Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How Has Your Theology Changed?

Now that we're beginning to add to our list of Preach the Word contributors & readers, I thought I'd jump-start some discussion by posing the question: how has your theology changed most significantly since you graduated from DTS or as you've been studying at DTS? For instance, I know very few classmates who would consider themselves to be "Classic Dispensationalists" which is an interesting development considering the history of DTS. Maybe its something that you have changed your thinking about while attending DTS or maybe you've moved away from a theological position that you learned at DTS since graduating. Let the discussion begin.
[edit - I'm not necessarily attempting to make this about Dispensationalism. I was just mentioning that as an example.]


M. Jay Bennett said...

I was a Reformed (5-point Calvinist, subscribing to The Cambridge Declaration) Baptist until my last semester, Fall 2006, at DTS. Now I would label myself Reformed/Covenantal/Presbyterian.

I have posted an article entitled Disagreements with the Dallas Seminary Doctrinal Statement over at my blog Solus Christus

I was never really compelled to accept the dispensational hermeneutic while at DTS. The approach seemed a little to atomistic to me.

GUNNY said...

Hey, Jay, that Cambridge Declaration is good. I wanna be friends with it.

But, Jay were you Reformed prior to seminary?!

When candidating back in '98, I would have considered myself a progressive dispensationalist.

I then was your garden variety covenant theologian for a while, but most closely find myself adhering to that which is known as "New Covenant Theology," not because of its "newness," but because of its emphasis on the New Covenant as opposed to the Mosaic (i.e., Old).

I see myself as historic premill where eschatological slooge is concerned.

Jeff Wright said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M. Jay Bennett said...

Hey Gun!

Yep the Cam. Dec. is a good friend.

I believed the 5 points of Calvinism before coming to DTS. In fact, I almost didn't come to DTS after reading R.C. Sproul's book Willing to Believe. He uncovered some of Chafer's inconsistencies in the last chapter and objected to the problematic wording in the DTS doctrinal statement with regard to soteriology.

I am interested though . . . you said you were a "garden variety covenant theologian for a while." I've never heard you say anything like that before. Were you still a Baptist at that time? If so, in what way would you say you were a covenant theologian?

And . . . I forgot to disclose my eschatological understanding in the previous comment. I view eschatology from an amillennial perspective.

Chris Freeland said...


How did you sign the doctrinal statement at graduation?

M. Jay Bennett said...


Good question! Thanks for asking.

I actually had a misunderstanding about that issue. I have recorded my thoughts on the misunderstanding over at Solus Christus in a couple of posts: here and here. When I graduated I was required to complete a graduation survey in which I interacted with the full doctrinal statement. As you have figured, I wasn't able to check off many articles in complete agreement. I think I was only in complete agreement with 7 of the articles. The exceptions I wrote on the survey were the same as those on the post I referred to in the earlier comment.

Thankfully the survey is only used for statistical purposes. My interaction with the full doctrinal statement in it had no bearing on my qualifying for graduation. All that was required for graduation is an affirmation of the seven core doctrines. I had no trouble affirming those completely.


GUNNY said...


Let me preface my autobiographical comments with the note that I am still searching the Scriptures with regard to a lot of these things and many godly brethren who are much smarter than I have been in camps divergent from my own.

Although I'm very important and I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany, I am, after all, just a man. Not a guy, but a man.

So ...

When I became increasingly dissatisfied with dispensationalism as an explanation of the Scriptures I figured, like many do, that if it's not dispensationalism, then it must be covenantalism.

So, I immersed myself in some of the readings and thought, mainly the puritans.

I was still "baptistic" in it all, but I affirmed two covenants (on top of the covenant of redemption), works and grace. As well I saw the Mosaic vs. New covenant as different manifestations of the covenant of grace.

However, in preaching through Romans I found it increasingly difficult to maintain the perspective of two manifestations of the one covenant, but rather saw two different and contrasting covenants. One old and one new, one obsolete and one operational in the covenantal sense.

I found myself letting my theology interpret Scripture rather than letting Scripture interpret my theology.

I saw/see continuity with regard to God's people, His elect, but discontinuity with regard to the expectations placed on them as covenant people.

I could no Scriptural support for the three categories of the law, civial, ceremonial, and moral. I could find no support for seeing the Mosaic & New covenants as different manifestations of the covanent of grace.

Sure, God deals graciously with His people, but I became uneasy calling something a covenant that I could not see that Scripture supported.

I was getting confused reading covenantal baptists who wanted to get rid of two of those three, but herald the decalogue as binding. All the while, they would label those not seeing the decalogue as binding as antinomians because they got rid of a portion of the law. Of course, the fact that they got rid of two categories was immaterial.

It seemed to me that if, as I had learned in covenant theology, Israel is the church and the church is Israel, then theonomy made good sense. Then, it also seemed that questions arose as to whether or not the covenant was for the regenerate or not.

The Mosaic covenant was given for a nation, only a remnant of which were regenerate people of God. Was the New that way as well? It didn't seem possible since every covenant has a sign (e.g., Noahic=rainbow, Abrahamic=circumcision, Mosaic=sabbath (see Ex 31)) and the sign of the New covenant was the Holy Spirit's indwelling and the internal nature of God's commands.

To see a portion of the old way of the written code as binding was becoming difficult. On the one hand, such a view was comforting because it seemed irreverent to say that the Old Covenant (i.e., Mosaic Covenant made between Yahweh and a nation) was obsolete and replaced by the new. Yet, that seemed to be exactly what Hebrews 8:13 was saying.

What's more, the notion that the law was no longer operational for justification, but still was for sanctification seemed contrary to Scripture.

Romans 7:6 saws we were released from the law, because we are dead to it and alive/married to another. Just so we can't presume he's talking about the civil and ceremonial aspects, when Paul references the law next he cites from the decalogue as an example (Rom 7:7).

The law was a tutor to lead to Christ, but was no longer need after faith and we are not under its guardianship (Gal 3:24-26).

Plus, the Mosaic law was never for justification purposes (i.e., do this and you get saved). In fact, if righteousness could have been gained through the law, Christ died for nothing (Gal 2:21). Salvation has always been by grace through faith (see Abraham in Romans 4, justified by faith prior to circumcision or Isaac sacrifice). The Mosaic covenant was for an unregenerate people to show them their need for a Savior, who would be apprehended by faith.

Not only did Romans move me away from a more traditional understanding of covenant theology (e.g., Westminster), but so did getting reacquainted with the reformers (i.e., Calvin & Luther) on the issue of sabbath. I realized that they weren't in conformity with the WCF and really weren't sabbatarian.

Not only that, they don't really see things as the WCF does with regard to covenantal slooge. That doesn't make either one right or wrong, by necessity, but it got my attention.

In reading Baptist covenant theologians I found myself thinking that if they hold to the view of the covenant, then infant baptism is not that crazy after all. I understood it, though I found the texts used to support it inadequate to the task.

Fundamentally, as we've discussed, it's all about the nature of the covenant people. Or to put it another way, who is in the covenant?

This probably is more involved than most care to read here, but I guess I had never really thought too much (much less written) regarding my pilgrimage from dispensationalism to progressive dispenationalism to covenant theology to that which seems to be known as New Covenant Theology.

It's interesting for a year or so I lived in a world where I felt like the little elf who wanted to be a dentist. I was a misfit, an outcast. I wouldn't be welcomed in the dispensational world nor the covenantal world. I then learned there were other weirdos like me who could see validity in such systems of thought/theology, but could not fully embrace either with a lover's affection due to particular issues.

Again, I am a work in progress in these areas. Like my blog title, SEMPER REFORMANDA is particularly applicable here.

M. Jay Bennett said...

"Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention. I've just been handed an urgent and horrifying news story, and I need all of you to stop what you're doing and listen. Cannonball!"

My wife got me The Anchorman for my birthday tonight. Just finished watching it. I love me some Ron Burgandy bravado!

Part of the reason I asked the question earlier was because it seems to me that a baptist cannot be consistently covenantal, if one understands the defining issue of covenantalism to be the unity of the covenant (the AC being essentially the same as the NC). Baptist who call themselves covenantal have to redefine the term beyond its traditional designation. Maybe they could call themselves Progressive Covenantalists ;-)

To an extent, I think I understand your reading of Romans. But before I remark let me ask a question about theological method. You mentioned that you could find no Scriptural evidence for seeing three categories of the Law. I wonder what you mean by that?

Do you mean that there is no text that categorizes them explicitly? I would agree that there is no such text, but then again, there's no text that explicitly categorizes God as Trinity. Could the categories be valid according to an inference from the way the canon seems to treat the concept of the Law?

For instance all the passages that refer to the Law being obsolete seem to be referring to it in terms of civil and ceremonial aspects (e.g. Hebrews). Whereas in other places the Law is treated in its moral aspect as eternally binding (Matt. 22:37-40).

Also, with respect to Paul's treatment of the moral aspect of the Law in Romans, I wonder if he might be treating it according to the misinterpretation of the time that keeping the Law was the way to be justified. You mentioned that you believed that was the case earlier. If so, then at least some of the discontinuity he emphasizes could be with respect to the misinterpretation rather than the reality.

Surely the Mosaic Covenant is distinct from the New in many ways, though they are part of one purpose of God for his creation. Not all, but I think many covenant theologians would agree with many of the distinctions you pointed out from Romans. I was really impressed with Michael Horton's treatment of the distinctions in his new book God of Promise.

Horton goes the direction of Kline (contra Murray) and sees a recapitulation of the covenant of works taking place in the Mosaic Covenant. Through the MC, Israel fails in a way analogous to Adam's failure. It would be in this way that the MC is fulfilled in Christ the Second Adam. Christ fulfills the covenant of works that Adam broke and was recapitulated through the MC in Israel. Nonetheless, Horton would still regard the MC as an integral part of the one covenant of grace in Christ, the Second Adam.

I think I would point to Jesus' restatememt of the Law as loving God and loving neighbor as good evidence that the moral code is eternally binding. Of course, it's not binding in the sense that it one must keep it in order to be justified, because it was never intended for that purpose.

Also, I understand what you mean when you point out the differences between Luther (not as close to covenantal) and Calvin (certainly tending very strongly in the direction) and the full fledged covenantalism of the WCF. Developments did occur through Witsius and Coccius and are still occuring today (e.g. Kline adapting new info from recently uncovered ANE treaties). Calvin has a very complex view of the Sabbath, but I think its good. Gaffin has written on it.

I wonder though. You didn't really interact with the idea of the Abrahamic Covenant. There seems to be ample evidence in the NT, particularly in Romans and Galatians, that the New Covenant is essentially the same as the Abrahamic. Connecting ideas would be "promise" and "faith." Would you say that the Abrahamic Covenant is essentially different from the New? If so, how so?

Aside from the actual sign of the covenant, would the expectations placed on Abraham be essentially different from those placed on New Covenant members?

Also, could we say by inference that Paul has a two covenant idea in mind when he writes Romans 5? How is it that Adam's progeny are held responsible for his breaking the law, if there was no unified covenant relation in place with respect to his failed work? Likewise, how is it that many are justified by the work of the Second Adam, if there is no unified covenant relation in place with respect to his accomplished work?

I think Romans 5 is the big passage when it comes to the two covenant idea, covenant of works and covenant of grace. Also, the theological ideas of Original Sin and Salvation by grace through faith in all ages support the construct of the two covenants. Original Sin is the result of the failure of dam under the covenant of works. Salvation by grace through faith is the result of the accomplishment of Christ, fulfilling the covenant of works, being extended to God's people according to his promise (the covenant of grace).

Again it's the two central ideas of sin and grace, which Dr. Hannah emphasizes so well in his book Our Heritage. How can we understand the cross work of Christ apart from an understanding of Original Sin (the result of Adam's failure under the covenant)? And, how can we understand the cross work of Christ apart from an understanding of the sovereign grace of God in salvation (the result of the Second Adam's accomplishment under the covenant and extended to those in him by grace)?


GUNNY said...


Here's a link to the book(let) I was telling you about, Abraham's Four Seeds by John G. Reisinger (brother of Ernie).

As I typically do, I read end first (the appendices in this case) and then started at the front. I have the middle bit remaining.

I'll take it with me to MN to finish it off, but I think he critiques well the covenantal & dispensational approaches. I'd be curious as to your thoughts on his presentation of the covenantal position in particular.

I mention the text because he deals greatly with the Abrahamic slooge in addition to the Mosaic vs. New action.