Michael Horton on The King Jesus Gospel

Michael Horton on The King Jesus Gospel October 17, 2011

Michael Horton, well-known Reformed theologian, professor at Westminster-San Diego, has a post that reviews generously and extensively (in true Reformed fashion) my new book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. I have reviewed a couple of Mike’s books here so turnabout is fair, and he’s fair — as he always is. I will be examining three kinds of soterians Wednesday on this blog so I’ll wait for that… now to Michael’s review.

Horton and I agree more or less on seeing the substantive problem in contemporary evangelicalism’s approach to evangelism.

Reformed folks share the same concern. Christ is both Savior and Lord: you can’t embrace one without the other. And we don’t make him Savior and Lord; he is Savior and Lord whether we embrace him or not. The goal of evangelism in our churches is to make disciples, not just converts. That’s why we don’t focus on a striking conversion experience [SMcK: the Puritan “relation” surely deserves to be mentioned in its experiential emphasis], but on Christ, and emphasize the Christian life as a constant living out of our baptism, in the communion of saints. Lifelong discipleship is not an individualistic affair, but a team sport.

But only a (Reformed, covenant-shaped) soterian can think the following sentence summarizes what I am doing:

To put it in terms of Reformed interpretation, McKnight is wrestling here with the relationship of the ordo salutis (salvation applied to individuals here and now) to the historia salutis (the history of redemption).

This summary of Michael’s about what I’m doing illustrates the tenacity of the soterian approach. No, I’m not wrestling with the relationship of the ordo salutis to the historia salutis. First a clarification: the ordo salutis is not the same as what I call the “plan of personal salvation” but is instead that doctrinal debate about the order of the various elements in the doctrine of salvation (e.g., regeneration and faith and justification and calling). I’m not sure why so many use ordo salutis for how one gets saved but I see it in more than Michael’s statement above. Still, not a big point. Instead of how Michael puts it, I see myself wrestling with the relationship of the “plan of personal salvation” to the Story of God’s design to establish, both now and in the Age to Come, the kingdom of God with its proper king. I don’t reduce that Story, as Michael does, to redemption. I say this because that is what the expression historia salutis does; it says it is a “history of salvation.” There’s a difference here, and it has everything to do with what my book is about: learning to see the “gospel” as the Story about Jesus (in its fullness) as part of God’s plan to establish kingdom and God’s reign (1 Cor 15:20-28, Rev 20-22). [Yes, Michael pushes me honestly for reduction at times but I really do want “Story of Israel completing in Jesus” to be my capsule summary of the fullness of God’s mission from creation to the new heavens and new earth, where Jesus is the temple, and I don’t want it to be reductionistic.] Maybe I’m seeing too much in Horton’s historia salutis, but…

Michael Bird pointed to Michael’s shifting into the soterian mode in Bird’s review of Horton’s review of my book:

But just when I think I’m on the same page as Horton, he says this: “This announcement is as ambiguous without the news of justification as is the news of justification apart from the Story of Israel and Jesus.” This statement has two problems: (1) It privileges ONE image from Paul’s letters, namely, justification as THE key image for gospel, when other images like reconciliation, rescue, or redemption could be said to be more prevalent and comprehensive for both Paul and the New Testament’s soteriology. Justification is Paul’s contingent metaphor drawn from his little bag of soteriological gems that explains in covenantal and forensic terms how it is that God accepts the ungodly and brings Gentiles into the family of Abraham. But it is not the canon with the canon. It’s not the only image, not even the most significant one!  (2) If Horton’s statement is correct, then we are back to McKnight’s original objection, how do you preach the gospel from the Gospels or from the Speeches in Acts if they don’t explicate the gospel in terms of justification? Do the Petrine and Johannine letters contain the gospel, well, in the absence of “justification” terminology, it would seem not. Here’s my beef (and McKnight’s as well): the soterians still need to expand their soteriology, without diminishing the value and richness of Paul’s remarks on justification, but without making it the single model of explicating the gospel.

Back to Michael Horton. When I wrote this book I entered into the history of theology, and I’m not an expert on such matters, so I am open to correction by experts here, and Horton is an expert. So I was keenly interested in what he’d say about that chp.  Horton says this:

Yet, much like N. T. Wright, he seems to think that he if we would just go “back to the Bible to find the original gospel” as he has, we’d get it right (24). [Well, OK, I make an appeal to reforming what we think by re-examining the Bible, but please observe that I have great respect in this book for the creeds and the Reformers.] The history of exegesis is reduced to the categories of “gospel culture” and “salvation culture.” Also as in Professor Wright’s work, The King Jesus Gospel offers sweeping assertions about the Reformation without serious engagement. [Fair enough, but my point is a simple one: comparing creeds to Geneva, etc] I can’t imagine that he has explored the commentaries of the Reformers or the history of Reformed biblical theology in any depth. [Two different things: I’ve read lots of Calvin’s commentaries, and some of Luther’s, but I’m no expert on the “history of Reformed biblical theology”.] No harm done for having different interests, but one shouldn’t then pile with one more straw-man portrait. [Straw-man? Well, the comparison is fair: Nicea/Const with Geneva, etc. But he will have to admit I don’t blame the Reformers or the Reformation; I see the seeds planted then by the re-framing.]

Even when he “damns with faint praise,” the author misses the goal of at least Lutheran and Reformed branches: “The singular contribution of the Reformation, in all three directions—Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptist—was that the gravity of the gospel was shifted toward human response and personal responsibility and the development of the gospel as speaking into that responsibility” (71). [Could have said “A singular ….” and I’d be happy with that.] This confuses the Reformation’s interest with pietism, [fair criticism, but isn’t it fair to say the Reformers focused more on a personal sense of redemption than previous theology?] which was a completely different kettle of fish. The former focused on what the Triune God has done to accomplish salvation for sinners, [So did the piestists!] not on “human response” and what I’m supposed to do to “get saved.” [Horton’s now not being fair now to the pietists for surely they had other emphases. Horton doesn’t like “get saved” but it’s precisely what the jailor asked in Acts 16:19-21, so I will stick with it as a good and biblical expression.]

Then this next set of lines seems to miss a distinct emphasis in my book. He sees a false choice. But I don’t ever force a choice between Story and salvation, but I do force a choice between the Story gospel and the Soterian gospel, which has no Story. Let me emphasize it again: I make it clear beyond critique that the gospel saves, that there are saving benefits to the gospel, and that Jesus is the King and Lord who saves. The “plan of salvation” then unfolds out of “for our sins” in 1 Cor 15. One of my close readers told me he was annoyed how often I emphasized that the gospel of King Jesus and Lord is a gospel that saves!

In this light, I worry about forcing a choice between the gospel as the Story of Jesus and the Plan of Salvation (if the latter means justification and new birth, for example). The one is still too broad to specify the saving announcement [I disagree as stated above.] and the latter is too narrow—indeed, somewhat distorting (understood the way McKnight describes it, as akin to the Four Spiritual Laws). McKnight does a great job with 1 Corinthians 15, but there Paul clearly includes the benefits of Christ’s saving work (forgiveness, justification [this is not in 1 Cor 15 at all], resurrection [resurrection as benefit?]) with Christ’s Story as the gospel. In fact, our story (how he saves us) is bound up with his story in that passage. If 1 Corinthians 15 is a summary of the gospel (and I agree that it is), then wouldn’t it be arbitrary to say that the details about Christ’s death and resurrection are the gospel while the benefits for us, as important as they are, are not the gospel? [I don’t say this.] There are just too many passages, here and elsewhere, that make Christ’s work (living, dying and rising again in history) and its effects for us inseparable aspects of the gospel. “He was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25). The dramatic story of Christ and the doctrine that interprets its significance for us are inseparable aspects of the same gospel.[I totally agree that we can’t totally separate gospel from salvation and never say otherwise. What I do say is that one way of framing the gospel, the soterian approach, has no Story, while the other, the Story gospel of King Jesus, entails the benefits of salvation.]

And Michael might be again smuggling in a soterian model that simply isn’t how Paul defines gospel when he says:

The gospel in the New Testament is neither “Repent and believe” (that’s the call to embrace the gospel) [I don’t say the gospel is to repent and believe, I say it is the proper response, and I include baptism because the apostles do.] nor “Jesus is the Solution to Israel’s Story.” [I say this and stand by it.] It’s not even that Jesus is Lord, the Messiah-King. [I disagree: at the heart of the gospel is the announcement that Jesus is Messiah/King and Lord who saves.] This announcement is as ambiguous without the news of justification as is the news of justification apart from the Story of Israel and Jesus. [Precisely what Bird pushed against above. I ask: Then how can Paul summarize the gospel without justification so much as mentioned in 1 Cor 15?]

Another point: Horton touches a new perspective theme, and I can’t for the life of me understand why he thinks I don’t do this: Story of Israel involves Adam and the Gentiles eventually. I emphasize this in the Peter sermon: it is for all, and I tend to use Messsiah/King for the Israel focus and “Lord” for Gentiles. But it appears to me Horton thinks I didn’t include this:

Another danger in reducing the gospel to the Jesus-Story-as-Solution-to-the-Israel-Story is that it fails to account adequately for why the gospel is good news to Gentiles.

Not sure why Michael said what’s below, but he needs to read p. 158 again:

Nothing about the sacraments, church membership and discipline—especially odd in light of the Justin Martyr appendix that focused on these ordinary means by which God “creates a gospel culture.”

OK, I have nothing about church discipline or really about church “membership” but there is plenty of “we” in that last chp, plenty of church, stuff on church calendar and I have stuff about baptism and sacraments. It’s on p. 158.

One point that I wish Michael had discussed more, and maybe it’s because he agrees with me, but it is the chief methodological point of my book, and it’s a very big issue to me: when we define gospel I say we need to go to 1 Cor 15, to the gospel sermons in Acts, and to the first four Gospels as the gospel itself. On those three sets of texts this book depends, and when we use those texts, esp 1 Cor 15 as the hermeneutic to gospel that leads to fresh re-viewing of the gospel sermons in Acts and the Gospels, we can’t arrive at a soterian frame for the meaning of gospel. We get the Story framing.

I don’t use the term “soterists.”

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