A Review of Kingdom through Covenant by Gentry and Wellum

Wellum and Gentry provide both an outstanding introduction to Biblical Theology and Biblical-theological systems and a solidly biblical via media between the two reigning Biblical-theological systems, Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. At 716 pages (before appendix and indices)”Kingdom Through Covenant” proves to be a weighty volume, but it is a tremendous resource. I highly recommend this book for those who are interested in Biblical theology, Systematic theology, hermeneutics. Whether you consciously hold to a biblical-theological system or not at the very least this book will challenge your current understanding of the overarching plot structure/meta-narrative that binds the canon of Scripture together. If you currently hold to a Baptist ecclesiology and view of the sacraments this book will go beyond proof-texting in helping you understand why you believe what you believe and why covenant theologians disagree

The conclusion that the authors reach is that the overarching metanarrative of Scripture is the outworking of God’s Kingdom through the covenants found throughout Scripture (specifically Creation, Noachian, Abrahamic, Israelite [sometimes called the Mosaic or Old covenant], Davidic, and the New Covenant) that find their climax in the New Covenant (hence Kingdom through Covenant). Part one of the book provides a helpful discussion on the nature of Biblical Theology, specifically giving an account of Dispensational and Covenant theologies. Gentry and Wellum also present their own presuppositions and their hermeneutical approach to Scripture.

The middle section of the book (458 pages, 129-587) is an exegetical examination of all these covenants found in Scripture across three horizons: the covenants in their historical/grammatical context (the textual horizon); the covenants in their epochal horizon, that is, where they are in redemptive-history or where they are in terms of God’s unfolding plan; and the covenants in the canonical horizon, that is the covenants in relation to the entire canon (92-99). This exegesis, while thick and containing some technical discussion, is tremendous and provides sound exegetical conclusions along with a wealth of historical cultural insights. It is here that the work could have been most improved, as it lacks a thorough interaction with New Testament covenantal texts.

In the last part of the book, part 3, the authors summarize the middle chapters and outline how all the covenants interlace and provide their understanding of Kingdom through covenant. They also briefly delve into theological implications of their biblical-theological system. Among other things, they consider particular redemption (limited atonement), credo-baptism (contra paedobaptism), the land promises of the Abrahamic covenant as typologically fulfilled in the New Creation Christ will make when He returns (contra Dispensational Premillenialism and the future land fulfilment with ethnic Israel), and a regenerate covenant community (contra Covenant theology’s mixed community).

One reviewer has questioned whether their via media was the authors’ interpretive grid with which they came to Scripture or an exegetically derived conclusion (see here). The impression I got throughout the book was of the latter. It appears that in their exegetical investigation of Scripture that they came to their conclusion of Kingdom through Covenant and presented it as a via media between the two reigning systems (e.g. see page 684).

Another reviewer seemed to miss the point of their conclusion on a mixed church (see here). Because of their exegetically derived model of Kingdom through Covenant and their resulting understanding of the discontinuity between the Old Testament covenants(specifically the Abrahamic and the Israelite) and the New Covenants, Wellum and Gentry throw away Covenant Theology’s distinction between the visible and invisible Church. They believe that the New Covenant community is not a continuation of the Israelite covenant community, in which parents and children entered the covenant at birth through the rite of circumcision and in which both believers (e.g. David) and unbelievers (e.g. Manasseh) could be found. From texts such as Jeremiah 31 (and others, see page 686-688 for a summary), they conclude that the New Covenant community is not a mixed body but only contains those who are regenerate, true believers who are initiated into the community through the rite of Baptism proceeding a profession of faith (credo-baptism) (this provides a discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants, one of the reasons why the New Covenant is new). Contrary to the above review, the authors explain that a visible/invisible distinction does exist within the Church; however, they understand it differently than traditional covenant theology. The covenant community is made up of regenerate believers, but the local church will contain both those who are truly part of the covenant community (who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour) and those who make a profession of faith but who were never truly saved and therefore never were part of the covenant community. This is what is described in the parable of the wheat and the tares, with discussion of those who apostatize, and the parable of the dragnet.

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