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.


Mason said...

I've not read Horton's larger four yet, but have read some of his other works on Covenant Theology including "God of Promise" and find a lot there that appeals to me.
However, I've never been able to actually commit to Covenant theology in large part because the focus on the works/grace covenants does not seem to be a Biblical concept but rather something brought in from an outside system. Like you, I'm not really comfortable with that.
If there was a way to ground Covenant Theology in the Scriptural covenants though (like Abrahamic, Sinai, Davidic, and New) there might be more traction there.

JosephMinich said...

Mr. Bird,

It took me a very long time to become persuaded that it is appropriate to speak of an Adamic covenant. Indeed, a little over a year ago I wrote a term paper against the idea. But I have changed my mind. Perhaps I was wrong, but I'd ask you to consider the following:
A. The absence of the term covenant should not bother us in the early Genesis narrative. Also absent is the word "father" and "son," "kingdom/king," "nation," etc. But the filial relationship between God and well as the explicit kingdom imagery, are thick in the narrative. It is the same with "covenant." It seems to me that the debate hinges on one's definition of "covenant." If all the elements are there, then it is appropriate to say that a covenant was there. Though somewhat speculative, I wonder if the author of Genesis described the primordial relationship between man and God in language that encorporated many themes (kingship/covenant/sonship) without making them explicit precisely because it was the primal paradigm of these categories.
B. I can understand the hesitancy to make one theme THE unifying point of theology. But I think it is important to recognize that covenant theology does not necessarily do this. If covenant, creation/re-creation, kingdom, protology/eschatology (Etc) can be seen as themes which extend through the Biblical narrative, then covenant is a single lense through which we can view all the others. I don't think many covenant theologians (Poythress has written on this) would deny that the others are also lenses through which we can view the theme of "covenant." I do think we need to be hesitant about reading covenant absolutely everywhere and trying to explicitly relate everything to covenant, but I do think one could validly see it as a theme extending through the whole narrative.
C. I think Horton incorporates a lot of the concerns you have. Jesus obedience need not be seen as merely keeping all the rules, but as fulfilling a unique task as the second Adam and as a representative of Israel. Even if one disagrees with his particular formations, some concept of the "covenant of works" cannot be gotten rid of. Adam's task was necessary for him to enter into the eschatological glory. After the fall, the covenant with Israel (even for Wright and others) is established with explicitly Adamic overtones. The "covenant of works" need not be understood as anything different than the "task of humanity" given to Adam and given again typologically to Israel. Don't many Pauline scholars at least see a typological offer of the eschaton in the O.T. law (Schreiner, Sprinkle, Seifrid)? Adam fails and Israel is shown to be "in Adam." Jesus does the work of both...and enters into His glory. Obviously, there are still condtions in the new covenant, but they don't come in the form of "do this and you shall live," but in the indicative form of "you are alive, this." I do recognize some aspect of the indicative preceding the imperative in the Mosaic law, but it was not the indicative of eschatological life as it is in the new covenant. As such, the relation of the imperative to the eschaton is entirely different in both administrations. I sound confident, but I'm fully willing to be smacked on this point! If there is anything that covenant theologians fight about, it is how to interpret the Mosaic covenant!!! Horton's last few chapters in Lord and Servant are actually quite good on the issue of the obedience of Christ. I think you'd find them quite balanced if you have not read them already.
D. Finally, do you see Jesus as merely "beginning" the task of taking humanity back to Eden? Or does He actually accomplish the task of humanity and the goal of history in His very own accomplishment which is worked out progressively in history? If the former, it would seem that Jesus work only establishes the precondition for cosmic redemption, rather than accomplishing it fully in His person such that it is only worked out (read "applied") by all who are incorporated into Him.
Thanks for your stimulating thoughts! And please forgive the length of this post!

Tyler said...

Excellent post. I think Paul had a much more immediate understanding of any covenantal framework than we do today, yet he depended so much on this Adam/Christ typology that we should step back from our own frameworks and evaluate the implications such a typology has for our understanding of covenant.

I think Barth was on to something when he wove "covenant" into creation and vice-versa...thoughts?

dopderbeck said...

Whenever I see discussion on this issue, I turn towards and interest of mine, which is the relationship between faith and the natural sciences. Is your theology of Adam's significance able to accept either (a) Adam as a non-literal figure; or (b) Adam as a more recent representative within the broader flow of human evolutionary history? It seems to me that any view of Adam's significance must interact with the reality of human natural history, else it is mostly a mental exercise.

John Davies said...

Thanks for the post Mike. I think the Adam/Christ, creation/new creation paradigm is the way to go, preserving the continuities. However, I don’t think this rules out the use of covenant language altogether for the primal creation, without going down the track of a works/grace contrast which I just don’t see. I find the writings of Bill Dumbrell helpful in seeing that the later covenants, starting with Noah are confirmations and (partial) fulfilments of the primal commitment of God to his world and humanity. I would also not rule out the possibility that Hosea 6:7 does contain a reference (perhaps by way of a play on words with the place name) to a covenant with Adam.

Taylor Marshall said...

Here's a Catholic take on Reformed Covenant Theology:

Don said...

I totally agree with your assessment of the bi-covenantal (works/grace) hermenutic for dividing scripture. This has been my major problem with Horton's view, which seems to be more in line with Lutheran rather than Calvinist theology. The Bible is far more comfortably read as dividing human beings into those who are in Adam and those who are in Christ, as you noted. For those who are in Christ, all of the Bible is Gospel, since Christ is the telos of the law. For those who are in Adam, all of the Bible is law, since they cannot possibly love God.

To press my point, how would you categorize Romans 10:5 and Romans 10:10. To those in Adam, it is as impossible to believe with your heart as it is to practice the righteousness which is based on the law. Since Christ is the telos of the law, however, both verses are Gospel to those in Christ because they pursue the righteousness which is based on law through faith, rather than as if it were based on works (Rom 9:32).