Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Various Branches of New Covenant Theology

via Christ, Our Covenant by Steve Fuchs on 2/28/09
Like other systems of theology, there are various branches of New Covenant Theology (NCT). Although all proponents of each branch believe Christ fulfilled the Old Covenant (OC) Laws perfectly in his person, and insist on faith in his work and person for salvation, there are at least 4 branches of NCT that can be distinguished from one another.

This analysis is relatively brief in its attempt to give an overview of the current strains of NCT, some of which you may already be familiar with, and some you may not. In particular, its purpose is to identify this blog's strain -Picture-Fulfillment NCT- within the overall NCT dialogue, along with some of the names associated with each branch. It is *not* an exhaustive description of NCT nor of the individual branches, but in 'Cliff Notes' fashion attempts to highlight meaningful distinctions between them as a service to those outside (and in) who may be confused when they hear about New Covenant Theology.

It should be noted that although it was unintended, the order they appear below happens to reflect a relative ordering (at least in the traditional sense) from least continuity to greatest.
In addition, the descriptors in bold italics are not officially embraced by the NCT community, but are used here for clarification.

Statutes NCT (Greg Gibson)
…is a kind of Abolish/Replace hermeneutic in which the commands in the NT are seen to be The Law of Christ which totally replace the Decalogue and all OT statutes. The nature of Law as a list of codified statutes remains identical, while the statutes themselves change and are not as binding because of Christ. This is not unlike Covenant Theology in that it clings to statutes for a rule of life, albeit focuses on an entirely different set of statutes - a radical discontinuity.
The basic message is "Obey the NT commands; they totally replace the OT commands."

Subset NCT (Steve Lehrer)
…as portrayed in his book, this branch emphasizes that only those statutes repeated in the NT still carry weight for the NC child of God. Those not repeated are ignored unless covered by another principle that is repeated.
For instance, marrying one's sister is ok provided it's not illegal, since it is not repeated in the NT texts.
The basic message is: "The NT alone determines NC righteousness primarily as a subset of the OT definitions."

Classic NCT / New Law Giver NCT (John Reisinger, Jon Zens, Gary Long, Tom Wells, & Fred Zaspel)
… NCT is a term originally coined by Jon Zens, who along with Reisinger, Long, Wells and Zaspel laid the recent foundations of New Covenant Theology through their respective books and Reisinger's Sound of Grace online ministry. There may be subtle differences in the perspectives of these 'fathers' of the NCT movement, but most are not significant. Reisinger's book 'In Defense of Jesus – The New Law Giver' offers the most direct defense against the idea that NCT is antinomian. In it he emphasizes Jesus as the New -and ultimate- Lawgiver who replaces Moses in both position and authority because He is God. Jesus is not just another Administrator; he is not just another Moses. He is God, and thus has power to author righteousness in his covenant, whereas Moses was only a messenger.
In this branch of NCT, some characteristics of righteousness (ie Polygamy) may be unique to each particular covenant because Jesus has the authority to add or remove them. Thus, in the NC some elements are added, some are subtracted, though many are preserved. The focus is on the New Law Giver rather than statutes, and the Law of Christ as a rule of life is not precisely codified beyond Love God and Love neighbor.
The basic message is: "Obey Christ, not Moses – Christ is the ultimate Law Giver and the Law has been authored by Him for this Covenant in which He has full authority."

Picture-Fulfillment New Covenant Theology (see below for list of proponents)
…This branch grew out of the genesis of Zens', Reisinger's, Long's, Wells' and Zaspel's Classic NCT and is spreading within the larger community primarily via the Sound of Grace.

More-so than any other branch, Picture-Fulfillment NCT maintains a clear appreciation for what the confession framers were grasping at in regards to an everlasting moral aspect of God's righteousness. However, unlike their CT brethren, advocates of Picture-Fulfillment NCT do not see the codified Decalogue as the fullest expression of that righteousness to man, nor the standard to which Christ is conforming His own. Rather, this branch sees God's inherent (& unchanging) righteousness now fully revealed through a NEW SORT of Covenant/Law.
Whereas the OC/Law was a type or shadow of His righteousness pictured in words and letters, the NC is the antitype or substance of His righteousness reflected by the former. The NC is the fulfillment of the OC picture - the antitype of the OC types.

Noting in Isaiah 42:6, 49:8, & 55:3-4 that the New Covenant was not promised as another tablet or code of statutes, but a person - the Suffering Servant, the question became – 'What does it mean for the incarnate Son to be THE New Covenant/Law of Christ?'
To answer, one has to acknowledge that it is common for God to anthropomorphize abstracts such as the WAY, the TRUTH, the LIFE, the LIGHT of men, etc. in the person of Christ, and most shockingly it tells us He was the WORD of God incarnated! (John 1). Further, we learn from scripture that this living WORD is now indwelling His people as the Spirit of Christ written on their hearts (Ezek 36:26-7) who causes them (like a King who is the Law) to walk in His ways and obey God's righteousness. This is achieved by giving them a new spirit – a new self – a new nature, bound up in union with Himself.
With this incarnation of God's New AND Everlasting Covenant, the entire OT in all of its covenants and statutes; the whole of the Law and Prophets; including but not limited to the Decalogue become types and shadows of Him, for He is the substance they reflect. His Righteousness is not a Standard by which God lives. Righteousness is a description of His perfect nature. HE himself is the Standard, not the codes. The codes were mere shadows of the things to come, but Christ is the substance of God's nature revealed in human life – God's Righteousness fully expressed in living flesh.
Col 2:9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; ... 16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (NASB)
There is much that could be said about this, but the emphasis is on OC types being pictures of Christ rather than themselves being the substance of God's Righteousness, because Christ IS that Substance (Col 2:16-17). As such, all is fulfilled in and by Christ in two distinct but necessary ways:
  1. The OC types/pictures of righteousness (all the OT law and prophets and covenants), including the reality behind them were fulfilled in and suffered by christ on behalf of His own, but that's not the full extent of it…
  2. The NC Substance of perfection (which the OC merely shadowed) is fulfilled/and being fulfilled (already/not yet) within God's people by virtue of their union with Christ and by way of His indwelling them. God's children will not be made perfect in the likeness of a code like the Pharisees. They are not being conformed to the image of a Law of Letters, but to the image of Christ himself, the Law of the Spirit. This transformation into His very image comes by way of His indwelling and becoming ONE with them in spirit. Through that intimate union they are not only counted as perfect, but are being made to be perfect as their Heavenly Father is perfect. This is an often overlooked part of fulfillment as communicated by 'I did not come to abolish the Law, but to FULFILL it'.
    The very SUBSTANCE of God's Righteousness must be fulfilled in them by Him. He fulfilled the substance of God's Righteousness FOR them in His incarnate body and suffering, but He is also fulfilling the substance of His Righteousness IN them by way of indwelling union – this Spirit of Christ indwelling them as a down payment in the 'already' functions as the law of the Spirit effectively transforming them for the 'not-yet.'
So then, what's NEW is the nature of covenant/law. The New and Everlasting Covenant is a person (Isa 42:6,49:8), Jesus Christ, rather than a new or modified document. He is a new administrator, but the covenant he administers is not of the same sort as the one Moses administered. It's no longer a shadow in the form of codes. He is now the substance of perfect righteousness becoming one with them to give them a new nature/spirit identical to His own.
  1. While the OC reflected God's Righteousness to them in the shadows of words and letters...
  2. Christ revealed the substance of His Righteousness in the flesh and suffered its consequences on their behalf, so that...
  3. Now Christ's Spirit is transforming them into the very image of His righteousness making them perfect by nature. Fulfilling the substance of God's righteous nature in His people's hearts. "I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill" begins with living it in His own flesh even to the cross, but this fulfillment includes bringing the substance of God's Righteousness to reality in them as well. Something codes could never do. He fulfills it both for them unto forgiveness, and in them unto perfection.
How then do we know what we are to behave like and what is sin? What is the rule of life?The NT calls for obedience, but it is more indicative than imperative. The Sermon on the Mount, the upper room discourse, the exhortations in the epistles -- especially Pauline -- on walking in the Spirit, fruits of the Spirit, and other teachings of Christ and the Apostles show us what the Spirit is doing in us as shadowed by the entire Law and Prophets and made substantive in Christ. The NT expresses how we Joyfully walk with assurance toward one day being perfectly transformed into His likeness – a likeness brought about by way of an indwelling oneness to be fully consummated on the wedding day.
The basic message of Picture-Fulfillment NCT is: "Joyfully be what you ARE and walk – better yet run - like Christ toward the substance He is transforming you into. You are being conformed into HIS image, not the image of a Decalogue."
Steve Fuchs – 2008
(Below is a list of persons who, as of this posting, recognize Picture-Fulfillment NCT as a part of the broader NCT community. They have added their names here as part of a growing list who agree with Picture-Fulfillment NCT in many, if not all regards, most particularly that Christ is the New and Everlasting Covenant promised by our Father in heaven.)

Moe Bergeron – SOG moderator; Pastor at Sovereign Grace Fellowship, Boscawen NH - ; Originator of Piper's Notes online, Sound of Grace list (SOG), and SOG Online for John Reisinger

Neil Whitcombe - SOG moderator UK

Joseph Krygier - SOG moderator; Pastor at New Covenant Baptist Fellowship, Evans, NY - ; NCT think-tank conference organizer

John T. Jeffery - SOG moderator & Pastor at Wayside Gospel Chapel, Greentown, PA -

Chad Richard Bresson – SOG contributor; Pastor for Spiritual Development at Clearcreek Chapel, Springboro, OH - ; & The Vossed World blogger

Ed Trefzger - SOG contributor, Missional+Reformed & Of Whom I am the Foremost blogger

Kerry Kinchen - SOG contributor; Pastor at Bridgeway Bible Church, Bulverde, TX - ; & Author of the book 'Biblically Defending Salvation'

Matthew Morizio - SOG contributor & The Gospel Muse blogger

Josh Wood - SOG contributor

Dustin Segers – SOG contributor & Pastor at Shepherd's Fellowship Baptist Church, Greensboro, NC -; & blogger

David Painter – SOG contributor & Pastor at Covenant Baptist Church, Uniontown, PA

Shane Becker – SOG contributor, owner of &, & LiftedVeil blogger

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