Horton’s Christless Christianity

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:

  1. Christless Christianity: The American Captivity of the Church
  2. Naming Our Capptivity: Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism
  3. Smooth Talking and Christless Christianity
  4. How We Turn Good News into Good Advice
  5. Your Own Personal Jesus
  6. Delivering Christ: The Message and the Medium
  7. 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.

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2 thoughts on “Horton’s Christless Christianity

  1. My favorite quote from Horton is this:
    “by assimilating the gospel to felt needs, we end up saying very little that the world could not hear from Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, or Oprah”

    He hit the nail on the head with that comment. This is the psychologizing of the ‘gospel’, making it therapeutically relevant to those who are immersed in the “whats-in-it-for-me?” culture!! Undiscerning Christians call Dr. Laura, take counsel form Dr. Phil and worship at the altar of Oprah advice. These are signs of the times for the American church.

  2. “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”

    The above quote is a concern of mine too. The very name Christian means `Christ follower’. Chasing after Christ to hear what He has to say. That’s what IT means to believe in Him, the world will point to many countless roads and ideas. But what does Christ say? Who are we paying attention to? Because whoever that is, is our shepherd, directing our path.

    Too many people, too many times, make the mistake of believing we reveal these scriptures to them out of spite. They miss the connection that these are Jesus’ very own Words! And that we’re trying to help shed light onto the right path.

    Too many people, too many times, also have the wrong view of what Love is.. We can understand that our parents reprimand us to keep us safe from harm. Yet seem to believe Jesus was some `free loving anything goes hippy’ kind of guy, and that’s what He taught!.. He came to save the sinners from their sin! …To lead them out of the bond it has on their lives!.. If this wasn’t the case then why even bother sacrificing Himself..!?

    “ Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does NOT love me will NOT obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. -John 14:23-24

    “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with ALL your HEART and with all your SOUL and with all your MIND.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. — And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:36-38

    Adding the worlds brand of `love’ to the Words Christ spoke there in Matthew 22:26-38. i.e. Charitable acts of kindness, are good, but they do not make you a Christian. Many an evil man can hide his deeds behind good works. It’s the whole difference between righteousness which is of God, and self-righteousness which is `self’ ambition. The first road to understanding is to first understand our sin and what this means in reflection to Gods Holiness. It doesn’t matter what the world classes as good, it is coming from the perspective of a fallen world, filled with fallen mankind. Everything is tainted by it! Its God we need to look to, and Him alone as the measure, not mans standard. – Accepting people for who they are and not judging what they have done is good. But its not the message, Jesus said “you are forgiven, now go and sin no more..” They can not receive the healing for their illness (sin) until they realise they are ill. We are not caring for them if we just throw a comfort blanket at them, they are dying and we need to get them to the doctor (Jesus) to cure them.

    On the other scale of things, I think `theology’ can be too harsh and actually keep people out as the Pharisees did. There is a balance and the only way to find it is by listening to what God has to say for ourselves. It is an individual responsibility to actively seek Jesus on a personal level, listening for ourselves what He has to say, as He teaches and heals each of us personally. ‘Love the Lord your God with ALL your HEART and with all your SOUL and with all your MIND. Until we achieve this we can not do the other (love i.e. care for our neighbour and ourselves) effectively. Love (care) does not mean letting our children have anything and everything they want. To love (care) it to protect them from danger. And teach them not to be a danger to others and themselves. And to look out for the well being of their siblings and friends. We would never teach and encourage our children in an addiction, we would move mountains to get them away from it. This is my own analogy in a weak way of trying to convey this understanding as I am writing this. So please forgive my blunderings. I’ll finish by leaving some scriptures.

    Jesus answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘ This people honours Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ For laying aside the Commandment of God

    Then the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” Jesus replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” -Matthew 15:12-14

    “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. – II Timothy 4:3,4

    “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.” -Luke 6:46-49

    “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. -Matthew 7:15-23

    “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ -Matthew 7:21-23

    “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” John 10:27

    I read your disclaimer, I’m sorry this turned out rather long, I will understand if you need to delete it.

    Thank you for your post.
    God bless you and yours
    In Christ, Angela

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