Tolle Lege: The Christ of the Covenants

Readability:  2

Length: 300 pgs

Author:  O. Palmer Robertson

Too many Christians fail at understanding the Scriptures because they don’t understand the Scriptures.  That is, they fail to understand a certain Biblical text, say Leviticus 4, because they don’t understand the larger context that Leviticus 4 finds itself in.  That is to say not simply that they haven’t thoroughly digested Leviticus, or even the Pentateuch, but the Bible as a whole.  Funny that we refer to the Bible as a book, fail to realize that it is composed of 66 books, and then further fail to recognize the great overarching, unifyingstoryline that binds it all together.  The fancy word for this big story is metanarrative.  We read all the mini-narratives forgetting to place them within the metanarrative.

To Johnny-pew-sitter I must say that preachers and teachers are primarily to blame for such ignorance.  People in the pew don’t get the metanarrative because the sermons are too small to contain it.

Towards understanding is understanding the concept of covenant.  Covenant frames all of Scripture.  It is the bones of Scripture.  Throughout Scripture God only relates to man within covenant, never outside of it.  Everyone stands in relation to God either as a covenant breaker, or covenant keeper.  You are either heir to the promises of the covenants, or under the curse for violating covenant.

In The Christ of the Covenants O. Palmer Robertson masterfully deals with the covenants of scripture.  In part one he deals with the nature, extent, unity, and diversity of the divine covenants.  In parts two and three he then goes on to treat each of the covenants we see in the Bible: the covenant of creation, the Adamic covenant, the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the New Covenant.

This book is not self-help, it is not immediately practical, it is not pragmatic, but it is epic.  You will be left stunned by the wonder of God’s one plan of redemption as it unfolds progressively through the covenants.  This ain’t no Little Golden Book, it is a book about the biggest story ever.

A covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered.  When God enters into a covenantal relationship with men, he sovereignly institutes a life-and-death bond.  A covenant is a bond in blood, or a bond of life and death sovereignly administered.

7 thoughts on “Tolle Lege: The Christ of the Covenants”

  1. By “the sermons are too small to contain it” you mean that pastors provide too small of a picture in their sermons, correct? (In other words, small is not equal to “short”?)

    I, for one, did not realize the importance of context until about two years ago. I routinely prooftexted verses (i.e. took them out of context and “proved” something with them that could not be proved in context). I had a major shift in both theology and the way I read Scripture in general when I started considering context.
    Currently, though I am very good at considering verses in context of paragraphs, in context of chapters, in context of the book, I routinely forget to place all these levels in context of Scripture as a whole.


    1. At Mathew- Not to answer for Josh, But I think sermons are too small to contain metanarrative ideas, and I think pastors provide to small of a picture in sermons. In Genesis Josh talked about the metanarrative of the Gospel message and how Genesis added to it almost every sermon. I didn’t see this for myself till about 3 or 4 months after I started attending Gen. I realized this because of the exposition of many narrative chunks and seeing how it effected my understanding of the New Covenant.
      I saw something on on how Piper prepared his sermons and he would gather “points” and “important ideas” while looking at the text. He may have like 7 or 8 but he’ll limit himself to 3 or 4 in a sermon so that the sermon stays about an hour long.
      I also remember Josh telling me that Edwards used preached for 2 hours. Both of these guys in mind I think 1) preaching for an hour is a important standard and 2) building on last weeks message while continuing the message, via exposition of the scripture, is essential for understanding metanarrative. No one sermon can do it–even if the pastor is a “metanarrative/over arching theme/what does this passage add to our understanding of the scriptures” beast.


    2. G. Campbell Morgan said, “Sermonettes breed Christianettes.” That is what I was getting at, little talks that bear little resemblance to expository sermons.

      While primarily I was referencing the content of the sermon, secondarily and derivatively I was referencing the length. The reason why so many sermons today can be so short is because they are so shallow. They just don’t have that much to say that is of any substance.

      Still length most definitely does not equal depth, and brevity does not mean a lack thereof, nonetheless there is often a relationship.

      P.T. Forsyth put it this way, “Brevity may be the soul of wit, but the preacher is not a wit… A Christianity of short sermons is a Christianity of short fibre.”


  2. I try to limit myself on which books you review I add to my list, because all of them sound so good. After rereading Gen and continuing on to Exodus I have decided that covenant language gets-my-nanny-goat. This one is going on my now 7-books-I-must-read-soon list.


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