Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dave Woolcott's Covenantal Approach to Understanding Paul

This is a copy (in gray text) of main comment no. 7 by Dave Woolcott found in the comments section of my post entitled “A Response to Dave Woolcott's Critique of My View of Justification: Part One.” I thought I should repeat it here as I will interact with it in my next post. Dave has a covenantal approach to Paul, but I would want to contrast that with a salvation-historical covenantal approach.

Over to Dave:

Steve, sorry for any confusion but I was not meaning that a covenantal view of Romans is nonsensical, but rather holding to the law in Romans being only the Mosaic law. I will try and briefly explain my view to see if it helps. By the way, I have not gven up trying to understand you yet!

My understanding of Romans (I have not looked at Galatians as closely but see many similarities) is that Paul is not just dealing with the Mosaic law, but all ‘law’. I do not believe that there is more than one covenant and follow Bill Dumbrell’s understanding of God ‘causing his covenant to stand’ rather than beginning a new covenant at each new mention of covenant. As a result, Romans is to do with circumcision, the Mosaic law, the law written on the hearts of Gentiles (all people). So when I see Paul talk about the works of the law, yes I can try and narrow it down to speak of a specific covenant or law (e.g. Romans 7:7 would appear to be Mosaic), but if I say that the truth Paul is speaking is only relevant to the Mosaic Law, then I have reduced the impact of what Paul is saying too much. After all, Romans 7:7 is an example of how any law (be it written in our hearts or on tablets of stone) when combined with our flesh leads to sin and death.

To me, this is keeping a true covenant paradigm, because wherever there has been covenant, there has been law, and what Christ has done impacts all of this covenant (or covenants according to your view).

Now, to explain my view further, I think you are right when you say, “Paul presents a powerful and devastating argument that the Mosaic covenant was not able to bring the fullness of salvation to Israel. In fact, it made things worse, simply compounding the problem of sin in Adam that Israel also shared in.” I just do not see why you limit it to the Mosaic Covenant. Has there been any covenant (in your multi-covenant view) that has not made things worse? Paul also makes statements that are true for any law (Romans 7:14-20) and makes it clear that no one has been free from the impact of ‘law’ with flesh (Romans 2:14).

Paul makes it clear in Romans that no one will ever be righteous following the law (except Jesus ) because the law, combined with our flesh only brings sin and death. I believe that the wretched man in Romans 7 is not a comment on Paul or anyone else as a believer or non believer, but rather someone in the flesh. And being in the flesh, for Paul is something that is true for believers and non believers alike. As Paul says, the law increases sin, because of our flesh. BUT – in Christ we are released from the law (it is met in Christ). We are no longer slaves to sin, because the law, with its negative influence on us is dealt with. BUT – are we free to abuse this grace? No. Rather we are to take on the new commandment, the only debt that remains outstanding (Romans 13:8-10). As it happens, this new commandment is what has been at the heart of the ‘law’ since Adam was a boy! I find it rather ironic – we could not keep the law, so Jesus released us from the law – so we could keep the law!

This is why I so strongly stress that our ’slavery to righteousness’ comes as a result of what Christ has done. It is not helpful to say to believers that they must live out righteousness if it is not within the context of what Christ has done. To do so is to simply place them again under law, meaning that sin and death will have power again.

I also believe that my view is truly covenantal!

I would love you to explain your view as I have with mine above (I hope it was clear!). I would love to know from your perspective how you view law before and after Christ and how this interacts with living as a believer.

I hope this has been helpful!

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