Revelation as The Source of Theology

February 8, 2011 — Leave a comment


[This post is part of The Christian Faith series]

It donned on me over last week that it might be a little too ambitious to go chapter by chapter, so I’ve going to combine some here and there to simplify things a bit. In this case, we’ll take chapters 2 and 3 of The Christian Faith together.

A motif which was introduced in the first chapter is expanded by Horton as he starts the second chapter. Rather than the way of seeing, which is equated with certainty and possession of knowledge, Horton explains the biblical metaphor is that of hearing which is equated with faith. For a while I was afraid this was going to turn into a false dichotomy, but Horton affirms the value of both, but definitely prioritizes listening and hearing God speak (not in an subjective, existential sort of way) through His Word. This can be seen (ha!) in his outline for this chapter:

  • Seeing as Certainity: The Way of Vision
  • “Hear, O Israel…”: Covenantal Speech
  • Hearing is Believing
  • Theory and Practice
  • Theology As Wisdom For Invocation

Most of the discussion in this chapter is in service of trying to undo the distinction between theory and practice. The question of the chapter had been whether theology was a theoretical or practical science (pg. 80), and by pg 94 the answer he gets to is that the Bible sees knowledge as “an integrated act of acknowledgement – thinking, feeling, and doing in one simultaneous act.” He then proceeds to argue that theology, conceived rightly is inherently practical (96-100). He then closes out the chapter by showing how this understanding affects the faith vs reason debate as well as summing up theology as wisdom for invocation. All of this to me was very helpful and I think is a needed corrective to the way some people think of theology. While chapter 1 by its nature tended to be a bit heavily philosophical, Horton does a good job in both chapters of summarizing the grand sweep of unbelieving thought (bent on ascent in order to see clearly the truth) vs believing thought (dependent on God’s descent to reveal the Truth).

In this chapter particularly I found several quotable nuggets that I’ll pass along on Tumblr, and unlike the first chapter it was more apparently practical. I understand the value of the first chapter and the stage Horton was trying to set, I just hope it doesn’t loose to many readers who do not have stamina to make it through his whirldwind tour. If they do, they’ll be rewarded in this next chapter.

The same could also be said for chapter 3, which shifts the focus to discussing revelation. Horton does this using Avery Dulles’ models from his book on the subject.  For those unfamiliar, the models are (from pg. 113):

  • Revelation as Doctrine (God as teacher)
  • Revelation as History (God as Actor)
  • Revelation as Inner Experience (God as Guest)
  • Revelation as Dialectical Encounter (God as Judge)
  • Revelation as New Awareness (God as Poet)

At times keeping up with which model is which (they get numbered 1-5) can be troublesome if you’re not already familiar with them as Horton just refers to them by number for the most part. He does a good job interacting with them, teasing out their respective strengths and weaknesses before building a biblical doctrine of revelation that seeks to do justice to the all of the insights of the above models. His overarching concern seems to be to emphasize that revelation is by divine initiative and is done in the service of redemption.

I thought Horton offered a good explanation of speech acts and then a good integration into his understanding of revelation, although I think if you are totally unfamiliar with those ideas it might have been hard to follow. Particularly striking to me was his conclusion on pg. 130 (which I won’t quote because of length). I thought it represented a good Trinitarian understanding of God’s revelatory speech acts, which then fed into his discussion of the Word of God. He offers a classic Reformed distinction between general and special revelation, as well as law and gospel (or more helpfully, the imperatives to follow and the indicatives to believe). All in all, I found these first few chapters pretty easy to follow, unlike his other book and a bit more clear and precise, although there are a few places I noted he could have been a bit more clear on both the topic and his position (like when he first discusses analogical knowledge).

Overall these two chapters have many good things to contribute to theological discussion and Horton does a good job of weaving things together. I would have to say though that I did not his presentation personally satisfactory and on this subject in particular, I think the treatment offered by John Frame in Doctrine of the Word of God is much more clear and concise. In this case, it is not so much an indictment of Horton, rather just an observation that another writer in the same tradition offers a much more compelling account of a theological subject. At times Horton can be hard to follow and it is sometimes difficult to understand how he is choosing his conversation partners, but as I’ve read further along at this point, it is worth noting that things smooth out once the topic shifts to doctrine of God.


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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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