Monday 16 November 2009

Beware! A New Version of Covenant by Michael Horton

At the Affinity conference in the UK in February of this year (2009) Michael Horton presented an extremely troubling view of covenant theology that I find hard to reconcile with the Westminster Standards. It appears to me that the Kline-Horton paradigm is to interpret biblical covenants through the lens of recently discovered, Near Eastern, and especially Hittite treaties. Perhaps the two most helpful books to analyse the source of their theological constructs are:

Meredith G. Kline, The Treaty of the Great King, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963.
Michael Horton, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.

Horton is an extremely lucid communicator and ‘The White Horse Inn’ appears to have been a blessing to multitudes in spreading the reformed faith. However Horton’s ministry is not primarily in view initially but rather the injunction of Paul in Romans 4:3: ‘For what does the Scripture say?’

I have only engaged in a cursory reading of God of Promise by Horton but here goes the argument.

Chapter 2: ‘God and the Foreign Relations’. Horton puts forward that ‘there are remarkable parallels between ancient (especially Hittite) treaties and the covenantal structure of the OT (24)’. In sum he identifies that there two Hittite treaties, The Suzerainty Treaty and The Royal Grant (or patron covenant); the former is conditional, while the latter is unconditional (33).

Then in Chapter 3 ‘A Tale of Two Mothers’ he makes a huge quantum leap in applying this covenantal framework to biblical covenants. Red flags should be raised immediately because the Hittite gentile practices were the very opposite of God’s intention for establishing a holy nation (Exodus 19). However here we see the connection with T. David Gordon et al., and Horton states:

A covenant of law is established at Mount Sinai, engendering an earthly Jerusalem, which is identified with Hagar the slave; and a covenant of promise is given to Abraham and his seed, engendering a heavenly Jerusalem, which is identified with Sarah the free woman. Confusion of these two covenants, Paul believed, lay at the heart of the Galatian heresy, a charge repeated by the Protestant Reformers in the sixteenth century. (35)’.

Need I say more! He pitches the Abrahamic covenant against the Mosaic and this chapter contends that the Mosaic covenant is a Suzerainty/conditional/law covenant and the Abrahamic covenant is a royal Grant/unconditional/promise covenant (39ff). This Hittite framework is then applied to the New Covenant in Chapter Four and here comes another staggering assertion. Horton concludes:

Concerning the covenantal unity of the two testaments: “Law and promise” do not represent the Old and New Testaments or berit and diatheke, respectively, but characterise two different kinds of covenants that obtain the same history (74-5).

Horton then insists on covenantal discontinuity between the New and the Mosaic covenant and he asserts that the Mosaic covenant is conditional, obsolete (Heb. 8:13) and not a covenant of grace (75). In the last chapter in the book ‘New Covenant Obedience (Chapter 9)’ I find it interesting that Horton somehow seems to lose his ability to teach clearly as he unfolds that he agrees in principle to the threefold division of the law (178) but that we go to the content of the NT for the meaning of the moral law (179-80). I have to admit that I cannot pinpoint him as to whether he is abrogating the moral law for the church but I guess in reality that is what will happen when such a radical discontinuity is taught between the Mosaic moral law and the new covenant.

Historical and contemporary theology teaches us to be extremely cautious when theologians introduce material into their theology that is alien to the community of faith. N. T. Wright, James Dunn et al do this with the use of the Pseudepigrapha, the Apochrypha and the writings from Second Temple Judaism; the result is a new theology of justification that takes hours to unravel and untold confusion. Rudolf Bultmann established hypotheses based on importing Gnostic gospels to explain John’s Gospel; a worldview that has now thankfully collapsed. Here we have Horton and Kline importing Hittite Treaty’s to explain God’s covenants, thus leading to a revision of our whole framework of theology. This is exactly why Horton has gone on to write his four volumes on covenant (published by Westminster John Knox Press). A revisionist view always requires a wholesale change in all of our theology.

This blog comment is far longer than I intended. Perhaps someone could take up the challenge to write a brief essay entitled: Does the Idea of Covenant in the Theology of Meredith Kline and Michael Horton fit within the Framework of the Westminster Standards? I think I have my answer already but it would be good to see something on paper.

Monday 2 November 2009

Another Forgotten Truth!

Only a few decades ago almost all Christian denominations in the UK would have held to the doctrine of the Christian Sabbath. Sadly only few would claim to teach this vital truth and in some ways our forefathers may not have done us justice. After World War II there was still some remnant of Victorian Christianity in the UK but Sunday was seen as list of what you could not do rather than a joyful day. Maybe this has caused many people to mock and pour scorn on this biblical doctrine, but this is hardly a righteous approach to go around undoing the work of the gospel because one does not rightly understand something or because a truth has been wrongly applied.
So, what is the Christian Sabbath? The fourth of the Ten Commandments states:

Exodus 20:8-11. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

The command is clear but, how does this apply to the Christian Church? The Westminster Shorter Catechism supplies the answer:

Q. 59. Which day of the week has God designated as the Sabbath?
A. From the beginning of the world until the resurrection of Christ God established the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath. From that time until the end of the world the first day of the week is the Christian Sabbath.

Sunday is the Christian Sabbath and it is a gift from God so that we can cease from our normal work with all good conscience and seek first God’s kingdom by worshipping God the whole day and by mediating on God’s covenant mercies. The Bible does not teach a half Lord’s Day and therefore we want to encourage Christian’s to attend church twice on Sundays. It is a day to turn away from normal worldly pleasures like the internet, TV, X factor, Sky sports etc and to nourish our souls spiritually. This is not legalism, this is God’s command and it is for our benefit. We need to be creative as families so that we include the whole family and find exciting things to do for the children so that they are not bored and so that they understand what the day is about. Check out an excellent sermon by Ted Donnelly on the subject

Here are a few reasons that explain the purpose of the Christian Sabbath.

1. Worship; this enables the whole family to worship the Triune God in public and in private.
2. Rest; physical and mental.
3. Obedience; the fourth commandment is partly ceremonial and partly civil that was fulfilled by Christ but there is an aspect of this commandment which is still binding on the consciences of Christians and the Book of Isaiah speaks of ‘calling the Sabbath a delight (Isaiah 58:13-14).
4. Remembrance; we remember weekly on this day that God is our creator and redeemer because this is the day that Christ was raised from the dead.
5. Sanctification; we set our lives apart from normal activity to be sanctified unto the Lord.
6. Spiritual refreshment; a time to let God work on us before we begin the week’s work.
7. An anticipation of heaven; hopefully this day gives us a taste of heaven on earth (Deut. 11:21)

Let us finish this short exhortation by listening to what the ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ has to say on this matter:

Isa 58:13 "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words,
14 Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.