Covenant theology still stands at the heart of Reformed theology. Though, as this book shows, Reformed theology is not alone in treating covenant themes, the covenant has a special place in Reformed faith and practice. The doctrine of the covenant is biblical, historical, and contemporary. Despite its size, this volume serves as a good introduction to the topic in at an accessible level. Readers at every stage of growth in the Christian faith can benefit from these pages.
Guy Prentiss Waters, Nicholas J. Reid, and John R. Muether, eds., Covenant Theology: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020).
This volume begins with a clear assertion: “Covenant theology is Reformed theology” (23). While other theological traditions have drawn attention to the covenant theme in Scripture, the doctrine of the covenant became central to the Reformed presentation of the gospel, particularly in the seventeenth century and following.
Including twenty-seven well-respected contributors—all members of the faculty at Reformed Theological—this book presents covenant theology from Biblical, historical, and theological perspectives. This robust treatment will introduce divine covenants to serious readers and help them develop this important theme as it relates to other disciplines.
The biblical section includes thirteen chapters, while the sections devoted to historical and “collateral theological studies” include seven each. The biblical material treats the covenants of redemption, works, and grace, largely following the unfolding message of Scripture chronologically, and covering the spectrum of the biblical canon. Roughly half of the historical material takes readers from the early church, through the middle ages, up to the Reformation. The other half of this section examines post-Reformation developments, the Dutch Reformed tradition, Karl Barth and the Torrance brothers, and recent theological developments. The third and final section lifts issues that arose in the preceding sections for further expansion, including ancient near Eastern backgrounds to covenant theology, New Testament scholarship, Israel and the nations, Dispensationalism, New Covenant theologies, and the relation of covenant theology to assurance and to the sacraments. The volume concludes with an essay, adapted from a sermon, by Kevin DeYoung on the basic components and general importance of covenant theology for the church. While every section of the book includes excellent material, I found its historical and “collateral” material to be some of the best and most helpful parts of the work.
A number of features stood out to this reviewer as particularly valuable. First, while expressing some diversity of views, all of the authors seek to maintain a unified biblical and confessional approach to the covenants. Most of the chapters make substantial reference to the Westminster Standards, and the biblical material undergirds the theological conclusions that these authors hold in common. Second, there is a full defense of the covenant of works in two chapters (2 and 3). The covenant of works does not disappear after this stage, but it stands at the heart of the parallels between Adam and Christ in Christ’s work of redemption throughout. This is important, partly because the covenant of works has been under attack in recent debates. Third, the focus of the book as a whole is distinctly Trinitarian (see into pp. 34). This comes out strongly in Gregory Lanier’s treatment of covenant themes in the book of Revelation (chapter 13), but it appears throughout.
Several chapters are particularly noteworthy. The two chapters by Guy Waters (3 and 11) are exegetically satisfying and yield rich biblical and theological insights in relation to the covenant of works in the New Testament and the covenant in Paul’s epistles.