[This post is part of the Reshaping Christian Habits series]
Initially, even after reading most of The Christian Faith, I was still excited about The Gospel Commission. I really did enjoy Horton’s chapters on ecclesiology and found his perspective interesting even if I didn’t wholly agree with it, so I was looking forward to seeing his thoughts on how to make that practical (that and I had particularly enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, Christless Christianity). I assumed that The Gospel Commission would be aimed at bringing the previous two books down to brass tacks and start talking about how to actually make disciples.
The subtitle suggests that this book is going to point us back to the biblical strategy for making disciples. Tullian Tchvidjian calls it the greatest book he has ever read on the Great Commission. From a certain vantage point, I don’t think I would argue with this sentiment. But from a different vantage point, I found that the book was essentially a philosophy of discipleship rather than an actual field manual. It is a meta-discussion of what the church’s mission should be, rather than practical advice on how to make disciples in the trenches.
Perhaps, since this a “theological exposition of the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:18-20″ as one reviewer put it, it is more theoretical and critical of large scale issues by nature (this makes it much like the first two books in the trilogy). Although, one would imagine that a book with the subtitle “recovering God’s strategy for making disciples” contains some level of extended discussion on how, as a disciple of Christ, one can help bring others along in the context of my Christian community. As Horton lays out the book, “Part Three investigates ‘The Strategic Plan’ that Jesus includes in his mandate,” examining what it means to fulfill the commands of the Great Commission (p. 20). He seeks to answer the question there “What does gospel-centered and mission-driven church life look like in practical terms on the ground?” (ibid.) Turning to that section of the book, the first chapter is appropriately titled, “How To Make Disciples.” This is done according to Horton by:
- Preaching the word
- Baptizing people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- Teaching them everything Jesus commanded
- Regularly partake of the Lord’s Supper
These corporate activities, according to Horton are the public means of grace, and he does a superb job of arguing for them. I have no major disagreements here. Toward the end of the chapter he shifts to personal disciplines (specifically mentioning prayer, meditation on Scripture, and evangelism) and sees these as primarily means of gratitude (p. 178ff). Again, I wouldn’t disagree with what he says so far as it goes, but I can’t help but feel something is missing. Moving to the next chapter, the focus shifts to the means Christ has appointed for the church to be taught to observe all the commands he has given (as well as the purpose of church discipline). Chapter 8 then discusses the interface of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, the focus being on linking evangelism and social justice. The last main chapter (there’s a short concluding one) is dedicated to debunking “mission creep,” that is, where we might have gotten off track in actually corporately carrying out the Great Commission. Horton rightly criticizes many recent trends that depart from vision he articulates for the church’s mission.
And then the book winds to a close.
Overall, while I liked much of what I read, I did not find it all that practical in terms of actually making disciples. If I were going to disciple someone new in the faith, beyond making sure they were active in their local church, Horton’s book provides little direction for day to day disciple developing. After I’ve helped someone sit under good preaching, made sure they’ve been baptized, that they are regularly participating in communion, and they growing in their understanding of all not just what Jesus commanded but the scope and flow of all Scripture, there seems in to be little left to do. Yet, I went to church in Dallas with thousands of people who do these very things, but that does not mean the thousands of people I went to church with were actually growing in Christ-likeness. To put it another way, these corporate activities are necessary, but on their own, they do not cause people to develop godly habits so that they are continually growing in Christ-likeness the other 6 days of the week. I would be willing to bet the average person is lost on how to actually develop godly habits in their own life, much less on how to effectively guide someone else along (i.e. disciple them).
The target and goal for the church’s mission is clarified by Horton, but little is said about that actual method’s use in the trenches. But as Horton himself states, “My goal in The Gospel Commission is to call us away from mission creep, centering our discipleship and our church on the very specific sources, goals, and methods that Christ mandated for this time between his two comings.” (p. 8 ) I think he does well outlining the sources and goals. But when it comes to methods, Horton leaves the reader with a good outline for corporate strategy, but little extended discussion of method for personal development during the 6 days of the week not at church.
I am hoping that as we move forward in this Reshaping Christian Habits series I’ll be able to take some of the insights from books like Horton’s but make the useful applications for developing godly habits that are missing from books like his. In his book, he provides great discussion of the issues churches face today in carrying out the mission. But it just stops a bit short of actually providing practical guidance for the individuals in the church on how to grow as disciples of Christ and help others in their community do the same. Hopefully, I’ll be able to fill that gap for you as we move on.