Progressive Covenantalism


Adapted from an interview given to Fred Zaspel on Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenant Theology.

Stephen Wellum:

At the heart of Progressive Covenantalism is seeking to understand the whole counsel of God. Now, of course all Christians want to do that, but we want to see how God’s plan from eternity past is one plan. His one plan of salvation – keep emphasizing that – is put together because it doesn’t come to us all at once. It comes to us, God has chosen to bring about his sovereign purposes and redemptive purposes, especially now in light of the fall, in history. In what we call redemptive history. So that’s the notion of progressive. So over time the eternal plan, God creates a stage and now unpacks that plan and unfolds and reveals that plan over time. What we are arguing here is that on the Bible’s own terms and in the Bible’s own categories we seek to understand how God has accomplished our redemption and made himself known. And covenants are a crucial category and ways that God has unpacked His plan across time so that to get at what his plan is and how the whole counsel of God sits, how it all reaches its culmination in Christ and the dawning of the new covenant we have to walk through that unfolding plan from creation to Christ.

From Adam and creation and the covenant that is there through Noah, Abraham, the Old or Israel’s covenants, also sometimes called Mosaic covenants, through Davidic, those of the main biblical covenants that form the backbone of the entire storyline of Scripture. And as we walk through each of those covenants the plan of God is given more clarity, definition, we begin to see where it goes. We begin to see various patterns and types, what we think of in terms of typology, persons, events, institutions, unfold step-by-step so that each covenant contributes to understanding the whole counsel of God. Then we see how all of those covenants from Adam to David, through the prophets as they look to the future and all of the patterns and instruction, revelation of the previous covenants is pointing forward now to the coming of the Lord and his king, the Lord and Messiah who is bound up then with the Lord Jesus, and also is unpacked in terms of father/son relationship so that son now comes, brings the new covenant to pass, culminate all of the previous covenants. We like to say that all the previous covenants are fulfilled, they reach their telos, their goal, their end, their terminus ultimately now in Christ in the new covenant age.

So revelation is progressive but within that the covenants are sort of the anchor points that define where we’re going.

The covenants are giving us step-by-step that unfolding plan. And obviously the God of Scripture gloriously is a covenant God. We didn’t make him that, that’s who he is. We have a triune relations (we wouldn’t call that covenantal per se) but I mean there’s triune relations, there’s self-sufficiency and personal communion within the Godhead. He chooses to create us, human beings, the whole world, he creates us in his image for relationship with him. I will be your God, you will be my people so obviously the covenant relationship describes how he relates to us as his creatures. The biblical covenant, step-by-step then unfolds this glorious plan before the foundation of the world. And particularly it’s a plan of redemption. So often in covenant theology they talk about the eternal plan of God as a covenant of redemption. That’s certainly appropriate.

Where we are distinctive is that we want to treat each of the covenants in their unique place in the plan, in redemptive history; see how the previous covenants relate to later covenants, how later covenants pick up the revelation of the earlier covenants. It’s sort of like, often described as a kind of mystery novel. You know, you need chapter by chapter 2 unfold in order for you to see where the end of the story is going. That’s how the covenants are the backbone, and contribute to the unfolding plan. And Christ comes as the head of the new covenant, the head of the new creation. He is a mediator, he is the great high priest, prophet, priest, king of the new covenant relationship now to a people and thus restoring what Adam lost in the first creation, the old creation, now with the new creation.

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.