Tag Archives: Gospel

Book Review: the Gospel-Driven Life

Gospel Driven Life

The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World, Michael Horton, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009.  Hardcover, 271 pages, $19.99 USD.

Last year saw the publication of Michael Horton’s influential Christless Christianity.  That volume was a surgical exposé of how much of North American Christianity is in danger of losing sight of Christ and the gospel.  By its nature it was a negative book, but Horton did promise a sequel in which he would present a positive alternative.  The Gospel-Driven Life is that sequel and Horton delivers on his promise.

According to the Introduction, “The goal of this book is to reorient our faith and practice as Christians and churches toward the gospel: that is, the announcement of God’s victory over sin and death in his Son, Jesus Christ.” (11).  Since the gospel is “good news,” the book attempts to follow the model of a newspaper.  Though this seems forced at points, it does capture the thrust and intent of the Biblical gospel:  it is supposed to be headline news.

There are commendable things to be said about the Gospel-Driven Life.  Above all, Horton ably expresses the gospel and all its riches.  Man’s problem is sin and the wrath of God that sin arouses.  God’s solution is Christ and his obedient life, death, and resurrection.  The gospel is what every believer needs every day.  Says the author, “No less in the middle and at the end than at the beginning, the believer clings to Christ’s righteousness as the only appropriate attire in the presence of a holy God.” (70).

Though this book is intended to be the positive follow-up to Christless Christianity, critique of various religious trends is not absent.  For instance, Horton interacts with Richard Foster and his emphasis on spiritual disciplines.  He makes the helpful observation, “This trajectory of the spiritual disciplines leads us to a host of means of grace besides Word and sacrament, and these other means are actually methods of our ascent rather than God’s descent to us in grace.” (157).  Elsewhere, with a glance at Rick Warren, he notes that it was Christ who lived the purpose-driven life so that we would be “promise-driven people in a purpose-driven world.” (141).

If I would make one critical notation, it would be with regards to this sentiment:  “Christ’s kingdom is its own culture: holy rather than common.  That does not mean that it is an alternative subculture.  In other words, there is no such thing as Christian sports, entertainment, politics, architecture and science.  In these common fields, Christians and non-Christians are indistinguishable except by their ultimate goals and motivations.” (249).  This requires a lot more elaboration to be convincing.  For instance, is it true that there is nothing distinctive about the way a Christian would be involved with politics aside from his ultimate goals and motivations?   While I can agree that the church has no place in the realm of politics, that does not necessarily mean that there is not a Christian way of doing politics, a way guided by the Word of God.

Any blogger knows that the negative posts always get more attention than the positive.  Our nature is drawn to the negative.  For that reason, I suspect that Christless Christianity will be better remembered than the Gospel-Driven Life.  Moreover, to be honest, the first volume was the more engaging read.  The Gospel-Driven Life features some new material from Horton, but there also seems to be some recycling.  The usual suspects make their appearances:  Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther, and G.K. Chesterton.  If you listen regularly to the White Horse Inn or have read his other books, this one may seem rather repetitive in places.  While I enjoyed it and can certainly recommend it, it was not the best work that Horton has done.


A Gospel-Centered Reader

What could be more important than the gospel?  Which pastor wouldn’t want to have a ministry characterized as “gospel-centered”?  This past summer, Timmy Brister posted this helpful set of readings on being “gospel-centered.” I’m currently going through them.  It’s a helpful reminder to stay grounded with what really matters.


The Apostolic Message Based on History

“As the apostles were brought before Roman authorities, they said nothing about how Jesus helped them put their marriages back together or how they found the gospel helpful and useful in daily living.  There may well have been stories like that to report.  However, that was not their gospel.  Rather, they testified to datable events, which they assumed to have been well-known to their judges.  It was not a ‘religion story,’ but an international headline of immense world historical significance.  (People aren’t persecuted for having an invisible friend who helps them through personal crises.)  They referred the secular rulers to eyewitnesses who were still living to back up their claim.  If the witnesses only offered good advice, spiritual and moral therapy, or defended their ‘product’ for its pragmatic usefulness, Rome would have had no trouble adding another cult to the soup of imperial religion.  However, the claim was that Jesus alone is Lord of the cosmos and Savior of the world (both titles that Caesar claimed for himself).”

Michael Horton, the Gospel-Driven Life, 69


Coming Soon: Gospel-Driven Life

Horton

Michael Horton’s latest book is due to appear next month.  It looks good and it’s available from the Westminster Seminary California bookstore for $13.40 USD.    I hope to review this in the next month or so.  Gospel-Driven Life is the more positive sequel to Christless Christianity.  Here’s my review of that earlier book:

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Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, Michael Horton, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008.  Hardcover, 270 pages, $18.20.

In 1923 a stick of literary dynamite was tossed into American Christianity.  J. Gresham Machen published his response to the deformation of the church in his day, Christianity and Liberalism.  In this book, Machen decisively demonstrated that Christianity and theological liberalism are two entirely different religions.  The sad irony is that nearly 90 years later, Machen’s book remains relevant.  Only the names have changed.  Today’s greatest threat to Christianity is not called liberalism.

With this book, Michael Horton (professor at Westminster Seminary California and URC minister) has done for our generation what Machen did in his, surgically exposing the ultimate emptiness of much of what passes for Christianity in North America.  In fact, according to Horton, much of what calls itself Christian on our continent is simply missing the boat on who Jesus Christ is according to the Bible – that’s the essence of Christless Christianity.  Says Horton, “Christless Christianity does not mean religion or spirituality devoid of the words Jesus, Christ, Lord, or even Saviour.  What it means is that the way those names and titles are employed will be removed from their specific location in an unfolding historical plot of human rebellion and divine rescue…”  (p.144).  Christless Christianity means the trivialization of the Bible’s message of good news through Jesus Christ.

By its very nature and by the author’s admission, this is “not a cheerful missive.”  Horton incisively takes on the health and wealth pseudo-gospel of popular figures such as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer as well as the postive thinking pseudo-gospel of Robert Schuller.  He rightly points out that while the Emergent movement has put its finger on various problems in American Christianity, the solutions it offers are no less problematic.  For instance, he critiques Brian McLaren, who “scolds Reformed Christians for ‘their love affair for the Latin word sola.’” (p.194).  More “Christless Christianity” is not the answer.

In the first chapter, Horton promises to follow this book up with a “more constructive sequel.”  Nevertheless, he does begin to offer constructive alternatives towards the end of Christless Christianity.  He calls for resistance to the trend identified in this book.  It all has to do with going back to the Word of God and what it says about us, about our ultimate problems, and about the solutions in Christ.  Horton writes:

A church that is deeply aware of its misery and nakedness before a holy God will cling tenaciously to an all-sufficient Savior, while one that is self-confident and relatively unaware of its inherent sinfulness will reach for religion and morality whenever it seems convenient. (p.243).

While this book addresses the “American Church,” I think many of us will recognize the same trends spilling over into Canadian Christianity, even in our own churches.  Horton’s cry from the heart is one that we all need to hear.

I have one slightly critical note regarding Horton’s perspective on worship.  He rightly notes that in much of contemporary American Christianity, people come to church to do something.  “Everybody seems to think that we come to church mostly to give rather than to receive.” (p.191).  Horton wants to correct this by drawing attention to the ways in which public worship is about God ministering to us.  While this is a helpful correction in many ways, some balance is called for and that balance can be achieved through emphasizing the covenant structure of Biblical worship.  Yes, God’s ministry of Word and Sacrament to us stands central in Biblical worship, but reflecting the structure of the covenant also means that there is a place for human response.  Horton has worked with that in A Better Way, but it would have been helpful to have it mentioned here also.

Obviously, my overall assessment is positive.  Five stars, ten out of ten, whatever you wish – this book receives my highest recommendation.  My prayer is that, unlike Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, this book would be entirely irrelevant in 90 years.


The Lord Jesus Clears A Way for the Word (Mark 7:31-37)

Rev. Marten Kleyn was the pastor of a Dutch refugee church in London, England.  Rev. Kleyn is better remembered today by his Latinized name, Martin Micron.  Because of heavy persecution in the Netherlands, many Reformed believers fled to England and they established a Dutch speaking church in London.  Martin Micron was one of the pastors.  In 1552, he wrote a catechism for the instruction of the small children of the church.  In this catechism at a certain point he mentions those who are deaf.  He says that those who are born deaf cannot believe because they cannot hear the Word of God.  Nevertheless, like the infant children in the church, for the sake of Christ, the deaf are blessed, they are regarded as holy, righteous, clean, and faithful.

Now you might be thinking that Micron was a bit extreme in saying this because, after all, there is such a thing as sign language.  But sign language was not invented until 1620.  And without sign language it would have been nearly impossible to communicate with a deaf person – also virtually impossible to teach someone how to read.  In the sixteenth century, if you were deaf, you were cut off from communication in so many ways.  You would also have been cut off from the Word of God.  Of course, that would also mean that there would be no way for you to speak of the riches of God and of the gospel, no way to sing God’s praises.

And if that was true in the 1500s, it was just as true in the days of the Lord Jesus.  To have been born deaf would mean to be an outcast in many ways.  You wouldn’t have been able to communicate in any meaningful way with the people around you.  You wouldn’t be able to know what they’re saying to you, apart from some basic hand gestures.  They wouldn’t be able to understand what comes out of your mouth either because you’ve never heard people speak.  That would create problems in society, but it would also be a barrier in relation to God.  You could never hear God’s Word.  And then you would never be able to share God’s Word with others either.

Today those who are born deaf and those who become deaf have a lot more going for them.  Sign language and lip reading have been enormous blessings for the deaf.  Today many churches provide signing for their deaf members.  The RCUS, the Reformed Church in the United States, one of our sister churches, even has a congregation made up entirely of deaf Reformed believers.  Things are much different.  Today it’s possible for those who are deaf to hear the Word of God in their own language.

But in our text, we encounter a man who lived long before these advances.  Here was a man who lived his life in utter silence.  Here was a man for whom the way was blocked for the Word of God.    Then the Lord Jesus came and a way was cleared for the Word.

To continue reading this sermon, click here.