Archives For Michael Horton

The LGBT community’s grievances and the reason for their sensitivity regarding the Israel Folau controversy are understandable.

A non-biblical version of sin has been misused over the years to beat people down, not bring them the to faith and repentance. (See Psychiatrist, Karl Menninger’s ‘Whatever became of Sin?’, 1976)

That historical misuse, however, doesn’t justify the unjust writhing and screaming being thrown towards Folau.

None of this justifies dehumanizing a man and taking away his bread and butter.

None of this justifies any corporation such as Qantas, bullying, via economic sanctions, companies they do business with, such as Rugby Australia.

As far as Qantas goes, their double standard is more than a little bit strange.

Alan Jones is right.

“Isn’t Qantas in partnership with a national airline whose government imposes laws infinitely more damaging to homosexuals than Israel’s utterance of his biblical beliefs?”

As I noted a few days back, Folau quoting from the Bible on his own personal Instagram page, is between him, Instagram and those who follow his social media account. It doesn’t involve the R.A, the L.G.B.T lobby or even Qantas.

This event proves the truth of the Galatians quote Israel posted. The biblical doctrine of sin, as a rejection of grace, a rejection of relationship, a rejection of both God and neighbour, is more relevant than ever. Sin divides, destroys and consumes those who entertain it.

The equality of the Biblical doctrine of sin is that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and yet, because of God’s decision to save humanity, in and through Jesus Christ, redemption from that sin is given and found (Romans 3:23). This is the crux of the Easter message heard around the world on Good Friday, Black Saturday and Resurrection Sunday.

As Jean Bethke Elshtain once said, ‘when we start to regard ourselves in our own light, our light dims’.[1]

Michael Horton echoed the same sentiment in his book, ‘Christless Christianity’,

“Coming to God as consumers saved by following the instructions on the product label rather than as sinners saved by grace is not only the essence of human sin, it does not even deliver on its own promises of liberation. Instead it drives us deeper into ourselves […] Keeping us from ever being disrupted by someone greater than ourselves or by something more wonderful than our own half-hearted achievements’[2]
‘It is the false prophets who “dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious” (Jer.18:11). It is not compassion for the people or zeal for God’s house but their own thirst for popularity that renders the false prophets constitutionally incapable of telling the truth about the crisis. Enclosed in our narrow world of personal spin, we are never introduced to the real world created by God’s Word […] Both sin and redemption are trivialized when we write the script.’[3]

This speaks to the left, the right, the up and the down.

Hence, the call to faith, obedience and prayer; the call to repentance; the call to transformation and the call to embrace God’s costly grace that embraces us in, through and with Jesus Christ.

God does not take pleasure in the death of the sinner, but rather that the sinner should turn from his and her way and live (Ezekiel 18:23)[4].

We hear the Old Testament prophets reminding us that the world must not fall into ignorance and complacency. The pain and suffering of history is broadcasting warnings into the present; warnings about the ensuing calamity caused by ideological crusades that have enslaved men and women, under the promise of establishing ‘God’s Kingdom without God in it’[5].

Of all the current commentary surrounding Israel Folau, including my own, Alan Jones wins the final word:

“If Israel Folau is not free to state his religious views, let alone Christian views, then we are all in trouble. It would be helpful if people analyzed what he said before condemning him to rugby oblivion.”

References:

[1]  Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’  (pp.11, 66 & 62)

[2] Horton, M. 2008 Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, Baker Books Baker Book Publishing (p.246)

[3] Ibid, p.242

[4] Ambrose of Milan, ‘On Repentance’

[5] Johnny Cash & U2, The Wanderer “they want the kingdom, but they don’t want God in it”.

(Originally posted on The Caldron Pool, 18th April, 2019)

©Rod Lampard, 2019

 

christless-christianityChristless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church outlines what its author, Michael Horton, believes to be a fundamental shift in American Christianity.

Pinpointing cause, consequence and remedy, Horton tackles both Pelagian and Gnostic tendencies within American Christianity and culture. For Horton, America is pulling away from Christocentricity in its social activism and its proclamation of The Gospel.

In its place is what American sociologist, Christian Smith identifies as, ‘Moral Therapeutic Deism’. The basic message of which ‘is that God is nice and we are nice, so we should all be nice.’ (p.42).

Christless Christianity is a critique of both liberal Protestant, emerging and Conservative (American Evangelical) Christianity. (Think of the latter as the body corporate and the former two as the body collective.) Even though the body collective still considers itself beyond institutional Christianity, both are institutional and both have a hand in promoting ‘moral therapeutic deism’.

In Horton’s view, both corporate and collective have downgraded the Christian faith and what it means to be Christian. His criticism begins with a lengthy discourse on Joel Osteen, which then takes on the ‘therapeutic narcissism’ (p.72) of “God is a genie” consumerism (p.68), the “seeker sensitive” mega church phenomenon and the “personal Jesus” of American Evangelicalism. His second criticism flows into a less aggressive admonishment of liberal Protestants, Brian McLaren and the emerging church.

‘‘For many Americans reared on the “Christian America’’ hype of the religious right, “emerging church” movements may seem like a major shift, but [it’s just a change in Parties]’ (p.116) For all of the Emergent Church movement’s incisive critiques of the megachurch model, the emphasis still falls on measuring the level of our zeal and activity rather than on immersing people in the greatest story ever told’ (p.119)

According to Horton, the body corporate is guilty of replacing the proclamation of the Good News with just good advice. Positive psychology is king.Consequently, the understanding of what it means to follow Christ is diminished into slogans and ‘works-righteousness’ (p.123). It has taken the place of good exegesis, deed (sacrament) and the correct teaching of The Word (preaching).

Whereas the body collective, in its rejection of both Pentecostal and American Evangelical consumerist institutionalism, progressive “Christian” (liberal protestant) and Emerging churches, aren’t free of guilt. In many ways they’ve replaced Jesus as the Gospel with the social gospel. Theology is surrendered into the service of an ideology.

 ‘In many ways mirroring the Religious Right’s confusion of Christ’s kingdom of grace with his coming kingdom in glory and the latter with a political agenda already defined by a political party, the Religious Left seems just as prone to enlist Jesus as a mascot for programs of national and global redemption.’ (p.114)

As Horton states,

 ‘Loving and serving our neighbour is the law, it’s not the Gospel (p.123) […]‘There exists today a false distinction between law and love, whereas the biblical distinction is between law and grace – the law tells us what God expects of us; the Gospel tells us what God has done for us (p.125).’

In today’s terms, this is equal to the theological statement, “God is love” being replaced with the term “love is love”; Good, grace, holiness and righteousness are interchangeably used with niceness and tolerance. “Love is all you need” and being nice become seen as the prerequisites that an individual can use to buy into God’s good graces. Jesus as free gift and His embodiment as ‘grace in the flesh’[ii] is ejected.

 “Just love God and people” is not the Gospel; it is precisely that holy demand of the law that we have grievously failed to keep. Our love toward God and neighbour is the essence of the law; God’s love toward us in Jesus Christ is the essence of the Gospel; 1 Jn.4:10’ (p.136)

Horton’s description of the basic message of Moral Therapeutic Deism, shares similarities with late feminist and political scientist, Jean Bethke Elshtain who in her book of the same year, ‘War On Terror (Just War Theory)’ warned of the dangers attached to reducing the depth of Christianity to an “ethic of universal niceness” (source). From which we don’t see Christian doctrine, but instead a Machiavellian politick, where appearances become more important than substance.

‘’Seeker friendly” filters tune out that which is deemed non-offensive and tune into whatever wins popular applause. As a result, the Gospel and the mission of the Church are obscured. The uniqueness of Christ is undermined. The Christological centricity, along with the centripetal and centrifugal nature of Christianity-as-mission is then effectively negated.

‘To the extent that churches in America today feel compelled to accommodate their message and methods to these dominant forms of spirituality they lend credence to the thesis that Christianity is not news based on historical events just another form of therapy’ (p.180)

Horton labels this as the takeover of Christian doctrine by self-salvation, Pelagians and special inner revelation; self-deification, Gnostics. Christians are encouraged to ‘feed themselves’; to rest their faith in an inner ‘voice (p.59); to buy into any spiritual’ (p.179) experience where they can attain ‘self-salvation’ (p.42).

The act of grateful obedience, in response to the Divine judgement and mercy that delivers humanity from sin in Jesus Christ is jettisoned.

In sum, ‘Christless Christianity‘ takes a stand against corruption. In doing this, Horton pushes back against Pelagian and Gnostic influenced trends that see Jesus as the Gospel, replaced with the social gospel, and  the ‘preaching the Gospel replaced with preaching just good advice’ (p.202).

Horton makes no apologies for charging straight into the behemoth of Christian compromise for corporate or collective benefit. It is no secret that the left and right divide permeates the church as much as is does the state. In his critique, Horton calls out both, arguing that they are as guilty as each other in preaching an alternative Gospel. The only remedy for which is resistance and reformation.

Horton’s critique is relevant. It’s sharp and appropriate. Christ cannot be divorced from Himself, nor can He be separated from those He represents:

‘…being grafted in Christ, we are delivered from this miserable thraldom; not that we immediately cease entirely to sin, but that we become at last victorious in the contest.’ [iii]

Come the second reformation.


Notes:

[i] Horton, M. 2008 Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, Baker Books Baker Book Publishing

[ii] Attributed to John Webster

[iii] Calvin, J. Commentary On Romans (Romans 6)

Disclaimer: I purchased the book and received no payment of any kind for offering this review.