Saturday, March 21, 2009

Christless Christianity - Review - Part 3

Horton’s fourth chapter, How We Turned Good News into Good Advice, is the longest of the book. Fundamental to the chapter is the crucial distinction between law and gospel. “Everything in the Bible that reveals God’s moral expectations is law and everything in the Bible that reveals God’s saving purposes and acts is gospel.” (109) Too often many in the modern American church draw a distinction between law and love. But this isn’t quite right. Love is a summary of law (134). To tell people that it’s not rules that are important but love is to miss the point of what love is. “In the Bible, the law simply nails down what it means to love God and our neighbor.” (134) “’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.” (136) Horton is clear; “The worst thing that can happen to the church is to confuse law and gospel.” (122) If Osteen was the target in previous chapters the Emergent church comes under scrutiny in this one. “For all 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. It may be more earnest, more authentic, and less consumeristic, but how different is this basic message from that of Joel Osteen, for example?” (119) Horton recognizes many of the criticisms that have been brought against the church by those within the emergent church such as Brian McLaren (111). Nonetheless, Horton sees many of his critiques as “against caricatures, real or imagined, of at least fuller forms of evangelical Christianity.” (112) “Radically different from the narcissism and individualism of Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel, McLaren’s message nevertheless shares important similarities. It translates sin and judgment into actions and attitudes that we can overcome with the right agenda in order to transform ourselves and the world. Whereas for Osteen the reference point for “sin” and “salvation” shifts from God to the happiness and betterment of the self through moral improvement, for McLaren the frame of reference is global warming, poverty, AIDS, and capitalist greed. . . the emerging Religious Left seems just as prone to enlist Jesus as a mascot for our own programs of national and global redemption.” (114) But this is only illustrative on the fundamental problem of failing to distinguish law and gospel. Our natural inclination is always to fall back on law because we want to rely on our own strength. We are comfortable being given instructions to follow. The Bible becomes reduced to an instruction manual. Be bold like Daniel, lead like Nehemiah, pray like Moses, don’t screw up like Saul is the rhetoric of the popular pulpit. “The Bible is nothing like Aesop’s fables: a collection of brief stories that end with a moral principle.” (149) “Regardless of the official theology held on paper, moralistic preaching assumes that we are not really helpless sinners who need to be rescued but decent folks who need good examples, exhortations, and instructions.” (151) So is there no room for exhortations to godly living? Of course there is but it must be rooted in the truth of the gospel. “If you are regularly treated to the feast of God’s works and the zeal that consumed our Savior in the service of our redemption, the exhortations will no longer be an unreasonable burden but a guide to expressions of thanksgiving in which our gracious God delights.” (156) I found this chapter extremely well written and it gave me much to think about. I practically wore out my highlighter and the margins are full of questions and comments. I’ve read this chapter about three times and in some places four or five times. There is so much here that it is hard to summarize and it is the chapter that has challenged me the most. But what I’ve found so far I really appreciate.

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