Christless Christianity?

By Brian Onstead
Posted 3/5/20

Years ago, I picked up a book titled “Christless Christianity.” The book’s cover had a picture of the Last Supper with Jesus blotted out. This was rather intriguing to me.

What …

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Christless Christianity?


Years ago, I picked up a book titled “Christless Christianity.” The book’s cover had a picture of the Last Supper with Jesus blotted out. This was rather intriguing to me.

What is Christless Christianity? I understand what a Christless world is — a world without Christ. But a Christless Christianity — Christianity without Christ? This seemed to be an oxymoron.

As I read the book, however, I understood the reason behind the title. The author, Michael Horton, pointed out a rather astute observation: Christianity becomes Christless when only principles for living are taught and Christ’s person and work are absent. In other words, when we only focus on our works or how we are to live while Christ is absent, then we have succumbed to Christless Christianity.

Do not misunderstand me: Good works are necessary for all Christians everywhere to perform. However, when we only focus on our works or only talk about principles for living, then we are missing the point of Christianity. Christianity is not about us, it’s about Christ!

Christianity is first and foremost about who Christ is: the Son of God, being true and eternal God, becoming a true and full man without ceasing to be God, born of the virgin Mary, born under the law. Christianity is also first and foremost about Christ’s work. He came to fulfill the law perfectly in the place of believing sinners by living a perfect life of obedience in their place, so that they can be counted righteous before God; dying on the cross in their place to satisfy the just wrath of God; rising again for their sake to secure life everlasting for all who believe; and ascending to the right hand of the Father, where he now always lives to make intercession for them.

Sadly, however, Christians have embraced the assumption that we do not need to hear about Christ anymore, or really that often, because we already know these truths; we have already believed them. Now it is time to move on to talk about our works, how we are to live, how we are to spread the gospel, what principles we need to have a more fulfilling marriage, more obedient children, or greater financial success. While the way we live is certainly important, apart from hearing about Christ, it only becomes about us and our life; it becomes Christless. As Horton writes in Christless Christianity, “we end up saying very little that the world could not hear from Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura or Oprah.”  Or, as one seminary professor once put it, “if your sermon can be preached in a Jewish synagogue or a mosque without revision, you’ve failed.” After all, the Apostle Paul says that it is the preaching of Christ that strengthens believers (Romans 16:25).

While we need to hear the law and practical principles for living, if they are divorced from Christ, or Christ is absent, or if he is not center stage, then your religion is no longer about Christ. This is probably why the heartbeat of Paul’s ministry was “Christ Jesus and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

May we share the apostle’s heartbeat and not subtly become Christless in our Christianity.


(Brian Onstead is the pastor of Trinity Bible Church in Powell.)