Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Horton On Washington Post

Michael Horton was online with the WashingtonPost.com discussing his book Christless Christianity. You may read the transcript of the questions and answers here. These three questions and answers I thought were informative.

Norfolk, Va.: What do you consider to be the greatest threat to Orthodox (biblical) Christianity today?

Rev. Dr. Michael S. Horton: Shallowness. It is far worse than heresy. At least heretics take the gospel seriously enough to distort and deny it. And heresy always makes the church think more deeply about what it believes and why it believes it. However, shallowness is deadly for the Christian Faith.

If you just need some helpful advice, encouragement, inspiration, and uplift from your religion, you just need enough water to get your feet wet. A few slogans and insights will suffice. But Christianity bets all its chips on certain events that happened in history. "If Christ is not raised," Paul said, "then we are of all people the most to be pitied." After all, he says, we are false witnesses-perjurers-and Jesus is a fraud. You have not lived a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life if Christ was not raised from the dead; you've been duped, and we're accomplices in that, Paul said (1 Corinthians 15).

The gospel is not a religious feeling, a spiritual journey within, or pious advice. It is a story�in the words of the British playwright Dorothy Sayers, 'the greatest story ever told." From this unfolding drama of redemption from Genesis to Revelation arise doctrines, which lead to wonder and thanksgiving, motivating grateful love and service to our neighbors. All of this requires that we submit to the discipline of listening, understanding, and growing in our faith.

But we are channel-surfers. We like to create our own soothing sampler of New Age mysticism, self-help lingo, conservative ideas about virtue, and maybe something to help us keep our kids sober and celibate. Accommodating to this shallow narcissism, churches have largely abandoned their responsibility to teach the rising generations even the basics of the Faith.

Generic religion and spirituality can survive a mindless conservatism or a mindless liberalism, but Christianity cannot. It thrives in an atmosphere of questioning, engaging, wrestling, listening, and reading. If we are only looking for whatever "works"-for the moment, at least�or for what�s entertaining, fun, or affirming, we will always be spiritual infants, if Christians at all.

Woodland, Calif.: My family recently left a Bible-focused Baptist church when a new pastor came along who is attempting to change everything about the church into the Rick Warren seeker-centered church paradigm. How do you deal with parishioners who are staying because they believe the new way of doing things is merely a stylistic change and don't see that Jesus is not being preached anymore?

Thank you

Rev. Dr. Michael S. Horton: Wow, have you ever hit on an important issue! First, I admire Rick Warren's zeal. I do not question his commitment to encouraging evangelism and discipleship. We've had some fruitful conversations over the years and he agrees that the gospel is being assumed-taken for granted-in evangelical as well as mainline churches today. My disagreement is over the issue you so clearly picked out in your question. Whatever we believe on paper, it's what we do when we gather as God's people that shows what we regard as front-and-center. One of the arguments I make in the book is that we are all capable of obscuring Christ and his saving work for us with perfectly justifiable-even important-distractions.

When Pastor Warren speaks of the gospel as God's giving us another chance to make him happy (Jesus came to give us a "do-over," as in golf, he on a national TV program last Christmas), that's not good news. My problem isn't that I've just chipped a few balls into the lake, but that if I had a thousand chances to do things over again, I'd still fall short of God's purpose for my life. I need to be rescued, not just redirected. The difference between the two is more than style; it's substance.

When you carve up the body of Christ into niche demographics (with different services, each using a different style of music), you just get religious consumers rather than a truly diverse communion of saints united by "one Lord, one faith, and one baptism." So if the basic message is "try harder to find God's purpose and fulfill it; it's deeds, not creeds," and the means of God's grace (preaching, baptism, and the Supper) are replaced with our means of commitment, it's not just style. It's substance. And regardless of what one believes formally, the consequence over the long haul is that it's difficult to tell Christians apart from decent non-Christians who try to live a good life.

Of course you have to have intellectual borrowing from Christianity while disputing it.

Sturbridge, Mass.: What is this? You are coming from a primitive, un-evolved consciousness. This is called ethno-centrism. Spirituality is about personal transformation and this is symbolized by the mythological death and resurrection of Jesus. There is no historical independent attestation for a literal, historical Jesus. Do your homework with an objective mind. The only attestation is the bible, which is full of holes, superstition, and contradiction. The truth is that religion and spirituality are about evolution and transformation. Religion is evolving like everything else, albeit much more slowly due to people who cling to literalist interpretations of ancient myth and "theology." The very theology of a savior who had to die to save us from "God's wrath" is a shame based teaching that implied that God did not get it right the first time when he created our Souls in His image. It's nonsense and this is why Christianity is a dying religion.

Rev. Dr. Michael S. Horton: I don't think you would like my book very much. As your argument suggests, if "spirituality is merely about personal transformation," then of course it can be "symbolized by the mythological death and resurrection of Jesus"-or of any other religious figure who either did or did not actually live. But if spirituality is only about what happens inside of us, why would I or anyone else come to the subject with an open mind? We only need to open our minds to a reality that is outside of us and Christianity testifies to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in history. The concrete life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Christ in the flesh is simply unnecessary if the point of it all is merely inner enlightenment, moral uplift, and spiritual transformation.

Last year, my family had to evacuate our home due to the San Diego wildfires. I went from "I can handle this" (at about 4am) to "Let's get in the car!" (at about noon). If I had only my inner thoughts, experiences, and feelings to go by, I might never have left, but there was a fire truck driving by, telling everybody in our neighborhood to leave and head for safety. The fire department was not trying to make me feel bad about myself or my situation, but was simply telling me the facts of the crisis. God's wrath is a fact because he is holy and we are sinful. The Good News is that we don't have to face it: Look outside of yourself and flee to Christ!

Take time to read the rest. It is very informative.

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