White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

2014 White Horse Inn Weekend

We’re excited to open registration this week for our 2014 White Horse Inn Weekend. The Weekend is our version of the “un-conference” with lots of time for face-to-face interaction, discussion, and good fellowship.

In 2013, we gathered in San Diego to talk about the big picture of the Bible (which we turned into the “How to Read Your Bible” study kit). In 2014, we’re heading to Vail, Colorado, to answer the question, “Do We All Worship the Same God?” Joining the White Horse Inn hosts are special friends from around the world: Greg Koukle (host of the popular Stand to Reason radio show), Isaac Shaw (the head of a church multiplication ministry in India), and Hicham Chehab (a Christian missionary to Muslims).

You can read more about our special guests, the sessions we have planned, and our schedule of events at whitehorseinn.org/weekend. Remember, the Weekend is an “un-conference”—we keep the numbers intentionally low so that we can enjoy quality time with one another. Don’t miss out on an opportunity that our 2013 participants said was “outstanding,” “excellent in all ways,” and “exceptional.”

Save time and money by taking advantage of our early bird rates. Register today and join us in 2014 for our second annual White Horse Inn Weekend!

How to Help Our Friends in the Philippines

Many of you remember that last year, Mike Horton spent some time in the Philippines teaching and ministering with friends there. Our “man in Manila,” Nollie Malabuyo, has been in contact with us and sent this summary, which includes information on how to help those who have been directly affected by the disaster:

News reports on Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation of our country seem to be getting worse by the day.   Tens of thousands are dead, many of them left unburied. Homes, churches, and buildings are destroyed. Looting and violence are starting to take over the streets. The government is overwhelmed.

From the reports of foreign missionaries who have worked in these areas for years, even decades, their mission buildings suffered great damage, and Christian brothers and sisters have also lost their homes and fields, and many also died.

The news reports focus on the big cities, particularly Tacloban. But there is a big swath of destruction left behind by the typhoon (see enclosed map).

A group of Reformed people in Manila is meeting to discuss how God can use this time of trouble to spread the gospel and assist many in the devastated areas.

Please pray for this effort. None of us has ever been involved in rebuilding efforts after a disaster.

This will be a long-term rebuilding of many parts of the country.  Besides larger relief agencies, the following domestic links are reliable (theologically and financially).

On the Rock Ministries, Boracay

Dan and Tori Beaver (Facebook). Serving the Ati people and tourists. Church, school, Bible school

The Hope Foundation, Inc., Tacloban City, Leyte

Larry & Bobby Womack (Facebook). Serving the poor. Bible school/institute

Paul & Margie Varburg (Facebook), Tacloban City

Dennis & Marilou Drake, International Deaf Education Association. They have a website for Bohol Earthquake Relief.

WHI-1179 | The Bible’s History Books

If the Five Books of Moses can be summarized as Israel’s constitution, how are we to think about the history books that follow? What is the meaning and purpose of the book of Joshua or Judges? How are the genealogies or battle scenes of the ancient Israelites relevant for Christians living today? Questions like these are important as we think about correctly interpreting and faithfully applying the Bible in contemporary life.

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How to Read the Bible
Modern Reformation
According to Plan
Graeme Goldsworthy

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WHI-1178 | How To Read Your Bible

How to Read Your Bible

What is the Bible all about, and how can a person read it correctly? Why are there so many different books in Scripture, and how do they relate to one another? On this episode of White Horse Inn, we introduce our new series: How to Read Your Bible. Instead of a more general approach, we’ll actually dive into the biblical text by introducing and summarizing the Pentateuch. What is the purpose and message of these five books? What was God’s promise to Abraham, and how did it differ from the covenant made at Mt. Sinai? We’ll look at these questions and more as we kick off our new series.

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Michael Horton

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Matthew Smith

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How to Read the Bible
Modern Reformation

RECOMMENDED AUDIO

WHI-1177 | God in the Gallery

What is art and how does it relate to the world of theology and worldview? How is art different from entertainment? Is there a distinctively Christian approach to the arts? How should we think about modern art, in particular? On this program, Mike Horton discusses these questions with art historian Dan Siedell, author of God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art.

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Zac Hicks

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A Place for Weakness
Michael Horton

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Boredom
WHI-1110

WHI-1176 | What is a True Church?

What is a True Church?

How can you tell a true church from a false one? What are the distinguishing characteristics of a properly organized church body? How do the answers to these questions differ in Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox circles? On this edition of the program, we examine the substance of true faith and practice, specifically taking a look at the marks of a true church. (Originally broadcast Oct. 26, 2008.)

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Michael Horton
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Michael Horton

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Michael Horton
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Modern Reformation
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Modern Reformation

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Words in Season

Our friend, Leon Brown, has written a new book on personal evangelism, Words in Season.

Mike Horton wrote the foreword:

The greatest gift that you and I possess in Christ is reconciliation with God. Chosen in Christ from all eternity, we are united by the Spirit through the gospel to Christ through faith, which itself is a gift. From this union we receive “every blessing in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). We’ll never be recipients of a comparable gift. And the best gift we can give is that same gospel by which others can be reconciled to God: joined to Christ, justified, adopted, sanctified, and finally glorified. We cannot redeem anyone. Nor can we raise those who are spiritually dead to life by our clever techniques, charisma, or persuasion. Nevertheless, we can talk. We can communicate the terms of God’s peace treaty on his behalf to actual people who are “strangers and aliens” to the commonwealth of God. We can share the message that finally addresses the origin of that nagging but undefined sense of shame, guilt, and alienation and announces the good news that God justifies the ungodly. If the Triune God has chosen this means—the communication of his Word—for uniting others like us to the incarnate Son, a gospel that has brought us such rich forgiveness and peace with God, then we cannot fail to raise our hand with the prophet Isaiah and say eagerly, “Here I am, LORD, send me!” But, alas, we often feel somewhat ambivalent about sharing our faith. It’s not that we do not believe it, revel in it, and want others to hear it. Perhaps it is because we are naturally shy, at least when it comes to matters that are likely to be controversial. Maybe we have misconceptions about what personal evangelism is, with visions of standing on street-corners holding “Turn or Burn!” signs. It’s easy to say, “I’m really glad that others are doing it—somewhere—and I’ll even support them financially.” Some people work in sales and others prefer a desk job. It’s the division of labor, right? To be sure, Christ called pastors and teachers to give their lives full-time to studying, proclaiming, and applying God’s Word. Yet we would never say that this relieves us of any personal responsibility for reading the Bible and prayer. The same is true of personal evangelism.

Raised in churches where personal evangelism was highly programmed, we can often over-react. Especially in a society that is increasingly hostile to any serious claims when it comes to religion, we hear many people say, “I don’t preach the gospel; I live it.” The most serious problem with this statement is that it misses the point about what the gospel is in the first place. The gospel is not something that you can live. It’s an announcement about what someone else lived, died for, and was raised from the dead to secure. We are called to live in the light of the gospel, in a way that commends the gospel. Yet we are ourselves among the sinners who need to hear that good news that we’re called to bring to others. We are always the messengers, not the message. The gospel is an announcement and announcements need heralds. Some of us may be burned out on the constant call to be disciple-makers and the expectation to “save souls.” That can be a paralyzing fear, keeping the bravest among us from taking on such responsibility. But it is a great relief to learn that we cannot save anyone. We cannot bring a single person to saving faith. This is the gift of God. This frees us up to share the gospel in intentional ways as we go about our normal life. One of the privileges of teaching in a seminary is that I am able to encounter many young people who are zealous to bring the gospel to believer and unbeliever alike. It is not only an encouragement but a challenge for me to be more intentional about taking advantage of opportunities to plant seeds or to water seeds that someone else has planted. Leon Brown is one of those brothers whose head and heart have found a cordial friendship, one who refuses to choose between knowing Christ and making him known. For Leon, there is no point to getting the gospel right in our own minds if we don’t get the gospel out to those who need it. His own zeal in personal evangelism during his seminary years, and now as a pastor, has been a great example to many, including me. This book is not another guilt-trip. On the contrary, it opens our horizon to a big God who has a big message that he wants the whole world to hear. Filling our sails with the gospel itself, it leaves us drawing our own conclusion, “Here I am, send me!”

Beyond the motivation, Words in Season helps us with the nuts and bolts of evangelistic conversations. Many of us know what we believe, but are not quite sure how to say it or how to take advantage of opportunities— indeed, make opportunities—to present it. The author brings to bear his own experience, working through his own weaknesses and anxieties as well as the approaches that he has seen to be effective. Combining biblical wisdom with common sense, he knows that personal evangelism is a team sport. It is not something that we do alone, as if we could “close the deal” in every encounter. Furthermore, he knows that the goal of personal evangelism according to our Lord and his apostles is not adding a notch to our belt but adding neighbors to the church. We are understandably wary of programs that promise to revolutionize the world and trigger mass conversions. This is not that kind of book. But if just one reader—perhaps you or I—became more prepared to give to the next person we encounter a reason for the hope that we have, then Words in Season will have been worth more than its weight in gold.

For more information, please visit WordsInSeasonBook.com or purchase the book on Amazon. Read Leon’s articles in Modern Reformation magazine. Watch Leon discuss common objections to Christianity.

WHI-1175 | God’s Story vs. Our Stories

When sharing the faith with others, should we primarily focus on what happened to Christ, or what happened to us? In other words, should we focus on the gospel of Christ as we find it unpacked in the New Testament, or should we emphasize our personal testimonies, explaining to others what God has done in our own lives? We put this question to a number of attendees at a Christian convention, and you might be surprised by their answers. (Originally broadcast June 14, 2009.)

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Calvin on the Christian Life

mhmacThe following is an excerpt of an address that Mike recently presented at a conference on the campus of Mackenzie University, a conservative Presbyterian institution in Sao Paulo, Brazil with over 40,000 students. He gave this address on Friday, October 4th. Today he’s in Fortaleza, Brazil preparing to speak for another Fiel Leadership Conference.

How God Delivers His Grace
Much like monastic piety, evangelical spirituality often tends toward viewing the Christian life as the individual’s ascent of mind or spirit. It is a personal relationship with God—direct and unmediated. One “gets saved” and then decides to join (or, perhaps, not join) his visible church. Along this line of thinking, “means of grace” are chiefly private disciplines or activities that facilitate the individual’s spiritual growth. Consequently, it strikes many Protestants as “Romish” to talk about public preaching, baptism and the Lord’s Supper as means of grace—that is, as sacramental. There are first of all saved individuals, whose relationship with the Lord has nothing to do with such outward and public rites, and then there is a church that sometimes performs these ceremonies in order to illustrate personal salvation or afford an opportunity for individuals to testify to their commitment to following the Lord. Rome tends simply to collapse the individual and personal faith into the collective faith of the church and its sacramental system. The Anabaptist tendency, on the other hand, is to separate what God has joined together.

Calvin assumes an entirely different paradigm. There is a distinction between the believer and the church: each of us is united to Christ through a personal act of faith. Nevertheless, to be united to Christ is simultaneously to be united to his body. It is God who works through creaturely means such as preaching and sacrament to create and deepen this union and communion. Preaching, baptism, and the Supper are public events that socialize individual believers into “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Therefore, the purpose of this public ministry is not simply to illustrate a merely private salvation, much less simply to get us to do something that will initiate or deepen that relationship. First and foremost, its purpose is to convey God’s saving blessings that unite each person to Christ and therefore to each other in a communion of saints.

This is why Calvin, in the Institutes, moves directly from Christ’s person and work in book 2 to “The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ” in book 3. There is one unfolding argument: (1) Everyone knows God but suppresses the truth in unrighteousness; apart from the gospel we know God only as Creator and Judge; (2) Christ alone is the mediator and has fully accomplished our redemption, but all of this would be for naught if the Spirit did not unite us to Christ; (3) the way in which he does this is by the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments.

Consequently, on Calvin’s map, the means of grace appear at the intersection of the doctrines of salvation (soteriology) and the church (ecclesiology). To switch metaphors, the means of grace form the hinge that turns from personal salvation to the communion of saints. Piety, knowing God and ourselves, begins with a general awareness of and reverence for God that only measures our ingratitude and idolatry until we encounter Christ as he is clothed in his gospel. Through this very specific gospel, the Spirit unites each of us to Christ and therefore to his body. But then the line begins moving out again in a broader trajectory, as the church created and sustained through the word and sacraments expresses its holy calling through mission and its members fulfill their common callings in the world.

So at this point in the story, the means of uniting believers to Christ opens into the doctrine of the church. If all that Christ accomplished for us in the past can only become ours by being united with Christ in the present, then how does this happen? Again, even the Reformer’s ordering of subjects is driven by pastoral sensitivity.

And once more the maxim distinction without separation is in play. Where the priority of the church in Roman Catholic theology tends to smother personal faith, and in many Protestant approaches the emphasis on personal faith tends to be separated from the church, in Calvin’s piety, the two are distinguished but inseparably connected. Each of us is united to Christ through faith, but at the same time united to Christ’s body. The church is not only the place where the means of grace are administered; it is itself the communion that the Spirit creates through these means. Just as Calvin’s view of the image of God is social, so too is his understanding of the restoration of that image in Christ.

Sign and Reality
Since we could not rise up to God, he descended to us in saving mercy. But that is not all: he even brings us the gift here and now. There are no rungs of the ladder left for us to climb. It is easy for us to imagine that Christ accomplished our redemption and now we have to go get it. Calvin interprets Paul’s handling of this question with superb skill.

In preaching, the creaturely sign or medium is obviously human speech; water in baptism and bread and wine in the Supper. The reality is Christ with all of his saving benefits. Scripture unmistakably places the creaturely signs in the closest relationship with the reality, while at the same time teaching that it is the Spirit who makes these means effectual.

There are basically three ways to understand the relationship between signs and reality in the ministry of preaching and sacrament: (1) The creaturely means are saving in themselves; (2) The creaturely means have nothing to do with salvation; (3) The Spirit creates and confirms faith in our hearts through these creaturely means. These views correspond roughly to Rome, Anabaptists, and the Reformed position that Calvin follows.

The first view confuses sign and reality. In transubstantiation, the creaturely elements of bread and wine no longer exist; they are annihilated, replaced with the reality: the body and blood of Christ. Not surprisingly, Rome failed to distinguish between the ministerial word of the church and the magisterial word of God, baptism and regeneration, and so forth. The church could even conjure Christ’s bodily return at every Mass by the ringing of a bell. Seated on the lap of the Virgin Mary (symbolizing the church), and held fast on the crucifix hanging above the altar, the presence of Jesus was under ecclesiastical control. The church could distribute the benefits of Christ, Mary, and the saints from the treasury of merit according to the officially prescribed arithmetic and the specific penances required by the priest.

The second option is to separate sign and reality. This was done by Zwingli, but even more radically by the Anabaptists who contrasted the “external word” (preaching) with the “inner word” (the Spirit speaking directly to the heart). Preaching was a form of teaching and exhortation: talking about God and his word, more than the means through which God himself acted in judgment and grace. The goal was to explain and exhort, to get the hearers to do something, rather than to see preaching as the medium of God’s action. Similarly, baptism was the believer’s act of testifying to the true baptism by the Spirit and the Supper was another opportunity to express faith and obedience. In short, the public ministry was an occasion for the believer’s decisive response to the Spirit’s inner voice.

The third option is a sacramental union of sign with the reality. This view sees the signs as the instruments through which God communicates the reality. “Distinction without separation” is the watch-phrase. The preacher’s proclamation of the word is the word of God, but only insofar as it is consistent with Scripture. Through this preaching of the gospel the Spirit creates faith in our hearts, but he gives this faith only to the elect. God so identified his activity with the ark of the covenant that it could be called “the Presence.” So too baptism in the New Testament is identified with the remission of sins, the new birth, and the gift of the Spirit. The reality is not identical to the signs, but it is also not separated from them. Ordinarily, the reality is given through them. This was Calvin’s view, nicely summarized in question 65 of the Heidelberg Catechism: “If it is by faith alone that we share in Christ and all his benefits, then where does this faith come from?” Answer: “The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel [Ro 10:17; 1 Pet 1:23-25] and confirms it through our use of the holy sacraments [Mt 28:19-20; 1 Cor 10:16].”

Calvin saw the physical aspect as the means chosen by God for delivering and strengthening the spiritual communion with Christ. There is a “sacramental union” accomplished by the Spirit working through his word that makes preaching, baptism, and the Supper means of grace. Christ is not intrinsically bound to these means, but he has voluntarily bound himself to them as covenantal signs and seals that communicate his saving work to his people. According to Calvin, Rome binds God to earthly means, while the Anabaptists disallow that God can bind himself to them. Lutherans, he argued, leaned too far in the direction of Rome’s confusion of sign and reality, while Zwingli’s tendency to separate them was too close to Anabaptism.

It is not simply by invoking the rule “distinction without separation” that distinguishes Calvin’s approach to the means of grace. Crucial to his thinking is that union with Christ is brought about by the Holy Spirit. Grace is not a substance infused into the soul to empower it to cooperate in its healing. Rather, it is the personal favor, activity, and gift of the Father, in the Son, delivered to us by the Holy Spirit at work within us. While Rome seemed to give more efficacy to the means than to the Spirit, Anabaptists underscored the work of the Spirit within us over against any creaturely means. Yet, in scripture, everything that the Holy Spirit does is associated with visible, material, creaturely reality. He separated the waters in creation and the exodus, filled the temple, brought about the conception of the Incarnate Word in Mary’s womb, empowered Jesus to perform physical miracles, and raised him bodily. He indwells us and will raise us bodily with our Head at his return. Therefore, to emphasize the person and work of the Holy Spirit, as Calvin does, is never to disparage the external means through which he is pleased to accomplish his saving ministry.

Brazil Video Clip 2: Mike Horton on the Book of Job

mhbzLast night Michael Horton spoke on the book of Job at the Fiel Leadership Conference in Aguas de Lindoia (video clip: mhbrazilclip2). This morning he spoke on the topic of The God of the Empty Tomb, which was an exposition of John chapter 11 and the story of the raising of Lazarus.

Later this afternoon Mike will fly across country to the city of Fortaleza.  Please continue to pray for safe travels and for God to bless the hearing of his word, and for Reformation to take root throughout the country of Brazil.

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