August 26, 2007 Commentary:
"A Movie About Teenager & God"
Hello and welcome to a special edition of the White Horse Inn. In 2005, Oxford University Press released a very important book. Sociologists from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill had just released their findings of a five-year study of the religious views of American teenagers. And what they found was nothing less than shocking. According to Christian Smith, the primary author of Soul Searching, the actual professed religion of most young adults, whether they're being raised in Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, or Jewish homes, is what he called "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." What this means is that although many teens believe in God and go to church regularly, they end up defining belief in very vague and subjective terms, such as, "God exists," "He's there when we need him," "He wants us to be happy," "The purpose of life is to feel good," "Good people go to heaven," and so forth. Now, in the summer of 2007, a documentary film version of Soul Searching was just released by Revelation Studios. And on this edition of the White Horse Inn we'll listen to some clips from this production and we'll hear from Michael Eaton, the co-director of the film, as well as Christian Smith himself, the primary researcher behind the project.
August 19, 2007 Commentary:
"Sin & Grace in the Christian Life"
Hello and welcome to another edition of the White Horse Inn. We are talking in this program about sin and grace in the Christian life as part of our ongoing series. We're finishing up our section on the doctrine of grace and we're going to particularly focus here on grace and the problem of ongoing sin in the Christian life; very critical problems that arise as we begin to ask 'How am I doing in the Christian life?' You know we're all familiar with those ads that promise something great up front. There are those 0% APR credit cards with something like 40% the following month. Or how about the no payments until next year, and it's in December? So it is right around the corner that you are going to be paying a lot more in percentage rates than you would like to. But, no payments until next year! Ramping up costs is a typical way of doing business today because the deal looks too good to be true, we get taken, and sure enough it is too good to be true.
How about the Christian life? In the circles in which I was raised, salvation was free for something like the first sixty days. Obviously, I am being silly, there was no actual time limit, but there was this honeymoon or grace period where the convert was lavished with good news. Christ died for sinners no matter how great your sin, Jesus paid it all. Wow, Jesus paid it all. Ah yes, but then came the all to him I owe part. Not that it isn't true, but on the heels of Jesus paid it all gratitude easily sounds like, now, here's your part of the deal. Just after I thought it was all of Christ, all by grace alone, suddenly the bills show up, together with all the fine print. Wow, I thought grace was free. And if grace is free, won't that lead to laziness or license? That's the suspicion that a lot of people have and that's why you get all the fine print. That's what we're talking about, sin and grace in the Christian life in this edition of the White Horse Inn.
August 12, 2007 Commentary:
"Grace & Election in the Book of Ephesians"
While under house arrest in Rome around 60 AD, the Apostle to the Gentiles penned a letter that we know in our Bibles as the Epistle to the Ephesians. Rome's Asian capital, Ephesus, was one of the key cities of the empire that Paul targeted for the spread of Christianity. He spent a lot of time in Ephesus, and this church became the center for the evangelization of western Asia and what we know today as Eastern Europe. It is to the Ephesian elders that Paul gives his famous farewell speech in Acts 20, warning them that in due course false teachers would rise up, even from among their own number to distort the truth; and urging them to stand firm in the whole counsel of God that they had been taught during Paul's apostolic ministry among them.
As scholars have pointed out, many of the oldest manuscripts of this epistle don't even include the address in Ephesus, but simply read, "To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus." This was in all likelihood a major catholic, circular letter, written as an apostolic tract to the whole Christian Church. Drawing on the colonial consciousness of the Ephesians, since it was a Roman colony, Paul explains the mystery of the Church, that colony of Christ whose outpost in the wilderness frontier of this world is destined to grow against all odds.
Now, one of the things I'm amazed at is how boldly Paul begins his letter with the doctrine of election. You know that subject that you don't bring up these days in polite conversation, people move to other sides of the room. But it's that divine teaching that places our salvation squarely and solely in God's gracious hands by announcing that, before the world was ever created God had already chosen us to belong to his Church and placed us in Christ. That choice on God's part was not based on anything in us, whether a foreseen decision to accept Christ or perseverance or good works, because what would God have foreseen? Rather, it's his gracious purpose that initiates these responses on our part. Now imagine that, God foreseeing our response. How on earth could God foresee us doing anything but rejecting. In the words of John Stott, "the doctrine of election was not invented by Calvin of Geneva or Augustine of Hippo. It is a biblical doctrine and no biblical Christian can ignore it." What a wonderful truth when we actually consider it in its biblical context. After all, as we'll see Paul insists that our election takes place in Christ alone, because Christ is the chosen one. The Father's loved one. Those who are chosen in him, share in all of his saving benefits. As Calvin reminds us, "He who would know his election must look only to Christ who is the mirror of our election, for there is no true knowledge of God apart from Christ. He who would seek any knowledge of God apart from this Christ shall surely find only idols."
See, if we look at the doctrine of election merely as the arbitrary and capricious will of a powerful deity, we'll end up Muslims rather than Christians. Rather than asking philosophical questions about the divine will, Paul directs us to Christ alone, where we learn about this God who chooses us for himself. So the naked God of power and glory is clothed in the humanity of Christ, who is the head of the Church. This is where we go to begin our discussion of the doctrine of election. Not to the philosophers, but to the God-man, Jesus Christ. Everything that the Church is and has is the direct result of her organic and representative union with the God-man, Jesus Christ. Even before the world was created, Paul says, Christ was appointed the trustee of this elect body. Christ is the eternally chosen mediator of the covenant of redemption and in time those who had formerly been strangers to the Church are incorporated into this sacred temple; transferred from the family of Adam to the family of God.
Now throughout Church history, not only in Scripture but in Church history, believers have found in this biblical teaching of election a source of enormous consolation and fortification in the course of her wilderness passage. The truth of unconditional election was clearly proclaimed by the early Church fathers, by Augustine in his battles with Pelagius, was officially championed at the Council of Orange in the sixth century when it was being assailed. But during the middle ages, darkness fell across Christendom and the Church became corrupt. As in every age where the truth of God's grace is ignored or downplayed, human nature begins to teach us to trust in our own will and effort. As Charles Spurgeon said, nobody has to be taught to become an Arminian, we're born that way.
During the middle ages, many defenders of this doctrine were persecuted. But it did have its prominent teachers on its side also, like, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bradwardine, and Luther's mentor, Johann von Staupitz. The shimmering brilliance of the gem was finally restored to its former luster in the Protestant Reformation. Many of you are familiar with the debate with Erasmus, where Martin Luther defended God's grace in election against the pretensions of free will. And surely John Calvin's defense of election is a rather famous chapter in Church history. Unconditional election is proclaimed in the official standards of every major Christian body, whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant; although it's missing from many of the sects that plague American religious landscapes. It's not merely taught by Calvinists, but also by Lutherans. But in our day it has, like the doctrine of grace in general, fallen on very hard times once again. You see, it's very difficult for us to believe that salvation, ultimately, is in the hands of God. We can believe that God is sovereign over the movements of planets and stars, that he holds the times of our death in his hand, but that he's actually in charge of our eternal destiny is something that is a little bit too much for us to bear. Until we recover the doctrine of election, we will likely see little advance in the recovery of the truths of God's grace in Christ.
August 5, 2007 Commentary:
"Charles Finney & American Revivalism"
The church growth movement; the signs and wonders movement; making churches agents of social, moral, and political reform; contemporary Christian music and worship; these are just a few examples of the continuing importance of revivalism. Originating in the Great Awakening, just before the war of independence, American notions of revival were at least tempered by Calvinistic views of human helplessness and dependence on God's grace. The message of that first Great Awakening was justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. But as the Awakening progressed it actually, even according to Jonathan Edwards (the movement's leading thinker), began to undergo theological and spiritual transformation. Churches and the ordinary ministry were undercut by "excitements," as they were called by their innovative purveyors.
In this program we want to take a look at this legacy of revivalism. First of all, one of the key figures in this movement was Charles Finney who lived from 1792 - 1875. Finney ministered in the wake of the so-called "Second Awakening." A Presbyterian lawyer, Finney one day experienced, what he called, "a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost" which "like a wave of electricity going through and through me...seemed to come in waves of liquid love." The next morning, Finney informed his first client of the day, "I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause and I cannot plead yours." Refusing to attend Princeton Seminary (or any seminary, for that matter), Finney began conducting revivals in upstate New York. One of his most popular sermons was, "Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts."
Finney's one question for any given teaching was, "Is it fit to convert sinners with?" One result of Finney's revivalism was the division of Presbyterians in Philadelphia and New York into Arminian and Calvinistic factions. His "New Measures" included the "anxious bench" (precursor of today's altar call), emotional tactics that led to fainting and weeping, and other "excitements," as Finney and his followers called them. Finney became increasingly hostile toward Presbyterian doctrine, referring in his introduction to his Systematic Theology to the Westminster Confession and its drafters rather critically, as if they had created, as he put it, a "paper pope," and had "elevated their confession and catechism to the Papal throne and into the place of the Holy Ghost." Remarkably, Finney demonstrates how close Arminian revivalism, in its naturalistic sentiments, tends to be to a less refined theological liberalism, as both caved into the Enlightenment and it's enshrining of human reason and morality. Finney writes "that the instrument framed by that assembly (the Westminster Confession and Catechisms) should in the nineteenth century be regarded as the standard of the church, or of any intelligent branch of it, is not only amazing, but I must say that it is highly ridiculous. It is as absurd in theology as it would be in any other branch of science. It is better to have a living than a dead Pope."
Well, what's wrong with Finney's theology? What was so much at the center of his thought that gave rise to revivalism and so many of its contemporary manifestations? Well, one need go no further than the table of contents of his so-called Systematic Theology to learn that Finney's entire theology revolved around human morality. In fact, Charles Hodge noted, "It's not really a systematic theology at all, but a systematic ethics." Chapters one through five are on moral government, obligation, and the unity of moral action; chapters six and seven are on "Obedience Entire." Not until the twenty-first chapter does one read anything that is especially Christian in its interest. It comes to the doctrine of the atonement and there Finney discards the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement, saying that it rests on a fiction. Namely, that one person can carry the guilt and punishment of another. In answer to the question, "Does a Christian cease to be a Christian whenever he commits a sin?" Finney answers in the affirmative. "Whenever he sins, he must, for the time being, cease to be holy. That's self-evident. Whenever he sins, he must be condemned; he must incur the penalty of the law of God...If it be said that the precept is still binding upon him, but that with respect to the Christian, the penalty is set aside...I reply, that to abrogate the penalty is to repeal the precept; for a precept without penalty is no law...The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys; or Antinomianism is true...In these respects, then, the sinning Christian and the unconverted sinner are upon precisely the same ground."
With the Westminster Confession in his sights, Finney declares of the Reformation's formula "simultaneously justified and sinful", "That error of justification has slain more souls, I fear, than all the universalism that ever cursed the world." For, "Whenever a Christian sins he comes under condemnation, and must repent and do his first works, or be lost." Finney discarded the doctrine of original sin. He got rid of the substitutionary atonement. Finney got rid of the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. Finney set aside the normal means of grace, Word and Sacrament ministry, for his own "New Measures" as he called them. And yet, remarkably, Charles Finney is regarded as one of the great heroes of Evangelicalism. Isn't that remarkable? In a movement that has spent so much time and energy and given so much thought to the defense of orthodox Christianity against the onslaughts of liberalism because of liberalism's low view of sin and high view of self. On this edition of the White Horse Inn we are talking about revivalism and its abiding influence in the church today and in the many movements that still feel the imprint of Charles Finney and revivalism.