White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Sanctification and Worship

If “all of life is sacred,” as a popular saying goes, then what’s the significance of going to church? The Reformation got rid of the division between Christians who worship (monks) and those who work (laypeople), but only in our individualist-expressivist culture has this downplaying of worship become a grand distortion. Calvin College professor James K. A. Smith’s recent article in Reformed Worship succinctly and insightfully untangles this amazingly practical issue. Here is an excerpt:

Christian worship gathered around Word and table is not just a platform for our expression; it is the space for the Spirit’s (trans)formation of us. The practices of gathered Christian worship have a specific shape about them—precisely because this is how the Spirit recruits us into the story of God reconciling the world to himself in Christ. There is a logic to the shape of intentional, historic Christian worship that performs the gospel over and over again as a way to form and reform our habits. If we fail to immerse ourselves in sacramental, transformative worship, we will not be adequately formed to be ambassadors of Christ’s redemption in and for the world. In short, while the Reformers rightly emphasized the sanctification of ordinary life, they never for a moment thought this would be possible without being sanctified by Word and sacrament.

Click here to read the rest of this article

What happened to God?

The 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth in 2009 gave rise to a year of debate about the world-historical significance of the French Reformer. Everything from politics and economics to art and philanthropy were cited as having been influenced (even “transformed”) by Calvin’s life and work. Much of what was claimed was highly debatable, though it does make for interesting discussion.

But what seemed to be missing from most of the Swiss city of Geneva’s marketing materials for the anniversary celebration was reference to Calvin’s very practical and immediate impact on the church and its ministry, such as the reforming of idolatrous Roman aspects of worship, the establishment of the “consistory” or body of elders to care for and govern the local church, and the centralizing of Word and Sacrament for Christian ministry.

With the quincentennial of the Reformation approaching in 1517, I anticipate the same kind of lively discussion about Luther’s legacy. What was his impact, after all this time? That’s a good discussion to have, one that is already underway. How fascinating it is to note that the person closest to the truth at this early planning conference in Germany was a Roman Catholic architect! Sometimes truth comes from the strangest of places . . .

It was an evening with a lot going on at many levels, although not once did Luther’s core premise come up – that man is saved by faith and grace alone, and that the pious acts that Catholics thought could help played no role in salvation. The word “God” was seldom used during the evening, and if memory serves, the name “Jesus Christ” wasn’t mentioned a single time.

The question that remained unanswered at the end was: what is the 500th Anniversary celebration in 2017 actually going to be about? Revisiting and strengthening evangelical faith? Or a festive and soon-forgotten occasion with colloquia, ceremonies, entertainment?

Which is not to say that what the nine distinguished “outsiders” told EKD representatives was stupid. On the contrary: it was a sum of what a broad spectrum of society feels towards religion. And God didn’t come into it.

Read the article

WHI-1119 | Christianity vs. Pop Spirituality

What is the typical message one is likely to find in the “Religion and Spirituality” section of a local bookstore, and how does that view differ from classical Christianity? On this program, the hosts contrast the historic Christian gospel with numerous bestselling alternatives, from both the world of New Age spirituality as well as many of the “practical” books in the “Christian Living” section of a typical evangelical bookstore.

RELATED ARTICLES

The New Gnosticism
Michael Horton

MUSIC SELECTION

Zac Hicks

PROGRAM AUDIO

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Click here to access the audio file directly

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

In the Face of God
Michael Horton

RECOMMENDED AUDIO

Horton Reviews Kingdom Through Covenant

Dr. Horton was asked to review the new book by Gentry and Stephen Wellum titled Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Crossway, 2012) over at The Gospel Coalition. Here is an excerpt of the review:

However, their argument assumes that the mere presence of commands indicates a mixture of unconditional-conditional aspects in the basis of the covenant itself. At this point, Reformed theology has traditionally appealed to a distinction between basis and administration. The mere presence of commands says nothing about the basis of a covenant itself. Circumcision (like baptism) identifies the members of the covenant, so if one is not circumcised, he is “cut off.” Nevertheless, one is not justified because he is circumcised, as Paul indicates in Romans 4:11. That would turn conditions into the basis rather than the administration of the covenant. Commands function in a law-covenant as the basis for blessing or curse: the swearer’s perfect, personal, perpetual obedience is the ground, ratified by a public assumption of the covenant obligations on one’s own head. In the covenant of grace, however, commands function as the “reasonable service” that we offer “in view of God’s mercies.”

Click here to read the rest of the review

We Have No King But Elvis

Since presented via a TV game show, it may be tempting to consider Family Feud surveys inherently frivolous. Indeed, it would not be unreasonable to feel that any public opinion survey unduly emphasizes transitory feelings over more significant perspectives.  For this reason most of us understandably look unfavorably at a politician guided more by polls than by principles.  So when it comes to matters of faith, surely we wouldn’t want to mistake ephemeral opinions for eternal truths, let alone ones gleaned from some survey.

How interesting then to consider how Jesus conducted opinion surveys: “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” he asked his disciples (Matt. 16:13 ESV).  Survey says (Matt. 16:14):

  • John the Baptist                   43
  • Elijah                                  28
  • Jeremiah                             17
  • One of the prophets              8

And of course, his follow-up question (which would be worth double the number of points if posed on Family Feud) was: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt.16:15)  Clearly Jesus could have just led with this later question, so he evidently wanted to first establish some context.  Why?  Jesus must have anticipated that none of the answers on the board for the first question would be “the Messiah.”  In pairing the questions he was therefore highlighting just how skewed from public expectations of a messiah was his earthly ministry.

Let’s now look at the top answers from a recent Family Feud survey which asked 100 people, “When someone mentions ‘the King,’ to whom might he or she be referring?”  The results:

Before rushing to condemn the survey respondents, note that the question posed was not “When someone mentions ‘the King of Kings,’ to whom might he or she be referring?”  In fact, the Family Feud contestant who uncovered the “God/Jesus” answer on the board did so by saying, “I’m going to go with the King of Kings, Jesus” (to which Steve Harvey nodded approvingly).  No, we should actually give the respondents great credit for most accurately capturing who folks are referring to today when they mention “the King.”  (And we should feel no shame in seeing the humor in “the Burger King” rounding out this list.)

The only point I would like to make about the responses to this Family Feud question is how it provides a wonderfully simple articulation of the cultural context in which the gospel is presented in our age.  Few people today are likely to mistake Jesus for John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other Old Testament prophet (if they could even name one).  No, the expectations of Jesus today are much different: some look to Jesus as a role model for respecting human rights or as a champion of various societal concerns (represented by Martin L. King, Jr.: 3), and a few others—whose “god is their belly”—look to Jesus to help them prosper (represented by The Burger King: 2). But the overwhelming majority of people really want Jesus to be Elvis, a feel-good rock star whose every gyration excites the soul.  But such a Jesus is but a “comic caricature” of the true King of Kings, as Stephen J. Nichols describes this figure in Jesus Made in America.  And this Elvis is but a Jesus impersonator.

James Gilmore is the co-author of the bestselling book, The Experience Economy. A prolific speaker and popular business consultant, Jim has also been a guest on White Horse Inn and has recently written for Modern ReformationJim is a Batten Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He is also a Visiting Lecturer in Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, where he teaches a course on cultural hermeneutics.

Mike Horton in Chicago Today

Mike is in Chicago today, speaking at the Henry Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His 1:00 pm (CDST) lecture, “Ascension and Ecclesia: Promise-Driven Ministry in a Purpose-Driven Age” will be open to the public. For directions please click here.

If you can’t attend in person, the school is live-streaming the event. You can access that feed here.

Click here for more information.

WHI-1118 | Myths about Christianity

Are Christianity and science opposed to each other? Is religion just a myth? Does modern scholarship actually debunk the Bible? On this edition of White Horse Inn, Mike Horton talks with Jeffrey Burton Russell, professor of history at University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Exposing Myths about Christianity: A Guide to Answering 145 Viral Lies and Legends.

RELATED ARTICLES

Basic Apologetic Questions
Cwirla, Brown, et al
Christian Scholarship
J. Gresham Machen

MUSIC SELECTION

Doug Powell

PROGRAM AUDIO

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Click here to access the audio file directly

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Inventing the Flat Earth
Jeffrey B. Russell

RECOMMENDED AUDIO

Christianity Explored
(DVD Study Kit)

Christian Character and Good Arguments

As you know, White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation are all about “conversations for a new Reformation.” For over two decades, we’ve hosted a conversation between representatives of Lutheran, Baptist, and Reformed traditions on the White Horse Inn, expanding that circle in the pages of our magazine, Modern Reformation. We’ve also held public conversations with those who hold views that are antithetical to our own. (Check out our upcoming conversation with Roman Catholic theologian, Scott Hahn, here and our previous conversations with Arminian theologian Roger Olson here.) Part of the rationale is that we can’t defend the truth by creating caricatures. We have to engage the actual positions, not straw opponents we can easily knock down. Convinced that truth can take care of itself, we want to expose more and more people to the richness of that “Great Conversation” that Christians have been having for two millennia.

Especially in a “wiki” age, our communication today is prone to gushes of words with trickles of thought. We don’t compose letters much anymore, but blurt out emails and tweets. Just look at the level of discourse in this political campaign season and you can see how much we talk about, over, and past rather than to each other. Sadly, these habits—whether fueled by sloth or malice—are becoming acceptable in Christian circles, too. The subculture of Christian blogging often mirrors the “shock-jock” atmosphere of the wider web. “Don’t be like the world” means more than not imitating a porn-addicted culture, while we tolerate a level of interaction that apes the worst of TV sound-bites, ads, and political debates.

For my seminary students I’ve written a summary of what I expect in good paper-writing for my classes. It follows the classical order of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. It also explains why the pursuit of excellence in thinking and communicating is not just an academic exercise, but is a crucial part of Christian character.

I’ll skip over some of the rules specific to papers in my classes and get to the core points. Rules for paper-writing carry over directly to good preaching and good conversations.

It’s not just what we say, but how we say it, that matters. Peter reminds us to be “always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Pet 3:15-16). We have to be ready with arguments and reasons, but we have to give thought also to how we present them.

Good Arguments

First and foremost we need to avoid the ubiquitous ad hominem (“to/concerning the person”) variety—otherwise known as “personal attacks.” Poor papers often focus on the person: both the critic and the one being criticized. This is easier, of course, because one only has to express one’s own opinions and reflections. A good paper will tell us more about the issues in the debate than about the debaters. (This of course does not rule out relevant biographical information on figures we’re engaging that is deemed essential to the argument.)

Closely related are red-herring arguments: poisoning the well, where you discredit a position at the outset (a pre-emptive strike), or creating a straw man (caricature) that can be easily demolished. “Barth was a liberal,” “Roman Catholics do not believe that salvation is by grace,” “Luther said terrible things about Jews and Calvin approved the burning of Servetus—so how could you possibly take seriously anything they say?” It’s an easy way of dismissing views that may be true even though those who taught them may have said or done other things that are reprehensible. Closely related is thegenetic fallacy, which requires merely that one trace an argument or position back to its source in order to discount it. Simply to trace a view to its origin—as Roman Catholic, Arminian, Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist/Baptist, etc.—is not to offer an argument for or against it. For example, we all believe in the Trinity; it’s not wrong because it’s also held by Roman Catholics. “Barth studied under Harnack and Herrmann, so we should already consider his doctrine of revelation suspect.” This assertion does not take into account the fact that Barth was reacting sharply against his liberal mentors and displays no effort to actually read, understand, and engage the primary or secondary sources.

Closely related to these fallacies is the all too familiar slippery slope argument. “Barth’s doctrine of revelation leads to atheism” or “Arminianism leads to Pelagianism” or “Calvinism leads to fatalism” would be examples. Even if one’s conclusion is correct, the argument has to be made, not merely asserted. The fact is, we often miss crucial moves that people make that are perfectly consistent with their thinking and do not lead to the extreme conclusions we attribute to them—not to mention the inconsistencies that all of us indulge. Honesty requires that you engage the positions that peopleactually hold, not conclusions you think they should hold if they are consistent.

If you’re going to make a logical argument that certain premises lead to a certain conclusion, then you need to make the case and must also be careful to clarify whether the interlocutor either did make that move or did not but (logically) should have.

Another closely related fallacy here is sweeping generalization. Until recently, it was common for historians to try to explain an entire system by identifying a “central dogma.” For example, Lutherans deduce everything from the central dogma of justification; Calvinists, from predestination and the sovereignty of God. Serious scholars who have actually studied these sources point out that these sweeping generalizations don’t have any foundation. However, sweeping generalizations are so common precisely because they make our job easier. We can embrace or dismiss positions easily without actually having to examine them closely. Usually, this means that a paper will be more “heat” than “light”: substituting emotional assertion for well-researched and logical argumentation.

“Karl Barth’s doctrine of revelation is anti-scriptural and anti-Christian” is another sweeping generalization. If I were to task you in person why you think Barth’s view of revelation is “anti-scriptural anti-Christian,” you might answer, “Well, I think that he draws too sharp a contrast between the Word of God and Scripture—and that this undermines a credible doctrine of revelation.” “Good,” I reply, “—now why do you think he makes that move?” “I think it’s because he identifies the ‘Word of God’ with God’s essence and therefore regards any direct identification with a creaturely medium (like the Bible) as a form of idolatry. It’s part of his ‘veiling-unveiling’ dialectic.” OK, now we’re closer to a real thesis—something like, “Because Barth interprets revelation as nothing less than God’s essence (actualistically conceived), he draws a sharp contrast between Scripture and revelation.” A good argument for something like that will allow the reader to draw conclusions instead of strong-arming the reader with the force of your own personality.

Also avoid the fallacy of begging the question. For example, question-begging is evident in the thesis statement: “Baptists exclude from the covenant those whom Christ has welcomed.” After all, you’re assuming your conclusion without defending it. Baptists don’t believe that children of believers are included in the covenant of grace. That’s the very reason why they do not baptize them. You need an argument.

An Exercise of Christian Piety

Everything I’ve said about logical fallacies is wrapped up with virtue. You earn your right to critique a position only after stating it in terms that one who holds it would recognize as fair. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Gal 5:22). The love of our neighbor is inextricably bound up with our love of God; love and truth are intimates, not rivals. Especially in the body of Christ we are to avoid “human cunning….Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Eph 4:14-15). The Ninth Commandment forbids false witness. In fact, the Shorter Catechism explains, “The ninth commandment forbids whatever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own or our neighbor’s good name.” Similarly, the HC: “God’s will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause…I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.”

Logical fallacies are often the result of vice—sometimes malice, but more frequently pride and sloth. It is easy to hide behind the banner of truth in yielding to these temptations, but truth is not served well by arrogant assertions, sweeping generalizations or lazy caricatures. When love reigns, an argument is not only true but also good and beautiful. Therein lies its genuine persuasiveness. Sloth is evident especially when we create straw opponents, slippery slope assertions, or attack the person (ad hominem) or the source of the argument (genetic fallacy) rather than critique the argument itself.

It is possible to be so open-minded that we can fall for anything. “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps” (Prov 14:15). Yet imprudence also exhibits itself in narrow-minded over-simplification of complex questions. The wise are “cautious,…but a fool is reckless and careless” (v 16). In either case, “The simple inherit folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge” (v 18). “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov 15:1).

As G. K. Chesterton quipped, “A quarrel can end a good argument. Most people today quarrel because they cannot argue.” In the din of talking heads shouting at each other, Christians have a great opportunity in the current atmosphere to end quarrels by offering a few good, at least better, arguments.

The Problem and the Solution

We thought that this new video from Jeff Bethke, summarizing our problem and the solution that we have in Christ was worth passing along to our readers.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

As Is The Habit Of Some

What excuses do people give for not going to church?

Family Feud has dealt with this matter.  I know that what the “survey says” on Family Feud is not scientifically based (in terms of conducting in-depth anthropological, sociological, psychological, or ethnographic studies) or even close to being statistically valid (in terms of surveying a sufficiently large numbers of individuals), but still the survey results can provide some insights into the hearts and minds of congregants.

According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, 59% percent of U.S. churches average under 100 worshippers each week; the median average Sunday church attendance is 75 people.  (See statistics for 2009 study at: http://www.newchurchweblog.org/?p=81)  And how many people does Family Feud ask their survey questions?  One-hundred.  So think of each Family Feud question as a glimpse into the musings of a single, typical, local church.  Or simply put:

Survey says = Church says!

And now to the question before us: “What excuses do people make for not going to church?”

Here is a picture of my TV screen recapping the “top six answers” to that Family Feud question:

 

What can we learn from this?  Let me suggest some possibilities:

1) “Have to work” only garners 3% of the responses.  With the call to “defend and promote my neighbor’s good name” (see Heidelberg Catechism Q. 112), let us assume these respondents have in view emergency room attendants, power plant workers, police officers, and others who perform acts of necessity.  And if you really think about it: Americans in general have no problem with ceasing from work on Sunday, be they Sabbatarian or not.

2) A better fight may be had with Saturday night, alright, for 27% in the survey cite “Tired/Out Late.”  What shall we make of this?  Well, rather than suggest more folk ought to stay home and get to bed earlier, let me suggest that more Christians go out into the heart of Saturday night.

Let me here share a personal story:

In the mid-80’s, as a bachelor living in Sacramento, California, I had fallen into a period where I had ceased attending church altogether—for well over a year.  If I woke up before noon, it was only to watch the NFL while still under the sheets.  One weekend a friend was visiting from the Bay Area.  He was a recent convert to Christianity, and he insisted on going to church that Sunday.  So he consulted the Yellow Pages and picked a church for us to attend.  I very much enjoyed the worship, but afterwards gave little thought to returning the next week.  But that very next Saturday, on another typical night out with my work buddies, I happened upon all the elders from the RCUS church where I had attended the previous Sunday.  They too were out to see the Briefcase Blues Band (a Blues Brothers tribute band) at Harry’s Bar & Grill.  There, drinking their Beck’s beers with their wives, the elders spotted me and invited my buddies and me to join them.  Long story short: I attended that local church every Sunday thereafter, at first just the morning worship service, but soon the study hour as well, then Sunday evening worship too, and eventually I became a communicant member (of the first church I ever committed to joining).

May I dare suggest to local churches that your future Sunday morning is to be found on Saturday night?

3) Consider next the 20% who responded “Sick/In Pain.”  James writes, “Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call the elders of the church, and let them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14)  I’ll not comment on this use of oil, but let me suggest there is an opportunity in many churches for better communication between elders and their flocks.  In this age of ubiquitous cellphones, text-messaging, Facebook updating, and tweeting, there really is no excuse for poor communication between elders and their flocks.  Note this communication starts with the sick: If you are sick, call your elder!  Elders, be open to such calls.  And visit the sick, not just the very sick, but the 20% Sunday sick.  Frankly, it’s tempting to think those who stay home from church are simply lazy; but perhaps it is those of us who neglect to go visit the sick that are all the lazier.

4) More survey respondents cite “Ball game on” (38%) than “Play sports/Golf” (3%).  In his commentary on Galatians, Luther makes the distinction between passive righteousness (all-sufficient salvation by grace) and active righteousness (insufficient effort by works).  Note that we see greater sports passivity (game-viewing) than sports activity (game-playing) cited in the survey findings.  While all sin against God is active rebellion, maybe a distinction here too can be made, between active unrighteousness (on the fairway) and passive unrighteousness (on the couch).  And maybe for every person actively perfecting their game (for a better life now), tenfold more are to be found passively amusing themselves to death.

Another possible lesson: let me suggest that those who do place their bodies in the pews on Sunday morning may still have their hearts and minds on the “ball game on” television back home.  Perhaps some pastoral prayers along the following lines may be in order (especially in the Pacific Time zone): “Lord, I want to thank you for the invention and awesomeness of the DVR and TiVo.  Please help those who may be here preoccupied with the ballgames going on right now, and with how their fantasy football teams may be doing, to let it go.  Let them be confident in the performance of these recording devices, so that they may focus solely on the greater awesomeness that is to found in communion with you in this hour.”  More such realism might help land more people in the pew, for people might actually want to join in such honest prayer before the Lord.

5) Forbid it that anyone might think they have “Nothing to wear” (2%) to church.  While this Family Feud survey response may seem ridiculous at first glance—the excuse seems like such a, well, such an excuse—do recognize that a church can signal to visitors that they are unwelcome when because of outward appearances they are not embraced as equally as the more fashionably attired.  I have witnessed this with my own eyes: individuals completely ignored by pastor, elders, and well-mannered parishioners, too pre-occupied with small talk to truly greet someone who looks out of the norm.  It is with this lack of looking and loving that we ought to truly feud.

I close with this prayer: “Lord, open our eyes.  Let us affirm that we all stand naked before you.  We are the 2%.  Do please clothe us with your righteousness.  Amen.”

James Gilmore is the co-author of the bestselling book, The Experience Economy. A prolific speaker and popular business consultant, Jim has also been a guest on White Horse Inn and has recently written for Modern ReformationJim is a Batten Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He is also a Visiting Lecturer in Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, where he teaches a course on cultural hermeneutics.

Page 29 of 99« First...1020...2728293031...405060...Last »