The Five Points of Biblical Covenantalism

Obviously, I believe in the eschatology of victory. I wrote a book about it in 1981.16 Nevertheless, the biblical case for optimism can be overemphasized. Chilton knows this, too. He and I wrote an essay outlining what we then believed to be the four points of Christian Reconstruction: 1) the, sovereignty of God; 2) biblical law; 3) Cornelius Van Til's biblical presuppositional-ism (the Bible alone judges the Bible, not human logic); and 4) biblical optimism. 17 Postmillennialism is at most only one quarter of the message. But since that time, he and I learned from Pastor Ray Sutton that there is another even more fundamental doctrine: the covenant.

Yes, I know: covenant theology is as old as John Calvin, over four centuries old. But in the fall of 1985, Sutton made a stunning clarification in covenant theology, one vaguely hinted at by Westminster Seminary Professor Meredith G. Kline in the early 1960's, but never developed by him or his disciples. What Sutton discovered was that Kline's earlier discovery of a five-point covenant structure in Deuteronomy also applies throughout the Bible, and it applies to the three covenant institutions of church, state, and family.

Sutton presented his findings at a Wednesday evening Bible study which Chilton attended. Immediately, Chilton recognized the implications of this five-point structure for the Book of Revelation. He had become mired for months in the manuscript, looking for a key to unlock Revelation's structure. (I remember this well; I was paying his salary to write it.) Sutton's discovery of Kline's insight opened the door. Within a few weeks after reading Sutton's very rough 60-page preliminary manuscript that became That You May Prosper, Chilton had completed his long-awaited first draft of The Days of Vengeance.

Chilton's commentary on Revelation is a masterpiece, but it cannot be understood properly without an understanding of Ray Sutton's development of Kline's five-point covenant model,

16. Gary North, Unconditional Surrender: God's Program for Victory (Ft. Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, [1981] 1987).

17. Gary North and David Chilton, "Apologetics and Strategy," Christianity and Civilization 3 (1983).

for it was this explicit model, not Kline's vague one, that Chilton adopted for The Days of Vengeance. 18 (If Kline's outline had been that clear, why did it take over 20 years for anyone to write about its implications for New Testament theology?)

I will never forget that Wednesday evening prayer meeting at which Sutton presented his discovery. Chilton rushed up to the pulpit after Sutton's presentation and began asking him questions. It was as if a mental fog had lifted from him. He must have stood there asking questions for half an hour, and Sutton stood behind the pulpit and kept answering them. Sutton showed Chilton the pearl that had been locked tight in Kline's clamshell prose for over twenty years.

Sutton's breakthrough had the same effect on me when I reread my own manuscript on the Ten Commandments, The Sinai Strategy, which was published in early 1986.'9 I hurriedly wrote a Preface incorporating the five-point covenant structure (commandments 1-5 parallel 6-10) just before it went to press. This made me the first person to go into print with this outline, but as I stated in the Preface, I got the whole idea from Sutton. None of us had spotted what Sutton saw in Kline, although we had all read Kline's essays on the ancient suzerainty (kingly) treaties. Kline without Sutton produces confusion about the covenant model, just as Kline without Jordan produces confusion about biblical symbolism, and Kline without Chilton produces confusion about eschatology. (In short, "Kline without . . ." produces confusion.)

Here, then, is the five-point structure of the Biblical covenant, as developed by Sutton in his excellent book, That You May Prosper. The Book of Deuteronomy is structured around it.

18. Sutton's appendix on Kline explains why Kline's model is so vague. First, he misses transcendence, calling it simply the "preamble" section ofthe covenant. Second, he ignores the authority aspect of point two, calling it instead "historical prologue." Third, he does not discuss adoption in the third section ("sanctions"). In point five, he does not develop historical continuity and inheritance because his amillennial theology does not lend itself well to such concepts. Most important, he does not discuss this covenant structure in terms of historic Protestant theology. For him, developing the model is primarily a historical exercise. Sutton, That You May Prosper, Appendix 7.

19. Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics.

1. The transcendence and immanence of God

2. Authority/hierarchy of God's covenant

3. Biblical law/ethics/dominion

4. Judgment/oath: blessings and cursings

5. Continuity/inheritance

This may seem too intellectual, but after you have read Sut-ton's book, it becomes almost second nature. Let me put it in simpler terms:

1. Who's in charge here?

3. What are the rules?

4. What happens to me if I obey (disobey)?

5. Does this outfit have a future?

Simple, isn't it? Yet it has implications beyond your wildest imagination. Here is the key that unlocks the structure of human government. Here is the structure that Christians can use to analyze church, state, family, and numerous other non-cove-but contractual institutions. Gary DeMar shows this clearly in his book, Ruler of the Nations (Dominion Press, 1987). With this outline in your mind, you can begin to unlock the fundamental message of the Old Testament prophets and the Book of Revelation.

his insights concerning the covenant, Sutton completed the outline for a major modification of Christian Reconstruction theology. This modification has unfortunately become known as "Tyler theology," and we are stuck with the phrase, so far. (While its outlines were developed initially in Tyler, Texas in the mid-1980's, there is no assurance that this geographical identification will make contemporary sense in years to come, any more than Calvin's Geneva is relevant to today's Geneva, except as a fact of history and a tourist attraction.)

David Chilton's Paradise Restored and The Days of Vengeance are by far the most eloquent applications of this theological perspective in the field of eschatology. I doubt that they will be exceeded in style, brilliance, and relevance during my lifetime (if ever). I am biased, of course; I am one of the two primary publishers of dominion theology. (Geneva Ministries is the other, also located in Tyler.)

commentary on Revelation reveals that the entire book is a long worship service. As you read it, you begin to see the genius of the historic liturgy of the church. You also begin to see how far modern worship services have departed from the model in Revelation. If the church is ever to regain its authority in the world, it will have to pay more attention to the structure of the worship service. But most important, Chilton ties the structure of the worship service to the structure of the covenant. This is what makes The Days of Vengeance a classic. While his style is brilliant and penetrating, the great strength of the book is its covenant-liturgical structure. It will be remembered because of this outline, if only because the outline, once understood, is almost impossible to forget.

This does not mean, of course, that Chilton agrees with every jot and tittle of Tyler's version of dominion theology. He is his own man. He no longer lives-in Tyler, nor is he on my payroll. But what it does mean is that there are at present no more effective, path-breaking statements of "Tyler's" theological method than David Chilton's books on eschatology. If the dominion approach to the Bible becomes widespread, it should be remembered that it was David Chilton who first broke through to the Christian public at large with this unique system of biblical interpretation. This is another reason why this book is so important.

What should be an inspiration to any dedicated Christian layman is the knowledge that another layman with a bachelor's degree in history and only one year of seminary wrote two of the most important works in eschatology in the history of the church - perhaps the most important. It makes a person wonder: Why didn't some distinguished seminary professor write them? I believe the answer is simple: if distinguished theology professors write at all, they write mainly to impress other distinguished theology professors, and this is the kiss of death.

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