Gospel Commission, The: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples Hardcover – Mar 2011
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From the Inside Flap
Whose kingdom are we building? God's? Or our own?
"A rigorous yet accessible exegesis of both the Great Commission and contemporary Western culture. Today's evangelicals all too often retreat from mission in light of social pressures or rush forward with a faulty missionary enterprise that is untethered from theology, unconcerned with discipleship, and obsessed with quantifiable results. Against this backdrop, Horton calls us to recover a biblical understanding of mission and restore its centrality in the life of the church. The Gospel Commission is filled with both penetrating analysis and pastoral guidance, and I recommend it enthusiastically."--Doug Birdsall, chair, Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization
"Writing from the perspective of one who for more than fifty years has been involved in helping people in Africa know God through Bible study and acts of mercy, this book on missions by Michael Horton is the most comprehensive, helpful, and encouraging I have ever read. All mission sending agencies and their long and short-term missionaries should read it. It will be required reading for Rafiki's missionaries and should be read by anyone who wants to participate in Christ's great commission."--Rosemary Jensen, founder and president, Rafiki Foundation, Inc.
From the Back Cover
Are we really fulfilling Jesus's final command?
Many churches in America today want to be powerful, relevant, and influential in personal and social transformation. A plethora of programs for outreach, discipleship, and spiritual disciplines are available at any bookstore and on countless websites. Yet what we need most is a renewed understanding of and commitment to the Great Commission. We assume that we already know the nature of this commission and the appropriate methods of carrying it out.
But Michael Horton contends that it too often becomes our mission instead of God's. At a time when churches are zealously engaged in creating mission statements and strategic plans, he argues that we must ask ourselves anew whether we are ambassadors, following the script we've been given, or building our own kingdoms with our own blueprint.
Pastors and church leaders will value this frank and hopeful next-step exploration of the Great Commission as a call to renewed understanding and good practice.
"Mike Horton has written the best book I've ever read on the Great Commission. Mike demonstrates in delectably deep and down-to-earth ways that no matter how hard we try or how 'radical' we get, any engine smaller than the gospel that we depend on for power to do what God has called us to do--most importantly, the Great Commission--will conk out."--Tullian Tchividjian, senior pastor, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church; author, Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
I believe this will be an excellent book... however I have only gotten through the first 50 pages because it is densely packed and you do not want to skip over the depth contained therein. Horton chooses his words carefully and they cause one (at least this reader) to read slowly... not great if you are supposed to write a blog review within 30 days of a 300+ page hardcover book. It is not that the reading is difficult, it is simply full of good theological argument/discussion and one should not read over it hastily.
One example: "We often speak of 'making Jesus our personal Lord and Savior," but this obscures two important points. First, we do not make Jesus anything, especially Lord and Savior. It is because he already is Lord and Savior that we are freed from death and hell. All authority belongs to him already." (second point follows in the next paragraph). If I really grasp this concept, it will (and has) changed the way I pray for my children. Yes, I have prayed they will "accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour" but actually I should pray that they "will recognize Jesus as the Lord and Savior of all people, and of them individually."
My regrets this review is so short, yet I believe its strengths and weakness are accurately depicted.
This book was provided to the author for free for review by Graf-Martin Publishers.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The subtitle of the book reveals a summary of its contents: "Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples." The book might be considered as a detailed commentary on the GC (Matt. 28:19ff) as it applies to Christian churches and Christians in those churches. I appreciated it because Horton used other parts of Scripture to explain the meaning of the GC for us today. In fact, the whole first section includes the OT background of the GC; it is essentially a biblical-theological discussion of the GC.
In the second part of the book, Horton deals with the GC itself in more depth. He gives the historical context of the GC and notes that the church has no business tweaking the GC or updating it for her purposes. Here Horton also talks about contextualization by gently critiquing the "incarnational" model of mission. This part of the book also illustrates how churches from all over the world can greatly help each other move forward theologically. Horton ended this section (two) by explaining what the Bible says about making disciples. The main emphasis here is this: drama, doctrine, doxology, and discipleship. These four D's reflect the biblical order of things: God acts in history (drama), explains it in his word (doctrine), which leads redeemed sinners to a song/life of praise (doxology), and forward in this new life (discipleship). This was an outstanding section because of the great balance - we should be grounded in those four D's and not overemphasize one at the expense of another.
The final part of this book is a more detailed commentary on discipleship (teaching and observing). Horton discusses the God-given gifts of pastors, elders, and deacons which not only help build up the saints but also serve the saints in mercy and love. I was encouraged by Horton's robust discussion of the means of grace: preaching, the sacraments, and discipline (which has to do with discipleship). He interacted with quite a few different past and present critics of the church as (an) institute. His answers to the "inner-spiritual-life-over-the-organized-church" mindset were outstanding. I've not read a more fair, compassionate, and solid critique of Richard Foster and Dallas Willard's "spiritual/internal" focus. He also does a good job discussing para-church movements. This is a thought provoking section!
Of course there is more to the book than the above summary. The contents of the book are solid, biblical, and full of the richness of biblical Reformed theology. One very small quibble I have with this book is that it is repetitive; near the end of the book I noticed he had said certain things three or four times in nearly the exact same way. Also, though the overall outline of the book is clear, the sections sort of blend together (perhaps because of the repetition) - this makes for tough reading at times.
In summary, I highly recommend this book because it 1) echoes biblical truths, 2) has everything to do with Christ's finished work, 3) reflects a love of the church (universal and local), and 4) is a great antidote to the anti-church trends so prevalent today. I recommend this book for pastors, teachers, missionaries, church planters, and other Christians who want an intelligent and detailed discussion of the GC.
Horton's book Gospel Commission, The: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciplesarrived the day before a meeting of our elders to consider the purpose of the big-c Church. It couldn't have come at a better time. This is not an abstract issue. It's the very issue that we're facing.
Horton argues that we need to return to our central mission, the Great Commission. "I believe that in our passion for relevance," he writes, "we are subordinating the strategies that Christ has promised to bless to our own action plans." Horton believes that the Great Commission provides the church with its message (the announcement of Christ's authority), its mission (to proclaim the gospel and make disciples), and its methods (baptism and Word ministry). We're not free to pick our mission and then choose our own methods, Horton argues. Christ has prescribed how we're to go about carrying out his mission.
Here's where it gets controversial. "Christians are called to do many things that the church is not called to do." In other words, the church is called to focus on its mission of making disciples, but it is not called to do everything that individual Christians are called to do. For instance: "What I am suggesting is that there are myriad causes that are good, bad, and indifferent for which the church has no special competence or commission. Why do we think that if something is worthwhile for a Christian (or group of Christians) to invest in, it has to be done by the church as an official activity?"
We cannot, he argues, confuse the Great Commission (to make disciples) with the Great Commandment (to love God and others). I love the way he makes the distinction: "The Great Commission reflects the holy (saving grace) and is where disciples are made," he writes. "The Great Commandment reflects common grace and is where our discipleship grows."
At a practical level, Horton argues that the church as become lazy and distracted. We've buried "the church's ministry in a heap of programs and strategies of our own making." Scripture provides us with explicit strategies in the Great Commission, and we see the practical outworking of these strategies in Acts and the Epistles.
This was a timely book for me. I found it to be clear and compelling. Horton helped me gain clarity on the church's calling and answered many of my objections.
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.
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?
The Great Commission contains an urgent and specific imperative: We are to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth. "There is no mandate for the church to develop a political, social, economic, or cultural plan," Horton explains. The only mandate is "to get the Good News to everyone who lies in darkness, to baptize them, and to teach them everything in God's Word. . . . Everything that the church is called to do as a visible institution--not only in its ministry of preaching but its public service of prayers, singing, sacraments, fellowship, government, and discipline--is to be a means of delivering this gospel to the whole creation." (p. 88) This inevitably leads us to the issue of "contextualization." Horton here attempts (and I think mostly succeeds) to strike a balance in his understanding of what contextualization means, that being, simply, that you're making the gospel understandable for the context in which you minister. Speaking in ebonics to a nursing home isn't going to bring clarity to the gospel, for example.
What I found interesting was Horton's call to a need for greater catholicity--that is a more universal understanding that is "rich enough to offer mutual correction and insight into God's Word from the various contexts of different times and places." (p. 132) Here his concern is that our current focus on contextualization is amounting to a more culturally segregated church. So you've got the African-American church, the urban hipster church and the Spanish language church, but they don't talk to or engage one another. While I'm not sure that this is necessarily the actual result of how we are currently approaching contextualization, it's definitely something against which to be watchful. Our churches ought not be defined by age, social class or ancestral background anymore than musical style (as in the so-called "Worship Wars" of the late 90s). Disciple-making transcends all of these borders to make people from all nations into citizens of heaven (cf. Phil. 3:20).
Horton moves from purpose to plan in the next section of The Gospel Commission. What methods did Christ authorize us to use in making disciples? Arguing from Matt. 19-20a, Horton points to three things:
1. Preaching of God's Word
2. The Administration of the Sacraments (Baptism and Communion)
3. Church Discipline
Where these are not present, no disciples are being made, according to Horton. Here, I want to focus solely on preaching (this review is fairly lengthy as it is). We need to hear the Word of Christ in order to know Christ. The gospel must be proclaimed if any are to be saved. On this point, Horton offers one of his most devastating critiques of those who criticize the necessity and centrality of preaching, who think that it can be minimized or replaced with something else entirely. "Minus the video clips, you would have heard a lot of the same arguments in the medival church where the mass was theater, with stage, lighting, dramatic exists and entrances, and all the props to dazzle the senses," Horton writes.
Yet there was a famine of hearing the words of God--especially the gospel of free justification in Christ alone. The invention of new strategies ("mission creep") eventually led to the marginalization, perversion, and finally denial of that message that Jesus told us to proclaim to the world. (p. 168)
Again, these are strong words well worth considering. Have you seen a spiritually healthy church where the Word is noticeably absent? Consider Willow Creek, pioneers of the "seeker sensitive" movement: They've proven they can draw a big crowd and put on a very engaging event, but a recent multi-year study (additional article here) has shown that they're largely ineffective in making disciples. There's a lot of sizzle, but little steak, as it were.
You may have noticed earlier that I made a distinction between individual Christians and the Church. This was intentional as Horton (rightly in my estimation) argues that there are many things to which individual Christians are called to do which the church is not.
"What I am suggesting is that there are myriad causes that are good, bad, and indifferent for which the church has no special competence or commission. . . Christians supporting a worldwide relief organization will probably be much more effective than a church that is trying to become one. Christians with a background in law, business, economics, health and science will be in a much better position than a pastor or group of church leaders to integrate their faith with social questions of the day." (p. 225)
What Horton is bringing to light is the distinction between the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Though the two are inextricably connected, they are different.
"We have seen a tendency to confuse these mandates, as if the Great Commandment were the Great Commission and good works were the gospel. There is nothing in the Great Commission about transforming culture. However, the Great Commandment calls every person--believer and unbeliever alike--to works of love and service in our daily lives. If some confuse these mandates, other separate them, as if our high calling in Christ had no connection with responsible stewardship and citizenship in the world." (p. 226)
Confusing the two has devastating effects, resulting in another try at Christendom, as "the Great Commission becomes the Great Society" (p. 227).We must be careful to not minimize either at the expense of the other, but likewise we absolutely must be clear in the distinction.Horton best articulates it as follows: "The Great Commission reflects the holy (saving grace) and is where disciples are made. The Great Commandment reflects common grace and is where our discipleship goes" (p. 243).
Because I work for an NGO, reading this distinction and chewing on it was a great relief and welcome correction for me, personally. If we're not careful, we can get so caught up in the thing that we're doing that we can get our work confused with the church's. But Great Commandment work doesn't bring people to faith. It's like saying you can bring someone to faith without ever telling them about Jesus. Your actions reflect your status as a disciple, but they don't make other disciples. Only the gospel does that.
If there were one thing in particular that I would need to call attention to on the "negative" side regarding The Gospel Commission, it's that the book might be an intimidating read for the average person. All the content is incredibly valuable and necessary (I'm honestly not sure where material could be cut), but when a chapter spans 50 pages or more (as several do in this book), it's possible that, for the popular level, the content might have been better served as a series of books rather than a single volume.
In the end, though, The Gospel Commission is a powerful reminder of the importance and effectiveness of Christ's strategy for making disciples. Particularly for those in pastoral ministry, it's a must-read. And as you do, examine your ministry practices and see if there's anywhere that God would have you make a course correction.
One stark observation is that Horton does not lace this book with fancy titles or colourful glossy covers. Neither are there any big name endorsements on the inner and outer flaps that we have gotten so used to, especially for authors desperate to attract more readers to buy their books. If a book is good, the message alone suffices. If a book is no good, no amount of who's who on the covers helps. Horton does not need nice packaging. He lets the message be the message.
Kudos to the author, who is not interested in chasing after the latest fad in spiritual matters but stick to ancient truths that are theological sound, and biblically faithful. I find myself highlighting many powerful statements that hits home. I enjoy the way the author weaves together biblical theology and the mission emphasis of God's love. It is an important book that deserves a wider readership.
One critique I have is that such a book may not appeal as much to the general reader. Leaders and concerned church members who have some kind of theological training will benefit most. Apart from this, I think Horton is very passionate about the Gospel Commission, and sees all manner of Church and Christian Living from this perspective. I am glad to see Horton applying the mission focus on the fundamentals of Matthew 28:18-20. He exhorts the reader to put a renewed energy back into preaching, teaching, baptizing, and making disciples of all nations. Calling these as means of grace, the GC is not something that Christian 'have' to do, but is one that true disciples will love and long to do.
Did Michael Horton do a good job in 'recovering God's strategy for Making Disciples?' The answer is a resounding YES!
I strongly recommend this book.
"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".
Horton's work articulates the Great Commission in a compelling way that motivates followers of Christ to welcome others into God's covenant family and challenges the presuppositions concerning the evangelistic task. Horton wastes no time in critiquing ancient heresy and alerting readers to the alarming contemporary trends associated with the emergent church.
The author helps recover the core elements of the Great Commission and invites readers to seriously consider the mandate before every Christ-follower. The Gospel Commission is challenging and convicting. It is an important reminder and calls God's people to remain faithful to the task.