Thursday, April 21, 2011

Paul Helm Reviews Michael Horton's Systematic

Paul Helm has a balanced review of Michael Horton's new systematic theology, "The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way." I'm still in the process of reviewing the book myself. I will reserve my comments until a later date.

21 comments:

Randall van der Sterren said...

Where's the review? I find hardly anything of substance there. Except for paragraphs 3-6, which aren't fleshed out, what gives?

I appreciate Helm's work, yet sometime he seems to gesture at ideas rather than make a point. Considering that he sometimes moonlights at BoT, I assume he knows of the Puritan emphasis on clarity in religious writing.

Further, Helm's comments toward the end that Horton is "intramural" and therefore dull because he doesn't interact with the global rainbow of religion. So what? Covering such an effort competently would take several lifetimes. Further, systematic texts from Calvin on have been handbooks for the Church, not contributions to some academic conversation about philosophy of religion.

This review lowered my opinion of Helm.

Turretinfan said...

As I said, I'm reserving my own comments for now. I will say, however, that the review actually elevated my opinion of Helm.

Jonathan said...

Fanboys....

Coram Deo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coram Deo said...

I'm about 200 pages in so far, and I've appreciated Horton's interaction thus far.

His style is certainly engaging, although I'm not sure if I'm being entirely objective in my reading because I find myself benchmarking Horton against Robert Reymond's systematic, which is probably unfair.

TF,

Given what at least seems to be a theological bias of sorts against "Escondido theology" in some of your writings, do you feel that you are reading Horton with a jaundiced eye in any way?

In Christ,
CD

Turretinfan said...

Disagreement and bias are two different things. I'm sure my theological disagreements with the author will be reflected in some way in my review of any theological work, especially a systematic theology.

Coram Deo said...

I see, well I did qualify my comment with "seems".

So you don't hold to any particular theological tendencies or inclinations, especially any that may prevent unprejudiced consideration of a question, you merely hold certain differences of opinion. That's good to know.

:o)

In Him,
CD

Word Verification: "fixem"

Randall van der Sterren said...

TF: How would Helm's review elevate your opinion of him? He sneered and filled his essay with nothing. Look, I find Horton like the rest of the Escondido boys: overrated, antinomian and fundamentally misguided. That doesn't excuse Helm. If he had nothing to say, why write the essay?

Turretinfan said...

RvdS:

You've expressed your negative opinion of the review twice. Obviously, I don't share your opinion.

-TurretinFan

Coram Deo said...

TF,

I wondered about what you meant by Helm's review "elevating your opinion" of him as well.

What about his review served to elevate your opinion of him, and why?

In Christ,
CD

Turretinfan said...

CD:

I meant that the review showed reflection and perception with respect to the book that was being reviewed. This distinguished it - in my mind - from some of other reviews of the book that I have seen.

-TurretinFan

c.t. said...

Helm is always going to be soft-edged in anything he writes. He's sort of a Yoda like figure among Calvinist academics. Yoda without the comical aspects.

First, I really don't think the piece is much of a review and probably wasn't meant to be. Helm seems to have agreed to make a blog post on that site every now and then. As a review it's light fare (probably misspelled fare there).

I think the main thing I got from the post is what seems to be something in the neighborhood of a backhanded compliment to Horton. Also, Helm's general disappointment in most all the big new systematic theologies in that they are paint-by-numbers and not very inspired (in terms of literary qualities). I agree with Helm there (though explicating biblical truth is the main thing, it goes without saying). None of these guys supplant Berkhof on just the fact and ordering of the material, and obviously none of them bring anything original - and true - like a Geerhardus Vos and a Meredith Kline did. Though Vos and Kline would say there is nothing new under the sun and present older writers who were touching on things they were bringing to light in perhaps a more vigorous way.

On the intramural theme Helm touched on: I see him there gently touching on a more problematic aspect of current Reformed academia. The shallow conformism (not to mention just shallowness itself, i.e. Helm singled out Kelly's new ST - volume one - which actually quotes large passages of Dostoevsky...does anybody think R. Scott Clark or Michael Horton have ever been within a mile of a Dostoevsky novel, let alone read one, let alone read it with understanding rather than slapping it down and snickering that it's stupid and boring and useless?), back-slapping, respecting of persons, defending a colleague no matter what, like people in more worldly societies and groups do, when it is clearly out-of-line for people who have a more important mission which is biblical truth; and not being knee-jerk negative towards outsiders and strangers, which is what called and regenerated Christians are. The lack of real development and maturity all around. (Speaking in a political soft voice at all times doth not the extent of mature development make.) Etc.

Turretinfan said...

C.T.:

I would agree with you on several things. I would agree that Vos and Kline had some original ideas. They seem to be the primary influences behind what I view as the Escondido movement.

I would also agree with you about the literary skill of Dostoevsky.

Thanks for your comments.

-TurretinFan

c.t. said...

You need to understand something, though, TF: your dig at Vos and Kline being 'original' (a word which I qualified as one should when speaking of biblical doctrine) is a shallow game. Vos was as orthodox a Reformed theologian - in an era where that was extremely rare - as any of the first and second generation reformers or any since him. He filled out orthodox Reformed doctrine in areas such as eschatology. Kline is maligned by theonomists (and now Federal Visionists) for reasons of past battles (which they lost) who always harp on his novel approach to the six days of Genesis, kind of like leftists saying the Founding Fathers owned slaves therefore America and its system of government is corrupt. Or, maybe more apt, applying the left's famous 'no defect standard' to Kline. Calvin believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. I don't throw his Institutes in the waste bin because of it. It goes without saying.

Kline has more deep insights within the boundaries of orthodox Reformed doctrine than any theologian one can come across in this rather shallow era.

I believe that people who are strangely critical of Westminster west usually just don't yet fully grasp Federal Theology, which is classical Covenant Theology systematized. I mean, calling Calvinists antinomian is going back to accusations the apostle Paul received. Accuse them of things I've mentioned in my previous comment, and if you are skeptical of any seminary luminaries still alive maybe just read from R. Scott Clark's now famous book list of Reformed Theology. Especially with non-contemporary - totally anyway - ones you can't go wrong there.

Turretinfan said...

C.T.,

There are obviously points where you and I would strongly disagree on this subject. I would agree that many of the opponents of the Escondido folks are clueless about Federal Theology. Thankfully, there is a school of thought that is more like Edwards or Owen, which addresses the matter in a way that avoids either error.

-TurretinFan

c.t. said...

Since this is an ongoing subject could you put into a sentence or short paragraph just what the error in question is?

I know there are a lot of issues on the table regarding Clark. He's been called by one of his own peers a 'practical deist.' I know he is for some reason mocking of the Puritans, or questions even their very existence in history. I know he seems to want to remove Jonathan Edwards from the Reformed camp. I chalk up most of my disagreement with him and his type to differences in ecclesiology and sacramentology which usually translates into regeneration issues and hence is usually better left untouched, for the most part. John Owen, though, took such matters on *head on.* At least some things I've read.

But, again, since this is a lingering subject here and there could you put into a single sentence or short paragrach what the error in question you are referencing is?

c.t. said...

OK, TF, I'll take your silence to mean you maybe don't really know what the problem with Westminster California is. I've always found the complaints against Westminster California to be ambiguous and never really stated clearly. Third use of the law? I know, theonomists (current or ex, kind of the same thing, really, in my cyber experience) really, really (really) don't like Meredith Kline.

Randall van der Sterren said...

TF: As your terse response is a wee bit brusque, I'll attempt a different approach:

Are you praising Helm because he is critical of Horton? Because he argues that at major points his treatment falls flat? After all, Helm is not connected to NAPARC or the US seminary axis, so he has no institutional reason to pull his punches. The discussion here got me rereading the essay, looking for the best possible light.

C.T.: Both FV and R2K/WSC theologies borrow from Kline in different ways. R2K is clearly the direct successor. Yet the FVers, specifically men like Meyers and Jordon, owe a huge debt to Kline in terms of how they read typology. Both of these group take that inheritance in trying to cook up rethinks of theology based on covenant structures. Yet they go in radically different directions.

c.t. said...

>C.T.: Both FV and R2K/WSC theologies borrow from Kline in different ways.

R2K would be in the category of a theonomy complaint against Kline. As I stated above that seems to be the main thing going on.

As for tying FV to Kline, for the reasons you give you might as well castigate John Calvin for influencing FVists as well. Anyway, Federal Vision was started by more than a few 'former' theonomists. FVists mock and hate Kline as much as unreconstructed theonomists.

To even understand what Kline was doing you not only have to understand Federal Theology and be able to discern on-the-mark Federal Theology, but you also have to understand biblical theology (the discipline, as opposed to systematic theology), and people who understand both seem to be rare. So what we get with all these complaints is a lot of uninformed seconding of motions started by people with ulterior motives for not liking Kline to begin with.

Turretinfan said...

C.T.:

Take my silence as meaning that the request to boil down Escondido's errors into a single sentence or paragraph is not something I feel up to, right now.

-TurretinFan

Turretinfan said...

RvdS:

It wasn't just criticism - it was balanced. He found positive things to say, and negative things to say as well. He also raised some points that I thought would not have been immediately apparent to the average reader.

-TurretinFan