An Interview with Dr. Michael Horton (pt. 2)
This is part two of my interview with Michael Horton. You can read the first part here.
What is one book that’s been published in the last year that you’d recommend to others?
One would be the recently published work by your own Keith Mathison: From Age to Age: Unfolding Biblical Eschatology. It’s hard to summarize the whole Bible, but he does a terrific job. There are many great books that have been published lately—some really helpful resources for laypeople. That’s one thing that is so encouraging right now. So many people, from John Piper to Mark Dever to Don Carson to Tim Keller and R.C. Sproul are still writing popular books that invite people into a deeper understanding of the Christian faith, and the cumulative impact seems to be rising. I think it shows the power of books. Books are still a really remarkable force.
What period of church history do you think the church has produced the greatest biblical exegesis?
It’s hard to identify a particular period because there have always been good exegetes and bad exegetes. I do think that some of the most amazing exegetes are alive today and that some of the best commentaries are written by people today.
I agree, I think that in the last thirty to forty years there’s been better exegesis than we’ve seen in all of church history—would you elaborate?
Taking the languages seriously, the context seriously, really interpreting the Bible historically. If we consider Calvin’s commentaries, they aren’t meant to be preached. His commentaries are often very businesslike, but then you hit a gold mine, and it’s wonderful. Even the best commentators today, Reformed or not, feel obliged to take account of Calvin’s work in these commentaries. We have some of the best exegetes today who aren’t even Calvinists, but when we consider Calvin’s writings it’s amazing he had such insight back in the sixteenth century. But I think there are many exegetes since Calvin who have improved on his exegesis. He was standing on shoulders, but not on many shoulders—and many who do exegesis today have a lot of helpful tools and many predecessors that enable them to do better work. So we just keep building on it. It’s amazing.
Are you a postmillennialist, Mike?
It sounds like it, doesn’t it. I’m an optimistic amillennialist.
When did you write your first book and why did you write it?
Mission Accomplished, which was later titled Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, published by Thomas Nelson.
What year did it come out?
It came out my sophomore year in college, which was, I think, 1984.
So how old were you when you wrote it?
I was fifteen when James Boice kindly wrote a foreword for it, and at that time I naively thought it would be published any day, and I’m amazed Thomas Nelson published it when I got to college. That just shows you they’ll publish anything.
By that time, were there five versions of your book, like Calvin’s Institutes, or was that still your original manuscript?
The original version, when I was fifteen, was a little different from Mission Accomplished, but not much different. The real difference is between Mission Accomplished and Putting Amazing Back Into Grace. Putting Amazing Back Into Grace is a fuller treatment—there are more doctrines included.
Why did you write it?
I wrote Mission Accomplished for my family, to try to explain to them that I wasn’t part of a cult. I found it difficult to articulate what I was learning from Romans and from many of the great Reformed interpreters.
What projects are you working on currently?
The Gospel Driven Life, the sequel to Christless Christianity just came out, and Lord willing, I have a systematic theology coming out in the Spring; it’s going through the editing process right now. Then, I would like to write a third book, a follow-up to The Gospel Driven Life on the great commission.
Could you comment on the types of books that are available today?
In our day there are many books being published with great depth. I remember when it wasn’t that long ago when you just couldn’t find books for a popular audience on subjects such as the cross of Christ. You know, maybe John Stott would come out with a book or Leon Morris. Now, there are so many to choose from. So in one sense I think there’s more depth than ever available to people in the marketplace. But in another sense, there’s less. It’s sort of as if there’s still this sense that everything has to be popular, everything has to be for a mass audience.
While I certainly think that we need resources for a mass popular audience, it worries me a little when pastors tell me about their reading lists, and often they are only reading the same books that your average Ligonier or White Horse Inn conference attendee is reading. While pastors may be fed by good books and thus feeding their congregations with good teaching, usually their teaching will not go beyond what they themselves are reading.
Also, one thing I wish I were better at is beautiful writing, and I think this is needed in a lot of writing. There’s an earlier generation that is more concerned about rhetoric, more concerned about how things are said. I think it’s one of the reasons why R.C. is still so compelling to people because he explains things clearly and beautifully, and you as well. The Puritans were masters of that, and I think those of us who were not given a very good liberal arts education growing up and whose lives are increasingly dominated by text messaging just don’t invest much time in saying things well. We say what we need to say in order to get a point across, but we’re not necessarily given to richness of language, and that’s something I’ve always wanted to improve on in my writing.
I think Joel Beeke in his writing attempts to preserve that beautiful, illustrative style in his writing. There’s a beauty in the language he employs that makes you want to keep reading.
I agree. You can’t separate that from how many pages of the Puritans he’s read. They really were masters of simultaneous simplicity and brevity on one hand, well, at least simplicity, and a wonderful sense of allusion. They used words like an artist uses a palette, and they could build a whole scene in your mind just by using words.
If you could study under any three churchmen in history who would it be and why?
I have already mentioned the Cappadocians. Beyond them, probably Irenaeus, Aquinas, and it’s a toss up between Warfield and Amandus Polanus.
If you could have a one-hour discussion with any living person in the world today, who would it be?
Pope Benedict XVI. He’s a very interesting theologian whom I’ve quoted in my book on justification in the covenant and eschatology series. I interact extensively with Pope Benedict; it’s amazing—he really is the best theologian the Papacy has seen since I don’t know when, and he loves covenant theology. He has read a lot of the same authors Reformed theologians have read, and he even comes to the conclusion: I can see how the Reformation happened; I can see how the Reformers made the conclusions they did.
Well, thank you, Pope Benedict, too bad it’s now been five hundred years, but what is your conclusion from all that? If you say you agree with the exegesis, does dogma trump exegesis? It would be very enjoyable to have a conversation with him, not adversarial but to ask him some questions. I just endorsed a book Scott Hahn wrote on the Pope’s biblical theology. By “biblical theology,” I don’t necessarily mean that it’s biblically accurate! Biblical theology is a sub-discipline that follows the development of a doctrine or biblical motif from Genesis to Revelation. Pope Benedict does a lot of that and even when I disagree (quite often!), it’s serious and well-argued.
Is there one particular word of counsel that has proven to be helpful in your life?
Sure, from my mom, whenever I came to her with questions when I was reading Romans, and when I was beginning to read Puritan and Reformed authors, I would bring up questions to her (she was a devout Bible-reading mother), and she would say, “I don’t know. Let’s look at the Scriptures. Let’s investigate it.” She really developed in me an inquisitive respect for the authority of Scripture. She helped me understand that the Bible really does have clear answers, even if we disagree on what those answers are. By the way, when we started CURE (the original parent of the White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation magazine), my mom became the business manager and started her own underground ministry to prisoners. She would smuggle our materials out of the office in “care packages.” Whenever anybody asked why supplies were dwindling, she’d get this guilty look on her face (she’s Prussian, so that’s one of two expressions) and say, “What are we doing this for?” The inmates called it “Mama Jo’s Prison Ministry,” and when a guy would get out of, she would be the second or third person they’d call. Wow, all your questions are tough for me to answer—I’m not very self-reflective.
The interview will continue tomorrow.