White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

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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Holding On to Hope
Nancy Guthrie
Be Still My Soul
ed. Nancy Guthrie

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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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Benjamin Kisoni
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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.

WHI-1198 | Why Suffering?

After surveying the book of Job and especially its message on suffering, we’ll continue our series on Suffering & the Christian Life by tackling some of the tough questions that come up with this topic. Should we see suffering as a form of divine punishment? Is God trying to teach us something? If God really loves us, why does he allow us to experience so much pain and difficulty? Those are the crucial questions we’ll deal with on this edition of White Horse Inn.

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PROGRAM AUDIO


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A Place for Weakness
Michael Horton

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We Love Pastors!

One of the best parts of our 2013 White Horse Inn Weekend was interacting with pastors who have “boots on the ground” in churches all across the country. It was a pleasure sitting next to them, hearing their stories about the real work of personal and ecclesial reformation, and being encouraged by the way they use and promote White Horse Inn resources. We realize, however, that the cost of the Weekend might be beyond the reach of many pastors. So, we’re pleased to announce our “Pastor’s Special” for the 2014 White Horse Inn Weekend.

When you enter the promotional code, “PASTOR,” on the registration page for the 2014 Weekend, you will see a discount that covers the entire registration fee of $329. You can apply the discount to the “Conference Only” registration and attend for free or the “Conference with Meals” registration and only pay for the special meals that we will have with one another during our three days in Vail.

If you love your pastors and have the means to get them to Vail, Colorado, please encourage them to register today using the special promotional code, “PASTOR.” There are only a limited number of these free registrations. Hotel reservations are NOT included in the registration fee, but our conference venue, the Vail Marriott, is offering us a special rate of $199 per night.

Send your pastor to the White Horse Inn Weekend! I’m pretty sure that you’ll be the real beneficiary upon his return.

WHI-1197 | The Book of Job, Part 3

On this program, we’ll wrap up our three-part series through the book of Job by looking at that wonderful expression of faith in which Job declares, “I know that my redeemer lives.” How does this hope in the future redeeming work of the Messiah comfort Job during his distress? How can a recovery of this Christ-centered focus help us when we suffer? We’ll consider questions like this as we conclude our miniseries on Job.

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PROGRAM AUDIO


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How Long O Lord?
D.A. Carson

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Get 15% Off the New Logos Reformed Package

Our friends at Logos have announced a new package for their digital library, which they are calling the “Reformed Base Package.” If you use the White Horse Inn partner page, you can get 15% off! We’ve taken a peek and it looks to be packed with great resources–some of which haven’t yet been available either as stand alone titles or in other packages.

There are more than 1,100 titles included in the Platinum package! Here are a few of the key resources that stood out to us:

Commentaries
Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.)
Crossway Classic Commentaries (25 vols.)
Preaching the Word Commentaries (26 vols.)

Church History
Early Church Fathers Protestant Edition (37 vols.) (edited by Philip Schaff)
History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (5 vols.)
History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin (8 vols.)

Theology
Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 vols.)
Tracts and Treatises of John Calvin (8 vols.)
The Works of John Owen (24 vols.) (Includes Owen’s 8 vol. commentary on Hebrews)
The Works of Charles Hodge (29 vos.)
B. B. Warfield Collection (20 vols.)
Select Works of Geerhardus Vos (14 vols.)
The only English translation of Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics (5 vols.)
Louis Berkhof Collection (15 vols.)

There are five levels of pricing available:

Reformed Starter
Price: $294.95
Print value ~ $3,700

Reformed Bronze
Price: $629.95
Print value ~ $8,100

Reformed Silver
Price: $999.95
Print value ~ $13,000

Reformed Gold
Price: $1,549.95
Print value ~ $21,000

Reformed Platinum
Price: $2,149.95
Print value ~ $30,000

If you’re not familiar with Logos, check out a few videos that detail the value of their features here.

The new Reformed Package is available for the first time today! Remember, if you order through the White Horse Inn partner page, you’ll get 15% off!

What Really Drives the Christian Life?

Especially as Americans, we are often given to over-simplification. We like bumper stickers and sound bites. Problem is, sound bites get forwarded, linked, tagged, “liked,” and tweeted. And then the “aha!” moment passes as quickly as it struck.

Even confessional folks have slogans. I’m quite sure that mainline Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde didn’t intend “Sanctification is getting used to your justification” as a slogan. The place where I first saw it was in Christian Spirituality: Five Views on Sanctification, edited by Donald Alexander. There is a lot that Professor Forde says before and after this sentence. Nevertheless, in my view at least, it’s all making the same point in different ways.

Sinclair Ferguson contributed the Reformed chapter in that volume. Not surprisingly, his chapter is distinctly Reformed. Yet what becomes intriguing is the way in which Forde and Ferguson become obvious allies over against other approaches to sanctification in the remainder of the book.

And yet, with Ferguson, I have a mixed response to Forde’s statement, especially as it has become a widely-used slogan. It’s certainly an important part of what Scripture says about sanctification, right? Through the gospel the Spirit gives us faith, and that faith in Christ bears the fruit of love and good works. The more that we hear the objective accomplishment of Jesus Christ for us, the greater our heart swells with joy and love for God and neighbor. If it’s nothing less than “getting used to our justification,” sanctification is also something more than this aspect. God’s marvelous work of sanctifying us can’t be reduced to a single thesis, much less a slogan.

By the way, even more conservative/confessional Lutherans have offered a similar critique. For example, the Rev. John F. Brug of Wisconsin Synod says that Forde’s presentation doesn’t quite represent confessional Lutheran teaching. Pastor Brug offers a series of his own theses, supported by numerous scriptural passages.

  • “True Lutheran teaching emphasizes the importance and necessity of sanctification, Christian living, and good works in the life of every Christian.”
  • It “emphasizes the distinction of justification from sanctification.”
  • “It clearly distinguishes the roles of the law and the gospel in sanctification.”
  • “Lutheran teaching emphasizes the priority of the means of grace as the tools God uses in producing sanctification in the lives of his people.” These means are preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. “Nevertheless, in our preaching and teaching we should also refer to other means which God may use in a secondary way to strengthen and encourage us in our sanctification. Foremost among these is prayer.” Prayer is not a “means of grace” because it is our activity toward God. Yet prayer is indispensable to our growth in Christ.
  • “Lutheran teaching of sanctification emphasizes God’s power, rather than human effort, as the source of sanctification.”
  • “Lutheran teaching, nevertheless, emphasizes also the importance and necessity of our cooperation and effort in our sanctification. Unlike Christ’s work in justification, the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification does not substitute for our efforts.” He adds (again, with key passages), “Scripture often admonishes us to be eager participants in Christian living. Sometimes it does this with general admonitions…. At other times it encourages zeal or dedication in specific acts of sanctification…. Although the Holy Spirit is the creator of our faith, he does not believe for us. In the same way though God is the source of our sanctification, he does not do our good works for us.”
  • “Lutheran teaching of sanctification also warns of the struggle and difficulty that every Christian will face in sanctification.”
  • It “recognizes the sanctification will never be perfect in this life” and… we are to “thank God for progress in sanctification and commend Christians for the gains that have been made. A Lutheran preacher assures his people that God is pleased with the works which they do as a result of their faith… A Lutheran preacher should not hesitate to praise and commend Christians for the good works which he sees in their lives.”
  • “Lutheran teaching of sanctification urges people never to rest on their laurels, but to keep striving to advance.”
  • “Lutheran teaching of sanctification keeps believers’ eyes on the goals of sanctification. Present goals are the glory of God, assurance of faith for ourselves, testimony to others, and help to others.”
    (http://www.wlsessays.net/files/BrugLutheran.pdf)

Pastor Brug then contrasts this view with other positions. He offers traditional Lutheran critiques of the Reformed position. Nevertheless, he recognizes that Lutheran and Reformed confessions are allied in opposition to other approaches. “Often trends that are decried as ‘Reformed’ influences on Lutheran theology are not ‘Reformed,’ but Wesleyan/Arminian.  In fact, of all of the views commonly held in American Evangelicalism, the Reformed view of sanctification is closest to the scriptural teaching. Generally, it is more orthodox than the view of heterodox Lutheranism.” Pastor Brug especially appreciates Sinclair Ferguson’s presentation in Christian Spirituality. “At least the response of Ferguson, the Reformed spokesman, refers to ‘Dr. Forde’s edition of the Lutheran teaching.’”

Reductionistic sloganeering happens on the Reformed side, too. Part of the story—indeed, a major part of it—can become the whole story. Sometimes we’ve employed the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism—Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude—as if it said everything.  “Grace is the essence of theology,” said Berkouwer, “and gratitude is the essence of ethics.” Get the gospel and everything else falls into place. If you understand the indicatives, the imperatives will make sense. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 35) defines sanctification as “the work of God’s free grace.” Similarly, John Murray wisely exhorts,

It is imperative that we realize our complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit. We must not forget, of course, that our activity is enlisted to the fullest extent in the process of sanctification. But we must not rely upon our own strength of resolution or purpose. It is when we are weak that we are strong. It is by grace that we are being saved as surely as by grace we have been saved. If we are not keenly sensitive to our own helplessness, then we can make the means of sanctification the minister of self-righteousness and pride and thus defeat the end of sanctification. We must rely not upon the means of sanctification but upon the God of all grace. Self-confident moralism promotes pride, and sanctification promotes humility and contrition (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 147).

Again, this is entirely true and it needs to be said—again and again—because we are living in an age of “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” Besides, Jesus said this first, as did Paul (Rom 12:1-2). Our default setting is to think that we need the gospel for justification and then turn sanctification into a fear-and-anxiety-driven enterprise.

The Apostle to the Gentiles assumed that the first thing to do in a crisis of church discipline is to remind the Corinthians of the full power and extent of the gospel. When a church forgets this and reacts to over-simplification, it does not to “preach the whole counsel of God,” but submerges the core motivation for Christian living in a sea of contradictory messages. After all, both legalists and moralists downplay the seriousness of the law and the expansiveness of the gospel. In Romans 6, Paul answers the charge of antinomianism by explaining that the gospel is the answer not only to sin’s condemnation but to its dominion as well.

It is certainly true that Scripture—specifically, the New Testament—exposes us to a multiplicity of reasons and motives for growth in Christ. Nevertheless, some motives are more obviously “core” in the NT than others, and the good news of who we are in Christ is always the major driving force in the Christian life. For example, we are not to be driven by fear of a judge, but by the favor of a Father (2 Tim 1:7).

The problem, then, is not making the gospel the source and gratitude the primary motive for the pursuit of godly living. Rather, it is reducing the gospel to one of its gifts.  There is no divine gift greater than justification. We never “get over” or “move beyond” the wonder of that gift we have in Christ. Or at least we shouldn’t.

And yet I wonder if we are forgetting sometimes that regeneration, adoption, and sanctification are part of that same gift that we receive when Christ himself is the Gift par excellence. That’s the way Paul handles the charge of antinomianism in Romans 6, after celebrating and explaining our justification by Christ’s imputed righteousness. He doesn’t take back or tone down anything that he has said before. Rather, he says, “Wait, but that’s not all!  If you share in Christ, you are a beneficiary of regeneration as well as justification.” In other words, it’s more gospel!

Of particular concern, in my view, is the way in which the marvelous doctrine of glorification has fallen off of our radar in recent decades. It used to be a major doctrine in Reformed treatments of sanctification. Our motivation for the Christian life is anchored in what Christ has accomplished outside of us in history. But it is also anchored in the Spirit’s act of uniting us to Christ here and now, so that we are actually made beneficiaries of these blessings. Still, we haven’t taken in the whole vista until we recognize that the future glorification of the saints penetrates our lives here and now. We are driven by the gospel, with justification at its heart, but the gospel is more than justification.

So sanctification is not just getting used to your sanctification, but to your election, regeneration, adoption, suffering, and the hope of glory. Sanctification is a lifetime of getting used to God as a Father rather than a Judge, the law as a friend rather than an enemy, the new creation as a reality that makes us uncomfortable in this passing evil age, the Spirit as the indwelling presence of God that not only comforts and assures us but keeps us longing for the “more” up ahead.  Those who are united to Christ himself will become increasingly restless until they share in the glory of their Risen King.

WHI-1196 | The Book of Job, Part 2

Continuing the overview of Job, we’ll consider the various claims to health, wealth, and happiness made by Job’s counselors. What’s wrong with this approach and how should this influence the way we think about suffering in the Christian life? How do we deal with the fact that there is so much pain and misery in the world-and perhaps even in our own lives? What happens to our faith when having “our best life now” seems to elude us at every turn?

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PROGRAM AUDIO


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RECOMMENDED BOOKS

A Place for Weakness
Michael Horton
Job
Tremper Longman
Glorious Ruin
Tullian Tchividjian

RECOMMENDED AUDIO

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