White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Forgive Us Our Debts

Chris Cox and Bill Archer have written an unsettling piece for the Wall Street Journal about the sobering reality of the US Debt. Though some may be familiar with the $16 trillion figure, there are few who realize that this is actually just the tip of the iceberg. According to the article, the true number is actually closer to $86 trillion (which amounts to 550% of our GDP). Cox and Archer argue that the government has gotten away with underestimating the actual price of our national debt since it has not needed to furnish the kind of financial documentation required of most businesses. “The actual figures,” they write, “do not appear in black and white on any balance sheet.” While the U.S. Treasury “does list liabilities such as Treasury debt issued to the public, federal employee pensions, and post-retirement health benefits…it does not include the unfunded liabilities of Medicare, Social Security and other outsized and very real obligations.”

The problem is that all the revenue collected for these particular entitlement programs is not actually being saved for the future, but is being paid out to current retirees. And this will all fall apart when more and more of our nation’s baby boomers start collecting retirement benefits. The government is currently borrowing 1 out of every 3 dollars that it spends, so what will we do when the majority of the boomers are retired? According to the authors, “Borrowing at this scale could eclipse the capacity of global capital markets–and bankrupt not only the programs themselves but the entire federal government.”

Peter Schiff, an American economist who won my respect after correctly predicting the ’08 housing bubble crisis and ensuing recession (check out “Peter Schiff was right” on YouTube), has written in his most recent book that politicians from both parties do not have the courage or will to face this issue squarely. And so he argues that our representatives will most likely continue to underemphasize the magnitude of this problem year after year until eventually the entire system collapses.

It seems to me that all this provides and apt analogy for the sobering reality of our true spiritual condition. Many of our pastors and church leaders regularly downplay the seriousness of our plight and offer helpful suggestions about doing better with God’s help, or even worse, get us to focus on having our best life now. Yet, at the end of the day, none of us is completely honest about the depth of our depravity. We know we have some debt, and we know we have a spending problem, but we still think it’s something we can manage. In reality, solving our debt problem in these ways is a little like attempting to drain the Pacific Ocean with a tablespoon.

So where are the preachers who have the courage to tell it like it is. Where are the leaders who are prepared to tell us that we’re not merely bankrupt, but need to borrow $86 trillion in order to be bankrupt! Is there anyone out there who is presenting the unvarnished truth, that our deepest problem is unfixable, and that the only way forward is to declare our own insolvency before the divine creditor?

The good news is that this particular creditor is infinitely wealthy, and has of late made news of a debt cancellation program which he has authored. Those who are chosen for this program must face up to the facts, confess their true poverty of spirit and put their trust completely in his care. When we do this, he promises to forgive us “all our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us.” But that’s just the beginning.  Not only will he cancel all our debts, but he has also promised to adopt us into his family, making us his heirs. In fact, he’s currently planning a huge banquet celebration for all the new members of his family in the not too distant future. Got nothing to wear? No worries; he’s even providing the wardrobe. And on the invitation we read, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

Gracious Lord, forgive us our debts!

The Magnificent Dane: A Tribute to Rod Rosenbladt

Way back when, Kim Riddlebarger introduced me to Rod Rosenbladt, one of his professors at Simon Greenleaf School of Law.  Twenty-five years later, here we are still doing “theology on tap” together at the White Horse Inn.  I can’t calculate the gifts that God has given me through the magnificent Dane over these many years.  For his insights, challenges, conviction—and most of all, his friendship in the gospel, I’m greatly in Rod’s debt and I know that Kim and Ken feel that way as well.  We’re delighted that Concordia Today Magazine has published a tribute to Rod’s work in its latest issue.

UPDATE: Our friends at New Reformation Press have made a pdf of the article that you can download here.

WHI-1129 | The Gospel According to Isaiah, Part 2

Part of the Israelites’ new responsibility after the Exodus from Egypt was to serve “eviction notices” to the pagan nations then occupying the land. Over time, however, God’s covenant people disobeyed him and eventually became indistinguishable from their pagan neighbors. Through the prophet Isaiah, God responded to this unfaithfulness and told his people they too would soon be evicted from the land. The hosts continue their exploration of the book of Isaiah and discuss how God begins to reveal more about the coming messianic deliverer, not only through Isaiah’s words of judgment and condemnation, but also through promises of comfort and grace.

RELATED ARTICLES

MUSIC SELECTION

Zac Hicks

PROGRAM AUDIO


Click here to access the audio file directly

No Lines, No Midnight Openings

Last year, my wife and I braved the Black Friday madness–at Walmart, of all places. It was a study in dystopia. I have never seen so many people so desperate for so little. We did have a shopping list, but it became apparent very quickly that people watching was a far better use of our early morning hours.

In the spirit of saving you the hassle and making sure that you actually get something more worthwhile than a $5 blue-ray of I Love Lucy episodes, we’re inviting you to take 50% off all downloadable media (MP3s and study-kits) at the White Horse Inn store through cyber-Monday.

Simply go to the store and use the following code at checkout: 2012CYBER.

WHI-1128 | The Gospel According to Isaiah, Part 1

What was the role of an Old Testament prophet, and how are we to interpret this kind of literature in our own day? What are the particular themes and messages that the prophet Isaiah addresses? How are the blessings and curses mentioned throughout this prophecy related to covenants already established? How is Christ revealed throughout this book? The hosts will deal with these questions and more as they begin a new six-part series on “The Gospel According to Isaiah.”

RELATED ARTICLES

Isaiah by the Day
Alec Moyter (offsite)

MUSIC SELECTION

Dave Hlebo

PROGRAM AUDIO


Click here to access the audio file directly

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Isaiah
John Calvin

RECOMMENDED AUDIO

WHI 2012 Update — Looking Ahead

Thank you for your support of the White Horse Inn! To donate now, please click here.

What Is Work?

As one of our faithful readers was perusing the current issue of Modern Reformation, he came across this sentence in the Geek Squad section:

Refracted by/through the Fall, the cultural mandate is no longer holy work.  It is profane though legitimate and common and valid for all creatures created in God’s image.

This raised a bit of concern among our other friends–what do we mean when we say that everyday work (whether it’s caring for a home and family or changing a transmission) is ‘profane though legitimate’?  Our Executive Editor responds below:

We very much appreciate thoughtful interaction with MR – that’s how good conversations develop, especially when helpful correction is offered. I’m afraid we made a poor choice of words, and this unfortunately slipped through our editing process. As new creatures in Christ, we are being “built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). We therefore lead joyful, worship-filled lives East of Eden, thankful for God’s mercy and for our new life in Christ. The whole of a Christian’s life is rendered as service unto God, as an expression of thanks; our work is “holy” in that sense, just as the questions and comments above imply.

What the abbreviated chart was intended to communicate is that our vocations are also common rather than distinctively sacred. We are all priests, in the sense 1 Peter implies, but we are not all specially called to be ministers of the Gospel, nor need we justify our work as contributing objectively to the building of the redemptive kingdom of God. Vocations are wonderful gifts given by God to all people; the cultural mandate continues, although it is refracted by the fall. Legitimate vocations contribute to the good of all people, though this good is creational and of a general usefulness as distinguished from a redemptive service to mankind (i.e., the ministry of Word and Sacrament). And one would certainly assume that legitimate vocations do not represent “profane” or evil work!

Thanks for reading with a keen eye and raising the issue in the comments.

 

Review of A Hole in Our Holiness

The following is by Rev. Andrew Compton, associate pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, CA. Rev. Compton is one of the bloggers at The Reformed Reader


I recently read Kevin DeYoung’s latest book, The Hole in our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness. I had two reasons for doing so. First, I like DeYoung’s writing. His is a popular writing style that embodies a winsome presentation of the Reformed tradition. Second, I have been reading and studying piety and the pursuit of godliness for the past year or so. In addition to various Puritan works and books by Jerry Bridges, DeYoung’s book was a logical addition to my growing shelf of books focusing on Christian piety.

In general, I really enjoyed this book. I share DeYoung’s belief that the gospel as described in the Reformed confessions not only supports training oneself for godliness (1 Tim 4:7) and growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Pet 3:18), it is the only gospel that can lead people to a true and noble pursuit of godliness. Apart from the careful distinction between justification and sanctification, a firm affirmation of the imputation of Christ righteousness, and a confident embracing of sola fide, any so-called pursuit of godliness will be only a pursuit of civil decency (at best) or a pursuit of salvation-by-works (at worst).

DeYoung seems on track in noticing that there is a younger generation of Christians who have been liberated from the shackles of legalism and isolationism when they encounter the Reformation’s recovery of the biblical gospel. They find freedom in the Reformation’s bold assertion that vocation and cultural engagement (e.g., the arts, music, sport, etc.) are things that bring great glory to God. And yet they wind up pursuing any and all cultural endeavors with little to no critical reflection about whether the “lawfulness” of their actions overrides their “helpfulness” (1 Cor 10:23). This new-found liberty slips from its moorings in Christian gratitude and becomes a perceived liberty to neglect worship, prayer, sexual purity, humility and the like.

Positives

In a book that could easily become an overly prescriptive list of do’s and don’ts, DeYoung is modest and careful with what the pursuit of godliness will look like. He reminds us that God is a loving father to his children, delighting in even our most crude and remedial steps of godliness. He draws a nice parallel between the love a father has for the homemade birthday card his daughter makes, and the love our heavenly father has for our far-from-perfect good works (pg. 70). He notes that there are numerous “cheap imitations” of godliness (e.g., rule keeping and generational imitation; pgs. 33-38) which do not begin to plumb the beauty and delights of true godliness.

DeYoung does an exceptional job of expounding the difference between our union with Christ and our communion with him. He shows that our union with him, whereby we receive all the blessings of salvation, is infallible and unbreakable (pgs. 73-74). Our communion or fellowship with him, however, can ebb and flow, sometimes due to misplaced priorities, other times due to outright sinful behavior which is not befitting of God’s children and brings about his fatherly frown (cf. Heb 12:7-11). This distinction provides the categories for Christians to cultivate a closeness with God without seeing their works as gaining or sustaining their right standing before him. His “four practices for oneness with Christ” (pgs. 128-133) avoids the individualism that the spiritual disciplines usually breed and focus on several very corporate activities: prayer, reading/hearing the word, the fellowship of believers, and the Lord’s Supper.

Finally, DeYoung drives a stake in the heart of holiness and perfectionist movements, reminding believers that their growth in the grace of Christ happens over the long haul. He explains, “when it comes to sanctification, it’s more important where you’re going than where you are. Direction matters more than position…. So cheer up: if you aren’t as holy as you want to be now, God may still be pleased with you because you are heading in the right direction” (pg. 138).

Once the book got rolling, it steamed along delightfully. Chapters 5-10 were wonderful. They were pastoral, sensitive and encouraging, even as they exhorted Christians to strive against the world, the flesh, and the Devil in their pursuit of godliness. Their concrete suggestions for the exercise of godliness were reasoned and biblical. And what was most refreshing was the reminder that God intends the pursuit of godliness to be a joyful goal of our Christian life, not
a chore for us to slog through grudgingly. God has not only saved us from something, he has saved us to something and he is in the business of conforming us to the likeness of our glorious savior Jesus Christ even now!

Negatives

Though as a whole I recommend this book, I am not wholly pleased with how DeYoung navigated these shoals. The ship did not run aground, but it did scrape bottom on a couple of occasions.

The first four chapters did not strike me as being as careful and nuanced as they ought to have been for a topic as easily misunderstood as this. Though my copy does have marginal notes reading “yes,” “n.b.,” and “nice!” in these chapters, I found myself writing “hmmm,” “yes & no,” and “needs nuance” more often than I would have liked.

While I do not believe that DeYoung is a biblicist (one who uses explicit language of scripture even though such language can be misunderstood apart from careful distinctions ) the way he articulates several points in chapters 1-4 sound biblicistic. In chapter 2, for example, DeYoung emphasizes that good works are “necessary” for salvation. He does not, however, parse out the different kinds of “necessity” that exist and the different ways in which we can speak of good works as being “necessary” for salvation. (E.g., our good works are a necessary fruit of our salvation, but not necessary as the ground for our salvation.) While he is careful to note that the “necessity” of personal holiness should not undermine our confidence in our justification (pg. 28), he still plays a bit fast and loose with expressions that have a long history of misunderstanding.

A few other topics have a biblicistic ring to them. When DeYoung says that “holiness is a possibility for God’s people” (pg. 65), he relies on the bare biblical assertion that Zechariah, Elizabeth and Job could be called this even though we know they weren’t sinless. And yet scholars in the past have written carefully of these three figures, noting in what sense they can be called “holy.” (Francis Turretin notes four kinds of “perfection” that are predicated of Zechariah, Elizabeth and Job. See his Institutes of Elenctic Theology 17.II.IV.)

Likewise, chapter 4, “The Impetus for the Imperatives” does not, in my opinion, tread carefully enough when using expressions like “there is grace in getting law” (pg. 53). Again, older theologians often used grace both to mean “unmerited favor” and “demerited favor,” but they were careful in doing so not to confuse the “grace” that God shows when giving good things to unfallen man (better described as benevolence) and the grace that God shows to fallen man when he gives them the opposite of what they have merited. And though DeYoung is right that as Christians, we begin to view God’s law as a precious gift to his children, calling the law “gracious” begins to muddy the categorical waters.

Conclusion

In spite of these criticisms, after reading The Hole in our Holiness, I was quite pleased with the book. I believe that DeYoung has written a fine book on the topic of the Christian pursuit of Godliness, though I don’t think that he has written the final word. To be fair, I’m pretty sure he didn’t intend to. And though I would recommend it to people interested in studying the topic, I’d be quicker to recommend Jerry Bridges’ books Growing Your Faith and Respectable Sins for a popular and gospel-centered approach to godliness and piety.

Lest this review sound too tepid, let me conclude by expressing my gratitude to Kevin DeYoung for his efforts on behalf of an oft neglected topic. He’s absolutely right; in many circles, holiness is the new camping: “It’s fine for other people. You sort of respect those who make their lives harder than they have to be. But it’s not really your thing” (pg. 10). What is sad is that a good many Christians enjoy the benefits of their union with Christ, all the while bearing the misery and discomfort of a sickly communion with him. They neglect to strive against besetting sin. They are inconsistent in availing themselves of the means of the grace. They wallow in their desires or frustrations, all the while missing out on the glorious gift of comfort and contentment that God is holding out to them in Christ.

In The Hole in our Holiness, DeYoung reminds us that justification and sanctifications are not two extremes in need of balance, but two equally wonderful truths – two equally exciting parts of our salvation. He is in good company. The Apostle Paul certainly seemed to think this too: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that on one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).

WHI-1127 | Exploring Covenant Theology

What is covenant theology and why is it crucial for our overall understanding of Scripture? How does covenant theology relate to our understanding of law and gospel? What is the difference between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants? On this edition of White Horse Inn, Michael Horton will discuss these important issues with Mike Brown and Zach Keele, authors of a new book, Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored.

RELATED ARTICLES

MUSIC SELECTION

Zac Hicks

PROGRAM AUDIO


Click here to access the audio file directly

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Sacred Bond
Brown & Keele
Covenant & Salvation
Michael Horton

RECOMMENDED AUDIO

Art and the Practical Nation

“What I’m arguing in this book is that liberals have to wake up.  Art is spiritual—it uses physical materials, but it’s a spiritual quest, and the artistic mission has a spiritual goal.  But nothing in the ideology or language of current academe—from Berkeley to Harvard—permits anyone to say that.

Watch InstaVision’s interview with literary critic and provocateur non-pareil Camille Paglia on her new book Glittering Images, written for homeschooling moms who want to introduce their children to art, and anyone who wants to understand why George Lucas’s Revenge of the Sith is the most powerful and significant work of art in any genre (including literature) in the last thirty years.

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