Unconditional Covenants?

Pratt Jr. and his Mullet

     Here is an article from the patron saint of RTS Orlando, Richard Pratt Jr. I know there are several views on the conditionality of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. Pratt makes a strong case that both of these covenants were conditional even though their stipulations are not directly stated. Here is the conclusion to the article:

    In my estimation reformed theologians who argue that the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were unconditional are fundamentally misguided. Although we may distinguish the central concerns of Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants from each other and from other biblical covenants, there is little justification for arguing that the difference is conditionality and unconditionality. God’s plan for his kingdom has unfolded across history in a way that is unified. The one God of Scripture designed all of his covenants as administrations of his one immutable kingdom purpose. Moreover, God has granted the reception of salvation promised in every covenant through the same process in every covenant administration. His grace undergirds every aspect of covenant life and personal salvation. Yet, life in covenant with God has always entailed the condition of loyalty as the demonstration of saving faith.

    This continuity allows New Testament believers to benefit from all of God’s covenants in the Old Testament. The covenants with Abraham and David reveal much about covenant life and salvation in the New Testament. But the same is true of other covenants as well. God’s people have always been justified by faith in the promises of God in Christ apart from works. Yet, faith that justifies has always resulted in meeting the requirements of good works. Works of righteousness through the sanctifying power of the Spirit have been required in every covenant in Scripture.

-God of Covenant

      If you have time you should read the rest of the article. It is well done and comes from both a historical and a literary perspective. If this is true then it has some important implications such as: How are works related to faith? What is the nature of the new covenant’s “unconditionality”? I know that we all come from different backgrounds so I am interested in seeing how this article interacts with your current views.


8 responses to “Unconditional Covenants?

  1. Dr. Michael D. Williams from Covenant Seminary has this take on this issue, found on the footnote of page 36 of his book, “As Far As The Curse Is Found” – Great book BTW –

    “Thus I ten to think that the common distinction between so called conditional and unconditional covenants is not very helpful. God’s promise is always the guarantee of the covenant, and covenant always comes sovereignly from him, but we are called to live in its light. While some covenant episodes will emphasize human response more than others, the necessity of belief and obedience are always present in the biblical covenant”.

  2. If the Abrahamic covenant is conditional then why didn’t Abraham walk through the pieces of flesh? He wasn’t asked to make any promises.

    In the Mosaic covenant the people were to respond to the conditions of the covenant – knowing the blessings and cursings laid out for them. They said they would follow all of the terms of the covenant.

    We (Christians) are part of the Abrahamic covenant of promise for we have been grafted in to the tree.

    The Old Covenant (Mosaic) was completely fulfilled in Christ’s work on the cross, no man was ever able to keep the Mosaic covenant. It was given as a “child trainer,” to keep the Jewish people holy (set apart) until the time of Christ. His flesh was broken and He walked into the Holy presence of His Father and poured the blood of the New Covenant on the mercy seat in the heavenlies. We have become children of the promise, just as Abraham is, in an eternal, unconditional covenant that God initiated and He fulfilled. We walk through the curtain (His flesh) into the throne room of God with boldness, being covered by His blood. It’s all been done for us.

    We now have hearts of flesh – not stone.

    The problem comes in trying to say the children of Abraham have been “replaced” by the church. The Abrahamic covenant is still “on the table.” The three promises:

    1) He will be their God and they will be His people.

    2) The land is theirs for an everlasting possession.

    3) He will bless those who bless them, and curse those who curse them.

    These are everlasting promises for God did the walking, and God does not lie.

    I believe in understanding conditionality, we will understand the working out of His plan from the beginning to the end.

  3. Sorry, correction.

    1) He will make of Abraham a great nation.

    Remembering off the “top of my head” is not one of my strong suits 🙂

  4. richard pratt’s mullet is a sign of instant sainthood…everything he says is dipped in holy water from his beard…i love him, but not exactly sure what Kline would say.

  5. That is a cruel, cruel picture to post.

    Michael Horton’s latest, Covenant and Salvation, smashes this idea to bits. He marshals Kline, Jon Levenson, Michael Wyschogrod and even E.P. Sanders himself to show clearly that there are two distinct and different types of covenants in the ANE and in Scripture, and that the Abrahamic is fundamentally different from the Mosaic. Law is *not* Gospel, and it is pretty dangerous to confuse the two, as I read Pratt here doing. Plus, I’m not sure the rest of the article’s analysis is right (but I haven’t had time to read it carefully). Flattening out the two covenants into one is one of the major errors of the NPP and FV (for different reasons; and not to play guilt by association), and can result in various sorts of nasty personal, pastoral and political problems.

    Sorry for the alliteration and the lack of argument rather than assertion. Life intrudes.

  6. I felt okay posting that pic only because mine is worse.

    Matt thanks for responding. I really appreciate your input, but before noting that Horton’s new book smashes this idea to pieces I would suggest reading Pratt’s article a little closer. I think his view is a little more well supported than you think. Firstly, I would like to say, as much as I respect Horton, I strongly disagree with the Law/Gospel distinction that he makes. It exceedingly Lutheran in its tendencies and not historically reformed (or atleast Calvinistic). Here is a helpful article that I would like to suggest that at least questions the distinction.


    Secondly, the point Pratt is making is that yes there are differences between the covenants, but there are unifying similarities as well. Human loyalty/works of faith are involved in all the covenants. They are simultaneously unconditional and conditional in the same breath just as Zach pointed to in his comment. Although I have some disagreements with NPP and FV, they have some strong points to make about Sanctification. Sanctification is important and I think that some people do not hold to the historical view of Perseverance of the Saints and the Spirit’s involvement with that. I think this stems from the wrong understanding of the covenantal structuring. Anyways brother, I love Horton, Kline, and you. Read the article a little more because I think it stands up to Horton pretty well. Hope to hear back.

  7. Justin and Matt,

    Great discussion. First off, I love the fact that this blog represents different voices and schools. Good stuff…who can choose between Horton and Pratt. Well, maybe I can help since I went to both WestMin and RTS. Bottom line, these guys are both geniuses and, I think, are way more on the same page than off of it. WestMin folk are uber confessional and equally aware of the possibility of going FV/NPP. RTS peeps love the ‘lutheran’ emphasis on Justification but don’t want to loose Santification as necessary in the ordo just cause some cats are getting it wrong. SO, I agree with J and M, read Pratt, read Kline/Horton, and see the both/and through all this. If we base our fundamental understanding of covenant on the Pactum Solutis (eternal inter-trinitarian-grace based) informing the cov of works then it all gets clearer. Or maybe I’m indecisive and can’t choose between two former proffs that I have man crushes on…there…i said.

    May God keep us wannabe egg-heads humble and teachable. The more we seem to learn, the more we realize how little we know in comparison to God’s comprehensive knowledge. I think Pr/Ho could easily agree on that. T4G.

  8. Thanks JR—good stuff there. Your handlebars are far and away superior to the mullet and round lenses. If only his shirt was lavender. Once I get some spare time (ha) I’ll print out the Pratt article. Until then, here are some comments from the Reformers about the Law/Gospel distinction:

    Clark 1, Clark 2, Clark 3, Clark 4, Clark 5, Fonville.

    I think that Paul Helm’s discussion of Calvin and the ‘double grace’ Christ won for us is really instructive here, and am pretty sure that Horton, Clark and even Luther and Walther would stand on it: that justification and sanctification are inseparable, yet never to be confused. I simply cannot see how we can call a covenant of promise ‘conditional’ in any real, relevant, non-confusing sense if we make clear that we are discussing our standing before God.

    I am babbling now, likely incoherently, so I might have to ban my own IP from commenting. My thesis is due in 2 weeks, sorry. Plus, it’s kinda cold (-20 this morning!). Thanks for such great conversation, Richter. RTS has done you well, brother; and DSC is blessed to have you.

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