Friday, February 4, 2011

Dr. Michael Horton: 2010 Christless Christianity Conference

     Moving toward the finish line of our look at the 2010 Christianity Conference we now get even more  personal.  According to Notre Dame sociologist Dr. Christian Smith, our American evangelical church culture has a name:  Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  After extensive research, Dr. Smith and his associates have come to the conclusion that contemporary American Christianity has taken a clear paradigm shift that undermines the gospel of Christ and virtually redefines the historic Christian faith.  Michael Horton elaborates on the sociological diagnosis of what ails the church,
Smith defines moralistic, therapeutic, deism (Dr. Horton's emphasis) as expressing this sort of working theology:  1.  God created the world.  2.  God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.  3.  The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.  4.  God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when needed to resolve a problem.  5.  Good people go to heaven when they die (Michael Horton, Christless Christianity:  The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. BakerBooks, 2008, p. 41).  
     While this sociological description of the majority of American evangelicalism is compelling (not to mention validated by study after study . . . esp. among our youth).  We as believers need to focus primarily on the theological and historical diagnosis that describes the unorthodox description of the inherent condition of man.  In other words, what does the Word of God say about man and what does church history teach us?  Horton clarifies,
The theological term for this malady is Pelagiansim (Horton's emphasis) . . . Pelagius and his followers denied original sin.  Sin is not a universal human condition but simply a choice that each of us makes.  With our free will we can choose to follow Adam's bad example or Jesus's good example . . . it is in our own power to be good or bad--and so merit eternal life or death . . . (Horton, p. 44)  
     The above ideas of Pelagius reflects the 4th century dispute with the African bishop Augustine who insisted that man after the Fall is morally unable and cannot relate to God rightly unless rescued by God through the redemption of Jesus Christ.  In the 19th century, Pelagian evangelist Charles G. Finney's view of salvation was as follows,
The new birth is not a divine gift but the result of a rational choice to turn from sin to obedience.  Christians can perfectly obey God in this life if they choose, and only in this way are they justified (Horton, p. 45).  
    In our day, no less than "America's pastor," Rick Warren has described the gospel as "God giving us a do-over or mulligan" (a "mulligan" is a golf-term in which the golfer is given a 2nd chance or do-over after a poor shot).  Pure Pelagianism!  In Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, sin is not something that is inherent in man's nature, but man is morally neutral and his sin can be overcome by making good choices and receiving good instruction.  In much of today's evangelicalism there is no need for a crucified and risen Savior who fulfilled the law of God and propitiated God's wrath on the behalf of sinners.  No need for the sovereign work of God the Holy Spirit to regenerate dead hearts of stone.  No need for the removal of spiritual blindness and spiritual illumination for those who by nature do not comprehend the things of the Spirit.  No need for the preaching of the gospel of repentance and faith in Jesus to those rebellious and opposed to God by nature.  No need for in-depth study of the Bible for discipleship and sanctification.  No need to preach the exclusivity of Christ in our missions to those alienated from God and without hope in the world.
     This means Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is Not Christianity at all!  Perhaps the fact that the majority of evangelicals believe this statement to be true, "God helps those who help themselves" is ample evidence on it's own that the American church mostly holds to a system of belief (Pelagianism) that was condemned by the church 17 centuries ago!
    Lord willing, next week we will begin a look at the 10 commandments in light of this discussion . . . have a great weekend!  A thought to ponder in the meantime: peace with God can only be attained through human achievement or divine accomplishment.  What is your church teaching?  What are you believing?

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