Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Review: The Gospel Commission: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples

By Michael Horton
Baker Books, 2011.

Dimensions:5.5 x 8.5
Number of pages:320
Carton Quantity:26
Publication Date: Apr. 11, 2011
Formats: Hardcover

In "The Gospel Commission: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples", Michael Horton takes the practical reality of our clear mandate as Christians to make disciples, and neatly shows how this mandate fits in with other aspect of time, kingdom and power. Contrasting the biblical mandate, with classic and contemporary errors that have come as a "mission creep", Horton shows how "the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial success" (p. 8), has occurred.  In an age where many "post-baby boom generations, who only know Christianity from TV preachers and political debates" (p, 10), Horton clearly specifies what our mission truly is. We indeed are in danger of "surrendering a robust confidence in God's and his Word to a culture of marketing and entertainment, self-help, and right-wing and left-wing political agendas" (p.11). Are we making disciples even of our own members-our own children- much less the nations? (p.11). The promise is not only for you and your children"; it is also "for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:39). Horton's thesis is summed up in one sentence early on: "The central point of this book is that there is no mission without the church and no church without the mission" (p. 14). Horton specifies how we are Ambassadors, "eyewitness of his majesty" (2 Pt. 1:16) and how God is fulfilling the Gen. 3:15 promise. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes... (Rom. 1:16). Yet the belief and practice of this mandate has shifted mainly from the northern hemisphere to the global south (p.17).

In Part One: "The Great Announcement" Horton shows how the Great Commission actually begins with a great announcement of authority being given for proclamation (Mt. 28:18). Through the work of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:16-23) justification and renewal are occurring. Chapter two specifies the Gospel and the Kingdom, with a helpful biblical background from the Exodus and Conquest fulfillment to Acts 1, New Covenant Kingdom, resurrection appearances to the ascension, and coming of the Holy Spirit, foreshadowing the return of Christ (Acts 1:11).

In Part Two: "The Mission Statement", Chapter three opens with the "Urgent Imperative": to go, showing the width, and depth of the kingdom mandate (Mt. 28:19). Acknowledging some contemporary baggage with connotations of "missionary" and "evangelism". Horton specifies the urgent imperative to proclaim the gospel to everyone and how Christianity is truly a missionary faith. The line of demarcation is then specified in blurring the line of "the city of God' and the "city of man" (Constantine). Although the Gospel is veiled, to those who are perishing (2 Cor. 4:1-3) we indeed have a ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20). That this mandate is from Jerusalem, Judea to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8) Horton then specifies the depth of its intensiveness to the width of its extensiveness. Much like the stated movement in the last chapter with Constantine, Horton then begins an examination of the emergent moment and Brian McLaren (p. 93). Understandably the pressure to soften the message in a pluralistic society is there to remove the offence, but the particular examination of McLaren seems to be application at this point before an examination of the offence of the Gospel itself. Perhaps Horton jumps the gun a little at this point. I do appreciate the fine distinction of how the "major problem with inclusivism in Horton's view is that "it refuses to speak where God has spoken and speculates where God is silent" (p. 93). Well said and summarized. Horton then begins to clarify the stumbling block of hell, General and Special Revelation, Post Modernism, and Modernism.

In Chapter four, the issue of Contextualization of the Gospel in many cultures is examined. I especially appreciated the link of the Romans 12:2 warning for us not to be conformed any longer to the patter of this age, but to be transformed by the Word of God. Horton's unique ability to contrast and compare complex situations now plays a special part. He specified how Modernity tended to suppress difference, while postmodernity tends to suppress the possibility of arriving at a truth that transcends all temporal and cultural boundaries (p.123). Indeed we need to identity ourselves as true children of Abraham though faith in Christ (Galatians 2:20) beyond any cultural or socio-economic standing. Recovering "genuine Catholicity" (p. 126) surely answers this problem.

Chapter five deals with The Goal of Making Disciples, contrasting the spiritual but not religious trend. The dangers of the "spiritual marketplace" (2 Tim. 3:5) with indeed cause many to be surprised in the last day that they were not indeed disciples (Mt. 7:22-23). I would have loved to see the entire book focused on the truth of the gospel contrasted with the subjective "spirituality" of today's "people of faith". If I have one complaint with this book is that it's breadth by definition at times deflates it depth. Focusing on one aspect of distortion from the Gospel, or a more in-depth of study of the Gospel itself would have keep the book more focused. Even a development of Matthew 10:24-42 in following Christ by learning and living should have been expanded or a greater explanation of being conformed to Christ's image (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18) by becoming mature in Christ (Eph. 4:12-16) or what it means to be a "living sacrifice" (Rom. 12). Key passages are only glanced at to achieve Horton's breadth. His treatment in the contrast with genuine spiritual disciplines with the "false promises" (2 Tim. 3:1-5) (p. 154-157) is first rate.

In Part Three: The Strategic Plan, Chapter six in "How to make Disciples" attempts to shows how we are to fulfill the Great Commission. This aspect of the Gospel Commission is unique in the corporate church focus of Word (Rom. 10:16; Isa 55:10-11; Heb. 4:12-14; 1 Tim. 4:13), Supper (1 Cor. 10:16); Covenant Baptism (Acts 16;15) Spiritual Gifts (Eph.4; Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12) and Home missions (Acts 2:39). Chapter seven deals with the topic of obedience, discipleship and discipline in "Teaching them to observe All that I have Commanded". Topics include obedience to leaders (Heb. 13:7,14, 17) Church discipline (Mt. 18:17-20), denominations, co-operation between churches (Acts 15-16) and the para-church.

Chapter eight contrast the Great Commission with the Great Commandment. This is where the real topic of "mission creep" comes into place with mercy ministry (Acts 2:44-45; Rom. 15; 2 Cor. 8-9) the diaconate (Acts 6) and caring particularly for the household of faith (Ga;. 6:10; Heb. 13). Horton takes an interesting case study of Wilberforce (p. 231-236) contrasts Saving vs. Common grace; indicatives vs. imperatives and the Kingdom of God. Horton notes that 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 (p.226). "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). Yet, The Great Commandment work does not bring people to faith. Your actions reflect your status as a disciple, but they do not make other disciples. Only the gospel does that.
Chapter 9 shows the danger of mission creep in inventing our own strategic plan, with the example of Aaron (Ex. 32:6), Finney, Barna, Viola, Padgitt, the Quakers, Plymouth Brethren, and Salvation Army. Horton provides an accurate summation of the problem: "In all of these movements, the public ministry of Word and sacrament is either subordinated to or even replaced by informal gatherings without any ordained leadership" (p. 257). Further examinations include the Enlightement, Romanticism, McLaren, Forster, and the distinction of "Living the Gospel" that often forgets to proclaim the Gospel. Finally, in Chapter Ten: The Great Assurance (Mt. 28:20), Horton considers the presence and assurance of Christ in building His church (Mt. 16:18) as well as the ongoing battle of Spiritual Warfare (Eph. 6). Our mission is not over, Jesus is preparing a place of us (Jn. 14: 1-3, 27-29), let us indeed: "reach out to our fellow saints and to our neighbours with our hearts and hands in love. As God serves us with his heavenly gifts through the ministry of the church in his own Great Commission, he also serves our neighbours with common blessings through our worldly callings" (p. 308).

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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