Much has been made of K. Scott Oliphint’s latest book, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles & Practice in Defense of Our Faith. Apologetics is the theological discipline of defending the Christian faith. Readers who are familiar with the subject will know that there are a variety of methods used in defending Christianity (for a survey, see Five Views on Apologetics).
Covenantal Apologetics is to be regarded, as far as I’m concerned, as a modern treatment of what is commonly known as the Reformed Presuppositional approach. Building upon the foundation laid by none other than Cornelius Van Til, Oliphint does his best to make a case for a “covenantal” approach to defending Christianity. The author’s goal, however, is to move away from a somewhat dated title (Presuppositional) and use a more robustly biblical and theological concept: covenant. With all of the latest interest in the biblical covenants (see Kingdom through Covenant), this makes sense.
What I appreciated about Covenantal Aplogetics was that it does a good job of balancing between theory and the practical application. Oliphint includes a lot of helpful stories to help make his case as to why this method, covenantal apologetics, is the most effective approach.
In my opinion, Covenantal Apologetics succeeds in many ways. It contains many convincing arguments as well as demonstrates, as I already noted, how it works out in the lives of real people. It also draws upon a well informed perspective on epistemology (Oliphint is not a Modernist!) and well informed biblical and theological data. Those who are not friendly towards anything with a Reformed slant will obviously take issue with Oliphint’s exegesis and theological views (and usage of the Westminster Confessional), but I would encourage readers to take those things with a grain of salt. One need not be a strident Calvinist to value Oliphint’s views. In fact, as I understand apologetics, I think this approach can be very effective with certain people in the same way that the Classic and Evidential approaches to apologetics can, at times, be useful.
Essentially, Oliphint builds his case (and methodology) upon what he calls the “Ten Tenets.” These tenets include, for example, the following:
“The faith that we are defending must begin with, and necessarily include, the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who, as God, condescends to create and to redeem.”
“It is the truth of God’s revelation, together with the work of the Holy Spirit, that brings about a covenantal change from one who is in Adam to one who is in Christ.”
“Suppression of the truth, like the depravity of sin, is total but not absolute. Thus, every unbelieving position will necessarily have with it ideas, concepts, notions, and the like that it has taken and wrenched from their true, Christian context.”
“The true, covenantal knowledge of God in man, together with God’s universal mercy, allows for persuasion in apologetics.”
The rest of the tenets are also helpful in understanding the foundation for Covenantal Apologetics.
So my minor concerns and squabbles I are are as follows:
First, this book is really not for the general lay person. As much as I appreciated the practical stories and applications, they do not make up for the use of terms and concepts that most lay people I know will not understand. I fear that, despite this book having much to offer the Church, many people will give up on reading it. It’s level of writing is probably for university students. It’d probably be a great text for a Bible university to use. For people in the church, they have to be theologically and biblical informed.
Second, I wish it didn’t fall into the habit of using what I’d call “Reformedness” in such a significant way. That’s part of the reason why I think many people will find it difficult to read through. Unless they are familiar with many of the Reformed ideas that are prevalent among those who are Reformed (I am one of them!!), Covenantal Apologetics will probably not help the people who could really use this. I understand the author is a professor at Westminster, but I was hoping to find a book that I could tell a single mom in our church to read and know that she could read it, understand it, and apply it to her life. I’m afraid that won’t happen.
Those are really minor issues because for pastors, theologians, theologically informed students and the like, Covenantal Apologetics is an excellent resource! It has much to offer the church!