Bible Studies, doctrine

What is 1689 Federalism and how should we respond to it?

What is Covenant Theology?

Covenant theology is a particular theological discipline that seeks to understand the unified message of the Bible through the study of the biblical covenants and how they fit together.

What is 1689 Federalism?

1689 Federalism is a version of covenant theology held by the majority of Reformed Baptists who produced the London Baptist Confession of Faith in 1689…hence the name. It is gaining momentum because of the recent work done on it by Pascal Denault, Sam Renihan, Richard Barcellos and other Reformed Baptists. However, it has also attracted some strong responses from those in the more traditional Reformed camps…most notably, R. Scott Clarke.

How does 1689 Federalism differ from Westminster Federalism?

Baptist Covenant theology (1689 Federalism) differs from traditional covenant theology in that it equates the New Covenant with the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace was present in the Old Testament, and is being continuously revealed in the Old Covenant, but is distinct from the covenants in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the Covenant of Grace is being revealed mainly through the idea of “promise.”

In Presbyterian covenant theology, the Covenant of Grace includes not only the New Covenant but also the covenants found in the Old Testament such as the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants.

Denault explains traditional covenant theology as follows:

Thus, the reformed reading of the Scriptures consists first of all in a covenant with Adam, eventually called the Covenant of Works. Then, immediately after the fall, God made a second covenant called the covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace was placed under a first administration which we find in the Old Testament. This administration was elementary and temporary. Next came a second administration of the Covenant of Grace, which we find in the New Testament. This administration is perfect and definitive. The Reformed Church, therefore, saw the Old Covenant as a Covenant of Grace.

(The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, pg. 24)

An initial assessment

The resurgence of 1689 Federalism is good news for covenant theology.

I have long been dissatisfied with classical (Westminster) covenant theology’s treatment of the Mosaic Covenant. I have also been concerned about the strength of recent responses against Klinean republication from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in America.

What that reaction tells me is that the Reformed world needs to allow for growth in its understanding of Covenant Theology. At the very least it needs to hear the critique of non-Westminster forms of covenant theology within the Reformed tradition. Stronger alternative voices will sharpen our understanding of the biblical covenants and the gospel. I think that I am very close to 1689 Federalism. It has a stronger law-gospel.

Negatively, my concern is the way in which all Old Testament covenants seem to get lumped together as the Old Covenant. I think that any covenant theology needs to be able to handle the nuances of Galatians 3 which clearly makes a distinction between Abraham and Moses. The Mosaic covenant should not be lumped together with the Abrahamic covenant either as the Covenant of Grace (Westminster) or the Old Covenant (1689). Our covenant theology must take into account that the Mosaic Covenant is temporary, distinct, and subservient.




1 thought on “What is 1689 Federalism and how should we respond to it?”

  1. Hi André, this was a great little piece. I have been working through CT and l must say, it can be confusing with the different nuances. Whilst l agree that the Abrahamic Cov. is a Cov. of Grace as are the Mosaic and Davidic. I have found the idea of republication of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant appealing. Do you have any articles or thoughts on this proposition? Thanks.


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