Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 13, 2009

Horton on American Religion

From Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, by Michael Horton:

christless-christianityIn American religion, as in ancient Gnosticism, there is almost no sense of God’s difference from us — in other words, his majesty, sovereignty, self-existence, and holiness.  God is my buddy, my inmost experience, or the power source for my living my best life now. …

This characteristically American approach to religion, in which the direct relationship of the soul to God generates an almost romantic encounter with the sacred, makes inner experience the measure of spiritual genuineness.  Instead of being concerned that our spiritual leaders faithfully interpret Scripture and are sent by Christ through the official ordination of his church, we are more concerned that they exude vulnerability, authenticity, and the familiar spontaneity that tells us that they have a personal relationship with Jesus.  Everything perceived as external to the self — the church, the gospel, the Word and sacraments, the world, and even God — must either be marginalized or, in more radical versions, rejected as that which would alienate the soul from its immediacy to the divine.

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.  This means, however, that it is not only one’s relationship with Jesus but Jesus himself who becomes a wax figure to be molded according to whatever experiences, feelings, and felt needs one has decided to be most decisive.  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.  As the hymn writer cited earlier has it, “I come to the garden alone. … And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other ever has known” (emphasis added). …

“The Christ of the twentieth century” is no longer really even a distinct historical person but “has become a personal experience for the American Christian, quite clearly for the Evangelicals.”  In this scheme, history is no longer the sphere of Christianity.  The focus of faith and practice is not so much Christ’s objective person and work for us, outside of us, as it is a personal relationship that is defined chiefly in terms of inner experience.

Christless Christianity, pp. 168-171




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