Covenant and Eschatology: Book Review

Instead of giving us Plato’s Two Worlds, Horton shows us Paul’s Two Ages.   It is this which structure the rest of theological prolegomena.  Horton is not giving us a systematic theology, but showing what theology would look like using the Covenant.

Eschatology after Nietszsche

Horton does not shrink from the challenges offered by Feuerbach, Nietzsche, and Derrida.  In fact, he mostly agrees with them!  If we see Christian theology–particularly Christian eschatology–as dualistic, then it is hard to jump over Lessing’s Ditch.  Pace Derrida, the theology of the cross demands “deferral” against all theologies of glory, of any subsuming the many/now into the One/not yet (24).

It is with the Apostle Paul and the Two Ages that we are able to overcome these dualities without reducing identity and difference into one another.  Horton points out that “above and below” are analogical terms, not ontological ones (and while he doesn’t make this conclusion, this allows Christianity to avoid the magical connotations of the Satanic “as above so below” formula; covenant is always a war to the death with magic religions).

The Platonic Vision

Further developed in this contrast between is the difference (!) between covenantal hearing and Platonic (Greek) vision.

A theology of glory corresponds to vision (the direct sight of the One into one’s nous) rather than hearing (God’s mighty acts mediated in historical and material ways…Both crass identification of God with a human artifact (idolatry) and the craving for a direct sight of God in majesty spring from the same source:  the desire to see–without mediation–and not to hear; to possess everything now and avoid the cross” (35).

A Pauline Eschatology is able embrace both arrival and differance:  the age to come arrives in the first fruits in Christ’s resurrection, yet it is deferred until the consummation of the ages.  Horton further notes,

The Platonic paradigm of vision is based on the notion that this realm of appearance is a mirror or copy of the realm of eternal ideas…The Platonizing tendency also created a dichotomy between theoria and praxis, the former linked to the contemplation of the eternal forms, the latter to action in the real world (252, 253).

In the covenantal approach, what dominates is the ear, not the eye; God’s addressing us, not our vision of God (134)

Speech-Act

Drawing upon Vanhoozer, Ricoeur, and Wolterstorff, Horton outlines the basics of Speech-Act theory. He proposes (correctly, I think) this model as fitting with the covenantal drama he outline earlier.  He hints at how speech-act is able to overcome challenges from postmodernism:  “But unlike deconstruction, speech-act theory locates the activity in actors (sayers) and not in signs (the said) (126).

Horton ends with suggesting how a covenantal, speech-act hermeneutics would be lived out within the church.   This book truly was a bombshell.  If Horton’s arguments stand, the biblical covenantal religion is the only option for man.  Conversely, those traditions built upon Platonic and Hellenic frameworks must fall.

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5 comments on “Covenant and Eschatology: Book Review

  1. What do you make of T.F. Torrance’s criticisms of dualism? How do they compare with Horton?

    • I’ve only come across it in two places: his book Ground and Grammar of Theology and in various lectures. It’s been a while. I think I generally would agree with him, but from what I gathered, Torrance, a Barthian, is not really big on the covenant idea.

  2. John Bugay says:

    Jacob, you say that Horton spends time outlining “the basics of Speech-Act theory” and then that he “ends with suggesting how a covenantal, speech-act hermeneutics would be lived out within the church”. Is this the part that is “truly a bombshell”?

    And if so, in what way?

    • Actually, I meant the bombshell part in his outlining of speech-act, and not necessarily in the living out of it. Per the latter, if you have read his *A Better Way* or some of Scott Clark’s stuff on worship, that’s sort of the idea.

      As to the bombshell, I will do a post on effectual calling (probably at Ref500) in the next few days.

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