Kingdom Through Covenant: A Review (2)

Harrison Perkins

Harrison Perkins

This is part 2 of a two-part review of Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012). The review is written by Harrison Perkins. He grew up in the south and attended college in Alabama. He began to get more involved in the church in college and there grew in his love for the church and desire to help others understand the riches of the Word of God and the gospel of God’s free grace. He is married and lives in the San Diego area. He is a candidate for the MDiv degree at Westminster Seminary California.


More specifically within the covenant of grace, the authors rightly recognize the importance of the Abrahamic covenant, but are mistaken in most of their conclusions about it. They have made it a conditional covenant, just like all the others. This allows them to put it in contrast, rather than continuity, with the new covenant, which is fulfilled by the work of Christ. By setting even the Abrahamic covenant in contrast with the new, they are able to argue that the “genealogical principle” of the Abrahamic covenant is a type of a new covenant reality: the lineage of faith. This forms their argument for the shift in covenantal structure from including infants of believers to not including them. They support this argument by appealing largely to Jeremiah 31:26–40. They put heavy emphasis on the contrast of the new covenant to the old, which they are right to do, but they seem to think that the contrast is mainly about children in the covenant. This places the new covenant in contrast with the whole OT scheme of covenants (which is a Dispensational scheme) but this is not what Jeremiah’s contrast is. He contrasts the new covenant with that made at Sinai (31:32), which is a specific OT administration. Therefore, the authors are mistaken because they miss that the contrast must be between the new covenant and something specific to the Mosaic covenant. The very thing, to which Jeremiah points, is the breakable nature of the covenant at Sinai. The old covenant (Mosaic) was breakable, primarily because it was conditional and rested on the covenant servant to be faithful but the new will be unbreakable (unconditional). It will be fulfilled by God. This not only undermines the authors’ contrast of new covenant with all the OT, but also their denial of the distinction between conditional and unconditional covenants.

More so, the authors have made many of these moves arguing backwards. They know that infants cannot be baptized so they read the OT covenants in a way to support this view rather than listening to the text. They also miss much of the argument of Galatians regarding the AC. Galatians 3:7 poses that the seed of Abraham is those of faith. Paul does not say that this is only true in the NT era. It was always the truth. The same thing is expressed when he argues that the true Jew is the one inwardly (Rom. 2:29). The seed of Abraham was always a spiritual reality. Additionally, Paul calls the Abrahamic covenant the gospel (Gal. 3:8). As hard as the authors work to distance the new covenant and the AC, this runs contrary to Paul’s statements cited here.

Further, the authors argue that the genealogical principle is typological of the principle of faith in the new covenant. They state that the invariable inclusion of all of the physical lineage prefigures the invariable inclusion of all those who have faith. However, this misses much of what happens in the Abrahamic covenant itself regarding the genealogical principle. It should be obvious that not all the physical descendants are true believers (e.g. Esau). This shows that there is certainly a spiritual dimension to the AC, which is the dimension that the NT emphasized most. Some of the physical descendants, however, are also cut off from the covenant (e.g. Ishmael). This shows that whether discussed spiritually or physically, the Abrahamic covenant includes a mixed community in the covenant. Wither way the typology will point forward to a mixed covenant in the church. This runs against the majority of the authors’ arguments for credobaptism in the covenant context.

A few other comments are in order. The major content issues have been addressed, but there are also a few methodological features that should be discussed. First and foremost, the authors do a great job of interacting with Dispensational material. They cite relevant and credible sources and deal fairly with the Dispensational arguments, sometimes at length. The same cannot be said, however, regarding the authors’ interaction with CT. Many times, they do not cite sources for what they claim CT holds. Much of what they claim CT believes, I do not recognize as actual CT. When they do cite sources regarding CT, they are typically shallow or disreputable. Although they cite Michael Horton’s Introducing Covenant Theology (also published as God of Promise) regularly, most of the sources the use for CT are either web searches or Federal Vision writers. The first category is simply not acceptable for academic work. Web pages are helpful for many things, but they are not fit for academic engagement. They authors failed to really wrestle with full-bodied CT, particularly, they did not engage with the primary CT sources at all, even those translated into English. There is no excuse for not including at least one from Witsius, Turretin, Owen, or Hodge in this discussion. They rely on shoddy second hand material, which undermines their attempt at doing any credible academic work on the topic. Regarding the second category, all confessional Reformed CT would have a severe aversion to Federal Vision. To cite Federal Vision authors as representative of orthodox Reformed CT is not only to set up a straw man argument, but is an extreme misrepresentation of the opposing side. If this is an example of being unaware of the controversy, that is totally inexcusable.

Another methodological concern is with Gentry’s exegesis. I should say, it is not with the way he does exegesis per se, but he never makes explicit his exegetical conclusions or the relevance of particular exegesis to the overall topic. The individual chapters on the various covenants hardly ever express a thesis regarding the particular covenant under examination. This makes it difficult to follow the overall argument and frustrating to try and see why he is making the points he is making, Much of the almost 500 pages of exegesis as if it was published simply for the sake of exegesis. A great number of pages does not prove an argument. Conclusions are not only helpful for the reader but necessary for tracing arguments.

In the end, this book is interesting, but it does not really advance the discussion. It is too big and not clear enough for a general audience. On the other hand, academic audiences will see that it has not moved much past a progressive Dispensational position. It rejects a separate future for Israel but still holds a Dispensational-style soteriology and makes the same mistakes regarding what the nature of discontinuity is between the new and old covenants (the major contrast is not about including infants). I enjoyed this book and found much of it helpful. I find, however, claims that this book is “groundbreaking” quite misleading and over stated, unless they refer to the literal effect dropping a book of this size would have on the ground.

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  1. I agree with your two conclusions about the book, especially the one about “exegesis for the sake of exegesis”. A lot of the information does not lead to conclusive parts of the larger argument. It’s a big book made up of some spare parts. Also, I agree that the Southern Baptist authors know more about “dispensationalists” than they do about the history of “covenant theology”.

    Of course, the more we know about “covenant theology” (or dispensationalism), the more difficult it will be to put that in a soundbite and say that one version of it is the “real” center.

    Paedobaptists rightly react to the idea that physical circumcision was only a sign of the conditional land promise and not at all about the gospel Abraham believed. For at least Abraham, circumcision was a symbol of the faith (in the gospel) which he already had. Paedobaptists are surely not wrong to ask why this same thing can’t be true of other OT believers in the gospel. But then we have to ask in what sense are God’s promises to Abraham also God’s promises to some other people. What other people? All other people?

    In reacting to the idea that circumcision is only about the conditional ‘external covenant”, paedobaptists tend to point out that the sign is about BOTH the “spiritual” gospel and also about legal continuity in the land. But it it usually doesn’t take long for the paedobaptist to ignore the conditional aspect of the Abrahamic covenant and put all their attention on the gospel promise of the Abrahamic covenant.

    But those on both sides of the issue need to keep both aspects always in mind. While Abraham does not equal only Moses, Genesis 17 teaches a covenant curse (exclusion) which is “Mosaic”. Paedobaptists should not pretend that this is not there in the Abrahamic promises. And credobaptists should not ever think that the conditionality is all that is there.

  2. This has got to be one of the worse book reviews I have ever read. I sure hope this isn’t representative of the level of scholarship being done by students of Westminster California.

    It would take another whole review article to point out all the problems with this review. I’ll give but one example of what I mean.

    The reviewer states, “When they do cite sources regarding CT, they are typically shallow or disreputable. Although they cite Michael Horton’s Introducing Covenant Theology (also published as God of Promise) regularly, most of the sources the [sic] use for CT are either web searches or Federal Vision writers.”

    Wellum, in his chapter describing CT (chapter 2) has two footnotes where he references two web pages
    (KTC, p. 57 fn55:

    and p. 64 fn76: )

    Both are written by R. Scott Clark…the administrator of the blog the review is on!!! And both of these footnotes contain other published sources with these references, so Wellum isn’t even dependent on the web sources to make his point. And the second of these sources has 90 endnotes! That isn’t a mere blog post written by a non-academic, but an article by a recognized authority on CT.

    In this same section (KTC pp. 56-80) where Wellum directly describes CT he quotes the most from Michael Horton (one of the profs who is probably instructing this reviewer about what CT even is in the first place at his seminary), but he also quotes freely from Berkhof, Robertson, VanGemeren, Vos, Reymond, Golding, Dumbrell, Murray, Hodge (so I guess the reviewer missed those references (p. 60 fn 67, p. 72 fn 97), Booth, Bromiley, Clowney, and lots of the authors in this book (, such as Pratt, Venema, Chapell, Niell, and Wilson.

    Wellum is interacting with contemporary authors and expressions of CT. JUST like he did with the dispensational authors. The reviewer praised Wellum for the dispensational authors he interacted with, but in the same vein, he wasn’t quoting Darby, Pentecost, or Gaebelien. Aren’t they classic expressions of dispensational theology?

    Are no modern authors good representatives of CT? Has nothing been advanced in last several hundred years in the articulation or understanding of CT? Knowing the influence that Meredith Kline has had on his seminary, I doubt the reviewer can answer “no”.

    The reviewer also stated, “To cite Federal Vision authors as representative of orthodox Reformed CT is not only to set up a straw man argument, but is an extreme misrepresentation of the opposing side.”

    First of all, in every instance that Wellum cites Wilson and Strawbridge (the two examples of FV proponents that I noticed…but there might be more I didn’t pick up on) in the chapter (except three times) it is along with multiple other authors who all establish the same point. On page 75, Wellum cites each Strawbridge (once) and Wilson (twice) without another author.

    And in the very last footnote of this chapter (p. 80 fn 80), Wellum clearly demonstrates his knowledge of the contemporary debate within CT over paedocommunion (which is usually how Federal Vision demonstrates itself). It is an intra-mural debate within proponents of CT. The reviewer might not like their claim to CT, but nevertheless they exist, and they too base their appeal for paedobaptism on CT. Nevertheless they weren’t at all the main representatives cited anyway.

    I could go on and on demonstrating more examples like this of how this review was so poorly done. But I lack both the interest and the time to do so.

    I hope I’ve demonstrated enough for unbiased readers to realize they need to check their facts for themselves before being persuaded by the claims of this review.

    • Richard,

      I do not cite my own informal/popular web articles in my academic work.

      There are accepted ways of citing online academic work but Harrison is right, the book is not well researched or documented in re covenant theology.

    • I’m sorry that you think the authors were unfairly represented. I would like to mention that I said “typically.” I did not say that they never used credible sources. I myself acknowledged regular use of Horton. However, (pg.692n86, one not mentioned in the repsonse) is not my idea of an academic source. Obviously, I find affinity with webpages written by Dr. Clark, but no matter how much I agree with them, I would not use them for sources in a academic work. This is something Dr. Clark would no doubt endorse. As far as “endnotes” are concerned, I am not sure where you found these because the book uses footnotes and not endnotes. I would be happy to revise my opinions if I can find the endnotes in question.
      I also think you might be using “freely” a little freely when you say they quote from CT authors freely, but nevertheless, I would actually say very little has been advanced in recent times for CT. I would say (distinguishing my opinions from those of this blog) that much of that is John Murray’s fault. Murray was explicitly a revisionist of CT and made mistakes that produced FV. You mention Wilson, but part of me wants to ask if you heard my criticism about using FV authors as CT. Wilson is FV, so I don’t think he should be used as an example of CT. I gues I was not clear enough when I said they should not use FV as representatives of CT. As far as the paedocommunion observation, it is an issue, but mainly I have thought FV demonstrated itself in undermining justification (I do not agree with them about paedocommunion however). Their bad doctrine of justification is ironically very rooted in their bad covenant theology! (See Norman Shepherd, The Call of Grace).

      Robertson followed Murray in the Westminster Philadelphia tradition of CT (by the way I have studied there for a year, so let’s not make this a WSC vs. WTS debate please. I can speak as having been a student of both). Robertson leaves the covenant of redemption out of CT simply by defining a covenant as a bond in blood. Classic CT includes the covenant of redemption. He also does not emphasize the “covenant of creation” as a covenant of works, which is a problem I also had with Wellum/Gentry. So I would make the same criticism of him. I have not read Christ of the covenants for a while (so I could be mistaken), but I believe he also got rid of the conditional/unconditional covenant distinction, which I would criticize him as well as Wellum/Gentry for doing. Dumbrell wrote a good book, but it is also not representative of CT as I am presenting it. He as well is not clear on the covenant of works (though he says it is basically correct in a passing final remark). His book is another exegetical treatment of covenants in Scripture, a much better one than the section Gentry wrote, but does not aim at presenting a theology of them, in the way being discussed. His is an exegetical treatment of the function of covenant but never makes the attempt to synthesize into a “covenant theology.” Having said that, using his book is not the same as using a book on covenant theology (e.g. Horton, Robertson, which is about CT, even though I say it is wrong at many points, just to head of an accusation of inconsistency). These books, including Wellum/Gentry get at the hermeneutical issues. That is a lot of their aim. Dumbrell was not aiming at the hermeneutical imports as such.
      Many of the authors you mentioned also pertained to their arguments specifically on baptism, which was a topic I tried to not address directly as much as possible. My concern was with their presentation of covenants (acknowledging that these are closely related). I will admit they are very well researched on baptism and make good use of sources regarding that. Vos is MAINLY cited in regards to theological method, i.e. biblical theology, not CT, so that is sort of beside the point here. Maybe I missed a lot more citations of Hodge than I registered and I will apologize if I did. They also cite Paul Williamson a lot (someone you did not mention). But yet again, he outright denies the covenant of works and does not align with convfessional CT on other areas as well. So here again, he is not an example of the CT that I am saying that they did not research well enough.
      Thankfully, modern CT does have Kline on its side, but he was cited once in this book if I remember correctly. I was aware of this because often the authors used his ideas and did not cite him. Linking CT to the idea of Kingdom in itself is not innovative. I think of Kline’s book, mainly about CT, ironically entitled “Kingdom Prologue.” Yet this book was not cited. So I would have been very happy to see them use Kline as an example of CT, but they did not.
      I hope this has clarified some of the confusion, at least regarding the sources cited. I would also say that I hope this review is not considered scholarship. It certainly is not worth citing in a scholarly work.

    • Here are my scattered replies to your previous remarks:

      I was merely mentioning authors that Wellum used as representatives of CT in pages 56-80 of KTC, which is the main section of the book where CT is described. That’s why I didn’t mention Williamson (who I didn’t think you would want to claim as representing classic CT, since he doesn’t even believe in any pre-lapsarian covenant) and also why I didn’t mention the reference to at the end of the book. Besides, he references that site because it is specifically interacting with his chapter in another book. It was written by Strawbridge, the same author that edited The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism (arguably the most comprehensive modern statement of the view). If Strawbridge hasn’t published it anywhere yet, but Wellum wants to respond to the criticism directly aimed at him, then how else is he supposed to cite the article? He wasn’t relying on it as a source for the position itself.

      I was referring to the 90 endnotes to the web page article written by Clark (not in KTC)…sorry for the confusion.

      “Freely” wasn’t the right word. I should have wrote “regularly.” Thanks for pointing that out.

      No you did not say they “never” used credible sources, but you did write (as I quoted) that “most of the sources the [sic] use for CT are either web searches or Federal Vision writers.” Really? “MOST”? Is that fair?

      I stated clearly how I thought Wilson (and other FV guys) were being used. I stand by my first response. Maybe we are not connecting here. I understand your point, but I thought I wrote something other than what you responded to.

      You went through many of the authors I mentioned. I didn’t mention them thinking that you agreed with them all, or even that they are even representative of classic CT (Murray’s deviations are well known, Dumbrell quibbles with the CofW, Robertson uses non-traditional language at times, etc.). Although I would think that guys like Berkhof should get recognition as being pretty traditional. You mention Kline. I like Kline and have benefited from a lot of his writing. But he is anything but traditional. He introduced a lot of innovation into CT…and he did so mostly because he was cutting edge…50 years ago! I guess from your perspective that might count as “modern,” but as Gentry demonstrated over and over again there have been a lot of ANE studies that have developed in the area of covenants since then. That is one of my problems with someone like Horton (and others) who rely so heavily on out-dated studies of the ANE in their formulation of CT. They are trying to put a fresh face on classic CT with their understandings of the different types of covenantal treaties in the ANE, but they stopped after Kline (or so it appears), and aren’t doing their own original research in those areas.

      I only mentioned all those authors because they are the ones cited in pages 56-80 of KTC for descriptions of CT…and a description you said was mostly based on web searches and FV authors…which is simply not true.

      As far as ‘more’ modern expression of CT that are chiefly argued from the Bible, I would have to say that Robertson, Kline and Dumbrell are the best examples I can think of, and all of them have written more than a generation ago now. Dumbrell in particular is not aiming at a theological synthesis…I agree.

      I would venture to guess that the most influential single book read by the most people to introduce and define CT in the last few decades would have to be Robertson’s work (not to mention all the current CT scholars he taught in various seminaries). And maybe today and going forward it is Horton’s work. So, if these are the works that the majority of the readers have read as their explanations of CT, why does it not make sense for the authors of KTC to primarily be interacting with these works?

      Lastly, you stated in passing that you thought that Dumbrell’s exegetical treatment of the covenants was a much better one than Gentry’s section…that completely baffles me. If anything Gentry is further strengthening and developing Dumbrell’s work. In fact, they have LARGE exegetical agreement (except for mostly the NC). Dumbrell’s work was more streamlined, so if that is what you are referring to, then I somewhat understand. But the exegetical work (for those with the requisite training to follow it) is superior (that’s why he even includes that lengthy appendix…to strengthen the argument of Dumbrell against those like Williamson).

      And while Gentry doesn’t go out of his way to draw out the implications of his exegesis, that’s precisely what most of chapter 16 is designed to do. Wellum reviews all the high points of the exegesis (constantly making reference back to the respective discussion in part 2 for more detailed argumentation). That all seemed abundantly obvious to me. And besides, to those aware of the exegetical and theological issues, it is not hard to put the pieces together when reading the exegetical chapters themselves anyway. Sure, he doesn’t use the same language as the Post-Reformation Scholastics, but the same issues are there in substance. But in case it was missed, there are two more chapters bringing the exegesis together and drawing out the implications for theological synthesis. I thought the arrangement of the book was quite well done in that respect.

      Lastly, by ‘scholarship’ I was not referring to the location of the public viewing of your review (a blog as opposed to a journal), or the depth in which you went, but the ability to fairly represent the thesis of the book and characterize the research of the authors.

      Thanks for the reply.

  3. Pages 56-80 of KTC is the main section describing Covenant Theology. Even if the author chose not to interact with Witsius or Turretin (for instance) but instead chose to quote from mostly contemporary exponents of CT (like he did with dispensationalism), can either Dr. Clark or Mr. Perkins demonstrate for me where CT was actually misrepresented or described inaccurately in this section of the book?

    Are there ANY ‘contemporary’ “full-bodied” treatments of CT that you think aren’t “shoddy second hand material”? And I don’t mean ones that are just focused on interpreting books written in the 16th and 17th century, I mean books focusing on interpreting THE BIBLE.

    Perhaps you can even point out how Witsius or Turretin even contradicts the quotes that are offered in the book (page numbers rather than assertions would be helpful).

    According to you, “the book is not well researched or documented in re covenant theology.” But that is not the same thing as saying that it is inaccurate.

    You might have preferred KTC to interact with different authors (your brand of CT) or delve deeper into historical sources, but that in itself doesn’t invalidate the overall description of CT or the purpose for which this section functioned in the larger thesis of the book (the thesis that this reviewer never was even able to article in the review above).

    This review presupposed the validly of classic CT, nit-picked KTC to find stated disagreements, and never bothered to actually interact with hardly any of the 450+ pages of detailed exegesis.

    Citing historical sources doesn’t prove your right. Show me the exegesis!

    • It is difficult in a blog length entry to provide a full exegetical response. You have to pick your words and be brief if it is going to be useful (which you obviously think it is not). This is not an academic review and is not meant to go in a journal, where that type of thing has the space to be done. I could have tried to post the 20 pages of notes and responses I had typed, but thought it would be better to try and write something accessible. However, I did provide references to passages I had in mind and others were also posted in part one. Also, you seem to be taking issue with closing remarks rather than the body of the review (if we include part 1 and 2). You are aware of Kline, as you mentioned, so I assume you have read him. There’s some good exegesis that has no need to be reprinted here. Just as the authors may have not used the sources I wanted, I may have not argued the way you wanted, but you seem to want me to not take issue with them for not doing what I wanted. Don’t take issue with me for not doing what you wanted either then. Additionally, in part 1 I commended much of their exegesis. This was done because I wanted to lead with the fact that there was much to appreciate about the book. I also said that I did not have issue with how exegesis was done, but the fact that Gentry hardly ever conveys the conclusions or significance of his exegesis to the major argument (except when it relates to baptism in a chapter on the new covenant, which is a reason I said this book is largely about baptism). As far as citations go, there are many page numbers listed in part 1.
      Paragraphs 2 and 3 also happen to be devoted to summarizing exegetical arguments. I did summaries rather than extended arguments because it is a blog and not a journal and not a full-blown academic source. I hoped to provide brief responses so that people who needed quick access to the book could have it. I also hope that this is not an issue of thinking something is not exegesis if it does not appeal to a certain grammatical structure. I can say “x happens in this passage” and I just made a biblical argument. This is the style I tried to use for the sake of brevity.
      I also wonder what the purpose of juxtaposing 16th and 17th century books to ones about interpreting the Bible. What else were they doing. The fact that most 16th and 17th century authors were better at interpreting the Bible seems to make them more relevant rather than less relevant. Rather than simple assertion, I would say they were better Bible interpreters because they did not buy post-critical assumptions that color so many exegetes today, even in our own conservative circles (assuming you are conservative of course). They knew how to read the Bible as a whole.

    • I already made comments on some of what you wrote here. But I do want to simply share this quote with you in reference to the last statement you made. I fear that this admonition will fall on deaf years to the readers of this blog, nevertheless I hope some might have ears to hear.

      While I’m confident that you take issue with parts of John Murray’s version of Covenant Theology (as do I), I do resonate with these statements from his short work, The Covenant of Grace: A Biblico-Theological Study (pub. 1953):

      “When we use the term ‘covenant theology’, however, we must not restrict this evaluation to the more fully developed covenant theology of the seventeenth century.”(p. 3)

      “It would not be, however, in the interests of theological conservation or theological progress for us to think that the covenant theology is in all respects definitive and that there is no further need for correction, modification, and expansion. Theology must always be undergoing reformation. The human understanding is imperfect. However architectonic may be the systematic constructions of any one generation or group of generations, there always remains the need for correction and reconstruction so that the structure may be brought into closer approximation to the Scripture and the reproduction be a more faithful transcript or reflection of the heavenly examplar. It appears to me that the covenant theology, notwithstanding the finesse of analysis with which it was worked out and the grandeur of its articulated systematization, needs recasting.” (pp. 4-5)

      Yes, indeed, it needs “recasting”, hence Progressive Covenantalism!

      I think working within confessional boundaries is a good thing. But our understanding of the Bible is not static, and that at times might lead to a change to various confessions. I want to spend more time debating the interpretation of Hebrews chapter 7, not chapter 7 of the WCF.

      • Richard,

        One of the great problems with the modern discussion is that Murray and Robertson’s revisionist approach has become the baseline instead of the classic Reformed covenant theologies that have either been mischaracterized (e.g., Cocceius’ is consistently misrepresented in the secondary lit) or ignored. Murray knew the tradition and knew where he was deviating and did so intentionally but many who’ve learned their covenant theology from him or those who’ve followed in his steps haven’t done so with a full knowledge of what the earlier writers were doing or how.

        For my part, I became convinced of the older approach through my reading of the original sources. I subscribe the confessional view because (quia) it’s biblical.

        Take a look at Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.

        I don’t agree at all with what you’re saying about Horton’s volume. You seem to be describing a different book than the one I read. He engages with a wide range of scholarship including Romanist and Jewish. Levenson isn’t dated scholarship.

    • Dr. Clark,

      I have the book you mentioned, and have read some of it, including several of your chapters.

      I’m sure you know that not everyone reads the tradition of CT in the same way as those associated with WSC [cf. Venema’s Review of “The Law is Not of Faith” (MAJT 2010)].

      I admit I haven’t read everything Horton has written, and he has written a lot. He is interacting with many contemporary theological discussions in a lot of his works and I think he is a brilliant scholar.

      I was referring to his main text on Covenant Theology. This is the book that I suppose many are reading nowadays for their introduction to CT. The same one you recommended here:

      In it he is relying heavily on Mendenhall, Kline, Eichrodt, von Rad, Hillers, Korosec, McCarthy, etc. for his studies of the ANE covenantal treaties…all of whom wrote in the 1930s, 50s and 60s. I don’t remember any reference to Levenson, and a quick glance through all the endnotes didn’t reveal any reference either (but maybe I missed it).

      I did however find two references to two works by Levenson in KTC, both in the footnotes and also in the bibliography to Part 2 (KTC, pp. 213, 467, 802). Any casual observer can look at the research done on the ANE studies and compare Horton and Gentry to see which one is more current.

      I understand that Murray and Robertson have greatly influenced the modern discussion, but the reality is that in many Reformed seminaries this is the Covenant Theology being taught. I don’t know if it is the current majority view, but it sure seems like it to me. I’m also no expert on the WCF, but the description of CT in KTC seems fit pretty well.

      So, I gather from Dr. Clark and Mr. Perkins the two works I should look to for modern representation of classic CT are the book referenced and edited by Dr. Clark and Kline’s Kingdom Prologue (perhaps Horton is ok too). I’m not sure if Mr. Perkins would classify any of these works as “full-bodied”, but I suppose they are the best that ‘contemporary’ authors have contributed to explaining classic CT.

      For all this discussion of the varieties of CT in the modern discussion, I would still like to know where CT was actually misrepresented or described inaccurately in this section of the book (KTC pp. 56-80)?

  4. I also want to reiterate (so it doesn’t get lost in the multitude of other words) this request:

    Can either Dr. Clark or Mr. Perkins demonstrate for me where CT was actually misrepresented or described inaccurately in this section of the book (KTC pp. 56-80)?

    Perhaps you can even point out how Witsius or Turretin even contradicts the quotes that are offered in the book.

    • The issue I took with the representation of CT was primarily in using FV sources as representatives, but also the fact that they seemed to convey that CT saw the Mosaic covenant as primarily in terms of the third use of the law. This is Murray’s CT and that draws together a lot of the discussion, thus far. Murray’s views are not confessional CT and should not be taken as the base line. That’s the major point that’s been being debated. Revisionist views are not baseline CT. I hold to republication, as I believe the Westminster Standards do as well. If the Mosaic law is the law that was given to Adam in the covenant of works (WCF 19.1-2), then the Mosaic covenant has a substantially different function as an administration of the covenant of grace from that of the Abrahamic (and others). To represent CT as mainly as simple progression where all the covenants build on each other in the way that Murray presents it is, at least to me, engaging a view that is somewhat unhelpful to engage. They aren’t engaging my covenant theology or that of the confessionally Reformed. My main concern with saying something was a misrepresentation was in citing FV as CT. But on this topic, we are going in circles, so I leave it there. Some of my other concerns about how they construe CT is about the nature of the covenant of grace. I made comments that I thought were critical, yet balanced in part 1 of my review. There I actually said I thought that they were arguing a similar point as CT in posing one plan of salvation, but that they had misunderstood the point of one covenant of grace language. To pose one covenant of grace against one plan of salvation is somewhat silly to me because the idea is the same. I think they do so in order to divide up the covenant of grace/one plan to argue for their idea of the new covenant. It does seem as if you think I have been only critical of this book and wonder if you read part 1 of my review. I believe there I actually used the phrase “wonderful argument” at one point. You seem to be only critical of my review when I was not only critical in my review (taking my review as including part 1 and 2). I actually wished I had made more positive comments about their position on the atonement and some of the rest of the Christology section, though I still take issue with some of their ideas about forgiveness in the OT.
      I did not have in mind the summaries of CT in the pages you mentioned in mind when I was making the criticisms about engaging the sources. There, they were summarizing, not engaging sources. The place I had in mind was in part 3, where Wellum was making the theological synthesis. The simple fact is, he never said, here is what I hold regarding the covenant of works, here is exactly what I think about the covenant of redemption. He disagrees with some of it, but thinks some of it is on the right track, and that is about as explicit as he gets on those covenant headings. He does not engage Hodge or Berkhof as views and argue with or against them in an explicit way, in regards to those. I was mainly bothered that they did not engage the substance of these covenants. Why is the covenant of works important for CT? Because it has profound ramifications for justification and the work of Christ. This type of thing was not really engaged. Neither was the reasons that CT poses one covenant of grace. They seemed content to say the Bible doesn’t speak of an historical one covenant of grace so we don’t. But that doesn’t address the theology behind the idea. Quibble with a term, fine, it’s silly to do, but whatever. But to not engage the concept behind that term seems insufficient. We call it one covenant of grace to emphasize one way of salvation, namely, in Jesus. The authors seem to want to make the emphasis be more on stand alone covenants, which is why I say they haven’t come much past progressive dispensationalism. They claim to look at what comes before and after in regards to the covenants, yet they do not address the way later books appeal to earlier covenants sufficiently. For example, the historical books make repeated appeal to Davidic promises and then to Abrahamic promises when things get really bad. They do appeal to the Sinai covenant as the reason for judgment though. This seems to indicate differing functions in these covenants, namely, promise and law bases. For this kind of reason, I did not think they sufficiently lived up to their claim to examine the covenants in light of what is before and after each one.
      Ultimately, I regret that you did not find the review useful. I do wonder if you read both parts because many criticisms seem to be missing elements of what I said in part 1. Sorry you were not blessed by it, but I pray that others are. Happy blogging to you.

    • Just to clarify, I did read both parts of your review (more than once actually) before even making the first comment. I also noticed the few (obligatory) positive remarks you made in the opening paragraphs, but they are overshadowed by the rest of your review.

      I chose to respond to comments you made near the end of part 2 of your review because it seemed to me that your rhetoric of disagreement was harshest there, and I took issue with your characterization.

      But don’t worry, there was PLENTY in Part 1 I objected to as well. I would have to do a point by point rebuttal to do justice to the problems. Your paragraph on the covenant of grace was particularly problematic for various reasons.

      I’ll mention just one: you wrote, “It becomes clear that the primary reason for posing their hermeneutics under a covenantal scheme is to try and make credobaptism at all plausible for those of us who hold CT.” REALLY? You seriously think that?!? How about the whole discussion about what it even means to ‘be biblical’? Or the repeated discussion of discovering the Bible’s own internal substructure? Or the manifest demonstration of the prominence of the covenantal theme in Scripture? Credobaptism is a conclusion, an inference from their exegesis and hermeneutics, not the other way around.

      In a comment elaborating on a point in the review you wrote: “I read them to say real forgiveness was granted through the sacrifices (not that this did not also have a typological function). So it is very different from CT to say that forgiveness has not always been through Jesus’s blood and that is what I have heard them to say. They seem to argue that only after Christ came is His blood the way of forgiveness.” Well, I’m sorry you got that impression from the book, because it is in fact not what the authors believe. As the previous commenter (Justin Esposito) came a lot closer to understanding them.

      First of all, if you simply included the following sentence after the one you quoted, that alone might make it clear.

      “…the newness of the new covenant, at its heart, is found in the promise of complete forgiveness of sin. In the Old Testament, particularly under the old covenant, the forgiveness of sins is normally granted through the sacrificial system, however, the Old Testament believer, if spiritually perceptive, knew that this was not enough, as evi¬denced in the repetitive nature of the system. But now we are told that in the new covenant, sin will be remembered no more (Jer. 31:34).”

      Then 2 pages later, right after discussing the problem of forgiveness under the Old Covenant, Wellum writes:

      “Ultimately the only solution is found in the new covenant. In the old covenant God provided a sacrificial system which allowed for forgiveness of sin (Lev. 17:11) and thus “intimacy” between the holy covenant Lord and his rebellious creatures. But as the Old Testament makes clear and the new covenant promise anticipates, it was never enough. God must provide in a more definitive way. He himself must come and resolve the problem of sin through the provision of a greater priest and mediator, his own beloved Son. It is only in the coming of Christ and the new covenant that the Spirit of God in his fullness is poured out, hearts of the covenant community are transformed, and ultimately the fortunes of a lost creation are restored.”

      Yes, the experience of salvation was different for the OC believer (no indwelling of the Spirit…which you pointed out), but there was not two modes of salvation. Christ’s blood is always the way of forgiveness, not just after he comes (cf. Heb. 9:15 & Rom. 3:24-26). But what the authors are trying to maintain is the salvation-historical tension that is at the heart of the two verses I just referenced. The authors of KTC refuse to flatten out the progressive unfolding of redemption.

      I believe that at the heart of your complaint of misrepresentation is that you believe that your brand of CT wasn’t sufficiently represented in the book. I understand that you are claiming that yours is the historic or classic version of CT (I’ll leave that to the Reformation historians to sort out – although see the Venema article on Republication I mentioned in an earlier comment), but the influence of Murray, Robertson and others in contemporary presentations of CT is undeniable.

      You might not like that CT has been hijacked in many cases, but I bet the dispensationalists have a similar claim. I know plenty of Traditional Dispensationalists who think that Ryrie, Walvoord, Pentecost, McClain, etc. represent true, historic dispensationalism. Bock, Blaising, Saucy and others positing a “Progressive Dispensationalism” are leaving the essence of true dispensationalism, and hence shouldn’t even be considered as such. Is that really that much different than saying Voetius, Cocceius, Turretin, and Witsius, etc. represent true, historic (even confessional) CT, and modern authors such as Murray, Robertson, Hoekema (dare I add in FV guys) have left the essence of true CT, and shouldn’t even be considered as such?

      Even so, Horton was probably quoted the most. And no, Wellum in the final chapter should not be expected to cite again all the authors he quoted in the main section laying out CT. He established what the view is, now he is stating his divergences from it. But I’m happy for you to disagree.

      Yes, I am mainly critical of your review. However, if your intention is to not really engage the actual argumentation of the book (or even articulate the central thesis), but to presuppose your version of CT and seek to warn the confessionally faithful not to be persuaded, then I think you have been successful.

      While the content of this review was not helpful for me, this interaction has been helpful in solidifying for me the impression I had of the mindset of the confessionally reformed.

      I’m sure you’re a nice guy and well read on CT, but I’m sorry, this was just a bad review. It should have never been posted.

      Ironically, in your last comment I think you come the closest to evaluating the book on its own terms, judging whether or not they fulfilled their own claims. I disagree with your assessment, but that is the making of a helpful review.

      • Richard,

        You’re able to determine the “mindset” of the confessionally Reformed from a couple of blogposts? I’m not sure whether to say, “really?” or “glad to be of service.”

    • The authors deny that OT saints were united to Christ (pg. 113n74). They note that CT does hold that OT believers were united to Him and this is a difference they have with CT in soteriology. I’m not sure how they pose that OT saints were saved by the work of Christ if they were not united to Him. It seems as if union with Him is kind of the prerequisite to being included in His work. So they are not saying that the experience is just different. Denying union with Christ (aside from the debate about what that means) means salvation comes from some other source and it seems as if they pose the forgiveness that comes through the sacrificial system. I referenced this in part 1, which you read so well.

    • The intimation that the authors of KTC teach a different way or mode of salvation (perhaps akin to some forms of early dispensationalism) is completely wrong. That offensive suggestion denigrates the supremacy of the work of Christ, something that KTC proclaims forcefully and repetitively.

      Here are some more complete statements from the book on this issue:

      “We are thinking of salvation experience differences between old and new covenant believers. We affirm that old covenant believers were regenerated and that they were saved by grace through faith in the promises of God. We also believe that old covenant believers knew the Lord and experienced forgiveness of sins under the old covenant structures in anticipation of the fulfillment of those types and shadows in Christ. But we deny that these salvation experiences were true of the entire old covenant community and that the Old Testament saint experienced the same access to God, the indwelling of the Spirit, and other experiences unique to the coming work of our Lord.” (KTC, 684n70)

      “There is only one people of God (elect) across time. Much data could be given at this point but most today do not dispute this fact. In the Old Testament era, people were saved by grace through faith in the promises of God and the same is true in the coming of Christ, except that the promises of God are now Christologically defined with greater clarity due to the progression of revelation across the biblical covenants (see Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:9-12; Gal. 3:6-9; Heb. 11:8-19). Promise had given way to fulfillment so that one now cannot know God, salvifically, apart from faith in Christ (John 5:23; Acts 4:12; cf. 1 John 2:23; 4:2-3).” (KTC, 685)

      “We are not to conclude from this that no Old Testament saint knew God, was regenerated, or was forgiven of his or her sins. Instead, under the old covenant these realities were true for the remnant (elect) within the nation in a typological, shadowy, and anticipatory way. Old Testament believers had access to God only mediately, through the priesthood and tabernacle/temple structures; their access was not immediate. In the same way, the elect under the old covenant were regenerate, but this was not true of the entire community, and even the elect did not experience the full new covenant realities of the Spirit’s work. Their sins were also forgiven (see Gen. 15:6), yet this was not based solely on the sacrificial system but came about as they also believed God’s promises and looked forward to God’s provision of a great sacrifice to come (see Rom. 3:21-26; Hebrews 9-10).” (KTC, 687-88).

      “He [Jesus], as the fulfillment of Adam, Abraham, Israel, and David has brought covenantal and epochal change. And we, as the new covenant people of God, receive the benefits of his work in only one way—through individual repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ—which then, by God’s grace and power, transfers us from being “in Adam” to being “in Christ,” with all the benefits of that union. And the New Testament is clear: to be “in Christ” and thus in the new covenant, a member of his gathered people (church), means that one is a regenerate believer. The New Testament knows nothing of one who is “in Christ” who is not regenerate, effectually called of the Father, born of the Spirit, justified, holy, and awaiting glorification.” (KTC, 691-92)

      They are not saying that “salvation comes from some other source” other than the work of Christ, and they are not teaching that ‘real forgiveness’ comes through the OT system as if this was the ground of their salvation in the OT.

      There is only one way of salvation! Christ is the only grounds and basis for the forgiveness of our sins whether that is the OT believers or New Covenant believers. Salvation has always been by grace, through faith in the promises of God, but those promises are covenantally defined. The faith content of the promise becomes clearer as you move through salvation history (cf. Gal. 3:21-26). The faith content of Abraham’s justifying faith was not exactly the same as the faith content of a believer post-Pentecost. It’s not that he believed something ‘different’, but that it lacked the salvation-historical specificity of being focused Christologically. He knew God’s promises were bound up with a son and God’s provision, but it doesn’t seem much clearer than that. The perceptive Jew would have been looking forward to the Messiah, but the Gospels demonstrate for us how much confusion there was about this coming Messiah.

      As far as the exact application of that final salvation achieved in the cross, the authors don’t directly address that question. It wasn’t necessarily in the purview of the book to discuss the ordo salutis of old covenant believers. Whatever answer is given would have to be grounded in the work of Christ, not in some other means of salvation.

      What the authors refuse to do is merely flatten out the progress of revelation and the unfolding drama of redemptive-history and read NT categories back into the OT wholesale. As I pointed to before, the reason for verses like Romans 3:25-26 and Hebrews 9:15 is because there was a ‘problem’ of forgiveness in the OT, that the coming of Christ rectified.

      But for those reading this review who haven’t read the book, don’t be mistaken to believe that the authors do anything else but clearly proclaim the supremacy of Christ’s person and work as the only source of salvation.

    • Richard, I gave you a direct reference to a page and footnote, which you ignored, or at least refused to address. You said one of the reasons for my review being so terrible was that I failed to engage the argument of the authors. You have failed to engage my arguments now. What conclusion then should we draw from the premises given here about the quality of your response? All of these citations are good fun and I’m glad the authors are affirming much of these things. However, they explicitly state their position on soteriology in the citation I gave (pg. 113n74). Regarding differences they have with covenant theology they say, “we are specifically thinking if the area of soteriology. Covenant theology tends to argue that the salvation experience of the Old Testament believer is basically the same as that if the new covenant believer, thus reading new covenant realities such as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and EVEN UNION WITH CHRIST back into the old covenant.” Of course there is progression in revelation. No one denies that. I’m pretty sure this topic is where they cite Vos, who was a covenant theologian. CT has had a giant hand in addressing the redemptive-historical nature of Scripture. However, if you say that Union with Christ is a new covenant reality that should not be read back into the old covenant, then it is being said that those in the old covenant did not have the reality of union with Christ. If this is the case, then they were not saved by union with Christ because they did not have that union with Christ. This quotation seems plain enough to me. You cite page 695 which states “the promises are now Christologically defined.” If this is referring to clarity of revelation, then fine (which is an issue addressed there). However, they say the OT saints were saved by faith in the promises of God, but now those promises are Christologically defined. Aside from having greater content regarding how the promises are fulfilled in the NT, this seems to make a contrast in the promises in which the saints were having faith: before they were not Christologically defined, now they are. If “defined” means “understood” then they are right. However, if defined means “having the substance and object of” then Christ was not the substance of OT faith. In light of the citation that I have given, it is not a leap to think they mean the latter. If union with Christ is not a reality in the old covenant, then it seems that they would think that Christ is not the substance or object of OT faith. Until someone explains how the authors are arguing that OT saints are saved by Christ when they EXPLICITLY deny OT saints had union with Christ, then I am compelled to think you are reading them for what you want them to say. I am perfectly fine saying that there are good and helpful parts of the book, but that on this issue I disagree with them (as I am willing to say about books written from the perspective of CT, as I have shown in critiquing Murray, Robertson, etc, in our own conversation). So I don’t have to have a book say all the things it should say to appreciate it. I think the authors see OT as not saved by Christ, simply because they say the OT saints were not united to Christ (maybe you should explain to me how someone can be saved by Christ when they are not united to Him).

    • Harrison,

      My goal is not to score rhetorical points with you or Dr. Clark or any other commenter of this blog post. I have resisted attempting to, even when I saw an opportunity, but perhaps I have failed at times. But it was/is not my intention. However, I am trying to let uninformed readers of this review know that I think you have drawn some wrong conclusions from things in KTC.

      I don’t think I ignored your statement at all. Let me try again…

      You imply (or really basically state) that the authors of KTC teach a different means of salvation for OT believers. You based that on this quote from page 650, “In the Old Testament, particularly under the old covenant, the forgiveness of sins is normally granted through the sacrificial system” and also the statement concerning union with Christ on page 113, footnote 74.

      My response was to first put that quote on page 650 in context and to also demonstrate many other fuller statements that the authors make to unequivocally state that salvation is always based on the work of Christ, and that only he brings real forgiveness in both the OT and NT. If you don’t think the quotes I provided state this truth, then at least readers can judge for themselves now.

      And then on the issue of union with Christ…

      First I would want to note that Wellum explicitly is referring to the salvation “experience” of the OT believer, not the foundation of his salvation, when he says that it is not the same as the new covenant believer. What he also states is that the indwelling of the spirit and even union with Christ are new covenant realities that should not be read back into the old covenant.

      Of those two parts (indwelling of HS and union with Christ), the authors give some bibliography addressing the former in the same footnote. One of those references is to Hamilton’s “God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments.” In this work he survey’s a range of views on this issue, even indicating some Covenant Theologians who also don’t hold to indwelling of HS for OC believers.

      But really, your greater tension is with the statement denying a union with Christ as a salvation experience of the OC believer. I think you read the statement correctly, but I think you drew the wrong conclusion, or at least assumed that only one conclusion could be drawn.

      You ask how it is that an OC believer’s salvation could be from Christ if he is not united to Christ? You wrote earlier that “it seems as if union with Him is kind of the prerequisite to being included in His work.”

      My baseline response to this question is: ‘That’s a good question!’

      You also wrote earlier, “I’m not sure how they pose that OT saints were saved by the work of Christ if they were not united to Him.”

      And my baseline response to this point is: ‘I’m not sure either.’

      That is why I wrote at the end of my last comment: “As far as the exact application of that final salvation achieved in the cross, the authors don’t directly address that question. It wasn’t necessarily in the purview of the book to discuss the ordo salutis of old covenant believers. Whatever answer is given would have to be grounded in the work of Christ, not in some other means of salvation.”

      I don’t mind you raising that question, and noting some tension here from the point of view of CT soteriology. But what I reacted to then and now is the automatic implication that therefore they MUST be positing another means of salvation in the OT…something that they explicitly deny!

      I think of this tension we are having along these lines:

      Premise 1: Union with Christ is the prerequisite to having salvation applied from the work of Christ
      Premise 2: KTC denies union with Christ is an experience that the OC believers had.
      Conclusion: Therefore KTC teaches another form of salvation for OC believers that is not based on the work of Christ.

      Well, the authors do affirm Premise 2, but they deny the conclusion. So, perhaps they have a different understanding than you do of Premise 1 (or some other reason that I can’t think of right now). But I do think it is wrong of you to state, contrary to their explicit denial, that in fact they do teach another form of salvation for OC believers. That is a very serious charge indeed.

      In multiple pages they state their view, and you are overturning all of their explicit statements because of an unelaborated, passing comment in a footnote. I don’t know how the authors would answer this question and I don’t pretend to speak for them. My suggestions for how one might answer it aren’t really relevant to this post (which at least started out as a review of KTC).

      I guess we will both have to wait for future publications from the authors to give their answer to resolve this tension. In the mean time, I think it is wrong to charge them with something that they explicitly deny. Perhaps you see an inconsistency here that you think is unresolvable (at least from your point of view), but in the very least let them attempt to resolve it before you charge them with an unworkable solution.

      This whole issue is rooted in the one of the central ideas of the book, namely that we must follow the progression of the biblical covenants through scripture as a framework for proper interpretation. The authors think that the overarching category of the covenant of grace flattens out these redemptive historical tensions. They are attempting to do justice to the newness of the new covenant. And one of the realities that seems to be tied to the new covenant age is a union with the mediator of that new covenant, Jesus Christ.

      KTC is not a perfect book, and I’m confident the authors would admit that. It doesn’t say all the things I would want it to say, and at some spots I might want to say it differently than they do as well. But on the whole, I agree that the progressive covenantalism that they are positing does better justice to the storyline of the Bible than either covenant theology or dispensationalism. That is the central challenge with which readers of KTC need to wrestle.

      This discussion has gone on much longer than I wanted and probably much longer than you anticipated. I have nothing else to add that I think will be helpful. If you so choose, you can have the last word…after all, it is your review.

    • That seems to me a peaceable end. The disagreements and tensions between our positions are apparent, but I hope the discussion has clarified and been more profitable than your original assessment of the post.

    • Harrison,

      I hope this doesn’t violate the spirit of ‘giving you the last word.’

      I have learned much through our interaction. You have sharpened my thinking and asked some good questions that I will continue to ponder. I appreciate you taking KTC seriously enough to give it the engagement you did. Thank you.

  5. I would not dare to say that Richard Gaffin’s covenant theology is not “real covenant theology”, but I would agree that his version of covenantal discontinuity is not only modern (not found back in the history) and biblically incorrect.

    To quote Mark Karlberg, “Gaffin stresses that it is Christ’s present ministry of intercession which “secures” the justification of God’s
    elect, not merely (not only, not sola) his prior work on the cross. In light of Romans 8, observes Gaffin, the idea of the finished work of Christ is only ‘relatively true.’

    Karlberg: The effect of Gaffin’s formulation is to minimize the value and the merit of Christ’s atoning work on the cross; it is to destroy the biblical distinction between redemption accomplished and applied.
    In fact, Gaffin argues that the biblical-theological distinction between historia salutis and ordo salutis properly begins to blur in
    Calvin’s thinking. The accent now falls on the present, ongoing ministry of Christ. (The believer is secure in Christ so long as
    he/she exhibits the fruits of union with Christ.

    Karlberg: The way to maintain the forensic/renovative distinction, Gaffin tells us, is to give full credence to the “already/not yet”
    contrast in Pauline theology…. In union with Christ the believer is legally a child of God. Future adoption awaits the redemption of the body. Justification, reasons Gaffin, is both already and not yet. The future actualization of soteric justification is final judgment according to works – and here Gaffin’s proof-text is Rom 2:6ff., the text which
    deals “most substantially” with future justification.

    Karlberg: Once more, Gaffin claims support for his interpretation by referring to Calvin, specifically, to the chapter in the Institutes entitled “The Beginning of Justification and Its Continual Progress.” (In this connection, Gaffin prefers to speak of the believer’s “progress in justification,” a notion that is not found in Calvin.) What stands out in bold relief in Gaffin’s reading of Calvin is the notion that something deeper than the forgiveness of sins, something deeper than the
    imputation of Christ’s righteousness determines the believer’s identity. That something deeper is union with Christ. Thus,
    explains Gaffin, justification depends not only on what Christ has done (i.e., on redemption accomplished), but also on union with Christ All of this leads Gaffin to conclude that the believer’s justification is still future.
    mark m: But what does this have to do with the issue of covenantal unity and discontinuity?
    mark k: Gaffin brings his lectures to a close by addressing the question of the relationship between old and new covenants. Gaffin contends that the redemptive-historical contrast between the old and new covenants finds its explanation in terms of BOTH discontinuity (historical salutis) and continuity (ordo salutis). Gaffin contends that the uniqueness of Pentecost is wholly a matter of historia salutis, not ordo salutis. The profound, existential difference between old and new covenants is union with the exalted Christ. Prior to Christ’s resurrection from the dead, the saints of God were merely “friends with God.” They were not united with the glorified Christ. They did not yet experience the “something better” spoken of by the writer to the Hebrews (11:40). Spiritual union with the resurrected Lord of Glory awaits the eschatological age, life in the Spirit.

    Mark K continues: “Gaffin maintains that the law of God has the same ordo salutis function under both covenants. “Faith and works sustain
    the same positive relationship to each other.” More expressly, the way of salvation – wherein faith and good works are the means of justification (so Gaffin understands Rom 2:6ff.)17 – is identical in the time of the Mosaic law and in the time of Christ. (On the differences between the Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrine of justification and the covenants Shepherd is more forthright in his book, The Call of Grace.)

    mark m: I am glad that not all covenant theologies are the same

    • Would you be willing to share what source you are using? Not because I am trying to criticize, but because I would very much like to read the full thing.

  6. David Gordon is not a “silly” theologian. He believes in one gospel only, “one plan of salvation”, but he carefully argues that this does not mean we lump all covenants into the “administrations” category. We need to see the difference between the new covenant and other covenants. We need to see the difference between “the eternal covenant” and God’s other “cuts” in history.

    “John Murray’s Mono-Covenantalism” in By Faith Alone, edited by Gary Johnson and Guy Waters (Crossway, 2006)

    Gordon: I am perfectly happy with retaining the covenant of works, by any label, because it was a historic covenant; what I am less happy with is the language of the covenant of grace, because this is a genuinely unbiblical use of biblical language; biblically, covenant is always a historic arrangement, inaugurated in space and time. Once covenant refers to an over-arching divine decree or purpose to redeem the elect in Christ, confusion is sure to follow.

    Gordon:The word covenant is rarely employed in the Bible; where it is used, there is almost always an immediate contextual clue to which biblical covenant is being referred to, such as “the covenant of circumcision” (Acts 7:8) The New Testament writers were not mono-covenantal regarding the Old Testament (see Rom 9:4, Eph 2:12; Gal 4:24).

  7. I only read the conclusions pertaining to Baptism in KTC. It seems to me that all of them presuppose an interpretation of the warning passages (i.e. Hebrews 6, et al.) that only does them partial justice. I don’t think that this was explored in depth in KTC, but if they’re wrong on those passages (they essentially take the hypothetical view) then their conclusions concerning the NC community are also wrong. Since I didn’t find their exegesis on those passages compelling, I felt as though the conclusions made concerning baptism were already on shaky ground. Dr. Horton noted that the warning passages posed a problem for the conclusions drawn in KTC in his review on TGC, too. I think the response to him was essentially: “there are other ways to interpret those passages.”

    • If you want to see more detailed discussion about how the authors of KTC would handle the warning passages, check out The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance by Tom Schreiner and Ardel Caneday. And for the application of this view to the book of Hebrews in particular, then look at Chris Cowan’s 2012 PhD dissertation from SBTS, titled, “Confident of Better Things”: Assurance of Salvation in the Letter to the Hebrews, especially chapter 4 where he critiques the common interpretations of the warning passages in Hebrews. Schreiner was the supervisor and Wellum was on the committee. Both works argue for the “means-of-salvation” view (not the hypothetical loss-of-salvation nor the tests-of-genuineness views).

  8. Richard,

    I read Schreiner’s book a while back. The “means” view is just a re hashing of the hypothetical view, with a shift in emphasis. I have a few friends from SBTS who have also articulated it to me. Personally, I find it unconvincing. You can read my comments under Horton’s critique of KTC for a little bit of expansion at TGC.

    Our understanding of those passages is critical as it pertains to this question. If Schreiner and Wellum are incorrectly understanding those passages, then as I stated before, many of the conclusions they draw in KTC don’t hold any water. I’d recommend:

    • Just to be clear, the “means-of-salvation’ view of the warning passages in Hebrews is not the only possible explanation for the validity of the conclusions drawn in KTC. Calvinists have held other views which would be compatible as well. See for example Wayne Grudem’s “Perseverance of the Saints: A Case Study from the Warning Passages in Hebrews” in Still Sovereign, edited by Schreiner and Ware; or even more recently Buist Fanning’s essay “A Classical Reformed View” in Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, edited by Bateman.

      And these explanations are not exclusively credobaptist interpretations either. See Robert Peterson’s 2008 article in the Presbyterion titled, “Apostacy in the Hebrews Warning Passages” and also his 2009 book, “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostacy.”

      The warning passages in Hebrews are notoriously difficult to interpret. I wouldn’t want to make my whole theological system dependent on just one possible explanation.

    • Richard,
      I find it odd to cite Peterson’s article here because he himself says that he is summarizing other people’s work on exegesis rather than making his own case. However, in the conclusion, he disagrees with the means view and says that these passages refer to a mixed body. It seems as if Grudem also argues that these passages can refer to a mixed body. Both of these agree with Michael Horton’s exegesis in his contribution to “Four Views on Eternal Security.” Oddly, all these three of these affirm covenant theology (Grudem in chapter 25 of his Systematic Theology; Peterson in subscribing to the Westminster Standards). As Dr. Clark mentioned, this is also the historic Reformed take on these passages.
      However, it seems as if acknowledging that these passages can refer to a mixed body is exactly what the authors of “KTC” are not saying. I was under the impression that they were arguing the new covenant is NOT a mixed body. So I am a little unclear how arguing that these passages can refer to a mixed body in the new covenant is compatible with arguing that the new covenant is not a mixed body.

  9. Richard,

    Buist Fanning teaches at Dallas. You’re telling me that he’s representing the views of Calvin, Ursinus, Wollebius, Polanus, Turretin et al? Those would be the “classical” Reformed views, they would also be covenantal views. Is classical covenant theology now being taught at Dallas? I know things have changed there but that would be a big change indeed!

    Hebrews 6 is difficult to be sure but it’s not impossible in view of the biblical and historic Reformed distinction between those who have only an external relation to the covenant of grace and those who have also an internal relation to the covenant of grace. This approach has been the standard Reformed approach for hundreds of years.

    • I am well aware of the fact that Fanning teaches at Dallas Seminary, and has done so for decades. I wasn’t the one who chose the title for his chapter in that “views” books, it was probably the author, the editor, the publisher or some combination of those groups.

      Quite frankly, I was a little surprised that he would be the one they would get to represent the classic “reformed” view. Maybe if they titled it simply the “calvinist” view, but you would probably object to that as well.

      My purpose in referencing it was not to say that Fanning represents any of the guys you mentioned, but that his interpretation is another one (as well as Grudem and Peterson – who are not dispensationalists, Peterson teaching at Covenant Theological Seminary) that would be compatible with the conclusions of KTC, besides the “means-of-salvation” view.

      • Well, most of the time these “four views” books do not actually include confessional Reformed writers with an actual relationship to a confessional reformed church.

        For some reason, unknown to me, the editors of these volumes seem to be incapable of actually locating one of the rare species.

    • Richard,
      In addition to clarifying your citation of exegesis that is in fact in conflict with a major premise of “KTC” (the new covenant being argued as unmixed), I am very interested to hear your response to what I said above about how the authors are claiming the OT saints were saved by Christ if they were not united to Christ. Let me give the quote from “KTC” again, found on page 113 note 74. Regarding differences they have with covenant theology they say, “we are specifically thinking if the area of soteriology. Covenant theology tends to argue that the salvation experience of the Old Testament believer is basically the same as that if the new covenant believer, thus reading new covenant realities such as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and EVEN UNION WITH CHRIST back into the old covenant.” Again, if union with Christ is a new covenant reality that should not be read back into the old covenant, how were those old covenant people saved by Christ?

    • Harrison,

      I actually just posted my reply above, I meant for that to be my last, but I will try to explain what I mean about Hebrews (briefly) before calling it quits.

      Dr. Clark,

      Here I think we can say we agree…I would like to see more confessionally reformed authors/views represented in these “views” books.

      As you might have noticed, the “meas-of-salvation” view wasn’t represented in that 4 views book on the warning passages either. I would rather it been 5 or 6 views than leave these out. But I suspect publishers wouldn’t think they would sell as well or be too long.

    • I REALLY don’t want this discussion to dissolve into a lengthy discussion of the warning passages in Hebrews. But I will simply attempt to answer your questions.

      Peterson’s 2008 article is mostly a review of what he has benefited from in the writings he surveyed, but as you note, he does draw some of his own conclusions at the end. I also reference it because it is a more technical discussion than he gives in his 2009 book.

      It’s not that the categories of visible/invisible church have no use whatsoever, it is just the way they are often applied. Baptists agree that there are often people in our churches who are not believers. They took the sign of the New Covenant, baptism, were welcomed into the membership of our church, weekly take communion (as we do in my Baptist church), but yet at some later time fell away from the faith and denied the faith they once professed.

      But it is that last statement that is the key difference. They once professed the faith. And it was on that profession of faith that we baptized them. They took the covenant sign outwardly to represent what we all thought was an inward reality. We didn’t knowingly baptize any currently unregenerate people.

      That seems to be a key difference in paedobaptist practice. Children are brought into the covenant and given the covenant sign, even before they individually profess faith. You don’t know if they are regenerate. You might say that we don’t either, and in an ultimate sense, you are right. But we are still baptizing on profession of the individual’s faith, not their parents’ faith.

      We readily admit that there are people who turn out to be soil type 2 and 3 to use the categories of Matt. 13. In fact, this is how I’ve heard Don Carson (another Baptist) explain the warning passages in Hebrews. 1 John 2:19 expresses this reality well, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

      We recognize that phenomenologically it appears that those in the New Covenant broke that covenant and fell away. But we would say that they weren’t actually members of the new covenant, and therefore aren’t covenant breakers. This is where the real difference comes in, and the emphasis of KTC. Only believers are members (in any sense) of the new covenant. We think that the new covenant is structurally different than the old covenant. In the Old Covenant, both unregenerate and regenerate Jews were in the OC. Both received the sign of the covenant, circumcision. Both were in the covenant because their parents were in the covenant and gave them the sign before they we able to express their own desire to be in or not.

      But the NC is structurally different than the OC, and in it “all will know the Lord” and all will experience “full forgiveness of sins.” This is the point of tension with CT. Our understanding of the NC.

      I will admit this: if CT is right, and the NC is structurally the same as the OC, then your interpretation of the warning passages is at least plausible and would be confirmatory evidence. But we believe that the NC is different, and that the warning passages don’t give evidence otherwise. I think the “means-of-salvation” view is the most consistent, exegetically and theologically, but I think other explanations could work if they are carefully explained.

      The bottom line is the newness of the new covenant. We all agree it is new in ‘some’ sense, but how? That is a baseline difference in our views. Whoever can give superior answers to their position on the New Covenant should have claim to being more consistent with the Bible. The authors of KTC have given a detailed description of their view, I hope readers will judge for themselves if they find it persuasive.

    • Dr. Clark,

      I think that link is broken. Could you check?

      I would like to read what you have to say.

      Thank you.

  10. Richard,

    I believe you’re incorrect, here’s why: If the warning passages are not hypotheticals (i.e. if they express the possibility of a real apostasy from the New Covenant Community), then they contradict the conclusions found in KtC, specifically the idea that the New Covenant Community is unmixed. In the paradigm espoused by Wellum and Gentry (presumably the one you hold) there is no real distinction between the substance, and the administration of the Covenant. The only way to maintain that type of understanding in light of the warning passages is to view them as hypotheticals, which is why the means view is so important for the conclusions drawn in KtC.

    Furthermore, I would also want to say that those passages are a means used by God to create perseverance in his church. However, that’s not all they do! They’re also real warnings that express the possibility of apostasy from the church. That’s where the means view is insufficient, and why conclusions like the ones found in KtC (from my perspective) are not compelling. If the author to the Hebrews believed the New Covenant community was mixed, and drew lines of analogy between the covenant community then (the wilderness church) and the covenant community now (lines of continuity which are denied by the authors of KtC), then so should we. If then you accept that the warning passages also express that there are covenant breakers at this stage in the game, then you’ve just denied a major premise argued in KtC, a premise which would invalidate the conclusions found there.

    It is true that many Baptists don’t hold to the means view (I applaud them). They must demonstrate how it is that they believe in an unmixed, unbreakable, covenant community in light of the fact that they don’t believe the warnings only express a hypothetical reality.

    p.s., I’m curious to hear how you would address Harrison’s citation pertaining to Union with Christ, and the O.T. saints.

  11. Richard said: “We recognize that phenomenologically it appears that those in the New Covenant broke that covenant and fell away. But we would say that they weren’t actually members of the new covenant, and therefore aren’t covenant breakers.”

    Do you think that if the author to the Hebrews actually believed what you believe he would have said this: “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the coenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” (10:28-29)

    The very reason these apostates have a “much worse punishment” is because they’re actually… apostatizing! In your view, it only looks like they were.

    I know you don’t want to get bogged down with a discussion of the warning passages. I mention them because I think the way they’re addressed by KtC highlights a weakness in the system as a whole.

  12. I find myself agreeing with Caneday that it’s difficult to see how a credobaptist can have a “to stay in the covenant” view of the warnings. He must have had some interesting discussions with Schreiner about this topic. I am not saying that Schreiner’s view of perseverance is the same as that of the new perspective or the federal visionists, but it seems to me that Schreiner is as alarmed by the idea of “eternal security” as Meredith Kline (or Don Garlington).

    Will all in the new covenant know the Lord, or only those who keep the new covenant? Will all in the new covenant keep the new covenant? Will all in the new covenant be the people of God despite their sins? How much and how often and how many sins?

    When Jeremiah contrasts the new covenant with the one made with the fathers, the contrast is to the Mosaic covenant and not to the Abraham covenant. But neither is it accurate to say that the new covenant is only a renewal of the Abrahamic covenant. As Genesis 17 and 18 indicate, the Abrahamic covenant also had its “conditional” aspects.

    One way some people put this all together is to say that the unconditional aspect of the covenants only refers to God’s promise to save a people, but that WHICH INDIVIDUALS stay in the covenants is conditioned on obedience. The covenant is “for a certain kind of people”.

    Instead of (or in addition to) saying that all blessing is conditioned only on Christ’s death for the elect, many Calvinists bring into the picture the sovereign grace of God which enables the elect to meet the conditions of the covenants. They separate “covenant” from election and particular redemption. Abraham stayed in because he was enabled to obey, but some who are in get broken off because they do not obey.

    I suppose credobaptists could say it all comes down to uncertainty about if one was ever in the new covenant.

    As for paedobaptists, they seem to take two different positions on the newness of the new covenant. Some (Pratt) put the emphasis on the not-yet of the new. Others (Robert Rayburn Jr on Hebrews) speak of the new as a renewal of attitude and something which was always already there….

    • Mark,
      Thank you for posting your source. I definitely look forward to reading this document. I will say that I am unclear which of your statements above are being posted as rehashing other views and which parts you actually endorse (maybe none of it). There are parts of your post that deeply trouble me. I, personally, would want to affirm that the only condition of the covenant of grace is faith, which receives and rests upon Christ and His benefits. Speaking of any other “conditions” for salvation starts to give me heartburn. That is not to say that other things are not necessary (e.g. fruit), but they are not necessary as conditions per se in my view.
      I would also rather speak of the New Covenant as fulfilling rather than renewing the Abrahamic covenant. I think the language of fulfillment is most felicitous to describe the relation between the two, but yet we must acknowledge that Paul calls the Abrahamic covenant a preaching of the gospel (Gal. 3.8).

  13. Faith in the Christ revealed in the gospel is a result, a benefit of legal solidarity with Christ. I don’t use the word “condition” even for faith. God’s imputation of righteousness creates the union, and those called into the new covenant are given the Holy Spirit as a result of their adoption. Galatians 4: because you are sons…

    As a credobaptist, I don’t agree with either Rayburn Jr or Pratt about their under-realized views of the “newness”. The new covenant cannot be broken.

    Bavinck: “Many have in later years, when the confessional power of the Reformation weakened, entered the way of self-examination, in order to be assured of the sincerity of their faith and their salvation. Thus was the focus shifted from the promise of God to the experience of the pious.”

    “The foundation of faith lie outside ourselves in the promise of God; whoever builds thereupon shall not be ashamed… If justification in every respect comes about after faith, faith becomes a condition, an activity, which must be performed by man beforehand, and it cannot be purely receptive. But if the righteousness, on the ground of which we are justified, lies wholly outside of us in Christ Jesus, then faith is not a “material cause” or a “formal cause.”

    Bavinck continues: “Faith is not even a condition or instrument of justification, for it stands in relation to justification not as, for example, the eye to seeing or the ear to hearing. Faith is not an instrument through which we receive this benefit, but it is the acceptance itself of Christ and all his benefits, as He presents Himself to us through word and Spirit, and it includes therefore also the consciousness, that He is my Lord and I am his possession.

    “Faith is therefore not an instrument in the proper sense, of which man makes use in order to accept Christ, but it is a sure knowledge and a solid confidence which the Holy Spirit works in the heart and through which He persuades and assures man that he, not withstanding all his sins, has part in Christ and in all his benefits.”

    “This faith forms a contrast with the works of the law. It also stands opposed to the works of faith “

  14. I don’t disagree with you in substance. I was trying to use the confessional language of “receiving and resting upon Christ” (WCF 14.2). There are other theologians that speak of faith as the condition of the covenant of grace (e.g. Turretin Inst. 12.3.9) and I was simply picking up on their phrasing. But I don’t think that Turretin would be in disagreement with the Bavinck citations you used. I just wanted to clarify, not take issue.

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