‘Kingdom through Covenant’ Authors Respond to Bock, Moo, Horton

It is both gratifying and humbling to have our work reviewed by such scholars as Darrell Bock, Michael Horton, and Douglas Moo. We thank them for their comments and time.

Key to every worldview is a larger story, and all who proclaim a Christian worldview must consider how accurately the storyline of their worldview corresponds to the storyline of the Bible. Although all Christians agree on basics, we disagree in details over how the Bible is “put together.” Central to Kingdom through Covenant (KTC) is the construction of a metanarrative that we believe corresponds to Scripture better than that propounded by either covenant theology (CT) or dispensational theology (DT). We also sought to establish a methodology to determine which metanarrative is truer to Scripture. Moo rightly notes that our book attempts “to erect the scaffolding needed to guide the reader through the story­line of the Bible” but possibly misunderstands us when he thinks we claim that “covenant” is the struc­turing element of the biblical storyline. More accurately, we claim that the progression of the covenants is the backbone of the biblical storyline and that apart from understanding how the covenants unfold and relate to each other, we will not fully grasp the “whole counsel of God.”

As humans, our minds work by using analysis and synthesis in tandem. The same is true in biblical exegesis and theological construction. We create understandings of the whole by dissecting and studying its parts, and conversely we understand the parts in the light of the whole. As we go back and forth between analysis and synthesis, we refine our understandings of both the parts and the whole.

Interestingly enough, our reviewers, particularly Bock and Horton, have proven the thesis of our work. We contend that both DT and CT, in their distinctive points, do not do adequate justice to the progression and interrelationships of the biblical covenants as they find their fulfillment in Christ. Both appeal to aspects of the Abrahamic covenant—specifically the land promise for DT and the genealogical principle and the nature of the covenant communities for CT—and argue that these points remain the same across the biblical covenants, including the new covenant. Yet we contend that this is not correct. We seek to demonstrate that, as one works through the covenants, from creation to Christ, the distinctive points of CT and DT are not as their advocates claim. Not surprisingly, Bock and Horton disagree with us, but they do so by assuming the validity of their respective systems and then rejecting our proposal without addressing the evidence we present. We illustrate this point with each reviewer in turn.

Darrell Bock

As expected, Bock centers on our understanding of the land. He laments the omission of detailed treatments of Romans 9-11 and Luke-Acts because to him these texts affirm a future for ethnic Israel in the land of Israel alongside the church during the millennium. However, these texts do not prove his point. For example, where is the mention of the future role of Israel in Jerusalem during the millennium in Romans 9-11? In order to appeal to these texts the way he does, Bock must first assume the truthfulness of the dispensational storyline. The same may be said about his appeal to Acts 1:6-8. No doubt our book could be strengthened by a full treatment of all of these texts, but Bock never engages our argument that DT’s understanding of the Abrahamic covenant, the land, and the future for ethnic Israel is not how Scripture presents it.

Bock knows we cannot determine the meaning of Romans 9-11 and Luke-Acts from exe­gesis based on cultural setting, linguistic data, and literary structure alone. The metanar­rative we bring to these texts determines our exe­getical outcomes, and we are questioning DT’s storyline. Furthermore, we argue that already in the OT, especially in the prophets, the land is viewed as a type that looks back to Eden and forward to the new creation. The people of Israel, as God’s chosen people, serve as the privileged means by which God brings about his redemptive purposes to the nations. Even now, God is not finished with them, as Romans 9-11 makes plain. At the same time, the meaning of Israel and Jerusalem is being transformed to speak of the people of God, which will include both ethnic Jews and Gentiles.

Thus, in the OT, the nations will come to Jerusalem (e.g. Isa. 2:1-4) in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise. Some­times the prophets speak of the nations living in the midst of a renewed Israel as in Jeremiah 12, but elsewhere, the nations are integrated into a transformed Israel as in Isaiah 19 and 56 and in Jerermiah 16. Isaiah 55:3 is only one of many such passages (Bock does not ex­plain why he is unsure of our reading nor lists any of his evidence from the OT). Within the OT, there is transformation, which is precisely how the NT understands it, even though the disciples took a while to grasp this point. So, for example, in Acts 1:6-8 Bock says “that nothing suggests that the disciples’ expecta­tion of a restora­tion was wrong” (one pos­sible interpretation of several, see Alan Thompson, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus, 103-24). Yet Peter had it drummed through his head by repeated visions that his expec­tations were not true to Scripture; he even had to be rebuked by Paul concerning this issue. Indeed, Acts 15 is central in showing that the rebuilt house of David, in both OT senses—royal dynasty and tem­ple—includes the nations. To be sure, this includes ethnic Israel in a locale called Jerusa­lem in the new creation, in an “already and not yet” sense. This is why the nations can come to Jerusalem and Jerusalem is also co-exten­sive with the new creation. Zion is both a people and a place. And in the dawning of the new creation in Christ, the people are created before the place.

In sum, to argue, as Bock does, that the land promise must be fulfilled to ethnic Israel in the millennial age, and to contend that we undermine God’s faithfulness to Israel simply begs the question. Let us be clear: we do maintain a future for ethnic Israel, but that future is not as DT conceives it. Instead it is found in a massive end-time salvation of ethnic Jews brought to faith in their Messiah (Rom. 9-11) and then incorporated into the one new man, the church (Eph. 2:11-22). This is the true hope for Israel that Scripture holds out in all of his glory and grace.

Michael Horton

Similarly, Horton’s review also proves the thesis of our work. Just as DT, in its distinctive points, is not the storyline that does justice to the outworking of God’s plan in the progression of the covenants, so neither is CT with its covenant of works and covenant of grace (in spite of Horton’s refinements, largely supported by common CT proof-texts). We are con­vinced that the covenant of works and covenant of grace are over-simplifications of the plan of God unfolded through the progression of the covenants in the biblical narrative as well as the passages in the Bible that state how they are to be integrated into a larger whole. Moreover, his distinctions between the basis and administration of a covenant or between law-covenant and grace-covenant are imposed on the Ancient Near Eastern cultural and linguistic data and the biblical texts, and not categories derived from the biblical data. Thus, our failure to address selected texts is not a problem, since they only prove CT when CT is assumed. Like Bock, Horton never addresses the enormous evidence we supply for what we claim is the metanarra­tive of Scripture; he cites only specially selected texts where he has already assumed a framework for understanding them. To advance conversation in this debate, we must become more aware of how the framework we bring to a passage conditions the exegetical results and whether this framework is easily and obviously derived from the biblical plot-structure.

For example, Horton dismisses our entire discussion of the new covenant and especially the transformation anticipated in the nature of the covenant community, both within OT expectation and NT fulfillment. He contends that “all will know me” in Jeremiah 31:34 simply means “all without distinction” in order to preserve the mixed nature of the new covenant community. This makes sense if one assumes that the nature of Israel and the church is basically the same, but it does not do justice to the massive number of texts that speak of new cove­nant members as not only those who know the Lord but also those who experience for­giveness of sins, have the Spirit, are joined to Christ, and are thus, part of a community that is unlike the previous community (Jer. 31:31-34). As we come to the NT this prophetic expec­ta­tion is precisely what we see as Christ’s people are described as those who have been brought from death to life, born and indwelt by the Spirit, united to Christ and thus justified, adopted, and sanctified in him. It is hard to apply these truths to those who do not claim to experience these new covenant realities.

Again, Horton’s appeal to the warning passages of Scripture in order to justify the continuity between the covenant communities—Israel and the church—only make sense if one assumes his entire view. Again, we maintain that this is not the only way to interpret the warning pas­sages. Moreover, his understanding of baptism, simply as God’s promises to a person, whether they believe the promise or not, is hard to square with the NT’s teaching that it signifies our faith-union with Christ and all that it entails (Rom. 6; Gal. 3:26-29; Col. 2:11-13). It makes sense within a CT perspective, but it is precisely this entire view that needs to be validated. Horton’s review summarizes CT well, especially in the points where it differs with our proposal, but he has not actually engaged the argument of the book.

Douglas Moo

We appreciated that Moo’s review actually considered the evidence we muster, and, in fact, discovered a hole in our argument at Ezekiel 16:59-62. We were attempting to be honest with the evidence, even if it appeared to contradict our thesis. Further reflection and study of this text has yielded a clear and simple solution. We wrote that the usage of heqîm bĕrît in Ezekiel 16:60 and 62 might equal that of kārat bĕrît as a result of changes in the language. This seems unlikely since Ezekiel uses both kārat bĕrît (3x) and heqîm bĕrît (2x), and a clear distinction between kārat bĕrît and heqîm bĕrît can be seen in Jeremiah 34, a writing close in time to that of Ezekiel. We should assume, then, that this distinc­tion also works in Ezekiel. God is saying he will uphold a covenant that is al­ready initiated.

The problem is in understanding “eternal covenant” in v. 60. We would now pro­pose the following interpretation of Ezekiel 16: bĕrît in verse 59 is the Mosaic covenant. In v. 60, the first use of bĕrît is the Mosaic covenant (made in Israel’s youth) and the second use of bĕrît is the Abrahamic covenant. In v. 61, bĕrît is the Mosaic covenant while in v. 62 bĕrît is the Abrahamic covenant. Thus Yahweh is saying to Israel that both Samaria and Sodom will be given to her as daughters, not on the basis of the Mosaic covenant, but rather on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant. “Being given as daughters” means that the neighboring nations (Samaritans and Sodomites) are now family. God will uphold his promises to Abraham that through him the nations will be blessed, although the nations were not blessed through the Mosaic cove­nant, since Israel as a nation failed to be a light to the nations. After coming to this new interpretation, we found confirmation of it in the recent commentary on Ezekiel by Peter Naylor.

Thus, Ezekiel 16:59-62 is saying that the nations will be given to Israel on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant and not on the basis of the Mosaic covenant. Thus, when we get to the end of Ezekiel and see there a resur­rected and renewed Israel (40-48), this renewed Israel must include the nations. Here is another OT text that would inform Romans 9-11.

Furthermore, in the covenant with Noah, God upholds his original promises to human­ity, and in Genesis 17 he upholds his covenant initiated in Genesis 15. Nonetheless, in Deuteronomy 29:1 (EV), since the Mosaic covenant has been violated and the human partner who originally made the commit­ment is dead, a covenant has to be “cut” by a new generation in order for it to be renewed. This explains the use of kārat bĕrît there. In sum, we are convinced that there is now no text where one could even hesitate to see the lexical distinction clearly and simply. The newness of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 is also strengthened by this corrective interpreta­tion of Ezekiel 16. It should be noted, however, that our thesis does not hang on this lexical distinction.

Like Bock, Moo laments that we did not treat more of the NT. This is due to a number of rea­sons: (1) We wanted to deal thoroughly with the NT, but this would require another big book, as can be seen from the works of Beale and Hahn, which focus largely on the NT; (2) in circles of thought somewhat similar to our own, the OT is often neglected or people are relying upon exegesis that already assumes a specific theological system; (3) only when we correctly construct the OT scaffolding can we rightly understand what Paul is doing in Romans 9-11 and other NT texts. In fact, we argue that within the OT itself, the anticipation of the new covenant is already bringing the changes that the NT then announces and develops. In many ways, our debate with DT and CT is at this point, and hence appears the wisdom of showing from the OT how the plan of God unfolds through the sequence of covenants.

Charges of Reductionism and Irrelevance

Our reviewers seem to think that for us everything reduces to typology. Horton says, “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.” More accurately, we would say: DT and CT fail to think through how the plan of God unfolds through the progress of the covenants and how the biblical covenants find their fulfillment in Christ, which includes within it typological structures.

By way of illustration, Bock reduces our understanding of the land to say that land is simply a type of the new creation, but our argument is more nuanced. We argue that the covenants begin with creation. Eden, as a temple sanctuary, is where the story begins, and as G. K. Beale has argued, Adam’s role is to expand the borders of Eden to the uttermost parts of the earth. In Adam’s sin, Eden is lost, rest is gone, and Adam and Eve are removed from the presence of God. However, in redemption, Eden is recovered slightly in the land of Israel, where the temple is built and some rest is regained. But as the prophets anticipate, the land points beyond itself to something greater, ultimately identified with the new creation, which Jesus himself, who, as true Israel and the last Adam, brings all of God’s promises to pass. This is why in the NT, the land is bound up with Christ as the one who inaugurates the new covenant and brings both Jews and Gentiles together as one new man in him. We are not simply making the land typological rather than literal, since it is both. The difference is that in Christ all the promises to Adam, Abraham, Israel, and David are realized.

Moo admits that he is not sure how we argue typologically for a regenerate new covenant community over against the mixed community of Israel. Possibly this is because we are not merely arguing typologically. We are arguing that in the progress of the covenants, Christ is the fulfillment of all the previous covenant mediators. He comes as the last Adam, the true son of Abraham, the true Israel, and David’s greater Son. However, unlike the previous covenants, the relationship with his people has been transformed. So, for example, in the Abrahamic covenant, Abraham functions as the covenant head in relationship to his children, which includes all of his children, some of whom are believers in the promises of God (Isaac) while others are not (Ishmael). In the case of Israel, as parents placed the covenant sign of circumcision on their male children, they were viewed as covenant members even though they may never have experienced saving faith. However, in the new covenant, those in union with Christ and thus participants in the new covenant are people of faith, born of the Spirit. There is no evidence that one is a member of the new covenant apart from repenting of sin and believing the gospel. Thus when it comes to the covenant communities, namely Israel and the church, under their respective covenants, the nature of the communities is not the same. No doubt this is an argument that includes typological structures, but it is grounded in a larger argument about how the covenants interrelate to each other, unfold, and find their telos in Christ.

Another charge is irrelevance. Moo fails to see how the argument of definite atonement is relevant to the thesis of the book. Similarly, Bock contends that our argument for particular redemption is one example among many of our overall reductionism. In brief, two points must be made. First, all of the illustrations in chapter 17 are simply that—illustrations. From our overall proposal of how the biblical covenants relate, we sought to show how our view can illuminate important areas in theology. When it comes to the argument for definite atonement, we admitted this is not the only argument, and that definite atone­ment must ultimately be argued on multiple fronts. How this can then serve as an example of reduction­ism is hard to fathom given the clear caveat we make.

Second, whatever one thinks of the argument, our challenge is simply this: one cannot discuss the extent of the atonement with­out wrestling with the biblical categories that Christ dies as our substitute and great High Priest and that his priestly work is a new covenant work. Once we admit this, we must then ask such questions as: Who are the members of the new covenant? If Christ has died for all people without exception, then should we view these people as under the new covenant? If so, then why do not all the benefits of the new covenant become theirs? If not, then what cove­nant are these people under? These are not irrelevant questions. Scripture interprets and explains our Lord’s cross within the context of the new covenant, and not to address these important issues is hard to understand.

In short, we are very thankful for the time spent by our reviewers to provide constructive criticism of our book. You have sharpened our thinking, and we thank the Lord for each one of you. May the conversation continue with the goal of bringing all of our thought captive to Christ and of rightly handling the word of truth for our good, the health of the church, and ultimately for the glory of our Triune Covenant Lord.

  • http://blog.herreidbaptist.com/ Brandon

    This response from the authors is helpful in clarifying a number of points. Regarding believer baptism, I especially liked this comment: “Moreover, his [Horton’s] understanding of baptism, simply as God’s promises to a person, whether they believe the promise or not, is hard to square with the NT’s teaching that it signifies our faith-union with Christ and all that it entails (Rom. 6; Gal. 3:26-29; Col. 2:11-13).”

    For anyone interested in ways that Baptists have historically drawn from covenantal themes to enhance their understanding of the meaning of baptism, checkout my book, “Waters of Promise: Finding Meaning in Believer Baptism.”

    Here’s a link to the book at the publisher’s Web site: https://wipfandstock.com/store/Waters_of_Promise_Finding_Meaning_in_Believer_Baptism

    Thanks again to TGC for hosting such a helpful forum like this. I hope they host more in the future.

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  • Darrell Bock

    This response misses the point I made from Acts 3, a Spirit inspired speech with connections back to Acts 1. Peter in Acts 3 says read the OT to see what happens on Jesus’ return which does have both images of Israel AND a reconfigured Israel. Acts 1 spoke of a restoration to Israel of the kingdom. Israel simply absorbed into the church is not that image (Not to mention what I suggested about times of the Gentiles in Luke 21). My point is that both elements are affirmed here in NT texts at a time when the writers knew what they meant. Also to note is the slight of hand about Romans 9–11 in their critique. I never connected the millennium to that text. I simply noted how that text sees a future for ethnic Israel (with no note to redefine that expectation). My point is a simple one. Why reduce the expectation of the OT to only one dimension of what it presents. Regrettably, the charge of reductionism stands.

    • JR

      I am pretty new to these systems of thought but am trying to understand more. I just recently bought this book and haven’t read as far as all of you yet. The authors explicitly state in their response that the land is both typological and literal: “We are not simply making the land typological rather than literal, since it is both.”

      How then is it reductionism if they address both aspects of the land promise? I don’t believe the authors would say Israel is “simply” absorbed into the church, especially given Paul’s treatment of being a Jew in Romans 4. So then, can’t Israel maintain their ethnic distinction while being co-heirs with Gentiles of the promised land (rest)?

      • Darrell Bock

        All fair questions. The reductionism has to do with Israel’s role and the lack of discussion of stages of realization and her specific role in it as realization of what God committed to in covenant. I actually agree with them about how the New Heavens and New Earth works. What I question is the lack of integration of a restoration for Israel into Messiah and his program as a fulfillment. (A stage is missing in their discussion as I see it). At one point, the world will come to Jerusalem as we know it to worship the king (this is simply premillennialism) as a stage in the realization (not yet Rev 21-22). The time of the Gentiles will end, but it also will produce a oneness that rejoices as Jew and Gentile together are blessed in the Messiah they share. Things do not go directly to a new heaven and new earth. Yes, there will be and is equality with Gentiles. Yes, the world will be a blessed place beyond the land, but God will also keep his covenant commitments and faithfulness to Israel in the ways he expressed it to them as well, because of his maximal grace. Part of what this will show is the reconciliation Christ accomplishes between Jew and Gentile to make them one, as well as they fact that God keeps his promises to all that He makes them to in the ways he expressed, even doing it through the Christ as He promised. It is not that they do not address both aspects of the land promise, but that it is not integrated completely enough in all its aspects to cover all the NT texts (many of which they failed to discuss). The Paul who writes Romans 4 as he does also writes Romans 9-11 and sees the deliverer restoring Jacob by what he will do. What we get is unity in the midst of a reconciled diversity that shows powerfully how deep reconciliation goes and a God who keeps all his promises to those to whom he makes them, both original recipients and those who come in later (Both those near and far).

    • R. Delaney

      I think you’re continuing to miss the point. Your dispensational framework is hindering comprehension. “Israel simply absorbed into the church” is not the entirety of the argument being made…

      • Darrell Bock

        See response just above. Israel is lost and redefined as a category by the way they explain it. We do not look for Israel as she was, but for a reconstituted Israel that is actually something else in their view (Thus absorbed). The alternative is to see that same Israel grafted back in just as she was lost to the vine in Romans 9-11. In that role what was said of how the nation will bless the world through the singular seed will also be seen, seen as evidence of the grace and faithfulness of God. The details of that are in the explanation above.

  • Nick Mackison

    This is an outstanding surrejoinder. For me, what sets Progressive Covenantalism/New Covenant Theology apart from both CT and DT is that it employs a consistent NT hermeneutic. It seems to me that DT has an Old Covenant eschatology, while CT has an Old Covenant ecclesiology and nomology. PC/NCT seems to interpret all three categories (eschatology, ecclesiology and nomology) with a consistent Christ-centred, New Covenant hermeneutic.

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  • MarkG

    One thing that continues to puzzle me is how/why the proponents of NCT continue to push progressive revelation or “progressive covenantalism” as opposed to CT when in fact CT is quite broad. Progressive revelation in reformed/evangelical circles is not new. Geerhardus Vos (early 20th century) is often called the “father of reformed Biblical Theology [progressive revelation]” and Johann Gabler goes back to late 18th century. One can even see a progressive revelation in Jonathan Edwards (e.g., his sermon titled “East of Eden”). Meridith Kline organized his CT along the lines of kingdom administerd by covenants and treated OT covenants in light of ANE treaty forms, although this may be somewhat dated. I keep wondering what’s new and if what’s new is covenant theology structured from a Baptist or recovering dispensationalist perspective/agenda. I wonder if advances in our understanding of OT covenants have made dispensationalism difficult to sustain so now we have to have “NCT” as a replacement halfway measure. These are just my speculations. Like Arsenio Hall (sp?) used to say; hmmmmm?

    • JK


      I think you might change your assumptions about the authors’ goal(s). They both saw places where they believed CT and DT did not align with scripture and have proposed alternatives. They are not driven by a “Baptist or recovering dispensationalist agenda.”

      Read the book closely to find out “what’s new.” Then, see if it is more aligned with Scripture or less. As someone trained in CT, that’s what I plan to do!

      • MarkG

        That’s also what I also plan to do. However, I have also read a number of articles and interviews by the authors. The way the book is being promoted makes me question. All sorts of folks claim their views are closer to scripture; new perspective & Protestant reformers, for example. As you know it is not always easy to tell where someone is coming from; e.g. neo-Barthians. I have limited time and book budget so I like to know as much as possible in advance.

  • Paul

    I would like to hear more from Gentry/Wellum and why they keep saying this is a middle way when it completely rejects Dispensationalism and builds its meta-narrative on covenants. A middle way would be a compromise not a rejection of the fundamental way of understanding the Bible of one side.

    • Paul


      The book is pretty clear on this issue. The authors state clearly where they align with dispensationalism and why they use the term “progressive covenantalism”.

  • http://www.gospelgrace.net/ Luma

    Thank you for this response professors.

  • taco

    Second, whatever one thinks of the argument, our challenge is simply this: one cannot discuss the extent of the atonement without wrestling with the biblical categories that Christ dies as our substitute and great High Priest and that his priestly work is a new covenant work. Once we admit this, we must then ask such questions as: Who are the members of the new covenant? If Christ has died for all people without exception, then should we view these people as under the new covenant? If so, then why do not all the benefits of the new covenant become theirs? If not, then what covenant are these people under? These are not irrelevant questions. Scripture interprets and explains our Lord’s cross within the context of the new covenant, and not to address these important issues is hard to understand.

    This is worth repeating several times.

    • Adriel

      The Reformed tradition distinguishes between the Substance and Administration of the Covenant. They are members of the New Covenant community (those who have received the Covenant sign), formally united to Christ. I think you’d find these issues addressed over and over again if you took a brief look at what Covenant Theologians have been saying from the very beginning.


      • http://www.lambblood.com Rick Owen

        Hi Adriel,

        The covenant sign of the New Covenant is the Holy Spirit who brings us new life, unites us to Christ through faith, and stands as our seal and down payment for the day of redemption (Matt. 18:3; John 1:13; Eph. 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit applies the “circumcision of Christ” which, for the believer in Christ, comprehends both his/her legal union with Christ, in all phases of His redemptive work, and vital union via the new birth (Rom. 6:3-8; Eph. 2:4-7; Col. 2:11-12).

        Natural birth made people members of God’s Old Covenant community in the OT. (They did not have to have believing parents.) While only the male children were circumcised, the sign they received spoke for the promise God made to all of Abraham’s descendants, including the female children who were not circumcised.

        Under the New Covenant, spiritual birth is necessary to be a member of God’s kingdom community (John 3:3, 5-8). “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Rom. 8:9). External signs, seals and symbols used under the Old Covenant to prefigure Christ have been fulfilled by the reality of Christ in the New Covenant (Col. 2:17). “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15). “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

        BTW, you’re welcome to contact me directly to discuss further by private email (as you proposed in your last reply to me on the thread under Dr. Horton’s review). You may reach me by clicking on my name. This will take you to our fellowship’s website where you can reach me via the Contact page. I can provide you with my private email address after that.

      • http://www.lambblood.com Rick Owen

        Hi Adriel,

        I started reading Scott Clark’s article you linked above. I will finish it later and try to give it a fair reading. On the surface, it appears to be standard fare with the traditional assumptions about the existence of a ‘covenant of grace’ + Old Covenant paradigm (which is how it really seems to go with CT) overarching and shaping the New Covenant.

        I am still puzzled over why CT does not seem content with biblical categories and language. More about that in this essay, “Is There A Covenant of Grace?” – http://www.grantedministries.org/is-there-a-covenant-of-grace-jon-zens/

        There seems to be a clear progression in the Bible toward the New Covenant as the fulfillment of all historical covenants of promise and God’s overarching eternal purpose (versus ‘covenant of grace’) in Christ. Dr. Zens discusses this in detail in his essay which began to sketch out the premise of NCT in 1980 along with other Christian writers.

        • Adriel


          Here again, I don’t think you’re understanding the difference between what I mean by substance and administration of the Covenant. I can affirm everything in the passages you cite (John 3; Romans 8) as dealing with the substance of the Covenant. The Covenant promises are only realities (become actualized in us) when the Spirit works faith in us, uniting us to Christ vitally. Whereas I can affirm those passages, I think you would have a very difficult time affirming the realities put forward in John 15, Romans 11, Galatians 5, Hebrews 6, 10, 12. This is because you have no category for understanding passages in the New Testament which deal with apostasy that indicate that the apostates were/are, in some sense (i.e. administratively) a part of the Covenant community. Passages (of which there are many) that speak of being a “part” of the organic nature of the Church, and then removed. It’s these passages which KtC and NCT fail to account for. I find it pretty outstanding that the response given in KtC, as well as in this post to these passages is basically, “There are other ways to interpret them.” I find those ways to do a great injustice to the words of Scripture, for the sake of a system which cannot survive without these “other ways of interpretation.”

          Also, I would not accuse you of being unsatisfied with biblical language and categories because you were a trinitarian. We use terminology like we do precisely because it helps us to understand Scripture better. I believe the Covenant of Grace is a biblical concept, like I believe the Trinity is a biblical concept. I’m not sure that means i’m not content with biblical categories.


          • http://www.lambblood.com Rick Owen

            Hi Adriel,

            Notice your first sentence in your reply, where you speak of the substance and administration of “the Covenant.” Are you referring to the New Covenant or the ‘covenant of grace?’ I would guess the latter given the way you continue to reference “the Covenant.” This is a tendency among advocates of CT, whereas Paul spoke of “the covenants [plural] of promise” (Eph. 2:12; cf. Rom. 9:4).

            As for substance and administration . . . it seems the Holy Spirit satisfactorily administers and applies the substance and reality of Christ under the New Covenant to believers. That is what the New Covenant is all about and why it is superior to all other covenants.

            I believe the problem passages you cited, about falling short of New Covenant realities, can be fairly and satisfactorily understood as relating to the special privileges God’s Old Covenant people possessed which should have led them to faith in Christ. Their rejection of Him was doubly serious because of their OT heritage.

            Each passage you referenced is addressed to, or primarily describes, Jewish people. In none of them are individuals or groups said to be under the New Covenant and then expelled from it. Rather, the context appears to describe their privileges and obligations related to the Old Covenant and their expulsion from it and any future blessings they might know under the New Covenant because of their rejection of Christ.

            I understand your point about the Trinity. My point was a little different. Check out Jon’s essay, “Is There A Covenant of Grace?,” and see if you hear any bells jingling. He addresses the matter of biblical concepts and language pretty well relative to CT and the covenant of grace motiff.

            • Adriel


              Here then is our main area of disagreement. I do not believe that your explanation of the warning passages is fair, or satisfactory. These letters are addressed to churches, not synagogues. The author to the Hebrews makes it absolutely clear that his audience had experienced New Covenant realities, and participated in the life of the New Covenant community. He’s warning them from being New Covenant apostates (which rules out your interpretation – that seemed to suggest these people were Jews who had no relationship at all to the NC. You can’t apostatize from something you never had a part in!)

              “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses…” (Hebrews 10:28) <— OC apostates who set aside the Law of Moses were condemned on the evidence of two or three. These apostates are not the apostates the author to the Hebrews is considering, rather he's using them as a backdrop in order to point out the severity of punishment which NC apostates face…

              "How much worse punishment, do you think will be deserved by 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." (10:29) <—- This is what the Hebrew church was in danger of. Unless you're willing to argue that the "blood of the Covenant" here is a reference to the blood of the Old Covenant (which would completely miss the point of comparison/contrast here between Old and New Cov. apostates), then you're forced to read this as a hypothetical situation. I.e. the warning does not present us with a real possibility. This is what some baptists have opted for, I just don't think it does justice to the words of the text.


          • Brent Parker


            For how the warning passages are understood and for the position that Wellum would advocate, see Thomas Schreiner’s and A.B. Caneday’s The Race Set Before Us. Schreiner has also offered a shorter follow-up book entitled Run to Win the Prize. The warning passages are for churches and these warnings serve to motivate believers to persevere in the faith. Genuine believers will heed the warnings. For more details and exegetical analysis, you will need to consult the works above, but I think there are many valid points in these 2 books to show that there are no new covenant apostates.

            • http://www.lambblood.com Rick Owen

              Brent Parker,

              Thanks for the resources you mentioned. Here is another discussion by Tom Schreiner available online in PDF: http://www.sbts.edu/documents/tschreiner/2.1_article.pdf


              I believe the mention of the law of Moses, cited in Heb. 10:28 which you quoted, underscores the special application of this warning to Jewish recipients of this general epistle (cf. Heb. 4:1-11). They were the ones who were once under the law of Moses; not the Gentiles. This passage is not restricted to Hebrew folk, of course, but it appears to call them out in a special way.

              Verse 29 goes on to warn the Hebrew who professed faith in Christ of the severity of turning away from the Messiah who had been sent first to Israel (Acts 3:26; 13:46). The language used here, such as “the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified” (Heb. 10:29), echos OT privileges enjoyed by God’s chosen and set apart (sanctified) earthly nation (Ex. 24:8; Rom. 9:4-5).

              The meaning of “sanctified” for OT Israel, as well as professing believers in Christ among the Jews, could be understood in at least two ways: first, by association with others identified as God’s people; second, by true union with Christ (Heb. 10:10, 14). The latter type of sanctification, involving true salvation, is what characterizes members of the New Covenant; that is, the one who is “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17; Heb. 8:10-12; 10:16-18).

              The former type of sanctification, mere ‘group association,’ was the only sense in which these apostates in view may be said, in any real sense, to have been ‘set apart.’

              Any sense in which they once professed or claimed to have been set apart by the blood of Christ would have been shown false by their apostasy.

              The real possibility and warning here is that people can be deceived; not that they can lose their salvation; and even less that they might merely lose their ‘formal’ (but unsaved) status as a member in the church or of the New Covenant. What concern would the author of this letter have had about maintaining nominal identification with God’s people short of salvation?

              The concern is that a person can believe he or she is saved but prove otherwise through apostasy. The verbs in Heb. 10:29 focus on the action of the turncoat who has “spurned . . . profaned . . . insulted” who/what they once claimed to embrace. These are not statements about real salvific blessings. Redemptive gifts are bestowed by God’s Spirit only upon God’s persevering elect.

            • Adriel

              Brent and Rick,

              Thank you both for continuing this discussion. Forgive me for taking a while to respond!

              I’m familiar with Schreiners book on perseverance having read it some time ago. I do not disagree with you that these passages are motivators for the church to continue on in faith. I have typically heard this referred to as the “means view” of the warning passages. The problem that I see in Dr. Schreiners view is not that it sees the warning passages as a means unto perseverance, but that this is all it understands them to be. In other words, they are ONLY a means unto perseverance. I believe those who take this view do not sufficiently recognize that these passages are ALSO warning against something that is a real possibility, namely a type of New Covenant apostasy. In this sense Schreiners means view is only slightly different than the hypothetical view on these passages, a view which I, again, do not believe does justice to them.

              Rick, I agree completely that these apostates were set apart (sanctified) in the sense you describe (i.e. not salvifically). It’s for this reason that I take the position I do. You write however, “Any sense in which they once professed or claimed to have been set apart by the blood of Christ would have been shown false by their apostasy.” This is where I take exception. Your statement here is merely an assumption. The author to the Hebrews says that these men had indeed been sanctified (in the sense in which we agree). This is what makes their apostasy so heinous. This is why the author can say that the apostates are trampling the Son of God underfoot, and refer to them as “His [God’s] people.” When it comes to the administration of the Covenant, they were constituted as “His people,” i.e. the visible church. This is how the author classifies them. I humbly suggest that it comes down to whether or not we’re willing to say that in a real sense, these Hebrew’s were corporately constituted as “God’s people, sanctified, partakers of the Spirit, etc.” The view you are taking cannot accept this type of language (except to view it as hypothetical or presumptuous) because of its conclusions with regard to an unmixed New Covenant community. Don’t you think it would have been extremely confusing for the author to the Hebrews to use the language he does about apostates, if he believed they actually were not in some sense God’s people and had not in some sense been sanctified?

              The church remains to be a mixed community until the Eschaton, when at last Christ separates the tares from the wheat. God judges apostates in the church severely because of the fact that they participate formally in the Covenant blessings that are falling upon them as visible members of the church (Heb 6). They hear the Word preached, see the Spirit move, partake of the sacramental life of the Covenant Community. But in the end, they’re like Esau who sold his birthright (which he possessed, no doubt). This is why the author gives these warnings (Heb 12:14-17).

              Wellum and Gentry accuse Covenant Theologians of assuming that the church in the NT looks like the church in the OT (with regard to being a mixed community). But this is precisely what the author to the Hebrews points out in paralleling the Hebrew church with the church in the wilderness. The author to the Hebrews warns that we should watch out for “Esau’s” (formal but not vital Covenant members) among us. It seems to me that the view KtC is proposing suggests that there no longer are any in the covenant community.

              May God bless you both!

            • Adriel


              Just some further thoughts on Hebrews:

              Note that in 6:9 the author is able to write, “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.” Does this not suggest that the previous blessings described in 6:4-5 were something other than salvific? Note also that in an earlier chapter, the author exhorts the Hebrews to mix the Word of the Gospel with faith (4:1-3). The issue for these Hebrews is that many of them, like the Jews in the wilderness, were participating in the Covenantal life of the Church, experiencing massive blessings – but not mixing the glorious gospel message with faith. In a real sense, they were just like the wilderness generation: external members of the Covenant community, experiencing God’s mighty power in the wilderness, but falling short of God’s saving grace (Cf. Heb 12:15). If the author intended for us to believe the church no longer consisted of internal external membership, why would he so closely tie these Christians to the wilderness wanderers? These people are not “losing their salvation,” but they are being “cut off” from the visible church, experiencing a greater judgment for having been a genuine part of it.


  • http://www.lambblood.com Rick Owen

    Excellent response from Gentry and Wellum. Thank you!

    Some complementary reflections . . .

    Our Lord Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matt. 21:43). His words signaled a shift toward a new kingdom community consisting of “a people producing its fruits.” Our Lord made it clear to one of Israel’s prominent rulers and teachers that only persons who have been born again can see and enter God’s kingdom as its true members and loyal subjects (John 3:3, 5-8; cf. 4:23).

    The eschatological dawning of God’s new creation in Christ involves a movement away from Old Covenant types and shadows (Heb. 8:13), including the identification and inclusion of unregenerate persons among ‘God’s people.’ Transitional tutelage (Gal. 3:24) has given way to the superior and permanent substance of God’s New Covenant reality in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Col. 2:17).

    The “new man” of Eph. 2:15 represents God’s New Covenant people in Christ, which has replaced what were formerly two divided people-groups. The older administration of “the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” (v. 15), which included unregenerate persons and similar transitory practices, has been abolished by the blood of Christ (vv. 13, 15). This results in believing Jews and Gentiles being reconciled to God — truly reconciled as regenerate & forgiven believers — “in one body through the cross” (v. 16).

    The pre-creation identity of God’s people as His elect (Eph. 1:4-6) transcends and supersedes any ‘ethnic tags’ and culturally-inclusive/exclusive constructs used throughout the course of redemptive history. Both the pre-temporal purpose of God in Christ and the historical covenants of promise find their fulfillment in the Mediator of a better covenant.

    More thoughts here: http://lambblood.com/god-s-new-covenant-reality-in-christ.html. While I wrote this short piece in response to a more dispensational perspective, it bears upon CT as well.

  • Kyle

    I’d like to see the authors of KTC actually deal with Reformed Scholastics. I’m continually baffled that they seem to imagine nothing was written prior to the last 50 years. Where’s your interaction with Owen? Burgess? Turretin? Witsius? Roberts?

    • Paul

      Reformed Scholastics are boring. That’s the main reason, I would assume.

    • Adriel

      Good point, Kyle. It’s sad to me that many people’s exposure to Covenant Theology is not coming from primary sources, but books like KtC. People are too quick to embrace whatever is new.

      • Brian

        A simple flip through the index of KTC reveals that the authors have interacted with Bavinck, Berkhof, Calvin, Delitzsch, Ferguson, Frame, Gaffin, Hodge (A.A. and Charles), Hoekema, Kline, Luther, Murray, Owen, Packer, Poythress, Pratt, Reymond, Robertson, Schaeffer, Sproul, Vos, Warfield, the Westminster Standards, Witsius, Zwingli, and many others I didn’t include. I don’t think they can be charged with focusing only on recent scholarship or ignoring primary sources for their understanding of CT.

        • Jonathan Anderson

          Ha. One of my main critiques of the book is the index. Are we looking at the same book Brian?

          • Griffin Gulledge

            If I may, 2 suggestions:

            1) Try reading the whole book, not just the index.
            2) To act as if the last 50 years of CT is a digression and not as good as or equal to the CT scholastics is ridiculous. It is not as if Michael Horton represents covenant theology is a lesser way than Calvin. Would you have him simply go through the institutes page by page? This book, as a subscriber to covenant theology, accurate represents CT-granted, the Baptist version LBCF 1689- even if it doesn’t meet every puritan or reformers magisterial statements (if anything).

  • http://www.lambblood.com Rick Owen

    Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant. Members of His covenant family — “those who are called” — are assured of receiving the promised inheritance because of His redeeming death.

    “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” (Heb. 9:15, ESV).

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  • Zacheus Indrawan

    Dear Profs Gentry and Wellum,
    Could you help clarify the 6th line from bottom of page 699:
    “…, baptism serves as the instrument by which we are united with Christ …”.
    After reading the subsequent sentences, is it correct if I understand the above sentence as ” … baptism serves as a symbol of being united with Christ …”.


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  • http://www.rbap.net 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.


  • http://contrast2.wordpress.com Brandon Adams

    The 2014 issue of Journal of the Institute for Reformed Baptist Studies features a lengthy review & critique of Kingdom Through Covenant: