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No Nation Under God

Guest post by Jason Stellman

In her Newsweek article titled “One Nation Under God,” Lisa Miller reports that President Obama met with a team of moderate Christian leaders in Washington on November 30—among them Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo—for the purpose of articulating “a vision of Christianity that will counter a new—and newly powerful—religious-right rhetoric in advance of the 2012 election.”

The reason for such a meeting of the minds is obvious, especially if you’ve been watching Fox News: America enjoys a kind of divine Most-Favored Nation status in the world, and that status is being compromised by socialists who are calling our most beloved core values into question.

What’s motivating religious conservatives now, says Campolo, is a vision of America as God’s own special country, and free-market capitalism as crucial to the nation’s flourishing. Everyone who doesn’t see things this way, according to this perspective, is a socialist or a communist—“Pinkos who are subverting America under the auspices of the president of the United States,” he says. “The marriage between evangelicalism and patriotic nationalism is so strong that anybody who is raising questions about loyalty to the old, laissez-faire capitalist system is ex post facto unpatriotic, un-American, and by association non-Christian.” Support for Obama, in other words, equals an abandonment of American principles equals godlessness.

And there is little doubt who is leading the charge: “And the spokesman for this movement, adds Campolo, is the Fox News commentator Glenn Beck. ‘There’s no question in our minds about that.’” In fact, Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, goes as far as to say that “Right-of-center independents and religious conservatives believe that America is an exceptional place,” says “If you’re going to be a candidate or a leader of a party and you’re seen as a person who doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, you’re going to have a hard time winning.”

Miller explains:

Evangelicals characteristically see themselves as a persecuted group whose values are under assault by the mainstream culture, and Beck has most successfully (and visibly) reframed those values in terms of patriotism. The enemy is no longer “moral relativism,” a term that encompasses sexual promiscuity, divorce, homosexuality, and pornography. It’s socialism, the redistribution of wealth, immigrants—a kind of “global relativism” that makes no moral distinction between America and every other place. Beck speaks frequently about God’s special destiny for America. “We used to strive in this country to be a shining city on the hill,” he said at the “Restoring Honor” rally in August. “That’s what the Pilgrims came here for. That’s what they thought this land was. It’s what our Founders thought … It is the shining example of a place where people work together in peace and friendship and worship God and make things better together.”

(Of course, it wasn’t Glenn Beck’s spiritual ancestors who ventured to the new world on the Mayflower since his religion hadn’t been invented yet. In fact, in the nineteenth- and twentieth centuries Mormons like Beck were routinely persecuted by the very Christians whose vision he hopes to resurrect, ironically enough.)

Miller also highlights the fact that it is the idea that America occupies a unique place in God’s divine plan that helps account for certain aspects of U.S foreign policy:

This sense of America’s divine mission in the world grew. In the middle of the 19th century, legions of Protestant missionaries fanned out across the globe on errands from God, hoping to teach others the lessons of democracy and the Gospel—ideologies that were inexorably intertwined. “We wouldn’t be in Afghanistan if it weren’t for the missionaries of the 19th century,” says Grant Wacker, professor of American religious history at Duke. “It’s this whole complex of ideas: the world is our province, and we have both the right and the obligation to tutor the rest of the world.”

In other words, our city-on-a-hill national vision not only allows us, but in some sense obligates us, to play the role of earth’s guardian-slash-provider whose job is to export our religion, our democratic ideals, and our fast-food restaurants to those who either long for such things, or who would do so if they truly knew what’s best for them.

How ought Christians react to all this? What should be our response to learning that, come presidential campaign season, both the Democrats and Republicans will be playing tug-of-war with Jesus?

I would like to offer a handful of observations that I hope will help clarify our thinking on some of these issues, as well as provide some fodder for further discussion and study of these matters.

First, no matter their political persuasion, all Christians should feel very uncomfortable with the idea that the solution to the conservative politicization of the Christian faith is cheering on liberals when they try to do it. It is extremely anachronistic for anyone, whether on the left or the right, to try to claim divine sanction for free-market capitalism or biblical justification for universal healthcare. The Bible is not a political manual or blueprint for earthly utopia.

Second (and speaking of utopias), we must remember that the biblical doctrine of the liberty of conscience means that one man’s utopian dream is may very well be another man’s nightmarish dystopia. This is why those who long for their ministers to “take a prophetic stance against the culture” need to be careful what they wish for—they may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to listen to a 12-week sermon series on the evils of multinational corporations and their role in the killing of tens of thousands of innocent civilians during our so-called liberation of Iraq. You see, the thing about prophets is that their hearers have no veto power, nor do they have any say about which sins the prophet chooses to rebuke (and chances are, since “judgment begins in the house of God,” they will pick sins to rebuke that Christian tend to find tolerable [instead of the obvious ones]).

Third, America does not have any role in God’s redemptive plan for planet earth. The kingdom of Christ is manifested in this age in the visible church, not in any nation-state, regardless of how noble its history or how lofty its ideals. Many Reformational people have learned this lesson only partially—they have trashed their Left Behind novels and admitted that they were wrong about Israel, but they still haven’t figured out that they’re wrong about America, too.

Fourth, Obama is not a socialist. Even if our president’s wildest dreams were fulfilled, he would still be miles and miles to the right of much of the rest of the industrialized West. Say what you want about President Obama, but he is a smart man. It would be politically suicidal for him to make any actually progressive moves such as ending our for-profit healthcare system, or re-tailoring U.S. foreign policy in a truly systemic way. Sure, progressive moves such as these may be popular, but the unfortunate fact is that the desire of the people is only one of a host of other concerns. Thus when we take a couple steps back and analyze our two-party system, it becomes apparent that the only thing that distinguishes Republicans from Democrats is not the overall vision for our domestic and foreign policy (they both agree on this), but the miniscule details of that overall plan about which they disagree. To-may-to, to-mah-to.

Lastly and most importantly, American Christians need to remember something that we so easily forget, and that is that our true homeland is an eternal, heavenly one whose allure cannot be compromised by the goings-on of the culture war. It is remarkable that, for all the passionate Christian devotees of right-wingers like Glenn Beck or lefties like Jim Wallis, there are very few evangelicals in this country who can articulate the doctrine of justification in a coherent and biblical way. In other words, we Christians seem to have sacrificed the one thing that makes us unique—the gospel—on the altar of some baptized political ideology for which the divine Son of God isn’t even necessary.

So even if America does cease to be particularly special or unique in the world, we can rest assured that the church will always be so, for it is her errand that cannot be mimicked, and her message that cannot (and must not) be co-opted by the powers that be, whether on the right or the left.

Jason Stellman is the pastor of Exile Presbyterian Church in the Seattle area. He is the author of Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet (Reformation Trust, 2009), and The Destiny of the Species (forthcoming). He blogs at Creed, Code, Cult. He is a regular contributor to Modern Reformation:

“Called to Serve” by Michael Brown (Book Review) – May/June 2008 Vol: 17 Num: 3
“Christ & Culture Revisited” by D. A. Carson (Book Review) – Sept./Oct. 2008 Vol: 17 Num: 5
“Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism” by Michelle Goldberg (Book Review) – Jan./Feb. 2008 Vol: 17 Num: 1
Shortchanging the World?: “American Christians and Worldiness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World” by C.J. Mahaney (Book Review) – July/August 2009 Vol: 18 Num: 4
The Destiny of the Species – Nov./Dec. 2009 Vol: 18 Num: 6
Where Grace is Found – July/August 2007 Vol: 16 Num: 4

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Roger Nicole

Justin Taylor has the news of Roger Nicole’s death yesterday.

Prof. Nicole was kind enough to write for Modern Reformation, once in 1993 and again in 2008. In honor of his life, we’re making those articles available for free.

God Glorified in Conversion – Sept./Oct. 1993 Vol: 2 Num: 5

What is the Future of Evangelicalism?: A Personal History – Nov./Dec. 2008 Vol: 17 Num: 6

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Billboard Wars

American Atheists recently put up a billboard on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln tunnel saying, “You KNOW it’s a Myth, this Season, Celebrate REASON!” The Catholic League then retaliated with it’s own billboard on the Manhattan side of the tunnel with the message, “You Know it’s Real. This Season, Celebrate Jesus.” CNN’s Jeanne Moos recently produced a humorous look at this debate which you can view here.

Watching the CNN piece sorta takes me back to elementary school. “I know you are, but what am I?”, “I don’t make monkeys, I just train them,” etc. Both sides in this debate seem to have a lot of dogma and enthusiasm; what appears to be missing is a reasonable defense of each view. Years ago Monty Python’s Michael Palin rightly pointed out that “An argument is not the same as contradiction,” and Christians would do well to think about the apologetic implications of this sound advice.

Book and Audio Recommendations
Tactics (A White Horse Inn-terview with Greg Koukl):
Part 1:

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Part 2:

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Tactics, by Greg Koukl
The Reason for God , by Tim Keller
Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics, by Doug Powell

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Get Justified for Christmas!

Our first book, Justified, has been available for almost a month now and we’re very pleased by the results. We’re also eager to hear from you: now that you’ve had a chance to read it, what do you think?

If you haven’t gotten your copy yet and have been waiting for a Christmas sale to induce you to purchase a copy, we’ve got good news: you can get Justified for 25% off this Christmas! Just enter the discount code NY48SMK6 in the appropriate box at checkout.

We’re also working on making Justified available via Kindle and other ebook readers, but it doesn’t look like it will be ready in time for Christmas. Sorry for the delay, but it is coming!

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This is not your neighbor’s “Youth Group”

The following is by Rev. Michael Brown, pastor of Christ URC in Santee, CA and is used with his permission. Rev. Brown blogs at The Blog of Christ URC


The only “youth program” your kids need: some thoughts on family worship and catechesis

When my wife and I were introduced to Reformed Christianity, one of the things that stood out vividly to us was the practice of family prayer or “family worship.” In the revivalist, evangelical church in which I grew up, this practice was never emphasized. To be sure, the church in which I was raised encouraged important devotional acts such as praying and reading one’s Bible, but I can’t ever remember a pastor emphasizing the necessity and importance of regular family worship during the week. Instead, there was a full array of programs and small groups offered, each tailor-made to every member of the family: Jr.High group, high school group, college-and-career, men’s group, ladies’ group, young marrieds, married-with-children, empty-nesters, etc., etc. Not that everything in all of these groups was always bad. It’s just that there seemed to be an emphasis upon separating the family as a unit during the week in order to “minister” to each person’s needs.

Oddly enough, Sunday worship wasn’t much different. My family would arrive at church only to split up into our segregated groups for worship: I, a “youth pastor,” would go to the high school “worship service,” while my wife went into the main service with the adults, and my daughters went to “children’s’ church” with the toddlers. The first time we worshiped together as a family was the first Sunday we visited a confessional, Reformed church (!).

Coming to Reformed Christianity, my wife and I not only learned the sobering truth about the means of grace and what actually happens during the Divine Service on the Lord’s Day, we also learned about the vital importance of regular family worship throughout the week. Clearly, this was a practice far more biblical (and historical) than the compartmentalized, hustle-bustle of a busy week at church. The ancient paths God carved out for families to walk in long ago were new to us. We learned how he designed the family to be a worshiping unit, an entity that would engage in prayer, praise and instruction in the course of ordinary, daily life. We learned how Christian parents have the covenantal responsibility-both toward God and their children-of bringing up their little ones as disciples in the historic Christian faith. Suddenly, all those passages about training up your children began to come into color:

Deut 6.4-9: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Eph 6.4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”

Passages such as these, however, cannot be reduced to mere proof-texts for sending our children to Christian schools or buying Christian home-school curriculum. They require of us something far more vital than that. In the first place, they require the indispensable practice of the “family pew,” that is, a commitment of bringing our children to corporate worship every week. In worship, our children – no less than us – are summoned by God to receive his good gifts, confess their sins, and bring him praise and honor as the Creator and Redeemer of his people.

But these commands also require a commitment to daily catechesis so that our children will know what they believe and why they believe it. This is precisely why the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers, as well as the seventeenth-century Puritans who followed them, wrote rich catechisms and strongly advocated the practice of family worship. They understood each family to be a ‘little church,’ in which the father was called to be priest and spiritual head of his home under Christ.

It is for this reason that the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches that worship is to be conducted “in private families daily” (21.6). This was taken so seriously by our fathers in the faith, that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland not only included in its editions of the Westminster Standards a “Directory for Family Worship,” but even mandated disciplinary action against heads of households who neglected “this necessary duty”!

Hughes Oliphant Old describes the rhythm of family worship in Puritan life:

What the liturgy of the hours was for monks of the Middle Ages, the discipline of family prayer was for the Puritans. The typical Puritan home of seventeenth-century England may not have looked much like the splendid cloisters of Cluny, but there was something in common. The daily life of both Catholic monk and Puritan family man was ordered by a rhythm of prayer and praise. With Cistercian solemnity, the Puritan household would gather around the dinner table, father, mother, children, a maiden aunt, perhaps servants or an apprentice. A metrical psalm was sung. Then the head of the house would open up a great leather bound family Bible and read a chapter. This finished, the father would lead in prayer. The Puritans, whether on the Connecticut frontier or in the heart of London, whether they were Cambridge scholars or Shropshire cotters, gave great importance to maintaining a daily discipline of family prayer.

So what happened in the church that we have lost this vital practice? Why have we forgotten the wisdom of these ancient paths? As with most questions in historical theology, there is not one easy answer. There are several contributing factors that led to the corrosion of this practice. One of them, however, must certainly be the rise of American pragmatism.

As Americans, we have an unquenchable thirst for knowing the cash value of something. It may seem to many American Christians that investing in the rigorous daily duty of family worship is too costly. After all, getting a family in 2008 to meet together regularly around a table and take out thirty minutes of the day may seem almost impossible. It would require reordering and restructuring our daily lives. It would require slowing down a little bit. It would require turning off the television a little more (gasp!).

The fact of the matter is, family worship is a great investment. In fact, it is a no-brainer. It pays such high dividends that it is – to use the modern vernacular – like stealing money. In fact, I cannot think of many things in life that pay greater dividends than the ordinary practice of daily family worship. Let me quote Presbyterian minister Terry Johnson to give you an idea of what I mean:

If your children are in your home for 18 years, you have [over 5,600] occasions (figuring a 6 day week) for family worship. If you learn a new Psalm or hymn each month, they will be exposed to 216 in those 18 years. If you read a chapter a day, you will complete the Bible 4.5 times in 18 years. Every day they will affirm a creed or recite the law. Every day they will confess their sins and plead for mercy. Every day they will intercede on behalf of others. Think in terms of the long view. What is the cumulative impact of just 15 minutes of this each day, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, for 18 years? At the rate of 6 days a week (excluding Sunday), one spends an hour and a half a week in family worship (about the length of a home Bible study), 78 hours a year (about the length of two weekend retreats), and 1,404 hours over the course of 18 years (about the length of eight week-long summer camps). When you establish your priorities, think in terms of the cumulative effect of this upon your children. Think of the cumulative effect of this upon you, after 40 or 60 or 80 years of daily family worship. All this without having to drive anywhere.

The family is essentially a discipleship group. In praying and reading the Bible together (and maybe singing too), the whole family is being spiritually nurtured as the truths of the historic Christian faith are pressed before them each day. Parents are humbled as they are constrained to assume the role of priest for their family. They are driven to their knees in a sense of inadequacy of such a task. They are forced to adjust their lifestyle in order to carry out the responsibility of raising their children in the Lord. And they are confronted with the reality of appearing either consistent or inconsistent in the eyes of their little ones.

In the meantime, children are growing up watching their parents humble themselves before the Lord. They are learning of Christ’s claim and Lordship on their lives. They are absorbing Scripture and realizing its authority. They are provided with a medium for reinforcing memorization of Scripture, catechism questions, creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, etc. And they are seeing how they are different than the world in that God has set them apart as his own special people. All of this has a great effect on covenant children: it is part of the means God uses to bring them to faith.

But as you read this, you may be thinking, “Fine. I agree. Consistent family worship seems indispensable. But where do I begin? How do I do family worship?” Let me offer a few recommendations:

First, FIND A TIME that works well for your family. For many, this will be the dinner table. Believe it or not, it is actually very simple to transition from eating a meal together (an invaluable and neglected practice in itself) to having family worship without ever leaving the table. On the other hand, maybe bedtime will be more conducive for your family. Whatever the case, just find a time in which everyone in the family is together for at least 15-20 minutes a day. If no such time exists for your family, then you desperately need to make one! Settle on a time that will become as fixed a routine for your family as getting dressed or brushing teeth. Settle on it and guard it! When the phone rings, let the answering machine pick it up. Instead of being enslaved to technology, let it serve you!

Second, KEEP IT SIMPLE. There is no reason to make family worship long or complex. You can keep it as simple as these three elements: Scripture reading, catechism and prayer.

With regard to Scripture reading, try reading a chapter a day, working your way through particular books of the Bible. Perhaps on certain days, read the passage that was preached in worship the previous Lord’s Day. This will help your family to review what you heard and hopefully develop a practice of meditating on it during the week.

For catechism, work on memory with your children. Teach them to memorize the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed. Then move on to Heidelberg Catechism Q.1, breaking it down into parts until they have the whole thing mastered. Move on from there to these essential questions: ##2-5, 21, 27, 60, 65, 69, 75, 86, 116. It will take a while (maybe years), but despite what you might think, they can do it. Be patient. Think long term. Don’t give up.

With regard to prayer, teach your children how to pray by modeling it for them. Conclude family worship with the simple acrostic A-C-T-S: adoration of God, confession of sins, thanksgiving for all he has done and given, and supplications for those in need. This is a great opportunity to pull out the bulletin and look at the particular prayer needs in the congregation, teaching our little ones to intercede for others in the household of God.

You may also consider singing a Psalm or hymn together before reading Scripture. But whatever the case, family worship should only take about 15 or 20 minutes. Seriously. There is no reason to turn this into a massive ordeal. In fact, fathers, resist the temptation to do that! Once in a while, you may find your family engaged in an extended discussion over a particular doctrine or theological question. It is a beautiful thing when this happens spontaneously and naturally. But don’t force it. Ask a few questions, keep it simple, and conclude. If your family comes to expect a forty-five to sixty minute Bible study from dad, they may begin to dread the exercise.

Third, GET STARTED! To borrow an old slogan from Nike, “Just do it!” Don’t procrastinate and put it off. Each day your children get a little older. Redeem the time given to you.

Fourth, BE CONSISTENT. When you miss a day (or two or three!), don’t throw in the towel. Get back on track and go. Too much is at stake to give up.

Finally, Dad, Mom, BE SUPPORTIVE OF ONE ANOTHER. Satan is against you in this, so be prepared. He wants nothing more than for you to pick at one another during family worship, become frustrated and quit. He wants you to leave the Bible and catechism book on the shelf and reach for the remote at the time you have designated for family worship. He wants wives to be resistant and husbands to be lazy. So, encourage, support and be respectful of one another as you engage in this daily practice.

Family worship is a joy, but it takes work. It usually requires some rearranging of our priorities in daily life. And if you are getting a late start with your kids, it will probably be met with some resistance. Pray for one another with regard to your duties in this simple, but awesome practice.

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Get Justified!

Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification is NOW AVAILABLE for purchase!

We’re very proud of this first book, published under the Modern Reformation imprint. Our hope is to release a new volume every year, combining the best of our classic articles with new chapters written to address the important theological and ecclesiological issues of the day.

For the next five days, you can use a special discount code to get the book at 50% off its normal retail price. Just enter XFPM89VW in the discount code box. This discount is only available through Friday, November 19th.

Once you’ve purchased and read the book, let us know what you think!

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An Impotent Symbol of Cinema Secularism

Crystal Cathedral“He who marries the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower.”

This sage warning from William Ralph Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the mid-20th century, is especially poignant with the recent announcement that an Orange County, California landmark, the Crystal Cathedral, has filed for bankruptcy. According to this recent article in The Guardian, the demise of the famous church founded by televangelist Robert Schuller is illustrative of the deeper and broader weaknesses of American evangelicalism.

A telling quote from the article:

So if you wonder why Americans are, anomalously, religious it is because we have evacuated religion of all content. There are of course theological doctrines on the books, which church members tick off, in the way that they agree to accept screenfuls of conditions for installing new software. But most have no serious interest in these theoretical matters. Whether signing on for a new therapy or self-help programme, trying out a new diet or a new church, they are looking for a bag of tricks, a collection of gimmicks and recipes that will get them the material prosperity, perfect health, beautiful bodies, ideal relationships and complete happiness to which they believe they are entitled.

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John Warwick Montgomery on Reality and Speculation

Modern Reformation contributor and noted Lutheran apologist John Warwick Montgomery recently gave the Fall 2010 Faith and Reason Lecture at Patrick Henry College.  Montgomery began his lecture by appealing to Sherlock Holmes:

“We begin – and we shall end – with Sherlock Holmes,” began Dr. John Warwick Montgomery during last Friday’s Faith and Reason lecture, entitled “Speculation vs. Factuality: An Analysis of Modern Unbelief and Suggested Corrective.” “’Facts, facts, facts,’ insisted the Great Detective. ‘It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts. I can discover facts but I cannot change them.’”

With this introduction, Dr. Montgomery, PHC’s Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and Christian Thought, posited what he views as the central roadblock to genuine Christian faith — a prejudice in which “modern unbelief departs from factual reality in favour of unsupportable speculation, leaving its advocates in a never-never land without hope either in this world or in the next.”

Faith and Reason lecture, Fall 2010 from Sarah Pride on Vimeo.

Prof. Montgomery’s work has appeared in the pages of Modern Reformation since 1993:

“Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification” by Alister E. McGrath (Book Review) – March/April 2000 Vol: 9 Num: 2
God & Other Law-Makers – May/June 1993 Vol: 2 Num: 3
God at University College Dublin – Jan./Feb. 2009 Vol: 18 Num: 1
Legal Evidence for the Truth of the Faith – March/April 2006 Vol: 15 Num: 2
Legislating Morality – July/August 1992 Vol: 1 Num: 4
The Descent of Evangelicalism: Origins of the Specious – Sept./Oct. 1997 Vol: 6 Num: 5
The Incarnate Christ: The Apologetic Thrust of Lutheran Theology – Jan./Feb. 1998 Vol: 7 Num: 1

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Justified: a preview of Mike Horton’s chapter

Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification will be available for purchase in one week. You can pick up the very first copies at a significant discount at the White Horse Inn booth at the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia (November 17-19, 2010).

We got some nice pre-press last week from our friend Tullian Tchividjian. Tullian was in town and we gave him a copy of the book at lunch. His first impressions?

Mike gave me a copy of a new book that he edited and published through Modern Reformation entitled Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification. I was flipping through it last night and was super impressed by what I read.  At the end of the book Mike outlines six-core beliefs that define the mission of Modern Reformation and the White Horse Inn (his weekly radio broadcast). While all of the six beliefs are foundational, I was struck by the gripping clarity of belief number two on the importance of Gospel-centered preaching. Everything he writes here not only defines my theology of preaching but is, in my opinion, the only type of preaching that will rescue the church from Christless Christianity. He writes:

Scripture is of no use to us if we read it merely as a handbook for daily living without recognizing that its principle purpose is to reveal Jesus Christ and his gospel for the salvation of sinners. All Scripture coalesces in Christ, anticipated in the OT and appearing in the flesh in the NT. In Scripture, God issues commands and threatens judgment for transgressors as well as direction for the lives of his people. Yet the greatest treasure buried in the Scriptures is the good news of the promised Messiah. Everything in the Bible that tells us what to do is “law”, and everything in the Bible that tells us what God has done in Christ to save us is “gospel.” Much like medieval piety, the emphasis in much Christian teaching today is on what we are to do without adequate grounding in the good news of what God has done for us in Christ. “What would Jesus do?” becomes more important than “What has Jesus done?” The gospel, however, is not just something we needed at conversion so we can spend the rest of our Christian life obsessed with performance; it is something we need every day–the only source of our sanctification as well as our justification. The law guides, but only the gospel gives. We are declared righteous–justified–not by anything that happens within us or done by us, but solely by God’s act of crediting us with Christ’s perfect righteousness through faith alone.

Thanks, Tullian! Those six core beliefs are central to our work and they give us a unique perspective on the current dialogue about justification that will take center stage in Atlanta next week. As our last little “teaser” before releasing the book, we wanted to post an excerpt from Mike Horton’s chapter, entitled “Engaging N.T. Wight and John Piper.” This chapter will give you a preview of the paper Mike will give at ETS next week.

Perhaps the most respected evangelical Jesus scholar, Bishop N. T. Wright has been stirring things up in Paul studies for nearly three decades. Although profiting from many of his insights, I have interacted critically with his treatment of justification in Covenant and Salvation (Westminster John Knox, 2007). My focus here, however, is on the importance of covenant theology as the context for justification, joining the conversation between John Piper and N. T. Wright.

In The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Crossway, 2007), Piper seems to regard Wright’s treatment of the covenant motif in Paul as a distraction from the apostle’s doctrine of justification. In his rejoinder, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, Wright counters that Paul’s doctrine of justification is

“about what we may call the covenant—the covenant God made with Abraham, the covenant whose purpose was from the beginning the saving call of a worldwide family through whom God’s saving purposes for the world were to be realized….For Piper, and many like him, the very idea of a covenant of this kind remains strangely foreign and alien….Despite the strong covenantal theology of John Calvin himself, and his positive reading of the story of Israel as fulfilled in Jesus Christ, many who claim Calvinist or Reformed heritage today resist applying it in the way that, as I argue in this book, Paul himself does, in line with the solid biblical foundations for the ‘continuing exile’ theme.”

While in my view the lion’s share of false choices are on Wright’s side of the ledger, I agree with his point that covenant theology is the proper context for Paul’s doctrine of justification. My concern with Wright’s view is not that he gives too much place for the covenantal motif—particularly, the unfolding of the Abrahamic covenant issuing in a cosmic redemption. In fact, I even find Wright’s end-of-exile motif persuasive and enriching. Rather, my concern is that he reduces the complexity of this covenant theology, conflating law and gospel in a single covenant type—viz., covenantal nomism.

Simply to advocate covenant theology does not necessarily specify its content. In 1991 Wright wrote that “covenant theology is one of the main clues, usually neglected, for understanding Paul.” Yet, at the same time, he is quick to distance his covenant theology from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century versions. In a later work Wright concedes that he has never read these sources: “Like many New Testament scholars, I am largely ignorant of the Pauline exegesis of all but a few of the fathers and reformers. The Middle Ages, and the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, had plenty to say about Paul, but I have not read it.” Classic covenant theology has therefore been, in my view, too lightly dismissed—even caricatured—without serious firsthand evaluation. While I agree with Wright’s claim that covenant theology is more crucial for understanding justification than Piper suggests, I argue that it is Wright’s version of covenant theology (viz., reducing different types to “covenantal nomism”) that generates false choices.

Next week, we’ll post a video interview in which Mike Horton talks about Justified and the role he hopes the book will have in the current conversations about justification, especially among the Young, Restless, and Reformed-types who have been introduced to Calvin by Piper but find Wright’s “whole world” emphasis fresh and engaging.

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They’re Reading MR, Are You?

Nov-Dec 2010 Modern ReformationThe November/December 2010 issue of Modern Reformation is now available! Two of our authors are already hitting the airwaves to talk about their articles. Both Michael Horton and Ken Samples were interviewed by the good folks at Issues, Etc. recently. We’ve posted the interviews here along with a link to their articles.

Mike Horton on The Gospel and the Sufficiency of Scripture: Church of the Word or Word of the Church? [Related MR article]

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Ken Samples on Responding to Objections to Sola Scriptura [MR article available to subscribers]

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Subscribe to Modern Reformation today and get instant access to the rest of the issue online while you wait for your print issue to arrive in the mail.

Still not sure? Request our Inntro Kit before December 31, 2010, and we’ll send you this issue along with our extended length White Horse Inn CDs. (Restrictions apply.)

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