Monday, October 27, 2014

H vs. H on the Imitatio Christi

"Michael Horton so wants his readers to focus on Christ instead of imitation that he encourages an emphasis on the wickedness of characters, running them through Romans 3. This is an important aspect of Christian interpretation, but it is not the only way in which the New Testament uses characters (indeed, a majority of references are not concerned to show 'all have sinned'). To fit the biblical data to his interpretation, Horton tries to downplay this emphasis in his interpretation of the more famous passages illustrating the use of characters as examples: 'The so-called ‘Hall of Heroes’ in Hebrews 11 is misnamed. The writer consistently mentions that they overcame by faith in Christ, not by their works.'[34] But faith is never pitted against works. Rather, Abraham and Rahab (to take two) are commendable because they had the sort of faith that worked. Their appearance in Hebrews parallels their appearance in James, where they are commended neither simply for what they believed, nor for what they did apart from faith, but for what was done on the basis of belief (Jas 2:14-16), since faith without works is worthless. Contra Horton, the heroes are held out as examples precisely because they acted in obedience and faithfulness on the basis of God’s character and in response to his promises and commands. These characters overcame and persevered by faith and by works.

We can contrast the biblical emphasis on finding Jesus and examples within Scripture with Horton’s puzzling comments that appear to limit the imitation of Old Testament characters to mere belief in Jesus and God’s promises. '[Abraham’s] willingness to sacrifice Isaac was not an example for us, but was an occasion for God to foreshadow Christ as the ram caught in the thicket so that Isaac—and the rest of us—could go free.'[35] Horton sets up a false dichotomy between two approaches to interpretation: the passage either points to Christ, or the passage shows us a faithful model. But what if the New Testament takes Genesis 22 in both directions? Should we not follow the New Testament’s approach? We certainly do not imitate Abraham by sacrificing our children. But as we have seen, imitation is not rote, indiscriminate mimicry, but 'creative imitation' informed by Scripture.[36] The New Testament authors use Abraham as a model of faith and obedience (not least in Gen 18:17-19; 22:1-24; Heb 11:17; Jas 2:14-26). Abraham does not merely believe. Trusting God to raise the dead, he acts in obedience (Heb 11:19).[37] What’s more, Abraham’s obedience is crucial to the original meaning of the text, given the role that it plays in describing the covenant relationship between himself and God (Gen 22:1, 16-17)." (Jason Hood, Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern)

[34] Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), pp. 149-50. He adds on pp. 142-43, “The Old Testament saints were not heroes of faith and obedience but sinners who, despite their own wavering, were given the faith to cling to God’s promise.” Faith is a gift, but Horton’s approach veers in the direction of a monergistic approach to interpretation, where God’s work is all that counts and human work is downplayed, irrelevant or entirely negative.
[35] Ibid., p. 149.
[36] Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine, and Jimmy Agan, “Toward a Hermeneutic of Imitation: The Imitation of Christ in the Didascalia Apostolorum,” Presbyterion 37 (2011): 42-43.
[37] Michael Allen, “Imitating Jesus,” Modern Reformation 18, no. 2 (2009): 27-30, correctly sees that in Heb 11, saints from Abel to Jesus have their obedience “described in multiple ways. They are to be imitated as those whose belief impelled radical obedience (11:6).” Both Horton and his Westminster Seminary California colleague S. M. Baugh deny that characters in Heb 11 function as exemplars in any respect save for faith in a saving God; see Baugh, “The Cloud of Witnesses in Hebrews 11,” Westminster Theological Journal 68, no. 1 (2002): 132. Contrast Calvin on Hebrews 11, Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, trans. William B. Johnston (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), p. 187. I owe the Baugh and Calvin references and analysis to R. Michael Allen, The Christ’s Faith: A Dogmatic Account (New York: T & T Clark, 2009), p. 324 n. 794, who identifies Baugh’s argument as a “reductionistic” account that “creates fissures where none need exist.”

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