Book Review: The Law Is Not of Faith, edited by Bryan D. Estelle, J. V. Fesko, and David Van Drunen
In recent Reformed treatments of Covenant Theology, there have been several trajectories tending to emphasize ever more strongly the continuity between the Abrahamic, Sinaitic, and New covenants as different administrations of the Covenant of Grace, and correspondingly, to de-emphasize any discontinuities that may exist, particularly when it comes to the works-principle so evident in the giving of the Law, and in Paul's treatment of the Mosaic administration. Examples include John Murray's â€œmonocovenantalism,â€ the New Perspective on Paul, and the Federal Vision, but the impact is wider than these examples might suggest, even to the extent that any suggestion within Reformed circles that Sinai entailed, in some sense, a republication of the Covenant of Works, is often met with stiff resistance and charges of Lutheran or (worse yet!) Dispensational influences. But does this widespread reaction against the teaching of republication have roots in historic Reformed thought? And more importantly, can it find support in the whole tenor of the Pentateuch and in the prophets and apostles who later interpreted it? According to the authors of The Law Is Not of Faith, the answer to that question is a resounding â€œNo!â€; and in support of that contention, they have mounted a redoubtable defense. This is stimulating, well-researched and exegetically-formidable writing, and at the same time it is very pertinent to many of the most hotly contended issues in Reformed theology today. I earnestly recommend it.
I must confess that, from the fictional introductory scenario, this book had me hooked. I could immediately see the importance and broad implications of the subject matter, and from the outset, the basic thesis seemed to make a lot of sense of the mountains of scriptural data, some of which seemed superficially to be contradictory at worst, and confusing at best. The basic idea was compelling: the Covenant given on Sinai is, in a broad sense, an administration of the Covenant of Grace, but more specifically an administration characterized by Law, which typologically demonstrated the necessity of the fulfillment of the Covenant of Works for the reward of life in the New Eden, and furthermore, by hypothetically holding forth the impossible promise of eternal life for perfect obedience, was an eloquent pedagogue pointing to the need of the promised Christ.
Brenton C. Ferry's helpful taxonomy of Reformed treatments of the Sinaitic Covenant was not only useful for grounding the republication idea solidly within mainstream, historic Covenant Theology, but much more so for demonstrating that the different elements of the Mosaic administration of the Covenant which different theologians have emphasized are usually not mutually exclusive of each other, but rather complementary. The purposes of republication of natural law or the Covenant of Works are manifold, for one thing; but for another, they are not at all opposed to an understanding of the administration of Law as an organically-connected and progressive-oriented unfolding of the single Covenant of Grace.
Perhaps the most helpful portions of the book, however, are the exegetical â€œbiblical studies,â€ which appropriately take up the majority of the book. The key Pentateuchal passages of Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 are convincingly shown to hold forth from the beginning the same sort of harmonious but antithetical messages that Paul later sees in them, according to his interpretations in Romans 10 â€“ another passage competently dealt with later on. Other biblical treatments include a very enjoyable analysis of the Torah psalms and the Kingship psalms, and an interesting discussion of the interpretive questions in Hosea 6:7. But the real heart of the case for republication comes from Paul's letter to the Galatians. An honest treatment of the key passages in that epistle leads almost indisputably to an understanding of a vast and fundamental disjunct, on the very point of law-keeping, between the Mosaic and Abrahamic/New covenants, as T. David Gordon and S. M Baugh make very clear.
The final segment of the book, on theological studies, while giving the impression that the themes there discussed call for a much more thorough treatment, is nevertheless quite helpful in a couple of particulars; first, in demonstrating the key role Romans 2 has to play for the doctrine of an ongoing validity to natural law, which is summed up in the Decalogue and binding on all men everywhere; and second, in pointing out the necessity and many of the implications of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, and in particular, the solid grounding of that doctrine in the Psalter.
Overall, I have to say that I have rarely found an academic work, which presents an up-to-date contribution to a scholarly discussion, as enjoyable as this. Although there is more work to be done, and many particulars to be hammered out, I am fully sold on the basic thesis of a republication, in some sense, of the Covenant of Works upon Mount Sinai. But far from minimizing God's free and certain grace, this doctrine highlights and grounds that very grace in the necessary and unalterably promised work of the coming Messiah, whose accomplishment takes on a much fuller significance, and is set in more brilliant relief, by the very Law-nature of the Sinaitic Covenant given as the guardian of the faith until the promised Seed should arrive.
The Law Is Not of Faith: available at Monergism Books.