Seven Letters Seven Dangers: Christ-less Christianity

Dear Theophilus,

I find that the greatest danger facing the church today is Christ-less Christianity. I realize that this expression will raise your eyebrows and well it should for what is Christianity if not Christ?  But if I leave it undefined you will ask what it means in your next letter!  So, let me describe the condition for you.

First, Christ-less Christianity reduces Christ to a self-help guru.  In this sort of Christianity, Christ functions like a Gandhi or Buddha figure.  However, our visually oriented culture has supplanted our word based faith and so consequently Jesus has representative Buddhas who stand in for him.  For example, Joel Osteen will stand up and lead his people through a familiar mantra which includes these words, “This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I can do what it says I can do. Today, I will be taught the Word of God.” He will then proceed to tell them things that are so obviously read into the word and not out of it!  Through Osteen, Jesus is reduced to a life coach rather than Savior of the world.  The gospel becomes a message of material prosperity rather than a life changing and saving message. That is Christ-less Christianity.

Second, Christ-less Christianity is form without reality or substance. Paul warned Timothy of this type of Christianity in his second epistle. In fact, the contrast is striking.  Those who have the appearance of godliness but not its power are those who are always learning but never able to arrive at the knowledge of the truth.[1]  They will not get very far and their error will be plain to all.[2]  However, by contrast, Paul encouraged Timothy to continue in what he had learned and firmly believed knowing that such truth had made him wise unto salvation.[3] The point is painfully obvious.  Our knowledge must bring about a certain way of living that our progress may be evident to all.[4]  Christ-less Christianity can be a cover but for only so long.  When the difficulties of life come and genuine spiritual resources are required to simply “get through” the day the form will fail to provide the necessary daily requirement of spiritual vitality.  Dear Theophilus, what is needed is the form and substance which can only be found in Christ.

Third, Christ-less Christianity is no Christianity at all.  My dear brother, this is the battle that our brother Machen fought when he wrote the now classic work, Christianity and Liberalism.  His basic contention was that liberal theology was a different theology than that of Christianity.  Liberalism espouses a different doctrine of God, Christ, sin and salvation.  Christ-less Christianity is of the same ilk.  A Christ-less Christianity is not Christianity.  It is a form of humanitarianism.  Now, loving our neighbor is a wonderful thing.  However, when all of Christianity is reduced to loving our neighbor, then we have a Christ-less Christianity.  Sadly, this is the very Christianity espoused by many in churches today.

Dear Theophilus, my great concern is that you stay near to Christ.  Our Triune God is revealed in Him for indeed He came from the bosom of the Father that He might explain Him to us.  In Christ is the whole of our salvation accomplished.  The Spirit of Christ brings glory to Christ and prompts us to pray to the Father through Christ.  How could a Christ-less Christianity ever appeal to those who have His name written on them?  Theophilus, when Christ laid hold of you He gave himself to you entirely.  Continue to find Him and Him alone sufficient for your daily needs and your eternal hope. He will not fail you but a Christ-less Christianity will.   

J. S.  

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology and is an adjunct professor at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Senior Editor for Place for Truth.


[1] II Timothy 3:7

[2] II Timothy 3:9

[3] II Timothy 3:14-15

[4] I Timothy 4:15