White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

WHI-1161 | Found in Christ, Part 1

On this program we begin a two-part series through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Who were the Philippians, and what were the circumstances in which Paul wrote this letter? What is this epistle chiefly about? We will address these questions and more on this edition of White Horse Inn.

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WHI-1160 | Contending for the Faith

How did the apostles contend for the faith throughout the book of Acts? Did they share their testimonies or inner experiences? Did they encourage blind faith? On this special live edition of White Horse Inn, the hosts discuss the sermons in Acts in order to discover how to “contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.” (originally aired May 2, 2010).

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Review of Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

Crazy Busy

Crazy Busy
Kevin DeYoung
(Crossway, 2013)

Are you crazy busy? Kevin DeYoung certainly thinks so, and he shares your pain. He wrote the book, he says, because he needed to face up to his own crazy busy life and the choices he made (and continues to make) that led him there. I can relate; I’m sure you can, too. We all take a perverse pride in being crazy busy.

Two friends of mine came to mind over and over as I read this book. They have both come face to face with their own crazy busy lives. One left the southern California lifestyle behind and moved to a rural part of the country where he could live with his family without succumbing to the crazy busy culture. The other is still right in the middle of it, recently lamenting to me that his son is desperate for his attention. I tried to put myself in their shoes as I read Crazy Busy. How would they benefit from it?

DeYoung begins by summarizing a number of helpful books and studies to give us a “state of the union” address (i.e., we’re all crazy busy!). Then, he turns to a series of diagnostic statements to prove that we are too busy. These chapters, which make up the bulk of the book, are uneven. Some of them contain real gems of insight, especially #4 (“Stop Freaking Out About Your Kids”) and #5 (“You are Letting the Screen Strangle Your Soul”), but as a whole I think these chapters miss the real problem that a book like Crazy Busy should address.

No one I know is blind to our busyness. We don’t need to be convinced that we are too busy. We know that our choices are robbing us of our health and spiritual vitality. For most of us, our problem is that we can’t see the way forward to a better future. Again, I go back to my two friends: both of them have seen the light. For the first friend, the light was the dawn of a new day and a new way to live, a series of choices (radical though they seemed at the time to his short-sighted friends) that he and his wife made to live less busy lives. For the other friend, the light is an oncoming train. He knows he is in a world of hurt, but can’t seem to make the changes necessary to save his own health and to live in a way that is a true benefit to his family.

DeYoung recognizes that a book, even as small as this one, can quickly become overwhelming to people who are already busy: one more book to read, one more task to mark off, one more thing to do. He concludes his book by identifying the one thing we must do. DeYoung admits that it won’t necessarily solve the problem of busyness, but he promises that the one thing we must do will bring us closer to Jesus. I want to believe him because I agree with DeYoung that the real problem with busyness is our tendency to hide from Jesus in our busyness or substitute our busyness for Jesus. So, what’s the one thing we must do? Personal daily devotions.

DeYoung anticipates a negative reaction to his advice. He admits that it is “a dangerous and potentially debilitating move” to suggest a quiet time as the one thing that we must do to fight against crazy busy lives. My concern, however, isn’t the legalism that DeYoung fears. It is instead, the easy retreat to individualism, which is at the heart of our crazy busy problem and also shows up in a surprising way in Crazy Busy. For instance, in chapter 8, DeYoung explains the benefit of a Sabbath rest without once talking about the means of grace. His primary emphasis is personal relaxation, sleep, and a day off from the grind. But that individualistic viewpoint actually serves to fuel our hyper-active lives, when the Sabbath was meant to remind us that we don’t exist for ourselves, at all!

As wonderful and important as daily reading and prayer are, the author’s advice sounds dangerously close to the stereotypical “take two verses and call me in the morning” pietism that, in our circles, is a carrier of the kind of hyper-individualism that leads to the very real problems that Crazy Busy identifies.

Our church culture’s emphasis on the personal over the corporate is a reflection of the broader cultural sickness that has made us all crazy busy. We have forgotten that the biblical priorities are communal, not personal. When we cease to think in communal terms, we become trapped by personal ambition and guilt.

DeYoung’s book is helpful in many ways, but his proscription falls short. He returns to old tropes that I fear are part and parcel of the mess we’re in. Watching my own life get crazier and busier and watching the lives of family, friends, and congregants follow the same trajectory, I am afraid that what is needed is a much crazier book than DeYoung has given us—a book that calls on God’s people to make counter-cultural decisions to live their lives in ways that are distinctively different than their neighbors. If our children see us bow in personal prayer each morning but otherwise ascribe to the world’s standards of what life should look like, we will never stop being crazy busy. We will only sanctify it in our children’s eyes and they will follow our steps into their own crazy busy future.

—Eric Landry is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church

WHI-1159 | Is Christianity the Only True Religion?

Is it true that all the religions of the world are simply different paths to God, or is Jesus the only way? If Christianity is the only true religion, does this mean that other religions are completely false? What about those who have never heard about Jesus? Joining us to discuss some of these questions is Dr. John Stackhouse, Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. (originally aired June 21, 2009).

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Thank You For Your Support

Please consider a donation of $100 before June 30th to help us begin the next fiscal year with the resources we need to continue to call the church back to the rich resources of the Reformation.

To make a donation, or for more information, please visit whitehorseinn.org/donate2013.

WHI-1158 | Foolishness to Greeks

In this special address recorded before a live audience in Seattle, we discuss Paul’s famous speech at Mars Hill in the city of Athens recorded in Acts 17. How did Paul make his case for Christ before this largely Gentile audience? What lessons can we learn about preaching and evangelism in our own day? That’s what’s on tap for this edition of White Horse Inn!

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What The Gospel Is & Why We Should Believe It, Part 7

Throughout this blog series I have been arguing that Paul clearly identifies the essence of the Christian gospel in 1 Corinthians 15. But his discussion of what the gospel entails is presented in a summary form only and is certainly not exhaustive. For example, though he writes elsewhere about propitiation (Rom 3:25), imputed righteousness (Rom 5:17), or our adoption as sons (Eph 1:5), in this passage Paul simply sums up this gospel by pointing to Christ’s death for our sins and his resurrection from the dead. All that happened to Jesus, he argued, was both “according to the Scriptures” and verified by eyewitnesses.

I have also argued that Paul’s words in verses 3 through 7 appear to be in the structure of an early Christian mnemonic device, or creed. I believe this is what he had received (15:3) from the early Christian community in Jerusalem and was bringing to the remembrance of the Corinthian church.

Some get confused at this point when comparing this passage to Gal 1:12. In that passage, Paul says he received the gospel not from any man but directly “through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” This is totally consistent with the account of his conversion that we discover in Acts 9.

But here in 1 Cor. 15, he is not merely passing on the content of the Christian gospel. Instead, he is passing on a particular construction of it in the form of an early Christian creed that likely dates back to sometime within the first decade after Christ’s crucifixion. In other words, the story of Christ’s death and resurrection was not one that evolved later. This was the confession of the earliest Christians.

So now let’s conclude our reading of this section from 1 Corinthians. Paul, the chief of sinners, the most hostile of the hostile eyewitnesses, goes on to say:

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

That last line is especially significant when paired with the observation from De Tocqueville that we quoted in the first blog post. He had observed that,

Preachers in America are forever pointing out how religious beliefs favor freedom and public order, and it is often difficult to be sure when listening to them whether the main object of religion is to procure eternal felicity in the next world or prosperity in this.

Unfortunately what was true in 1840 has only gotten worse in our generation. Visit an average congregation, regardless of the denomination, and you’re likely to hear sermons about life in this world and how Jesus will help you live more abundantly here and now.

I’ve been arguing in these posts that the gospel is not ultimately about us or how we can improve this world or ourselves. Rather, it’s about Christ. And it’s not merely about Christ in general or what he can do for us in the here and now. Rather it is about what he did during a particular time when Tiberius was reigning as Caesar and Pontius Pilate was the procurator of Judea. It’s about Christ’s death for sin and his resurrection on the third day, testified by the prophets before it happened, witnessed by the apostles when it happened, and richly explained by them after it happened. We’re dealing with real time and space events that are first and foremost to be understood as true rather than helpful, useful, or life changing. This gospel may have the effect of changing a person’s life, but that is to be understood as a fruit of the gospel and not the thing itself.

These days we’ve turned things around. We don’t talk about the truth of the gospel anymore, just its therapeutic value, what it can do for our finances, how it can repair our broken relationships, how it solves loneliness, etc. As we go around repeating these kinds of things, many people will respond, “Oh that’s great for you, I’m glad that you found something that works.” Others say, “I’m doing just fine with my finances and relationships, thank you,” or “What worked for me was reading Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard. That book changed my life!”

But a truth claim is something different. If Jesus really rose again from the dead then, like all historical facts, this would be true not merely for me but for everyone. And if it’s true for everyone, we would all do well to pay attention to what Jesus says about himself and the claims he makes about where history is headed, about our true nature, and about our need for redemption.

Finally, we end with the beginning. This gospel is the announcement concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul says in the first two verses of 1 Corinthians 15 that it is the gospel “in which you stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached…” In other words, this isn’t merely an announcement of a particular set of facts, but is something of eternal significance for us all. We are not made right before a holy God by the things we do. However, we can be saved by attending to these particular words about a particular event that took place some two thousand years ago having to do with a certain Jewish rabbi who got himself crucified and didn’t stay dead.

This is why we put such an important emphasis on preaching and proclamation. The gospel saves, not going to church, or concern for the poor, or spiritual journaling, or the pursuit of social justice, or simply trying to be a nice and decent person in a fallen world. As Paul says in Romans 4:25, “Christ was raised for our justification.” We are declared righteous based on the events of his life, not our own. And if clinging to this gospel is what saves, then preaching this gospel is the main business of Christian ministers in Christian churches throughout the world until he comes.

Indonesia Trip Report

I have to admit that my motive for White Horse Inn trips is partly selfish. I’ve learned that I always receive more than I give of actual learning, challenge, example, and encouragement. Even though Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, there seems to be respect for the minority Christian population. The republic’s constitution, drafted in 1945 after a very tumultuous era, recognizes “one God” as the religious foundation. It’s an interesting experiment: neither completely secular nor sectarian. Perhaps more like the U.S. in 1945, but this civil religion is an essential—and practically implemented—part of Indonesian political life.

Christians communicate God’s Word freely, although there are occasional outbreaks of anti-Christian violence. Tragically, Reformed churches were so closely tied to the Dutch colonial government that they lost much of their authority with the struggle for independence. Today there seem to be few solid Reformed churches left in the islands; the ones that have not caved in to liberalism have embraced the charismatic movement.

Yet for some time there has been a faithful ministry of the Word in various churches of the Reformation and they are still thriving. A key figure behind the “new Reformation” movement in the region is Dr. Stephen Tong. Born and raised in China, he was a remarkably bright and committed Marxist and the son of a wealthy businessman. His father disinherited him when he came to faith in Christ.

I first became familiar with Dr. Tong long ago through James Montgomery Boice. I expected to find a very old father in the faith enjoying a peaceful retirement. Instead, I found an evangelist who is, if anything, busier today than he was years ago. At 73, his set weekly schedule includes preaching two services on Sunday morning in Jakarta at Messiah Cathedral, two Sunday evening services in Singapore, a Monday service in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), a Tuesday evening service in Hong Kong, and a Wednesday evening service in Taipei, Taiwan. In addition, he holds one or two evangelistic meetings in locations throughout Asia, often attended by 10,000 or more people, including many Muslims. The church trains pastors and missionaries (the two are virtually synonymous) at its seminary.

Dr. Tong also designed and oversaw the building of the Reformed Millennium Center, a fixture of the Jakarta cityscape. This massive structure houses one of the best collections of Chinese art in Southeast Asia as well as the largest concert hall in the region. In his spare time, Dr. Tong composes and conducts the Jakarta Symphony and Oratorio Society in the hall, where Jahja Ling presided until becoming the director/conductor of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra.

The impact of this group of churches has a far reach. The group also started a publishing company, TV and radio station, and network of schools—including a major university. A few years ago, in a London cab, the driver told me that he had become a Christian under the ministry of Dr. Tong.

It was a pleasure to join the many Reformed pastors and teachers who have learned more than they taught during a brief experience of this church’s hospitality, along with my friend and seminary colleague, Julius Kim. There are many there—especially younger folks—who are regular listeners of White Horse Inn and readers of Modern Reformation. In addition, the group’s publishing company has translated several of my books into the Indonesian language.

I was there just long enough to realize my trip’s brevity. After leading a seminar in Singapore, I preached at the English service at Messiah Cathedral. Then I taught a weeklong course on Reformed theology and piety.

A highlight for me was when a young Chinese man from New York City, now speaking with Dr. Tong at these large evangelistic meetings, brought into one of his talks an emphasis on Christ’s active obedience that he had learned in the course I taught. With honest tears, he added, “Jesus Christ was forsaken by God so that you need not ever be again.” I learned later that soon after his conversion he had been introduced to White Horse Inn by a NYC pastor (now teaching at the Jakarta seminary). White Horse Inn was his “pre-seminary education.”

The work that the Lord is doing not only in Jakarta and Singapore but also throughout the region revolves around one man: Jesus Christ. Assisted by a host of fellow pastors, Dr. Tong has led a reformation in that entire region that now has its own next generation of leaders who will carry on the mission.

What The Gospel Is & Why We Should Believe It, Part 6

Not long ago I watched a television documentary that dismissed the Gospels because “believers with a religious agenda” wrote them.

Is this a good reason to dismiss the Gospel accounts? Both prosecutors and defense attorneys have agendas, and yet we don’t dismiss them on that basis. Rather, we are told to examine the evidence, to evaluate the trustworthiness of the various witnesses, and to make our conclusions after thinking through these issues.

To dismiss either side because they have an agenda is simply lazy thinking. Everyone has an agenda, a worldview, a foundational starting point. The question is whether our current ideas about the world actually fit with the world that is. In other words, are we willing to have our ideas challenged?

If these Gospels are reporting real historical events and not merely the ideas of the early Christian disciples, why would the resurrected Jesus only show himself to his disciples, rather than to unbelievers? This particular objection rests on a false premise that can be easily detected by thinking through the implications of 1 Corinthians 15.

Throughout this blog series, I’ve been arguing that Paul cites an early Christian creed in verses 3 through 7, which he received from the early Christian community in Jerusalem, and that this creed dates to the mid 30s AD. In the final line of this creed we find the phrase, “then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

So let’s talk about James for a second. He’s one of the few New Testament characters who also appears in the writings of the first century historian Josephus. Here is the account of his martyrdom in Jerusalem:

With Festus now dead, and Albinus traveling; Ananus the high priest assembled the Sanhedrin, and brought before them James the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, along with some of his companions, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them over to be stoned; …when he found out about this, King Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest (Ant. 20.9.1).

So what made James such a firm believer in the idea that his older brother was in fact the divine messiah? In the gospels we find that he, along with his other brothers, rejected this idea outright:

John 7:5 For not even his brothers believed in him.

In Mark 3:21, the issue is put even more strongly: And when his family heard [what Jesus was saying], they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

But things have changed by the time we get to Acts chapter 1. Here the disciples were gathered in the upper room and were devoting themselves to prayer, “together with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”

What had happened was that James and his brothers became believers after the resurrection. Though it is true that the authors of the New Testament documents are not writing history for the sake of history, they do have a theological agenda. In other words, they are writing so “that you may believe,” as John admits at the end of his gospel (20:31).

But this in no way invalidates their claims. The question is whether these particular beliefs are justified. Did the resurrection happen, or did it not? Those who said that they witnessed the resurrection ended up taking sides, and tried to convince others, which is what you would expect if it really happened.

What about the claim that Jesus only appeared to his followers? The evidence simply does not support this. James is a great example. If a prophet is not accepted in his hometown, how much worse is the case inside his own family. This is the testimony that we find in the gospels. Even Jesus’ own brothers did not believe him. Later, after the resurrection, after “Jesus appeared himself to them alive by many proofs,” we find these unbelieving brothers meeting with the disciples in the upper room.

Jesus also appeared at other times to believers. The New Testament is filled with accounts of his appearances after the resurrection. Remember Doubting Thomas who would not believe the report of Christ’s resurrection until he put his hands in Jesus’ nail prints and side? Matt 28:17 reads, “And when they saw the risen Jesus they worshiped him, but some doubted.” Or the time when some of the female disciples try to tell the others about the empty tomb, but their report is rejected as “an idle tale” (Luke 24:11).

According to the gospels, Jesus did not show himself to merely believers, but to many different kinds of unbelievers. And the best example of all: that of the Apostle Paul.

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1Cor 15:8-9).

By this point in 1 Corinthians 15, the content of the early Christian creed has likely ended. Paul is now adding his own eyewitness testimony and apostolic appointment to what’s already been recited. Verse 9 is a good reminder that Paul was in fact a hostile witness before he saw the risen Lord. Yet, like James before him, we know that something convinced him to do a complete reversal, and this is not in dispute by even skeptical historians. What is disputed is the claim that it was the resurrection of Jesus that changed his disposition.

As we have seen, this isn’t a story that has grown bigger over time. Here we have an early Christian creed in all likelihood dating to around 33 AD, just a few years after the crucifixion. This creed claims that a particular Jewish rabbi has died for our sins, was raised on the third day, was the subject of Old Testament prophecy, and appeared before believers and hostile eyewitnesses alike.

In the seventh and final blog post in this series, I’ll walk through the implications of Paul’s arguments in verses 10 through 19, in which he claims that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and your faith is in vain.”

What The Gospel Is & Why We Should Believe It, Part 5

Now let’s take a closer look at verses 5-6 of 1 Corinthians 15. In particular, pay close attention to the sequence of events listed here. First the text says Jesus appeared to Cephas (which is the Aramaic equivalent of Petros, the form of Peter’s name that we would expect to find in an early Christian creed dating to around 33AD). Later Jesus appears to the twelve and then to a large crowd of over 500 brothers.

Interestingly, this is a different sequence of events from what we find in the Gospels. According to various gospel reports, several women discover the empty tomb first and are confronted by an angel declaring that Christ has risen. They tell Peter, who runs to the tomb with John, and they find it empty, just as the women had reported. When they leave, Mary Magdalene stays behind and sees the risen Jesus, who she at first mistakes for the gardener. The various accounts report different aspects and perspectives of the same event. Sometimes these accounts can be difficult to piece together, which is what typically happens in the case of actual eyewitness testimony of unexpected events.

But we should stop for a moment and ask why Mary Magdalene or any of the other women are not listed in 1 Corinthians 15 as the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection. I believe the answer has to do with the purpose of this early creed.

If this creed was crafted sometime in the early 30s, then it was primarily to be used among Jews rather than Gentiles. As we’ve seen, this creed does not only outline the basic facts of the gospel. It also provides two kinds of witnesses to testify concerning those facts, namely the testimony of the prophets and the Apostles. But there was something else going on as well. In the Jewish culture of the first century, women were not considered reliable witnesses in a court of law. Though Moses never prohibited women’s testimony in a legal proceeding, first century historian Josephus writes the following as he comments on the Law of Moses:

Antiq. 4:219 “…let not a single witness be believed; but two or three at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives. But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex…”

So in light of this 1st century evidence, it makes sense that we would find this early Christian community rooting the gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection in the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles and other male witnesses as part of its public deposition.

We see further evidence of this in verse 6 as the creed goes on to say that Christ appeared to more than 500 brothers at once. Notice it does not say 500 people, but brothers. It was the custom of this period to only count male heads when calculating crowd sizes. When this early creed says that more than 500 brothers were witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, in reality this may have been an audience of up to a thousand or more individuals if we are to assume women and children were present. Another example would be the feeding of the five thousand. The crowd may actually have been up to twice that size since we read in Matt. 14:21 that “those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” Now, like slavery, you may find this sort of patriarchalism distasteful, but once grasped, it actually helps us understand many New Testament texts, 1 Corinthians 15 in particular.

Now, in terms of the order, it’s interesting to note that the creed does not say that Peter was the first eyewitness. It simply lists him first. He was the first of the Apostles to witness the risen Lord and that’s all that is being claimed here. After this, Jesus was seen by the twelve. Most of the gospel accounts don’t narrate Peter’s exclusive meeting with the risen Christ, but we do find it briefly mentioned to in Luke 24:34. After the two disciples talk with Jesus on the road to Emmaus and return to Jerusalem (which is roughly about a three-hour walk), they finally meet up with the disciples and find them saying, “The Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Simon.” So sometime during that first Sunday, Jesus had revealed himself to Peter before he appeared to all the disciples at once.

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once (most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep).

Many scholars here believe that the creed is interrupted by a parenthetical comment by Paul. He writes that “most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” Here, Paul is admitting that a few decades have now passed since these events transpired and that some of the witnesses have died. Most, however, would still be living and would have been available to be questioned about these events.

One question that has perplexed scholars over the years is the exact timing of this large gathering of believers who were witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. Since it is not reported in the gospels, no one is exactly sure.

Some have argued that it may be hinted at in Matthew 28 when Jesus appears to his disciples and instructs them to tell others to leave Jerusalem and go to Galilee where he would appear to them there. The text says that the disciples then go to “the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.” Now remember, they don’t have minivans at this period, so this takes a little time to do by foot. Since they were instructed to tell others, by the time they arrived there may have been a significant crowd with them of the type described in 1 Corinthians 15.

But why did Jesus show himself to his followers only? Why didn’t the risen Lord show himself to unbelievers as well? We’ll take up those questions in the next post in this series.

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