I have read all of Michael Horton’s significant writings on covenant theology, and, other than 1689 Reformed Baptist covenant theology, Horton’s version of covenant theology is my preferred version. That said, this essay was not Horton’s best contribution. It was too tradition-focused and more attuned to intra-covenant theology debates when this book called for more Scripture-based argumentation designed to persuade those holding alternative positions. Further, the structure of the essay led to some repetition. A more persuasive essay would have sought to make a clear exegetical case for the three covenants of covenant theology.
I agree with Horton on a number of points.
2. I agree that the biblical covenants can be classified as law covenants and promise or grace covenants (40). I further agree that that this distinction is not denying that all the post-Fall covenants are established by God’s grace (44). I further agree that both law and grace covenants are contributing to God’s gracious plan of redemption (52). I would add that this distinction is also not denying the existence of promises in law or works covenants or the existence of commands in promise covenants (57). Finally, I agree that the difference between a law/works covenant and a promise covenant whether the “basis” for the realization of the covenant’s blessings is unilateral on God’s part or requires obedience on the human participant’s part (57).
5. I agree that the Abrahamic covenant is a promise covenant and that God has unilaterally promised to uphold its provisions (55). The requirements of the Abrahamic covenant will be fulfilled as the fruit of faith and not as conditions for the promises being fulfilled (57).
6. I agree that the new covenant is a grace covenant distinct in type from the Sinai covenant, which is a law covenant (58).
7. I agree with his critique of the traditional dispensational tendency to operate with such a rigid hermeneutic that they engage in question-begging exegesis of the NT, I agree with his critique of the traditional dispensationalist interpretation of Acts 15, and I agree with his critique that the resort to analogy and implication fails to interpret the NT use of the OT accurately (184, 185). (One might say that traditionalist dispensationalists fail to interpret the NT literally.) On the other hand, Horton does not seem to appreciate that Amos 9 also has elements that were not fulfilled in the first century.
8. I agree, against those traditional dispensationalists who deny the church membership in the new covenant, that Ephesians 2 teaches that the Gentiles now partake of the covenants of promise since Christ created one new man through his blood (188).
9. I agree, against Bock, that there is a covenant of creation. Horton rightly points out that Bock misunderstands what elements need to be present for there to be a covenant (189).
10. I agree, against Wellum, that the creation covenant is a works covenant. Horton is correct to note that “the question is not whether covenants contain both promises and obligations” but whether the covenant is a “do this and live kind of covenant” or a covenant in which God unilaterally promises certain benefits. I further agree with Horton that the protoevangelium and the Noahic covenant are not continuations of the creation covenant (196-97).
11. I agree with Horton, against Wellum, that there are only two Adams: Adam and Christ (197).
I also disagree with Horton on a number of points:
1. I disagree that the post-fall biblical covenants are administrations of an over-arching covenant of grace. The fact that Sinai was made post-Fall, serves to advance God’s plan of redemption, and contains promises of a new covenant and coming redemption (45) does not make it a covenant of grace. A covenant may be graciously given, as the Sinai covenant was, but if its principle is “do this and live,” it is not a covenant of grace even though it furthers the plan of redemption. The designations works covenant or grace covenant refer to whether or not the fulfillment of the promises rest entirely on God’s oath or whether they rest on human performance. In Sinai, they rest on human performance—even as the Sinai covenant points Israel ahead to the new covenant as their only hope for salvation both through the imagery of the sacrificial system and through the explicit teaching of Deuteronomy 30.
2. I disagree that the land promises were fulfilled with the conquest of Canaan (60, 190-91). This is to not read carefully the promises themselves as stated in Genesis, the book of Joshua’s acknowledgment of more land to be conquered, the prophets’ predictions of restoration to the land on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant, and Jesus’s statement that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob need to be resurrected so they can experience the promised covenant blessings.
3. I disagree that that the Abrahamic covenant is still in force and that circumcision, transposed to baptism, is thus required of all covenant children (61).
4. I disagree that the new covenant is a mixed covenant, including those who are internally part of the covenant and those who are externally part of the covenant (64). This is the very point of contrast between the old and new covenants that Jeremiah identifies as distinguishing them. I further disagree that the church ought to include both wheat and tares until the eschaton (65). The field is the world, not the church. I further disagree that the warning passages in Hebrews demonstrate a mixed covenant (198-99). Hebrews 6 is certainly speaking of professing Christians who denied the faith. But this does not demonstrate that the apostates were members of the covenant of grace. Saying so proves too much. If Horton’s view is correct, a covenant child who rejected the faith could never be restored to repentance again.
5. Horton sometimes speaks as though an inaugurated fulfillment in the first century is the complete fulfillment of prophecies. Horton also seems to think that the establishment of an earthly kingdom requires the revival of the Sinai covenant (68-69). But this is not the case. The prophecies of new covenant include the earthly, political reign of the Messiah and the return of Israel to the land.
6. Horton seems to think that sacrifices, temple, and the national of Israel are all types that have been fulfilled in Christ (69). Horton is confusing two distinct things here. The temple and the sacrifices (as Hebrews plainly indicates) are types that are superseded by Christ. But Israel is not a type as such. Israel in the time of the Old Covenant is a type of the church just as David, as king, was a type of Christ. But David will be resurrected and will live in eternity, and Israel will be resurrected (Eze. 37) and be restored as a nation in all eternity.