Hearing Horton, Pilgrimage and Christian Theology

The Christian faith – A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way

A review on the way:

Horton has written a Reformed Systematic theology which reads like a series of extended academic essays on the standard subject areas. He writes with precision and demonstrates an enviable depth of knowledge and breadth of reading. This 1052 page beautifully produced hard back book breaks into 7 main areas:

  1. Knowing God: The presuppositions of theology
  2. God who lives
  3. God who cares
  4. God who creates
  5. God who rescues
  6. God who reigns in grace
  7. God who reigns in glory

These headings sound warm, personal even pastoral but that isn’t the feel of the book at all. What you get is a rigorous academic text which presents a reformed evangelical position but through a critical engagement with a range of alternative positions. For example NT Wright is cited not only as someone who does not accept the reformed position on imputed righteousness. (ch. X) but also with someone who has a useful contribution to make on understanding Christology by setting the Messianic expectations of their day in a wider historical context. Unlike some conservative reformed thinkers who would view all of Wright’s work as suspect if they disagree with him on another area of theology. But this is a confessional theology – other views are not presented as credible alternatives merely foils for the reformed position to be presented. This is done firmly but graciously and in a non-emotive terms.

Horton hears who?

Its always interesting to look at who the author chooses to interact with. So footnotes are an indication of the theological pool that the author swims in. Here are some of the most oft quoted writers and thinkers in this book and what they reveal about the author.

Historically savvy

St Augustine
Thomas Aquinas
Karl Barth

Reformed heritage

John Calvin
Louis Berkhof
Herman Bavink
Charles Hodge

Contemporary Connections

Darell Guder
Kevin Vanhoozer
Colin Gunton

Who’s missing?

Women? Two-Thirds World theologians? I am not surprised, perhaps its asking too much for a book this long to engage meaningfully with the majority world?

Hearing Horton

To give you a flavour of the book here’s a quotation:

“Reflecting the contrasting ontologies of “overcoming estrangement” and “meeting a stranger” is the contrast between the Neoplatonic concept of ontological participation (methexis) and a covenantal concept of union (koinonia). From Origen to John Milbank; there has been a pronounced tendency to identify union with Christ with a Platonic or Neoplatonic scheme of ontic union of the soul with divinity on an ever-ascending ladder of being” p.602

Who would enjoy this book?

Reformed academics – as it offers them a new text book to teach from.

Church pastors – as it provides a different angle on some of the classic doctrinal conundrums.

Eclectic Thinkers – as it provides some fresh integrative thinking – for example Vanhoozer’s Theodramatic theology provides an dialogue partner in the prolegomena to this book.


I must admit it was the last part of the subtitle the intrigued me most about this book. I was hoping that this book would bring the insights of the new monasticism into conversation with Systematic Theology or atleast seek to find ways to apply the great doctrines of the faith to every day life. But that isn’t what Michael Horton is trying to do. In short this book is shorter, less accessible but more generous and scholarly than Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology – it also suffers less on the proof texting mode of biblical exegesis. It doesn’t give answers to some of the hot topic issues of our day but will probably prove to have greater staying power. If you are interested investigating a reformed theological perspective this is a great book to stretch your thinking.

6 thoughts on “Hearing Horton, Pilgrimage and Christian Theology”

  1. We used this book for our first years in 2011. I liked it because it stretched them – Grudem is too basic and too proof-texty, and other options like Milne are even more so.

    It was certainly the case that we don’t agree with everything in the book – but that gave a chance to spar with it, and helped people to become critical rather than dependent readers. Personally, while I have used McGrath’s Introductions for years, I find the lack of confessional commitment frustrating. Theology that is full of balanced options from which one may choose betrays its very soul.

    Horton’s book engages with the great tradition and so isn’t interested in political correctness in the sense of nominating discussion partners simply because of their nationality and gender (I find that logic facile anyway, with respect). And: what the heck is the ‘new monasticism’??!!

    KK is right: he skates over some controversial issues on which Horton definitely has a view – probably a publishers decision so as to ensure a wide readership for the book.

    I am glad to see such a stretching book on the shelves. Evangelical theology tends somewhat to the trivial and to become obsessed with controversies about Christian experience and ecclesiological vagaries. Horton takes us deep into the intellectually rigorous Reformed tradition, and at the same time engages with the best of contemporary theology. No mean feat!

  2. I like a bit of Vanhoozer to get me going, but if that quote is representative of the level of language in the whole of the book, I don’t expect to hear it quoted from the pulpit too often, however useful it might be to pastors!

  3. Thanks for this, Krish. I confess I am bit of a Horton fan – which is not to say I think he has everything right. Your readers might like to know that much of the critical apparatus for this big book is available in a series of four earlier volumes he wrote (see, which gives more argument about why he takes the positions he does. There is also what will probably be something of a ‘distillation’ of The Christian Faith in another forthcoming book, Pilgrim Theology (, for those put off by the sheer size of this one. Thanks again.

  4. Hi,

    I love the writing of Horton; I think one gets the most out of this one volume work, if one has read his four volume dogmatics (I review People & Place here).

    I’d be interested to see your take on John Frame’s Lordship series!

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