Friday, August 14, 2020

In the Face of God: The Dangers and Delights of Spiritual Intimacy

by Michael Horton
241 pages / 1996

If you have watched or read about the video American Gospel: Christ Alone (reviewed here), then Michael Horton's book will be a great way to pursue in greater depth the vital issue of what true worship and intimacy with God really means.

The video American Gospel reveals how the proponents of the "word of faith" doctrines are preaching a false gospel that promises deliverance not from sin, Satan, and God's just judgment, but from suffering - in this life. Horton, twenty years earlier, traces the roots of the word of faith errors in the heresy of gnosticism.

Gnosticism promises salvation through direct knowledge of the spiritual realm, knowledge outside of what God reveals in His inspired word, the Bible. This pursuit of spiritual enlightenment is part of the sell job behind the very first sin: "You shall be like God, knowing good and evil."

Horton says that in gnosticism, faith becomes magic - a way to manipulate God or spiritual power. At the same time, gnosticism rejects the goodness of matter, focusing instead on the inward journey into your own spirit. Just as in the New Testament period, such rejection of the body and the world leads to either extreme asceticism or extreme hedonism. In the evangelical world, gnosticism can be seen in the focus on individual fulfilment and the rejection of church authority.

So how does one commune with God? Horton stresses that we cannot approach God on our own, because of our sin and His holiness. Instead, whoever has seen Jesus Christ - the Son of God, and the savior from sin - has seen God the Father, and the only way to see Christ - and to live in Him - is through the means of grace God has provided: the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. Any other "way to God" - like the tower of Babel or the so-called righteousness of the Pharisees - brings us under God's wrath.

Horton calls the attempt to "touch God" under our own steam the "theology of glory," borrowing the term from Luther, who heartily condemned it. Only the "theology of the cross" can save us - the knowledge of and trust in the work of the One who suffered the cross for us. Instead of seeking to climb up to God, we need to rejoice in the God who came down to us in Christ.

Two appendices add a great deal to Horton's argument. The first compares focus on the self of the contemporary Christian music of Horton day (the 1990s) to the focus on the objective truth of Christ's work in classic Christian hymns. One can see the same problems with sentimentalism and emotionalism in much of the music on Christian radio today.

Appendix B is the most useful. Having shown the problems with modern gnosticism, Horton answers a number of questions about what the church needs - Biblical liturgy, Christ-centered preaching, the administration of the sacraments, a Biblical structure of church governance, and a proper understanding of God's work of providence versus His work of miracles. Although this section would be extremely beneficial for the consideration of someone seeking a more Biblical way to follow Christ, there are a few potential rough spots in this how-to guide - the use of terms like common and saving grace, invisible and visible church, as well as a perhaps overly broad view of interchurch fellowship.

The only other major problem with the book relates to its age. The end of my edition promotes the work of Christians United for Reformation - a group that no longer exists under that name. However, Horton's summary of the organization's basis - the five solas of the Reformation, as well as the idea of the priesthood of the believer - is still a great defense of the Reformers' doctrines.

If you want to know more about the dangers and delights of spiritual intimacy, you can find it here      and here in Canada.

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