Book Review: The Gospel Commission by Michael Horton

What is the mission of the Church? Depending on who you ask, you’re likely to hear answers that address various aspects of social and personal transformation. Some will say that we as Christians are to care for the poor, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to be salt and light in the world.

And all of these are true. But what is the mission of the Church specifically?

Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus provided the answer to this question when he said to His followers, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).

The mission of the Church is to make disciples. But is it possible that we’ve gotten a bit off-track? Are we actually making disciples—or are we doing something else? In his new book, The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples, Michael Horton offers a careful biblical and pastoral examination of the Great Commission, offering many helpful insights into how the Church can move forward in its role.

Two Promises

This book marks the culmination of a work that Horton began with Christless Christianity and The Gospel-Driven Life. Where those books necessarily spent a great deal of time dealing with the very serious errors that have crept into the Church, the vast majority of The Gospel Commission is decidedly more positive. Following the structure of Matt. 28:18-20, Horton bookends this work with the two great promises of this verse:

  1. Jesus’ absolute authority over all things in heaven and on earth given to Him through His death and resurrection; and
  2. Christ’s assurance that the Great Commission will not fail.

These two promises are essential to the Church fulfilling its mission. Without the assurance of Christ’s authority, we have no hope, nor any reason, for making disciples. “The early Christians were not fed to wild beasts or dipped in wax and set ablaze as lamps in Nero’s garden because they thought Jesus was a helpful life coach or role model but because they witnessed to him as the only Lord and Savior of the world.” (p. 33). His authority strips away ideas of private religion because He is not simply a “personal Lord and Savior,” He is the Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Redeemer and Judge of all the earth. In light of this, the call to make disciples is not a “nice to have,”—it’s an urgent imperative for all churches.

Additionally, because Christ is Lord—because He is decisively in authority over all things—disciples will be made. We cannot fail in the task to which He has appointed His Church. It also relieves us of a great deal of pressure. Horton explains:

Jesus is not waiting for us to fulfill the Great Commission before he returns in glory; rather, he is fulfilling the Great Commission by his Word and Spirit and will return on the day that the Father has set. This relieves us of an impossible burden, liberating us to participate in the missionary movement in which the Triune God has been engaged from the beginning of the world. (p. 294)

The return of Christ does not depend on you.

Disciple-making does not depend on you.

It all rests on the sufficiency of the gospel and His authority. Is that not good news for the weary believer? [Read more...]

Did Jesus and Paul Preach the Same Gospel?

This question has been on the minds of many evangelicals in recent years. In considering the question, I found this passage from Michael Horton’s new book, The Gospel Commission, very helpful and insightful:

Pitting Jesus (and the kingdom motif) against Paul (and the emphasis on personal salvation) used to be a hobby of liberal Protestants. Alfred Loissy, a liberal Roman Catholic writer, once quipped that Jesus announced a kingdom, but instead it was a church that came. So on one side is Jesus, with his invitation to humanity to participate in his kingdom by bringing peace and justice, and on the other side is Paul who spoke instead of the church and personal salvation by belonging to it…

Besides revealing a seriously deficient view of Scripture, this contrast between Jesus and Paul rests on a misunderstanding of our Lord’s teaching concerning the kingdom. Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom is identical to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel of justification. Contracting the kingdom with the church is another way of saying that the main point of Jesus’s commission consists of our social action rather than in the public ministry of the Word and sacrament. In other words, it’s another way of saying that we are building the kingdom rather than receiving it; that the kingdom of God’s redeeming grace is actually a kingdom of our redeeming works.

Jesus’s message of the kingdom as the forgiveness of sins and the dawning of the new creation was inseparable from his promise to build his church and to give his apostles the keys of the kingdom through the ministry of preaching, sacrament, and discipline. This motif of the kingdom was hardly lost in the apostolic era. It was this gospel of the kingdom that Peter and the other apostles proclaimed immediately after Jesus’s ascension (Acts 2:14-36; 3:12-16; 17:2-3). And this aws also the heart of Paul’s message (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

If the preaching of the gospel, no less than the miracles, is the sign that the kingdom has come, Paul’s message and ministry can only serve as confirmation of the kingdom’s arrival.

Michael Horton, The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples, pp. 75-76

Book Review: The Gospel-Driven Life by Michael Horton

Title: The Gospel-Driven Life
Author: Michael Horton
Publisher: Baker Books

In Christless Christianity, Michael Horton confronted readers with the danger of a gospel assumed. In The Gospel-Driven Life, Horton moves from the problem to the solution: Recovering a robust understanding of the cross and reorienting the church’s purpose toward the good news of the gospel.

It’s Not About Me

“We have to reverse the focus from a human-centered to a God-centered way of thinking. The gospel witnesses not to an inner light within the self, but to the Light that came into the world, shining in the darkness and overpowering it (John 1:4-9),” writes Horton (p. 26). Throughout the first six chapters of the book, he examines this reality in detail.

While seems obvious, it’s very easy to go through life as though it’s a story about me. God is here to help me. To change me. To bless me. I don’t sin, I make mistakes. I’m not a sinner, I’m a “somewhat dysfunctional but well-meaning victim who needs to be ‘empowered’” (p. 50).

And that’s the problem. [Read more...]