Posts Tagged ‘Michael Horton’


February 27th 2013 marked Paul Ricoeur’s 100th Birthday.

“Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005) is widely recognized as one of the most distinguished philosophers of the twentieth century. In the course of his long career he wrote on a broad range of issues” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

As Wikipedia writes:

Paul Ricœur (27 February 1913 – 20 May 2005) was a French philosopher best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutics. As such his thought is situated within the same tradition as other major hermeneutic phenomenologists, Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer. In 2000 he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy for having “revolutionized the methods of hermeneutic phenomenology, expanding the study of textual interpretation to include the broad yet concrete domains of mythology, biblical exegesis, psychoanalysis, theory of metaphor, and narrative theory.”


Ricoeur was also from the French Reformed tradition and helped articulate phenomenology and hermeneutics in a way conducive to the Protestant emphasis on the primacy of the word in proclamation.  As Ricoeur wrote: “It is the text, with its universal power of world disclosure, which gives a self to the ego.”

Kevin_VanhoozerRicoeur has been influential on the thought of several Reformed theologians today; namely Michael Horton (People and Place; Pilgrim Theology) and Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Drama of Doctrine; Remythologizing Theology).

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Is the Covenant of Grace a unilateral (or unconditional) covenant of promise (as maintained by theologians such as Dr. Michael Horton in such works as “God of Promise,” now retitled “Introducing Covenant Theology“)? Or is that merely a Lutheran innovation?

No less than the Reformed Orthodox theologian Francis Turretin (1623-87), at least, argued for a unilateral formulation of the Covenant of Grace:

Not without reason did the Holy Spirit wish to designate the covenant of grace under the name of “promise,” because it rests entirely upon the divine promise. In this it wonderfully differs, not only from all human covenants (which consist of a mutual obligation and stipulation of the parties), but from the covenant of works (which although it also had its own promise on the part of God to the doers and so was founded on the goodness of God, still it required obedience on the part of man that it might be put into execution). But here God wished the whole of this covenant to depend upon his promise, not only with regard to the reward promised by him, but also with regard to the duty demanded from us. Thus God performs here not only his own part, but also ours; and if the covenant is given for the happiness of only the one party, it is guarded and fulfilled by the fidelity of only one party. Hence not only God’s blessings fall under the promise, but also man’s duty; not only the end, but also the means and conditions leading us to it. – Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 12.1.11.

And although the promise of the covenant is conditionally proposed and applied to individuals, it does not follow that the promise itself depends upon man’s will and so is not absolute.  That conditional promise is a consectary [consequence] of an absolute promise and it is thus commanded as the duty of man that it may be produced at the same time and at once in the elect as the gift of God. – Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 12.6.3 

Thus, at least for Turretin, it is not wrong to conceive of the Covenant of Grace as a unilateral (or unconditional) arraignment. Although faith is certainly the condition apart from which the promise is void, even this faith is a gift of God and secured by God as part of the promise.

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What is good preaching? Or better, What is preaching at all? Some people talk about “speech acts” where people (or preachers) actually ‘do’ things with words. Thus, preaching is less about just ‘teaching’ about certain doctrines that are true, or even about telling people what to do. True preaching actually ‘does things’ to people — then and there.  Preaching the law ‘kills’ us while preaching the gospel brings us to life.  Bad preaching will do neither. ‘Perlocutionary preaching’ describes that kind of preaching which actually ‘effects’ that which it speaks.  This distinction is brought out quite helpfully by Michael Horton in the following excerpt from Covenant and Eschatology. I would highly encourage reading on…


Within the context of the covenant, one can distinguish two subsets of divine discourse–two distinct illocutionary forces or stances: commanding and promising. This is one of the insights of the Reformers and their successors. Both Luther and Calvin insisted upon the distinction (though not separation) between law (command) and gospel (promise). In defending this distinction, Melanchthon points out that it is sanctioned not merely by an observation of the whole, but by explicit exegetical references. While in the law God promises eternal life on the condition of perfect obedience, in the gospel God promises the same on the basis of Christ’s perfect obedience. Melanchthon unfolds this argument by means of a summery of redemptive history and its covenants, including the one [with Abraham]. These categories do not coincide with Old Testament and New Testament [respectively], as if the former were “law,” while the latter were “gospel.” Rather, as Theodore Beza put it,

We divide this Word into two principal parts or kinds: the one is called the “Law,” the other the “Gospel.” For all the rest can be gathered under the one or the other of these two headings. What we call Law… is a doctrine whose seed is written by nature in our hearts…. What we call the Gospel is a doctrine which is not at all in us by nature, but which is revealed from heaven (Mt. 16:17; Jn. 1:13), and totally surpasses natural knowledge. By it God testifies to us that it is His purpose to save us freely by His only Son (Rom. 3:20-22), provided that, by faith, we embrace Him as our only wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30).

According to the Reformed and Lutheran scholastics, law and gospel are actually the means by which the Holy Spirit effects what is promised. “The letter kills, the Spirit makes alive.” “Law” creates terror in the hearer because of the awareness of sin it engenders, while “gospel” actually brings life: “By it, I say, the Lord testifies to us all these things, and even does it in such a manner that at the same time he renews our persons in a powerful way so that we may embrace the benefits which are offered to us (1 Cor. 2:4)” [Beza]. Here it seems to me that we have, as in Ezekiel 37 and Romans 10, an example of a perlocutionary speech act. In the Discourse of judging and justifying, individuals are actually judged and justified.

This is amply demonstrated throughout scripture: “This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life” (Ps. 119:50). “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). Jesus adds, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.” But he was hardly pitting the Spirit against the word and the ordinary means of grace, adding, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). The words spoken are themselves life-giving, not because there is a magical power inherent in a string of utterances, but because of the efficacy of the Holy Spirit working through the faith-creating promise. By this word God actually performs what is threatened in the law and what is promised in the gospel.

– Michael Horton, Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama, (WJK: 2002), 136.


So by hearing the gospel we are actually ‘enabled’ to accept its terms — something we would not be able to do if the gospel itself doesn’t ‘do’ something to us when we hear it. That is why we need to hear the true preaching of the gospel, not just when we first believe, but every week and for the rest of our lives. For this is the ordinary means by which God makes us continually alive to himself, and preserves us unto eternal life.  Let us never tire of hearing that word of good news. For, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

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Have you been wondering what all this talk about the Federal Vision theology is about? Have you heard about the so called “New Perspectives on Paul” but only read enough to get more confused? Have you seen, perhaps, firsthand some of the division in the church that has arisen around these ideas?   Have you been wanting to sharpen your understanding on the doctrine of justification, and what it really means to be justified by faith alone?

Well, if you’ve answered yes to any or all of the above questions, then you’ll be interested in the following:

Modern Reformation and the White Horse Inn have just published and released their first book entitled Justified. It is edited by Michael Horton and Ryan Glomsrud and is a compilation of some of the best articles on the subject that were published in Modern Reformation over the last several years. It also includes a new paper that Horton is presenting at ETS 2010 responding to NT Wright. Visit the White Horse Inn page here for more information.

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Michael Horton talks about his new book The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. If you’ve wondered what really is a systematic theology or how it should relate to the bible (or biblical theology), you should really listen to this episode of Office Hours.

The new volume comes out in January of 2011. Coming up!

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How does the kingdom of God actually come to us? How does it advance in the world? This is an important question, I think. And it raises the following questions as well: Can we see signs of the kingdom’s coming? Ought we to look for them?  Will they come through the news headlines?

In Scripture we are told to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” But can we have any evidence, any tangible sign, of God’s kingdom actually advancing in the world? Can we even have a small glimpse of its coming? If so, where are we to look?

Michael Horton offers ever-helpful insight into how we should understand and anticipate the coming kingdom of God and its advancement in this presently dark and evil age. In the latest edition of Modern Reformation, Horton writes:

The manner in which the demons respond to Jesus shows his authority over them, but it is not just a raw power: it is his coming in his kingdom of grace and forgiveness that they fear most. Satan and his emissaries are busiest not with plotting wars and oppression–these are symptoms of the sinful condition that human beings are capable of generating on their own. However, Satan knows that if the Messiah fulfills his mission, the curse is lifted, his head is crushed, and his kingdom is toppled.

All of Satan’s forces are deployed in this last battle for “all authority in heaven and on earth.” all of Jesus’ miracles are pointers to this saving announcement; they are not ends in themselves. The kingdom comes with words and deeds. In the miracles, it is said that Satan has bound these people. Christ is breaking into Satan’s territory, setting history toward a different goal, bound to his own rather than to demonic powers. This is why Paul’s call to spiritual battle in Ephesians 6 identifies the gospel, faith, the Word, and Christ’s righteousness as the armor and weapons. Satan’s energies are now directed against the church and its witness to Christ. The devil knows his house is being looted and his prisons are being emptied as the gospel is taken to the ends of the earth.

So then, the Kingdom of God advances with the very proclamation of the gospel into all the world.  Where the word of forgiveness and grace is uttered, by the power of the Holy Spirit, souls bound by sin are freed and Christ’s kingdom is established.  It isn’t through pomp and circumstance that we observe the battlefield change, but rather with these foolish words: “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

Broken sinners leap for joy at these words while all hell’s angels flee in terror. And they must flee because in these words is announced the demise of their master. Christ has crushed the serpent’s head and the gospel merely announces this reality so that the whole world  can hear of it. And we who hear these words rejoice that Christ our saviour and king is the victor and that our blessed inheritance in his eternal kingdom is now a most certain and glorious reality.

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Today, even in Reformed and Presbyterian churches, I believe there is considerable confusion and misunderstanding about what preaching is.  Often, this comes in the form of preachers giving sermons which sound very much like Sunday-school lessons or bible-study lectures. One might here a lot of truth (even about Christ and his grace) but won’t hear Christ himself. Indeed, it alarms me to conisider how often words about Christ might be present, while the very Word of Christ is absent — that very word to which (alone) are attached the very precious promises of God.  What do I mean?  Let me try to explain.

Does teaching = preaching? Or is there a qualitative distinction? If someone gives a lecture about the nature of the atonement, does this qualify as preaching? And yet if we agree that preaching includes teaching, is preaching really something altogether different? These are good questions, and important ones to be asking for sure.

Here I’ve quoted at length from Michael Horton’s book, A Better Way, on the topic of the preached word.

A sermon is not only an exposition of God’s Word but is itself God’s Word. It is the Son of man preaching life into the valley of dead bones, wielding the two-edged sword that kills and makes alive. It is the Holy Spirit alone who is the effectual cause of the Word’s work, but it is administered through preaching….

Sometimes we see the sermon merely as an opportunity to make the Word effective. For some, it is an opportunity for mere reflection–data processing, to put it indelicately. For others, it is a chance to make a decision. Still others see it as a stimulation to emotional experience. But whether we make our intellect, our will, or our heart sovereign, we are exchanging the glory of God for that of the creature. As Scripture presents it, the Word itself–wielded by the heavenly agent (the Holy Spirit) and the earthly ambassador (the preacher)–does what it threatens in the law and promises in the gospel. The Word itself does this work, not because it provides an occasion for us to do something but simply by its being used by God according to his own sovereign will. It is not just the content of the Word but the preaching of the Word that is central in worship and is, strictly speaking, a means of grace.

This is a gigantic distinction. This means that when a minister ascends the pulpit to preach, his task is not merely to offer certain truth claims to his hearers, or to exhort them to believe more strongly. But rather more specifically (and simply) it is to proclaim and announce a specific message of good news even to those who might have heard it more times than they can remember. Here in lies the real challenge of the preacher. His job as under-shephard and feeder of God’s flock, is not to feed them with whatever whimsical concoction his hermeneutical and homiletical wizardry can cook up. Rather, it is to faithfully serve up that menu which Christ (as the over-shephard) has prepared for him already — namely the message that Christ has accomplished all of our redemption for us who believe.

And as he proclaims this very (specific) message, God the Holy Spirit works according to his good pleasure to strengthen, establish, and confirm his saints in the faith. In this way, Christians’ hearts are washed, their doubts quelled, their faiths built up, and their souls nourished — all by the very word of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit through the ordinary means of a mortal preacher.

Furthermore, this means that when we come to worship God on Sunday and hear the word proclaimed through the preacher, it is not merely the voice of a mortal man we hear, but the very Word of God being announced to us.  It’s not as if the preacher can say whatever he wants. And likewise, it’s not as if we can listen to him as if he were just another guy.  No, God (in Christ) has commissioned his minsters for the special service of speaking Christ’s very words for him so that we could actually still here Christ’s voice today — even two-thousand years after his ascension.

That’s why preaching is so important. Horton concludes:

To be sure, many other methods in our hi-tech era would appear to be more effective forms of getting us to do something. Drama can entertain and inspire, emotional choruses sung in ascending chords with growing instrumental intensity can alter consciousness and moods, while audiovisual sophistication can persuade people that the Christian message (whatever that may be ) is relevant in our age. A booming anthem with a pipe organ and well-trained choir may stir us. But if the primary goal is not to get us to do something that will effect our salvation but for God to plant his Word in our heart, our criteria for effectiveness and success will be rather different. It is important for us to realize that it is not only the message of the Word but the method of preaching that God has promised to use for salvation and growth. It must, therefore, be central in worship. – Michael Horton, A Better Way: Redescovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship. p. 156

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