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Introducing Covenant Theology Paperback – 1 Apr 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Books; Reprint edition (1 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080107195X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801071959
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 315,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From the Back Cover

cov-e-nant (n): A binding agreement; a compact; a promise
Since biblical times covenants have been a part of everyday life. Simply put, they are promises, agreements, or contracts. But how do they translate into faith and the reading of Scripture? Are covenants merely elements of a narrative? Or do they represent something more? And what are the eternal implications of "cutting" a covenant with God?
In "Introducing Covenant Theology," author Michael Horton unwinds the intricacies of crucial covenant concepts, showing how they provide a significant organizational structure for all of Scripture. They give us a context in which to understand the voices and message of the biblical narrative. They provide life with a goal and history with a meaning.
Whether you're a pastor, ministry leader, or layperson, "Introducing Covenant Theology" will give you a new understanding of covenants and covenant theology, providing a framework for an important theological concept.

"A masterful survey of the covenantal frame of God's self-disclosure in Scripture. For serious students it is a winner."--J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College
"A rigorous and articulate defense of a traditional view of covenant theology. Horton's federalist emphasis gleans from well-established Reformed writers while adding his own highly readable and insightful commentary."--Bryan Chapell, president, Covenant Theological Seminary
"Horton has brought covenant theology to life in a way which engages modern thought and appeals to contemporary students and pastors alike. His book is a clear guide to an essential topic."--Gerald Bray, research professor, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

About the Author

Michael Horton (PhD, University of Coventry and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford) is
J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. He is the editor of "Modern Reformation," the host of the "White Horse Inn" radio program, and the author of several books, including "A Better Way" and "Putting Amazing Back into Grace."


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Format: Hardcover
Michael Horton's work is of supreme value to the student of theology and the interested lay person alike. Although the cover describes it as an introduction to Covenant Theology it may be a little too full for the first time reader in this area. That said, Horton writes with an extremely engaging style and shows the value of the Covenant system for our understanding of the Bible. Whether you agree with everything that Horton says he is one of the finest minds working in theology today. All of his works deserve careful study.
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Format: Paperback
This book is good, solid, but perhaps assumes a little too much knowledge of the subject to be an introduction. Neverthless it is a book that is helpful in seeing the big picture of the Bible's teaching, or rather provides an excellent interpretive structure to the Bible. I would suggest a good browse of a systematic theology chapter on covenant theology ( e.g.Berkhof/Reymond/Hodge) before tackling this one.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa1dd25b8) out of 5 stars 53 reviews
94 of 101 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1453ce4) out of 5 stars A Covenant Masterpiece 2 Mar. 2006
By Shane Lems - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Horton has done the Reformed church another favor. Amidst the current assaults on the orthodox doctrines of justification by faith alone (because of Christ's imputed righteousness), the importance of the covenant of works, and the clear law/gospel distinction, this book will keep the Christian balanced and on the firm ground of classic, historical, Reformed orthodoxy.

Rather than over-emphasize one central dogma of the Reformed faith, Horton nicely describes the covenant as a sort of glue, or "web," that intimately connects the whole of theology. Describing the three covenants (Redemption, Works/creation, and Grace) from Scripture, Horton magnifies the person and work of Christ as the true King [David] and the true Servant [Israel].

If you've wondered about the relationship between the Adamic, Noahic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants, or if you've wondered about the relationship between the old and new covenants, this book is a must read. Horton neither wastes ink nor smears it on those he disagrees with; he is clearly a humble servant of Christ who seeks to make His riches known. And the way of covenant is an excellent and necessary way to do so.

I hope pastors read and study this book, I hope students devour it, and I hope lay-people take up the challenge to learn these doctrines. We need books like this to help guide us on our pilgrim way.
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1453d38) out of 5 stars A missed opportunity 18 July 2009
By Will Riddle - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With the resurgence of Reformed thought and the renovation of the support for covenantal ideas in the scholarship of the Ancient Near Eastern literature now is a perfect time to present classic covenant theology to a new generation. In a book subtitled "An introduction to Covenant Theology" this is exactly what I was hoping Horton would do.

Unfortunately, in my opinion he misses an opportunity here a bit. This is not because I found any specific doctrinal disagreement with Horton, but because of where he chose to spend his energy.

The first part of the book is spent rolling out the widely discussed Suzerain-Vassal treaties. While this is nice corroboration for classic covenant ideals, it's kind of a "paste on" to the core of the theology. So I moved quickly through this section to get to chapter 5, which is where he really discusses the structure of covenant theology itself (perhaps a bit late).

On the good side, in this chapter Horton makes some very strong but subtle points which affect our reading of the Scripture and draws out a few quotes from classics like Geehardus Vos, Perkins, and a few other Puritans. On the bad side, he spends a lot of correcting O. Palmer Robertson's view, and then striking out against the New Perspective on Paul with out naming it by name. It might be good content for a scholarly article, but it was not good content for an introduction to covenant theology. I left more clear on how he differed from Robertson than the actual import of covenant theology. It is only chapter 5 which deals directly with covenant theology itself and it's implication on our view of the Bible... the preceding chapters are preamble, and the following chapters are outworkings of the implications of covenant theology in various spheres.

Horton may have laid good groundwork for a renovation of the theology, but if it is going to impact a broader reading audience, someone is going to have to release a book which deals more completely with the historic theology and it's implications on our hermeneutics and is friendly to an average reader.
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa165f4f8) out of 5 stars A Needed Introduction 6 Sept. 2006
By Roger N. Overton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The Bible is replete with references to covenants, but how are we to understand them? What does it mean for created man to be in a covenant relationship with the Almighty God? How can understanding the biblical covenants impact our understanding of Scripture? Dr. Michael Horton seeks to answer these questions and more in his new book, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology.

Dr. Horton begins in the first chapter by looking at the big picture of covenant thinking and why it matters. According to him, our understanding is important because "God's very existence is covenantal" and "we were not just created and then given a covenant; we were created as covenant creatures." (10) Chapter two looks more directly at Scripture by comparing Old Testament covenants with some secular covenants contemporary to them (known as suzerain treaties). From the Old Testament, Dr. Horton draws out two types of covenants and explores them in his third chapter: covenants of works and covenants of grace.

Following the examination of covenants in the Old Testament, Dr. Horton looks to the New Covenant noting that it is entirely distinct from the previous Sinai covenant. After the foundation work in the Bible is done, chapter five moves the discussion to systematic theology by considering the larger categories of the covenants of redemption, creation, and grace. In the sixth chapter, Dr. Horton explores themes of common grace from free will to how Christians are to view their place on Earth.

Finally in chapter seven, covenant theology is compared against its main theological competitor (dispensational theology) and looks at the relationship between Israel and the Church. The eighth chapter explores baptism and the Lord's Supper as signs and seals of the New Covenant. In the final chapter, Dr. Horton distinguishes between different understandings of biblical law in order to explain Christian obedience under the New Covenant.

As much as I agree with Dr. Horton on the major issues and mostly enjoyed the book, there were a number of issues that detracted from its quality. On at least point, Dr. Horton's position is unclear, and at worst inconsistent. On one hand he affirms that those in the New Covenant are true believers-"There are real partners in this covenant (God with believers and their children)" (105), but on the other he asserts, "not everyone in the covenant of grace is elect." (182) Another problem is that on a few occasions (pages 105, 131, 167, 182) he references children as members of the New Covenant, with the implication that they are eligible for the sacrament of baptism, but never supports this idea. Since infant baptism is a contentious issue among Reformed believers, he should have at least attempted to make a case for it.

A common criticism of theological discussion these days is that it's not practical. Following the principle that good practice is built upon sound theology, Dr. Horton had a great opportunity to make the book incredibly practical in the last chapter by explaining specifically what laws Christians ought to view as guidelines. Unfortunately, his (worthwhile) discussion remained abstract and readers will have to do their own work to figure out what use it has for Christian living.

Though the book is an introduction to covenant theology, it is more academic in nature, so readers would do well to have some theological experience. However, God of Promise fulfills a substantial need in our Reformed libraries. Very few books address the system of covenant theology directly, and Michael Horton is likely the best contemporary theologian to do so. God of Promise is a valuable resource for those seeking to understand the picture of biblical teaching and the resulting categories of Reformed theology.
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1453fc0) out of 5 stars Could be better if Horton was up to date in his understanding of covenants in the ANE 24 Aug. 2011
By Nate Claiborne - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Overall, I am in some ways sympathetic to the project Michael Horton is attempting in Introducing Covenant Theology. I would say I like the idea of it all, but he leaves many questions unanswered. I would consider myself Reformed in my theological leanings, or you could use the word Calvinist(ic) if you wanted to. However, I am not entirely convinced the case Horton makes here holds exegetical water. The book does follow a fairly logical flow, but that might not be enough in the end to overcome the exegetical errors.

Horton starts with the big idea of covenant theology, then in the next chapter moves to the ancient Near East background of the concept of covenant. In chapter 3 he starts dealing with the biblical data on the matter using the lens of Paul's allegory in Galatians 4 of the two mothers. His conclusion is that there are essentially two types of covenants, unconditional and conditional, which roughly correspond to promise and law respectively. In chapter 4, Horton elaborates on the new covenant and explains where there is continuity and discontinuity between it and the old covenants in the Hebrew Scriptures.

At that point, the discussion in the book then shifts to unpacking the basics of covenant theology as a system of interpretation in chapter 5. It is here that Horton addresses the traditional Reformed covenants of redemption (intra-Trinitarian), works (between God and humanity), and grace (between God and the elect). Chapters 6-9 then unpack the implications of this understanding starting with how to live the world in light of common grace (chapter 6); how the covenant people are constituted (chapter 7); the signs and seals of this covenant of grace (chapter 8); and how we are to live in light of it all (chapter 9).

I like many of the things that Horton says throughout the book, and like I said, I am generally on board with covenant theology, or at least would not consider myself dispensational. Horton does not do the best job in the book interacting with dispensationalism and at times makes sweeping statements about the view for which he offers no support (pg 129 for instance). This is perhaps ironic, for Horton had earlier opined that O. Palmer Robertson said something without a supporting footnote for which "it would be very difficult to find a credible Reformed theologian, past or present, who holds this view" (pg. 102-103). Overall though, his rhetoric is not out of line, he just does not really interact with opposing view very much.

There are however some deeper problems. Most notably is his treatment of covenant in general and Genesis 15 in particular. To start with the particular, it would be a little too nit-picky to hold Horton to the standard of being on the forefront of biblical studies and scholarship since that is not his field. That being said, there are a couple of glaring errors in his treatment of Genesis 15. He sees this narrative as the most important example of the nature of the Abrahamic covenant (pg. 40). He quotes Delbert Hillers at length (whose book was written in 1969) concerning how it was customary in the ancient Near East to walk through the severed pieces of animals to ratify a covenant (pg. 40). He had previously noted in regard to suzerain-vassal treaties that they were ratified in the same fashion (pg. 28). While the oath and slaughter of animals is present in many ancient Near East treaties and covenants, the walking between the animal parts is not. After reviewing all the extant covenant making texts from the ancient Near East, Ake Viberg makes the observation that "None of them presents either a divided animal or someone partaking in the covenant by walking through the parts." Or in other words, a more careful recent study has shown fault with earlier assumptions (and they were only assumptions for the most part).

This may be a minor quibble, but considering how often Horton references Genesis 15, it is at least significant that it is not a typical demonstration of an unconditional covenant, and the ritual may be more at home in other ceremonies. More importantly, as Gordon Johnston noted in paper presented at ETS a few years back, there are syntactically different ways of referring to a covenant depending on whether it is primarily conditional or unconditional. Careful exegesis would bear out that the unconditional formula is used in reference to the Davidic and New covenants. The conditional formula is used in reference to the Mosaic covenant and in reference to the Abrahamic covenant only once...in Genesis 15. A bit of an oversight it seems on Horton's part.[5]

Shifting from the particular to the general, there are two projects Horton needs to address to make his case stand: (1) outlining a valid definition of the Scriptural term(s); and (2) a principle for the acceptable use of the concept of covenant. Horton is right to point out that one can speak of covenants even in absence of the word (e.g. "berit" is not used in 2 Samuel 7 or 1 Chronicles 17). However this still leaves open the issue of when it is appropriate to use the concept "covenant" to describe what is going on in a particular passage. In the example just mentioned, while the actual passages do not use the word, other passages do in connection with them. It may then be better to say that one shouldn't press hard for describing a reality as covenantal when Scripture never does. It may be helpful to do so in order to unpack the meaning, but that is a bit different than insisting that covenant is the underlying reality of a given passage.

Case in point, the two controversial examples from covenant theology are whether or not it is appropriate to speak of a covenant among the persons of the Trinity concerning the redemption of man, and whether or not it is appropriate to speak of Adam's relationship to God in the garden as covenantal. Neither incident is spoken of in Scripture using covenant terminology, nor does it seem any specific writer of Scripture conceives of those two realities covenantally.[6] In the case of the Trinity, Horton oversteps the exegetical data in arguing that the covenant of redemption is a revealed teaching of Scripture (pg. 80) and is as clearly revealed in Scripture as the Trinity (! pg. 82). He does admit that Scripture "knows of no suzerain-vassal type of treaty between the persons of the Trinity," so then argues that we cannot have to restrictive of a definition of "covenant." This though seems to go against his modus operandi of using exegetical data to support systematic conclusions (pg. 12-13, 23, 77). If we are going to go with how Scripture defines covenant, then it is inappropriate to call the plan of the Triune God to save his people a covenant among the members, since Scripture never conceives of it that way, and the usage of "berit" does not fit a relationship among divine persons. If we are going to loosely define covenant in a way that allows us to cover everything that fits our system, then that is a different story altogether. While Horton had stressed the importance of not using systematic theology to impose a system on Scripture but to draw out the main teaching of Scripture from Scripture itself, it does not seem his own work here accomplishes that task.
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1453df8) out of 5 stars Not Exactly an Introduction 26 Nov. 2007
By Rebecca Stark - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I'd never read a book written by Michael Horton before this one, although I'd read a few shorter articles and was impressed with them. In addition, this book labels itself as an introduction to Covenant Theology, and understanding Covenant Theology is something I'm particularly interested in, so I was excited to receive this book for reviewing.

My opinion of the book after reading it is mixed. I loved the chapter examining the historical background of the biblical idea of covenant--the treaties and covenants as they existed already in the ancient Near East. I had many "Aha!" moments in this chapter as I recognized the different features of the ancient treaties in the Biblical covenants. Horton does an excellent job of explaining things clearly and simply in this chapter.

I also found the last chapter of the book, the one titled New Covenant Obedience, which considers the proper use of the law under the New Covenant, to be very thought provoking. Horton tackles the question of the usefulness of the law in the life of the believer. Does the law sanctify? Is it a guide for obedience? This chapter, too, was laid out in an understandable way that I found quite helpful.

And that brings me to the main problem I had with God of Promise: although it advertises itself as "introducing Covenant Theology", I would not call this an entry level book, but rather one that's more academically focused. There were large portions of it I had difficulty understanding, and I wouldn't consider myself a novice in my understanding of Covenant Theology. I did a lot of rereading, underlining and outlining as I read--these things were necessary for me to make it through this book--and yet there were places where I simply felt out of my league trying to follow Horton's argument. Perhaps that's because my version of Covenant Theology is more baptistic than Horton's, but I don't think that's the whole of it. Mostly, I think I needed to read a more basic book first (although I'm not sure there is one, either).

So if you're up to doing some real study, then I can recommend this book to you. As far as I know, it may be unique as a contemporary book that goes into depth on the system of Covenant Theology. I just wish it were more of a primer on the subject than it is.
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