Why is Covenant Theology Important?

If Covenant Theology is what it claims to be, that is, if it is the framework laying out the biblical understanding of the only manner in which the God of history has ever dealt with his people or revealed himself to them, then its importance should be obvious. If we are not in covenant with God, we will never know him at all. And if we do not understand the importance of the covenants, we will not be able to make much sense of vast portions of the bible. What was it, in the simplest mode of expression, that Jesus shed his blood to accomplish? According to his own words at the last Supper, the significance of his death was summed up in one term, “New Covenant” (Matthew 26:28). If we do not understand covenant terminology, this will leave us at best with a very fuzzy understanding of the benefits of Christ's death; and if we do not understand the unity and organic connectedness of the divine covenants, we will miss the coherence of the bible, the unity of God's redemptive design, and the centrality of the Christ of the covenants, who is the bible's great hero.

In a simple yet profound and provocative article introducing to a modern audience the monumental work of Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man (reprinted in 1990 by den Dulk Christian Foundation), J. I. Packer sums up the importance of Covenant Theology in three statements: first, “the gospel of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame,” since the gospel promises are all invitations to sinners to enter into the Covenant of Grace, and enjoy its benefits. Second, “the Word of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame,” since the story that forms “the backbone of the bible,” a story with one great Hero and the one great work that he undertakes to perform, “has to do with man's covenant relationship with God first ruined then restored”; and further,

the unifying strands that bind together the books of the Bible are, first , the one covenant promise, sloganized as "I will be your God, and you shall be my people," which God was fulfilling to his elect all through his successive orderings of covenant faith and life; second , the one messenger and mediator of the covenant, Jesus Christ the God-man, prophet and king, priest and sacrifice, the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament proclamation; third , the one people of God, the covenant community, the company of the elect, whom God brings to faith and keeps in faith, from Abel, Noah and Abraham through the remnant of Israel to the worldwide New Testament church of believing Jews and Gentiles; and fourth , the one pattern of covenant piety, consisting of faith, repentance, love, joy, praise, hope, hatred of sin, desire for sanctity, a spirit of prayer, and readiness to battle the world, the flesh, and the devil in order to glorify God . . . a pattern displayed most fully, perhaps, in Luther's "little Bible," the Psalter, but seen also in the lives of God's servants in both Testaments and reflected more or less fully in each single one of the Old and New Testament books.

Third, “the reality of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame,” since God has revealed his essential inter-trinitarian love and unity, and the otherwise unfathomable attributes of his person, such as his utter faithfulness, righteousness, and sovereign mercy, only in and through the Covenant which he worked out in human history, and which is an expression and reflection of the trinitarian Covenant of Redemption, that displays the fullness of God's essential nature in an economic and tangible way, so that men might both learn who he is and be brought into a personal relationship with him (all quoted portions above are taken from Packer's introductory article in the above-mentioned work).

Monergism Copyright © 2008