Friday, February 06, 2009
Adam and Christ in Covenant Theology
What I love about covenant theology is that it secures the unity of God's plan of salvation in salvation-history, it demonstrates the representative functions of Adam and Christ, and shows the continuity between Israel and the church. I argue for the utility of "covenant" as a unifying theme in New Testament Theology in a forthcoming journal article. Ligon Duncan has a good introduction to covenant theology on-line which I'd recommend for beginners. Probably the most capable exponent of covenant theology in recent times is Michael Horton in his four volume magnum opus Covenant and Eschatology (2002), Lord and Servant (2005), Covenant and Salvation, and People and Place (2008). In his Lord and Servant volume Horton states:
"The two covenants executed in history are the covenants of creation and grace. Created in righteousness and ethically equipped to fulfill the task of imitating God's own 'works' in order to enter his Sabbath 'rest', Adam as the representative head of the human race was already eschatologically oriented towards the future. As a reward for his faithfulness to the covenant, he would lead humanity in triumphant procession into the everlasting consummation, confirmed in righteousness. However, as a consequence of his disobedience and the mysterious solidarity of humanity in Adam, the sanctions of the creation covenant were invoked. In contrast to the conditional emphasis of the pre-fall covenant, however, God issues a unilateral promise to overcome the curse through the woman's offspring. This covenant of grace, carried forward by Seth and his descendents, is renewed in the Abrahamic covenant, just as the works principle in the creation covenant is renewed in the Sinai covenant. On the basis of the Messiah's fulfillment of the covenant of works (in fulfillment of his mediatorial role assigned in the covenant of redemption), the people of God are accepted on the terms of the covenant of grace" (xi-xii).
The major problem I have here is that I just don't see in Genesis 1-3 any evidence for a covenant of works. As John Murray argued long ago, the word "covenant" is nowhere to be found there. Likewise, I do not see any grounds for regarding the Sinai covenant as a republication of this covenant of works either (Did God tell Adam not to intermarry with foreigners? [Deut. 7.3] I can imagine Adam saying, "Sure, no worries Lord ... but what's a foreigner?"). It seems to me that a lot of covenant theology can be made redundant if one has a proper grasp of the Adam/Christ framework for theology: human beings are either in Adam or in Christ and God's plan is to shift human beings from one to the other. In fact, my colleague (former HTC Principal and now Minister of East Church of Inverness), Andrew McGowan, has proposed the concept of an Adamic Administration and a Messianic Administration in the book The God of Covenant which I need to digest further. In addition, the covenantal framework can reduce the purpose of Jesus' earthly life as being to accrue merit to fulfill a pre-fall contractual arrangement and then to give that merit to others who, by their unfortunate estate, have no merit of their own (see words that I italicized in Horton's statement above). Two problems emerge here: (1) In my mind this clearly detracts from the purposes ascribed to Jesus' coming which are stated in the Gospels, like seeking to bring salvation to Israel (Mt. 10.5-6, 15.24) and the world more generally (Jn 3.17). This salvation fulfills a certain story rooted in Creation and Israel's covenant history, but I do not see the primary task of Jesus as to be fulfilling the conditions of covenants which are largely inferential in nature. (2) Jesus' obedience and faithfulness are genuinely salvific (e.g. Mattew 4.1-11; Luke 4.1-13 Romans 5.12-21; Philippians 2.5-11; Revelation 1.6), not in the sense of accruing merit to be imputed to others, but since it qualifies him as the true Israel, the new Adam, and the coming Messiah who is able to reconstitute Israel in his own person, take away the sins of God's people, and begin the task of restoring creation back to its state of edenic goodness. Conceived this way, something like justification means moving from the condemnation of Adam to the justification of the Messiah, participating in the life and righteousness of the Messiah, joining the people of God united in the Messiah, and so forth (Romans 5-8!; Colossians 3). In my mind, one can preserve the unity of salvation executed by the triune God and recognize the unitive nature of "covenant" in salvation-history, but do by using the Bible's own story-line as the guide as opposed to depending on a framework about covenants inferred from the Bible's story-line.