Important Essay: Michael Horton’s “Beyond Culture Wars”

I like theologian Michael Horton‘s writing.  He’s often provocative and helpful.  Even if one doesn’t always agree with him, one generally finds him a stimulating read.  The latest issue of Modern Reformation has reprinted a column entitled “Beyond the Culture Wars” published fifteen years ago that bears out a reading.  Horton’s burden in the piece is to direct Christians away from the “culture wars” and toward gospel proclamation.  He overstates things in places and comes to some conclusions that make me a bit uneasy, but his general message is, I think, challenging.

Here’s an excerpt that pushed me to consider the thoughts and intentions of my own heart:

“We have become the rock of offense rather than Christ. The irony is we have taken the offense out of the gospel–we don’t preach sin and grace anymore–and have taken it over for ourselves. We’re offensive for all the wrong reasons while we leave the gospel itself devoid of its power. The minorities, the feminists, the gays, and others who practice immoral lifestyles–people with whom we may not agree–will not give us a hearing at the end of the twentieth century. Not because we have preached the gospel and called them to repentance and they don’t like that, but because we have framed our communication with them in terms of a war for social, political, and cultural control. Contrary to the religious leaders of his day, Jesus was the friend of sinners. Prostitutes turned from their prostitution because, as Jesus said, “He who is forgiven much loves much.” The Holy Spirit will not convert a single soul through moral crusades. He will not convert a prostitute through Senate bill 242, or change the direction of the homosexual by prime-time denunciation from moralistic preachers. Yes, we are called to preach the good news and to call men and women to repentance, but that is not a political issue, that is not ultimate a moral issue, that is a gospel issue. Repentance can no more be coerced by the state than faith; both are the gracious gifts of God.”

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  • Melissa

    This is a most intriguing post, especially since I read it while watching and listening to the Democratic National Convention. Trendy, popular, and “young” religion often tells us that we must be involved with the latest “political” and “moral” issues- but I am very attracted to this strictly “gospel” centered way of looking at things. I think this selection is timely, even though it was written years ago (that really is crazy). Why have I never even heard of Michael Horton? Must order this book.

  • owenstrachan

    Michael Horton is a provocative guy. He’s got some great ideas. You couldn’t go wrong with a whole bunch of his stuff. He has a more spiritual approach to culture than some; it’s made me think hard about how much believers and the local church engage directly in politics and cultural work.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  • phancan

    “The minorities, the feminists, the gays, and others who practice immoral lifestyles–people with whom we may not agree–will not give us a hearing at the end of the twentieth century. ” Am I reading this incorrectly or did he just include minorities with fringe social groups such as feminists, gays and others who practice immoral lifestyles? This is one reason that there is a culture war in America because of comments like this–it reveals a very elitist mindset from the dominant culture and race in this country. I actually agreed with much of the statement but that sentence is horrible if read by someone who is actually sensitive to other cultures in these here United States.

  • I strongly disagree with Horton’s view. Abortion IS heresy because it violates not the Apostles’ Creed but the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt do no murder is the 6th commandment. And Paul includes “immorality” as a violation of sound doctrine in 1 Timothy 1:8-11. Furthermore, Horton’s view is out touch with Calvin’s theology of civil law and civil government in the Institutes of the Christian Religion in Book IV, Ch. XX. Section 1. See my rebuttal of Horton at

  • It is my concern that Horton’s main point is criticizing the religious right and that Christians are not doing enough to fight social evils.
    He is a critic, because Jerry Falwell does not do enough about social justice in Africa. Yet, in Horton’s book, he says that Jerry Falwell should not be politically active. So either way, Falwell loses and receives Horton’s criticizing comments. Horton lacks discernment when he praises Bishop Tutu who is very liberal and does not believe in the fundamentals of scripture. So Horton’s point is to criticize those trying to do something about abortion and say they need to clean up their personal act more. Okay, we all need to do that, but Horton fails to every offer a solution to stop the shedding of innocent blood of abortion. To follow Horton’s advice the Christians should stop being the salt of the earth and keep their religion inside the church. Horton is a hero of the Liberal Left, and the news media.