Horton: Lord and Servant–A Covenant Christology

This is Mike Horton’s second installment in his Covenant series. He reframes Christology around “covenant” and is stunningly successful. His genius is in using the covenant to contrast two ontologies: overcoming estrangement (classical metaphysics) and meeting a Stranger.


Horton shows how we meet the Stranger by his own revealing himself to us, and doing so “by strong verbs” (23, 55). The noun (God) is revealed by the verb (his actions). From this Horton draws the brilliant conclusion about Speech-Act: speech is an act. There is no dilemma between word-revelation (Propositional Protestants) and Act-Revelation (the truth at what Barth was aiming, if not fully getting there).

This segues into God’s freedom (and freedom in general). Horton refuses to see freedom in the abstract. We do not abstract God’s will from his nature. Freedom (of any sort) is a natured freedom and if our ousia is a covenanted ousia, then we have a covenantal freedom (this is much more concrete and refreshing than discussions about “Free will,” whatever that means).
The next theological locus is creation. Contra Anchoretism, the covenant allows us to view creation in its integrity. It is neither divine nor demonic, rather “Nature has capacities for answering back to the creative speech-act of God” (66). (While Horton doesn’t draw out the implications, this could explain how the land is said to be defiled by man’s sin).

Horton suggests that the covenant is the nexus between transcendence and immanence. The God-world bond is covenantal relation (I realize that Aristotle used “relation” as a thinner form of essence; I am not using it in that sense).


Horton does a wonderful job in establishing the “federal-ness” of Adamic humanity. Horton will contrast his model with the Platonic paradigm (Overcoming Estrangement). Continuing with the covenantal paradigm, Horton sees the imago dei as:

Sonship/ Royal Dominion: Adam was invested with kingship as the imaged-son on the Sabbath day. In Christ this dominion is restored.

Representation: We are God’s embassy to the world.

Glory: The glory is ethical-eschatological, rather than essential.

Prophetic Witness:

All of this is recapitulated in Christ. Interestingly enough, Horton rightly points out that Scripture never speaks of anthropology in the abstract, but always in the covenant.

Christology Proper

Horton gives a brief and lucid description of Reformed Christology against Lutheranism, particularly in the non capax. He has a very interesting suggestion that the debate between Alexandrians (Divinized humanity) and Antiocheans (Schizo Jesus) is because neither could locate Jesus as he is given for us in the covenant (166).

The basic challenge he gives to anyone who rejects penal substitution: on said gloss, how is the work of Christ appropriated pro nobis? How does “defeating Satan” (or any such Christus Victor, political liberation variant) become actual for us?

It’s hard to say which one is better, this book or the one on soteriology. Both are magnificent. I think Horton’s use of the covenant model is more tightly argued in this book.

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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