Skip to comments.What does John Piper believe about dispensationalism, covenant theology, and new covenant theology?
Posted on 03/07/2003 10:41:11 AM PST by ksen
What does John Piper believe about dispensationalism, covenant theology, and new covenant theology?
There are three main theological camps on the issues of law, gospel, and the structuring of God's redemptive relationship with humankind: dispensationalism, covenant theology, and new covenant theology. Many have written to us asking about the differences between these three views, and so before discussing John Piper's perspective we will give an overview of each.
It can be hard to summarize dispensational theology as a whole because in recent years multiple forms of it have developed. In general, there are three main distinctives.
First, dispensationalism sees God as structuring His relationship with mankind through several stages of revelation which mark off different dispensations, or stewardship arrangements. Each dispensation is a "test" of mankind to be faithful to the particular revelation given at the time. Generally, seven dispensations are distinguished: innocence (before the fall), conscience (Adam to Noah), promise (Abraham to Moses), Law (Moses to Christ), grace (Pentecost to the rapture), and the millennium.
Second, dispensationalism holds to a literal interpretation of Scripture. This does not deny the existence of figures of speech and non-literal language in the Bible, but rather means that there is a literal meaning behind the figurative passages.
Third, as a result of this literal interpretation of Scripture, dispensationalism holds to a distinction between Israel (even believing Israel) and the church. On this view, the promises made to Israel in the OT were not intended as prophecies about what God would do spiritually for the church, but will literally be fulfilled by Israel itself (largely in the millennium). For example, the promise of the land is interpreted to mean that God will one day fully restore Israel to Palestine. In contrast, non-dispensationalists typically see the land promise as intended by God to prophesy, in shadowy Old-covenant-form, the greater reality that He would one day make the entire church, Jews and Gentiles, heirs of the whole renewed world (cf. Romans 4:13).
In many ways it is thus accurate to say that dispensationalism believes in "two peoples of God." Although both Jews and Gentiles are saved by Christ through faith, believing Israel will be the recipient of additional "earthly" promises (such as prosperity in the specific land of Palestine, to be fully realized in the millennium) that do not apply to believing Gentiles, whose primary inheritance is thus "heavenly."
Covenant theology believes that God has structured his relationship with humanity by covenants rather than dispensations. For example, in Scripture we explicitly read of various covenants functioning as the major stages in redemptive history, such as the covenant with Abraham, the giving of the law, the covenant with David, and the new covenant. These post-fall covenants are not new tests of man's faithfulness to each new stage of revelation (as are the dispensations in dispensationalism), but are rather differing administrations of the single, overarching covenant of grace.
The covenant of grace is one of two fundamental covenants in covenant theology. It structures God's post-fall relationship to mankind; pre-fall, God structured His relationship by the covenant of works. The covenant of grace is best understood in relation to the covenant of works.
The covenant of works, instituted in the Garden of Eden, was the promise that perfect obedience would be rewarded with eternal life. Adam was created sinless but with the capability of falling into sin. Had he remained faithful in the time of temptation in the Garden (the "probationary period"), he would have been made incapable of sinning and secured in an eternal and unbreakable right standing with God.
But Adam sinned and broke the covenant, and thereby subjected himself and all his descendants to the penalty for covenant-breaking, condemnation. God in His mercy therefore instituted the "covenant of grace," which is the promise of redemption and eternal life to those who would believe in the (coming) redeemer. The requirement of perfect obedience for eternal life is not annulled by the covenant of grace, but is rather fulfilled by Christ on behalf of His people, since now that all are sinners no one can meet the condition of perfect obedience by his own performance. The covenant of grace, then, does not set aside the covenant of works but rather fulfills it.
As mentioned above, covenant theology emphasizes that there is only one covenant of grace, and that all of the various redemptive covenants that we read of in the Scripture are simply differing administrations of this one covenant. In support, it is pointed out that a covenant is in essence simply a sovereignly given promise (usually with stipulations), and since there is only one promise of salvation (namely, by grace through faith), it follows that there is therefore only one covenant of grace. All of the specific redemptive covenants we read of (the Abrahamic, Mosaic, etc.) are various and culminating expressions of the covenant of grace.
New Covenant Theology
New covenant theology typically does not hold to a covenant of works or one overarching covenant of grace (although they would still argue for only one way of salvation). The essential difference between New Covenant Theology (hereafter NCT) and Covenant Theology (CT), however, concerns the Mosaic Law. CT holds that the Mosaic Law can be divided into three groups of laws--those regulating the government of Israel (civil laws), ceremonial laws, and moral laws. The ceremonial law and civil law are no longer in force because the former was fulfilled in Christ and the latter only applied to Israel's theocracy, which is now defunct. But the moral law continues.
NCT argues that one cannot divide the law up in that way, as though part of the Mosaic Law can be abrogated while the rest remains in force. The Mosaic Law is a unity, they say, and so if part of it is canceled, all of it must be canceled. On top of this, they say that the New Testament clearly teaches that the Mosaic Law as a whole is superseded in Christ. It is, in other words, no longer our direct and immediate source of guidance. The Mosaic Law, as a law, is no longer binding on the believer.
Does this mean that believers are not bound by any divine law? No, because the Mosaic Law has been replaced by the law of Christ. NCT makes a distinction between the eternal moral law of God and the code in which God expresses that law to us. The Mosaic Law is an expression of God's eternal moral law as a particular code which also contains positive regulations pertinent to the code's particular temporal purpose, and therefore the cancellation of the Mosaic Law does not mean that the eternal moral law is itself canceled. Rather, upon canceling the Mosaic Law, God gave us a different expression of his eternal moral law--namely, the Law of Christ, consisting in the moral instructions of Christ's teaching and the New Testament. The key issue that NCT seeks to raise is: Where do we look to see the expression of God's eternal moral law today--do we look to Moses, or to Christ? NCT says we look to Christ.
There are many similarities between the Law of Christ and Mosaic Law, but that does not change the fact that the Mosaic Law has been canceled and that, therefore, we are not to look to it for direct guidance but rather to the New Testament. For example, England and the US have many similar laws (for example, murder is illegal in both countries). Nonetheless, the English are not under the laws of America, but of England. If an English citizen murders in England, he is held accountable for breaking England's law against murder, not America's law against murder.
The benefit of NCT, its advocates argue, is that it solves the difficulty of trying to figure out which of the Mosaic laws apply to us today. On their understanding, since the Mosaic Law is no longer a direct and immediate source of guidance, we look to the Law of Christ for our direct guidance. Although the Mosaic Law is no longer a binding law code in the NT era, it still has the authority, not of law, but of prophetic witness. As such, it fills out and explains certain concepts in both the old and new covenant law.
John Piper's position
John Piper has some things in common with each of these views, but does not classify himself within any of these three camps. He is probably the furthest away from dispensationalism, although he does agree with dispensationalism that there will be a millennium.
Many of his theological heroes have been covenant theologians (for example, many of the Puritans), and he does see some merit in the concept of a pre-fall covenant of works, but he has not taken a position on their specific conception of the covenant of grace.
In regards to his views on the Mosaic Law, he seems closer to new covenant theology than covenant theology, although once again it would not work to say that he precisely falls within that category.
Piper seems to have quite a following over here, so I thought I'd post it.
I think it would be better to say that we hold to the "plain" meaning of Scripture instead of the "literal" meaning of Scripture.
This to me seems to be a mischaracterization. All Believers in this age are part of the Church with no distinction. Dispensationalism holds that God will pick up His program with Israel after the Church (Jew & Gentile) have been raptured.
*gasp!* Imagine, someone thinking that when God promised a land for Israel that He really meant that Israel would get that land.
See, this is what you get when you let your theological adversary define your position. That statement is totally untrue. No Dispensationalist believes that Jewish people who become Christians (i.e. come to faith during the Church Age) will get a different inheritance than Gentile Christians.
I said at the end of the article why I posted this. I posted it because a discussion of Covenant Theology started in one of the Institutes threads and while I was looking for ammo, er, I mean studying, I found this article.
Since I know Piper has a following here I figured I'd post it.
Perhaps as a means of sparking another eschatological war on FR.
Things only have to become a war if you want them to. Eschatology doesn't have to be discussed when comparing Dispensationalism, Covenant Theology, and New Covenant Theology.
BTW, in the current book I'm reading by Piper, it is obvious that he believes in a future Millennium. So, what! I haven't quit reading Spurgeon sermons because he was also wrong about the millennium.
I'm not trying to get anyone stop reading anything. Why the harsh reaction to my posting this?
Other than not being "tests" of Mankind, how does this definition differ from the one for Dispensation?
Where is anything like the above stated in the Scriptures?
Oh, I thought the Covenants weren't about tests?
The Covenant of Grace was instituted after the Covenant of Works. Does that mean that the Covenant of Grace did not exist until after the Fall?
Ok, I'll bite. No, do you know where something like that is plainly stated in the Scriptures?
Again, how is that functionally different than Dispensations?
To tell you the truth, I thought you did based on my reading of your posts on this forum. I probably should have asked if that is what you believe. Sorry about that.
What do you think of CT? Do you think of it at all?
Could you make it simpler? I are a graduate of the publik skools.
Are you asking about an earthly inheritance? a heavenly inheritance? OT Israel? those Jewish people saved during the Church Age?
You are, of course, free to disagree with the statement if you wish.
I will when I figure out what exactly you are asking.
Do you have the passage(s) handy?
Eze 43:18 And he said unto me, Son of man, thus saith the Lord GOD; These [are] the ordinances of the altar in the day when they shall make it, to offer burnt offerings thereon, and to sprinkle blood thereon.
Eze 43:19 And thou shalt give to the priests the Levites that be of the seed of Zadok, which approach unto me, to minister unto me, saith the Lord GOD, a young bullock for a sin offering.
Eze 43:20 And thou shalt take of the blood thereof, and put [it] on the four horns of it, and on the four corners of the settle, and upon the border round about: thus shalt thou cleanse and purge it.
Eze 43:21 Thou shalt take the bullock also of the sin offering, and he shall burn it in the appointed place of the house, without the sanctuary.
Eze 43:22 And on the second day thou shalt offer a kid of the goats without blemish f:or a sin offering; and they shall cleanse the altar, as they did cleanse [it] with the bullock.
Eze 43:23 When thou hast made an end of cleansing [it], thou shalt offer a young bullock without blemish, and a ram out of the flock without blemish.
Eze 43:24 And thou shalt offer them before the LORD, and the priests shall cast salt upon them, and they shall offer them up [for] a burnt offering unto the LORD.
Eze 43:25 Seven days shalt thou prepare every day a goat [for] a sin offering: they shall also prepare a young bullock, and a ram out of the flock, without blemish.
Eze 43:26 Seven days shall they purge the altar and purify it; and they shall consecrate themselves.
Eze 43:27 And when these days are expired, it shall be, [that] upon the eighth day, and [so] forward, the priests shall make your burnt offerings upon the altar, and your peace offerings; and I will accept you, saith the Lord GOD.
All of this in clear opposition of the once for ALL sacrifice of the umblemished Lamb Jesus Christ on the cross
Hbr 10:10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once [for all].
Hbr 10:11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:
Hbr 10:12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
Hbr 10:13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. Hbr 10:14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
Houston I ~think we have a problem:>)
Is that from the PWV? Prince William Version
(Actually, I'm one step removed from the House of Prince Willem of Oranje. My father's cousin's father's last name is "Oranje")Jean
That describes where I was several years ago, when I first began to question the Puritan theology of Law. I quickly realized that the New Covenant theologians had some very, very important points to make.
The more I have studied New Covenant Theology, the more dogmatic I have become as a New Covenant theologian.
Is there a Piper bump list? If there is, please add me to it. I just finished reading Desiring God, and now want to read everything I can by him.
Thanks for this thread.
So the NCT would say that the Christian is bound by the two commandments of loving God, and loving neighbor, and that the Mosaic Law is good for deriving general principles from?
What was it about NCT that drew you to it?
I don't know if there is an official Piper bump list. Maybe RnMom can help with that question.
Don't you see this as the cumulative effect of the OT law? Does it not contain the principles of the law?
Kevin I have often asked the people that post on FR that believe that we can loose our salvation it they keep the NC law perfectly? They say yes..but as you and I would agree I think no one except Jesus could ever love God perfectly or love his neighbor as himself..impossible because of our sin nature..
But they think if they are faithful to their spouse , do not kill anyone and do not steal etc. they are living a "sinless life" what self deception that is..
Jesus did not lower the bar IMHO He raised it..
Sure, you just have to read the Sermon on the Mount to see that.
Many people think that this is what the NCT position asserts, but it's not. What the NCT position asserts is that we are not under the Mosaic Law and also that the Decalogue is part of the Mosaic Law.
The Decalogue is the capstone of the Mosaic code, but it is still part of the system which is not in force for believers. For this reason, saying that the Decalogue is our "compendium of ethics" is not correct. If it is the "compendium of ethics," then we are all Sabbath breakers.
(For that matter, the standards which New Covenant members have are actually higher than those of the Decalogue as such. But the only way to grasp this is to look at the Two Great Commandments. They are explicitly infinite in their requirements.)
I've also heard (from J. Vernon McGee for one), that the Sermon on the Mount is the rules that will be in force for the Millenial Kingdom. But let's not go there. ;^)