White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CNN on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

CNN online recently featured an article on Kenda Creasy Dean’s new book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telliing the American Church (Oxford University Press, 2010). Dean is a professor at Princeton Seminary who participated with Christian Smith and others in the National Study of Youth and Religion. The CNN article discusses the theme of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a phrase used liberally by WHI hosts for the past few years and coined by Christian Smith to describe the religious and spiritual lives of today’s teenagers. Dean discusses this problem at length in her new book, and argues that teens have received this “fake” view of Christianity from their parents. She writes, “The problem does not seem to be that churches are teaching young people badly, but that we are doing an exceedingly good job of teaching youth what we really believe, namely, that Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little, and the church is a helpful social institution filled with nice people…” She goes on to say that “if churches practice MTD in the name of Christianity, then getting teenagers to church more often is not the solution (conceivably it could make things worse). A more faithful church is the solution….Maybe the issue is simply that the emperor has no clothes.”

Michael Horton recently interviewed Kenda Creasy Dean for the White Horse Inn, and that interview will air in early October.

Click Here for the CNN article titled, “More Teens Becoming Fake Christians.”

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Senior Pastor Glenn Beck?

It used to be said that Rick Warren was “America’s pastor.” Before that, of course, Billy Graham was the pastor of presidents. Now, it’s Glenn Beck.

Regardless of your political views, you have to admire how Glenn Beck–a one-time drunk, washed up comedian–has transformed himself beyond a mere conservative commentator into a public persona writ large on the American evangelical landscape. A lesser person would assume that Beck had seen where the money and influence was to be had and beat feet to get there.

Professor Russell Moore of The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, spent his Sabbath afternoon writing a brilliant reflection on Beck’s God and Country rally in Washington, D.C. this weekend. You must read it and then start working your way through these articles from Modern Reformation on civil religion and the two kingdoms.

1992: Christ and Culture

1993: Beyond Culture Wars

1994: God and Politics

2000: Why Two Kingdoms

2004: The Christian Voter’s Guide

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Congregationalist Casino Night

How bad is the rot in American Christianity? Is our heterodoxy, compromise, and worldliness a modern problem or does it perhaps go deeper, down into the DNA of a faith tradition formed more by revivalism than historic faith and practice? Over at Steadfast Lutherans, our friend and Modern Reformation contributor Mollie Z. Hemingway posted an article first published in the Lutheran magazine Witness back in 1916.  The author of the article surveys a number of ministers and practices across the nation and asks, “Is this Christianity?” Here’s a sample:

The Episcopal Churchman, commenting upon the tendency towards sensationalism in the Reformed sects, later suggested that the streets may yet be brilliant with everchanging electric signs flashing forth, “The Congregationalistic Casino,” “The Baptist Hall of Joy.” “The Gospel Free Lunch and Picture Show.”

Leaving off comment about “Reformed sects,” it is interesting to note that the article wasn’t too far off. Casino Night has descended at First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. Here’s Pastor Jack Schaap playing emcee to the congregation:

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Clark H. Pinnock – 1937-2010

Theologian Clark Pinnock died this past Sunday, August 15th.

Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition has a long review of Prof. Pinnock’s life and theological development.

White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation often turned to Pinnock as a tragic example of the turn in American theology. We’ve collected some of those resources below.

Discussion between Dr. Mike Horton and Dr. Clark Pinnock in 1990 on the “Megashift Debate” and published in the Jan/Feb 1993 issue of Modern Reformation.

Interview with Dr. Pinnock in the Nov/Dec 1998 Modern Reformation on the “Openness Model of God.”

Sept/Oct 1999 Modern Reformation entitled “God in Our Image: Why Some Evangelicals Are Challenging the Traditional View of God” discussing many issues of which Dr. Pinnock was at the leading edge.

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Additional Resources on Distraction

We recently featured a provocative interview with T. David Gordon about the problem of electronic distraction (Distracting Ourselves to Death, July 11, 2010) which is making thoughtful reading, sincere reflection and real concentration increasingly difficult. The program was inspired in part by two documentaries produced by Frontline, both of which are available free online:

Frontline: Digital Nation
Frontline: Growing Up Online

Here are some additional books and articles for further reading on this subject:

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr

The Dumbest Generation, by Mark Bauerlein

The Atlantic: Is Google Making us Stupid?, by Nicholas Carr

The New York Times: Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?, by Motoko Rich

NPR: The Shallows: Has The Internet Rewired Your Brain, by Oscar Villalon

NPR: Audio Interview with Nicholas Carr

Mars Hill Audio Journal 94: This particular issue of the MHAJ by Ken Myers features interviews with Maggie Jackson and Mark Bauerlein.

Mars Hill Audio Anthology: On Books & Reading, featuring extended interviews with Dana Gioia, Maggie Jackson, Eugene Peterson, Gregory Reynolds, and others

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Tragic Church Signs

Welcome to a new segment on the White Horse Inn blog: “Tragic Church Signs.”

The first installment comes courtesy of the comment string in a recent MockingbirdNYC blog post.

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If you’ve seen a Tragic Church Sign, send it in!

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Video Posted: Horton at Saddleback

AN UPDATE FROM MIKE HORTON:

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

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

lausanne-saddleback

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Listen Live to Horton at Ligonier

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

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

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WHI Interviews Tullian Tchividjian

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

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

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Is the gospel a middle ground between legalism and lawlessness?

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

How would you frame it instead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you boil your concern down to one sentence?

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

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