Review: God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology, by Peter J. Gentry and Stephen Wellum

9781433541919This book is an excellent abridgement for the more detailed and biblical grounded work Kingdom through Covenants of the same authors. Peter Gentry (Old Testament scholar) and Stephen Wellum (theologian) have worked together to put forward a biblical theology of the covenants as the central hermeneutical key to understand the history of redemption. They argue that the structure of the metanarrative of the Bible is built on the covenants made between God and man. The way they follow is neither covenant theology nor dispensationalist theology, but a middle road, known as new covenant theology or supersessionism. This view calls the Bible reader and the theologian to a more careful and natural reading of the Bible that put forward the divine revelation which progresses through multiple covenants until it reaches is fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the last Adam and the Mediator of the New Covenant. This perspective is more attuned with a Christological focus of the Bible. We cannot understand the Bible without understanding the biblical covenants and their relationships. In the author’s words: “putting together the biblical covenants is central to grasping the Bible’s story, drawing correct theological conclusions, and rightly applying Scripture to our daily lives.” And “Kingdom through covenant or progressive covenantalism is our proposal for what is central to the Bible’s storyline. Progressive underscores the unfolding of God’s plan from old to new, while covenantalism stresses that God’s unified plan unfolds through the covenants, ultimately terminating and culminating in Jesus and the new covenant.”

The book is written in three parts: 1) introduction to the biblical covenants that establish the biblical theology of the covenants; 2) biblical exegesis of the principal covenant texts of the Bible; 3) theological integration of the covenants that build the storyline.

In the first part, the authors make a case for what is a covenant, how it is made and what are the characteristics of bibical typology. The reader will find some basic hermeneutical principles on how to read the story of the Bible and understand it in the immediate, epochal and canonical context.

In the second part, the exegetical part, the authors establish the characteristics of each covenant (creation – flood covenant, abrahamic covenant, mosaic covenant, davidic covenant and new covenant) through a detailed exegesis of the central biblical texts that speak of the covenant. The book tackles also the important and debated issue of whether we can speak of a covenant with Adam, arguing that it is a covenant of creation (not a covenant of works), confirmed after the flood. Although there is no direct language of covenant in the first three chapters of Genesis, that is not enough ground to dismiss a possible covenant.

A good contribution of the book is helping the biblical reader to put aside or less emphasis on unconditional/conditional character of the covenants. They conclude that all covenants are both unconditional and conditional, but the new covenant which has a better mediator and a better sacrifice through Jesus Christ, makes sure not only the surety of God as a part of the covenant, but also the human part, making sure the believer perseverance in faith through the regeneration of his heart and the pouring of his Spirit. Only the new covenant is efficient and accomplishes the purpose of each covenant, that is „I will be your God and you will be my people.”

The third part contains the theological conclusions of how the covenants are related. Each covenant is build on the foundation of the previous and is a means for the fulfillment of the previous and introduces the next one, until Jesus Christ and the ultimate fulfillment of the covenants in the new covenant. The biggest distinction of the new covenant in comparison with the others is that in it all the new covenant community contains regenerate believers who have the Spirit. The church through her union with Christ, the last Adam, and the ultimate prophet, priest and king, is the fulfillment of all the promises of God made in the previous covenants. So the church is part of the new creation and the age to come as seen from Old Testament perspective. Although there is still left the fulfillment of the fullness of the promises, Jesus Christ and the new covenant is the terminus or final stage of God’s plan of redemption. This helps the reader of the Bible to better understand the Christological focus of the Scripture and the centrality of the new covenant in the plan of God. Physical Israel is only the type for the Messiah (through the Davidic covenant), who is the true Son of God, who perfectly obeyed God even to death for sinners who are his fruit of redemption.

The biggest weakness of the book is, as in Kingdom through Covenants, the lack of new testament text exegesis. For sure, the authors explore and exegete new testament texts, but only as part of old testament text exegesis. This would have only improved and established the new covenant perspective as a more accurate and careful reading and understanding of the Bible.

The review’s author was greatly helped by the reading of this book in gaining a better understanding of the big picture of the Bible, or the central storyline of it. This offered me a better grasp of the new covenant and how should I apply personally and biblically the whole Bible to my life and to the lives of others. This better grasp made me more amazed at the wisdom and beauty of our God and the fullness and centeredness of our exalted Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Note: I received a copy of this book from Crossway for the purpose of providing a review.

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