Christless Christianity – a Smorgasbord

Christless Christianity by Michael HortonLast week, I started watching the DVD that accompanied Michael Horton’s latest book, Christless Christianity. And today, I stumbled upon a couple of recent surveys that confirm what Horton has said in this book.1

A study released this Monday by The Barna Group found that about three out of four (71%) American adults are “more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church,” including 61% of “born-again” Christians, and 82% of those under 25. In other words, smörgÃ¥sbord Christianity.

George Barna concludes that many people are now “their own theologian-in-residence,” and embrace an “unpredictable and contradictory body of beliefs,” an eclectic and syncretistic mix of Christian and non-Christian views. He observes that feelings and emotions are now king, while preaching and Bible study are disliked, resulting in even more Biblical illiteracy.

This is not a new discovery. Horton offers this observation which many theologians and sociologists have known decades ago:

When push comes to shove, many Christians today justify their beliefs and practices on the basis of their own experience. Regardless of what the church teaches – or perhaps even what is taught in Scripture – the one unassailable authority in the American religion is the self’s inner experience… No longer constrained by creeds and confessions, sermons and catechism, baptism and Eucharist in the covenant assembly, the romantic self aspires to a unique and spontaneous experience (p. 169-70).

Horton notes that the American religion is actually neo-Gnosticism, with its emphasis on spirituality without any particular creed, experience over objective truth, and its blending of various Eastern mystical religions with Christian beliefs (p. 167):

Like ancient Gnosticism, American spirituality uses God or the divine as something akin to an energy source. Through various formulas, steps, procedures, or techniques, one may access this source on one’s own. Such spiritual technology could be employed without any need for the office of preaching, adminstering baptism or the Lord’s Supper, or membership in a visible church, submitting to its communal admonitions, encouragements, teaching, and practices (p. 178-9).

pewforum_pluralismIt is not surprising then that another survey released in December 2008, this time by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, found that over half of American “Christians” believe that Christ is not the only way to salvation, but other non-Christian religions can also lead to salvation. Fully 80% of these “Christians” name one non-Christian religion as another way to salvation. Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, laments the survey results, saying that there is “a theological crisis for American evangelicals.”

Christless Christianity: Christianity without the Christ of the Bible, and Christianity that has Christ and others as the way to eternal life (Gal 1:8-9).

1 If you want to preview Horton’s book, click here to read Chapter 1, “Christless Christianity: The American Captivity of the Church.”


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4 thoughts on “Christless Christianity – a Smorgasbord”

  1. We could definitely witness in our community who all once have their own theology, all previously Catholics but not really living out the Christian lifestyle (indulging in drunkeness, gambling, adulterous acts, cursing, dishonest gains) and also have their own interpretations of “how to go to heaven when they die”. 80% of our attendees at Greenhills Christian Fellowship here in Taytay, Rizal are all once like this but now have definitely grew up in the Christian faith and lifestyle and continue to learn about Christ. Even some Uncle Nollie got to teach like G. G. who once is almost zero in Bible knowledge that an active Sunday schooler in grade school will beat out in Bible quiz. They all learned the “true knowledge” about God because someone invited them to come to our church or attend the midweek bible study lessons here in Brookside Subd. and were able to hear the gospel and God willing have transformed lives and became a church member. Our church has now about 1,000 members, it started about 10 years ago to about 50 people.

  2. Prevalence of eclectic and syncretistic Christianity is due to the fact that historically and culturally religion and/or spirituality is a paradox.  The big guys from the cloister of the four walls think of themselves doing theology while ordinary folks in the marketplace live out their theology.  Therefore, a person who read books , study and gained degrees in  seminary most likely would think of himself very highly qualified to do theology.  However, a person who walks the road of faith, hustle and bustle the violent streets of chaos, trying to feed the stomach of the hungry and seeing the arrogance of the corrupt is he not also able to competently theologize.  Theology is in crisis not because of the ordinary folks.  It is in crisis because the big guys are not guarding the painted lane but allowed the other side to penetrate the board.  A Filipino theologian would most likely develop a theology responsive and/or reactive  to the extent of corruption in his country.  Likewise, he could develop a theology based on hope that there are heroic people who are incorruptible.  Theologies and not just a theology would emerge from these experience.  Thus, an uneducated person may be applying the herneneutical circle in doing theology and he would not be even aware of it.  Just like in some theology; objectively ordinary folks may make some missteps but relatively the insight may be constructive.  Christless Christianity is as old as time but it is an annoying morning alarm to wake us up from spiritual slumber.

  3. Prevalence of eclectic and syncretistic theology is a matter of historical and cultural tolerance.  The fact is that Christian theology is necessarily eclectic and syncretistic.  The big guys on the Ivory Tower are doing theology while the ordinary folks are living out their theology.  The ordinary folks may be viewed as objectively wrong but they may be relatively right.  It is a paradox that has been true from the outset of religion and spirituality.  That is why there are theologies and not just theology. 

  4. Thank you, Nollie.  I gave my mother the book for Christmas.  She hasn’t started it yet.

    I trust & pray all is well for you & your family.

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