David Booth has asked some good questions here. His questions are about the first affirmation in the Federal Vision Joint Statement that reads: "We affirm that the triune God is the archetype of all covenantal relations."
I responded on his blog already, but let me add something here. David asks if calling God's eternal, inter-Personal relations "covenantal" makes any difference. Let me put this in a way that makes the significance crucial.
When the disciples and apostles pondered everything Jesus had said and done, especially what he had said to his Father and done on the cross in obedience to his Father they were confronted with a riddle. The riddle of all riddles. How would they understand the meaning of his conversation with the Father? What would they make of his obedience to the Father? What would they judge its significance to be? Did Jesus speak with God the Father simply as a created man? Did he obey his Father as human or was there something more going on, something more amazing being revealed?
Were his words and actions in relation to the Father merely human actions? Or was he truly the eternal God talking, acting, obeying, serving, suffering, and dying in the flesh? When they call him "Lord," what kind of lord was he? When they refer to his "obedience" and "service" what kind of obedience was this? The obedience of a man? Surely, at least! But was it also the obedience of God? Can we talk meaningfully about God's obedience or is this just a category, a relationship for creatures.
A great deal depends on one's answer to these questions. If obedience is strictly speaking a human or creaturely duty, then it is easy to conceive of our obedience as a function of who's got more power. Since God has the power, we must submit and obey. If a king or a employer has more power, then we must obey. But is that the only way to understand obedience--as a way of relating to one more powerful and dangerous than oneself?
To put this in the context of the current discussion about the nature of the covenant the quesetion is: is covenant obedience restricted to the creature's response to his almighty Creator? If the answer is yes, then it would be blasphemous and dangerous to push this dimension of the covenant back into God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are "equal in power and glory" as our Westminster Shorter Catechism nicely puts it. Sovereign human lords make treaties with vassals and those subservient vassals must obey without question or suffer severe repercussions. But can such a relation make sense of Jesus obedience to the Father?
If we accept these categories, then Jesus' obedience to his Father must be the obedience of his human nature, of the creature to the Creator. But does this really work? Christologically, this is suspect because Jesus is not a human person at all. Rather, he is a divine Person. The eternal Son. And as the eternal Son he assumed a human nature and lives his divine life as the Person of the Son in union with his assumed human nature. Can we be content with assigning his obedience to his assumed created nature? This appears to divide the natures in a way that seems too Nestorian. [I recognize that this paragraph assumes an awful lot and might need to be fleshed out a bit.]
But if it is the eternal Son who obeys the Father, then we have obedience, as it were, expressed in the relations of Father and Son. And if the incarnation of the Son reveals the true nature of God, as John tells us in chapter one of his Gospel, then the true God is obedient. According to the New Testament it is not simply the human nature of Jesus that has this obedient orientation, but it is Christ Jesus who lives as morphe theou, who in accordance with his divine mode of life becomes obedient unto death, pouring himself out for us (Phil. 2). That's my take, anyway, on Philippians 2. God the Son living as a man humbles himself and is obedient unto death.
It is the Person of the God the Son who is an obedient Servant—Servant of his Father on our behalf. There is nothing accidental or alien about this way of living and relating to the Father. This is not simply a foil for his divine glory, as if divine glory is really primarily about power. His "lordship" has nothing to do with the way fallen human political tyrants perceive glory—pushing people around and manipulating others.
In other words, Jesus does not become for a time something that he is not. The Son does not become a man so that he might be submissive and obedient. He does not need to be a man so that he can be a servant. He does not assume a role that does not express who he is. Obedience and service characterize at some crucial level the eternal, inter-trinitarian personal relations. The Son becomes a man because he is submissive to the Father. He, the Son, gave himself up (Gal. 2:20, Eph. 5:2). He, the eternal Son, humbled himself (Phil. 2:7). He, the divine Son, emptied himself, pouring out his life to the Father for us (Phil. 2:8; Isa. 53:13).
But doesn't God's covenant with the human creature involve man's obedience? If obedience is a necessary dimension of covenantal relations, then the Son's relations with the Father are covenantal. More than that, is it too much of a stretch to conclude that God's expectation of obedience from man is not something utterly foreign to God himself? That God's own covenantal life includes obedience—at least the obedience of the Son to the Father, but also the obedience of the Spirit to Father and Son, and possibly even the obedience of Father to the will of the Son and Spirit.
To state this in a way that some might find shocking, God does not ask his creatures to do something that he himself is not willing to do.
You see, we have to clean up our thinking a bit. Obedience, especially an obedience that willingly serves and puts oneself at another's disposal in order to see the other glorified, is a divine mode of life. Maybe this is why John says "God is love" and that "love is obedience to the command of the other." Father, Son, and Spirit love one another so much that they are obedient servants one to the other. And this eternal covenantal submission and service is the ground of the human creature's covenantal obedience to God. To be godly means to be obedient and imaging God means obedient, self-sacrificial service to God and to other human creatures.
If our conception of the covenant degenerates into purely external, extrinsic acts of God, acts that are only loosely related to the real life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, if they only assumed these roles in order to get something accomplished, then we know and worship an unknown god behind the purely economic, covenantal relations expressed in his covenantal dealings with us.
Think about this. The submission/obedience/service of the covenant is not external to God, but expressive of his true life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this is not myth, but history. God's history. This is the solution to the riddle of Christ's conversation with and obedience to the Father. What is recorded in the New Testament Scriptures—what the Son said to his Father and to us, as well as what the Son did in obedience to his Father in time and space is nothing else but the history of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit's covenantal relations with each other pro nobis.