Monday, July 29, 2019

The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way by Michael Horton

Zondervan, 2011, 1052pp

One of the formative influences on my ministry was reading Preaching and Preachers by Dr. D. M. Lloyd-Jones. In it the preacher urged the importance of pastors keeping up their theological reading. After all, for him preaching was 'theology on fire', and you can't have that without theology. One particular passage hit home:
Time must be found for reading, and we turn now to the more intellectual type of reading. The first is theology. There is no greater mistake than to think that you finish with theology when you leave a seminary. The preacher should continue to read theology as long as he is alive... Keep on reading; and read the big works. (Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Hodder and Stoughton, 1985, p. 177).
Taking my cue from Lloyd-Jones, it has long been my practice to have a big work of theology on the go. For many years that was Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck. More recently I have been working my way through Michael Horton's systematic theology, The Christian Faith. 2013 marked the 10th anniversary of my pastorate. Our people arranged for a 'surprise' party to mark the occasion. Only my wife asked if I could have any book, what would it be? That kind of gave the game away that something must be up. My choice was Horton's The Christian Faith. 

Weighing in at over 1000 pages, a proper in-depth review would be quite lengthy. I don't have time to write it, and I guess few would bother reading such a prolix post. What I offer here is a rather sketchy appraisal that will hopefully encourage people to read the book for themselves. Toll lege. Job done.

I really appreciated Horton's approach to systematics. Rather than offering up a dollop of doctrine, followed by a sting of proof texts, he seeks to integrate Drama: The Greatest Story Ever Told, Doctrine: The Grammar of Faith, Doxology: Saying "Amen!", and Discipleship: The Way of Christ in the World. If that sounds a bit Vanhoozery (The Drama of Doctrine), it's probably because it is.  Good. 

Horton introduces 'Dissonant Dramas: Paradigms for Knowing God and the World'. This discussion helps to shape his treatment of the various topics of systematic theology. Pantheism is about 'Overcoming Estrangement' between the Creator and the creature by belittling God and bigging up man. That's an obvious 'no-no' from a Christian standpoint. Then we have Atheism and Deism offering, 'The Stranger We Never Meet'. No to that too. Finally, a biblical ontology gives a 'Covenant Account Of "Meeting the Stranger". This preserves the infinite distance between the Creator and the creature, yet shows how God relates to human beings by means of covenants. 'Yes' to that one.  

The divine 'Stranger' whom we meet is the Triune God, Creator, Redeemer and Perfecter. It is possible for us to know the One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit because he has revealed himself to us in the world he has made, in the written Word he has given and in the Living Word whom he has sent. By the Spirit sinners are granted a saving knowledge of the God of covenant grace. Apart from his sovereign intervention all would be lost. Horton is a thoroughgoing Calvinist. Again, good. 

The author gives attention to the traditional loci of systematics in six Parts: Part 1: 'Knowing God: The Presuppositions of Theology. Part 2:'God Who Lives. Part 3: God Who Creates. Part 4: God Who Rescues. Part 5: God Who Reigns in Grace. Part 6: God Who Reigns in Glory. His discussion is enriched by insightful biblical exegesis, shaped by the broad redemptive historical sweep of Scripture's story, and informed by the theological reflection of the church. Horton engages with contemporary concerns and interacts critically with a broad range of theological voices from Bultmann to Barth. 

Horton argues against a subordinationist understanding of relations between  the Father and the Son in the Trinity, but he doesn't explicitly address the 'Eternal Submission of the Son' controversy. The theologian adopts Meredith Kline's view of the Mosaic Covenant as a republication of the Covenant of Works, which I believe is mistaken (see here). He speaks slightingly of Baptists and the Free Church tradition, which is a bit unfair. We also take covenant theology and  ecclesiology seriously (see here and here). Horton's treatment of glorification is especially helpful (see here). 

Obviously not as big and satisfying as Bavinck. An improvement on Berkhof. Knocks the spots off Reymond. Grudem? Don't ask me. 

Toll lege, as I say. Just what 'the Doctor' ordered.

My current 'big read' is Some Pastors and Teachers: Reflecting a Biblical Vision of what Every Minister is Called to be, by Sinclair B. Ferguson, Banner of Truth Trust, 2017. Already several chapters in. Great stuff so far. 

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