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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Pilgrim Theology" (Michael Horton)

TITLE: Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples
AUTHOR: Michael Horton
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, (512 pages).

Who needs another theology textbook? We all do. We need to be reminded over and over again that we are pilgrims on a journey, needing food and guidance to complete it. We need to learn the core doctrines over and over again in a world of many conflicting philosophies and worldviews. We need resources to help teach and guide younger believers among us. Enter's "Pilgrim Theology" that aims to bridge reality and theology as one.

This is an abridged version of Horton's magnus opus book on Systematic Theology, "The Christian Faith." While the original is more than 1000 pages long, this book of "core doctrines for Christian disciples" is about half the size. Like the bigger predecessor, Horton explains the reason for the title of his book, that it is meant for Christian disciples on a journey of spiritual growth, underpinned by a common theological statement of faith.  It is the author's convictions that theology needs to be learned humbly, obediently, and practically. It is reality that forces the disciple to want to learn theology. It is our need for God that we have to develop an understanding of core doctrines as followers of Christ. Knowing the story of God helps guide our own spiritual direction. Just like the directions that a compass provides, Horton uses "four coordinates" to help guide one's theological expedition. The first one is "drama" that begins with God, the history of the world, and the eventual glory of God. As this drama unfolds, the second coordinate, the "doctrines" help disciples navigate life from God's perspective. The third coordinate, "doxology" presents to disciples the way of life, the manner in which we ought to conduct ourselves in our relationships to God, to people, and to all of creation. Finally, the last coordinate, "discipleship" represents the essence of what the Church and the community of God need to do. More importantly, all of these coordinates are dynamic and asserted together. Thus, knowing the truth, practicing the truth, experiencing God, mental or spiritual, physical or experiential, when it comes to practicing pilgrim theology, life cannot be compartmentalized.

In a nutshell, this book works on the assumption that theology begins with God, with life, in Christ through the gospel, and continues with growing theological awareness, learning, and practice. Roughly following the way the Bible is written, the book begins with the Word, and starts with a brief engagement with the philosophies of the new atheists. It compares theism with other philosophies like polytheism, pantheism, panentheism, deism, as well as new atheism. It talks about the different ways we understand God as good. For example,  is good being used univocally (same meaning), equivocally (slightly ambiguous), or analogically (roughly speaking)? It talks about general and special revelation, rationalism, and affirms the death and resurrection of Christ. Chapter 1 sets the stage on how theology can be learned. The book goes through the fundamentals of the Bible as the Word of God, with explanation of authority, inspiration, inerrancy, and the covenants of redemption and grace. It covers God's incommunicable attributes of simplicity, aseity, immutability, impassibility, and eternity, as well as communicable attributes. Other topics include:

  • Theology of the Triune Godhead
  • Creation, 
  • Sin and the Fall
  • Christology
  • The Holy Spirit
  • The Kingdom of God
  • Union with Christ
  • Sanctification
  • Salvation
  • Sacraments of Baptism, Communion and other rites
  • Church
  • Eschatology
  • and many more.
I find the book very well laid out. With tables and fluent flow of arguments, readers will not only find much clarity in the explanation of core doctrines, the overall readability is rather enjoyable. The tables that compare the different attributes and features of each theological point are alone worth the price of this book. To cap it off, Horton provides a helpful summary with questions, key pointers, and terms at the end of the book to jiggle the reader's memory, and to provide a quick reference to what has been presented. This provides the busy reader a quick reference guide to jump back to relevant portions where needed. The glossary and the tables at the end help to put together the doctrines according to the four coordinates of this book's theme. This book is a teacher's dream for teaching theology to the layperson. There is a free study guide to accompany this book too. You can download it here.

I highly recommend this book for teaching theology for the Church as well as the classroom.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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