A brief summary of my long response: Parts 1 and 3 are clear and well written. They summarize the major points between Covenant and Dispensational theologies, and give a good summary of the Baptist position. Unfortunately, the exegesis section (part 2) greatly weakens all the claims. Part 2 is a long terrible read that is actually a collection of loosely edited articles on topics that are somewhat relevant to the book. Buy this book only if you have to or if you want a good summary of the new covenant theology in parts 1 and 3 and would rather have something new rather than old.
Begin actual review:
I'm (as of Nov. '12) finishing up my fourth year of seminary, and I had the opportunity to read this book for my capstone class on biblical theology, and the reviews of the book were very good (see the other reviews above). This was the only major book for the class (supplemented with articles and exegesis), so we had to read it closely: outlining main points, summarizing the argument, and responding and interacting with the claims.
After reading the book through, I'm left with the sense that this is one of the most disappointing books I've ever read. It's not the worst book, but it's certainly disappointing because of such high expectations and such a weak central section.
So here's a review, so that you (our potential purchaser) might know a little better what you're getting into. My goal is to try to give a fair summary of the book and what it claims to do, and then evaluate it.
A note before I begin:
I'm a paedobaptist at a Baptist school, so my biases will be evident. I'm asking different questions (perhaps) that they are answering. But I hope that many of the points I'm going to make are agreed on by others who may read this book: Baptist, dispensational, or paedobaptist alike. I'm not going to interact with the actual argumentation at length (consider looking at the reviews on the Gospel Coalition website for some reviews that interact with the argumentation).
A brief summary of the book:
The goal of the book is to demonstrate the centrality of covenants to the plot of the Bible, and also to suggest a resolution to many theological differences between covenant theology (CT) and dispensational theology (DT) by carefully expositing the biblical covenants in their proper contexts. In short, they are arguing for a "middle way," by taking some DT distinctives (regenerate new covenant church) and CT distinctives (centrality of the covenants and the organic development from Israel to the church). The title of this book, "Kingdom through Covenant" summarizes the whole of this system: God is establishing/revealing/saving his kingdom by way of covenants. They call this "progressive covenantalism," or "new covenant theology," stressing the basic continuity in the covenants, yet a development across covenants.
The book is divided in to three major parts. The first and the third are written by Dr. Stephen Wellum, who is a theology professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In the first part (chapters 1-3), he lays the foundation for what the book is about. He talks about the importance of covenants, compares and contrasts DT and CT, and presents the chief hermeneutical issues in understanding the covenants.
The second part (by Dr. Peter Gentry, an OT professor at SBTS) is a walkthrough of the basic covenants of the Bible - Noah, Creation (they explain why the order is reversed in the book), Abraham, Mosaic, David, New Covenant in Isaiah/Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ephesians 4:15.
In the third part, Dr. Wellum summarizes the main points from Dr. Gentry's work, and then turns to address the theological implications, with particular focus on the discussion between DT and CT: Is the New Covenant church composed of only regenerate believers or is it a mixed body? Should infants be baptized into the covenant? Are the land promises (and by implication, the separation between Israel and the church) still in full effect? Dr. Wellum stresses the basic continuity of the covenants while still stressing the newness of the new covenant. Thus, land promises are typologically fulfilled in the new creation for the whole church, not just Israel, while only believers are to be baptized and only the regenerate are true members of the new covenant.
Given that it's a 3 part book, it seems fair to respond to each part individually:
Part 1 [Summary of issues at hand]- I don't know much about DT, so I can't evaluate the summaries from that position, but I felt like Dr. Wellum's summary of CT was fair. He sets up the key questions of debate and does a good job summarizing the basic CT/DT arguments for their positions. Some of the arguments for the CT position could have been expressed better, but he wasn't tearing down straw men. It did seem like there were a number of places where he took potshots (inserting his disagreements in the summaries repeatedly), but given that I'd probably do the same if I were writing a book on a similar topic, we'll let that pass. He also does a good job unpacking the term "typology" and how DT and CT read typology differently. One thing I didn't like was the fact that the author labels the CT position on children in the covenant as "the genealogical principle," without (to my knowledge) adequately explaining or defining it. When he labels something a "principle" it feels like he's implying that it is imposed on the text. I'd describe "the genealogical principle" in this way: "God's consistent dealing with not just individuals, but households and families," which makes it sound a lot more positive. But as a whole, it was a good section. The arguments/summaries are clear, and he does a good job summarizing where the exegesis should go.
Part 2 [Exegesis of covenants]- Personally, this was the most frustrating portion of the whole book. And since it spans ~450 of the ~700 pages of the book, that was a long time to be frustrated. In short, while Dr. Gentry does a decent job of pointing to the different covenants and unpacking the literary structure of the text, I repeatedly wondered where he was going. The section headings didn't follow a logical order. There was no clear goal or direction. The summaries didn't connect the exegesis to the claims made in part 1. Frankly, these chapters needed major revision.
Part 2 feels much more like a collection of articles on isolated topics (which, a number of them were) than a close exegesis of the covenant passages in order to prove the central claims of the book. Dr. Gentry spends a great deal of time focusing on what feel like minor issues (for example, 20 pages spent on a translation of Isaiah 55:3 in the chapter on 2 Samuel 7), without addressing the major issues like, "how does your exegesis differ from DT or CT?" Yet, he seems to assume that he is dealing with those major issues by repeatedly claiming that "many people have misunderstood this covenant by not putting it in its proper context" at the beginning of his chapters, but not actually showing how his exegesis (which doesn't seem to differ much from what I would guess is a traditional CT reading) improves or goes against DT or CT. He repeats himself in various places (entire paragraphs lifted, repetition of a "holographic image," emphasis on the "justice-righteousness" word-pairs). And what was continually very frustrating, he often has page-long block quotations of an author, with no summary statements (consider 332-3 for one egregious example).
He puts a lot of weight on perceived chiasms that span multiple chapters and yet omit other chapters, without actually demonstrating the chiasm, but rather asserting it. As I checked some of his chiasms, I was completely unconvinced. Maybe they were there, but it wasn't clear, and for how much weight he puts on them, it was disappointing to see such weak argumentation.
Also, when I was trying to interact with what he was saying, felt like there were a number of areas where his argumentation was simply weak or outright wrong.
Here are four (out of many other possibilities):
1. He claims that Isaiah 24:5, in speaking that "[Israel/Judah] had broken the everlasting covenant" must be referring to breaking the covenant with Noah. But why must "everlasting covenant" refer to Noah? He doesn't address the fact that "everlasting covenant" is used of all sorts of covenants: Abraham, Phineas, Sabbath, Priesthood, David. But then again, this point isn't even relevant to the central contentions of his chapter, so why is he spending so much time on it?
2. He claims that God's command to "walk before me" to Abraham means that Abraham is to be "his emissary or diplomatic representative" (260). But this is not what the author he just cited on that page summarized! One only needs to read over the summary statements that Dr. Gentry quotes John Walton as saying to see that "walk before me" is about the conduct of the individual kings or priests, not about their relationship to the nation.
3. He claims that the "context of Psalm 87 [being related to Psalm 83 and 48] decisively requires that we interpret the positive invitation to the "peoples" in Psalm 87 as the foreign nations and not as Diaspora Jews." (453) Yet as I read over Psalm 83 and 48, not only am I unconvinced that they really are that closely linked to Psalm 87, I am also very unconvinced that they talk positively about the nations. They're discussing their destruction! It may be that "peoples" does refer to the nations, but it's not proven by Psalm 83 and 48.
4. At probably the point most debated between Baptists and CT, in Jeremiah 31's discussion of the New Covenant, he doesn't interact at length with a single theologian on the other side, except to dismiss Joshua Moon's reading as oversimplified. Since this is such a key text for the Baptist argument against CT, it should have been dealt with far more at length. At least summarize other possible readings rather than just asserting your own!
Additionally Dr. Gentry leaves out close exegesis on any of the New Testament passages that would be incredibly relevant for connecting the New Covenant to the Old Covenant(s). No exegesis of Matthew 5:17-20, 2 Cor 3:4-11, Hebrews 9-10, Galatians 3. For a book that makes very specific claims about the relationship of the New Covenant to the Old Covenant(s), the lack of careful attention to the texts of the New Testament is a glaring weakness.
In short, while Dr. Gentry tries to do exegesis to support the central contentions laid out at the beginning of the book, he really ends up greatly weakening the argument. He doesn't synthesize, he majors on the minors, he minors on the majors, he repeats himself, he doesn't seem to understand what a good quotation is and what a bad one is. All in all, very frustrating.
Part 3 [Wellum's synthesis and application to DT/CT]: While this part tried to build on the exegesis done in the previous part, the failure of the previous part to really advance the discussion hinders things. Basically, he summarized some of Gentry's main covenants and restated the Baptist position that the NC was new, so replaced and brought the old covenants to a completion and an end, so therefore the church is a regenerate community and infants should not be baptized. This section was much clearer and better written, though because the discussion was not really advanced in part 2, his claims seem to fall flat for me as I was reading to follow an argument, rather than reading for pleasure. The key assumption that the new covenant brings to a terminus all the other covenants is not argued for exegetically, but rather asserted. He doesn't seem to address adequately the CT argument from the warning passages and dismisses them based on his presupposition that the new covenant community must be regenerate, but that's the whole point of discussion. I'm sure a dispensationalist would also be similarly displeased with his treatment of DT - asserting rather than proving. Then again, given Part 2, there wasn't really much proving that could have been done.
Does the book set out what it aims to do? I think the answer is clearly "no." Even though the summary statements at the beginning and end are good, the center of the book, where the exegesis is, falls very short. I would not recommend anyone reading this book all the way through. Read part 1 and 3 to see what the arguments are about, but then find another book to deal with the relevant texts. This book tries to do too much and fails.