Kingdom through Covenant: A Review by Michael Horton

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 Horton.


For the seriousness with which it handles the issues, its depth of research and analysis, its approach on many issues, and the respectful description of alternative positions, Kingdom through Covenant strikes me as a model for the deeper and richer conversations that we need in our circles. However, since I’m offering a review from a traditional “covenant theology” perspective, I will skip over a host of edifying discoveries and get right to the point.

If I understand it correctly, the main argument of the authors is that dispensationalism and covenant theology both fail to read the Bible in a sufficiently typological way (pointing to Christ), though at different points: an unconditional and inviolable promise of either an ethnic people and geo-political land or of a “genealogical principle” that underwrites the baptism of covenant children and a “mixed body” ecclesiology. Consequently, covenant theology results in a one-to-one correspondence between circumcision and baptism, Israel and the church.

Abrahamic and New Covenants, Israel and the Church: Too Much Continuity?

I’ll grant that especially in anti-Anabaptist polemics, Calvin and his heirs have sometimes so stressed continuity within the one Abrahamic covenant of grace that the newness of the new covenant is insufficiently appreciated. Long ago, Voetius and Cocceius represented the wideness of the spectrum in covenant theology on that question, and more recent Reformed scholars (e.g., Vos, Ridderbos, Murray, Kline, Gaffin, et al.) have explored the qualitatively new blessings in the new covenant. So while I definitely think this criticism keeps us on our toes, there’s enough out there to qualify the charge that we see the Spirit’s work as “basically the same across redemptive history.”

What does hold across the various administrations of the covenant of grace, however, is God’s unilateral promise to provide a Savior in whom the families of the earth will be blessed. That’s just the rub, though, according to the authors. The classification of “unconditional” and “conditional” covenants isn’t helpful, they argue, because there are elements of each in every biblical covenant.

However, their argument assumes that the mere presence of commands indicates a mixture of unconditional-conditional aspects in the basis of the covenant itself. At this point, Reformed theology has traditionally appealed to a distinction between basis and administration. The mere presence of commands says nothing about the basis of a covenant itself. Circumcision (like baptism) identifies the members of the covenant, so if one is not circumcised, he is “cut off.” Nevertheless, one is not justified because he is circumcised, as Paul indicates in Romans 4:11. That would turn conditions into the basis rather than the administration of the covenant. Commands function in a law-covenant as the basis for blessing or curse: the swearer’s perfect, personal, perpetual obedience is the ground, ratified by a public assumption of the covenant obligations on one’s own head. In the covenant of grace, however, commands function as the “reasonable service” that we offer “in view of God’s mercies.”

The Abrahamic promise was a unilateral gift. In Genesis 15, God alone swears the oath and then walks through the pieces assuming its solemn threats. The gracious promise includes an earthly land and seed as well as a heavenly land and seed. This grace is the basis for Israel’s inheritance of the land in the first place, as Deuteronomy 8 and 9 point out so clearly, along with the prologue to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:2. The earthly promise of a “holy nation” generates within history a temporary kingdom that is typological of the heavenly promise of an everlasting kingdom with global scope: Christ with his worldwide body.

Although the Mosaic covenant is certainly in service to the covenant of grace in various ways, in both form and content it is quite different from the one-sided promise to Adam and Eve after the Fall, Abraham and Sarah, David, and the new covenant. At Sinai (as in Eden), the servant-people swear the oath and Moses is the mediator, splashing blood on them “in accordance with all the words you have spoken, saying, ‘All this we will do'” (Exod. 24:8). As the Last Adam and True Israel, Jesus fulfills this law-covenant, confirming his oath with his own “blood of the covenant.” So now we inherit in a covenant of grace what our mediator has merited for us by fulfilling the covenant of works. Gentry and Wellum offer a tremendous defense of Christ’s active obedience, but this requires the sharp distinction between unconditional and conditional covenants that the original context of each covenant supports. So Israel inherits the earthly land by (Abrahamic) promise, but remains in the land by (Sinai-treaty) obedience. With respect to this covenant, E. P. Sanders is exactly right with his formula: “Get in by grace, stay in by obedience.” However, confusing these two covenants is precisely what provoked Paul’s argument in Galatians.

In the meantime, the promise of the Seed in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed continued—as it does today (Gen. 3:15; 28:14; Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:16). Paul doesn’t treat the Abrahamic covenant merely as typological of Christ, but sees the new covenant as the only possible fulfillment of the worldwide promise to Abraham. The Mosaic covenant was essential in the historical unfolding of the covenant of grace leading to Christ, but it was strictly temporary, typological, conditional, and limited to one geo-political nation.

The new covenant is indeed new—not like the Sinai covenant, which had “planned obsolescence” built into it (Jer. 31:32; cf. Heb. 8:9). However, it is the realization of the Abrahamic covenant (Acts 3:25). So despite repeated discontinuity between old and new covenants (Sinai and Zion, “two covenants”: law and promise, etc.), it is striking that the apostolic message explicitly treats the new covenant as the consummation of the Abrahamic covenant rather than its abrogation (for example, Acts 10:9-43, 15:7-17; Romans 4 and Galatians 3-4). Therefore, in spite of the obvious differences between the redemptive-historical quality of blessings enjoyed by Old and New Testament saints, respectively, believers and their children are “heirs according to the promise” just as Abraham and his heirs were. In both cases, there are those who embrace the promise and those who don’t. That’s why Romans 9 hits its mark: God’s promise hasn’t failed; even in the OT, God has always reserved his freedom in election even among those who are outwardly identified with the covenant. The apostles address their Jewish-Gentile congregations just as the prophets addressed Israel, only with respect to the everlasting-spiritual promises (which are not abrogated) rather than the geo-political theocracy (which is).

Gentry and Wellum seem to agree that the “geneological principle operative in the Abrahamic covenant” is indicated by the phrase, “you and your seed” from Genesis 17:7 (633). I agree, but if that’s true, then what do we say of Peter’s repetition of this formula in Acts 2:39, specifically in connection with baptism? When we add to this the instances of household baptisms (with only one believing parent mentioned) in Acts (16:15, 32-33; 18:18) and 1 Corinthians 1:16, and the mention of children being sanctified by one believing parent in 1 Corinthians 7:14, the cumulative case seems to place the burden of proof on the Baptist position. The new covenant is certainly greater. For one thing, it’s more inclusive (not less!): not only Jews, but Gentiles; not only males, but females also receive the seal of the covenant and are indwelled by the Spirit. Where are the explicit passages to indicate that with such a profound expansion of blessings to “all the families of the earth”—indeed, to believers and their seed (Acts 2:39)—children are excluded in an ostensibly better covenant?

The authors contend, however, that the new covenant is distinguished from the Abrahamic by defining the church (or covenant community) as identical with its elect and regenerate members. I’m not at all persuaded that the often-cited source for this position—Jeremiah 31:34—entails (much less requires) that conclusion. Does “all will know me” in Jeremiah 31:34 mean each and every member without exception, or is it, like “all the families of the earth,” an expression of the pervasiveness of blessing in the new covenant? It will reach from the greatest to the least, women as well as men, children as well as elders, Gentiles as well as Jews, and so forth. Isn’t it an argument for the priesthood of all believers, not that each and every professing member will believe?

Covenant Membership: How New Is the New Covenant?

I disagree with the authors when they suggest ambiguity in Reformed thinking regarding the members of the covenant of grace. True, the Westminster Confession says that the elect are the proper subjects, but the Confession goes on to say that “the visible church . . . consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, and of their children, and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (25.2). This is the standard Reformed view, drawing on the invisible-visible church distinction, which the authors seem to reject.

I wonder how the authors can affirm “the running tension between the ‘already-not yet'” (690) if the visible church is already identical with the invisible church. This has enormous consequences for pastoral ministry. In traditional Reformed treatments it is frequently warned that pastors and elders have authority only to determine credible professions of faith, not to actually determine whether people are elect or regenerated. While correcting or excluding members exhibiting open unbelief and non-repentance, a long-standing Reformed criticism of Anabaptist ecclesiologies is that they assume a separation of sheep and goats prior to Christ’s final judgment. I think this is dangerous on a number of practical levels in dealing with people under our charge.

Especially given the robust exegesis and theological argumentation elsewhere, I was expecting to find more rigorous engagement with the “apostasy” passages. It almost seemed like these passages (especially in Hebrews) were irrelevant because of the a priori commitment to discontinuity between Israel and the church (692).

Hebrews 6 assumes a category of covenant members (Jewish Christians) who are in some sense beneficiaries of the Spirit’s common work in the church through the means of grace, but revert to Judaism. Hardly an empty set, they are covenant members “who have once been enlightened” (ancient church documents use “baptized” and “enlightened” interchangeably), “who have tasted the heavenly gift [the Supper], and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God [preaching] and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away” (vv. 4-6a). Specifically, they have fallen away from the new covenant, reverting to the old. However, there is no forgiveness anymore if they go back to the sacrificial system of the temple (v. 6b). “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (vv. 7-8). Through their covenant membership they have shared in God’s blessings, and now, if they respond in unbelief, they will bear the covenant curses.

Concerning covenant theologians, the authors suggest, “Ironically, however, they agree with the Arminian exegesis and conclusion as applied to full covenant members who are not elect” (75). This isn’t quite accurate. We hasten to add the qualification in verse 9: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation” (v. 9). The writer does not know for certain that each and every reader is regenerate, but exercises charity since they are not among the open apostates.

A Baptist interpretation cannot account for this category of covenant beneficiaries who spurn the objective blessings delivered to them and fall away, while an Arminian interpretation cannot account for the distinction of this group from those who were in fact united to Christ. If our theological system cannot account for this group—neither non-members nor regenerate—then we need a different theological paradigm. It’s covenant theology that accounts for this tertium quid between “foreigners to the covenant” and “regenerate members.” In fact, the warning is emphatic in chapter 10 against “the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace” (v. 29). The writer warns his readers not to follow the example of Esau “who sold his birthright for a single meal” (12:16).

All of this fits well with Jesus’s distinction in his parables between a seed that at first begins to grow but is choked by weeds, or weeds sown among the wheat, or fish caught in the net and sorted out (Matt. 13). It isn’t just a distinction between the world and the church, since the fish are in fact caught in the covenantal net of the kingdom and then sorted on the last day.

Similarly, what about the warning that Paul gives in Romans 11 against Gentile bragging? He argues that “if the root is holy, so are the branches.” It’s one tree. Jewish branches that didn’t yield faith were broken off to make room for living Gentile branches that share the faith of Abraham in Christ. And yet he adds, “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you” (vv. 16b-21). The whole tree is holy, but dead branches will be pruned.

The whole church of Corinth is addressed as “the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2). And yet, among that very number are members he will later upbraid them for not excommunicating! The unrepentant member is “leaven” that will corrupt the whole lump, implying that such a person is in fact part of the lump in some sense (1 Cor. 5:6-7). In fact, Paul clearly says that this is a judgment exercised within the church, toward professing members who live in open rebellion. He says explicitly that we have no business “judging outsiders.” “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you” (5:9-13). Nor is there a call to determine who is truly regenerate, but only who is living in flagrant and unrepentant contradiction to his or her public profession. Those who are excommunicated are “cast out” of the covenant community, “removed from among you” (Gal. 4:30; 1 Cor. 5:2).

What accounts for this category: holy by public identification, but not united to Christ through faith? To be claimed as part of God’s holy field comes with threats as well as blessings. Covenant members who do not believe are under the covenant curse. How can they fall under the curses of a covenant to which they didn’t belong? If faith is the only way into membership (693), then why all the warnings to members of the covenant community to exercise faith and persevere in faith to the end?

Which Comes First: God’s Promise or Ours?

Reformation confessions teach that the church is present “wherever the word is rightly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered.” Reformed confessions add church discipline. The accent falls on defining the church as the place where God is at work creating and confirming faith in the hearts of its visible members through preaching, sacrament, and spiritual oversight. By contrast, the Anabaptist-Baptist ecclesiology lodges the church’s visibility in the members. Their response to the covenant, not God’s promise, creates the church. The church comes into being not whenever God speaks, washes, and feeds his flock, but when the hearers trust and obey. Thus, baptism and the Supper become chiefly our means of response rather than God’s means of grace. In my view, this reversal of the priority in the covenantal relationship tends to work against the best monergistic impulses of Calvinistic Baptists.

When the authors summarize the meaning of baptism as signifying the believer’s faith, marking one as God’s child, and add that “baptism always assumes faith for its validity” (700, emphasis added), it’s clear that our differences concern the nature of baptism itself and the relative priority of God’s promise and our faith. Covenant theology doesn’t teach that the covenant of grace itself is “breakable” (67). God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not. Yet they must embrace the promise in faith. Otherwise, they fall under the covenant curse without Christ as their mediator. The word proclaimed and sealed in the sacraments is valid, regardless of our response, but we don’t enjoy the blessings apart from receiving Christ with all of his benefits. Is baptism the believer’s act of testifying to a personal response, or God’s act of testifying to his everlasting pledge, which itself is the means through which the Spirit creates persevering faith in his elect? How we answer that question has a lot to do with whether the inclusion of children is even conceivable.

Gentry and Wellum do not interpret Colossians 2:11-13 as treating baptism as a replacement for circumcision: “[This] raises an obvious question: If the covenant signs are so similar in meaning then why did circumcision disappear as a covenant sign, especially for the Jewish Christian?” (80) However, the disappearance of ritual circumcision is entirely understandable if baptism replaced it. According to Paul circumcision was—at least for believers like Abraham—the seal of the righteousness Abraham had by faith (Rom. 4:11). Adult converts like Abraham receive the sign and seal of the covenant upon professing faith, while their children receive it unto that profession.

There are many other important issues I wish I could engage and many fruitful insights to explore in Kingdom through Covenant. In short, I look forward to the continuing conversation provoked by this thoughtful work.

  • Malcolm Davey

    Thanks for the reviews on this book and the following dialogue. It did note that D Bock and D Moo found more problematic the omissions in the book, but Michael Horton more just disagreed with the ideas. Maybe this tells us who the intended audience is, or where the authors the book thought the greater battle lay. Or maybe they see the argument more about the OT.

    I did find Michael’s comments on Jeremiah 31:34 a bit loose.
    In fact I used to think it was about priesthood of all believers – I think partly because I was told that was what the verse meant, and when I read it it seemed to fit.
    Michael’s suggestions don’t really seem come from the argument of Jeremiah 31:31-34 especially in light of the context of the OT narrative. He suggests be true things – but are they what this passage is talking about?
    I think the contrast in the passage does point to what it means. The problem with the Old covenant stated here was that the people broke it(v32). They turned away from God continually and eventually were sent into exile. Only remnant was saved.
    On the other hand the new covenant brings law on heart and mind, all knowing him and sins forgiven.
    This would imply that this was not true with the old covenant people. law was not on heart, not all knew him, sins not forgiven (for all)
    Ezekiel 36 also picks up how they will in the future how God will redeem then and give them a new heart and cleanse them. The old covenant people didn’t all know the Lord, and have the law on all their hearts. That’s why people needed to say “know the Lord” to their neighbour. We won’t have to evangelise our fellow covenant members because they already know the lord.v34

    While these other ideas Michael mentions are true – they don’t really suit the context – the closest one is the priesthood of all believers – but this is just a distraction from what it is saying.

    Michael suggestions don’t seem quite to represent what is going on in this passage (and the entire OT) to say the its about “all the families of the earth,” or about “women as well as men, children as well as elders, Gentiles as well as Jews”, or “priesthood of all believers”. While these are true and characteristic of the new covenet people of God. Were these stated as the problem with the Old Covenant?
    Michael suggests the phrase “from the least of them to the greatest” v34 might not mean all without exception, but indicate other characteristics of the group. But could it not really mean all without exception?

    Some might be biased on this verse because they think this goes against “covenant baptism”. Whether or not it does, we should work to understand it properly.

  • Moe Bergeron

    I really do appreciate Michael Horton but I suspect if the Apostle Paul was the Class Professor he would say to Horton after he read this paper; “Mike, Where did you get this? Return to your studies and re-read 2 Corinthians 3:1-17.”

    So far our guest commentators are doing a great job of convincing me that we have to open our Bibles and do our own homework. One or more, perhaps all, of our scholars are in serious error.

    • Matthew Morizio

      “(e.g., Vos, Ridderbos, Murray, Kline, Gaffin, et al.)” Yep! These men are exactly why I no longer embrace CT or DT. I’m very grateful for their labors in bringing to light the critical need to read ALL of Scripture ‘Christologically.’ Horton too, has helped me see things biblical with the ‘mind of Christ.’

      Perhaps Beale could be invited along to review this book (K thru C) as one scholar that possesses a strong understanding of biblical-typology…which is a cornerstone to reading the Scriptures (in entirety) from a New Covenant perspective.

      • Nick Mackison

        As far as I’m aware, Beale is a Covenant Theologian.

        • Matthew Morizio

          Yes, Beale is CT, but there are those (like Beale) in that camp that possess a stronger understanding of biblical-typology, which aided my coming to understand a more consistent application of such, unto the point that I found CT lacking substantial grounds for things like paedoism, 3rd use of the Law, and overarching-covenant of grace throughout redemptive history.

  • Robert C Camenisch

    Aa very helpful discussion of basic issue about the OT & NT covenants. Thanks for a good basic discussion on infant baptism and it’s relation to circumcision.

  • Luma

    Thank you for the review, Dr. Horton. I’m going to need to print it out and work through it. For now I would like to bring up three points:

    1. Thank you for at least admitting that there can be in some covenant theology circles those who “have sometimes so stressed continuity within the one Abrahamic covenant of grace that the newness of the new covenant is insufficiently appreciated.” I have heard messages from you on the topic of grace and on Christ and so I KNOW this is not true of you personally, but I hope you can also admit that not only is there insufficiency in appreciating the newness of the new covenant but there is also an attenuation of Christ and the gospel.

    2. I could very well be misunderstanding you here but you say:

    “God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not. Yet they must embrace the promise in faith. Otherwise, they fall under the covenant curse without Christ as their mediator.”

    This sounds more Arminian than the Reformed TULIP.

    3. I agree that in any given physical church right now there is a mixed community—wheat and tares, sheep and goats. With as much as I appreciated about and am in agreement with KtC I was not fully satisfied with their argument concerning this issue. However, I’m not fully convinced by yours either. I guess that means I have more studying to do.

    Thank you again, your work is appreciated. And Dr. Horton, thank you for your love of Jesus and your preaching of the gospel of grace. God bless you.

    In Christ,
    Luma Simms

    • Andrew


      If that sounds Arminian to you,I would suggest reading through Romans 9 (and 10 and 11 while your there). Dr. Horton is simply reiterating the argument of the Scriptures that the covenant promises are only effectual in those who are elect. We understand baptism, like circumcision to be a sign and seal of the covenant…it is a visible word of promise. The promises are made to all covenant members but only the elect are enabled to believe and be save. They are children of the promise.

      The parallel to unbelievers would be the free offer of the gospel word of promise. The promise is really made of saving grace to those who receive it, but only the elect do an are saved.

  • Derek Rishmawy

    Welp, this is the review I was waiting for and the points I was hoping to see raised. I don’t really have much to say other than thanks for the great review.

  • Brian

    If I am reading Wellum correctly in other places (have not yet read KtC), then he argues that the church is unmixed as God constitutes it, not that it is unmixed in its earthly form. Therefore it is the responsibility of church leaders to discern credible professions of faith and exercise church disciple so that the church reflects this as much as possible in its visible form. He does not suggest that church leaders are infallible in this process, or that we can know beyond doubt who is elect. I can’t speak for this book, but Wellum at least admits that there is a “not yet” aspect of the church; it will be mixed because our sin and fallible discernment affect the process of receiving and disciplining members. But that is not the same as saying that God constitutes the church as a mixed body. In this sense, he seems to see it as analogous to positional and progressive sanctification.

    • brad

      To say “the church is unmixed as God constitutes it, not that it is unmixed in its earthly form…” would be to agree with covenant theology that there is a visible/invisible church distinction. Which is what KTC seems to argue against. Federal vision, like KTC, also rejects this distinction because they believe baptized infants to be regenerate. Is KTC saying that all professing baptized believers are regenerate? There is plenty of biblical evidence to remove this as a possibility which would mean that one of the main thesis of the book can pretty much be demonstrated to be an error.

      • Rick Owen

        The NT assumes unbelievers will sometimes be present among believers (1 Cor. 14:24). Some might profess to be believers and be given the benefit of the doubt for a time (Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11) until they prove “they were not of us” (1 John 2:19; cf. Acts 20:30).

        This is not justification, however, for including people as members of a local church (even as ‘non-communing members’) who have not yet made any profession of faith in Christ, as seems to be the practice among Reformed Pedobaptists (see some of the quotes from Reformed Pedobaptists in this article:

        The NT recognizes only real believers as members of Christ’s household of faith and covenant community (Heb. 3:6, 14). Unbelievers may be “cut off” (Rom. 11:22) from what they appeared (or presumed) to belong to; but not from what they actually belonged to (Rom. 8:9).

        The true “ekklesia” which Christ builds, and to which only His true people belong, is invincible (Matt. 16:18). Christ does not lose any members from His body or sheep from His flock. Professing believers who are received in good faith as regenerate members of local churches should still examine themselves to see if they really belong to God’s people (2 Cor. 13:5; 2 Pet. 1:10).

      • Brian


        I apologize for my initial statement being a little confusing, so let me clarify my understandning of Wellum, based on his essay in “Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ.”

        Wellum isn’t addressing the visble church/invisible church distinction, but rather how God constitutes his visible church. Wellum argues that God does not constitute his church as a mixed body, but as a regenerate body. By contrast, Paedobaptists argue that God constituted the visible church to be mixed in its nature (including both regenerate covenant members, and unregenerate covenant members). Both agree that it will always be mixed to some degree prior to Christ’s return. The difference is in how each understands God design for the visible church. So yes, Wellum maintains a “not yet” component in his doctrine of the church. But no, he is not saying the same thing as covenant theologians.

  • Toby

    So are those that do not practice paedobaptism “cut off” or their children “cut off?” It would seem that paedobaptism would in some way require that credobaptists are cut off from covenant blessings by their rejection of the administration.

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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:

  • Rich Barcellos

    hey, Brandon, W&S is sending me a review copy of your book. I am looking forward to reading it.

  • Rick Owen

    I enjoyed and appreciated a number of things Michael Horton expressed so succinctly. After years of reading similar perspectives by other covenant theologians, however, I’m still left with three primary questions (among other less-primary questions) relative to this topic:

    1. Is there a “Covenant of Grace”? It seemed to me back in 1980 that the following article considered this question fairly and began to helpfully sketch out what is now called New Covenant Theology: Why not stick with biblical language and concepts? — namely, “(1) a pre-creation ‘purpose’ of God ‘in Christ'; (2) an historic process which is structured by several covenants; and (3) an historic manifestation of the obedient Son who fulfilled both His Father’s pre-creation ‘will’, and all the promises in history to the fathers (Rom.15:8)” (Zens, p. 2).

    2. Was “believers [or at least one believing parent] and their seed” ever the OT formula? Wasn’t natural birth into the nation of Israel, even to unbelieving parents, the only prerequisite for circumcision and inclusion as a member of the Old Covenant community? Doesn’t baptism represent “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” in conjunction with one’s profession of faith in Christ (1 Pet. 3:21)? How can infants express such an appeal? Christian baptism appears to be for professing Christians. Passages in Acts about the baptisms of households do not mention infants, but they do mention believers and disciples. Many families back then, like today — even among large families which do not practice birth control — did not always have infants present in their households. (See the NOTE ON 1 COR. 7:14 below.)

    3. Isn’t the OT type and shadow of natural birth and circumcision in the Old Covenant community fulfilled by the new birth (without which no one can see or enter God’s kingdom, John 3:3, 5-7) and the circumcision of Christ (i.e., union with Christ, Col. 2:11) for inclusion in God’s New Covenant community? Isn’t this the distinguishing mark of the New Covenant? As Malcolm Davey sketched out in his reply above, this seems to be the guaranteed and superior (not merely ‘hypothetical for all but efficacious for some’) reality which is emphasized in passages about the New Covenant (Jer. 31, 2 Cor. 3, Heb 8 and 10).

    NOTE ON 1 COR. 7:14

    “First Corinthians 7:14 is one of the central proof-texts for infant baptism: ‘Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.’ But Paul is addressing a situation where after marriage the husband or wife is converted. Is such a marriage valid? Are the children of such a union illegitimate? Paul’s answer is that the marriage is okay and that the children are ‘sanctioned,’ or legitimate. Paul uses the same word in 1 Timothy 4:5, where food is said to be ‘sanctified.’” (From “The Hermeneutics of Baptism,” Jon Zens — a good article to Google and read as it reflects on the quandary incurred by Credobaptists when they adopt the Covenant of Grace presupposition by which Pedobaptists justify infant baptism, while conceding they do so without explicit teaching or examples from Scripture).

  • Erik L

    I’m very glad to have this review! While I can’t affirm every point, Dr. Horton is as lucid and helpful as ever and provides some good material for reflection

  • Josh Hayes

    For how a “progressive covenantalist” Baptist perspective can handle the warning-apostasy passages in Hebrews and elsewhere, Dr. Horton should look at Schreiner and Caneday’s “The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance.”

  • Daniel Ventura

    As a former student at SBTS who studied under both Dr. Gentry and Dr. Wellum, I found that the conclusions they drew in K-C about the reformed tradition(by this I mean confessing the historic creeds and reformed confessions: the Westminster Standards or the Three forms of Unity) a bit confusing. They seem in the same breadth, in especially the first couple chapters, to engage Dr. Hortons covenant theology and then dump Doug Wilson into the conversation, as if they were synonymous views of Cov Theology! It was this issue of wrestling with the historic view of the reformed faith that led me to leave SBTS and transfer to WSCAL for my M.Div. It has been such a wonderful transition, and one that is SO IMPORTANT for any person considering pastor ministry – because this has huge ecclesiastical ramifications. I hope the conversation can continue in a charitable way for the good of Christ church.


  • Mary

    Moe, what if Horton’s essay was written in this way:

    “I really do appreciate Gentry and Wellum but I suspect if the Apostle Paul was the Class Professor he would say to Gentry and Wellum after he read this paper; “Pete and Steve, Where did you get this? Return to your studies and re-read 2 Corinthians 3:1-17.”
    So far our non-CT theologians are doing a great job of convincing me that we have to open our Bibles and do our own homework. One or more, perhaps all, of our scholars are in serious error.”


    What would be lacking and unhelpful in that response?

  • Jon

    If Vos, Ridderbos, Calvin, Bavinck, Gaffin, and Ferguson wanted to join Gentry and Wellum’s church, would they have to be re-baptized? If no, then the argument is over. Why? This boils down to what Horton is saying about “basis” and “administration.”

    WCF 28.6 The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.

    If yes to the above question, then Wellum and Gentry are forced in to practicing a re-baptizing of any apostates who fall away but come back. Not only that, New Covenant theologians are forced into the practice of re-baptisms for members who want to join and never fell away but were baptized as children. Just some food for thought.

    • Adriel

      In the baptist understanding, I don’t think a minister can ever have full assurance that he’s actually administering a real baptism (since he does not know infallibly whether or not the recipient genuinely believes or will later apostatize). I’m glad baptism is ultimately something God does.

      • Rick Owen

        Hi Adriel,

        Does the Baptist view of what constitutes a “real baptism” hinge on knowing “infallibly whether or not the recipient genuinely believes or will later apostatize”? Are there any ‘real Baptists’ who hold this view?

        My understanding as a Credobaptist who has spent years in a Pedobaptist church (PCA), and even more years evaluating the Pedobaptist view, is that Baptists baptize people on the basis of their profession of faith. They often try to discern if the candidate’s profession is credible. I was asked in an interview, “What has Christ done for you?” and “What has Christ done in you?”

        Unfortunately, both baptizers and their candidates can be deceived. But this holds true even in Pedobaptist fellowships when they receive and baptize members who were not baptized as infants. Such a reality does not invalidate their faithfulness, or the rich meaning of baptism, or the work of Christ and His Spirit which it portrays, anymore than among Credobaptists, in undertaking to baptize folk who (as best as can be discerned) are making “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” by submitting to baptism (1 Pet. 3:21).

        Jesus’ commandment in Matt. 28:19-20 includes baptism and teaching people to obey Him. In neither instance can anyone guarantee the fruitfulness of the disciples. The seed of the word, as our Lord explained, meets with limited success, from our human point of view, just as much as baptism does (Matt. 13:8, 23; cf. 24-30, 36-43).

        • Adriel


          Thanks for responding. If the person does not have genuine faith at Baptism, has a real Baptism taken place – or is the person just going for a swim? Say a recipient of Baptism after a period of apostasy later realizes he was deceived and wishes to be re-baptized, does that mean the previous Baptism which the minister administered was invalid?


          • Rick Owen

            Hi Adriel,

            I would point you back to the last two paragraphs of my preceding reply regarding baptism. Baptizing and teaching obedience to Jesus’ commandments go together in making disciples. Your question seems to apply as much to teaching as it does to baptism, and the two practices, when considered together in this way, seem to answer your question.

            The truth of God is real in an objective way whenever it is correctly conveyed through preaching and writing, dialogue and discussion, prayer and praise, or baptism and the Lord’s Supper . . . regardless of the spiritual state of the recipients/participants involved.

            For the recipient/participant of those various ministries of God’s truth, none of them will seem real on a personal level until they are individually embraced in spirit and truth.

            Whether or not an individual chooses to be re-baptized due to prior unbelief when they were first baptized is a decision I would be comfortable leaving to their conscience before God. I’ve seen people respond both ways over the years: in some cases opting for and in other cases declining re-baptism.

            • Adriel

              Hi Rick,

              Okay, forgive me but I’m having difficulty tracking. Let me try to express my initial point and how I think it is applicable to this discussion.

              In my initial response to Jon, I was trying to make the point that if the only legitimate baptisms are those which are preceded by faith, then it would be very difficult to know (impossible) whether or not you had performed an actual baptism. What if the person doesn’t truly have faith? Are they still “baptized” into the visible church? Can we have confidence that our baptizing is actually accomplishing something objective? This point has to do with the efficacy of the administration of Sacraments. The way I see it, a Credobaptist can never know whether or not his baptizing will actually “stick” (for lack of a better word). This is because he doesn’t know infallibly whether or not the recipient of baptism is a believer. If the person is deceived (and w/o faith), then I find it difficult to see meaning in their baptism (from the baptist perspective). If however Baptism is less about what I do, and more about what God does, then we can have confidence that God is the one speaking, promising, etc. in the Sacrament.

            • Adriel

              When I say I find it difficult to find meaning in their baptism, I mean that I find it difficult for them to be able to say with confidence: “This person is being baptized right now,” since the baptizer doesn’t know whether the recipient is or is not truly a believer. I don’t mean that I don’t think their baptisms are legitimate, just for clarification. Rick, do you think those baptized as infants need to be re-baptized, or were they truly baptized as infants?

  • taco

    I was hoping for more about how Gentry and Wellum put the covenants together, how it differs substantially from Covenant Theology, and an argument for Covenant Theology from Horton. Maybe Dr. Horton could touch on this on his own blog as it would be far more helpful than this defense of paedobaptism.

  • Dan

    Thanks for this, Dr. Horton. Material like this is helping to solidify and confirm my position in covenant theology. I grew up Baptist, evolved to Reformed Baptist, and now find myself wholly in the Reformed camp. My wife and I are expecting our first child shortly, and will have her baptized as an infant. As I wrestled with passages like Romans 4, Hebrews 6, Galatians 3, and Colossians 2, all of these arguments are explained rightly by the Reformed confessions and belief. As you noted above, I found myself explaining away many tough passages which could be simply explained by holding the visible/invisible church notion in tension.

    I look forward to continuing the discussion as well!

  • Adriel

    As a student at WSCAL (and recent convert to Paedobaptism) I was glad Dr. Horton was able to chime in on this book. Regardless of whether or not one finds the arguments in KtC convincing, I do believe a major flaw in the work is its neglect of the warning passages (this is something Dr. Horton mentioned and interestingly enough Dr. Bock also critiqued the book for failing to deal with significant passages from his tradition, too – pattern?). The book assumes an interpretation of these passages without giving them adequate attention. I found this especially unfortunate since the “covenant theology” espoused in KtC relies upon a specific interpretation of these passages in order to function! If then their interpretation of these warning passages is wrong, so is their unmixed, New Covenant community and progressive covenant theology. Thus, I found this neglect to be detrimental to their case as a whole.

    The conclusions drawn by KtC proponents about Jeremiah 31 (pure, unmixed New Covenant community that cannot apostatize) seem odd considering what the author to the Hebrews (who quotes from Jeremiah in chapter 8) writes in chapter 10:

    “28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”

    The author to the Hebrews speaks of members of the New Covenant community receiving a severer judgment for apostasy than those under the Old Covenant. A natural reading of this passage would suggest that although this warning does not make apostasy an inevitability for the Hebrew church, it is certainly put forward as a real possibility. Too bad Wellum and Gentry weren’t around to tell the author of Hebrews that there is no such thing as apostates in the New Covenant community :)!! Joking aside, I was glad Dr. Horton mentioned this as an area in need of improvement for KtC. The familiarity I have with the SBTS attempt to explain some of these warning passages makes me all the more confident in my adoption of the traditional Reformed view. If the author to the Hebrews believed that Jeremiah 31 taught that there was no such thing as apostates in the New Covenant community, it would be extremely odd for him to warn a New Covenant community of the very real danger of apostasy throughout the book, as he does so frequently.

    • Rick Owen

      Hi Adriel,

      Dr. Roger Nicole’s take on the warning passage you cited, as he answered objections raised by critics of definite atonement, makes sense to me. He wrote,

      “In Hebrews 10:29 and II Peter 2:1 the reference seems to be to what the apostates professed to have, rather than to what they had in fact: to argue from these Scriptures in favor of universal redemption appears out of keeping with the context, for the seriousness of this apostasy is due to the SPECIAL relationship which these men professed to Christ and the Holy Spirit. If it be claimed that the terms ‘bought’ and ‘sanctified’ refer to real benefits conferred rather than to external profession, great difficulties will arise with the doctrine of perseverance as well, which many hypothetical universalists are eager to maintain.”


      There are aspects of these warnings in Hebrews which appear to reflect special nuances as the author wrote to fellow Hebrews about Old Covenant privileges which they knew firsthand — privileges which should have led them to embrace their Messiah and enjoy the benefits of the New Covenant, but carried severe consequences if they did not.

      Dr. Horton’s approach to membership in the New Covenant seems to miss the divine distinctive that sets the New Covenant apart from the Old Covenant — namely, inner transformation of the heart and true forgiveness of sins. This rests immutably and eternally upon the perfect and complete work of Christ: “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all . . . For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:10, 14). The Holy Spirit bears witness to this efficacious blessing, the writer explains, through what Jeremiah promised in the New Covenant to God’s people (vv. 15-18).

      • Adriel


        Thank you again for your response. I understand that there are various interpretations on these warning passages. I don’t believe that the one presented by Dr. Nicole, or the ones presented by others like Dr. Schreiner do justice to the actual words of the text. What makes these apostates so liable is not that they “thought” they had been enlightened, or presumed to be partakers of the Holy Spirit, but rather that in a real sense they actually were (Heb. 6:4). The author to the Hebrews is addressing this New Covenant community in a way that parallels them with the Church (if I may) in the wilderness. This was a mixed community that like the wilderness community had experienced the power and Spirit of God in a mighty way. Yet, like the wilderness community there were those in the Hebrew church who presumably had not yet mixed the Word of the Gospel which they had heard with faith (Hebrews 2:1-3 cf. 4:2). This is the cause of the authors encouragement to persevere. In spite of these realities, he still addresses the church as “holy brothers” (3:1), i.e. one covenant community, namely the visible church.

        As far as the distinctions between the OCC and NCC, I think we have to allow the book of Hebrews to parse out the Jeremiah prophecy for us. To quote Jeremiah 31 and conclude from it that now the New Covenant community is a pure, unmixed community is not to understand the NCC (or Jeremiah 31) like the author to the Hebrews does. If the author to the Hebrews still has a category for NC apostates, then so must we. If our interpretation of one passage (Jeremiah 31) leads us to conclude that there are no longer apostates in the New Covenant community, then I think we’ll end up with all sorts of problems with the warning passages (in Hebrews and elsewhere). This is why they must be interpreted as hypothetical situations by many baptists who want to maintain their exegesis of Jeremiah 31. As I stated before, I just don’t think that exegesis does justice to the words of the text, or to NT descriptions of the visible church in this age of eschatological tension.


        • Rick Owen

          Hi Adriel,

          There seems to be general agreement among advocates of CT and NCT that the apostates mentioned in Hebrews were not regenerate believers who lost their salvation. At best, they partook of God’s blessings in a peripheral way, however this might be described, as unbelievers in superficial association with true believers.

          I do not think it is accurate to say the writer to the Hebrews assumed his readers/hearers were all members of the New Covenant community. Several times he qualifies who belongs to God and Christ in the grace of full salvation as a covenant community member:

          Heb. 3:6: “And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

          Heb. 3:14: “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”

          Heb. 7:25: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

          Heb. 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

          Heb. 12:8: “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

          Heb. 13:10: “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.”

          These statements are similar to the apostle John’s statements in his first epistle which describe those who are born again, true children of God, and brethren in the Lord — in short, God’s covenant people in the New Covenant.

          In my opinion, Dr. Horton’s CT paradigm does not come to grips with what is divinely unique about the New Covenant — namely, it is efficacious for every one of its members. Why is this so? The New Covenant is what it is because Jesus is who He is. Since Jesus is the Guarantee (or Guarantor) of the New Covenant, the successful outcome of the New Covenant is guaranteed (Heb. 7:22; 8:6, 8, 13).

          Heb. 10:10-18 goes together as an unbreakable unit in describing the perfect and complete work of Christ in the New Covenant. The Cross of Christ brings new life and forgiveness to every member of the New Covenant according to this passage.

          Thank you for sharing the link to the video. I’ll watch it later since it’s about an hour in length. I’m open to being further enlightened. I came to Christ from a non-Christian family, with no previous party affiliation or preconceived theology. I am happy and grateful to accept whatever is the Lord’s truth.

          • Adriel


            Thank you for your thoughtful response. Let me try to address what I believe are errors in the way you’re understanding the book of Hebrews.

            You are correct that the apostates described in Hebrews were never regenerate to begin with. I believe this is why the author encourages some of the congregants to mix the Word with faith early in the epistle. I do not believe however that you are correct in suggesting that the author to the Hebrews does not treat his audience as one unit (or one covenant community, that consists of a mixed audience). Note how the author places himself in the discussion to begin with, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (2:1). That which was “heard” is a reference to the Gospel proclamation, which some of the Hebrews were in danger of spurning. From this early exhortation, he goes on to address the recipients of the letter as “holy brethren” in 3:1 and 3:12. 3:12 is especially significant, because there the author warns, “Take care brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God…” Note a couple things: 1) His addressees are “brethren” in some sense and 2) it is these addressees who need the exhortation to persevere (that there not be in any one of you…).

            I take this to mean that the author has one audience in mind. He’s not thinking “Okay here I’m addressing the regenerate, and here I’m addressing the non-regenerate.” He views the entire church as the church visible, mixed, consisting of those who have genuinely participated in the sacramental life of the church (enlightened, partaken of the heavenly gift – Ch 6). This church is the field which drinks in Covenantal blessings or curses (6:7-8). He knows that only those who persevere are vitally united to Christ, and partake in the substance of the New Covenant. But as far as the administration of the Covenant is concerned, the author assumes that those whom he is addressing are real participants in it (all of them). So much so Rick, that he is even able to say that apostates were in some sense “sanctified” by the blood of the Covenant which they subsequently repudiate (ch 10).

            It seems to me that it comes down to whether or not we can go as far as affirming what the author himself seems to affirm. I agree with you that those who are regenerate will ultimately persevere, but we must also maintain that in a very real sense these apostates had a real relationship with the New Covenant blessings, having been made partakers of the Holy Spirit and having tasted of the powers of the age to come (note the eschatological language). If what you suggest is true, then I don’t believe the author to the Hebrews would talk about apostates the way he does. When the author talks about Old Covenant apostates in chapter 10, it’s only to heighten the threat/danger of apostasy under the New Covenant. But in a NCT understanding, NC apostasy is impossible. It seems odd to me that the author to the Hebrews would ever use the language that he does throughout the epistle if he believed that Jeremiah 31 taught what the NCT group says it does.

            The distinction between the substance and administration of the Covenant allows us to affirm the real warnings given in these passages. I believe great harm is done to these texts when we seek to explain them away by calling them hypotheticals, or suggest that they only say what the apostates themselves presumed to be true. I don’t believe there is any evidence in these passages to suggest such conclusions. Rather, these conclusions must be held in order to maintain a NCT understanding of the New Covenant community.

            I too came to Christ from a non-Christian family, with no previous party affiliation or preconceived theology. As a baptist, I always held to a sort of internal external distinction per these warning passages. Over time, I began to see the significance of such a distinction, and what it meant for the New Covenant community. I hope you reach the same conclusions I did! :)


            p.s. here’s another helpful resource on this subject. It’s a chapel message Dr. Horton gave a while back on Hebrews 6 which I found to be helpful:

            • Rick Owen

              Hi Adriel,

              Thank you for persevering in our dialogue and the points you have made. They are certainly worthy of consideration. I will carefully view and listen to the messages you recommended.

              I do believe it is not only possible but wise to view the NT epistles as generally intended for “brethren” — people who are presumed in charity to be genuine believers — while recognizing and warning the recipients that there will be those who are not merely unbelievers but turncoats and enemies of Christ among the flock (cf. Acts 20:30), who do not really belong to the fellowship of God’s people (1 John 2:19).

              When Paul addresses people in Ephesus as “saints . . . faithful in Christ Jesus” who are blessed with every spiritual blessing, chosen, holy, blameless, predestined, redeemed, forgiven, beloved God, given an eternal inheritance, sealed by the Spirit, etc., I do not believe he means to say that unregenerate persons are included in ‘some sense’ just because he wrote such things about Christians in general, or because unbelievers are also members of the covenant community (the visible church) in some lesser sense short of salvation.

              Because of the possibility of deception by one’s own heart or the false teaching of others, presumed believers are always exhorted to examine and test themselves to see if they really are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5) and to validate their individual calling and election (2 Pet. 1:10).

              The epistles do seem to make satisfactory sense when understood this way. Even so, I am willing to consider again arguments for a broader covenantal community paradigm inclusive of believers and unbelievers. I don’t expect to discover anything new after 40 years at this, but I am willing to be persuaded nonetheless should an epiphany unfold.

              Thanks again for your thoughts and the resources you have shared. May the Lord sweeten your walk with Him.

      • Adriel


        I’m not sure if you have seen this yet, but I thought it might be helpful (there’s some time spent on Jer 31 specifically):


        • Rick Owen

          Hi Adriel,

          Since the “Reply” option was depleted on our preceding thread about baptism, I’ll use this one to respond to your thoughts and questions. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful dialogue.

          Baptism, as I understand it, is not a sacrament which transmits a spiritual gift, life, presence, promise or power from God. It is an ordinance (commanded practice) which represents the believer’s union with Christ via His cleansing blood (legal union) and regenerating Spirit (vital union). This does not mean that God cannot or does not communicate grace in some form or fashion in connection with our obedience in baptism or anything else. But like the way God sovereignly answers prayer, when, where and how He bestows blessing related to any of the means of grace cannot be tied to a ritual or formula.

          I believe that all church and Christian-life practices are for believers in fellowship with one another and Christ to carry out. Baptism, instruction, fellowship, mutual service, communion with Christ and one another via breaking bread (the Lord’s Supper), prayer and praise, daily witness and global missions are for those who belong to Christ. “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9). Therefore, religious activities without the indwelling Spirit of Christ amount to an “appearance of godliness” devoid of the power of true fellowship with God (2 Tim. 3:5).

          Given this reality which applies to any of the means of grace, it seems that anyone who realizes he or she was not a Christian when he or she previously performed any religious act — whether it was a public profession of faith, baptism, Bible study, singing, fellowship, breaking bread, teaching others or other forms of service to the church — would probably want to repent of what was false and begin anew as a true worshipper of God in spirit and truth.

          • Adriel

            Hi Rick,

            You wrote, “…while recognizing and warning the recipients that there will be those who are not merely unbelievers but turncoats and enemies of Christ among the flock (cf. Acts 20:30), who do not really belong to the fellowship of God’s people (1 John 2:19).”

            There is a tension that I believe the New Testament gives us here. You see, the apostates in Hebrews are spoken of as God’s covenant people, “For we know Him who said, “vengeance is mine, I will repay.” and again, “The LORD will judge His people.” [note that the judgment here is in reference to apostasy/apostates] It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:30-31)

            Or consider what Peter writes, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome of those who do not obey to gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)

            This household consists of the visible covenant people, a people who are subject to the terrifying judgment of God. The tension is this, I believe: how can these apostates be called “His people,” or be spoken of as members of the “household of God”? Some (perhaps those who are of the Arminian persuasion) see no tension here, and have no problem with regenerated believers losing their justification. Others who believe that those who have been born again do not finally fall away, must then answer the question, “In what sense are these people participants in these realities?” The two primary options seem to be 1. they were not really the people of God, and these warnings are not talking about realities (Normally an appeal is made to 1 John 2) or 2. There is a way in which they can be the people of God, in some sense formally united to Christ, without having ever been made a part of the substance of the Covenant (vitally united to Christ).

            Of these two options, I find the latter to be more appealing. The branches that are broken off of Christ were actually, in some sense, a part of Him (John 15). The branches which do not continue in faith under the New Covenant are actually, in some sense a real part of the organic people of God (Romans 11:21ff.) who can be cut off (note the language of Covenant curse). Those in the church who are seeking to be justified by the law are severed from Christ because they were actually, in some sense, united to Him (Galatians 5). This formal union serves to condemn these apostates because although they were partakers of the heavenly calling, they abandoned the One who speaks from heaven and sought life elsewhere even after having tasted of the sweet rain of God’s blessings (Hebrews 6:7). There will subsequently be a severe judgment for these people, who, as noted, are identified as “God’s people.”

            I’ve appreciated this discussion, Rick. Thank you for your charitable tone and patience. I don’t mind continuing to chat, perhaps you could email me directly, brother?


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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;

  • Johnny

    Rick Owen (and Mo Bergeron),

    The “genius” of New Covenant theology? Sorry, but the statements I’ve read from NCT advocates in the post (and elsewhere) frequently seem to persistently drip with pride. The very first post in this thread from an NCT advocate (Mo) was a bit ungracious at best, IMO.

    As for the genius of NCT, it is interesting that nearly 2,000 years of church history passed without anyone in church history ever even remotely promoting that “genius.” Folks can try to twist Bunyan and Owen all they want, but they were not the forebears of NCT. But if we wrongly cede those 2 folks, that leaves pretty thin support. That doesn’t mean NCT is wrong, but, it certainly is novel, as is KtC (and KtC is not NCT). In light of that, a little more humility would seem to be in order, and maybe a little recognition of the debt that is owed to the Covenant theologians down through ages, whose shoulders NCT and now “progressive” covenant folks, have been standing on for a variety of things and insights. I don’t say that pridefully, but merely as a point of irony given some of the ungracious comments I’ve seen about Covenant theologians from NCTers. I think it’s safe to say that most the bookshelves of most NCT advocates is pretty full of works by those theologians that Mo thinks need to go back to the school of Paul on. If that’s the case Mo, then I would suggest you and your other NCT folks get rid of those books and replace them with the theologians who get Paul right, because after all, if we can’t get Paul right, or the New Covenant, or the Kingdom, etc., then why bother reading works so filled and tainted with what you seem to imply is the heresy of CT? Of course, that means you can only back to what…the early 1970 or 80’s, when NCT actually became a blip on the theological radar screen. The bookshelf would be pretty bare, wouldn’t it?

    • Moe Bergeron

      Dear Johnny, I apologize if my comment came across as ungracious. That was not my intent. I highly respect our brother Michael. My comment was nothing more than a poor attempt at humor.

      As a long standing advocate for a greater understanding of the New Covenant I have become increasingly alarmed by our failure to appeal to Holy Scripture and its own definition of the old and new covenants as does 2 Corinthians 3:1-17 provide. Passages such as Isaiah 42:6; 49:8; Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 36:26–27, etc., speak to this issue far more effectively than our precious confessions. Our differences of opinion on the covenants has only served to highlight our ignorance and oftentimes our unwillingness to get back to searching and comparing Scripture with Scripture as good Bereans.

      As a visiting preacher on at least two occasions to Bible believing churches I was granted the privilege to pass out index cards along with a pen to all of the members who were about to celebrate the Lord’s Table. I instructed them to write the answer to just one little question I had for them before they took of the elements. The question was simple. I asked them to define the New Covenant that our Lord sealed with his precious blood. The answer could be from the top of their heads or preferable with a passage of Scripture. I was not shocked when on both occasions 98% of those in attendance could not answer correctly. Both churches failed miserably. All I sought was the plain teaching of Scripture, nothing more, nothing less. Needless to say they were humbled by the experience and sought to learn more of this long neglected doctrine of the Bible.

      Think on this my brethren. Believers taking the cup of the New Covenant though they haven’t a clue as to what the New Covenant is. This is one reason I am praying KTC at the very least gets us back to a Biblical understanding of the New Covenant.

    • Rick Owen

      Hi Johnny,

      My reply to Gary D. Long assumed he would appreciate my choice of the word “genius” in describing the essence of NCT, as I understand it — namely, its particular focus on Christ “as the center and circumference of Scripture, God’s plan for the ages, and [believers’] lives.” Such is the ‘genius’ and great hallmark of the entire Bible and Christianity as a whole, is it not, which culminates in the New Covenant? NCT seems to reflect this focus. Perhaps that would have been a clearer way to put it.

      I did not consider how this might come across to others who do not subscribe to NCT, especially in light of authors you said seemed prideful. You’ve made me think about choosing my words more carefully. Thank you.

      I would encourage you to read Tom Wells’ book which I provided the link to in my reply to Dr. Long. He writes as a humble, patient, encouraging pastor who is trying to glory only in His Lord and persuade other believers to do the same.

  • Johnny

    Thanks Mo and Rick for your gracious replies.

    Mo: Covenant theologians believe that they think biblically about the NC. We don’t need KtC, or NCT to do that. Obviously, you do not agree :-) Your comments though imply that CT doesn’t think biblically about the N.C., nor that they are concerned to. We do and we are :-) But we are open to insights from our brothers and refinement. We do believe in semper reforanda within the larger context of what we believe the superstructure of the Bible teaches is (CT), and practice.

    Rick: the statement “Christ “as the center and circumference of Scripture, God’s plan for the ages, and [believers’] lives.” is also the concern of Covenant theology with union with Christ at the center, and especially as found within a redemptive historical hermenuetic. NCT does not bring that out any better, and may even detract from that in some ways. It’s hard to read folks like Vos, Murray, Kline, Sinclair Ferguson,Horton, Gaffin, etc., etc, and not come away with the fact that Christ is the heartbeat of Scripture (Luk 24).

    Anyway, I appreciate you brothers responding the way you did. I have read Zaspel and Wells and found much to commend, though, of course, things that I do not agree with. And I do ask for your forgiveness if I came off a little strong in my previous post. It is refreshing that we are all concerned to see “Christ “as the center and circumference of Scripture, God’s plan for the ages, and [believers’] lives.”

    In Christ,


    • Matthew Morizio

      There are those within the CT camp that possess a stronger understanding of biblical-typology (i.e., Vos, Kline, Gaffin, Horton), but not strong enough. This leaves CT lacking substantial grounds for things like paedoism, 3rd use of the Law, and overarching-covenant of grace throughout redemptive history.

      A concern is that CT does not apply biblical-typology to their reading of all Scripture (2 Corinthians 3:1-17; Isa. 42:6; 49:8; Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 36:26–27, etc.). Hence, their notion of New Covenant remains much like the Old; with the New just being Newer.

      They are seen as having one foot on Sinai and the other on Zion. Very problematic. This makes for a mess when it comes to leading the flock through the valley of this world. Sanctification too often ends up being by Law.

      These men are loved and respected, but they are limited, like all of us.

    • Moe Bergeron

      Johnny, Thank you for your gracious response.
      With regards to where you wrote; “Your comments though imply that CT doesn’t think biblically about the N.C., nor that they are concerned to.”
      I will refer you to the point I made previously with regards to the ignorance of those I tested before they took of the cup of the New Covenant.
      My brother, It is a fact. Born Again Christians in our day know close to nothing as to what constitutes the new covenant that our Lord inaugurated with his precious blood during the Last Supper.
      Perhaps the day will yet come when the two major biblical covenants as defined by 2 Corinthians 3 will be clearly defined and taught by those who subscribe to the WCF and everyone else for that matter. We’ve all neglected this important truth.

      Again, Thank you,

  • Matthew Morizio

    I should have said: “CT doesn’t apply biblical-typology well enough to their reading of all Scripture(2 Corinthians 3:1-17; Isa. 42:6; 49:8; Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 36:26–27, etc.). Hence, their notion of New Covenant remains much like the Old; with the New just being merely Newer and Improved.

    • Johnny


      Thanks for your thoughtful insights. Essentially, one overarching “covenant of grace” simply means that there is only one Gospel from Genesis to Revelation. There is one mediator who perfectly obeys the law (perfect obedience to the law is the essence of what is meant by the theological label covenant of works) and substitutes Himself for His people, and those who have faith in that mediator are saved. That Gospel was first revealed in Gen 3:15, and then preached to Abraham (see Gal 3), and was administered through the types and shadows in the Law until the substance of those things (Christ) was revealed. I could be wrong, but no NCT or KtC advocate would deny that, would they? If they don’t, then welcome to Covenant Theology. If they do, then there seems to be a huge problem in the understanding of the redemption that orchestrated and foreordained from the foundation of the world by the Triune God (“covenant of redemption”), and you essentially have two plans of salvation. Such a view, among many other things, is antithetical to a biblical theological understanding of Scripture, does away with any notion of typology, and renders Jesus’ words in Luke 24 meaningless.

      In reference to typology, it is a covenantal understanding of Scripture that makes typology meaningful (and provides the framework that makes it possible and keeps it balanced). At a basic level that cuts to the chase and shows more of what’s at stake, a failure to recognize. for example, the covenantal relationship between God and Adam ultimately destroys the typological nature of Adam as the protological son, and Jesus as the Second Adam (eschatological Son) who succeeds *in obedience* (which is always in relation to law) where Adam failed. In other words, a denial of the biblical theological category “covenant of works” is to essentially deny Romans 5 (not to mention Galatians 3-4), and in that case one must deny, at least logically, the active obedience of Christ as being part and parcel of the Gospel. Once that is removed, then so must imputation be removed, which is, in effect, a denial of the Gospel (this is a problem even among those that claim to be CT advocates, but deny, or minimize, the “covenant of works.”). It is no accident then that some (not all) NCT folks have in fact denied the active obedience of Christ, because once the original covenantal relationship between God and Adam is denied (as being based on meritorious obedience: blessing if you obey, cursing if you don’t), then so too is everything else. The entire superstructure of the Gospel crumbles at that point, as it were. Thankfully, the NCT advocates I’ve interacted with still hold to the active obedience of Christ. But, in my opinion, they really don’t have a reason for doing so based on their theology.

      Your other statements are such broad over-generalizations that they actually tend to distort what many if not most CT advocates believe. I would venture to say that many NCT guys are quite familiar with Marshalls work on Sanctification are indebted to it, and of course there are modern works such as Horton (see his book cited in the article), Ferguson, Jerry Bridges, Tim Keller, Jack Miller, etc., etc., who speak of a Gospel driven Sanctification. For some representative articles, see:

      As for the NC, I would encourage you to do more reading (careful reading, that is) of CT folks on that. What one comes away with is a robust, full orbed biblical theological/redemptive historical understanding of the NC that accurately accounts for all of the Biblical data, such as the already/not yet aspects of the NC (which the NCT does not account for ), and thus accurately handles the select passages you have listed.

      Anyway, I appreciate your concerns about many things, and have always appreciated NCT’s concern to emphasize Christ as the center. That is really what CT, when understood properly does, particularly as it regards union with Christ (I would refer you more to the WTS East guys rather than Horton on that). Finally, due to many other commitments, this will be my last post on this matter.

      Grace and peace,


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  • Brandon

    Here is another resource those interested in the debate may benefit from:

    17th century particular baptists developed a covenant theology that was quite distinct from WCF. Among other things they
    1) Identified the covenant of grace with the new covenant exclusively
    2) Saw the church as the true/spiritual Israel, but saw national Israel as a type of the church

    It is regretful that their writings are not more widely available. Wellum’s work would have benefited greatly from interacting with them.

    A recent website was created to help explain this view and compare it to WCF, dispensationalism, NCT/Progressive Covenantalism, and 20th century reformed baptists. Though these were the editors and signatories of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith, their views were actually quite different from much of what has been written by reformed baptists over the last 50 years.

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  • Rich Barcellos

    Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies – Sample of review article on Kingdom through Covenant

    *This is an excerpt from Sam Renihan’s review article which will be published in the Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies (JIRBS), 2014. This is an important review article of an important book.