19 December 2010
Horton, Michael. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008.
"The greatest threat to Christ-centered witness even in churches that formally affirm sound teaching is . . . the idea that the gospel is necessary for getting saved, but after we sign on, the rest of the Christian life is all the fine print: conditional forgiveness. . . . We got in by grace but now we need to stay in by following various steps, lists, and practices. There was this brief and shining moment of grace, but now the rest of the Christian life is about our experience, feelings, commitment, and obedience" (119-120).
Horton's work is an attack on the extremes of American Christianity that have drifted away from the gospel. He casts a critical light both on legalistic churches, where God is angry and people are scared into following lists of man-made rules, and easy-believism churches, where God is like a cosmic therapist or life coach who is just here to improve the quality of your earthly life. Horton's point is clear: we all need to go back to the basics and remember the gospel. We were saved through God's grace and we can live for Him only through His grace.
"Even as a Christian, my faith will actually be weakened when it is assumed that I already know the gospel and now I just need a steady diet of instructions. I will naturally revert to my moralistic impulse and conclude either that I am fully surrendered or that I cannot pull this off and might as well stop trying. When my conscience leads me to despair, the exhortation to try harder will only deepen either my self-righteousness or my spiritual depression" (130).
This book is not quickly digestible, and the author does spend major portions of several chapters focusing on the works of various other authors; however, I would still put this book in the "worthy of checking out of the library" category. My students would remind me that hard things are good for us, and making a person's brain hurt will likely not kill him. This book does serve as a good reminder of the importance of the gospel in the life of a Christian.