Covenant Theology - What is it?Covenant theology is a branch of theological study that examines the Bible within the context of the Bible's covenants. The two covenants typically of focus include the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. A third covenant, the covenant of redemption, is also frequently emphasized. These two (or three) covenants are seen as extensions of the seven covenants mentioned in Scripture (Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Palestinian, Mosaic, Davidic, and New).
Historically, Covenant theology is found in the writings of some early church fathers, including Irenaeus and Augustine. However, its popularity especially expanded during the Protestant Reformation in Europe and has remained a central system for understanding Scripture among Protestants since that time. As a result, this form of theology has highly influenced creeds from this era, particularly the Westminster Confession of Faith.
During the late nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century, Dispensational Theology developed as an alternative, largely as a result of a more detailed understanding of the end times. Today, both systems of theology are often studied among evangelicals, with Covenant theology more common among those of a Calvinist or Reformed background.
But what exactly is Covenant theology? Simply explained, it begins with the covenant of works that began in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were given one command, with a clear consequence for disobedience.
When Adam and Eve failed to keep God's commandment, God established the covenant of grace. This covenant of grace is seen clearly in Jesus Christ, with salvation offered as a free gift of grace by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Other covenants are similarly broken by humans yet kept by God's grace. Abraham failed God at times, yet God's grace was sufficient. The Davidic Covenant was fulfilled despite David's sins.
In the New Covenant, Jesus fulfills the law and offers salvation to those who turn to Him. He does not fail as other humans had but fulfills the covenant both as a human and as God. All the earlier covenants find fulfillment in Jesus, who claims not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
Because of the focus on covenants, Covenant theology stresses the covenantal nature of both baptism and the Lord's Supper. These sacraments are seen as signs and seals of the covenant of grace. Salvation is not acquired through these acts, yet these sacraments hold a special role in God's covenant work.
While much can be said and has been said regarding the details and other examples of Covenant theology in Scripture, it is clear this system of theology has had a profound impact in the lives of many. Its focus on God's Word as divinely inspired, of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, and its focus on God's supremacy in offering redemption from sin and providing the solution through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross have profoundly transformed many.
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