Gentry, Peter J. and Stephen J. Wellum. God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015. 304 pp., $19.99.
God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants is the abridged version of Gentry and Wellum’s magisterial 2012 work, Kingdom through Covenant. In this shorter volume, the authors have laid out the central theme of the larger work—that God’s covenants are the center of the history of redemption. Their thesis is most easily described as a middle point between dispensationalism and covenant theology.
The book is laid out well, walking the reader through the covenants in biblical order. The first chapter is set up as a needed foundation, as they explain the importance of having a hermeneutical framework for reading Scripture, and why it is important to “grasp the Bible’s story” through tracing God’s covenants with his people. The second chapter goes a step further, explaining the concept of covenants in biblical and ancient Near Eastern thought.
The subsequent chapters (3-10) then give extensive detail on how each covenant builds upon the latter, and how each covenant also points forward to the next. The final chapter (11) wonderfully summarizes the book and gives the reader a helpful overview of God’s covenants as the center of biblical theology. This is the most important chapter in the book, as a 300-page book on biblical theology can become tiring even with the most lucid writing and explanation. The authors were wise to put a bow on the argument with a nice, clear recap.
On the positive side, God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants is an accessible yet thorough distillation of the 2012 monster of a book (checking in at a healthy 850 pages and weighing nearly 3 pounds). Other volumes of that girth should follow suit. It should also be noted that the original book was a bomb dropped in the biblical theology community that became required reading for anyone studying hermeneutics, biblical theology, systematic theology, and eschatology. The book even warranted an Evangelical Theological Society review/debate that was so full that latecomers had to stand against the back and side walls of the room.
Its particular contribution to biblical theology was its sharp but fair critique of the weaknesses in both dispensationalism and covenant theology. Gentry and Wellum successfully and artfully fulfilled that mission—a needed mission, mind you. An abridged version, then, was essential to aid those who desired the information but would never plow through 850 pages.
While it is again notable that Gentry and Wellum’s framework has become a standard part of the conversation, this book has the same weaknesses as its predecessor. The most striking defect is the lack of New Testament exegesis and argumentation. Aside from a few references and expositions, those seeking a full biblical theology will be left wanting. Chapter 10 (The New Covenant) is well-written and useful at times, but appears to be more of a poker chip than a crucial piece of the puzzle. A book making such a claim requires multiple chapters grappling with eschatological passages such as Matthew 24-25, Romans 9-11, and Revelation 19-20. For the amount of time spent seeking to provide a better alternative to dispensationalism and covenant theology, some of their foundational New Testament texts were not sufficiently examined here. The architectural framework set forth by Gentry and Wellum handles the Old Testament well, to its credit, but is ultimately not by itself an adequate full-Bible model.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
With the broader canonical issues aside, this book is no doubt beneficial to pastors in two major ways. First, it helps the pastor understand a more balanced approach to what seems like only two options—dispensationalism or covenant theology. It has long been the frustration of academicians and pastors alike that two schools of thought dominate the scene—especially those sympathetic toward baptistic ecclesiology and yet appreciate the rich theological tradition of the Church. Gentry and Wellum’s work here helps ease some of those tensions.
Second, while the pastor may not have every answer to some of the most difficult aspects of biblical interpretation, it is always best to work from within a general structure than to pick and choose interpretive grids willy-nilly. This is one of the better frameworks available, and can assist pastors who care about being faithful to the metanarrative of Scripture. Many pastors want to jump on the “Christ in the Old Testament” bandwagon without first understanding any baseline hermeneutical strategy for finding him there. God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants provides a starting point for developing a consistent hermeneutical agenda.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants develops new insights and nuances on God’s metanarrative, and is therefore a fresh biblical theology that is worth adding to the pastor’s library.