Category Archives: Books

Noteworthy Book: Kingdom through Covenant by Peter Gentry & Stephen Wellum

The debate between dispensationalists and covenant theologians has raged for decades and shows no signs of abating. In the midst of that debate some have tried to carve out a middle path between the two. Unfortunately, there has rarely been an attempt to produce a major volume articulating such a middle road.

Into that gap step Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum. Both teach at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Gentry teaches Old Testament while Wellum teaches Systematic Theology. Together they have written Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical Understanding of the Covenants. In it they argue for a position they label “progressive covenantalism” as a middle road between dispensationalism and covenant theology.

I am only half way through the book right now, but The Gospel Coalition has published three reviews from three different theological perspectives:

Dispensational: Darrell Bock

Historic PreMillennial: Doug Moo

Covenant Theology: Michael Horton

They have also now posted a response to these reviews by Peter Gentry:

Response: Peter Gentry

Regardless of where you land on the theological spectrum, this book is a major contribution to the conversation and deserves a careful read.

Video Podcast: What is the Gospel? Part 1

As part of our church’s Grow Initiative, we have begun selecting one book a quarter that we are encouraging our people to read. Because the gospel is so foundational, we began with Greg Gilbert’s book What Is the Gospel?. The book does an excellent job of explaining in very simple but profound terms the basics of the gospel message. In his foreword to the book, D.A. Carson writes:

“This book does not so much claim to break new ground as survey afresh some old ground that should never have been ignored, much less abandoned…This book will sharpen the thinking of not a few mature Christians. More importantly, it is a book to distribute widely to church leaders, young Christians, and even some who have not yet trusted Christ who want a clear explanation of what the gospel is. Read it, then buy a box of them for generous distribution.” (p. 14)

To help our people identify and digest key aspects of the book and its implications, several staff and myself recorded a video podcast discussing the book. Here is part one of that podcast:

P.S. If you are in the Winona Lake area and want to attend a Roundtable Discussion of this book, join us at 7:00pm tonight at Christ’s Covenant Church.

A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America by John A. D’Elia

This past weekend I finished reading A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America by John D’Elia. For those who do not know him, George Eldon Ladd was one of the most significant evangelical scholars of the 20th century. In this biography, D’Elia sketches the life of this fascinating man in a readable and engaging manner. It was hard to put the book down, and at a mere 182 pages of text (plus another 50 pages of endnotes) it is a fast read.

Central to the book is Ladd efforts to gain a “place at the table” for evangelical biblical scholarship at a time (1940s-1960s) when very few in the academy paid any attention to it. Ladd recognized that this was in part due to a failure by evangelicals to actually engage liberal scholarship rather than dismiss it outright. As a result Ladd was among a small group of evangelicals who pursued doctoral work in elite level Ph.D. programs such as Harvard as a means of establishing scholarly credentials that would enable them later to produce scholarship from an evangelical perspective that could gain a hearing in the broader academy. The fact that many evangelicals today have a seat at the table in the larger academy is due at least in part to Ladd.

Ladd’s efforts to produce evangelical scholarship that would be received within the larger academy culminated in 1964 with the publication of Jesus and the Kingdom: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (later renamed The Presence of the Future). Ladd hoped the book would a definitive study of the Kingdom of God in the New Testament, and the fact it was published by Harper and Row gave it a hearing in the broader academy. Ladd thought he had accomplished his goal of gaining a place at the table.

All of that changed when he read NT scholar Norman Perrin’s review, which thoroughly trashed the book. Although Ladd’s work was well-received by others, the prominence of Perrin within the academy meant that his review was devastating. Ladd was crushed, and as a result he spiraled downward into a depression that he never fully recovered from. The rest of his life he considered himself a failure, despite continuing to publish and teach for another ten years or so.

Before reading this book, I knew almost nothing about Ladd other than his groundbreaking work on the Kingdom of God. His New Testament Theology book remains a classic contribution to the field even 35 years later (a revised edition was produced in 1993 with some additional essays; I still use the text in my own NT Theology course). As I read the book, however, I was saddened to learn of the mess that was Ladd’s personal life. D’Elia does a nice job of describing Ladd’s upbringing and the effect it would have on him for the rest of his life (though I think this is overplayed at times). In his quest to gain a hearing for evangelical scholarship, he largely sacrificed his family, resulting in very strained relationships with his wife and two children. Because he set his hope on academic recognition, Ladd fell apart when he failed to received what he believed he deserved. He increasingly turned to alcohol and strongly considered divorcing his wife. The irony is that although Ladd considered himself a failure, he left behind a legacy of students who did go on to successful academic careers and gained a place at the table within the broader academy. Ladd simply did not live long enough to see this, dying in 1982.

Reading this book was a healthy reminder to me not to set my hope on academic achievement or recognition within the broader academy. I am grateful for my wife and kids who help keep me grounded and are a great source of joy in my life. I also am grateful for my local church an how it allows me to contribute to the growth of fellow believers in the gospel and how it applies to all of life.

Recommended Resource: New Dictionary of Biblical Theology

This dictionary was published by IVP back in 2000, edited by T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D.A. Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy. The subtitle is “Exploring the Unity & Diversity of Scripture” and it does just that. With approximately 125 contributors that span the spectrum theologically and internationally, this dictionary is a helpful resource that is divided into three parts.
Part One: Introduction contains articles on foundational issues in biblical theology such as exegesis and hermeneutics, NT use of OT, relationship of OT to NT, canon, systematic theology & biblical theology, and even preaching and biblical theology. These articles provide a substantive but generally accessible entry point into biblical theology and its relationship to other aspects of theology.
Part Two: Biblical Corpa and Books has articles on major sections of the canon such as Genesis to Kings, the prophetic books, etc., followed by entries on each individual Biblical book. In these articles the contributors attempt to identify key themes within the specific biblical book itself as well as indicate how the specific themes of a book contribute to the larger canonical presentation of that theme.
Part Three: Themes contains articles that trace key themes throughout Scripture (e.g. Adam, exile, Jerusalem, Law, sin, suffering, wilderness).

Every entry concludes with a very short bibliography for further reading (at times I wish these were longer).

As with any dictionary, the quality of individual entries can vary, but by and large the articles are well-written and helpful starting points. Consequently this is an excellent resource for any who are actively engaged in the study and teaching of Scripture and want to understand how the parts relate to the whole.

Vos on Biblical Theology

One of the classic works on Biblical Theology is a book entitled Biblical Theology by Geerhardus Vos. He defined biblical theology as follows:

“Biblical Theology is that branch of Exegetical Theology which deals with the process of the self revelation of God deposited in the Bible” (p. 13)

He then notes four main features of God’s self-revelation in Scripture:

1. The historic progressiveness of the revelation-process. Revelation does not stand alone, but is inseperably attached to God’s redemptive actions.

2. The actual embodiment of revelation in history. Revelation is incarnate in history, not merely incidental to it.

3. The organic nature of the historic process observable in revalation. Revelation and redemption move forward progressively not in a uniform sense, but often in bursts.

4. The fourth aspect of revelation determinative of the study of Biblical Theology consists in its practical adaptability. God’s self-revelation is not exclusively or primarily for our intellectual advancement, but for the living out of God’s purposes in the world.

Although originally written in 1948, Vos’s work remains a must-read for those interested in biblical theology.

Recommended Resource: God’s Big Picture

For those interested in getting started in understanding the storyline of the Bible, I can think of no better resource than God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Story-line of the Bible by Vaughn Roberts. He organizes the biblical storyline around the theme of kingdom, which he defines as “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing” (p. 21). He then organizes the biblical story around the development of this theme throughout Scripture:

1. The pattern of the kingdom
2. The perished kingdom
3. The promised kingdom
4. The partial kingdom
5. The prophesied kingdom
6. The present kingdom
7. The proclaimed kingdom
8. The perfected kingdom

This is an excellent place to begin for a basic understanding of the biblical storyline. This book is about as basic as it gets while remaining responsible in its handling of Scripture, and is only about 150 pages. For those wanting a more substantive version, check out Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy. Roberts acknowledges that his work is merely a less technical version of Goldsworthy, but this makes it more accessible than Goldsworthy.

So what do you think? For those who have read the book, what are your impressions?