Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Review of Tim Gallant's "These Are Two Covenants"

These Are Two CovenantsThese Are Two Covenants by Tim Gallant
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Tim Gallant's first book, "Feed My Lambs," was a fantastic book, filled with great historical and exegetical insights. This second book of his, "These Are Two Covenants," however, was not as good as I was hoping. Here are some major pros and cons for why I gave his second book only two stars.

1) Gallant addresses (in brief) the traditional Protestant Reformed & Evangelical perspectives and the NPP/N.T. Wright perspectives of law within the book of Galatians and Romans, and he seriously considers the best of both worlds. And so, because he does not limit his exegesis to any particular tradition, he offers some fresh insights on disputed passages within those two books. These fresh insights of his are definitely worthy of consideration as long as students of Scripture keep dabbling in "Pauline studies," looking for some balance between classical protestant interpretations and various nuances from (and similar to) the "New Perspective on Paul."

2) Gallant keeps all of his theological jargon to a minimum, which makes the dense theological content very accessible to the student of Scripture as long as they have an English Bible and Greek translation in hand.

3) Gallant very clearly affirms the doctrine of Justification by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, as well as the Christian's necessity to faithfully obey God's law through the lens of Jesus Christ (i.e. his life & teaching). And so, he remains a very clear protestant in the classical sense of the term, and he also clearly opposes antinomianism.

4) Gallant also clearly disagrees with and criticizes some of the views of Sanders and Dunn (explicit views among the NPP, e.g. pp. 53,58), as well as some overlooked views of NPP critics (particularly John Piper, e.g. p. 57).

5) Gallant highlights (what I believe to be) a very important aspect of Galatians, namely that "the law" can be, and very likely was, understood and viewed in terms of a "covenant" with the people of Israel and not just a set of rules for believers in Yahweh. And also, along with this conceptual continuity of viewing the Mosaic Law as a covenant, Gallant also highlights the importance of viewing life under the Mosaic Covenant as life under an eschatological age which was (back then) fading away and becoming obsolete because it explicitly pointed to the coming Messiah and a new age under which all of the Christian life would be placed.

6) Gallant also presents a brief, but solid argument, that the notion of "meriting salvation" within Galatians is not at all Paul's concern (and I agree).

1) Even though this book is filled with fresh insights, select "chunks" of it appear to be a condensed version of N.T. Wright's commentary on Romans (which I found tremendously confusing), and either James Dunn's or Ben Witherington's commentary on Galatians. I don't have any life-altering or dramatic disagreements with any of those commentators, but I just don't find them to harmonize very well with each other, which left me feeling that Galllant was attempting to offer his own harmonization of those three men's views about the "Law" -- a feeling which smacked of trying to be novel in one's approach to Romans and Galatians.

2) Gallant seems to view both Romans and Galatians with a very strict typology of Jesus as the New Covenant and Israel as the Old Covenant -- which, in and of itself, is fine -- but this affects every one of his interpretations of nomos (i.e. "law") within Romans and Galatians, leaving in some instances a very arbitrary interpretation of what Paul meant by "law" when (allegedly) he's not referring to "keeping" or "fulfilling" the law in a strict typological sense.

3) Gallant seems to stress something which is not very obvious from the text of Galatians itself. His argument appears as though Paul is more concerned about Gentile Christians who revert back to life under the old aeon (i.e. the "age" of life under Old Covenant Mosaic Law) instead of life under the new aeon (the age of life under Christ). In other words, Paul's concern is more with one's public identification with the new aeon. This, according to Gallant, means that Paul's concern is more "cosmic" than the traditional Protestant understanding of Galatians. Instead of discussing what is most obvious about the concerns explicitly addressed by Paul, namely that some "Judaizers" were seditiously and insidiously dividing the gentiles among the Christian church by means of Judaizing dogma which rejected faith in Jesus alone as the ground of their justification in God's sight (as seen through the enforcement of circumcision as one's entrance into covenant with God), Gallant shifts the emphasis to be one's public placement within this New Covenant aeon which brings life through the Spirit, as opposed to the Old Covenant aeon which piles up transgressions and brings death. 
   It's as though, according to Gallant, Paul's typology was the driving force behind the entire letter to Galatians, and therefore he was more concerned with keeping Gentiles focused upon the New Covenant aeon (not the Old aeon), than the way in which Gentiles and Jews alike share in the New Covenant through faith in Jesus Christ, and how that was being jeopardized by the Christian Judaizers (i.e. false brethren) among them.

4) Gallant attempts to show that Jesus "becomes the Abrahamic covenant" and "the covenant to the nations," and he even says that this is the point of the "two covenant schema" in Galatians 4:24 (Gallant, p. 68), but I just don't think he invests enough time to clarify what he means by this. Although I agree with his general typological understanding of Jesus fulfilling Torah, I don't think Paul's allegory in Gal. 4:24 was supposed to illustrate Jesus "becoming" the Abrahamic covenant (or any covenant for that matter). Gallant's approach to these two covenants seem very strained (and unnecessarily so).

5) Gallant spends an awful lot of time towards the end of his book trying to explain the sense in which Christians under the new aeon "fulfill" God's Law (Rom. 13:8; Gal. 5:14), but virtually all of the law's objectivity as a standard for Christian ethics gets obscured by his own muddied language and over-emphasized typology. On the one hand he says that the word "fulfill... takes on an eschatological longer simply straightforward Torah-keeping," yet elsewhere he quotes Paul in first Corinthians 7:19 and defends his statement that "keeping the commandments is what matters." Gallant says that under the New Covenant there has come to be "a radical reordering of what we can now call the commandments of God." (p. 73).
   From this bold conclusion, and perhaps most embarrassingly of all, Gallant proposes that "Torah remains normative Scripture, but not a normative covenant, and the way in which it functions ethically is determined by God's act of redemption and new creation in Christ, with all that attends it." (p. 74) Now, when I first read this, I was hoping that Gallant would provide some objective standard (or even some "proof-texts") by which Christian ethics should function under this "radically reordered" New Covenant aeon, but he doesn't. As we just saw, he simply states dogmatically that the Torah "functions ethically," and then moves on. Elsewhere within the same page of his book, he follows up that claim by arguing that the Torah has been "transformed." However, even that argument of his falls short. In a weak attempt to clarify what objective standard determines the ethical function of Torah under this new aeon, he lists three very general picturesque aspects of God's act of redemption: A) the climactic satisfaction of God's justice upon the cross, B) the gift of the Spirit, and C) the ingathering of the Gentiles.
   These three "determinative" aspects hardly scratch the surface of providing a clearly objective standard for normative Christian ethics, nor does it show the way in which this "transformed Torah" remains valid in its present law-format for Christian ethics (other than the general notion that it remains "Scripture" but not a "covenant"). I think I understand the goal of what his hermeneutic is trying to achieve (i.e. that narrative of Scripture becomes this newly "transformed" standard for normative ethics); but still, in my eyes, nothing could be more vague and open to scholarly scrutiny than this explanation of "transformed Torah" and how it functions ethically.

6) Furthermore, Gallant provides an open challenge against Greg Bahsnen in particular, and "Theonomy" in general. From reading his very clear opinions against Greg Bahnsen (which he, virtually, criticizes exclusively, even though many other "Theonomists" could have been legitimately criticized), one would get the impression that Gallant has studied enough of Greg Bahnsen's literature and audio teaching on the subject of Theonomy to definitively present Bahnsen's views (and the views of "Theonomy" in general) as worthy of such stern criticisms. But, for those who have studied Greg Bahnsen's views of Biblical Law, Theonomy, and the "Theonomic movement" of the 80's (of which I am one), it does not take long to recognize Gallant's fallacious straw-man arguments. If, in fact, Gallant has studied Greg Bahnsen's books and audio lectures concerning Biblical Law, he most definitely misunderstood the most basic emphasis of Greg Bahnsen himself. For example, Gallant provides the childishly stereotypical caricature of Greg Bahnsen's view of Theonomy by claiming that "even the most insignificant details of the law remain binding (unless overturned specifically by new covenant revelation)." (Gallant, p. 77). However, this is Gallant's own spin on what he thinks Bahnsen meant, and not actually what Bahnsen ever taught comprehensively.
   Bahnsen's careful and detailed position is that all of God's revelation, including Mosaic Law, is morally binding, and that God's revelation in Jesus Christ and the teaching of his apostles abrogates all "restorative laws" (Bahnsen's words, not mine), and that all of the "civil" and "judicial" laws have expired, leaving the general equity thereof to be morally binding. And what Bahnsen meant by "general equity" is that all of God's laws, including God's "civil" or "judicial" laws, illustrate something about God's unchangeable moral character, and hence, God's moral law. And so, for Gallant to claim that Bahnsen thought and taught that "even the most insignificant details of the law" remain morally binding unless the writings of the New Testament authors "specifically overturn" them, is simply an distortion of the facts. One could reference Greg Bahnsen's numerous audio lectures on "Theonomy in Christian Ethics 1 & 2," "Theonomy and its critics," and "Theonomy vs. Autonomy" as but four very accessible audio resources to help clarify Gallant's misunderstanding of Bahnsen (which can be found here: )
   Gallant also outlines four specific points of critique against Greg Bahnsen's views proposed in his book, "Theonomy in Christian Ethics" (Gallant, p. 77), but he fails to acknowledge that Greg Bahnsen actually refuted all four of his claims in his follow-up book, "No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics." Moreoever, Gallant adds a footnote to one of his own articles about the subject of "fulfillment" in Scripture ("Fulfillment in the Gospel of Mathew", footnote 119, Gallant p. 78), which has its main objective of critiquing Greg Bahsnen's opening chapter of "Theonomy in Christian Ethics" concerning Matthew 5:17 and the theonomic interpretation of the word "fulfill" in that passage. Again, every single one of Gallant's misunderstandings of Greg Bahsnen's position have been addressed in his book, "No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics", and it can also be found in his audio lectures concerning theonomic ethics (as I referenced above). Gallant also appeals to Vern Poythress' critique of Bahnsen's position concerning the word "fulfill" in Matthew 5:17, but Gallant fails to address the fact that Bahsnen addressed Poythress' concerns in both writing and in his Biblical Hermeneutics & Exegesis lectures. Bahnsen even clarifies the benefits of Poythress' research, while still showing his (Poythress') misrepresentation of his (Bahnsen's) own theonomic thesis.
   Furthermore, later on in Gallant's book, he claims that this Theonomic view (and by implication, Bahnsen's theonomic thesis especially, because Bahnsen had been his main focus of critique over the previous six pages) provides "a neat severing of 'moral' law from 'ceremonial' and 'civil' law, as if he former simply carries forward and the other two are abolished." (Gallant, p. 81). This kind of clumsy exaggeration is flat-out embarrassing for those who have studied Greg Bahnsen's scholarly contributions toward on Theonomic ethics. NOWHERE in Greg Bahnsen's literature does he "sever" moral from ceremonial or civil law. Bahnsen distinguishes them, but he does not "sever" or separate them. Bahnsen views the Mosaic Law (and covenant) as a whole unit. And interestingly, even though Gallant attempts to critique this theonomic "severing" of moral law from other aspects of the Mosaic Covenant-Law (which Bahnsen does not do), Gallant himself (accidentally?) distinguishes between Mosaic Law and God's moral law (as Bahnsen does) when he mentions Paul's written list of "the fruit of the Spirit" as being morally binding, treating them in passing as moral codes of conduct which Paul even says: "against which there is no law." (Gallant, p. 73). In other words, Gallant, very naturally, distinguishes between Mosaic Law and moral laws of God in some sense, which is fundamental to Bahnsen's theonomic thesis. 

7) And last of all, during Gallant's critique of Greg Bahnsen's theonomic views of Christian ethics, Gallant proposes solutions in opposition to Greg Bahnsen's views which actually are (embarrassingly, for Gallant) endorsed by Bahnsen explicitly. For example, Gallant says that, contrary to Greg Bahnsen's views which allegedly "repeat" Torah, "The whole Torah (and not simply the 'moral law') is validated and established in Christ, and the whole Torah (and not simply the 'ceremonial law') is transformed into something new in Christ" (Gallant, p. 78). Greg Bahnsen agrees with this general statement in his audio commentary on Galatians: (which can be found here: ).

In the end, Gallant proposes that his view of the "Law" or "Torah" in Romans and Galatians (which allegedly is Paul's too) regarding its application for Christian ethics today is "a more robust holiness" (p. 81), but he fails to explain even one jot or tittle from an objective standard among God's own revelation to qualify what that "robust holiness" looks like for every Christian. Is it the life-style of Jesus? Is it the narrative of Scripture as a whole? Is it the narrative of this "transformed Torah" alone? He doesn't say. In other words, his explanation of the way in which this "transformed Law" functions is extremely vague, even though he says that Paul appeals to it, and Christians should too. These and other arguments of Gallant ultimately end up appearing more nebulous than cosmic, which is extremely disappointing for such a talented mind and faithful Christian man. My own opinion is that even if someone disagrees with "Theonomic ethics" in general, Greg Bahnsen's audio commentary on Galatians (a verse-by-verse exposition with 28 lectures total) is better than Gallant's attempt at clarifying Paul's letter to the Galatians. Bahsnen's audio commentary can be found here:

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