Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants

Article excerpt

Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants. By Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012, 848 pp., $32.99.

Over the course of the last century much ink has been spilt over the divide that exists between covenant theology and dispensationalism. While copious amounts of discussion, disagreement, and modification have taken place, a gap still looms between these two theological systems. Seemingly, one can seldom delve into particular theological issues-baptism, the Israel/Church relationship, the work of Christ, details regarding last things, etc.-without detailing their particular stance regarding these two systems of thought. And so it has been for a number of generations; dialogue at a seeming impasse in some respects. However, discussion has begun afresh with the publication of Kingdom through Covenant, by Gentry and Wellum, and this is so due to their proposal of a via media between covenant theology on the one hand, and dispensationalism on the other (p. 12).

Gentry and Wellum both teach at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the former in the area of OT, the latter as professor of Christian Theology. There is, seemingly, a building momentum generated from such a publication to revisit this crucial conversation relating to exegesis and theological method. This is evidenced not merely by the publication of this book, but also the numerous lengthy reviews that have responded to their proposal. Also, there is a recent abridged version of Gentry and Wellum's tome, entitled God's Kingdom through God's Covenants, as well as a future publication entitled Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenenant Theologies. This latter work continues to develop the insights of Kingdom through Covenant by a team of scholars who accept the basic biblicaltheological framework of Gentry and Wellum and develop that framework in areas that the initial book did not (e.g. Sabbath, warning passages, circumcision, land, relationship of the Law to the Christian). The present review will seek to keep these various publications and reviews in mind, but the central focus will be on their primary work Kingdom through Covenant.

From the outset Gentry and Wellum make clear that they aim to demonstrate two crucial ideas: first, the centrality of the covenants in forming the backbone of the biblical metanarrative, and, second, how a number of crucial theological differences can arise based on the way one treats the covenants' relationship to one another (p. 21). The authors believe that correctly "putting together" the biblical covenants is central to doing accurate biblical and systematic theology. As they believe covenant theology and dispensationalism do not put the covenants together in quite the right way, they offer a mediating position. Their proposal, entitled "kingdom through covenant," encapsulates their attempt to make "better sense of the overall presentation of Scripture, which, in the end, will help us resolve some of our theological differences" (p. 23).

This work is divided between the two authors, Gentry dealing with the close exegesis of key texts relating to the covenants, Wellum focusing on theological formulation and entailments. The prolegomena (chaps. 1-3) is written by Wellum. Within this section he addresses the significance of all of the biblical covenants for both biblical and systematic theology. He then gives a description of the two theological systems that have made use of the covenants, namely, covenant theology and dispensationalism. Wellum gives a fair description of each system, noting varying positions (e.g. classical, revised, and progressive dispensationalism) and typically citing key proponents of each. After describing and contrasting these systems, he alludes to where the rest of the book is going in terms of the via media known as "kingdom through covenant."

Thus, in chapter 3, Wellum delves into key hermeneutical issues in putting the covenants together in "biblical manner" (i. …

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