Evaluating Covenant Theology

By Sean Finnegan

Last time you learned what covenant theology is, today you’ll see the benefits of the system, as well as some of the problems with it.


OT: Old Testament
NT: New Testament
CT: Covenant Theology


eschatology: the doctrine of the end times


  1. Clean logical system
  2. Recognizes continuity throughout the history of redemption (cp. Westminster Confession of Faith 7.4-6)
  3. Takes Adam-Christology seriously
    a. Adam is the legal representative of the entire human race (federal head) who plunged us into sin and death
    b. Christ is the second Adam who likewise represents the entire human race who rescues us from sin and death
  4. Recognizes ongoing importance of the OT for the church today
  5. Follows the NT’s lead in interpreting OT prophecy (especially with reference
    to types)

Stephen Wellum: “[E]ven though Scripture describes a plurality of covenants, there is only one overarching covenant of grace.  That is why, despite the covenantal differences, one must view the relationships between the covenants in terms of an overall unity and continuity.”[1]

Westminster Confession of Faith 7.4-6
7.4 This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a Testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.

7.5 This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come: which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called, the Old Testament.

7.6 Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory; yet, in them, it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.[2]

Problems with Covenant Theology

  1. The three covenants are artificial
    a. The covenant of redemption, covenant of works, and covenant of grace never occur in Scripture
    b. Covenant of works has a lot of grace in it
    c. Covenant of grace has the works of the Law in it
  2. CT makes the Law part of the covenant of grace
    a. The system fails to see the dichotomy between works of the law and grace/faith through/in Christ (John 1.17; Galatians 3.23-25)
    b. CT makes adherents vulnerable to legalism (e.g. Puritans in 1640s England and Massachusetts Bay Colony)
    c. CT Fails to recognize the break between Jesus and the new covenant, on the one hand, and Moses and the old covenant, on the other (Mark 2.21-22; antitheses in Matthew 5; Romans 7.6)
  3. CT artificially splits the Law into moral, ceremonial, and civil components
    a. Nowhere in scripture is the Law divided up this way
    b. On the contrary, those who keep it, keep the whole Law (Galatians 3.10; 5.3)
  4. CT tends to ignore the eschatological component of OT prophecies
  5. Replacement Theology
    a. Louis Berkhof: “The New Testament Church is essentially one with the Church of the old dispensation. As far as their essential nature is concerned, they both consist of true believers, and of true believers only.  And in their external organization both represent a mixture of good and evil.  Yet several important changes resulted from the accomplished work of Jesus Christ.  The Church was divorced from the national life of Israel and obtained an independent organization.  In connection with this the national boundaries of the Church were swept away.  What had up to this time been a national Church now assumed a universal character.”[3]b. Even if CT stresses unity between Israel and the Church, Dispensationalists are quick to point out that CT does not see God as currently committed to Israel whereas (some) Dispensationalist ministries passionately support modern day Israel both financially and politically.


  • Bavinck, Herman. Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3 of Reformed Dogmatics, John Bolt, trans. John Vriend. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.
  • Dumbrell, William J. Covenant and Creation: An Old Testament Covenant Theology. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2013.
  • Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Philippsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013.
  • Golding, Peter. Covenant Theology: The Key of Theology in Reformed Thought and Tradition. Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2004.
  • Horton, Michael S. God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006.
  • Jeon, Jeong Koo. Covenant Theology: John Murray’s and Meredith G. Kline’s Response to the Historical Development of Federal Theology in Reformed Thought. New York: University Pres of America, 1999.
  • Lillback, Peter A. “Covenant Theology,” in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Martin Davie. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016.
  • Vos, Geerhardus. “The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” in Redepmtive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin Jr. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&J, 1979.
[1] Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), p. 84.

[2] The original text of 1646, from the manuscript of Cornelius Burges, Assessor to the Westminster Assembly, with the Assembly’s proof texts, as published in the modern critical edition of 1937 by S. W. Carruthers. Taken from
https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/westminster-confession-faith/, accessed
February 8, 2021.

[3] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans 1996), p. 571.

[4] Taken from footnote 75 in Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), p. 73.

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