The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, And His Kingdom,

Samuel Renihan,
(Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2019, 210 pages),

Reviewed by JP Shafer

When I first came to Waco Family a couple of years ago, I was struggling to understand how the Scriptures fit together. Dispensationalism and Classic Covenant Theology were my Scylla and Charybdis; I knew that the one failed to do justice to the continuity and coherence of redemptive history and that the other inevitably led to paedobaptism and presbyterianism, but I didn’t know how safely and faithfully to sail between the two. I had not been here long before Pascal Denault’s “The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology” was placed in my hands, and “Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ” by Coxe and Owen came after that. Reading those two books led me to understand Scripture in a way I had been unable to before, but due to the academic nature of “Distinctiveness” and the antiquated language of Coxe and Owen I was left wishing there was a book with the same truths written for a modern audience who is unfamiliar with many of the concepts and terms. I believe that Dr. Sam Renihan has given us that book in “The Mystery of Christ.”

On page 7, Dr. Renihan writes, “This book seeks to develop and present the covenant theology of the Bible through a thorough study of the Scriptures.” He has said that it is not meant to be a polemic volume, but more a devotional one. While he does demonstrate the faults of dispensationalism and classic covenant theology at various points in the book, his view is clearly and consistently toward magnifying the grace and glory of God in a right understanding of redemptive history. With this goal in mind, the general outline of the book follows the development of that history chronologically.

The exception to that chronological order is Part 1, which deals with “Methodology and Hermeneutics.” This part consists of three chapters. Chapters 1-2 discuss Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, and Typology, a right understanding of each, and the relationship between them and Covenant Theology. Those who read the Journal of IRBS Theological Seminary will recognize the material in these chapters from Dr. Renihan’s article in the 2018 publication, “Methodology and Hermeneutics: The Importance and Relationship of Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, and Typology in Covenant Theology.” These first two chapters are followed by an introduction to covenants: what they are, how they work, and their function in regards to kingdoms, arguing that, “from past to present, God has established kingdoms through covenant”. Part 1 provides much of the introduction and definitions that I believe will make this book helpful for new students of Covenant Theology. With that complete, he begins his chronology in Part 2.

Part 2, consisting of Chapters 4-5, is entitled, “The Kingdom of Creation.” In Chapter 4 Dr. Renihan offers compelling evidence for a Covenant of Works made with Adam in Gen. 1-3, despite the lack of the word “covenant” being present. In Chapter 5 he explains that the Noahic Covenant, though not “repeating” the Covenant made with Adam, is “echoing” it. Both covenants share the same realm, viz. all of creation. Just as all of creation is cursed by the breaking of the Covenant of Works with Adam, all of creation is subsequently stabilized by the Noahic Covenant. This has great significance in that the hope of the promise of the Seed to Adam and Eve in Gen. 3:15 is now preserved through Noah.

As Dr. Renihan begins Part 3, “The Kingdom of Israel,” the focus shifts from all of creation to one man, Abraham, and his descendents. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 deal with the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants, respectively. These three individual covenants are shown to be remarkably intertwined. The Abrahamic Covenant constitutes the nation of Israel, the Mosaic Covenant controls the nation of Israel, and the Davidic Covenant consummates the nation of Israel. Each relies on the other to such an extent that they are practically inseparable. Together they constitute what is called the “Old Covenant.” Dr. Renihan writes, “Moses controls Abraham and David. The Mosaic Covenant is the most prominent in the Old Testament because it controls whether you enjoy Abraham’s covenant and it stands over the Davidic kings who must copy and keep the law. It is impossible to refer only to the Mosaic Covenant when speaking of the Old Covenant because it unavoidably brings along with it the other two covenants that it controls.” Chapter 9 then puts the entirety of the Old Covenant in perspective by tracing the development of the mystery of Christ through the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants, showing through promise and typology that the Old Covenant reaches its ​telos​ in the establishment of the New Covenant, which is the focus of Part 4.

Part 4 considers “The Kingdom of Christ” in Chapters 10-14. Chapters 10-12 describe Christ’s earthly ministry: his announcement and establishment of His kingdom, His fulfillment of His commitments in the Covenant of Redemption, and the fact that the establishment of Christ’s kingdom was accomplished through the establishment of Christ’s covenant, the New Covenant. Chapter 13 unpacks the unity of redemptive history in the mystery of Christ being revealed throughout the Old Testament and expounded in the New. In keeping with the devotional tone of the book, Dr. Renihan invites the reader to stop and praise God, closing the chapter with Paul’s doxology from Romans 11:33-36. In Chapter 14, the final chapter of the book, Dr. Renihan considers the eschatological nature of Christ’s kingdom and its practical implications. He enters into the controversial topics of covenant membership, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper with both confidence and charity.

Dr. Renihan has humbly, worshipfully, and carefully taken the same truths our forefathers wrote of hundreds of years ago and repackaged them in a way that is helpful and effective for the modern reader. He hasn’t over-simplified the material, but he has presented it afresh, in plain language. He employs alliteration throughout the volume, he uses short, pithy statements to drive points home, some of them repetitively–not ​ad nauseum​, but ​ad memoria​, as it were– phrases such as “As goes the king, so goes the kingdom,” help the reader to see and remember the threads of continuity running through the covenants. As mentioned before, the volume is not intended to be polemic, but as a thorough treatment of the covenants there are places where he shines light on the errors of dispensationalism (for instance he demonstrates that God’s promises to Israel in the Abrahamic covenant have all been fulfilled), classic covenant theology (he shows that a right understanding of typology refutes the “one covenant, multiple administrations” interpretation), and even New Covenant Theology (by proving in chapter 4 the existence of a Covenant of Works with a probationary period). As expected, he also interacts with Gentry and Wellum’s Progressive Covenantalism from their work, “Kingdom through Covenant.” They are cited recurrently throughout the book as he implements the good they have to offer without taking on the error. This volume, rightly, I believe, emphasizes the idea of “kingdom” far more than anything else I’ve read from Classical or Baptist Covenant Theology, and I think that is due to the positive influence of Gentry and Wellum.

This brings me to my one criticism of this great book, and that is the lack of explanation on the front end of the “kingdom” theme. In Chapter 3, which is entitled “Covenant and Kingdom,” the idea of covenant is thoroughly introduced and explained. The idea of “kingdom” does not receive as much attention, and I believe the reader would benefit from having a better idea from the introduction onward of what Dr. Renihan intends by the use of the word. That said, I find myself in full agreement with all that he argues in the book. And I’m glad of that, because I’m sure that anywhere Dr. Renihan and I disagree, he’d be right and I’d be wrong!

I will happily commend this volume to any reader seeking to better understand Covenant Theology. It is an answer to prayers of my own and I’m sure many others, and I believe it will be a blessing to the church for many years to come.

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JP Schaeffer is a student at Texas Tech University and a member of Waco Family Baptist Church.