My church is currently studying in Sunday School a book called Back to Basics: Rediscovering the Richness of the Reformed Faith, edited by David Hagopian. It is (more or less) an excellent primer on the basics of the Christian faith (from a theologically Reformed perspective). The book contains sections on Conversion, the Covenant, the Church, and the Christian Life. Unfortunately, what makes the book “less” of an excellent resource is the section on Covenant Theology and Eschatology. There is much to commend Doug Jones (the author of this section) as he does a masterful job of highlighting the unity of the covenant from the beginning of history in the Garden of Eden, to the end of history in the New Heavens and New Earth (eschatology). But the book could have been improved by addressing the following shortcomings:
- The use of non-traditional terminology for the biblical covenants, even using traditional terms (“covenant of redemption”) in non-traditional ways (describing the covenant of grace). This is only confusing to people familiar with traditional terms, and will be confusing to novices as they pursue further reading.
- The lack of distinguishing between the two types of biblical covenants (of works and of grace), depending on which party takes the covenant oath. When only the common features of the biblical covenants are discussed, it leaves open the possibility of mono-covenantalism (the idea that the covenant made with Adam is basically continuous with the other covenants established in the context of post-fall redemption).
- The peculiar reading of OT and NT passages that are clearly eschatological but use language of the presence of some unbelief and death (effects of the fall) to conclude that such passages are describing a “silver age” (postmillennialism) before the “golden age” of eternity is ushered in by the second coming of Christ. This betrays a literalistic eschatological hermeneutic that doesn’t allow the NT (fuller and later revelation) to interpret the OT (developing and prior revelation).
I had the opportunity to teach this section on covenant and eschatology, which allowed me offer clarification and correction to the way these important doctrines are laid out in Back to Basics (see my teaching notes and discussion questions). One might ask why we are using this book to teach the basics of the Reformed faith. The reason is that, despite the book’s shortcomings, its strengths are so great that it still makes for a very useful introduction and discussion starter.