A Quick Review: "Covenantal Theonomy" by Kenneth Gentry Jr

All Christians, at some point, are confronted with interpreting and possibly applying Old Testament law. As a student of covenantal theology, I am always perplexed by the argument for applying the Mosaic Covenant code to modern societies (Theonomy). I consider myself to be a progressive covenantalist in the stream of Meredith Kline, thus Gentry’s confrontation of the school’s handling of theonomy has been on my “to read” shelf.

Basic Summary of the Book
"In the present work, I will be responding to the critique of theonomy by T. David Gordon.”(2) In critiquing the work of Gordon, he is critiquing the Meredith Kline school which opposes the application of biblical law (Mosaic Law)  to modern civil situations.

Indeed the concept and study of Theonomy, especially in reformed camps, is a difficult topic. What Gentry brings to the study is the good questions for all to consider, especially those who are of the Kline persuasion yet not tightly holding to the Westminster Confession.
Is it legitimate to take exceptions to your tradition’s central confession?
Have theonomists been too literalistic in their understanding of civil laws without considering the trajectory and redemptive outworkings of biblical history?
Has theonomy minimized the biblical idea of “wisdom” and “maturity” in speaking to areas of the civil sphere?
I find the harsh critique of Kline’s wavering hold of the Westminster Confession to be a welcomed observation, for I too hold a modified version of the Westminster Confession (as most reformed Baptists do). Though the observation of deviation is appreciated, the book heavily relying upon the critique of Kline’s wavering severely undermines the work as a whole, for I do not believe that Gentry grasps how the covenants relate to each other. I summarize the con of Gentry’s work as: a harsh critique of Kline covenantalism without proof of Gentry clearly grasping “covenant” beyond the Westminster Confession.

First major con of the work is the need for a depth of Theonomy and Kline covenantalism to grasp Gentry’s work. Second, as an interp major, I am always amazed by how many books are built upon faulty interpretations. Gentry’s critique of Gordon (and Kline) is built upon his interpretation of Matthew 5:17. Gentry believes Mat 5:17 is clear depiction that the mosaic law still applies for modern Christians, at least the civil law. His version of theonomy is “rooted in the presupposition that Scripture is the self-attesting word of God, which is not to be dismissed by man (170).” In essence, If it is in Word it is still applicable. Gentry does assert that Mat 5:17 is not the sole passage of theonomistic defense, though never presenting fully nor defending. Kline covenantalism handles the passage that Christ completed the Mosaic law and established a new code with the new covenant. This leads to the third and last con, Gentry doesn’t grasp the progressive nature of the covenants, nor the king grant vs Suzerain Vassal covenants. While the Mosaic code included Moral, Ceremonial, and Sacrificial laws for the united nation of Israel, the New Covenant gives moral and communal code because Christ graciously grants salvation to those who believe. Thus, Kline is right to conclude that the Mosaic Covenant has been replaced/built upon by subsequent covenants namely the New Covenant. Indeed there are “laws” for the Christian, but they aren’t to be applied to a particular nation, for after all Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world.” Thus to apply Christ’s laws to this world’s civil government is to not fully grasp what the Kingdom of God is.

Personal Reflections
We within the Kline camp, do hold to a type of Theonomy, but it is the Law of God for the People of God in the Place of God. It should be noted that Kline and many of his students do advocate for Christians aiding in civil law giving. Furthermore, we are to advocate the biblical morality, but not invoke biblical laws as the law of the land.

I would recommend this book to those who have read and grasp the above noted concepts. You should never read a critiquing work having not handled the prior work.

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