- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Baker Books (November 1, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0801013186
- ISBN-13: 978-0801013188
- Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.8 x 1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #610,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church Hardcover – November 1, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
In another screed on what's wrong with American Christianity, theology professor Horton, of Westminster Seminary California, bemoans the slide of the American Christian church into what he, and others, call a moralistic, therapeutic deism. Drawing on studies, surveys and anecdotal evidence, Horton reaches the oft-repeated conclusion that American Christianity is self-centered rather than Christ-centered, Jesus is a life coach rather than a redeemer, and salvation is focused on therapeutic well-being. He rants against the purveyors of this watered-down Christianity--Robert Schuller, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer--but saves his most savage attack for megachurch preacher Joel Osteen, whom Horton depicts as a snake-oil salesman teaching that God is a personal shopper ready to deliver happiness and prosperity if only individuals let God know their needs. Horton reveals his lack of theological depth when he argues that ancient Gnostics saw God as no different from humans. Yet Gnosticism's entire point is this difference. Horton regrettably offers no recommendation for the reformation of American Christianity beyond a simplistic call to let the church be defined by the Gospel rather than the laws of the market. (Nov.)
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From the Inside Flap
Invoking Martin Luther's treatise On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Michael Horton fears that the church in America has also been willingly taken captive. The captors are American culture and ideals: consumerism, pragmatism, self-sufficiency, individualism, positive thinking, personal prosperity, and nationalism. Though these are antithetical to the gospel, we have often made them part and parcel with it.
Horton argues that while we haven't yet arrived at Christless Christianity, we are well on our way. Though we invoke the name of Christ, too often Christ and the Christ-centered gospel are pushed aside. The result is a message and a faith that are, in Horton's words, "trivial, sentimental, affirming, and irrelevant." This alternative "gospel" is a message of moralism, personal comfort, self-help, self-improvement, and individualistic religion. It trivializes God, making him a means to our selfish ends. Horton skillfully diagnoses the problem and points to the solution: a return to the unadulterated gospel of salvation. Here is a must-read for anyone concerned about the state and future of Christianity and the church in America.
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Top Customer Reviews
1. I have qualms about Osteen and McLaren but how long did Horton have to beat that dead horse? Until the sickle swings we will always have wheat and tares. Sure, there are times when false teachers/ings ought to be confronted but in general Gamaliel's advice in Acts 5 is sound. Horton is Reformed so I assume he believes that Christ's sheep will ultimately hear his voice anyway. (To his credit, Horton seems to understand that excess tends to encourage an equal but opposite excess; e.g. when the pendulum swings too far into rationalism the reaction is to slip into intuitionalism. Similarly, too much orthodoxy without orthopraxy and pretty soon you have voices crying out for orthopraxy sans the orthodoxy.)
2. Having visited about 100 churches in the last ten years I agree with Horton on two points: one, the sermons tend to be superficial—paraphrase of what scripture says—and sound more like a Christianized version of the self-improvement gurus you see on PBS; two, these sermons can be reduced to subtle and not-so-subtle exhortations to "do more, try harder". However, unlike Horton I believe this is mere rhetoric. In practice, the organized/institutional church gives the Church very little if any opportunity to "one another" and Horton's prescription would only make it worse. For him, an erudite professional clergy should do all the ministering while the laity remains passive. He predictably brings up Hebrews 10:25a but like so many others conveniently ignores part b which provides the purpose assembling together. I often wonder if the Church is weak precisely because 1 Corinthians 14:26 one another-ing so rarely occurs.
3. Born again believers are part of the family of God and the assembled family is the Church but Horton's view of the Church is a little too institutional and organizational for me. I lean Reformed but cannot agree with Calvin and Horton that the Church is our mother (ala Roman Catholicism). WE are the BRIDE of Christ.
4. Horton does require close reading otherwise one is inclined to think he has gone too far in the other direction. For example, he says today’s moralistic therapeutic deism FOCUSES on “God as daddy” and “God as sufferer.” I capitalize “focuses” because we know after all that Jesus does emphasize God as our father and the New Testament does spotlight Jesus as a suffering son who came to serve. Ironically, one could argue that the Reformed tradition emphasizes the cross to the point of ignoring the empty tomb. Spending too much time at the foot of the cross could be construed as missing the point—thanks to the cross we are forgiven our sins and have been crucified, buried, and raised again in Christ so take off those grave clothes already. Here is another example: Horton says we are not the gospel, Christ is. His point is we are not exemplary creatures and thus should not hold ourselves up. True but Paul said to follow him as he followed Christ; moreover, we are his poema, we are epistles read and known by all men, and his witnesses do overcome by the blood of the lamb and the words of their testimony. It is not an either-or proposition.
5. I happen to think individuality and community can coexist and are God’s idea and ideal but that man in his sin tends to replace the –ity with –ism. The –ism is the extreme, the idol men fashion in their hearts and minds. That said, Horton seems to dismiss the value of having individual spiritual experiences and/or the idea of self-feeding. I would imagine zeal for the word means that at least some people will go beyond the superficial sermons they receive one or twice a week. Faith does come by hearing the word but preachers are not God’s only mouth, especially in an age when so many preachers preach superficial and therapeutic messages. And while a portion of the people who have abandoned traditional services may do so because they are goats unwilling to submit, many have done so because they do not see such services as being authentic expressions of ekklesia. They yearn for the one another-ing that said services do not provide. Pastors/preachers who dismiss studies by Barna, Willow Creek, and Packard do so at their peril.
6. Finally, I get and appreciate the exhortation to “stick to the gospel” but the reality is that because all authority has been given to Christ the King, the gospel has application to and ramifications for all of life. And so there is a time and place to mine scripture for principles. Salvation is a very broad concept that includes not only freedom from the penalty of sin (at Calvary and for eternity) but includes freedom from the power of sin (the right ordering of life now).
The general thesis of this book is that, in the American Church, we've forgotten the Gospel as it pertains to our practice of Christianity. The very thing that is the most important piece of our faith, we leave behind on a daily basis, and instead gravitate slowly, or almost immediately after conversion, into what the author calls "moralistic therapeutic deism". This Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is an implicit belief system whereby, while we claim to be justified by Christ's death on the cross in our place for the forgiveness of sin, we live in such a way as to continually strive to earn our salvation moralistically. This kind of dichotomy between our justification beliefs and our sanctification beliefs have led to a great sickness within the American Church that blurs the message of the Gospel and enslaves it's adherents into a new kind of slavery. The author even goes so far as to say that this kind of "gospel" that is preached is heresy.
First, the author outlines the historical landscape in which we find ourselves. Calling up personalities like Charles G Finney, the 1800's revivalist preacher, we can see how his denial of original sin led to much of the methodology that is used in the Modern American church, and how that methodology was designed more to create "changed lives" rather than to provide sinners with the one and only means of eternal salvation for their souls. Unfortunately, creating changed lives isn't the main point of the Gospel, uniting man with God in eternity is. This historical background gives us a good overview of where the train derailed, much like Dr. Emmitt Brown's alternate 1985 outlined in Back to the Future 2.
The author then goes into explaining why the fundamentalist, moralist Christian church in America (Westboro Baptist being one of the most extreme examples), is really no different than the "soft moralism" of Joel Osteen and other prosperity preachers, which is really no different than the reactionary faiths of the emergents. In all of their incarnations, at the end of the day, Horton points out, we are still enslaved to the law, and failing to recognize the difference between the law and the Gospel, which is the heart of the matter. He also spends considerable time comparing the modern theological framework in which we live with the Gnostic beliefs of the early church.
He also talks about how we've managed to change the "Good News" into something that we "live out" as opposed to "speak out". Pointing out the obvious, but often overlooked, aspect of news, which is that it is told, and not lived. He also talks about the increasing individualism within the American Church which has led to a general pluralism even within it's own walls, and the dangers of dividing ourselves among ourselves.
Finally, he wraps up the book with a call to resistance, and a call to change the ways that we preach and present the Gospel, being careful not to present it in a moralistic framework, but rather to present it as it is presented to us, as the freedom to be sure that our sins are covered by the blood of Christ, not only in it's initial phases, but in ALL phases of the Christian life.
There are tons of titles about the Gospel out there, as there's lately been a resurgence of people attempting to move us back to the central point of the Bible, which is Christ, but I know of no better work that provides the historical background as well as a pathway towards the solution for our current situation. Highly recommended. Best book I've read all year.