The next installment of the Christianity.com videos has Dr. Horton discussing the doctrine of hell and whether we can even bring a charge against God that he is being unjust in condemning people to eternal punishment.
Christianity.com pulled Dr. Horton into a studio a couple of times in the past few months to allow him to answer a variety of questions concerning the faith, piety, and practice of Christianity. Over the next few weeks we will be posting these videos here so stay tuned.
In the first video Mike deals with the subject of catechism and what role it should have in the church especially as she fulfills the Great Commission.
Regardless of their denomination, most Christians would argue that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a free gift of God’s grace and mercy that no one deserves. By his righteous life and sacrificial death, Jesus provides for us what we cannot provide for ourselves. But at this point, some argue that the free gift of God’s grace still has to be “accepted,” and that it is on the basis of our embracing the gospel that we are saved. What do you think? Are we saved by “choosing” to follow Christ? Is believing in Jesus the “one work” we have to do in order to get to heaven? The hosts discuss these questions and more as they interact with Ephesians 2.
This coming weekend the US will pause to remember those whose lives were lost so tragically in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Adding fuel to the growing fires of public debate over the role of religion in public life, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his decision not to include prayers for the official event.
Theory is tested in specific cases, and this is one more opportunity to wrestle with a larger question. It’s one thing when a political leader has to choose a clerical representative out of an array of Christian denominations. Today, however, representing the religious diversity of the Republic in public ceremonies is more complicated.
On one hand, this is a constitutional issue. Especially given the history of civil religion in America, it’s implausible to imagine that the nation’s founders ever intended anything like the separation of religion and public life that the mantra “separation of church and state” has come to embody. On the other hand, it is a theological issue. In other words, even if Mayor Bloomberg has no constitutional reason to avoid the liturgical interjections in public commemorations that were included by his predecessor, the debate returns us to a recurring question of decisive importance to Christians. It’s not a question of whether prayer at public occasions of this kind is sanctioned by our Constitution, but, for Christians at least, whether we can participate (much less encourage) such acts of “non-sectarian” worship.
In a recent USA Today opinion piece, Jay Sekulow, a Christian activist and chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, reproved Mayor Bloomberg for his decision (see the piece here). Recounting the history of national days of prayer, including the inter-religious “Prayer for America” event at Yankee Stadium in the aftermath of 9/11, Mr. Sekulow’s call betrays assumptions about prayer that, in my view, can only trivialize this sacred act in the long run.
Nowhere in Mr. Sekulow’s article is prayer defined in its vertical relation, as an act of worship directed to a particular deity-much less, through a particular mediator. Rather, the therapeutic idiom takes over. At least in the public argument, the idea is that prayer’s value lies in its subjective effect. The references are to “the many Americans who find solace and healing in prayer,” helping victims and their families “cope with the lost of loved ones.”
Beyond individual solace, such civil demonstrations of piety serve a therapeutic function for the nation as a whole, echoing the romantic nineteenth-century idea of a “national soul.” “In the days following 9/11, prayer was an integral part of the grieving process. Thousands attended the ‘Prayer for America’ event at Yankee Stadium, where representatives of many faiths offered prayers. It was an event that united, not divided, Americans.”
As the matter was put by another critic of the mayor’s decision, “Prayer is not always about religion, it is instead often about relief and repose.”
But all of this presses the question: Is the purpose of prayer mainly therapeutic: personal and national catharsis? Is it basically horizontal-human-centered (whether in individual or national images)? Or is it a solemn act of “calling on the name of the LORD” (i.e., Yahweh, the Father of Jesus Christ)? Does such an act have a personal object? Is that personal object the God who is revealed in Scripture as the Holy Trinity? Is the prayer directed to the Father, through the mediation of the incarnate Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit by whom we confess “Jesus as Lord”?
Imagine Elijah calling for a revival by trying to negotiate a public prayer or perhaps series of public prayers led by the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Yahweh. Israel, after all, has always been a religious nation. Isn’t it more important for the nation to acknowledge its piety than to become too obsessed with the theological specifics? The nation was divided, after all, and the point is to bring the people together through prayer, to bring them consolation in the face of national disaster. Of course, this isn’t how the story plays out at Mount Carmel, as the God of Israel proved that he alone is God and Baal is a helpless idol.
We don’t live under the old covenant, driving the prophets of Baal through with the sword. Rather, we have the privilege of religious freedom for true and false worship in this country. Nevertheless, we do not expect the state to create opportunities for the advance of Christ’s kingdom through his means of grace.
It is in churches where we confess our sins and our faith in Christ as he is clothed in the gospel. Here, we gather as a communion of saints gathered “from every tribe, tongue, people and nation” (Rev 5:9), not as a modern nation-state. We call upon the name of the LORD, which is none other than Jesus Christ, not merely for therapeutic consolation in our troubles (though this aspect is included), but for salvation from the guilt and tyranny of sin and the death penalty that it imposes. Here, with our brothers and sisters and before the face of the Triune God, our prayers acknowledge God’s justice in our condemnation and joy in God’s grace to us in his Son. With Christ as our Mediator, we are free to enter the Father’s presence with boldness, interceding for ourselves and for others, for needs pertaining to body and soul.
Prayer is also an act of witness. What are we testifying to when we seek state acts of generic devotion to the Unknown God? To what-or whom-are we witnessing when we give the impression that people can find consolation from any “God” apart from the Father who is known only in his Son and is otherwise a judge who will not let sinners go unpunished? True prayer arises as a Spirit-given response to the Word that proclaims God’s righteous judgment and gracious forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
Doubtless, such an approach will offend on all sides. Secularists will level the charge of bigotry at those who deny everlasting consolation to victims of horrific tragedies apart from Christ. Those who seek to hold on to the last vestiges of civil religion will scold fellow Christians who insist on the scandalous particularity of the gospel-in effect, surrendering the public square to secularists.
However, Christianity at its best is always an odd sect in a world of idolatry and superstition. The power lies not in its ability to negotiate general piety for a national soul, but in its most particular and offensive message: the gospel of Christ. We don’t evacuate the public square that we share with our neighbors-even the “prophets of Baal.” Rather, we testify there that Christ alone is Lord, that he alone has conquered death and hell, that our greatest terror and consolation have to do with headlines much more serious and all-encompassing than the genuine tragedy of 9/11. We don’t need Mayor Bloomberg to help us with that. In fact, in the very act of doing so, we have to surrender the most important things we are called to say.
It is precisely because God is more important than we are, sin is much greater than something that others do to us, redemption is far greater than therapeutic consolation, and love for our neighbors encourages us to proclaim the everlasting consolation of the gospel, that we dare not trivialize that dangerous, wonderful and absolutely effective act of calling on the name of the Lord in life and in death.
For further reading from our friends:
Carl Trueman reminds the SBC why they should be pleased they aren’t invited to the “National Cathedral” on 9/11:
A Lesson from Marx for the SBC
Bill Cwirla reflects on religion and 9/11:
No Clergy at Ground Zero
We’ve recently fielded several inquiries from folks wondering if Mike Horton is on Twitter or Facebook. He is not. A few people who have appreciated his work have set up various accounts or fan pages and we’ve encouraged them to clearly identify that they are not the “official” or personal Mike Horton outlets on Twitter or Facebook.
At this time, the only official Twitter outlets are through the @ModRef and @WhiteHorseInn accounts. We also have Facebook pages for both Modern Reformation and White Horse Inn. Mike also regularly writes for our blog, and sometimes even comments!
Mike doesn’t handle much personal correspondence: he’s got at least two or three books in the hopper, plus his White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation duties, plus his seminary teaching responsibilities, plus his pastoral responsibilities, plus his family obligations. White Horse Inn is set up to handle as many of your questions as we can; we’ll often direct you to previous broadcasts or issues to help think through the question you have. We also regularly point you back to your local church and pastor.
Our contact numbers are:
Office: 760.739.9001 (open M-W, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm/pacific time)
Mail: 1725 Bear Valley Pkwy., Escondido CA 92027
We regularly pass along reader and listener letters and emails to Mike and the rest of the hosts on the White Horse Inn. They’ve been broadcasting for twenty years and it encourages them to know that people are listening and being changed by their work.
We also may be coming to a city near you sometime soon (how’s that for over-qualification). Be sure to keep an eye on our calendar page to see where Mike and the other hosts will be speaking. If you haven’t yet registered, our January 2012 conference at sea will be a great opportunity to get up close and personal with each of the guys. You’ll also be able to meet folks from around the world who are being encouraged by the same broadcasts and magazine articles that you are listening to and reading.
Throughout this year on White Horse Inn, the hosts have been making the argument that unlike the law the gospel is not in us by nature but must be preached into us from the outside. This is why the proclamation of “Christ and him crucified” is the primary task of the Great Commission. But if the gospel is really to be understood as a foreign announcement, is it enough to hear about it in sermons once a week? If the law is in us by nature and our consciences regularly accuse us of sin hour by hour, shouldn’t we learn to preach the gospel to ourselves? Michael Horton discusses this issue with Joe Thorn, author of Note To Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself. The second half of the program features a discussion between Michael Horton and White Horse Inn executive director Eric Landry about our upcoming conference cruise, “Conversations for a Modern Reformation.”
You are cordially invited to picturesque Bradford, Mass. for a Reformation weekend conference at historic First Church of Christ. A coalition of seven area churches is partnering with White Horse Inn to present Mike Horton and Gordon Isaac on Putting Amazing Back Into Grace: Returning to the Roots of Treasuring Christ.
Here’s Mike’s invitation:
You can register here. We hope to see you there!
Shane Rosenthal, the executive producer of the White Horse Inn radio broadcast sent this over today. It’s a sign advertising space for lease in a mixed use facility that used to be a church. The sign won a prestigious award from the American Advertising Federation. You can read more about the campaign and the award in this article from InsiderLousiville.com.
So, now you get to be Don Draper: how would you advertise a sacred space that has been set apart for common use? As a pastor of a church that meets in a high school auditorium, it breaks my heart to see such a space used for offices. I can imagine that there were a number of churches in Louisville that would have jumped at the chance to relocate into that building.
Social Justice: Social Gospel?
September / October 2011
In this issue, we shift gears in Matthew 28:18-20, taking up an important discussion of the gospel and social justice. We believe that a Reformation understanding of law and gospel, two-kingdoms theology, and the uniqueness of the task given by God to the church should be brought to bear on this sometimes controversial topic. Our editor-in-chief Michael Horton helps us recognize that the commission and the commandment each has its own logic, means, and application, and that these differences must be recognized so that each one can flourish as God intends. Seminary professor David VanDrunen explains the difference between the church as an institution with offices and means of grace and the church as an organism, or a community of faith and life. Next, Kim Riddlebarger, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim and White Horse Inn co-host, spells out the debates concerning eschatology—in particular, amillennialism—that frequently underwrite discussions about the role of the church in relation to culture. Then another White Horse Inn co-host, Ken Jones, also pastor of Glendale Missionary Baptist Church, offers a well-informed discussion of the black church and social justice. And when it comes to realistic strategies for making a difference in this world and loving one’s neighbor, Tim Blackmon—a Christian Reformed minister who serves at the American Protestant Church of The Hague in the Netherlands—encourages us to recover the lost art of hospitality. Finally, looking in passages of Scripture at examples of Jesus’ miracles and service to the poor, Presbyterian pastor Jon Payne reminds us that these events function first as testimonies to Christ’s true status as God’s Messiah.
As you peruse this issue, remember that the gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation. Christ’s liberality and merciful charity to us on the cross does indeed have the power to inspire us to grateful lives of service to the poor and the weak. But remember the words of Lee Iacocca when it concerns the mission of the church, “Keep the main thing the main thing.”
Along with the good folks at Fourth Presbyterian Church and our friends at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, we cordially invite you to the Washington Conference on the Christian Life to be held October 7-8, 2011 at Fourth Presbyterian in Bethesda, MD.
The Washington Conference on the Christian Life is a new conference in the Washington, DC area which seeks to equip and edify the Church through engaging, vital topics relevant to the Christian life. The topic this year is the church:
What is the Church? Is it a building or institution? Is it people or a specific Age? Is it a word to be avoided or cherished? We use “Church” to refer to all kinds of things, from the mundane to the religious, yet Scripture often employs it in terms of the highest and most intimate relationship we can have with God – “the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12) — and the most noble of purposes — “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Today we often fail to grasp the Church’s enduring status, life, and mission because we have forgotten whom God intended her to be. We have a pressing need to return to biblical foundations while taking account of where we are and where we are going as a Church, so that we can live more faithfully as the body of Christ and find our own health as Christians within her life. Join us for this foundational year as we seek to remind ourselves of the centrality of the Church for God’s purposes and the faithful living of the Christian life.
Mike Horton will be speaking on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. on “What is the Church?” and again on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. on “The Church and the Future.”
You can register for the conference here.
Mike will be preaching on Sunday, October 9th at Christ Reformed Church in Washington, D.C. at 9:15 a.m. The service will be followed by a special lecture on The Great Commission and Social Justice at 11:00 a.m., as part of church’s lecture series on Christianity and Politics. For more information, please visit the church’s website.