Stephen Wellum, professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the co-author (with Peter Gentry) Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants and its condensed version, God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology.
He is also the co-editor (with Brent Parker) of Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies. He will also be writing the chapter on Progressive Covenantalism in IVP’s four views book on the covenants, in dialogue with Michael Horton, Darrell Bock, and Wayne House.
On March 31, 2017, Dr. Wellum gave the opening plenary address at the the annual meeting of the Southwest Region of the Evangelical Theological Society, hosted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can watch the hour-long lecture below, followed by some notes.
The lecture proceeds in four parts:
- Overview of the Progressive Covenantal view
- Hermeneutical assumptions of the Progressive Covenantal view
- The progression of the covenants (=storyline) from creation to Christ is the location of the main differences among Progressive Covenantalism, Covenant Theology, Progressive Dispesationalism, Dispensationalism, etc— how “whole Bible” fits together
- New Testament fulfillment and Systematic Theology implications
Here are a few notes from each section:
Wellum argues that all Christians are united on several points:
- Covenant is fundamental to the Bible’s story.
- God’s redemptive plan is progressive (has occurred over time).
- The fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan is in Christ.
- There is some form of redemptive epochs or dispensations across history.
- The fulfillment of God’s saving purposes in Christ has brought some kind of change or discontinuity from past eras.
Debates today tend to center around the exact relationships between the covenants, and disagreements on:
- the newness of what Christ has achieved
- the Law application to Christians today
- inaugurated eschatology
- the Israel-Church relationship and the role of national Israel in God’s plan.
Overarching Summary of Progressive Covenantalism
The Scriptures present a plurality of covenants that progressively reveal our triune God’s one redemptive plan for his one people which reach their fulfillment, telos, and terminus in Christ and the new covenant.
The creation covenant lays a foundation that continues in all the covenants and is fulfilled in Christ and his obedient work. God’s plan, then, moves from creation in Adam to consummation in Christ.
On the relationship of Israel and the church:
(1) God has one people, yet there is a distinction between Israel and the church by their respective covenants—the church is new in a redemptive-historical sense precisely because she is the community of the new covenant.
(2) The Israel-church relationship must be interpreted Christologically: The church is not directly the “new Israel” or her replacement. Rather, in Christ, the church is God’s new creation, comprised of believing Jews and Gentiles, because Jesus is the last Adam and true Israel, the faithful seed of Abraham who inherits the promises by his work. Thus, in union with Christ, the church is God’s new covenant people in continuity with the elect in all ages, but different from Israel in its nature and structure.
Hermeneutical Assumptions: Reading Scripture and Doing Theology
- Interpret Scripture according to its own claim to be God’s Word written through the agency of human authors.
- Interpret Scripture for what it actually is, a progressive revelation.
- Given what Scripture is, interpret it according to three horizons or contexts (textual/immediate context, epochal context, canonical context)
- Draw theological conclusions from Scripture by reading the entire canon in context and unpacking the progression of the covenants.
Hermeneutical points about the covenants:
- God’s one eternal plan is unveiled through a plurality of covenants
- The progression of the covenants is the primary means by which God’s promises and typological patterns unfold and are fulfilled in Christ and his people.
- To categorize the covenants as either unconditional/unilateral (royal grant) or conditional/bilateral (suzerain-vassal) is inadequate.
- The new covenant is the telos and fulfillment of the biblical covenants.
The Biblical Covenants: From Creation to the Promise of the New Covenant
- Covenant of Creation
- Noahic Covenant
- Abrahamic Covenant
- Old Covenant
- Davidic Covenant
- New Covenant
Biblical Covenants Fulfilled in Messiah Jesus/New Covenant —> Church
- Christ is the Fulfillment of the OT Covenants (=see NT Christology).
- Fulfillment vis-à-vis Inaugurated Eschatology.
- Fulfillment from Christ —> Church.