Kingdom through Covenant: A Review by Darrell Bock

Editors’ Note: As noted in our recent interview with authors Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Crossway, 2012) is a groundbreaking contribution to any discussion about the intersection of exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology. In 848 pages, Gentry and Wellum have made a substantial case for an independent middle path between dispensational and covenant theology—a case that demands a response.

We’ve invited three noted scholars to evaluate Gentry and Wellum’s proposal: Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary; Douglas Moo, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College outside Chicago; and Michael Horton, professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary (California). Today we hear from Bock.


Any work that seeks to take on covenant theology and dispensationalism has its work cut out for it, even when it argues for a via media to get there. I have been asked as a dispensationalist to review this work. It is a pleasure to do so. Let me begin by saying this book is clear and thorough in its articulation of a position that does try to split the difference between the two views. It does so through a meticulous look at the covenants in Scripture, a look that has much to commend it.

Against covenant theology, there is a questioning of the covenant of works from Genesis, although it is reformulated into a covenant with creation. There is a challenge to paedobaptism, which isn’t surprising coming from scholars teaching at a Baptist school. There is also a challenging of the hesitation of covenant theologians to recognize in the new covenant a newness that makes the church in some ways distinct from Israel.

The major challenges to dispensationalism come in a claim that dispensationalists distinguish between Israel and the church too greatly by preserving promises to Israel apart from the church (most specifically the land). The idea of a future land promise that will be realized for Israel is rather to be seen as realized in Jesus and his victory on behalf of the world, since land is a type for a much larger promise of God. In sum, new creation means land ultimately is not about Israel but about the world. Key to this argument is the claim that a typological understanding should govern how we see the land promises, with ultimate realization being found in the entire world rather than just a piece of real estate in the Middle East.

For others in both camps, there also is a challenge offered on behalf of particular atonement. This idea that Jesus’ priesthood requires a satisfactory application of Jesus’ work, however, ignores another area of discussion—the claim of the kingdom on all people of the world, with rejection serving as a basis for judgment. This makes more sense, then, if Jesus’ death does make a claim on all, even though it’s only completely applied to those who believe. The kind of reductionism of issues we see in the atonement discussion will also appear elsewhere.

Conditional or Unconditional?

I will focus the remainder of my review on the issues tied to dispensationalism, and will leave covenant theologians to assess the positions taken relative to that theological tradition.

It is only right to begin with what I appreciated about Gentry and Wellum’s argument. I do think the authors have shown there are oversimplifications in dealing with the covenants when one looks at them only as conditional or unconditional, as if that solves various contentious issues. The tension the authors argue for—that there is both the commitment of God to his promises and a call for obedience that affects how covenants are realized—is a helpful way to think about these issues. The presence of this tension means that arguments about how promises work and are realized have to go elsewhere than a simple appeal to the “conditional” or “unconditional” nature of the covenant promise.

It is also the case that the covenants do show signs in various spots of opening up to include all, in part simply by their design to look back to creation as the model for the new creation. These links in Kingdom through Covenant are often well traced. Still, I am not sure about the reading of Isaiah 55:3 that suggests the sure mercies of David go in this direction. Granted, the general prophetic idea that the nations will stream to Jerusalem to worship God points to this conclusion. Even less compelling, though, is the idea that Jerusalem is coextensive with the kingdom, losing its sense as a locale to which people come. If Jerusalem is coextensive with the kingdom, then people are in it and do not need to come to it. Yet the prophets in texts like Isaiah 2:1-4 portray the locale of Jerusalem as a place to which the nations will come from elsewhere. More on this matter of how to see Jerusalem is to come.

The emphasis on new creation, fulfillment in Christ, and the way kingdom comes through covenants is also important, even if I shall argue that this is realized is a slightly different way than what Gentry and Wellum contend. It must be noted that the idea of kingdom coming through covenants is, despite their stress on this idea, not unique to these authors. Both covenant theologians and dispensationalists have written books with such a focus. With Progressive Dispensationalism, for example, Craig Blaising and I structured the entire book around a discussion of the covenants. Much of my argumentation about how the covenants of promise are already/not yet assumes the centrality of the role of the covenants in these discussions.

Hope for Israel

So what of critique? There are many issues in a book of more than 800 pages, but I will stay focused on the main question of Israel, the church, and the land. For starters, in a work stressing how biblical one must be to expound this topic, it is amazing to see no detailed treatment of Romans 9-11 or how Israel is seen in several texts within Luke-Acts. These texts depict the role of Israel in the New Testament and in light of new creation realities. The result of this omission is a reductionism in Gentry and Wellum’s argument. A single set of ideas is raised to a hermeneutical principle that trumps all discussion of the options. So fulfillment in Jesus, Jesus as the temple, and the idea that land is typological for world precludes a future for Israel and any hope she has of future promise in the land. Does this follow? I am not so sure.

The omissions are significant because in these texts (Romans 9-11 and Luke-Acts) a future for Israel alongside the church is affirmed (not outside the church or the kingdom program as the book implies dispensationalists hold, but within the kingdom program). Nothing in Acts 1:6-8 suggests that the disciples’ expectation of a restoration for Israel was wrong. Jesus’ answer does not challenge the question; it only refuses to give a timetable for it. More than that, Acts 3:18-22 has Peter preaching under the Holy Spirit and in light of Jesus’ Acts 1:6 response. Peter says in light of what Jesus and the angelic voice taught there that the time of the restoration of all things is described in the Hebrew Scriptures of old. If one wants to know what will happen with Jesus’ return, just read those texts. One need only read the restoration themes in those Hebrew Scripture texts, and there are many of them, to see that Israel has a role to play in the eschatological future—not a redefined Israel, but Israel and Jerusalem. These texts point to a role for a physically located Israel and Israel as a people to whom the nations come. Whatever we do with new creation in the end, and there is a role to be played by such themes as the authors describe, I do not think Scripture teaches that we lose this other part of the drama, because one flows into the other and shows God’s complete realization of all his promises and commitments. Luke 21:23-24 speaks of a time of the Gentiles being fulfilled. That would only receive mention if a time for Israel follows (not at the Gentiles’ expense, just as the time of the Gentiles does not preclude Jewish believers in Jesus in this current era). A hope for Israel is the entire point of Romans 9-11, and unbelieving Israel is the issue—since Paul begins the section making it clear that part of his concern is about current unbelief in Israel. (He wishes himself accursed that they might be saved—clearly not a reference to spiritual Israel as the topic of the chapters!) These texts beg for an exegesis on the idea of kingdom and covenants and in my view suggest that the principles enunciated about new creation, many of which are true and biblical, do not give us the entire picture.

In other words, to me a vision of a new Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22, which postdates the millennium, does not by itself preclude the idea that before that time we have Israel and the nations worshiping Christ together in Jerusalem in fulfillment of promises God made in the Hebrew Scriptures to Israel as a sign of his faithfulness, mercy, and grace to her. However we include Gentiles into covenant promise and realization in Christ, we should not discard the original recipients of that promise. God (and Jesus) teach that they will keep such commitments to that audience, promises as sure as the creation itself, according to new covenant language in Jeremiah 31. How else do we explain the twelve ruling over the twelve tribes of Israel if the kingdom rule is inclusive of believers as the authors argue? Nowhere in the work is the possibility of a “both-and” explored on this point. That Jesus is the fulfillment, that the new creation is true, and that the land becomes the world ultimately end all discussion of the options. However, what the book excludes (and what I have a question about), is that before that ultimate fulfillment happens, and in line with other clear promises, Israel (and the world) lives in peace with Israel from the land experiencing God’s grace through Christ and all sharing in that wonderful peace. One set of ideas does not exclude the other.

What is at stake in the difference? The matter of God’s faithfulness. That is part of the point Paul makes in Romans 9-11 in arguing for a future for ethnic Israel. He foresees the mercy of God extended once again to Israel when the nation is one day grafted back into the olive tree (see especially Rom 11:30-32, verses that show how “all Israel shall be saved” and “removing ungodliness from Jacob” earlier in the passage [v. 26] should be read, pointing to national Israel as the recipient of God’s faithful grace). In other words, typology alone is not enough in the discussion of Israel and the land; the character and promises of God are also in play. This point shows just how important the omissions of these sets of texts are.

In sum, this book is a fine study of the covenants, with much of value to consider about how the Bible presents the kingdom idea through the progress of revelation. However, there may be a via media left between the case the authors argue for and the position dispensationalists hold with regard to Israel and the land. That possibility should be a topic for further discussion.

  • Nick Mackison

    Excellent review. As one who holds to a “New Covenant Theology” position, your view provided food for thought. Nevertheless, I’m confident that a (partial) preterist position can resolve the problems presented in passages like Luke 21:23-24.

    PS there’s a typo in the link to Acts 3:18-22 which reads Acts 3:81-22.

    • Matt Smethurst

      Thanks for the catch, Nick.

      • Nick Mackison

        My pleasure. Thanks to all you guys for providing first-class material like this to discuss.

  • Derek Rishmawy

    Interesting review. This is where a piece written by G.K. Beale would be great as he deals with a number of the points that Dr. Bock has raised. In the Temple and the Church’s Mission, there are relevant discussions about the Temple/Jerusalem’s = the People of God, in which case the Gentile streaming to it definitely does not require a physical location, as well as a host of the other complaints Dr. Bock has about this book. He especially deals with the issue of the implications of a typological fulfillment of the promises in Jesus Christ and the faithfulness of God that fulfills all of his promises, but in a surprising way that is both true to the original, but more than the letter.

    All that said, I’d love to see Gospel Coalition ask Dr. Beale to interact with the book. I know it’s late, but still.

    • taco

      I agree, the more people that would interact with the work would be helpful in any case. Maybe There could be a Themelios series for this.

    • Nick Mackison

      Ditto on Beale!

    • Mark

      Beale’s “Temple and the Church’s Mission” and “NT Biblical Theology” are both excellent although they are probably not for the casual reader.

    • JR

      Agreed — Ref: Beale commentary!! Given his other works, I’d love the read his views on this book. Any chance of getting him to write something?

  • John Carpenter

    In Romans 11, the “all Israel” is the redeemed of ethnic Israel and from the nations fulfilling the promise to Israel. The true Israel is the church (the “assembly” of all God’s people from every nation, including Israel).

    • Ted R. Weiland

      John, when the “Jews” in the Bible are identified correctly as representing only the descendants from the two-tribed house of Judah, and the ethne (poorly translated “Gentiles,” even the capitalization is incorrect)are also identified correctly, that is, meaning merely nations and identified by Paul and Hosea in Romans 9:24-26 as the ethne/nations of the divorced and diaspora ten-tribed house of Israel, then it becomes quite evident who the “all Israel” is in Romans 11:26. They are a remnant (Romans 9:27 & 11:5) of born again Israelites from all Israel–that is from BOTH the house of Judah AND the house of Israel.

      For more, see “The Mystery of the Gentiles: Who Are They and Where Are They Now?” at

  • John Carpenter

    We don’t need to find a “middle way” between covenant theology, which is true, and dispensationalism, which is a relatively recent bit of confusion, already falling apart into “progressive dispensationalism” and hopefully eventually disappearing into history. But if this book helps wean some dispensationalists away from that theory, that will be useful.

    • Jack

      q 1: Which version of covenant theology? Continental, Perkins/Puritan Brit, or Murray/Shepherd?

      q 2: Covenant theology is without fault or flaw?

      q 3: Which dispensationalism? Chafer’s, Walvoord/Ryrie’s, or Blaising/Bock’s?

      • Mark

        “Kingdom Through Covenant” is being promoted as a middle way; however, it is also true that there is substantial breadth in reformed covenant theology. Some covenant theologians flatten out the distinction between the Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace or object to the term “Covenant of Works” all together. Some make a sharper distinction between the Mosaic Covenant and New Covenant than others. Some hold to a Covenant of Redemption while others don’t. It seems like the “middle way” is really more along the lines of a redemptive-historical covenant theology while maintaining certain other doctrinal commitments.

  • Missio-Centered

    An excellent, thorough review. Thanks Dr. Bock for interacting with this text!

  • Rick Owen

    Just started reading “Kingdom through Covenant” and am pleased to see these additional evaluations from other perspectives being offered. I admire and appreciate the respectful and civil tone of Darrell Bock’s review. We need more edifying and challenging discussion like this in the church, both locally and at-large. I have been following with interest the development of what is now called New Covenant Theology since around 1980 when authors such as Jon Zens, John Reisinger and others began writing about it.

    I would like to know Darrell Bock’s thoughts about the shift which seems to take place in the NT, due to the dawning and progression of the New Covenant via the Cross, away from earthly Jerusalem to the heavenly Jerusalem (John 4:21-24; Gal. 4:24-27; Heb. 12:22-25; Rev. 21:2). A “both-and” paradigm does not seem to be one which the NT writers entertain or advocate (John 1:17; 2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8:13).

    • Marco Vasquez

      Hi Rick,

      I’m not so sure there is such a dramatic “shift” from OT to NT vis-a-vis an earthly Jerusalem and a heavenly Jerusalem. There is much to be found on this in the OT, particularly in the prophets.

      I think we must be careful not to fall into the trap of implicit docetism or some other position that makes an overly simplistic distinction between “physical” in the OT and “spiritual” in the NT. This sounds a bit like traditional Alexandrian exegesis!

  • Darrell Bock

    Nothing in the apostles’ question or in the remarks of Peter in Acts 1 and 3 look to a redefinition of Israel or a rejection of their question. That does mean we may well have a “both-and” at work. Neither does Romans 9-11 look to a small remnant of Israel or to one that includes Gentile believers since Paul is mourning the lack of response from his kin.

    • Rick Owen

      Hi Darrell Bock,

      I will look into the thoughts you have restated from your review above. They merit careful consideration and a fair answer. Some of the questions they prompt, for my own research and reflection, begin to form along these lines:

      1. While Jesus’ response to His apostles’ question and their current understanding of God’s kingdom and Israel in Acts 1:6 may not appear to be a rejection of their paradigm, is it necessarily an affirmation of it?
      2. Are there other examples in the NT where people asked Jesus questions which He neither appeared to agree with or negate?
      3. Did our Lord sometimes redirect the focus of a questioner altogether away from their question and its presumptions?
      4. Does Acts present transitions and a learning curve among the apostles about God’s kingdom, people and purpose (e.g., the broader understanding Peter acquired in Acts 10:27ff concerning God’s inclusion of the Gentiles)?
      5. Does the restoration of “all things” from Peter’s Acts 3 message harken back to a restoration of only ‘some things,’ such as the lesser glory of the pre-messianic, provisional/preparatory era of the Law and prophets?
      6. Just what exactly needed to be and will be restored? Certainly and eventually the entire cosmos (Rom. 8:21). Doesn’t this restoration come by way of the Cross, prepared by John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Elijah (Matt. 17:11-12), which fulfills the hopes and expectations of the OT saints (Heb. 11:13-16, 39-40)?
      7. Where does Peter’s message in Acts 3 culminate? Doesn’t it close with the fulfillment of the pre-Law, pre-Israel promise to Abraham concerning the blessings of redemption poured out upon the whole world (Acts 3:25-26; cf. Gal. 3:8-9)?
      8. Doesn’t Paul experience and express dual/complementary passions? — a deep desire for the salvation of his kinsmen according to the flesh which dovetails with and brings blessing to the nations through Christ who came via Israel (Rom. 9-11; 15:8-12)?
      9. Don’t most theologians agree that the final number of the redeemed from every nation (Israel + the world) will be incalculable and joined together as one people and priesthood (Rev. 5:9-10; 7:9)?
      10. Isn’t Paul’s overall soteriology, ecclesiology and eschatology inclusive of Jewish and Gentile believers sharing the same New Covenant realities and blessings (both spiritual and physical) in Christ?

      I’m sure other study questions will arise as I work on this in conjunction with finishing “Kingdom through Covenant.” Thank you for your kind reply and thought-provoking review!

  • James Wartian

    As always, Dr. Bock is nothing but thorough, clear, and gracious.

    While I don’t claim dispensational theology to be perfect or without difficult spots, I continue to find it better fit the clear understanding of scripture. At the same time, I respect those who come to a different conclusion. That said, this is not a minor issue to me as how you understand the relationship between Israel and the Church has significant implications for current Christian living as well as end times theology. The fact that we are truly under a new covenant, and that, as Bock points out, God is also still going to be true to his promises, is significant to me. I recently finished reading again the Old Testament, and it sure appears like the promises are meant to be literally fulfilled. Solely making them spiritual is very demotivating. It is like being promised a trip to Disneyland and then later told that my being a part of something else is just the same. Obviously, on one level, you could argue that spiritual blessings are greater than physical, but that is not the point. Why can’t God be faithful and do both?

    Bottom line, this is a worthy discussion and I look forward to the other two articles, both by authors I enjoy reading.

    • Glenn

      Except that you are implying that whatever is given as a substitute to the Disneyland trip is inferior and disappointing; I would argue that what God grants as a greater fulfillment of His promise to Israel will be neither inferior nor disappointing in comparison to the original promise.

    • JK

      @James Wartian,

      God’s fulfillment of the OT promises are both real and spiritual. They simply don’t always take the physical form that his people expect. I’m sure you have no problem believing that in regards to the Messianic promises of Jesus. Was Jesus a king in the line of David. YES! But was Jesus what Israel expected as a “physical” fulfillment of the OT promises (with a throne, political clout, etc). No way. I’d say the same can be true for the promises of land (and other OT promises). Yes, it/they will be fulfilled in a real way. Still, I don’t believe that always look like a “physical” fulfillment. It can look different and be even more wonderful.

      I’d wholeheartedly agree that the promises of the OT will be fulfilled. God will do what he says he’s going to do. One issue I see with the Dispensational view, however, is that they sometimes try to force prophecy into fitting a physical fulfillment (often referred to as “literal”) when a physical fulfillment just doesn’t seem to fit the biblical narrative (particularly, NT revelation). Other systems, such as Covenant and New Covenant Theology, don’t seem to have as many forced interpretations.

      Just my take, but I thought I’d share…

      God bless!

  • Chad Rambo

    I have not been in the covenant theology realm very much at all, so please forgive my lack of knowledge on the matter. The one thing I did notice as a young disciple that’s clear is this, anyone who believes in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins will be saved, period (Rom 8:1). If you do not believe you have no hope (John 3:18), period. That’s seems to be my promise. But, in regard to covenant’s, here’s what I gather.

    The seed of Abraham, his offspring, are those that live by the faith of Abraham in God (Rom 4:1-14). One might wonder if that’s why Paul say’s in Ephesians 3:6, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” These covenants, as I meditate on them, seem to be fulfilled in this latter covenant (Jer 31:31-34) in a similar way the prophecies do. They culminate in this latter covenant, just like the prophecies and promises are all fulfilled in Christ in these latter times (Luke 24:27, 44). The only thing, I do believe, we are waiting on is Christ return (1Cor:15). We are taking part now to restore this world, knowing He is at work now, and will soon come back to bring healing to the nation’s And again in regard’s to covenant, God does promise one thing, and that is if you believe in the Lord for the forgiveness of your sins, then it’s finished (John 19:30).

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  • Brandon

    I’ve enjoyed the series of reviews on KTC thoroughly. If anyone is interested in further study on relating covenant to believer baptism, checkout my new book entitled “Waters of Promise: Finding Meaning in Believer Baptism.”

    Here’s the link to the publisher:

    • Rick Owen

      Hi Brandon,

      Thanks for the link. I’ll check out your book.

      Here’s a brief piece I posted trying to clarify the rationale for believers’ baptism — and the exclusion of infants — relative to the New Covenant.

      Constructive feedback is always welcome.

  • Darrell Bock


    I will only answer question 5 as it is the most crucial of a list that would require a thesis to respond to and answering it touches on some fo the other questions. Acts 3 as a Spirit inspired utterance addresses the restoration of all things as the OT presents it and says we can read about the program there. Those texts deal with both the role of Israel and a new heavens and new earth. So both of these are a part of that topic and are included in what Peter teaches there. This means literarily that Jesus did not deflect the question from Acts 1, but that Peter;s answer shows where that question goes. The point in pointing to Acts 1 is to say that after 40 days with Jesus with him having taught them in this area that these disciples still held to a role for Israel in the kingdom. Nothing in Jesus’ response says they got that wrong. Only that the timing was God’s. Acts 3 as a Spirit inspired speech means it is a reflection of the truth and program of God (In this it differs from the way one could read Acts 1 as reflective of development). The HOST of Luke-Acts texts are the point here. There are not one or two side references but several passages. I am simply asking that they be integrated into the entire picture as they are often ignored. In making this point NO ONE is claiming the cosmos is not the goal in the end or that other elements are a part of the resolution at the end or that the gospel is inclusive of all (Jew and Gentile). We simply are saying the original recipients of the promise do get to participate in what is offered and that this group in Israel is large enough to show a real reconciliation has been achieved. Those points deal with some of the other questions. Do not think in either-or terms but both-and.

    • Rick Owen

      Hi Darrell Bock,

      Good thoughts to ponder as I read and reflect on these passages again and again. Thank you.

      God, of course, will unfold these things as He has planned and, undoubtedly, in ways that surprise many. In the meantime, I do want to understand them as clearly as possible and walk wisely in light of the glorious hope we share in Christ. Your service in helping many do that is appreciated.

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  • Gary D. Long

    Kingdom through Covenant by Gentry and Wellum explains how God’s eternal kingdom purpose is worked out in redemptive history by means of biblical covenants. This is critical for breaking down the doctrinal walls of partition that separate Dispensational and Covenant Theology—necessary for more accurately explaining the way of God. It commences with their understanding of a pre-fall “covenant of creation” which “does not agree with all aspects of covenant theology’s “covenant of works” (610), but agrees with covenant theology that there was a covenant relationship with Adam. (This is a “legitimate” (613) and necessary distinction contrary to those who are in basic agreement with the new covenant theology but reject a pre-fall covenant.) Their work proceeds to biblically challenge the theological lynchpin of covenant theology’s “one covenant of grace” viewed as an “overarching” theological covenant (69) differently administered “through the lens of the Abrahamic Covenant” under the Old and New Covenants. This was admittedly done, according to Geerhardus Vos, when Zwingli, in 1525, and the Swiss Reformers came into “direct conflict with the Anabaptists” to defend the practice of infant baptism of covenant children by reaching “for the Old Testament [especially Gen. 17:6] and applying the federal understanding of the sacraments to the new dispensation.” (Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., 236)

    The courteous reviews by the recognized biblical scholars Darrell Bock, Douglas Moo and Michael Horton clearly demonstrate that there is a wide gap, though narrowing, that remains between and within evangelical theological systems. It is interesting to see how different principles of hermeneutics come to the surface in their reviews. This is especially so with the review by Bock where the unfulfilled OT land promises are used to interpret the NT, rather than the New the Old (e.g., in Hebrew 11:8 16), and the injection of Revelation 20:4-6 wherever necessary (e.g., in Romans 11 and Luke 21:23-24) to support a presumed earthly millennium following the Second Advent and before the final consummation (e.g., Rev. 20:7-21:8). The review comments by Bock and Moo regarding particular atonement were reflective of their “modified Calvinism” soteriological understanding that has persisted since post-apostolic times; yet should be answered by accepting the express teaching of Ephesians 1:4 and John 1:13.

    I would have liked to see Kingdom through Covenant address the Law of Christ administered under the New Covenant as expressed in I Corinthians 9:21-22 and elsewhere. But enough! Kingdom through Covenant is a greatly needed pioneer work that will help clarify foundational differences between Dispensational and Covenant Theology and provide a “middle way” to help explain the way of God more accurately. It will be a required resource for the courses taught at Providence Theological Seminary in Colorado Springs, CO. Gary D. Long, Faculty President

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  • Glenn

    Thanks for the review Dr. Bock. As someone who was very involved in the Messianic Jewish community, I continue to wonder how a theology that does not look at God’s promises to Israel in a way that is full of meaning to the Jewish people can be superior to a dispensational view. Doesn’t God’s enlargement of Israel include the promised land? Doesn’t God’s new covenant community include Jews who live out a Jewish heritage and continue to hold to Jewish promises? Your review provides much food for thought!

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