Putting Amazing Back into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Gospel. Second Edition.By Michael Horton. Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 1991, 1994, 2002. 280 pp. Paper. $15.99.
In this second edition of his defense of Reformed theology, Horton does about as good of a job as one could do. Even though I disagree with Reformed theology on many points, I found myself time and time again agreeing with Horton, even on issues related to justification, faith, assurance, and many other points.
Yet he would occasionally make statements that deeply grieved me, more so than those made by other Lordship Salvation writers. The reason, I believe, is that he is so close to the truth. However, since he is chained to what he calls the Reformed tradition (e.g., pp. 15, 205, 207), he cannot avoid lapsing into statements that distort the saving message.
There is a difference between doctrine and dogma. Doctrine is truth derived from the study of Scripture, hopefully, our own personal study of Scripture! Dogma is an assertion derived from church councils and confessions.
Horton is promoting dogma, not doctrine. He tips his hand in this regard with references to the Reformed tradition and with his appendix, in which he devotes 17 pages to a list of Scriptures that purportedly prove his position (pp. 217-33). This is followed by a list of quotes from church fathers, later theologians, and creedal statements from church counsels that run 26 pages (pp. 234-59). Fifty percent more space is given to the comments of men than those of God.
Horton seems to consider the doctrine of individual election to be the single most important soteriological doctrine (see, for example, pp. 73-90). “It is nice to know that you can gauge your life by God’s decision for you [election] and not the other way around” (p. 173). Of course, the problem with this is how we know God has chosen us. Horton repeatedly skirts this issue, which is the Achilles heel of Reformed theology.
If election can only unfailingly be seen in perseverance to the end of one’s life, then one cannot be sure he is elect until he dies. While Horton repeatedly indicates that only those who persevere to the end are truly saved (e.g., pp. 175-76, 252) and that those who fail to persevere prove they were never regenerated in the first place (e.g., p. 230), he stops short of admitting that certainty of one’s eternal destiny is impossible prior to death. Indeed, he suggests the opposite: “While the biblical message of election is threatening to those who reject the gospel, it is a source of great hope and certainty to those who are trusting in Christ” (p. 87). Evidently as long as one continues trusting in Christ there is “certainty.” But the moment one ceases trusting in Him, what he formerly thought was certainty proves to have been presumption.
Horton defends the idea that the church is the people of God and thus there is no future for national Israel (pp. 200-202). He says that regeneration precedes faith (p. 150), surprising to me, since in another book, Christ the Lord, he criticized MacArthur for saying essentially the same thing. Horton states that while justification is the imputation of righteousness, it unfailingly results in sanctification, which he says is the impartation of righteousness (p. 170). I’m sure Horton is usually more careful in how he words this. However, I fail to see the difference between what he is saying and what Rome has been saying for centuries.
I was also a bit shocked when in several places he indicated that discipleship is a condition of justification. For example, “Jesus made it plain throughout his ministry that one could not become his disciple (and, therefore, could not receive eternal life) unless that person was willing to ‘take up his cross daily’ and follow Jesus. The New Testament emphasizes denying yourself, dying to sin, and deferring to others” (p. 171, italics added). Note also this question: “Did you become a disciple of the apostles and of the Lord? In other words, do you trust Christ alone for your salvation? Then you are one of the elect” (p. 89, italics added).
I was also bothered by Horton saying that “we are responsible to persevere” (p. 230) and “it is our responsibility to persevere in faith and conviction—with great determination even in the midst of formidable obstacles” (p. 252). I cannot understand how this is so when in his theology, it is God who guarantees perseverance. Why would God make it our responsibility to do works that are required in order to get into the Kingdom? This is not adequately explained, nor can it be, in my opinion.
Let the reader beware that Horton is a very good apologist for his position. One who is well aware of Reformed rhetoric will find in this book great challenge. The need for the clear gospel is manifestly evident when you read a book like this. If this is the best that the Reformed tradition can do, then it is time to reject tradition and like the Bereans search the Scriptures.
I recommend this book to the well-grounded believer.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Irving , TX