Kingdom through Covenant, Baptism and Circumcision, and Other Discussions Worth Having
The Gospel Coalition mentions today that they have commissioned three reviews of Gentry and Wellum’s Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Crossway, 2012): Michael Horton, Doug Moo, and Darrell Bock. Horton is a covenant theologian, Bock is a progressive dispensatioalist, and Moo (it seems to me) would be closer to the progressive-covenantal view. I think this should help to advance the discussion.
Not everyone wants to see such a discussion take place. In a recent interview at TGC, Matt Smethurst asked Gentry and Wellum about this:
How would you respond to one recent accusation that Kingdom through Covenant “is not a Reformed Baptist work or Reformed at all. . . . So-called New Covenant Theology is actually a reaction against confessional Reformed Baptists, Presbyterians, and Covenant Theologians in general”?
First, we have called our position “progressive covenantalism” in order to avoid various labels, since labels often are a way of dismissing entire viewpoints. And theological positions are not monolithic.
Second, we stand on the shoulders of giants and in no way dismiss historical theology, yet we take seriously Ad Fontes, Sola Scriptura, and Semper Reformanda. We’ve sought to describe how our position differs from the two dominant viewpoints in evangelical thought, yet it isn’t that our differences lead to completely novel conclusions. In fact, it’s our conviction that our book provides a better basis for the great solas of the Reformation, and that we do so in such a way that makes better sense of the “whole counsel of God.”
It’s our hope and prayer that people who come from either DT or CT will not dismiss our work without giving it a fair reading and showing where our exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic conclusions have gone wrong. We will consider it a success if our book leads all of us to return to Scripture, wrestle once again with the text, and actually discuss our differences in charity, grace, and in a renewed commitment to have our theological views ever conformed to God’s Word.
Here’s an interesting dynamic I’ve noticed in our neck of the theological woods. Because we rightly desire to be together for the gospel, we are content to hold strong convictions about theological and denominational particulars that don’t necessarily divide us from gospel partnership. Many of them relate to how we “put the Bible together” (baptism and Sabbath being two issues that come to mind). And for those who are academically inclined, there’s always an impulse to say something new rather than to rehash old debates. The result, it seems to me, is that we are seeing less truth-in-love, iron-sharpening-iron, intramural debates and discussions on these important issues.
Themelios has proved a happy exception to this. For example, consider this recent exchange of articles on the relationship between circumcision and baptism:
- Martin Salter, “Does Baptism Replace Circumcision? An Examination of the Relationship between Circumcision and Baptism in Colossians 2:11-12“
- David Gibson, “Sacramental Supersessionism Revisited: A Response to Martin Salter on the Relationship Between Circumcision and Baptism“
- Martin Salter, “Response to David Gibson“
Gibson (a covenant theologian who incidentally happened to endorse Kingdom through Covenant as an important part of the conversation) summarizes Salter’s view:
Martin Salter has recently argued that Reformed paedobaptists are mistaken in citing Col 2:11-12 ‘as evidence that baptism replaces circumcision as the covenant sign signifying the same realities.’ His essay is a model of exegetical care, and he approaches the contentious issue of the application of covenant signs with graciousness. His position is that for Paul there is a disjunction between physical and spiritual circumcision, such that in Col 2:11-12 he is referring to the latter, and Salter seeks to demonstrate that ‘circumcision’ and baptism do not signify precisely the same realities.
In this response, I argue that Salter’s article has the potential to advance the debate which surrounds credo- vs covenant baptism precisely because his essay is largely an exercise in missing the point. I do not intend to engage in a detailed response to his exegesis of Col 2:11-12 for the simple reason that, as a Reformed paedobaptist, I can agree with most of it and still find myself happily at home in a theological world which regards baptism of infants as ‘the jewel displayed upon the engagement ring of God’s covenant promise.’ My claim is that Salter explains a biblical text but not its place in biblical theology, and he does not see how the text he understands fails to undermine a theology he does not. To put it another way, Salter makes a theological mountain out of an exegetical molehill.
In Salter’s response he writes:
[Gibson's essay] displayed great grace and charity in a discussion which can sometimes generate more heat than light. I have genuinely enjoyed reading his essay, and it has prompted me to think again and work harder at what the Bible actually says, which is always edifying.
You can read the essays and exchanges in full at the links above. I point to these as an example of the important of discussing (rather than simply dismissing) such views, and doing these with truth and charity.