White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Forgive Us Our Debts

Chris Cox and Bill Archer have written an unsettling piece for the Wall Street Journal about the sobering reality of the US Debt. Though some may be familiar with the $16 trillion figure, there are few who realize that this is actually just the tip of the iceberg. According to the article, the true number is actually closer to $86 trillion (which amounts to 550% of our GDP). Cox and Archer argue that the government has gotten away with underestimating the actual price of our national debt since it has not needed to furnish the kind of financial documentation required of most businesses. “The actual figures,” they write, “do not appear in black and white on any balance sheet.” While the U.S. Treasury “does list liabilities such as Treasury debt issued to the public, federal employee pensions, and post-retirement health benefits…it does not include the unfunded liabilities of Medicare, Social Security and other outsized and very real obligations.”

The problem is that all the revenue collected for these particular entitlement programs is not actually being saved for the future, but is being paid out to current retirees. And this will all fall apart when more and more of our nation’s baby boomers start collecting retirement benefits. The government is currently borrowing 1 out of every 3 dollars that it spends, so what will we do when the majority of the boomers are retired? According to the authors, “Borrowing at this scale could eclipse the capacity of global capital markets–and bankrupt not only the programs themselves but the entire federal government.”

Peter Schiff, an American economist who won my respect after correctly predicting the ’08 housing bubble crisis and ensuing recession (check out “Peter Schiff was right” on YouTube), has written in his most recent book that politicians from both parties do not have the courage or will to face this issue squarely. And so he argues that our representatives will most likely continue to underemphasize the magnitude of this problem year after year until eventually the entire system collapses.

It seems to me that all this provides and apt analogy for the sobering reality of our true spiritual condition. Many of our pastors and church leaders regularly downplay the seriousness of our plight and offer helpful suggestions about doing better with God’s help, or even worse, get us to focus on having our best life now. Yet, at the end of the day, none of us is completely honest about the depth of our depravity. We know we have some debt, and we know we have a spending problem, but we still think it’s something we can manage. In reality, solving our debt problem in these ways is a little like attempting to drain the Pacific Ocean with a tablespoon.

So where are the preachers who have the courage to tell it like it is. Where are the leaders who are prepared to tell us that we’re not merely bankrupt, but need to borrow $86 trillion in order to be bankrupt! Is there anyone out there who is presenting the unvarnished truth, that our deepest problem is unfixable, and that the only way forward is to declare our own insolvency before the divine creditor?

The good news is that this particular creditor is infinitely wealthy, and has of late made news of a debt cancellation program which he has authored. Those who are chosen for this program must face up to the facts, confess their true poverty of spirit and put their trust completely in his care. When we do this, he promises to forgive us “all our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us.” But that’s just the beginning.  Not only will he cancel all our debts, but he has also promised to adopt us into his family, making us his heirs. In fact, he’s currently planning a huge banquet celebration for all the new members of his family in the not too distant future. Got nothing to wear? No worries; he’s even providing the wardrobe. And on the invitation we read, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

Gracious Lord, forgive us our debts!

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The Magnificent Dane: A Tribute to Rod Rosenbladt

Way back when, Kim Riddlebarger introduced me to Rod Rosenbladt, one of his professors at Simon Greenleaf School of Law.  Twenty-five years later, here we are still doing “theology on tap” together at the White Horse Inn.  I can’t calculate the gifts that God has given me through the magnificent Dane over these many years.  For his insights, challenges, conviction—and most of all, his friendship in the gospel, I’m greatly in Rod’s debt and I know that Kim and Ken feel that way as well.  We’re delighted that Concordia Today Magazine has published a tribute to Rod’s work in its latest issue.

UPDATE: Our friends at New Reformation Press have made a pdf of the article that you can download here.

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No Lines, No Midnight Openings

Last year, my wife and I braved the Black Friday madness–at Walmart, of all places. It was a study in dystopia. I have never seen so many people so desperate for so little. We did have a shopping list, but it became apparent very quickly that people watching was a far better use of our early morning hours.

In the spirit of saving you the hassle and making sure that you actually get something more worthwhile than a $5 blue-ray of I Love Lucy episodes, we’re inviting you to take 50% off all downloadable media (MP3s and study-kits) at the White Horse Inn store through cyber-Monday.

Simply go to the store and use the following code at checkout: 2012CYBER.

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WHI 2012 Update — Looking Ahead

Thank you for your support of the White Horse Inn! To donate now, please click here.

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Art and the Practical Nation

“What I’m arguing in this book is that liberals have to wake up.  Art is spiritual—it uses physical materials, but it’s a spiritual quest, and the artistic mission has a spiritual goal.  But nothing in the ideology or language of current academe—from Berkeley to Harvard—permits anyone to say that.

Watch InstaVision’s interview with literary critic and provocateur non-pareil Camille Paglia on her new book Glittering Images, written for homeschooling moms who want to introduce their children to art, and anyone who wants to understand why George Lucas’s Revenge of the Sith is the most powerful and significant work of art in any genre (including literature) in the last thirty years.

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WHI on RefNet.fm!

Beginning today at 11:30 AM White Horse Inn will be airing on the internet radio station Reformation Network (RefNet) from Ligonier Ministries. RefNet is committed to broadcasting God-honoring programs concerning the historic Christian faith 24-hours a day. It is a great honor to be on their lineup Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30 AM (Eastern) and we hope that you listen in!

They have an iOS app as well as a mobile-friendly site for streaming on the go!

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Half Devil | Half Child

Mike Horton was interviewed last year for a documentary on Bible translations to Muslims and the Insider Movements. We referenced the film Half Devil | Half Child back in February (More on Bible Translations to Muslims). The film is now being distributed on line (www.halfdevilhalfchild.com/). You can preview, rent, or download the film below.

Modern Reformation featured an article by the film’s Director, Bill Nikides, in our July/August issue on Insider Movements and you can read that here: Insider Movements and the Busted Church.

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Once More With Feeling

It’s the day after Reformation Day. All the Luther and Calvin costumes are at the dry cleaners; the left-over party treats have been taken to the office; the post-Protestant hangover has set in. It’s as good a time as any to take a second look at what really divides us from our Roman Catholic friends, family, and neighbors. After all, Pope Benedict seems to have a soft spot for the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther–maybe we’re not so far apart after all?

At least one ELCA Lutheran thinks so and asked plaintively at the First Things blog why he couldn’t receive communion at the local parish church. In response, Anthony Sacramone detailed a few of the outstanding issues that still divide Lutherans (and the Reformed) from Rome. Here’s a preview:

Let’s cut to the chase: would the Roman Catholic Church today accept as doctrinally true the Lutheran teaching of the alien righteousness of Christ, of the great exchange of His righteousness for our sin, of our sanctification as being in Him, even though we are called to good works — but for the sake of our neighbor and not in aid of increasing our justification? If not, again, who are these Lutherans Reverend Saltzman is talking about whose differences with Rome are now of little significance?

Do these Lutherans now accept the existence of a Treasury of Merits? Or has Rome admitted that this was a bankrupt medieval invention and is now, in the interest of ecumenicity, disposable? Have indulgences, the flashpoint of the Reformation, also become irrelevant?

I ask this honestly: what is the true nonnegotiable here?

Let’s discuss the papal office for a moment: Was Pope Urban II Infallible, “evangelically understood,” when he declared, in regard to the First Crusade:

“If anyone who sets out should lose his life either on the way, by land or by sea, or in battle against the infidels, his sins shall be pardoned from that moment. This I grant by right of the gift of God’s power to me.”

Did the bishop of Rome have this authority? Urban II is addressing men who are off, he hopes, to kill the enemies of the Faith and to retrieve stolen property. Is this the true nature of the power of the keys as described in the Gospel of Matthew? Does this notion of dying in a holy war and going straight to Paradise sound familiar?

Here’s another question: Does the pope have this same authority today—to proactively forgive the temporal punishment for sins that would otherwise send someone to Purgatory (or to a purgative state), thus promising them a straight ticket to heaven in the event they died trying to kill someone else? I’m not interested in whether or not it is likely to be exercised in this day and age, nor whether the Muslims in the 12th century invited this response for overrunning the “Holy Land.” I’m only interested in whether Benedict XVI, by virtue of his office, has this authority, given him from Christ.

Whether the pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals is inextricably tied to how justification is construed. The same can be said for the nature of the Eucharist, and the priesthood.

What is the wedding garment without which no one enters the wedding feast of the King? Is it something of our own, dry-cleaned, purified, and bleached? Or is it the gift of Someone else? Is it something we do to ourselves, by aid of grace? Something we endure, in the sense of suffer? Or is it something we receive, like the Eucharist, from Another?

For some, the alien, imputed righteousness of Christ is a legal fiction, and Luther’s image of the dunghill covered with snow is usually cited as evidence. And yet these same Christians have no problem with the transfer of the supererogatory merits of the saints to the accounts of the properly disposed.

The merits of Christ’s sacrifice transferred to the sinner, as a sinner, is a fiction, but the merits of Josemaria Escriva transferred by dint of papal proclamation — that’s real.

Really?

The issue remains the same today as on October 31, 1517.

The entire thing is worth reading.

 

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Promises, Promises

Political candidates these days summon our confidence by promises they make about the future. We wonder whether we can believe them. Or we jump on one bandwagon or another as if it could actually fulfill our deepest hopes and dreams—and drive away our deepest fears.

But when Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock, I have overcome the world,” he is actually announcing an accomplishment of his agenda. The saints in the old covenant had to wait for the promises to be realized, but we stand on this side of victory. His representative life of obedience fulfilled the law; his death delivered us from the curse; his resurrection brought justification and inaugurated the new creation.

Down to the last word, John gives all glory to “him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom…” (Rev 1:6). He records the words of Jesus Christ: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty'” (Rev 1:8). “When I saw him,” John reports, “I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’” (vv 17-18).

With this confidence as our ultimate anchor, we can be wildly optimistic about Christ’s future for us without being seduced by the false promises, ideologies, and idols of our age—and the illusion that somehow our cultural and political labors are building or restoring Christ’s kingdom. Rearranging the order of our loves, this good news frees us to exercise responsible vocations—including citizenship—without idealism or, it’s flip-side, cynicism. We can cast our votes while casting our fears on our risen and returning King. We can even promote our candidates (outside the church!), with restored sanity. United to Christ, we should be the most responsible and the least fearful people at the polls on November 6, 2012, because our King already achieved his landslide victory in Jerusalem during Passover, AD 33.

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First Things First: The Gifted Kingdom

“‘Therefore I tell you,'” says Jesus to his disciples in Luke 12, “‘do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.'” After all, God takes care of the birds and in any case, “‘which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?'” Jesus doesn’t tell them that it doesn’t matter whether they have food and clothing, or that they shouldn’t do anything about it. In fact, Paul offers a rebuke to those who refuse to support themselves and their families by working (1 Thess 4:11-12). Nevertheless, Jesus assures them the God is the ultimate provider. “‘Indeed, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you'” (Lk 12:22-31).

Make secondary things primary (i.e., your god) and you’ll always be disappointed; look to Christ and his reign over sin and death, and even if life falls apart you can know that he is working all things together for his glory and your salvation. Jesus doesn’t say that these temporal concerns are trivial; he simply challenges the way we rank his everlasting kingdom and our temporal concerns.

What makes this exhortation more than a pious platitude that no one can seriously entertain in the face of hopelessness and despair? Jesus explains in the very next verse: “‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom'” (v 32). You mean it’s not, “Work really hard to find God and pursue his kingdom vision and then everything else will fall into place?” Not at all. The kingdom is a gift. It has been given—is being given. It’s coming down from heaven even now, with the forgiveness of sins and new life.

It’s a good time for us to be reminded that our ultimate citizenship is in the kingdom of Christ. He is the King—not the one we elected, but the one who has chosen us and has laid down his own life for his fellow heirs of the Father’s realm. And his is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. It is not an empire, party, or social movement that we are building. Not that we aren’t a part of these temporary kingdoms, helping to build better neighborhoods and nations. It’s just that in these common callings we are contributing to the building and repair of the kingdoms of this age that eventually collapse and, if remaining at Christ’s return, will be shaken to the foundations (Heb 12:26-27). Rather, “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…” (v 28).

After his resurrection, Jesus returned to Galilee. “And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Mat 28:16-17). Then and there the King announced, “‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age'” (vv 18-20).

The disciples would face not only deprivation along with fellow Jews; they would soon be persecuted by their own families. It’s a “little flock”: make no mistake about it. Especially in churches here in the U.S., we don’t quite know what we are. On one hand, we seem to imagine that we’re a “big flock,” with an impressive history of national influence. On the other hand, we play the persecution card a lot, as if we were being thrown to the lions when the City Hall decides not to display the manger on its lawn at Christmas. Maybe it’s not as contradictory as that, though. After all, it’s only when you think you’re big that you take offense at the slightest evidence that you’re not. Our fears, like our hopes, reveal the gods in whom we place our trust.

I fret over making ends meet. Then I encounter believers enduring extreme poverty with remarkable confidence in God—not to mention those I meet under the constant threat of religious persecution in China and across the Islamic world. I want control over the temperature in my car. These folks know that they’re not in control, and yet they seem less fearful. They don’t demand things or fall apart at the slightest inconvenience. Their faith under pressure rebukes my sinful tendency to use God as a resource for my own control over my life instead of falling into the everlasting arms of a Father who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son. These saints don’t talk as much as we do about their impressive buildings, numbers, and cultural clout. They get the whole “little flock” thing. It’s not a stumbling block to them, but wonderfully realistic and assuring. The church may be nothing in the eyes of the world, but it’s everything to the Triune God. The King announces, “‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Mat 16:18). It’s not “my life,” “so-and-so’s church/ministry,” or even “our project.” We belong to someone else. “‘Fear not, little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.'” It’s a little flock, but what an inheritance!

In John 16 the disciples confess their certainty that Jesus has indeed come from the Father. “Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me'” (vv 30-32). Jesus’ response would appear at first glance to belittle their strong confession. Indeed, it is true: they would scatter, leaving Jesus alone. However, it’s not a rebuke but just a statement of fact leading to a marvelous assurance that in spite of their fear for their own lives he would be their conqueror even through their abandonment. Building the kingdom, purchasing the kingdom, bestowing the kingdom: these are the things that only he can do anyway, alone. The presence of the Father and the Spirit would suffice to uphold him in this solitary work he has to do. So he adds, “‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world‘” (v 33).

This is not just another “our brightest days are ahead” speech. It’s not a question of whether we’re happier, healthier, and wealthier than we were four years ago. It’s a well-grounded hope, anchored in the fact that Jesus has already inaugurated his kingdom and in death his last will and testament will be executed. When he is raised to the right hand of the Father, the seat of all power and authority, he will pour out his Spirit and adopt rebels as his co-heirs with him of his kingdom.

Notice that he didn’t say, “We’ll overcome the world together.” Nor did he say, “Here are the principles you can use to overcome the world.” He did not invite us to share in his redeeming agenda. Rather, he calls us to come to him and enjoy the spoils of his conquest.

In his life, death, and resurrection, this King of kings has secured the victory of God over the forces of sin and death that reign over this present evil age. When he returns, he will cleanse the whole earth to make it his dwelling place with his people forever. In between, it will be an era of, paradoxically, the stunning triumph of the Spirit through the Word in a global empire of grace and a perpetual conflict with the principalities and powers in heavenly places. Besides sharing in the common curse with our non-believing neighbors, the saints will be persecuted in many places during this intermission. The forces of darkness will not only be external threats, but wolves within that seek to wound, divide, and scatter the sheep.

Tomorrow I’ll finish this reflection on our King’s counsel for his “little flock” during this election season.

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