In recent years, Kingdom and Covenant have received ample attention in the field of biblical theology. This is due in large part to a book co-written by two professors at Southern Seminary, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum. Most recently, the latter articulated their position at the Regional ETS meeting held on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. If you haven’t seen the video (above), I would encourage you to take an hour an listen.
This post is not about that presentation or that book, however. Instead it concerns another book with a similar theme, The Drama of Scripture. While many covenant and dispensational theologians have pushed back against Kingdom through Covenant, there are others who have found the twin themes of kingdom and covenant as persuasive and most basic for putting the Bible together. One example of this is Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen.
Writing independent from (and prior to) Gentry and Wellum, they produce a strikingly similar conclusion about the place of kingdom and covenant in Scripture. Using a cathedral as an illustration for reading the Bible, the argue for covenant and kingdom as the “main entrance” into the Bible. They write,
In our opinion, ‘covenant’ (in the Old Testament) and ‘the kingdom of God’ (in the New Testament) present a strong claim to be the main door through which we can being to enter the Bible and to see it as one whole and vast structure. In the Old Testament, God establishes a covenant with Noah, Abraham, Israel, and King David; in Jeremiah, God speaks of a new covenant that he will make in the future [31:31–34]. In the Gospels, it is clear that the main theme in Jesus’ extensive teaching ministry is the kingdom of God. Mark (1:14–15) thus sums up Jesus’ ministry: ‘After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’ Taking covenant and kingdom to be the main entrance into the Bible does not deny that there are other entrances. Readers have suggested many other entrances as the best ones from which to gain a view of the whole: entrances such as ‘promise’ and ‘presence.’ All these are helpful, but they are a bit like side chapels or side entrances rather than the main entrance. We certainly glimpse a view of the cathedral from them, but we do not gather that same overview of the whole that we obtain from covenant and kingdom.
You may ask, Are covenant and kingdom the same entrance or two different ones? This is an important question. The kingdom of God, as we explain below, is all about the reign of God over his people and eventually over all of creation. Covenant is particularly about the special relationship that God makes with his people as he works out his plans in history. In fact, covenants were relationships established by kings with their subject peoples. When God’s people enter into a covenant relationship with him, they are obligated to be his subject people and to live under his reign. As we soon see, covenant also insists that we take seriously God’s purposes with the whole of creation. Thus, covenant and kingdom are like two sides of the same coin, evoking the same reality in slightly different ways.
After all our study, we find covenant and kingdom to be the double door of the same main entrance to the scriptural cathedral, evoking the same reality. (24)
I cannot think of a better approach to the Bible than the twin ideas of kingdom and covenant leading to and culminating in the person and work of Christ, who is the appointed and full revelation of the triune God. For this reason, I commend The Drama of Scripture, as well as, the corpus of books written under the banner of “progressive covenantalism” (in addition to Kingdom through Covenant, see the shorter God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenant and the multi-author Progressive Covenantalism).
Because they take seriously the Bible on its own terms and identify kingdom and covenants (plural) as the central themes of the Bible, they go a long way in helping us rightly divide and unite the Word of God.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds