The Christ of The Covenants and The Christ of Social Justice

A little over 13 years ago my former pastor and the father of the woman I was then pursuing

gave me O. Palmer Robertson’s The Christ of the Covenants. I was an18-year-old “Young, Restless, and Calvinistic Baptist”… punk. Learning and accepting the five points of Calvinism, and being able to defend these points ham-fistedly, made me feel as if I had unlocked the Holy Grail of truth. I was in “the know.” In short; certified “cage stage.” I recall my pastor asking me about my thoughts on Paedobaptism in a local coffee shop near our little college shortly after I talked to him about dating his daughter. I confess that although I was polite and respectful to his face, I scoffed in my heart at the thought of being wrong about baptism. As it turns out, I was wrong about many things besides baptism. But this isn’t about baptism. Suffice it to say, understanding proper Covenant Theology (not to mention the continual learning of humility) laid the foundation for most of the theological sanctification that our Lord has been gracious enough to bless me with over the years. I do not agree with Robertson on everything, but his little book on Covenant Theology holds a special place in my heart. 

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I read the “Social Justice Statement” that was being shared all over social media, and I immediately knew this was a document I would not be signing. This is due to many reasons. Part of me was, frankly, put off by many of the initial signers. Men such as John MacArthur and Phil Johnson, though they have enormous mass appeal and garner much respect in the Reformed world, have a long track record of dualistically pitting the Gospel against justice. Because of this, the statement and the included doctrines, are not only an explicit denial of Christian Reconstructionism, Theonomy, and Postmillianism, they are an implicit denial of historic Reformed Theology. After reading closer, these pietistic ideas about the Gospel, justice, and even eschatological presuppositions came to the forefront. In the section on the Gospel, the statement reads;

“WE DENY that anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel.”

Compare this statement with what Dr. Robertson says about the Gospel.

“The ‘fundamentalist’ may conceive of the significance of Christianity more narrowly in terms of the salvation of the “soul.” Too often he may fail to consider adequately the effect of redemption on the total lifestyle of man in the context of an all-embracive covenant. That view results frequently in a by-passing of the responsibility of redeemed man to carry forward the implications of his salvation into the world of economics, politics, business, and culture. The total life-involvement of the covenant relationship provides the framework for considering the connection between the “great commission” and the “cultural mandate.” Entrance into God’s kingdom requires repentance and faith, which requires the preaching of the gospel. This “gospel,” however, must not be conceived of in the narrowest possible terms. lt is the gospel of the “kingdom.” lt involves discipling men to Jesus Christ. Integral to that discipling process is the awakening of an awareness of the obligations of man to the totality of God’s creation. Redeemed man, remade in God’s image, must fulfill – even surpass – the role originally determined for the first man. In such a manner, the mandate to preach the Gospel and the mandate to form a culture glorifying to God merge with one another.” – O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, 82-83

The significance of Dr. Robertson’s statement is hard to overstate. To define redemption and the Gospel only in terms of how man can be spiritually saved and go to heaven is to dramatically limit the effect of the fall of man. In addition to the pietists truncating of the Gospel, the pietists also radically truncate the historical view of Total Depravity. The whole of man is not seen as entirely and fundamentally depraved, but only the spiritual portion of man. Truncated Christianity will inevitably teach that man’s intellect, how he lives, his view of justice, society, art, government, science, is not fallen and in need of redemption. They are not “Gospel issues.” The sinfulness of sin is not practically seen as affecting the whole life of man. Only his soul is in need of redemption; therefore, the Gospel is only concerned with how one can be spiritually redeemed and go to heaven.

The historic teaching of Total Depravity is far different. The whole man is effected. Because of this, all spheres of life are just as totally depraved. This includes the personal piety of man, but also includes how the family functions, our views on the civil magistrate, how we look at work, what kind of art we make, how we study and implement science, how we educate our children, and more. Sin affects all of man and therefore all of life. The Gospel answers all of this, not just the problem of the spiritual man. The Gospel answers the problem of sin; all of sin.

All of man was corrupted in the garden, and all of man must be redeemed and transformed by Christ. The faith we have in the redemption of Christ is a faith for all of life because sin corrupted all of life. Redemption must cover all spheres of life or man is only left partially redeemed; the spiritual man is given a new heart and gets to go to heaven, but his natural life (including his intellect) remains fallen and lost. This is the result of reducing and truncating both Total Depravity and the Gospel. A sort of gnostic dualism that separates man into divorced segments is the only possible result. This dualism justifies an ardent defense of religious rites and practices on Sunday while the same people send their children to pagan schools Monday through Friday. This dualism explains a regular quiet time and Scripture reading while continuously voting for the lesser of two evils every few years.

When we contemplate the Gospel, we must do so in light of what the Gospel is redeeming. Historic Reformed theology, for the most part, understood this. The Gospel, yes, is about the redemption of the saints, but it is also about how man thinks and lives.

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