A Brief Note on Criticism

February 10, 2011 — 1 Comment

I thought after the last post I offered on Horton’s The Christian Faith, it might be helpful to clarify a few things. While at times I may be critical of Horton’s work, it is nonetheless an admirable achievement. Not everyone can write a systematic theology, much less do so while still relatively young. Part of why I think John Frame’s works excel Horton’s in clarity and focus is because Frame has had much longer to refine his thinking. So in a way, it’s not so much a condemnation of Horton’s writing as somehow being poor in quality as it is noting that with a little more time to ruminate, Horton’s work could be so much better.

Now that being said, if you are going to attempt a project like Horton has, there will be a fair amount of criticism. I think that criticism is probably expanded by the nature of the project Horton completed. For Frame, as we saw in the last post, there is little priority of interacting with the contemporary scene. He does so at a minimum, but his main focus is on building doctrine from the text of Scripture. Because Horton self-consciously is attempting to be very conversant with the contemporary theological scene and integrate the fruits of biblical theology and historical theology, he will be open to the charge throughout his book that he has overlooked somebody.

That was seen in the last chapters that covered inspiration in detail, yet failed to deal with a very controversial book within Reformed circles (that even lead to the author’s dismissal from Westminster Seminary). Certainly from a Reformed perspective you would want to see some interaction or mention of the ideas of a writer like Peter Enns, but they were conspicuously absent. At some level he was probably implicitly interacting with Enns, affirming things that Enns had denied or vice versa, but it is always helpful to make plain the author you are engaging rather than leaving them hidden.

All that being said, Horton reserves the right as the author of his book to choose who he will converse with and who he won’t. Space constraints imposed by his editors no doubt played a part in his selections, and the nature of theology has almost gotten to the point where a single volume systematic theology almost by definition has to leave certain topics out. Or, at bare minimum it cannot cover everything in detail.

So, in criticizing the inclusion or exclusion of certain conversation partners or certain doctrinal discussions, many times I am just giving my opinion and possibly some supporting reasons. Most times it is not a claim that Horton is wrong for doing whatever it is that is under scrutiny. The only things I think that are wrong are when Horton affirms or denies something in opposition to Scripture. At this point you may have noticed there has been very little of that pointed out. In fact, many of the things Horton says are great summations of Christian doctrine and deserve further elaboration and meditation. These are the types of things I’ll pass along on Tumblr.

In all of this then, just keep in mind that while I may criticize Horton’s work, part of that is just the nature of why I am reading it. We wouldn’t have anything to discuss in class if we just sat around and talked about how much we liked it. We necessarily have to pick at it and pull at the loose ends Horton leaves here and there. Part of writing a good systematic theology is producing a work that is a discussion starter. In that sense, Horton certainly doesn’t disappoint.


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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

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