I don’t often do a book review. Furthermore, to do a book review of a book published in 2008, is late. But truth be told, I had not read Michael Horton’s “Christless Christianity” until now. I was looking for something different and engaging to read. Michael Horton’s book caught my attention.
There are too many books that are damning of evangelical Christianity in North America. Although solid and well-researched critiques can be very helpful, unfortunately, many in this genre overstate their case, which is certainly not helpful. Furthermore, the zealotry and willingness to condemn others alienates genuine Christians from one another. And finally, the lack of solutions presented amount to no more than a cathartic denunciation rather than a way forward. The Old Testament prophets, while they did condemn the idolatry and lawlessness of ancient Israel, also offered the hope of what God planned to do. Isaiah said that the people walking in darkness would one day see a great light.
Michael Horton’s book is balanced. He begins his book with a word of clarification.
“Before I launch this protest, I should carefully state up front what I am not saying. First I acknowledge that there are many churches, pastors, missionaries, evangelists, and distinguished Christian laypeople around the world proclaiming Christ and fulfilling their vocations with integrity” (page 20).
Horton also makes it clear that he does not believe we have arrived at Christless Christianity, but he fears there is an evident trajectory that puts us on the pathway.
What is that pathway? Horton notes the shift in the Christian message. Let me suggest several quotes from the beginning of the book.
“The focus still seems to be on us and our activity rather than on God and his work in Jesus Christ. In all of these approaches, there is a tendency to make God a supporting character in our own life movie rather than to be rewritten as new characters in God’s drama of redemption” (page 18).
“The search for the sacred in America is largely oriented on what happens inside of us, in our own personal experience, rather than on what God has done for us in history” (page 18).
“God and Jesus are still important, but more as part of the supporting cast in our show” (page 20).
I have seen this tendency in the kind of testimonies that are common in evangelical circles. The story often centers on the emptiness and lack of purpose we had. Something was missing. Then we found that God promised an abundant life. It would be full and meaningful. We gave our lives to Christ. We found that the void had been filled. We even found that our sins were forgiven. We now had purpose for today and hope for tomorrow.
But another kind of testimony is less often heard. It is the gospel of Christ-filled Christianity. It goes as follows: We became aware of God’s righteousness and that we were unrighteous. We had committed treason against heaven. We became aware of God’s holy and perfect law, and it crushed our feeble attempts to portray ourselves as worthy of God. The earth is the Lord’s, and His ways will prevail. All our best deeds were as filthy rags, and will fall in ignominy. Before us stood the awful great white throne of judgment and the righteous anger of an altogether glorious God. What could we do? We had been found out! We could not save ourselves. How desperately we needed a saviour. And then, in glorious mercy, God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sin. Yes, the cross! Here is where God demonstrated His holiness and His hatred of sin. But here also is where God demonstrated His mercy for those like you and me who were unworthy of it. We were saved by grace through faith in the Son of God who gave Himself for us. And now, we loudly proclaim, “not my will but yours be done.” “I pour contempt on all my pride.” “I would not boast in anything but the Christ who lived and died for me.”
May the gospel of self-indulgence be vilified. May the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ be magnified.