When Michael Horton’s Putting Amazing Back into Grace was first published, I read it with great interest. While most of the book is worthwhile and helpful—he calls us back to the reformational cry of sola gratia—his chapter on “A Kingdom of Priests” is bewildering and off center. Other works by Horton contain beneficial analyses of contemporary trends that I have found useful. For example, Horton and I are equally critical of contemporary evangelicalism. His appraisal of Tim LaHaye’s statement that our battle with secular humanism is moral, not theological, is on target. I made the same point in 1989.1
Still, there is a great deal of confusion and inconsistency in Horton’s thinking. It seems to me that he has not thought through the implications of some of his ideas. Let me cite a few examples.2 Horton describes Reconstructionists as “zealous postmillennialists” who “are in danger of turning law into gospel” and “confusing salvation and earthly utopia.” He then charges Reconstructionists with defining the “kingdom as geopolitical.”3 Not one of these charges has any basis in fact. Similar charges have been answered so many times in numerous books and newsletters that I am not going to take the time to answer them here.4 It is obvious that Horton has not read much Reconstructionist literature.
Horton would place himself squarely within the Reformed tradition. He would claim to follow the views of John Calvin, J.A. Alexander, Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, and B.B. Warfield. Using only a single example, let us compare Horton’s views with those of A.A. Hodge, Professor in Systematic Theology at Princeton Seminary from 1877 until his death in 1886. Hodge made the case that “the kingdom of God on earth is not confined to the mere ecclesiastical sphere, but aims at absolute universality, and extends its supreme reign over every department of human life.”5 The implications of such a methodology are obvious: “It follows that it is the duty of every loyal subject to endeavour to bring all human society, social and political, as well as ecclesiastical, into obedience to its law of righteousness.”6 Hodge, too, was a “zealous postmillennialist.”7 In addition, he had no problem in teaching that there are political implications to the preaching and application of the gospel. Consider the following:
It is our duty, as far as lies in our power, immediately to organize human society and all its institutions and organs upon a distinctively Christian basis. Indifference or impartiality here between the law of the kingdom and the law of the world, or of its prince, the devil, is utter treason to the King of Righteousness. The Bible, the great statute‑book of the kingdom, explicitly lays down principles which, when candidly applied, will regulate the action of every human being in all relations. There can be no compromise. The King said, with regard to all descriptions of moral agents in all spheres of activity, “He that is not with me is against me.” If the national life in general is organized upon non‑Christian principles, the churches which are embraced within the universal assimilating power of that nation will not long be able to preserve their integrity.8
Hodge calls the Bible the “great statute‑book of the kingdom.” In effect, he is a “biblicist” who believes the Bible should be used as a textbook on social theory. This is Christian Reconstruction in a nutshell! Horton rejects all of this. He claims that “there are two kings and two kingdoms, each ruling a distinct sphere¼. In the kingdom of culture, what Augustine called ‘the city of man,’ there are rulers, there are laws, there are customs which are regulated by human wisdom.”9 What is the foundation for human wisdom in a strictly secular materialistic worldview driven by the scientific enterprise of evolution?
On the subject of law, was Hodge “in danger of turning law into gospel” when he wrote that “this law ¼ demands instant and absolute obedience, not only from all classes of Christians, but also in every sphere of human life equally”?10 There is no room for lawlessness in Hodge’s view, either for the church or the world. The fact that evangelicals are debating whether homosexuality is a sin is an indication that licentiousness has been turned into gospel. There is little danger of their turning law into gospel. Horton rightly criticizes the hypocrisy of evangelicalism because while many preach against lawlessness many still practice it. For proof he writes that “evangelical Christians are just as likely to embrace life‑styles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self‑centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general. The statistics are neck and neck.”11 On the one hand Horton criticizes those Christians who call for a more consistent application of the whole law of God. On the other hand, he laments that evangelicals are as lawless as the world.
Horton is confused.
The confusion persists when Horton states that a person’s position on abortion “is not an article of Christian faith.” While Horton agrees that abortion is “savage inhumanity” that must be ended, it “is not in the Apostle’s Creed.”12 While I’m a great fan of the Apostles’ Creed, it is not the Bible. Furthermore, it is not a complete statement of orthodoxy. The doctrine of verbal inspiration is not in the Apostles’ Creed, and neither is salvation by grace. Horton believes making a person’s position on abortion a test of orthodoxy would mean substituting “the Gospel for [a] moral ¼ test.”13
A person’s profession of faith is measured by his deeds, similar to the way a good surgeon is known by how well he performs in the operating room. James uses language that causes many Protestants discomfort: “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). A person who supports murder on demand—abortion rights—should rightly be questioned about his or her Christian commitment.
Much of my disagreement over what Horton writes stems from an inability to understand what he is trying to say. His arguments are not well reasoned. For example, he castigates Christians who “politicize the gospel,” and at the same time he champions a number of his own pet social causes. I don’t get it.
- Gary DeMar, “Where Do We Go from Here? An Assessment of the Moral Majority,” Biblical Worldview (September 1989), 4.(↩)
- I wrote to Mr. Horton in hopes of having him clarify some of his inconsistencies. We also invited him to participate in a debate at American Vision’s National Prophecy Conference. He declined.(↩)
- Michael Scott Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 191.(↩)
- If you would like a description of Reconstructionist principles, see Gary North and Gary DeMar, Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What It Isn’t (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991) and Gary DeMar and Peter J. Leithart, The Reduction of Christianity: A Biblical Response to Dave Hunt (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1988).(↩)
- A.A. Hodge, Evangelical Theology: Lectures on Doctrine (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust,  1990), 283.(↩)
- Hodge, Evangelical Theology, 283. Emphasis added.(↩)
- A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1891), 568–71.(↩)
- Hodge, Evangelical Theology, 283–84.(↩)
- Michael Scott Horton, “Beyond Culture Wars,” Modern Reformation (May/June 1993), 2.(↩)
- Hodge, Evangelical Theology, 280.(↩)
- Horton, “Beyond Culture Wars,” 3.(↩)
- Horton, “Beyond Culture Wars,” 2.(↩)
- Horton, “Beyond Culture Wars,” 2.(↩)