White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

A Picture of Mercy?

The New York Times published a post today on their “Lens” blog titled “What Does Mercy Look Like?” For obvious reasons this title piqued my interest enough to follow the link and to “see mercy.” The post is a response to a book by James Whitlow Delano where he asked photographers from around the world to send him photos that, to them, embody the word “mercy.” This project was a result of the author’s experience of his sister’s death and the hospice care she received, which was in his words “merciful.”

Mercy or being merciful is not a foreign concept in the secular world. Non-Christians can be merciful simply due to the fact that they are created in the image of God. Despite the fact that mankind fell into sin and depravity with the fall of Adam (Gen 3) that does not mean that unbelieving men and women do not carry with them some vestiges of the imago Dei, such as being merciful that can manifest itself in everyday “secular” life. Therefore, a book and photographs such as this can be a great opportunity to see that merciful desire (fallen, depraved and sinful as it may be) play itself out in ordinary human life.

The blog highlights 15 photographs included in the book, and to be honest many of them are puzzling as to why that particular photographer would choose that photo to image mercy. As Delano commented, “Everyone’s interpretation is absolutely different. I didn’t challenge. I didn’t ask. If you say that’s mercy, that’s all I need to know.” Delano continues, “Sometimes it’s hard to see the mercy being shown.” As nebulous as a definition seemed to be for these photographers and as elusive for Delano to see, Christians have a very firm definition when it comes to God’s mercy and his grace. The amazing thing too is that we have been given “pictures” of God’s grace and mercy towards his children in the cross and the empty tomb of the Son of God, Jesus Christ revealed to us in the pages of Holy Scripture. Moreover, Christ instituted two sacraments that are visible signs and seals for us to see the promise of the Gospel. As Christians this is the true portrait of God’s love, grace, and mercy that always need to be at the forefront of our minds.

Comments (2)

Tullian on Accountability Groups

Tullian Tchividjian, the pastor of Coral Ridge PCA and a good friend to White Horse Inn posted a great piece about accountability groups yesterday on his blog. Here’s the teaser, but be sure to click through and read the entire thing!

Reminders Are More Effective Than Rebukes

Are you tired of being told that if you’re really serious about God, you must be in an “accountability group?” You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones where you and a small group of “friends” arrange for a time each week to get together and pick each other apart–uncovering layer after layer after layer of sin? The ones where all parties involved believe that the guiltier we feel the more holy we are? The ones where you confess your sin to your friends but it’s never enough? No matter what you unveil, they’re always looking for you to uncover something deeper, darker, and more embarrassing than what you’ve fessed up to. It’s usually done with such persistent invasion that you get the feeling they’re desperately looking for something in you that will make them feel better about themselves.

Well, I hate those groups!

[Read more]

Comments (2)

Prayer Request for Egypt

For the purpose of security the names and positions of the Egyptian Christian leaders have been removed.

Earlier this morning, I was privileged to participate in a conference call facilitated by the Lausanne Committee with evangelical leaders in Egypt. The recorded call will be made available shortly at the Lausanne website.

We heard especially from [Leader One] who related the exhiliration of Egyptians in the wake of the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak and his 30-year “emergency rule.” The peaceful revolution that evolved in Tahrir Square was “something we never dreamed about,” said [Leader One]. “Egyptians cannot themselves believe that we now have a new country: a free country with free elections.” He said that for the last 30 years “it has been very tough.” Christians were not allowed to build or repair churches without permission and were watched closely in their regular ministry.

Seething beneath the public reports of peaceful protest were three weeks of violence, as daily police security was virtually non-existent, according to [Leader One]. There are about 1200 evangelical Protestant churches (over a million members) and early on in the Tahrir Square revolution, according to [Leader One], he and other evangelical leaders submitted an appeal in support of religious freedom (not for or against the regime).

He said he is leading a meeting tomorrow with 50 evangelical leaders to consider the best way forward. He asks for prayer for those in military government to make good on the promise of democratic reforms, including a more inclusive government. At this meeting a committee will be formed, including Christian lawyers and judges, to offer suggestions for revising the Egyptian constitution. Of special concern is Article 2, which identifies Egypt as Islamic: a key source for laws that have restricted religious freedom. [Leader One] hopes that the article will be either eliminated or changed to include other religions.

[Leader One] observed that on February 1, Coptic and Catholic leaders weres still publicly supporting the Mubarak regime. On February 9, [Leader One] invited Protestant leaders and issues statement supporting the Revolution: asking for religious freedom and human rights for all. “Not as evangelicals,” he added, “but as Egyptians: we want to help with the new country.” He encouraged Christians to participate in the revolution: “Go to the demonstrations as individuals, but not as religious leaders.” One of the highlights was the spontaneous support of Christians who set up a human shield on Friday to protect the Muslims during prayer, with Muslims then doing the same for Christians at Sunday worship. [Leader One] hopes that this reflects more than momentary solidarity for religious freedom. Muslim supporters of the revolution know that Christians—especially evangelicals—were there with them in the Square.

Of course, the main concern now is the Muslim Brotherhood. [Leader One] related that Christians have been living in fear of a take-over by the group the past 20 years. However, it became clear over the last month that they were one of the forces, not the principal force, in the revolution. Officially suppressesd by the Mubarak regime, the Brotherhood has tried to control parliament through elections. However, there is confusion even within the movement. Some want to take advantage of the revolution and current instability to rise to domination, while others seem willing to participate in a democratic transition. It’s too early to judge, according to [Leader One].

[Leader Two] underscored these cautions. “Outsiders should not be naïve that Egypt is now a free country with respect to religious freedom,” he said. “It will not necessarily become easier to share the gospel with Muslims or for Muslims to follow Christ. So we need to be careful about what freedoms we’re talking about. People will be free to make their objections against the government, for strikes, etc., but we will face a period of unrest as people adjust to freedom. My plea is that people won’t rush in naively to do things that make things more difficult. Pray for Egypt. There has been no decrease in the role of Islam.”

Another Egyptian Christian leader [Leader Two] pointed out that Islamism is still very much at the heart of Egyptian identity. “It’s not like the collapse of the Soviet Union with the fall of the Berlin Wall,” he warned, “where the ideology collpased and then the reigme collapsed.” Islamic ideology remains firmly entrenched. “Many of the Muslim young people in the Revolution would not like the Muslim Brotherhood.” However, he noted the Gallup report that 99% of Egyptians said that religion is “very important” to their daily lives and the majority religion “doesn’t distinguish between religion and civil states.”

As for Muslim Brotherhood penetration into the army now in charge of the transition, [Leader Two] has some concern, since the Brotherhood has certainly infiltrated the powerful labor and trade unions. “There is no distinction in Islam between religion and states, so the Muslim thinkers who may want to have a state that is not based on Sharia are going to have a great difficulty and the Muslim Brotherhood will exploit that. So we’re in a very delicate situation.” Christians living in Western democracies shouldn’t naively assume that religious freedom will simply emerge as a consequence of the revolution. Rather, he encourages fellow Christians to pray “for a ‘second miracle’ in Egypt”: namely, a new constitution that enshrines religious liberty.

Given the potential for similar grassroots movements in Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, and perhaps even Syria, the eyes of the Middle East—as well as the world—will be on Egypt in the coming months and even years.

Seven centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ, Isaiah prophesied “an oracle concerning Egypt”:

Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them….In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the LORD because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering…and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them. In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance’ (Is 19:1, 19-21, 23-25).

Amazing, isn’t it! The two nations identified most closely in history with the oppression of Israel—Egypt and Assyria—will be saved from their oppressors by calling on the name of Israel’s King. Throughout the New Testament, of course, calling on the name of Yahweh is identfied with calling on the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:21 and Rom 10:13, citing Joel 2:32). “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

This prophecy was not fulfilled before Christ’s birth. Nor was it fulfilled in the remarkable revolution in Tahrir Square. It was fulfilled when the Word became flesh, died, and was raised to the seat of all authority and power. Even now, people from every tribe and tongue are being drawn by the Spirit onto that highway through the gospel and our prayer is that Egyptians in growing throngs will come to the Savior who alone can guarantee liberation from the oppression of death and hell.

Comments (21)

Suffered under Pontius Pilate

National Public Radio is featuring an interview with Lawrence Wright, whose cover story in the current edition of The New Yorker magazine raises troubling questions about the Church of Scientology. Through hours of interviews with church officials and extensive research into public and military records, Wright reports that some of the initial claims made by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, were false and/or unsubstantiated.

What difference will all this have on those who are devoted to Scientology? Wright explains:

“It’s hard to measure, because we’re dealing with a religion,” he says, “and people are drawn to it because of faith. And if it were simply a matter of reason, then one could put this [document about Hubbard's service] down in front of you and say, ‘Here is conclusive proof that the founder of Scientology lied about his military record and lied about his injuries and lied about the fundamental principles out of which he created the Church of Scientology. But that may not matter to people who are involved in it, who may feel they are gaining something from their experience — either because they feel like the truths of Scientology enhance their lives or because the community of Scientologists that they live among is something like their family. So they intentionally shield themselves from knowing these types of things.”

How different this is from Paul’s assertion in 1 Corinthians that if Christ was not risen from the dead as the Gospel writers claimed, Christianity was a sham and waste of time! Christianity is based upon historical truth claims, such as the claim we confess on Sundays from the Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

There is nothing in Creedal and Confessional Christianity that belongs to Wright’s definition of “faith” and “religion.” It isn’t about the benefit that I personally derive from belief in a fairy tale; it’s about whether or not a real man, born from a real woman in a real place, lived a real life, suffered a real death under a real Roman governor, and actually rose from the dead three real days after crying out, “It is finished!”

Comments (2)

Evangelicals and Confession

The Catholic Church’s new iPhone app is generating a lot of buzz. Today, The Christian Post featured a story that included the positive endorsement of Biola philosophy professor John Mark Reynolds:

A checklist like that is totally compatible with evangelical traditions. Someone like John Calvin or Martin Luther would want you to go through the Ten Commandments and reflect thoughtfully on how you may have broken them,” said Reynolds.

As digital confessors tap their way through the app, they are asked questions like: “Do I not give God time every day in prayer?” “Have I been angry with God?” and “Have I encouraged anyone to have an abortion?”

Daily and thorough introspection is a good thing, according to Reynolds.

“If we’re not careful, we fall into cheap grace,” he cautioned. “We don’t pay any specific attention to a lot of the bad things we do. A lot of people get two or three things that they struggle and those are the only sins that they only considered that they have committed.”

Reynolds said some mainline Protestant denominations such as Lutherans or Episcopalians still observe the tradition of confession before a priest or pastor. According to Roman Catholic beliefs, however, the presence of a priest is required for absolution.

Evangelicals aren’t required to adhere to the same standard of confessing their sins to a pastor but they should still follow the biblical mandate to confess their sins to one another, he said.

“The Bible says you should confess your sins to Jesus but it also says you should confess your sins to one another,” said the Biola professor. “It’s true that ultimately only the power of the Holy Spirit can save me and only Jesus can truly help me, but sometimes they need advice and counsel from someone.”

Reynolds said that a lot of Christians, including himself, falls into the “cheap grace” camp. That observation has led him to be more concerned about Christians under-confessing to the Holy Spirit rather than becoming obsessed over their sins.

“Sin separates us from God … It’s good to review what we are doing wrong,” he said. “If we say that we love Jesus but we want to do things that separate us from him then once again we’re lying and the truth isn’t in us.”

Sin needs to be examined seriously but it’s not something to dwell over 10 years down the road, according to Reynolds.

“Once we’ve received forgiveness from Jesus, it’s time to move on.”

Prof. Reynolds’ best point is that evangelicals don’t have a mechanism for confessing sin and receiving forgiveness. Sadly, this iPhone app won’t help fix that problem. It may give a pious evangelical help in identifying his or her sins, but its purpose is to drive the sinner to the Confessional where a priest can then direct the sinner’s penance. One priest, Father Edward Beck even said, “I think this app may be a boon for the sacrament.”

But what is an evangelical to do after coming up with a list of sins? Surely they can confess them to a brother or sister in Christ, though the best that they can offer–Reynolds reminds us–is “advice” and “counsel.” Do they make an appointment with their senior pastor (or one of his many associates) to confess their sins? I wonder how many professional ministry staff have a tag for that in Outlook?

Sadly, there isn’t much recourse for the tender-hearted evangelical, which may be one reason why the “cheap grace” Reynolds laments is so prevalent in the church. One can only be tender-hearted about their sins for so long if they are never given relief. That’s where the Reformed and Lutheran practice of corporate confession and absolution comes into play.

In all of the early Reformation liturgies, a place was given for the congregation to read the Ten Commandments or some other passage that detailed God’s requirements. Upon reflecting on the Law, the congregation was led in a corporate prayer of confession after which they would look up to their minister who in the name of Jesus would absolve them of their sin.

Depending on the tradition, this was done in different ways. Sometimes with a hearty, “I absolve you.” Sometimes with a declaration of pardon. Sometimes with a reading of various gospel texts that pointed the penitent to the work of Christ for them. But regardless of how it was done, a sinner was assured of his or her standing with Christ and could worship God without fear. They received the objective word of Christ that reminded them of their being a New Creation, that the sin which so easily entangled them that week was removed from them as far as the east is from the west, and that God looked on them in his beloved Son and pronounced them, “not guilty.”

The iPhone app, as we’ve been reminded, isn’t meant to do that. It’s just meant to prepare the penitent for the Confessional. Sadly, the evangelical who adopts it for their own private confession will only dwell on the Law and never hear the voice of God through his ministers speaking words of grace and peace.

For a personal account of the power of the practice of confession in a Lutheran context, you’ll want to read this account from our friends at New Reformation Press.

Comments (7)

Help Wanted!

Will you be in southern California on February 18th?

Are you free from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.?

Would you like to help White Horse Inn create a study resource in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the publication of Mike Horton’s book, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace?

We’re looking for 15 people to be in the live studio audience on February 18th in Carlsbad, California as Mike Horton leads a small group through twelve sessions corresponding to the twelve chapters of Putting Amazing Back Into Grace. These sessions will be professionally recorded and packaged with a study guide and a new edition of the book later this year. All those who participate as members of the studio audience will get the complete package when it is published.

We have limited space available for this event and we need to know if you are committed to participating, so please leave a comment or contact us (please direct your comment to “Marketing”) to secure your spot and receive further instructions.

Thanks for your help!

Comments (11)

The Gospel Sonnets of Ralph Erskine

I’ve recently started reading Ralph Erskine’s Gospel Sonnets to my four children with great profit. Written in 1720, this book combines incredible theological precision with beautiful poetry. Thanks to Google, you can now read or download a pdf copy of this hard to find book. Here are a few lines dealing with both justification and sanctification:

The believer, being married to Christ, is both justified and sanctified

Proud nature may reject this gospel-theme,
And curse it as an Antinomian scheme.
Let slander bark, let envy grin and fight,
The curse that is so causeless shall not light.
If they that fain would make by holy force
‘Twixt sinners and the law a clean divorce,
And court the Lamb a virgin chaste to wife,
Be charg’d as foes to holiness of life,
Well may they suffer gladly on this score,
Apostles great were so malign’d before.

When as a cov’nant stern the law commands,
Faith puts her Lamb’s obedience in its hands:
And when its threats gush out a fiery flood,
Faith stops the current with her victim’s blood.
The law can crave no more, yet craves no less,
Than active, passive, perfect righteousness.
Yet here is all, yea, more than its demand,
All render’d to it by a divine hand.
Mankind is bound law-service still to pay,
Yea, angel-kind is also bound t’ obey.
It may by human and angelic blaze
Have honour, but in finite partial ways.

Thus doth the Husband by his Father’s will
Both for and in his bride the law fulfill:
For her, as ’tis a covenant; and then
In her, as ’tis a rule of life to men.
First all law-debt he most completely pays;
Then of law-duties all the charge defrays.
Does first assume her guilt, and loose her chains;
And then with living water wash her stains:
Her fund restore, and then her form repair,
And make his filthy bride a beauty fair;
His perfect righteousness most freely grant,
And then his holy image deep implant;
Into her heart his precious seed indrop,
Which, in his time, will yield a glorious crop.
But by alternate turns his plant he brings
Through robbing winters and repairing springs.
Hence, pining oft, they suffer sad decays,
By dint of shady nights and stormy days.
But blest with sap, and influence from above
They live and grow anew in faith and love;
Until transplanted to the higher soil,
Where furies tread no more, nor foxes spoil.

Comments (4)

CBD Interviews Mike Horton for “The Christian Faith”

Matthew Miller, the academic blogger at Christianbook.com, recently interviewed Mike Horton about The Christian Faith. Below are some highlights from the interview:

UPDATE: part two of the CBD interview with Michael Horton is also now available online.

Matthew: Predestination is, of course, always a hot button topic for Christians of every tradition. You ground your doctrine in the Trinity (following Barth?). What major implication does your grounding of the doctrine in divine ontology have for Christian theology?

Horton: Hmmm. A lot of comparisons to Barth! However, here as well I’d have to say that it’s the older Reformed theologians who most influence my thinking on this point. The covenant (federal) tradition of Reformed theology begins with the covenant of redemption, made between the Father, Son, and Spirit, before creation. In fact, I point out Barth’s rejection of this motif on the basis of what I take to be an inadequate appreciation for a robust view of the persons of the Trinity as distinct persons.

Calvin emphasizes that predestination can never be discussed safely unless we seek our election in Christ and not in ourselves or in God’s secret councils. Unfortunately, many have heard defenses of predestination that don’t follow this advice and the result is a doctrine that is indistinguishable from Islam. Happily, that does not characterize the confessional theologies of the Reformed tradition, but it circulates in popular presentations—by friend and foe alike.

Leave a Comment

The Fear of Antinomianism

Fear is a powerful motivator. We’ve grown used to it being used in politics to argue for (or against) certain economic, immigration, or military proposals. We sometimes don’t recognize its misuse in the church.  This week, the fear of antinomianism (which means the rejection of God’s Law as a standard of righteous action required of God’s covenant people) has been raised.  There have been genuine antinomians in church history.  There are many today, who set aside God’s law as the standard for God’s righteous judgment, usually substituting their own prescriptions.  However, accusations have been raised over the last few days that target people who are decidedly not antinomian.  In a recent Christianity Today article by Jason Hood, the antinomian charge was directed at contemporary Reformed preachers and writers.  Elsewhere, the White Horse Inn was rebuked for encouraging this false teaching.

There’s no point in responding to accusations point by point.  Anyone who subscribes Lutheran or Reformed confessions is conscience-bound to repudiate antinomianism as a perversion of biblical teaching.  We do not deny the abiding role of God’s moral law in exposing our sin (first use) and guiding us in grateful and godly living (third use).  So if Reformation Christianity is “antinomian” (the perennial charge from Roman Catholic and Arminian quarters), then it would help if critics would let us know the new definition.

The conventional wisdom in many Christian circles is that “we need to find the right balance between law and grace, so that we don’t fall into legalism or license.” Although this counsel has a long history, its most recent expression was urged in Jason Hood’s article.  The author expresses concern that too many Reformed Christians today are encouraging antinomianism—or at least reveling in the charge.  The author especially criticizes appeals to the point made by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (on the basis of Romans 6:1) that if we aren’t accused of antinomianism, we haven’t preached the gospel properly.  In that verse, Paul asks the rhetorical question that he assumes his treatment of the gospel thus far will provoke: “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”  The author of this article points out that Paul immediately answers in the strongest possible terms, “By no means!”  Yet his article implies that those of us who invoke Lloyd-Jones’ point might answer otherwise.

This misunderstanding can be cleared up easily by looking at what Lloyd-Jones goes on to say in that Romans commentary.  It could also be cleared up by looking at the sharp denunciations of antinomianism in the Lutheran Book of Concord and the Reformed (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort) and Presbyterian standards (Westminster Confession and Catechisms), as well as the Savoy (Congregationalist) and the London Baptist confessions.  With Paul, we answer without hesitation,

By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (vv 2-4).

What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with more gospel!  In other words, antinomians are not people who believe the gospel too much, but too little!  They restrict the power of the gospel to the problem of sin’s guilt, while Paul tells us that the gospel is the power for sanctification as well as justification.

The danger of legalism becomes apparent not only when we confuse law and gospel in justification, but when we imagine that even our new obedience can be powered by the law rather than the gospel.  The law does what only the law can do: reveal God’s moral will.  In doing so, it strips us of our righteousness and makes us aware of our helplessness apart from Christ and it also directs us in grateful obedience.  No one who says this can be considered an antinomian.  However, it’s not a matter of finding the right “balance” between law and gospel, but of recognizing that each does different work.  We need imperatives—and Paul gives them.  But he only does this later in the argument, after he has grounded sanctification in the gospel.

The ultimate antidote to antinomianism is not more imperatives, but the realization that the gospel swallows the tyranny as well as the guilt of sin.  It is enough to save Christians even in their failure and not only brings them peace with God in justification, but the only liberation from the cruel oppression of sin.  To be united to Christ through faith is to receive everything that we need not only to challenge legalism but antinomianism as well.

For more on this important distinction, please see my friend Tullian Tchividjian’s post and the post of my friend and colleague at WSC, R. Scott Clark.

UPDATE: some of you are asking for a more specific response to Frank Turk. A number of charges were laid against WHI, all in the spirit of brotherly concern. We appreciate the time that Frank took to write his six page letter, the 300 comments that it generated, and the interest that you are taking in the ongoing dialogue. But none of the WHI hosts has ever said that the Bible only has indicatives and imperatives.  And none of us has said that once you’ve said “Law & Gospel,” you’ve done your exegesis. Nor are we responsible for antinomian statements from people who listen to WHI (any more than Frank Turk is responsible for all the comments made after his blog post). We’re simply saying, with the Reformers and the confessional Reformed as well as Lutheran theologians through the ages, that Law and Gospel summarize the “two words” of that one Word that God has revealed to us.  There is narrative, poetry, wisdom, instruction, dialogue, parable, and other genres, but the most basic distinction to make when reading and proclaiming God’s Word is the one between Law and Gospel.  This is not only Luther, but Calvin, Bullinger, Ursinus, Perkins, Owen, Bavinck, Berkhof, Hodge and Murray.  Just as preaching “Christ crucified” doesn’t mean simply repeating the phrase, “Christ crucified,” but interpreting the whole of Scripture in the light of Christ, bearing in mind the distinction between command and promise is not just a matter of parroting the words, but of making sure that we don’t turn promises into commands and commands into promises.  There is a lot more that we have to bring to our study of Scripture, but when we get that wrong, everything is confused.

Comments (90)

The Christian Faith at National Review

Mike Potemra has some nice things to say about Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith at National Review Online.

Comments (2)

Page 32 of 52« First...1020...3031323334...4050...Last »