Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Christless Christianity - A Review - Part 2

Today we’ll continue our look at Michael Horton’s book Christless Christianity. In his third chapter Horton deals with “Smooth Talk and Christless Christianity.” There is a litany of people and movements associated with the smooth talk and flattery of American religion. Among them are Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, T. D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland and Joyce Meyer. But the one that holds pride of place is Joel Osteen. Horton describes Osteen’s message as “Law-Lite: Salvation from Unhappiness by Doing Your Best.” (69) For Osteen there is no wrath of God, no condemnation, no sinners in need of salvation. “Rather, we are good people who just need a little instruction and motivation.” (71) I quote Horton at length “In this context, Jesus becomes whatever you want him to be in your life. If one’s greatest problem is loneliness, the good news is that Jesus is a reliable friend. If the big problem is anxiety, Jesus will calm us down. Jesus is the glue that holds our marriages and families together, gives us a purpose to strive toward, and provides wisdom for daily life. There are half-truths in all these pleas, but they never really bring hearers face-to-face with their real problem: that they stand naked and ashamed before a holy God and can only be acceptably clothed in his presence by being clothed, head to toe, in Christ’s righteousness.” (73-74) “Make no mistake about it, behind all the smiles there is a thorough-going religion of works-righteousness.” (87) As Horton points out you really don’t need Christ for the things Osteen and others preach. You could do just as well with Tony Robbins. In the end because Osteen does not “face the bad news, [he] does not really have any good news.” (99) Osteen encourages people to do more and to believe more in order to get God’s blessings. Horton responds, “Is this a kinder, gentler God or a more than slightly sinister tyrant who keeps raising the hoops for us to jump through before he gives us what we want?” (97) Horton understands that Osteen is responding to “the scolding legalism of a previous generation, which beat people down with rules.” (91) But “the answer to bad law-preaching, is good law-preaching, not its elimination.” (79) “The best news that Osteen has for us in these books is that by following seven steps he has been given good parking spaces, the best seat in a restaurant, and an unexpected upgrade to first class on the plane. But the gospel tells us that God has taken all of the steps down to us, saving us not from discomfort or the ills that are common to humanity in this present age but from the penalty of sin and death.” (99) In the next chapter Horton addresses “how we turn good news into good advice.” That will be our next topic.

3 comments:

inchristus said...

I appreciate everything that Horton says against the polished and anemic message of Olsteen and those like him. But I wonder about this statement: "... the gospel tells us that God has taken all of the steps down to us, saving us not from discomfort or the ills that are common to humanity in this present age but from the penalty of sin and death." Is this a bit over-realized in the sense that it's too forwardly focused? Indeed the Gospel has saved us from the penalty of sin and death but does it not make some difference in the here and now? Can God not save us from some of the discomforts of this life? Is the Gospel only intended to make a difference for my eternity and none for my present?

Just thinking....

The BBH Church Relations Team said...

I'm sorry if I gave that impression. Horton is clear that the gospel is relevant to daily lives but not in the way as is commonly thought. He says "...I'm not denying any more than [C.S.] Lewis that Christians have an interest in the pressing issues of the day or that there is an important place for applying biblical teaching to our conduct in the world. But with Lewis I am concerned that when the church's basic message is less about who Christ is and what he has accomplished once for all for us and more about who we are and what we have to do in order to make his life (and ours) relevant to the culture, the religion that is made 'relevant' is no longer Christianity." (145-146) And "As counterintuitive as it may seem, being grounded in the gospel of Christ relieves stress in deeper places than we even know we had inside ourselves, and I have witnessed countless examples of young people liberated from boredom-induced addictions and sinful patterns by becoming captivated with God's amazing grace in his Son." (145) Finally, I think some of this will be more fully addressed in a forthcoming book Horton has with Baker that I learned about just yesterday. It is called "The Gospel Driven Life." It is scheduled to come out in October. As I learn more about it I'll let you know. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

inchristus said...

Thanks for the clarification. Having read Horton previously I would be surprised if he held our daily lives at arm's distance to the Gospel. The additional quotes are indeed helpful and do clarify nicely. Appreciate the time you've taken to offer them. I wholeheartedly agree that the Church's message must begin with who Christ is and what he has accomplished before any meaningful significance for life can be addressed. The first 5 centuries of Church history clearly bears witness to the priority of Christ's person and work. Imagine, for instance, what Chaleceon would read like if the likes of Olsteen had written it today!