By Shane Kastler
[Note: Recently I exchanged a couple emails with a brother who wanted to discuss our theological differences. He is a Baptist that holds to Covenant Theology, while I'm a Baptist that holds to New Covenant Theology. If you're uncertain of the differences our exchange should help. He also references a video that defends his position. I watched it and critiqued it in our exchange as well. The video in question is also included for those who would like to see what I critiqued. Here's my portion of the exchange. I kept his name out of it to protect his privacy.]
Thanks for writing. Yes, I am aware of various nuances in historic Baptist theology as it pertains to Covenant/ Administrations. And I am familiar with the website you sent and have watched some of the videos in the past. I think they are helpful in some ways and it is good to discuss these issues. However, some of the videos clearly show a distorted caricature of NCT. For example, James Renihan's assertion that NCT is “brand new” and that it is really “just an extreme version of Dispensationalism” would indicate that he either doesn't really understand what NCT teaches. Or he is purposely misrepresenting it in “straw man” fashion so as to more easily attempt to refute it. I would hope for the former and would give him the benefit of the doubt. If he truly believes that NCT views are “brand new” then I assume its because they are simply “brand new” to him. He wasn't taught them in seminary and he has never studied them until recently. But just because they are new to him doesn't mean they are new. His assertion that “we've never had such views in 2000 years of church history” is easily refuted by the very existence of the 1646 London Confession. Clearly such views existed 350+ years ago. And obviously those of NCT beliefs would say these views existed prior to that, being rooted in New Testament scripture.
Furthermore, the assertion that NCT rejects any notion of “moral law” is incorrect. What NCT does refute is the idea of the Ten Commandments as “the unchanging moral law of God.” And on a deeper level, NCT rejects the notion of dividing law into categories such as moral, ceremonial, civil, dietary, etc. NCT would treat the law as a unit and see it as fulfilled in Christ. Of course when matters of fulfillment are considered, there is a common knee-jerk reaction on the part of Covenant Theologians to imply that NCT teaches anti-nomianism and a rejection of any moral standard. Again, this is a “straw man” exaggeration that has no basis in truth.
It is regarding the Ten Commandments/Moral Law argument that CT and NCT have their greatest schism I believe. It is perplexing why CT Baptists hold so doggedly to this notion, which is no where taught in Scripture itself. Of course CT Presbyterians must find a way to link OT Law with the New Covenant because its the only way for them to justify infant baptism, which they link with circumcision. When CT Baptists cling to the “Moral Law” argument they are unwittingly siding with Presbyterian doctrine contra Biblical doctrine. While the CT Baptist would disagree over mode of baptism, he nevertheless accepts and embraces the Presbyterian rationale for it by clinging to the OT Law argument of the Westminster confession, and enshrining it himself in the 1689 London Confession.
Renihan's statements about how NCT just hasn't “thought through” the issues, was a little bit condescending in my opinion. As was his assertion that eventually NCT people would either fall deeper into doctrinal error, or they will come to their senses and embrace CT. But once again, I think this is due in part to his recent discovery of NCT and his misunderstanding of it. He states that if one holds to NCT, we wouldn't know “which sins” to tell our pagan neighbors to repent of. This is a surprising statement to hear from him. Of course, our deeper problem, beyond “individual sins” is that we have a NATURE that is sinful. We are born in outright rebellion against God on all levels. It is this very nature that we should repent of, not simply “individual sins.” If my neighbor is an adulterer; and I encourage him to repent of his adultery, and he does........ is he then saved? Of course not. He might clean up his sex life; yet still die in his sins. He needs to repent of the fact that he is a sinner who does not live to the glory of God. I have no doubt whatsoever that Dr. Renihan knows this. So, as I stated above, his statement is either a deliberate misrepresentation of NCT. Or his statement is rooted in an honest misunderstanding of what NCT teaches. Once again, I would assume the best.
As for Richard Barcellos, I've read many of his critiques of NCT and found him repeatedly committing the same faux pas as Renihan, namely “straw man” arguments that misrepresent NCT's position. But I believe John Reisinger did an excellent job of addressing Barcellos' concerns in his book “In Defense of Jesus: The New Lawgiver.”
Having said all of that........ I do believe that CT Baptists and NCT Baptists have much more that unites us than divides us. And hopefully we can proceed with sharpening one another for many years to come. We Baptists hold to our beliefs strongly. But I would hope we could still hold to our positions while displaying genuine Christian love for one another.
As for your other question regarding Renihan's claims that the 1646 and 1689 signers all held to the same theology: I wouldn't find it surprising that some of the 1646 signers held to some aspects of CT, though not all of them. Very rarely is there complete agreement on doctrinal statements. With that said, one would have to examine the actual statements of the 1646 and 1689 documents and make determinations based on that. I believe the 1646 is more Biblically accurate than the 1689. Even if it were written by exclusively CT Baptists (which it was not), I would still find it more accurate, in some ways, because it is more vague than the 1689, which makes bold assertions based on Westminster rather than Scripture.
So Dr. Renihan's research as to what the signers held to is a bit of a polemic “red herring” in my opinion. Because it doesn't matter in determining which doctrinal statement is more accurate. Furthermore, I (and I'm sure you as well) would say our goal is to be as faithful to Scripture as possible. I hold to the 1646 as more accurate than the 1689; though I do not consider the 1646 to be infallible. Our goal is to examine these documents in light of Scripture. In many areas both doctrinal statements are perfectly accurate. In some ways, the 1689 is not. And I believe the 1646 would come closer to Scripture than the 1689 would.
To sum it up, spending time researching what the signers of the documents might have believed might make for interesting discussion; but has no bearing on which document is more Biblically faithful. Examining both documents in light of Scripture would be much more profitable. When I examine the two, I find the 1646 to be more accurate and thus I hold to it.
I hope that clarifies my position for you.