Theologian, and prolific author, Michael Horton, states his own thesis for this volume, “My thesis is that the fear of God drives out the fear of everything else (p. 17, italics his). He further elaborates: “I want to help us shift our whole focus from a human-centered obsession with saving ourselves through false securities and promises of immediate gratification to the ‘solid joys and lasting treasure [that] none but Zion’s children know.’ From that perspective, we can be joyful even when we are unhappy, hopeful even when the hype fails us, and persevering and growing even in and through fearful trials” (p. 18).
With these statements as guidelines Horton is off to a good start and Part One of Recovering Our Sanity is an insightful and profitable read. Horton reminds us that God is not hiding (pp. 27-28), that what we fear most reveals our idols (p. 30), and that Nebuchadnezzar recovered his sanity only when he praised God for what he once attributed to himself (p. 54). Sadly, most want to be stars of their own movies (p. 69) and, as a consequence, live in delusion as John Lennon did (as is evidenced in his song “Imagine,” p. 23), or in hatred of God as Nietzsche did (pp. 70-71). The biblical solution is the fear or love of God (p. 73) that replaces the fear of all other things. Such a life is made possible only because Jesus lives and is our glorious, sympathetic, and faithful High Priest (pp. 84-88).
Part Two is devoted to application of the foundation laid in Part One: “How to apply the fear of God from the map of God’s larger story to the things that haunt us and dominate the news cycles” (p. 93). In this section Horton discusses a variety of pressing issues, from fear of death (chapter 6), suffering (chapter 7), and the future (chapter 8), to fears concerning the planet, politics, liberty, LGBTQ+ and racism. Some highlights include:
- Three approaches to death: deny, downplay, accept (pp. 101-102).
- The importance of Christ’s resurrection and the believer’s (pp. 103-119).
- The enslaving power of money (p. 148).
- The value of work (pp. 149-150).
- How Christians have been at the historically forefront of remedying sinful social ills (p. 168).
- Clarifying three ideological options to life on this planet: utopianism, despair and hope (pp. 169-176).
- The distinction between the body of Christ and Christian nationalism (pp. 202-221).
- The importance of the church as teacher and family (pp. 232-254).
I especially appreciated two bold challenges/corrections to popular views held by many evangelicals. First, not only is homosexuality a sin, but identifying as a “gay Christian” is an oxymoron. It is not who true believers are. Certainly some Christians will be tempted and will fall into homosexual sin, but they are no more gay Christians than others are idolatrous Christians or greedy Christians. “If you are in Christ, you are a repentant and believing sinner, not a ‘practicing sinner.’ You do not say, ‘I am gay,’ analogues to ‘I am a lawyer.’ That is not what defines you, and it is cruel to tell any believer that it does. What defines us all as believers is that we are ‘in Christ’: washed, justified, sanctified” (p. 245).
Secondly, Horton is the first prominent Reformed theologian that I have read who recognizes that the cultural mandate is obsolete. With the failure of Adam, “humans have forfeited the right to rule under God, which is why God Himself, the Eternal Son, assumed our nature in order to be the victorious last Adam who fulfilled that commission on our behalf. The human race is now under the Noahic covenant of common grace, not the special covenant that Adam broke” (p. 153). This recognition is important as so many use the cultural mandate as grounds for adding a social agenda to the gospel.
However I take exception, or at least question, some of Horton’s positions and statements. First, as a covenantalist he believes the kingdom is on earth now (although not in its fullest sense) (p. 45), and the OT church was the state (p. 204). Secondly, the author claims that God serves us and that we do not serve Him, except by serving others in His name (pp.142, 149). I respect the sentiment, but given the numerous statements in Scripture concerning being a servant of Christ, I believe this is an out of balanced emphasis. Next, several times (e.g. pp. 150, 277), Horton criticizes Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth, but gives no specifics. Given that most of his audience have never read Lindsey’s book, written in the 1960s, Horton’s objection is too broad to be of value.
My remaining critiques would follow this same vein—Horton’s statistics and solutions are often either questionable or too vague to be helpful. For example, the author claims that 86% of LGBTs were raised in a faith community (pp. 240, 247, 254). How could such a percentage be obtained? Who took this survey? What were the questions on the survey? How honest were the answers and what exactly is a “faith community?” Horton’s statement that the majority of blacks claim to be born again, attend church, have family values (pp. 261-262) flies in the face of virtually every study of the black community, in particular BLM and the breakdown of the home. With over 80% of black children born out of wedlock and lacking male father figures, his statistics just don’t line up. He also brings up the tired accusation that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week (p. 260), but offers no solutions, unless it is to so dilute cultural preferences to the point that no distinctions remain. Horton’s accusations against the church regarding the treatment of women and moral failures is too broad to be of any significance (p. 252). And accusing churches of being incubators of resentment where young people experience only superficial Christian subculture (p. 252) is merely mimicking the talking points of angry people on Twitter rather than a reflection of thousands of churches which proclaim truth and model the love of Christ, no matter how imperfectly. The church is an easy target and I find it sad that Horton takes such ungracious and generalized potshots.
Nevertheless, with these few exceptions aside, I deeply appreciate Recovering Our Sanity and would recommend it.
by Michael Horton (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Reflective, 2022) 306 pp, hard $16.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel