Letham Against the Covenant of Redemption

In his The Holy Trinity, Robert Letham levels a brief criticism against the notion that Christ’s salvation was but a revelation of a covenant made between the Father and the Son and not their very shared nature. Writing against Warfield, Letham states:

By the same token, we point to the obedience of the incarnate Son in the economy of salvation, reflecting his eternal relation to the Father in loving submission, in identity of being and equality of status. The faithfulness of God also undercuts the suggestion made by Warfield—only a suggestion, for he does not pursue it—that certain aspects of the relationship between the Father and the Son in the history of salvation may have been due to a “covenant” between the persons of the Trinity by which the Son submitted himself temporarily to the Father, intending to abandon such submission upon the completion of our salvation. If this were so, the Son could not have revealed God to us.

~The Holy Trinity pg. 401

Barth levels a similar charge against Cocceius. The Covenant of Redemption construct, if allowed to remain an articulation of a new relationship that was somehow added to the natural relation between the Father and Son, does not reveal God to us in salvation.

But what could be clearer than that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God’s fullness? God is love, and the love of God was shown clearly in the giving of His Son to die for the life of the world.

My suggestion is that we follow Murray and others in defining covenant as not a product of the will, but rather as relationship itself. The Covenant of Redemption can be preserved by making it one reflection of the divine fellowship. God’s covenant is simply His own self-revelation finding its fulfillment in Christ. Covenant is God dwelling with man. It is Immanuel.

Jesus Christ is the covenant.

This entry was posted in covenant, doctrine of God by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

7 thoughts on “Letham Against the Covenant of Redemption

  1. Thanks for the recent posts on the Trinity. I have been in some discussions about these things with some friends, as you probably remember from my xanga message a while back. It is tough to sort out a lot of these issues because there is so much out there on the Trinity. It then gets more complicated when you see all the different interpretations of what Augustine or Calvin or Warfield believed, and even what the writers of the Creeds meant. I guess that is just the nature of this doctrine. I have been wanting to get my hands on Letham’s book. Would you recommend it?

  2. Evan,

    As to your situation, I think I can safely say “Been there.”

    A general rule is to hold anything about the Trinity that was said in the 20th cent. under a certain level of suspicion. Lots of interesting stuff came out, but lots of really sketchy historical claims were made.

    As to Letham, I liked it a lot when I first read it, but I first read it before I had spent a lot of time in patristic studies. With that being the case, I have to issue some reservation with his understanding of “the Eastern view” of the trinity. He definitely follows some of the whole East vs. West stuff, and I think that is highly dubious.

    The best single edition that I’ve found, though it is academic, is Lewis Ayres’ Nicaea and its Legacy. That book has shaped my thought greatly.

  3. Amid the complexities of scholarly discussions of the trinity, have you found a simple treatment of the trinity that would be accessible to young believers? I am thinking of those that have neither background nor interest in theological study, but do need to understand the doctrine of trinity and why it is especially important in this increasingly religiously-pluralistic culture?

    How about a brief outline for a 50-minute SS class on the trinity, pitched at the level of your students in the Movie Class? What three or four main points would you try to cover as a stand-alone class on the trinity where theological reflection is not part of the life and experience of the students?


  4. Good question Ed.

    I’m horrible on the practical recommendations, but I do recall Donald Macleod’s little book Shared Life being quite good. It is brief enough to be accessible.

    I’ll have to think about SS material.

  5. Thanks Steven, that looks like a big ol’ book though. I am not opposed to reading something academic, but I am just a layman interested in theology and might get lost in a book like that. Though academic is it still accessible?

  6. Oh I don’t know. It is academic, and I suppose it would take some time to “get used to,” but it is certainly not as difficult to read as the some of the Protestant scholastic stuff.

    The Greek and Latin is all translated for you too, so that isn’t a big issue.

    The problem, again, is that so many weird questions and theories have been posed in the last century. This whole idea that the West privileges the one and the East privileges the three is a big canard, as well as the worry about “substance” talk.

    Letham’s book is a good bridge when it comes to the academic meeting the popular, but he falls into some of these very problems.

    The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature is a pretty accessible academic resource, though its concerns are broader than simply the Trinitarian stuff.

  7. I found that Ayres book on Google Books as a limited preview. From what I read so far it seems very good and exactly what I am looking for. Thanks again for the recommendation.

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