The Person of Christ

March 31, 2011 — 1 Comment

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[This post is part of The Christian Faith series]

This chapter starts the 4th section of Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith titled, appropriately, God Who Rescues. It is the first of three chapters on Christology and Soteriology. As I read through the chapter, I didn’t find anything particularly egregious, which made me feel uncertain. I couldn’t tell if I had finally run across a chapter with no major difficulties, or if I had just over-looked/missed something. It is unfortunate to have this kind of nagging feeling when reading any book, but more so when reading a systematic theology. That being said though, this chapter (and the next two) seem to be the best written in the book so far.

In a category I guess we can start calling footnote follies, right in the very first note Horton attributes a position to N. T. Wright but gives no evidence. Maybe he considers Wright’s caution against “Christological proof texting” so common knowledge he doesn’t need to note where that argument appears in Wright’s writings. Footnote 9 on pg. 450 exhibits little understanding of the exegetical arguments for or against the position Horton is espousing. To say “it is difficult to know why…” in reference to the opposing position seems to be shorthand for “I haven’t read the argument extensively enough to know…” Elsewhere, Horton also mishandles Wright again, this time just in the introduction of a quote. On pg. 454 Horton is quoting from Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, and in ending the paragraph notes that N. T. Wright “adds” and then quotes him again. Unless I am missing something, it is a bit incorrect to say he “adds” when the next quote comes from 500pg earlier in the book you are quoting from. Probably a minor editorial quibble, but still, he could have just as easily and more accurately introduced the quote with “earlier Wright said,” or “as Wright already established,” or even just “elsewhere.”

Overall though, I thought this chapter was acceptable. It’s not an outstanding defense of Reformed Christology that knocks your socks off so much as just a remix of Berkhof. And when I say remix, I literally mean remix. While at first glance Horton’s arrangement of material seems like his usual hodge-podge, when compared against this outline from Berkhof, Horton only seems to miss the parts on discussing nature and person (huge omission there) and the discussion about Kenotic Christology (which he touches on):

The Person of Christ

  • Doctrine of Christ in History (chapter title)
    • The relation between anthropology and Christology
    • The doctrine of Christ before the Reformation
      • Up to the Council of Chalcedon
      • After the Council of Chalcedon
    • The doctrine of Christ after the Reformation
      • Up to the 19th century
      • In the 19th century
  • The Names and Nature of Christ
    • The Names of Christ
      • The name Jesus
      • The name Christ
      • The name Son of Man
      • The name Son of God
      • The name Lord
    • The Natures of Christ
      • Scripture proofs for the deity of Christ
        • In the Old Testament
        • In the Writings of John and Paul
        • In the Synoptics
        • In the self-consciousness of Jesus
      • Scriptures proofs for the real humanity of Christ
      • Scripture proof for the sinless humanity of Christ
      • The necessity of the two natures in Christ
        • The necessity of His manhood
        • The necessity of His Godhead
  • The Unipersonality of Christ
    • Statement of the Church’s view respecting the person of Christ
      • Definition of the terms “nature” and “person” (Probably for the best)
      • Propositions in which the view of the Church may be stated
    • Scriptural proofs for the unipersonality of Christ
      • No evidence of a dual personality in Scripture
      • Both natures are represented in Scripture as united in one person
      • The one person is spoken of in terms true of either one of the natures
    • The effects of the union of the two natures in one person
      • No essential change in the divine nature
      • Threefold communication resulted from the incarnation (Maybe mentioned in English)
        • A communicatio idiomatum or communication of properties
        • A communicatio apotelesmatum or operationum
        • A communicatio chaismatum or gratiarum
      • The God-man is the object of prayer
    • The unipersonality of Christ a mystery (He might have said in passing something about mystery)
    • The Lutheran doctrine of the communication of attributes
      • Statement of the Lutheran position
      • Objections to this Lutheran doctrine
    • The Kenosis doctrine in various forms
      • Statement of this doctrine
        • The theory of Thoamsius, Delitzsch and Crosby (Don’t think we missed much)
        • The theory of Gess and H. W. Beecher
        • The theory of Ebrard
        • The theory of Martensen and Gore
      • Supposed Scriptural basis for the doctrine
      • Objections to the Kenosis doctrine
    • The theory of gradual incarnation

 

Now, in Berkhof, this discussion covers 25 pages. Horton’s chapter covering the same ground is 36 pages, word count though may make them comparable. I list this mainly because it makes some of Horton’s discussions make sense. You wonder why he picked certain things to talk about, well now you know. He just took what Berkhof said and re-imagined it in a more readable form. What he loses in clarity and analytical depth he regains in not sounding like a theological dictionary.

All that to say, I didn’t think this particular chapter was half bad. Horton covered most of the main points, and while I think he could have gone in depth a few more places, he did surprisingly spend a longer time working through the Old Testament and setting the stage for the Messiah so to speak. He did a good bit more exegetical work throughout. I thought he did a good job summarizing the various Jesus Quests as well as the various Christological heresies in their various incarnations. This chapter wasn’t very highly footnoted and even has a surprisingly correct usage of philosophic terms on pg. 468 (correctly noting the difference between accidental and essential properties). Important terms were put in bold and more or less well defined. Barth only makes it into one footnote if I am counting correctly.

In discussing this in class, there were a few more issues brought to my attention that I share here. In the previous chapter, and now here again on pg. 447 Horton refers to Adam and then Israel’s failure to drive the serpent out of the garden. The former is a bit of an imaginative reading of Genesis 2-3, while the latter seems to lack historical reference. It seems like a passing issue, but this is the second (of many now that I’m farther along in the book) of Horton making the first sin seem to be failing to keep the holiness of the garden sanctuary in tact. It would seem better to follow what Scripture treats as the first sin (i.e. disobedience to direct command).

Also, Horton says on pg. 470 that it would acceptable in light of Acts 20:28 and the unity of Christ’s person that the blood on the cross was the blood of God. There is however a significant textual issue on that verse that makes that reading of it unlikely. Horton no where notes this, nor seems aware of it. The thought could have been left off the end of the paragraph without any damage to the overall unity of thought.

Lastly, while Horton did put many the key heresies in bold in the text, several of them are not mentioned in the glossary. This is a growing deficiency mentioned earlier, but since Horton does not define terms very well (or at all, like in this chapter which nixes the discussion of “nature” and “person”) he could at least do readers the favor of providing an extensive glossary. He could also consistently use the definition listed in the glossary in the body of the book. Often though, this does not happen.

That aside though, this was a much stronger chapter, and from what I’ve read in the rest of this section, it seems like Horton is now working in areas of strength rather than giving the impression that he is out of his depth like some earlier chapters did.

Nate

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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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