Book Review: Covenant Theology, by Peter Golding
Synopsis: Nearly five hundred years after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Reformed theology and piety continue to have a worldwide impact on the Church; but how many Christians who consider themselves to be heirs of the Reformation have drifted from an understanding of what its central and distinguishing doctrines have always been? In his comprehensive and hugely helpful survey, Peter Golding argues that the key of theology in Reformed thought and tradition â€“ the essential genius of the vastly diverse and yet fundamentally unified phenomenon known as the Reformation â€“ is simply Covenant Theology. For a generation of Protestants who have lost their roots and are adrift in the sea of nebulous contemporary Evangelicalism, this book cannot be too highly recommended.
It is indisputable that the seventeenth-century heirs of the Reformation considered the biblical-theological method of interpreting the bible, which led to an understanding of the essential unity and organic connection of all the parts of scripture, based on the primacy of the divinely established covenants of grace, to be of fundamental importance to their entire theology. Perhaps no further proof of this may be required than the Westminster Confession itself, which is organized on the basis of the Covenant of Works, made with the first Adam in the Garden, and the Covenant of Grace, mediated through the Second Adam, promised immediately after the Fall, and clarified and expanded in the later covenants of redemptive history. But it is a matter of much dispute whether the sixteenth-century Reformers, including John Calvin, demonstrated the same emphasis on the importance of the interconnected biblical covenants. Is Covenant Theology truly the genius of Reformed theology, or is it simply the later surmising of the Puritans, who had lost their Calvinistic roots?
In a sweeping overview, Golding examines the nature and development of covenantal and federal thought from the time of the first reformers, including Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and other notables such as Zachary Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus; continues with the seventeenth-century pioneers, including Cocceius, Witsius, and others; and surveys the later development of the Puritans. Then, he embarks upon an enlightening study of the modern treatment of Covenant Theology, devoting much space to a consideration of the impact that the archeological discovery of Near-Eastern treaties (Parity, Grant, and Suzerainty) has had on the discipline. When he has finished with his survey, he has brought the reader quite up-to-date, giving helpful summaries, together with the strengths and weaknesses, of such contemporary covenant theologians as Meredith Kline and O. Palmer Robertson.
Not only does Golding provide a meticulously researched historical overview of the development of Covenant Theology, and establish his thesis of its supreme importance in all of Reformed history; he also provides a scriptural analysis of federal thought, and considers with clarity and precision such questions as the legitimacy of the traditional understanding of the Covenant of Works (both the idea and the term), in light of the modern reaction against it; the essential sameness or difference between the Abrahamic and Sinaitic Covenants; and the impact that the Noahic Covenant has both on common grace and, as a possible proto-typical covenant, the later redemptive covenants that God administered to his people. His discussion of these and similar themes is marked throughout by clarity of expression and a competent grasp of the entire body of literature devoted to the discussion.
At the end of the book, Golding has convincingly argued his case for the centrality of Covenantal thought in Reformed history from the sixteenth-century on; he has established both the certainty of the biblical-theological method of Covenant Theology, and the great importance of its understanding for the doctrinal growth and piety of all Protestants; and he has provided a very thorough overview of just what Covenant Theology is, in all its variations, what the scriptures have to say about the topic, and how it has developed in history from the first Reformers to the modern Church. For all these reasons, it may be the outstanding one-volume introduction to the history and centrality of Covenant Theology available today.
Available at Monergism Books.