Interview #18: Sam Renihan – Recovering a Covenantal Confessional Heritage + More


On episode 18 of our podcast, we interview Sam Renihan about Recovering a Covenantal Confessional Heritage. We get into the authors of our confession, why the 1689 chapter 7 “of God’s Covenant” is different than that of the Westminster and Savoy documents, and how we should move forward from here.

After that, we talk about some Reformed Baptist headlines and give you a preview of next week’s episode featuring Jeff Johnson on his book The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism.


Books & Sites Mentioned:

Headlines Mentioned:

Sponsor: – A wiki dedicated to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, commonly called the 1689, and theology in accordance with the doctrines contained therein.

Post-Interview Music:

Wintersun – Sons of Winter and Stars (Instrumental)

11 Replies to “Interview #18: Sam Renihan – Recovering a Covenantal Confessional Heritage + More”

  1. Could someone explain what is meant by substance and administration in reference to covenant theology? And maybe give an example of substance of old and new covenant and what is meant by administration in light of the two. Thanks

    1. This post (referenced above) may be of help to such a question: But here is an abbreviated answer. The substance and administration distinction has been used as a way of describing the relationship between the historical covenants of scripture and the covenant of grace. David Dickson (who wrote a commentary on the Westminster Confession) provides the best definition of administration. He says that it refers to “a diverse manner of dispensing and outward managing the making of God’s covenant with man.” From his definition, and a study of many other sources, there are two basic ideas behind the term “administration,” namely 1. dispensing, (getting something to someone) and 2. outward managing (the shape and details of covenant community life).

      Regarding the first meaning of administration, getting something to someone, confessional Baptists and Paedobaptists are agreed that the blessings of the covenant of grace came to the elect through the historical covenants of the Old Testament. But regarding the second half of the meaning of the word, outward managing, Paedobaptists will say that not only were the benefits of the covenant of grace made good to the elect through the Old Testament covenants, but that those covenants were the covenant of grace simply with different outward forms, that is, different outward managing. So you end up with Israel and the Church being the same body in their view (believers and their children) under the same covenant since Abraham. The change from circumcision to baptism is simply a change in administration, a change in outward managing. The substance (the promises of the gospel/the promises of the covenant) remains the same because it’s the same covenant passing under multiple administrations.

      Particular Baptists never denied the first sense. The confession says, “it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality.” The OT covenant were conduits through which the blessings of the new covenant (the covenant of grace) came to the elect.

      Particular Baptists did not deny the second sense either. They did not deny that covenants take shape in a covenant community and thus involve outward managing. But what the majority of the Particular Baptists rejected was the idea that the old and new covenants were really one covenant and that the progress of redemptive history was simply a difference in outward form of administration. They looked at scriptural language and said “The new covenant is not like the old. It is established on better promises. A covenant established on better promises is a different covenant from a covenant established on worse promises. It is not simply a difference in outward forms and community life.” Thus, the old and new differed in substance. In other words, they were two different things. And each had its own administration, its own form of covenant community life. In the old covenant, the natural seed of Abraham were included because the covenant was made with Abraham on behalf of his natural seed. In the new covenant, the supernatural seed of Christ are included because the covenant was made with Christ on behalf of his seed (note the confession’s connection of the covenant of grace to the covenant of redemption).

      The old and new covenants are two different things, substantially considered. But they are connected through typology, that is, revelation. The old revealed the new, and thus the substance of the covenant of grace was made known and apprehended through the old covenants but not by virtue of the old covenants. All who were saved were saved by virtue of the new covenant, the covenant of grace. That covenant was not established in time and space until Christ spilled his blood on the cross. What scripture distinguishes as distinct covenants cannot be redefined as one covenant under multiple administrations.

      For numerous reasons, I would argue that the substance and administration setup is unscriptural, unviable, and unhelpful. But it is ubiquitously assumed yet unargued by paedobaptists. It has become a weasel-word, if I may be so bold. It is a catch-all that is supposed to account for the diversities of the covenants when in fact the category itself is untenable and virtually meaningless. Ask paedobaptists what “administration” means and see how well the foundation of their system is defined and defended.

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