I started reading Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church by Dr. Michael Horton.  On page 16-17 he makes a statement which the underlying thesis statement I would assume of this book.  It reads…

I think that the church in America today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant, helpful, successful, and perhaps even well-liked that it nearly mirrors the world itself.  Aside from the packaging, there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups.

Basically a Christianity without Christ.  So what do you think… harsh?  Right on?  Not my church or oh yeah that fits my church to a T.  I’d love to read your thoughts.

I think this is going to be a very challenging book.

35 comments
  1. Not my church, but that's because our pastors refocus constantly.

    Relevance has become an idol to a lot of churches, and that would be a good point.

    Politics (Right or Left) has become another. A lot of people would point to their work in the (anti-war, pro-life, anti-AIDS, anti-poverty, whatever) movement as their evidence of being Christian, but are spending no time in the Word and no effort on outreach in His Name.

    Sounds like a great book. I'll look forward to what you're saying, and I might try to find a copy of my own before that.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. I would somewhat agree with the author's statement; many churches are like that and we used to attend one when. The church we currently attend is not like that; it is Christ-centered no question. We do need to reach the un-churched, but at what cost? Jesus' goal was not to be popular and well-liked.

  3. What? Do we need to start another program to bring Christ into His own house – never mind the church? Let me see if we can get that scheduled for a Wednesday night…

  4. Shane, yes – I would say read my lips, but that's not possible at these distances. I've been serving at a church in Sioux Falls as a part of the praise team for over six years now (just recently had to drop off the team because my employer and work schedule changed). Aside from the lyrics to much of the music we played, one might not know they were in church. The sermons – what about solid exegesis without making me feel I'm in a Christianity for Dummies seminar?

    We are to make a difference, yes? We can't very well do that in our comfortable seats if we don't get out there into the hurting world and risk contact…sorry, am I letting my feelings leak out again? 🙂

  5. Oh I agree with you.

    Horton challenges the assertion that we “have good creeds, but not deeds.”

    He's saying no you can tell our creeds by our deeds – and it isn't good. We need to be missional, but what are we reaching out to people with?

  6. I think that this fits many churches. My church struggles with balancing “staying relevant” and “staying Christ-centered”. I think that Jesus didn't “try to be relevant”. I think that he just spoke the truth and those that were searching for the truth were drawn to him.

    I think Wickle makes a good point about charitable work taking the place of evangelism and seeking the Lord.

    This sounds like a good book. Thanks for pointing it out. I will have to add it to my amazon wishlist.

  7. You are welcome Frances.

    A caveat for me – while we need to be careful about making “relevancy” be the main thing – we still need to communicate the unchanging Gospel in a different culture.

    No different than being a missionary. You can do that, however, and still have Christ and Him crucified as the focus. To do less wouldn't be the Gospel.

  8. If you can get essentially the same thing out of secular and self help groups that you can from a church, I think this just says more about the good Christian work being done by secular self help groups.

    Is there really a problem when churches are placing less emphasis on petty and obscure dogma and placing more emphasis on actually “being practical, relevant, helpful” to a community in need?

    What is Christ's message really about? I would argue that Church is not just about the nuts and bolts mechanisms of how salvation works (ie dogmatic and doctrinal issues), but rather about following the example of Christ himself and actually taking practical steps to alleviate suffering in the community.

    This sort of practicality isn't taking Christ out of church, indeed, it's finally putting Him in church!

  9. I think it is true of many large, mainstream churches. I also believe that this is why the non-denominational churches have risen in numbers and attendance. My mother attended a Methodist church that supports gay marriages and abortions. Frankly, I have no idea what they used as a plumbline for teaching in her church. If you are not using the Bible as the textbook, with what authority are they teaching? My husband and I are members of a non-denominational Bible church. So far, I feel strongly that they are adhering to the Gospel, but we are not ignorant that this could change somewhere down the road. We left one church that began to stray and became too much of a social club, rather than a church.

  10. He isn't saying don't do good works, but make sure that the Gospel is central. Christ and Him crucified, and if that message gets lost in the process of “being relevant,” you are essentially no longer being the Church.

    I don't think the two are mutually exclusive.

  11. I've been a couple different “seeker driven” megachurches and have wondered where is Jesus? Where's the Gospel?

    It may have been that particular Sunday I attended, and I realize they may have other means of communicating the gospel. I couldn't help feeling (read discernment) that something was just wrong.

    Also when churches adopt a business models of structure/operation that drives me absolutely bonkers.

    For instance, if your church is large enough to have a human resources department… don't you think perhaps you need to be planting more churches? I don't know, but I think having a HR department for a church is strange – maybe they help volunteers find ministries as well.

    That's really a side issue to what he's talking about in the book, that's more my own pet peeve. It isn't really dealing with structure more than it is message.

  12. Churches that support abortion and gay marriage are of this world. They share the same morality as the culture around them. They are being influenced, not doing the influencing.

  13. I've been meaning to pick up this book. I listen to Dr. Horton and the other guys at The White Horse Inn every week. “Christless Christianity” was their theme for the 2008 year and it led up to the release of this book. In one program, one of the hosts made the comment, “…people today don't understand that their 'Best Life Now' is dead in their sins and trespasses and leaves them in need of a saviour.”

    I'm 33 and am finishing my bachelor's degree at night. I'm attending a Christian University. Last week 2 people discussed how Joel Osteen was their absolute favorite. Another 2 were discussing what a great book The Purpose Driven Life is, and I can't help but wonder where discernment comes into all this. We seem to have a very pragmatic approach to everything and if something works in the business world well why don't we try that in church?

    It's sad.
    I really enjoy this site Shane.

  14. That is so true! How are they impacting the world, being salt or even changing culture when they are doing that. There are ways to support life and traditional marriage without engaging in politics if that is what they desire to avoid . They should do that then.

  15. Hi James. Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you enjoy the blog.

    I agree with you regarding the pragmatic view of doing church. It is a pet peeve of mine.

    The quote in your first paragraph reminds me this quote (I don't know who to attribute it to or I would give them credit) “for a believer our time on earth is as close to hell as we are going to get, but for a non-believer this is as close to heaven as they will get.”

    Helps put things into perspective. We need to be concerned about eternity because well it's eternal. Our time on earth is but a blip, but life after death lasts forever.

  16. How very true. We cannot change hearts, and that's what this country needs. What we can do is demonstrate our authentic Christianity to the world. We can show that we love each other, and because love covers sin, we can get along. When others outside our body of believers wonder how this could happen, we have the opportunity to point them to the One who makes it possible.

    We cannot be effective at changing the world's heart, if the world has our heart. Nor, can we change the world with just merely talk.

  17. Would have wondered exactly the same thing as you, until we found ourselves at a church that is in transition to business models of structure/operation.

    What helps is a distinction between the role of an Elder, and that of a Deacon. As far as that goes at the local church that we are members of, the Elders are primarily responsible for the spiritual aspects of the church, the teaching, worship style, pastoral staff and such. The Deacons take on the physical manifestation of our mission. They handle benevolence, hospitality (including welcoming guests, serving communion, and taking up offerings), visiting the sick, and the church facility.

    The staff is also broken down between pastoral staff, ministry staff, and support staff. Having multiple teams and individuals requires people with different gifts, and clearly as a church grows, those with the gift of administration play an increasing role.

    I'll submit for your consideration that adopting business models is not necessarily a bad thing, provided that those models help, not hinder the mission that Christ has for His Church.

  18. I'm currently working on a research project on church growth. Pragmatism has become more than just a pet peeve of mine. Some of the lengths these churches go to to get people in the door is unreal. After organizing all the small groups, special programs, and social work there's no time left to simply preach the gospel.

  19. Oh that isn't what I'm talking about. I can see the benefit of doing that just to help keep things organized. In particular having distinctions between elders and deacons.

    I've seen churches with “board of directors.” I'm currently looking at other positions, and have encountered a few churches with HR departments.

    I think you can be organized and have a structure without forgetting that you are a church, not a business.

  20. Wow, now if the Gospel was at the center of all that and it was seen as a tool to not only tell about the love of God, but demonstrate it as well it could be a good thing.

    People need to remember that our directive is the Great Commandment and Great Commission – everything we do should be focused around that.

  21. I've read The Purpose Driven Life (PDL), and The Purpose Driven Church. We ought to be “Purpose Driven”! Perhaps the question needs to be asked, “Who's purpose?”

    I just pulled my copy of PDL off the shelf. I have lots of things underlined. It is a good book if you come to the right conclusion, but far too many simply treat PDL as yet another 40 day spiritual adventure. It has no impact, or they now have their purpose in life, as it suits them.

    So here's my take on PDL. If you are a solid Christian, if you have been in the Word, if you are well trained, but feel ill equipped, then PDL is a help. If you lack discernment, you could come to all sorts of false conclusions from reading this book, because everything is backed with Scripture.

    Where's the problem with backing everything up with Scripture you ask? In a nutshell, I do not use Scripture to support my ideas, I use Scripture to form my ideas.

  22. I don't mean to totally disregard PDL. It is very thought provoking in some areas. My biggest issue with it is that it seems that Warren used several different bible translations to confirm his points.

    Pastor Bob Dewaay created a PDL discernment tool on his Critical Issues Commentary site. http://www.cicministry.org
    He listed every passage Warren used in his book and listed the same passage from the NASB beside it. Often, Warren is right on point, but many times he took things out of context to make his point.

    Discernment is the key. If someone hasn't spent sufficient time in God's word, they won't know truth from error.

  23. That is my biggest issue with Warren, if a particular verse doesn't work he'll find the translation that says what he would like it to say.

    Context is king. You can't take a Bible verse, rip it from it's context in order to make an argument. That is not handling God's word in an appropriate manner.

  24. Amen! I guess I'm just positing for not going to the extreme in any direction, unless it furthers the “prime directive” of the Church. What I mean by that is we should not call the “Great Commission” the “Great Suggestion”!

  25. Right on! That's something I tell people all of the time. In Hebrews 13, it talks about following the faith of our leaders, not following our leaders!

    The difference is that leaders can fail. Leaders can disappoint. And if we are following them, our faith can be impacted if they fall.

    The true spiritual strength of a church is tested when the leader falls. If the leader is replaced, and the church does not skip a beat, then they were following the faith of that flawed leader. If the church falls apart, they were following a charismatic leader, not the ultimate leader–Christ.

  26. Absolutely!

    We have to be able to talk to people. To take a wild example … we shouldn't make our own Christian code that only we can understand, so that we're unable to communicate with the unsaved.

    At the same time, we have to be different. If that means that the world hates us … well, …. Jesus already addressed that.

    Charity is good, activism is good, and so on. But they have to be the result of the outpouring of our faith, not the object of it.

  27. I think you can look at what Rick Warren and other mega-church leaders have done to set the example as to why the church is failing. Now, let it be said here LOUD AND CLEAR that Jesus said that gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church and so the church, that is, the PEOPLE who make up the Body of Christ, will not be extinguished. However, the churh as an institution and as a vehicle whereby people here the Gospel, learn of Christ's atoning sacrifice and propitiation for our sin, and learn how to live a life worthy of the calling of Christ seems to be getting pushed by the wayside. This whole seeker-sensitive crap we see in the churches today and this godless movement behind the “Purpose-Driven Life” is crap too and presents the world with nothing more than a social program that doesn't deal with the real issue…the human heart. Was Jesus seeker-sensitive? Was He afraid to call a sin a sin in fear of not being “politically correct”? Was Jesus here to open up a social Gospel fan club and make everyone feel warm and fuzzy at the end of the day? NO! He came to bring the Gospel. He came to die for the sins of humanity. That message seems to have taken a back seat. I have been attending a church with my girlfriend and we are looking elsewhere now because in the last seven months of being there, I have yet to hear a message that would point me to Christ or clear up for me how it is that I must be saved. There has not been a single altar call nor any message dealing with the issue of sin. It's all about “living a good life” in front of the world. Well, guess what? There are a LOT of people on the earth that live a good life but are going straight to Hell because they don't know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The Gospel is all about Jesus! It's not about seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven drivel. A Christless Christianity is nothing more than yet another way in the broad road leading to Hell. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more prevalent as the “political correctness” bandwagon is backed by our godless government whose desire it is to see that no pulpit can preach about sin because it's “offensive” to certain elements of society. But guess what? GOD will be the last to speak on that Day and the price to be paid is a very steep one indeed!

  28. Shane, totally agree with you! I see faith and good works as two sides of the same coin. Good works are the outward manifestation of inward faith. Faith without good works is an oxymoron, or perhaps I should say it is an incoherent concept.

    The corollary to this doing good for people is just as central to the message of Christ as the Gospel itself. Faith and Gospel are the means, and good works are the end. So are we really being faithful to Christ's message if we allow the practical aspect of doing good to take a back seat to the practice of good deeds?

  29. Hey Mike thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you found CT. I understand your reservations with Rick Warren. I share some of those same reservations. I see similar problems within the Emergent Church movement.

    I'm not willing though to throw the “Purpose Driven” model under the bus though as the basis of that is scriptural. I think it just depends on how it is applied.

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