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If I Had to Pick a "Book of the Year" This Would Be It

Someone at church asked me this question.  "What was the best new book released this year?"

This was a very tough question.  No doubt, Scott Clark's Recovering the Reformed Confession (P & R) is a very important "must read" book, as is Mike Horton's other new book, Christless Christianity (Baker).

But Mike Horton's People and Place (Westminster John Knox) was one of those books that repeatedly grabbed my attention, and at a number of points gave me considerable pause when Horton raised very profound yet basic issues that I had never really considered, and yet should have.  Until now ecclesiology was not a subject of much interest to me.  That has changed.

The fourth and final volume in Horton's effort to set forth classical Reformed covenant theology as a foundation upon which Reformed theology can be renewed in our own age, this volume is perhaps the best in the whole series.  It is certainly the most readable, and it touches upon many issues discussed on the White Horse Inn as well as in those Reformed/Presbyterian churches grounded in word/sacrament ministry.

I won't attempt a book review here--you must read it for yourself.  But let me touch upon several of the book's major themes so as to pique your interest.

First, Horton starts with the premise that Christ's ascension brings about a major turning point in the redemptive drama at exactly that moment we'd least expect that turning point to occur.  To our amazement, the suffering servant has become the exalted Lord in the resurrection.  But then suddenly and unexpectedly, the exalted one disappears!

Our Lord's ascension therefore creates a rather surprising and important paradox in redemptive history which must be answered ecclesially.  As Horton puts it, "precisely in that place vacated by the one who ascended, a church emerges."  While some of us may find that ecclesiology doesn't turn our crank like debates over justification and election might do, Horton reminds us of the vital importance of this topic, both in terms of the mission of the church (necessarily tied to its apostolicity and its marks), as well as the piety and practice of the individual Christian, who is necessarily a member of that church.

Throughout the various chapters of People and Place, Horton makes an impressive case that Christ's final commands to his people define the mission and purpose of the church (i.e., the Great Commission, the institution of the Lord's Supper, the discourse of John 14-16).  This connects Christ's promises to his disciples about what is to come, with one of the major themes of New Testament theology, namely Pentecost and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through those means given by Christ to his church--word and sacrament.  Our ascended Lord is present with us, but in a particular way.

Second, Horton's discussion of the major ecclesiologies through the lens of Christ's ascension and Pentecost is very helpful.  Is the essence of the church to be found in its institutions (Rome), or is the church an eschatological event (Barth)?  The Roman church, for example, seeks to deal with Christ's absence through the papacy (as a sort of substitute for Christ on the earth), or through the institutional church (somehow a part of Christ's incarnation), or then later through the mystery of the Eucharist (Christ's visible presence).

Likewise, Pentecostals deal with the paradox of Christ's absence through the immediate operations of the Holy Spirit, understood apart from divinely prescribed means (such as word and sacrament), and to be sought in and through the experience of the Spirit in the human heart.  No doubt, this paradox also explains why so many contemporary evangelicals have such a low ecclesiology--Christ's presence is understood in primarily subjective ways of apprehension, i.e., through "a personal" relationship/encounter with Jesus, quite apart from means such as word and sacrament, which are actually seen as impediments to the subjective and/or personal relationship.

And While Horton doesn't deal with this directly, the paradox of Christ's absence would certainly explain the dispensationalist's desire to push Christ's physical presence with his people off into the future--i.e., in an earthly millennium, where Christ will once again physically dwell in the midst of his people, fulfilling what was promised.

Third, all of Horton's main points are grounded in solid exegesis and a well thought-out biblical theology, all the while interacting with Roman, Orthodox, and Free Church traditions. This is especially helpful as Horton sets forth the Reformed (and biblical) alternative--a church which is apostolic, has its mission grounded in the marks of a true church as given by Christ, and is tied to God's covenant promises, which remain essentially the same throughout redemptive history.  All the while, Horton sets forth the already-not yet tension (characteristic of New Testament eschatology), in which Christ's promises are realized to his people in the present, yet in anticipation of the final consummation.

Once you've finished this book, you'll never feel the same about the importance of the preached word, the sacraments, and the church (as the covenant community) to which these wonderful gifts have been given.  This book should also help you understand the Reformed stress upon the preached word and the sacraments as "means of grace."

You can find People and Place here: Click here: People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology: Michael S. Horton: Books

Reader Comments (11)

if this is anything like covenant and eschatology, you'll need a phd to understand it. ;)
December 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterm burke
So many good books out this Christmas season. I'm going to have to get this one now too. If evangelicals need to hear anything it is a defense of the Church as an institution initiated by the King Himself. Church becomes almost a peripheral and secondary matter to evangelicals who replace what they do as of ultimate importance. They do not recognize this as the new modern day narcissism. The irony again is that once we recognize what Christ has done for us as the top priority we are able to maintain our integrity amongst our fellow fallen neighbors while not coming off as moralistic and therapuetic. The Church always reminds us that we are sinners in deep need of God's means of grace on a regular basis.
December 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel
I have really enjoyed, as well as struggled and have been challenged to read the books in this series. I can't read these books with out wikipedia. Horton has some amazing and profound things to teach the Church, especially in his first book Covenant and Eschatology.

For many of us learning to read the bible as a redemptive historic text that is written to be understood analogically in the context of a covenant, is a new and very challenging thing.

It be great if another really smart trained theologian could break down this work for the simple minded people. If someone could do a cliff notes version of these books, without the conversations with the Philosophers, the Princeton Academia, and the New Perspective folk, and just get to the core of Horton is teaching, this would be very beneficial.

I look forward to banging my head against the wall, while trying plow through this final addition of the covenant series.

This series is worth banging your head against the wall for.
December 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdlzr
Can I read this without reading the other three or must they be read as a concurrent series?
December 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPhil B
was just going to ask the same thing as Phil B. was the series written to be read in a specific order?
December 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRana

While part of a series, this volume easily stands on its own.
December 16, 2008 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger
Now, of Mike can recover his formerly historic view of liturgy. The Reformed "Order of Service" is by definition sectarian. Yes, this is another plug for the Prayerbook, the Creeds, Lord's Prayer, Chanting the Psalms, Common Chalice at Communion, Kneelers, the Canticles, Historic Church Calendar... etc.

No doubt Mike Horton's book is a good read! It still amazes me that our Presbyterian brothers fail to realize the so-called regulative principle was coined to oppose the Prayerbook and a true liturgy of the Church. Worship is not the exclusive province of the Ministers; it belongs to the whole church.
December 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie
Charlie -

Interesting you should bring that up. I just finished reading an essay by William Cwirla that appeared back in 1996 (when both Mike and Kim were co-pastors at the CRC in Placentia). It's a very worthy read on the action the liturgy has had in spreading the gospel down through the centuries.,_the_gospel,_the_liturgy
December 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge
Wasnt Mike Horton an Anglican Pastor at one time? What made hime reject the Liturgy and beauty of the prayerbook. Was it some of the sacerdotal leanings?
December 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMike
Mikle: What sacerdotal leanings? For the record, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is more protestant than the 1926. The doctrine of the Holy Communion is identical to the three forms of unity. Sadly, the WCF posited the "regulative principle" to oppose the Prayerbook with its more historic and churchly liturgy.

Mike, like Kim, was in the Reformed Episcopal Church, which now tolerates the virus of Anglo Catholicism. Charles
December 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie
Westminster Confession Chapter 21.1

"I. The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture."

The 1662 Prayer Book was a prime example of Papist corruptions entering into the worship of God's church. Four ceremonies named by the Dissenters to the CofE are: 1.Bowing toward the East, 2. Bowing at the name of Jesus, 3.Signing with a cross at Baptism, 4. Particular gestures in worship, especially kneeling at the Lord's Supper.

If these are added ceremonies by men, contrary to scripture, who are the real sectarians?
December 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPhil B

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