Review: Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton

4 out of 5 Stars
Author: Michael Horton
Publisher: Zondervan
Buy Pilgrim Theology
Reading Level: Moderate

Pilgrim Theology is a condensed and modified (by about half) edition of Horton’s much larger systematic The Christian Faith. He lays the cards on the table in the opening paragraph,

Whether you realize it or not, you are a theologian. You come to a book like this with a working theology, an existing understanding of God. Whether you are an agnostic or a fundamentalist—or something in between—you have a working theology that shapes and informs the way you think and live. However, I suspect that you are reading this book because you’re interested in examining your theology more closely.  (p. 13)

and a little later, “The burden of this book is to elaborate the claim that God has revealed answers, through we will not like all of them” (p. 15).

With a book this larger (just north of 500 pages), I debated on how to approach this review. I don’t want to detail the topics covered. For the most part Horton covers what you’d expect in a systematic. There may have been a few things he did or didn’t touch on where I scratched my head, but for the most part it’s what you’d expect. What I landed on was this: I will highlight a few of the strengths of this book and then end with a section detailing the drawbacks and my recommendation.

Strengths. First, I love that Horton placed this book squarely within the framework of the gospel narrative without ending there. He explains,

All of our faith and practice arise out of the drama of Scripture, the “big story” that traces the plot of history from creation to consummation, with Christ as its Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. And out of the throbbing verbs of this unfolding drama God reveals stable nouns—doctrines. From what God does in history we are taught certain things about who he is and what it means to be created in his image, fallen, and redeemed, renewed, and glorified in union with Christ. As the Father creates his church, in his Son and by his Spirit, we come to realize what this covenant community is and what it means to belong to it; what kind of future is promised to us in Christ, and how we are to live here and now in the light of it all. The drama and the doctrine provoke us to praise and worship—doxology—and together these three coordinates give us a new way of living in the world as disciples. (p. 16)

This emphasis of drama to doctrine to discipleship is mined throughout the book (over 40 times that I counted). Reformed types are often pigeon holed as lovers of justification without loving the big picture story and Horton’s book will helpfully do much to dispel that myth. It’s also important because a systematic could be used for information without ending in discipleship. If that happens here it won’t be the fault of the author.

Second, I love that Horton views all theology through a Trinitarian lens. Woven through out this book is Trinitarian exultation (100s of times). He shows how the Father, Son, and Spirit work in harmony and impact all areas of doctrine. If you ever wondered what an explicit Trinitarian focus would like related to doctrine, Piligrim’s Theology sails high in that regard.

Third, I love that Horton, as you  might expect, explains reformed theology broadly conceived. He hits on the major tenants of covenant theology and gives you enough information and secondary sources to get you going. He also covers topics from infant baptism and reformed soteriology in a way which would be helpful for those seeking the truth in these areas. I could see how this could be used as a great resource for seekers.

Drawbacks. First, he starts by claiming he isn’t going to start where normal systematics starts instead he’ll focus on the gospel first and then go back. “In other words, we begin by turning to the climax of the novel and then going back to read the pages leading up to it” (p. 20). I was excited when reading this but I didn’t find the delivery as pronounced as he hinted at which was disappointing. It’s a brilliant idea for starting a systematic: get the gospel right; let everything else fall into place thereafter. Just not sure it was executed.

Second, it’s billed as “a more accessible introduction designed for classroom and group study” but I wonder if it’s still too large a work for the second part of that (group studies). I could definitely see the benefits of this book used in a classroom setting but it seems The Christian Faith serves that purpose. If the main goal was accessibility then I’m not sure it was accesible enough for say the average Christian who isn’t extremely motivated to read a large book to pick up and start reading or for a home group to use as their study guide (Grudem’s systematic still excels in this market). I would say the sweet spot would be somewhere around 300 pages with a slightly less academic tone. This last drawback isn’t so much a slight on the book as it is a question surrounding the audience/purpose of the book.

Overall an excellent introduction to systematic theology. If you’ve thought about diving in to a systematic and you’re looking for a robustly reformed one that addresses today’s theological  issues than Pilgrim’s Theology is a winner. After reading it, that would be the market I would push for--those interested in systematic from an explicitly reformed perspective. Horton wins that fight all day.

A free copy of this book was provided by Zondervan. If you plan on purchasing Pilgrim Theology, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by purchasing from Amazon.