- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Baker Books; Reprint edition (June 1, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0801072212
- ISBN-13: 978-0801072215
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Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church Paperback – June 1, 2012
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Horton's argument is "not that evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous." He is not stating that Christ is not preached at all but that the Christ who is preached is not at all the Christ of Scripture. Instead of a Savior who actually settled the debt sinners incurred against a Holy and Righteous God, the Christ presented in most pulpits is your "life-coach" who is here to help you have "Your Best Life Now." Horton's scope finds its targets as he aims at the watered-down preaching of Schuller, the Modalism of T.D. Jakes, and the feel-good pep talks of the likes of Joel Osteen.
Though his title might sound harsh, Christless Christianity, and almost oxymoronic, he fine tunes this premise when he said, "what I am assuming to be the regular diet in many churches across America today: `do more, try harder'. He correctly points out that from non-reformed and non-Lutheran pulpits, today's evangelicals are being fed Law without Gospel, or as sociologist Charles Smith stated it, "moralistic therapeutic deism." Tim Challies in his review explained it this way:
"It offers this kind of working theology: God created the world; God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions; The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself; God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when needed to resolve a problem; Good people go to heaven when they die. Pause to consider much of the teaching you might find on your television on a Sunday morning and you'll see how apt a description this is."
In the new therapeutic pulpit, counselors, not pastors, proclaim "there is no sin and guilt to be forgiven by God but only burdens and feelings of guilt for failing to live up to the expectations of oneself or other humans." It is a "God Loves You Anyway"-type of narcissistic moralism which claims no sin to be pardoned and no guilt to be assuaged. Rather, you just do your best now and Jesus will run alongside of you encouraging you to "do your best." There is no longer a propitiator who had to withstand the anger and wrath of God nor the Substitute who actually satisfied the Law in our place but rather, the popular pastor preaches "an easy-listening version of salvation by self-help." Turning indicatives (facts) into imperatives (exhortations) Horton points out the confusion of Law and Gospel and how today's sermons are more focused on the Christian rather than on Christ. It is the Sixth Sola: Sola Mia!!! It is the "Do-It Yourself" religion traced by Horton from Charles Finney straight through to the Joel Osteen's of today. He points out that this time the battle for orthodoxy is not with the secular humanists but "we ourselves who are secularizing the faith by transforming its odd message into something less jarring to the American People." It is the religion of happiness and love where God's forgiveness is cheap because on judgment day "He will look at your heart" and that, as Osteen claims, God will only count the good works we did.
While Horton cuts open the cancer of narcissism that has been allowed to fester under the skin of the Body of Christ, His Church, exposing how deep the disease has spread, even to Reformed churches, his prescription for the cure could have been a little more specific. He speaks clearly about presenting the Christ of the Bible, proclaiming a "public truth delivered through an external Word" through "educated leaders who can expound and apply that truth for the benefit of those under their care..." yet he neglects that those who do sit under solid preaching of the True Gospel, with a right balance between Law, Gospel, Gratitude must become vocal amongst their friends, family, neighbors and co-workers who attend these pabulum-feeding churches. Christians must proclaim a Christ-filled Christianity to those around otherwise how will the world know that True Christianity "announces the Good News that God in Christ has saved us now from the condemnation of the law, has dethroned the tyranny of sin, and has delivered us from Satan's oppressive regime."
This book is written in a way that the youngest believer will not drown but perhaps will be spared swimming "in a sea of narcissistic moralism" and the most mature believer will be better equipped to aid the weakened Christians, fed on moralistic and therapeutic me-ology, to a better land flowing indeed with the milk, honey and meat of God's Word.
Nancy A. Almodovar, M. Th.
*Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, President and Co-Host of White Horse Inn Radio Show and Editor in Chief of Modern Reformation Magazine,
This book makes it clear that a new Reformation is needed in the Church today. A Reformation back to biblical principles, away from what we do and back to what God has done and is doing for us.
I would recommend this book to any Christian.
He correctly builds the case that this slippage is towards not any new heresy, but towards old heresies with new names and slogans and personalities: "When our churches assume the gospel, reduce it to slogans, or confuse it with moralism and hype, it is not surprising that the type of spirituality we fall back on is moralistic, therapeutic deism. In a therapeutic worldview, the self is always sovereign. Accommodating this false religion is not love--either of God or neighbor--but sloth, depriving human beings of genuine liberation and depriving God of the glory that is his due." n Dangerous to attach Christ directly, these anti-Christs then believe falsely they can change the Gospel, but in doing so, change the Christ even to the point of taking Him out of the picture. (see the dustcover shot)
Tendencies of American bred Christianity which is more attuned to sola cultura rather than sola Scriptura evidences itself in confusion of law and gospel, importing of unbiblical methods and paradigms from marketing, management, etc. in Church Growth movement, unbiblical ecclessiology, more focus on the Christian rather than on the Christ, and a fear of the scandal of particularity which the pure gospel preached and the Sacraments properly instituted as mandated are well documented in this work. As he writes: "the Good News concerning Christ is not a stepping-stone to something greater and more relevant."
The excellent wordsmithing is a joy to read, but don't let the smooth and creative turning of the words deceive the reader, Horton has researched his points well and thought through them and thus presents a solid, growing amount of evidence for these charges. Just but one example: "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 operation into a message of self-help."
He slaps these driftings not onto any one end of the theological range of conservative or liberal, not any one denomination or family of theological inheritance, but finds this cancerous invasion branching out throughout the theological spectrum. His findings indict likely targets such as the Osteen's, Hybels, R. Warren's, Barna's etc., as well what have been more classical, orthodox Christian streams of the Reformation such as us Lutherans. He well provides evidence from their writings, and one can easily pursue this evidence as this reviewer has in the referenced and quoted works and find these charges in abundance unfortunately.
He provides resistance strategy as well that is focused on fixing the problems, which is properly correcting the increasing tendency to make "mission" the overarching dominant in the church, with little effort to make the "message" the "mission" which it should be. This comes with proper practice of the means of grace, rather than means of commitment, and the restoration of the office of the public ministry to be the proclamation of the pure gospel, even in spite of cultural offense and resistance.
I can emphatically recommend this book to be read, digested, discussed and spread. It is much necessary, and will bless the church if heeded.