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.

Union with Christ: Letham (5)

Transformation.

Lane Tipton: “Union with Christ allows Paul to speak in relational and judicial categories simultaneously, without conflating either into the other.”  “Union with Christ and Justification,” in Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for us in Justification, ed. K. Scott Oliphant (Fearn, Ross-Shire, UK: Mentor, 2007), 38.

Jesus’s resurrection is a forensic verdict (Horton).

Ordo Salutis

Explores Gaffin’s comments on the ordo.

Theosis

Humans remain human while deified.  “It is union and communion with the persons of the Trinity” (92).  While Letham is giving the East a fair reading, it must be acknowledged that the Palamite strands of Eastern Orthodoxy revert to an impersonal, energetic union.  See the comments by Vladimir Moss.  Romanides writes, “But in Patristic tradition, God is not a personal God. In fact, God is not even God. God does not correspond to anything we can conceive or would be able to conceive,” Patristic Theology (Uncut Mountain Press: Dalles, Oregon, 2008), pp. 139-140.

What is truly meant by the Athanasian claim that “man becomes God?”   According to Norman Russell, “It is either to emphasize the glorious destiny originally intended for the human race, or to explain that the biblical references to ‘gods’ do not encroach upon the uniqueness of the Word made flesh” (Letham 92-93, quoting Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition, 168).   If that is all that is meant, then the Reformed tradition has no real argument, but would better see that under the teaching of “glorification.”

Metochoi (Partakers):  we are called to glory.  This is not alien to Reformed thought but sometimes it doesn’t receive enough attention.  It would be interesting to link this with the OT concept of the glory-cloud.  Points to our destiny.

Letham then quotes numerous sources (almost to overkill) pointing out that the Reformed had a rich and nuanced appreciation of Union with Christ (102-122).

  • Per Calvin, the Spirit unites the spatial difference between us and Christ in the Eucharist (Comm., 11 Corinthians; CO, 49:487, in Letham, 105; see also Institutes, 4.17.10).  “That a life-giving power from the flesh of Christ is poured into us through the medium of the Spirit, even though it is at a great distance from us, and is not mixed with us.”  Here Letham seems to contradict part of his narrative.   He notes (correctly) for Calvin that we participate in God’s attributes, not his being (107).  However, earlier he said that the Greek (Palamite?) view does not see theosis as participation in God’s attributes (92, “Nor, on the other hand, is it simply communion with God’s attributes.”  If, however, Letham means for the East that the communion with the persons is also a communion with the attributes, then there is no real contradiction.  Even still, I have my doubts that the East can truly avoid collapsing the communion with the Persons into a communion with the energies (see comments by Moss and Jenson).
  • Contra detractors, Calvin affirms that the body and blood of Christ are substantially offered.  He simply explains the mode: the Holy Spirit transfuses the flesh of Christ to us (Theological Treatises, 267).  We just reject a local presence.
  • Letham is aware of the Nestorian charge and sense that Calvin drifted there at times, given his comments on 1 Corinthians 15:27-28.   But see Richard Muller’s response to Jurgen Moltmann on that point.
  • Per Polanus there is a real sacramental union and a conjunction between signum and res.

While there are suggestions that Calvin was close to the East, I think Letham overplays that point (115).  However, Letham is correct to criticize Michael Horton’s claim that we participate in the energies of Christ (Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 285, 302). The East does not mean by energies what Horton means by it.

Reflections on Jenson’s Second Volume

I sang the praises of volume 1, for it was truly brilliant and beautiful.  It is with much regret that I say volume 2 is not the same.  First, the good.

Good

  1. His theme is the identity of God in the narrative of Israel.  It’s a strong theme and more often than not, he is successful in anchoring his loci in this theme.
  2. While the chapter on Scripture was weak, his narrative-theme does provide the ground for helpful reflection on the nature of canonization.
  3. Humor:  He is savagely funny.   He never fails to ridicule the NRSV translation, as all of us are morally obligated to do.
  4. Great chapter on sexual ethics and the nature of polity.
  5. Fairly decent chapter on anthropology.  He notes the inherent problems in Rome, the East, and in some inadequate Reformed responses.

Bad

  1. He adopts Barth’s view of election.  That is not my specific critique.  Others have given better critiques of Barth on that point, so I refer you to them (e.g., Horton).  My problem is that his chapter on anthropology (where he basically summarizes Luther’s Bondage of the Will) seems inconsistent with his chapter on Election.
  2. He had a good section on the canon, but a weak chapter on Scripture.  He points out that the true honoring of Scripture is not in the churches that give it honorific titles (e.g., infallible) but in those who hear and obey (meaning mainline churches).   I call bullsh*t.  The PCUSA struck down a motion to save post-born infants from botched abortions.   Mainline churches openly advocate after-born murder.  They don’t care what scripture says.
  3. The chapter on justification was plain bad.   It was so bad it seemed like a good chapter on sanctification.   I am less optimistic that the Finnish Interpretation of Luther really works.
  4. The chapter on church government, while helpful in pointing out to the East where they evolved on some points, basically argues that we need a monarchical patriarch to establish unity.  He is aware that V1 made papal infallibility a condition for individual salvation (or damnation), and he admits he is uncomfortable with this language (!), but like other ecumenicists, he does not realize that Rome–even with the liberal pope today–will never budge on this point.   This is why Ecumenicism always falls to the Pope’s Jesuit Shock Army Troops.
  5. Flirts with universalism.  To be fair, he doesn’t affirm it but you can tell he really wants to.

Horton has given other critiques of Jenson on these points, so I refer you to them (cf Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology and Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ, esp. pp. 153ff, 174-176,

Reflections on 3 Views: EO/Evangelicalism

As far as the Zondervan Counterpoints go, this is a better volume.   I will forgo a thorough review, since expositing some essays would take many, many pages (and I plan to do that in my book on EO).  So here is a short overview, with strengths and weaknesses:

Thesis:  Are Evangelicalism and Eastern Orthodoxy compatible?  Notice that the thesis is not whether one position is true or not (though that inevitably comes up).  The answers:

Yes:  Bradley Nassif.  My favorite of the EO writers today.  While I enjoyed his essay, sadly he does not represent most Orthodox. He criteria of compatibility, as dissenter Berzonsky noted, were drawn from Evangelical, not Orthodox sources.

No:  Michael Horton and Vladimir Berzonsky.  Horton notes that Orthodoxy’s own criteria precludes any real “compatibility.” He then does  explicates the NT teaching on justification and compares it with EO sources.  If Evangelicals cannot budge on this point–and they cannot–and if EO cannot incorporate it into their own theology, instead of making sublating everything into theosis, then there isn’t much possibility of compatibility, much less union.

Berzonsky’s essay does little more than offer numerous assertions on why Evangelicals should reject their sinful identity and become Orthodox.   At least he is honest.   He thinks everyone is a radical Anabaptist and doesn’t make any attempt to interact with Horton’s arguments.   In the final reflections, he is quite silent on Horton’s specific rebuttals.

Maybe:  George Hancock-Stefan and Edward Rommel, Romanian Baptist and American orthodox respectively.  Stefan gives a very interesting, but anecdotal essay of his life as a convert in Romania.  He explains how the Romanian Orthodox elite silenced and stifled evangelical voices.  I sympathized with his essay but it isn’t much in the way of logical argument.  However, he did point out that in Orthodoxy the church mediates everything through the priest.  This is the theology of False Dionysius.

Conclusion:  Horton and Berzonsky are correct.   Per the latter, if Orthodoxy is the fullness of the faith, then what precisely does Evangelicalism have to offer?  On the other hand, if Orthodoxy is indeed the fulfillment, then please deal with Horton’s arguments.

On choosing Horton over theonomy

It’s a misleading statement since the only position that matters is the gospel, but since everyone thinks he is preaching the gospel, it’s time for specifics.  I’m finishing Horton’s Christless Christianity and while I don’t accuse theonomists of being Christless, I must say that when I was a theonomist, I spent more time sharpening my ethical debating skills than in learning what extra nos really meant.

“But,” someone might interject, “Horton’s ethical theory is incoherent.”

Who cares?  When you get gospel as extra-nos announcement correct, and make that the focus of the church, political ethics will take care of themselves (or at least the focus will shift and you will regain your priorities).

On not accepting high church authority claims

Musings from various Michael Horton works:

If the church determines the Bible, whether creating its canon or determining its meaning by some “semper ubique”, patrum consensus, or Magisterium, the following entail:

  • The church is no longer a summoned community but in fact has become the Speaker.
  • No longer a summoned community, and yet ministering to its people, is the church in fact just talking to itself?
  • Precisely why does Christ need to return if he is already here bodily (in the Eucharist) and in authority (Infallible magisterium)?  In fact, some Eastern eucharistic liturgies say exactly this.

What is missing from all of this?  Covenant and Eschatology

A Convertskii Reading List for Those Leaving

I routinely accuse convertskii of not understanding Reformed theology before they get enamored with high church claims. It is only fair that I offer a survey of texts that one should know before declaring the Reformed faith wrong.  People will say, “But that’s too intellectual.  Christianity is a life.”  Perhaps, but people will always default back to logical decisions, sneers at “Westernism” notwithstanding.  And I have read most of your top guys, so it’s only fair.  And Bradley Nassif agrees with me, so there.

I am not saying you have to read all of these before you go to a different tradition.  What I am saying is if you publicly assert that Protestantism is wrong because of ____________, and the following men have addressed your arguments, and you do not engage their arguments, then you do not have good warrant.

Muller, Richard.  Calvin and the Reformed Tradition.  The high-point of Calvin studies by the world’s leading Reformation scholar.  It will teach readers to stop saying silly things like “Calvinism” or “TULIP is Reformed theology.”

Hodge, Charles.  Systematic Theology volume 3.  If you can give competent responses to Hodge’s defense of justification by free grace, then you know Reformed theology.

Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology volume 2.   Best defense of Reformed anthropology and Christ’s priestly intercession.  If you still believe in talking to dead people after Turretin, then I tip my hat to you.

Horton, Michael.  Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology.  If you still hold to a pure Christus Victor atonement theory, or you still hold to estrangement ontology, then you’ve earned your keep.

Jenson, Robert.  Systematic Theology volume 1.  If you believe that the Essence/Energies is logically, biblically, and theologically tenable, you must address Jenson’s critique of it.

McCormack, Bruce.  Orthodox and Modern.  You don’t have to read the whole book–just pages 205, 218-222.  If you can answer McCormack, then you are warranted in believing in a God behind the Persons who are behind the Energies.