A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Ryan M. McGraw
Interest in covenant theology has grown significantly over the past several decades. This likely stems in part from the church’s dissatisfaction with dispensationalism’s disjunctive retelling of the biblical storyline. Yet attempts to return to and re-evaluate covenant theology have been wide-ranging. Richard Belcher both presents a straightforward narrative of covenant theology, drawn from Scripture and in accord with the Westminster Standards, and interacts heavily with modern Baptist views as well as that of Meredith Kline and others. It is rare to find a modern covenant theology that presents a standard Reformed Confessional view of the topic, which is rooted solidly in biblical exegesis. Belcher’s treatment of covenant theology is easy to read, convincing, and practical, providing readers with a clear guide to reading the Bible well and seeing the glory of God’s redeeming work in it.
The author unfolds biblical covenant theology in 14 chapters, divided roughly into two sections. Chapters 1-8 present covenant history from definitions (and the covenant of redemption), through the covenant of works, Genesis 3:15, and the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and new covenants. Chapter 9 shifts gears by drawing attention to “major and minor” variations in covenant theology among Reformed authors. This includes treatments of more orthodox writers like John Murray and O. Palmer Robertson, as well as those compromising justification by faith in Christ alone, like proponents of Federal Vision theology. Chapters 10-11 assess Meredith Kline’s eccentric, yet influential, covenant theology, while chapters 12-13 treat confessional Baptist and progressive covenantal views. Concluding with the benefits of covenant theology, chapter 14 both evaluates the preceding material and brings the book to a practical resolution with its bearings on Christian faith and life. The two appendices address the bearing of Ancient Near Eastern treatises on understanding covenant theology, and the use of covenant language in Hebrews 9:16-17.
Easier to read than the second half of the book, the first eight chapters are simple, brief, straightforward, and convincing. If one reads this part of the book alone, then they would walk away with a clear grasp of the Bible and its central message as it developed across the centuries. While the second part of the book is more challenging and the chapters are a bit longer, Belcher defends traditional Reformed views of covenant theology against Kline’s view of the Noahic and Mosaic covenants particularly, Reformed Baptist arguments, and Progressive Covenantalism. His tone is exemplary in each section, standing firm on important issues, distinguishing those affecting the gospel from secondary matters, and treating all with charity and respect. The author’s definition of “covenant” is broad enough to encompass all kinds of covenants in the Bible (18), and his use of the term is specific enough to serve as a guide to Scripture.
One point that readers should note is that Belcher follows the Lutheran ordering of the three uses of the law. The main difference from the Reformed order is that in Reformed theology, the law convicting us of sin and driving us to Christ is the first use of the law, while in the Lutheran numbering this is the second use of the law. This can result in confusion for some readers, which is why it is worthwhile to highlight this point.
No introductory text on covenant theology can address everything. Yet the church needs more books like this one, which presents a clear and clearly biblical and confessional depiction of one of the most central themes in Scripture. This work will be a useful guide to theological students and interested church members at large in seeing the glorious unity of God’s plan of redemption in Christ.
Ryan M. McGraw
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary