Reformed without Covenant Theology

I’m Reformed, but I’m also dispensational in my eschatology. After intense and rigorous study, I came to the pretribulational and premillennial position. I believe this is the most faithful to Scripture. I’ve noticed since I’ve been in many Reformed Facebook groups and some internet forums, that many Reformed (Presbyterians mainly) are very vocal about the fact that they believe you are not truly Reformed unless you also hold to Covenant Theology (CT) as an interpretive lens. I strongly disagree with the notion that you can’t be Reformed unless you adopt Covenant Theology (CT). I believe the 7 classical dispensations are a better interpretive grid for making sense of God’s dealings with man throughout history.

All the core Reformed distinctives had nothing to do with covenant theology. Covenant theology is a meta-interpretive grid put onto the Scriptures. You could swap it out with dispensations and affect none of the core Reformed distinctives. Reformed who say CT is essential to being Reformed are projecting their own theological-egotistic predilections to exclude brothers and sisters who are thoroughly Reformed and have 90%+ the same theology except for CT. It’s a modern old boys club and an uncharitable form of bigotry!

I highly recommend Dr. John MacArthur’s 6-part series: Why Every Calvinist Should Be a Premillennialist. You can listen to the audio and download it (MP3), and if you click on each message, you will find a link to download the PDF transcript of the message. Dr. MacArthur has been very brave and courageous in challenging a certain shibboleth, such as the essential nature of CT to being Reformed. He has gotten ridiculed and mocked for taking this stand. I believe his position (and mine) is the most truly Reformed since it’s the most faithful to Scripture itself, which most always be our prime source of truth. If you listen to or read this series, you’ll see Dr. MacArthur carefully exegete the relevant Scriptures and make a compelling case for why the premillennial position is the correct one.

It’s regrettable that some of the magisterial Reformers didn’t go far enough in shedding the bankrupt theology they inherited from the Roman Catholic church. One aspect is the amillennial position of eschatology. The early church had a majority premillennial position and this can be found in the Patristics. But, during the early 5th century, Augustine had written the influential book The City of God. This book taught amillennialism. It quickly became the accepted position of the Catholic church. The Reformers inherited this theology. Had they been even more thorough in challenging the assumptions and presuppositions of the Catholic church, they would have reformed their eschatology and returned to the early church position of premillennialism.

So what it boils down to is this: CT is a framework of biblical theology. Dispensationalism is also a framework of biblical theology. One can be thoroughly Reformed, holding to Reformed soteriology (the Doctrines of Grace) and the 5 Solas, and be premillennial in eschatology. I hope we see an end to this ignorance, bigotry, ridiculing, and arrogance of those Reformed who believe that you cannot be Reformed if you reject CT.

Reformed who say CT is essential to being Reformed are projecting their own theological-egotistic predilections to exclude brothers and sisters who are thoroughly Reformed and have 90%+ the same theology except for CT. It’s a modern old boys club and an uncharitable form of bigotry!

By the way, in case you are unfamiliar with dispensationalism here are some key points.

By saying I am a dispensationalism, I mean the following:

(1) I see a distinction between the church and the nation of Israel.

(2) I see a future for the nation of Israel.

(3) I employ a consistent literal historical-grammatical approach to Bible interpretation as my hermeneutic.

(4) The major theme in the Scriptures is the glory of God.

Also, by saying I am a dispensationalist I also believe the following:

(1) I do not see multiple ways of salvation in the Bible, sinners are saved by grace through faith (whether Paul or Abraham, cf. Rom. 4:1-5).

(2) I do not believe that some parts of the New Testament are not for us today (i.e. the Sermon on the Mount).

(3) I do not believe that Jesus may be our Savior without being our Lord.

Some prominent and well known Reformed who hold to dispensationalism include:
John MacArthur, James Montgomery Boice, Erwin Lutzer, Steve Lawson, Thomas Ice, John Hannah, Robert Saucy, and S. Lewis Johnson

Semper Reformanda!

3 responses to “Reformed without Covenant Theology”

  1. James Montgomery Boice was publicly accused by John Gerstner of being a dispensationalist. Boice got red in the face and immediately denied that. I attended the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology where this took place between meetings on the platform at the front of Tenth Presbyterian Church (Philadelphia, PA), and heard this interchange. I believe that this was at the 1986 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology in Philadelphia: “Our Blessed Hope: The Biblical Doctrine of Last Things.” However, Gerstner was not one of the scheduled speakers that year, so I may have the wrong year, though millennial issues were very much on the schedule then. Gerstner’s conclusion appeared to be based on his connecting the dots from Boice’s premillennialism. He was known for doing that, often unfairly, on several issues. For the 1986 conference – including Boice’s message – see the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals Reformed Resources page at https://reformedresources.org/our-blessed-hope-the-doctrine-of-last-things-pcrt-1986-mp3-disc/. Based on that experience I think it is unfair to tag Boice as a dispensationalist.

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