Tag Archives: R. Scott Clark

Some Recommended Resources on the Doctrine of the Covenant of Grace

As mentioned here previously, I’ve been preaching a series of catechetical sermons on the doctrine of the covenant of grace.  Someone asked me to provide a list of recommended resources.  First, some caveats.  The list is not comprehensive, not by far.  These resources are in no particular order.  My mentioning them does not mean that I agree with every single detail, term, or formulation in them — indeed, some of them do contradict each other at certain points.  In sharing them, all I mean to say is that I have learned something valuable from them and perhaps you can too.

The Covenant of Grace, John Murray (Philippsburg: P&R, 1953, 1988).

This was the very first thing I ever read about covenant theology.  It’s a dense little booklet of 32 pages.  It’s not included in Murray’s 4 volume Collected Writings.

The Main Points of the Covenant of Grace — Klaas Schilder.

This was a speech delivered by Schilder in 1944.  It’s a fairly good summary of his covenant theology.  He emphasizes the dynamic and relational nature of the covenant of grace.

Covenant and Election, J. Van Genderen (Neerlandia: Inheritance Publications, 1995). 

A good overview of the history of this topic.  The author also proposes helpful ways of outlining the similarities and differences between covenant and election.  This was one of our textbooks in seminary.

Teaching and Preaching the Word: Studies in Dogmatics and Homiletics, Nicolaas H. Gootjes (Winnipeg: Premier, 2010).

Here I’m thinking especially of chapters 4 (Christ’s Obedience and Covenant Obedience), chapter 8 (Sign and Seal), chapter 9 (The Promises of Baptism) and chapter 17 (Can Parents Be Sure?  Background and Meaning of Canons of Dort, I, 17).  Dr. Gootjes was my dogmatics professor in seminary and probably the biggest single influence on the way I think about the covenant of grace.  I hope that his material on covenant theology in the Reformed confessions will someday yet be published.

Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006).

Bavinck tackles the covenant of grace in volume 3 and he’s worthy of careful study.  In volume 2, he also has a notable discussion of the covenant of works.

An Everlasting Covenant, J. Kamphuis (Launceston: Publication Organisation of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, 1985).

This is a more technical work which traces some of the finer details in the debates over covenant theology leading up to the Liberation of 1944.

Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, ed. R. Scott Clark (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2007).

This is a collection of essays by the faculty of Westminster Seminary California.  There are some important cautionary notes sounded in this volume directed against the false teachings of Federal Vision theology.  In a series of articles in The Outlook, I addressed the question of whether some of the authors mentioned above should be condemned with the Federal Visionists.  You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.  It’s also available in Korean here.

The Nine Points and Schilder

It’s been an interesting week here with lots of lively discussion.  Yesterday my colleague Bill DeJong weighed in with his perspective.  In comment 8 under yesterday’s post The Nine Points and ’44: History Repeating Itself?, Bill wrote:

To the substance of what you wrote: I tend to think your interpretation of the nine points is naive on a couple of points.

1. The nine points demonstrate no particular sympathy for the theological emphases of Klaas Schilder. As you probably know, the primary author of the nine points is Scott Clark, an individual who routinely depicts Klaas Schilder’s theology as “idiosyncratic” as best. Scott was well aware that Schilder objected to dividing the covenant up into “external covenant” and “internal covenant.” The inclusion of the terms “outward” and “inward” in the nine points is likely a direct allusion to Schilder’s “idiosyncratic” theology.

Naive?  Hmmm…  So, Scott Clark was the “primary author” of the Nine Points.  It’s not a big secret.  It’s true that he has occasionally depicted Schilder’s theology in the way described.  It is also true that Scott has helpfully written a lengthy exposition of the Nine Points.  It’s a sort of commentary on the Nine Points.  So, if Bill’s hypothesis is correct, we should expect to see Schilder under fire at these points in Scott’s exposition.

Schilder is mentioned twice.  In the first mention, he is identified as one of those involved with a loss of “contact with the sources of classical Reformed (covenant) theology.”  Through the efforts of Schilder and many others, ‘scholastic’ and ‘scholasticism’ became pejoratives.  The second mention comes when Scott identifies those who, while not FV, speak of a “so-called covenant of works.”  Schilder is one of those.

When I read Scott’s exposition, the target of the Nine Points is not Schilder or the Canadian Reformed Churches, but the FV.  That also seems to hold true when he discusses points 5 and 6.  There we find no mention of, nor even an allusion to (at least not that I can detect) to Schilder.  Instead, Scott writes:

The answer to the problem created by the FV theology is to make a distinction which they consistently deny, minimize, or ignore, viz. to distinguish between the two ways of being in the covenant of grace. The great Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Witsius spoke of a “double mode of communion” in the covenant of grace. This is exactly what Calvin taught both in his commentary on Romans 9, in his Institutes (3.21-24), and his sermons on election. All baptized Christians are in the covenant of grace. As Calvin said, to deny that is virtually blasphemy. It doesn’t help the problem to do as some have been tempted to do, i.e., to deny that unbelievers or reprobates have any relation to the covenant whatever. At the same time, it’s just as harmful to refuse to distinguish between ways of being in the one covenant of grace. From Calvin to Witsius (and after!) the Reformed sorted out this problem by saying that, though there is one covenant of grace, there are two ways of being in that one covenant of grace. All baptized persons are in the covenant of grace outwardly or externally but they are not all in the covenant of grace inwardly or internally.

Jacob and Esau were both in the covenant of grace. Both had received the sign and seal of the covenant, but the sign and seal were, as it were, fruitful for Jacob but not for Esau because they were not combined with faith (Heb 4:2). Though Jacob and Esau were both in they covenant of grace, they did not have, ultimately, the same relation to the one covenant of grace. They were both “in” the covenant of grace, but they weren’t both “of” the covenant of grace.

Why not? Paul says it was a matter of election.

In my estimation, that’s not substantially different from what Nelson Kloosterman asserts about Klaas Schilder.  For him too, there were two ways of relating to the covenant of grace.  I also discussed this in an earlier blog post.  Schilder appealed to a prayer of Calvin to distinguish between belonging to the covenant and being a recipient of salvation.  All baptized Christians are in the covenant of grace.  But in the unfolding of history, not all relate to the covenant in the same way.  Bill DeJong agrees, for he writes:

On the other hand, point # 6 can be rescued, and I think you’ve done a decent job elsewhere showing how. Baptized folk respond to covenant promises in one of two ways, and you’ve underscored that this point addresses the “two ways.” I think that’s fair. On the other hand, it needs to be emphasized that all baptized children are fully members of the covenant. I find this emphasis lacking in the nine points.

Point 6 doesn’t need to “be rescued,” because it was meant to be understood in exactly this way.  I’m not sure what is naive about thinking that.  You might not like the language of “external/internal,” but somehow we have to describe these two ways.  Personally, I prefer the language of faith/unbelief, but I would be equally comfortable with Paul’s language in Romans 9:6, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.”

Finally, Bill would have liked to seen it emphasized that “all baptized children are fully members of the covenant.”  However, as I understand them, the Nine Points were written to address particular errors associated with FV.  As far as I know, no FV authors are arguing that baptized children are not fully members of the covenant.  Also, as far as I know, Protestant Reformed theology does not have a meaningful home in the URCNA.  I’m also not aware of anyone in the URCNA asserting that baptized children are not all full covenant members.  So, I could understand why no one might think to include a statement like that in the Nine Points.  Although, come to think of it, it would have saved us a lot of trouble and potential misunderstanding!  For the record, I agree wholeheartedly with the statement, “All baptized children are fully members of the covenant.”

And folks, that wraps it up for me on this subject for the next while.  Besides my regular sermon preparation, I have a lecture series to prepare for next week.  So, the rest of this week and next will feature repeat posts from over the last few years.  I’ll be back to regular blogging on Monday September 6.