Michael Horton on Spirituality in America

Michael Horton gave an excellent lecture entitled “American Spirituality” on the state of spirituality in America, and I found it so great I am providing my notes here.

He begins by setting the scene of America: we are the new frontier, the place of experiments, both political and religious. And on a whole, we Americans are very interested in spirituality. 92% say they believe in God, but only 60% believe in a personal God. Who knows how many believe in the trinity. Most Americans follow their own inner light—very few hold the Bible as authority.

We believe religion is a "personal affair between me and God." John Wayne said, "I like God until he gets under a roof."

But our religion is becoming vacuous so that modern Christians have grown up in a milieu of rules without the depth behind them. This is the gradual trivializing of God, our serious condition, and the gospel. We seek the supporting role of God in my life movie. God can be a life-coach, a moral leader, but he cannot be my judge or rescuer because I am doing just fine! Christ is the source of empowerment but He's rarely the source of power for the powerless.

We are in such a hurry to get a better life we don’t even consider God. Horton says, “The Bible is God's story not your story. It's not about you; it's about God. And once we realize it's about God and that He's the hero of the story, all sorts of things begin to make sense and irony of ironies, we actually find more in the Bible for us than we ever found before.”

Three things that are killing us softly

1. Enthusiasm

It’s a word that began in the reformation when people would drum up the feelings of God without the real substance. Alexis de Tocqueville said that Americans don't need books or any other external authorities in order to find the truth because they have found it in themselves. How different from the Shema of Israel (Deut 6:4-6) which is centered on hearing someone else address you. “We have got to get to the place, brothers and sisters, where we just…shut up….We need to sit down and listen to the One who created us and who has redeemed us tell us the way it is. We need to be drawn outside ourselves. Faith comes by hearing, not by looking within…” Americans are spiritual but not religious because religion demands something from them.

2. Pragmatism

It pits our strategies over God's intended means. The Gospel says God is the one who saves sinners; we don't find him within or by being clever. Americans want to know how to go get God and bring him down to me. Where do I have to go to get that blessing? But Paul says that He is as near to us as ever, by His spirit, through His word. He comes to us. It's all about God, by God, so that God gets the glory. There is a reason for the methods he gives us!

“There's a reason for the methods that God gave us in the Great Commission. Go into all the world and make it a better place, and have great relationships, raise positive kids in a negative world, and call me! Call me!…You never call me! No, go into all the world and preach the Gospel, baptize, and teach everything that I have commanded you. But pragmatism knows better. We don't need a herald to bring us good news, we need a coach or a CEO to give us a good action-plan."

3. Consumerism

Many Christians think of the covenant with God as a contract. It's a great deal, the Gospel. Charles Finney's version is that you can lose your salvation so you must attain perfect obedience to the law of God. But nobody believes that anymore. Now, the customer is king, and “God is my co-pilot,” or so says the bumper-sticker.

In modern consumerist religion, ”Jesus becomes a service provider, the Gospel becomes a product, and the church becomes the marketing agent."

D. L. Moody, a great evangelist who did wonderful things said, "I haven’t changed occupations, I've just changed products.” Billy Sunday said he got the greatest return of any evangelist, calculating the price of conversion at about $2 per soul.

We need a new look at our spirituality which must begin with a new—higher, holier—view of God.