The Abrahamic covenant, part 3

This is the much delayed third and last part to a series summarizing Richard Pratt’s “God of the Covenant.” Parts 1 and 2 may be found here and here.

Twitter summary of this post: Viewing the Abrahamic covenant as conditional in no way undermines Reformed theology. RT has always stressed loyalty to the covenant as a precondition to final salvation for while justification is monergistic, sanctification is synergistic.

One of the reasons for Pratt’s essay is some in the Reformed world believe that in order to stress sola gratia the Abrahamic covenant must be seen as unconditional. This need not be the case. Hebrews 12:14 reminds us that ‘without holiness no one will see the Lord.’ Of course this doesn’t diminish God’s exclusive role in justification. The writer to Hebrews is reminding his readers that sanctification is synergistic – believers must persevere! This need not conflict with Reformed soteriology for Reformed theology has always emphasized loyalty to the covenant. As Pratt says, “the New Testament makes sanctification a necessary precondition for eternal salvation.” Please note that this is indistinguishable from what NT Wright says about Romans 2, but I digress.

There are three other topics that Pratt discusses in relation to conditions and Reformed soteriology: moral guidance, blessing/cursing and testing. For Pratt, the conditions offer moral guidance in terms of guiding those already justified into patterns of gratitude. Simple enough.

The blessings and cursing is a bit more difficult. For Pratt, the conditions of the covenant serve as the standard by which God blesses or curses his covenant people. We see in Genesis 17:1 that the Abrahamic covenant was conditioned on Abraham’s blameless life. Ultimately covenant blessings (both temporal and eternal) stem from loyalty to the covenant and covenant curses stem from disloyalty to the covenant. These blessings and cursing function differently in the lives of justified and unjustified persons. For example, temporal blessings for a justified man will signify the even greater eternal blessings he will receive for persevering in the covenant. Conversely, temporal curses for the unjustified foreshadow the even greater curse they will receive for their persistent covenant rebellion. Regardless, the design of the covenant and their attending conditions is to identify the attitudes and behaviours that lead to blessing and cursing.

The conditions of the covenant also serve as a means of testing God’s covenant people. Pratt defines testing as a divine challenge to obedience which reveals the true condition of our hearts. The classic OT example of this is Abraham’s vindication of being previously justified by his willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Similarly, the writers of the NT believe that members of the covenant must persevere to inherit final salvation (cf. Col. 1:22-23 and James 1:12). True saving faith always passes the test of a life of faithfulness.