Sunday, August 31, 2008

Article: Christless Christianity - Getting in Christ's Way

An excellent article by Michael Horton on the pseudo-Christianity that exists in the world today.

What would things look like if Satan actually took over a city? The first frames in our imaginative slide show probably depict mayhem on a massive scale: Widespread violence, deviant sexualities, pornography in every vending machine, churches closed down and worshipers dragged off to City Hall. Over a half-century ago, Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of Philadelphia's Tenth Presbyterian Church, gave his CBS radio audience a different picture of what it would look like if Satan took control of a town in America. He said that all of the bars and pool halls would be closed, pornography banished, pristine streets and sidewalks would be occupied by tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The kids would answer "Yes, sir," "No, ma'am," and the churches would be full on Sunday ... where Christ is not preached.

Not to be alarmist, but it looks a lot like Satan is in charge right now. The enemy has a subtle way of using even the proper scenery and props to obscure the main character. The church, mission, cultural transformation, even the Spirit can become the focus instead of the means for "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:2). As provocative as Barnhouse's illustration remains, it is simply an elaboration of a point that is made throughout the story of redemption. The story behind all the headlines of the Bible is the war between the serpent and the offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15), an enmity that God promised would culminate in the serpent's destruction and the lifting of the curse. This promise was a declaration of war on Satan and his kingdom, and the contest unfolded in the first religious war, between Cain and Abel (Gen. 4 with Matt. 23:35), in the battle between Pharaoh and Yahweh that led to the exodus and the temptation in the wilderness. Even in the land, the serpent seduces Israel to idolatry and intermarriage with unbelievers, even provoking massacres of the royal family. Yet God always preserved that "seed of the woman" who would crush the serpent's head (see 2 Kings 11, for example). The story leads all the way to Herod's slaughter of the firstborn children in fear of the Magi's announcement of the birth of the true King of Israel.

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In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has the devil (Screwtape) catechizing his minion (Wormwood) to keep the Christians distracted from Christ as redeemer from God's wrath. Rather than clumsily announce his presence by direct attacks, Wormwood should try to get the churches to become interested in "Christianity and...": "Christianity and the War," "Christianity and Poverty," "Christianity and Morality," and so on. Of course, Lewis was not suggesting that Christians should not have an interest in such pressing issues of the day, but he was making the point that when the church's basic message is less about who Christ is and what he has accomplished once and for all for us, and more about who we are and what we have to do in order to justify all of that expense on his part, the religion that is made "relevant" is no longer Christianity. By not thinking that "Christ crucified" is as relevant as "Christ and Family Values" or "Christ and America" or "Christ and World Hunger," we end up assimilating the gospel to law. Again, there is nothing wrong with the law-the moral commands that expose our moral failure and guide us as believers in the way of discipleship. However, assimilating the good news of what someone else has done to a road map for our own action is disastrous. In the words of Theodore Beza, "The confusion of law and gospel is the principal source of all the abuses that corrupt or have ever corrupted the church." When God's Law (and not our own inner sentiment) actually addresses us, our first response should be, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner," not the reply of the rich young ruler, "All this I have done since my youth."

Another way we distort the proclamation of Christ in the "Pharasaic" mode is by what has sometimes been called "the assumed gospel." This is often the first stage of taking our eyes off of Christ. Even where Christ is regarded as the answer to God's just wrath, this emphasis is regarded as a point that can be left behind in the Christian life. The idea is that people "get saved" and then "become disciples." The gospel for sinners is Christ's death and resurrection; the gospel for disciples, however, is, "Get busy!" But this assumes that disciples are not sinners, too. There is not a single biblical verse that calls us to "live the gospel." By definition, the gospel is not something that we can live. It is only something that we can hear and receive. It is good news, not good advice. The good news is that, "But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the Law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe," since sinners "are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, received through faith" (Rom. 3:21-25).

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Many conservative evangelicals and emerging "post-evangelicals" display their common heritage in an American revivalist tradition that Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as "Protestantism without the Reformation." In a recent issue of TIME on Pope Benedict's critical relationship with Islam, conservative Catholic scholar Michael Novak was quoted as saying concerning the pontiff, "His role is to represent Western civilization." There are a lot of evangelical leaders who seem to think that this is their job, too. The mission of the church is to drive out the Romans (i.e., Democrats) and make the world safe for democracy. The Emergent movement's politics are different: they lean left rather than right. For many reared on the "Christian America" hype of the religious right, this may seem like a major shift, but it's just a change in parties rather than a deeper shift from moralism to evangelical mission. The Emergent sociology is different, too: Starbucks and acoustic guitars in dark rooms with candles rather than Wal-Mart and praise bands in bright-lighted theaters. Yet in either case, moralism continues to push "Christ crucified" to the margins.

We are totally distracted, on the right, left, and in the middle. Children growing up in evangelical churches know as little as unchurched youth about the basics of the Christian faith. They increasingly inhabit a church world that is less and less shaped by the gospel through Christ-centered catechesis, preaching and sacrament (the means that Jesus instituted for making disciples). The songs they sing are mostly emotive, rather than serving to make "the Word of Christ dwell in [them] richly" (Col. 3:16), and their private devotions are less shaped by the practices of corporate prayer and Scripture reading than in past generations. Nothing has to change on paper: they can still be "conservative evangelicals," but it just doesn't matter because doctrine doesn't matter-which means faith doesn't matter. It's works that counts now, so get busy!

So now people are called to be the "good news," to make Christ's mission successful by living "relationally" and "authentically." Where the New Testament announces a gospel that changes lives, now the "gospel" is our changed life. "We preach not ourselves but Christ" (2 Cor. 4:5) has been exchanged for a constant appeal to our personal and collective holiness as the main attraction. Church marketing guru George Barna encourages us to reach out to the unchurched on the basis of our character: "What they are looking for is a better life. Can you lead them to a place or to a group of people that will deliver the building blocks of a better life? Do not propose Christianity as a system of rules but as a relationship with the One who leads by way of example. Then seek proven ways to achieve meaning and success." I am not at all implying that we shouldn't follow Christ's example or that the church shouldn't have models and mentors. What I am suggesting is that discipleship is teaching others, and teaching them so well that even when we falter as role models, the maturity of their own discipleship will not fail because it is grounded in Christ and not in us.

No matter what we say we believe about Christ's person and work, if we aren't constantly bathed in it, the end result will lead to H. Richard Niebuhr's description of Protestant liberalism: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross." According to University of North Carolina sociologist Christian Smith, the working religion of America's teens-whether evangelical or liberal, churched or unchurched-is "moralistic, therapeutic deism." And the answer to that, according to many megachurches and emerging churches is "do more; be more authentic; live more transparently." This is the good news that will change the world?

(Bold added)

And that is the precise reason why we should always focus on the Gospel. We must always turn our eyes to the Cross and make it our focus and the focus of all that we are and do for Christ. One of the major errors of Warren's PD paradigm is precisely the jettisoning of the Gospel for a moralistic message of "Deeds, not creeds". Sure, the creeds are there, but they and Christ are NOT the center of Warren's movement. Ditto for the Emergent and Seeker Sensitive movements. Christ is NOT placed in the center of the focus of the Church, while Man and Culture takes center stage. And thus they all have a Christless Christianity and a functional moralistic deism that is anything but Christianity.

[HT: The Art of Theology]

4 comments:

Isaiah said...

Very good article.

I think Lane Chaplin might be posting the full video of this (if I am not wrong) and I'm waiting for it.

PuritanReformed said...

I see. Lane is indeed the media guy. =P

The Heretic said...

Hey, Daniel. I read your testimony and it seems as if we have something in common. You got sucked into the card playing games, whereas I got sucked into Role Playing Games (RPG). This lead me to deeper occultic activities (mainly Wicca). I was also saved in 1997 in April.

Anyway, great testimony. And you are certainly correct to say that it is God who chose us and not us Him.

PuritanReformed said...

TH:

I see. I was actually saved in June, but anyway, thank God for His grace towards us.