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Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama Paperback – February 1, 2002
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About the Author
Michael S. Horton is J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido, California. He is the author of a number of books, including Covenant and Eschatology, Lord and Servant, and Covenant and Salvation, all published by WJK.
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Eschatology after Nietszsche
Horton does not shrink from the challenges offered by Feuerbach, Nietzsche, and Derrida. In fact, he mostly agrees with them! If we see Christian theology--particularly Christian eschatology--as dualistic, then it is hard to jump over Lessing's Ditch. Pace Derrida, the theology of the cross demands "deferral" against all theologies of glory, of any subsuming the many/now into the One/not yet (24).
It is with the Apostle Paul and the Two Ages that we are able to overcome these dualities without reducing identity and difference into one another. Horton points out that "above and below" are analogical terms, not ontological ones (and while he doesn't make this conclusion, this allows Christianity to avoid the magical connotations of the Satanic "as above so below" formula; covenant is always a war to the death with magic religions).
The Platonic Vision
Further developed in this contrast between is the difference (!) between covenantal hearing and Platonic (Greek) vision.
A theology of glory corresponds to vision (the direct sight of the One into one's nous) rather than hearing (God's mighty acts mediated in historical and material ways...Both crass identification of God with a human artifact (idolatry) and the craving for a direct sight of God in majesty spring from the same source: the desire to see--without mediation--and not to hear; to possess everything now and avoid the cross" (35).
A Pauline Eschatology is able embrace both arrival and differance: the age to come arrives in the first fruits in Christ's resurrection, yet it is deferred until the consummation of the ages. Horton further notes,
The Platonic paradigm of vision is based on the notion that this realm of appearance is a mirror or copy of the realm of eternal ideas...The Platonizing tendency also created a dichotomy between theoria and praxis, the former linked to the contemplation of the eternal forms, the latter to action in the real world (252, 253).
In the covenantal approach, what dominates is the ear, not the eye; God's addressing us, not our vision of God (134)
Drawing upon Vanhoozer, Ricoeur, and Wolterstorff, Horton outlines the basics of Speech-Act theory. He proposes (correctly, I think) this model as fitting with the covenantal drama he outline earlier. He hints at how speech-act is able to overcome challenges from postmodernism: "But unlike deconstruction, speech-act theory locates the activity in actors (sayers) and not in signs (the said) (126).
Horton ends with suggesting how a covenantal, speech-act hermeneutics would be lived out within the church. This book truly was a bombshell. If Horton's arguments stand, the biblical covenantal religion is the only option for man. Conversely, those traditions built upon Platonic and Hellenic frameworks must fall.
To accomplish this goal, Horton focuses on the themes of covenant and eschatology as starting points. The main goal is to tackle acute challenges to the claim that God speaks and acts. For Horton, covenant and eschatology are fecund features in explaining divine speech and action.
Horton argues that the content for theology provides the source for its method. His definition of theology gives insight into the methodology he develops-- theology is the church's reflection on its own witness to revelation in history, God's performative action in words and deeds, and its own participation in the drama of redemption. Methodologically, covenant and eschatology should be the lens through which to view theology and not merely loci of theology.
In the introduction, Horton argues that a biblical-theological understanding of covenant ties things together in systematic theology whose relations are often strained: ecclesiology (the context of the covenant), theology proper (the covenant maker), anthropology (the covenant partner), Christology (the covenant mediator), soteriology (the covenant blessings), eschatology (the covenant's consummation). Rather than forced relations between the loci of theology, these are natural in view of the way the biblical drama unfolds and meets the various loci.
Horton also claims that Pauline eschatology not only avoids Nietzsche and Derrida's critiques of dualism, but also gives theology a way of talking about eschatology after Nietzsche and Derrida. This is so because in the Pauline view reality is not viewed as contrasting and sharp ontological or epistemological dualisms. Biblical eschatology, Horton argues, replaces the ontological and epistemological dualisms with different kinds: ethical (righteousness/unrighteousness) and historical ("this present age" and "the age to come"). This view locates the meaning of history in God's purpose for creation and locates the problem of alienation on personal actions concentrated in the drive for autonomy. Covenant and eschatology unite in the redemptive-historical unfolding of the divine plan as covenant partners actively participate in it.
After the introduction the book is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on special divine action. Horton explains the problems associated with divine action, interacts with possible solutions, proposes a model of divine action by drawing on speech-act theory, and draws out the hermeneutical implications for theology. Divine speech is the topic of part two. Horton provides an account for the claim that God speaks, the context in which God speaks, the means employed in divine discourse, and the hermeneutical implications of this account. Divine speech and action are best understood as actions and words within a divine drama. Not only is God the central character in this divine drama but God's role includes significant speaking parts.
Horton's book deserves praise for the clarity of its text, the definition of its terms, and the scope of its argument. It is written for pastors, educated lay readers, and the scholarly community, and they will find it accessible. Horton provides a valuable service in presenting a thoughtful defense of God's acts and words and the implications for the church's identity as a covenant community and the church's covenant activities of preaching of the Word and administering sacraments.
One of the strengths of this book is its creativity and its use of traditional resources and their benefits. Horton engages 16th and 17th century post-reformation protestant scholastic theologians as conversation partners. In doing so, he is not trying to not to repristinate the achievements of classic systems, but to harvest some of their basic insights in an effort to engage with contemporary theological, hermeneutical, and philosophical scholarship.
At no point is Covenant and Eschatology verbose or inconsistent, but on one issue it is limited. One may wish that Horton spends more time on divine action and speech with respect to process theology--both its challenges to his proposal and its view on transcendence and immanence.
Horton achieves his goal of explaining why the content of theology needs to define its methodology. Theological method is not something that someone does independent of theology, a salute to whatever contemporary intellectual trends are currently reigning. Rather, the methodological framework of theology grows out of the Scriptures and the structure of the covenantal relationship and its eschatological dimensions.