Nathan Bingham sent this over to us this weekend, a series of videos of Mike Horton speaking about one of his earliest books, The Agony of Deceit. That book still gets Horton invitations to speak to national news media about the likes of Benny Hinn. Thankfully, his hairstyle has changed! (Around the office here we refer to that era as the “flock of seagulls” hair days!)
Rod Rosenbladt, who early in White Horse Inn history was given the moniker “Dad Rod,” sent over this piece from Mark Galli that was featured on the Christianity Today website on April 15. Mark Galli is the senior managing editor of Christianity Today, and his recent writing gives us goosebumps. We’re only sorry that it took us a month to redirect people to this–another insightful commentary on American Christianity.
Here’s a teaser:
A major motive for being a Christian and participating in its rituals and disciplines is about to collapse. This is going to make a lot of Christians panic, but I believe the recent development will be all to the good.
The development is the discovery that hallucinogenic drugs can give people an experience seemingly identical to powerful religious experiences.
Read the rest of this article and you’ll agree with Dad Rod: this is powerful stuff.
Mike Horton made a surprise guest appearance on Hannity.com Sunday night. On the “forums” section of political commentator Sean Hannity’s website, a discussion about “Reasonable” Christianity vs. Revivalism in America broke out and someone posted a link to Horton’s Modern Reformation (Jan/Feb 1995) article, “The Legacy of Charles Finney.”
In addition to reading the article, listen to this 2007 White Horse Inn episode on “Charles Finney and American Revivalism.”
A former Presbyterian, Charles Finney is the godfather of American evangelicalism and his formative influence is felt today in churches across the denominational spectrum. Here’s how Mike Horton put it:
Finney’s one question for any given teaching was, “Is it fit to convert sinners with?” One result of Finney’s revivalism was the division of Presbyterians in Philadelphia and New York into Arminian and Calvinistic factions. His “New Measures” included the “anxious bench” (precursor of today’s altar call), emotional tactics that led to fainting and weeping, and other “excitements,” as Finney and his followers called them. Finney became increasingly hostile toward Presbyterian doctrine, referring in his introduction to his Systematic Theology to the Westminster Confession and its drafters rather critically, as if they had created, as he put it, a “paper pope,” and had “elevated their confession and catechism to the Papal throne and into the place of the Holy Ghost.” Remarkably, Finney demonstrates how close Arminian revivalism, in its naturalistic sentiments, tends to be to a less refined theological liberalism, as both caved into the Enlightenment and it’s enshrining of human reason and morality. Finney writes “that the instrument framed by that assembly (the Westminster Confession and Catechisms) should in the nineteenth century be regarded as the standard of the church, or of any intelligent branch of it, is not only amazing, but I must say that it is highly ridiculous. It is as absurd in theology as it would be in any other branch of science. It is better to have a living than a dead Pope.”
You can read the rest of Mike Horton’s opening commentary here.
We’re grateful to the folks at the Resurgence for hosting Mike Horton on their blog and video feed this spring. If you missed any of it or want to bookmark it for further reading/viewing, here are the link:
If you are in the Los Angeles area, you only have a few more weeks to see and hear White Horse Inn cohost Ken Jones before he takes up his new call at Glendale Missionary Baptist Church in Miami, Florida.
Ken will be preaching through the end of May at Greater Union Baptist Church in Compton, California, where he has served as pastor since 1990. This Saturday, May 22, at 9:00 a.m., you can also hear Ken speak at the men’s breakfast at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Glendale, California. If you plan to attend, please RSVP to (818) 244-3747 or email@example.com.
Ken’s first Sunday at GMBC will be June 6. His formal installation as the fifth pastor of the church will take place on June 27th. I asked Ken a few questions about his move and his future with White Horse Inn:
After 21 years at Greater Union, why did you accept a call to Glendale? I wasn’t looking to leave Greater Union. The church is going well; we’ve seen tremendous growth–not just in terms of attendance, but also in the quality of our members and their life as disciples. But I could see that what we were privileged to participate in at Greater Union was needed at Glendale and that seemed like a great fit for me and my wife, Lisa.
You’ve been on the White Horse Inn panel for more than ten years. How will your work with White Horse Inn inform your work at Glendale Baptist? The thing that ties together all the different themes that Mike, Kim, Rod, and I take up each week on White Horse Inn is preaching. People and churches who encounter the Reformation can become intellectually convinced of the truth of the doctrine of justification, for instance, but it isn’t until that truth soaks through the preaching that a church experiences real change. Preaching is the key. Too often it is inconsistent (I even saw that in my own life as I began to grapple with and understand the doctrines of the Reformation). So, I hope to bring consistent Christ-centered preaching and a Christ-centered hermeneutic to my new role as the pastor at Glendale Missionary Baptist Church. It benefited Greater Union, it will benefit Glendale, and it will benefit any church that is new to the Reformation.
At the most recent taping for White Horse Inn, Ken made a few comments about his move.
Ken and the elders and congregation at Glendale Missionary Baptist Church are committed to his continuing to participate as a cohost of White Horse Inn. So, even though his ministerial duties have changed, we’re glad to say that his voice will still be heard each week on White Horse Inn!
I wasn’t really prepared for something this good, but this article by Andrew Root at the Youth Specialties website is gold. Read it if you’re in youth work, or regularly preach or teach God’s people, or wonder why you don’t seem to fit in with the dominant Christian culture of giddiness.
Here’s a teaser:
I wonder if one reason even good kids know little about the Christian faith (as the National Study on Youth and Religion pointed out), may be because they sense there is little to know, for Christianity from the perspective of the shiny and happy is about being good and avoiding bad. They don’t see Christianity as living into an altogether different reality, where from death comes life, where the God of glory is found in shadows, in brokenness and yearning, rendering brokenness and yearning impotent to determine our destiny. From the perspective of trying to keep kids away from the bad, Christianity is about avoidance.
I don’t listen to Christian radio often, but occasionally I indulge. I admit I sometimes enjoy the upbeat Christian pop music, and every once in a while the radio personalities have some interesting things to say. While listening to one of my local Christian radio stations one afternoon, I heard a statement that struck me as somewhat odd. The announcer guaranteed that listening to their station for three hours each day would improve my walk with Jesus. Later on, I was promised that three hours per day of this station would improve my relationship with my spouse or children (again, guaranteed!). At the time this seemed strange to me, if only for practical reasons. What if I just happened to listen to the three worst hours each day? Or what if I only listened to music, and never heard a single sermon, devotional, or piece of inspiring advice? But really, the issue was not a practical one, it was theological. A radio station that plays some upbeat music and the occasional sermon or talk show is not the place I think of going to when I want to change my life.
I had forgotten all about this until just recently. While indulging in a little Christian radio a few days ago, I heard several “testimonial” advertisements promoting the station. In one ad, a woman said that she was fighting depression after a divorce, and listening to this Christian radio station lifted her mood and strengthened her faith. The part about lifting her mood didn’t surprise me, but when she described how listening to this radio station had strengthened her faith I was a bit shocked. Listening to this radio station apparently took the place of (or was simply more effective than) reading God’s Word, hearing it preached, and having it represented and confirmed for her in the Sacraments. In short, listening to Christian radio had had the effect of a means of grace.
The next ad I heard was only more shocking. This time, a woman described a point in her life when she was not a Christian and was struggling with suicidal thoughts. Somehow (I forget the details now) she was turned on to this Christian radio station, and after listening for a while and feeling better, she decided to give her life to Christ. There was no mention of a church or pastor being involved, only the radio station. In this case, Christian radio had not only taken the place of a means of grace (the preaching of the Word), but was apparently responsible for converting a lost sinner. Yet this too, according to Paul, is the province of the proclamation of the Gospel.
What worries me is not that Christian radio is having a positive effect on people. My worry is that many Christians are increasingly looking outside of God’s ordained means of grace to find what they need. More worrisome than that is the thought that they are finding their needs met not in faithful Gospel preaching and Sacraments, but in music. It is surely possible to hear a good sermon, occasionally, on Christian radio (although I can scarcely remember that last time I did). But in ads like these it is consistently the “uplifting music” that is cited as the main source of help and strength. There is no doubt that singing heartfelt praises to God can have a therapeutic effect. Singing praises, however, (or merely listening passively to others singing praises) is not a means of receiving God’s grace, but rather a grateful response to grace already received. The grace we receive from God comes through his instituted means: The preaching of his Word, especially the promises of his glorious Gospel, and the Word made visible in the Sacraments (especially the Lord’s Supper). Just as no amount of online sermons can ever replace the experience of gathering with fellow saints in the local church (something that we are in fact explicitly commanded to do), so also no amount of uplifting music can ever replace the true grace of God given by his own specially chosen means.
The newest issue of Modern Reformation is in the mail to subscribers and available online. The theme and title of the issue is Canon Formation. Executive Editor, Dr. Ryan Glomsrud, explains the issue:
“Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” is one of those questions signaling an unanswerable conundrum. This issue takes up the question of the formation of the Bible or “canon,” meaning the official list and “rule” of Old and New Testament books. Readers may come to this topic from different starting points, but here is the question that frames much of what follows: Does the Word of God create the church or does the church officially decide what constitutes the Word of God? Put another way: Did the church establish the canon or did the Bible create the church that afterward recognized the books of the Bible to be what they are, the canonical Word of God?
Unfortunately, many evangelicals today think this is either an unsolvable “chicken or egg” conundrum, or worse, that the church acted out of its own authority to create the Bible, which is the Roman Catholic position. From a biblical and Reformation perspective, however, canon formation is not a chicken/egg conundrum but a problem of some who would mistakenly put the cart before the horse. Therefore, our common theme once again is that it is God who works and we who respond; the Word and Spirit together found the community of faith who maintain these books for the purpose of preserving the record of God’s promises.
If you haven’t yet taken advantage of our free trial offer, do so today and get access to almost twenty years worth of online content in addition to the current issue. The folks at the home office will also send you a White Horse Inn introductory CD. On the other hand, if you’re ready to subscribe you can do that, too! In fact, your subscription extends the reach of Modern Reformation into foreign countries, like the Philippines, Brazil, and Korea. Your subscription allows us to grant permission to missionaries in Latvia, Poland, and Germany to reproduce and repost translations of Modern Reformation articles. Your subscription allows us to send Modern Reformation to prisoners across the nation who are starting their own Reformation journeys within the confines of a prison cell.
What are you waiting for? Subscribe today!
Thanks for all the thoughtful interaction regarding my recent blog post. I’ll pick out Andrew Meredith’s for further reflection:
As part of the so-called “young, restless, and Reformed” movement, I would consider myself an evangelical who has been significantly impacted by the Reformed tradition. Although I have respect for the “Reformed rooms,” I could not agree with the Reformed confessions. My question is twofold: on what basis does one accept these confessions as one’s own belief, and what exactly is there authority in the church?
Many Protestants today—especially in America—view creeds and confessions with suspicion, or at least treat them as suggestive for individual believers rather than as a shared confession of doctrine. However, this is itself a tradition. It’s largely shaped by Anabaptist and revivalist sources.
Roman Catholics are bound to the church’s teachings on the ground that they are simply the teachings of the church. Reformed Christians are bound to their church’s teachings on the ground that they summarize Holy Scripture.
When the practical implications of the Jew-Gentile relationship in the church came to a head, the church of Antioch (probably a group of local churches) appointed delegates (Paul and Barnabus) to a specially called Synod of Jerusalem (Ac 15). Repeatedly we read that “the apostles and elders,” sent from each city, met to deliberate and they concluded with a consensus statement: the first time “dogma” (dogmata) is used in the New Testament. Peter did not act as a pope, speaking ex cathedra. Nor did each local church (much less each member) decide the case. As Paul, Silas, and Timothy traveled from city to city, they “delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Ac 16:4-5). Following this pattern, Reformed Christians believe that the church has real authority from Christ and that the interpretations of Scripture by the church in its representative assemblies are binding—though always open to revision in the light of God’s Word.
However, we know that Reformed and Presbyterian churches are not the only visible expressions of “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” One of my motives for advocating a more inclusive term like “evangelical Calvinist” is that it might relieve some of the stress between people who like some Reformed teachings (such as the doctrines of grace), but, as you say, cannot “agree with the Reformed confessions.” Evangelical Calvinists can get together at conferences, but we’re all called by Christ to gather regularly for the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers (Ac 2:39). We’re free to attend edifying conferences, but we’re commanded to belong to faithful churches.
“Reformed” isn’t just a few doctrines; in fact, it’s not even a long list of doctrines. It’s a covenantal way of faith and life. The way our confessions and catechisms talk about even issues like election, justification, and union with Christ is inseparable from the way they talk about sanctification, eschatology, and the nature and ministry of the church. There are some people who call themselves Reformed simply because they affirm a world-embracing faith, even though they deny the “five points.” There are others who affirm the “five points,” but have an at least implicitly Wesleyan-Arminian view of sanctification or a Baptist view of the status of covenant children or embrace a radical distinction between Israel and the church in Scripture.
If something is taught in Scripture, we are obligated to believe it. As a Reformed Christian, I believe that our confessions and catechisms most faithfully summarize what is taught in Scripture. And I confess that together with “a cloud of witnesses”—both in heaven and on earth, across the boundaries of time and place.
It’s wonderful when Christians can affirm “mere Christianity” together. And it’s great when we can affirm the doctrines of grace together. However, we aren’t all Lutherans because we believe in justification or Roman Catholics because we believe in the Trinity or Baptists because we believe in baptism. There is such a thing as the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition. Piper, Sproul, Horton, nor anyone else gets to define what that is. We have to submit ourselves to the common confession of Scripture in a communion of saints.
Movements are funny things. Especially in the Internet Age, they can be like a summer monsoon in the Arizona desert, gathering impressive force with lightening and showers and then dissipating just as quickly. For example, the Tea Party movement in U.S. politics has been grabbing the headlines recently, but time will tell whether it’s a tempest in a teapot.
All the hoopla over John Piper’s invitation to Rick Warren to speak at an upcoming Desiring God conference points up the vitality and challenges of the “young, restless, and Reformed” movement. Almost as soon as TIME Magazine hailed this as the third of the ten trends shaping our world today (March 12, 2009), fissures and fault lines became apparent. Currently on Christianity Today’s liveblog, Collin Hansen (author of Young, Restless, and Reformed) has a good summary of the recent debate over the Warren invite. David Mills over at First Things has just added a thoughtful take on it. Since both of these quote some of my comments from this blog, I thought it might be worthwhile to expand a little bit on some wider concerns.
The Hallway and the Rooms
Evangelicalism is a movement, not a church, and that’s been part of its strength. In the wake of the Evangelical Revival in Britain and various “awakenings” in North America, a grassroots cooperation in missions and mercy ministries was formed between conservative Protestants ranging from Anglican to Anabaptist. Ever since Wesley and Whitefield, the evangelical movement has struggled to keep flying with its Arminian and Calvinist wings. Though dominated ever since the Second Great Awakening by Arminian sympathies, the “New Calvinism” of recent years has been nothing short of phenomenal.
However, evangelicalism—even in its “Calvinist” manifestation—is a movement, not a church. Movements are led by impressive and charismatic figures. Even Ben Franklin wanted to cozy up to George Whitefield, a Calvinistic Anglican leader of the Great Awakening who was the closest thing to a rock star in 18th-century America. Yet the tendency, then as now, has been to downplay the ordinary ministry of the church in favor of the extraordinary movements of the moment.
I’ve argued elsewhere that evangelicalism is like the village green in older parts of the country, especially New England. There may be two or three churches on the grounds, but the green itself is a wide open space where people from those churches can spill out in conversation and cooperation. Evangelicalism is not a church, though it often acts like one. It isn’t the big tent (more appropriate, given the history) that encompasses all of the churches on the green. It’s just…, well, the green. When it tries to adjudicate cases of faith and practice through conferences, press releases, and blogs, evangelicalism (including Calvinistic versions) exhibits its movement mentality.
My analogy echoes C. S. Lewis’s “mere Christianity”: a hallway in a large house where believers mix and mingle, often opening the door as non-Christians knock. But, as Lewis insisted, it’s in the rooms where people actually live as a family—where they sleep, are warmed by the fire, fed and clothed, and grow. We are formed in the family life of Christ’s body by particular churches, with their distinct confessions and practices. You can’t live in the hallway.
I’m not against evangelicalism as a village green or hallway. In fact, I think it’s a wonderful meeting place. However, when it acts like a church, much less replaces the church, I get nervous.
Young, Restless and Reformed?
Like wider evangelicalism, the “young, restless and Reformed” movement is a grassroots trend among people who are, generally speaking, not Reformed. I’m energized by this movement every day, as I interact with people from a variety of churches, backgrounds, and traditions who are drawn to the doctrines of grace. I spend a lot of my time in this hallway and am enriched by it.
Nevertheless, not even a “Reformed” hallway is anything more than a hallway. “Reformed” has a specific meaning. It’s not defined by movements, parachurch ministries, or powerful leaders, but by a confession that is lived out in concrete contexts across a variety of times and places. The Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort) define what it means to be Reformed. Like Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Anabaptism, Reformed Christianity is a particular tradition. It’s not defined by a few fundamentals, but by a whole system of faith and practice. If being Reformed can be reduced to believing in the sovereignty of God and election, then Thomas Aquinas is as Reformed as R. C. Sproul. However, the Reformed confession is a lot more than that. Even the way it talks about these doctrines is framed within a wider context of covenant theology.
It’s intriguing to me that people can call themselves Reformed today when they don’t embrace this covenant theology. This goes to the heart of how we read the Bible, not just a few doctrines here or there. Yet what was once recognized as essential to Reformed faith and practice is now treated merely as a sub-set (and a small one at that) of the broader “Reformed” big tent. Yet now it would appear that the identity of the “young, restless and Reformed” movement is at stake over whether Rick Warren gets an invitation to speak at a national conference.
Nobody thinks a Roman Catholic person is narrow and exclusive for embracing papacy and the sacrifice of the Mass. People don’t call themselves Lutheran just because they believe in justification. Baptists (at least historically) do not even recognize as valid the baptism of non-Baptists. Yet increasingly those who affirm the Reformed confessions are treated with suspicion as narrow and divisive for actually being Reformed.
For centuries, the “Reformed” label has been embraced by people from Anglican, Presbyterian, and Reformed traditions. Only in the last few decades has it included those who do not embrace a covenantal interpretation of Scripture, which encompasses baptism and the Supper, the connectional government of the church, eschatology, and a host of other issues that distinguish Reformed from non-Reformed positions. I often run into Christians who say that they are Reformed—and also dispensational or charismatic, Baptist or Barthian, and a variety of other combinations. Like the term “evangelical,” “Reformed” is whatever you want it to be. It’s hard to challenge pragmatic evangelicalism’s cafeteria-style approach to truth when “Reformed” versions seem to be going down the same path.
In this situation, whatever divides confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian folks from others who affirm the five points of Calvinism has to be treated as secondary. Most obviously, the baptism of covenant children and the nature of the Lord’s Supper are treated merely as relatively unimportant. But the nature of the visible church and its ministry, especially the sacraments, have always been regarded as relatively unimportant in evangelicalism. By the way, when a Baptist brother refuses to acknowledge our baptism as valid, it’s hardly secondary to Baptists. I respect those who hold this view at least for the importance that they give to a crucial biblical doctrine.
Evangelicalism’s conversion-centered paradigm is different from Reformed Christianity’s covenantal paradigm. It’s not just a divergence here and there, but a difference that affects (or should affect) how we understand, experience, and live out our faith in the world. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hang out in the hallway from time to time; we should just be aware that it’s the hallway.
Regular listeners to White Horse Inn and readers of Modern Reformation are familiar with our regular reminder that we’re not a church, but a conversation. Our organization isn’t Reformed, but a conversation between Calvinistic Baptists, Lutherans, Reformed, and Anglicans, drawing from our common agreement in the truths rediscovered in the Reformation. Sometimes views are expressed that I don’t agree with as a Reformed person, but that’s fine. Even when we defend truths we all agree on in substance, we are coming at it from the depth of our own traditions, which we did not invent. We’re not looking for a lowest-common-denominator, a quasi-confession for a movement, but are hoping to provoke discussions that lead people back to their rooms with more understanding of the other rooms and resources for vital engagement with the issues of our time and place. The old-style evangelicalism, where the movement is defined by parachurch conferences, networks, and personalities, is hopefully on the wane, as younger generations enjoy the conversation in the hallway but take the church more seriously.
Movements can serve an important role in shifting broad currents, but they are shallow. They rise and fall in the court of public opinion, not in the courts of the churches where Christ has installed officers to shepherd his flock. That doesn’t mean that they are wrong: it’s wonderful when thousands of brothers and sisters encounter the God of glorious grace in a deeper way. Yet movements can’t go very deep: when they do, differences are bound to emerge. The usually rise and fall with the personalities who lead them. Nor can movements pass the faith down from generation to generation. Only churches can do that.
If Not “Reformed,” Then What?
So I’ve wondered about a new term that we can use for the “young, restless, and Reformed” movement: “Evangelical Calvinism.” Why not? It’s the sort of term that can encompass J. I. Packer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John MacArthur, John Piper, and R. C. Sproul. Reformed Christians should swell with excitement when brothers and sisters embrace the doctrines of grace and “evangelical Calvinism” distinguishes us from evangelical Arminianism.
I’m suggesting this not just out of a concern to protect the distinctives that I believe are essential to Reformed Christianity, but also out of a concern for the ongoing vitality of the movement toward the doctrines of grace. Right now, it seems to me, this movement is being threatened by the movement mentality that characterizes evangelicalism more broadly. The very lack of a doctrine of the church lies at the heart of this. There are “evangelical Calvinists” from other traditions who realize this. For example, my friend Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church has a strong Baptist ecclesiology. In comparison with mainstream evangelicalism, it isn’t “weak” in the least, although it’s also not Reformed. He hasn’t settled for a movement-oriented evangelical ecclesiology, but bases his ministry in the local church. In other words, for him, the hallway isn’t a substitute for the Baptist room.
Right now, though, the “young, restless and Reformed” movement is in danger of succumbing to the fate of all movements at their peak: splintering. Our confessions help us major on the majors, leaving secondary matters open. Yet the “New Calvinism” movement is already showing signs of stress over questions like the age of the earth. Churches have ways of dealing with questions of fraternal relations and cooperation, but leader-driven movements can’t handle the stress. Conferences operate as quasi-official church courts, with vigilante benedictions and excommunications determining who’s in or out. It’s like the wild west.
Christ promised to be with his church to the end, expanding his embassy to the ends of the earth. Christ pledged that the gates of hell cannot prevail against his church. The same promise can’t be invoked for a movement. May God swell the hallway with new visitors! And may we all have the charity to come out of our rooms every now and again to bless each other and bear witness together to God’s sovereign grace. But discipleship has to be formed in the rooms—in real churches, where the depth and breadth of God’s Word is explored and lived.