White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

WHI-1155 | A Place for Weakness

Many Christians today buy into the idea that, through Jesus, we can have our best life now. But what happens when we become ill, depressed, or bankrupt? Did we do something wrong? Has God abandoned us? Why does God allow so many of us to suffer in various ways? On this special edition of White Horse Inn recorded before a live audience at the Liberate Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the hosts discuss these questions and more as they focus on the place of suffering in the Christian life.

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A Place for Weakness
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Is This Good News?

In his Wednesday Mass homily this week, Pope Francis attracted considerable media attention.  According to reports, the message drew on Mark 9:40, where Jesus says, “He who is not against us is for us.”  Like the disciples, we can be intolerant of the good that others can do—even atheists.  Because we’re all created in God’s image, there is still a possibility of doing good.  So far, nothing particularly controversial in terms of classical Christian teaching.  The most ardent evangelical would affirm that although our works are so corrupted by sin that they cannot justify us before God, they can help our neighbors.

However, the pontiff added, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics.  Everyone!  ‘Father, the atheists?’  Even the atheists.  Everyone!…We must meet one another doing good.  ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’  But do good: we will meet one another there.”

Reports from major outlets, including the Huffington Post, express astonishment at the pope’s comments.  What is this strange new teaching? Of course, it’s not new at all.  It has been an emphasis ever since the Second Vatican Council, where the previously shunned speculations of Karl Rahner, S. J., became official teaching.  There is no way to reconcile the previous councils and papal pronouncements depriving non-Roman Catholics of salvation with the idea of the “anonymous Christian.”  Nevertheless, there it is.  Not the development of dogma, as Cardinal Newman formulated, but the flat contradiction of dogma.

Before Vatican II, the standard teaching was that ordinarily no one can be saved who does not submit to the magisterium and papal authority in particular.  Especially in trouble were those who had been reared Roman Catholic and yet explicitly rejected the pope’s headship.  Although they were consigned to everlasting punishment by papal decrees, the Protestant Reformers never applied the same rule to their Roman Catholic opponents.  Calvin even said that although Rome has excommunicated itself according to the criterion of Galatians 1:8-9, “There is a true church among her.”

What has changed?  We keep hearing from Protestants that, given the Vatican II reforms, if Luther and Calvin were alive today they’d renew their Roman Catholic membership cards. I doubt it. Not even the craziness of contemporary Protestantism could push them to make that move against a Scripture-bound conscience.

What has changed is that Rome has carried its incipient Semi-Pelagianism to its logical conclusion.  I know, Karl Rahner and Vatican II repeatedly condemn Pelagianism and extol grace as the fundamental basis for salvation.  Yet that has always been Rome’s teaching.  It is by grace alone that we are empowered to cooperate in meriting further grace and, one hopes, final justification.

The Reformers never accused the medieval church of embracing outright Pelagianism, but of that subtler form of works-righteousness that invokes grace as no more than assistance for our attainment of God’s favor.  Maybe Protestants don’t get that because this is essentially the same tendency at work in many mainline and evangelical churches.

There is a certain truth, then, to the idea of development, at least from the sixteenth-century Council of Trent and the twentieth-century Second Vatican Council.  Various seeds have come to full flower:

  • Collapsing special revelation into general revelation, and therefore the gospel into the law, Rome maintains that Scripture provides a higher revelation—greater illumination.  The gospel is simply “the new law”—easier than the old covenant—with Christ as a “new Moses.”
  • Collapsing our works into Christ’s, the familiar slogan of the medieval church was “God will not deny his grace to those who do what lies within them.”  It is this slogan that is official dogma, according to Vatican II and the current Catechism of the Catholic Church.
  • The Council of Trent anathematized the view that we are so thoroughly bound by sin that we cannot cooperate with God’s grace by our own free will.  The new dogma simply extends this logic to conclude that everyone is “in Christ,” infused with saving grace, and capable of attaining final justification by grace-empowered works.
  • The medieval dogma of implicit faith was a way of demanding absolute obedience to everything taught by the pope and magisterium, which Calvin described as “ignorance disguised as humility.”  Now, implicit faith is invoked to support the idea that even atheists evidence an openness to divinity by their good works.  They may not have explicit faith in Christ—or even in any transcendent Creator, but it lies buried in their sub-consciousness nevertheless.

What’s different is this: where the older view denied that faith was sufficient for justification, the new view denies that faith—at least the explicit faith in Christ everywhere assumed in Scripture—is even necessary.  In other words, good works not only now supplement faith in justifying sinners but replace faith entirely.

It’s no wonder that the media is welcoming this Wednesday homily with such glee.  Aside from some major social problems, the world, after all, is not as in need of being rescued as we thought.  We just need a little direction to get back on the road, some encouragement to be more tolerant and attentive to the plight of others.  Somehow Jesus Christ has made it possible for all of us to wind up in heaven (purgatory, etc., left to the fine print).

But is this a gospel—good news?  Perhaps it is to good people who could be a little better, but not to the ungodly who need to be justified before a holy God.  What’s so amazing is that the pope’s message is treated as kinder and freer, even though it replaces faith in Christ with our own acts of charity.  For anyone who knows what God counts as true love—and therefore good works, this can only provoke deeper guilt and fear.

Although the surprise expressed by the Huffington Post report cited above reveals unfamiliarity with official teaching, it does get one important thing right in its conclusion:  “Of course, not all Christians believe that those who don’t believe will be redeemed, and the Pope’s words may spark memories of the deep divisions from the Protestant reformation over the belief in redemption through grace versus redemption through works.”  Anyone who thinks that the Reformation is over doesn’t realize just how much further from the gospel Rome has moved in recent decades.

Moore Prayers

One of Mike Horton's nephews in the wreckage of his home

One of Mike Horton’s nephews in the wreckage of his home

No matter how many times it’s been asked–and answers offered–the perennial question is provoked by fresh wounds: “How could a good and all-powerful God allow such a tragedy?”  The massive 2-mile-wide tornado that leveled much of Moore, Oklahoma, exposes the fragility of life—but also the apparent contradiction between a God who is good and all-powerful.

Receiving the news, my heart raced as I thought about my brother, sister-in-law, nieces, nephews, and cousins in Moore.  My parents were from there.  It was a place I’ve known well since childhood, visiting extended family.  So I scanned the local OKC TV stations for updates.  I knew by the description of the devastated area that the home of my brother and sister-in-law was in its path.

Finally, late at night I received an answer to my text-messages and talked to my brother by phone.  “It’s all in God’s hands,” he said.  It was from him that I first heard the doctrines of grace.  He and Linda are enthralled with the God of grace and glory who has revealed himself in his Son.  We don’t know why, but he does—and that’s enough.  It’s one thing coming from me, and another thing hearing it from my brother just after he and his wife had lost every material treasure they had.

His wife was away for the afternoon, beyond the range of the tornado.  Their children were just out of its path.  Waiting it out at home, my brother—a veteran of “Tornado Alley”—changed his mind when he heard it was a Category 4 or 5.  Climbing into his truck with debris already falling, he drove off for several miles until he saw the twister pass his neighborhood.  Returning only 5 minutes later, he found only a heap of rubble.  Yet there they are, extending a helping hand to neighbors.  Why?  Because life is meaningless and “sympathy” is just an expression of self-interest?

Without answers, we are faced with senseless tragedy.  Arbitrary, meaningless, random.  We search for answers—to make some sense of things—because our hearts and minds are not satisfied by this shrug.  It’s not an easy thing to affirm faith in a good God who could have restrained this ferocious storm but didn’t.  But it’s more offensive both to reason and to life itself to imagine that we live in a world where there is no ultimate meaning or purpose.  The only thing worse than losing a loved one in such a tragedy is believing that their death—and their life—had no transcendent purpose.

I noticed that evangelists of atheism—mainly from other parts of the country—quickly appeared in chat rooms.  “If a god who allowed this does exist, we would have to call him evil,” said one.  It’s struck me that this person lives in a world as simplistic as any radical fundamentalist claiming to read God’s mind.  For both, the answers are clear.  For both, God is not hidden and he does everything directly and immediately.  Both imagine a God who sends natural disasters like Zeus throwing thunderbolts from Olympus, either for sadistic pleasure or for specific judgments.

The nihilistic shrug is not an answer—even a partial one.  It’s not a comfort at all.  It has absolutely nothing to say in a situation like this.  “Stuff happens” is the only response consistent with a naturalistic worldview.  But the emptiness spreads.  It’s not just the bad things, but the good ones, that are reduced to meaningless trivia.  It also means that the love that has been overflowing in extravagant generosity shown not only to but even among victims of the tornado themselves is meaningless.

Out of darkness, light is already emerging.  And instead of turning on God, like many of the faraway critics, they are turning to God for comfort, even as God sends his people to tend to their temporal needs.

This is in no way to treat lightly the tremendous loss incurred.  The amazing spectacle of victims who have lost much extending a helping hand to neighbors who have lost more is a testament to the fact that there must be something more to life than making up meaning as we go along.  Yet it doesn’t assuage the grief over losing a loved one.

The choice is between placing our confidence in a God who is both good and sovereign despite the moral and natural evils—even when we don’t have all the answers, and giving up on any transcendent meaning for love as well as suffering.

And that choice isn’t arbitrary.  How can we be so sure?  Perhaps it might have been, except for the fact that the Triune God revealed in Scripture has fulfilled every one of his promises in history.  Most conclusively, he has sent his Son to rescue sinners by his life, death, and resurrection.  Who knew what God was doing at the cross?  Jesus’ disciples fled, the Romans jeered, and his own people judged him cursed by God.  By the look of things, Good Friday yielded only one of two choices: a God who doesn’t care or a “Savior” who was a fraud.  Because Christ has been raised in history, our lives are no longer “the show about nothing.”  We have come from somewhere grand and although we have fallen from it, we are being taken far beyond that glorious beginning, in the train of the Conqueror who has defeated death and hell.

If you want to help victims of the Moore tornado, please consider donating one of these organizations:

The American Red Cross

The Presbyterian Church in America Disaster Relief

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Disaster Relief Fund

Our Inaugural Weekend

One of the most enjoyable and encouraging parts of my travel around the United States and across the world is meeting people whose lives have been changed by the work of White Horse Inn. It’s a great blessing to me to speak to believers in the Philippines, Brazil, and Germany and hear the same stories and sentiments that I hear from friends in Louisiana, Massachusetts, and California. It’s a humbling reminder that when Kim, Ken, Rod, and I gather around a microphone, we’re really engaging in conversations that make a difference—an eternal difference in the lives, families, and churches of friends like you.

Recently, our board of directors determined to host an annual meeting of our closest friends and supporters. Even though we often run into you at other events hosted by other organizations, we wanted an opportunity to spend dedicated time in conversation and fellowship with those who have done the most to help White Horse Inn succeed over the last twenty years. So, coming up July 26-27, 2013, we plan to gather together in San Diego for two days of teaching, fellowship, sharing meals, and planning for the future of White Horse Inn.  We’re intentionally limiting the size of our gathering to just 100 people so that we can ensure that we will all be able to enjoy our time together as a company of friends. With such an intimate group, it is imperative that we receive your registration as soon as possible.

I’m also excited to let you know that we’ll be filming and recording our time together for use in a study kit that we are developing for release in late 2013. Our new president, Mark Green, has focused all of our energies on turning our content into bite-sized kits that can be used in Sunday school, home fellowship groups, and even personal study. With these new study kits, we’ll have an even better opportunity to change the conversation in our churches, living rooms, and neighborhoods by introducing our friends and family to the rich resources of the Reformation.

In order to cover our expenses and produce the best content we can, we’ve set the conference fee at $298 per person (discounted to $589 per couple), which includes two meals during your stay. Don’t delay and register today. The Paradise Point Resort in Mission Bay is our host. You’ll make your room reservations directly with them. They’ve set aside a block of rooms just for us for $249 per night. These rooms have either one king or two queen beds. You can also upgrade into more spacious suites or bay front rooms for a little bit extra.

You may want to bring the kids and extend your stay in San Diego this summer. Our conference hotel is just a short water taxi ride away from Sea World! The property also has an onsite marina where you can rent sailboats or try your hand at paddle boarding. We’ll be just a few minutes from downtown San Diego and the world famous San Diego Zoo. The same nightly rate extends out three days before and after our conference, so take advantage of our beautiful city and make a vacation out of it!

WHI-1154 | History & Christianity

Do we have any evidence about the existence of Jesus or the rise of Christianity from sources outside the New Testament? Is it true that passages about Jesus in the writings of Josephus have been proven to be fabrications? Joining the panel is historian Paul L. Maier, author of In The Fullness of Time and editor of Josephus: The Essential Works (originally aired June 27, 2010).

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WHI-1153 | Has Jesus Been Misquoted?

In his many books and speaking engagements, Bart Ehrman claims that—given the late date of most extant manuscripts and numerous copyist errors—the New Testament that we have today is basically unreliable. On this program, we will evaluate these claims with Daniel B. Wallace, a New Testament scholar who has engaged with Ehrman in a number of public debates over the past few years. Wallace is also the editor of Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament, and is a contributor to The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue.

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The Radical, Missional, but not-so-new Legalism

Being wired for Law makes us susceptible to Christians and other religious people trying, in the most creative and eloquent ways, to goad Christians into adopting a new law.  Writer Anthony Bradley has pinpointed one way our culture is coaxing Christians towards a new law or “new legalism.” “Being a “radical,” “missional,” Christian, “he says, “is slowly becoming the “new legalism.””

These calls to be “radical”—or whatever is the new “extraordinary”—snooker us because we are wired for the Law.  We were created for the Law.  Adam chose to disobey the first law given to us by God and we bear the consequences of that today.  Israel proclaimed that they would keep the law given by Moses. As they stood together as a nation (Exodus 19:8), they promised, “This we will do.”  Like Adam, though, they broke the covenant and, as a consequence, lost the right to stay in God’s Promised Land as his chosen people.  Ever since then we have gone looking for a new law in an attempt to erase our narcissistic shame.  We love new laws, particularly when they promise to make us look spectacular.

Sadly, because Adam disobeyed, we are no longer able to keep this type of law or what really matters:  God’s Law.  That is why Christ came.  He fulfilled God’s Law perfectly, took our sins upon himself, and died on the cross to satisfy justice and bear the condemnation we deserved because we broke (and willfully keep breaking) God’s Law. Jesus did for us what we could never do and then intentionally gave to us his own earned righteousness.  This is the glorious gospel, the true missional and radical action.  We did nothing; Christ did everything.    But instead of claiming this truth, we forever harangue ourselves into adopting some new law so we can prove that we are not quite as bad as Adam.

But now there is no new law to fulfill.  Clarion calls abound for us to band and stand together again and shout “This we will do.”  But Christ did it all.  Michael Horton calls Christianity a “sit down” religion, not because our faith is not active, but because we have to sit down and receive before we have something to give others.  We are active, but it is because we’ve been given something.   So every Sunday we sit down in church to hear God’s word preached by God’s servants and to learn about our glorious inheritance.  Every Sabbath we turn our hearts towards the north star of God’s living and beautiful words because we are so prone to forget our inheritance and wander into the wilderness.  In our anxiety, we prefer to launch a new movement to assuage this restlessness that only the Father, speaking to us about His Son through the power of the Holy Spirit, can cure.

Anthony Bradley is dead right.  We are sons and daughters of the living God; this is our inheritance.  Therefore we can become lovers of the one true God and lovers of our neighbors.  Mr. Bradley suggests that we need to recover a true sense of vocation, and certainly that is correct and proper.  But before we rush off to our vocations, we need to learn to sit in wonder at our radical, missional God who calls us to learn who we are in union with His Son.  Only then will God’s Word properly inform us so that we do not create another legalism that obscures our inheritance and only gives us, in the end, something else to do.

Mark Green is the President of White Horse Inn

Should we open Congress with prayer?

bleeprayerBrian Lee, former White Horse Inn staff member and current pastor of Christ United Reformed Church in Washington D.C., recently penned a provocative piece for The Daily Caller on the topic of whether ministers of the gospel should offer a prayer before congress.  He wrestled with this issue for some time after he was recently invited to serve as a guest chaplain for the US. House of Representatives. The article also includes links to the text and video clip of the prayer he offered earlier this month.

Modern Reformation Conversations – The Real Presence

We sat down with the Rev. Dr. John Bombaro of Grace Lutheran Church and professor of religion and philosophy at the University of San Diego to discuss the high art of books, the personality of the tangible, and the effects of the digital on the reality of the Incarnation.

Happy Monday!

WHI-1152 | Jesus & His World

What can we learn about the Bible from the study of archaeology? Are there any discoveries in particular that shed light on the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth? What are we to think of skeptics who refuse to believe in the historicity of biblical stories unless they are confirmed by archaeological evidence? Joining us to discuss these issues is Craig Evans, author of Fabricating Jesus, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies, and, more recently, Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence.

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