The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was excited to host distinguished theologian, author, and professor Michael Horton for the 2023 Norton Lecture series, September 12–13. Horton is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary and host of the White Horse Inn radio show and podcast.
Horton’s three lectures defended the doctrine of justification in its historical and theological context as “the great exchange.” According to Horton, the Reformation teaching of Solus Christus, or the teaching that salvation is through Christ alone, must stand at the center for a true and liberating understanding of justification.
“Everybody understands God’s righteousness and his punishment for sins in their conscience and by nature,” Horton said. “It’s the gospel that is surprising. It’s the ‘but God’ that interrupts karma. As the Law mediated the Old Covenant, Christ as the new Adam mediates the New Covenant and provides his righteousness for those who believe.”
Horton believes contemporary challenges to the biblical doctrine of justification undermine the sufficient work of Christ by falling into legalism and antinomianism. A particular error Horton corrected was the teaching of the so-called new perspective on Paul, which is commonly associated with James Dunn, E.P Sanders, and N.T. Wright. Contrary to proponents of the new perspective on Paul, the Reformers understood Paul’s teaching on justification correctly as a great exchange where Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the faithful.
“Justification is not about the ethnic problem of inclusion or how to get in and stay in the covenant,” Horton said. “It’s the opposite. The question of the true nature of Israel is provoked by the coming wrath of God, not whether Jews must circumcise Gentiles. The questions they were asking were, ‘How must we be saved? Am I among that Israel?”
Therefore, according to Horton, Paul’s concern with legalism was a secondary concern to his main concern—that Christ alone is our salvation. The Reformation doctrines of the solas, which include Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, and to the glory of God alone, all require the central teaching that man is dependent on Christ alone for faith, grace, and true understanding of Scripture.
“Paul totally rejected self-dependence. He saw man as completely depraved and dependent on God. God, through Christ, provided Paul with a salvation that the law could not provide. The prerequisite for that salvation was the quality Abraham had—faith.”
For Horton, the question of justification is not “how we are made right with God?”, but the primary question is “who has been put forward as the mediator for salvation for the world?”
“We can’t add anything to our salvation besides Jesus Christ,” Horton said. “At every moment, we depend on the mercy of Christ, and everything else comes after that.”
Horton’s most recent books are Justification: Volume 1 & 2 and Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation.
Another book on justification recommended by Horton is Justification: An Introduction by Southern Seminary professor Thomas R. Schreiner.