The Reading List – Mar 4 – 10

As noted previously, the book is Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical Theological Understanding of the Covenants by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, both faculty at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Over in America, there are two ends of a ‘spectrum’ of biblical theological approaches – dispensational, and covenant theological, which roughly equates to Reformed. As noted above, these guys are Baptists. Thing is, ‘Baptist’ covers a very wide range of, well, organisations in America, and so, apart from distinctives such as credo-baptism and related ecclesiology, it is not really possible to nail down what Baptist theology in America actually is. So you’ve got Baptist dispensationalists as well as Reformed-leaning Baptists. This book says that it is an attempt at a rapprochement between the ends of the spectrum. It’s probably more right to say that it’s an attempt to have a solid covenant-centred Biblical theology without the bits that Baptists don’t like about Reformed theology, like paedobaptism, and the bits that are just wrong (IMHO) in dispensationalism. The book has had quite a reception. There was some controversy when it came out because the Monergism web shop refused to stock it (use Google if you’re interested in that little dust-up). The Gospel Coalition decided it would have a three reviews – Horton as the reformed guy, Bock as a dispensational guy, and Moo as ‘moderate third party’ I guess. The reaction isn’t that surprising given the environment. It offends quite a few hobby horses – denying the dispensationalist claim about the land promise, rejecting paedobaptism, saying moral/civil/ceremonial is dumb (more or less), and hating on (or more politely, critiquing) Paul Williamson (well, that probably just makes us down here feel for the guy). Unfortunately, all this really clouds what is mostly an interesting read.

There are three sections. The middle section is Gentry basically doing a fairly comprehensive exposition of the covenants in the Old Testament. It’s quite thorough, and others doing study on this topic will find this a useful resource. It’s weakness is it’s lack of explicit New Testament study. There is only one chapter explicitly in that realm, on Ephesians, but the rest is all in the Old Testament. There are references scattered throughout to New Testament passages where appropriate within the discussion, but the Old Testament is where the discussion firmly lies. Not surprising given that Gentry is an OT scholar. As remarked earlier, I disagree regarding an Adamic covenant, and I’m not convinced about his work on Daniel 9 re: the seventy sevens. There are moments of weakness here and there but on the whole it’s good stuff.

Wellum writes the first and last parts. The first is an intro – to covenants, to the current academic milieu, and to the hermeneutics employed. The last part is synthesis and theological outworkings. Of this section, chapter 16 – the penultimate chapter – is basically a “short” summarising of all of Gentry’s chapters. Those who are inexperienced in biblical theology and/or the OT may prefer to read just this chapter to get an overview of this OT biblical theology. The last chapter devotes itself to implications in systematic theology, and thus also to differentiating Wellum and Gentry’s position from dispensationalists and covenant theologians. For example, they make a case for definite atonement based on Christ as the new covenant priest and mediator.

Overall, this is a good book. I’m not sure I can really understand the Monergism hullabulooh without really understanding the North American reformed tradition. The book is easy to read (way, way easier than Greg Beale’s), though in Gentry’s section, a working knowledge of Hebrew helps a bit. I’ve seen According to Plan – a laity level work, from Sydney, being referenced in a semi-academic tome in America! – referenced more times than one might expect anywhere outside of Moore, which probably shows how much we in Sydney would agree with what’s in this volume. Let me put it this way. Ignore what the Americans are saying about this book. Read this thing for yourself if you’d like to know more about biblical theology, the OT, or covenants.

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