The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples. By Michael Horton. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011. 321 pp. Paper, $16.99.
Before I read The Gospel Commission, I had only read a couple of books by Michael Horton. Overall, I was pleased with the direction of the book and was surprised to find out that he was not overtly “Lordship” in what he wrote. I was anticipating it to be more vocal in Lordship Salvation theology. Back in 1992, Horton wrote a book entitled, Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation, in which he chided MacArthur for his over emphasis of good works as a proof (or condition) of saving faith.
The main purpose of the book is to show how “mission creep” is prevalent in the church today. Mission creep is a term that is often used in military operations, but has been applied to many different fields. Mission creep is the expansion of a mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes, but often it ends in failure of the mission. I found that Horton makes a good case for this in the church today, by showing how American religion has thrived under the conditions of modernity and how we’ve adopted certain worldviews, such as pragmatism and consumerism. Initially the church has seemed to make it work, until recently.
I think he is right when looking at many of the movements within the church today. One has to wonder how much of this is Biblical. As he rightly says, we can’t even say it’s working anymore as the church is in decline and as “self-described evangelicals fall away from regular church attendance” (p. 15). Again, I think Horton rightly points out that the church has lost its focus or seems to be “distracted from their primary calling” which is making disciples and “the light is dimming and the salt is losing its savor” (p. 15). When you look at the big picture, I think those from the Free Grace perspective would agree with Horton on the fact that the church has lost its way and its focus of sharing the gospel and making disciples.
There were times in the book when Horton made statements that would be in line with Free Grace theology. On page 106 he says: “Actually, it is we who are arrogant when we presume to present our own righteousness—or encourage others to present theirs—before God rather than being justified through faith in Christ alone.” Even though Horton says it’s faith in Christ alone, what is his definition of faith? On page 112 he gives one, but it doesn’t clarify anything: “Faith is more than knowing and assenting to facts, but it is not less.” What that “more” is he never explains. It seems we have reached a cul-de-sac with Horton at this point as it relates to a definition of faith.
Horton seems to show his “true colors” when he says, “Some believers have been taught that Jesus can be one’s Savior without being one’s Lord. However, this is a serious error” (p. 134). He goes on to say in the same paragraph, “If we are not followers of Christ, we are not his disciples. That is to say, we are not merely ‘carnal Christians’—second-class believers who are saved but will lose their rewards. Rather, we are not Christians.” Horton equates discipleship with attaining eternal life and thus shows his slant toward Lordship theology.
I found some other weak points to the book. Chapter 2, “Exodus and Conquest: the Gospel and the Kingdom,” is a very cumbersome read as Horton tries to make application from the OT story of the Exodus and apply it to the Great Commission. I don’t think this would surprise us when one sees Horton arguing that “Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom is identical to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel of justification” (p. 75). I also found his views on infant baptism and children of the elect to be troublesome. He seems to believe in infant baptism and children who are born into a Christian family should be as he says “included in the covenant of grace.” Occasionally, Horton would cite Scripture, but he never expounded on it.
I recommend this book as it relates to the problem of mission creep in the church today. However, this recommendation comes with a word of caution for believers who are not well grounded, because the Lordship theology is somewhat disguised at times.
Pastor, Grace Community Church