Book Review: the 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.
My biggest complaint about Michael Horton’s book (and yes I have read it) is that the WHI and URC in general keeps on talking about ”Word and Sacrament Ministry” and ”Ordinary Means” ( a phrase taken from the Westminster Standards) is that how they define it has never been how Reformed Churches have practiced it historically. Yes the heart of ministry in Reformed Churches has been in Word and Sacrament but when I look at Calvin’s Geneva, The Puritan movement (largely defined), the Nadere Reformatie, New England puritanism, the Reformed aspects of the First Great Aweakening, etc… Reformed Churches have always built upon the foundations of Word and Sacrament to respond to the needs of their day in such a way that Christ was honoured and they could speak to the culture. Given most ”pure” reformed are hardly into active in evangelisation or giving money to foreign missions I will listen to someone like John Frame over Michael Horton 80% of the time when it comes to ministry. When it comes to apolegetics then I am with Horton and the classical method 🙂