What is New Covenant Theology? An Introduction

 

A. Blake White


 

What is New Covenant Theology? An Introduction

New Covenant Theology is a developing system of theology that seeks to let the Bible inform our theology. This sounds basic, and almost all systems of theology claim that their system is based upon the Bible. As I hope to show you, New Covenant Theology is the system of theology that allows the Bible to have the “final say” most consistently. Whereas Dispensationalism stands on presuppositions provided by its Scofield Bible and Covenant Theology stands on presuppositions provided by its Westminster Confession, New Covenant Theology does not have any outside document that must be imposed on the text of Scripture. It strives to let the sacred text speak on its own terms.
Currently there are three main systems of theology within evangelical Christianity which address the subject of redemptive history: Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism, and New Covenant Theology. Whether or not they are conscious of it, all Christians typically fall into one of these three systems (or perhaps some combination of them). Each system has its own way of relating the old covenant to the new covenant.
Generally speaking, Covenant Theology emphasizes continuity between the covenants to the expense of discontinuity. Since the Westminster Confession of Faith is structured around Covenant Theology, it is mostly Presbyterians who adhere to it, although others adhere closely to it as well (e.g., Reformed Baptists).
Dispensationalism, on the other hand, tends to emphasize discontinuity between the covenants at the expense of continuity. It is mostly Bible Churches that adhere to this system of theology, but it is certainly not limited to them. In America, Dispensationalism is by far the most popular of the three systems, due in large part to its adoption early on in the Fundamentalist movement, the hugely influential Scofield Reference Bible, radio and TV preachers, and popular marketing through fictional books and movies.
New Covenant Theology accommodates both continuity and discontinuity. It holds that the new covenant is connected to what went beforehand, but it is new. New Covenant Theology is held to by those in the “believer’s church” tradition: those churches that emphasize believer’s baptism and believe that the new covenant community consists of believers. The label “New Covenant Theology” is relatively new, but it is not a new method of interpretation. Several early church fathers, the Anabaptists, as well as other significant figures in church history “put the Bible together” in a similar way.
In this book, I want to lay out the core concepts of New Covenant Theology. There will be points where I sound like a Covenant Theologian, and points where I sound more like a Dispensationalist, but taken as a whole these essentials are uniquely New Covenant Theology. There are many more things that could be said, but my aim is to make the essentials of New Covenant Theology available in an accessible way for church members. Theological issues such as the millennium, who the “all Israel” in Romans 11:26 refers to, whether or not there is a pre-fall covenant in Genesis 1-3, and the cessation or continuation of tongues and prophecy will not be addressed here. There is room for disagreement on these issues within New Covenant Theology.
So why is New Covenant Theology important? Why is it necessary? What’s the big deal? Jesus is the big deal. Colossians 1:16 says that all things were created for Jesus. He is the center of the universe and the center of the Bible. Christ is the pinnacle of revelation. He is King! This has implications for his words. We must take his words with utmost seriousness. We interpret and apply every passage of Scripture in light of him. As 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” This will have unavoidable theological implications, and it seems to me that New Covenant Theology uniquely does justice to the authority and centrality of Jesus. I hope to show why in the following pages.
It is also important to wrestle with this theological issue because so many passages in the New Testament deal with the continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenants. Just think of how many times the relationship between Jews and Gentiles is dealt with in the pages of the New Testament. Underlying those relational conflicts is the issue of how to interpret and apply the Old Testament in light of the coming of Jesus Christ.
Finally, I want to stress that this is an “in-house” discussion. At the end of the day, we are brothers and sisters united in Christ. The last thing we need in the church is arrogance and self-righteousness. We agree on the “big ones,” the fundamentals of the faith. We must be properly balanced and keep the “main things” the main things. Where you land on this issue is not a test of orthodoxy. Having said that, I do think New Covenant Theology is the system of theology that is most consistent with the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), and am certain this discussion is one from which all Christians can benefit.


Can be purchased at: New Covenant Media