Sunday, August 30, 2009

Christless Christianity

WHAT WOULD THINGS LOOK LIKE IF SATAN took control of a city?

Over half a century ago, Presbyterian minister Donal Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon which was broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. He speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all the bars would be closed, pornography banished and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say "Yes, sir" and "No, Ma'am" and the churches would be full every Sunday.... and it would be where Christ is not preached because Christ is not necessary.

It's 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 to us. Satan's pursuit of us, he is more subtle than we can ever imagine. He lulls us to sleep as we trim our message to the banality of popular culture.....While the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, the assimilation of the church to the world silences the witnesses.

I think 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.

Assimilating the disruptive, surprising, and disorienting power of the gospel to the felt needs, moral crises and socio-political headlines of our passing age, we end up saying very little that the world could not hear from Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura or Oprah.

God is used as a personal resource rather than known, worshiped and trusted; Jesus Christ is a coach with a good game plan for our victory rather than a Savior who has already achieved it for us; salvation is more a matter of having our best life now than being saved from God's judgement by God himself; and the Holy Spirit is an electrical outlet we can plug into for the power we need to be all that we can be.

As this new gospel becomes more obviously American than Christian, we all have to take a step back and ask ourselves whether evangelicalism is increasingly a cultural and political movement with a sentimental attachment to the image of Jesus more than a witness to "Jesus Christ and him crucified"......Far from clashing with the culture of consumerism, American religion appears to be not only at peace with our narcissism but gives it a spiritual legitimacy.

Doctrine has been forgotten, assumed, ignored and even misshaped and distorted by the habits and rituals of daily life in a narcissistic culture. We are assimilating the disruptive and disorienting news from heaven to the banality of our own immediate felt needs, which interpret God as a personal shopper for the props of our life movie: happiness as entertainment, salvation as therapeutic well-being, and mission as pragmatic success measured solely in terms of numbers.

My argument in this book is not the evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous. John Stott when asked for a magazine article how he evaluates the worldwide Christian movement, could only reply, "The answer is growth without depth." Furthermore, vacuity and liberalism have typically gone hand-in-hand when it comes to the church's faith and practice. Liberalism started off downplaying doctrine in favor of moralism and inner experience, losing Christ by degrees.

Nevertheless it is not heresy as much as silliness that is killing us softly. God is not denied but trivialized---used for our life programs rather than received, worshipped and enjoyed.

-----excerpts from Michael Horton, Christless Christianity, The Alternative Gospel of the American Church


Pam said...

Wow! That really hit the nail on the head didn't it? Can you imagine the impact we Christians could have on this old world if we truly lived as "little Christs"?

fraydna52 said...

Another great post!

It's not coincidental to me that we are studying the book of Ephesians now at church. Our pastor's first message was titled "True to the Original", and he spoke about how, over time, things like political movements, education, business, and even the Christian church lose their resemblance to the original concept.

The question is whether Christ, his death and resurrection, and his grace are central and necessary to our lives.

To use Pam's terminology, do we, like the believers at Antioch who were first called Christian, look and act like "little Christs"?

Webutante said...

Amen and amen to you both.