Horton on Radical Orthodoxy

Horton, Michael.  Covenant and Salvation.

Covenantal Ontology: The pactum salutis is the intra-Trinitarian covenant made in eternity. It is realized in the biblical covenants. See also pp. 182-186.

Horton notes that Radical Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism presuppose something along the following lines: overcoming estrangement. By this he means a paradigm that promises enlightenment and a liberation of nature beyond itself (155).

Several times throughout this book Horton advances a critique of Platonic Divine Simplicity, but never calls it such. He has a section on John Milbank and offers a full-orbed convincing critique of Milbank. As readers of Milbank know, he is strongly committed to the neo-Platonic doctrine of absolute divine simplicity. To put the matter briefly, such a view of simplicity negates or mutes distinctions. Horton then goes on to say, “As speculative metaphysics (specifically ontological participation) swallows up the horizon, Christology is swallowed by ecclesiology, and redemptive mediation has to do with overcoming metaphysical binaries (finite/infinite,  spiritual,invisible/visible, corporeal/incorporeal, temporal/eternal, and so forth) rather than ethical and eschatological ones (sin/grace, death/life, condemnation/justification…this age/age to come” (165. /END EXCURSUS)

The book ends with placing the traditional Reformed ordo in a communicative context. Horton wants to avoid some of the hang-ups the Reformed scholastics had when they used medieval categories to challenge Rome. Instead, Horton argues we should use communicative categories, which makes sense since Christ is the Word. Horton suggests we should see effectual calling as a speech-act whereby God creates a new reality. This isn’t that bad a suggestion, since it mutes the charge that Calvinism forces a God who forces the unbeliever’s will. God does no such thing. Rather, he creates a situation, renewing the will (does renewal = violence? I hope not, 223). Throughout Scripture we see the Spirit “bringing things to life, into existence” (Ezekiel 37). Is it so hard to imagine he can do this to the human will?
Nota Bene: I know longer hold to Horton’s speech-act model, though the criticisms of radical orthodoxy obtain.


11 thoughts on “Horton on Radical Orthodoxy

  1. I don’t know what the hang-up about violence is about, probably Calvinism’s bloody record when it comes to massacres and political oppression. But the fact is that God *does* use violence to convert, like blinding Saul and knocking him off his horse before speaking. It doesn’t justify Human use of violence to convert.

    But in some ways I’d prefer the violence. It seems more just that God exerts a power on our plane of being (i.e. knock me down and blast me with blinding light), “coming-down” to deal with me than the way some Reformed defenders talk as God almost winding you up like a doll so that one does not even feel confrontation or resistance, but seems to just float on into the other camp.

    I’d rather have the king confront me as an enemy (as painful as that may be) than to be quietly rewired to switch sides. Not all conversions require this revelation of power, but I deny that persuasion is the art of giving up or that God is a con-man who talks you into thinking conversion was always your idea.


    • It’s not that the speech-act model is bad, but I think there are some epistemological concerns with it. I am reading some of Paul Helm’s criticisms of Vanhoozer, the latter upon whom Horton draws.


      • Could you possibly provide a link to Helm?
        I’m working through Vanhoozer'”Is There a Meaning in This Text” atm, so it would be nice to see any counterpoints.


  2. Could you possibly provide a link to Helm?
    I’m working through Vanhoozer'”Is There a Meaning in This Text” atm, so it would be nice to see any counterpoints.


  3. JB, I just came across your blog, lots of interesting material. Where I think that Horton’s position is hard to square, is that it still rests on a foundation that is hard to trace in pre-Reformation (especially Patristic) sources. His arguments against Christian Platonism seem to me to have a measure of circularity to them – that only proves that Reformed Orthodoxy’s Aristotelian are distinct from these older modes. Truth be told, I prefer something more synthetic between the two, which does land me somewhere between Reformed and Radical Orthodoxy. But I don’t think that Horton, or anyone else besides maybe James Dolezal in the Reformed camp has really grappled with how hard it is to square the robust complexities of Reformed dogma with it’s own fundamental starting point – namely that God is simple. Instead the jump goes right to sovereignty and a complex apparatus of covenantal agreements that mediate between God and man.

    Anyway, I know that all I have succeeded in doing in this comment is make a few provocatave assertions, but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.


    • Hi Jedidiah. You are certainly correct that few in the Reformed camp have wrestled with perceived Platonic underpinnings of divine simplicity. And I admit there are parts of it that give me pause. That’s why I sometimes go back and forth, at least mentally, between East and West on simplicity.

      I think some of Horton’s covenantal alternatives to Platonism are interesting and good, but I don’t see how it fully dispenses with metaphysical talk.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have come more or less into the Platonist reading of simplicity, which I don’t think is incompatible with Thomas. In many ways the Thomistic developments are simply more precise (Aristotelian) statements of what was already latent in the Patristic witness. The East isn’t immune from struggling with simplicity either – the neo-Palamites exemplified by V. Lossky have developed the Essence/Energies distinction that makes simplicity almost unrecognizable. One of the things that I respect about Horton is that he does interact with the East and doesn’t pay lip service to the Christian past. I don’t necessarily agree with how he tries to resolve everything in a covenantal scheme (I’m probably more Barthian in this respect), but I don’t think he can be accused of ignoring the important problems that covenant theology has to grapple with.


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