I want to recommend Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008). A title like that truly captures one’s attention. His subtitle is even more intriguing, namely “the Alternative Gospel of the American Church.”
Dr. Horton teaches Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. He hosts popular The White Horse Inn radio broadcast (unfortunately, no local Christian radio station around here airs the show [amongst other sound ministries], which is another whole issue I don’t want to discuss at this time) and is the chief editor for Modern Reformation magazine. Although I may disagree with a few of his theological points, his ministry has been personally helpful to me over the years. I respect him, most of all, for boldly calling churches back to the Reformation gospel.
The book contains seven chapters (total of 270 pages with helpful notes, though I wish for footnotes instead, not end notes), though some were more lengthy than others. The following are the contents:
- Christless Christianity: The American Captivity of the Church
- Naming Our Capptivity: Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism
- Smooth Talking and Christless Christianity
- How We Turn Good News into Good Advice
- Your Own Personal Jesus
- Delivering Christ: The Message and the Medium
- A Call to the Resistance
While Christianity today seems booming with its commercial, political, and media success, Horton pointedly asks, “Is it still Christian?” (p. 19). “My concern is not that God is treated so lightly in American culture but that he is not taken seriously in our own faith and practice” (p. 23), writes Horton. He hints his thesis at the onset of the first chapter, “My argument in this book is not that evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous” (p. 23). Such statement sounds too similar to what several culturally acute evangelicals have been saying, including, recent series of books by David F. Wells.
Although some may accuse Horton for being judgmental and other nonsense brands, readers can decide for themselves what is at stake here. If you have never figured out why your pastor warns of ministries like Joel Osteen, TBN, Ed Young, Bill Hybels and Willow Creek affiliates, Emergent, and host of others, pull your head out of the sands and read this book. I still remember a few years ago when I was teaching Foundations of Faith class, one of the ladies in class attempted to correct me that it’s not “nice” to be critical of Osteen when he is faithfully preaching the gospel, to which I almost fell out of my chair literally. Trying to remain calm, I simply told her to please remain in my class for the rest of semester, so that she’ll learn what is the true gospel and what are counterfeit gospels. Sadly, that lady represents so many in the church, who, as Horton points out, “cannot tell us anything specific about the God they consider meaningful or explain the basic doctrines of creation in God’s image, original sin, the atonement, justification, sanctification, the means of grace, or the hope of glory” (p. 244).
If you are a collector of good quotations like me, this book contains several. For instance:
- “Where Christ is not King, he is neither Prophet nor Priest” (p. 205).
- “Unlike voluntary associations (book clubs, political parties, or fans of the opera or garage bands, the church is not made up of people I chose to be my friends. God chose them for me and me for them. They are my family because of God’s election, not mine” (p. 226).
It seems that God would raise up a prophetic voice almost in every generation to warn his churches – Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon, Machen, Lloyd-Jones, Boice, Sproul, MacArthur, Piper, and others. I would urge all professing Christians to take heed to Horton’s dead on assessments. If you care about Christ’s church and your own soul, read this book and pass it on to others. I almost wish that the publisher should have put a warning label – “Not For A Faint-Hearted.” I can assure you that this book would cause you to tearfully pray for your own church and others.