The Leithart Trial: Dr. Jack Collins’ Defense of Peter Leithart’s View of the Covenant with Adam

The trial documents from the Peter Leithart trial are now available here.

Jason Stellman has begun to post some of the testimony from the trial here. I also want to post some of the testimony of the trial so we can discuss it here. I want to begin with discussing Dr. Jack Collins’ (professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary) testimony in regard to the covenant of works. Dr. Collins said that he found himself basically in agreement with Leithart on the covenant of works:

Leithart Defense: In your view, does Dr. Leithart’s view expressed as – – as expressed in the indictment contradict the teaching of Genesis 2 regarding the covenant God made with man in Eden and that – – that comes with, in a sense, a set of now predicable questions. Was there grace in that covenant? Was the fruit of the tree of life, often said to be the sacrament of that covenant, to be eaten by man in his innocence? Michael Horton, for example, has argued that Adam had to earn his right to the tree of life by his obedience. Comment in your – – on your understanding of the covenant made with Adam in the garden.

Collins: Well, I – – I find myself largely in – – in agreement with Dr. Leithart’s 8 discussion of God’s arrangement with Adam . . .

Since this seemed to be problematic, Jason Stellman asked him about this. I think he did a good job of getting at the heart of the issue, if perhaps relenting too early:

Stellman: Okay. I’m going to move on to the next issue brought up in direct concerning the covenant of works. And you’ve written, I’ve not read your books. Thank you for the plug. I – I – I will add it to my list of, my growing list of books I’d like to read, especially the one on the first four chapters of Genesis. Do you think that the prefall covenant, and I’m not going to use covenant of works, call it a covenant of life, or whatever. But the – – the covenant before the fall made with Adam, was it conditional and based upon Adam’s 14 obedience in a way that the covenant of grace is not? And – – and I’m – – here’s what I’m not asking ’cause – ‘cause – ‘cause when I ask this kind of question, usually the answer is 16 something like this. Well, there’s – – there’s grace before the fall, you know at least broadly defined, and there’s the nece- – necessity for obedience after the fall and those two things characterize all covenants. But – – but I’m not, that’s not what I’m asking. Because I’m going to concede that grace broadly defined was there before the fall and that obedience of the law of Christ is necessary after it. But my question is more narrow. Does the prefall covenant demand as a condition obedience on Adam’s part in a way that the covenant of grace doesn’t on our part?

Collins: Well, you have to be careful in your definition of the covenant of grace. I think the catechism thinks of the covenant of grace as having been made with Jesus as the head. And so there, I mean, there’s a parallel between Adam and Jesus. And so you want – – you want to be very, very careful in – – in your definitions there. And – – and again since 4 these terms covenant of works, covenant of life, whatever, and covenant of grace. These – – these are not terms that you find in the Bible. So that, you know, you – – so you have the – – the opportunity to, to exercise a level of arbitrariness in how you define these things. But the, the – – the reading that – – that I advocate of – – I’m not trying not to answer your question. I’m trying to understand your question, which – – which I’m not sure that I do. The reason the – – the reading that I advocate of God’s arrangement with Adam is that Adam is loaded with benefits, he’s – – he’s in a relationship with God and – – but but he’s not confirmed in that. And – – and the – – the job of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is by his obedience to God, Adam would be confirmed in the right kind of knowledge of good and evil. And so he was, he was seduced from the path of obedience and – – and in him all of us are rendered disobedient. The – – the situation with, with God’s dealings with – – with 15 mankind after that always involves the – – the aspect of redemption, a forgiveness of sins 16 and so forth, which – – which is not a part of the arrangement with Adam. So, I – I – help – – help me to know exactly what – – what it is you’re after?

Stellman: Okay, because there’s nothing that you said that I – – I disagree with. But what I’m asking is something more, more specific. Was Adam’s obedience what our Confession and catechisms call his perfect, perpetual, personal obedience. Did that 21 function as a condition to gaining whatever it we want to call the eschatological reward. 22 Did that obedience function as a condition to gaining that reward in such a way that after the fall our obedience does not function? Was there a condition attached to Adam’s obedience that no longer functions – –

Collins: Yes, there, I mean, there’s a condition attached to his obedience. And – – and so in not fulfilling the – – the condition, I mean, that’s a disaster.

Stellman: Yes. Is that the same arrangement that we’re under now after the fall covenantally?

Collins: Well, it’s, it’s – – I suppose you’d have to say, with respect to what? It’s in some ways there – – there is a similarity. It’s – – it’s a response to the goodness of a creator. But – – but in other way – – in other ways there’s a dissimilarity in that we’re dealing with ourselves as broken creatures that have been redeemed that are in process of being reconstructed.

Stellman: Isn’t that – – so, you’re describing the fall? Is it not true that because of the fall what changes after covenantally, what changes after the fall for us is not just the object of our faith. Adam believed in a loving creator. We believe in a crucified and risen Christ. Certainly there’s a dissimilarity there that nobody disputes. But because of the fall, is it not 15 the case that our obedience functions differently under the covenant of grace with respect to the condition for receiving the reward than Adam’s prefall obedience would have functioned?

Collins: Well, I – – I think that that you can say that there are differences. But there are also similarities. I mean, our obedience is the means by which, I mean that – – that’s a part of our participation in the benefits. And so, you know the apostle Paul will tell the Colossians believers, Colossians 1, that, you know, you will receive glorification provided you continue steadfast and so forth. So that’s, that there – – there are, I’m sure you, – – yes, I mean, there are differences, I think. Well, there – – there have to be. But – – but there’re also similarities and so (inaudible)- – –

Stellman: What are, what are the differences? 3

Collins: I’m sorry?

Stellman: You said several times that there are differences and similarities. And you’ve described the similarities between Adam before the fall and us now. What are – – what are the differences other than the object of his faith being different than the object of ours because now we’re sinners, we trust in a crucified and risen Lord. But with respect to the works and the obedience what’s the difference between how it functioned for Adam and how it functions for us now?

Collins: Well, I don’t come into the world morally innocent for one thing. And so that – – that I – – so I – – I’m just in a totally different condition to be dealt with of – – of guilt, brokenness and so forth. And – – and so the – – the process just looks different.

Stellman: But you’re talking about the difference of my condition as a fallen human born into the world. But I am not talking about our condition as fallen. I’m talking about the conditional nature of Adam’s obedience. Did his obedience function as a condition to gaining the reward in a way that ours does not?

Collins: Well, yeah it would, it would be different because he’s function- – he’s functioning as a head. And – – and so we have a head namely Christ who has functioned. And so that – – that we’re, our obedience isn’t in – – in the – – the department of functioning as a head of a covenant people.

Stellman: Okay. Good. So – – so Christ is the antitype of Adam and not us. Christ is the second Adam. We’re not second Adams.

Collins: Well, in – – in, when biblical writers talk about a second Adam or the last Adam they’re – – they’re talking about Christ. That – – that does not mean that that – – that there isn’t a bearing upon us, you know, from the Adamic situation.

Stellman: Certainly. We are Christians and so we – – there there’s obviously a 6 connection between us and Christ. But given what you just said that – – that Christ, that – – that we’re not federal heads. Christ is. The way Adam was. And so is it not true that the way, the condition for our receiving the benefits, the – – the very eschatological benefits promised to Adam, the condition by which we receive them is not our own perfect, perpetual and personal obedience but the obedience of Jesus Christ and his satisfaction and death imputed to us by faith alone, which is exactly what our standards say.

Peter Leithart actually got to the heart of the issue in his redirect. Here Collins stated that he did not think the Standards addressed the distinction between the nature of Adam’s obedience and the nature of the believer’s obedience:

Leithart: Right. And by the same token, does the Westminster standards, do the Westminster standards to your knowledge distinguish in detail between the – – the nature of Adam’s required obedience and the nature of the believer’s required obedience?

Collins: Not to my knowledge.

Do you agree? Would you say that the Westminster Standards do not distinguish in detail between Adam’s required obedience and the believer’s required obedience?

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