[Update 1/10/12: We are very pleased to announce that Michael Horton will be the keynote speaker at this years Mockingbird Conference in NYC!]
I thought the title should go ahead and communicate what I thought from the outset:) Almost 10 years ago now, I read a lecture by Rod Rosenbladt called The Gospel for those broken by the Church, which introduced me to him, Michael Horton and the other members of what is known as the White Horse Inn radio show. In no small way, the aims of this show—to bring together people of different confessional and even theological commitments who could, nevertheless, agree on the central truths of the Christian message—remains a guiding influence in my life. So, when I sat down to read The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, I was certainly predisposed to like it, but I had no idea how much I actually would. One post can not do this book justice, but I wanted to give an overview today and then work through some of the chapters at a later date, because this should be on everyone’s Amazon wish list (kindle or otherwise) post-haste!
While reading this book, I felt like the little league baseball player carrying his glove around a major league ballpark, just gazing around in awe at the different level this game is being played. What makes this book so special for me is that having listened to countless hours of The White Horse Inn radio show, I can actually hear his voice coming through the pages. However, whether you have heard his voice on the radio or not, his pastoral concern to take the challenges and questions of an increasingly skeptical culture head-on in a courageous, gentle and knowledgeable way echoes clearly throughout. This is how theology should be done, as even in the midst of the most difficult concepts, it always has an eye to how to connect these timeless truths (or even the disputes) to everyday pastoral practice in a way that is at the same time both scholarly and accessible. This book is well written, beautifully laid out and extensively researched so as to make it, in my opinion, a wonderful resource for any Christian–although a non-Christian would certainly be challenged by this book, particularly the opening sections on post-Enlightenment worldviews—who is looking to, in the words of the White Horse Inn, “know what you believe and why you believe it.”
The strength of this project lies in its engagement with not only the source material- but with the exegetical, theological and philosophical developments of the last half of the 20th century, years that have had a significant impact on Christian theology. Whether it is working through the exegetical insights from N.T Wright and the “New Perspective on Paul,” critiquing the work of (so-called) process theologians like Clark Pinnock, or navigating through the renewed trinitarianism of Wolfhart Pannenberg and Robert Jenson, Horton evinces a level of engagement that goes beyond superficial interaction into the realm of serious and substantial critique. However, commensurate with the pastoral sensitivity that is a hallmark of all of his work, Horton’s critiques do not come off as dogmatically contrarian, as if he is simply toeing the Reformed party line, rather, because of the cohesion of his own theological ruminations, there is a clarity to his argument that makes for clear lines of demarcation. It is clear throughout, however, that where there is agreement or any chance of rapprochement, he is charitable and quick to affirm the areas of commonality. Overall, one is left with the sense that whatever disagreements one may have with him, he has probably already thought through your objections! By the end, we are given a winsome, articulate and dare I say compelling case for Confessional Reformed theology, at least the way it is taught and presented by Mike Horton.
Finally and most importantly, this book shows how the “great questions” that have always confronted Christian theologians–questions like the number and nature of the attributes of God, how to (best) understand the Trinity, for instance–are, despite what many in our generation are wont to believe, not simply dry and dull points of anachronistic quibbling that can be done away with while we “build the Kingdom,” or something like that. They are, as Horton ably shows, the very areas from which our everyday Christian lives–our praxis–derive their significance and meaning. From arguments about God’s aesity and simplicity (read the book) to the questions surrounding infused vs. imputed righteousness, each of these admittedly abstruse issues has a clear and definite analogy to everyday life and, like Steve Jobs, affect your life whether you want it to or not. While the level of theological reflection in this book may not be suitable for everyone’s ability, time , or even interest(!), it stands as a particular challenge to every Christian teacher, pastor and theologian in particular, because this 1000+ page tour de force is a powerful witness to the profound, deep, sophisticated and defensible “faith once delivered.”
Not only those who are hoping to lear more about the way the many disparate aspects of the Christian faith fit together, but those who have had their Christian lives directed away from a moralism held together with clichés, platitudes and Dallas Willard books, will find that this book authoritatively puts to rest any lingering fears that maybe this Gospel of God’s unmerited and undeserved Grace is too good to be true after all.