- The covenant has been a popular metaphor in Protestant thought. it found its most thorough expression in what was termed covenant theology within the Reformed tradition.The idea of covenant makes particular reference to the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 17), in which God takes the Hebrew people as his people and promises to bless them, while in return they will live in obedience to God. In the 17th century, federal theology (a form of covenant theology) became dominant in British and American Puritanism. It maintained that God made an initial covenant with Adam as the "federal" head of the human race, which bound humanity to obey moral law (summarized in the Ten Commandments). Humanity fell into sin, thus denying the possibility of salvation via this initial covenant. Hence, God established a new covenant of grace in Christ who by fulfilling the law and atoning for sin became the new federal head of the race.In federal theology, everyone is viewed as living under the covenant of works (which requires obedience to the law), and condemned by the inability to keep the law. However, the elect are also under the covenant of grace. Thus, Christians experience the law not as condemnation, but as a guide to living a devout life. The logical conclusion was that God demands that Christian and non-Christian alike abide by the law, and the church has the obligation to call society to righteousness. The covenant also kept central the idea that God continued to interact with his people. Covenant theology underlay the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646-47), and was spelled out in detail in Chapter VII, "Of God's Covenant with Man."In the 20th century, federal theology came into conflict with dispensationalism, a form of theology that divided Bible history not into two covenants, but into seven dispensations. During each dispensation, God chooses to act differently toward humankind and demands different responses from people, both individually and collectively. Dispensationalism proved very popular in those churches (presbyterian, Baptist) traditionally rooted in Calvinism.See also Reformed/Presbyterian tradition.Further reading:■ E. M. Emerson, "Calvin and Covenant Theology," Church History 25 (1956): 136-44■ Renald E. Showers, There Really Is a Difference!: A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology (Bellmawr, N.J.: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1990)■ Geerhardus Vos, The Covenant in Reformed Theology (Philadelphia: K. M. Campbell, 1971)■ David A. Weir, The Origins of the Federal Theology in Sixteenth-Century Reformation Thought (oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.