Dear Church Family,
This week, I have a book recommendation for you: Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God’s Unfolding Promises to His People by Jonty Rhodes. Published in the UK by Inter-Varsity Press in 2013, this North American edition was published by P&R Publishing in 2014. The author is a pastor of a Presbyterian church in the UK which subscribes to the Westminster Standards. It is an excellent book that provides an introduction and overview to covenant theology, but it is also much more than that. It will help you to read and understand the Bible better, and the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation.
Basic Structure of the Book
Covenants Made Simple is 176 pages long and contains eleven chapters; it begins in the garden with man’s sin and fall, traces God’s plan of salvation through the Scriptures, and concludes with several chapters of application.
The book begins in the first two chapters with an explanation of man’s failure to keep the covenant of works in the garden of Eden and the effects of his fall. Chapters 3-6 trace God’s promise of salvation it the covenant of grace in the Old Testament, from Adam to Abraham to Moses to David.
Chapter 7 speaks to how, in the new covenant, Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of the covenant of grace, while chapter 8 describes the covenant of redemption (the pact between God the Father and God the Son) that stands behind God’s saving work in the covenant of grace. This is a particularly interesting part of the book, and I was personally glad to see a whole chapter devoted to this aspect of covenant theology that simply and succinctly explained the covenant of redemption from Scripture.
Chapter 9 (“Covenant Salvation”) touches on the application of God’s saving work to His people (e.g., election and predestination, particular atonement, justification, sanctification, assurance of salvation, etc). Chapter 10 (“Covenant People”) explains the importance of the doctrine of the church, the three main forms of church government (defending Presbyterianism as the most biblical form), the important distinction between the visible and invisible church, and the sacraments. In the final chapter (“Covenant Life”), the author emphasizes the believer in Christ’s new life in the Spirit, what it means to pursue holiness and a life devoted to God.
Some things that commend this book
Here are some general things about the book for which I would commend it to you (in no particular order):
- General and broad: There are many books that you could read to go more in-depth on some of the topics covered in this book; however, Covenants Made Simple provides a broad over-view of covenant theology and its application.
- Specific and applicable: At the same time, Rhodes guides the reader to understand and interpret particular passages of Scripture. And, he also does a good job of connecting what the Bible teaches with how we should then believe and live as followers of Christ.
- Accessibility and Readability: This is not an academic book, but a book written by a pastor for lay people. The author helpfully explains and illustrates what can sometimes be difficult concepts. Rhodes has a winsome and easy to read writing style. There aren’t too many charts or illustrations, but the few in the book are helpful and clear. This would be a great book for high-schoolers and adults, alike.
- Biblically-based: Rhodes does quote from other theologians and confessional documents, but everything that he writes is explained from Scripture.
- Good for study groups: the length of the chapters and the simplicity of the writing style make this book a good option for study groups. The only thing that I think would help in this regard is if the author had added some study questions at the end of each chapter.
There are probably other things that I could write about this book, but hopefully this brief introduction will be an encouragement for you to get it and read it. If someone asks you questions about covenant theology, what your church believes, or what are some of the distinctives of the Reformed faith and practice – get this book, read it, and then pass it along. Through his exposition of the Scriptures, Rhodes shows how covenant theology and the doctrines of the Reformed faith are simply the theology and teaching of the Bible – and he does it without hitting anyone over the head! If there’s one phrase that I would use to describe this book, it would be: winsomely Reformed.
Here is the last paragraph from chapter 8 of Covenants Made Simple. In my reading, it helpfully summarizes the point of the entire book:
God is just: he punishes sin as he must. God is forgiving: he punishes sin in his own Son, so together they can forgive his people. This is why the cross is the place where God most clearly shows his glory. When Moses prayed that he would see God’s glory, God proclaimed that he would punish the guilty and also forgive them. When Jesus prayed that God would glorify himself, what happened? The next day he was crucified, and as he hung there, the guilty were punished and forgiven, all in the same action. Only a glorious God could achieve such a great salvation. (Jonty Rhodes, Covenants Made Simple, 127)
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch