As part of his Doctor of Ministry (DMin) in Ministry to Emerging Generations (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), Tom’s written a number of book responses and given several short presentations (personal and group). In this series he not only “shares the wealth,” but also looks forward to your feedback as he refines his project: An argument for vocational discernment for graduate studies in the context of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (Stay tuned to learn more!). Earlier posts on the program: Ministry to Emerging Generations and The Big Picture of Ministry to Emerging Generations.
Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church
In Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008), Michael Horton stands against Satan’s active opposition to the true and clear proclamation of the Gospel in the United States of America. The American church’s obsession with “being practical, relevant, helpful, successful, and perhaps even well liked” leads to a “Christless Christianity” with a diet of “do more, work harder” mirroring the world (16-17). God becomes understood as “a supporting character in our own life movie” rather than individuals becoming “new characters in God’s drama of redemption” (18). I concur with Horton’s frustrations and the assessment that many “Christians” embrace and live out the American Dream more than the Christian faith (21). Furthermore, the concern “is not that evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous” (italics in original, 23). Can one chart a course not only for growth in general, but also for depth through cross-bearing in all aspects of life sustained by God through the church and not individuals through self-feeding (228, 253)?
Although I appreciate Horton’s interaction with Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MDT) and critique of “self-salvation,” I am not as convinced of his position that one embraces Reformed Theology OR heresy (i.e., Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, or Gnosticism) with Arminianism “one more step removed from Pelagian convictions . . . [i.e.,] salvation is a cooperative effort of God and human beings” (44; Note: extensive consideration of “Christless Christianity” in relationship to Law and Gospel: 122-157). Furthermore MDT’s vague, removed God is not equivalent to the named (but redefined) God of Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, Word of Faith, Brian McLaren, etc.
I confess it was painful to read the distortions of the faith outlined in Chapters 3-5. How true that “the God of the Bible is far more interesting and majestic” than the god offered by Osteen (88). I pray that this comes across as I share the rich “redemptive drama,” i.e., the “good news” (gospel), with God at the center instead of “me” (89, 105). I pray for insight to grow in sharing the gospel as offered by Chapters 6-7.
I agree that some (i.e., not “many”) “younger evangelicals have been attracted to the Anabaptist legacy” (110). But many in the Emergent Church, with Brian McLaren serving as a good example (110-115), have done such for their own purposes and have not embraced the accountability to the larger historic community offered by Anabaptism. Maybe some of my frustration with Horton as an author and public voice, e.g., White Horse Inn, is his generalization and repetition (evidenced once again Christless Christianity). With regard to Gnosticism, maybe it is “the American Religion” (166-187). But as Horton notes, the United States was not founded as a Christian nation. As such, I think that it is helpful to point out that many are not in the church and are “gnostic” on their own accord as part of the larger American culture. The faith conflicts within the church are overlapping with, but not identical to those of the larger culture. Yes, there are “big names” who preach other gospels, but they do not represent all of the churches outside of the faithful Reformed tradition. Yes, Willow Creek Community Church fell short, but they were seeking a “means” to extend the Gospel to those outside of the church. I consider them a parchurch ministry and do not find it surprising that converts desire more. Willow Creek should intentionally partner with local congregations in their area.
I appreciate “Chapter 7: A Call to the Resistance,” the reference to Machen’s call to “a way of life founded upon a message” (245). In seeking to love God with head, heart, and hands—followed by love of neighbor, then community/communities . . . nations . . . creation—our family was led to the Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church. What a joy to part of local congregation with a passion for programs birthed by doctrine. May such continue to be the case.
To God be the glory!
About the author:
Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the Northeast Regional Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). For a number of years, the Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine was the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!