Book Review: Lord and Servant, by Michael S. Horton
Synopsis: In Lord and Servant, Michael Horton has argued, meticulously and adroitly, that a truly biblical christology cannot be got at except through the lens of a strictly biblical covenant theology. What it is to be God cannot finally be arrived at through the metaphysical and ontological categories of the philosophers, for God will ultimately be known only as he reveals himself through his mighty saving acts as the Lord of the Covenant. What it is to be man, in the image of God, can only be apprehended through the ethical and relational parameters of covenant responsibility. Hence, the covenant is necessarily the locus in which we meet Christ, at once the Lord and Servant of the covenant, who both reveals the nature of the covenant God and brings man to his intended position as the ruling representative of God on earth. Irenic in tone, academic in presentation, and engaging a wide spectrum of opposing viewpoints, this work is sure to be a conservative standard for all who would stay up-to-date on the contemporary conversation about the person of Christ and the nature and design of the atonement.
Capitalizing on Paul Tillich's analogy, Horton begins his work with a description of the philosophy of religion as either overcoming estrangement, meeting a stranger, or (his own addition to Tillich's paradigm) a stranger we never meet. The first of these, betraying a monistic ontology and a univocal epistemology, essentially leads to a religion of divine hyper-immanence, or even pantheism. Man's problem is not primarily a relational breach with God because of sin, but weakness and ignorance; and when he comes to God, he comes to himself. The last of these options, betraying a dualistic ontology and an equivocal epistemology, essentially leads to hyper-transcendence, or deism. God is wholly other, and cannot truly be known. In opposition to these approaches, Horton argues for a covenantal ontology and an analogical epistemology: although there is no human path to God, he can still be known because he has descended to us in covenant, and reveals his nature not in abstract, metaphysical terms, but through the strong verbs which he has displayed in covenant history, and which lead to strong adjectives and nouns: God saves justly and mercifully, hence he is righteous and loving, the Savior and Redeemer of his people.
Although at times technical and demanding, this painstaking foundational discussion, which interacts respectfully and incisively with a wide assortment of philosophers and theologians of every stripe, lays a very necessary foundation for Horton's christological proposal, which has deep roots in patristic and reformation teachings, displays a hearty adherence to classical federal theology, and yet offers an advance, in the way of a more comprehensively covenantal manner of approaching theology and anthropology, both of which inform the sphere of christology as well. In the first two parts, Horton explores what it is to be Lord of the covenant and Servant of the covenant, with the wholistic, eschatologically-focused, official, ethical, and corporate dimensions that this entails, which are quite out of keeping with the traditional ontological and metaphysical categories with which the nature of the godhead and the imago dei have customarily been discussed.
But the third part of the book is where Horton's proposal becomes the most trenchant, and the likeliest to have a lasting impact on contemporary theology. Here, he applies his previous developments to christology per se, exploring in detail what it means for the Christ to be both the Lord and Servant of the covenant. Using Calvin's traditional trichotomy of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King, Horton gives a fuller understanding of each office, as instructed by the Lord/Servant nature of Christ in every facet of his ministry. Most notably, he provides a penetrating critique of a wide assortment of models of the atonement, from Irenaeus to the present; and compellingly demonstrates that a covenant christology demands the various motifs of â€œChristus Victor,â€ â€œrecapitulation,â€ and so on, not in opposition to, but grounded in and dependent upon vicarious, sacrificial substitution. The nature of the atonement is viewed through the lenses of Christ's prophetic, priestly, and kingly aspects, all three of which offices are advanced and displayed both in the cross and the resurrection, the passion and the ascension.
For all who would stay abreast of contemporary dialogue on christology and the atonement, and particularly, for those who are laboring under the common but utterly unwarranted supposition that the traditional views of federal theology and vicarious substitution are outdated and impossible in contemporary thought, this book is essential reading. It will doubtless have a lasting impact.
Available at Monergism Books.