June 29, 2008 Commentary:
Jesus, James & Paul
Hello and welcome to another broadcast of the White Horse Inn. Once upon a time it was Protestant Liberals who liked to pit Jesus against Paul as if they were preaching two different messages. The New Testament Gospels we were told teach us to follow Jesus' example of loving service to the poor and the outcast, while Paul's Gospel is about legal acceptance before God. Furthermore, Roman Catholics have always complained that Protestants have a one-sided obsession with Paul's theology, ignoring the call to an inherent righteousness that we find in the Gospels as well as the epistle of James. Didn't Jesus and James teach that only the pure in heart will see God, and that we are justified by works and not by faith alone? Didn't Jesus speak of a judgment according to works on the last day? How do we square all these passages with Paul? But today it is not just Protestant Liberals and Roman Catholics who seek to relativize the revolutionary message of Paul by appeals to the message of Jesus, it's now a common charge among Evangelicals. Are we being myopic? Are we ignoring crucial Biblical teaching? That's our topic!
June 22, 2008 Commentary:
Repentance & Personal Transformation
Hello and welcome to another broadcast of the White Horse Inn. In our last program we talked about the way in which Pragmatism is distorting our Christian faith and practice. How can I save myself from unhappiness? What are the proper steps, formulas, techniques and procedures for personal well-being, moral improvement, or whatever it is I've decided will make my life work? At the same time that personal transformation and pragmatic self-help have become the focus of many churches, along with the culture, the explosive Christian and Scriptural grammar of conversion and repentance has been lost.
See, Satan couldn't care less if you go to church, read a lot of pop-spirituality books, have a daily quiet time, and even read the Bible every day. Just so long as it's all done through the filter of self-improvement with God's help. Come and find a happier more fulfilling life. Are you bored? Come to Jesus and he'll rock your world. Are you dying to make a difference in the world? Jesus will be your guiding star. Those of us here on the White Horse Inn certainly believe that people not only can be transformed, but that every Christian is transformed and is in the process of being transformed. But we just think very differently about that than most Americans today. Personal transformation is just not a category for us. That's a term with a lot of baggage. Generally speaking it's the kind of transformation that I'm still in charge of and that I can manage with the right game plan.
The new birth - conversion and repentance - now that's a completely different kettle of fish. God assails me from out of nowhere in judgment by His Word and Spirit; nails me, brings me to the point of agreeing with His judgment about me, and then executes me. And then through that pulls me out through the other side alive with Christ out at the other end as new creatures.
So it's actually the devil who's in the business of keeping folks on the treadmill of makeovers, New Year's resolutions, and self-help fads in order to improve the self. It's God who's in the business of killing us and making us new creatures in His Son. It's called mortification (dying to self) and vivification (living to God in Jesus Christ). And it doesn't just happen once, but every day until we're glorified. Furthermore, it's something that God does to us through His Word of Law and Gospel. Not something that we can do for ourselves, through our own clever programs. Since Pragmatism is bad should we just completely throw out the idea of a before-and-after picture of salvation? In other words, should one expect a changed life as a result of believing the Gospel? That's our topic as we continue our series looking at what is essential to the Gospel and the Christian faith on the White Horse Inn.
June 15, 2008 Commentary:
Assuming the Gospel
Hello and welcome to another edition of the White Horse Inn. Americans especially are "can do" people. Don't tell me a bunch of theology, just net it out: "How can I have a better marriage? How can I raise my kids? How can I get a promotion at work? How can I have less stress? More purpose in life? How can we grow churches more effectively?" We don't even have to deny any essential doctrine, all we have to do is to think of God as a supporting actor in our life movie. Someone we can use for our own aims and purposes in life in order to avoid being swept into the greatest story ever told where we are part of a supporting cast in God's unfolding drama. Salvation itself is no longer God's gracious and surprising work for sinners in Jesus Christ, but a fairly predictable process of self-transformation by following certain steps, procedures, formulas, and techniques. Push the button and the right soda pops out. In the words of William James, the founder of the philosophy of pragmatism, "God is not worshipped, he is used." How can we, especially as Americans, warped by religious and spiritual pragmatism be no longer conformed to the pattern of this world's way of thinking but be transformed by the renewing of our minds by the Word of God? That's our subject of this edition of the White Horse Inn.
June 8, 2008 Commentary:
Assuming the Gospel
We've been focusing this whole year so far on a theme that we grant is a little negative, "Christless Christianity," because we want to sort out the problem that we are addressing and we've seen that it is a problem across all of our traditions, all of our denominations, all the way from conservative to liberal, this fog of what we are calling "Christless Christianity" being distracted from Christ and him crucified by all sorts of things, a lot of them even good. And in this program we want to talk about how we assume the Gospel. How otherwise faithful, orthodox, Bible-preaching churches can leave Christ I out of the picture just simply by assuming that everybody knows he is already in it.
To arrive at a condition of Christless Christianity where Christ becomes more of a trademark for t-shirts and entertainment empires more than the object of faith. No explicit heresy is needed, because our default setting is Pelagianism, the heresy of self-salvation. Unless we are constantly taught out of it, not just once, but throughout our Christian pilgrimage we will always fall back on the most comfortable, familiar, and common-sense religion of our fallen heart. We don't have to deny the Gospel, all we have to do in order to send our churches back to another Dark Ages is to assume the Gospel. Taking it for granted that people need the Gospel in order to "get saved" many seem to think that we can then move on in the Christian life and look to other resources for our spiritual development than the Gospel. It is crucial to realize that the Gospel arises first of all out of a story, from Genesis to Revelation there is one unfolding drama of redemption with Christ at its center. Jesus himself taught the disciples to read the Bible this way and after Pentecost they preached Christ this way.
Out of the story arise doctrines, from God's actions that are revealed in the story certain attributes or characteristics of God are also revealed. Throbbing verbs generate stable nouns. We discern that God is a Trinity, that human beings are born in sin, and are hopelessly lost and condemned, but that Christ is the God-man who has come to save us from sin's penalty and power, all the wonderful truths of Christ's active obedience, atoning death, resurrection, ascension and return, the application of redemption by the Spirit through the Gospel in the new birth, justification, sanctification, glorification, the nature of the church and its ministry, and our future hope, all of these doctrines arise from the drama that unfolds gradually in the history of revelation. Just as the dramatic story produces doctrines, doctrines provoke doxology or praise.
We see this pattern in the New Testament epistles especially in Romans. It is interesting that whenever Paul completes a doctrinal "hike" through God's gracious election, redemption, calling, justification, and sanctification in Christ the vista from such dizzying peaks leads him to break out in praise. "What shall we say then in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God, how unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out; for of him and to him and through him are all things, to him be the glory forever, Amen." Only then does Paul say in Romans 12, "I appeal to you therefore, in view of God's mercies to present your bodies a living sacrifice." You see folks, the story generates doctrines, which generate genuine emotion leading to grateful obedience. When we begin to take any of these stages for granted, and its usually the earlier ones that get lost first, we assume the Gospel and loose not only our sense of wonder at God's amazing grace, but the only hope of genuine experience and transformation. We end up with what Paul called a "form of godliness while denying its power." Power not only at the beginning of the Christian life, but in the middle, and the end, not only for conversion, but for growth and discipleship is always the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
June 1, 2008 Commentary:
The Theology of N.T. Wright
We are continuing our series, Christless Christianity, and in this program we are taking a look at, as we have been, various challenges to doctrines that are really essential to a Chrsit-filled Christianity. In this particular program we are going to look at the gospel according to N.T. Wright. Back in the 1970s a revolution occurred in New Testament studies, pastors a nd biblical scholars were told that the Judaism confronted by Paul was nothing like the works-righteousness that centuries of Protestant interpretation had assumed. We read Paul through the eyes of Luther and his personal crisis of trying to find a gracious God. Eventually this trend was dubbed the "NPP" by one of its leading scholars, James Dun and no one has done more to make this approach more popular in Evangelical circles today than the prolific, intelligent, and often insightful New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, currently bishop of Durham.
I recall during my own days of doctoral study the stir that Tom Wright caused at Oxford with his publication of his book The Climax of the Covenant. Since then Wright's influence has mushroomed, much of this is good I would argue. First of all, like most NPP scholars Wright reminds us that the Judaism of Paul's day was not simply a version of the Christian heresy of Pelagianism. Jews had a doctrine of grace. Second he fills out the picture of the NT world and the background of Jesus and Paul with remarkable skill abd depth. I remember his homecoming lectures at Yale on the resurrection that brought the whole assembly of a very religiously mixed audience to its feet in a pretty long standing ovation. It became his amazing book The Resurrection of the Son of God and will doubtless have a lasting positive impact. Third, Wright reminds us that salvation is a broader term than "how I got saved," it's cosmic, historical, and sweeping in its scope. Establishing and vindicating God's Lordship over history.
However, Wright has also been at the forefront of those who criticize the Reformation's understanding of the Gospel message. First, he says that Paul's concern isn't how individuals are made right with God, that is saved, but how Gentiles can become part of the one people of God along with the Jews. No longer circumcision, but faith is the badge of membership in the covenant community. However, even faith is redefines as "faithfulness." Further confusing Law and Gospel, Wright fails to distinguish between the covenant at Sinai and the covenant of grace, and he reduces the works of the Law in Paul to the ceremonies that distinguished Jews from Gentiles. As a result he argues we are justified, that is "belong to the people of God," by faith in the present, but await a future justification based on in his own words, "our total life lived." God cannot give his righteousness to someone else, so there is no imputation of righteousness to the sinner, the good news of the Gospel then is basically this, "Jesus Christ not Caesar is Lord." Therefore, we should do everything we can to bring the whole world under Christ's Lordship rather than the lordship of American military might, multinational corporations, and other forms of international oppression. Also part of this good news is the announcement that Gentiles no longer have to be circumcised or keep Kosher, but apart from his imputed righteousness, by which we are saved from God's wrath and counted just, is the announcement that Jesus is Lord really "good news?" or is the worst possible news? Is the question "how can I be saved?" completely foreign to Scripture? Because of this importance of Wright's arguments and perspective and his influence, even in our Evangelical, Reformed, and Lutheran circles today we thought it would be a good idea to offer some analysis of his arguments. In the process, it will bring us right back to the central question we keep coming back to on the White Horse Inn, what is the gospel?