Tabletalk Rewrites the Covenant

March 2004

The February 2004 issue of Tabletalk, a monthly magazine published by Ligonier Ministries, contains a lethal misrepresentation of the Covenant of Grace. In its February 18 "devotional," we read these words:

"The book of Hebrews uses this story [of ancient Israel] as a basis for warning Christians to persevere, thereby proving that the new covenant can be broken as well [as the Mosaic could]....

"The fact that Hebrews gives real warnings and teaches that the new covenant can be broken might seem strange to those of us from a Reformed background. After all, are not the elect secure in their salvation? Surely it is not possible for the elect to lose their salvation?... How then can these warnings be real?

"The answer lies in the concept of covenant. When God makes a covenant, He makes a covenant with both believers and unbelievers, with both the elect and the reprobate.... Human beings are responsible to keep the covenant...."

Nothing could be further from the truth. First, Hebrews says that the new covenant is better than the old Mosaic covenant:

"But now he [Christ] has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as he is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises [than the Mosaic covenant]. For if the first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second."

Second, the new covenant, says Hebrews, is better because it cannot be broken:

"I will put my laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people. None of them shall teach his neighbor and none his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them " (Hebrews 8:10-11).

There is no possibility of these things not happening: "All shall know me."

Third, God does not make the new covenant, the Covenant of Grace, with both the reprobate and the elect, despite what Tabletalk says. The Covenant is made with the elect only. Question 31 (and many other questions as well) of the Westminster Larger Catechism makes this perfectly clear:

"Q.31 With whom was the Covenant of Grace made?

"A. The Covenant of Grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed."

In the new and better covenant, God the Father made an agreement with God the Son, Jesus Christ. Acting as the Mediator, as the Representative and Substitute for his people, the elect, Jesus Christ fulfilled all the conditions of the Covenant of Works that Adam had failed to fulfill. Jesus procured all the blessings of salvation for his people, and that salvation he gives to them all as a free gift.

What Tabletalk is teaching is false doctrine. Tabletalk's covenant is the basis of the Antichristian Neolegalism that is sweeping through Reformed churches. This false covenant does not recognize the role of Christ as Mediator. Instead, it requires believers to fulfil unspecified conditions of the covenant in order to keep their salvation. In this false covenant, there is no room for Christ as the Substitute for and Representative of his people, who alone met the conditions the holiness of God requires for salvation: perfection. In this false covenant there is no room for Christ as Savior. In this false covenant, the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness as the necessary and sufficient ground for salvation of sinners is denied. In this false covenant, sinners are told that they themselves must meet the conditions of salvation, the "obligations of the covenant," and by their own "covenant faithfulness" obtain the blessings of the covenant.

If they love the brethren and the truth, the writers, editors, and publishers of Tabletalk must issue an immediate apology to their readers, and a correction and retraction for these false statements. Their failure to do so will justifiably cause many more to doubt the doctrinal soundness of Tabletalk. For three years Tabletalk gave Douglas Wilson, a proponent of Neolegalism, a platform for his views; now the magazine is giving George Grant, a featured speaker at the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (which is the primary source of Neolegalism in the PCA), a platform for his views.

When taken to task two years ago for saying in Tabletalk that Peter was the head of the church, the editor of Tabletalk refused to issue a correction or retraction to his readers. So the magazine's record is not good.

The question we must ask is, Will Tabletalk repudiate Neolegalism and its proponents, or will it continue to teach it and to give the proponents of Neolegalism a platform?

John Robbins
The Trinity Foundation
March 4, 2004

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