The Gospel-Driven Life: An Interview with Michael Horton
Tabletalk: Please tell us how you became a Christian.
Michael Horton: My parents were faithful Baptist believers, although my mom was really the spiritual leader in the home when it came to daily devotions together and encouraging me to pursue the faith for myself. I’m grateful to them and to those churches that fostered Bible memorization and taught me some of the basics of the gospel, even though it was more Arminian by default. When I began wrestling with the doctrines of grace, my mom was my main conversation (or argument) partner, and eventually both of my parents embraced the Reformed faith. My dad’s faith was reignited, too, and he became my greatest encourager.
TT: Please tell us a little bit about White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation, and how they seek to serve the church today.
MH: During my college years at Biola, a group of us sponsored a conference with J.I. Packer, W. Robert Godfrey, and Rod Rosenbladt. I had already become friends with Kim Riddlebarger. At the conference, a wealthy brother in Christ offered to give us a major gift to start something, so we decided to start a local “theology talk show.” It was live, and we also had call-ins. Based on that success in Los Angeles, we took the program nationwide. Then, we also started a bulletin that became Modern Reformation magazine. Ken Jones joined the crew a few years later.
It’s hard for us to believe now, but Kim, Rod, Ken, and I have been doing the White Horse Inn now for nearly twenty-five years, and Modern Reformation is two decades old. So, we’re profoundly grateful for what we’ve seen the Lord do with a few loaves and fishes over the years.
We’re very much inspired by the work of Ligonier, and our goal is to help Christians know what they believe and why. We’re not a church, but we hope that by having deeper conversations about the great truths of Scripture, we can spark similar conversations around the world. By God’s grace, that’s exactly what we’re seeing—in 120 countries.
TT: Some argue that your emphasis on the law/gospel distinction borders on Lutheranism. What is your view, and how do you respond to your critics?
MH: Great question. Lutherans and Calvinists disagree about some important issues. However, there’s a tendency today to obscure those areas of shoulder-to-shoulder agreement. This is one of those areas. The law/gospel distinction is deep in our Reformed tradition: in John Calvin, the Second Helvetic Confession, our formative theologians of the post-Reformation era, the Puritans, and all the way to the present. At the same time, Lutherans and Calvinists also embrace the “third use of the law” (namely, to direct Christian obedience).
I’m very encouraged to see a new generation of Reformed Christians exploring the wealth of our historical theology, and they are seeing this distinction all over the place in our tradition.
TT: What is the basic thesis of your recent trilogy of books (Christless Christianity, The Gospel-Driven Life, and The Gospel Commission)?
MH: Christless Christianity addresses the church’s message today in the light of the God-centered and Christ-exalting teaching of Scripture. The Gospel-Driven Life argues that while Scripture certainly guides our lives, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation: for sanctification as well as justification.
As we move off point in our message, the result is mission creep. That’s the concern in The Gospel Commission, as I unpack the vision, mission, and strategy of the church from Christ’s mandate. So the first book takes off the bandage to examine the wound, the second proposes a cure, and the third explores what it means not only to get the gospel right but to get it out.
TT: What are some attitudes and actions that show we may have forgotten our ongoing need for the gospel?
MH: It’s easy to trivialize the gospel, turning it into a slogan. Then we take it for granted, as something we needed to hear to “get saved,” but now we can “move on” to more ostensibly important topics like how to save our marriages and families or engage in the culture wars. Before long, the result is what sociologist Christian Smith calls moralistic therapeutic deism. There is a thinning out of the Christian message. We exhibit this tendency in many ways, but we have to realize that Pelagianism—“self-help salvation”—is the default setting of our fallen hearts. We live in a narcissistic culture, and it’s easy to turn God into a supporting actor in our life movie rather than be swept into His story of redemption.
TT: How is the West’s move to a post-Christian society harmful and helpful to the church?
MH: It helps to be shaken a little bit from the smug confidence that we live in a Christian culture and a Christian nation. The church has always been more faithful when it has had to go back to its own resources, as a marginalized group, and recover its own voice—hearing God’s voice again in the Scriptures—without all of the cultural trappings. When were we ever really a “Christian society”?
On the other hand, the explicit relativism and nihilism of our culture today is a tremendous influence on Christians as well as society at large. God is big enough and the gospel is powerful enough, through the mighty working of the Spirit, to ensure the success of God’s mission. When we recover our confidence in the power of God’s Word and Spirit, the condition of the cultures in which God has placed us will seem far weaker and less of a threat by comparison. Christ is Lord, whether the nations acknowledge Him or not, and He is still building His church.
TT: What books are you working on currently? What books do you hope to work on in the near future?
MH: I just finished Pilgrim Theology. It’s a more accessible (and much shorter) alternative to my recent systematic theology, The Christian Faith. I’ve also been working on comments for Joshua in a new ESV study Bible and am about to start writing a book on Calvin’s piety.
TT: What is the theology and mission of Westminster Seminary in California, where you serve as a professor of theology?
MH: Our motto is “For Christ, His Gospel, and His Church.” Committed to the inerrant Scriptures, Westminster Theological Seminary in California has the highest standards for learning the biblical languages, systematic and historical theology, church history, and practical theology. I especially appreciate the fact that we’re all on the same page, moving in the same direction, rooted deeply in the Reformed confessions and passionate about reaching the world with the gospel.
All professors are expected to be active in their churches as associate ministers, and that emphasis on seminary education as a cooperative venture with churches is key to everything we do. I also draw constant encouragement from the vibrant, zealous, and thoughtful student body each year.
Michael Horton is president of White Horse Inn, a multi-media catalyst for Reformation. He is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine and co-host of the nationwide radio broadcast White Horse Inn. He is the author of numerous books, including Putting Amazing Back into Grace, Christless Christianity, The Gospel-Driven Life, and The Gospel Commission. Dr. Horton is also the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. He serves as the associate pastor of Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, California.