“We don’t like to think of ourselves as losers, especially in America.”
— Michael Horton
Maybe it’s me, but I had to read this chapter very s-l-o-w-l-y before I grasped his overarching point. Perhaps the up close and personal approach to chapter one is what threw me off — because this chapter is the BIG picture, like looking through a wide-angle lens. But I think I got his point(s). In a nutshell: Americans are happy in denial, everyone wants their best life now and go to heaven, but only if they don’t have to suffer and die beforehand…or some variation on that theme. Let’s give it a shot.
One of Horton’s literary strengths is his ability to cut down to size whole paradigms in less than a few pages. In the chapter, “Good News for Losers,” he helps us understand how things have evolved both culturally and in the Church. He shows how Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy of the individual’s “will to power” has held great sway — from the rise of Nazism to its silent creep into the modern Church. The sweeping effects of this man-centered “superman” ideology is seen en masse, most notably among those who believe their felt needs are foremost. This exaltation of man, otherwise dubbed as a “theology of glory,” pervades our Western thinking on every level. What’s most alarming is how widely it is embraced among evangelicals. Whether expressed through a methodology of worship, indulgent lifestyle, or our national craze of “staying forever young,” this phenomenon of “[f]eeling good has emerged as not only a national priority but a religious obsession for Christians and non-Christians alike.”
By bringing us back to the truth of Scripture, Horton erects a platform to display the “theology of the cross” — the true centerpiece for our faith. He goes on to show that, in all its “weakness,” the cross of Christ is the very power of God, not only saving us from the power of sin, death, hell and the grave, but also enabling us to embrace the reality of suffering in our lives:
“Just where the highest and holiest victim of truly undeserved suffering cries out,
‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’
victory over sin and death is taking place.
This is the foolishness and weakness that trump the wisdom and power of the ages!” (p. 28)
Meantime, as the world works ever harder at “winning,” going to ever greater lengths to deny the reality of pain, suffering, and death, its bondage to fear is greater still, disguised in multimillion-dollar industries designed for self-preoccupation and pleasure. But not so for the Christian. “Heaven is not here, it’s There”¹ — we’re not home yet. This is why, by God’s grace, we can accept our wrinkles, count loss as gain, and render troubles as light and momentary, knowing that they’re achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. Why we can look death square in the face and feel no sting — the stinger has been removed. Good news for losers, indeed.
1. Elisabeth Elliot, Keep a Quiet Heart
When I became a Christian more than 30 years ago, I received the full gospel message of Christ and Him crucified. I’m grateful for the strong Biblical foundation that was laid early on. I was a world-loser and a world-forsaker — I had run away with the gold! But as time tells both sides of a story, I’ve seen the spiritual landscape change and erode.
Sadly, many Christians today have received only just enough truth to know that Jesus died for them, but they stumble in the dark for not knowing much else. A blight has been upon the Church for decades, a famine for Truth has ensued — a time when hungry souls eat whatever is given them. Little wonder why a “theology of glory” runs rampant in churches today, usurping the authority of Scripture and delivering a neutered gospel. Even less wonder why people lack the power to overcome sin; they don’t understand the fundamental truths of Scripture. So when a holy spokesman like Horton comes around blowing the whistle on a counterfeit gospel, I listen. Why? First, to make sure that there’s no stain of a “theology of glory” found in me. And to be ready to give an answer to those without, because the gold I hold is a “theology of the cross” only found at the foot of the cross, the place where sound doctrine was first nailed down. The place where I learned what it meant to lose all…that I might gain Him.
“I do not think that a Biblical sense of human sin and the need for redemption outside ourselves requires national pessimism, but a religion of human goodness will never sustain a people in times of disaster and threat.” (p. 25)
“…just keep it happy.”
“Today we have conveniently removed death, and with it the communion of the saints, and relegated it to nondescript secular cemeteries with euphemistic names like “Forest Lawn.” ” (p. 32)
“The goal of life is not to be happy, but to be holy; not to make ourselves acceptable to ourselves and others, but to be made acceptable to God by God; not to be gathered together with all of the successful people in the prime of our life, but to be gathered unto our fathers and mothers in the faith.” (p. 35)
So, where did you land in this chapter? What did you like or dislike? Reflect on? Agree or disagree with?
Please share your thoughts, insights, questions, or favorite excerpts in ftm’s comment section. Of course, if you’d rather simply listen, that’s fine, too.
Things to know:
- If your comment is in response to one of the chapter questions in the back of the book, please make a brief note. For example, if you’re answering question 3 of Chapter 2, a quick “Q#3” will cue readers as to what you’re talking about.
- If you’re offering a view contrary to that of the author’s or that of another commenter, please offer Scriptural reasoning. Our goal is to edify the group by holding to Biblical integrity throughout the six-week discussion.
- Feel free to post a link to your own site if you left a comment there.
FOR NEXT WEEK
Read Chapters 3 & 4: “Suffering on Purpose” and “Is Your God Big Enough”