An Interview with Dr. Michael Horton (pt. 4)
In a word, what encourages you most about what you see in the church today?
The godly lust of many young people for God’s grace and glory.
In one sentence, what does it mean to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever?
It means that we are what we were created to be, that as Augustine said, God made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Him—it means that God’s glory and our happiness are not antithetical, but our real happiness is found in God.
Considering Bishop N.T. Wright’s doctrine of justification, do you believe he is teaching another gospel?
J.I. Packer has a great line: Tom Wright foregrounds what the Bible backgrounds, and backgrounds what the Bible foregrounds—but Wright does more than that; he denies a crucial component of justification, namely imputation. So, in answer to your question, yes—in denying imputation, Wright is preaching another gospel.
There’s a kind of fundamentalist approach to Scripture that Tom Wright seems to want to confront. And while he does a wonderful job of highlighting the fact that justification in Paul’s writings is understood within a broader redemptive-historical framework, something not all presentations and defenses of justification do, he is not confronting historic Reformed theology. Reformed theology always has understood justification within a broader redemptive-historical framework. If he were to read the Reformers and more recent Reformed writers, such as Geerhardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos, he would clearly see that justification is placed in its proper context with the believer’s union with Christ and within the whole history of redemption. Reformed writers speak of Paul’s treatment of justification being inseparable from the inclusion of the Gentiles. Then, when you read Tom Wright he makes it seem as if he’s the first person who saw these emphases of Paul, and that everyone else before him sort of taught the four spiritual laws. It’s an incredibly naïve view.
I know Tom Wright—not well, but we had a few conversations in my Oxford days; we’ve gone back and forth about these issues, and he simply doesn’t know historical theology. He’ll actually admit that when you catch him at a few points; he’ll say something along the lines of “well this really isn’t my area of expertise.” Well, if your thesis is that the Reformation fundamentally misunderstood Paul, it better be your area of expertise to at least know what the Reformers said—and he doesn’t. So, Wright creates a straw man. And the people who are swayed by him, who are enamored of him, are also in many cases ignorant of what the Reformers actually taught, what Reformed theology has taught on these matters. And let me offer an impassioned plea to folks: There are Reformed presentations of the doctrine of justification that include some of the very salient points that Tom Wright has raised and incorporated, without denying the very crucial component of imputation as Tom Wright does. Without imputation, justification isn’t good news. When he says that the Gospel is “Jesus is Lord,” I reply, there are many passages that tell me “Jesus is Lord” isn’t good news. There are many passages that tell me “Jesus is Lord” means to a whole lot of people “the great Avenger on the white horse with a sword in His hand, bringing the last judgment.” “Jesus is Lord” means that He will be your judge. On Mars Hill in Athens, Paul said there is a judgment coming, a last judgment coming, and God has given proof of this to everyone by raising Jesus from the dead. So Jesus is Lord is not necessarily good news. Only when God assures me that I am in Christ by grace alone through faith alone and kept by grace is the announcement “Jesus is Lord” good news rather than the worst possible news.
What is most central to your life and ministry?
The ministry of the Word—the public preaching of the Word is the center. Out of that cascades the ministry of parents in the home, teaching the Scriptures in the home, and the time that individual believers spend in the Word. I think that all of those disciplines are important: the discipline of regular church attendance, attendance to the ordinary means of grace—listening to God speak to us through His Word—each of these is essential, and we must bring the Word into the home. It’s essential that we recover the practice of catechism—family catechism, or family worship, whatever you want to call it—a time in the morning and the evening, or at least during one time in the day where parents are training their children in the Scriptures. At our church, for example, we have a weekly catechism question that the children learn at different grade levels, appropriate to their grade levels. At church and throughout the week the children memorize the catechism question and answer and the pertinent Scripture references in family worship. There’s an integration of what’s happening at home and what’s happening at church, and the elders ask when they come for their visits: “Are you teaching the children the Scriptures in the catechism in the home?” That’s part of their vows they make as parents and as church members.
And while this is all central, it is also the hardest to maintain, especially personally it’s hardest for me to make time daily for my own Bible reading and prayer because every day in my teaching and writing I am reading the Bible. This is our job. And the danger is that it becomes strictly a job. The danger is that we’re coming to the Scriptures to mine it in order to make a meal for others while we ourselves might be starving. It’s easy for a lot of people who handle the Word regularly as a calling to sort of lose the sanctity of the Word, to lose a sense of appreciation and wonder for that Word, not only for others, but for themselves. So that’s what I struggle with most—not being in the Word daily for myself and spending extended periods of time in prayer just for my own edification, even though I’m studying the Word daily.
Mike, what is one lesson you’ve being learning in recent years that you think might be helpful to share with others?
I guess it’s the lesson of needing more patience. Impatience is one of my besetting sins as my wife—one of my chief sanctifiers—reminds me regularly. It’s a terrible besetting sin because essentially it’s rooted in a failure to connect theory with practice. I believe that God is sovereign, but I don’t really think He is. If it’s going to happen, I think that I have be the one to do it and that it’s got to be done my way. And as I grow just a little bit older I’m beginning to realize more and more that this world is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. I am also growing in my understanding that the church is Christ’s and that He has not entrusted its welfare to me or to us. He is making sure that His church progresses, and He’ll do it even through our feeble efforts. So my relaxing a little bit more and trusting in the providence of God—not just believing it intellectually but relaxing in it, basking in it, really, taking refuge in it, has been helpful in trying to become more patient and dependent on God.
Considering that everyone leaves a legacy. What do you hope will be your legacy among God’s people?
My children. I hope that they’re godly young men and women—that they have families that are godly, regardless of whatever vocations they go into, I hope they are involved in their churches and that they will raise godly children—that they are excited about and in constant wonder as they behold the glory and grace of God, even though they’ve grown up in the church, and that the things of God will never become old or rote to them, and that they will love and serve their neighbor in their callings.