White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

An Introduction to the Facts

This looks like an amazing resource from someone we’re proud to call a friend of the Inn!

You can purchase Doug’s book on Amazon.

Communicating the Claims of Easter

The focus of my last post was the public character of the resurrection that makes the gospel rather different from the sheer power of personal assertion or experience. Here are some suggestions for communicating this central Christian claim to others—and not only at Easter!

    Suggestions for Conversations
  1. The gospel’s effects are deep and wide, so you can start anywhere in the argument. For example, in the philosophers’ forum in Athens, Paul began by telling his Epicurean and Stoic audience that they misunderstood who God is and how he relates to the world. God is neither irrelevant and aloof from the world (contra the Epicureans) nor part of the world (contra the Stoics). Though he doesn’t depend on the world, the world depends on him and God is concerned and involved with the world he has created, governs, and saves. It’s an argument for Christian theism, showing unbelievers how they cannot even live consistently with their own assumptions unless the Triune God known in Scripture is the source of all reality. You can also begin the conversation by sharing your own experience—the difference Christ has made in your life, as long as you realize that this isn’t the gospel itself. Or you can go straight to the resurrection and work more inductively, from the most particular claim to its broader implications.
  2. On one hand, don’t assume that you and your conversation partner share the same assumptions. On the other hand, don’t assume that you don’t share any common ground. Especially to the extent that one has been shaped by the naturalistic presuppositions that dominate academic culture in our day, a claim like the resurrection will be ruled impossible at the start. Miracles do not happen because they cannot happen: that’s the a priori assumption of the deistic/atheistic worldview of today’s Epicureans. If you’re reasoning with modern “Stoics”—basically, a pantheistic worldview, the assumption will be that everything is divine and miraculous; so the idea of special divine interventions like the resurrection will seem just as foreign to New Agers as to New Atheists. Again, you can begin by exposing the irrationality and inconsistency of these worldviews and then discuss the resurrection within the context of a biblical worldview or begin with the resurrection claim. One strength of the latter approach is that the resurrection, as a historical event, disproves their worldview. Here is an event that actually happened, which their worldview cannot account for. Even if they do not accept the argument, much less trust in Christ, this can at least help to weaken their excuse that the biblical claim is nothing more than private assertion or experience, unaccountable to public debate. It can help to expose to our friend the fact that he or she is “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness”—that is, no longer rejecting the claim because of reason but because of the same irrational act of mere will that he or she had attributed to believers.
  3. Remind yourself that the Spirit alone can give people faith through the gospel. As in the account of his raising of Lazarus (Jn 11), Jesus may ask us to roll away stones, but only he can raise the dead. The apostles not only testified to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but reasoned with Jews and Greeks. They gave arguments and evidences. At the same time, the gospel itself is “the power of God unto salvation…” (Rom 1:16) and it has to be proclaimed.

    Some Arguments for the Resurrection
  1. First, the New Testament itself provides historical access to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To be sure, Scripture is the authoritative Word of God. However, even in conversation with those who do not share this conviction, we can point out that the New Testament texts enjoy an unrivaled transmission history compared with other historical texts.1 Historians rely on the eye-witness reports of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. You can pick up an English edition from Amazon. Yet there are only 8 copies and the earliest dates from 1,300 years after its original writing. However, we possess today fragments and manuscripts of the New Testament that date within decades of their origin and tens of thousands of ancient copies.
  2. Second, there is the evidence of the Old Testament prophecies. Perhaps a first-century Jew could have claimed one or two, but the probability of one person fulfilling literally hundreds of these prophecies made centuries before is statistically impossible. Except that one actually did. Like Cinderella, Jesus is the only one who fits the glass slipper of Old Testament promise. This is one reason why the Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide startled the liberal Protestant academy in 1982 with The Resurrection of Jesus, arguing that Jesus rose from the dead—even though Lapide does not believe that he was the Messiah.
  3. Ancient Jewish, Roman, and Christian sources agree that Jesus lived, died, and was buried. This is not even disputed by the scholarly consensus.
    • According to the Jewish Talmud, “Yeshua” was a false prophet hanged on Passover eve for sorcery and blasphemy. Joseph Klausner, an eminent Jewish scholar, identifies the following references to Jesus in the Talmud: Jesus was a rabbi whose mother, Mary (Miriam), was married to a carpenter who was nevertheless not the natural father of Jesus. Jesus went with his family to Egypt, returned to Judea and made disciples, performed miraculous signs by sorcery, led Israel astray, and was deserted at his trial without any defenders. On Passover eve he was crucified.2
    • Late in the first century, the great Roman historian Tacitus referred to the crucifixion of Jesus under Pontius Pilate (Annals 15.44). In AD 52, the Samaritan historian Thallos recounts the earthquake and strange darkness during Christ’s crucifixion (reported in Luke 23:44-45), although he attributes the darkness to a solar eclipse.3
    • Of course, alternative explanations to Christ’s death have been offered. The so-called swoon theory speculates that Jesus did not really die, but was nursed back to health to live out his days and die a natural death. In Surah 4:157, Islam’s Qur’an teaches that the Romans “never killed him,” but “were made to think that they did.” However, we know also from ancient sources how successful the Romans were at crucifixions. The description in the Gospels of the spear thrust into Christ’s side and the ensuing flow of blood and water fit with both routine accounts of crucifixion from Roman military historians as well as with modern medical examinations of the report.4 As for the Islamic conjecture, no supporting argument is offered and the obvious question arises: Are we really to believe that the Roman government and military officers as well as the Jewish leaders and the people of Jerusalem “were made to think that” they had crucified Jesus when in fact they did not do so? Furthermore, why should a document written six centuries after the events in question have any credence when we have first-century Christian, Jewish, and Roman documents that attest to Christ’s death and burial? Roman officers in charge of crucifixions knew when their victims were dead.

Liberal Rabbi Samuel Sandmel observes, “The ‘Christ-myth’ theories are not accepted or even discussed by scholars today.”5 Even Marcus Borg, co-founder of the radical “Jesus Seminar,” concedes that Christ’s death by Roman crucifixion is “the most certain fact about the historical Jesus.”6 There are numerous attestations to these facts from ancient Jewish and Roman sources. Even the liberal New Testament scholar John A. T. Robinson concluded that the burial of Jesus in the tomb is “one of the earliest and best attested facts about Jesus.”7

The burial of Jesus in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea is mentioned in all four Gospels (Mt 27:57; Mk 15:43; Lk 23:50; Jn 19:38-39). This is a specific detail that lends credibility to the account. Furthermore, it’s an embarrassing detail that the disciples would not likely have forged. After all, according to the Gospels, the disciples fled and Peter had even denied knowing Jesus. Yet here is a wealthy and powerful member of the ruling Jewish Council (Sanhedrin), coming to Pilate to ask for permission to bury Jesus in his own tomb.

Adding to the embarrassment, according to John 19:38-42, Joseph was assisted in the burial by another leader of the Pharisees, Nicodemus (who met with Jesus secretly in John 3). Joseph was of such a stature that Pilate conceded to deliver the body over to him, but only after confirming with the centurion that Jesus was in fact dead (Mk 15:44-45). Everybody who was anybody knew where this tomb was, especially Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. There was no question about where Jesus had been laid.

The controversial claim is not that Jesus lived, died, and was buried. A little more controversial, though, is the claim that his tomb was empty on the third day. However, this is disputed by contemporary rather than ancient opponents.

  • Romans, too, were concerned about the disruption caused over Jesus’ empty tomb. A marble plaque was discovered with an “Edict of Caesar” commanding capital punishment for anyone who dares to “break a tomb.” Called the Nazareth Inscription, the decree was provoked by disturbances in Jerusalem and the plaque has been dated to somewhere near AD 41.8
  • Suetonius (75-130 AD), a Roman official and historian, recorded the expulsion of Jews from Rome in 48 because of controversy erupting over “a certain Chrestus” (Claudius 25.4).
  • In a letter to the Emperor Trajan around the year 110, Pliny the Younger, imperial governor of what is now Turkey, reported that Christians gathered on Sunday to pray to Jesus “as to a god,” to hear the letters of his appointed officers read and expounded, and to receive a meal at which they believed Christ himself presided (Epistle 10.96). Although unable to locate Jesus, dead or alive, the very fact that Jewish and Roman leaders sought alternative explanations for the resurrection demonstrates that the empty tomb was a historical fact. For the gospel story to have come to an easy and abrupt end, the authorities would only have had to produce a body.

Unsatisfied by alternative explanations (mass hallucination, a mere vision of a spiritually risen Christ, the disciples’ theft of the body from the tomb, etc.), Pinchas Lapide concludes that “some modern Christian theologians are ashamed of the material facticity of the resurrection.” Their “varying attempts at dehistoricizing” the event reveal their own anti-supernatural prejudices more than offering serious historical evaluation. “However, for the first Christians who though, believed, and hoped in a Jewish manner, the immediate historicity was not only a part of that happening but the indispensable precondition for the recognition of its significance for salvation.”9

Today, like every day since the first Easter, some mock, others express openness to further discussion, while still others embrace the Risen Christ, exclaiming with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). Not only the Lord and God, but “My Lord and my God!” If faith involves knowledge, it is more than that; it is trust. It is not merely believing that Jesus of Nazareth is the risen Christ, but embracing him as our Lord and Savior.

We know God as our redeemer through his saving work in Jesus Christ. It is this revelation that is strange, counter-intuitive and even offensive to our fallen hearts. Contrary to our distorted intuitions, the gospel does not encourage our conquest of heaven through intellectual, mystical, and moral striving. It announces that even while we were enemies, he reconciled us (Rom 5:10). While we were dead in sins, he made us alive in Christ (Eph 2:5). We are saved by God’s good works, not our own (Eph 2:8-9). Because we are sinners, God’s speech is disruptive and disorienting. It is not we who overcome estrangement, but God who heals the breach by communicating the gospel of his Son. |The Word of the Risen Lord ~Our Lord’s resurrection is not just a wonder: one of those things that we chalk up to mysteries that we don’t yet have the tools to explain in natural terms.

First, the resurrection means that Jesus’s claims concerning himself must be ours. This one who was raised claimed to be the eternal Son of the Father who came down from heaven, the Word incarnate (Jn 1:1-4, 14). He prophesied his own death and resurrection, as well as the destruction of the Temple (which occurred a little over three decades later). The religious leaders were able to conclude from Jesus’ words and deeds that he “made himself equal with God” (Jn 5:18), and Jesus did not dispute this charge. Jesus assumed the role of judgment on the last day, which the prophets reserved exclusively for Yahweh.

Second, the resurrection means that Jesus’ view of Scripture must also be ours. Even Jesus submits himself to Scripture and the phrase, “It is written,” is for Jesus the highest court of appeals. The words of the prophets are simply the word of God for Jesus (Mt 4:4, 7, 10; 5:17-20; 19:4-6; 26:31, 52-54; Lk 4:16-21; 16:17; 18:31-33; 22:37; 24:25-27, 45-47; Jn 10:35-38).

Jesus assumes as historical truth the miraculous events, laws, and doctrines of the Old Testament. Also well-attested is the calling and authorization of the Twelve as his apostles, although Judas was replaced with Matthias. Jesus said that to hear the apostles is to hear Jesus himself, and to receive them is to receive the Father and the Son (Mat 16:16-20; 18; 28:16-20; Ac 1:8). The apostles themselves understood that they were speaking authoritatively in Christ’s name and in spite of some friction early on, Peter acknowledges Paul’s writings as “scripture” (2 Pe 3:16). Taken together these writings are called a canon (from the Greek kanon, “rule”): the norm for faith and practice.

Even more decisive for the liberation of his kingdom than George Washington for the American republic, Jesus founds his empire in his own blood. And the New Testament is his new covenant constitution.


[1] Historians today rely on classics like Thucydides’ History of the Pelopponesian War, Caesar’s Gallic War, and Tacitus’ Histories. The earliest copies we have for these date from 1,300, 900, and 700 years after the original writing, respectively, and there are eight extant copies of the first, ten of the second, and two of the third. In contrast, the earliest copy of Mark’s Gospel is dated at 130 AD (a century after the original writing) and there are 5,000 ancient Greek copies, along with nearly 20,000 Latin and other ancient manuscripts. The sheer volume of ancient manuscripts provides sufficient comparison between copies to provide an accurate reproduction of the original text. Ironically, a number of fashionable scholars attracted to the so-called Gnostic Gospels as an “alternative Christianity” have far fewer manuscripts and the original writings cannot be dated any earlier than a century after the canonical Gospels.[Back]

[2] Joseph Klausner, Yeshu ha-Notzri (Hebrew), Shtible, 1922. Translated and reprinted as Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Bloch, 1989), 18-46. Collected over the two centuries following Christ, the Talmud is of course further removed from the events than the New Testament. However, it contains a number of older fragments. Even the liberal Jewish Rabbi Samuel Sandmel observes, “Certain bare facts are historically not to be doubted. Jesus, who emerged into public notice in Galilee when Herod Antipas was its Tetrarch, was a real person, the leader of a movement. He had followers, called disciples. The claim was made, either by him or for him, that he was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. He journeyed from Galilee to Jerusalem, possibly in 29 or 30, and there he was executed, crucified by the Romans as a political rebel. After his death, his disciples believed that he was resurrected, and had gone to heaven, but would return to earth at the appointed time for the final divine judgment of mankind” (Rabbi Samuel Sandmel, A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament, 3rd ed. [Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010], 33). The basic historical claims of the Apostles’ Creed are present in this description of the earliest belief of the Jewish Christians.[Back]

[3] Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 19-20. [Back]

[4] See, for example, William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association 255 (1986). See also the extensive bibliography on this point in Gary R. Habermas, “The Core Resurrection Data,” in Tough-Minded Christianity, ed. William Dembski and Thomas Schirrmacher (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008), 401 fn 10-11.[Back]

[5] Rabbi Samuel Sandmel, A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament, 3[rd] ed. (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publications, 2010), 197.[Back]

[6] Marcus Borg, Jesus: A New Vision (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1987), 179.[Back]

[7] John A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973), 131.[Back]

[8] Clyde E. Billington, “The Nazareth Inscription,” Artifax, Spring 2005.[Back]

[9] Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, trans. Wilhelm C. Linss (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1982), 130.[Back]

Horton & Olson conversation with Ed Stetzer

Last month, Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research interviewed Dr. Horton and Dr. Olson concerning For Calvinism and Against Calvinism on his The Exchange broadcast. The video is below:

To purchase For Calvinism click here.

Easter for Atheists and Skeptics

“Turn your scars into stars and your cross into a stepping stone.” Trivializations such as these have now become a staple even in many evangelical churches at Easter.

A mainline Methodist tells the story of visiting a well-known evangelical church at Easter, hoping to hear the gospel. Waiting in anticipation, he says there was nothing in the service that pointed worshipers upward, to God and his saving deed in Christ. Perhaps it’s all in the sermon, he thought. However, his patience was not rewarded. The message was about how Jesus made it possible for us to come back from our losses even stronger than we were before.

Just a few hours ago a friend sent me this announcement from a local church in his area for the upcoming Easter 2012 service: “Join us for two special Sundays. The Living Lord’s Supper! A live re-enactment of Da Vinci’s Last Supper featuring drama and music.” The sermon: “How Easter Can Change Your Life!” “Pastor Jack Millwood will explain how the power of Easter can change you from the inside out!…This true story (i.e., Palm Sunday and Easter) has changed the world- it can help you make the changes you want to make in your life!”

On Saturday, March 26, atheists and skeptics gathered on the Washington Mall for the “Reason Rally,” where speakers and singers mocked religion. Richard Dawkins, the movement’s pop star, called on the 20,000 gathered there to “ridicule and show contempt…publicly” for the beliefs of religious people. The movement’s organizers take pride in being the “marines” for a new war on faith. War language was all over the place<—an "onward atheist soldiers" sort of theme. As USA Today reporter Cathy Lee Grossman reported, “Outrage was the parlance of the day, however, for many speakers, including David Silverman, Reason Rally organizer and American Atheists president. He reveled in the group’s reputation as the marines of atheism, as the people who storm the faith barricades and bring ‘unpopular but necessary’ lawsuits. Silverman may have gone a bit further in his rhetoric than he intended. In a thundering call for ‘zero tolerance’ for anyone who disagrees with or insults atheism, Silverman proclaimed, ‘Stand your ground!’”

Richard Dawkins Calls on Atheists to “Ridicule and Show Contempt” Toward Religious People

“I’m an atheist, Mom” was one of the more popular signs. In fact, one speaker was Nate Phelps. He is the son of Fred Phelps who leads Westboro Baptist Church, whose website is named, “God Hates Fags” (evidently, among others, such as Jews “who killed the Messiah”). To be sure, this has to be about the most ridiculous aberration I’ve come across yet, but it would be interesting to have surveyed the crowd for the number of militant atheists who came from conservative or even fundamentalist homes. A YouTube clip captures the exchange between a Christian evangelist and a group of atheists at the Rally. In the clip at least, the evangelist’s message doesn’t mention Christ but simply asserts God’s existence and demand for repentance, while rally attendees demand, “Prove it.” The evangelist responds, “Keep the commandments for 30 days and see if God doesn’t reveal himself to you.”

So what do all these stories share in common?

At least one thing they share is a lack of reason on all sides. It’s striking that in Athens, the Apostle Paul was reasoning with Jews in the synagogue and Greeks in the marketplace about the resurrection of Christ (Acts 17:17). His arguments attracted the attention of the philosophers, who invited him to address their debating society. Quoting Greek poets and philosophers, his speech, reported in Acts 17, reached its climax with the announcement of Christ’s resurrection. Many scoffed, while others said “we will hear more on this later,” and a few became believers. Throughout Acts, that’s the way it goes: reasoning in synagogues and marketplaces, some mocking and others confessing Christ. Public claims were made concerning events that had changed the world fewer than 800 miles away, in Jerusalem, only a couple of decades previously. Paul uses martial language, too. He speaks of “pulling down strongholds” and being at war. However, the “strongholds” or fortresses he has in mind are not civil laws or secular humanist organizations. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Cor 10:4-5). Paul knew nothing about a struggle between faith and reason, but only one between faithful reasoning and unfaithful reasoning.

Of course, most evangelicals believe in Christ’s bodily resurrection. No doubt, that conviction will be asserted in many churches this Easter. However, will it be the message that Paul and the other apostles proclaimed?

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not simply a historical claim that secures whatever we may wish to use as an advertisement for Christianity. Jesus Christ “was delivered up for our transgressions and was raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25). The effects are myriad, but the good news itself is that in the life, death, and resurrection of his incarnate Son, God has rescued us from his own just wrath and has made us co-heirs with Christ of every heavenly blessing. The horizon of this redemption is not simply the inner life (a “peaceful, easy feeling”), but objective peace with God because of something that Christ has accomplished outside of us in history (Rom 5:1). And it guarantees not only our present justification and renewal, but our own bodily resurrection to everlasting life when Christ returns.

Furthermore, the horizon is not only our individual salvation, but the restoration of the wider creation (Rom 8:18-25). Wherever Paul preached this good news, he appealed to the common knowledge of recent events surrounding the resurrection. Of course, the message was suited to the audience. To the Jews, the plot-line was already somewhat in place, so that he could announce Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. To the Greeks, he sought to expose the foolishness of idolatry and to show them that they are not even living consistently with what they know by nature. Yet in both cases, Paul’s aim was to get to the resurrection of Jesus as quickly as possible.

Wherever this gospel has spread, it has provoked controversy, mockery as well as faith. After all, it is a genuine historical claim. One can treat private assertions as interesting or irrelevant, but public truth claims, especially of eternal consequence for all people, evoke reaction and response.

What do people in our society today have to say in response to our claims when they are either merely dogmatic assertions or expressions of private therapy?

In reading Mr. Dawkins and other “new atheists,” I do not find any engagement with the central claim of Christ’s resurrection. Instead, they make light work for themselves by saying that faith is the opposite of reason. As Dawkins has written, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” And yet, they have the example of myriad Christian testimonies to undergird this assumption. This Easter many will sing, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.” There is a widespread assumption that faith is merely a decision, a sheer act of the will, safely hidden away on the inner island of the self where criticism, history, and reason cannot disturb. And this is as widely assumed perhaps in Christian as in secularist circles.

This is not just about apologetics; it’s about the gospel itself. Do we really believe that there was a turning point not only in our individual hearts at some point in our life, but in world history around 33 AD? Did God really assume our humanity as a zygote in the womb of a Jewish virgin? Did he really fulfill the law, perform signs as harbingers of the new age, bear our judgment, and rise again as the beginning of the new creation? Did he really take our dreary history of sin and death into his grave and walk out of that grave as the mediator, guarantor, and first-fruits of the age to come? Is it really true that even though we suffer now, our bodies will be raised in glory, like Christ’s, to share in the wonders of a restored cosmos without the threat, much less the reality, of evil, pain, injustice, sin, and violence? And does everything in this gospel turn on the testimony of eye-witnesses?

To all these questions the apostles answer in the affirmative. More than anyone, their “personal testimony” could have been to the difference it had made in their lives<—morally, therapeutically, and experientially. While those effects are mentioned, though, their testimony was to public events:

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and that he was seen by Cephas [Peter], then by the twelve. After that he was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have died. After that he was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all he was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am… (1 Cor 15:3-10).

Jesus does indeed make a difference in our lives, but only because he rose again in history and his resurrection secured something much wider, deeper, and richer than our own personal experience. He changed the face of history, not merely by his example or by inspiring others to great accomplishments in history. It is not because there are happier people, hospitals, and greater liberties, but because God himself accomplished in his Son what no one but God could have achieved, once and for all. Only because the horizon of this redemption is so all-encompassing does it have such a transforming impact for our own lives. But by reducing this vast, public, and all-encompassing announcement to the narrow confines of our personal decision, morality, and experience, we not only perpetuate the faith-reason split in apologetics but trivialize the gospel itself.

In my next post, I’ll explore some of the arguments that make Easter good news to atheists, skeptics, and believers alike.

Reformation at Home

As some of our tag-lines suggest, we want our partners and supporters to apply the Reformation insights they’ve gleaned from White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation to their own circles of influence. Recently, one of our partners in the Pacific Northwest worked with us to design and purchase space on a billboard near her home.

 

The billboard was a significant investment of time and money. Maybe you aren’t in a position to do something so dramatic, but you still want to see Reformation take root with your family and friends. Here are a few other ideas that our partners have developed as a way to bring the Reformation home:

  • host your own Conversations for a Modern Reformation: after a few of the guests on our recent cruise experienced a series of conversations about the challenges facing the church they began hosting their own conversations. What sorts of insights would you glean by convening a conversation made up of Christians from different churches in your town? Once you’ve identified some of the challenges, can you also come up with some of the answers?
  • sponsor White Horse Inn on a local radio station: some partners and partnering churches purchase airtime on a local station (sometimes for less than $75 per episode) and also include their own commercial for a church or study group before or after the broadcast. A few of our partner-sponsored broadcasts include: KDJS in Minnesota, KPXQ in Arizona, and WTIB/WNBU in North Carolina.
  • help lead a White Horse Inn discussion group: using materials from the White Horse Inn, these discussion groups allow you to join the conversation with the White Horse Inn hosts. Groups have been formed all across the U.S. Some meet every week, some meet less often. Do whatever works best for the folks in your group. Click here for more information on starting a group.
  • purchase and distribute bulk subscriptions to Modern Reformation magazine: a number of churches give Modern Reformation away for free on their book tables. Some Sunday school teachers develop lessons from previous year-long themes and copy articles to pass out to their class. Take advantage of our pastor’s subscription price of only $16, which includes a special bulk subscription deal.
  • do you know someone who needs to (re)learn the meaning of grace? Go through the 20th Anniversary edition of Putting Amazing Into Grace with them using the new DVD study. For groups of 1 to 100, this DVD will walk you through the main parts of Mike Horton’s best-known book. All you have to do is push “play”!

Call our office at 800-890-7556 or visit us online for more information or to take advantage of some of the great resources we’re making available to you.

How to Stay Christian in Seminary: Juggling Multiple Callings

Dr. Horton wrote this post in relation to a series done over at the Desiring God blog “How to Stay Christian in Seminary”.


Any seminary worth its salt is going to demand focused labor, time, and interest. In other words, it’s going to be a calling. That’s as it should be. After all, you’re going to be an undershepherd of Christ and you have to be a specialist in his Word. When I hear folks slight seminary education or suggest that it can be substituted with informal and mostly independent approaches, I ask them if they’d choose a brain surgeon who received his medical training in a similar manner. Do we really want our medical physicians operating on us while they are teaching themselves the taxonomy of pathologies? We are relieved to imagine that our doctors spent a lot of late nights preparing for the next day’s class, writing papers, reading journals, attending lectures, and observing veterans on their rounds. Anything worth doing is worth doing well and lives are at stake. What may seem like a routine paper you never would have written unless some rather uncharismatic neurologist assigned texts you never would have read for yourself might turn out to be “just what the doctor ordered” in an emergency room someday.

As important as our physical health is, we’re all going to die. In preparing for the holy ministry, we are preparing to prepare others for death and the life everlasting. Martha was a busy bee in the Lord’s work—”anxious about many things,” but her sister Mary was commended for having “chosen the better part” by sitting at Jesus’s feet for instruction. Disciples have to learn before they leap.

I arrived at seminary with the zeal of a reformer, already engaged in ministry. And it showed. My professors kindly challenged me to slow down. “You have a lifetime of ministry, but only three or four years to become a specialist in God’s Word,” Dr. Strimple told me. “Think of the health of those you’ll be serving—they deserve your best now, which is to be a student.” It was sage counsel.

I have seen a few tragic cases of burnout among students. In almost every one it was due less to the burden of studies than to the challenge of trying to balance multiple callings. I’ve had occasion to offer the same advice Dr. Strimple gave me.

Sometimes, dare I say, it’s the fault of the church leadership. I’ve seen a number of students whose sponsoring church funded their education, but only at the price of demanding unreasonable hours, especially in youth ministry, often requiring students to commute great distances each week. One of the benefits of residential seminary education is that the priorities are already set by sheer distance. You can’t do ministry with seminary on the side. Churches need to have a high enough value of what’s happening here in these few years to pay for seminary without any strings attached—except for regular accountability and encouragement. Being a seminary student isn’t just preparation for a calling, but a calling in its own right.

If you come to seminary married, your first calling is to your wife—and children, if you are blessed with them yet. Luther called the family “my little parish.” Sometimes men leave their wives in the dust. Their furniture is being rearranged. After a week of lectures, reading, and spirited discussions and debates with classmates and professors outside of class, their heads and hearts are spinning. They can’t wait to get onto the next discovery and the material is coming at them from all directions like baseballs. Then there are the daily chapels and prayer groups.

It’s easy to assume that because you are immersed in the Word and prayer every day, that is all you—and your family—need. It’s easy to hang out more with fellow students sometimes than to teach the faith to those closest to you. Certainly there is the importance of daily devotions together as a family, but you need also to consistently unpack what you’re learning in seminary so that your first ministerial call—your own “little parish”—is well-fed. Your calling is to be a disciple and to make disciples, so start at home. When they are part of your trials and wonderful insights, they will also be your cheerleaders and constructive critics for the rest of your ministry. Don’t leave them behind.

We also have a calling as church members. Where I teach, all full-time faculty members have to be involved in pastoral ministry in a local church as teaching elders/ministers and students are expected to be rooted in a local church where they and their families are served. Consistent involvement in a local church is key for keeping our priorities in check. Seminary is a servant of, not substitute for, actual churches.

Juggling these callings can be exhausting. That’s why, at every point along the way, it is so crucial to bear in mind that lectures, papers, and exams (and, of course, grades) are not ends in themselves, but means to the end that every believer’s calling shares: to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. If that’s true for you and your closest parishioners now, it will be true for many others for the years of fruitful ministry that our gracious Lord is pleased to give us.

The WHI in WI!!

If you live near either Green Bay or Appleton/Oshkosh, Wisconsin you can now hear the White Horse Inn every Sunday evening at 9:00 PM! The Family Network has picked up the WHI on a number of their stations:

  • Green Bay: WEMY (91.5 FM)
  • Appleton / Oshkosh: WEMI (91.9 FM)
  • Fond du Lac / Ripon: WEMI (101.7 FM)
  • Two Rivers / Manitowoc: WEMY (91.5 FM)

This is a great opportunity to tell people about the WHI so tell your friends in the new listening area. If you would like to see the other stations that we are on across North America (and the world!) check out our Radio Stations page. Of course you can always listen for free via podcast, on our website, or from our archives.

WHI-1095 | Seeking First the Kingdom (Part 1)

How are we to understand forgiveness? Does God forgive us only on the condition that we forgive others? What does Jesus mean when he calls us to “Seek first the Kingdom of God”? On this special edition of White Horse Inn recorded before a live audience in Miami, Florida, the hosts will discuss these questions and more as they interact with Matthew 6:14-35 in their continuing series through the Sermon on the Mount.

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In God’s Name

A great question, in response to yesterday’s post recommending Michael Gerson’s article:

March 30th, 2012 at 8:33 am

Michael,

I have been wondering a lot lately on the Christian’s attitude towards politics while keeping things balanced with a Gospel centered approach to it all. How much involvement should a Christian have in political discussion and engagement? I tend to find Christians who are either too hardcore about it (which leads to depression and a lack of eternal perspective) or they are laissez faire about anything that doesn’t immediately affect their wallet. I wish I heard a little more about this from a Biblical perspective. Seems that Christian leaders either go overboard or they avoid it. Could you give me some feedback, scripture, or a resource?

Here are a few reflections. In all of these points, the key is to make distinctions without oppositions:

  • Distinguish Christ’s kingdom from the kingdoms of this age without seeing them as enemies. Although he is the Lord of all even now, Christ will make the kingdoms of the world his own realm of direct rule (without caesars, presidents, mullahs and tribal chiefs) when he returns. At present, the church participates in this kingdom in a partially realized way. Ultimate justice, righteousness, and peace with God have been established in the world through the new creation in Jesus Christ. As the Spirit unites sinners to Jesus by his Spirit through the Word, a colony of this kingdom is planted in this present evil age. The politics of this age can never bring about ultimate justice, peace, or righteousness. Just because earthly governments and other social structures (such as voluntary associations, relief agencies, schools, neighborhoods, etc.) can’t bring in the consummated Kingdom of Christ does not mean that they are not God’s means of contributing to the common good and preserving society with a relative order, justice, and peace in the world.
  • Closely related to this, distinguish common grace from saving grace. Radical Protestantism has often bred radical politics, which feeds off of a nearly Manichean opposition of light and darkness. On one hand, this makes us presumptuous about ourselves, as if non-Christians can only create darkness and Christians can only create light. It has never been that simple historically, because non-Christians are beneficiaries of God’s common grace and Christians are also still sinful. God’s saving grace comes to us in Jesus Christ through the means of grace ministered by his church. God’s common grace comes through the wisdom, vocations, education, and other gifts that the Spirit bestows on unbelievers as well as believers. These common callings cannot build Christ’s kingdom, but they are the means through which he loves and serves us and our neighbors every day. So enough of this Manichean dualism! Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. The best works-and policies-fall short of God’s glory. Nevertheless, they are still commanded and are critical for the common good.
  • Distinguish between the church as institution from the church as its members. Abraham Kuyper expressed this distinction in terms of church-as-organization and church-as-organism. In the former sense, the church is Christ’s embassy of saving grace through the ministry of Word and sacrament. In the latter sense, it is believers-saved by grace-who are scattered into their worldly callings as salt and light. The institutional church is entrusted with the Great Commission, with no calling or authority to reform the world. Being shaped decisively by this Word, believers are called to serve their myriad neighbors in the world. Sometimes this provides opportunities for newsworthy impact, but that is not our concern. Our calling is to be faithful at our posts. Where the state has accrued a dangerous monopoly on cultural activity, politics is seen as the most significant sphere of activity. However, Christians can testify by their quiet faithfulness at their posts how essential are the daily and often mundane gifts. Ambition to make a noticeable difference in the world may be a God-given purpose and calling, but it can also be an expression of our pride and self-righteousness. It is easier to abandon the callings where God has placed us to love and serve our neighbors in order to “be somebody” and to be remembered for our “legacy.”
  • Distinguish between “necessary” and “good” consequences of Scripture. The Westminster Confession reminds us that our ultimate authority is Scripture: whatever is contained there explicitly or “by good and necessary consequences may be deduced therefrom.” One of the benefits of preaching through the Bible (rather than topically) is that we are forced to concentrate on the whole teaching of Scripture. By contrast, when we follow our own topical hobby-horses, we are prone to avoid some biblical teachings and to over-emphasize others. Some preachers manage to avoid texts that address sexual ethics or creation stewardship. Others may harp on moral and political issues, with speeches that could have been written if the Bible had never been written. What we need today more than ever is a rigorous submission to the Word, standing under it rather than over or alongside it. It’s not just that we can’t preach anything contrary to God’s Word; we can’t preach anything that isn’t required by it. Not only must our interpretation and application be a good inference; it must be a necessary one. Abortion-on-demand is an obvious example of a “good and necessary inference” from Scripture: namely, the prohibition of murder. Surely opposition to the modern slave-trade, whether in early America and the antebellum South or in current forms around the world, finds multiple sources of good and necessary application. Sound preaching and teaching over the years should shape people who think of creation as neither divine nor something to devour and destroy, but as the work of God’s hand. On many other issues, Christian preaching will shape the worldview that we bring to our lives and policy decisions. Nevertheless, we cannot require specific policies that are not required by legitimate exegesis of God’s Word.
  • Distinguish between the sufficiency and scope of Scripture. Scripture is sufficient for everything necessary for faith and practice. That does not mean that Scripture is sufficient for everything necessary for daily life. For example, doctors and auto mechanics have wisdom and knowledge that we need. God committed to Scripture what he deemed essential for our salvation and godliness. The scope of Scripture is the Triune God as he is known in Jesus Christ in the covenant of grace. Whatever in Scripture informs and directs our decision making in daily affairs bears divine authority. However, the Bible is not a manual for personal, domestic, and foreign policy. There are commands and promises, but they have to be interpreted and applied according to their natural sense and with sensitivity to their covenantal context. Everything we need for salvation and worship is given in Scripture, but the Bible’s purpose or scope is not everything we need for life. We should not be surprised when an unbeliever who is a trained economist is better-equipped to address sweeping questions of poverty in developing countries than a preacher armed with the Bible.

To conclude: Christians, of all people, should be concerned about the pressing issues in culture and society today. However, even in the same church, where people share the same faith, worldview, and values, there will be different applications, policies, and agendas. Where Scripture speaks, we speak; where it is silent, we don’t dare to speak in God’s name but as those who are attempting to apply our understanding of God’s Word and world to daily living in ways that are not explicitly or even implicitly determined by Scripture. Fundamentalists on the left and the right quote the Bible in a manner that can only be designated “taking God’s name in vain.” It’s no wonder that the public sense of God’s authoritative Word loses its credibility in the process. By all means, let’s preach the Word, embrace the Word, and live in the light of it in all areas of life. Yet let us never invoke God’s authority for decisions that we must make every day that are matters of Christian liberty.

Not Your Religion in Politics, but Mine

As secularists would have it, religious convictions should play no role in shaping the moral vision of voters and political leaders. Of course, this is itself a religious test. Violating at least implicitly the free exercise of religion, secularists assume that their own practically if not theoretically atheistic worldview should be the established religion. France tried this in the 18th century, symbolized by the unveiling of the goddess of reason in the Cathedral of Notre Dame. However, this has never been the American way. Ironically, in the nation that constitutionally disallows any establishment of a particular religion or denomination, people are free to practice their faith not only privately but in the public square.

At the other extreme, though, is the confusion of Christ’s kingdom with the United States—whether in its more liberal incarnation or as envisioned by the GOP. The rhetoric of a reinvigorated Christian right has turned off a lot of Americans who see evangelicalism more as a voting bloc engaged in identity politics than as a witness to the liberating King who has founded his own empire in his own death and resurrection. Former G. W. Bush speechwriter and policy advisor Michael Gerson offers some insightful analysis of this phenomenon on the campaign trail in recent weeks.

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