Covenantal Response -- By: K. Scott Oliphint

Journal: Christian Apologetics Journal
Volume: CAJ 11:2 (Fall 2013)
Article: Covenantal Response
Author: K. Scott Oliphint


Covenantal Response

K. Scott Oliphint

I must confess at the beginning of this assigned “rebuttal” that I am going to have great difficulty “rebutting.” In reading Dr. Jason Lisle’s original article, I found myself, in the main, responding with a hearty, “Amen!” Thus, since I am supposed to offer a “rebuttal,” I am constrained to pick a nit or two, rather than to respond to anything substantial in his initial essay.

First, I am in full agreement that it is the position of Cornelius Van Til, among “presuppositionalists,” that is most consistent in its apologetic methodology. The reason for this is that Van Til was thoroughly Reformed in his theology and thus sought diligently to apply that theology to the discipline of Christian apologetics. This is one rationale, among others, that I prefer to label Van Til’s method as “Covenantal” rather than as “presuppositional.”1 The change of label is not meant to be merely terminological, but neither is it meant to be substantial. That is, the new moniker provides the opportunity to change some emphases

as well, but it is not designed in any way to change the substance of what Van Til himself set forth.

Because what Van Til was arguing had its roots in historic, Reformed, theology, it would be natural to delineate his apologetic approach simply as “Reformed.” However, there is a breadth and depth to the adjective “Reformed” that may make it too broad as a modifier for apologetics. I am proposing, in light of the above, that the word ‘covenant,’ properly understood, is a better, more accurate, more specific, term to use for a biblical, Reformed apologetic.

In attempting to explain a Reformed approach to apologetics — a covenantal apologetic — as well as to justify the change in terminology, we need a clear understanding of what is meant by the word “covenant.” For that, we begin with the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 7.1: “Of God’s Covenant with Man”:

The distance between God and the creature is go great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant.

We need to highlight the most important ideas in this section. First of all, we are reminded that, in the beginning, and quite apart from the entrance of sin, the distance between God and the creature is “so great.” But just what is this distance? Is it an actual spatial distance between God ...

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