Last 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, smÃ¶rgÃ¥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).
It 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.”