White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

WHI-1114 | An Interview with T. David Gordon

What is the impact of technology on the way we live and think as Christians? How has popular culture changed the way we worship on Sunday mornings? On this edition of the White Horse Inn, Michael Horton discusses these issues with T. David Gordon, author of Why Johnny Can’t Preach, and Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns.

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Evangelicals, Catholics, and Unity

Mike Horton’s booklet, Evangelicals, Catholics, and Unity, is coming back into print. He will be on Stand to Reason later today to talk about the booklet, why Rome is still an attractive option for some evangelicals, and how to equip ourselves to answer critics of the Reformation.

In anticipation of its release, you can read a few sample chapters on our blog this week:

Chapter One: Why Are We Still Divided?

How can the church be the symphony of redemption when its musicians interpret the composition so differently that it sounds more like a wild cacophony than a harmonious concert?

The world wonders.

And so do we.

When we look in the Yellow Pages of the phone book for a certain church or a certain kind of church, we find a bewildering array of denominations. There are hundreds of denominations in America. In some regions, such as Northern Ireland and Central America, Protestants and Roman Catholics still even take up arms against each other. This is not only a scandal to the watching world; it is sometimes overwhelming, especially to new Christians who are simply seeking a solid nursery for their budding faith.

Meanwhile, the growing secularism of our time, reflected in the “culture of death” that naturalism, pragmatism, and relativism have unleashed, reduces the influence of religion in society nearly to the vanishing point. In such an environment, when committed Roman Catholics and Protestants share so much in common, highlighting remaining doctrinal differences strikes many persons as foolishly fiddling while Rome burns.

It is no wonder, then, that there is strong impatience with the divisions that haunt Christian witness at the end of its second millennium. Billy Graham’s crusades broke with a fundamentalism that tended to identify Roman Catholicism with everything that is wrong with the world. Graham has even included local priests and distinguished Roman Catholic leaders on his crusade platforms. Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council opened the windows and allowed the breezes of Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism (both liberal and evangelical) to blow through Rome’s hallowed halls. Modernity, against which Rome had struggled more valiantly in many respects than mainline Protestants, was at last allowed entry, and many changes followed – at least on the surface. Especially in the United States, Protestants and Roman Catholics began to intermarry as religious differences, if not religion itself, receded in importance. There have been countless dialogues, some of them quite helpful in reaching greater understanding of both differences and agreements.

The charismatic movement, Bible study groups, Promise Keepers, the pro-life movement, and other grassroots efforts have drawn individual members of both communions together in non-ecclesiastical ways despite the official church divisions. All of us have come face to face with strangers and have often found them to be friends. In fact, in many cases we have found them to be true brothers and sisters in Christ.

So it happened that in 1994 and 1997, when a group of evangelicals and Roman Catholics drew up two bases of agreement (“Evangelicals and Catholics Together” and “The Gift of Salvation”), many took this as a sign that the issues that have separated the two communions for nearly five centuries were no longer obstacles to genuine unity and fellowship in a shared understanding of the Gospel.

All this has been confusing and troubling for many believers who sincerely long for greater visible unity among Christ’s flock. We wish for unity but cannot willingly surrender essential truth in order to accomplish a false peace. For those who care about such truth, Christian unity must be a marriage made in heaven, not a merger or acquisition made on earth. Yet we ask: How should we navigate these troubled waters?

Let’s begin by asking two important questions. First, are evangelicals catholic? Second, may Roman Catholics be considered evangelical?

WHI-1113 | A Juvenile Church?

What is the history of today’s youth oriented culture, and what kind of effect is this culture having on churches in our time? On this edition of the program, Michael Horton discusses these questions and more with Thomas Bergler, professor of ministry and missions at Huntington University and author of the recent book The Juvenilization of American Christianity.

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WHI-1112 | Open Lines

On this edition of White Horse Inn, the hosts take calls from listeners on a range of topics including: the carnal Christian and the victorious Christian life; the New Perspective on Paul; how to explain God’s sovereign choice to elect some (but not all) to come to faith, and the history of the Reformation idea of the priesthood of all believers.

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Justified
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5 Myths about Reformed Theology

Dr. Horton was recently asked to address some of the common misconceptions about Reformed theology. His response can be found on the Resurgence website.

If you would like some more resources about Calvinism and Reformed theology, go to our on-line store where you can purchase Dr. Horton’s book For Calvinism as well as two conversations that Dr. Horton had with Dr. Roger Olson on the subject of “For and Against Calvinism.”

WHI-1111 | Grace Liberates

Life coaches are everywhere these days. Whether found at a local seminar or on television, they can help you manage your finances, bake better cookies, or lose weight in seven easy steps. Unfortunately, too often this is what many people find in churches across the country. Why are we so attracted to “helpful advice,” and how is this different from the radical message of the gospel? On this program, Michael Horton walks through Romans 4, explaining how we can never truly be freed by “to do lists,” but only by the liberating message of God’s grace.

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Jesus + Nothing = Everything
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Reviving Christianity or Christendom?

For nearly a century, conservative Christians have seen the mainline Protestant decline as a sign of God’s judgment on liberals for hitching their wagon to the spirit of the age. That’s also a subtext of New York Times editor Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. The threat of heresy has always been an opportunity for the church to clarify and articulate its convictions. Yet in the past, even heretics were clear in their teaching, Douthat explained in an interview: “But instead, precisely because the heresies we actually have tend to be anti-hierarchical, vague about doctrine, and much more individualistic and do-it-yourself and self-consciously easygoing than some of the past heresies you’re referencing, it’s harder for people to clarify what’s actually at stake in religious debates—both for Christianity and for America as a whole.”

Liberals used to justify their losses by referring to their cultural impact. This strategy has reappeared in recent weeks, even as mainline denominations are slashing budgets and the Episcopal Church is selling off its headquarters in the heart of Manhattan. Diana Butler Bass defends liberalism as the best hope for reviving Christianity.

The Rt. Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, former dean of the venerable National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., has offered a similar argument:

What Douthat sees as a rising tide of liberalism increasingly weakening the mainline churches is in fact a tidal wave of social change washing over the face of Christianity in North America. To put it simply, Americans are in many cases finding in their churches little of the spiritual sustenance they once did. Many have lost confidence in the institution itself, and are too often finding little in church services to win them away from Sunday morning jogging, gardening, and soccer leagues.

In response to these responses, Mr. Douthat has qualified his analysis while holding to the basic plot: namely, that liberal Christianity—for all of its political and social influence—has emptied the faith of its content.

It’s an argument that J. Gresham Machen made in the 1920s, with his controversial book, Christianity and Liberalism.

Yet Dean Lloyd makes a good point:

A nation that once went to church on Sunday turns up far less. A culture that emphasizes personal fulfillment, consumer savvy, high entertainment expectations, and impatience with the demands of organizations, does little to encourage the patience required for life in local congregations. And, crucially, many churches have become so at ease in the American establishment that they have lost their sense of urgency for nurturing strong personal faith in their members. The churches have much to learn in this time of transition, and the good news is that the learning curve is now sharp and many are in the game.

It’s true, as Bass and Lloyd observe, that conservative churches are facing decline as well. Secularization is wider than card-carrying liberal Protestantism. The culture of personal fulfillment that he mentions encompasses conservatives as well, and evangelicals have excelled at marketing to this cultural instinct. It points up the fact that it’s as easy to secularize churches by identifying with popular culture as it is by linking them up with the trends of high culture. Liberals pioneered the strategy of marketing a watered-down “faith-experience” with a craving for cultural acceptance, transforming the radical news of sin and grace into therapeutic categories of personal and social well-being. To the extent that evangelicals follow that course, albeit with different cultural agendas, it too will find its relevance operations irrelevant to those who can find entertainment, politics, and advice for their self-help life projects elsewhere.

But what exactly does it mean to be “in the game”? Apparently, it is to continue to shape the left wing of the culture wars. It is not theology that matters, but vital spirituality. Like Professor Bass, Mr. Lloyd believes that the core of genuine faith is morality: love of God and neighbor. This is not just the law that Christians have always seen as essential, but the gospel. And now wonder that this is all that’s left after successive denials of the historic Christian faith. Bass and Lloyd cite the social and political legacy of liberals, from the civil rights movement of the 60s to the gay rights movement of today. “The real issue will not be which churches are conservative and which are liberal, but which are spiritually alive and which are not.”

Being “in the game” for liberals has always meant cultural clout. In this respect, ironically, liberalism has more invested in “Christendom” than in Christianity. Long before the modernist-fundamentalist controversy, American Protestantism sought to be the soul of a Christian America. In many ways, liberal and conservative Protestantism today represent twin offspring of American civil religion—albeit different political wings. Liberalism does not have a gospel, but our response should not be smug self-confidence. As I argued in Christless Christianity, many of the same trends that corrupted mainline Protestantism are alive and well in evangelicalism today.

With all due respect to Dean Lloyd, being “in the game” from a Christian perspective has to do with the faithful preaching of the Word, administration of the sacraments, and the spiritual and temporal care of the saints. To begin with, there has to be a gospel to answer the deep crisis between God and humanity that reflects itself in the crisis between human beings. Only the incarnate God can save us, by his life, death, and resurrection. Take this away and there is no reason for the church to exist. Delivering this message—to lifelong believers as well as to those “far off” is the mission of the church, as it reaches out, draws in, and grows up in ever-widening circles. With this gospel, even the little church in the wildwood is on the field in the middle of God’s action. Without it, we’re not only out of the game, but playing for the other team.

WHI-1110 | Boredom & Entertainment

Compared with a summer blockbuster film, many would likely characterize the events at a typical church as “boring.” In order to address this problem, many churches over the past few decades have begun using the techniques of show business. Worship now has the look and feel of a rock concert, and sermons have turned into inspirational comedy routines. What is boredom anyway, and should it be avoided at all costs? Is entertainment always the appropriate response? Joining the panel for this discussion is Richard Winter, author of Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment.

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The Law and Abandonment Among American Youth

A recent conversation I had with a suburban nanny brought to light an alarming trend in teen culture. While the child is too young to clearly articulate his inner turmoil, his nanny described in him a deep sense of isolation and estrangement in addition to anger and resentment toward his parents and situation. Beyond the primary element of her job, which involves driving the child to various artistic, academic, and athletic pursuits after school, the nanny characterized her job as similar to working with an orphan.

Now, I am not describing a child who is a victim of desperate poverty, a deadly epidemic, or a violent war and has found refuge in an orphanage. I am telling the narrative of a suburban American pre-teen who has access to every conceivable material want and life opportunity.  Recent research in the social psychology of American teens identifies this child’s anguish, not as an exceptional circumstance, but as more of a norm.

Researchers have committed much study to the trend of abandonment in teen culture.  The literature has identified an intense sense of disconnection and isolation among teens in their family and community systems.  While researchers consider high-rates of divorce and general family dysfunction as contributing factors, the primary variable among teens with symptoms of abandonment is over-programming and performance-based lifestyles.

David Elkind of Tufts University has dedicated over two decades to following this trend in parenting. Elkind notes that most parents focus on the competence of their child as a performer in the market place as their central mission; the primary role as a parent becomes one of strategic development. During the course of his research on this issue, Elkind documents an intensification of the problem as over-programming increases.

While Elkind describes youth who have been formed in this manner as the “hurried child,” Chap Clark, in his book Hurt, affirms this trend but chooses to use the term “the abandoned child.” He writes, “We have evolved to the point where we believe driving is support, being active is love, and providing any and every opportunity is selfless nurture … Even with the best of intentions, the way we raise, train, and even parent our children today exhibits attitudes and behaviors that are simply subtle forms of parental abandonment.[1] Elkind’s terminology focuses more on the means of parenting (over-programming) and Clark’s descriptor elucidates the results (isolation).

Certainly people can evaluate accurately this issue from various angles (psychology, sociology, education, etc.). From a theological position, this parenting style reflects the natural result of life lived intensely under the law. When I mention law in this context, I do not refer to the moral code but to a pattern of life focused on living up to standards through personal performance and effort. A standard of false righteousness- child competence – exists in the culture, and adults employ whatever necessary means (math tutors, batting coaches, personal trainers, academic camps, intense schedules, etc.) to maximize their child’s performance that they may satisfy the expectations. The standard may manifest itself in language such as, “I want my child to have every opportunity,” or “I want more for my children,” but producing “successful” children constitutes the core hope. This mentality practically plays out in twelve year olds bouncing from early morning swim practice to school to piano to Boy Scouts to homework to bed as a normalized routine.

Scripture tells us that a life defined by the law yields alienation from God and man, as one sinks into a lonely, self-absorbed pursuit of perfection. In contrast, the Gospel of grace draws one out of alienation and into fellowship with God and neighbor. In the Gospel the onus of perfection shifts to Christ, and one is freed to enjoy relationship with God and others.

Understanding the pervasiveness of this trend among American teens compels those ministering to youth (parents, youth pastors, teachers, et al.) to recognize the law-driven nature of the culture and to offer the freedom of the Gospel. In addition to this, discussion of spiritual adoption may have more relevance in this context than any other element of salvation. The Father’s role in salvation as the one who adopts justified sinners as sons and daughters resonates with students struggling with a sense of abandonment. The idea of a Perfect Parent who offers free love and constant presence and who calls for rest, rather than effort, provides a sense of relief for students who often live under pressure.

Adoption calls individuals out of isolation and into God’s Kingdom and family. As John says in 1 John 1:2-3,

The life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

This adopting love, made manifest through Christ, not only brings people into union with God but also into the fellowship of the saints.

Certainly all benefits of salvation have relevance to all generations in all contexts. At the same time, in the context of American teen culture, emphasis on the Father adopting sinners and delivering the isolated into a fellowship provides great hope to a generation of estranged teens.

Cameron Cole serves as the chairman of Rooted: A Theology Conference for Student Ministry, which will host its conference, themed Adopted: The Beauty of Grace, at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama on August 9-11. The conference will focus on the Gospel of grace and message of adoption to a generation of alienated teenagers. Those interested can learn more at www.rootedconference.com and can follow the Rooted blog at www.therootedblog.blogspot.com.

 


[1] Chap Clark, Hurt (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 46-47.

Response to Alan Chambers

 

An interview in a recent issue of The Atlantic provoked more debate over evangelical views toward same-sex relationships. Christianity Today asked me, among others, to respond. My response was posted this morning.

Can Christians embrace a same-sex lifestyle and still be members in good standing in a Christian church?

I’ve been asked to comment on the controversy provoked by a recent interview in theAtlantic with Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International—an evangelical ministry founded to help Christians and non-Christians find freedom from the guilt and power of a same-sex lifestyle.

Christians may debate public policy, but in this interview, Chambers raises issues that are very clearly addressed in Scripture. Especially when we are dealing with human lives, daring to draw our counsel from God, we need to affirm the simplicity of biblical teaching on the subject while rejecting an over-simplifying of the issues involved.

The problem (sin and death) as well as the solution (redemption in Christ through the gospel) are simple, but hardly simplistic. In terms of sin, Scripture is quite clear about the condition (original sin—guilt, bondage, corruption leading to death) and the acts that arise from it. There are versions of the pro-gay and anti-gay agenda that assume a simplistic rather than simple understanding of the issue—at least from a biblical perspective. Reject it or embrace it: that’s the easy choice that makes for great sound-bites but ruins lives.

So let’s apply this “simple but not simplistic” formula to homosexuality.

To read the rest of the article head to Christianity Today’s website.

Also check out this Modern Reformation article “Such Were Some of You”

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