John Lafayette Girardeau on the danger of neglecting federal theology

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Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
It has become almost an adage, that the Church has developed her theology mainly through conflict with error. This must be so from the nature of the case. Attention is not apt to be specially directed to what is undisputed, and our clearest judgments are derived from comparison. The contrast of truth and error, induced by the assertion of the latter, enhances our comprehension of both. The doctrine of the covenants constitutes no exception to this law. ...

And while Cunningham, Hodge, and our own Thornwell have trodden in their footsteps, and evinced in their discussions their sense of the importance of the federal system—a fact for which the present generation of Calvinists should be devoutly thankful—it is to be feared that indications are beginning to manifest themselves of a growing tendency towards a departure from this type of theology. Especially would it be for a lamentation should it disappear from the pulpit—the grand organ by which divine truth is brought into contact with the masses. ...

For more, see John Lafayette Girardeau on the danger of neglecting federal theology.
 

Stephen L Smith

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This is a very insightful post. I think the best modern example of this danger of neglecting federal theology is the Calvinistic-dispensational movement of John MacArthur and the Masters Seminary. They think you can have a Calvinistic theology devoid of federal theology.
 

B.L.

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks for posting this. I've had several Girardeau books in my cart over at RHB that I've been meaning to purchase. This is a nice reminder to do so!

Have a joyful day!
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
This is a very insightful post. I think the best modern example of this danger of neglecting federal theology is the Calvinistic-dispensational movement of John MacArthur and the Masters Seminary. They think you can have a Calvinistic theology devoid of federal theology.

One of the biggest strengths of this essay is that it demonstrates how Calvinism is deeply intertwined with the covenant of grace. Accordingly, monergestic dispensationalists, while preferable to Arminian dispensationalists, will never be able to fully embrace Reformed soteriology while they dissent from the doctrine of the covenants.
 

Stephen L Smith

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Staff member
One of the biggest strengths of this essay is that it demonstrates how Calvinism is deeply intertwined with the covenant of grace. Accordingly, monergestic dispensationalists, while preferable to Arminian dispensationalists, will never be able to fully embrace Reformed soteriology while they dissent from the doctrine of the covenants.
Agreed. I have a cousin who studied at the Masters Seminary and he argues that to suggest a link between covenant theology and Calvinistic theology is to create a theological 'system' rather than interpreting the Bible 'naturally' which dispensationalism purports to do. In other words, covenant theology is a 'system', dispensationalism is the natural way to interpret scripture :)
 

The Original Secession

Puritan Board Freshman
Alright, I pretty ignorant of MacArthur's dispensationalism, who can give me an idea of what to read so that I can understand this a bit better? With all of his new found fame I suspect I will need to know this.
 

Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Junior
In other words, covenant theology is a 'system', dispensationalism is the natural way to interpret scripture.

I know I am preaching to the choir here, brother, but I tire of this dichotomy that is constantly proposed between natural thinking and systematic thinking. All knowledge and fields of inquiry are systematic; it is inescapable. I wish people would just be honest and say, “My system is different than yours,” and proceed from there, instead of trying to fabricate a fundamental difference that simply isn’t there.
 

Stephen L Smith

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Staff member
I wish people would just be honest and say, “My system is different than yours,” and proceed from there, instead of trying to fabricate a fundamental difference that simply isn’t there.
How anyone concludes that dispensationalism is not a system of interpreting scripture is beyond me.
Agreed. If anyone has any ideas on how to tell a good Calvinist dispensationalist brother that their dispensationalism weakens their Calvinism (in light of Daniel's first post) I would be interested to hear them.
 

Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Junior
Agreed. If anyone has any ideas on how to tell a good Calvinist dispensationalist brother that their dispensationalism weakens their Calvinism (in light of Daniel's first post) I would be interested to hear them.

Hand them a copy of Calvin's Institutes. Hard to argue that you are a stronger Calvinist when you hold to a hermeneutic which Calvin did not hold. ;)
 

Stephen L Smith

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Staff member
Hand them a copy of Calvin's Institutes. Hard to argue that you are a stronger Calvinist when you hold to a hermeneutic which Calvin did not hold. ;)
Taylor, like you I love Calvin's Institutes and have come to appreciate more and more the vital importance the Institutes are to true Christianity. However I don't think this strategy will work. Dispensationalists believe Calvin got many things right but he tended to 'spiritualise' the text. Apparently he did not get rid of all his Roman Catholic baggage. It is a terrible argument I know.

I am inclined to think (I am open to correction) the best strategy for Calvinistic dispensationalists is to show that the Puritans, the pastors in the Nadere Reformatie etc, continued to develop Calvin's argument by developing a full-orbed covenant theology. This came to its climax in ch 7 of the Westminster Confession. In Vos' insightful essay "The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology" he makes this comment: " The Westminster Confession is the first Reformed confession in which the doctrine of the covenant is not merely brought in from the side, but is placed in the foreground and has been able to permeate at almost every point." [My emphasis].

I think this statement is significant for a discussion with Calvinistic dispensationalists. If the doctrine of the covenant 'permeates at almost every point' this means the covenant is important for many Reformation doctrines: God's sovereignty, providence, justification, sanctification, union with Christ etc. Therefore, I think, it is easy to show Calvinistic dispensationalists they have a more fragmented theology. They do not have the covenant to bring their theology together. I'm still thinking this through :)

 

Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Junior
Taylor, like you I love Calvin's Institutes and have come to appreciate more and more the vital importance the Institutes are to true Christianity. However I don't think this strategy will work. Dispensationalists believe Calvin got many things right but he tended to 'spiritualise' the text. Apparently he did not get rid of all his Roman Catholic baggage. It is a terrible argument I know.

I am inclined to think (I am open to correction) the best strategy for Calvinistic dispensationalists is to show that the Puritans, the pastors in the Nadere Reformatie etc, continued to develop Calvin's argument by developing a full-orbed covenant theology. This came to its climax in ch 7 of the Westminster Confession. In Vos' insightful essay "The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology" he makes this comment: " The Westminster Confession is the first Reformed confession in which the doctrine of the covenant is not merely brought in from the side, but is placed in the foreground and has been able to permeate at almost every point." [My emphasis].

I think this statement is significant for a discussion with Calvinistic dispensationalists. If the doctrine of the covenant 'permeates at almost every point' this means the covenant is important for many Reformation doctrines: God's sovereignty, providence, justification, sanctification, union with Christ etc. Therefore, I think, it is easy to show Calvinistic dispensationalists they have a more fragmented theology. They do not have the covenant to bring their theology together. I'm still thinking this through :)

Agreed, brother! I was just joking about handing them Calvin’s Institutes. I wish it were that easy. ;)
 

Von

Puritan Board Sophomore
I'm in contact with several Master's Seminary graduates and for the life of me I could never understand why they would use Grudem's systematic theology (before Mac's was published) when they disagree on so many points with him. Gruden is a continuationist (Strange Fire conference, anyone?...), he has funny views about creation if I remember correctly, and there's one or two other things that he is not solid on.



*Edited so as to not misrepresent Wayne Grudem as a dispensationalist.
 
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Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Junior
But he is a Dispensationalist.

I don't think Grudem is a Dispensationalist. His eschatology is historic premillennial (which is not Dispensational), and in his Systematic Theology he appears to disagree with Dispensationalism's eschatological separation of the Church and Israel.
 

Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Junior
Another thought. I think ch 7 of the 1689 Baptist Confession is particularly good at showing the link between Covenant Theology and sovereign election. Note especially 7:2 and 7:3. https://founders.org/library/1689-confession/chapter-7-gods-covenant/

Thanks for the reference. That is helpful. I do think it's funny, though, how that page presents the 1689 Baptist Confession "in modern English," although the 1689 Baptist Confession was originally written in modern English. ;)
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
That is helpful.
Baptism aside, I think the 1689 Baptist Confession reflects developments in covenant theology that occurred after the WCF was written (especially the link between sovereign election and covenant).
I do think it's funny, though, how that page presents the 1689 Baptist Confession "in modern English," although the 1689 Baptist Confession was originally written in modern English. ;)
The other funny thing is that the 1689 Confession was actually written in 1677. I understand it was not until the 1689 Act of Toleration was enacted that the framers of the 1689 Confession felt free to publicly publish their confession.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Freshman
Alright, I pretty ignorant of MacArthur's dispensationalism, who can give me an idea of what to read so that I can understand this a bit better? With all of his new found fame I suspect I will need to know this.
I hear he has a study bible with interpretative notes. Could be your first esv, Mr. Dotson.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
Alright, I pretty ignorant of MacArthur's dispensationalism, who can give me an idea of what to read so that I can understand this a bit better? With all of his new found fame I suspect I will need to know this.
Here is a brief answer to your question. Of course, I do not agree with MacArthur's dispensationalist doctrine, but at least you'll hear it from the horse's mouth...

 
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