Horton on Hahn

Tuesday, 17 Nov 2009

MOD: Thanks for the comments, we’re moving on now.

There’s been some blog chatter about my having endorsed Scott Hahn’s Covenant and Commu nion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI.  Since one blogger I read mistook my endorsement of a study of Benedict’s theology for an endorsement of his theology, I thought it would be worthwhile to draw that distinction in black and white.

Here’s my endorsement:

Even when one disagrees with some of his conclusions, Benedict’s insights, as well as his engagement with critical scholarship, offer a wealth of reflection.  In this remarkable book, Hahn has drawn out the central themes of Benedict’s teaching in a highly readable summary.  An eminently useful guide for introducing the thought of an important theologian of our time.

I’m not sure what part of this aroused this blogger’s ire.  I disavowed agreement with some of the pope’s conclusions (I agree with him on the Trinity and other important doctrines, but disagree strongly with other important doctrines).  I admired “his engagement with critical scholarship” (he often offers trenchant arguments against higher criticism).  I endorsed Hahn’s book because it is “a highly readable summary” and “an eminently useful guide for introducing the thought of an important theologian of our time.”  Despite my strong disagreements with his views on a variety of issues, he is certainly “an important theologian of our time.”

In case anyone cares, I am just as committed to Reformed convictions as I was when I was critical of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” in 1995, endorsed James White’s fine book The Roman Catholic Controversy in 1996, wrote “What Still Keeps Us Apart” (1998), and repeated my objections in a very recent blog post on the latest ECT statement.   In two recent books—Covenant & Salvation: Union with Christ and People & Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology, I interact at length with Benedict, defending at every point traditional Reformed teaching.

This pope is a remarkably good conversation partner because he still defends traditional Roman Catholicism (which one expects of the pope) while recognizing the strength of Protestant views (which one hardly ever expects of a pope). He is deeply conversant in biblical studies and theology.  Recognizing the strength of a thoughtful and engaging opponent is, I think, a valuable exercise for developing good arguments against real positions rather than extending caricatures.  I’ve even used some Benedict quotes in debates with Roman Catholics, though I’m sure that he would not agree with my conclusions.



  • 16 Nov 2009
    Vaughan says:

    God bless, Mike.

  • 17 Nov 2009
    RevK says:

    “In case anyone cares…” I do, absolutely! Thank you for your work and service, Dr. Horton!

    I still remember a debate you and Dr. Godfrey, and Rod Rosenblat held with those articulating the Roman Catholic position at Lake Avenue Church many years ago! We need more of those!

    In fact, I just found a resource online discussing this exact event. You should check it out: http://www.catholicintl.com/catholicissues/Interview%20of%20Robert%20Sungenis%20by%20Protestant%20Dr.pdf


  • 17 Nov 2009
    RevK says:

    And I’m back! I just read in more detail the link I sent. It is a real mish-mash of stuff. It asserts that “No wonder few people are listening to him (Dr. Horton).” But then concludes, “How fortunate we would be if someone the caliber and popularity of Michael Horton would
    suddenly be struck from heaven with the contradictions in his own theology and the truth of Catholic
    theology. We would, indeed, be on the path to a real Reformation.”

    No one is listening… He has “caliber and popularity.” Hmmm

    Salvation is “Not by faith alone…” But it would sure be nice if Dr. Horton would be, “struck from heaven…” As in, by ‘God’s eternal decree and electing grace by which He regenerates a man apart from works?”

    And as far as the Employer / Father comparison goes… How in the world does anyone become the child of the Father? It is by being born again, “…born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13. It seems to me that he still needs to understand the covenant of works and the covenant of grace!

    Keep up the good work! (I’M listening! And I didn’t even graduate from that seminary which, “…is the leading breeding ground for all things believed from the Calvinistic


  • 17 Nov 2009
    Jason D. says:

    Thanks for the clarification. This is very helpful. That is why it is always best to assume the best 🙂

  • 17 Nov 2009
    Rev. Michael Philliber says:

    Thanks Mike. I have been saying things like this for a while as well. I find Benedict very enjoyable to read & agree/disagree with. I also have him to be insightful, especially when he stays with the Scripture. He seems to know Classic Protestantism, appreciates some of our positions, tries to speak our language where he can, while remaining Roman Catholic. There’s nothing like reading a thoughtful theologian whom you disagree with but can converse with.

  • 17 Nov 2009
    Kevin V. says:

    Good for you Dr. Horton. It’s sad that some peoples measure of orthodoxy is a person’s quantity of inflammatory rhetoric and polemics. We can disagree like civilized men.

  • 17 Nov 2009
    John Bugay says:

    My own personal objection stemmed from the fact that Scott Hahn is not merely a “scholar” who is doing a “study.” Hahn is a person with a very clear agenda, and his agenda is not only well-known, but it is revered and imitated by scores of lesser known apologists, very many of whom bring nothing but mud to the show.

    In lending your name to the legitimacy of Hahn’s work, you are lending your good name, and the name of Westminster, California, to this whole movement. (And since you know James White, why not ask him what he thinks about that movement?)

    You may think that, in the spirit of Christian dialog, you will somehow accomplish something useful. But in dealing with Hahn, you are not dealing with a person who can make any concesions at all. Moreover, official Rome has very clearly re-articulated what it thinks of the churches of the Reformation. Equivocation on the part of individuals who have (with good intentions) tried to negotiate at any level at all with Catholicism — including Packer, Colson, George, and other — have seen absolutely no official budge at all from Rome.

    How many Protestants, even your own seminary students, are well enough equipped to profitably read a work by Hahn, much less a work by Ratzinger, and to be able to deal with it adequately?

    In the meantime, you are someone not unimportant at a very important Reformed seminary. Why not commission a study of Ratzinger’s work from a Reformed perspective, and endorse that?

  • 17 Nov 2009
    Todd Pruitt says:

    Thanks Mike.

    It makes perfect sense to me. I cannot imagine how anyone who reads you could conceive of you as anything other than uniformly committed to the Reformed faith. As a theologian I am glad you are engaged in understanding the thought of the most influential theologian to occupy “the chair” in many years.

    Keep up the amazing work!

  • 17 Nov 2009
    Alitheia says:

    Hello. I’ve been watching this issue unfold at various blogsites and would like to throw in my 2 cents, if I may.

    Your explanation above gave me great comfort given the confusion the church seems to be in in these *postmodern* times. I’ve experienced ministers whose theology I thought was rock solid suddenly shift towards the Emergent Church with it’s seemingly extended mission of *returning to ancient, ie. Catholic, ritualism*.

    As an ex-Catholic, if I had simply picked up Scott Hahn’s book and read your endorsement, I’d have thought that you were headed somewhere down that track. Or perhaps *home to Rome*. Were I still Catholic I’d have thought that you ultimately were endorsing the pope’s theology, despite your initial wording. Of course I’m not saying that you were intending either, but given your description of the pope and of Hahn’s book, those would have been my impressions.

    Best wishes on all of your endeavors.

    In Him,

  • 17 Nov 2009
    M Burke says:

    Thanks Prof. Horton!

  • 17 Nov 2009
    michael says:

    Well, I am not thankful. I find your response above rather distasteful Prof. Horton.

    I believe the error is of the highest degree and not easily understood.

    Here is a Biblical admonition for us all to consider as you weigh my comments, respectfully given:::>

    Ecc 5:1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.
    Ecc 5:2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.

    The Apostle, whom I am certain you have great affection for elucidated the error I speak of more carefully here:::>

    2Co 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
    2Co 6:15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?
    2Co 6:16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
    2Co 6:17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,
    2Co 6:18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”

    In my estimation, what you have done is open a door of doubts and confusion, at a minimum, to those weak in the Faith, not necessarily for the highly trained and educated, as you are, but rather for the rest of us who rely upon our Teachers to be on the frontline making clear unequivocal distinctions between God’s Grace and our most deceitful enemy and their schemes.

    For these things I say I believe it was error on your part and of poor judgment to have such a fly in the ointment of the wisdom and honor you have attained too by God’s Grace and Wisdom and Knowledge.

  • 17 Nov 2009
    Mark VPol says:

    Michael –

    What would you say about Paul reading the philosophers of his day and then interacting with them on Mars Hill? What about Paul going into the synagogues in every town he visited to reason with them? Those were not Christians that Paul was interacting with and even using their own philosophy in a positive way to undergird his presentation of the Gospel. How is what Dr. Horton is doing any different than what Paul did (besides the latter being an Apostle)?

    One of the biggest threats of the church today is an ignorance of what is out in the world, even the Christian world. We need to have our “early-warning systems” that watch out for these threats and to read and understand them before they covertly make their way into the church. There may be times when we actually learn something from those with whom we disagree, but we still electrify the fence when they come close.

    B.B. Warfield was actually given a position at Princeton where all he did was read and respond to the theologians and movements of his day. What a blessing to the church to have such a man watching out for and interacting with those people, freeing up pastors to focus on their preparations for the Lord’s Day.

    Thanks Dr. Horton for your work, I know there are many, many more people who appreciate it and are fed and nourished constantly by your work for the Kingdom.

  • 17 Nov 2009
    John Bugay says:

    Mark V. – I don’t think anyone is saying “don’t read the theologies of those with whom we disagree.” The point would be, from this side, “don’t give book endorsements that enhance their credibility.”

    I don’t know if you could imagine Warfield recommending the reading of Vatican I or Charles Finney and saying “buy this book, it is a wealth of reflection.”

    But even that is once removed; I don’t know the name of the leading Catholic controversialist of the late 19th century, but can you imagine Warfield saying, “read this controversialist to glean his experience about the doctrinal statements of Vatican I.”

    I know I’m reaching, but such is the nature of this book endorsement.

  • 17 Nov 2009
    M Burke says:

    Both Calvin and Luther were well versed in their opponents writing. Someone in the position of Prof Horton would be remiss to not study and comment on the writings of the opponents of the faith.

  • 17 Nov 2009
    tim prussic says:

    Wait, wait, wait… if you quote him, then he must agree with you. IMPEACH THE POPE!

  • 17 Nov 2009
    Stephen says:

    The sky isn’t falling, Horton isn’t ditching the Reformed faith for Rome, and Westminster California isn’t a hotbed of closet Papists. Whew!

    Thank you Dr. Horton for your witness and scholarship. Your books and broadcasts have been a huge blessing to me and my family.

  • 17 Nov 2009
    Rick E. says:

    Dr. Mike Horton, you forgot to mention your role in the The Cambridge Declaration.

  • 18 Nov 2009
    Joe says:


    Suggest you check yourself. Calling Catholics ‘unbelievers’ certainly doesn’t help. The arrogance that we est. 500,000 reformed Christians throw at the world in regards to being able to determine where the elect are located based on whomever we thinks articulates the mechanics of salvation perfectly is pretty disgusting.

  • 18 Nov 2009
    Perry Robinson says:

    Here on display is the difference between bigotry and informed discussion.

    If students as Westminster aren’t in a position to evaluate Hahn’s stuff, then the Reformation is in serious trouble. Hahn isn’t the deep end of the ppol for crying out loud.Its not like reading Lonergan, Rahner or Lubac.

    If the objectors would actually sit down and read some Aquinas or Scotus they’d save us all a routine headache.

  • 18 Nov 2009
    Sara H says:

    Dr. Horton,

    When I read your endorsement of the book I understood immediately what you were saying. However, I was also immediately concerned that this endorsement would be misunderstood on both sides simply because in our current society endorsement of a book is believed to be endorsement of a person or an idea contained in the book. What Alithea wrote is exactly what I’m referring to.

    If, instead of writing a sales endorsement, which is what a book blurb is, something that will encourage people to buy the book, you had written a review or perhaps mentioned it in some other way, there would not have been the confusion.

    Sincerely in the Faith, but very disappointed,


  • 18 Nov 2009
    Zrim says:

    John Bugay et. al.,

    While your points about potential confusion or “enhancing the credibility” of the unorthodox are well taken, I am not so sure that they are sound grounds for your criticisms. If anyone thinks Horton could ever be construed to endorse anything other than Reformed orthodoxy that is actually their problem, not Horton’s. It very well could be that what the confused might take away from their confusion is that they must read Horton closer, instead of suggesting the onus is on him in some way.

    The problem for the orthodox is not when he endorses the unorthodox for explaining himself well, but when the orthodox begins to agree with the unorthodox. The difference is huge, and I’m not sure the detractors here understand it.

  • 18 Nov 2009
    Mark says:

    Could we actually used Dr. Horton’s endorsement, as I’ve tried to state, to argue for correction to Rome’s doctrines? That is, if Protestants so well understand Hahn’s and the pope’s theology to endorse it we can now use such endorsers to critique such theology.

  • 18 Nov 2009
    Mark says:

    My hyperlink for my attempted argument didn’t go through. It’s here http://hereiblog.com/scott-hahns-book-endorsements-protestants/

  • 20 Nov 2010
    Michael Horton | Scott Hahn | valid interpretation | Endorsement says:

    […] Horton has responded in his post Horton on Hahn. He explained that he is still committed to his Reformed convictions. Horton is not endorsing […]


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