A Major New Defense of a More Biblical Way than Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology
Peter J. Gentry (Old Testament professor at Southern Seminary) and Stephen J. Wellum (systematic theology professor at Southern) have co-authored a groundbreaking book, offering a robust and detailed biblical theology of the covenants, entitled Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants. Crossway will publish it in June. Amazon is currently selling it for 51% off, though I imagine the discount will drop once it’s actually published.
My prediction is that among serious students of God’s word this will become a much-discussed and debated book. I suspect their “progressive covenantalism” (which I think is right) will change some paradigms, similar to the way in which progressive dispensationalism has made dispensationalism more tethered to biblical theology. At nearly 850 pages, virtually no stone is left unturned as Gentry works through each of the covenants in painstaking detail, and Wellum frames the book in terms of theology, theological systems, typology, hermeneutics, and implications for the church and the Christian life.
Here are some of the commendations:
“Gentry and Wellum offer a third way, a via media, between covenant theology and dispensationalism, arguing that both of these theological systems are not informed sufficiently by biblical theology. Certainly we cannot understand the scriptures without comprehending ‘the whole counsel of God,’ and here we find incisive exegesis and biblical theology at its best. This book is a must read and will be part of the conversation for many years to come.”
—Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Kingdom through Covenant is hermeneutically sensitive, exegetically rigorous, and theologically rich—a first rate biblical theology that addresses both the message and structure of the whole Bible from the ground up. Gentry and Wellum have produced what will become one of the standard texts in the field. For anyone who wishes to tread the path of biblical revelation, this text is a faithful guide.”
—Miles V. Van Pelt, Alan Belcher Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages and Director, Summer Institute for Biblical Languages, Reformed Theological Seminary
“Gentry and Wellum have provided a welcome addition to the current number of books on biblical theology. What makes their contribution unique is the marriage of historical exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology. Kingdom through Covenant brims with exegetical insights, biblical theological drama, and sound systematic theological conclusions. Particularly important is the viable alternative they offer to the covenantal and dispensational hermeneutical frameworks. I enthusiastically recommend this book!”
—Stephen Dempster, Stuart E. Murray Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Atlantic Baptist University
Here is one of the interactions with Gentry:
In a summary fashion, what do you think is the most distinctive aspect of your approach to the covenants in contrast to other standard “covenantal” readings such as Covenant Theology?
What I think we have been able to do is, first of all, take the basic passages in the Scriptures that deal with the major covenants and given them a completely fresh exegesis based upon four things: 1) looking at the cultural setting; 2) looking at the linguistic data; 2) looking at the literary structures in the text; and 4) always keeping an eye on the relationship of the passage with the metanarrative or plot line of Scripture.
When I look at the books out there on the covenants, there hasn’t been any fresh exegesis of the key passages in over 40 years. For example, scholars in the school of Covenant Theology continue to refer to the work of Meredith Kline, but a great deal of more information has been developed in the last several decades that requires a new, fresh approach. There has been tremendous advances in our understanding of the cultural setting of the ANE (economic, political, social, religious background and historical events) and in the area of linguistic analysis, particularly in the field of “discourse grammar.” In terms of literary structures, I have read most of the books on the market today unpacking covenantal structures, and I don’t see a rigorous interaction with the shape of the text.
Secondly, we have zeroed in on many passages in the Bible that discuss the relationships between one or two covenants together and explain the implications of this phenomena for a whole-Bible theology. If we collect these passages and pay attention to them, then we are enabled to put the covenants together in a structure that comes from the Bible and not from our own imagination. The problem with both Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, is that ultimately, the meta-narrative they are providing is not the meta-narrative of the Bible. It owes too much to a story outside the Scripture and to the times in which they were developed. Our goal is to uncover a methodology that will tell me if my meta-narrative is more true to the Bible than another.
Today, there are many books available dealing with “four views” of one thing or another. The contributors typically provide their “view” out of how they put the Bible together and not simply out of collecting proof-text. Unless we find a way to adjudicate whether one metanarrative is better than another or truer to Scripture than another, we will not get beyond this impasse. At the end of the chapters to which I contribute in Kingdom Through Covenant, I am careful to relate the discussion to the rest of the biblical story and covenants.
And here is one of the exchanges with Wellum:
Covenant theology and Dispensational theology draw two different conclusions from the New Covenant. The former collapses Israel into the church and the latter excludes Israel from the church. Where’s the error here?
We believe the error is ultimately found in Christology.
That may seem strange so let me explain.
As one works through the biblical covenants, all of the covenants and their mediators find their fulfillment in Christ. In Christ he is the last Adam, Abraham’s true seed, the true Israel who obeys completely, and David’s greater Son who does what no Davidic king ever did. In this way, all the promises to “Israel” as the “son” of God and typological pattern of Christ are fulfilled. Israel, in her role, loses nothing but finds her fulfillment perfectly in Christ.
Dispensational theology often fails to recognize this point and thus does not see how Israel as a nation is the type which points forward to Christ as the antitype, and that the church now in relationship to Christ receives all the promises of God in and through her covenant head. In this way, dispensational theology fragments Israel and church because she does not unite them properly in Christ.
Covenant theology, in our view, grasps the Israel to Christ relationship better, but then does not see properly how the genealogical principle is transformed as Christ, the new covenant head, brings all the previous covenant mediators to their end, and stands as the head of his believing people. She does not also see that the covenant communities are also different, due to the difference between the old and new covenants. In this way, covenant theology moves from Israel to the church too fast, without first seeing how the covenants find their consummation in Christ, the true Israel, and thus the newness and greatness of what Jesus has won as our new covenant head, including the difference in the nature and structure of the covenant communities.
In the end, we believe that the root problem of both systems is that they do not sufficiently trace out how the biblical covenants unfold, how all the types and patterns of the OT are fulfilled in Christ, and thus the better nature of the covenant our Lord Jesus has inaugurated.