White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Another Two Kingdoms Perspective

We’re grateful to Kevin DeYoung for interacting a bit with our responses to his recent webpost comparing and contrasting the Two Kingdoms’ approach to church and politics with that of the neo-Kuyperians.

Just to show that this Two Kingdoms stuff isn’t merely the domain of Reformation types, we thought the following report today from the Wall Street Journal was worth reposting:

[President Obama recently held a conference call with some of the nation's top Jewish rabbis.] Josh Yuter, a rabbi and blogger who participated in the conference call, notes that the president urged the rabbis “to address the health care controversy in their upcoming High Holiday sermons”–an idea Yuter finds troubling:

To be sure, most of the Rabbis on the call probably would advocate for substantial health care reform anyway, and I do not know to what extent the President sought out religious leaders or the religious leaders proposed the audience with the President. In either case, I find the blurring of church and state to be disconcerting not only on political grounds (and legal/tax purposes), but also for competency. Rabbis have enough difficulty understanding the nuances and intricacies of their own religion to be promoting specific policies in areas for which they have no expertise.

It seems that no matter what party is in power, the temptation to speak beyond our areas of expertise is strong. We should be grateful for those even in other faiths who recognize this temptation and remind our ministers of their rightful calling.

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Wright Wednesdays

[Over the next several weeks we'll be posting Mike Horton's unpublished review/critique of N. T. Wright's new book, Justification. Today, part 1, is an introduction.]

For nearly three decades now, N. T. Wright has been stirring things up in New Testament studies.  Despite the persona of the champion of the New Perspective on Paul, Wright is often as critical of (and criticized by) colleagues in this loosely affiliated circle as by advocates of the “old perspective.”  His wide-ranging scholarship has been put to remarkable use in his New Testament studies for Fortress Press (Christian Origins and the Question of God, three volumes published from 1992 to 2003).  I recall his lectures at Yale Divinity School’s homecoming: the basic stuff of his forthcoming resurrection book.  Going about the task in his characteristically business-like yet occasionally humorous manner, Wright’s case for the bodily resurrection of Christ aroused two standing ovations.  Did I mention it was Yale?

As a covenant theologian, I have been following Tom Wright’s explorations in a covenantal approach to justification (and much else) with great interest since my time in Oxford when I had the privilege of interacting with him as I was reading his first salvo, Climax of the Covenant (1993).  There were concerns raised among evangelicals, especially as Tom regularly lectured on the relationship between justification and covenant in Paul.  On one hand, I had growing concerns about the New Perspective in general and Wright’s version of it in particular.  On the other hand, I often cringed at the Oxford Intercollegiate Christian Union (OICU) events—especially the missions (a week of evangelistic talks)—when the gospel was sometimes reduced to “inviting-Jesus-into-your-heart-so-you-can-go-to-heaven-when-you-die.”  The popularity of the tract, “Two Ways to Live” (similar to “The Four Spiritual Laws”), buttressed this way of presenting the gospel.

So along came Tom Wright, saying that the gospel is the Jesus Christ is Lord, proved and in fact achieved by his resurrection from the dead, as the first-fruits of the age to come right in the middle of our history.  While the Greeks (and many other religions) treat salvation as the escape of the soul from its prison-house of flesh, the world, and history, biblical faith anticipates the resurrection of the body and life everlasting in a new heavens and earth.  Much of this has been put together for a wider audience in his book, Surprised by Hope (2007). Amazingly, the secular media treated this book as a radical departure: the sort of thing one expects from an English bishop.

Part of this reaction is no doubt due a shallow form of popular Christianity that is insufficiently grounded in its own biblical story.  Part of it can be explained also by the enthusiasm with which Bishop Wright presents his views, sometimes conveying the impression that he is introducing a completely new understanding of the Christian faith.

Justification is no different.  After writing several scholarly monographs on the subject (as well as a couple of brief popular treatments), the latest was provoked by the critique, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (2007), written by John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.  I won’t be interacting with the specific charges and counter-charges between these esteemed pastors, but will focus on Wright’s book.  In many respects, this is the best of Wright’s treatments of this subject.  Besides its accessibility to a wide audience, its polemic is sharp and to-the-point, clustering his arguments into a narrative of Paul’s gospel as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 with sweeping exegetical vistas.

Since this book is a rejoinder, Wright’s polemics are at times rather sharp, comparing critics like Piper to flat-earthers (19), even Pharisees (20).  Though critical of the reformers for having cast themselves as “Paul” and the medieval church as “Pharisees,” Wright has no trouble playing Paul’s part against his “old perspective” agitators: “Someone in my position, in fact, is bound to have a certain fellow-feeling with Paul in Galatia.  He is, after all, under attack from his own right wing” (112).   But let’s focus on substance.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll summarize his argument under my own subheadings and at the end of each will offer an evaluation.

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More on Two Kingdoms

On Friday we posted a brief response to Kevin DeYoung’s concerns about the two-kingdoms doctrine. Today, we’re following up with another of our regular Modern Reformation contributors, Dr. Darryl Hart.

Having Your Cake and Eating it Too

Kevin DeYoung seems to see a tension between the two-kingdom and neo-Calvinist approaches to Christ and culture.  He sees positives and negatives on both sides.  An important concern missing from DeYoung’s analysis is the Protestant doctrine of vocation, the idea that God has given to believers distinct duties through which they serve and glorify him and care for their neighbors.  The Reformation doctrine of vocation was a huge breakthrough for the church because it took tasks (baking, banking, and farming) previously considered irreligious and gave them religious significance.  Because creation is good, and because God providentially cares for his creation through the secondary means of work, people engaged in tasks previously considered worldly or secular could now serve God and glorify him in their daily duties.

The two-kingdom approach to Christ and culture is superior to neo-Calvinism because it is based on the doctrine of vocation.  For the Kuyperian, Christians have a holy duty to take captive every square inch.  In the current political climate, the neo-Calvinist position has inspired many believers to engage in politics and change the nation.  It has also meant that those who have different ideas about politics or who do not sense a call to engage the political process are guilty of not following their Christian duty to transform society.

The two-kingdom approach recognizes the diversity of callings both among Christians and institutions.  Not every Christian is called to be a banker or a Republican. Not every Christian is called to oppose national health care.   Not every Christian is called to a holy vocation (the Christian ministry).  A “secular” calling is not inherently sinful and is actually good in the sight of God.  Not every institution is called to administer justice.  In fact, the church’s calling is to minister forgiveness – not exactly what the Bible says is the work of the magistrate.

If DeYoung knew the two-kingdom view better, he might recognize that he could have the best of both positions because the two-kingdom approach to Christ and culture yields it.

Darryl Hart is an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is currently writing a global history of Calvinism for Yale University Press.  Dr. Hart blogs at the Old Life Theological Society.

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Christian Persecution in Iran

Elam Ministries granted us permission to repost this story from their latest newsletter. If you would like to know more about their work or the status of Christian persecution in Iran, please visit www.iran30.org.

Dear friends,

In a dramatic session before the revolutionary court yesterday (Sunday August 9) in Tehran, Maryam Rustampoor (27) and Marzieh Amirizadeh (30) were told to recant their faith in Christ. Though great pressure was put on them, both women declared that they would not deny their faith. Maryam and Marzieh were originally arrested on March 5, 2009 and have suffered greatly while in prison, suffering ill health, solitary confinement and interrogations for many hours while blindfolded.

On Saturday August 8, Maryam and Marzieh were summoned to appear in court on Sunday August 9 in order to hear a verdict on their case.  The chief interrogator had recommended a verdict of ‘apostasy.’  However, when they arrived, no verdict was actually given.  Instead, the court session focussed on the deputy prosecutor, Mr Haddad, questioning Maryam and Marzieh about their faith and telling them that they had to recant in both verbal and written form. This made it clear that in the eyes of the court, Maryam and Marzieh’s only crime is that they have converted to Christianity.

Mr. Haddad, asked the two women if they were Christians. “We love Jesus,” they replied.  He repeated his question and they said, “Yes, we are Christians.”

Mr. Haddad then said, “You were Muslims and now you have become Christians.”

“We were born in Muslim families, but we were not Muslims,” was their reply.

Mr. Haddad’s questioning continued and he asked them if they regretted becoming Christians, to which they replied, “We have no regrets.”

Then he stated emphatically, “You should renounce your faith verbally and in written form.”  They stood firm and replied, “We will not deny our faith.”

During one tense moment in the questioning, Maryam and Marzieh made reference to their belief that God had convicted them through the Holy Spirit.  Mr. Haddad told them, “It is impossible for God to speak with humans.”

Marzieh asked him in return, “Are you questioning whether God is Almighty?”

Mr. Haddad then replied, “You are not worthy for God to speak to you.”

Marzieh said, “It is God, and not you, who determines if I am worthy.”

Mr. Haddad told the women to return to prison and think about the options they were given and come back to him when they are ready (to comply). Maryam and Marzieh said, “We have already done our thinking.”

At the end of the session, Mr. Haddad told them that a judge will give them his verdict, though it is not clear who will be the judge in their case now.  He also allowed Maryam and Marzieh to have a lawyer represent them in the case for the first time since their arrest.

Both women are back in Evin prison tonight.  During their five-month ordeal, both have been unwell and have lost much weight. Marzieh is in pain due to an on-going problem with her spine, as well as an infected tooth and intense headaches. She desperately needs medical attention. Two months ago the prison officials told her the prison had proper medical equipment and that they will attend to her, but so far no proper treatment has been given.

Despite the concentrated effort of officials to pressure them into recanting their faith, Maryam and Marzieh love Jesus and they are determined to stand firm to the very end no matter whatever happens.  They have demonstrated their love for Jesus and would offer their lives for Him if they were called to do so.  After today’s court session they said, “If we come out of prison we want to do so with honor.”

Maryam and Marzieh’s case is a clear and harsh violation of human rights and religious liberty by Iran’s authorities. They deserve the support of all those who respect human rights and to be released without charges so they can pursue a life of freedom.

Thank you for praying.

The Elam team

Visit elam.com to learn more about Elam Ministries.

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Why Two Kingdoms?

Over at Kevin DeYoung’s blog, the conversation of the day has been the apparent conflict between two-kingdoms theology and neo-Kuyperianism. For those not familiar with the jargon, the question revolves around how a Christian individual and the church as a corporate gathering of God’s people properly engage the surrounding secular culture.

DeYoung (and Justin Taylor who links to it) are grateful for some of the wisdom they see in the two-kingdoms approach, but still have some questions and objections to it, which leads DeYoung to chart a third course for engagement between the church and the world.  Modern Reformation magazine and White Horse Inn have developed a bit of a reputation as promoters of the Reformation doctrine of the two kingdoms. We asked regular contributor Jason Stellman to interact a bit with Kevin DeYoung’s analysis of the two kingdoms doctrine.  Jason will be addressing this issue even more directly in an upcoming article, “The Destiny of the Species,” for our November/December 2009 issue of Modern Reformation, “Zion.”

On his blog DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed, Kevin DeYoung posted a thoughtful article weighing the pros and cons of two-kingdoms theology when weighed alongside the more popular Kuyperian position according to which “every square inch” of creation is Christ’s, who gives the believer the charge to redeem it. DeYoung raises some good points, but I’d just like to address his concerns about the doctrine of the two kingdoms and its potential dangers. I’ll paste DeYoung’s concerns and follow them with my responses:

“An exaggerated distinction between laity and church officers (e.g., evangelism is the responsibility of elders and pastors not of the regular church members)”

As far as I can see, there is no connection between two-kingdoms doctrine and DeYoung’s concern here. While it may be the case that some two-kingdoms proponents understand Eph. 4:11ff in a non every-member-ministry sense, it’s certainly not a necessary consequence of two-kingdom theology.

“An unwillingness to boldly call Christians to work for positive change in their communities and believe that some change is possible”

This one’s tricky. What one church member may call “positive change” could be deemed tragic in the mind of another. In the Seattle area where I minister, positively changing the community may take the form of shutting down the Gap because of its oppressive business practices that harm the third world’s poor. My guess is that it’s not this kind of positive change that DeYoung has in mind. The two-kingdom position actually protects the churchgoer from having the minister’s cultural values tyrannically forced upon him.

“The doctrine of the ‘spirituality of the church’ allowed the southern church to ‘punt’ (or worse) on the issue of slavery during the 19th century”

Guilt-by-association is never good argumentation. Plus, Charles Hodge taught the spirituality of the church, and he was a Yankee.

One last point: I find it ironic that DeYoung lists among Kuyperianism’s pros the fact that it, and not the two-kingdoms doctrine, highlights the goodness of creation. I would argue precisely the opposite. When one looks at the world and its beauty, grandeur, and ale and only sees the redemptive potential of these things, then is that really an example of appreciating creation for its own sake? Rather than surveying the world and thinking “So much unredeemed creation, so little time,” the two-kingdoms advocate sees creation as “very good” and worthwhile, albeit fallen. And before enjoying said creation, we remember that God’s whole purpose for the common grace sphere is to prolong life and thus erect a stage on which he can perform his redemptive work of calling sinners from this creation to a new one. When that work is done, Babylon will fall, will fall, and the world will pass away, and the lusts thereof.

What is our good news to this passing age in the meantime? Certainly not that Jesus is waiting to return until we’ve Christianized the planet, but that at an hour we think not the Son of Man will come with salvation and judgment, surprising a sleeping and rebellious world (you know, just like as it was in the days of Noah).

-Jason Stellman

The Rev. Jason Stellman is pastor of Exile Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Woodinville, Washington. He is also the author of Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet. Jason blogs at De Regnis Duobus.

For more information about the two-kingdoms doctrine, check out the following issues of Modern Reformation:

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The Gospel is a Complete Surprise

From session 2 of Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity DVD series:

It’s the gospel that’s surprising; it’s the gospel that comes to us and throws us off our horse, because the gospel isn’t wired into us. The gospel only came about because after the Fall—though God could have invoked the judgments that he threatened in the Law—he instead promised a Savior and clothed Adam and Eve, took all their fig leaves, and clothed them with the sacrificial skins of animals pointing forward to Christ. That was a surprise, a complete surprise. God could have wiped them off the face of the earth at that point and that’s why they ran because their law compass said, “we’d better run.” That’s why religions, you know, throw kids into volcanoes; and have things like penance where they’ll go through and make all kinds of satisfaction—crawl on their knees, bloody their knees–do whatever needs to be done; go on suicide missions; do whatever it takes in order to appease this God they know they’ve offended.

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More on the Emergent Church

Last night’s White Horse Inn broadcast featured Mike Horton interviewing Jim Belcher, author of the newly released Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional. Back in 2005, WHI producer Shane Rosenthal went to the Emergent Church Convention in San Diego and wrote up some reflections for Modern Reformation magazine. Here is his summary statement, which anticipated much of what you heard last night between Mike Horton and Jim Belcher:

As I made my way back to my hotel room, I realized that the discussion had been very instructive. Not only did I get a better sense of what drew people to Emergent, but the conversation gave me some insight into the thinking process of those wishing to start an Emergent church. The issue is much deeper than hairstyle, as Keel indicated, or even worship preferences. It also goes deeper than appreciating postmodernism. At its heart, the Emergent movement is about failure. Having hitched their wagons to modernism in so many ways, many evangelical churches have failed to provide a place of solace and transcendence in the midst of a dying culture. Now with the waves of postmodernism crashing upon our shores, the failure of churches still clinging to modernist assumptions are increasingly apparent, especially to the next generation. Having failed to define ourselves by Christ’s story, our churches look like entertainment centers, self-help seminars, political rallies, and Kiwanis clubs. Most of us do not really know the person in the pew sitting next to us, and we have failed to live noticeably different lives than those of our non-Christian neighbors.

The Emergent convention was not merely about diagnosing the ills of the contemporary church, it also pointed us to various treatments and therapies. This is where I fear the Emergent Church fails to give us much lasting benefit. Labyrinths, yoga, and prayer sculpting (to give only a few examples) might make us feel better for the moment, but we need medicine of a stronger sort. Burning incense might help cover up the dank smell of a church facility, but it will not ultimately lead to reformation. Without question, recovering a lost sense of community is a grand idea, but if the community itself is not about something other than itself, it will not last. We need Christ: We need to be caught up in his story, rather than our own. We need to better understand his Word and his mission for the church, not our own Cain-like attempts at spirituality. While “re-thinking church” can sometimes be a step toward ecclesiastic renewal, it should never be forgotten that it has just as often been the root cause of schism and heresy. Truly authentic Christian faith and practice is not recovered by an examination of what other churches have done, whether ancient or modern. It can only be recovered if we once again focus our attention and submit to Scripture as our norm for faith and practice.

["Experiencing Emergent" Modern Reformation( July/August 2005) Vol. 14 No. 4 Pages 28-35]

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A New Site

Welcome to the new White Horse Inn website. We’ve created this site to make our resources easier to find and easier to use. Thousands of people from over ninety countries regularly visit White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation. We hope this reconfigured site makes it easier for you to find the tools to help you “know what you believe and why you believe it.”

Where should you start? Our First Time Visitors tab has a number of streaming WHI shows and articles that will get you up to speed. Our FAQ tab can answer some of your basic questions. But feel free to drop us a line if you need to know something more specific.

Whether  you’re a long-time friend of the Inn or a newcomer, we’d also invite you to consider donating to the cause. Although the economy is making things difficult for a number of nonprofits these days, we’re happy to report that our supporters are behind the mission of White Horse Inn and we’re poised for growth (this new facelift to our website is just the first of many improvements in the works). Your donation to White Horse Inn won’t just keep our lights on, it will help spread the message of the Reformation–a message we think is necessary for the church to recover her witness and work in this in-between age.

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Interview with Simonetta Carr

41a2oi3u65l_sl150_Modern Reformation recently sat down with Simonetta Carr, the author of John Calvin (published by Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), and asked a few questions about her work and the philosophy behind children’s literature.

Why is it important for our children to read Christian biography?

There are several reasons. I was motivated to write this biographical series for young readers when I realized that most children today are not aware of the concept of “church history” as the progress of God’s people throughout the ages. They read Bible stories, they see other believers today, and they read a few stories about a few individual Christians who lived in between, but the connecting thread seems to be missing.

With these books, I don’t want to tell children, “Look how wonderful these people were! Let’s all be like them.” There are other biographies that do that. I want to explain how some Christians have impacted history – secular and non-secular – and how their teachings affect what we believe today. I am also hoping to introduce children to the real characters, with all the struggles and the intensity of emotions that have accompanied their decisions.

How should parents use this series and your book?

Some parents have read the book to their children in one sitting, and others have used it as a study guide, one chapter at a time, and both of these approaches seem to work well. My hope is that these books will be readily available to our young people, who can then read and re-read them on their own, and that they will spark an interest which parents will be able to encourage with additional material. As I read with my children devotional books based on quotations by John Calvin, I notice that their level of interest is much higher now that they understand how God shaped Calvin’s life and moved him to write what he wrote.

For homeschooling families, these books can provide a basis for unit studies. Currently, Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) is using the book on John Calvin to formulate a series of lessons that will be used within their clubs.

Why does the story of John Calvin resonate with young readers?

I passed this question on to my own children, and they said that they were impressed to see how Calvin kept faithful, in spite of great difficulties and opposition, to the truth and to God’s calling in his life.

What is the most important point you want children to take away from the life of John Calvin?

His humanity. Calvin never tried to set himself up as a Protestant Pope, as some critics accuse him to have done. His actions and his writings were conscientiously motivated by a compelling love for God’s truth as it is revealed in Scriptures and for Christ’s church.

What is your next writing project?

I have completed a book on Augustine of Hippo, which is presently being reviewed by experts in the subject, and will be published, God willing, in December 2009. I am also beginning research on John Owen for a book scheduled to be published in December 2010.

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The Limits of the Law

One of our favorite radio programs around here – other than White Horse Inn of course – is This American Life. Rarely does a week go by without the program taking up some theme that makes us pause and reconsider some great truth about Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.

The May 1, 2009 broadcast (available on the show’s archives page at thisamericanlife.org) begins with a story of one Florida judge’s attempt to instill shame in young convicts who have been caught stealing from local stores. The law-breakers must wear a sign indicating their crime (“I stole from this store”) and parade themselves in front of the store so that everyone who drives by can observe their humiliation.

The show’s producer asks the court minder what the percentage is of those who have been sentenced to this shame who eventually commit another crime. Although statistics aren’t available, the lady says she can see it in someone’s eyes. And so the stage is set to determine what course the young woman wearing the sign that day will do: she is unapologetic, the sentence has done nothing to dissuade her from crime, and she will definitely steal again, she says.

The law, even in the hands of an imaginative Florida judge, cannot create righteousness, nor as he found out after hearing this episode of This American Life can it always prevent sin. All the law can do is create a reluctance to sin again (because of fear of consequences) or shame over sin (because one has been exposed) or begrudging acceptance of a power that constrains our behavior.

Righteousness can’t be created out of whole cloth; it can only be given to those who do not deserve it, don’t expect it, and wouldn’t accept it unless they had been transformed by the new birth. Sadly, the church (in it’s effort to replicate a form of godliness without the power thereof, otherwise known as Christless Christianity) has settled for morality instead of the gospel. We are happy if people are reluctant to sin. We are still happier if they feel shame over their sin. We are living off of a fading power to constrain behavior, a power that has already disappeared in some sectors of society.

The health and eventual success of the church depends not on regaining this power of constraint, nor even of moral influence. It depends solely on our ability (or is it willingness?) to proclaim again the gospel of a righteousness that comes to us while we were yet sinners. Anything more or less is a corruption of the gospel.

Eric Landry
Executive Editor, Modern Reformation

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