White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

WHI-1115 | Recovering Focus in a Distracted Time

Life in twenty-first century America is distracting. Thanks to the ubiquitous nature of media and countless interruptions from beeping gadgets, it’s becoming difficult not merely to finish a book, but perhaps even a thought. On this program, Michael Horton discusses this new culture of distraction with Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention & The Coming Dark Age. In the second half of the program, Mike continues this discussion with Los Angeles Times Book Review Editor David Ulin, author of The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time.

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Bombarding Images
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Distracted
Maggie Jackson
The Shallows
Nicholas Carr

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Digital Nation
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Incarnational Ministry

Our good friend, J. Todd Billings, was recently featured in Christianity Today. His critique of “incarnational ministry” continues to ring true for many people. We were proud to feature that critique back in 2009, Incarnational Ministry and the Unique, Incarnate Christ.

Here’s a brief preview of Billings’ article in Christianity Today.

In recent decades, scores of books, manuals, and websites advocating “incarnational ministry” have encouraged Christians to move beyond ministry at a distance and to “incarnate” and immerse themselves into local cultures. Some give a step-by-step “incarnation process” for Christians crossing cultures. Some call us to become incarnate by “being Jesus” to those around us. Indeed, many of these resources display valuable insights into relational and cross-cultural ministry. But there are serious problems at the core of most approaches to “incarnational ministry”—problems with biblical, theological, and practical implications.

I encountered these problems myself as a practitioner of “incarnational ministry.” At a Christian college, I was told that just as God became flesh in a particular culture 2,000 years ago, my job was to become “incarnate” in another culture. Eight months later, equipped with training in cultural anthropology, I set about learning the language and culture in Uganda. But I quickly ran into doubts about the “incarnational” method. Would the Ugandans necessarily “see Jesus” as a result of my efforts at cultural identification? Was I assuming that my own presence—rather than that of Christ—was redemptive? Is the eternal Word’s act of incarnation really an appropriate model for ministry?

My questions multiplied as I continued my theological education. Biblical scholars and theologians assured me that the Bible and orthodox Christian theology taught nothing about us “becoming incarnate.” Going back to my professors of missiology and ministry, I heard a quite practical response: If not the Incarnation, what is the alternative model for culture-crossing ministries? Over the past decade, I have come to see that incarnational ministry actually obscures the much richer theology of servant-witness and cross-cultural ministry in the New Testament: ministry in union with Christ by the Spirit.

You can read the whole thing here.

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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Is Style Neutral?
Michael Horton

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Digital Nation
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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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The Christian Faith
Michael Horton

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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
Tullian Tchividjian
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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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