Book Review: God of Promise, by Michael Horton
Synopsis: God of Promise, by Michael Horton, is a lucid summary and defense of that traditional understanding of Covenant Theology which has its roots in the first Federal Theologians of the Reformation; and which has been defended and developed, more recently, by such scholars as Louis Berkhof and Meredith Kline. Both as a condensation of a vast body of Reformed writings, and a modern defense of the same, it is perhaps unequalled among one-volume introductions to that vital skeletal framework of all biblical revelation, Covenant Theology.
While it might be a bit of an over-simplification, it may be helpful to distinguish two basic threads in the historical development of Covenant Theology: the one emphasizes the continuity of the Abrahamic and Sinaitic Covenants, and assumes a basic sameness in the â€œcovenantâ€ idea displayed in each. The other emphasizes the discontinuity and essential differentness of the Abrahamic and Sinaitic Covenants; and the temporary and typical nature of the covenant cut on Sinai with theocratic Israel, in the context of an eternal covenant of grace that ran along side-by-side with it.
The modern outstanding one-volume introduction and defense of the former variety is O. Palmer Robertsonâ€™s Christ of the Covenants; and Hortonâ€™s God of Promise certainly occupies the same place with regard to the latter. Hortonâ€™s interaction with Robertson, throughout the scope of his latest work, is very helpful. Although in a commendably irenic manner, he engages Robertson on several key points, and gives a compelling and scriptural defense of his own alternate understanding. Adherents to Robertsonâ€™s basic understanding of Covenant Theology would certainly be benefited and stimulated by this thoughtful defense of another option.
Of particular value in this work are Hortonâ€™s analysis of Near Eastern treaty writings, and subsequent discussion of the covenant idea as developed in the scriptures; his treatment of Augustineâ€™s â€œtwo kingdomâ€ idea, and its relationship to federal theology; the nature and significance of the covenantal sacraments; and the role of the law in the New Covenant context.
In conclusion, this book strikes a very admirable balance: informed, but not pedantic; historically-grounded, but up-to-date; simple, but substantive; polemical (at times), but not hostile. And it has managed to lay out a very weighty defense of a particular strain of Covenant Theology, while adequately noting different approaches. For anyone seeking a well-informed understanding of the covenant idea in scriptures and the centrality of such an idea to the basic fabric of redemptive-historical revelation, this is the first book I would recommend.