This book is separated into two parts. In Part One, Horton interacts with the New Perspective(s) on Paul, notably N. T. Wright, from within classical covenantal theology as it has been "too lightly dismissed without serious firsthand evaluation" (12). Horton then goes on to describe the two types of covenants in Scripture. He argues that they are characterized as the suzerainty treaty and royal grant commonly found in Ancient Near East societies as among the Hittites. He distinguishes these by arguing that the two covenants' forms as treaty and grant are underwritten accordingly by two different principles. Horton spends some time showing how the two are related to each other, which is one of the more substantial parts of the book. His subsection, "Relating Sinai and Zion", discusses the importance of understanding how the Mosaic covenant relates to the Abrahamic covenant. The issues at hand, he says, is "whether the principle of inheritance in question with any specific covenant is law (based on the personal performance of the servant), as in a suzerainty treaty, or promise, as in a royal grant" (20). "If one confuses the principle by which the national promises of land, temple, and kingdom are upheld (the people's obedience) with the principle by which the heavenly reality to which these types pointed was inherited (sheer promise, by virtue of the obedience of the covenant head), then salvation (whether corporate or individual) comes through 'the works of the law' (Sinai) rather than through 'the faith of Abraham.' In Christian preaching, this confusion often occurs when passages emphasizing the conditions of temporal blessing in the land are expounded, either literally or allegorically, as directly applicable to the question of personal salvation and right standing before God." (20-21). Horton's interaction with Jon Levenson is very insightful in to the thinking of practicing Judaism. Horton notes that Levenson recognizes the new covenant as an unconditional promise but he still concludes that it is simply a renewal of the Sinaitic covenant.
Horton shows how Judaism and Catholicism confuse the covenants of law and promise and thereby unwittingly lend their support for a covenantal nomism in light of exegetical ground that otherwise should steer them from it. (29) In chapter 3, "Covenantal Nomisim in Palestinian Judaism: Getting In and Staying In," he engages NPP proponents head on, including Wright and E. P. Sanders. In the end, he shows that the NPP thesis is flawed because of its conflation of distinct covenant types "into a single 'patter of religion' of gracious law . . . ." (39). Horton clearly shows that medieval Catholicism is paralleled today by the NPP.
Horton argues in chapter 4 that "Paul's polemics against 'works of the law' is more sweeping than the NPP suggests." Through the rest of Part One, chapters 5 and 6, Horton engages James D. G. Dunn to argue that the NPP offers too many false choices--between soteriology and ecclesiology. He dismantles the NPP's forced dichotomies and offers a fuller account of covenant that embraces the binaries presented by Dunn et al.
After establishing that justification is forensic and that it is the basis for all of the ordo salutis in Part One, Horton begins chapter 7, " Mystical Union in Reformed Soteriology," in Part Two with a discussion the essence of which is that the Christian's union with Christ is grounded in the covenant of redemption and executed in history by the covenant of grace. Relying on John Calvin for exploring and explaining the Christian's union with Christ, he labors the point that Reformed orthodoxy does not believe that union entails participation in the divine essence or that Christians receive any divine substance but instead the Spirit imparts to us Christ's life and all the blessings that he has received from the Father. (140) On page 142, Horton mentions Calvin's criticism of the medieval scholastic notion of preparation for grace, the notion of preparatory fear. I wonder if this is similar to the Puritans' notion of awakening. In any case, it is from this perspective that Horton engages Radical Orthodoxy's Neo-Platonism. "Calvin recognizes here that justification need not be confused with sanctification by means of an all-encompassing ontology of union in order to recognize the inseparability of both legal (forensic) and organic (effective) aspects of that union" (143). "Apart from sin, ontological distance required divine condescension by way of the covenant of creation, but now God has condescended still further, mediating ethical distance in a covenant of grace" (154). Horton sets this approach up against a Neo-Platonic ontology that turns salvation into "epistemology and ethics--realization and empowerment--with a corollary suspicion of the notion of divine rescue and intervention as a violent intrusion upon autonomy." Sin is a condition as well as specific acts of covenant breaking, which introduces a kind of otherness not founded in creational integrity. This otherness is relationally negative, a repudiation, "ethical enmity, a crisis of interpersonal communion" that undoes the participation man once had and that now is restored by the forensic word and work of the Trinity. (158-59) In his analysis of RO's account of participation, he contrasts the difference from a Reformed view simply at the Eucharist: "The suggestion seems to be that our eucharistic participation in Christ serves as an instance of a more general metaphysical truth--namely, the ontological participation of being in God, rather than as an event determined by its covenantal context and specific to the covenantal actions of proclaiming and sealing the gospel." Horton illustrates that one of the fundamental differences between RO and covenantal (read: Reformed) theology by arguing that RO theologians, John Milbank foremost among them, assume that creation is in an emanationistic relationship to the Creator, which stands in sharp contrast to creation ex nihilo. (163-64) These two schools of thought offer two different accounts of analogy of being. In the RO view, "the generic `en-gracing' of creation that is synonymous with ontological participation (metathexis) differs from salvific reconciliation only in degree. Grace is viewed as a substance rather than as God's favor shown to those who are at fault." Horton's approach to the question of the relationship between the world and Creator is especially laid out in volume two of this project, but here he picks up where he left off by giving a Reformed ontology of participation for creation and redemption that decidedly eschews Platonism for covenant as the place where believers meet a stranger, to use Horton's phrase. He argues that "the proper antithesis is therefore not between participation and covenant, but between different accounts of both. Just as there are different covenants, there are different kinds of participation (God's providential care of creation and God's redemptive acts). Obviously, the concept of covenant is inherently participatory, but covenantal participation (koinonia) is different from metathexis" (165). Horton locates RO's desire to "take Plato through the (quite un-Platonic) hermeneutical turn, emphasizing the linguisticality of being" principally in an "eros for a depth in being that can only be suspended in what exceeds it rather than a depth that belongs to it essentially by virtue of the fact that it is the product of the Trinity's effective Word" (165).
Horton explores the "potential for a covenantal ontology in relation to the ordo salutis" in a constructive manner in chapter 9. In introducing his goal in this chapter, he immediately recognizes two challenges. First is the relation between metaphysics and theology, methodologically speaking. Second, he says that his account will fall short of philosophical satisfaction. He's right on both counts, but deftly and boldly offers a solid Reformed account of koinonia as covenantal participation. Participation revolves around koinonia. The Spirit is who guarantees and effects our participation and sharing in Christ both now and in the "realities of the age to come." "There is a close connection in the New Testament between faith, baptism, the Spirit, and union with Christ." "However elevated their realistic language concerning the mystical union, the Reformers and Protestant orthodoxy still regarded imputation as the judicial basis of the entire ordo salutis, refusing to collapse imputation into an essential union. It is true that one can find references in Luther and Calvin to justification through union with Christ; this was only to affirm that all of our righteousness before God is in Christ and not in us" (198).
Chapter 10 is certainly one of the most constructive, if not the most, of the entire book. I contend, against another reviewer, that Michael Horton is carrying forward the theological work of the giants of the past in the Reformation tradition. "While the Reformers' doctrine of justification ran against the grain of medieval ontology, placing the whole ordo salutis on an entirely different ontological map redrawn by forensic justification remains an unfinished task even beyond the superb refinements of the Reformation and post-Reformation era" (198). Horton offers a terrific critique of medieval ontology with respect to infused habits and their place within Reformed systems. One of the characteristics of Horton's book is that he writes this portion from here on in an understated tone yet it is apparent that he spent a great deal of time reading and thinking deeply.
Horton, unwittingly it seems, is taking to task Schweitzer's declaration that "those who subsequently made Paul's doctrine of justification by faith the center of Christian belief, have had the tragic experience of finding that they were dealing with a conception of redemption, from which no ethic could logically be derived" by beginning with this pointed question, "Is a forensic ontology capable of generating its own account not only of justification but also of calling, sanctification, and glorification? In other words, does God's Word, rendered effectual by the Spirit, have the illocutionary and perlocutionary force to bring about the world of which it speaks?" In short, Horton's answer is an obvious yes, as can be told by the subtitle to chapter 11, "The Verdict That Does What It Says." In chapter 10, pages 200-01, he quotes Bruce McCormack to say that forensicism provides the basis for the kind of ontology that covenant theology identifies with what is presented in Scripture. Forensic justification is the communicative source of the new creation as a whole. Forensicism is deeply ontological against medieval notions of infused habits and RO and New Finnish ideas of participation. Chapter 10 is where Horton takes issue with Reformed theology's practice of treating the rest of the ordo after the forensic declaration of justification as if it were the consequence of something else entirely--"namely, an infusion of a new habitus (disposition) prior to effectual calling" (216). The reason that Reformed theologians reintroduced a medieval ontology of infused habits, Horton argues, is that "justification was still regarded as strictly forensic, but just for this reason had to be securely walled off from the rest of the ordo, which was attributed to regeneration." The most novel and refreshing move Horton makes is to "recover the earlier identification of the new birth with effectual calling and treat justification as the forensic source for all of the benefits that flow from union with Christ. Eliminating the distinction between regeneration and effectual calling entails the elimination of any appeal to the category of infused habits." One of the most profound statements of the book is, "Effectual calling is regeneration (the new birth), and although the Spirit brings about this response when and where he will, it is brought about through the ministry of the gospel. Through the announcement of the external Word, declaring the absolution, the Spirit gives us the faith to receive the verdict, which in turn begins in us from that moment on the fruit of faith." Horton ties the beginning of faith to the preached gospel so closely that one is almost stunned at just how serious he takes the Reformed orthodoxy who said as much--stunned because it seems no one Reformed actually still takes them seriously. This is remarkable too because it simplifies what occurs at regeneration. Calvinists newly persuaded usually spend such a considerable amount of time learning the ordo that this new formulation will likely strike some as odd sounding and perhaps be cause for backlash. I'm very interested to know how this will be received. It seems to me that this elevates the importance of preaching to a whole level rarely thought to be sustainable. Horton's Christless Christianity thesis clearly grows from the seriousness with which he takes the ministry of the gospel.
Horton argues that a "communicative paradigm offers richer possibilities for affirming the monergistic and Trinitarian conclusions of Reformed theology than are possible in a purely causal scheme." (Read volume one for a full treatment.) When I read this, I thought, "about time!" The older Reformed systematicians, especially the 19th and 20th c. teachers, worked within a paradigm of causality that reflected the Enlightenment's rationalism, though the reflection was hardly one-for-one. Horton has benefited from reading speech-act theory and finds a vocabulary for describing the meeting of a stranger in a covenant by an external Word.
In chapter 11, he continues his exploration of the ordo. He begins here by discussing adoption. He shows how covenant theology offers union with Christ in the covenant of grace as the matrix for the ordo highlights the source fro redemption, which is justification. Within a communicative paradigm, he shows that false choices--forensic and effective, legal and transformative--are eliminated. "Reformation theology does not leave us in the courtroom, but it is the basis for our relocation to the family room." He notes that the organic metaphors associated with regeneration and sanctification "underscore the power of that justifying Word to actually insert the believer into the world that it announces." His account of sanctification is standard Reformed material, which is to say that gratitude is the motivation behind good works. "Justification is not the first stage of the Christian life, but the constant wellspring of sanctification and good works. . . . Because of justification in Christ, even our good works can be `saved,' not in order to improve either God's lot or our own, but our neighbor's."
His discussion in chapter 12 of resurrection and glorification is important and refreshing. He suggests that the Eastern account of creation ex nihilo and the Trinity makes these more legible because of Orthodoxy's essence-energies distinction. This protects his treatment of glorification/divinization from being understood as our transcending our humanity. Glorification/divinization is concerned with our flesh sharing in Christ's exaltation. The entire ordo is "forensically charged."