Advent Poem

Girl

Thou shalt conceive fierce strength

Comely woman

What type of strength is this

From your womb

Comes forth the Seed of Promise

Dragon-slayer Promise

Skeletal crushing Son of Man

 

The virgin Mary

The offspring of her womb

He is terrible as an army with banners

Silencing mouths of fools

Dashing the wicked’s child / seed

They shatter against this Rock

The Rock in the wilderness

He is terrible as an army with banners

 

Girl

Thou shalt conceive fierce strength

Comely woman

What type of strength is this

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“Knowing God: The Presuppositions of Theology” in The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way — A Review

Michael Horton. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011, pp. 13-219.

It is widely acknowledged that Michael Horton is a prolific author, professor, and pastor. Horton has navigated and mastered multiple teaching platforms, and his multi-channel ministry is as compelling as his footprint of theological influence is large. The Christian Faith, published in 2011, is a thick book—approximately 1000 pages in length—and, in this substantial work, Horton reinforces his fecund reputation, fully displaying his theological expertise. The book is structured in six parts, each of varying length, e.g., Horton’s prolegomena (“Part I: Knowing God”, pp. 33-219) is approximately twenty percent of the book. For this review, my summary and analysis is restricted solely to Horton’s “Introduction” and treatment of prolegomena.

Summary

Theology is the study of God. As is the case for any science and field of study, introductory matters are dealt with first. Thus, Horton first discusses the things theologians need to discuss first: “Part 1: Knowing God: The Presuppositions of Theology” is comprised of five chapters, in which Horton explores the character, source, and nature of Christian theology. Horton’s discussion of the topics of prolegomena will be as follows: ontology, epistemology, revelation, Scripture, and doctrine (see “Comparative Chart For Part I” on page 219).

In Chapter 1, the author lays out three paradigms to contrast and then defend the biblical, Christian view of ontology. The three paradigms are: (1) “overcoming estrangement,” (2) “the stranger we never meet,” and (3) “meeting a stranger” (36). Two paradigms are from Paul Tillich’s analysis of the Philosophy of Religion, however, Horton adds a third paradigm (“the stranger we never meet”). Horton defines and examines underlying worldviews for each paradigm (36-40), and upgrades and retools Tillich’s contrasting paradigms for his own stated purposes: “I will define these paradigms and then defend a version of meeting a stranger that fits with the biblical drama” (36). To that end, Horton explains that even though their respective worldviews are vastly different, in the final analysis, both non-biblical paradigms (#1 & #2) share a “univocal” view of ontology. The third paradigm is antithetical: the “meeting a stranger” paradigm fits with the biblical “analogical” view of ontology. Horton defines and discusses the Creator-creature distinction, which is the basis of the biblical, Christian view of ontology. Horton explicitly states that God is independent of creation, however, God desires to reveal himself to creation. Hence, there is no need for creation to “overcome estrangement” (paradigm #1), nor a reason to believe that God is “the stranger we never meet” (paradigm #2). Horton explains that God is a stranger who willingly condescends (paradigm #3) to meet us in the milieu of the created order.

What characterizes the Christian view of epistemology? It is “faith seeking understanding.” In other words, it is the Christian prioritization of hearing over seeing (85-93). In Chapter 2, Horton discusses this epistemological priority; this characteristic follows the biblical patternWord before world. Hence, biblical epistemology and Christian faith share the same doxological posture. As Horton explains: “Faith is not a general attitude, such as optimism. It has a specific object, namely, God. . . . Therefore, “faith seeking understanding” that accords with biblical (covenantal) epistemology is best defined as invocation” (108). On the next page, Horton elaborates: “At the heart of the theological way of knowing, then, is the hearing of an announcement so that hearers may call on the name of the Lord” (109). Hence, Christian epistemology and doxology go hand in hand. In summary: hearing the Word from outside themselves, believers meet and call upon God.

In Chapter 3, Horton discusses divine revelation, and distinguishes and contrasts “special revelation” (redemption knowledge) and “general revelation” (creation knowledge). Horton lays out a biblical doctrine of revelation, joining the testimony of revelation from the Old Testament (“to uncover”) with the New Testament (“to know), and observes—“the goal [of the Word of God] is always God’s communion with his covenant people” (115). The Creator uncovers and makes known to the end of shared communion. The author further explains that the Word of God is “not a generic concept” (135), but rather the phrase is used as a placeholder to refer to three objects: “(1) the hypostatic (i.e., incarnate) Word: Jesus Christ; (2) the sacramental Word: proclamation; (3) the written Word: the canon of Holy Scripture” (136). Horton follows this threefold distinction with another: the law-gospel distinction. He summarizes: “The law’s imperatives tell us what must be done, the gospel’s indicatives tell us what God has done” (138).

In Chapter 4, Horton narrows his discussion of divine revelation and the Word of God, and he focuses on the sacramental Word and the written Word. Horton takes note that God uses the Word—both sacramental and written—to constitute, define, rule, and lead doxological response in believers. “God’s Word first creates the reality of which it speaks and then regulates it, as the Spirit brings about the proper effect and response within creation” (154). Horton reviews the creation account in Genesis 1-2, specifically pointing to the “pattern” of work and rest, and then notes that “we see this working-resting pattern” in Scripture in the various administrations of the covenant. Horton explains that this working-resting pattern is at back the relationship of the sacramental and canonical/written Word. God speaks and creates a covenant people, then he gives them a regulative, written Word (canon). With reference to 2 Peter 3:7, Horton buttresses this observation; he writes, “Peter speaks of the Word of God in both of these senses, as sacramental (means of grace) and as regulative (canon).” Horton notes, “the covenant Lord creates a people out of nothing by his speech and shapes, regulates, and defines the covenantal life of that people by his canon” (155). Thus, in this chapter, which shifts from divine revelation to Scripture, Horton eloquently demonstrates that Scripture is at the heart of the drama of redemption—Scripture is necessary because the “Scriptures are not only a record of redemption but are themselves the primary means of grace, through which the Spirit applies redemption to sinners in the present” (156). After establishing the necessity of Scripture, Horton follows with a summary of the doctrine of divine inspiration. He defines the biblical doctrine of verbal-plenary inspiration (160-161). He highlights Old Princeton’s defense of this precious doctrine during the 19th century (176-180). In summary, the Word of God is the ongoing source of theology for the Christian community that is both created and regulated by the Word of God.

Chapter 5 is the concluding chapter to Part I. This chapter is about doctrine. However, before Horton defines doctrine, he frames the discussion with an analysis of the authority of Scripture in the context of and in relationship to the Christian community. In the prior chapter, Horton discussed the inspiration of Scripture. In this chapter, Horton discusses the authority of Scripture. The Protestant view of the sufficiency and clarity of Scripture is indivisible from the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura: the reason Scripture is solely the primary authority for faith and life is because of its sufficiency. Scripture is the Word of God, hence it alone has “magisterial” (absolute) authority to norm and regulate Christian faith and life. Horton aptly demonstrates how Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, operating with contrasting views of the sufficiency and clarity of Scripture, hold to different views of the authority of Scripture, and, consequently, the authority of the church. Horton illustrates how this difference is at back the disparity in their respective doctrines, e.g., Protestantism has a ministerial view of church authority and doctrine, while Roman Catholicism has a magisterial view of church authority and doctrine (197).

Next Horton discusses the intersection between Scripture and culture, and provides a sobering warning: when tradition or culture are given parallel magisterial authority with the Word of God, the church no longer hears the Word of God aright; essentially we lose the judgment of the Law and the redemption of the Gospel. In effect, not hearing the Word that creates, shapes, regulates, and informs the church’s response, means that the church is indistinguishable from the non-believing world (203). With this warning Horton both defines and stresses the importance of Christian doctrine. What is Christian doctrine, and what is its nature? Doctrine is the teaching of the church that is consistent with both the sacramental and written Word that creates and regulates the church, and is the foundation of her ministerial authority.

Analysis

Horton is without question an able systematic theologian, but he is also a competent apologist. Space did not allow going into detail, but Horton’s polemical capabilities are exquisitely demonstrated in Part I, particularly Chapters 1 and 5: his analysis and refutation of non-Christian worldviews and Roman Catholic teaching, respectively, are exemplary.

In addition, what most stands out in this work is Horton’s pedagogical prowess. Horton has not authored a theological tome by simply tracing prior theological-propositional-statements to the end of crafting and linking his own chain of theological-propositional-statements to be traced by others. Before his discussion of prolegomena and the important topics of systematic theology, Horton spends approximately twenty pages on an “Introduction”, in which he shares his preliminary thoughts. This preliminary material functions very much like the “world building” skill of a fiction author; this is Horton’s “world building” for those who will take up and read his thick book systematic theology. Horton’s aim is to stir up the affections and incite an appropriate vibrancy for those about to enter the theological fray. Horton is well aware of the bad rap theology has—many view it as some dull, intellectual, or proud exercise. Horton understands that nothing could be further from the truth. Horton is “world building” for his reader, i.e., the study of God is a vibrant affair, not a dull one!

To that point, Horton approvingly quotes Dorothy Sayers—“the dogma is the drama”— and explains how Christian theology “rehears[es] the story of the triune God in creation, the fall of the creatures he made in his own image, the promise of a redeemer through Israel, and the fulfillment of all types and shadows in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus Christ” (14). In this preliminary material Horton introduces the reader to the ongoing motif of his systematic theology: theology is the drama of God, and we have been invited to participate meaningfully in that drama.

Conclusion

Readers will benefit from Horton’s humble discussion of the Creator-creature distinction and analogical mediation of knowledge,  and his treatment of divine revelation and the magisterial authority of Scripture, which the church, in accordance with her ministerial authority, summarizes in her doctrinal formulations. In theological prolegomena, believers first discuss the things that need to be discussed first. In his conclusion to Chapter 5, Horton briefly yet powerfully lists two things every believer will “always need”—Horton concludes, “Conceived by the Spirit through the Word and baptism, born in faith, sustained by Communion, and nurtured through prayer, fellowship, and discipleship, the church and every member of it always need theology because they always need God” (218). If we “always need theology,” then that means we will always need theological prolegomena. Michael Horton’s excellent and readable treatment of prolegomena in The Christian Faith will satisfy that perennial need.

 

Cracking the Foundation of the New Perspective on Paul: Covenant Nomism Versus Reformed Covenantal Theology – A Review

Cara, Robert J. Cracking the Foundation of the New Perspective on Paul: Covenantal Nomism Versus Reformed Covenantal Theology. REDS. Ross-shire: Mentor, 2017.

This polemical book is the most recent volume from Christian Focus’ Mentor imprint (target audience is “Bible College and seminary students, pastors, and other serious readers”), and it is the second work in their Reformed Exegetical and Doctrinal Studies series (R.E.D.S.). The series editor are J.V. Fesko & Matthew Barrett. Note: J.V. Fesko’s Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation, published in 2016, was the first volume in the R.E.D.S. series.

From the “Preface” of Cracking the Foundation of the New Perspective on Paul (17).

In a real sense, I have been thinking about E.P. Sanders and the New Perspective on Paul since January 1990. Through the years I have lectured many times, wrote book reviews, etc. on this topic. I am pleased now to have my mature thoughts about a portion of that topic–works righteousness in Second Temple Judaism–come together in this book.

From Chapter 5: “Summary” (197).

I remember the first time I saw Sanders’ book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism. I was a Ph.D. student in January 1990. The book was being carried by another Ph.D. student. I had heard of the book, but I knew little about it. At that point, the student had only gotten through a few chapters of Sanders’ book and was giving me his understanding of Sanders. While the other student was in the midst of explaining to me Sanders’ covenantal-nomism thesis, it dawned on both of us that if what Sanders says is true, then major aspects of the traditional Protestant view of justification might be wrong. This made a significant impact on me–as can be seen by my remembrance of this conversation. Of course, Sanders and others had already made that connection, I was just not up-to-speed on it. My concern then and now has not changed. In a real sense, this book is the culmination of that initial conversation.

From the “Appendix” (207).

While in my Ph.D. program I had several courses related to Second Temple Judaism. Although I had gone to an excellent seminary for my M.Div. degree, I was unprepared for my first course. My Hebrew and Aramaic language skills were fine, but my general knowledge was, shall we say, lacking. Who was Tobit again? Was Tobit a ‘he’ or a ‘she’? There are how many Maccabees books! How many extant theological documents do we have from the Pharisees?–Oh, none. This first-course shock sent me on a long joyous journey that continues today of reading Second Temple Jewish and Rabbinic Literature.

Cracking the Foundation of the NPP, apparently, is the author’s mature thoughts after a 27 year long journey of reading Second Temple Jewish and Rabbinic Literature. And the chief aim of this book is to refute E.P. Sanders’ thesis that the general soteriology of Second Temple Judaism was not works righteousness, but rather a religion of grace. Sanders’ calls this soteriology of grace from Second Temple Judaism ‘covenantal nomism.’

Sanders’ thesis has become the historical backdrop and foundation for the contemporary movement in NT scholarship called ‘New Perspective on Paul’ (NPP). The NPP is not monolithic, but what all NPP scholarship has in common is varying levels of dependence upon Sanders’ scholarship. Thus, NPP re-interprets the writings of St. Paul, particularly the doctrine of justification, over and against the traditional Protestant interpretation.

Robert J. Cara believes that if Sanders’ thesis is demonstrated to be false that the NPP will crumble. If the NPP does not have a foundation with structural integrity, then the NPP superstructure must collapse.

Here is Robert J. Clara’s stated formal thesis (28).

[T]his book will focus on presenting and critiquing the foundational arguments related to Second Temple Judaism and Sanders’ covenantal nomism. . . . the central burden of this book is to show that works righteousness views did exist in the first-century A.D. To be clear: My view is not that every document or Jewish group was works righteousness oriented. I am simply trying to prove that some were. Once given this, then there is no need to deny that Paul’s opponents had these views since this seems to be a straightforward way to take Paul’s statements. In sum, if works righteousness views did exist in the first century A.D., then the core belief of NPP crumbles and the logic for re-interpretation of Paul disappears.

The Second Temple existed from 520 B.C. to its destruction in 70 A.D. The term ‘Second Temple Judaism’ typically refers to the various forms of Jewish piety and practices from that era, including the varied and corresponding Jewish literature. Sanders believes that covenant nomism was a characteristic of the various forms of Judaism from that era. Robert J. Cara does not believe that Sanders’ thesis holds up to the evidence in the Second Temple Judaism Literature. Therefore, Cara carries out a historical and literary analysis of the primary sources (Chapter 3), in order to demonstrate that works righteousness in various forms is evident in the literature of Second Temple Judaism.

Cara states that “this is a polemical book” but his goal is to “[argue] in a truth-in-love manner (Eph. 4:15)” (17). I believe he has succeeded in doing so. This book is not a Sanders’ thesis/NPP rebuttal via Reformed slogans. Robert J. Cara has written a book in an accessible manner with the utmost clarity: Clara outlines the book and provides a quick overview and history of Sanders’ and NPP scholarship (Chapter 1); Cara defines his terms, e.g., works righteousness, and explains the framework of Reformed Covenant Theology (Chapter 2); Cara spends about a quarter of the book doing literary analysis of Jewish literature in order to demonstrate works righteousness soteriology therein (Chapter 3); Cara then spends the next quarter of the book doing quite a bit of exegetical heavy lifting in Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:4-7, and 2 Timothy 1:8-10 (Chapter 4); and, lastly, Cara summarizes Chapters 1-4, concluding with his additional thoughts (Chapter 5).

Yes, I see the denial of any works righteousness in Second Temple Judaism as historically wrong, and worse, the implications of this skew or deny important issues for the modern Church.

Cara mentions four issues, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what they are.

Almost a third of the book is comprised of an Appendix–“Overview of Judaism’s Literary Sources.” If your general knowledge of Second Temple Judaism is lacking, then the price of the book is well worth this Appendix alone.

As mentioned in Chapter 1, this appendix is designed to aid those not well aquainted [sic] with non-canonical ancient Jewish literature and current scholarship’s general views of it. One reason to improve our grasp of first-century A.D. Judaism is to better understand and interact with the NPP arguments. The NPP authors are making honest arguments. A truth-in-love (Eph. 4:15) response requires that at least some of the rebuttals to the NPP address the Judaistic-background portion of their arguments. This is especially useful because the NPP perceives that the Judaistic-background portion of their argument is very important (207-208).

Whether the reader is pro-NPP, anti-NPP, or indifferent-to-NPP, this is an important book to be reckoned with because the NPP is no longer a minority or idiosyncratic view, in fact, it is actually the opposite–there is widespread acceptance and support for the NPP. Therefore, Cara wants evangelicals to be aware of both NPP arguments and the relationship between E.P. Sanders’ scholarship and NPP NT scholarship.

Currently, at the evangelical pastor/church level, pastors, no matter their stand on NPP, will be reading commentaries that interact with NPP; hence, they need to understand the general arguments. Also, pastors still need to be able to interact with other pastors and parishoners [sic] who ask questions about NPP. . . . A major reason I wrote this book is to clarify NPP issues for evangelicals especially as they relate to Sanders’ covenantal nomism. Of course, I hope that all readers conclude that Sanders and the resulting NPP view of justification is misguided (34).