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Posts Tagged ‘covenant theology’


When I went to seminary, I was fairly ignorant. Some might argue that I still am. They gave us  a series of questions so they could understand the background of their new students. One was whether I held to Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology.

I was in a quandary. As a new believer I had read some Hal Lindsey (never a good idea) and embraced Dispensationalism in its popularized form. But over time I began to have serious questions concerning its validity as I continued to read Scripture. By the time I showed up in Orlando, I was not a Dispensationalist.

But I had no idea what Covenant Theology was. I would learn.

When I got to the congregation I pastor here in the desert, there was a large number of small pink books on a shelf. No, not books by Pink. Pink books.

The book was A Comparison of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology by Richard Belcher. Before using it as a give-away, I thought I had better read it. Was it really a comparison, or was it a polemical book? That is important. We sometimes have people who begin to attend who are new to what we believe. I don’t want to turn them off unnecessarily. If I started to hand this book out, I wanted to be sure it was fair and accurate. So I finally read it.

The book is quite short (46 pages including the bibliography). His main point is that everyone has a theology, and most Protestant embrace one of these two theological systems (it was published in 1986, and since then New Covenant Theology has grown in popularity).

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One of the things I don’t like about buying books on line is that you really can’t flip through it (Amazon is trying) and see if it is what you are looking for in the first place. The Walk by Stephen Smallman is one of the books I wish I’d been able to flip through. It was recommended in another book about discipleship. Since he’s in the same denomination in which I serve it, unlike the book I had read, would come from a more consistently covenantal perspective. This is not to say this is a bad book, because it isn’t. It just isn’t the book I had thought it would be. I was looking for a more theoretical book that had application. This is a book intended to actually be used to disciple new and renewed followers of Jesus. I guess I should have noticed that subtitle. But I do have a good resource to recommend to those, or use with those, who want or need to be discipled. One of the strengths is the progression that he uses from basics to discipleship thru the gospel on to mission. The goal is not information accumulation, but growth in grace, sanctification into greater obedience and maturity to disciple others and join Jesus in His mission (2 Cor. 5).

“If ‘going to heaven’ is the key objective of evangelism, perhaps that begins to tell us why discipleship is viewed as optional by so many ‘converts.'”

It is a 12 lesson course that could be used in SS, or throughout a year in a small group. He has a reading plan that goes with each lesson which he refers to often (largely Mark and Romans). He also has a reading plan in an appendix that can be used afterwards. We aren’t talking a verse to proof text. These are longer chunks that coincide with the material in the chapter. They build on one another to develop the context of the larger text. It gets people reading the Bible, since this is a large part of discipleship. (more…)

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Some books are written and read as labors of love. Some books are written and read as “necessary evils”. The author wishes they did not have to write the book, and you wish you didn’t have to read it. Sometimes their labor of love is your “necessary evil”.

The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis by Guy Prentiss Waters is probably one of those necessary evils. I’m sure he probably wishes he could have spent the time and energy writing on some other project. Because he loves Christ and his denomination (the PCA), he felt compelled to write this book.

Because I am now serving in the PCA, and love Christ and His Church, I felt it necessary to read this book that I might better understand the Federal Vision since it is present in the PCA. Since I appreciated his earlier book Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, I thought this would be a helpful book. It was. I just wasn’t happy that I had to read it, and at times found it difficult to wrap my head around what the Federal Vision actually is.

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I call it “a hundred page headache.”

Since my library does not have enough books on the Trinity I was drawn to Eternal Covenant by its subtitle: How the Trinity Reshapes Covenant Theology. Perhaps it should have been entitled how one idea of Meredith Kline’s reshaped some people’s covenant theology. This was tough reading, for me.

I had been wanting to read up on the Federal Vision. I didn’t know I’d bought a book connected to the Federal Vision. The connections to Cannon Press and Peter Leithart were clear. He also offers James Jordan, whom one of my professors called a “hug-able theonomist”, a debt.

The book really centers on the so-called Covenant of Works and in what way the Covenant of Grace is eternal. There is an issue about the nature of that covenant. Reformed theologians have been all over the map on this issue, as Ralph Smith lays out for people at the beginning of the book. He uses this, in part, to illustrate that the Westminster Confession of Faith could use some revision in this matter.

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In Cool Runnings, Yul Brenner asks Jr. “Look in the mirror and tell me what you see?” The idea is that you live in accordance with your self-identity.

That is essentially where Kevin DeYoung goes, without the Cool Runnings reference, in the 7th chapter of The Hole in Our Holiness. He hits on our new identity in Christ, or in union with Christ. He gives us a concise version of Walter Marshall’s classic The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. Marshall sees sanctification as the result of our union with Christ.

In a sense, this goes into what the gospel produces. Our union with Christ is why we are justified, sanctified and empowered by the Spirit. But I am getting ahead of myself, and DeYoung.

Our union with Christ is a much neglected doctrine. But recent releases by people like Robert Letham, J. Todd Billings and Maurice Roberts are trying to rectify this. Our union with Christ brings us all the blessings of God found in salvation (Eph. 1:3). If we are not “in Christ” we have none of these many blessings.

It is not a spatial thing. We are not physically joined to Jesus, as if we are chained together, super glued together or some such thing. DeYoung notes three things our union with Christ implies: solidarity, transformation and communion. Covenant Theology understands that all are born “in Adam”, in covenant solidarity under his headship. As a result, we are fallen, guilty and sinning. The new covenant gives us a new head. We are in covenant solidarity in Christ so that His obedience is ours (Romans 5).

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One of our members is a Baptist in transition. He is interested in understanding more about covenant theology and particularly how this informs and shapes how we treat children in the church. He asked about books to read in this subject. I couldn’t really think of any. We are great about defending infant baptism, but after that ….

Then I came across Our Covenant With Kids: Biblical Nurture in Home and Church by Tim Sisemore (it was previously released as Of Such is the Kingdom). I don’t like the title, finding it misleading. It isn’t our covenant, but God’s covenant with us that includes our children. But I suspected I ought to read it to gain a better theoretical understanding and therefore begin to move the congregation toward better nurture of our covenant kids in the church.

“The purpose of this book is to examine the entire teaching of the Bible that relates to children, to systematize it, and use this foundation to develop strategies that more adequately enable us to minister effectively to our children.”

This is, in many ways, a big picture book. He is thorough, and covers much ground. Numerous topics are covered, and covered well, but not exhaustively. For instance, in the chapter on the salvation of children, he talks about those dying in infancy. He covers the main views succinctly, and briefly argues for one over the others. I agree with him. But this discussion could have taken up many more pages. Sisemore displays great restraint and discipline as he approaches these topics. He gives information to help you sort through some things and make better decisions.

He begins with the nature of the task, parenting in a world hostile to our faith. The culture has affected the Church in general in a few significant ways: the loss of truth (we disregard doctrine), the loss of humanness due to evolutionary thought and the animal rights agenda (we’re okay with slaughtering children, but not seals, whales etc.), and the adultification of children (the world seduces them from an early age). As a result, he sets out to give us a theology of children, not merely instruction. So much of this is often assumed in parenting books. He wants to make it explicit so we can see if we are deviating from biblical norms in how we think of children. If we are deviating from biblical norms, our approach to instruction and nurture will be ineffective and possibly harmful.

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Certain titles attract your attention as a pastor. Jonathan Dodson’s Gospel-Centered Discipleship has one of those titles. There is a discipleship crisis in the American Church. We too easily lapse into moralism or legalism instead of pursuing a healthy biblical vision of holiness. Or, some churches barely pursue any form of discipleship. Wanting to strengthen our discipleship, I was drawn to this book.

It is hard to live up to the hype. This is an inconsistent book. There are some very good, even excellent sections. And then there are sections, even chapters, that were frustrating, confusing and not very helpful.

Dodson is heavily dependent on Keller, Owen, Edwards, Lovelace and Piper. The best portions of the book bear their mark. Those sections focus on how the gospel keeps us from both legalism and license. The gospel calls us to holiness- godly character and actions- but also provides the proper motivation and power for that holiness. Our sinful hearts default to trying to be good according to our own wisdom and power. So, we slip into legalism, rules and try to obey in the power of the flesh. Dodson does a good job of stressing the importance of the gospel for sanctification.

“The gospel is necessary for getting right and doing right with God, for salvation and sanctification.”

One of the strengths of the book is the chapter on Gospel Motivation. There is explores how the gospel produces “religious affections” which are the motivation for godly living. He also discusses the role of confession and repentance in the process of sanctification.

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