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Barrett’s Book Notes: Faith Speaking Understanding and Progressive Covenantalism

Faith-Speaking-UnderstandingKevin J. Vanhoozer. Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine (WJK, 2014)

I am always excited to read Vanhoozer. His thinking is theologically creative. This comes through in his Faith Speaking Understanding, which is no mere abridgement of his The Drama of Doctrine, but is actually the practical outworking of the latter. He writes,

Given its size, density, and ambition (and in particular its bright orange cover), I dubbed The Drama of Doctrine “The Great Pumkin.” Faith Speaking Understanding is, by contrast, written for everyday Christians, serious students of theology, and pastors. …This now is a belated reply to the many requests I have received over the years to make my earlier work more digestible, briefer, and of greater practical benefit (two out of three isn’t bad). The present work is no mere abridgement, however. It is an upstart sibling with a swagger of its own, namely, a full-fledged proposal for the role of theology in the church’s task of making disciples.

Vanhoozer is upfront about his thesis:

The thesis of the book is that the world changes most when the church stays the same, that is, faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

With this thesis in view, he defines theology as:

The serious and joyful attempt to live blessedly with others, before God, in Christ, through the Spirit.

I like his conclusion, which I regularly drive home to students in my classes:

Doctrines are not simply truths to be stored, shelved, and stacked, but indications and directions to be followed, practiced, and enacted. Christian discipleship is a practice of doing truth, of learning the way of life that is in Jesus Christ.

In the near future, I’ll follow up with some words about his latest release, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition.

9781433541919Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum. God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants (Crossway, 2015).

Stephen J. Wellum and Brent Parker, eds. Progressive Covenantalism (B&H, 2016).

The case for progressive covenantalism continues! And I am happy for it. If you were intimidated by Gentry and Wellum’s very large volume, pick up this “concise” biblical theology published by Crossway. It is accessible and is a good starting point for students and pastors.

Also, don’t miss a similar volume, this time by Wellum and Parker, bringing together a host of contributors, to explore some of the avenues and implications of progressive covenantalism. There are some outstanding chapters in this collection. Here was my praise for the book:

“How we understand the biblical covenants is a hotly debated issue. Unfortunately, the history of this debate has been restricted to covenant theology and dispensationalism. But now a better view has risen on the horizon, one that more accurately explains Scripture’s storyline. A pioneer book, Progressive Covenantalism guides us down a more faithful hermeneutical path, helping interpreters understand the nature of the new covenant in a way that does far more justice to the biblical and theological framework of the entire Bible.”

—Matthew Barrett, Tutor of Systematic Theology and Church History, Oak Hill Theological College

51j+JmsKSYL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_You can read an excerpt here. And here is a summary:

Building on the foundation of Kingdom through Covenant (Crossway, 2012), Stephen J. Wellum and Brent E. Parker have assembled a team of scholars who offer a fresh perspective regarding the interrelationship between the biblical covenants. Each chapter seeks to demonstrate how the covenants serve as the backbone to the grand narrative of Scripture. For example, New Testament scholar Thomas Schreiner writes on the Sabbath command from the Old Testament and thinks through its applications to new covenant believers. Christopher Cowan wrestles with the warning passages of Scripture, texts which are often viewed by covenant theologians as evidence for a “mixed” view of the church. Jason DeRouchie provides a biblical theology of “seed” and demonstrates that the covenantal view is incorrect in some of its conclusions. Jason Meyer thinks through the role of law in both the old and new covenants. John Meade unpacks circumcision in the OT and how it is applied in the NT, providing further warrant to reject covenant theology’s link of circumcision with (infant) baptism. Oren Martin tackles the issue of Israel and land over against a dispensational reading, and Richard Lucas offers an exegetical analysis of Romans 9-11, arguing that it does not require a dispensational understanding. From issues of ecclesiology to the warning passages in Hebrews, this book carefully navigates a mediating path between the dominant theological systems of covenant theology and dispensationalism to offer the reader a better way to understand God’s one plan of redemption.

Matthew Barrett is Tutor of Systematic Theology and Church History at Oak Hill Theological College in London, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is the author of numerous book reviews and articles in academic and popular journals and magazines. He is the author of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and RegenerationOwen on the Christian Life: Living for the Glory of God in Christ (Theologians on the Christian Life)God’s Word Alone: The Authority of ScriptureCurrently he is the series editor of The 5 Solas Series with Zondervan. You can read more about Barrett at

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