Since I just finished Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith, I thought I’d give some feedback which I hope will be helpful to those of you who own or plan to own this great new theology book. Before I set this book aside and get to my other reading ‘work,’ I wanted to give a brief review that doubles as a reading aid.
First, I loved this book because of the multitude of scriptural citations and quotes. Horton does a good job of weaving the scriptures into his explanations of certain doctrines. He’s not just prooftexting, he’s following the warp and woof of the Bible in every chapter of this ST. In The Christian Faith, you’ll notice that Christ is truly central not just to scripture, but also to solid theology and the doctrines of the faith. Just like the gospel is all over the Bible, so it is all over Horton’s theological explanations.
Second, he interacts well with other traditions as well as church history. Horton converses with the church fathers, the medieval scholastics, Roman Catholic theology, Eastern Orthodox theology, Reformation theology, and many contemporary theologies (i.e. Barth, Jenson, Zizioulas, etc). This isn’t just some sort of sectarian systematic theology that appeals to one single tradition. Granted, Horton is writing from a Presbyterian/Reformed angle, but he’s writing about the Christian Faith (since strictly speaking there is no such thing as “The Reformed Faith” or “The Lutheran Faith,” etc.). He’s also not afraid to critique his own tradition and point out the strengths of other traditions where applicable.
Third, I appreciated the trinitarian and covenantal emphases. He really shows that the doctrine of the Trinity makes up the fabric of the Christian faith by continually explaining doctrines in a trinitarian fashion. The same can be said of covenant(s); rather than deistic or pantheistic, the Christian faith is covenantal (God is transcendent and immanent covenantally).
Fourth, this book is not an easy read. The Christian Faith is not really for laypeople; it’s not something you could read in a Church Bible study or with your elders/deacons for training. It is for seminary students, pastors, teachers, professors, and other Christians who are well-read in philosophy, theology, church history, and the confessions but not for regular laypeople. Take heart, however: I heard there is a briefer and easier version of Horton’s ST coming out in the next couple of years (DV).
Fifth, as I mentioned before, the formatting isn’t so great. The glossary is not overly helpful because of its brevity, and there is no extended outline to use if you need to go back and revisit a topic (we made one here). Also, though there is an extensive topical index, it too is incomplete. For example, if you simply wanted to grab this book and find Horton’s discussion of the regulative principle of worship, it would take you a long time since it’s not in the index nor is there a clear section where you’d turn to find it (FYI it’s on p. 878). I suggest having a sheet of paper handy when you read this so you can make your own index for future referencing. One weakness of this ST, in my opinion, is the difficulty of finding topics that are not in the index or table of contents.
Sixth (related to #4 above): this book does not read like a “normal” systematic theology text. The overall structure is that of systematic theology (i.e. theology proper, anthropology, soteriology, etc.), but it doesn’t really flow like a classic systematic text and there are few definitions and detailed subpoints. This is not a critique, just an observation to help you read it more productively. The Christian Faith is sort of like a biblical theology book (i.e. Meredith Kline) grouped in the traditional systematic way (i.e. the Belgic Confession) that contains some of the regular ST-type alternate views and philosophical aspects of theology (i.e. Herman Bavinck). I admit I was somewhat perplexed by the layout of this book until I realized it isn’t exactly like the STs I’ve read. Once I realized that, it was easier for me to read.
In summary, though it is a deep read – around 1000 pages of detailed philosophical, historical, theological, and biblical discussions – it definitely is worth the effort. The content is solid, thought-provoking, and faith-strengthening. It maybe won’t replace the traditional ST on your shelves because it is (sort of) a different genre, but it does belong there to round out your ST section. I highly recommend it. Get it, and be patient with it, and don’t approach it like you do a traditional ST, and I’m quite sure you’ll benefit greatly. I’m excited to see what this theology text does for Christ’s church in the years ahead.