The following piece is not an attempt to critique Progressive Covenantalism (PC), or Reformed Baptist (RB), for it mostly summarizes Daniel Scheiderer’s article.[i]
Scheiderer is a Reformed Baptist. The title of his article is “Progressive Covenantalists as Reformed Baptists”. The reader will note that Scheiderer’s contention is far stronger than arguing that PC is close to RB, or vice versa, but that PCers ‘are’, after a fashion, RB. However, it is not until the last paragraph that Scheireder reveals that his title is “slightly hyperbolic”.
Another striking feature of the article is that it is in the Westminster Theological Journal. Apparently, the article is acceptable and agreeable enough that the primo Reformed journal published it.
One last aspect is of great importance. Scheiderer’s article was written during his time as a PhD student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a PC seminary. Scheiderer’s thesis is the pactum salutis, and he was doing it under no less than Dr. Stephen Wellum.
Using the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession as his touchstone, Scheiderer proceeds to show major covenantal commonalities between PC and RB. He acknowledges contrasts between the groups, but seeks to demonstrate that a continuous covenantal infrastructure is present in each model. Scheiderer focuses upon the covenants of works and grace, and the New Covenant (NC), and leaves the other covenants out for various reasons.
The first heading gives away Scheiderer’s common-denominator strategy, “Covenant of Works, or Covenant with Creation”. Plainly, Scheiderer feels free to impose the term ‘covenant of works’ on PC’s position. Long story short, PC has much of the same theology as RB as to the initial covenant, so that even though PC has some differences, both views are essentially the same.
The second heading is “Covenant of Grace”. Revealingly, there’s no attempt to qualify this title as before, so Scheiderer must be confident that PC will accept it. Scheiderer, using his common-denominator approach, cites Wellum as arguing that he is willing to endorse and utilize the phrase ‘covenant of grace’ as a theological convention, but not as a dogma as presented by Covenant Theology. Wellum is fine with ‘covenant of grace’, in other words, if it refers to the one ‘plan’- not ‘covenant’- of God that is manifested through different covenants, each of which builds on the other, eventually leading to the goal of Christ in the New Covenant. On the other hand, RB has traditionally limited ‘covenant of grace’ to the NC. Even so, to Scheiderer, both theologies are to all and intents and purposes conveying the same theology, but with little twists, for there is an overarching controlling concept (‘plan’) that incorporates multiple covenants under it, with Christ as the telos in the NC, a covenant of grace.
The third heading is “New Covenant”. Scheiderer argues for the vast similarity in content between PC and RB over the NC. Both groups maintain that it is the final covenant to which all other covenants pointed. Only the spiritual seed of Abraham, who have by faith embraced Christ, are members of that covenant. Consequently, the NC sacraments are for an exclusively regenerate population.
Scheiderer’s conclusion is less of a conclusion and more of a proposal for developing a way ahead for both RB and PC. 1) RBs have to recognize that many of the difficulties they thought they had with PC are actually with NCT. PC and RB have far more in common than they think. 2) Both groups ought to interact with one another in order to develop their theologies. For example, Scheiderer says that PC ought to utilize RB’s historical theology; whereas, RB should make use of PC’s biblical theology to support their historia salutis theology. 3) Rather than merely critiquing PC for abandoning historical positions, RB ought to recognize the common theology between PC and previous generations.
His view of NCT
Scheiderer laments that RBs have unfortunately lumped in PC with NCT. Scheiderer is aware of PC’s genesis, and how Gentry and Wellum pulled away from NCT altogether. Many of the objections aimed at PC ought to be directed toward NCT. NCT, for the most part, denies a covenant of works and Christ’s active obedience. Scheiderer cites Richard Barcellos’ work Getting the Garden Right as representative of a theology of the covenant of works that rejects NCT, and that essentially agrees with PC.
For Scheiderer’s article to be published in such a prestigious theological journal required that it was taken very seriously as a thesis by the Reformed academic fraternity. Most likely, too, he passed it by Wellum, or at the very least felt supremely at ease with his understanding of Wellum. Add to this that Scheiderer was in a PC seminary, and that his PhD supervisor was Wellum, the impression grows that even the elite of PC were taking his thesis seriously. Moreover, the way the article occasionally represents Wellum’s reaction to criticisms of his position is to create the very distinct impression that Wellum himself seeks to be identified as being more in agreement with the RBs and with CT than in disagreement. For example, Scheiderer said Wellum was exasperated by criticisms, and that he was looking for a “moratorium” on the title ‘covenant of grace’.
If Scheiderer is correct, then it would seem that PC is not midway between CT and Dispensationalism. Nor is it even midway between RB and NCT. It is, rather, RB, or, at the very least, it is so close to RB that they are part of the same in-house fraternity.
[i] Danel Scheiderer, “Progressive Covenantlists as Reformed Baptists,” in WTJ 82 (2020): 137-152.