January 09, 2008

'Christless Christianity'

Michael Horton and his compadres at the White Horse Inn are exploring a new theme for 2008: Christless Christianity: the American Captivity of the Church.

"I grew up hearing people saying that they left their mainline Protestant or Catholic bodies because they never heard the gospel," Horton says. "Now I hear people say they have left Evangelicalism for the same reason."
So much of what we are calling "Christless Christianity" isn't really profound enough to constitute heresy. Like the easy listening music that plays ubiquitously in the background of popular culture -- in elevators, in malls, and at the airport -- the message of American Christianity has simply become trivial, sentimental, and irrelevant. Driven more by distraction than outright denial, Christless Christianity is killing us softly. Our charge is not necessarily that Evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal, but that it is becoming theologically vacuous. ...

When it comes to what happens on an average Sunday and in the ordinary diet of Christian ministry, I just don't think there is a remarkable difference between liberal mainliners and conservative Evangelicals. Some may take their cues from the New York Times and the others from Fox News, but the real question is to what extent churches in America are really convinced that the proclamation of Christ from his Word is the power of God unto salvation. When the diet becomes "What Would Jesus Do" instead of "What Has Jesus Done," the labels just don't matter anymore.

Amazingly, Protestant Liberalism survived despite its abandonment of the gospel, just as the health and wealth gospel promoted by Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and T.D. Jakes attracts a wide following even though it's exchanged the central Christian claims for the American Dream. Religion, spirituality, and moral earnestness -- what Paul called a form of godliness that nevertheless denies its power -- can continue to thrive in our environment precisely because they avoid the scandal of Christ.