Kingdom through Covenant

Jonathan Brack reviews Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants by Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum. Jonathan has also written a review of the book for Reformation21.org.


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25 Responses

  1. David Morgan

    I found this really helpful, but I do have one question which I don’t think was answered:

    What difference does Pentecost make? I get that it’s a historia salutis event (as opposed to ordo), but do you see it as entirely a one off thing that has no continuing significance in the life of the church, other than it having happened? (I’m not sure that I’ve expressed that very well, but hopefully you can understand what I mean).

    Also, a link to the article by Dr Gaffin that was mentioned would be appreciated, if it’s possible.

  2. Jon

    Hey David,

    Here is the link…

    Also, consider this quote from G. Vos: I find it helpful.

    The people of God of those days (OT) did not live and die under and unworkable, unredemptive, system of religion, that could not give real access to and spiritual contact with God. Nor was this gospel-element contained exclusively in the revelation that preceded it (Abraham), accompanied (a few verses in the Law), and followed the Law (NT), it is found in the Law itself…And yet again, we must not forget that this revelation and promulgation of the gospel in the Mosaic institutions bore, as to its form, a legal character (typological), and differs in this respect, from the form it exhibits at the present time…the gospel was preached under the constraint of the law and received under the same. It was not permitted to rise superior to the legal environment in which it was placed. Only the N.T. has brought the full liberty in this respect.

  3. Great review. Much needed clarity and articulation of the errors of this approach. As you said, this does not “merely” affect ecclesiology and the sacraments, but soteriology as well. There is no Fide without Christus!

  4. Mark G

    I’ve been looking forward to reformedforum reviewing this book since its being promoted on TGC and having read Jon’s review on ref21 regarding the lack of the historia / ordo distinction. I plan to read KtC but wanted to go into it with a fuller understanding of what are the most important distinctives of reformed covenant theology that would distinguish it from NCT (and other books such as “The Law of Christ” – Leiter & “The End of the Law” – Meyer). This is very helpful.

    I would like to know where to find the paper he and JO are working on when it comes out.

    I also liked hearing Pam York’s jazz in the background.

  5. Chris Bertram

    Could someone recommend a good work that covers the topic of the Spirit’s work in the salvation of individuals from Gen. 3-Acts 2? In other words, a work that could help me better understand the continuity of the salvation experience of the elect across Biblical history. I’m hoping to get a clearer understanding of what’s new and what’s not new in the New Covenant.

    I’ve been wrestling with paedobaptism, the nature of the New Covenant, how to best understand Jer. 31, Heb. 8, etc.- I’ve read a lot of material, and listened to many debates online- I’m hoping to find something to help me tie the different threads together. This has been a several year journey for me. Thanks for this episode guys.

      1. Chris Bertram

        Is there a particular section in Vos that you might suggest? Also in Witsius? Thanks for the recommendations- I really appreciate them.

    1. Chris,
      Having been a Reformed Baptist for 30 years I finally started to understand what my mentors were telling me about the Covenant of Grace and how it administers the Covenants after the Fall. In other words the Covenants don’t just administer the Covenant of Grace they are Covenants that are administered by the Covenant of Grace.

      You can see what I believed as I discussed this issue here on the Puritanboard.


      My views have changed a bit since then and I understand now what Rev. Winzer was trying to get me to see.

      I wrote about it here.


      This is an important issue that will be brought forth more and more concerning other doctrinal topics I believe.

      How we view the substance of the Covenants makes a difference in a few areas that are being debated today. Law and Gospel,Kingdom theology, What is the Gospel?, are a few of the topics that this issue effects.


      1. Jon


        Thanks for the helpful comments. I took the time to read some of your links and I found them insightful. One thing that I believe needs to be explored is how Kline has been overemphasized by some in the radicalizing of the Covenant of Works principle in the Law. Kline’s best work is on Romans 5 in this area and I believe he stands on firm exegetical ground when he seeks to structure to Covenants working throughout history by producing an typological overlay of sorts.

        But if Kline is taken into a radical Law/Gospel distinction & Lutheran hermeneutic then his VanTilian footing for basic redemptive historical hermeneutics begins to crumble. What must be emphasized, (and I believe Kline did so in many areas that are overlooked), is the simultaneity of both the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Works-likness in the Mosaic economy. In other words, it is not as if some texts in the Law are COW likeness and others are COG principle. The Gospel is given in and through the law. Unfortunately, some 2k proponents have glossed over Kline’s work in both “Images of the Spirit” and “Glory in our Midst” that eschew any radicalizing of the COW over against the Gospel, in doing so they have pulled Kline’s work into this mess. The key for Kline, I believe, is in the word “likeness” in Romans 5, as opposed to “exactness.”

        Granted that Kline may not be wholly consistent with this in every area of his work on this issue, He can only be properly understood in a Vos / VanTil trajectory. I believe the way forward in Kline studies is one that is equally grounded in both Gaffin and Ridderbos on these issues. Nevertheless, thanks again for the helpful comments.

        Does this make sense?

    2. Hi Chris,

      I sympathize with your questions, as they are ones I have struggled through for a few years. If you have not read John Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13, I would very highly recommend that you do so. It was the clearest explanation of the text I have read (it’s about 150 pages of commentary).

      A very recently published book also sheds new light on the conversation by explaining the seventeenth-century credobaptist view of the revealed/concluded nature of the New Covenant (which very directly answers your question about salvation pre-Christ). https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/the-distinctiveness-of-baptist-covenant-theology/

  6. It may have been mentioned on the show, but I would like to throw my recommendation – in addition to those mentioned by Jon – behind Sinclair Ferguson’s Holy Spirit book. It does tackle the issue of the work of the Holy Spirit in the OT, and how Pentecost has an on-going effect in the life of the New Covenant church.

    In his lecture at WTS on the HS he describes it using the illustration of a stone hitting the water and its ripple effects. If you can get you hands on those lectures, I recommend them.

    1. In reply to Jon Pastor Cassidy. The reply button is gone now.

      I would say that the Kline of Kingdom Prologue is not the Kline of his later years as is noted in a Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary Volume 24, Number 3.

      And I quote….
      “Hence, for Jeremiah, the New Covenant, though it could be sharply contrasted with the Old (v. 32), was nevertheless a renewal of the Mosaic Covenant.22 Thus Kline is vindicated from the charge of teaching an “Amyraldian” view of the covenant.

      “The problem with Ferry’s argument is that what Kline taught in 1968 is not what Kline taught twenty, or thirty, or fourty years later. No less than Mark Karlberg himself (whom Ferry proposed to defend in his WTJ article) has critiqued Ferry for his failure to recognize this point. And with respect to the Westminster controversy in particular, [Ferry’s] failure to acknowledge change and development in Kline’s thinking on the covenants only distorts an accurate reading of the history of Reformed interpretation,
      past and present.23

      Karlberg points to an important principle in reading Kline’s works: the later works correct and revise the earlier works. Kline’s student, Lee Irons, has also noted this important principle, arguing that Kline’s position on the relationship between the Mosaic Covenant and the new covenant in By Oath Consigned is revised in his later work, Kingdom Prologue. Irons argues:

      In other words, in KP [Kingdom Prologue] he no longer defines the New Covenant as a renewal of the Old/Mosaic Covenant (i.e., as a law covenant) and instead stresses the contrast between the Old and the New Covenants. The Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works and was breakable. The New Covenant is a covenant of grace and is fundamentally unbreakable (although the sense in which it is unbreakable must be carefully defined).24 In other words, in Kingdom Prologue, Kline revises the position he articulated in By Oath Consigned, by arguing that “The New Covenant is not a renewal of the Mosaic Covenant but the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant.”25

      But Ferry ignores this development, and (in Karlberg’s words), “distorts an accurate reading of the history of Reformed interpretation, past and present.”26

      In fact, prior to the publication of Ramsey’s article, Lee Irons had argued (both in his General Assembly defense and on his weblog) that the “subservient covenant” view of Amyraldianism does in fact provide the best precursor of the mature Kline’s position on the Mosaic covenant. Irons argued that the Amyraldian “Subservient Covenant” is “A 17th Century Precursor of Meredith Kline’s View of the Mosaic Covenant.”27

      In this respect, Irons argues that “Kline’s understanding of the Mosaic Covenant has significant links with 17th century developments in covenant theology.”28

      This is exactly what Ramsey argued in his WTJ article. In other words, when Kline’s mature view on the Mosaic covenant is precisely articulated, both friend and foe alike have argued that it bears striking and substantial similarities to the Amyraldian view of the Mosaic covenant. The only difference is that the “friends” have argued this to support Kline’s version of the “republication” thesis, while his “foes” have used it to critique it in terms of its confessional fidelity.”

      I tried to discover more about this at one time and firmly landed that this is in fact a truth.

      I just read ‘A Puritan Theology Doctrine for Life’ which Dr. Joel Beeke and Mark Jones put together. Chapters 16-18 discuss what the doctrinal differences during the time of the Assembly and I must admit that Kline and a few Prominent Theologians who are descendants of Kline’s thought do hold to the minority view.

  7. Daniel Sargent

    Loved the program, appreciated the review. One question I have regarding the discussion of the visible/invisible church or covenant membership started around the 21 minute mark. Is it being implied that the only hermeneutical options are that of covenant theology or that of Gentry and Wellum? While I disagree with KtC, I do see a distinction of the visible and invisible church, I do not see Hebrews 6, 10, 1 Peter 2 as referring to actual new covenant members that have fallen away. I know you disagree with this, so can you show me the inconsistency in my position so I can chew on it? A little background: I am Baptist in my ecclesiology and sacramental theology, but Calvinistic in my soteriology, much like the people you described at the beginning of the program. So again, I do not agree with Gentry and Wellum but I do not see the necessary existence of full covenant members that are not apart of the invisible church. Thanks for the program and the ministry. God bless!

  8. Jon

    Daniel, great question. I would chew on this. When Hebrews 10:29 says “profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified.” Which covenant is he referring to? Also the OT quotation in verse 28 comes from Deut. 17:2 “If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant.” So again which covenant will we transgress in verse 29?

    1. Daniel Sargent

      Jon, thanks for the response. I had not considered the OT quote in 28. A follow up question would be how do you understand the use of the word sanctified in verse 29? Would you say they are sanctified in that they are set apart into the new covenant community? Perhaps the struggle is the fact that these people are sanctified by the blood of Christ which, if understood in full and the fine line I think covenant theology is on, is speaking of fully saved people. This would obviously contradict perseverance of the saints (obviously this is an issue for all sides holding to that soteriology).

      1. Jon

        Excellent, yes! At this point we can decide whether or not we are Arminians, Calvinists, or Hyper Calvinists on this text. Calvin himself is the one who pointed out the OT verse in 28. What must be maintained is the already/not yet outworking of eschatology in ecclesiology. There is a way of speaking about sanctification (Heb 10) and even union with Christ (John 15) that is non-soteric. The only other roads to travel besides a Reformed Calvinistic one is Arminianism or Hyper Calvinism.

  9. Jon

    Here is another way at the question. How can anyone partake of Christ and then fall away? Paul speaks of the Israelites who ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual dink as us. What spirit? … Christ. Yet they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now we might say that since we are no longer in the the OT we are not prone to fall away because we are now in the New Covenant. But that would mean that “perseverance of the saints” only became true once Christ showed up.

  10. Bruce

    Notice the reviewers objection below in bold. Could it be that “justification” is connected to the stipulated covenantal arrangement between God and Abraham, not the assignment of perfect moral righteousness? Abraham perceived and pursued the impossible promise, that is the clincher for justification. The Reformed are placing perfect moral obedience at the center of justification, when in fact hoping against hope in the omnipotent God for an impossible hope of life and dominion is at the center of imputed justification. This hope makes the sacrifice necessary for progressive moral purification possible and thus qualifies one for the reward of the Eternal Kingdom.

    “By way of contrast, Gentry and Wellum allow the progressive historical accomplishments of salvation to impinge upon the application of salvation itself, and thus render a truncated ordo salutis for the OT saints. In short, they seem to identify or confuse ordo categories with historia categories. Until this identification/confusion has been reckoned with, they cannot allow any pre-Pentecost indwelling of the Spirit or any Spirit-wrought union with Christ in the OT. In fact, one wonders how any benefit (such as justification or regeneration) could be applied to the OT saints if the reason for the lack of the benefit is based on the argument that Christ’s work has not yet occurred in history. Once again, how was Abraham justified if Christ had not yet been raised for his justification? ”


  11. David R.

    Hi, I enjoyed this and found it helpful. I realize I’m getting to this discussion way late, but I’ve had a question for some time and it was again triggered by one part of the discussion, namely, concerning the vital/formal distinction. (I essentially agree with everything I heard, so my question has to do with a desire for clarification, rather than a disagreement.) I haven’t seen this articulated anywhere, but it seems to me that while “vital” membership in the covenant of grace is identical under the old covenant and under the new (i.e., it includes only those who are regenerate), “formal” membership would not be defined in precisely the same under both administrations, for the reason that the NC is not administered in the same way as the OC. Specifically, under the NC, formal covenant members are those who have made a credible profession of faith. But under the OC, formal membership was not determined in this way. Rather, all Israelites were formal members of the covenant, so long as they had not committed a sin egregious enough to fall under the covenant curses. Hence, formal membership would have included those with a credible profession plus many more who did not.

    Which is why, at the dawn of the NC era, the “natural branches” had to be broken off, and covenant membership (formal, not vital) had to be redefined in such a way as to exclude the vast majority of Israelites, who were, formal members of the OC.

    Am I making sense here, and if so, can you help me out with the distinction I’m trying to make?

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