Reformed and Covenant theologians do not believe in the power of the gospel, they do not even know what the gospel is Part 2: The missing gospel of Reformed Theology

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 both Berkhof and Hodge the gospel of I Cor. 15:1-5 is never referenced but there are lengthy 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.

Charles Hodge confirms this relationship between the gospel of salvation and the covenant of grace.  His theology attacks the Paul’s gospel, the gospel which now saves the persons in the Body of Christ.

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

Remember the Covenant or Reformed three versions of the gospel: generic, extra-biblical or twisted.  The low lying branch will examined first.  The laughable excuse of the Covenant theologian Charles Hodge is in a kind of oral tradition, known by Israel, but not in the Scriptures but necessary for the salvation of Israel.

Charles Hodge hints at a water-downed gospel and arrogantly claims the gospel was revealed to the Old Testament saints in an extra-biblical manner.  He (1797 – 1878) is the preeminent Presbyterian theologian, a principal of Princeton Theological Seminary the leading proponent of the Princeton theology, in the Calvinist tradition.  He believes in some type of oral tradition was necessary for Old Testament saints to believe or become eternally damned.[1]

This is an incredible twist on Scriptural authority.  In his words “What amount of supplementary instruction the people received from the prophets, or what degree of divine illumination was granted to them we cannot tell.”  Not only does Scripture not contain enough information to be saved but there is some oral tradition which really saves.  Why is he a Protestant and why was the Protestant Reformation even necessary?

What is the solution?  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 their salvation.  How did the people receive this information?  The people to whom Moses wrote the Torah, had to believe in this event even if Moses failed to mention the event.

What drives the Reformed and Covenant theologians to such extremes.  They promote immutability, a concept more loved than the gospel.[2]  Paul is clear the gospel has changed because of the unbelief of the Jews.  Because Hodge believes in immutability he denies Paul’s clear presentation of the change in the gospel: Charles Hodge “They (the decrees of

God)  cannot be supposed to be contingent or suspended on the action of his creatures.”  Of course this is a direct contradiction of Romans 11:20.  The Scripture is no restraint on Covenant Theology.

Romans 11:20
Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear.

God decreed that Israel would be the vehicle of bringing salvation to the world but Israel failed.  As a result of this failure God changed his plan or decree and turned to the Gentiles.  The wild branch of the Gentiles would become grafted to root and replace Israel which is the natural branch.

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.  The solution robs the gospel of effectiveness and denies either the content of the gospel.  Either solution is destructive of the Gospel or the authority of Scriptures.

Louis Berkhof (1873 –1957),  perhaps the most influential Dutch Reformed theologian of the United States, is unable to define the gospel.  In his work Systematic Theology he never even cites 1Cor. 15:1-4; a whole theology without a gospel.  He attempts to define the content of the gospel.  Under the heading “

THE CONTENTS OF THE COVENANT OF GRACE”
THE PROMISES OF GOD. The main promise of God, which includes all other promises, is contained in the oft-repeated words, “I will be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”

The content of the Gospel is not a promise.  The content of the gospel, what you must believe in order to receive the promise of salvation, is not an evangelical method for salvation i.e. four spiritual laws, or a Christian doctrine i.e. Nicene Creed or the implications of the Gospel i.e. what are the effects or the promises of the gospel.[3]  The gospel is the content of an historical event:  the death, burial, resurrection and witness thereof of Jesus Christ.  These events happened for our sins and according to Scriptures.  This is the gospel.

If the gospel was a watered down version of believe that God will be your God then Paul suffered for nothing.

Galatians 5:11
And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.

Certainly the Jews who persecuted Paul believed that God was their God and their children’s God.  Paul was still imprisoned by such people who he called “estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Gal. 5:4)

The core belief of Jesus died for your sins, was buried, rose again the third day and was seen, included some attendant attributes such as “the resurrection of the saints” (I Cor. 15) and “salvation by faith and not of works (Gal. 5).”  But the gospel is simple enough for a child to understand.  Somehow the simple message of the gospel suffers in intelligibility after the theologians are finished.

If extra-biblical revelation is fantastic and unbelievable to rational people Hodge suggests the possibility of a water-down gospel:  a gospel of a Messiah who would come and redeem his people.  From 1 Cor. 15, it is clear that this is not sufficient.  A person must believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  After presenting the gospel in the first five verses the rest of the chapter is devoted in stressing the resurrection in the gospel.

If Paul did not believe in the power of the gospel would he suffer whippings, beatings, stonings and shipwrecks [4]  for the gospel? If everyone is who would be saved in predestined to salvation without any effort by Paul why did he call the gospel the power of salvation?  Did Paul retain the hope that he had some effect on their salvation?  Paul even suggests that he begot his converts through the gospel.[5]

Peter calls Paul’s gospels the rest of Scriptures.  In the same way, the Gospels (Mark, Matthew Luke and John) were considered Scriptures.  The concept of a sacrifice for sins and perhaps the three days of Jonah’s confinement in the whale offer parallels in the Old Testament but a fully developed theological solution of the sacrifice of the Messiah for our sins and then the subsequent resurrection is not present.

Of course the central theme, motivation and message of the Christian faith is the gospel.  Most Protestants whether they are familiar with the term “sola fide” or not intuitively believe this doctrine of justification which is Latin for “by faith alone.”  Martin Luther called this the “the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine” and insisted the Church stands or falls on this doctrine.

Yet sadly for most Protestants this word “faith” or even the word “gospel” has become a connotation word without content.  Yet we must have faith but faith in what.  I may believe my tooth paste will prevent tooth decay but that faith will have no effect on my eternal salvation.  I may receive “good news” or the gospel from my dentist that I have no cavities but that good news is not effective in my salvation.

Paul says there is “good news” which saves.[6]  The gospel  has content which has been delivered to us, we have received it, stand in it and are saved by it.  The content of the good news is the “death, burial, resurrection and the confirmation of the witnesses of these events in Jesus’ life.” But these events would be nothing unless they were confirmed by Scriptures and understood as a effecting our lives or “for our sins.”

Why is a belief in a “Messiah who redeems us” a watering down of the gospel?  Because the gospel is Jesus Christ offering himself as the offering for our sins.  If the Old Testament saints believed in redemption it was through the sacrifice of bulls and goats, not through the offering of a human being.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is his sacrifice of himself for our sins.

So faith is not isolated it has content.  That content is the gospel or good news.  The good news is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins.  The gospel has content, the content is easy to understand, and the content has to be believed.

[1] In determining the degree of knowledge possessed by the ancient people of God, we are not to be governed by our own capacity of discovering from the Old Testament Scriptures the doctrines of grace. What amount of supplementary instruction the people received from the prophets, or what degree of divine illumination was granted to them we cannot tell. It is, however, clear from the writings of the New Testament, that the knowledge of the plan of salvation current among the Jews at the time of the advent, was much greater than we should deem possible from the mere perusal of the Old Testament. They not only generally and confidently expected the Messiah, who was to be a teacher as well as a deliverer, but the devout Jews waited for the salvation of Israel. They spoke as familiarly of the Holy Spirit and of the baptism which He was to effect, as Christians now do. It is, principally, from the assertions of the New Testament writers and from their expositions of the ancient Scriptures, that we learn the amount of truth revealed to those who lived before the coming of Christ.

From the Scriptures, therefore, as a whole, from the New Testament, and from the Old as interpreted by infallible authority in the New, we learn that the plan of salvation has always been one and the same; having the same promise, the same Saviour, the same condition, and the same salvation.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology , 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1940), 2:273

[2] Again, as the decrees of God are eternal and immutable, no view of his plan of operation which supposes Him to purpose first one thing and then another can ho consistent with their nature.  And as God is absolutely sovereign and independent, all his purposes must be determined from  within or according to the counsel of his own will. They cannot be supposed to he contingent or suspended on the action of his creatures, or upon anything out of Himself.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology , 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1940), 2:239

[3] Borrowed from ibid. Blake Newsom

[4] 2 Cor 11:23-26 23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;

[5] 1 Corinthians 4:15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

[6] 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.

For 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.

 

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