Christless Christianity

Title: Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church

Author: Dr. Michael Horton

Publisher: Baker

Page Count: 240

Readability: Moderate

Synopsis: Dr. Horton diagnoses the core problem with modern evangelicalism:  The drifting away from gospel preaching, centering on the person and work of Jesus Christ, toward the embracing of a therapeutic moralistic deism that puts man and his perceived wants and needs first and relegates God to a reactive spectator. Many of today’s preachers define God as the genie in the bottle who meets all our needs where we are at and not the Great judge who makes all of his creatures account for every deed done in the flesh – whether good or evil. God is portrayed as unequivocally benevolent.  He’s the ultimate good guy who’s on our side and only wants the best for all his children, whether they are gathered in or gone astray. The good news of the gospel is trivialized since sin and judgment are marginalized to the fringes of Christian belief and experience. The contemporary preacher doesn’t teach that man is a sinner in need of forgiveness, but an imperfect soul struggling to live right and receive God’s material blessings.

Kudos: The author makes several piercing observations and cutting examinations of contemporary Christianity and soundly backs them up throughout the entire volume with real world examples. Horton asserts that churches haven’t yet achieved a Christless Christianity but are well on the way. The focus of so many ministries today is on man and his perceived practical needs rather than his true needs before a holy and just God.  Christ and his atonement is pushed aside as the central theme of the bible and scripture simply becomes a manual for living an abundant life.

For a book built upon the foundation of the visible church going astray of the true and everlasting gospel this volume contains more gospel than I think I’ve ever read from a single source outside scripture itself.  Dr. Horton emphasizes over and over again the depths and fullness of the gospel message and the amazing graciousness and mercy of God in Christ.  Honestly, I believe I came away from this reading more informed of the authentic apostolic gospel than I did of false Christianity.  This book is full of grace and truth.  I loved every page of it. His chapter pinpointing the error of modern evangelicalism as a kind of moralistic, therapeutic deism was informative and enlightening.  He also dedicates almost an entire chapter dealing with the ministry of Joel Osteen.  The author breaks down his ministry in light of the moralistic, therapeutic deism paradigm and exposes what a false teacher and deceiver Osteen truly is.

Knocks: Christless Christianity was written almost exclusively to diagnose and examine the wayward trends of the modern church and not to prescribe the cure for her ailments.  However, the book is so rich in laying out the entirety of the glorious gospel that the answer is clearly laid out on the table: preach the gospel as scripture has revealed it and allow the Holy Spirit to work these truths into the heart. Dr. Horton, by his own admission, admits that this volume does not attempt to work through the solutions to a shallow, doctrinally bankrupt church.  He has saved his thoughts on that issue for his follow-up book, The Gospel Driven Life.

Recommendations: Some may be turned off by the notion that Dr. Horton penned a book just to criticize the ideologies and methodologies of the modern church, yet I believe Christless Christianity should be widely read , not only to sharpen our discernment concerning these troubling trends but because the gospel message saturates almost every page.  An unbeliever could pick up this book and be converted by its contents. I know my heart soared reading through it because I was reminded of the grace that has been bestowed upon me by a loving and merciful God and the great sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ. At the same time I’m angered and frustrated that this message of mercy and hope is being obscured by moralistic, ‘do better, try harder’ pep talks that dominate Sunday sermons in America and around the globe.

Michael Horton has once again demonstrated why he is my favorite modern day theologian.  He is lucid, concise and precise in his dissections of both the truth of scripture and the deception of Satan’s lies.  I haven’t read a Christian author who has a firmer grasp on the gospel message of God’s grace and ability to articulate that message better than Dr. Horton. I will continue to read every book and article he publishes.

Chapter List:

1. Christless Christianity: The American Captivity of the Church

2. Naming Our Captivity: 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 Resistance

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