It has been well-known for years that Monergism.com does not support Dispensationalism, New Covenant Theology (NCT) or any hybrid or "via media" between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. We are a Reformed website, and not dispensational. We do now, and have always, supported traditional Covenant theology as being the view that most closely aligns with the intent of the Bible regarding the unfolding of redemptive history. So it should come as no surprise to the vast majority of our visitors that we decided not to promote the newly published book "Kingdom through Covenant" (KTC) which openly declares itself to be a via media between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. This means that the authors of the book believe, after years of rigorous study, that the truth of the Bible can be found somewhere in-between or in the middle of Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism.
But when deciding not to carry KTC on our website, we received a few unhappy and disappointed responses from those at Southern Seminary and or those in the NCT camp. The most common complaint of which is that if we are not carrying KTC then Monergism is being inconsistent since we post so many authors, pastors and theologians who, at least to some degree, fall into that category. That if we do not carry this book, then it logically demands that we should remove any person with such tendencies from our website. That it is inconsistent to do otherwise.
A criticism to which I must respond in two ways:
1) That they are quite right that there are inconsistencies all over my website(s) on a variety of topics, but most of them, Lord willing, are happy inconsistencies. :) We do our best with the 10s of thousands of resources we post to be consistent but it is not always the case. Sometimes we post warnings on the book or essays themselves but, not having read a great deal of them, many are posted simply because they are from reputable seminaries or sources we trust. Nothing is guaranteed that you read on Monergism.com but we try to be as consistent as we can, with God's help. And those topics we do post on from NCTers will mostly be those in which we are already in theological agreement for the most part.
2) I should perhaps explain a little about the philosophy of our website to bring this into focus for our readers. Consider the fact that John MacArthur is actually one of my favorite preachers of all time. I love him and his sermons. No one has been used of God to help me more in my walk with God. But when it comes to his dispensationalism, I believe he is in error. While we post essays and sermons by Dr. MacArthur all over our website and carry his books, we try to avoid (and even critique) the resources which promote the dispensational error. We always have. This is not to say Dispensationalism will not taint his other sermons. It will. But this does not mean that we throw him out altogether. We view persons who hold to NCT in the same way and have for years. We post resources from brothers who profess NCT or its close cousins all over our website (including Gentry and Wellum) on other topics and try to be consistent in what we post, but obviously with 10s of thousands of articles, this is not entirely possible. No doubt some of their views will appear somewhere on the site by one person or another. But we try not to promote material which fully embraces NCT or is opposed to CT because we view the error of this theology in the same vein we do the dispensational error.
The subject of the book Kingdom through Covenant (KTC) is vast and nuanced so it will take a while before pastors and theologians respond to it more fully and this includes all my personal time constraints as I complete a major project on Monergism.com. But I have marked up my copy of KTC and intend to look through these highlights and hopefully respond in more detail about its positives and negatives when time allows.
But as for the book itself...
First of all let me say that, in many ways, the book is easy to read and incredibly good. There is some excellent, even superb, exegesis throughout and a historical understanding that is unsurpassed in places. I love the way many things are phrased and I am growing in my own understanding of the subject as I read and re-read. But, lets be honest, even the best of us often cannot escape his/her presuppositions, so we should not be too surprised at how our traditions and biases can influence us even when we are trying to be objective... such that we often are blind to them. Complete objectivity does not exist here in this world. And I will start with myself. When I look back I often cringe at how stiff-necked I was to change and thank the Lord that he lovingly and patiently worked in me over the years to change my views on some major issues. From this experience I do believe, that in spite of ourselves, the Lord can change us and our views and I pray now that any place where I am wrong that the Lord would change my view. Truth is always more important that my small and entrenched views, especially if they are wrong. "Lord show me truth even if everything I believe is wrong." Such was my prayer when the Lord first opened my heart to the gospel. I would like to still think that I am open to change, but really only God's grace can make it so. So if there be anything good from the KTC book as I re-read my highlights and notes, and I am certain there is, may the Lord grant that I change my view on anything that is wrong. Likewise, brilliant scholars, such as the authors of KTC does not exempt them from being biased. As much as I respect these men and their scholarship, it is probable, even in the best of books, that exegesis can be used to demonstrate pre-conceived ideas of the truth.
But let me also be very clear about another matter so no one misunderstands...both the authors of "Kingdom through Covenant" (Gentry and Wellum) are extremely intelligent, fair, well-spoken men who love the Lord and committed to the Bible and Jesus Christ. They are dear brothers in the Lord... But again we believe to be in error this "middle ground" theology in the same category as we would the dispensational error so, like books from that tradition, we do not promote this one on our site. Most people understand why we do not carry dispensational books. I rarely hear complaints about the inconsistency of that. So why is is this not the same? I would gladly post the fruits of Gentry and Wellum's labors on other topics on our site and have done so.
These are VERY intelligent, godly men, we must remember. But again, one of the stated goals of KTC is to provide "a via media" or middle ground between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. I believe that the need to mediate between the two systems drives much of the content of the book. They would obviously argue that this was the fruit of exegesis ...but the subject of coming to some middle ground between the two systems is a MAJOR element in the book. I am referring to this oft-repeated statement of "via media" in the book, which to me, at least to some extent, makes the goal of the book "agenda driven" and not always "exegetically driven". I know I am stepping on toes here but "via media" means that when so many people hold to the two different "extreme" positions that the truth is somewhere in-between .... Via Media is a philosophical maxim for life which advocates moderation in all thoughts and actions by finding a middle ground. Historically this philosophy was used to promote middle ways between the "extremes"of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism or between Calvinism and Arminianism. It assumes the truth to be somewhere in-between. Of course the authors would argue that their exegesis led them to believe the truth was somewhere in-between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. But, good as the content of the book may be, I do not think their arguments were persuasive enough to promote it as a viable alternative to Covenant Theology on our website.
Again, we believe Covenant Theology is closest what the Bible teaches. They claim our position "is not quite right" in other words, not quite biblical enough. And we arrive at the same conclusions about their view. These guys are brilliant scholars so I wish they could have used their talents to do something slightly different. Because the reality is that Presbyterians and Reformed folks of various stripes, are not going to read this book and suddenly renounce covenant theology and their entire ecclesiastical structure. The Biblical evidence for the CT view is very well established. And I am not saying it doesn't need transformation. But frankly I am not quite sure that the goal of bringing the two systems together will ever happen. It is completely unrealistic. A much better goal, perhaps, would have been to recognize that we need to live together in unity in spite of the differences we have over baptism and maybe even discuss how we can live together in the same denomination while hold differing views... or the like ... and then establish the overall truth of Covenant Theology at the outset (which KTC seems to believe to a large degree on many topics, including the active obedience of Christ) Next they could turn around and say "...but we need to apply "semper reformanda" to Covenant Theology meaning that we need to use biblical theology to tweak and transform Covenant Theology so that it is even more precise and understandable to more people." But instead, KTC assumes wrongly, in my view, that both dispensationalism and Covenant Theology have redeeming qualities that can be fused and the truth must be found somewhere in the middle and that they have actually found this middle way. Their pre-commitment to credo-baptism as well as certain Dispensational ideas probably makes this an impossible dream. Covenant Theology is a well established doctrine among most historic Baptists, Presbyterians and Reformed. NCT or Gentry and Wellum's "via media" position is not nearly as broadly supported cross denominationally and is a theology really only supported by a group of baptists among baptists. In addition to the seemingly agenda-driven goal I pointed out earlier, as good as a lot of the content of the book is, the authors I believe, fail to demonstrate that the biblical position IS somewhere in-between the two other systems. There will be much more specifics on that later.
This is not to say that no one can benefit from the book. There is much I have learned from reading it ... And even if I disagree with much of KTC's conclusions perhaps after further reflection upon what I have read and will re-read, there will be some unexpected benefit from it to grow in my own understanding of things I already believe. However, the goal itself of bringing elements of Both CT and Dispensationalism is not realistic nor something we can biblically support. But I would encourage anyone who wants to read and learn more about KTC to purchase the book and compare it with CT. There are plenty of outlets that sell it.
I would imagine that not many Presbyterians, Reformed or Reformed Baptists will be persuaded by KTCs conclusion of a intermediate position between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, excellent as the rest of the book may be. But perhaps not is all lost....something good may, after all, come of this ... it may have some attraction for Dispensationalists, a system which is in some degree of chaos. I think this would actually be a step forward for that system since KTC agrees with us on so many important matters of Covenant Theology.
Lastly, please remember, Monergism is not Amazon. I believe there is no obligation for us to carry or post something just because it is printed. If we are to be a blessing to the larger Christian community, I think, we have some obligation to be discerning on what we carry, and warn our readers of possible dangers in other resources.
p.s. I am presently engaged in a major project which, I pray, will benefit the whole church. But a friend of our ministry has informed me that he is taking up task of reviewing the book more thoroughly. Hopefully I can add some thoughts later as well. I will, unfortunately, not currently have time to respond to emails regarding this posting.