How is all of Scripture for us? Aren’t we “not under the Law”? If so, how are we to think of the moral laws in the OT that are not repeated in the New? Some argue that Christians are not under the civil and ceremonial elements of Mosaic Law but that we continue to remain under the moral commands. Though such a conclusion feels right, the problem is that Scripture does not present a threefold distinction within the Law. Given the fact, who decides which is which? In fact, what we consider moral and civil and ceremonial are all found in the same sections of Law. Rather, it appears that the Christian is not under the Mosaic Law in its totality. This is the argument of Progressive Covenantalism. But does this not result in antinomianism? Wouldn’t it mean that Christians are lawless? Stephen Wellum wants to argue that, against some critics, Progressive Covenantalists hold that “Scripture’s ethical teaching is consistent across the canon because it is grounded in God’s unchanging nature and will” (p215). Over five steps, Wellum presents a Progressive Covenantal biblical basis for ethics:
1. All Scripture is authoritative
Though Christians are not under the Law as a covenant, it remains our Scripture, and thus requires obedience. How does that work? It “requires careful application depending on our covenantal location” (p217). For example, circumcision and food laws are moral laws, but in light of Christ, do not apply to Christians in the same way as they did to OT believers.
2. The Tripartite distinction is not the answer
The tripartite division is not built on Scriptural teaching. What’s more, the entire law-covenant was temporary (Rom 10:4; Gal 3:15-4:7; Heb 7:11-12). So it no longer is directly binding on the Christian (Rom 6:14-15; Gal 4:4-5).
3. The lens of Christ and the New Covenant is the answer
Though not under the Law, it remains Scripture. We must apply it to ourselves through Christ. Following Brian Rosner’s work, Wellum argues that the Law applies to new covenant believers as prophecy, instruction and wisdom.
4. Careful unpacking of the Bible’s storyline and categories is needed
It is not as simple as finding a command and carrying it over to the NT. But what of morally aberrant behavior that is not found in the NT? Are Christians free to do anything the OT prohibits, so long as the NT does not mention it? Wellum argues that believers do not reach this conclusion if they read the Scripture as a whole. The bestiality prohibition, for example, is naturally applicable to believers today in light of God’s original creation intention for sexuality. The OT Law simply makes this conclusion obvious.
5. Some examples of #1-4 in action
Sexual ethics, personal and social ethics are all examined through this rubric. This post cannot summarize this section fully.
Wellum is clear to conclude that most Christians would reach very similar conclusions, regardless of how they are reached. Rejecting the OT as irrelevant for ethics, and claiming that sections of it remain directly binding are both missteps that PC attempts to avoid.
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Many thanks to B&H Academic for providing a review copy.