An Interview with Dr. Michael Horton (pt. 3)
What I want to help show people is the man behind all of the books, the man behind the professor. It’s my hope that this interview will truly encourage God’s people as they get a closer look at your life and how God has shaped the ministry He has entrusted to you, and also to give you a venue in which you can pass on to others what you’ve learned in life and ministry.
I don’t think I’m very interesting. R.C. has all these great stories. He’s Luther-like.
Is there one word of encouragement or one word of admonition you would like to offer Christians who are reading this interview?
One thing I would say is that there’s a growing appreciation for the need to learn among younger Christians, especially those who are discovering the doctrines of grace—that’s very encouraging. But there’s still in some quarters an antipathy towards formal education, and that comes from fundamentalism and a general sense that all you need is to sit in a corner with a Bible and you’ll come up with all the right answers and that you don’t need the wisdom of the saints throughout history. You don’t need the wisdom of the saints who are living, or the saints who are dead, the wisdom of the saints in America and the wisdom of the saints in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. And so we become myopic.
You have an opportunity now to lay the foundation for a lifetime of ministry, don’t focus on becoming fully involved in ministry so quickly. First, focus on being a vocational student. It is a legitimate fulltime vocation to be a student. Jesus said that Mary Magdalene had chosen the better part, while Martha was rushing around ministering to the physical needs of Jesus and she wanted Jesus to rebuke her sister for not helping her.
What word of admonition do pastors most need to hear today?
Don’t take the Gospel for granted. Don’t assume that your people already get it because you don’t, I don’t, none of us gets the Gospel. It is unfamiliar, strange, and counter intuitive every time we hear it, and so we need to hear it over and over again, and not just as a slogan, you know: Come to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Charles Spurgeon said: preaching Christ and Him crucified—when Paul said, I had determined to know nothing among you but Christ and Him crucified, Paul didn’t mean that he just ran around yelling, “Christ crucified, Christ crucified.” He meant that in all of the Scriptures, Christ is either anticipated as the One who will be crucified for our sins and raised for our justification, or He is announced as having arrived. And so, as we preach the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, not our own hobby horses but the Scriptural text, we must ask how Christ, if He could show the disciples on the Emmaus Road how everything in the Scriptures pointed to Him, we need to be able to do that in the pulpit, and not assume anything when it comes to our parishioners’ knowledge of the Gospel. The Law is in us by nature. You don’t have to tell anybody you need to be nicer, that you need to love your wife or your husband, and that you shouldn’t leave your children unattended. You don’t have to convince people these things are true. They already know it.
Pastors, you always need to convince not only your parishioners, but yourself, that the Gospel isn’t too good to be true, that the Gospel really is an objective event that has happened regardless of what it looks like inside of me. It’s the hardest thing in the world to believe the Gospel.
What word of encouragement do pastors most need to hear today?
The ones who are faithfully serving up a banquet every Lord’s Day for the people of God, morning and evening, are considered, as Paul says of Timothy, co-workers of God in the salvation of people. Co-workers of God is a pretty high, exalted position, and pastors really deserve appreciation on the part of everyone, not only parishioners generally, but on the part of those of us who train pastors. We’re servants of pastors. We’re training pastors, but that doesn’t mean that we’re over pastors. We are below pastors in rank. I’m a fellow minister, but I also feel like the work I do at the seminary is a service to ministers because they’re the generals, they’re the ones who are actually out there in the trenches leading the troops and building up the saints. They’re the gift that Christ has given to the church, pastors and teachers, and I think they need to be jealous about not turning their study into an office. They need to be jealous about not doing the work of the diaconate and reversing Peter’s decision. They need to be jealous about their time, and they need to be able to say, “The most important thing I have to give to my people is my work in the study and in my prayers for them, and let elders care for the spiritual maturity of each and every member and family, and the deacons care for all the physical needs of the people. Not that the pastor should be detached, but those pastors who are faithfully doing their work in the study, preparing a meal—a feast for the people of God—hold the most honorable office on earth.
What word of admonition do lay people need to hear?
Know what you believe and why you believe it. Faithfully submit yourself to your shepherds. Find supplemental Christian education where you can. Be ready to have an answer for everyone who asks you for the hope that you have, and be able to articulate that winsomely, gently, and with clarity. We’re living in a time when the average non-Christian has such a corrupt view of Christians and Christianity because of so many of the visible representations of Christianity that non-Christians see. They need to come in contact with the real thing. They won’t know what a counterfeit is like until they actually come into contact with the real thing.
What’s one of greatest doctrinal threats facing the church today, doctrinally speaking?
I really do believe we are facing the same doctrinal crises that the Reformers faced, only in some respects it’s worse because Rome never questioned the authority of Scripture or the inerrancy of Scripture. Both are widely disputed in Protestantism generally, and increasingly in evangelicalism particularly. If we lose the authority of Scripture and the sufficiency of Scripture, then what’s the point? There would be no point in trying to understand what we believe and why we believe it—no point in even talking about a Gospel because there would be no authority for this Gospel. Then justification is as much up for grabs today as it has ever been. According to all the studies I’ve seen, most American evangelicals believe that they save themselves with God’s help. That’s the prevailing view in all the studies that have been conducted. Do your best. That’s why Jesus is no longer seen as the only way, truth, and life. And that wasn’t up for grabs in the Reformation—that Jesus is the only way of salvation—that wasn’t up for grabs. The issue in the Reformation was how salvation is applied to us, but everyone believed Jesus was the only way of salvation. Today, that’s no longer taken for granted. We have to fight for it.
Religious pluralism has not only made us more aware of other beliefs, which is good, so that we’re explicit about what we believe and why, it has made us more vulnerable to the belief that religion is really about morality. It’s about being nice. It’s about being good. It’s about loving each other. It’s not really about the intervention of God in human history, assuming our flesh, dying on the cross, and being raised the third day for our justification, His return in judgment, and a real Heaven and a real Hell. To the extent that we’ve already turned religion into morality—something we do rather than something that God has done for us—to that extent, religious pluralism will mean, not only that there are lots of people of different religions we must respect and to whom we have to witness, but rather that there are all of these wonderful people who have their sources of morality just as we do, and we need to realize that there are different paths to God. Increasingly that’s where we’re going with a lot of pastors, telling believers that Jesus is the best way of pursuing community and self-sacrifice, but not the One who was sacrificed for our sins and raised for our justification.
What’s the greatest ecclesiastical threat facing the church today?
No one has to be convinced that evangelicalism has about the lowest ecclesiology since the Quakers. It is an ecclesiology based on the individual’s decision for Christ, rather than God, from eternity past, making a blueprint for the church and executing it in His Son by His Spirit. And so it’s easy if the church is just sort of created by a collection of deciders and choosers, to turn the church into a market, into a shopping mall of consumers. The whole idea of church office is an increasingly foreign idea to a lot of younger evangelical ministers. I was raised in Baptist churches, where the evangelical preachers still had a strong sense of office in the church; they would often speak about the importance of that office, but I don’t hear preachers speak of church office anymore. I hear “every believer is a minister, we’re all ministers … every sheep is a shepherd.” Basically, the pastor has become the chief motivator and coach and planner for events, and that’s a big concern I have. Maybe the greatest concern in this milieu that I have is that we’re losing a sense of the catholicity of the church. We’re carving the church into niche markets and setting generation against generation, and socio-economic group against socio-economic group. As such, we are increasingly unchurching the churched.
In an age when the faith of young Christians is going to be tested more than ever before, they are the least equipped to meet those challenges because they have not been integrated very well into the life of the living church. They have been in children’s church, youth group, then in a campus ministry, and they never had to join a church. And we wonder why according to one study eighty percent of those raised in evangelical churches leave the church, they don’t join a church, they don’t even go to church by the time they are sophomores in college. Well, you have to ask the question: are they really leaving the church, did they ever belong to it? How many Sundays did they actually spend with the communion of saints in public prayer, public reading of Scripture, public preaching, partaking of the sacraments—did they ever meet with an elder or pastor? If these things are not a part of the normal experiences of young people, they’re not really connected to the church. They might be connected to their circle of friends from the youth group. They might be connected to their campus ministry support network and their campus leader, but they’re not part of a church. Why then are they being blamed for not going to church by the time they’re sophomores in college?
This interview will conclude tomorrow.