not yet complete?

There is some within the NCT world with which I whole heartedly disagree, and yet also some with which I agree. If you compare the two systems, NCT and CT have more in common than any other 2 systems out there.

Theological Systems Compared

I have not ever been aware of the hermenuetical approach you have evaluated in any Dispensational churches I was invovled with or with any of the people I know who are NCT. Even some I have talked with this week as a result of this post who are very much NOT adherents to NCT claim that you have painted a picture that is inaccurate. You are burning up straw men.

The hermenuetic you present and rebut is, to be sure, faulty. But I do not think we can affirm in any way that this is THE hermeneutic of New Covenant Theology.

Phillip



[Edited on 11-24-05 by pastorway]

No, that's not what I said. I simply cited the Wells essay as an example and as the essay to which I referred in my post. My criticisms of the NCT and dispensationalism are based on rather wider reading.

I'm happy, however, to have bibliographic references to more intelligent and thoughtful arguments in favor of NCT.

rsc
 

john_Mark

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks, Dr. Clark. I am still trying to wrap my brain around this. I *think* Greg Welty begins making a similar point, but concludes that the NCTer's aren't consistent. I will find the quote I am thinking of and see if it fits.
 

pastorway

Puritan Board Senior
I would be interested to see more of your points about NCT if possible - not necessarily an indepth evaluation, but just bullet points of areas that you have concerns about within the movement.

I would also like to see links or references for works that critique the movement. I have read much of the supporting documentation for NCT but have not investigated what material may be available to examine it other than what Rich Barcellos has written.

Phillip
 

john_Mark

Puritan Board Freshman
Maybe I am not all together understanding this quote below from Welty in relation to Dr. Clark's arguement. I suppose I was thinking that if NCTers were consistent with their own hermeneutic all the way through. Then again, maybe I'm just mistaken. Anyways....

Likewise, in the beginning in the Garden of Eden, there were parties, stipulations and sanctions. In the gospel believed in every age there are parties, stipulations and sanctions. From eternity between the Father and the Son there are parties, stipulations and sanctions. This is where covenant theologians get the covenant of works, covenant of grace, and covenant of redemption. They recognise, on the basis of the Bible itself, that you don´t need the word "˜covenant´ if the essential elements of a covenant are present. In the same way that you don´t need the word "˜person´ if the essential elements of a person are present when you consult texts which speak of the Holy Spirit. Eschew this basic principle, and NCT advocates can never construct a systematic theology. They can never say that there are three Persons of the Trinity, or that we believe in substitutionary atonement. They can just read verses to each other, and that´s all. Not a very useful movement, I say. Thankfully, NCTians are inconsistent with themselves here; a quick perusal through Adams´ response paper will reveal that he uses literally scores of words to interpret the significance of biblical passages, which words are not actually found in the passages themselves, or even in the Bible.

http://www.ccir.ed.ac.uk/~jad/welty/adams.htm
 

R. Scott Clark

Puritan Board Senior
Originally posted by john_Mark
Maybe I am not all together understanding this quote below from Welty in relation to Dr. Clark's arguement. I suppose I was thinking that if NCTers were consistent with their own hermeneutic all the way through. Then again, maybe I'm just mistaken. Anyways....

...he uses literally scores of words to interpret the significance of biblical passages, which words are not actually found in the passages themselves, or even in the Bible.

http://www.ccir.ed.ac.uk/~jad/welty/adams.htm

Yes, this similar to what I find in NCT (and in many some forms of Reformed Christianity and in evangelicalsm generally). I would describe that way of reading Scripture as "biblicist."

rsc
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Originally posted by R. Scott Clark
Originally posted by john_Mark
Maybe I am not all together understanding this quote below from Welty in relation to Dr. Clark's arguement. I suppose I was thinking that if NCTers were consistent with their own hermeneutic all the way through. Then again, maybe I'm just mistaken. Anyways....

...he uses literally scores of words to interpret the significance of biblical passages, which words are not actually found in the passages themselves, or even in the Bible.

http://www.ccir.ed.ac.uk/~jad/welty/adams.htm

Yes, this similar to what I find in NCT (and in many some forms of Reformed Christianity and in evangelicalsm generally). I would describe that way of reading Scripture as "biblicist."

rsc
Dr. Horton wrote a great article about Systematic Theology in the Jan/Feb 2003 issue of Modern Reformation entitled Who Needs Systematic Theology When We Have the Bible? Have you heard of him Dr. Clark? He's a really nice guy. ;)

Seriously, I always get a kick out of people who do that. Especially those who only use the inductive study method but then their inductive method bows the knee to the "God didn't make robots" system of thought when they come to God's sovereignty and the will of man. Calvary Chapel is practically famous for it.
 

Rich Barcellos

Puritan Board Freshman
Dr. Clark said:

"Implicit in this hermeneutic is a rejection of the analogy of faith and the analogy of Scripture. It doesn´t really appreciate the way the Hebrew Scriptures themselves understood and exposited the Decalogue. It doesn´t understand the reciprocal relations "general equity" of the law, general revelation/natural law (Rom 1) and the golden rule, and the relations of all of these expressions of God´s moral will to the divine nature.

The NCT seems to be unaware of its rather heavy nominalism, i.e., that the law is nothing more than an arbitrary divine imposition upon history to be changed again by divine will. Certainly in orthodox Protestant theology there is a place for a certain divine voluntarism, but it has always been balanced by certain realism as well."

In my review of the Wells/Zaspel book, I said:

"While discussing moral law, Wells says, "œWhatever is moral binds all men at all times" (NCT, 176, n. 253). With this I agree. On the next page, however, he says, "œWe must not, then, make Christ look and sound very much like Moses in his approach to moral law" (NCT, 177). I find this difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with his previous assertion about the universality of moral law. Wells defines moral law as follows:

Moral law is the law that has its source in the unchanging moral character of God with the result that it is intrinsically right and therefore binds all men of every era and land to whom it comes. (NCT, 162)

Wells adds, "œmoral law is found wherever there is a revelation of the moral character of God" (NCT, 162). But then he asks, "œis the revelation of God´s character progressive?" (NCT, 162). He proceeds to base moral law on the progressive nature of special revelation. Since God reveals His character progressively in the Bible, moral law is revealed progressively. In other words, he argues for a dynamic concept of moral law. Indeed, he even claims that we will not know the moral law until the eternal state (NCT, 164, 166). Is this not a bit speculative? Reformed theology, however, bases its understanding of moral law on creation imago Dei. When God made Adam, he made him to be like Himself, to reflect His communicable attributes. Creation imago Dei involves having the law of God written on the heart (Rom. 1, 2). It is that law which is based on God´s character. In another place, Wells says that "œall law from God came with moral force" (NCT, 164). He appears to base moral law upon God´s will and His unchanging character. He makes no distinction between positive law and moral law. Positive law includes any laws added to the natural law (i.e., law of creation or moral law) due to the entrance of sin and is based on God´s will and is man´s possession via special revelation (i.e., Scripture). Moral law is based on creation imago Dei and on God´s unchanging nature and is man´s possession via general revelation and, due to the entrance of sin, Scripture. Positive law is dynamic throughout redemptive history; moral law static. Wells appears to infuse Zaspel´s understanding of plhro,w into his discussion of moral law. This has detrimental implications for the identity of the law written on the heart (i.e., natural law), the basis of the Covenant of Works, the perpetuity of moral law, the Sabbath, the active obedience of Christ, and the imputation of righteousness.
 

cultureshock

Puritan Board Freshman
Originally posted by R. Scott Clark
Originally posted by john_Mark
Maybe I am not all together understanding this quote below from Welty in relation to Dr. Clark's arguement. I suppose I was thinking that if NCTers were consistent with their own hermeneutic all the way through. Then again, maybe I'm just mistaken. Anyways....

...he uses literally scores of words to interpret the significance of biblical passages, which words are not actually found in the passages themselves, or even in the Bible.

http://www.ccir.ed.ac.uk/~jad/welty/adams.htm

Yes, this similar to what I find in NCT (and in many some forms of Reformed Christianity and in evangelicalsm generally). I would describe that way of reading Scripture as "biblicist."

rsc

In my encounters with NCT guys, I have found that they especially like to read the word "law" with a very univocal meaning throughout the whole New Testament, as though it always means the whole Mosaic code with all of its commands. In my humble opinion, Paul's usage is much more nuanced than that. Paul wrote letters, not textbooks.

This exegetical move in NCT is symptomatic of a larger problem within the wider biblicist movement. They read the text in a rationalistic way, as if word studies were capable of establishing a univocal meaning for every biblical word. The Bible is a human book; let's read it as a human book.

Brian
 

Pete Richert

Inactive User
This exegetical move in NCT is symptomatic of a larger problem within the wider biblicist movement. They read the text in a rationalistic way, as if word studies were capable of establishing a univocal meaning for every biblical word. The Bible is a human book; let's read it as a human book.

It has been my experience that just about every camp is guilty of this. Whether or not you wish to force a particular word to maintain a tight definition across the Bible follows what you are trying to prove. Furthermore, most people never seem to realize they are being inconsistent about it.

[Edited on 12-5-2005 by Pete Richert]
 
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