Out of the Horse's Mouth

White Horse Inn Blog

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Posted by on in 2015 Show Archive
WHI-1273 | Faith & Experience

This week on the White Horse Inn we are continuing our series on sustainable church discipleship. In this special edition of the White Horse Inn, Michael Horton and Rod Rosenbladt speak before a live audience and discuss the relationship between faith and experience in the Christian life.

What is a legitimate experience of God? Should we look for a feeling of divine presence and overwhelming joy? What happens when we focus more on the experience of faith than the object of faith? Are we more interested in the practical application of Christianity than we are in truly understanding the Christianity that is to be applied? What are the dangers of this kind of approach to the Christian life? Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we delve into this important topic of faith and experience.

HOST QUOTE
“Isn't the goal again for us too, as the psalmist says, have our heart stirred by a noble theme? In other words, you have to set something before the heart that inflames it. You have to have something objective and what we have today is a lot of affection chasing, a lot of experience inculcating, a lot of people trying to gin up experiences so that they can climb up to heaven with a certificate and hand it to God and say, ‘I am sure now that I have had the right experience. I'm sure I have true saving faith because I've looked inside my heart. I've had this experience,’ and people will fly across the country, around the world to go have this experience so that finally their consciences can be assured that they really have whatever that thing is that makes them truly saved.”
– Michael Horton
 
TERM TO LEARN
"Faith"
Q. 21 What is true faith? A. True faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits.
(The Heidelberg Catechism)
The Reformers were unanimous and explicit in teaching that justifying faith does not justify by any meritorious or inherent efficacy of its own, but only as the instrument for receiving or laying hold on what God has provided in the merits of Christ. They regarded this faith primarily as a gift of God and only secondarily as an activity of man in dependence on God.
(Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 497)
 
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WHI-1272 | The Message & Mission of the Church

This week on the White Horse Inn we are continuing our series on sustainable church discipleship. In this special conference edition of the White Horse Inn, Michael Horton challenges us to get reacquainted with Christ’s original message and mission.

As churches downplay doctrines like the sovereignty and holiness of God, the message of the gospel becomes warped and distorted. As a result, many think of Jesus more as a best friend or life coach than they do as a divine redeemer who rescues them from sin and hell. To add insult to injury the church has changed the methods of grace given in the Great Commission. Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we learn more about the message and mission of the church and their interrelationship.

HOST QUOTE
“The danger is always that a church that will not let God separate it from the world by election, justification, sanctification will be a worldly church and eventually will be absorbed back into the bloodstream of this passing evil age. Eventually, many churches that have a sound confession conclude that the methods can differ from those that are described in Scripture. As long as the message is the same, our methods can always be changing.
“The 19th century, Charles G. Finney subordinated the ordinary means of grace to the periodical revival meaning, and he said what the church really needs today is new measures, not the ordinary ministry of preaching and sacrament and discipline, which of course the churches of the Reformation affirmed as the three marks of the church, but new measures. In fact, even Christians he said need to get saved many times in order to take it to a whole new level in their Christian life. The methods reveal the message. If we are helpless to save ourselves, then we need God to come down with methods that get the gospel all the way to us. If however we're not spiritually dead and we just need someone to help us make that ascent up to God, then we need more excitements, more zeal, more tools that are attractive to the world.”
– Michael Horton
 
TERM TO LEARN
"Keys of the Kingdom"
83 Q. What are the keys of the kingdom? A. The preaching of the holy gospel and Christian discipline toward repentance. Both preaching and discipline open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers.
84 Q. How does preaching the gospel open and close the kingdom of heaven? A. According to the command of Christ: The kingdom of heaven is opened by proclaiming and publicly declaring to each and every believer that, as often as he accepts the gospel promise in true faith, God, because of what Christ has done, truly forgives all his sins. The kingdom of heaven is closed, however, by proclaiming and publicly declaring to unbelievers and hypocrites that, as long as they do not repent, the anger of God and eternal condemnation rest on them. God's judgment, both in this life and in the life to come, is based on this gospel testimony.
85 Q. How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline? A. According to the command of Christ: If anyone, though called a Christian, professes unchristian teachings or lives an unchristian life, if after repeated brotherly counsel, he refuses to abandon his errors and wickedness, and, if after being reported to the church, that is, to its officers, he fails to respond also to their admonition—such a one the officers exclude from the Christian fellowship by withholding the sacraments from him, and God himself excludes him from the kingdom of Christ. Such a person, when he promises and demonstrates genuine reform, is received again as a member of Christ and of his church.
(The Heidelberg Catechism, Questions 83–85)
 
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Posted by on in 2015 Show Archive
WHI-1271 | Living Into Community

This week on the White Horse Inn we are continuing our series on sustainable church discipleship. In this program, we are joined by special guest Christine Pohl who is the Associate Provost and professor of Christian Social Ethics at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. She's the author of a book we highly recommend on the topic of hospitality entitled Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. She has recently written a book that we'll be talking about on this program, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us.

As churches conform more and more to the values of the marketplace, true and lasting community is becoming harder to find. Many of us do not know the person we will sit next to on Sunday morning. Few of us even care. Yet, the Christian faith is a communal event. We cannot be in union and communion with Christ without simultaneously being in fellowship with his body, the Church. It is only within such a communion of saints that our beliefs, practices, and habits truly form and shape who we are and allow us to live faithfully day by day. What are the essential ingredients of an authentic Christian community? What exactly does this living community look like? Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we discuss what it means for a church to be a community that every Christians needs for the cultivation of faith and the virtues of the Spirit.

GUEST QUOTE
“We can't really think of ourselves as Christians apart from being the body of Christ, being the household of God, which means we're in community. That's who we are as Christians. So, part of the most fundamental aspect of paying attention to community is that's our identity.
“But then the other part is in terms of being Christians is that it’s part of our witness. So for Christians, I think those are two crucial reasons. As human beings, there are reasons that we desperately need in community and that is that I think we were created for community; we were created for one another. And when we don't cultivate those bonds, we are less than fully human or feeling an intense loss. That's what we're encountering today. People are realizing the high price we've paid for the emphasis on individualism and self-fulfillment and things that haven't been attentive to the importance of the communities that we dwell in.”
– Christine Pohl
 
TERM TO LEARN
"The Communion of Saints"
First, that believers, one and all, as members of the Lord Jesus Christ, are partakers with Him in all His treasures and gifts; second, that each one must feel himself bound to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the advantage and welfare of other members.
(The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 55)
All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other's gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.
(The Westminster Confession of Faith, XXVI.1)
 
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WHI-1270 | Pastoral Burnout

This week on the White Horse Inn we are continuing our series on maintaining sustainable church discipleship. In this program, we will focus on pastoral burnout and the grace that avails even pastors. The statistics concerning pastoral ministry are staggering. Nearly 50% of pastors never make it to their fifth year of ministry. 90% of pastors will leave the ministry before retirement. Every month nearly 3000 pastors leave the ministry.

To help us think through this pressing issue is special guest Clay Werner, a pastor in Athens, GA. He is the author of a book dealing with this subject entitled, On the Brink: Grace for the Burned-Out Pastor. What causes pastors to leave the ministry? How might pastors and congregants overly burden the ministry? How might pastors functionally have a theology of glory and not a theology of the cross? What grace is available to a minister? What practical things can the minister do to help cultivate the joy of the resurrection? Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we discuss pastoral burnout and uncover the hidden assumptions of pastors and see what grace says to these assumptions.

HOST QUOTE
“When you really understand at a heart level and a ministry level what the theology of the cross gives you, its rest. You don't have to play God. He is going to advance his kingdom. It's going to be ordinary. It’s going to be slow and that's okay. And it also just restored joy, that it's not being purpose-driven first and foremost, it's being promise-driven, to go back every day to these promises, especially when things get tough to say even though these are the things I see, God's words remain true. These are the promises that he's made. And it changed my demeanor. Even my wife said, ‘Clay, you're laughing for the first time in years.’”
– Clay Werner
 
TERM TO LEARN
"Theology of the Cross vs. Theology of Glory"
This distinction can be seen as Martin Luther's most profound contribution to theological thought. Standing in opposition to the theology of glory, the theology of the cross is best understood in concert with the "the hidden God" and the "the revealed God."
Because of the Fall of man, the revealed God became the hidden God. The only way the shattered fellowship could be restored was by means of redemption. God's consummate meeting place was unveiled at the cross of Christ. God is known and understood not in strength but in weakness, not in an awesome display of majesty and power but in the exhibition of a love willing to have the Son of God suffer. Unfortunately, modern man is determined to know God as the Revealed One. The heathen sees God's power in the created cosmos but is led from one degree of idolatry to another.
The theology of glory is the antithesis of the theology of the cross. So strongly did Luther feel about the distinction between these theologies that he stated unequivocally that only those who hold to and teach the theology of the cross deserve to be called theologians.
The potential danger of a theology of glory is that it could lead to a form of moralistic works righteousness, a propensity to strike a bargain with God on the basis of personal achievement. The theology of the cross repudiates humanity's own accomplishments and permits God to do everything to effect and preserve his salvation. Such theology redirects from moralistic activism to genuine receptivity.
(Adapted from Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, s.v. "theologia crucis" and "theologia gloriae.")
 
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WHI-1269 | The Lord is My Shepherd

This week on the White Horse Inn we are continuing our series on sustainable church discipleship. In this program, we will be turning our focus from the shepherds to the sheep. What does it mean to be a properly guided sheep? Many of us will recall Psalm 23, but do many of us know what it means for Christ’s rod and staff to comfort us? What does it mean to be chastened by the Lord? What does this look like in a real church setting? What is church discipline? Is it purely negative?

Many people have wrongly seen Christian discipleship either as a purely doctrinal endeavor or as purely practical. In both cases a serious misunderstanding of Christ’s work is apparent. In the Scriptures we see a wonderful matrix of doctrine and practice that the Spirit of Christ uses to form and shape us like a wonderful gardener using a trellis to uphold a vine. How do pastors and elders function in God’s kingdom? What means does the Spirit use to form and shape the faith and love of the people of God? Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we discuss the goodness of church discipline as the supporting means of Christ’s rule.

HOST QUOTE
“The bottom line in all that we've been saying here is that Christ cares for us by not only giving us a good bath and a good meal and by feeding us with his word each week. But he also goes out on the limb and finds us where we're about to break off the limb and fall to our death. Jesus Christ is always walking around looking for us because we are always prone to wonder. If you don't think you need this, if you don't think that you need the Word, the sacraments and also the discipline of the church, do you really know what he has saved you from and do you really believe that you're still like that, you're still prone to wonder, you're still a problem for Jesus?
“The good news is you're a problem that he wanted to have and you have a loving father who cares about you too much to send his son to die for you and not take care of you afterwards. And so it is good news. It is good for us that he has provided in all of these ways. If he didn't, then he just wouldn't be the caring father that Scripture tells us that he is. And so, we continue the series sustainable churches because we think that without this kind of care, without this kind of shepherd and this kind of shepherding, we don't have churches or Christian lives that are sustainable over the long haul.”
– Michael Horton
 
TERM TO LEARN
"Church Government"
We believe that this true Church must be governed by the spiritual polity which our Lord has taught us in His Word; namely, that there must be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and to administer the sacraments; also elders and deacons, who, together with the pastors, form the council of the Church; that by these means the true religion may be preserved, and the true doctrine everywhere propagated, likewise transgressors punished and restrained by spiritual means; also that the poor and distressed may be relieved and comforted, according to their necessities. By these means everything will be carried on in the Church with good order and decency, when faithful men are chosen, according to the rule prescribed by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy.
(Belgic Confession, Article 30)
 
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WHI-1268 | Celebrity Pastors

On this edition of the White Horse Inn we're continuing our series on sustainable churches, and in this program we're looking at the challenge of super apostles, what kind of pressure is being put on pastors to not be ordinary, to be something extraordinary and what is that doing not only to them but to us, those of us who were expecting them to be spectacles.

Clustering around favorite teachers was a big danger even in the era of the apostles. Disagreement and division over basic doctrine is always tragic but often necessary. Most divisions, then and ever since, are provoked by ambitious people who sow discord in order to draw disciples after themselves.

Well, Paul was wrestling with this even in the churches that he planted. Some of those who at first embraced his gospel with joy became bored by its simplicity. Surely there's got to be more to it than that, and that's exactly where the super apostles came into the picture. These persuasive speakers claim to know secrets far greater than the apostles, especially Paul. Just look at him, Paul is weak and unappealing, without flowery oratory. Paul hardly looked the part of a divine ambassador and how easy it is for us still today to draw people away from the simplicity of the gospel with smooth talk.

Paul said about these super apostles, “for if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus, then the one we proclaimed or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super apostles, even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge. Indeed in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.”

And yet, Paul isn't deterred from his message or his mission, he says, "What I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission, they work on the same terms as we do, for such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles for Christ." Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we look at what an ordinary shepherd is, as someone who knows and cares for the sheep, who faithfully leads them to the waters of life.

HOST QUOTE
“This is actually how once again, Jesus Christ our good shepherd, has provided for us. He's looking out for us. Jesus loves us too much to redeem us and then let us build our own empires to tyrannize the sheep. This is all for [the minister’s] benefit because we would mess things up ourselves. And it's all for the benefit of the sheep we serve that we're not allowed to be super apostles.
Jesus Christ said, ‘It's my church. I'm building it and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’ And he's working through this plurality of ministry that is interdependent and mutually accountable, so that there aren't these super apostles. So, let's stop looking for some message that is greater than the gospel that we heard, some methods that are greater than the ministry of Word and sacrament, and stop looking for leaders who are somehow outside the chain of ordinary command under Jesus Christ our Savior. And then, we will realize as movements come and go and lots of skeletons are left in the wake of those movements, we really will see how Jesus Christ really is looking out for us and rules us to save and saves us to rule!”
– Michael Horton
 
TERM TO LEARN
"Qualifications for Overseers: Pastors and Elders"
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” (1 Tim. 3:1-7)
(Scripture from the English Standard Version)
 
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WHI-1267 | Honest Evangelism

This week on the White Horse Inn we are continuing our series on sustainable church growth. In this program, we will be looking at evangelism with Rico Tice. Rico is the associate minister of All Souls, Langham Place in London and founder of Christianity Explored Ministries. He is the author of several books dealing with evangelism and understanding the nature of Christian witness in this world. His popular Christianity Explored and Christianity Explained DVD series has taken off around the world. He has recently written a book titled Honest Evangelism: How to Talk about Jesus Even When It's Tough.

In addition to making life-long Christian disciples, churches in our day need to equip the saints so that they can faithfully share the gospel with outsiders. As we take the gospel out to the world, we need to resist the temptation to change or dilute the message in order to remove the offense of the cross. But how do we actually do that? What should we expect from those we witness to? Will it be difficult or easy? How should we prepare? Is evangelism necessary for every Christian? Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we discuss the necessity and purpose of evangelism within our context.

HOST QUOTE
“This issue of what is our reformed faith is – it is information. It is assent to information, but then it is trust. And that's absolutely right, I've got to get in place the information which is what Christ has done and who he is. But then the assent to it, that's my story of how I came to see this and then trust this, how I came to follow Christ to find that obedience is joy. So, my own story obviously weeds into the story of Jesus. The big thing is never make yourself the hero of it, always make sure he's the hero...
But when I'm talking to people about engaging with others, I'll say these three things, explore, explain, encourage. So explore, where is this person at? Listen, listen, listen… What's their story? What's their issue? Explain. What's the next thing about Jesus to say? But thirdly, encourage, how does your own experience put flesh on that? How does your own understanding of the incarnation and the cross enable you to cope with suffering that you faced? He's been through it and he's been through it in the most horrific way. So, when I come to the Lord Jesus, I come to a crucified God. Do you see what I mean? It's his story but then it's my little pathetic story but that's important in terms of putting flesh on things!”
– Rico Tice
 
TERM TO LEARN
"The Goal of Apologetics"
[As human beings] we have many objections, barriers, biases, acculturations, conditions, misconceptions, presuppositions, distortion of facts, and any number of excuses. It is the goal of Christian apologetics to remove these hindrances that stand between a person and the cross of Christ. As a result, some Christians see apologetics as pre-evangelism; it is not the gospel, but it prepares the soil for the gospel.... Whatever its relation to the gospel, apologetics is an extremely important enterprise that can profoundly impact unbelievers and be used as the tool that clears the way to faith in Jesus Christ.
(Doug Powell, Holman Quick Source Guide to Christian Apologetics, pp. 5–6)
 
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WHI-1266 | The Nature of Spiritual Growth

This week on the White Horse Inn we are continuing our series on sustainable church growth. In this program, we will be looking at the nature of spiritual growth itself. How do faithful disciples and faithful churches grow? What sustains this faith across the decades? The horticultural metaphors in Scripture are definitive for understanding the nature of the church’s health and growth. Although a church may grow in attendance, does that mean it is necessarily fruitful or faithful? Can Christians grow spiritually in these church environments over the long haul?

While it’s true that megachurches continue to see growth in numbers, it is not being mean spirited to ask whether there is real viability or sustainability in their methods. True spiritual growth is the topic on this episode. This topic is something we need to desperately understand in today’s environment. So how do faithful churches grow? What does it mean to be a lifelong disciple who is maturing in Christ (Eph 4:15)? We will trace these horticultural metaphors in Scripture to help us understand this process. Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we discuss the means and method the Spirit of Christ has promised to bless and use according to his Word.

HOST QUOTE
“Now, there's a warning to our own congregations today, I think, as well, because we sometimes think if we have the right logo, because the right logo is attached to the right confession and we learn terms like law and gospel and means of grace and we've got all of our definitions down – that we can just kind of rest on this.
“And what I mean by rest on it is we just rest on the fact that we have joined the right club that's supposed to be about these things, and we can get complacent and realize that even though we had originally formed as people of the promise, once we let go of that promise, once we fail then to continue to abide in the promise of Christ risen for us, when that happens, we too can be cut off and this has been the theme throughout this sort of thing – but you're not saved by having the right logo!”
– Jeff Mallinson
 
TERM TO LEARN
"Church Growth According to Calvin"
[T]he restoration of the church is the work of God, and no more depends on the hopes and opinions of men, than the resurrection of the dead, or any other miracle. Here, therefore, we are not to wait for facility of action, either from the will of men, or the temper of the times, but must rush forward through the midst of despair. It is the will of our Master that his gospel be preached. Let us obey his command, and follow whithersoever he calls. What the success will be it is not ours to inquire. Our only duty is to wish for what is best, and beseech it of the Lord in prayer; to strive with all zeal, solicitude, and diligence, to bring about the desired result, and at the same time to submit with patience to whatever that result may be. Groundless, therefore, is the charge brought against us of not having done all the good which we wished, and which was to be desired. God bids us plant and water. We have done so. He alone gives the increase. What, then, if he chooses not to give according to our wish? If it is clear that we have faithfully done our part, let not our adversaries require more of us: if the result is unfavorable, let them expostulate with God.
(John Calvin, “The Necessity of Reforming the Church,” 1543)
 
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Posted by on in 2015 Show Archive
WHI-1265 | Sustainable Churches

Over the past several decades, mega-malls have been draining commercial and social life from downtown shops and eateries. Built for the automobile, malls attract people from a region more than a particular town. Leisurely downtown strolls where you recognize neighbors and meet new ones became passé. Downtown in small town America, even cities, was boring compared to the big box centers of consumption and entertainment. But something strange is happening in recent years, many American small town main streets seem to be coming back to life. What has that do with churches? Sustainable churches? Actually, plenty.

For similar reasons megachurches have thrived, not by evangelism as much as by draining people from smaller churches. Instead of particular churches committed to a particular confession and a particular place, you have megachurches with generic names like “Bubbling Brook” or “Inspire.” Denominational names have been dropped. Sometimes you don’t even see the word “church” on the side anymore. “My church is dead,” people often say, the little church they’ve grown up in, but “the Spirit’s really doing big things at Rockin’ it Christian Center.” How much of our evaluation of “dead” and “alive” churches is actually determined by the same market forces that make us attracted to the mega-mall instead of our local downtown?

It’s not just the stereotypical megachurch with its sophisticated entertainment and technology that keeps us looking for the next big thing. You can go to a conference and hear great preachers and great music. You learn tons. Then, you go back to your home church and it just seems so… ordinary. So, even in solid churches people often move around from church to church looking for Martin Luther or John Calvin to rock their world. We’re all caught up in this impatience with the ordinary growth that happens week in and week out, but the good news is that like downtown local churches are making a comeback. Many people who wanted anonymity are now missing the community they had before. Many are saying “Hey, we need to move to that house close to our church, so we can actually go their regularly.” It’s more important that we and our kids grow up, instead of being dumbed down. Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we look at what it means to build sustainable churches in a mega-mall culture.

GUEST QUOTE
“People always want to be where other people are, and one of the pit falls of this, of course, if you look in the Scriptures to what Jesus has to say in places like John 6, following the crowd doesn’t always lead you in the right direction.
“When you look at the pages of the New Testament, you see that the Pharisees had a much bigger, much more organized, much more beautiful program going on than did the Apostles, and if the people would have simply followed the desires of their heart and gone where the other people were, their hearts would have simply led them away from the Word of God.”
– Steve Parks
 
TERM TO LEARN
"Church-Growth Movement"
The church-growth movement is one of the church's most deliberate and important responses to the crisis of authority of faith in modern culture. (Other prominent but less laudable responses are the resort to the therapeutic revolution or to a politicized faith.)
To be sure, many church-growth advocates see the church's problem simply as a matter of out-of-date structures and out-of-touch communication, which can all be remedied easily. This naiveté trivializes a crisis that is far more massive than they realize. But it is not surprising that when the church, and its ministers and preaching, are all widely perceived as "irrelevant" in the modern world, such a resort to new forms of authority and relevance appears justified as well as necessary.
(Os Guinness, Dining with the Devil, p. 20)
 
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I’ll Cry on Saturday, but I’ll Laugh on Sunday

By Michael Horton

My reflections in this post are inspired by an email exchange with some close friends in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court decision to ground same-sex marriage in the U. S. Constitution.

On Saturday, we were lamenting the decision. But then this response came back from one friend, who happens to be a U. S. Senator: “Yes, it’s a big disappointment, but tomorrow’s Sunday, Christ is risen, and ‘trust not in princes.’”

So Saturday, as everyone knows, is the 4th of July. As a U. S. citizen, I can only weep at the decision of the nation’s highest court to somehow discover a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage that, for all intents and purposes—at least at the federal level—leaves in question the freedom of institutions (such as the church, not to mention Christian colleges and seminaries) to disagree and remain tax-exempt, much less to receive government accreditation and funding for student aid.

There seemed to be a moment where we could debate the value of marriage from radically different worldviews and yet remain committed to the common good. In a remarkably short period of time, we have seen the tide change. Dissenting high court opinions learnedly argued, in effect, that this decision leads to an oligarchy of judges who do not even reflect Protestant, much less evangelical, representation. That may be true. But more tragic is the fact that mainline Protestantism has been at the forefront of the movement for same-sex marriage and, although a majority of evangelicals still disapprove, the tide is turning. 

A fine, though obviously biased, account of the remarkable series of events leading to the Supreme Court decision is offered in a recent issue of The Atlantic.

The article gives prominent attention to the ACLU lawyer Evan Wolfson, who ended up playing a large role in the Hawaii Supreme Court decision of May 5, 1993, that anticipated the high court’s ruling. Wolfson is quoted as celebrating the ruling, while observing that there is much work still to do. “But we’ve got so much to work with because hearts have been changed.”

If you’ve been scanning the blogosphere, you know just how accurate is Wolfson’s comment. Hearts have changed. Part of that is due to the fact that we all are friends with LBGT neighbors who are decent people. Part of it is due to the fact that, apparently, the media and entertainment industries are greater sources of spiritual formation than churches and other religious institutions—even for their professing members. And appeals to emotion are now counted as legitimate arguments.

The Atlantic article notes,

Some justices, particularly the court’s liberal ones, are frank about the court’s inevitable evolution alongside the public consensus. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has publicly fretted that the court’s decision to legalize abortion in Roe v. Wade came before America was ready for such a step, and that it helped unleash an anti-abortion backlash that continues today.

An interesting connection. I didn’t draw it, but Justice Ginsburg did. It is part of a larger success story that somehow connects the civil rights movement to abortion to same-sex marriage. African-Americans should be more outraged than they are at present that a movement that grew out of Jim Crow and lynchings would be hijacked, particularly when most African-Americans are opposed to same-sex marriage.

In any case, the culture war has been lost. Now what?

In 1994, I wrote Beyond Culture Wars: Why America is a Mission Field, Not a Battlefield. The good news is that conditions are a lot better today than they were then for distinguishing Jesus and the global communion he is building from America. As I argued there, the fall of Rome led to radically different responses from Christian leaders. Jerome said, “What is to become of the church now that Rome has fallen?” In contrast, Augustine thought that God had moved the mission-field to the missionaries. Are we ready to think of ourselves that way?

We’d better be.

And that’s why I’ll be laughing on Sunday. “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it” (Psalm 20:1). In vain, the rulers of the nations break their chains when the God of all nations has installed his Anointed King on his holy hill (Psalm 2). In that remarkable second psalm, King David speaks of God laughing at the folly of puny human rulers. It’s sardonic laughter, of course, because he is in charge and nobody gets away with treason. I am not in a position to laugh like that. But I am in a position to join the “Lord of the Dance” in celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, God incarnate and the Last Adam, as the beginning of the new creation.

Jesus is Lord. He is still Lord, even after last Friday’s Supreme Court ruling. He rules over the kingdoms of this age, in the greater service of his church. And that is the real point to this post.

This Lord’s Day, Jesus Christ will gather us, as he has again and again. He will acquit us of our wrongdoing, direct our paths, give us his body and blood, and draw us together in a fellowship of love, forgiveness, repentance, and good works. It is time for the church to be the church, which does not mean culture wars or passive acquiescence to the powers, but God’s new society that seeks God’s pleasure and not the headlines of this fading evil age.

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WHI-1264 | Ordinary Grace

“September 2010 marked a turning point in the development of Western civilization,” so begins an intriguing study by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter in A Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture. Interesting subtitle, isn't it? How counterculture became consumer culture. It was the month they say that Ad Busters Magazine started accepting orders for the Black Spot sneaker, its own signature brand of subversive running shoes. That's what we need… Subversive running shoes, I hate those just sort of non-subversive behaving shoes. After that day, no rational person could possibly believe that there's a tension between mainstream and alternative cultures. After that day, it became obvious to everyone that cultural rebellion of the type epitomized by Ad Busters Magazine is not a threat to the system. It is the system.

And it enamored of its own amazingness every generation, raises the empire to the foundations and starts over until the next generation as it goes at it. This is no way to build a culture and it's no way to build a life and it's no way to build a neighborhood, and brothers and sisters, it's no way to build a church. Who wants to be an ordinary person living in an ordinary neighborhood with ordinary people going to an ordinary church, having an ordinary calling? Our life has to count. It has to mean something and our legacy has to be measurable. It's something that we have to see preferably, not just in our lifetime but in the next 40 minutes. And yet, there's a growing restlessness I sense out there with restlessness. Some have grown tired of constant calls to reboot their lives or their churches or their ministries or the world. They're less sure they want to jump on to the next bandwagon after having fallen off of a few already.

Writer Rod Dreher observes “Everydayness is my problem.” In his book about his sister, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Dreher signals a growing sense of weariness with the cult of the extraordinary. Alternative is mainstream, extreme is common in a 24-hour news cycle. Now, every now and again, things have to be shaken up because the word of God, above all earthly powers challenges. It shakes things up. It keeps us from settling into our comfortable idolatries. And yet, whenever the word breaks things down, it is to build things up the right way, and building things up take time. That's why the 16th century movement led by the likes of Luther and Calvin was not called “the Revolution” but the Reformation.

Now, movements are usually youth driven, that's why they have so much vitality, whereas institutions are usually elder driven. And bringing these two things together as you know, especially those of you who are pastors, is one of the greatest opportunities and one of the greatest challenges in ministry. To fulfill Paul's exhortation in Ephesians 4:3, “Make every effort to preserve the bond of unity” and that means across the generations. The fathers aren't always right, as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us looking back at Israel's history. The fathers could be the generation in the wilderness that failed to enter the Promised Land, and it was the next generation that entered.

So, also Paul encourages Timothy, “Don't let anyone despise you because of your youth.” But he doesn't say, “Because remember your charisma. Remember your entrepreneurial skill. Remember all of your personal charm and your gifts, or remember your education.” He says, “Remember what you were taught and by whom you were taught when your mother and your grandmother catechized you into faith. And remember what happened when the elders in the presbytery, the council of elders, laid their hands on you in your ordination.” Very ordinary things… He calls Timothy to look outside of himself to ordinary things that God has done to put his seal of approval on his ministry. Our culture celebrates the next big thing but the Bible celebrates God's faithfulness from generation to generation. Kind of tough when we've been sold whatever it is that we really think is valuable with the slogan, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile." Well this is our fathers and our mothers’ faith, spiritual fathers and mothers at least who have gone before us and the children who will come after.

HOST QUOTE
“[In Genesis] God wasn't ex nihilo creating every piece of fruit, or every animal, every calf. There's a natural process that God himself created and he never stepped away from it for a moment, and he hasn't since. Not for a moment could these natural processes go on without his sovereign providence. That leads us to providence. If you're wondering whether your life counts, think of the ordinary ways in which the extraordinary triune God works. He loves to work in ordinary ways, through ordinary means.
Typically, we identify an act of God with a really big stuff that CNN would cover, earthquakes, hurricanes, parting seas, that's an act of God. Well, it says it in our insurance policy, or a better way of putting it, we identify the big stuff with what can be measured and recognized as direct, immediate, miraculous intervention by God. But that means we miss the most important daily things that God does. God works most of the time through the natural means.’”
– Michael Horton
 
TERM TO LEARN
"Providence"
We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement. Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly. We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ's disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.
This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father. In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.
For that reason we reject the damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God involves himself in nothing and leaves everything to chance.
(The Belgic Confession, Article 13)
 
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WHI-1263 | Wisdom for Life & The Cross of Christ

This week on the White Horse Inn we discuss one of Paul's greatest concerns. When writing to the church in Corinth, the apostle had to continually remind them of the danger of distraction by the wisdom of this present age. Their faith was continually sidetracked by the lifestyles of this world. For "Greeks seek wisdom, and Jews seek miraculous signs, but we preach Christ crucified"(1 Cor. 1:22). The wisdom of the cross surpasses the wisdom of this world through the folly of what the church preaches.

On this program the hosts will interact with what the apostle is saying in this passage as they seek to understand the wisdom of the cross and the wisdom of this age. How are we distracted today? Do we have anything to learn from these apostolic warnings? Do we see the same kind of interest in a wisdom that is contrary to our Lord? Regrettably, this same problem arises in contemporary churches. The "wisdom for living” genre is a bestselling commodity in the Christian book industry and can be found in the teaching of contemporary churches. The Christian faith has been emptied of the cross and its meaning. Maybe, it's time for us to stop taking God's name in vain and begin again to be Christians in a pagan culture. Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we discuss the centrality of the cross in a world full of misguided wisdom (Originally Aired Aug 14, 2011)

HOST QUOTE
“With Greek philosophy [and Western thought] there is this emphasis on the ‘Inner Light.’ It is by looking within, self-reflection, going deeper into yourself…
“G. K. Chesterton at the turn of the 20th century summarized its main argument that The Romans of the first century, especially the Stoics, were advocates of the Inner Light… ‘But of all horrible religions, the most horrible is the worship of the God within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not to look inwards but outwards to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain… The only fun of being a Christian is that man isn't left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognizes an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.’”
– Michael Horton
 
TERM TO LEARN
"Inner Light"
The “Inner Light,” also called “Inward Light,” is often thought to be a distinctive theme of the Society of Friends (Quakers). This Inner Light is understood to be a direct awareness of God that allows a person to know God’s will for him or her. This expression is often attributed to the teachings of George Fox in the 17th century, founder of the Society of Friends, who had failed to find spiritual truth in the English churches. He experienced an inner light and voice within, “that of God in every man.” The Inner Light should not simply be a mystical experience, but should also result in a person’s working for the good of others.
The practice of Inner Light is believed to be the direct path of ascension towards the divine nature within man. The theme of Inner Light appears in various spiritual traditions as well as in the main religions of the world. Buddhism believes that the one experiences the highest nature of the mind, reaches enlightenment and liberation from the Wheel of Samsara (i.e. bodily existence).
The Society of Friends was influenced by a pivotal figure, Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), a German mystic who was raised in Lutheranism. Böhme had considerable influence on Pietism and various mystical sects including Rosicrucianism and theosophy. Böhme sought a melding of various alchemical and Kabbalistic traditions that focused on the inner path to God, which finds parallels with the ancient heresy known as Gnosticism. Böhme was also an important source for German Romantic philosophy, influencing F.W. Schelling. Böhme is also an important influence on the ideas of the English Romantic poet, artist and mystic William Blake. The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was profoundly influenced by him as well. The tradition of the Inner Light reaches back into ancient mystical philosophies which have come to profoundly shape modern thinking.
(Adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. "Inner Light;" “Jakob Böhme”)
 
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WHI-1262 | Joy Beyond Agony

This week on the White Horse Inn we talk with Jane Roach who was the Director of Training for Bible Study Fellowship for more than twenty-five years. She currently assists the Texas Hill Country Bible Conference, and directs women’s ministries at her local church. She is the author of the recent book, Joy beyond Agony: Embracing the Cross of Christ.

Many Christians in our day misunderstand the nature of the life we have in Christ. The focus of teaching often centers on practical lessons designed to help us cope with life’s problems, rather than shaping our faith and love in the pattern of Christ. To grow in one’s faith a deeper understanding of the cross of Christ critical. Why is this particular event at the center of the Christian faith? What really happened to Jesus during his crucifixion? Is a suffering Messiah found in the Old Testament? Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we seek to understand the work of Christ in our life in the midst of agony.

GUEST QUOTE
“In the high priestly prayer, [Jesus] was anticipating that he would be glorified by the Father as he finished his work, and even in the process of it, and that he would glorify his Father in doing that, but then he prayed not only for his own glory but for the glory of those who are with him. They were in the room. They were hearing him pray these words. And then, I love the fact that he didn't stop with him though, he prayed for all of us, all who would believe in him after those original disciples.
“So, it's almost a prayer of joyful anticipation of what is about to happen. And so keeping that before his mind, I believe is what enabled him to go into Gethsemane, which is a prayer of agony of anticipating all that he was about to face and knowing that it was necessary to go through it and submitting himself to it. And yet yes, the tone of the two prayers is quite different. There's the joyful anticipation and then the agony of anticipating it from a whole different perspective, but the two marry each other and end up with Christ on the cross doing what he came to do, and knowing that this was necessary in order to have that joy that he anticipated in the high priestly prayer”
– Jane Roach
 
TERM TO LEARN
"Substitutionary Atonement"
The process of propitiation envisaged in the Bible is one which involves an element of substitution. In both the Old and New Testaments the means of propitiation is the offering up of a gift, the gift of a life yielded up to death by God's own appointment. The Scripture is clear that the wrath of God is visited upon sinners or else that the Son of God dies for them.... Either we die or He dies. But 'God commendeth His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us' (Rom 5:8).
By the blood of Christ a propitiation is effected so that those who are of faith no longer need fear the wrath. Thus we see that, whereas originally sinners were liable to suffer from the outpouring of the wrath of God, Christ has suffered instead of them, and now they may go free. But to say this is to say substitution.
(Adapted from Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross)
 
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WHI-1261 | The Embassy of Grace

On this edition of the White Horse Inn we’re talking about the embassy of grace as Paul lays that out in 2 Corinthians 5.

Like worn coins that have lost their embossing with much handling, key words in the Christian grammar have lost their original meaning. “Gospel” has become a modifier like “gospel-music.” It means basically anything that is good or true or at least that we like a lot. It used to be that the “gospel” meant “the good news concerning Jesus Christ,” now we talk about “living the gospel” or even “being the gospel” ourselves.

“Grace” has increasingly come to mean little more than divine indulgence, like you know, your dad winking as he sees you take an extra piece of candy after your mom said “no.” “Grace” is basically God saying, “You’re okay.... I’m okay... Okay?”

And now, gold standard words like “redeem” and “reconcile” are no longer defined by the biblical drama. In the biblical story the triune God is the redeemer who has reconciled sinners to himself through the life, death, resurrection of the incarnate Son. Redemption and reconciliation are done by Jesus, and they are completed events, as in Jesus’ last words on the cross – “It is finished.”

But today, we hear a lot of calls for us to participate with God in the work of redeeming and reconciling the world. Tony Jones explains, “Our calling as a church is to partner with God in the work that God is already doing in the world, to cooperate in the building of God’s kingdom.” He cites Anabaptist theologian, John Howard Yoder: “the visible church is not to be the bearer of Christ’s message, but to be the message.”

Similarly, Jones’ own church transforms the traditional service into a conversation. He says, “The point is to jettison the magisterial sermon which has ruled over much of Protestantism for five hundred years. Here, the sermon is deconstructed, turned on its head. The Bible is referred to as the member of the community with whom we are in conversation, and the communal interpretation of the text bubbles up from the life of the community.”

Just as the definition of the gospel widens to include our person and work, God’s reconciling action in Christ, not only motivates, but includes in its very definition our own acts of social justice. Anglican bishop, N.T. Wright, expresses this view. “The church,” he says, “is called to do the work of Christ, to be the means of his action in and for the world. Mission in its widest, as well as its more focused senses, is what the church is there for. God intends to put the world to rights. He has dramatically launched this project through Jesus. Those who belong to Jesus are called, here and now, in the power of the Spirit, to be agents of that putting to rights purpose.”

Though still central, and even essential, Jesus seems to be more like the person who gets the ball rolling, than the unique person whose saving work in his first and second advents is unrepeatable and inimitable. Jesus dramatically launches the project, so the kingdom of glory is present, unfolding by degrees. Elsewhere he writes, “God is rescuing us from the shipwreck of the world, not so that we can sit back and put our feet up in his company, but so we can be part of his plan to remake the world.” However, it’s one thing to say that we’re partners with God in bringing the good news to the world, and loving our neighbors in our callings, and quite another to say that we’re partners with God in redeeming and reconciling the world.

Brian McLaren writes, “To say that Jesus is savior is to say in Jesus God is intervening as savior in all of these ways: judging, that is naming evil as evil; forgiving, breaking the vicious cycle of cause and effect making reconciliation possible; and teaching, showing how to set chain reactions of good in motion. Then, because we are so often ignorantly wrong and stupid, Jesus comes in saving teaching, profound, yet amazingly compact. What is this saving teaching? ‘Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,’ Jesus says, ‘and love your neighbor as yourself.’ And that is enough. That,” says McLaren, “is what it means to say that Jesus is saving the world.” Although Jesus called this the summary of the law, for McLaren it becomes the summary of the gospel.

When the vertical relationship, that is our relationship to God, is eclipsed by the horizontal effects, that is our relationship to fellow human beings and creation, an opposite reduction occurs. Sin is not so much a transgression of God’s covenant that brings God’s judgment, as it is brokenness in our own interpersonal relationships. “On Good Friday, Christ’s crucifixion became the impetus for healed and healing relationships in a world that desperately needs them,” and “the concentration on correct doctrine is a reflection of an earlier time.”

So, in addition to phrases, such as “living the gospel,” and calls to continue Christ’s incarnation and saving work, we often hear these appeals to participate in Christ’s reconciling work. Often these calls to cooperate with God in the redemption and reconciliation of the world, draw these points from Paul’s reference to the ministry of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5. What does Paul actually say there and does it support or contradict this idea of our being co-redeemers and co-reconcilers? That’s our subject in this edition of the White Horse Inn. (Originally Aired Aug 21, 2011)

HOST QUOTE
“So, they’re reacting against an upbringing in which the vertical relationship, being forgiven and reconciled to God, had nothing to do with the horizontal relationship. Now, the pendulum is swinging to the other side, where the horizontal relationship is detached, even to the point where Tony Jones even says, ‘Yeah, we still believe in sin, but it’s not the distance between human beings and God, but the broken relationships that clutter our lives and our world.’
“So, if that’s the problem… If sin is no longer a problem that God has with me, but rather that my relationships aren’t what they should be, the solution… is way, way, way beyond what you need for the problem. If God the Son becomes flesh, submits to the humiliation of suffering even to the point of death on a Roman cross, and bleeds to death for us, you hardly need him to do that in order to fix your marriage!”
– Michael Horton
 
TERM TO LEARN
"Liberalism"
In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called "liberalism."... [This] movement is so various in its manifestations that one may almost despair of finding any common name which will apply to all its forms. But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism-that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.
(Adapted from J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism)
 
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We are excited to release a brand new video we have produced thanks to the generosity of donors. We hope to create many more videos like this. Our hope is that they will lead people to our content to drink from the treasure trove of 25 years of resources we are feverishly digitizing, archiving, and tagging – all to help Christians here and abroad to “know what they believe and why they believe it.”

In this case, however, we hope that it will lead people to participate in our spring campaign. The theme for this year’s annual spring appeal is How To Read Your Bible.” We have raised 38% of the funds we are praying the Lord will provide by June 30, 2015.

 

About 50% of our support comes from our monthly partnership program. The rest is raised in our spring and fall campaigns. If you haven’t already, would you consider a gift to White Horse Inn? In the past we have rejoiced that our supporters have sent gifts of $50, $100, $500, and even $5,000 to us! Would you join us, and help us spread the resources of White Horse Inn around the globe?

Donate $100 and receive a free MP3 CD with over 40 WHI episodes. EVERY GIFT IS IMPORTANT!

I can’t express how deeply grateful I am for your prayers and support of WHI. 

 

In Christ,

Michael Horton

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WHI-1260 | Consumerism, Pragmatism, & The Triumph of the Therapeutic

This week on the White Horse Inn we had the opportunity to talk with Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. He is the author of several books including Soul Searching and Souls in Transition. In his research Smith coined the phrase "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" to describe the faith of most religious teens, and the religion he fears of their parents as well due to the failings of church leaders and parents to catechize and teach the doctrine of life in Christ.

Many churches in our day attempt to make their services relevant and entertaining in order to attract people in the marketplace of competing options. The focus often centers on practical lessons designed to help us cope with life’s problems. But what are the social and historic roots of this particular approach to ministry? Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we discuss consumerism, pragmatism, and the therapeutic within the church.

GUEST QUOTE
“I think that the historical, cultural, and philosophical roots of moralistic therapeutic deism go way back, but I think for evangelicalism part of what it means to be an evangelical in the United States since WWII is not to be a fundamentalist. Yet, part of one’s identity in not being a fundamentalist is, you’re always pushing towards the ‘We’re not rigid. We’re not doctrinaire. We’re not closed minded.’ Which is good, but every good thing can be pushed in a problematic direction.
“In evangelicalism this has been pushed too far… in the direction of ‘We can be cool Christians and participate in the culture, just like everybody else, and it’s just fine.’ The ‘make Jesus cool kind of thing’… craving the affection of the American public. It’s almost a pathetic impulse to be respectable and to be relevant.”
– Christian Smith
 
TERM TO LEARN
"Moralistic Therapeutic Deism"
When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."
As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."
That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and "whatever."
(R. Albert Mohler, Jr., "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism--the New American Religion," The Christian Post, 18 April 2005. Read the entire article here.)
 
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The White Horse Inn Weekend is part family reunion, part road trip, and part theology festival. It’s become a big part of our yearly calendar and we hope that you can make it part of yours too! Our next Weekend is coming up July 30 through August 1, 2015. It will be held on the campus of Providence Christian College near downtown Pasadena, California.

 Joining Mike, Kim, and Rod this year are several special guests:

  • David Zahl, executive director of MockingbirdNYC
  • Nancy Guthrie, popular author and speaker
  • W. Robert Godfrey, president and professor of church history at Westminster Seminary California

This year, we’re talking about Jesus: who he is and what it means to follow him. In between special lectures, live recording sessions, and lots of question and answer time, you’ll have time to fellowship with our hosts and special guests. We’ve also built plenty of free time into the schedule to allow you to explore Pasadena and other popular southern California hot spots. You can’t find a better combination of three days of teaching, fellowship, and fun

The White Horse Inn Weekend is not a traditional conference and we limit attendance so that our guests and hosts can have times of meaningful interaction with you, our friends and supporters. This year, our registration rate is the lowest it’s ever been and we’re excited to be back in southern California. Take advantage of our Advance Rate of $179 before the May 31 deadline and register today!

We look forward to seeing you along with Mike, Kim, Rod, our special guests, and reformation minded friends from around the world for the third annual White Horse Inn Weekend: “Who Is Jesus? You have to know him before you can follow him.”

For more information and registration, please click here.

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WHI-1259 | Members of the Body of Christ

This week on the White Horse Inn we discuss what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. We are joined by Thabiti Anyabwile who is the assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He has written numerous books, including most recently The Life of God in the Soul of the Church.

Should the church attempt to engage the culture in relevant ways, or does this strategy end up continuing to divide us by worldly preferences and priorities that are opposed to the gospel? What does it mean to be a member of a healthy church and, additionally, what does it mean to be a healthy church member? Join us as we seek discuss the body of Christ, the church, this week on the White Horse Inn.

GUEST QUOTE
“When Paul, for example, talks about this idea of our union with Christ, he is always writing to particular, local churches, and he is applying that truth to their particular, local setting of relationships and witness as a community. So, there is no Christianity that is free of the visible, living, local church in a known area.
“In this union with himself, Christ has given us an identity that supersedes all those other natural kinds of barriers. This is what Galatians 3:28 means in part, that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, and so on. Well, it doesn’t mean that men and women no longer exist. It means that in Christ, there is now this new identity that is over and above those lesser identities.”
– Thabiti Anyabwile
 
TERM TO LEARN
"The Body of Christ"
The metaphor of body is used in two New Testament passages concerning the church, Ephesians 5:25 and Colossians 1:18. This image must be interpreted in relation to the more basic paradigm of the covenant. The meaning of the “body of Christ” metaphor is to be found in the concrete historical contexts in which it was given. The church as a holy commonwealth exceeds common communities by virtue of the fact that it alone is elected by the Father in the Son through the work of the Spirit. It is held together by the sinews of covenantal love, not simply of friendship; it is the fellowship of brothers and sisters (a family) and not simply neighbors who share the same racial, ethnic, national, socio-economic, or cultural affinities.
The body of Christ is found in union with its head, the Lord Jesus, and in communion with other Christians, the church. Chosen in Christ, redeemed in Christ, sealed in Christ by the Spirit, the church is the one place where worldly divisions no longer take place. Paul links this ecclesiology to the ascension of Christ, as the source of the gifts that he now pours out lavishly by his Spirit to his saints through the ministry of Word and sacrament. It is this ministry alone that creates, sustains, unites, and brings maturity and health to the body of Christ. Each member (or body part) is useful for the whole and in need of each other, as Paul stresses in 1 Corinthians 12. The body of Christ is likened and explained by the marital metaphor in Ephesians 5, where Paul says that Christ is one with his body (the church) in a way that is similar to the union of husband and wife as “one flesh.”
(Adapted from Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, p 733-36)
 
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Over the last few days I read, rather hungrily, the recently released Pew Research Center’s new report on America’s changing religious landscape.  The byline is sobering—Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow.  I read the report while, with my wife, trying to parent our three children, ages 13, 10, and 8 (listed in order of difficulty!).  As I read, their futures loomed before me, prompting more than a few questions about how they’ll find their way, how they’ll make our faith their own, and so on.  I find it difficult being a parent in this increasingly complex world of ours.  I wonder how much of our efforts to influence the younger generation are suffocated by the enticing, all-powerful, and all-but-omnipresent internet with its Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.  I wonder whether this “holy trinity” of electronic wonder does more of the “training up” we’re charged with, than we do—no matter how sincerely we approach the task.  Culture is big.  Culture is powerful.  Culture is unavoidable.  Our culture frightens and sometimes paralyzes me, and more frequently I’ve wondered whether we (speaking as a member of the Evangelical Reformed community) can claim radical distinction from a culture which beckons in louder and brasher tones than the quieter scriptural call to pour out rather than fill up.  Perhaps the 1985 USA for Africa musical hit “We are the World” has come true for us in all the wrong ways.  Are we, people of faith, producing and embracing the very things we should—and honestly hope to—resist?  Do the Pew trends simply reflect the inevitable consequences of our own world-entranced actions?  At first glance the Pew report seems to suggest that people are leaving “our” ranks for the ranks of the world.  But perhaps the distinction between these two worlds is not so sharp.  And perhaps that is something we should more soberly contemplate.

 The Pew report contains a plenitude of rigorously obtained representative data for the US national population.  The first iteration of the report was conducted in 2007.  These “Religious Landscape Studies” were designed to bridge the gap between the dearth of official government data on religion (the US Census does not ask Americans about religion), and the uneven data collected by religious bodies themselves.  The study is based on a sizeable sample of 35,071 adults, interviewed by telephone.  Interestingly, this latest survey was conducted in both English and Spanish.  This second collection of religious data reveal a number of important trends, the foremost of which is the finding that Christians have lost ground “… not only in their relative share of the U.S. population, but also in absolute numbers.”  One of the key findings revealed by the 2014 study is that while in 2007, 178 million of the 227 million US adults identified as Christians; by 2014 the somewhat larger population of 245 million adults contained only 173 million Christians.  That’s a drop from 78% to 71% Christian—a net decline of around 5 million (give or take a few million due to sampling error).   

 An examination of subgroups in the Christian population reveals that the main drop in numbers occurred in mainline Protestantism (PC USA, United Methodist Church, American Baptist Churches USA, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) with a drop from about 41 million in 2007 to 36 million in 2014.  In contrast, churches in the evangelical Protestant tradition (Presbyterian Church in America, Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, and others) have grown a bit with an increase of about 2 million since 2007—a current total of about 62 million.  The other big decline is among Catholics—down about 3 million adherents since 2007. 

 But the thing that should, perhaps, concern us more than denominational switching and shuffling, is the increase in religiously unaffiliated adults.  In real numbers there has been an increase of about 19 million among their ranks—bringing their total up to approximately 56 million.  That’s a huge increase, and one that, in my thinking, shows an increase in secularization, and a decrease in how people see religion as a viable way of understanding the world around us and addressing our problems.  The report teases out the composition of the “nones,” indicating that this group is describing themselves in increasingly secular terms.  In 2007, 36% of the nones identified their religion as “nothing in particular,” but maintained that religion was either very or somewhat important in their lives.  In 2014 data, that percentage drops to 30%.  And there’s a difference between a religious “none” and a religious none who has given up on religion altogether. 

 A couple more quick findings:  27% of men, compared with 19% of women identify as “nones,” and 24% of whites, compared with 20% of Hispanics, and 18% of blacks.  This is interesting in that it suggests that those who are best integrated into and benefit most from the social structure are the least likely to affiliate with religion.  This does lend a bit of credence to the idea put forth by some sociologists that religion functions as a compensator.

 How might we respond to these findings?  One response might be to simply see the slight gains by conservatives as evidence that “we’re” on the right track.  But that, I think, would be little more than the sort of self-congratulatory bombast that fails to attract a world so desperately in need of something outside itself.  Rather, this data should compel us to look a little more carefully at ourselves.  We might ask the question, “What does a society look like where 71% of the adults are Christians?”  Does it look like this society?  Should it?  Sometimes we deny the rather impressive “Christian” portion of our population saying things like, “Well, most of those so-called Christians are just ‘cultural’ Christians.”  As though we, the faithful, somehow stand outside culture—that we’re not responsible for its godlessness or sinful patterns.  Another response I sometimes hear from Christians in my community relates feelings of oppression—a sense that Christian freedoms are being restricted; that soon we won’t be able to worship God or speak his name in public.  Maybe.  But, most of what we have in our society is there because most of “our” 71% (declining or not) give it de-facto support.  We decry sexual immorality, but buy our wares at Target who, at present, proudly advertise their exclusive distribution of the uncut version of Fifty Shades of Grey.  We almost without question support big sports (think of the NFL and the Super Bowl), irrespective of their violence, avarice, and highly eroticized advertisements, prompting one Christian writer to label our religion Sportianity.  And we clamor for the material things of this world with the best of them.  Our world provides our youth little in the way of what Peter Berger calls “plausibility structures”—for Christians, social markers and symbols that affirm and support the reality of the world as God would have it.      

 In the end, our response to this world—a world whose resistance to us should come as no surprise—requires the same response it always has.  To repent, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to take the lower place alongside our Savior, and to come and die to the things of this world.  For it is, I believe, when we learn to pour out, rather than fill up, that we will attract our young and our neighbors with the quiet and sincere beauty of the holiness that comes from God.  And perhaps we’ll show my children, in all the right ways, that we are the world. 

 

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Matthew Vos is professor of Sociology at Covenant College located atop Lookout Mountain, Georgia.  His academic interests, while eclectic, are focused on gender, sociology of sport, religion, and sociological theory.  He lives a well-adjusted life with his guidance counselor wife Joan, and their three adopted children Kate (Bulgaria), Rose (China), and Alec (China).  The Voses live on a small farm in North Georgia where they raise sheep.  When not busy adopting children, they enjoy competitive slalom waterskiing.  Matthew currently serves as president for the Association of Christians Teaching Sociology (ACTS).

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WHI-1258 | The Church & Kingdom of God

This week on the White Horse Inn we discuss the relationship between the kingdom of God and the church. We are joined by Scot McKnight, a New Testament scholar and professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL. He has written numerous books on topics such as interpretation, early Christianity, the historical Jesus, and current issues in practical theology. Most recently he has written the book, entitled Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church.

According to Scot McKnight, there is a great deal of emphasis today on social activism, outreach to the poor, and various kinds of programs which people refer to as “kingdom work.” And yet, if you try to get the same support for evangelism or the ordinary work of the local church, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of interest. "Kingdom" is a biblical term that has been abused by Christians. So how did we get here? Join us on the White Horse Inn as we seek to understand what the Old and New Testaments mean by “the kingdom of God” and how this should realign our vision of the church.

HOST QUOTE
“Any culture that we’re making that is not church-oriented and church-centered is not the culture God wants to make in this world. What I am fixating on here is the idea of ‘culture’ as something good and ‘world’ as something bad. We have an increasing number of people who have abandoned a focus on the ‘world’ as a corrupted, evil, rebellion against God, and seeing our task largely as culture-making as a positive thing.
“I see a lot of discussion today about how to make the world a better place, and of course I don’t want to make the world a worse place, but I really like the statement of Stanley Hauerwas that the best thing the church can do, in respect to the world, is to show the world that it’s the world, or to demonstrate the worldliness of the world to the world; rather, than say we want to make this all a better place.”
– Scot McKnight
 
TERM TO LEARN
"The Kingdom of God"
The great future announced by Jesus is considered entirely from the standpoint of the divine kingship. And then it is not a question of a general timeless statement concerning God's power and reign, but especially of its redemptive-historical effectuation which will one day be witnessed.
Jesus has nevertheless spoken of the coming of the kingdom as a present reality. This does not mean--and this also is an established fact--that there is no room for the future of the kingdom… but it means that the one great kingdom of the future has become present. Its fundamentally eschatological character is maintained as a matter of course. It is the great kingdom, the coming of God into the world for redemption and judgment. The future, as it were, penetrates into the present. The world of God's redemption, the great whole of his concluding and consummative works pushes its way into the present time of the world.
We shall continue to hold fast to the terminology of the gospel including fulfillment and consummation. These terms have the advantage of qualifying the presence of Jesus' coming and his work as well as the beginning of the great era of salvation, and, besides, they hold out the prospect of the definitive, final significance of the kingdom as something of the future.
(Adapted from Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, pp. 19, 55-56)
 
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