Michael Horton's "The Christian Faith" is a welcome gift to the 21st century. It's a massive (1000 page) one-volume systematic theology that's written with life, passion and the needs of the 21st century in mind. While as an Anglican, I don't necessarily agree with all that Horton writes, I highly recommend his book to a wide variety of readers: seminarians and seminaries, pastors, teachers, and educated laymen. Horton's work is an incredible achievement in that he has taken the worn out discipline of systematic theology and injected it with new life.
How has he done this? First, Horton clearly writes from a position as one who understands the 21st century and the monumental changes we are seeing that are often categorized as the transition from modernity to postmodernity. Horton also draws from a wide range of sources: he not only delves into the historical background to various theological issues but also makes reference to a variety of church traditions, and not just his own Reformed tradition. He also manages to integrate his systematic theology into a living whole by the way he ties everything together through key concepts such as the covenant, Drama, Dogma, Doxology, and Discipleship. This means that Horton's work is useful not just as one more systematic theology but also as a primer in narrative theology, an inspiration to worship, and a resource for all who seek to be more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
Horton's work has been said by some to be one of the most important systematic theologies since Berkhof's. In fact, Horton's is better than Berkhof's, which is a work that betrays a much more modern mindset that categorizes things without necessarily showing how they all relate. Horton's work is a book that should be in the hands of a great many Christians!
The book begins with a wonderful Introduction that pictures systematic theology as a "
theology for pilgrims on the way." He also relates the 4 "D" words he will use in the rest of the work to hold things together: Drama, Doctrine, Doxology, and Discipleship. It all begins with the greatest story ever told, which means that Horton is aware of the importance of narrative theology, and not just an old-school propositional theology. The Drama of the gospel inevitably leads to Doctrine, and Doctrine leads to Doxology or praise. Ultimately, theology must lead to Discipleship as well. Horton wants his work to reflect and embody the goal of doctrine, which must not only be understood and articulated but also "preached, experienced, and lived as a `community of theater' in the world today."
Horton writes from a specifically Reformed perspective, but he is careful not to begin and end his thought with only Reformed categories of thought. Instead, he interacts with exegetical, philosophical, practical, and theological questions from a historically informed position. I'm also glad to see that he has not only acknowledged Eastern Orthodox theology but has clearly benefited from its wisdom and perspective.
Part 1, which consists of the first 5 chapters of "The Christian Faith," deals with "Knowing God: The Presuppositions of Theology." Although these chapters don't begin Horton's systematic theology, they lay a crucial foundation for it. This section may be difficult and not as relevant for all readers, but in these chapters Horton profitably deals with important foundations for theology, which has become more necessary in an age of postmodernism.
It's always interesting to see how a writer handles some of the more difficult aspects of his material, so I was keen to see how Horton dealt with predestination, the Trinity, and the Church, as just three examples of important material. In Chapter 8, Horton tackles the doctrine of the Trinity, which has undergone a resurgence of interest in recent decades. In this chapter, he gives the important and necessary historical background that enables the reader to understand the various views of the Trinity that have been held. This historical background also enables Horton to offer a theology of the Trinity that integrates the best insights of Augustinian, Orthodox, and other views while avoiding some of the potential errors that come from an overemphasis these historical positions are often open to.
While Horton's discussion of predestination in Chapter 9 is useful, he fails to adequately explain how God's predestination relates to the need for human agency in doxology and discipleship (he does deal with this, but inadequately). Likewise, I found his presentation on the Church to be one of the places where Horton's own Reformed perspective triumphs over an attempt at incorporating other views. The book would have been stronger if, in this section, he had dealt more with the views of the early church, as well as the views of other traditions, as he does elsewhere.
In spite of some weaknesses, Horton's work is a superior and delightful achievement. Through his use of the covenant, he's able to integrate the various components of systematic theology into a pleasing whole that should become a standard work for decades to come.
Horton breaks down his book in the following way, which manages to reflect the traditional categories of systematic theology while at the same time revitalizing this field.
Part 1 - Knowing God: The Presupposition of Theology
1. Dissonant Dramas: Paradigms for Knowing God and the World
2. The Character of Theology
3. The Source of Theology: Scripture
4. Scripture as Covenant Canon
5. The Bible and the Church: From Scripture to System
Part 2 - God Who Lives
6. God: The Incommunicable Attributes
7. God: The Communicable Attributes
8. The Holy Trinity
Part 3 - God Who Creates
9. The Decree: Trinity and Predestination
10. Creation: God's Time for us
12. Being Human
13. The Fall of Humanity
Part 4 - God Who Rescues
14. The Person of Christ
15. The State of Humiliation
16. The State of Exaltation
Part 5 - God Who Reigns in Grace
17. Called to be Saints: Christ's Presence in the Spirit
18. Union with Christ
19. Forensic Aspects of Union with Christ: Justification and Adoption
20. The Way Forward to Grace: Sanctification and Perseverance
21. The Hope of Glory
22. The Kingdom of Grace and the New Covenant Church
23. Word and Sacrament: The Means of Grace
24. Baptism and the Lord's Supper
25. The Attributes of the Church: Unity, Catholicity, and Holiness
Part 6 - God Who Reigns in Glory
27. A Dwelling Place
28. The Return of Christ and the Last Judgment
29. The Last Battle and Life Everlasting