The Covenants by R.B.C. Howell; 1991, 135 pp. Hampton House Books (originally published in 1855 by the Southern Baptist Publication Society) Reviewed by Tom J. Nettles
A book that the readers of the Founders Journal will find rewarding and enlightening is entitled The Covenants and is written by a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, R.B.C. Howell. Howell’s treatment takes something of the intimidation and obscurity out of covenantal teaching while presenting a clear, edifying, orthodox, and coherent analysis of biblical covenants. The chapters on the covenant of works, the covenant of Eden, and the covenant of redemption are especially helpful.
The book is filled with pregnant theological affirmations worthy of lengthy discussion, and perhaps designed to evoke it. For example in the chapter on the “Covenant of Works” Howell says, “The violation of the covenant did not cancel his obligations still to obey all its requirements. Whatever disabilities may have been incurred by the transgression, and especially by the consequent depravity of human nature, our relations to the law were not thereby changed” (pp. 15, 16). And at the close of the chapter Howell says, “What blessing could this violated covenant now confer? It could only repeat perpetually, and it ever continues to repeat, guilty; guilty; guilty! In this attitude did they stand before God; criminal, and helpless and lost!” (p. 17). These statements combined with Howell’s discussion of the nature of a covenant and the congruity of the covenant of works with the creator/creature relationship make for an important theological foundation essential for understanding the nature of redemption.
As Howell develops the work of the Triune God in the covenant of redemption, his discussion is filled with tantalizing suggestions for helpful teaching. For example, as he considers the covenantal work of the Son, Howell says, “His acts, therefore, had legal respect to them whom he represented, and by the supreme Lawgiver were held as a full equivalent for the sin of his people” (p. 38). The efficacy of the atonement is surely contained in such a statement.
The last chapter, entitled “The Teachings of the Covenants,” has many significant suggestions and arguments. These concern the implications of the covenants for the nature of the church, their apologetic value for demonstrating the Messiahship of Jesus, the relation of Israel to the church, the use of the ordinances, and the consummation of covenantal provisions at the second coming of Christ. In this chapter Howell takes specific issue with the great Witsius on the implications of the covenant for supposed “signs and seals of grace.” He asks, “Can this be reconciled with the teachings of evangelical religion? Never. It attributes to baptism and the Lord’s supper vastly more of efficacy than ever was assigned them by the great author of our salvation” p. 132).
It is good that this book is back in print. It is well worth one’s personal attention and is useful for introducing to others the concept of covenant as a unifying theme in Scripture. The riches are abundant for such a short book. Its implications for ecclesiology are obvious. In addition, foundations for dealing with the Lordship salvation controversy reside within an understanding of the various temporal administrations of the one eternal covenant. The “signs and wonders” movement and the idea of continuing revelation, or prophetic words/words of knowledge movements, fail in their understanding of the establishment and administration of the covenant under the gospel.
The reading is easy. But the content is hard-core, essential, biblical theology.
The Grace Escape by Bailey Smith; 1991, 175 pp. Broadman Press
Reviewed by Thomas Ascol
What do Ernest Reisinger, J. I. Packer, John MacArthur, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Hodge, Charles Spurgeon, John Dagg, James P. Boyce, the Westminster Confession, B. B. Warfield and A. A. Hodge have in common with Bailey Smith? All of the former are favorably quoted in the latter’s newest book, The Grace Escape. It is most encouraging to see one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s most prominent evangelists draw from the wells of such respected theological giants. These sources are largely unknown or neglected by modern Southern Baptists. Yet, as Smith demonstrates, they are trustworthy guides in the vital quest for authentic Christianity.
In this book on the Lordship debate, Smith sides very decidedly with those who rightly contend that salvation consists of nothing less than receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord. The argument is set forth in a clear and engaging style with an ample number of anecdotes and helpful illustrations. Despite an occasional theological imprecision (such as the relationship of regeneration to faith, p. 44), this book can be commended for use among those who need an easily read presentation on the Lordship of Christ.
It is really wonderful to see Broadman Press publishing Boyce, Dagg, Spurgeon, et al. “Thank you” to Bailey Smith for making it happen.
The Doctrine of the Bible by David Dockery; 1991, 155 pp. Convention Press, $4.95
Reviewed by Thomas Ascol
Anyone who takes up the challenge to write a book on the authority of the Bible for Southern Baptists at this stage in denominational history must have generous amounts of both courage and diplomacy. The former is needed because the politically charged atmosphere guarantees that many will automatically discount such an effort based upon which “side” the book appears to be advocating. The latter is required to gain a hearing from those who are skeptical about the centrality of biblical authority to the political struggles in the SBC over the last 13 years.
David Dockery passes muster on both counts. The new Dean of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has produced a book that receives high marks from outspoken proponents of both the “conservative” and “moderate” ends of the spectrum. It is the study course book for the 1992 SBC doctrinal study.
Determined to avoid technical discussions, Dockery writes for the church member in the pew. It is far from light reading, however, and some parts may be a real challenge for those accustomed to typical study course fare.
Revelation, inspiration, interpretation and canonicity are all treated. He identifies 6 views of inerrancy: naive, absolute, balanced, limited, functional, and “errant but authoritative” (pp. 86-87). Dockery dismisses the first and sixth and warns against dangers connected with the second, fourth and fifth. Who can blame him for calling his own view (that the Bible is true in all it affirms, “to the degree of precision intended by the writer” [p. 86]) “balanced”?
Among the books cited in the footnotes and bibliography there is an unfortunate oversight of the watershed writings of Warfield as well as the significant book by Southern Baptists Bush and Nettles (Baptists and the Bible). Early SBC leader Basil Manly (The Doctrine of Inspiration), however, is mentioned along with J. P. Boyce, J. A. Broadus, B. H. Carroll, A. T. Robertson, George Truett and J. M. Frost as historic Southern Baptists who affirmed inerrancy.