by Dr. J. Ligon Duncan
Posted with the kind permission of Dr. J. Ligon Duncan
The study of Covenant Theology is a topic vital to pastoral ministry and, frankly, to Christian ministry of any kind. And so I am convinced that the time that you put into your study will be well spent. It will pay not only you dividends but the people of God whom you serve dividends for years to come.
Goals and objectives.
Now before we look at the syllabus of the course, I want to tell you my goals and objectives here. First of all, it will be my goal to communicate useful information and knowledge to you, about the biblical and historical and theological teaching about the covenant. Primarily, of course, this information will consist of the knowledge of God revealed in the Scriptures, but it will also properly involve our knowledge of God's creation, including ourselves, our time, the world, our own flock. And of course the major source of this knowledge will be the special revelation of Scripture. So I want you to come armed with your Scriptures, your Hebrew and your Greek, because we will be delving into God's Word and plumbing its depths.
Secondly, my goal is to explain and encourage you towards a right use of this knowledge. I don't simply want you to have understanding; I don't want you simply to stockpile information. I am aiming for something more than a cognitive grasp of this truth. I want you to know how to use this truth in your own life and in the lives of others. The sort of knowledge of God which can be taught in a theology class is never an end in itself. It is always a means to a deeper and higher end. And that end is, of course, the glory of God and union with Him. And that flows from communion with God. We learn about God in order that we might know Him. And by knowing Him, I mean entering into a full relationship and fellowship with Him. If I could repeat this in another way, saving knowledge of God is covenant knowledge, and covenant knowledge is personal knowledge. It is not just knowledge about God; it is knowledge of God Himself. Covenant knowledge is the knowledge of communion and fellowship with the living God.
Propositional knowledge is knowledge that we can express in sentences speaking about God. Propositional knowledge is an essential element of that personal saving knowledge. There are a lot of people today who would like to tell you that you cannot express truth in words. Rubbish. That is a truth expressed in words. It is an untruth I might add, but it is a proposition expressed in words. You cannot talk about truth apart from the Word. The idea of truth being nonpropositional is one of the biggest and most ridiculous statements being made today. Propositional knowledge is essential for us to have a personal and saving knowledge of God and hence, it is imperative in the spiritual walk of all Christians.
But that is not the only element of saving knowledge. There are plenty of people who are capable of cognitively grasping the teachings of the covenant who are as far away from the experience of the true knowledge of God as they could possibly be. In fact, one could argue that the greater grasp that you have cognitively of the truth, paralleled with a lack of true experience, actually puts you farther from God, rather than nearer, because you are more apt to be blinded to your lack of personal relationship with God, because you have all this cognitive information about Him. So knowledge is a dangerous thing. And we pursue it wisely only when we are pursuing our cognitive knowledge and our systematic studies with a view to a personal knowledge of the Lord.
Thirdly, one of the other goals that I want to pursue is the development of your analytical skills. You need to develop your ability of discernment to the point that you are capable of synthesizing knowledge and capable of critical thought and possessed of good judgment so that you can pick up a book on the covenants and you can rapidly come to know where that person is coming from theologically, where the gaps are in their teaching, or where the strengths are in their teaching. And most of you are going to become a walking reference source for the people that you serve, even if you are training for something other than the Gospel ministry. If you have a special training from a seminary and you are working in Christian ministry, you may be assured that people will view you as a person who has special expertise. And hence, they will use you as a resource to guide them in their own growth. And I want to give you the kind of discernment, or help you to obtain the kind of discernment and analytical abilities, that you need for that.
Fourth, it is a goal of mine to inspire you to learn and to obey and to worship, and if it is applicable to you, to pastor. We should be thirsty for the knowledge of the Word of God and for the knowledge of His world, including God's people in their context. And not all of us are going to be equally interested in the same things, but each of us should be hungry for commanding knowledge of something. We must not only be hungry to put this knowledge to work in the service of our studies, but we must be hungry to put this knowledge to work in the service of our own growth in obedience. Now there are a lot of folks who are very practically oriented and they are very impatient about doing the hard work of thinking through and getting things right. I mean, they just want to get on with the Christian living. And there is something admirable about that at a certain level, but it can lead to real problems. Especially if you have left some very essential work undone in the area of the understanding of God's Word. Zeal without knowledge is not more spiritual. It is less spiritual. Zeal without knowledge is in fact prideful, because it is saying, "I don't need that knowledge that God took a lot of time to sit down in His Word. I am just going to live the Christian life." And God didn't design us to work that way. He designed us to understand His Word and to operate from the base of His Word in Christian living. So we must burn in our hearts to worship the Lord even in our pursuit of knowledge. To glorify Him as we pursue knowledge that we might learn and obey.
Let me also warn you of the sober work to which we are called as we go into the Christian ministry and the danger that accompanies that for our own souls, should we be careless in that calling. We are called to be stewards of the mysteries of God, and one day, we will stand before the Lord and we will give an account of how we handled those mysteries. Spiritual self-examination and self-criticism is a very important part of that. Seminary was a rich time of experience for me, but it was also a hard time, because I had to take a good hard look at me. And it was not very often a pretty picture. And as we study the Word, there are going to be some things here, and I mean this for your encouragement, that if you take them and you look at them and you use them in the process of self-examination, they may be very discouraging. Don't be ultimately discouraged by that struggle. That struggle ought to be there. And we are not here simply to fill our notebooks. We are here to see our own hearts transformed. We are here to grow in grace. We need to be open to rebuke from the Word and correction from the Word. That is absolutely essential if we are going to avoid the pitfalls of Christian ministry.
One last thing: it is my goal to encourage a warm, full, natural, practical piety in godliness in our study. That godliness ought to be characterized by a reverence to God and a love of neighbor and a seriousness of purpose in your calling and a determination to holiness. My desire is that you would be God-centered in your thoughts and God-fearing in your hearts and God honoring in your lives. So I say that upfront, because I want you to know what I am trying to do. I am not simply trying to make you these creatures with really big heads and tiny little hearts and tiny little legs and hands. I hope that the truth set forth in our study will be something that will impact you in every aspect of your character in spiritual growth, for yourself and for the sake of the Kingdom. Now let's look at the syllabus together.
Table of Contents
Introduction to Covenant Theology
History of Covenant Theology - Overview of Works, Redemption, Grace
The Covenant of Works (Creation) - Blessings, Obligations, Penalties
Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace
The Broken Covenant of Works Brought Death into the World
The Covenant of Grace Stands in Bold Contrast to the Broken Covenant of Works
The Parallels Between the Broken Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace
The Law, the Covenant of Works, and Grace
Grace Reigns in Righteousness
Covenant of Preservation (Noah and Abram)
Abrahamic Covenant (Covenant Signs and Implications)
The Reformed Doctrine of Baptism & New Testament Practice
The Covenant of Grace with Abraham, Fulfilled
The Call of God
Famine in the Land
The Mosaic Covenant
The Blood of the Covenant
Dispensationalism - A Reformed Evaluation
The Davidic Covenant
OT Prophecies of the New Covenant / The Holy Spirit in the OT & NT
Covenant in the Synoptics, Acts and Pauline Writings
Covenant in Hebrews / The Supper of the New Covenant