I have wanted to read Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity for a long while. Glad to find some one who has read it and made a book review. Thad Bergmeier (Changed by The Gospel) explains….
In summary, Horton provides a scathing rebuke of the American gospel presentation. And this gospel message, which is summarized by Christian Smith’s–Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism–has only been successful because hundreds of thousands of people accept it. It is a gospel about them. It is a gospel to meet their comforts. But it is a gospel without Christ. His main argument in this book is “not that evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous” (23). In case you do not know, vacuous means empty or without content; put in the context of this book, it means that evangelicalism has become without the content of Jesus Christ. In the book, even before he states that purpose, he has a statement that I think adequately represents the book.
“My concern is that we are getting dangerously close to the place in everyday American church life where the bible is mined for ‘relevant’ quotes but is largely irrelevant on its own terms; God is used as a personal source rather than known, worshiped, and trusted; Jesus Christ is a coach with a good game plan for our victory rather than a Savior who has already achieved it for us; salvation is more a matter of having our best life now than being saved from God’s judgment by God himself; and the Holy Spirit is an electrical outlet we can plug into for the power we need to be all that we can be”
That’s the tone of this book. At times, it seems harsh. But maybe that is what is needed in our culture. Harshness. Maybe that is the only way that people will be awakened from their silly views of Christianity which has themselves at the center instead of Christ.
I could not help as I read this book that the main problem he was driving towards was a lack of understanding of the doctrine of sin. People really do not think they are as sinful as they are. And because of that, most people really do not understand their main problem. It is not about Jesus coming to make their life better here, it is about Jesus being an atonement for their sins before a holy God. This thought is seen most prevalent in chapter three when Horton takes on Joel Osteen. In pointing out some of the errors in Osteen’s self-help, self-worship, prosperity gospel, Horton observes:
“In this context, Jesus becomes whatever you want him to be in your life. If one’s greatest problem is loneliness, the good news is that Jesus is a reliable friend. If the big problem is anxiety, Jesus will calm us down. Jesus is the glue that holds our marriages and families together, gives us a purpose to strive toward, and provides wisdom for daily life. There are half-truths in all of these pleas, but they never really bring hearers face-to-face with their real problem: that they stand naked and ashamed before a holy God and can only be acceptably clothed in his presence by being clothed, head to toe, in Christ’s righteousness” (73-74).
For Horton, this problem extends way beyond extremes like Osteen. It has invaded the depths of the evangelical church that has been eating a steady diet of moralistic preaching for years. “The Bible is nothing like Aesop’s fables: a collection of brief stories that end with a moral principle” (149). But that seems to be the norm in many churches. A text read with several applications placed on it. There seems to be little of how many Sunday school Bible stories fit into “the unfolding drama of redemption that leads to Christ” (151). But that is what is needed. He argues that we have turned the good news of the gospel into good advice on how to live a moral life. That fails at every turn.
I would recommend this book with one caveat. Make sure you know what you are in for when you pick up this book. He withholds no punches. He is sarcastic at times. It is a sad, but accurate, picture of the current church in America. And it is not the easiest book to read. But if you want to come face to face with a message that speaks truth and isn’t afraid to use names, this will be a good book for you. He ends with these words:
“The church in America will have to learn what it means to mourn before it can dance. Sticking to the story, fixing our eyes on Christ–even if it means distracting us from what we have diagnosed as our real issues–is the kindest thing a pastor can do for a congregation, the most precious gift we can receive and pass along to our neighbors, and the most relevant mission on earth” (259).
Amen. I want to be that pastor.
We all pray we had that kind of pastor.