White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Horton on Wright’s Latest

UPDATE: Wright responds

Matthew Miller of Christianbook.com interviewed N. T. Wright recently and asked him about this review. Here is the exchange:

Matthew: In a recent review, Michael Horton, writing for Christianity Today, was generally supportive of your book. Yet, he took issue with your, at times, negative articulation of the Reformation and its impact on Christian ethics stating, “in addition to caricaturing Luther’s positions, [Wright’s] criticisms lack any nuance in distinguishing between Reformation traditions.” He argues that your critique is actually more characteristic of “Wesleyan” tradition, rather than the Reformed or Lutheran.

How do you respond to this critique?

Wright: I’m not a church historian and defer to those who are, from whom I hope to learn. I was fascinated by the critique of the medieval ‘virtue’ tradition I found in various sixteenth-century writers, and tried to note that as I went by. I wasn’t trying to give a systematic account of how the different post-Reformation traditions have understood virtue, but was hoping rather to show that the cultural pressures towards a romantic ‘spontaneity’ and an existentialist ‘authenticity’, both of which I see as radically undermining a proper appropriation of NT ethics, have gained (spurious) validation in many quarters by appearing to say what the Reformers say. Some have indeed argued that Luther paved the way for the Enlightenment.

There is a sense in which I think this is true – just as, more obviously, Luther paved the way for Rudolf Bultmann. But life is always more complicated than these over-simplifications. I am much, much more concerned by the fact – and it is a fact – that the Reformers, whom I love and revere, and their various would-be successors to this day, have caricatured St Paul and failed to distinguish different things in his thought. That’s a larger debate I suspect Michael Horton and I ought to have some day. I’ve never met him but I think we would have an interesting conversation.

Christianity Today has posted a review by Mike Horton of N. T. Wright’s newest book, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. Horton’s review of this latest book by Wright follows a similar trajectory to his reviews of his other recent books: there is much to be appreciated, especially the way in which Wright paints his word pictures; but Wright’s constant mischaracterization of the Reformers and the confessional traditions that emanated from them is frustrating.

In spite of a few quibbles, I was impressed by this book’s popular presentation of themes that I have come to appreciate in Reformed theology. The eschatological emphasis on cosmic renewal (resurrection, not escape) as the impetus for our lives here and now, the emphasis on the church—in fact, just about everything in After You Believe was a fresh way of exploring many familiar truths.

Hence my surprise at the jarring, frequent caricatures of the Reformation, even when the author articulates long-standing emphases in that tradition. As in his other works, indictments of the Reformation rarely come with footnotes. Wright seems to read the Reformers through the distorted lens of liberal existentialists (Rudolf Bultmann and company) or evangelical pietism. Oddly, he blames the Reformation for the romantic, spontaneous, and existentialist view of the Christian life.

In spite of the rich and varied discussions of virtue by the Reformers, the Puritans, and a host of Protestants since, Wright asserts, “Basically, the whole idea of virtue has been radically out of fashion in much of Western Christianity ever since the sixteenth-century Reformation.” Since we are justified through faith apart from works, “why bother with all this morality? … That, in fact, is more or less what Martin Luther declared, thumbing his nose at the long medieval tradition of virtue.” A footnote to Shakespeare’s Hamlet is brought in as a witness, but there is no footnote for Luther’s alleged proposal.

With many evangelicals, we appreciate Bishop Wright’s work on the historical Jesus but we remain perplexed by his refusal to deal substantively with the Reformation on its own terms in his books on Paul, justification, and now even ethics! At some point one wonders if it’s more than just a difference of opinion; is there an axe to grind?

Leave a Comment

Scary Horton Hair

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!)

Comments (5)

Dad Rod Likes It!

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.

Leave a Comment

Horton on Hannity.com

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.”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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.

Comments (2)

Horton at the Resurgence

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:

Blog post on “Renewing the Great Commission”

Answer to questions regarding the balance of public, family, and private worship

Full video interview

Comments (2)

Ken Jones Moving to Florida

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 office@churchonglendale.org.

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.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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!

Comments (6)

What’s the point?

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.

(ht Mockingbird)

Leave a Comment

Christian Radio as a Means of Grace

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.

-David Nilsen (David also blogs at Evangelical Outpost and the A Team Blog)

Comments (10)

New MR Now Available!

2010-3-largeThe 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!

Leave a Comment

Great Questions! A Further Response

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.

-Michael Horton

Comments (5)

Page 42 of 53« First...102030...4041424344...50...Last »