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Clear, Consistent, Compelling
on July 28, 2012
There are two basic approaches to what is called "biblical theology." One is to identify a singular central theme that brings clarity to the structure and theological purpose of the Bible. The other is to use a generalized understanding of the structure and theological purpose of the Bible to bring clarity to a theme (which then, in turn, brings more clarity to the Bible). This latter type better characterizes the approach of "Kingdom through Covenant." (For an example of the former type, see James Hamilton's book "God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment".) Though the thesis of this book argues that the covenants tie the biblical narrative together, thus making covenants an extremely important theme, the authors do not seek to prove that the covenants constitute the "theological center" of the Bible.
The academic advance this book seeks to make is a biblical-theological support for a covenantal understanding that effectively falls between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. Though the authors' position is indeed unique in relation to these other two systems, it is by no means new: this book provides a defense of what I would call a "baptistic" covenant theology. This means that while they side with Dispensationalists in rejecting the Reformed teaching about the exact continuity between circumcision and baptism, they take the side of Reformed theologians in affirming that the land promise to Israel are fulfilled in Christ under the New Covenant, particularly as his work results in the inauguration of the New Creation.
What you will not find in this book is an attack on any theological position. You will not find endless rhetoric and catchy phrases that make Dispensational or Reformed theologians seem dangerous or inept. The authors certainly do not hold back from saying what they think needs to said in defense of their own position and in opposition to the other two, yet they do so in a respectable and unexaggerated manner. They are careful to recognize the similarities in the two views between which they mediate, as well as the similarities between their own view and each of the other positions. One way they are able to do this is through careful examination of the presuppositions and hermeneutical principles they and the opposing theologians use. Thus, Gentry and Wellum present, articulate, and defend a certain hermeneutic, which accounts for presuppositions about the nature of Scripture, and discipline themselves throughout the book to apply those principles consistently.
No doubt Reformed and Dispensational Christians will find the arguments of this book to be challenging, if not compelling. However, if they can make it through chapter three (the chapter which presents the authors' hermenuetical methods) without being convinced, there's a good chance they'll remain unmoved. But this is one of the things that makes this book great: usually the dividing line between two theological positions lies in an underlying hermenuetical difference. By accurately presenting their opponents' hermeneutics and showing how their own principles--or at least the application of similar principles--differs from them, they preclude needlessly talking past their opponents and vise versa. However, as Gentry and Wellum consistently apply this hermenuetic to Scripture, and as the reader can then see what clarity and relevance it brings to the text, their argument becomes that much stronger.
So is this book monumental? Is it a work that will stand at the top of the list of books every Dispenational or Reformed theologian will have to address before presenting or defending their own view? I believe the answer is yes. (That means if you're a pastor, a Christian teacher, or someone interested in theology and/or the future of the church, you should buy this book and read it.) This of course will be more true for the Dispensationalists, since they have a shorter theological heritage. But I feel comfortable saying that this work is monumental because Drs. Gentry and Wellum are accomplished theologians who have presented here what may be the finest and most notable scholarly book defending a Calvinistic/Baptist/anti-dispensational covenant theology. In addition, the hermentuetical principles they apply are simple and sensible,and thus, the reader doesn't feel like he is being proselytized into a complex system for piecing the Bible together; instead, the writers' approach is methodical, methodologically conscious, in-depth, and meticulous.
Readers will find the content easy to follow and not overly--that is, unnecessarily--technical. That's to say one does not need a degree in theology to understand this book. Nevertheless, the length may dissuaded some people from reading it. Yet, if you finish it, you will not be disappointed; a Christian who perseveres to the end (of this book) will find that they will not only have a greater understanding of the Scriptures (specifically as it relates to the progression of revelation and the covenants, as well as some other themes), but a greater appreciation for it as well.