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A. S. Byatt on facebook, the new god of our age

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 by Eric Landry

In a recent interview with The Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins at this year’s Edinburgh international book festival, acclaimed novelist and literary critic A. S. Byatt offered some noteworthy insights into our age.  You really have to hear it in her own words (see link), but it provokes some solemn reflection.  I’ll share a few of mine.

Especially poignant is her description of the vanishing of a Christian consciousness—even vaguely conceived.  Though a professed atheist, Byatt observes that other gods have rushed in to fill the void: including psychoanalysis, the press, and social media like Facebook and Twitter.  In all of these cases, she says, we no longer have God and the biblical narrative to tell us who we are, so we are not even sure that we exist until we see ourselves in the mirror of these media.  There is a kind of anxiety in contemporary life, as we struggle to define ourselves.  She says that “religion has gone away and all we are left with is ourselves.”  But even then, we’re not sure who “we” are, because there is no narrative—or what she calls a map—for our identity.  “Christianity used to provide us with the map, now the press does.”  As “the new god,” Facebook, she thinks, operates as a mirror to reflect back to us who we think we are.  This suggests, to my mind at least, that together, the web of these alternative gods—a new Parthenon of sorts—has made us more dependent on it for piecing together some sense of why we’re here, who we are, and what our lives mean.  A final point worth observing is that these new gods keep us busy and unreflective.  It reminds me of the old man in the “Wizard of Oz,” who keeps everybody under his thumb by distracting them from the fact that he is standing behind a curtain pushing pyrotechnic buttons and pulling smoke-billowing levers. Only when the little dog Toto cunningly pulls back the curtain is the charade finally discovered.

Psalm 37 comes to mind, where God’s people are encouraged to “fret not” over “evildoers” too much. “For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.”  Why?  Because God is the Lord and he never forsakes his saints.  “Trust in the LORD, and do good, dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.  Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Of course, this is not a blank check: you follow God and he’ll give you that Porsche you’ve been after.  Rather, to delight yourself in the Lord is to direct your desires to the most solid joys and lasting treasures.  In the frenetic pace of everyday life as well as difficulty, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” “In just a little while,” it is promised, the Lord will intervene in world history—both in judgment and in grace.  “The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever. The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice.”  While the gods of the market tell us to stay busy, distracted from discovering their utter poverty of aid, the Lord of the earth encourages us to be still and to know that he is God.  He will set all things straight.  The world is not ours to save or judge.  God will act and our lives now are evidence of that fact.  United to Jesus Christ as the first-fruits of the new creation, we are witnessing the passing of this evil age.  The real world is not the one that is produced for us in Hollywood or New York, but the New Jerusalem that is coming down from heaven.

It is this story that has the power to kill our dead-end characters and write us into the unfolding drama that ends with the new beginning of everlasting rest from sin and death.  Only this story can stand up to the “nowhere man” of our vanishing characters and pointless plots.  It’s the drama of God becoming flesh, just when the new gods have promised us salvation from fleshly embodiment, of his victory through a bloody death and bodily resurrection in an age of “redeemers” that keep us passive and dependent, forgiveness and justification before God, when his rivals offer vain promises of therapeutic well-being, of a communion of pilgrims meeting regularly together in an era of anonymous and bodiless “Internet communities.”  It is a story that, instead of driving us deeper into ourselves in an anxious search for meaning, drives us out—“looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,” and out to our neighbors in love.

In this powerful narrative, even toppled gods have their place as servants rather than lords.  Here, there is still a place for cell phones, e-mail, and perhaps even Facebook or Twitter.  Yet they are not where we go as Christians to find out who we are or to tell people who we are.  For that, we will always go back to the Word, back to our baptism, back to the Lord’s Table.  And there we behold not ourselves in a mirror, but our Savior and all of the co-heirs that he has made our brothers and sisters in him.

Video Posted: Horton at Saddleback

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010 by Shane Rosenthal

AN UPDATE FROM MIKE HORTON:

I had a great time at the Lausanne “Global Conversation” held at Saddleback Church and hosted by its pastor, Rick Warren.  It was a privilege to be part of a distinguished panel of evangelical leaders from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Before the panel discussion, Rick Warren interviewed me for his Purpose-Driven network.  In the first interview he focused on my books and the work of White Horse Inn.  In the second, he focused on the question, “What is the Gospel?”  I appreciated the generous spirit in which Rick asked the questions and encouraged me to lay out the case we have for a new Reformation.  It’s great to be able to discuss our differences as well as our common convictions in a spirit of friendship as well as mutual challenge.  Our mission at White Horse Inn is to go to any forum that invites us where we have a chance to clarify what we are convinced is the proper message and mission of the church.  Thanks for your prayers—and for making such opportunities possible.  May God continue to open doors for an ever-wider hearing!

Michael Horton recently participated in a panel discussion on global evangelism at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.  It was part of the 12 Cities / 12 Conversations tour sponsored by the Lausanne Movement, and a video of this conversation is now available online.   In addition to Horton, other panelists include Skye Jethani, Jim Belcher, Jena Lee Nardella, Miles McPhereson, Soon Chan Rah, and Kay Warren. FYI, the discussion doesn’t get rolling until around 16 minutes into the video (after all the introductory remarks).

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Listen Live to Horton at Ligonier

Thursday, June 17th, 2010 by Eric Landry

Ligonier Ministries National Conference is in full swing. If you’re in Orlando for the conference, stop by the White Horse Inn booth and say hello to Michele Tedrick, our director of marketing, and Michael Kiledjian, our director of development.  Michele is giving away an iPad this weekend, so be sure to sign up for that!

Mike Horton will be speaking at 5:10 p.m. (eastern).  You can watch live via Ligonier’s webcast.

WHI Interviews Tullian Tchividjian

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 by Eric Landry

surprised2-190x289Back at the end of May, Justin Taylor posted an interview with Tullian Tchividjian, the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, on his new book, Surprised by Grace.

Last week, Mike Horton interviewed Tullian for an upcoming episode of White Horse Inn. Here’s a preview of that interview along with the interview Justin conducted below.

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Is the gospel a middle ground between legalism and lawlessness?

This seems to be a common misunderstanding in the church today. I hear people say that there are two equal dangers Christians must avoid: legalism and lawlessness. Legalism, they say, happens when you focus too much on law, or rules. Lawlessness, they say, happens when you focus too much on grace. Therefore, in order to maintain spiritual equilibrium, you have to balance law and grace. Legalism and lawlessness are typically presented as two ditches on either side of the Gospel that we must avoid. If you start getting too much law, you need to balance it with grace. Too much grace, you need to balance it with law. But I’ve come to believe that this “balanced” way of framing the issue can unwittingly keep us from really understanding the gospel of grace in all of its depth and beauty.

How would you frame it instead?

I think it’s more theologically accurate to say that there is one primary enemy of the gospel—legalism—but it comes in two forms.

Some people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by keeping the rules, doing what they’re told, maintaining the standards, and so on (you could call this “front door legalism”).

Other people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by breaking the rules, doing whatever they want, developing their own autonomous standards, and so on (you could call this “back door legalism”).

So the choice is between submitting to the rule of Christ or submitting to self-rule?

Right. There are two “laws” we can choose to live by other than Christ: the law which says “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I keep the rules” or the law which says “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I break the rules.”

Both are legalistic in this sense: one “life rule” has as its goal the keeping of rules; the other “life rule” has as its goal the breaking of rules. But both are a rule of life you’re submitting to—a rule of life that is governing you—which is defined by you and your ability to perform. Success is determined by your capacity to break the rules or keep the rules. Either way you’re still trying to “save” yourself—which means both are legalistic because both are self-salvation projects.

If most people outside the church are guilty of “break the rules” legalism, most people inside the church are guilty of “keep the rules” legalism.

What do you say to folks who think we need to “keep grace in check” by giving out some law?

Doing so proves that we don’t understand grace and we violate gospel advancement in our lives and in the church. A “yes, grace…but” disposition is the kind of posture that keeps moralism swirling around in the church. Some of us think the only way to keep licentious people in line is by giving them the law. But the fact is, the only way licentious people start to obey is when they get a taste of God’s radical acceptance of sinners. The more Jesus is held up as being sufficient for our justification and sanctification, the more we begin to die to ourselves and live to God. Those who end up obeying more are those who increasingly understand that their standing with God is not based on their obedience, but Christ’s.

But don’t Christians need to be shake out of their comfort zones?

Yes—but you don’t do it by giving them law; you do it by giving them gospel. The Apostle Paul never uses the law as a way to motivate obedience; he always uses the gospel. Paul always soaks gospel obligations in gospel declarations because God is not concerned with just any kind of obedience; he’s concerned with a certain kind of obedience (as Cain and Abel’s sacrifice illustrates). The obedience that pleases God is obedience that flows from faith—faith in what God has already done, and trust for what he will do in the future. And even though we need to obey even if we don’t feel like it, long-term, sustained, heart-felt, gospel motivated obedience can only come from faith and grace; not fear and guilt. Behavioral compliance without heart change, which only the gospel can do, will be shallow and short lived. Or, as I like to say, imperatives minus indicatives equal impossibilities.

So do you think the law no longer has—or should no longer have—a role in the Christian life?

No, I wouldn’t say that. While the law of God is good (Romans 7), it only has the power to reveal sin and to show the standard and image of righteous requirement—not remove sin. The law shows us what God commands (which of course is good) but the law does not possess the power to enable us to do what it says. The law guides us but it does not give us any power to do what it says. In other words, the law shows us what a sanctified life looks like, but it does not have sanctifying power—the law cannot change a human heart. It’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. The fuel to do good flows from what’s already been done. So, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us.

You’re the master of good word pictures. Got one for this?

Well, someone told me recently that the law is like a set of railroad tracks. The tracks provide no power for the train but the train must stay on the tracks in order to function. The law never gives any power to do what it commands. Only the gospel has power, as it were, to move the train.

But doesn’t Scripture motivate us by saying that if we love Jesus we’ll keep his commands?

When John (or Jesus) talks about keeping God’s commands as a way to know whether you love Jesus or not, he’s not using the law as a way to motivate. He’s simply stating a fact. Those who love God will keep on keeping his commands. The question is how do we keep God’s commands? What sustains a long obedience in the same direction? Where does the power come from to do what God commands? As every parent and teacher knows, behavioral compliance to rules without heart change will be shallow and short-lived. But shallow and short-lived is not what God wants (that’s not what it means to “keep God’s commands.”). God wants a sustained obedience from the heart. How is that possible? Long-term, sustained, gospel-motivated obedience can only come from faith in what Jesus has already done, not fear of what we must do. To paraphrase Ray Ortlund, any obedience not grounded in or motivated by the gospel is unsustainable.

Do you believe in the so-called “third use of the law”?

Yes. I’m a staunch believer in the three uses of the law (pedagogical, civil, and didactic). The law sends us to Christ for justification (the first use—which is correct), but some would also say that Christ sends us back to law for sanctification (a misunderstanding of the third use). In other words, there’s a common misunderstanding in the church that while the law cannot justify us, it can sanctify us—not true. In Romans 7 Paul is speaking as a justified, rescued, regenerated Christian and he’s saying, “The law doesn’t have the power to change me. The law guides but it does not give any power to do what it says.” So, I would caution people from concluding that the third use of the law implies that it has power to change you. To say the law has no power to change us in no way reduces its ongoing role in the life of the Christian. And it in no way minimizes the importance of the law’s third use. We just have to understand the precise role that it plays for us today: the law serves us by making us thankful for Jesus when we break it and serves us by showing how to love God and others.

How would you boil your concern down to one sentence?

We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone, and God sanctifies us by constantly bringing us back to the reality of our justification.

BFF

Friday, June 11th, 2010 by Eric Landry

Last night Mike Horton participated in the Lausanne Movement’s “12 Cities 12 Conversations” gathering at Saddleback Church. This is the second conversation Mike participated in; the first was at Fuller Seminary. The Lausanne Movement’s worldwide congress on missions is to be held in Cape Town, South Africa this October. These conversations are leading up to that congress and are taking up important issues of the church’s identity and mission.

The best report from last night’s gathering is that Rick Warren hugged White Horse Inn producer Shane Rosenthal, calling himself a “purpose driven hugger!”  Shane also got this pic of Mike Horton and Rick Warren, proving once again that nothing (not even Rick Warren) gets between Mike Horton and his Calvins.

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Horton on Wright’s Latest

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010 by Eric Landry

UPDATE: Wright responds

Matthew Miller of Christianbook.com interviewed N. T. Wright recently and asked him about this review. Here is the exchange:

Matthew: In a recent review, Michael Horton, writing for Christianity Today, was generally supportive of your book. Yet, he took issue with your, at times, negative articulation of the Reformation and its impact on Christian ethics stating, “in addition to caricaturing Luther’s positions, [Wright’s] criticisms lack any nuance in distinguishing between Reformation traditions.” He argues that your critique is actually more characteristic of “Wesleyan” tradition, rather than the Reformed or Lutheran.

How do you respond to this critique?

Wright: I’m not a church historian and defer to those who are, from whom I hope to learn. I was fascinated by the critique of the medieval ‘virtue’ tradition I found in various sixteenth-century writers, and tried to note that as I went by. I wasn’t trying to give a systematic account of how the different post-Reformation traditions have understood virtue, but was hoping rather to show that the cultural pressures towards a romantic ‘spontaneity’ and an existentialist ‘authenticity’, both of which I see as radically undermining a proper appropriation of NT ethics, have gained (spurious) validation in many quarters by appearing to say what the Reformers say. Some have indeed argued that Luther paved the way for the Enlightenment.

There is a sense in which I think this is true – just as, more obviously, Luther paved the way for Rudolf Bultmann. But life is always more complicated than these over-simplifications. I am much, much more concerned by the fact – and it is a fact – that the Reformers, whom I love and revere, and their various would-be successors to this day, have caricatured St Paul and failed to distinguish different things in his thought. That’s a larger debate I suspect Michael Horton and I ought to have some day. I’ve never met him but I think we would have an interesting conversation.

Christianity Today has posted a review by Mike Horton of N. T. Wright’s newest book, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. Horton’s review of this latest book by Wright follows a similar trajectory to his reviews of his other recent books: there is much to be appreciated, especially the way in which Wright paints his word pictures; but Wright’s constant mischaracterization of the Reformers and the confessional traditions that emanated from them is frustrating.

In spite of a few quibbles, I was impressed by this book’s popular presentation of themes that I have come to appreciate in Reformed theology. The eschatological emphasis on cosmic renewal (resurrection, not escape) as the impetus for our lives here and now, the emphasis on the church—in fact, just about everything in After You Believe was a fresh way of exploring many familiar truths.

Hence my surprise at the jarring, frequent caricatures of the Reformation, even when the author articulates long-standing emphases in that tradition. As in his other works, indictments of the Reformation rarely come with footnotes. Wright seems to read the Reformers through the distorted lens of liberal existentialists (Rudolf Bultmann and company) or evangelical pietism. Oddly, he blames the Reformation for the romantic, spontaneous, and existentialist view of the Christian life.

In spite of the rich and varied discussions of virtue by the Reformers, the Puritans, and a host of Protestants since, Wright asserts, “Basically, the whole idea of virtue has been radically out of fashion in much of Western Christianity ever since the sixteenth-century Reformation.” Since we are justified through faith apart from works, “why bother with all this morality? … That, in fact, is more or less what Martin Luther declared, thumbing his nose at the long medieval tradition of virtue.” A footnote to Shakespeare’s Hamlet is brought in as a witness, but there is no footnote for Luther’s alleged proposal.

With many evangelicals, we appreciate Bishop Wright’s work on the historical Jesus but we remain perplexed by his refusal to deal substantively with the Reformation on its own terms in his books on Paul, justification, and now even ethics! At some point one wonders if it’s more than just a difference of opinion; is there an axe to grind?

Scary Horton Hair

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010 by Eric Landry

Nathan Bingham sent this over to us this weekend, a series of videos of Mike Horton speaking about one of his earliest books, The Agony of Deceit.  That book still gets Horton invitations to speak to national news media about the likes of Benny Hinn. Thankfully, his hairstyle has changed!  (Around the office here we refer to that era as the “flock of seagulls” hair days!)

Horton on Hannity.com

Monday, May 24th, 2010 by Eric Landry

Mike Horton made a surprise guest appearance on Hannity.com Sunday night. On the “forums” section of political commentator Sean Hannity’s website, a discussion about “Reasonable” Christianity vs. Revivalism in America broke out and someone posted a link to Horton’s Modern Reformation (Jan/Feb 1995) article, “The Legacy of Charles Finney.”

In addition to reading the article, listen to this 2007 White Horse Inn episode on “Charles Finney and American Revivalism.”

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A former Presbyterian, Charles Finney is the godfather of American evangelicalism and his formative influence is felt today in churches across the denominational spectrum. Here’s how Mike Horton put it:

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.”

You can read the rest of Mike Horton’s opening commentary here.

Horton at the Resurgence

Friday, May 21st, 2010 by Eric Landry

We’re grateful to the folks at the Resurgence for hosting Mike Horton on their blog and video feed this spring.  If you missed any of it or want to bookmark it for further reading/viewing, here are the link:

Blog post on “Renewing the Great Commission”

Answer to questions regarding the balance of public, family, and private worship

Full video interview

The Lausanne Conversations

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by Eric Landry

Mike Horton has been invited to participate in two conversations leading up to the Lausanne global conference on evangelism in Cape Town this summer. The first of these conversations (part of the “12 Cities, 12 Conversations” campaign) is tonight in Pasadena at Fuller Theological Seminary.  The topic is “Culture Making: The Role of Christians in the World Today.”

Mike’s newest book (as yet untitled but part of his Christless Christianity and Gospel Driven Life series) takes on the issue of the relationship between Christians and culture. We’re posting a small snippet of the book below.  You’ll also find links to other White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation resources to stimulate your own thinking about Christ and culture.

There are two extremes in contemporary Christian interpretations of the kingdom. One extreme is to say that the kingdom is not present at all, but is an entirely future (millennial) reality.  In this future millennial kingdom the purpose is not only to dispense Christ’s gifts, which he has already won by his own trial, but “is the final form of moral testing.”  The other extreme is to say that it is present in its all-encompassing form, transforming the kingdoms of this age into the kingdom of Christ. In this perspective, the main calling of Christians and churches is to redeem the culture and extend Christ’s kingdom over politics, the arts, entertainment, sports, economics, law, and every other aspect of public and private life.  We’ve gone from “soul-winning-and-waiting-for-the-Rapture” to “kingdom transformation” in the blink of an eye.

The Great Commission is given to the church for this time between his first and second comings.  It is an intermission, between his accomplishment of redemption and his return to consummate its blessings.  However, this intermission isn’t a time for loitering in the lobby as consumers; it is a time of joyful activity on behalf of our neighbors: loving and serving them through our witness to Christ and also through our daily callings in the world.

This Great Commission is not the cultural mandate—the original commission to be fruitful and to multiply, ruling creation as God’s viceroys.  That is the covenant of creation, in which worship and cultural labors were fused in a vocation whose goal was nothing less than bringing all of creation into the everlasting Sabbath rest.  It was this covenant that was renewed as God took Israel to himself as a chosen nation.  “But like Adam they transgressed my covenant…” (Hos 6:7).  So once again, God cast his people out of his sanctuary, “east of Eden,” into captivity, where they languished in hope for the coming Redeemer promised through the prophets even in the people’s dire distress.  Nevertheless, God again promised the coming seed who would bring salvation to the ends of the earth.  It would be a new covenant, greater than the covenant that Israel swore at Mount Sinai.

The march toward the kingdom continued, even though its typological sign—the land and the Temple—lay in ruins.  The land of Israel was no longer holy, but common.  The Spirit had evacuated the Temple and Judah joined its northern sister in exile.  Yet even in Babylonian captivity, the people received the letter from the prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD (Jer 29:4-9).

Living like our exiled parents (Adam and Eve), “east of Eden,” the children of Judah are to participate in the common life—its burdens and joys—of the secular city.  They find their welfare in the city’s welfare and are therefore to pray for the commonwealth.  Yet they are also to increase the size of the covenant community during this period and the greatest threat is not persecution by the ungodly, but the internal deceptions of unauthorized prophets.  (As we will see, this is precisely the situation of the new covenant church in its exile and Jeremiah’s exhortations bear striking resemblance to those of the apostles in their letters.)

Although a remnant returned to Jerusalem and sought to rebuild the walls and rededicate itself to the covenant they made with God at Sinai, they realized that they were still in exile.  Ruled by a series of oppressive Gentile regimes, punctuated by false messiahs and attempts to bring in the kingdom by force, the City of Peace was in perpetual turmoil.  It was into this scene that John the Baptist stepped as the forerunner of the Messiah.

It is this new covenant that forms the basis for the Great Commission: a holy task of bringing the Good News to the world.  It is an unshakable kingdom—incapable of being thwarted by our own unfaithfulness—precisely because it is not a kingdom that we are building, but one that we are receiving (Heb 12:28).  It is God’s work.  Everything that we will be exploring in the rest of this book presupposes the view of the kingdom that is summarized here.

Stay tuned to the White Horse Inn blog for more information on the title and release date of this book.
If you’d like to explore this issue in greater depth, be sure to check out some of these resources from White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation:


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