The last volume of Horton’s four-volume series is a Reformed, covenantal look at the doctrine of the church. It is quite possibly the best treatment of the doctrine of the church that I’ve ever seen. It is not for the faint of heart, as he interacts with postmodernity, culture, philosophy, and theology in one rich feast.
The book is divided into three main parts with an additional introduction. The introduction is quite important, as it sets the context for all that follows, placing the church in its redemptive-historical context between the age of Christ’s presence- now absence, and the Holy Spirit’s absence- now presence. He argues here that this already-not yet structure provides deep resources for addressing the paradigm first posed by Paul Tillich of “overcoming estrangement, meeting a stranger” and the additional “the stranger we never meet.” He argues that a covenantal ontology belongs with “meeting a stranger.” He has challenged many dichotomies as being false in this series (such as legal/relational, atonement/Victor, forensic/participational). Here in ecclesiology we can see that the church is placed in such a way as to address unity/plurality, justified/sinful, already/not yet, eschatological/historical, new world/old world. The church is, in other words a battleground of ideologies.
The first main part deals with the church as a creation of the Word, not the creator of the Word. As such, he rightly and closely connects sacramental theology precisely here, as Word and Sacrament may never be separated.
The second main part deals with the attributes of the church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
The third main part deals with the eschatology of the church, the direction in which it is headed.
This really covers just about everything of importance, and his interaction with other proposals is deep, appreciative and fair. This is certainly the most important book published on the church in a very long time.
Here are just a few quotations I found helpful:
The nihilistic eros of the consumer society, which seems to have drawn much of American Christianity into its wake, creates a desire that can never be satisfied. Ads and shop windows offer us a perpetual stream of icons promising to fulfill our ambitions to have the life that they represent: a fully realized eschatology. Handing our credit card to the salesperson can be a sacrament of this transaction between sign and signified. Yet this anonymous space of endless consumption is the parady of the palce of promise: true shalom (pg. 59).
All there is to know is “worded” by God in creation, providence, redemption, and consummation. This linguisticality has its deepest ontological source in the Trinity itself, with the Son as the archetypal Word eternally begotten of the Father. Thus, to get behind or above language, one would have to get behind or above God (pg. 41, footnote 17).
Holding on to a few scraps of “sayings” (always ethical), we might focus all of our energies on answering the question, “What would Jesus do?” but then we would have no connection to what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for the ungodly. The church would then be our work, inspired by Jesus, but our work nonetheless (pg. 30).