Michael Horton is a writer and theologian who always challenges me. He writes both for the academy and a lay audience. I appreciate that about him. Dr. Horton is Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary California. He is also the host of The White Horse Inn radio broadcast and is editor-in-chief of my favorite magazine - Modern Reformation.
Dr. Horton's latest book, Christless Christianity has been rocking my world lately. It's not that he is saying something novel. Indeed, he is identifying a problem that is right under our collective nose but that few of us are able or willing to articulate: for all of our talk about Jesus we have lost Christ. Jesus as moral example, revolutionary, religious reformer, or loving prophet is fine. But Jesus as The Christ, the propitiation of God's wrath and substitute for sinners is as out of fashion as He was in Paul's day.
Read what William Willimon (a United Methoodist, no less) writes in the foreword of Christless Christianity:
He we are in the North American church - conservative or liberal, evangelical or mainline, Protestant or Catholic, emergent or otherwise - cranking along just fine, thank you. So we're busy downsizing, becoming culturally relevant, reaching out, drawing in, making disciples, managing the machinery, utilizing biblical principles, celebrating recovery, user-friendly, techno savy, finding the purposeful life, practicing peace with justice, utilizing spiritual disciplines, growing in self-esteem, reinventing ourselves as effective ecclesiastical entrepreneurs, and, in general, feeling ever so much better about our achievements.I commend Christless Christianity to your careful reading.
Notice anything missing in this pretty picture? Jesus Christ!
Jesus Christ indeed. In Flannery O'Conner's wild, wickedly funny novela, Wise Blood, her antipreacher, Hazel Motes, preaches a "Church without Christ" where nobody sheds blood, and there's no redemption "'cause there ain't no sin to redeem," and "what's dead stays that way." I always thought O'Conner's book an outrageous, wildly improbable satire. Then Mike Horton comes along and names the "Church without Christ" as our pervasive ecclesial reality. Horton accuses us of achieving what has never transpired in the entire history of Christendom. Somehow we've managed to preach Christ crucified in such a way that few are offended, a once unmanageable God suddenly seems nice, and the gospel makes good sense - as we are accustomed to making sense. We just can't stand to submit to the machinations of a living God who is determined to have us on God's terms rather than ours, so we devise a god on our own terms. Flacid, contemporary Christianity is the result.
Now read what Horton writes in the opening chapter:
It is easy to become distracted from Christ as the only hope for sinners. Where everything is measured by our happiness rather than by God's holiness, the sense of our being sinners becomes secondary, if not offensive. If we are good people who have lost our way but with the proper instructions and motivation can become a better person, we need only a life coach, not a redeemer. We can still give our assent to a high view of Christ and the centrality of his person and work, but in actual practice we are being distracted from "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith" (Heb. 12:2). A lot of the things that distract us from Christ these days are even good things. In order to push us offpoint, all that Satan has to
do is throw several spiritual fads, moral and political crusades, and other 'relevance' operations into our field of vision. Focusing the conversation on us - our desires, needs, feelings, experience, activity, and aspirations - energizes us. At last, no we're talking about something practical and relevant...
Yet even in this pursuit, he is more subtle than we imagine. He lulls us to sleep as we trim our message to the banality of popular culture and invoke Christ's name for anything and everything but salvation from the coming judgment...
I think that the church in America today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant, helpful, successful, and perhaps even well-liked that it nearly mirrors the world itself. Aside from the packaging, there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups.
Other books by Michael Horton you may want to check out:
Putting Amazing Back Into Grace (one of my "must reads")
Too Good To Be True (dealing with suffering and disapointment)
The Law of Perfect Freedom (Christians and the Ten Commandments)
Where in the World is the Church (Christians engaging the culture)
God of Promise (understanding covenant theology)