01 January 2014

Pilgrim Theology

A review of Michael Horton’s Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples (Zondervan, 2013):

This recent book from the pen of Michael Horton is essentially an abridgement (by about 50 per cent) of his larger volume The Christian Faith aimed at a wider readership. I must confess that I was disappointed. My expectations had been raised by reading earlier works by Horton (particularly his For Calvinism) and particularly by the title, which reminded me of a passage in Jim Packer’s Knowing God and led me to hope that this systematic theology was actually geared to the daily pilgrimage that is the Christian life.

In fact, the book is a fairly conventionally structured overview of Christian doctrine from a Calvinist perspective. Two introductory chapters deal with knowing God and the doctrine of Scripture. These are followed by: God (2 chapters), creation and fall (2 chapters), God’s response to sin (3 chapters), salvation (5 chapters), sacraments and ecclesiology (3 chapters), and eschatology (2 chapters).

Two difficulties with this approach are worth noting: it seems to be comprehensive (it isn’t; for example, there is no treatment of the spiritual dimension of creation) and every one of the chapters could have been expanded into a book. The resulting breadth at the expense of depth inevitably paints theology in misleadingly black and white terms while at the same time lending the book an air of superficiality.

Worse than that, some of Horton’s arguments seem tendentious. Other reviewers have commented on his tendency to caricature those he disagrees with (e.g. Jim West has questioned his treatment of Zwingli). For me, this weakness was particularly apparent in his treatment of the doctrine of the Trinity where the so-called social (or, better, relational) model of the Trinity is dismissed as tritheism in a couple of sentences. In the course of this dismissal he makes (necessarily) highly selective use of quotes from Jürgen Moltmann, which is fair neither to Moltmann nor to the subject (Colin Gunton or Robert Jenson would make far better dialogue partners).

Having said that, this volume does have its uses. While it won’t replace my first choice for a one-volume introduction to Christian doctrine (Mike Higton’s Christian Doctrine), I would certainly recommend it to any evangelical who might otherwise be tempted to invest in Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine.

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