Review: Progressive Covenantalism

prog-cov

If you missed the boat, or didn’t even know there was a boat, back in 2012 SBTS professors Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum write the massive Kingdom Through Covenant (KTC), a slightly different way of putting together Bible’s storyline from how both Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology view it. Progressive covenantalism (don’t let that title scare you away) seeks to answer questions about how the Mosaic law applies to Christians, what the relationship between Israel and the Church is, and how these work out in the life of God’s people. 

Progressive seeks to underscore the unfolding nature of God’s revelation over time, while covenantalism emphasizes that God’s plan unfolds through the covenants and that all of the covenants find their fulfillment … and terminus in Christ” (2). The way to properly determine how God’s plan is fulfilled in Christ is to place each covenant “in its own covenantal location … in terms of what covenant(s) preceded it and follow it” (2).

As massive as KTC is, one volume can’t cover everything. Progressive Covenantalism was written to unpack certain points that weren’t given much space (if any at all). Those specific points will briefly be laid out below.

Outline

Chapters 1–4

These essays develop topics usually brought up in discussions between DT and CT.

  • In chapter 1, Jason DeRouchie provides exegetical warrant for NCT in the OT by examining texts that deal with the “seed” of Abraham. His descendants are those who physically come through his line, but his true descendants are those who place their loyalty in Christ. As DeRouchie states, “It is those who are in Christ who are ‘sons of God,’ those who have put on Christ who are baptized, and those who are Christ’s who are counted ‘Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise’” (38).
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  • In chapter 2, Brent Parker examines “how Jesus typologically fulfills Israel and how the Church, through Christ, inherits the promises of Israel” (47). Israel is not displaced by the Church. Rather, Parker puts forth that the church is the “new covenant community that Israel looked forward to” (47).
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  • In chapter 3, Jason Meyer, who wrote The End of the Law, works through how DT and CT influence the way we think about the Mosaic law, how PC understands the Mosaic law, saying that “love for neighbor is the primary lens through which the Christian views the law of Moses” (87). The lens every Christian should read the Mosaic covenant through is love because the varied instructions given to us in the law give concrete examples of what love should look like.
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  • In chapter 4, Ardel Caneday disagrees with the idea put forth that the Bible is split between law (“God’s commands”) and gospel (“God’s gracious giving”). Instead, covenant stipulations remain the same across covenants while the content of those stipulations change. While God unconditionally established his covenants with people, “each covenant entails provisions with stipulations that both promise blessings to all who obey … and announce curses upon the disobedient” (103).

Chapters 5–8

These essays target issues that arise in CT.

  • In chapter 5, John Meade examines circumcision of the flesh to that of the heart. After briefly looking at the Ancient Near Eastern view of circumcision, he explains the development of circumcision through the Bible as it moves from external circumcision to “internal heart (un)circumcision” and its relation to baptism (128).
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  • In chapter 6, Tom Schreiner looks at the Sabbath in the OT and NT and it’s place in the believers’ life.
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  • In chapter 7, Chris Cowan presents an “alternate … paradigm for understanding the warning passages” that are given to the NC community in Hebrews and responds to some objections to this view from those in the DT and CT camps.
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  • In chapter 8, Stephen Wellum asks, “How should Christians apply the whole Bible as our ethical standard?” He says that “the entire OT, including the law covenant, functions for us as the basis for our doctrine and ethics. Although the Christians are not ‘under the law’ as a covenant, it still functions as Scripture and demands our complete obedience” (217). Wellum ends his chapter with a few illustrations on ethics under the New Covenant with the whole Bible.

Chapters 9–10

These essays target issues that arise in PD.

  • In chapter 9, Richard Lucas argues against the dispensational understanding that Israel will be “restored” in the millennium as a nation which is separate and distinct from Gentiles. Lucas argues that these “implications” are not found in Romans 11:26–27, especially when viewed within the larger canon of Scripture.
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  • In chapter 10, Oren Martin, having written Bound for the Promised Land, looks through the OT and NT and shows, contra to DT and CT, how PC says the OT land promises will be fulfilled in Christ.

As a whole, this is a fantastic resource that draws out the implications of the larger work of KTC (see also the concise work God’s Kingdom Through God’s Covenants). No chapter is worthless; they all take on issues that arise between CT and DT, although the best chapter in my opinion was that by Jason DeRouchie. DeRouchie (along with the end of Meade’s chapter) argues exegetically against the long-standing and widely held belief of infant baptism. Those who disagree will have to work closely through his chapter to disprove his exegesis of Scriptures.

Unfortunately, Cowen’s chapter didn’t add much more to the discussion of the warning passages in Hebrews besides what Schreiner argues for in his Hebrews commentary, and what Schreiner and Caneday have argued for. And while much of Martin’s chapter could be found in his book, he brings out many good points (such the use of Psalm 37.3, 9, 11 and more in Matthew 5.5) and gives those readers who haven’t read his book a taste of how the land promise is fulfilled in Christ (it’s also a more succinct reading than if you read through Beale’s New Testament Biblical Theology as well).

Recommended?

Why does this matter? Why nitpick so much? We should never become stagnant in our faith and think that we now know enough. God is infinite, and his Word has more depth than we can ever plumb. A book that seeks to tie Scripture together is worth reading, especially for the student and the pastor, and you can use this (and KTC) so show the glory of God’s plan in Christ to your people. When it comes to ethics, as Wellum says, “Most Christians, regardless of their commitment to covenant or dispensational theology, will arrive at similar conclusions. But, as noted above, where the important difference lies is in how we get there” (233). Our doctrines and beliefs have consequences. They have meaning. They affect how we will. Because we have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, let us strive to know him more that we may be like him and awaiting Christ’s return when we will be transformed. 

Lagniappe

  • Editors: Stephen Wellum and Brent Parker
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (April 15, 2016)

Buy it on Amazon or from B&H Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Review: Progressive Covenantalism

  1. Wow I’ll keep that book in mind as I’m reading the author (Wellum) other new book that came out last month lol

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