Founders Journal 68 · Spring 2007 · pp. 29-32
Ronald D. Miller, James M. Renihan, Francisco Orozco, eds., Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ. Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005, hb., 376 pages. $40.00 ISBN 0-9760039-3-7
Hercules had his labors. Alexander the Great faced the Gordian knot. And for a growing number of Baptists today, there is the great challenge of explaining precisely how one can be committed to both Reformed covenant theology and credo Baptistic convictions. Thankfully, a ready reply is available in a new compilation work from Reformed Baptist Academic Press entitled, Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ.
The bulk of Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ consists of two works: a reprint of Nehemiah Coxe’s A Discourse of the Covenants that God made with men before the Law and John Owen’s An Exposition of Hebrews 8:6–13. At least two important observations demonstrate the value of these works for contemporary Baptists. The first observation concerns the historical backdrop and content of Coxe’s work as a Baptist theologian. The second observation centers on Owen’s compelling exposition of the superiority and “newness” of the New Covenant.
To begin with, the historical backdrop of Coxe’s work is of vital interest to modern day Baptists. It must be noted that Nehemiah Coxe, though perhaps unknown to many, is a stately giant among our Particular Baptist forefathers. In fact, ample evidence suggests that Coxe served as the chief editor for the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1677/1689. More germane to this review, however, is the fact that Coxe’s work on the covenants reflects the overwhelming continuity that existed historically between Particular Baptists and their paedobaptistic brethren with regard to the progressive nature of redemptive revelation. As editor James Renihan points out in the introduction to this volume, “covenantal defenses of believers’ baptism were the rule rather than the exception” in Coxe’s time (2). The practical upshot of this progressive view of redemptive revelation is twofold. On the one hand, it is not necessary, nor exegetically viable, to embrace a dispensational hermeneutic in order to preserve the doctrine of believers’ baptism. On the other hand, a thoroughly Reformed covenantal theology need not and in fact does not lead to the practice of infant baptism.
Of equal relevance is the content of Coxe’s work. Over the course of eight chapters, Coxe delivers a step by step survey of the early biblical covenants: from the prelapsarian “covenant of works” to the covenant of circumcision made with Abraham. Readers will take great delight in the thorough, humble and yet penetrating analysis that Coxe sets forth. Without denying the organic unity of Scripture, he consistently examines each covenant on the basis of its own nature and terms. As a result of such an exegetically derived covenant theology, Coxe is able to effectively show how the argument for infant baptism as a corollary to circumcision is simply wrong. For example, after discussing the existence of other holy men who lived at the time of Abraham (Lot, Heber, Melchizedek, etc.), Coxe makes the following insightful remarks:
From the whole it appears that, on the one hand, there was a positive command which made it necessary to circumcise many that never had interest in the covenant of grace. So, on the other hand, from the first date of circumcision there were many truly interested in the covenant of grace who were under no obligation to be circumcised. This is how far from truth it is that a new covenant interest and right to circumcision may be inferred the one from the other (118).
Such insight is characteristic of Coxe’s entire work. His final chapter, in particular, is of tremendous import as he discusses the nature of the promises made to Abraham, offers explanations of Colossians 2:11 and Romans 4:11 as well as delineates a proper understanding of circumcision as a seal to Abraham’s faith.
In light of Coxe’s excellent treatment of the early covenants, the reader may wonder why he concluded his treatise with the Abrahamic covenant. The answer is given by Coxe himself and only serves to further highlight the work of grace, humility and biblical catholicity wrought by God in his heart. After explaining his intentions to continue his survey in order to demonstrate that the Old and New Covenants differ both in substance and in administration, Coxe says:
…I found my labor for the clearing and asserting of that point happily prevented by the coming out of Dr. Owen’s third volume on Hebrews. There it is discussed at length and the objections that seem to lie against it are fully answered, especially in the exposition of the eighth chapter. I now refer my reader there for satisfaction about it which he will find commensurate to what might be expected from so great and learned a person (30).
Coxe, himself, therefore, provides the rationale for the editors’ inclusion of Owen’s “An Exposition of Hebrews 8:6–13.”
This brings us to our second observation. If Coxe historically and exegetically lays the foundation for a covenantal defense of believer’s baptism, then John Owen masterfully erects the remaining superstructure. Ironically, Owen was a life long practitioner of infant baptism. Nevertheless, he faithfully expounds the “newness” of the New Covenant to such an extent that Coxe (and the editors of Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ) felt comfortable in leaving readers in his capable hands. This second work, then, represents nearly 152 pages of well driven nails straight from the Bible’s own comparison and contrast of the Old and New Covenants. One brief quote demonstrates the essence of Owen’s contribution:
…we may consider that the Scripture does plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish [sic] between them in such a way, as what is spoken can hardly be accommodated to a twofold administration of the same covenant (186).
Owen does not exaggerate. He backs this assertion with manifold arguments and observations so that if consistently applied, in the opinion of this reviewer, the case is largely (if not completely) closed in favor of the practice of believer’s baptism—alone.
The great value of this volume would be diminished, however, were it not for the editorial efforts of Ronald Miller, James Renihan and Francisco Orozco. Initially, Renihan provides a brief apologetic for the value of reprinting Coxe’s work. He also grants a biographical sketch of Coxe which makes for interesting and informative reading. Miller renders an invaluable service by modernizing archaic spelling and terminology in Coxe’s work, as well as offering helpful definitions and commentary when needed. As with Coxe, Owen’s exposition is also preceded by a short biopic. Orozco delivers updates and commentary on Owen similar to that of Miller. Finally, the editors saw fit to include, by way of two appendices, a detailed outline of Coxe’s work and a helpful article debunking the claim that Owen is the forerunner of New Covenant Theology—both authored by Richard Barcellos.
In short, Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ is not a book to be dutifully read and permanently shelved. Admittedly, some readers may disagree with various particulars of the covenant theology set forth in this book. Others may struggle with the demands that John Owen frequently requires of modern readers. However, these possible deterrents are easily offset by this work’s beautiful emphasis on the organic unity of the Scriptures, the thematic unity of the biblical covenants and the humble attitudes displayed by these bondservants of the Lord. This compilation constitutes a stand¬-alone reference truly worthy of multiple readings. Better still, Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ in conjunction with Fred Malone’s The Baptism of Disciples Alone and Sam Waldron’s A Reformed Baptist Manifesto will greatly assist both veteran and aspiring Baptist theologians with a powerful, yet peaceable polemic regarding the proper subjects of baptism and biblical ecclesiology.
Susan J. Heck, With the Master in the School of Tested Faith. Tate Publishing, LLC, Mustang, OK, 2006, 372 pages. $25.99. ISBN 1-5988655-9-5
With The Master in the School of Tested Faith is a study on the book of James, written especially for women. The author, Susan J. Heck, is a Bible teacher and a certified counselor with the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors. Her husband, Doug, is a graduate of The Masters Seminary and is pastor of Grace Community Church of Tulsa. This book comes from her personal studies of the Scriptures, as well as her teachings to women in her church and in numerous seminars. This is the first in a series of many studies on books and passages in the New Testament.
In the introduction, the author explains her desire to write more in-depth doctrinal studies for women:
Several years ago after my conversion, the Lord placed within me a deep hunger for the Word of God. My desire was to understand the Word more thoroughly. My husband encouraged me to begin memorizing the Word of God, chapter by chapter, book by book. The Lord used that in my life to whet my appetite to know and to understand what I was memorizing. I began to study the Bible for myself and that led to a deep desire to pass on to other women what I was learning. Writing Ladies Bible Studies, along with homework, and teaching the women in my church, then became my spiritual mission.
This book is well organized and very thorough. Each chapter starts with a contemporary illustration to help the reader identify with the topic of the chapter. Each phrase of each verse in James is included in a subtitle, making the book easy to reference. Each chapter ends with a summary and a list of discussion questions. Some of these refer to other passages of Scripture for further insight and study, and some are questions for personal application.
When I received this book, I had just started teaching a Bible study for women on the book of James. Since I was already using another resource, I used Susan Heck’s book as a supplement. Even though I recommended the book to the ladies in my group, I had some reservation about the price. Twenty-six dollars may be more than some can afford, yet the amount and quality of information in it does make it worth the price. I really liked the detailed phrase-by-phrase commentary that included explanations of the original Greek terms. The chapter summaries and questions were convicting. I am looking forward to reading more books in this series when they are printed.