Within the Scriptures there are eight major covenants or contracts between the Creator King and humanity. Of these contracts, six of them are given to thirteen individuals: Adam, Eve, Noah and family, Abraham, Phinehas and David. The remaining two covenants were between God and the people of Israel. Details about each of these covenants can be seen in the below chart. (This chart is a modified version of the one created by Bill Jackson in his book The Biblical Metanarrative.)
||Parties in Covenant with the Creator
||First Scriptural Reference
||Adam and Eve
||Noah and every living creature
||The people of Israel (including the non-Abrahamic descendants who left Egypt with the Israelites)
||2 Samuel 7:5-16
||The people of Israel and Judah
The reason I’m mentioning these eight covenants is that I want to talk briefly about a theological lens that focuses solely on these covenants. This lens is called Covenant Theology and is practiced by a large portion of Protestants. It first gained popularity during the Protestant Reformation through the teaching of John Calvin (1509-1564) and continues under the Reform or Calvinist movements.
Covenant Theology in its simplest form is a theological lens that sees two overarching theological covenants throughout the Bible, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The covenant of works basically states that if humanity obeys God, then God would give them the promised life of his Kingdom. If they did not obey, then humanity would receive punishment for disobedience. A lot of covenant theologians say that the covenant of works started with Adam and Eve and continued after the fall as the moral law engrained within humanity. The covenant of grace, on the other hand, states that humanity is to receive the promises of God through faith in Jesus the Messiah.
Both of these covenants are considered ‘theological’ in the sense that they are not explicitly outlined as such within the Bible. Within the Covenant Theology stream there are many, many variations as different groups seek to focus on certain parts of each covenant. There are also disagreements on how the eight covenants specially mentioned in Scriptures related to each other and/or either they fit within the two larger theological covenant systems. Some theologians will even add a third theological covenant called the covenant of redemption which states that God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit all agreed upon who they would rescue humanity from the bondage of sin, evil and death.
In contrast to Covenant Theology, Kingdom Theology is an enacted inaugurated eschatology lens with a focus on the Kingship of Jesus. Within this framework, the present time in which we live is caught between two ages – the Present Evil Age ruled by sin and death and the Age to Come, which is ruled by Jesus Christ into eternity. Through the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus (plus Pentecost) the Age to Come has broken into this Present Evil Age, existing together in a tension that will be removed at that last day when all is set right and God dwells among His people face-to-face.
The South African theologian Adrio König once said that Covenant Theology and Kingdom Theology are two sides of the same coin. And why that may be true from a purely theoretical theological viewpoint, I can’t help but think about how each system is applied to one’s life. With its emphasis on the covenants, it is easy for folks living under a Covenant Theology system to lose focus on the covenant Giver. Instead, people can (and have) become experts at knowing that rights and privileges are granted to them under one of the eight covenants outlined within Scriptures or the two overarching theological covenants. Covenant Theology also has a tendency to create a barrier between the Old and New Testament with the common church goer thinking that salvation in the Old Testament was based upon works (i.e. the covenant of works) while salvation in the New Testament was about grace (i.e. the covenant of grace).
Kingdom Theology, on the other hand, places the focus on the dynamic rule and reign of the Creator King and not so much on the covenant documents themselves. This shift in emphasis pushes one to know Jesus on a personal level rather than just knowing about the contract under which one lives. This personal relationship is, in fact, the core of the Messianic Covenant outlined by the prophet Jeremiah:
“It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” –Jeremiah 31:32-34
Through Jesus, we all have been given a royal grant of knowing the Creator King in an intimate manner. His laws or ways are now within our hearts and minds through the Holy Spirit and we are now his people and he is our God. This was the original goal when the Creator created Adam and Eve and it has continued to be the original goal. Through Jesus, we now have access to the end time reality of a passionate personal relationship with the King while waiting the day when we shall see the Creator face to face on the new earth when all is restored (i.e. the here and not yet of enacted inaugurated eschatology).
Though this may be too simple of a sketch of these two complex theological systems, I would like to suggest that the Kingdom Theology worldview does a better job at emphasizing and connecting people to the person of Jesus than Covenant Theology. This, please hear me, does not mean that folks who see the world through a Covenant Theology lens can’t or don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. Far from it! It is just that Kingdom Theology places the emphasis on the relationship with Creator King rather than on the covenants as does Covenant Theology.