December 28, 2008 Commentary:
Hello and welcome to another broadcast of the White Horse Inn as we are concluding our year-long series "Christless Christianity." This past Christmas, many churches and Christian broadcasts lamented the secularization of Christmas and called again for putting Christ back in to Christmas. There were local battles again over nativity scenes on public property, with Christians invoking the precedence of our being a Christian nation, and all the while many of these same believers and their churches themselves secularized, trivialized, sentimentalized, politicized, and moralized the Gospel into a form of self-help therapy. Most Americans believe in God, affirm that Jesus Christ is in some sense divine, and that the Bible is the Word of God. 86% of American adults describe their religious orientation as "Christian" while only 6% describe themselves as atheist or agnostic. Judging by its commercial, political, and media success the Evangelical movement seems to be booming, but is it still Christian? We haven't been trying to ask that question over the past year simply to provoke a reaction, our concern all along has been that we are getting dangerously close to that point in everyday American church life where the Bible is mined for quotes, but largely irrelevant; God is used as a personal resource rather than known, worshipped, and trusted; Jesus Christ is a coach with a good game plan for our victory rather than a Savior who already achieved it for us; salvation is more a matter of having our best life now than being saved from God's judgment by God himself; and the Holy Spirit is an electrical outlet that we can plug into for the power we need to be all that we can be.
The ministry of John Stott, a key leader of the Evangelical post-war consensus, embodies the integration of Christ-centered proclamation with the passion for mission, and yet when asked in a recent issue of Christianity Today how he evaluates this world-wide movement Stott could only reply, "The answer is growth without depth." According to Methodist Bishop, William Willimon, "lacking confidence in the power of our story to effect that of which it speaks, to invoke a new people out of nothing our communication looses its nerve, and nothing is said that couldn't be heard elsewhere. In conservative contexts Gospel speech is traded for dogmatic assertion and moralism, for self-help psychologies and narcotic mantras. In more liberal speech talk tip-toes around the outrage of Christian discourse and ends up as an innocuous and urbane affirmation of the ruling order. Unable to preach Christ and him crucified we preach humanity and it improved."
Discipleship, spiritual disciplines, life-transformation, culture transformation, relationships, marriage and family, stress, the spiritual gifts, financial gifts, radical experiences of conversion, and accounts of overcoming significant obstacles through the power of faith. A steady diet we are getting today is bound to burn us out because it is all about us and our work rather than God and his work in Jesus Christ. Even important exhortations and commands become dislocated from their indicative, gospel habitat. Instead of the Gospel giving us new thoughts, experiences, and motivations for grateful obedience we lodge the power of God in our own piety and programs. Whatever we say folks, our practice really does seem to match our piety, and our piety seems to suggest that we think God is a supporting actor in our play rather our having been swept by him in to his greatest story ever told. And so in this program we are going to recap this year, "Christless Christianity" as we think about what it means to determine with the apostle Paul to know nothing among Americans other than Jesus Christ and him crucified.
December 21, 2008 Commentary:
Christ Our Prophet, Priest & King
As Jesus was walking along the Emmaus road with dejected disciples who were wondering about all this terrible stuff that had just happened in Jerusalem, Jesus open the Scriptures and explained how everything in the law and the prophets and the psalms pointed to him and no wonder their hearts burned within them as he opened the Scriptures to them. Jesus faulted the leaders of his day for searching the Scriptures diligently and not finding the center of Scripture in himself. And it's not at Christmas time, but throughout the whole year that we are meant to find Christ at the center of all the Scriptures. And so in this program we are going to focus on the long-expected savior, our Prophet, Priest and King.
December 14, 2008 Commentary:
Dawn of Redeeming Grace
After repeated attempts to remain neutral, President Woodrow Wilson declared war on the German empire in 1917. Like many American Protestants, Wilson, a staunch Presbyterian, assumed a post-millennial eschatology. That is, he believed that through the advance of the Gospel through world-missions, Christ's kingdom would eventually have such wide-spread influence in the world that soon there would be an end to wars and the millennial age of peace would spread its light around the globe. The only way he could justify his decision to enter World War I was by calling it "the war to end all wars." Similar expectations dominated the Jewish horizon of that first Christmas. Identifying the coming Messianic kingdom with a revived theocracy, Jesus' contemporaries were ready for a king who would end Rome's occupation of Palestine and bring a reign of peace and prosperity. They were expecting a king on a throne, not a king on a cross. Of course, Jesus did finally assume his universal throne, but it wasn't exactly the way everyone expected and Jesus has been throwing us off ever since.
Once we go back to the Scriptures that were available to Jews in the first century, the Old Testament, we discern a thread. Following that thread from Genesis to Malachi and then from there all the way to the book of Revelation, we discover a deeper plot, a story behind the story, a far greater Messiah and a far greater kingdom. Not just Israel, but the world would be the prize for his labors. Not just a temporal political kingdom but a reign of forgiveness and grace in this age and the establishment of everlasting peace, justice, and righteousness throughout the earth when he returns in glory.
The Gospel is the Bible's big story and the story behind the story is the war between the serpent and the Messiah. That is our subject in this edition of the White Horse Inn.
December 7, 2008 Commentary:
Mega-Churches Respond to the Reveal Study
One of the major reasons so many believers today may experience Christless Christianity even in churches that identify themselves as Christ-centered, is that the dominate emphasis is on means of service rather than means of grace. Many Christians today are burned out and they are not sure exactly why. In many case that I have encountered at least the reason is that they have been subjected to constant demands while the gospel itself remains in the background. To be sure the local church involves fellowship among the saints which involves works of service to the household of faith.
But we've confused the priesthood of all believers with the ministryhood of all believers, as if Christ had never instituted the offices that we find in the epistles, not to lord it over the rest, but to serve them. In the approach that we see to ministry today were every believer is seen to be a minister, every sheep must be a shepherd. The call to the sheep to become "self-seeders" is the natural consequence of this impoverished line of thinking, and that's our topic in this edition of the White Horse Inn as we are looking at how mega-churches are responding to the new "Reveal" study by the Willow Creek Association.