Baptist Covenant Theology - What's New in the Revised Edition of The Distinctiveness?
by Pascal Denault
Baptist Covenant Theology
A Note from Broken Wharfe
Baptist Covenant Theology is a vital doctrine filled with glorious truth. We are thankful to Pascal Denault for allowing us to publish his helpful and honest explanation of the Revised Edition of his excellent work, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology. Many Baptists of a Reformed persuasion are astonished to discover that the differences between Presbyterians and themselves, relating to the doctrine of baptism, go past the subjects of baptism, to its foundation—covenant theology.
Many are content to be Calvinists who merely happen to baptise believers only. This contentment will not do. We must seek theological precision, not as an attack against our Presbyterian brethren, but as a clear expression of what we believe and practice, and why. Understanding our differences, in pursuit of theological clarity, leads to spiritual health and strength as well as mutual acknowledgement and brotherhood. Our differences need not divide us. Rather, recognising differences among evangelicals is one sure method of recovering lost ground as churches in our culture.
In this revised edition of The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology Pascal Denault has laboured to help the church in these matters. Moreover, he has been willing to make himself vulnerable to the church and the onlooking world by demonstrating his willingness to be teachable even after accomplishing such hard work. Let us all follow this humble example, which emulates the humility of our Lord. We hope you benefit from Pascal’s explanation of the Revised Edition. May we all continue to be revised by the great author and perfecter of our faith.
Baptist Covenant Theology - What's New about the Revised Edition of Distinctiveness?
Since my book first came out in January of 2013, I wanted to revise it. At first it was minor corrections and typos, but along the way came some important precision that I wanted to include in my work. I have written this blog post to explain what’s new in the revised edition of the Distinctiveness.
THE MINOR CHANGES
The minor changes (in addition to correcting typos) concern a small update of the bibliography with new works on covenant theology that became available since the first publication of the Distinctiveness. Also, thanks to the helpful remarks of Pastor Samuel Renihan, I have corrected some overstatement I had made concerning the views held by Particular Baptists as if there was only one common view regarding the Covenant of Grace and its relation with the Old and New Covenants. I did not revise the book to the point of presenting these other views held by some Particular Baptists, but I have nuanced some affirmations at least to acknowledge them. Regarding that matter, the readers will most certainly profit from the doctoral dissertation of pastor Renihan entitles From Shadow to Substance: The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704).
CLARIFYING SOME PAEDO/CREDO DISTINCTIONS
I greatly benefited from fruitful exchanges with Presbyterian pastors and brothers that helpfully critique the arguments I have presented. This brought me to a more refined understanding of the visible/invisible distinction of the church which led me to rewrite some areas of the book. Without endorsing the full paradigm of the normal paedobaptist mixed visible church, I came to a more robust ecclesiology and I think a more biblical and Baptist understanding of this important distinction. Also, I have modified some comments regarding paedobaptism that were perceived as being a little too harsh or unnecessarily provocative. I still wanted to offer a critique of the Presbyterian view, but in the irenic spirit of our forefathers. The readers will find, near the end of this revised edition, a new comparative chart that summarizes the differences between the Presbyterian view and the Particular Baptist view on the covenants.
REVISITING THE MOSAIC COVENANT
Finally, I was sharpened by a lot of discussions among the Reformed Baptist community that forced me to articulate a more precise and consistent covenant theology on some specific points. In the process I have rejected the idea that the Mosaic Covenant offered eternal life as an absolute republication of the Covenant of Works. I came to the understanding that the Mosaic Covenant was strictly limited to life in Canaan and was only typologically tied to the heavenly realities brought by the New Covenant. I had previously endorsed Samuel Petto’s view that understands the Mosaic Covenant both as an earthly covenant of works for Israel in Canaan and an absolute covenant of works for Christ to obtain eternal life. I still believe the former (Israel), but I now believe that the latter (Christ) is only typologically true. In other words, Christ didn’t accomplish the Old Covenant but the New Covenant which was set forth as a covenant of works between him and the Father (the Covenant of Redemption), the terms of which were prefigured but not properly stipulated in the Old Covenant.
The main issue, in my opinion, was that I used to blend the type with the antitype or the shadow with the reality in the same covenant by attributing eternal life as a promise proper to the Mosaic Covenant. I believe that this mixed approach to covenant theology is the essence of paedobaptism with its internal/external distinction that blends earthly kingdom with heavenly kingdom, Old Covenant with New Covenant, etc. 1689 Federalism, on the other hand, relies on the fundamental distinctions between Old and New, type and antitype, shadow and reality and, therefore, distinguishes between the Mosaic typological republication and Christ’s established New Covenant: typologically related, but essentially distinct.
This revised edition of The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology now reflects this view and I believe that this was Coxe and Owen’s view. Many brothers were involved in important discussions that led me to this clarification. I especially want to thank brother Brandon Adams who was very instrumental in that regard and I want to commend him for all his laboring for the cause of the Gospel by his defense of 1689 Federalism. The readers will find lots of helpful resources by visiting his website: www.1689federalism.com.
A Word from Henri Blocher
The French-speaking Baptists, at least those from Europe (as I am), often ignore the Reformed origin from which the Baptist faith emerged—the genealogical continuity is certain. The fine work of this French Canadian pastor on the theology of the covenant, or the covenants, which was elaborated by the ancient Baptist doctors debating the other Reformed theologians, vividly presents this rooting. It also highlights the bright skills with which these doctors debated; the Baptists had not yet retreated from the field of sound theology as they did, regretfully, in the nineteenth-century.
Pascal Denault is not unworthy of these remarkable predecessors. By a careful study, he is following in their footsteps, and he pulls out of an unfortunate oblivion forgotten authors from which I have learned much. With a sharp eye, he further refines their insight. I have particularly admired the precision of the systematic articulations and propositions put forth. Thus, the paedobaptist distinction between the substance and the administration of the covenant of grace is replaced by the credobaptist view of its revelation from Genesis 3 and throughout the Old Testament, and its establishment by Jesus Christ.
Pascal Denault also knows how to maintain suspense, maybe for some future studies. He titillates us, so to speak, with an unresolved enigma: How could the famous John Owen land that close to the Baptists on the covenant without joining them?
The debate continues, irenic as it was in the seventeenth century. I see no other book as suitable to enlighten it today. Thank you!