Monday, October 18, 2010

Help Me Understand...

Over the weekend a did a bit of surfing the web (the weather was gorgeous and I spent most of Saturday outdoors enjoying God's creation).  Over at The Gospel Coalition I came across something that puzzled me.  Towards the end of an interview he did on studying the book of Genesis, Dr. Bryan Chapell, is asked the following question.  Below it I've posted his answer:

What are the major themes of the book of Genesis?

Surely, creation would have to be a theme of Genesis, then the fall—something went wrong. . . . Then provision: God is going to make it right again; a plan to do so; and a people through whom he will do it. Creation, fall, provision, plan, and people: God is, in essence, unfolding that gospel story.

There are many literary sub-themes in the book of Genesis—we’ll see principles of covenant; we’ll see principles of people; the establishment of the land for God’s people; the establishment of family.

I've underlined the phrase that confuses me.  One of the things that makes historic reformed theology different from say, dispensationalism, is covenant theology.  We believe that the structure of Scripture (i.e. its skeleton) is not different epochs or dispensations but divine covenants.  If anything, historic reformed theology has always seen "covenant" as a primary theme of Scripture -- not a literary sub-theme. 

Dr. Chapell currently serves as the president of Covenant Theological Seminary and he worships at The Covenant Presbyterian Church.  I don't think the founders of those institutions believed "covenant" to be a literary sub-theme. 

For those who think that I'm exaggerating you can read the entire post here: Studying Genesis with Bryan Chapell – The Gospel Coalition Blog

I don't have a good explanation for this statement except that Dr. Chapell is playing to the "evangelical middle" in this interview.  But, if appealing to The Young, Restless and Reformed crowd means that we downplay the core of our theological system, then we are giving away the store. 

For those who want to know what a more robust view of reformed theology looks like consider this essay:


Anonymous said...

You're reading way too much into that. Under Chapell's leadership, the M.Div. curriculum at Covenant has been overhauled to shape all the core theology courses in line with a redemptive historical focus. The first covenant theology course kicks things off and it is team-taught by people from the Old Testament and theology departments.

Anonymous said...

Right. I do think that is strange. Covenant Theology 1 & 2 is the core of the curriculum.

Sadly, in that class, they do not read any classic Reformed covenant theology. However, they will read quite a bit on modern epistemology and N.T. Wright.

In addition, they will be treated to a very poor representation of the classic Reformed view of the covenant of works. They will be taught to reject Adamic merit and a probation period.

You will also hear a rejection of the contractual nature of covenants and a denigration of the idea of merit in the covenant of works as anti-Christian. Michael Williams writes:

"I doubt whether the language of merit or contract can be other than self-centered. In that the category of merit invites us to think in mercenary, self-centered ways, placing worth upon one's labor and the reward to which one is entitled upon the completion of the labor or service, I believe that it is inappropriate for the depiction of the biblical covenant between God and man." "Adam and Merit"

Anonymous said...

Despite the fact that they have a different view of the covenant than you do, they still give the covenant a pride of place in the curriculum; that answers the concerns of this post.

As for the quote from Williams, it looks like one of the views that is pretty standard in the PCA.

By the way, I'd love to read that full article by Williams, what's the citation for it?

Anonymous said...

I don't know for sure where the above is quoted from, but my guess is a recent essay in Presbyterion, title something like "Adam and Merit."

I would also take issue with saying students in Covenant Theology read "quite a bit on modern epistemology and NT Wright." Most of the epistemology comes from lectures, Warfield, and Newbiggin. Also it's not that much NT Wright. And it's all from NT & The People of God.

Also, we are not "taught to reject Adamic merit and a probation period." We are presented a number of perspectives and are taught to think Biblically and critically about them. Naturally, the various teachers in the course have their leanings. The emphasis is more on how to approach the questions, not WHAT EXACTLY to think about them.

Dave Sarafolean said...

Anonymous 1 & 2,

Your comments underscore the reason I wrote this post. I think that we agree that "covenant" is more than a "literary sub-theme" to the book of Genesis. So why would Dr. Chapell say otherwise when he has the stage with The Gospel Coalition?

My post was not intended to stir up a debate on what is actually taught at CTS. I realize that there are a variety of views on "covenant" amongst the faculty. But now that you've mentioned it, this underscores the tension in our denomination over those who take issue with the WCF and its covenant scheme (covenant of works and covenant of grace). For now, all eyes are on Pacific Northwest Presbytery.

Anonymous said...

I still think you're misreading the quote. He's asked what the important things are, and he lists people, for instance, and later says there are "sub-themes" about people. He also lists "a plan" in the first part, and then says "sub-themes" about covenant in the second part. In other words, the important things include covenant, people, fall, redemption, and it also includes sub-themes about all those things. You're reading the debate about the nature of covenants back into this narrow question of whether he downplays the covenants. He doesn't. If you wanted to discuss the allegedly defective theology of covenant seminary, then this was simply not the right jumping off point because it leaves behind (and you reiterated this) the impression of an allegation that Chapell downplays the covenant.

Anonymous said...

Brother, I don't regularly read your blog but I think that you are reading WAY too much into Chapell's comments. Try to read them in the most favorable light. They are innocent till proven guilty.

Dave Sarafolean said...

I don't understand the need to post anonymously. Please sign your name.

I have not written to criticize Covenant Theological Seminary. I'm writing to pose the question, "Why does the president of that seminary shy away from what makes us distinctive among other evangelicals?" Engage with what is written and stop reading into my comments.

I think that we all agree that "covenant" is more than a "literary sub-theme" (and I believe that Dr. Chapell would join us in that agreement if we were talking around the table). Yet he is the one who publicly stated that it was a "literary sub-theme." How can I be accused of reading it uncharitably when we agree that is much more than that?