An Introduction to the New Covenant. By Gary Gilley, David Gunn, Don Trest, Christopher Cone, Charlie Clough, and George Gunn. General editor Christopher Cone. Hurst, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2013. 375 pp. Paper, $27.00.
This is a book by Dispensationalists who espouse a particular view of the New Covenant for Dispensationalists of every stripe. The authors present a broad case for the view that the Church is not related to the New Covenant. To this end they are not afraid to criticize Dispensationalist giants of the past such as Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, C. I. Scofield, and J. Dwight Pentecost for what they perceive as their inconsistency. I believe their criticism is warranted. An Introduction to the New Covenant is as important a work for committed Dispensationalists as Charles Ryrie’s Dispensationalism is for general audiences.
An Introduction to the New Covenant contains eleven chapters: three by Cone, three by G. Gunn, two by Clough, and one each by Gilley, D. Gunn, and Trest. Cone, who serves as the general editor, also contributed the preface. Two chapters originally appeared in the Journal of Dispensational Theology in 2009. Each of them was initially addressed to the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics at Baptist Bible Seminary in 2009. One additional chapter was previously addressed to this council in 2011. Each chapter is extensively footnoted. However, there is no bibliography or index. In spite of the book having six authors and one overarching theme, there is no redundant overlap.
The first two chapters are introductory. In “Laying the Groundwork for Understanding the New Covenant,” Gilley introduces four views of the New Covenant followed by a brief mention of some New Covenant passages in the Bible. This is followed by nine detailed answers to questions and inconsistencies with the common dispensational view that the Church participates in some way in the New Covenant. This is supplemented by four objections to arguments in support of this viewpoint. Gilley concludes: “The New Covenant is specifically for the Kingdom Age, not the Church Age. The church today has nothing directly to do with the New Covenant; she operates under the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).”
The second introductory chapter, “An Overview of New Covenant Passages, Ostensible and Actual,” is by D. Gunn. Beginning with the primary New Covenant passage in Jer 31:31-34, it truly does offer “a bird’s-eye view of all the major texts that are most frequently taken to refer to the New Covenant.” Throughout, Gunn issues “a preliminary judgment on which ones can and cannot be legitimately regarded as referencing the New Covenant.” The chapter concludes with a valuable chart summarizing his conclusions.
Chapters three and four, both by Cone, address specific issues. In “Hermeneutic Ramifications of Applying the New Covenant to the Church,” he presents three views of the New Covenant held by Dispensationalists (multiple covenants, single covenant with multiple participants, single covenant with Israel only) and criticizes the “theological hermeneutic” adopted by the first two that is inconsistent with a literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic. Only the single covenant with Israel view is able to “uniquely maintain” the “complete distinction of Israel and the church, and the complete, literal, and only literal fulfillment of the provision of God’s New Covenant with Israel.”
In “The Holy Spirit, the Church, and the New Covenant,” Cone challenges a point of methodological similarity between classical Dispensationalism, covenant theology, progressive Dispensationalism, and new covenant theology regarding the relationship between the New Covenant and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. After chronologically examining some OT texts “that are cited as significant to the positions of the various traditions,” he concludes that “each of the theological systems considered above have, in varying degrees, and to the detriment of the text, separated the regenerative blessing of Israel from her land blessing, in order to show some present application or fulfillment in the present church age.”
Chapters five through eight are the exegetical meat of the book because they address the NT passages on the New Covenant. G. Gunn tackles “The Lord’s Supper and the New Covenant,” which includes the texts in the Synoptic Gospels and Paul’s reference to them in 1 Corinthians. He also handles the New Covenant references in Rom 11:17 and 2 Cor 3:6. His key points are: “Paul has omitted a reference to the direct application of the covenant to believers of the Church Age” in 1 Corinthians; that the “root” in Romans 11 represents “the position of privilege and administrative responsibility into which God places his mediatorial representatives on the earth,”; and that “Paul’s point” in 2 Corinthians “had to do with the character of his ministry, rather than with the content of his ministry.”
Cone addresses the New Covenant passages in Hebrews. His observations from Hebrews 8 actually relate to the entire book. Hebrews “neither expands the recipients nor distinguishes between physical and spiritual blessings. Rather, it maintains all the original specific recipient language, and gives no alteration to the covenant whatsoever.” In Hebrews, “There is no new teaching about the NC; it is cited as a contrast to the old, in order to reinforce earlier assertions that Jesus Christ is superior in every way.” Although Cone briefly mentions the testament/covenant distinction of the KJV in Hebrews, I would like to have seen Gunn do likewise.
The last three chapters are tangential and unfortunately add little to the book.
Although the content of An Introduction to the New Testament is most excellent, the composition of the book is not uniform and suffers from many formatting issues that are quite distracting. There are headers on blank pages and the first pages of new chapters. Blank pages are numbered. There are extra spaces between some words, errant hyphens and footnote numbers, missing space after block quotes, wrong paragraph indentions, and inconsistent use of periods with abbreviations and fonts for apostrophes and quotation marks. Footnotes are left justified with unnecessary spaces between them. The attempt to avoid continuing a footnote to the next page means that there are large blocks of blank space above the footnotes on many pages. Different Greek fonts are used, sometimes on the same page. Some Greek words are accented, some are not. Some Greek words are transliterated, some are not. Some transliterations are faulty. There are also some typos, redundant footnotes, and an incorrect reference in the footnotes. All of these issues could and should be fixed in a second printing of the book.
Even with these issues, a well-read, highlighted, and marked-up copy of An Introduction to the New Covenant belongs on the shelf of every Dispensationalist.
Laurence M. Vance