17.4.11

"The Gospel Commission" by Michael Horton



Michael Horton. The Gospel Commission: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples. Baker Books, 2011. 320 pgs. 

Michael Horton is concerned. He is concerned that evangelical Christians are suffering from 'Mission Creep.' That is, that we are giving up our focus on the mission God has given us, becoming distracted by other activities, and losing our clear and biblically founded grasp on the truths which God has given us with regards to the gospel commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  One might justly sum up this entire book as an extended theological commentary on the great commission.

Horton divides his book into three sections: The Great Announcement, The Mission Statement, and The Strategic Plan. In the first of these, Horton seeks to help us understand the gospel message, especially by placing it in it's full biblical context. "The Great Announcement" is, in fact, an excellent summary of the work of scholars such as N.T. Wright, Christopher Wright, and George Eldon Ladd (among others). The second section, 'The Mission Statement', asks, and answers, the question "what does it mean to make disciples?". Finally, the third (and lengthiest) section asks, and answers, the follow up/core question "how do we make disciples?" 

I am conflicted in my review of this book. Horton is a fine, and clear, writer. This book is a fine, and clear, book. More and more I have grown to appreciate how rare those things are: to be able to write adequately and explain coherently. However, Horton is a strongly reformed theologian. I am not. 

At many levels I know that the majority of my disagreements with Horton come down to my issues with reformed theology. He caricatures Arminianism, misunderstands parts of N.T. Wright, and is consistently reformed in his exegesis, theology, and thinking. I don't say that as a criticism; yes, I disagree, but I don't think being reformed makes Horton a bad writer, scholar, or Christian. This is why I am torn in reviewing this book. 

There is one area where I disagree with Horton outside of the basic theological differences mentioned above, and that is in how Horton defines the gospel. 

Horton begins his book by rightly examining the full biblical story and he has clearly done his research. However, the insights he himself offers do not seem to penetrate the rest of his book. He wants all the lines to be clear and firm; he wants to say the gospel is primarily concerned with the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ, and that the rest of what we might call "the good news" comes in elsewhere. This despite his own talk about the context of exodus and conquest, kingdom and hope. I wanted to ask how he reads Galatians 3:8. 

Horton rejects the idea of 'living the gospel'. Instead, he clarifies, we 'believe the gospel' and 'follow the commands.' This is a result of how he has defined the gospel as the proclamation of Christ's death for our sins; after all, how do you live that out? It is finished. But, even to separate the terms believe and live is to ignore the 1st century context in which those words were used; you cannot believe something without living it. Hence, Jesus commands that we "repent and believe the good news," freely mixing lived action with belief. James does the same thing. 

We need distinctions, lines, and theological demarcations where they are possible to make. However, in his zeal for clarity I believe Horton has extended them to far. 

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars. Conditionally recommended. As a reformed theologian, Horton is excellent. I enjoyed his book much more than other, more popular and well known, reformed authors. Just know that when you read his book this is the theological stream you are reading in. 


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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