White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

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.

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.

WHI-1145 | Christ’s High Priestly Prayer

In Isaiah, God says, “I will not give my glory to another,” yet in his high priestly prayer recorded in John 17 we find Jesus praying, “Father… glorify your son that the son may glorify you.” How are we to understand these words? Also what is the meaning of his words, “for their sake I sanctify myself that they may be truly sanctified”? In this edition, we will consider the implications of this prayer of Jesus for the church today.

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WHI-1144 | I Am The Way, The Truth, & The Life

What does Jesus mean when he says, “Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you”? How does his word make us clean? What are the implications of Jesus’ claim not merely to be a teacher who shows us the way, the truth, and the life, but rather, one who claims to actually be “the way, the truth, and the life”? We will interact with these questions and more as we unpack John 13 through 16.

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Review of Jesus Calling

As far back as you can recall, you’ve started or ended the day with a time of personal meditation on God’s Word and prayer. Only this time, you try something different. You want to hear Jesus speak to you personally. So you take out pen and paper and record the results. As she tells us in her introduction, this is what happened when Sarah Young sought a deeper sense of the presence of Jesus. The result is the daily devotional, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence (Thomas Nelson, 2004). The book has taken off since it was first published. It now includes a variety of supplements and has even been turned into a NKJV study Bible.

The author states up front that, unlike Scripture, the words she reports from Jesus are not inerrant. Nevertheless, she presents them as first-person speech from Jesus himself. “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible,” she says, “but I yearned for more.” “Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day.” That “more” was “the Presence of Jesus,” something beyond the ordinary means of grace. “So I was ready to begin a new spiritual quest,” beginning with Andrew Murray’s The Secret of the Abiding Presence. After reading God Calling, she relates, “I began to wonder if I, too, could receive messages during my times of communing with God.”

Preparing for an interview today on the topic, I read through Jesus Calling. A few reflections: first touching on the method and then on the message.

The Method

In Romans 10, Paul ties the method of salvation to the message: Just as God has saved us in Christ, apart from our works, he has chosen a method of delivering this gift that puts us on the receiving end. We don’t have to ascend into heaven or descend to the depths to find Christ, according to Scripture. “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming” (v 8). “So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (v 17).

Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead, is the Word Incarnate; his speech is the very word of God. Proving his claims by his resurrection from the dead, he also commissioned his apostles as his ambassadors. Their speech in his name is his speech. Furthermore, when that word is proclaimed and read today, it is the very Word of God. Preaching involves teaching and exhortation, but it is more than that; it is Christ himself commanding, absolving, justifying, renewing, sanctifying, and assuring us. Christ could not be closer to you than he is by his Word and Spirit.

Neither Christ nor the Spirit speaks today apart from his Word. It is through the public ministry of preaching and the sacraments that the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ with all of his benefits. When we meditate on Scripture privately or in our family devotions, it is an extension of that public ministry. The preached Word calls us “out of ourselves,” as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, binding us to Christ and therefore to his body. It is not simply a private affair in the garden, alone, whose joy “none other has ever known,” as the Keswick-inspired hymn has it (“In the Garden”). It was this point that separated the churches of the Reformation not only from Rome but from the Anabaptists.

Yet evangelicalism is a river into which various streams converge. The Reformers discovered in Scripture an inseparable connection between the public and the private, the external and the internal, the formal and the informal. However, radical Protestantism has frequently set the latter over the former. Sure, the external Word matters, but it’s the word that Jesus or the Spirit speaks directly to each of us every day that matters more. “Something more” is the essence of what the Reformers called “enthusiasm.”

In terms of method, then, Jesus Calling is a “something more” book. At the very least, I believe that it encourages believers to see God’s Word as hum-drum and to ascend into the heavens or descend to the depths to discover a word that will make Jesus more present in our daily lives. According to the Reformation stream of evangelicalism, God speaks to us in his Word (the arrow pointing down from God to us) and we speak to him in prayer (the arrow directed up to God). However, Jesus Calling confuses the direction of these arrows, blurring the distinction between God’s speech and our response.

The Message

In terms of content, the message is reducible to one point: Trust me more in daily dependence and you’ll enjoy my presence.

There are some good points. Jesus, according to the author, doesn’t promise a problem-free life; trials are opportunities for growth spurts. He’s in charge and works everything together for our good. Don’t seek Jesus merely to confirm your own plans for the day, but be transformed by his purposes. And above all, fix your eyes on Jesus.

Yet I kept asking, “What purposes”? “Who is Jesus and why should I fix my eyes on him?” In short, the gospel is taken for granted. When exhortations to trust are separated from a clear proclamation of who Christ is, what he has done, and why he is therefore trustworthy, trust simply becomes a work—something that I need to gin up within myself.

The substance of the book is drawn from the wells of the Keswick or “higher life/victorious life” movement that B. B. Warfield critiqued so thoroughly at the turn of the twentieth century in his massive study, Perfectionism. Based on the Wesleyan notion of two acts of faith—one for justification and another for sanctification, the Keswick teaching calls believers to enter into the “higher life.” While they are saved, many believers fail to experience the presence of Jesus in their daily lives. By “surrendering all,” letting go of their attachment to the things of this world, and striving to enter into this realm of ultimate peace, believers can attain a perpetual state of victory. As Warfield pointed out, the movement exhibited a deep inner contradiction in its message. On the one hand, you aren’t supposed to do anything, but simply rest in Jesus. Leave off striving! On the other hand, there are many things that you have to strive to do in order to enter into the higher life. Warfield traced the lineage back to Germany mysticism.

Andrew Murray (1828-1917) was a classic spiritual writer in this stream and his book, The Secret of the Abiding Presence, has been a staple of Keswick piety. Murray’s emphases are replete throughout Jesus Calling. The only difference is that they are placed on the lips of Jesus himself.

Compared with the Psalms, for example, Jesus Calling is remarkably shallow. I do not say that with a snarky tone, but with all seriousness. The Psalms first place before us the mighty acts of God and then call us to respond in confession, trust, and thankfulness. But in Jesus Calling I’m repeatedly exhorted to look to Christ, rest in Christ, trust in Christ, to be thankful and long for a deeper sense of his presence, with little that might provoke any of this. Which means that I’m directed not actually to Christ but to my own inner struggle to be more trustful, restful, and thankful.

Consequently, trust becomes a work. Nothing depends on us, but everything depends on us. Strive to stop striving. Then, “Save your best striving for seeking my face” (71). “Thankfulness opens the door to My Presence…I have empowered you to open or close that door” (215). You can achieve the victorious life through living in deep dependence on Me” (6). “Every time you affirm your trust in me, you put a coin into my treasury. Thus you build up equity in preparation for days of trouble. I keep safely in My heart all trust invested in Me, with interest compounded continuously. The more you trust Me, the more I empower you to do so…Store up for yourself treasure in heaven, through placing your trust in Me. This practice will keep you in My Peace.”

The first mention of Christ even dying for our sins appears on February 28 (page 61). The next reference (to wearing Christ’s robe) is August 9 (p. 232). Even the December readings focus on a general presence of Jesus in our hearts and daily lives, without anchoring it in Jesus’s person and work in history.

As in Keswick spirituality more generally, trust becomes an inner virtue that grows by its exercise. “The more you choose to trust Me, the easier it becomes,” Jesus allegedly says. “Thought patterns of trust become etched into your brain.” This has more in common with Aristotle than with the Apostles. The latter taught that faith comes—and is strengthened—by hearing God’s Word proclaimed.

Reading Jesus Calling, I was reminded of the confusing message of my Christian youth. Longing for “something more,” I pored over my mother’s bookshelf: Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, D. L. Moody, Bill Bright, and Andrew Murray. Only with the discovery of the Reformers and various Puritan writers was I offered a liberating alternative that drew me out of myself to cling to Christ. While looking to this Reformation stream for a cluster of doctrines, many in the history of pietism have looked for “something more” elsewhere. Luther and Calvin may be great guides on understanding salvation, but we find our spirituality in medieval and modern alternatives. Yet Reformation piety directs us to the Word, always to the Word, where Christ speaks to us every time it is preached and his sacraments are administered in his name. When we come to this Word, in public and in private, we never need something more.

WHI-1143 | The Triumphal Entry

A week before his crucifixion, Jesus enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. What is significant about this event, and what prophecies are alluded to here? How does Jesus himself describe his own mission and purpose in this account? On this edition of White Horse Inn we discuss the triumphal entry recorded in John 12.

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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).

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

WHI-1142 | I Am the Resurrection

What does Jesus mean about being “the door”? What is significant about his claiming to be the “good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep”? What does he mean when he says “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”? On this edition of White Horse Inn the hosts will interact with these passages in more detail as they focus on chapters ten and eleven of John’s Gospel.

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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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