Reformed and Covenant Theologians deny the gospel!

Part I,  What does John (Calvin) have to say?  It is not

1 Corinthians 15:1-5 (NKJV)

15 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 

Blake Newsom who has a Ph.D from a Baptist Seminary and is the  Director of Mentoring for Pastoral Ministries at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was given a “softball question” from the pastoral search committee.  He was surprised to hear, the committee did not share his belief. In his words:

“What is the gospel?” The question seemed simple enough, so without hesitation I responded in a relatively straightforward and unguarded manner by quoting 1 Cor 15:1–5…
“That’s not the gospel!” To say that I was stunned to hear those words rifling in response from one of the pastor search committee members would be a dramatic understatement…
I could not understand the reason for such a protest. Because I had completed two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from a respected seminary, having my understanding of the gospel challenged was a bit confusing. [1]

There should not have been any confusion.  Those persons professing a Reformed or Covenant theology have a long history about being confused on what the gospel is.  The confusion is from their theology.  It is not a minor issue since their theology called the covenant of grace is equated with the plan of salvation:  the essential and core object of faith which unites all Christians.[2]

While Dispensationalists believe the content and perhaps the method of salvation has changed from each dispensation, the Covenant Theologian believes the gospel of Paul (I Cor. 15:1-5) is the same gospel in each dispensation.  There is some confusion in their ranks as to the meaning of the same gospel.  Either the gospel is very generic, belief in a future Messiah that will redeem his people, or there is an extra-biblical source of revelation, or the Old Testament is twisted into proof for the gospel death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah.

In the Old Testament, there is no developed gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of a Messiah figure for the redemption of mankind.  Perhaps it is possible to assemble something from Isaiah 53, Daniel 9 and Jonah.  Even this would be impossible for the saints who lived prior to Daniel and Isaiah not to mention the difficulty in having access to many scrolls of the Old Testament even in the time of Jesus.  But these glimpses of a Messiah to come would not be obvious to the congregation and certainly not the core message of their salvation.

The great chapter of faith, Hebrew 11, does not force this unrealistic expectation on prior dispensations.  The content of faith is the promise to Abraham of many children.  He is praised for the believing the revelation given to him.  The other examples are similar, the gospel of I Cor. 15:1-5 is not mentioned.

The terms “Covenant of Works” “Covenant of Grace” “Covenant of Redemption” and “Covenant of Law” are not in the Scriptures.  In the magnum opus of Berkhof and Hodge the gospel of I Cor. 15:1-5 is never referenced but there a large apologies for these non-Scriptural terms.  The non-Scriptures terms are three covenants:  the Covenant of Redemption; an agreement between Christ and God to save mankind; the Covenant of Law, which includes the laws given to Moses and the Covenant of Grace.  The Covenant of Grace is the New Testament gospel of salvation by faith alone in the risen Savior.

The forerunner of Covenant Theology John  Calvin explains this as:

  1. It is possible, indeed, to explain both in one word. The covenant made with all the fathers is

so far from differing from ours in reality and substance, that it is altogether one and the same: still the administration differs…. That they both had and knew Christ the Mediator, by whom they were united to God, and made capable of receiving his promises.[3]

Is John Calvin asserting the gospel is a belief in a Messiah figure who would be mediator between God and man?  This is a bit watered-down from Paul’s presentation of the gospel in I Cor. 15.  Paul was jealous and protective of this gospel.  In the rest of the chapter he explains the need to believe in the coming resurrection of all mankind or a person’s belief is null and void and ineffective in salvation.  What would Paul of thought of a gospel that did not include the resurrection of Christ?

Almost all Covenant theologians speak out of both sides of their mouths and Calvin is no exception.  Has the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins been the gospel since the beginning of the world?  Calvin seems to say this:

The constancy of God is conspicuous in this, that he delivered the same doctrine to all ages, and persists in requiring that worship of his name which he commanded at the beginning.[4]

Roll the dice.  Is the gospel the watered-down version or the same doctrine from the beginning?  In Covenant Theology, the Covenant of Grace which is the plan of salvation has not changed since Adam.  Since the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be found in the Old Testament, the Covenant Theologian is forced to water down the gospel, i.e. “belief in a Messiah who redeems us” or to posit extra-biblical doctrine in the Old Testament or to force the gospel on uncooperative Old Testament narratives.

 

It is impossible to make up the laughable excuses of the Covenant Theologian.  In the next post the incredible hypothesis of Charles Hodge will be examined.  He believes in some kind of oral tradition, known by Israel, but not in the Scriptures was not only available but necessary for the salvation of Israel.

Why are Reformed and Covenant theologians ashamed of the gospel and unable to define the simple gospel of 1 Cor. 15:1-4?  In the tradition of Platonism immutability is being impressed on the doctrine of salvation and the definition of the Gospel.  [5]  John Calvin believed the content of the gospel had to be the same since the fall of mankind because “that God ought not to be deemed mutable.”  This Platonic “god” of immutability and the three Omni’s, that supplants the God of Scripture, is now supplanting the gospel.

Somehow Moses had to believe in the death, burial, resurrection and witness of Jesus Christ in order to be saved.  Moses did not write about this event but his belief in this event was necessary for his salvation.  The people whom Moses wrote the Torah, had to believe in this event even if Moses failed to mention the event.

The Reformed and Covenant theologians promote immutability, a concept more loved than the gospel.  Early in the lives of Reformed and Covenant professors, it becomes necessary to make a decision.  What should one love more, the gospel or theology?  The decision in made, the gospel has to change from the simple presentation in I Cor. 15:1-5.  Throw in a little philosophy from immutability and “abracadabra”  the Covenant of Grace; the gospel and the method of salvation had to be the same from the beginning.  This is the same message and the same vehicle of salvation,  the message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and salvation by faith alone.

Unfortunately there is not a clear presentation of I Cor. 15:1-5 in the Old Testament.  This fact is not lost on Covenant theologians.  Their job is to find the unfindable or make it up in their imaginations.  This solution robs the gospel of effectiveness and denies the plain statements in the Scriptures.

 

 

 

[1] Blake Newsom,The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, Fall 2014 • Vol. 11, No. 2

[2] In all these senses of the word the plan of salvation is properly called a covenant of grace.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology , 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,1940), 2:285

[3] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), 2:10:2, p 266.

[4] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), 2:11:13, p 286.

[5] It is unreasonable they say, to suppose that Gods who is always consistent With himself permitted such a change as afterwards to disapprove what he had once ordered and commended. I answer, that God ought not to be deemed mutable, because he adapts different forms to different ages, as he knows to be expedient for each….The constancy of God is conspicuous in this, that he delivered the same doctrine to all ages, and persists in requiring that worship of his name which he commanded at the beginning.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), 2:11:13, p 286.

 

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