I am not the first person to take up the task of writing on this topic. Brandon Adams has done so as well.. Adams and I write as two individuals who share the same position (1689 Federalism), but I want to approach it from a slightly different angle to demonstrate how 1689 Federalism and Theonomy are not compatible. I am convinced that there are many ways that 1689 Federalism and Theonomy are incompatible, but for today I will just be sharing a couple of thoughts that I have been spending time thinking through as of late.
One major point of contention between 1689 Federalism and Theonomy is that of Monocovenantalism. By Monocovenantalism, I mean the teaching that God essentially has only one covenant with man, pre and post fall. This concept is clearly taught by Theonomy proponents Gary North and Bojidar Marinov.
In regards to this, Marinov writes,
It is often called by theologians today the Covenant of Works (although I personally prefer if the name was changed to Covenant of Work). But a better name, that characterizes it best, is Dominion Covenant. . . With man created to take dominion over creation, the original Covenant of God, the large framework of all successive covenants, was that Dominion Mandate.
To summarize what Marinov is saying; He’s saying in the Garden, God entered into a covenantal relationship with Adam which he (Marinov) calls the “Covenant of Work,” or “Dominion Covenant,” and that this original covenant and dominion mandate is the larger framework of all successive covenants.
Gary North also affirms this same understanding of the garden covenant in his work Dominion Covenant. In that work, North argues that the Great Commission is essentially the New Testament reaffirmation of the Dominion Covenant. He writes,
“What we call the Great Commission of Christ to His church (Matt. 28:18-20) is in fact another reaffirmation of the covenant of dominion, taking into account the progress of redemptive history.” – Gary North, Dominion Covenant (Pg. 31)
To offer more evidence to support that North was a proponent of this view, I will point out that North spent time chiding a certain Presbyterian denomination at the time of the writing of Dominion Covenant that explicitly denied the legitimacy of a post-fall continuance of what he called “the covenant of dominion.”
“At least one small American Presbyterian denomination has explicitly denied the post-Fall legitimacy of the covenant of dominion (also referred to as the cultural mandate), thereby ignoring the explicit reconfirmation of this covenant by God with Noah (Gen. 9:1-2)” – Gary North, Dominion Covenant (Pg. 28)
The issue with all of this for those who claim to be both 1689 Federalists and Theonomists is that all of this is clearly in contradiction with 1689 Federalism. What Marinov and North both are doing here is denying the historic and confessional teaching of the Covenant of Works. This is clear in both of their redefinitions of the Covenant of Works calling it the “Covenant of Work,” “Dominion Covenant,” and “Covenant of Dominion.”
Both are essentially affirming Monocovenantalism in their affirmation of this Dominion Covenant as the larger framework of all successive covenants. According to Marinov, this Dominion Covenant is a gracious covenant that continues to serve as the framework in which God has always dealt with man both pre and post fall. According to North, this Dominion Covenant is a gracious covenant that is reaffirmed in the Great Commission. This is also one of the major errors of Norm Shepherd and the Federal Vision.
1689 Federalism on the other hand would disagree with this entire framework. 1689 Federalism asserts that there is a clear distinction between the Covenant of Works that Adam was in pre-fall and the historical covenants post-fall. Adam was in a Covenant of Works, and the primary focus is on his obedience to the positive law of God in order to merit life for himself and his posterity. In the 1689 view, once this Covenant was broken, it never served as the larger framework for all successive covenants throughout redemptive-history, and it is certainly not reaffirmed in the Great Commission.
To affirm the validity of the Dominion Covenant as formulated by Marinov and North is to reject the distinction 1689 Federalism makes between the historical covenants, and to affirm monocovenantalism which is extremely dangerous.