White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

A Listener Comment from Manila

Your support of White Horse Inn makes it possible for our program to reach around the world and touch folks just like you in far away places. Here’s a comment from a listener in the Philippines that was passed on to us recently:

Thank you so much for bringing White Horse Inn to the Philippines. The first time I chanced upon this program (i think sometime last year), the discussion they were having readily hit me. I felt that the hosts were really making sense with what they were saying. And as I continued to listen over the next weeks and months, I increasingly realized  that they were in fact discussing the teachings that the Scripture wants to convey to the people. They were getting into the heart of the matter, so to speak. The discussions were in-depth, incisive, objective, thought provoking (that would seem confusing sometimes. also had to learn some of the terms they are using that are not really common in today’s evangelical circles). It’s such a great blessing!
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Teaching at the International Reformed Evangelical Seminary

This week, Mike Horton has been teaching at the International Reformed Evangelical Seminary in Jakarta, Indonesia. His course was called God’s Theater of Grace. It was a week-long intensive unit for the students at the seminary on Reformed spirituality. The lecture titles were:

Monday, 25 March—‘Living Before God’
Tuesday, 26 March—‘Living In God’
Wednesday, 27 March—‘Living In The Body’
Thursday, 28 March—‘Living In The World’

After class on Thursday, he was interviewed for Reformed 21, a television program that broadcasts sermons, lectures, interviews, and programs designed to spread Reformed theology in Indonesia (which is almost 90% Muslim).

Please continue to pray for Mike and Julius Kim, his colleague from Westminster Seminary California. Tonight, Mike will preach at a Good Friday service before coming back home to the United States.

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Hosanna in the Highest

Is the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, a man known to the public, whom witnesses saw tried, beaten, crucified, and buried–is his Resurrection from the dead fact or fiction? This is the central question of Christianity. Every other question pales in significance, because unless Jesus is really raised from the dead, then all else is vain: all of our morals, all of our good ideas, all of our philosophies, all of our behavior, all of our hopes and dreams. None of it matters if Christ is not risen.

As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, we invite you to prepare your own heart for worship by listening to this special lecture from Mike Horton in which he gives evidences for the Resurrection. We’ve also included below a list of other important resources to help you talk with unbelieving friends and family members about the most important claim of Christianity: He is risen!

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Free Resources:

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Preaching in Jakarta

Although it’s still relatively early on Saturday morning here on the west coast, it’s late Saturday night in Jakarta, Indonesia. Mike Horton has a habit of enjoying late night talks with his friends, but I hope his hosts get him to bed soon so that he can be ready to preach at the Reformed Millennium Center tomorrow morning.

His text will be Romans 4, “The Promise Driven Life.” You can tune in via the church’s livestream webcam at 10:00 am Sunday (Jakarta time, about 12 hours from now).

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Calvin in Singapore

It’s the middle of the night in Singapore right now. Hopefully, Mike Horton is sleeping off his jet lag because he’ll be speaking later today on Calvin and the Christian Life. He’s only in Singapore for a brief stop on his way later today to a week of lectures in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The goal of this free public seminar is to understand the Genevan Reformer’s view of the Christian life and its enormous relevance for our lives and our churches today.  Mike will draw from Calvin’s treatises, letters, sermons, and liturgy to address the following subjects:

  • The Triune God
  • Union with Christ
  • The Communion of Saints
  • Engaging the World
  • Exploring the Relevance of Calvin’s Piety Today

This lecture is the fruit of Mike’s new book on Calvin and the Christian life, which will be published by Crossway in 2014.

Please continue to pray for Mike and his WSC colleague, Julius Kim, as they minister to and with the Sekolah Tingi Teologi Reformated Injili Internasional (International Reformed Evangelical Seminary) in Indonesia.

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Michael Horton in Singapore and Indonesia

Please pray for Mike Horton and his WSC colleague, Julius Kim, as they travel over Spring Break to Singapore and Jakarta, Indonesia, for a week of lectures and preaching. We’ll be keeping you up to date on  where Mike will be and what he’s doing. When he returns, we’ll ask him to write up a brief report as he did on his teaching trip to China last year.

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A Reformed Farewell to Benedict XVI

Taken from the highest ranks of the clergy, popes should be among the best living pastors, biblical scholars, and theologians. That this has often not been the case is obvious enough throughout history, as any well-informed Roman Catholic will concede. (More than a few instances of corruption and heresy may be found on the Protestant side as well.)

However, Benedict XVI has regularly been impressive on these counts. Living alongside Protestants in Germany, he often engages Reformation views with more sympathy and knowledge than most—especially more than many Protestants who convert to Rome and trade on caricatures of the evangelical faith based on the worst of evangelicalism.

One example of Pope Benedict’s judicious engagement is the way he explains the context that helped to provoke the Reformation. Though he realizes that there was more to it, he refers to the Great Western Schism (1309-1417). Not many people know about this today, so it’s worth considering.

Often called the “Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” the Schism was provoked by the election of rival popes and the removal of the papacy from Rome to Avignon, France. Before becoming pope, Benedict explained,

For nearly half a century, the Church was split into two or three obediences that excommunicated one another, so that every Catholic lived under excommunication by one pope or another, and, in the last analysis, no one could say with certainty which of the contenders had right on his side. The Church no longer offered certainty of salvation; she had become questionable in her whole objective form–the true Church, the true pledge of salvation, had to be sought outside the institution. (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987), 196)

Throughout the Middle Ages there had been a running feud between popes and kings, leading to excommunication from the one and imprisonment by the other. However, the disruption of the papal succession provoked widespread anxiety within the church—and indeed, the whole of Christendom. Between 1305 and 1377, the pope was French and so were most of his cardinals. The schism was consummated when Pope Urban VI in Rome and Pope Clement VII in Avignon excommunicated each other—and therefore all of those under each other’s respective sees. They continued this division by appointed their own successors.

Who would resolve this stand-off? Some leading theologians had argued for a while that church councils always had priority over the pope until fairly recently. The early ecumenical councils were a prime example.

However, in this case councils it became clear that councils, too, were fallible. The Council of Pisa (1409) elected a third pope to replace the two rivals. At the Council of Constance (1414-18), where the reformer Jan Hus was condemned to the flames, the two rival popes and the third pope were replaced now by a fourth, Martin V. It came at a cost to the papacy: the Council declared its sovereignty over the pope. Pope Martin, who could not attend, declared its position on this matter null. As a binding council, some Roman Catholic theologians today invoke its memory for a new conciliar movement.

Between the 14th and 16th centuries, leading theologians defended the authority of Scripture over councils and of councils over the pope, drawing on the example of the ancient church. Arguing that Scripture is above the whole church, William of Ockham (d. 1349) argued that the whole church (including laity) should hold a council to elect the pope and limit his authority. It is this whole church that is the communion of saints, not the Roman church. If a pope falls into heresy, a council can judge him without his approval. Marsilius of Padua agreed (Defensor Pacis, 1324): the church consists of all the faithful, not just priests. Christ is the only head of the church. More conservative reformists defended the principle of Scripture’s magisterial authority and the priority of councils over the papacy. These included the leading Sorbonne theologian Jean Gerson, as well as Pierre d’Ailly, Francesco Zabarella, and Nicholas of Cusa.

The last gasp of the conciliar movement came at the Council of Basel (1431-49). Papalists formed Council of Florence, while conciliar party in Basel elected another pope. Martin called it but died before it met. Eugenius IV succeeded him and was prevented by health from presiding. He couldn’t have done so in any case, as the fathers declared (on the basis of Constance) that the Council was superior to the pope. Eugenius made concession after concession until he finally submitted. His papal legates could only attend if they accepted this as well, though they were duplicitous afterwards.

Finally, on the eve of the Reformation, Pope Julius II reasserted papal primacy and packed the Fifth Lateran Council (1512-17) with cardinals who supported him. Thomas Cajetan, famous (among other things) as Luther’s curial opponent, staunchly defended papal primacy. In condemning the Reformation, the Council of Trent also condemned positions that had been argued by theologians well within its pale for centuries.

With the First Vatican Council in the 1850s, papal infallibility became binding dogma—necessary for salvation. In spite of a few statements in Lumen Gentium exploited by more liberal theologians, Vatican II and the latest Catholic Catechism reaffirm that there is no full and perfect communion with Christ apart from obedience to the pope. Before becoming Benedict XVI, and since, Cardinal Ratzinger defended these views with great energy and skill. I have no doubt that he will continue to do so.

But this tale does clear our eyes from the foggy mists of sentimentalism. Is the Roman Catholic Church united by an unbroken succession from St. Peter? Roman Catholic theologians—and especially historians—know that an uncomplicated “yes” will not do. Are the church’s decisions irreformable? Then what about the Council of Constance? Even the Council of Basel was a duly constituted synod. Whose conclusions are binding? At the very least, Rome has compromised its claim of an unbroken unity—not only between councils and popes, but within the papal line itself. It can invent theories of “anti-popes” to preserve its claim to valid succession. But even if one were to accept the idea in principle, history has already provided too much contrary evidence. Romantic glances across the Tiber are thwarted by the reality. At the end of the day, this story provides one more reminder that the church that is created by the Word and stands under that Word, with all of its besetting sins and errors, is still the safest place to be in a fallen world and imperfect church.

    Further Reading:

  • C. M. D. Crowder, Unity, Heresy, and Reform, 1378-1460: The Conciliar Response to the Great Schism (New York : St. Martin’s Press, 1977).
  • Oakley, Francis. The Conciliarist Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

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Remembering Dr. Koop (1916-2013)

By now most readers would know that Dr. C. Everett Koop, M.D. died yesterday. At least the reports I heard were generous and grateful.

I first met Dr. Koop with Francis Schaeffer. At the same time, I was like a cat underneath the feet of Dr. James Boice, pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, so running into the man he called “Chick” was a regular occurrence. I talked to him about an idea for a book on televangelism and he graciously contributed an amazing essay on “Faith Healing and the Sovereignty of God” for the first book I edited: The Agony of Deceit (Moody, 1990). It’s laced with first-hand accounts, including his examination of healing claims at an Oral Roberts crusade. More than that, it displays his remarkable depth as a lay theologian as well as a medical expert. To me, Dr. Koop was a model of distinguishing his two callings without separating them.

Converted under the ministry of Donald Grey Barnhouse at Tenth, Dr. Koop was a long-time elder during Boice’s ministry and served on the board of Evangelical Ministries, founded and then led by these two pastors. Years later, the White Horse Inn (then known as Christians United for Reformation) merged with Evangelical Ministries to form the nucleus for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. I visited Dr. Koop in his Dartmouth College office to ask—or rather, plead with—the aging doctor to return to our board after Dr. Boice’s death. He agreed and came to as many meetings as his own health allowed.

After a long and fruitful life, not without its share of personal suffering—including the death of his son in a mountain-climbing accident, Dr. Koop has been gathered to Christ’s bosom awaiting the resurrection with all the saints. He touched all of our lives in various ways and as a way of remembering his service we’d like to retrieve some of his contributions to the White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation.

Please take time to take advantage of these resources from an old friend:

Chapter from Agony of Deceit

Faith Healing and the Sovereignty of God from July/August 1998 Modern Reformation
(a summary of his chapter from Agony of Deceit)

Audio from a 2001 WHI broadcast:

Click here to access the audio file directly

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Modern Reformation Conversations – Rev. Zach Keele

How many of you skim the first chapter of Matthew?  (It’s all right, we did it too.)  This month, we talk to Rev. Zach Keele of Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church about the genealogies listed in Scripture–their purpose, their scope, and the fidelity of God’s promise.

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Angry Atheists Again

It’s a familiar story, but a recent Huffington Post article caught my attention.  The author, a non-Christian physicist, expresses shock after posting an article on the age of the earth.  Expecting a torrent of abuse from religious conservatives, he was surprised that it was the atheistic fundamentalists who piled on.

One of the biggest objections to religion is that there are so many competing truth claims.  How can each claim to be right?  Religious detractors argue that this is in sharp contrast to science, which is based on facts upon which any rational person can agree.

How do we handle this objection?  First, it is important to point out that the number of truth claims on the market has nothing to do with whether which, if any of them, is true.

Take something as significant as belief in a transcendent creator.  Cambridge mathematician and astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle noted, “A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.  The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”   In sharp contrast, biologist and passionate defender of atheism Richard Dawkins says, “The more you understand the significance of evolution, the more you are pushed away from the agnostic position and toward atheism.”  These thinkers can hardly be distinguished by their scientific credentials.  If anything, Hoyle contributed far more to applied science than has Dawkins so far.  Both came to radically different conclusions based on their considerable study of nature.

Albert Einstein saw himself as more of a pantheist like Spinoza than an atheist like Marx or Nietzsche.  “[T]he fanatical atheists,” he wrote to a friend, “are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle.”  They are simply rebelling against their religious upbringing.  Indeed, he added that although he didn’t believe in a personal God, “such belief seems to me preferable to the lack of any transcendental outlook.”  Following Spinoza, he was a strict determinist.  He wrote to physicist Max Born,

You believe in a God who plays dice, and I in complete law and order in a world which objectively exists, and which I in a wildly speculative way, am trying to capture. I firmly believe, but I hope that someone will discover a more realistic way, or rather a more tangible basis than it has been my lot to find. Even the great initial success of the quantum theory does not make me believe in the fundamental dice game, although I am well aware that some of our younger colleagues interpret this as a consequence of senility.

Scientists disagree about all sorts of things: from matters as metaphysical as string theory to details over genetic mutation.  In fact, as Michael Polanyi argued years ago, scientists belong to a concrete, historical community of interpretation.  They too have lives, histories, and experiences within which they interpret reality.

We all remember the ill-fated pronouncements of the church in relation to Copernicus and Galileo, but it was scientists who made the biggest fuss at least initially over the new cosmology.  Not unlike religious communities, the scientific community resists massive paradigm shifts.  That’s good, because we’d be starting over every day if it were otherwise.  It takes a lot of anomalies to overthrow a well-established paradigm.  But it happens.

Of course, one reason that paradigm revolutions can occur is that there are rigorous standards for evaluating and testing theories.  I would argue that this is what sets Christianity apart from other religions.  It arose not out of a projection of felt needs, the charisma of a sage, or the profundity of its universal ideas, but as a historical claim with cosmic significance: the resurrection of Jesus.  It was a paradigm revolution within the Jewish community that sparked momentous debate.  Even greater was the shift that it provoked when it met the Greek world.  The idea of God as personal—and three persons to boot; that the world is created out of nothing, as a free act by a good God, not to mention the incarnation of this God in history and his death and resurrection as redemption-bringing events, were completely revolutionary.  One couldn’t really be a good Platonist by day and a Christian by night.  A choice had to be made.

Even within religious communities there are major paradigm shifts.  The Reformation is an example.  Fresh exegesis turned up new evidence and shed new light on passages that had been misunderstood—even mistranslated in the Latin Vulgate.  This doesn’t explain it all, of course, but it was a big part of it.  The reformers didn’t set out to cause a revolution.  They didn’t touch most of the Christian doctrines—affirming the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and other key teachings without alteration.  However, they did cause many throughout Europe to rethink the meaning of the gospel.  Pretty significant on its own merits.

At some point, we have to take responsibility.  We can’t just dismiss the search with Pilate’s shrug, “What is truth?”

At a conference a number of years ago, I was on a panel with Bill Nye (as in “The Science Guy”).  Like a modern-day David Hume, he made general arguments about religious claims as equivalent to fairy tales that evolve over time with each telling.  I agreed with some of his assertions about religion in general, but asked him to evaluate specific claims for Christ’s resurrection.  Going through these claims, one by one, he became increasingly impatient.  Finally, without addressing even one of the arguments, he dismissed the whole thing with a single brush, returning to his opening assertions.

Christianity has been in the business of offering arguments and evidence from the beginning.  The Hebrew prophets mock the idols of the nations because they cannot speak and cannot make good on their promises in history.  The God of Israel has done so in Jesus Christ and “has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

Of course, none of us is neutral.  We all come to the evidence with big assumptions about reality.  The Holy Spirit alone can bring conversion, but he does so through his Word.  And he also uses supporting arguments and evidence that reveal too many devastating anomalies—indeed contradictions—that our reigning worldview can’t accommodate.  One thing is for certain: to say that miracles do not happen because they cannot happen is as vicious a circle as any argument can be.  In fact, it’s not an argument at all, but mere assertion.  Isaac Asimov said, “Emotionally, I am an atheist.  I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect that he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”  Insert “believer” and change “doesn’t exist” to “does exist” and there is nothing expressed here that the Dawkinses of the world wouldn’t leap upon as evidence of blind faith.

Hoyle concludes, seemingly against his personal inclinations, that the evidence requires a transcendent creator, while Dawkins’ conclusion couldn’t be more antithetical.  No less than religious ones, scientific claims about ultimate reality are driven by deeper worldview assumptions.  But the sheer fact that there are competing claims doesn’t settle anything.  Whether or not we take the time to investigate those claims on their own terms is a decision that closed minds on both sides of the debate will have to consider seriously if the search for truth is of any significance to being human.

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