I wish to premise this review with the disclosure that I have long been convinced of a Dispensational hermeneutic. While I would label myself a Progressive dispy (with a small “d”), I recognize many readers of this review are not of the same conviction and hold to the traditional Reformed views. I chose this book, as it is a topic of interest – and for my desire to continually re-examine my position to assess the weaknesses and strengths.
I have long caught flack from many holding to a Covenantal position, likening all Dispensationalists to John Hagee or tenets akin to Christian Zionism. I enter in this discussion of the review with the hopes of being able to navigate what tends to be a rather heated, yet ignorant debate. Far too often, false characterizations take place, exegetical arguments are dismissed, and jokes are made to deflect a probing question. We are dealing with a serious topic, and I hope to give this book a fair shake, yet also usher a gentle plea for my Covenantal brothers and sisters to simply think further about this.
Rather than break the book down by specific chapter contents, it seems pertinent to divide the book into two portions containing these. The first, which I would break from chapters 1-7 detail an extensive look through the historical development of supercessionism. The second, chapters 8-12, detail Horner’s thesis exegetically, closing the book with a pastoral plea in chapter 12.
While I appreciated Horner’s careful consideration to the historical development of anti-Judaic tendencies, I feel as if this portion of the book could have been condensed. However, this is not a detriment to the overall thesis of his work, in consideration of the content within the following chapters. It seems as if the first seven chapters deal with setting the cause of re-examination to an age-old hermeneutic. When challenging long-standing interpretations, we ought to have good reason; this is precisely what Horner does in laying the historical roots of these theological presuppositions.
The fruit of this work is displayed especially in his treatment of Romans 11 in chapters 10-11. This is the passage seemingly overlooked by many, or distorted in favor of a spiritualization of the text. Beyond this, many often preclude an historical interpretation of the text (accordingly to the original audience) in favor of personal interpretation. This is not to say we cannot personalize the text – but the litmus of any interpretation is based in what the author intended to say and how that applies. Here is where I feel Horner does an excellent job treating Paul fairly – and while many may disagree with that sentiment, I would simply ask consideration of the argument presented in the remaining half of this book.
It is in this last half of the book that Horner deals with the more problematic inferences to a Covenantal view. He argues for the irrevocability of the promises to national Israel on the basis of God’s immutability, distinguishes between the unilateral and bilateral covenant, and takes careful consideration of supercessionist arguments against these as well. Here you will see Horner interact with common passages used to refute his position, namely Galatians 6:16, Ephesians 2:11-22, Philippians 3:2-3, and 1 Peter 2:9-10. Beyond this, Horner advocates those Jews who remain in unbelief are yet enemies of God needing to be reconciled to Him through faith in Christ. Though, he argues, national Israel has affection upon them from the Lord on the basis of God’s irrevocable covenant and the fulfillment of it, no man gets a “free pass” simply because of their ethnicity.
In closing, we must remember that the abuse of a doctrinal position does not disqualify the exegetical argument. Rather, the basis of exegesis is simply what the text lays out. More plainly, simply because anti-Judaism has been a common result from supercessionism, does not adequately refute the doctrine. Here is where I would simply ask my Reformed brethren to caution. Regardless of where you land on this – know that there is the potential to shift toward an unhealthy view of the Jewish people.
This is the precise thing that can happen in areas of Christian liberty, or even other doctrines. Calvinism, for example, can lead one to a faulty security in their salvation. In that same vein – I would also caution Dispys of taking the argument to an illogical conclusion. Holding to an economy of God’s redemptive plan disregarding Covenantal hermeneutics can lead one to an unhealthy obsession with Israel, eschatological prophecy, and even antinomianism. However, I would see this to be an indication of faulty reasoning and study method, rather than the doctrine itself.
Whether you are Covenantal or Dispensational, I would recommend reading this book. It is good to read books you agree with and disagree with simply to develop your understanding – yet most importantly, assess whether your hermeneutic is adequately reflecting the exegetical basis and salvific economy of the Bible. This is incredibly important – and we ought not deflect simply because we feel overwhelmed or we already have a predisposition to reject the argument. Read this book with an open bible, prayerfully, and thoughtfully. If you do so and still disagree with his thesis – good for you. You have at least done some legwork and been challenged adequately.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the media reviewer program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.