In our development of Shadow Covenant Theology, we’re now working through a parenthetical set of posts concerning classic Covenant Theology to demonstrate a few of my key points of disagreement with the system. In this post I’ll further develop the issue I started last week; however I first want to briefly enter another parenthetical segment inside of this parenthesis :-)
I’d like to first express my immense gratitude to Pastor Mark Herzer for what he developed in church today during the Old Testament reading – this is a point of understanding that has been bothering me for months. There’s a problem in my system of redemptive history that I’ve been wrestling with; I haven’t been able to identify the shadow fall. Pastor Herzer however seems to have found it for me; in retrospect I can’t believe I didn’t see that sooner!
Basically my problem was this: the fall of man that occurred in Genesis 3 is a key point of development in God’s greater story of redemption. In it, He introduces the main source of conflict in the story – the breach of God’s covenant of creation, the entrance of sin and death into the race of mankind.
If my viewpoint is correct in asserting that history also contains a picture of that drama, a shadow story spanning from the flood of Noah to the return of Christ, then we should see some sort of parallel account of a shadow fall that occurred some time after the flood. I’ve been looking at two candidates: the rebellion at Babel, and Abram’s/Jacob’s descent into Egypt. Neither of those two scenarios seems to fit quite right with the fall of man, so I’ve been somewhat skeptical of them.
Pastor Herzer’s development of Genesis 9:20-27 however presents a much clearer option. Noah, the shadow Adam, plants and tends a vineyard which parallels Eden. His becoming drunk on wine parallels Adam’s eating of the fruit, and like Adam his nakedness was exposed as a result. Then follows a curse putting enmity between the seed of Ham (Canaan) and (presumably) the seed of Shem (Israel). It’s interesting; I just noticed that the three main antagonists in the shadow story (Canaan, Egypt and Babylon) all descend from Ham – worth looking into more.
So that’s the obvious choice; I owe a theological debt of gratitude to Pastor Herzer’s excellent treatment on this topic. I have been praying on this for months, asking the Lord to help me understand where to find the shadow fall. Now that I know, it’s so nice to no longer have that question bothering the back of my mind :-P.
Correlation Does Not Imply Equality
All right, on to the topic at hand. Last week I introduced one of my primary concerns regarding classic Covenant Theology, the way that it frames the covenants of scripture. I made the following three statements to clarify my concern:
- I agree with the centrality of the covenants in scripture.
- I agree that there is a single, unified covenant of redemption spanning from the beginning of God’s story to the end.
- I disagree with the idea that all of the divinely administered covenants in scripture are somehow expressions or administrations of that one covenant of redemption.
Classic Covenant Theology rests upon the idea that all of the major covenants in scripture are really the same covenant, though the covenant appears somewhat differently in different eras of time. These covenants include the covenant made with Adam after the fall (Edenic), the covenant with Noah (Noahic), the covenant with Abraham (Abrahamic), the covenant made with the children of Israel (Mosaic), the covenant made with David (Davidic), and the new covenant inaugurated by Christ. In the classic covenantal viewpoint, each of these covenants marks off a new era or administration of God’s overarching covenant of redemption. Though particular details and conditions may vary, these covenants stand united as a single covenant.
In his chapter The Unity of the Divine Covenants, Robertson argues in favor of this idea by noting that all of the covenants are related; therefore they must all be one. This line of reasoning is summarized in one of his concluding paragraphs.
“The covenant structure of Scripture manifests a marvelous unity. God, in binding a people to himself, never changes. For this reason, the covenants of God relate organically to one another. From Adam to Christ, a unity of covenantal administration characterizes the history of God’s dealing with his people.”
— Robertson, Christ of the Covenants, p. 45
This strategy of demonstrating that the covenants are related pervades the chapter, and much of the book. However, if we’re going to think critically about this issue, we have to ask ourselves whether or not this jump from being related to being united is warranted. Is it logical to assert that because two things are related, therefore they must be united as expressions of the same thing?
I’m reminded of a logical fallacy that often arises in science and statistics; it is commonly referred to with the phrase, “Correlation does not imply causation.” To put it in layman’s terms, just because you can demonstrate that two events or statistics are related, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one of them causes the other. Here’s a simple example from RationalWiki:
“Two events can consistently correlate with each other but not have any causal relationship. An example is the relationship between reading ability and shoe size across the whole population of the United States. If someone performed such a survey, they would find that the larger shoe sizes correlate with better reading ability, but this does not mean large feet cause good reading skills. Instead it’s caused by the fact that young children have small feet and have not yet (or only recently) been taught to read. In this case, the two variables are more accurately correlated with a third: age.”
— RationalWiki: Correlation does not imply causation
The lesson here is clear – just because we can demonstrate that one statistic is related to another, that doesn’t mean that the first causes the second. This of course is examining a specific kind of relationship, cause and effect, but there’s a greater principle at work here. Just because you can demonstrate that two entities are related, that doesn’t automatically prove that what you believe about their relationship is true.
In the case of the covenants, just because a theologian can demonstrate that the covenants of scripture are related in one fashion or another, that doesn’t say anything about the nature of that relationship. Robertson can certainly argue that the covenants of scripture are related, but in no way does that substantiate his central thesis that “the covenants of God are one.”
For example, he tries to demonstrate the unity of the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants in the following excerpt by arguing in favor of a relationship:
“Subsequent history indicates that the Davidic covenant in its turn did not annul or interrupt the Mosaic covenant. Each of the basic triumphs and tragedies of David and his sons may be seen as the outworking of the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant.
“First, Israel’s monarchy moves toward localization of worship and rule. Why? …This significant development under the auspices of the Davidic covenant actually roots in the previous legislation of the covenant with Moses. David permanently established the place of worship because Moses anticipated just such a development.
“Even further, David’s song at the time of the bringing of the ark to Jerusalem identifies this event as a fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Abraham…[cites 1 Chr 16:15-18]…The coronation of God as king in Zion is to be understood as a fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Abraham. The events in Davidic history which symbolize the establishment of God’s throne in the land of promise relate immediately to the commitment concerning the land made to Abraham.”
— Robertson, pp. 33-34
Granted the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants are related; I have no problem with that at all. Granted, David’s bringing the ark into Jerusalem is a fulfillment of God’s prophetic word to Moses and to Abraham – but that does not make them the same covenant. Correlation does not imply equality; if someone wants to argue that the covenant made with David is the same covenant made with Moses and Abraham and Noah and Adam, he needs to do more than simply demonstrate that they are related.
Quite to the contrary, the covenant God made with David is very different from the covenants with Abraham and Moses, and certainly Noah and Adam. Certainly it sits within the context of the other covenants, but it is hardly the same thing. The Davidic covenant is unconditional, unlike the Mosaic covenant which had various stipulations required of those who would remain in it. And although the Davidic covenant mentions and promises benefits to the children of Israel (2 Sam 7:10-11), it was fundamentally a covenant made with David (2 Sam 23:5), not Israel at large. If Jesus had been a descendant of Israel but not a descendant of David, then God would have broken His covenant because only a descendant of David was within the bounds of the covenant.
Just because the covenants of God relate to each-other and His plan of redemption in some fashion or another, that doesn’t mean that they are all expressions or administrations of one covenant; this is an important (though subtle) hole in Robertson’s reasoning. Demonstrating correlation between the covenants is insufficient to uphold the idea that all of the covenants in scripture are one covenant. There are many diverse ways that the covenants could be framed without compromising their relatedness, and without devolving into separate, segmented dispensations of history. Classic Covenant Theology is simply one option, and it needs to demonstrate positively that it is the correct option.
In my next and final post for this parenthesis, I’ll take a look at another issue that I have with Robertson’s argument, as well as one minor issue that I have found to be common to the various covenantal resources I’ve examined.