Monday, June 01, 2015

Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God's Covenants by Greg Nichols

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Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God's Covenants,
Greg Nichols, Solid Ground Christian Books, 2014 edition, 365pp

Did you read that right, a book on covenant theology by a Baptist? Isn't that a bit self-defeating, like Turkeys voting for Christmas? Listening to some Paedobaptists you'd think that they had cornered the market when it comes to covenant theology and that the Baptist position is based on a few odd proof texts pulled at random from the New Testament. Nichols shows that this isn't the case at all. That said, his book isn't a polemical axe-grinder, where the author sets out to biff Paedobaptists by hoisting them on their own covenant petard. This work attempts to make a constructive contribution to our understanding of covenant theology. Its advocacy of the Baptist view is irenic in tone and all the more persuasive for its peaceableness.

Nichols begins by discussing covenant theology in the creedal and theological heritage of the church. This historical perspective highlights some mistakes to be avoided when grappling with the covenants revealed in Holy Scripture and also unearths important insights from which we can learn as we take a fresh look at the biblical material. The main body of the work is expositional. The writer gives an overview of the Biblical Testimony, charts the overarching Covenant of Grace and then discusses the biblical covenants in historical order; Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic (Old), Davidic, New and Messianic. This 'biblical theology' approach has the advantage of enabling Nichols to trace lines of continuity and discontinuity between the various covenants.

Each chapter is replete with an in-depth study of the biblical materials, an analysis of the leading features of each covenant and some reflection on matters of practical application. The use of diagrammatic charts helps to clarify things, ensuring the reader doesn't get lost in the wealth of expositional detail. Nichols handles the biblical teaching in a fresh and insightful way. Even the most seasoned student of covenant theology will learn a thing or two on studying this work.

When it comes to the Baptistic bit, the book's main point is that in the New Covenant there is no distinction between outward covenant membership by natural descent and actual participation in saving grace. Being a child of Abraham and having the covenant sign of circumcision in one's flesh did not mean that one's heart was circumcised. In the New Covenant it is expected that members of the covenant community have repented from their sins, believed the gospel and been baptised. While this does not mean that every member of every local church is a true believer, there is a much more organic relationship between outward membership and inward grace under the New Covenant than ever was the case in any of the Old Testament covenants.

Appendices are devoted to the Eternal Counsel of Redemption and the Adamic Covenant. The author's treatment of the former is alert to the trinitarian dimensions of the doctrine. He safeguards the oneness of God's being and will, while at the same time giving due attention to the different roles ascribed in Scripture to each person of the Trinity. The Father decisively gives a people to his Son and sends him to save them, while the Son deferentially receives the elect and is sent into the world to rescue them. The Holy Spirit is bestowed by the Father upon the Son for the work of redemption and poured out upon the church by the Father and the Son. While all three persons are equal, that does not mean they are interchangeable. When it comes to the Adamic Covenant, Nichols departs from the standard 'covenant of works' view, according to which Adam had to earn the blessings of the covenant for himself and his posterity by keeping the commandment laid upon him by God. The writer sees this as legalistic and reductionist and offers a much more rich and nuanced account of the Adamic Covenant that posits Adam as God's son rather than simply his subject.

This immensely insightful and stimulating work will repay careful and prayerful study. Nichols writes not simply with the skill and acumen of a practiced theologian, but also as a child of God whose soul has been gripped by the wonder of God's covenant grace towards undeserving sinners.

Highly recommended. 


Jonathan Hunt said...

It is ace. Still working my way through it, bit by bit.

Wotablog said...

Guy, I,d like to read it but £20 for a paperback is too much for m. Fred.

Guy Davies said...

Why not have it as a birthday or Christmas gift, Fred? My copy was a Christmas present. More profitable than a tie that plays Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.