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Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel Of The American Church Paperback – June 1, 2012
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From the Back Cover
The result? A faith that is, in Michael Horton's prophetic 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.
In this critically acclaimed book, 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.
"A more important and timely volume could not have been written."--Thabiti M. Anyabwile, senior pastor, First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
"Horton's brush is broad--expect loud lamentation from the evangelical camp--but the picture he paints is largely accurate."--Parker T. Williamson, editor emeritus and senior correspondent, The Presbyterian Layman
"Christless Christianity establishes Michael Horton as the outstanding protagonist for classical Protestant orthodoxy."--Episcopal Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison
Michael Horton (PhD, University of Coventry and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford) is J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. He hosts the White Horse Inn radio broadcast and is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is the author/editor of more than fifteen books, including Putting Amazing Back into Grace, The Gospel-Driven Life, The Gospel Commission, and Introducing Covenant Theology.
About the Author
- Item Weight : 13.8 ounces
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0801072212
- ISBN-13 : 978-0801072215
- Product Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.68 x 8.5 inches
- Publisher : Baker Books; Reprint Edition (June 1, 2012)
- Language: : English
- Customer Reviews:
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Christless Christianity begins with a critical assessment of the modern Americanized Gospel. Horton laments the "Pelagian" heresy that is the de facto religion of the human heart, which Horton argues, exists even in our most conservative houses of worship. This heresy limits Jesus to more of an example to follow, or a means to a better life. The gospel is good advice, not any more "good news" of a reality outside of us by which we are shaken and confronted. We emphasize "deeds not creeds" as we climb the ladder to "your best life now" and higher levels of Spirituality. Horton is bitingly critical of Osteen, McLaren, Charles Finney among others--characters who in their own way each minimized the doctrinal proclamation of "Christ crucified" for their own brand of moralistic self-improvement. Even our orthodox houses of worship are not exempt from the critique, as Horton writes:
"Whatever churches say they believe, the incoherent answers offered by those entrusted to their ministry substantiate my argument that a moralistic religion of self-salvation is our default setting as fallen creatures. If we are not explicitly and regularly taught out of it, we will always turn the message of God's rescue into a message of self-help."
To this I give a hardy amen. "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" is the religion of the masses and if anything it has gotten worse in the insipid post-modern current 10 years following the publishing of this book. We have made God in our own image, and He is someone who is nice! Someone who helps us along with our stories; as opposed to a fearful God who is the main character. A God who, as C. S. Lewis wrote, is characterized by "strong, skillful hands thrust down to make, and mend, perhaps even to destroy." A holy God who breaks us with his demands (law), yet meets us in our weaknesses in Christ Jesus (gospel).
Though I am very much inspired with Horton's main thrust, I felt that he at times went too far in his critiques of evangelicalism. Horton throughout maintained a rather disparaging tone towards calls to effort, or to love and good works, or to live worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He writes when tackling the legal undertones of modern religion: "The best efforts of the best Christians, on the best days, in the best frame of heart and mind, with the best motives fall short of that true righteousness and holiness that God requires." To this I cannot help but ask: can no Christian ever please God? Surely communal believers who have been redeemed in Christ Jesus can begin to walk in the law and please God, because their efforts are being guided by the Holy Spirit who indwells them. Indeed, this is John Calvin's third use of the law; but the key is that such Christian effort is rooted in Christ's sanctifying power within us, not our own.
At one point Horton even bemoans the Christian youth summer camps' call to "surrender all" as if these calls were ever a Pelagian's way to win heaven's favor. Throughout the book it seemed to me that Horton confuses "calls to respond" to the gospel message (repent and believe) with the Pelagian heresy of "earning your own way" or "following right advice". But the gospel is to be responded to, and true belief will yield to repentance and surrender. Surrendering to Christ's Lordship is a most natural response to the gospel proclamation Horton rightfully holds high.
Horton makes good points about the modern religion's similarity to the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. Where traditional Christianity was historical and creedal, Gnosticism was largely experiential. There was no outside deity who demands our worship, in Gnosticism we ourselves are forms of deity and our experience determines truth. No doubt there is a connection here in modern religion, but does Horton swing the pendulum too far in his assessment of the church? Just because the Christian religion is creedal / historical does not mean that it is non-experiential, and to say so denies the rich experience offered in the Christian's union with Christ. Christians have the privilege of experiencing the truly mystical indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who internally testifies with our Spirit that we are sons of God (Romans 8:16). To admit this does not negate the necessity of doctrine and gospel centered proclamations.
If every call to obedience is deemed Pelagian and every internal experience Gnostic--we may find ourselves embracing a cognitively heavy, but dry religion; a scholasticism that while doctrinally orthodox, is missing that necessary vibrancy of life. Jesus told the woman at the well that a day is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. We need both, and any minimization of one will lead to an unbalanced religion missing the fullness of all that God has to offer his church.
On the writing I feel a chunk of Horton's writing could be taken out. He is perhaps unnecessarily repetitious in his thought, continually rephrasing and paraphrasing sentences mentioned earlier. Also I found the frequent back and forth of "Pelagian view" one paragraph and correct "Gospel-Centered view" in the next paragraph a bit tedious and laborious to read. While this is a minor criticism, would it not be simpler to state the false view in the beginning part of the chapter, and debunk it in full in the latter part?
Despite my critiques, do not take this review as a negative one. I enjoyed this book and I am amazed and saddened at the seepage of individualistic, consumeristic culture into the church. Horton's call to embrace the gospel message, to know Christ and Him crucified, is much needed. His exposure of the Pelagian tendencies in pop culture and denominations both liberal and conservative is most welcome. His description of the individualistic "all you can eat buffet' view of gnostic internal spirituality is illuminating, and his call to precise doctrinal creeds is necessary. His almost simple description of the church being a place where the members weekly receive the "means of grace" through Word and Sacrament is truly refreshing. But the pendulum continued where it should have stopped. Not all calls to obedience are Pelagian (if rooted in the gospel), and not all internal Spiritual experience is Gnostic (if it is indeed of the Spirit of God). We can retain the baby while removing that dirty bathwater, but Horton is perhaps slightly less measured--and that is my main critique.
The book contains quotes from several of my favorite Christians: C. S. Lewis, Martin Luther, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer among others.
Horton spends a great deal of time rightfully exposing the teachings of Joel Osteen and those of his ilk. He briefly addresses the Kenneth Copelands of our society (for a more in-depth expose of the "Word of Faith" folks I strongly recommend D.R. McConnell's book "A Different Gospel" I found it most enlightening). He also addresses common tendencies of churches to interject sentimentalism, sensationalism, and/or "I must do-isms" into their ministry whether it be "making Decisions", "re-dedicating", "giving Him my all", "being totally sold out", the roller coaster environment of periodic revivals, or global warming, feeding the poor, or social justice. The very consistent focus of this book is that there is nothing we can do for God, all of our righteousness is but filthy rags. Christ has done all that needs to be done and done it freely. I found this to be a most wonderfully life changing truth.
I wish every Christian, from every church affiliation would read this book, simply because of how it points to our Savior. That being said, the book also comes across as being coldly critical of several very legitimate christian groups. Horton is a Reformed Theologian, a Calvinist. The book has a taint of disdain towards those not of the reformist camp. It is not a dripping disdain, just a feeling in the background. The book often addresses unfavorable practices in the Baptist church, much of which is justified. But again, there is that sense of disrespect. Personally I am a Calvinist theologically but have a strong affinity towards my baptist brothers. He said a few things about Billy Graham that were uncharitable. I wish Horton had the loving attitude of the reformed theologian R. C. Sproul who when asked if he would see Billy Graham in heaven; his answer was no because Graham would be so close to the throne of God and he would be so far away that he would not be able to see him. Horton blamed the lack of intelligent doctrine in Baptist churches for many youth leaving the faith when they went to college. It comes across as snarky. However, as the scriptures teach us, this phenomenon should be expected. Baptists do a tremendous amount of seed sowing, so sure some of that seed will fall on bad ground. It is expected. For those that fall away in college (due to an unfortunate lack of Christian training) but are His chosen, the Lord will bring them back. Horton should know this. If the Reformists/Calvinists were sowing even a fraction of the seed as the Baptists or had even a fraction of the denominations members, I expect they would see the same results in their doctrinally pure churches. Is Horton saying that those that fall away were Christians and then left the faith or that they would have become Christians but since the theology was not perfect they are doomed to hell. This does not fit with his own theology of predestination. In general it appears he is not a fan of those things southern (he is from California, degree from Yale and not a single church of his denomination is in the south). This attitude came out again in his wonderings of how this nation would be had the southern pastors preached the word, condemning kidnapping and forced labor, and had they excommunicated those that held slaves until they repented. I found this to be simplistic virtue signalling. In fact, the south did make the slave trade (kidnapping) illegal in the early 1800's strictly for moral and religious reasons. Also, there were twice as many anti-slavery societies in the south as in the north. Many believe the south would eventually have freed the slaves. My hunch is that the word (Ephesians 6:9, Col 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:2) was being preached in the south leading to a great harvest of Christians among the slave population. I found it ironic that the very results Horton says to expect when Christians are following the Word, focusing on the cross of Christ, is exactly what happened in the south among the slave population. Yet, he condemns them. As for his musings of what would have happened had the south freed the slaves: the south would still have succeeded (they would still have been hated and marginalized by a north controlled congress), the atheist Lincoln along with his Puritan/Calvinist advisers (abolitionists) would still have invaded to keep the country together (per Lincoln) and decimate the Southern Christians (per the Abolitionists). But, maybe with the southern army bolstered by the number of freed slaves, the south could have kept the north at bay, but probably not. I found his position on excommunicating the slave owners interesting. Several times in the book he spoke of Republicans and Democrats as basically being the same and the church should not take political positions rather should simply focus on Christ. I was fine with that until he expressed his uninformed position of excommunication of southern slave owners (Calvinists have this tendency - Salem witch trials. Again, I consider myself a Calvinist). Based on his logic should not every democrat be excommunicated knowing that the parties main platform is to not only support but promote the butchering/murder of not only unborn babies but just-born babies? I bring this up not to make a political point but to point out the weakness of the book when he would detract from his own very strong exhortation of being Christ centered. He did the same thing with his comments on apartheid in S. Africa which were quite silly and uninformed.
In summary, the main focus of this book is so important and fundamental to the christian faith that it is a must read. Unfortunately, Horton occasionally goes on rabbit chases away from the Christ centered, word centered message. If you know this going in and can overlook it, you will be glad you did.
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Auf Seite 196 vergleicht Horton diese moderne, gemäßigte Werksgerechtigkeit (Law-Lite) mit dem Evangelium. Während in der heutigen Kirche Gott als Lebensberater verstanden wird, der durch gute Ratschläge mein Leben bereichert, ist er im Evangelium sowohl Richter als auch Retter. Die schlechte Nachricht im Evangelium ist schlimmer, weil es uns nicht an gutem Rat, sondern an Gerechtigkeit vor einem heiligen Gott mangelt. Dafür ist die gute Nachricht aber auch viel besser. Denn der Herr gibt nicht nur Lebensweisheit, sondern er rettet und befreit von der Schuld und den Folgen der Sünde. In der modernen Werksgerechtigkeit geht es um guten Rat (also unser Tun), während es im Evangelium um gute Nachricht geht (was Gott getan hat). Der Referenzpunkt und der Inhalt des Evangeliums ist nicht Christi Wirken heute in den Gläubigen, sondern sein unvergleichliches Leben vor 2.000 Jahren und sein Sühnetod am Kreuz. Das ist die gute Nachricht, die wir immer wieder von außen empfangen und die uns dann von innen verändert. Christus wird im neuen Evangelikalismus als Vorbild gesehen, den wir durch Jüngerschaft und Gemeindebau nacheifern sollen. Im Evangelium begegnet er uns dagegen als Retter, der uns zu Jüngern macht und seine Gemeinde baut. Die Bibel ist nicht eine Sammlung praktischer Ratschläge für ein gelingendes Leben, sondern in ihr erfahren wir das sich entfaltende Geheimnis des Christus. Es geht um Ihn, und um Ihn allein. Sakramente werden in der ich-bezogenen Spiritualität als Zeichen meiner Verpflichtung und Hingabe gegenüber meines religiösen Glaubens verstanden. Im Evangelium sind sie Mittel der Gnade, durch die uns Gott begegnet und beschenkt. Die Gemeinde wird im modernen Christentum vielfach als Selbsthilfezentrum verstanden, bei dem der Fokus auf unserem Dienst steht, während die Gemeinde des Neuen Testaments eine Einrichtung der Gnade war, bei der Gottes Dienst und Wirken im Mittelpunkt stand. In der Werksgerechtigkeit steigen wir zu Gott empor. Das ist ein sehr hartes Unterfangen, weshalb Überarbeitung und Burnout viele Gemeinden kennzeichnen. Im Evangelium steigt er zu uns hinab und dient uns durch Christus und seine berufenen Leiter, die Ältesten, Diakone und Pastoren in den Gemeinden. Er kommt zu uns und wir dürfen immer wieder von ihm empfangen. Schließlich senden wir uns in der vom Selbstwillen getriebenen Gemeinde auch selbst aus und finden unseren eigenen Dienst und unsere eigene Berufung. Im Evangelium sendet uns der Herr aus und führt uns in die Werke, die er zuvor für uns bereitet hat (siehe Epheser 2:10). Am Anfang, in der Mitte und am Ende steht Gott und das Evangelium, Christus und sein Wirken.
Hortons Buch ist eine nötige und wohltuende Medizin für den modernen Gemeindegeist. Er ruft in liebevollen Worten zu einer Rückkehr und zu einer Neuausrichtung auf das Evangelium. Wenn wir Paulus‘ Dienstverständnis glauben, ist es genau das, worum es gehen sollte.
Denn ich hatte mir vorgenommen, unter euch nichts anderes zu wissen als nur Jesus Christus, und zwar als Gekreuzigten. (1. Korinther 2:2)