by J. Angus Harley
Welcome to All Things New Covenant. As evangelical Christians we believe in the centrality and exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his historical death and resurrection. We teach Christ and him crucified (see 1 Cor.2:2). We firmly believe that what is called New Covenant Theology (NCT) is the best model to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our aim is to serve the church, to clarify and promote NCT, so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ may go forward to the ends of the earth in the power of the Spirit unto the glory of God the Father.
Christ comes first. We are believers who uphold the triunity of God- Father, Son, and Spirit. But, it is in Christ Jesus, the only Mediator, that we see the Father and come to him (Luke 10:21-22; John 14:6; 1 Tim.2:5). The Holy Spirit magnifies both the Father and the Son (John 16:13-15), and as he indwells all God’s sons, we magnify the Father through the Son.
Consequently, NCT is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. No theology is an end in itself. If we are not drawn closer to God, through Christ, in fellowship, through worship and obedience, then our theology is about as useful as a chocolate ashtray. If our theology does not strengthen us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ to the Father, then we should retire and go on a world cruise. If our theology does not propel us to serve the body of Christ and to call out to an unrepentant world to seek God and believe in Christ, we might as well use our theological books to prop up our beds. NCT stresses that love to God and Christ is at the heart of the New Testament (NT) ethic. In the Old Covenant, the Israelites did not have love sealed on their hearts and that is why they did not obey God’s Law given to Moses. They broke the Mosaic Law the very first day it was given and thereby broke their covenant with Yahweh (Exo.32). Unlike Israel, the church has the love of God poured out in their hearts by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (Rom.5:5). The church does not have to force itself to love God and his Son, for it is sealed upon the heart. Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:7-13 put this another way: the new law of God is written on the hearts of God’s true Israel, the church. Therefore, the love of God and of his Christ springs from them in a natural flow of obedience and gratitude. So, what should mark out New Covenant believers is love to God and to his Son (Luke 10:27-28; John 14:15, 21), love to their Christian brothers and sisters (John 13:34), and love to their worldly ‘neighbors’ (John 3:16).
NCT magnifies Christ. NCT is at heart a way of reading the bible, the fancy name for this is, ‘hermeneutic’. The NCT way of reading the bible (the NCT hermeneutic) says that the NT has priority when reading and interpreting the bible. This entails that the NT has priority when constructing theology. Why? Because the NT teaches us about Christ in his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and heavenly ministry. The NT tells us that the Old Testament (OT) was a signpost to Christ himself. If you would understand what the OT was all about, you have to listen to what the NT teaches about the OT. Jesus declared in Luke 24:44-47:
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. [NIV]
1) The OT Scriptures were not an end in themselves. 2) The OT is understood properly only if we recognize that the Messiah suffered and died, rose from the dead on the third day, and the message of the Gospel, subsequently, went forward to the nations. 3) Therefore, the disciples had their minds opened to understand the OT in the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Read the book of Hebrews. Every chapter is jam-packed full of the NCT ‘hermeneutic’ and theology. What is the Sabbath? Should we go back to the OT to find out? No way! Hebrews 4 teaches us that the Sabbath of the OT was a picture of the heavenly Sabbath, or rest, that awaits the people of God when they reach heaven. What about the sacrificial system of the tabernacle/temple? What was that all about? Read Hebrews 9:11-28. Christ is described as the Great High Priest who offered himself up as a sacrifice to God. The OT sacrifices could not remove sin. Christ’s sacrifice did. And this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the book of Hebrews’ NT reading of the OT is concerned. The NCT hermeneutic safeguards the primacy of Christ.
NCT is the best lens for magnifying Christ. Some evangelicals are dismissive of NCT because it has no pedigree or tradition and because it lacks the breadth and scope of scholarship that is required to be a viable theological force.
It is true that NCT studies are, when compared to other theologies, a mere youth. Nevertheless, throughout history, here and there are examples of groups and individuals who have espoused NCT principles. When all is said and done, because NCT is a result of exegesis, we, the NCT community, are representing the apostolic teaching. So, NCT followers should not feel small, insignificant, or afraid. I am a scholar. But, quite frankly, I do not care for scholarly elitism. Scholars are mere tools, gifts to the church. I remember Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the famous Welsh evangelical leader, saying that we should never be afraid of men of higher status. What you need to know of Lloyd-Jones was that he was the assistant to Lord Horder, the doctor to the Queen of the UK. So, Lloyd-Jones was perhaps the heir-apparent to the job of royal physician. Yet, he saw right through all the royalty, peerage, and status- ‘they’re just men!’ I personally thank God that it is ‘small’ men and women, the unknown ones, that God is using to spread NCT. God considers these believers great warriors in the faith. We are content to be servants and not lords. NCT is being pushed along by a wave of ordinary Christians who hunger for righteousness. Was it not but a moment ago that our President, Donald Trump, was laughed out of the studio for having no earthly chance of winning the presidency? How did he win, then? He did not win because of what the elites and pundits said. He won because ordinary folks, the ignored, rose up and had their say. That is why NCT must be a fully-orbed church movement and not merely a theological paradigm.
This is not to suggest that other theologies, such as Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, have no truth in them, or are devoid of scholarly and godly men. Many great men have come out the ranks of those theologies, none greater than John Calvin. Therefore, it does us no credit as NCT followers to trash the opposition, or to ignore their merits and value. Indeed, we are all sinful and will carry error with us into the grave. As NCT believers we believe in the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, so that we must to work out our salvation with fear and trembling and consider others before ourselves (Phil.2:3-4, 12).
Even so, as NCT followers we put Scripture before Dispensational charts and Covenant Confessions. Tradition is not our watchword. Christ is! This is not to say that as Christians NCT adherents have no theological traditions, after all, there is nothing more traditional than the doctrine of the Trinity. It is merely to maintain that tradition in itself is not our foundation. We are not beholden to the 1689 LBCF, or the WCF, or Calvin’s Institutes, or John Nelson Darby’s Bible, or Dispensational timelines. It is therefore incumbent upon the NCT community, as followers of Christ, to show a Christ-like spirit even when trashed by evangelicals. It never ceases to amaze me how John G. Reisinger- a man I never had the pleasure to meet- came under scrutiny and the most profound theological criticism, yet he always responded in Christ-like humility, and his weapon of defense was the Scriptures. Amen!
There is a vast land for NCT to explore. NCT might have stepped out of the shadows of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, but NCT is its ‘own man.’ We are not indebted to these theologies. Nor should we forever define ourselves over against them. The early pioneers of the United States plunged themselves into new and unknown territories, and from their efforts arose this great nation. As the NCT community, we have only scraped the surface as far as the development of our theology is concerned. We need more and bold pioneers of NCT who will be brave enough to develop NCT for Biblical and Systematic theologies, for church life and worship, and for all other areas of Christian existence. We need not be looking over our shoulders worrying about what others think of us but must push on in the NCT ‘trail.’
So, not only in hermeneutics and dogma, but in living, serving, and suffering, too, the NCT community has the opportunity to show that NCT magnifies God and his love to us in Christ. Let us press on and do so, until we, as pilgrims, reach our promised Sabbath with Christ Jesus our Lord.