White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Evangelism and Social Justice

[What is the relationship between the Great Commandment (to love God and neighbor) and the Great Commission (to make and baptize disciples)? In this preview of Mike Horton's newest book, he lays out the challenge our churches are facing.]

A while back I asked the general secretary of the World Council of Churches if his organization still holds to its old slogan, “Doctrine divides; service unites.”  Chuckling, he said, “Good grief, no.” He went on to relate that the group has learned over the decades that service divides.  Some think capitalism is the way forward, while others insist on socialism.  The pie cuts a thousand ways.  “But then we’ve found that when we go back to talking about the Nicene Creed or some such thing, there is at least a sense of people coming back into the room and sitting down with each other to talk again.”

In a recent issue of Christianity Today, Fuller Seminary president Richard Mouw relates the story of his article submission to the flagship evangelical magazine, then under the leadership of Carl Henry. Henry himself had challenged evangelicalism to engage with social concerns in his book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947).  However, he told the young  graduate student that he needed to tweak some of the arguments in his article.

Though grateful that Henry was considering the article, Mouw recalls, “I was also troubled by the change he was proposing.  This was a period in my life when I had often felt alienated from evangelicalism because of what I saw as its failure to properly address issues raised by the civil rights struggle and the war in Southeast Asia.  As a corrective, I wanted the church, as church, to acknowledge its obligation to speak to such matters.”

Henry wouldn’t budge.  Where Mouw insisted it was the church’s duty to address these issues directly, Henry wanted him to say it was the Christian’s duty.  The church has a responsibility to proclaim God’s Word, even with specific application, wherever it speaks.  It has the authority from God to announce a final judgment of oppression, wanton violence, and injustice and to call all people (including Christians) to repentance and faith in Christ in the light of this ultimate assize.  However, “The institutional church,” said Henry, “has no mandate, jurisdiction, or competence to endorse political legislation or military tactics or economic specifics in the name of Christ.”

Henry quoted Princeton University ethicist Paul Ramsey: “Identification of Christian social ethics with specific partisan proposals that clearly are not the only ones that may be characterized as Christian and as morally acceptable comes close to the original New Testament meaning of heresy.’”  At the same time, Henry argued that evangelicals are not only authorized but commanded to proclaim God’s clear “No!” to excessive violence, racial injustice, and other serious moral crises.  God’s Word shapes the moral conscience of its hearers, but where it does not offer specific policy prescriptions, the church has no authority to speak.

Drawing on his Reformed heritage, especially the legacy of Abraham Kuyper, Mouw points out that there is an important place for Christians thinking and working together to apply biblical teaching to such issues, he concludes, “Henry was right, and I was wrong.”

Today, “Deeds, not creeds,” is likely to be heard most frequently from the quarters of evangelical Protestantism as it has been now for a century in mainline Protestantism.  In part, this is an understandable reaction to an apparent lack of concern for bodies, and not only for human bodies but for the creation itself.  If salvation is all about the soul’s escape from the body and this earth will be destroyed (both ideas being explicitly rejected in Scripture), what’s the point of getting all worked up over social injustice?

As we become more aware of global warming and its attendant threats to our whole planet, it is theologically erroneous and spiritually irresponsible for churches to remain silent on God’s command for stewardship.  Anchored not only in the past work of God (creation) and his ever-vigilant providence, the church’s hope is oriented toward the restoration of the whole creation (Ro 8:20-25).  However, is the church competent to deliver pronouncements on specific policies?  And in doing so, is it possible that the church loses its legitimate authority by over-reaching, rather than encouraging its members to pursue their own research and form their own personal and public policy agendas on the specifics?

We easily underestimate the impact of the church’s theology—its preaching and practice—on the wider culture, thinking that if the church is really going to make a mark, it has to be as a political action committee.  A lot of times it is bad theology that underwrites evil practices or at least encourages passive toleration.  Slavery in Europe and the United States and apartheid in South Africa were defended in pulpits through grave distortions of God’s Word.  Yet it was by recovering sound biblical teaching that churches were able to repent.  In the case of apartheid, it was when the South African church—excommunicated from its sister Reformed churches in the world—finally confessed apartheid to be heresy that the practice lost its moral legitimacy.  Without a civil war, the nation was able to face itself and dismantle the oppressive system in courts, congresses, and commissions.  The church did what only the church can do: that is, declare its perverted exegesis to be heretical.  Yet Christians, together with non-Christians, fulfilled their vocations in the world by changing the laws and customs of their society.

I went through this reaction myself.  I felt challenged and liberated by Reformed theology, resonating with J. I. Packer’s description I heard at a conference: “Fundamentalism is world-denying and Reformed theology is world-affirming.”  In college, I began delving into liberation theologians and found much there that resonated with what I had learned from Reformed theology about the problem of soul-body dualism.  Material-spiritual reality forms a unity.  United in its creation, in its corruption, and in its redemption, the whole world is God’s domain.  Then I spent a summer at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.  Staying up late nights with human rights advocates from all over the world, my naivete crumbled as I heard eye-witness accounts of the most flagrant violations, often by regimes supported by my nation’s government.  Why had I—and so many of my American brothers and sisters—not spoken up?  In fact, why were we committed to a “My America, right or wrong!” kind of philosophy?

But now evangelicalism risks merely changing its political affiliation, tying the gospel to a different political agenda.  Many evangelicals have come to see that the movement was largely  co-opted by the Republican Party, but this repentance seems somewhat superficial when the alternative is simply to switch parties and to broaden political agendas.

[This is an excerpt from a chapter of Mike Horton's newest book (still untitled), set to published by Baker as part of his Christless Christianity and Gospel Driven Life series. We'll post more information as it becomes available. Stay tuned to the WHI blog for more excerpts like this one.]

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Phil Ryken to Wheaton

The Internet has been abuzz for the last several days with the news that Dr. Philip G. Ryken, senior minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has been elected as the new president of Wheaton College. Apparently the news of his election was leaked to Christianity Today and picked up by other bloggers before Dr. Ryken had a chance to announce the move to his congregation. [It should be noted that the church's leadership (or "session," in Presbyterian parlance) was fully aware and had given their blessing to Dr. Ryken to pursue this new calling.]

Rather than pile on with our own view of a “scandal” that has already blown over, we’re pleased to join with the many others who are passing on their good wishes to Dr. Ryken and his family! Dr. Ryken is a contributor to Modern Reformation. If you’re a subscriber to the magazine, you’ve probably benefited from his articles over the years. If you’re not yet a subscriber, we’ve temporarily “unlocked” all of Dr. Ryken’s articles in our archives. Take a moment now to get a sense of how the members at Tenth Presbyterian, and soon Wheaton College, have benefited from Dr. Ryken’s ministry:

How Can Jesus be the Only Way? (March/April 1998)

Rachel, Dry Your Tears (November/December 2004)

A Review of D. A. Carson’s The Gagging of God (March/April 2007)

Several of Dr. Ryken’s books have been reviewed in the pages of Modern Reformation. Here are several of the positive reviews that he’s received over the last several years:

A Review of Courage to Stand: Jeremiah’s Battle Plan for Pagan Time (January/February 2000)

A Review of Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope (January/February 2002)

A Review of Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis (September/October 2004)

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Lent and the Regulative Principle

Update: We left out an important word in Mike Horton’s response below. We’ve put it in bold to draw your attention to it. Sorry for the confusion!

One of our Facebook friends asked a great question and we’ve asked Mike Horton to clarify some remarks he made in his recent Christianity Today article on Lent.

Justin asked:

Not trying to start a fight, I am trying to humbly submit this question: when did the Reformed start participating in the “we do it for pragmatic beneifts” woship stuff instead of “But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the … See Moreimaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture (WCF 21.1)”? Truly wondering how our confession just quoted squares w/ Horton’s statement in the CT article: “Unlike the Old Testament, however, the New Testament does not prescribe a church calendar”? Again, I’m not trying to be malicious, but humbly submitting myself to your guidance, how should we think about Lent in terms of WCF 21.1 and not the pragmatic benefits (which too many use to vilify so much un-godliness in the church today) of it?

Mike Horton responded:

Great question, Justin, and thanks for raising it.  You quote my statement, “Unlike the Old Testament, however, the New Testament does not prescribe a church calendar.”  Before that remark, I listed Israel’s various festivals.  My point was that we cannot use these old covenant festivals as a justification for new covenant festivals, such as Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ascension Day, etc..  In other words, observance of these Christian holidays cannot be considered as necessary for true worship.  Some (most of the Westminster divines) would eliminate (did eliminate) all Christian holidays, although they encouraged special days for thanksgiving.  The Continental Reformed tradition did not do this, however, and continues the tradition of calling stated services on these special days.  With respect to the regulative principle, it’s definitely a line-call and there are those on both sides of the issue who affirm the principle.  I hope this helps!

Join the conversation and friend us on Facebook through White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation!

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Elton John on Jesus–A Candle in the Wind?

According to this CBS post in a recent interview, Elton John provocatively stated that Jesus was “a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems.”

At first glance, this statement borders on the absurd–how can Elton make these claims about the historic Christ, and so boldly? It contradicts the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus.

His statement, however, raises questions about how our society (in general) views love, compassion, and intelligence. By saying that Jesus was a “compassionate, super-intelligent gay man,” Elton seems to equate these attributes with homosexuality itself (i.e. if you aspire to or live by these virtues, then you are either supportive of the homosexual community, or actually homosexual).

This leaves Christians with an important question: how do we respond? Obviously, we do not believe that Jesus was gay, and we know that homosexuality is a sin. But wouldn’t a vitriolic response automatically make us seem less loving and compassionate (based on Elton’s claims)?

So, how would you respond?

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Why Lent?

Mike Horton was asked to contribute to a series of articles in a recent issue of Christianity Today exploring the meaning and practice of Lent.  In addition to reading Mike’s reflections on Lent, we’ve also made available this article from the Modern Reformation archives that makes the case for using the church calendar as helpful signposts for our Christian pilgrimage.

2001-1-smallA Year of Signposts–Following the Church Calendar
(January/February 2001, Vol 10. No. 1, pages 18-19)

I realize that following the Church calendar is not the practice of some churches. However, it has been effective in many of our churches that have inherited it from ancient practice, and it’s being discovered by others today. While it should never be followed slavishly or with superstition, it helps to have signposts in the year that focus our attention on the momentous events in the life of Christ and the founding of his New Covenant assembly. It is another way of getting us to orient our Church life around the divine drama: Advent (culminating in Christmas), Epiphany (the appearance of the wise men-or, more properly, the appearance of Christ to the Gentiles), Circumcision (the beginning of our Lord’s consecration), Lent (Jesus’ wilderness temptation of forty days, culminating in Good Friday), Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. This is a marvelous tool for education over many years, as long as it doesn’t deteriorate to mere habit. Click here to read more.

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Wish You Were Here…

Dr. Horton is currently in the Philippines and on the first day after his arrival, he speaks at Febias College of Bible in Valenzuela City, Metro Manila

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Tomorrow Reformation Philippines presents “Putting Amazing Back Into Grace” at Quezon City Evangelical Church

According to blogger Keren – the conference is sold out but you can follow @keren for LIVE tweets and updates

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There are a few more dead guys to read now!

Reformational Christianity has been characterized as a “Religion of the Book.” Not only does this apply to the highest view of Scripture, but it also means that we publish our thoughts and ideas for the masses to read. The Reformation that swept through Europe in the 16th century was, in large part, fueled by the printing press and the ability for people to be “taught by” the first generation of Reformers through their writings.

In the centuries that followed Luther and Calvin, their successors continued to write volumes concerning Scripture and the fundamental truths of the Reformation. However, many of those works were written into Latin and other languages not known to our current English-speaking theological culture. We have much to learn from our forefathers in the faith, if only we could read them!

Recently there has been a group of scholars and pastors who have undertaken the task of translating these previously hidden works of Classic Reformed theologians into English-most for the first time. These works are being published in the series “Classic Reformed Theology” published by Reformation Heritage Books. Currently there are two volumes that have been released, but many others are in varying stages of production.

These works promise to be great value not only to scholars and pastors, but also to lay-people who want to have a deeper understanding of the Reformed tradition as it was formulated and articulated by the first generations of Reformers.

Here are the two volumes that have been released thus far:

  • Caspar Olevianus, An Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed (Purchase here)
  • William Ames, A Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism (Purchase here)

One of the editors of the series, R. Scott Clark (a WHI guest and contributor to MR), was recently interviewed concerning the series on the Office Hours podcast of Westminster Seminary California. Information concerning that audio can be found here.

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Five for Friday: The Robert Morrison Project

Five for Friday is an occasional interview series on the WHI blog that features Reformation pacesetters: those who are actively bringing Reformation into their own circles.  In this edition, we’re talking to the people behind the Robert Morrison Project, a nonprofit publishing enterprise dedicated to legal publication of Christian books in China.

What is the Robert Morrison Project?

Starting about ten years ago it became possible to legally publish some forms of Christian literature in China. Slowly, over the past few years, more and more titles entered legal circulation.  The door is not completely open but it is cracked open and some good quality Reformed titles are being published and distributed in China. Most amazing of all, the genres of literature that the government has been allowing to be published are the very genres that Reformed publishers have been focusing on for the past 50+ years.  In recent years the government has been allowing biographies, old books with historical value (e.g. Pilgrim’s Progress), and marriage and family books to be published.  Soli Deo Gloria, Evangelical Press, and especially the Banner of Truth, are all extremely strong in these areas and have a large number of titles that have a good chance of passing government censorship.  With the church in China approaching 100 million members and growing at 9% a year and with a very small number of Christian titles in legal circulation, this is an opportunity that we can not ignore. Currently, neither the local church nor the Chinese Christian publishing companies are able to self finance high quality translations in large numbers.   In most cases, foreign funding is required.  The purpose of the Robert Morrison Project is to raise funds to help lay the foundation for the long term, legal presence of Reformed literature in China.

What sorts of books are at the top of your list to be published?

Biographies and old literature with historical value from the Banner of Truth, Solid Ground Books, Evangelical Press, etc. all show great promise in China.  We will also seek to publish local Chinese authors.  All titles have been reviewed by an editorial team in China to evaluate whether or not they can pass government censorship.

What effect has the Project already had in China?

The Robert Morrison Project is only two months old.  So far we have not raised sufficient funds to finance our first title but we hope to do so in the near future.

What are your long term goals?

The English language is highly, highly saturated with quality Reformed literature.   There are approximately 35 reformed publishers in the US and UK publishing books in English.  In China, however, there is a massive publishing vacuum of Christian literature.  Our initial goal over the next five to ten years is rectify this publishing imbalance by translating and publishing 50 titles in China.  By publishing these titles we will be increasing the total number of Christian books in circulation by approximately 12%.   Another goal is to respond to the heretical literature now in print.  Currently, few titles are available to answer these authors. Looking even further down the road, our goal is to establish independent, financially self-sufficient Reformed publishing companies in China and Asia.

How can people get involved?

There are many things that people can do.  Most important of all, please pray!   Publishing a Christian book in China is often a very long, difficult process.  Typically, it takes 6 to 24 for months for a title to pass government censorship and sometimes the approval process can be rather arbitrary.  Pray that God would open the door for more Reformed titles to be published.  Tell your friends about us!  Place a link on your church or organization website to our website.  Finally, please consider making a monthly donation to this Project (we have 501(c)3 tax exempt status). Including us in your church or family budget would be a big help.  Income on a monthly basis will help us set long term publishing goals.

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Horton talks about “The Gospel-Driven Life”

Mike Horton recently talked with R. Scott Clark about his newest book The Gospel-Driven Life on the Westminster Seminary California podcast Office Hours.

To listen to the interview and/or to subscribe to the Office Hours podcast, click here.

To order the book, check out the WSC Bookstore.

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Judgment, Fate, or Providence in Haiti?

In a world which is so connected news spreads fast. I got an e-mail notifying me of a 7.0 earthquake very near Port-au-Prince, Haiti just moments after the event occurred. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake is large regardless of where it occurs on the globe, but in the Caribbean I knew it could have devastating effects–this is not an area that is prepared for such seismic events. Quickly reports began pouring in about the utter devastation of the capital city and the hundreds of thousands of people that officials fear have died.

It is hard to imagine as I sit behind my desk on a beautiful, sunny Southern California winter day that 3,000 miles away there is such horror, despair, and loss of life. But because of that interconnectedness via the Internet, I can see the photos and read the stories coming out of Haiti. My heart truly goes out to those people.

Many of you may be aware that shortly after this earthquake Pat Robertson reported that he knew the reason behind this earthquake: the people of Haiti made a pact with the devil to overthrow the French, and this earthquake is God punishing and bringing upon his judgment upon those people. Interesting. I am truly puzzled where this “pact with the devil” was recorded and where those treaty documents are! I did a word search in the Bible for “Haiti” and didn’t come up with anything. If God hasn’t revealed anything in his revealed Word, then we should immediately be suspect of somebody claiming, extra and special revelation. Robertson is famous for telling the world the underlying cause for natural disasters and even terrorist attacks as God’s judgment for this and that particular sin and here he is doing it again. (Dr. Horton has also reacted to Robertson’s video)

On the other side of the spectrum are people who are struggling with what happened, but yet don’t have answers. This essay is from a reporter who has spent many years in Haiti who laments, “And this? This is too much. How can nature or God or the fates or the universe do this to a country that has borne far too much sadness?”

This may sound strange, but in many ways this is a much more Biblical way of dealing with this situation! Obviously I am not praising Ms. Steber for her inclusion of naturalistic notions of “fate” and “the Universe”, but she did address her question to God–the Creator of the universe. It is pretty apparent that she is not a Christian or even a theist per se, but yet there is something that is drawing her to question God why this event happened. This, friends, is a Biblical response, even for believers. Throughout the Psalms the psalmists are asking God “Why?” Why are the wicked prospering? Why does it seem that you are so far from me? Why, why, why?

It is interesting that in Luke 13 there is a reference to something hauntingly similar to the events in Haiti (but on a much smaller scale).

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5 ESV).

Imagine that highlighted sentence as being “Or those hundreds of thousands on whom their homes in Haiti fell and killed them: do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in the United States?” How would Pat Robertson respond to this question? “Yes, they were worse offenders because they made a pact with the devil.” But how did Christ, the second person of the Trinity respond? “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Did you catch that? Christ said, “NO” where Robertson says “Yes.” Christ then uses this tragic event to remind his hearers that everybody is an offender against God and we will all perish one day; therefore, now is the day of salvation; repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!

You who are reading this right now may die today from a car accident on your way home. You might die of a heart-attack or in an earthquake in the middle of the night. But the fact remains that God has all the events under his providential care and that nothing escapes his control. However, we are not in the position to begin interpreting that providence. We can ask God “Why?”, but we may never hear that answer. Our pastors need to remind hearers of this and call unbelievers to repentance and faith in Christ alone because we have all made a pact with the devil because of the fall of our representative head Adam in the Garden. Our comfort in facing tragedies comes not from our self-confidence that we are better people than others, but that we have had our own sins paid for on the cross by the final sacrifice of Christ. We don’t look to our own righteousness, but we look to Christ’s perfect righteousness which has been imputed to us freely.

An event of the magnitude which happened in Haiti is yet another reminder to us that we live in a fallen world, and that every single person needs to be reconciled to the Creator God because, until Christ comes again, we will all perish in some way. But in Christ we have a comfort in life and in death that the world does not have, but a Gospel comfort that they need to hear. The Heidelberg Catechism starts with this beautiful expression of this comfort in its first question and answer:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,
but belong –;
body and soul,
in life and in death –;
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

That is our comfort and the comfort that the people of Haiti and every person in the world needs to hear.

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