White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

WHI-1203 | Jesus & Modern Scholarship

Can we trust the New Testament portrait of Jesus, or is the Jesus of history radically different from the Jesus of faith? What are we to think of scholars like Bart Ehrman who suggest that Jesus has been “misquoted,” and that the Bible has significantly changed over time? Joining the panel for this discussion is New Testament scholar Craig A. Evans, author of Reinventing Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels, and the Holman QuickSource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls (original air date: June 10, 2010).

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PROGRAM AUDIO


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Heavenly Days

“Heaven Is For Real,” a movie about a child’s visit to heaven, reportedly grossed $21.5 million at its opening this past Easter weekend. A spate of similar books regularly climb to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. Judging by the continuing popularity of Jesus Calling (America’s #1 devotional), the nation—and especially evangelical publishers and readers—are craving revelation about the things that matter most. Yet it’s revelation apart from—or at least beyond—the Word of God.

How do we know that God exists and heaven is for real? The apostles answer with one voice: “We heard, saw, and touched him with our hands… and he is risen!”  It’s amazing that at the time when Christians celebrate Christ’s bodily resurrection as “the first-fruits of those who sleep,” a completely different gospel, with entirely different sources of “revelation,” is broadcast in the name of Christ.

When it comes to heaven, particularly to the presence of the Triune God who makes it “heaven” in the first place, are we playing with fire?

Remarkably, one of the best critiques of this genre I’ve come across is a post on the CNN website. It’s by Drew Dyck, editor of Leadership Journal.  “Yes, the Bible teaches that heaven is a place of ultimate comfort, with ‘no more death or mourning or crying or pain’ (Revelation 21:4),” he notes.  “But it is also a place where the reality of God’s unbridled majesty reigns supreme and that’s scary.”  He adds, “We can’t truly appreciate God’s grace until we glimpse his greatness. We won’t be lifted by his love until we’re humbled by his holiness.” In conclusion, he states, “The affection of a cosmic buddy is one thing. But the love of the Lord of heaven and earth, the one who Isaiah says ‘dwells in unapproachable light,’ means something else entirely.”

Another very helpful resource is a video by David Platt.  After pointing to the problem in pop culture over “trips to heaven,” Pastor Platt offers wise biblical counsel for “discerning the spirits.” And isn’t the safest ground to stay close to the words of the one who said, “No one has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father… I am the bread of life” (John 6:46, 48)?

Michael Horton at PCRT 2014

On May 2-4, 2014, Michael Horton will join Phillip Johnson, Richard Phillips, and Derek Thomas at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. This year, the conference will be hosted by Proclamation Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

Now in its 41st year, the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology played an important role in the birth of White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation. When Dr. Horton was 13 years old, he convinced his parents (then living in California) to take him to the PCRT where he met and had lunch with James Montgomery Boice. That newly formed friendship developed into a full-fledged partnership in helping the church rediscover the solas of the Reformation.

Dr. Horton will give two plenary addresses on Saturday, May 3rd. The first session is titled, The Uncorrupted Gospel. The second session is titled, Evangelism and the Holiness of God. He will also give a seminar on Saturday afternoon titled, Ordinary Holiness: Ephesians 4:1-16.

This year, the PCRT conference takes up the theme, “Profaning the Sacred: The Beauty and Holiness of the Bride of Christ.” Here’s the conference description:

In the Old Testament, we often read of the sacred vessels of the temple being taken away for the service of idolatry. The profaning of God’s sacred things symbolized the turning of Israel to false gods. Even worse were those occasions when idols were brought into God’s house, showing that Israel had forgotten the holy obligations of Scripture. The New Testament sees God’s people going out into the world with the Gospel, making holy those who were lost in sin. Yet the danger of secularizing the sacred remains. Often in the name of evangelism, worldly influences may corrupt the holy things of worship, ministry, and Christian living. When this happens, the church loses relevancy in the culture and, as the Bible so frequently shows, true spiritual power for the cause of salvation is lost, even when there may be great numbers of people and other worldly indicators of success.

With this in mind, the 2014 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology will consider the holiness of the Christian church, together with its worship, ministry, and life. There are several reasons for this topic. First, is the perennial need of God’s people to protect God’s holy things from worldly corruption. This need is particularly great today when so many professing Christians and churches are adopting the ways of the world to do the work of God. God calls Christians, pastors, and churches to be holy, and this means that we must not allow his holy things to be profaned. This raises important questions for us to answer: how does a zeal for evangelism often mask the importing of worldly influences? What constitutes genuinely holy worship? Does zeal for holiness involve legalism or is it a true mark of God’s grace?

You can register for the conference here.

Changes at White Horse Inn

For the past year, the senior staff and the Board of Directors at White Horse Inn have discussed how we can continue to serve the churches of Jesus Christ around the world. We have held numerous workshops and meetings over the past year.  We have solicited much input and advice as we consider the many opportunities before us. 

Many voices, including our own WHI Board of Directors, have challenged us to consider how we might more effectively encourage believers and pastors in the local church, particularly overseas.  For almost 25 years WHI has encouraged believers with biblical truth drawn from the confessional streams of the Reformation—Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian and Reformed—to help all of us know what we believe and why we believe it.  How should we steward these resources to be the most useful in the years ahead?

As we blogged earlier this year, White Horse Inn president Mark Green traveled to meet with pastors and academic leaders in South Asia, the Middle East, and Europe about how WHI could be more helpful to them and their congregations in the future.  This dream of WHI expanding overseas is happening!  Michael Horton is a respected scholar overseas and all parties are excited to explore how Dr. Horton might be able to visit and encourage those who serve the local church in both the seminary and pastorate.  We were able to leave WHI materials in six countries and promised to review future possibilities.  We are most excited about India and a few select countries in the Middle East and Africa. 

In the midst of these discussions one of our long-time hosts of White Horse Inn, Rev. Ken Jones, told us he would be resigning.  We’re so grateful for the many years he has joined Mike, Kim, and Rod.  WHI won’t be the same without him and we wish him all God’s blessings as he devotes more time to his church and his future ministry projects.  Rod Rosenbladt and Kim Riddlebarger will continue to serve with Mike Horton as the core of our White Horse Inn roundtable discussions. The White Horse Inn hosts will invite other respected voices into the studio, focusing on the following areas over the next year:

Youth Ministry:  Keeping Our Kids              May – June
Faith & Mental Illness                                     July – August
Hospitality                                                        September – October
Do We All Worship the Same God?              November – December
The Book of Hebrews                                      January – February
The Holy Spirit                                                 March – April

You may have noticed that we now align our White Horse Inn programs and our magazine, Modern Reformation, to talk about the same topic at the same time.   Our Study Kits follow the same theme and are available at the beginning of each of our series.  So now you can listen, read, and study the same topics to help you know what you believe and why you believe it!

We are also exploring new program ideas, new media platforms and new international events to expand the work of the past 25 years and build the foundation for the next 25 years.

Will you pray for us for us during these wonderful growing pains so that we can expand our service to you and others like you?  Continue to send us those letters and emails about how you have been encouraged through our work here at White Horse Inn.  We love to hear from you and we read each and every letter.  Stay tuned as we share with you some of our new plans and ideas.  Thank you for your support!

WHI-1202 | The Cross & Resurrection

On this program, we’ll walk through the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. In particular, we’ll be focusing on the importance of seeing the resurrection as a fact of history, which then becomes the basis for our faith and subjective experiences. As Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain” (original air date: April 4, 2010).

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WHI-1201 | Dealing with Death

If you really want to kill a conversation, just start talking about death and dying. But is it really wise to avoid this important subject? Christians in our time appear to be doing this, particularly as they emphasize Christian living and having our best life now. So how should we think about death? Is it okay to mourn during a funeral, or should we consider it a celebration of life? That’s the focus of this edition of White Horse Inn (original air date: Feb. 6, 2005).

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WHI-1200 | Holding On to Hope

On this program, Michael Horton talks with Nancy Guthrie about the personal story behind her book, Holding On to Hope: A Pathway Through Suffering to the Heart of God. What are some of the unhelpful ways in which we as Christians often attempt to comfort those who are going through difficult times? Why is it so important to avoid platitudes?

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WHI-1199 | God Where Are You?

On this program I’ll speak with Benjamin Kisoni, a political refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. War in that country robbed his family of everything they possessed, and he was eventually forced into exile here in the United States. I’ll talk to Benjamin about his various trials and the experiences which he describes in his recent book, God, Where Are You?

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Calvin on the Christian Life

Calvin on the Christian Life“Be warned. This looks like a book on how Calvin thought about living the Christian life. But open it and you will discover that Mike Horton is driving you on a grand Calvin tour of the whole of theology. And that, of course, is Professor Horton’s (and John Calvin’s) point: it takes the whole biblical gospel to make a whole Christian life. By employing the classical formulation of the two natures of Christ (‘distinct but not separate’), Dr. Horton provides readers with a key to help unlock Calvin’s teaching. But more than that, he shows why the Genevan Reformer’s vision of the Christian life remains unsurpassed. Thoroughly satisfying, thoroughly enjoyable, and thoroughly recommended.”Sinclair B. Ferguson

“Learned and lucid, masterfully organized, and vigorously expressed, this full, solid, and exact study of Geneva’s reforming pastor is an outstanding piece of work. In all four sections Calvin comes to vigorous life. Calvin’s reputation for godly wisdom, and Horton’s for vivid writing, will certainly be enhanced.”—J. I. Packer

Michael Horton’s newest book, Calvin on the Christian Life, is now available. But before you read the excerpt that Crossway has made available (and while you wait for the Amazon drone to drop it off at your house), take a moment to read about Dr. Horton’s very personal engagement with John Calvin’s theology of the Christian life:

Most people who think of Calvin think of him as a (grumpy?) theologian who cares more about what you think about God than how you live in relation to God. Is that wrong?

It’s wrong.  You just have to open the Institutes to the first page to see that he thinks of our knowledge of God and of ourselves as inseparably intertwined.  His commentaries, sermons, and private letters show a man who was obsessed with God’s Word and its saving and edifying impact in every area of life.  Grumpy?  No.  Sick?  Yes, all the time.  He had several illnesses that plagued him, any one of which could have been fatal.  Yet he used his own suffering to help other sufferers.  For Calvin, “piety” was the word.  Today, piety is associated often with life as opposed to doctrine.  But for Calvin piety encompassed doctrine and life.  It was all of one piece.  You can’t live “the Christian life” without knowing the God who has revealed himself in Christ as he is clothed in his gospel.  And there’s no point in knowing the doctrine if it “merely flutters about in the brain,” as he put it himself.

You’ve studied Calvin and the Reformation for years, what surprised you most as you researched this book?

I’ve studied Calvin mainly as a student learning from a professor.  For this book, though, I pored over his letters and first-hand accounts of his friends and enemies.  I came to know him more as a fellow human being who frankly faces his sins and weaknesses because he has an all-sufficient Savior.  His warmth, humility, and love not only for God but for other people struck me again and again.  Calvin loathed talking about himself, but I think I was able to find enough material to reveal something of the man as well as his message.

Did Calvin advocate for a particular kind of spiritual life that we can emulate in our modern world?

Yes.  I think in especially two ways he stood over against a medieval piety that in many ways resembles contemporary evangelicalism.  First, he’s convinced that the arrow of activity points down, from God to us.   Like Luther, he emphasized over against the medieval model that God descends to us because we cannot rise to him.  Knowing God is really knowing God in Christ “as he is clothed in the gospel.”  That means that all good gifts come down to us from God and then out, through us, to the world.  We don’t bring our good works to God, but to our neighbor.  Therefore, the source of the Christian life is the gospel as it’s proclaimed and ratified in baptism and the Supper.  Second, and because of this first point, the Christian life moves from the public to the private rather than vice versa.  “If I can just get away from the world, family life, and my worldly job, I can finally focus on my sanctification.”  No, Calvin says, it’s precisely in marriage, family life, fellowship with believers, and engaging in daily callings that God shows us our warts and drives us to Christ for both justification and sanctification.   The public service shapes our private disciplines.  So even when we’re by ourselves, our meditation on Scripture is shaped by the church’s public confession and we pray with and for the whole church.  In short, Calvin emphasizes an extroverted piety: looking outside of ourselves to Christ in faith and to our brothers and sisters as well as our neighbors in love.  In his view, our relationship with Christ is always personal, but never private.  I might also add his emphasis on the Spirit.  His writings are suffused with Trinitarian thinking, and he had a rich understanding of and appreciation for the Spirit’s person and work.

What’s the relationship between spiritual habits or practices/disciplines and the Christian life?

It’s interesting that whenever Calvin recommends daily habits, he typically adds, “Not that this should be done superstitiously, as if to place God in our debt.”  As I said above, Calvin talks a lot more about public disciplines than private disciplines.  Yet what actually happened was that those were shaped by the common worship of the church carried Christ and his benefits with them in their homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces.  They sang Psalms out in the field, would stop to pray with a neighbor whose child was sick, and witnessed the gospel freely to unbelievers.  There was daily Bible reading, prayer, and catechism in the home.  In all these ways, there was a seamless transition from Sunday to Monday.

Did your understanding of or practice of the Christian life change in any way through writing this book?

Yes, especially with respect to prayer.  Calvin wrote a lot about prayer. In fact, his treatment of prayer in the Institutes is far longer than his discussion of election.  What particularly struck me was how much God’s fatherhood in Christ dominated his piety.  We crawl up into our Father’s lap when we pray and “give him knots that we cannot untie.”  There are myriad expressions like that that I draw upon, especially from his Psalms commentary.  He also talks about praying not only in Christ as our mediator, but with Christ.  He prays with us and his Spirit prays within us.  We can even “remind” God of his own promises, claiming the covenant as the basis for bold requests that accord with his revealed Word.  I keep coming back to these points and, when I do, find myself wanting to pray.

Have You Ever Had a Pastoral Visit?

Have you ever had a pastoral visit?  What about a visit from your elders? 

The answer to that question is an indicator of whether you belong to a “celebrity church” where the big man up front is too burdened by the size of his congregation (or its “satellites”) to be your shepherd.  He has too many gifts, too many people who acknowledge his gifts, too many burdens and books to read, to be your pastor.

If that’s true, then maybe you’re not really exposed to the rich benefits that Christ has provided in the pastoral ministry.  I grew up in contexts where you sometimes knew the pastor, but in many other cases did not.  He may have greeted you on the way out of the church, but even that’s increasingly rare. By the way, “celebrity church” doesn’t mean that your pastor is well known in the broader church.  It could mean that you’re in a little Reformed, Lutheran, or Baptist church whose pastor is simply out of touch.  He may even use “confessional integrity” as a magic wand to dismiss you from his presence.

One of the things that I love about The Gospel Coalition is that there is frank conversation.  Younger pastors with little background or experience in Reformed church practices are interested in learning about “the old paths.”  Recently, they hosted a discussion where former Covenant Seminary president and now pastor Bryan Chappell talks about this ordinary practice that seems remote from contemporary experience.

When my colleague Kim Riddlebarger and I were ordained in the Christian Reformed Church, our parishioners (nearly all either new Christians or coming from non-Reformed backgrounds) were often surprised when a pastor or elders called to make an appointment for a “house visit.”  It’s not books, but “boots on the ground,” that tell you what really matters when it comes to the shepherding care that Christ provides for his sheep.

Those reared in the medieval Roman church would have understood this anxiety.  “What’s the priest doing at my door?  Do I have the plague?  Is it time for last rites?”  Those today unfamiliar with “house visitation” may offer a similar response.  Why can we do door-to-door evangelism, but we can’t talk to our own parishioners in their homes?  Why can’t we ask people how they’re doing spiritually?  Why is it seen as some sort of threat to “their personal relationship with Jesus”?  I suppose it’s because we have a problem with being cared for spiritually.

Luther knocked on doors and discovered that his parishioners didn’t know even the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer.  Some were not even prepared to receive Communion.  What should a pastor do about congregants like these?  Well, he should get to know them in concrete situations.  He should go to them.  He should basically evangelize his own congregation.  When Luther did this, the result was the Small and Larger Catechism.

In Reformed circles, too, Calvin—arguably, a busy guy—taught his Genevan Catechism to the youth.  Consequently, they understood that the faith they were learning from Calvin and other pastors in Geneva was the same faith that their parents and others held in the church.  They weren’t simply passed off to a “youth ministry” that had little connection with the regular life of the church.

Pastors today aren’t as busy as Luther.  Yet Luther said that it was the pastor’s duty to teach the catechism to the people, and he did so.  He did it for the young people. And he taught them on personal visits.

This view of the pastor was carried over into Reformed practice also.  Right down to today, pastors and elders make it a point to visit every family in the congregation—at least once a year.

This is church discipline at the most concrete level.  We’re all under discipline.  I love it when our elders come to our home to ask us how we’re doing in our Christian walk as a family.  In every instance, I see areas where I need to improve as a father and husband.   I need it.  My wife needs it. They encourage me as they read the Scriptures and pray.  Our children speak up about how they are growing in the faith—and what they wish to improve.   “Seriously?” I think to myself. “Why didn’t you tell me that?”  But they told their church officers.  That’s great.  And I learned something in the process.  It’s simply a part of the shepherding that we all need in this present age that seeks to distract us from the story of Christ.

Many Christians today don’t have any idea of this visitation practice.  It’s odd, unfamiliar—to pastors  and to the congregation.  This is especially true where the “preacher” the congregation sees on a Jumbotron screen is someone other than the person they meet and encounter as their own spiritual leader week-in and week-out.  That’s just wrong.

With wisdom and humility, Bryan Chappell, formerly Covenant Seminary president and now a PCA pastor in Peoria, Illinois, challenges the “New Calvinists” to rediscover some of the practices that the “Old Calvinists” knew as a regular part of their ministry.  In an age of celebrity preachers and gifted teachers, the recovery of visitation is a key component of any restoration of office and reformation of the church in our day.

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