White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

The Final (for now…) Post of the Conversation Between Mike and Tullian

Tullian Tchividjian has conduced a four-part conversation with Mike Horton dealing with some hot topics in the blogosphere concerning legalism and license among other important distinctions. Part one is here, part two can be found here, and the penultimate installment can be read here. The fourth and final section of the conversation has been posted here.

Here’s a teaser:

Tullian: I’ve argued that that there is one primary enemy of the gospel—legalism—but it comes in two forms. Some people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by keeping the rules, doing what they’re told, maintaining the standards, and so on (I call this “front-door legalism”). Other people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by breaking the rules, doing whatever they want, developing their own autonomous standards, and so on (I call this “back-door legalism”). In other words, there are two “laws” we can choose to live by other than Christ: the law which says “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I keep the rules” or the law which says “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I break the rules.” Either way you’re still trying to “save” yourself—which means both are legalistic because both are self-salvation projects. So that, what some call license is just another form of legalism. How would you respond?

Yes, that’s a great point, Tullian, and I hope everybody takes it to heart in this conversation. “Make a rule” or “break a rule” really belong to the same passion for autonomy (self-rule). We want to remain in control of our lives and our destiny, so the only choice is whether we’ll conquer the mountain by asceticism or by license. However, when Christ comes to us, he does not come to improve the old self, to bouy its self-confidence and encourage its pride. Christ comes to kill us in order to make us alive in him, as new creatures. The gospel is the answer both to the guilt and the tyranny of sin and other lords that cannot liberate but hold us to their breast in a death grip.

Why presidential candidates’ faith matters

The following is by Rev. Dr. Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, D.C. and is used with his permission. Dr. Lee orginially posted this on the blog The Daily Caller


Twenty-five presidential elections ago, a New York Times reporter wondered aloud whether a major nominating convention was a political event or “an assemblage of religious enthusiasts.” This was a fair assessment, as the delegates sang “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and closed the convention by singing “The Doxology.”

“We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord,” the candidate thundered in his speech, which was subtly titled “A Confession of Faith.”

The party was Progressive, and the candidate’s name was Theodore Roosevelt.

Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, has resolved in a recent editorial to ask tougher questions about the faith of the Republican candidates for president. He believes 2012—or was it 1912?—offers an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life, since so many candidates belong to “mysterious or suspect” churches.

Perhaps the real question to be asked regarding faith and politics is whether our journalists can be trusted to ask the questions that matter. For starters, Keller wants to know whether the Republican candidates would have “any hesitation” appointing a Muslim or an atheist to the federal bench. Conveniently, anyone who has read Keller’s editorial doesn’t have to bother asking him the obvious rejoinder:

Would you, candidate Keller, have any hesitation appointing an evangelical Christian to the federal bench?

The answer is all too clear.

Besides playing schoolyard gotcha to Keller’s gotcha—”It takes a religious bigot to know one!”—his article raises important questions about how and why we should ask questions about the religious faith of our candidates. Because we must ask such questions.

Candidates’ faith matters because it reveals their character and intellect. Whether and how candidates professes their faith—or unbelief—reveals how they think, and how they respect the beliefs of others. I would no sooner choose to elect a bigoted atheist than a bigoted Christian.

And most especially, we must ask questions about faith when candidates invoke their faith as playing an active role in their public life, and views of governance. Given the importance of talking about faith, it’s a shame Keller’s faith questions give questioning faith such a bad name.

* * *

Let’s start with faith and reason.

Keller opens his article by comparing religious faith to belief in extraterrestrials, and deprecates the Catholic teaching of the Eucharist as a youthful folly. You get the impression he stopped believing his priest about the time he learned the truth about Santa, and for the same reasons.

Keller betrays a classic naturalist bigotry against the supernaturalist in his treatment of the Eucharist. He is not content to personally deny miracles, but rather insists upon the utter impossibility of miracles. He therefore implies with subtle smugness that faith in miracles betrays a fundamental irrationality or childishness. As though anyone dim enough to believe the Catholic teaching of the Mass may at any time try to eat a stone hoping that it may turn into bread.

Christian belief in miracles—whether it be the cardinal doctrine of the Resurrection or ex nihilo Creation—does not imply irrationality, or disbelief in science or history. It is not an obstacle to the practice of science, as any journalist could discover by talking to any one of the many believing scientists. In fact, many have argued exactly the opposite: that the rise and flowering of modern science required belief in a God who both establishes the “laws” of nature and has the power to suspend them.

Isn’t it ironic that on the two scientific hot-button issues of the day—global warming and evolution—Christians are derided for being too skeptical in their approach to the empirical evidence? For insisting that theories be labeled as such, and serve only in a qualified manner as the basis for action in the world?

It does not require a lack of intellect to believe in a miracle. This too is demonstrable. Journalists and historians more capable than I, a humble pastor, can illustrate countless brilliant men and women who have confessed the miracles of Scripture, not only prior to the enlightenment, but today. These people all functioned perfectly well in “the reality-based community.”

The relevant faith questions for politicians are: “What kind of miracles does your God work?” and “How will that impact your governance?”

* * *

Now let’s talk about faith and character.

First, it’s important to note that character is not unrelated to intelligence. By implying that Christians lack reason, Keller is also implying that they lack the ability to exercise moral reasoning. He is impugning their character.

As a journalist, Keller could himself answer a couple of questions of fact about Christians and character. How are Christians commanded to act toward their neighbor (hint: Love). How have Christians in power, in fact, acted? The question is not whether they have been perfect, or sinless. No one is so historically naïve to suggest that. The question is whether they have tended to behave better or worse than those who professed no belief at all, or promoted atheism.

The last century provides a very grim record of unbelieving governance. We recently fought a long, cold war against godless communism. Perhaps that history is still relevant to why the American electorate overwhelming votes for candidates who profess the Christian faith. This includes not only the right, but also the center and the left—even if the latter two don’t care so much whether the candidate (wink, wink) really means it.

Has our politics changed all that much since 1912, or only our political reporters? Is it the case that as our nation’s elites get further and further from the faith of their fathers, the proclivities of all sincere believers look more and more suspect to them?

Questions need to be asked, and answered, when faith enters the public square. But when those who ask treat faith itself as an alien matter, they call into question their own qualifications for doing so.

Finish the Mission: For the Joy of All Peoples

The White Horse Inn is going back to Minneapolis to broadcast live from the Desiring God National Conference from 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm on Friday, September 23, 2011.

The theme of the conference is, “Finish the Mission: For the Joy of All Peoples.” Our program will be titled, “Making Disciples: The Mission & Its Methods.” In some churches, the emphasis is on being the church, living missionally. Other churches focus on “the worship experience,” spiritual formation, or the pursuit of various social and political agendas. What is the mission of the Church? How are we to make disciples of Jesus Christ? Turning to the Great Commission itself and various passages that unpack it, this special live edition of the White Horse Inn will focus on disciple-making through the marks of the Church that Christ himself ordained.

Be sure to sign up for our breakout session and join the conversation. We’ll be taking questions from the audience. Mike Horton, Ken Jones, Rod Rosenbladt, and Kim Riddlebarger will all be there.

On Saturday, Sept 24, 2011 Mike Horton will be speaking about his recent book “The Gospel-Commission” taking questions (12:30 – 1:00), and signing copies at the Conference Exhibit Hall (1:00 – 1:30).

Hope to see you in Minneapolis!

Does Worship Really Need to be Exciting?

The following is by Rev. Andrew Compton, associate pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, CA and is used with his permission. Rev. Compton is one of the bloggers at The Reformed Reader


I’ve been reading through Kevin Roose’s book The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University. If you have an interest in learning about evangelicalism and fundamentalism, this book, written by a Brown University student who enrolled at Liberty University for a semester, is a great volume to read. Informed by George Marsden’s more historical Fundamentalism and American Culture, this is a fun and witty memoir of someone who decided to “act the part” of a Christian fundamentalist for a semester.

I was especially struck by Roose’s contrast between the simple, Quaker worship meetings of his youth and the contemporary worship at a local megachurch. He writes:

You can see why I didn’t go to [Quaker worship] meeting[s] much. As a kid groomed on cartoons and video games and Little League, an hour of motionless silence was excruciating. At Thomas Road, on the other hand, there’s almost too much stimulation. The stage lights, the one hundred-decibel praise songs, the bright purple choir robes, the tempestuous bellowing of Dr. Falwell – it’s an hour-long assault on the senses. And all you have to do is sit back in your plush, reclining seat, latte and cranberry scone in hand, and take it all in. It’s Church Lite – entertaining but unsubstantial, the religious equivalent of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. And once the novelty wears off, once the music becomes familiar and the motions of praise become pro forma and mechanized, you start to realize that all the technological glitz and material extravagance doesn’t necessarily add up to a spiritual experience.

Today, from my perch in the Thomas Road choir loft, my mind wandered back to the little brown house with stone steps. I think I’d appreciate the minimalist Quaker worship more now than I did as a kid. It didn’t have Jumbotron screens or a five thousand-watt sound system or a cafe in the lobby, and it wasn’t run by a world-famous televangelist with millions of followers. But at least it felt real (The Unlikely Disciple, pg. 199; emphasis added).

Bravo, Kevin! You have nailed it to the wall.

It is only tragic that it takes someone posing to be an evangelical to point out something that the “experts” themselves either can’t understand or chose to suppress—i.e., that the excitement of contemporary “worship” is more driven by consumerist impulses than genuine gratitude or spirituality.

If you’re drawn toward exciting, contemporary worship settings, know this—we all are! But this is not because it is right; not because it is proper; not because God is truly putting a burden on our hearts to pursue worship of him in this way… it is because all of us prefer to worship ourselves! All of us are idolaters who fashion gods in our own image!

If we like video clips, well then God must want us to watch those while worshiping him. If we like rock music, God must like it too. If we like to sit in church with our feet up, drinking a cafe mocha, then there can only be one reason for this—God must want nothing more than for us to sit in church with our feet up, drinking a cafe mocha! Whatever we like to do, God likes to do it too, right?

After all, we’re too genuine to be self-centered, right? Idolatry is only practiced by people out there, isn’t it? What we want to do just feels so right—how can you argue with that?!?!

The Third Installment of Tchividjian’s Interview with Mike

Tullian Tchividjian is conducting a four part interview with Mike Horton on the distinction between justification and sanctification and the relationship of the law to the gospel. Part one is here and part two can be found here. The third installment was posted today and can be read here.

Here’s a sneak-peek:

Some say that union with Christ is the integrating structure for both justification and sanctification. In other words, we’re justified “in Christ” AND we’re sanctified “in Christ.” Sanctification doesn’t depend on justification, but both depend on union with Christ. How would you respond?

There’s a long and noble history of “the marvelous exchange” in patristic and medieval theology that the Reformers picked up. Bernard of Clairvaux had an especially significant impact on Luther and Calvin, and both Reformers gave a lot of space to this theme of union with Christ as an analogy not only for justification but for all of the saving benefits we have in Christ.

Like Paul (think especially of the transition from Romans 6 to 7), Calvin emphasized that we cannot embrace Christ for justification without at the same time embracing him for our sanctification. We don’t just receive a gift, or even many gifts, but Christ himself by faith. We are united to him. He is the eschatological forerunner, head, Vine, and source for the new creation to which we now belong. The Spirit unites us to Christ by the gospel and the gospel is not only the good news that we are justified, but the good news that the Lord Christ has conquered the dominion of sin and we have been baptized into his death and resurrection. So the gospel is always the source of our sanctification, but the gospel includes freedom from both the guilt and tyranny of our sins.

But some among us suggest that because we receive justification and sanctification in union with Christ, there is no logical dependence of the latter on the former. I don’t find that anywhere in the relevant scriptural passages or in the exegesis offered by the Reformers, the confessions and catechisms, and the Puritans. Reformed theology certainly teaches that justification provides the secure legal basis for our growing and maturing relationship with Christ (i.e., sanctification). At the same time, we’re always returning to Christ for both. So we have to resist the false choice between union with Christ or justification. As much as Calvin referred to the former, he still calls justification “the main hinge on which religion turns,” “the primary article,” etc.. That runs straight through all of the great spiritual writings, sermons, and treatises of the Reformed tradition.

WHI-1064 | Preaching the Gospel in an Age of Super-Apostles

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul warned his readers about various slick preachers that he referred to as the “super-apostles.” Though their style was smooth and rhetorically attractive, the substance of the gospel was either being ignored, or distorted. So Paul admonishes the Corinthians church saying, “if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus…you put up with it readily enough!” On this edition of the White Horse Inn the hosts discuss Paul’s concerns about style over substance, especially as it relates to trends in the contemporary church.

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Part 2 of Tchividjian’s Interview

Tullian Tchividjian is conducting a four part interview with Mike Horton on the distinction between justification and sanctification and the relationship of the law to the gospel. Part one is here. Part two is now available here.

Here’s a preview:

Mike, what are the three uses of the law?

Reformed theology embraces these “three uses”: (1) pedagogical or elenctic—to show us our sin and drive us to Christ; (2) civil (to curb vice with the threat of temporal punishment), and (3) didactic (to guide Christian living).

In order further to drive a wedge between Lutheran and Reformed approaches, I often hear Reformed brethren point to the “third use” as a Reformed distinctive that’s denied by Lutheran theology.  This too is simply inaccurate.  It was Luther’s sidekick Melanchthon who identified the “three uses” and the Antinomian Controversy in Luther’s circle provoked the sternest rebukes from the Reformer.  As a result, the Book of Concord staunchly affirmed the third use of the law—and gives more space to it than any of the Reformed confessions.  To be sure, there are differences.  As I point out in The Christian Faith, the principal difference in my view is the eschatology of sanctification—that is, the relationship between the “already” and the “not yet.”  When both groups go off the reservation, Lutherans usually wander into an under-realized eschatology (downplaying the “already” of the new creation) and we Reformed folks embrace an over-realized eschatology (downplaying the continuing struggle with sin).  However, that’s a difference in emphasis.  In terms of basic doctrine, there is no difference between our confessions.  It’s very helpful for people on both sides actually to read the others’ confessions!

When applying these three uses, it’s important to know our audience.  Our primary audience in preaching is the covenant community.  God has pledged his grace in Christ to his congregation.  They are baptized, hear the Word, make profession of faith, receive the Supper, participate in the communion of the saints in confession, song, fellowship, prayer, and gifts.  At the same time, as under the old covenant, not all physical descendants of the covenant (children of believers) are true children of Abraham.  Some, like Esau, sell their birthright for a cheap dinner.  In our preaching, we must use the law carefully.  We still need to use the pedagogical use: showing believers that they still, even in their regenerate state, do not have the kind of righteousness that can withstand God’s judgment and must flee to Christ.  We proclaim the law to the nations as well (civil use), testifying to God’s moral will for all of his creatures.  And we exhort believers to follow God’s commands (third use).   In all of this, we have to be careful that we do not give the impression either that by following God’s commands one can receive his saving benefits in Christ or that because we are saved by grace alone, apart from works of the law, that God’s commands are no longer obligatory.

Is Steve Jobs Dying for Us All?

Like Thomas Edison or Henry Ford, the name Steve Jobs conjures the image of an era more than a product. After battling pancreatic cancer, the Apple co-founder has finally resigned from the company and has resigned himself to one thing over which he has no control: death.

In a penetrating essay in Esquire today, Tom Junod explores the life, lessons, and legacy of one of our era’s greatest inventors. The title itself is telling: “Steve Jobs is Dying for Us All.” Back in January 2010, Junod contributed another piece for Esquire titled, “Steve Jobs and the Portal to the Invisible”. Both are worth the read.

Prominent in both articles are the emphases on Jobs as an artist, a creative genius who “makes the invisible visible” and fits an even “messianic” profile. In last year’s feature, Junod observed,

There are several things that Steve Jobs isn’t. He isn’t, for one thing, democratic. “He isn’t utopian,” says Wozniak. He is messianic, and his life stands as an illustration of the difference between the two objectives. He was never driven by a vision of a better world; he was driven by a vision of himself as a person whose decisions guide the world. He wanted to build a device that moved the world forward, that would take people further. He wanted to build a reality that wasn’t there. He wanted to be one of the important ones. It makes sense, then, that he is not philanthropic, either. As one philanthropist who’s worked with him says, “A lot of the people who are getting into philanthropy now are trying to put their smarts into it, their creativity into it, so they can change the way philanthropy is done. I don’t get that feeling from him. I get the feeling that he’s so into doing what he’s doing that there’s no creativity left. He’s an artist, Steve. He either likes what he’s looking at or he doesn’t. He’s not concerned with what contribution he’s making. He wants to astound himself, for himself.

In today’s essay, Junod writes,

More than any other purveyor of technological products, Steve Jobs has seemingly translated his soul into machines meant to be immortal even when they are only as eternal as consumerist whim; now, at the very moment when the language of technological immortality is becoming most explicit — when he stands ready to translate himself and his company into “the cloud,” with its promise of digital files backed forever by technology that never goes out of date — he is stranded, like Moses, in the land of the body, and its inevitable swift transit. “And one more thing,” he says, except this time there is no iPod or iPhone or iPad or iCloud to follow. There is only this unspoken plea, as his body changes within its still unvarying uniform of black shirts and blue jeans: I’m dying.

Steve Jobs “gave us our toys back,” creating a paradigm shift from the dawn of the computer age as something primarily for engineers and mathematicians to a beautiful box that everyone had to own. He is “dying for us all,” Junod suggests, in the sense that his visionary leadership will be gone. It’s not so much Jobs himself that the public worries about right now, but what this means for the iPhone 5.

There is always a next thing, in technology. Steve Jobs has taught us that, trained us to expect and demand it. There is also always a next thing, in sickness and death. He is teaching us that, too. Of course, it is a lesson that has been taught just as well by every human being who has ever walked the planet. But Steve Jobs, who has done more than anyone to make the idea of a “digital life” possible, might have one last lesson for us, by letting us in on his digital death. The logic of technology has always been offered as an answer to the logic of mortality; as it turns out, it is the same logic — the logic of inexorable advance. The logic of Moore’s Law turns out to have its biological analogue in the logic of cancer, and so it still reigns. Steve Jobs, in his career at Apple, reminded us that technological progress is but a human invention, subject to human hopes and human dreams and human choice. In his resignation — terrible and moving both for what it admits and for what it leaves out — he reminds us that technology doesn’t answer death so much as it shares its preference for forward motion.

We’ve been talking a lot in the last couple of weeks about “enthusiasm”: the longing for stripping away every creaturely veil, every mediator, and every medium in order to discover a direct and immediate divinity within ourselves. Salvation comes not from an external redemption in history, by God becoming flesh to rescue us, but from inner enlightenment and progress from dependence on others to autonomous ascent. It’s spirit versus matter, the invisible versus the visible, the god within versus the God who comes to us from outside of ourselves.

Gnosticism expressses most radically this enthusiastic impulse. The Greek mind has always been scandalized by the biblical story of a good God who created a good material world and, when his image-bearer led it into corruption and death, became flesh to rescue and redeem our flesh forever. The second-century Gnostics invented a new gospel that would be more seeker-friendly to Greeks. The Christ—a cosmic spirit—is not identical with the man Jesus born of Mary. Christ only appeared to assume our humanity, only appeared to die, and the resurrection had no place in the scheme. After all, in the Greek framework, salvation was the liberation of the divine soul from its fleshly prison-house. Think Buddhism, or the dogma of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy that evil and even death are illusions. Indeed, the whole external world is illusory; it’s mind over matter.

This is a dogma that is well-suited to the technological age, where the longing for virtual “community” and redemption from the drag of space-time embodiment can at last be fulfilled. Of course, it’s secularized and packaged in colorful boxes, but the impulse is deeply religious and ultimately pagan. That is in no way to demonize the inventions or their benefits, but it does show that even the most “secular” realm of technology is bound up with a particular religious world-view.

By contrast, when Scripture speaks of the invisible and the visible, it’s not talking about Plato’s two worlds, but the two ages: “this present evil age,” dominated by sin and death, and “the age to come,” where Christ reigns in righteousness and everlasting life. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). As that chapter unfolds, it is clear that the “things not seen” pertain to the realities that the old covenant saints longed for in the future. “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (vv 39-40). In other words, they had to wait patiently for God to make good on his promise in the person and work of Christ. When Christ came, his disciples saw, heard, and touched the invisible God. The promises were literally enfleshed. It has nothing to do with Plato’s “upper world” known only within the inner spirit or mind, but rather with the transition from promise to fulfillment.

The Christian hope is not in escaping the limitations of embodiment, society, and history, but “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” The solution (resurrection) is as radical and real as the problem (death). From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible takes death seriously. It isn’t an illusion. We don’t transcend it in our inner, spiritual nature. Rather, it’s the penalty for sin. Once the penalty was borne by Christ, believers have confidence that they too will share in his resurrection.

Steve Jobs can’t really die for us. In fact, he is, like us all, a prisoner of sin and death. We may have better machines, but we will never emancipate ourselves from sin—and its penalty of death. By affirming death, Jobs proves himself not to be a very orthodox Buddhist. Now, we hope and pray, he will embrace the only solution. This gospel not only saves us from our sins; it saves us from the feverish and ineffectual striving to make something of ourselves, to be something, to become immortal at least in our legacy. Now, we can fulfill our callings—whatever their cultural magnitude—simply out of gratitude to God and love for our neighbors.

It’s not just that our erotic attachment to technology can’t deliver on its transcendent promises, but that even if it could, it wouldn’t really matter. We cannot escape our creaturely finitude—or our sin and death—by our own works or through our own gadgets. It has to come to us from outside, through the creaturely means employed by the Triune God. Cultural progress is great, but “salvation is of the LORD” (Jon 2:9). Death trumps the noblest achievements of our most exceptional neighbors. Even Junod concludes, “We hope and we dream; maybe we even change the world by getting people to hope and dream that the iPhone 5 will come out in September. But we don’t get to choose much of anything, in the end. We succumb.” However, for those who trust in Christ, death does not have the last word. Why? Because God loves this world he created—the real world of real people and real communities and real death and real redemption—more than we do.

Tullian Tchividjian Interviews Mike Horton

Our good friend Tullian Tchividjian has been the subject of and a participant in a series of web conversations on the relationship of justification to sanctification. He recently posed a series of question to Mike Horton and has begun posting the answers on his blog. I’m sure that I’m biased, but I think there’s some good information here–especially for those who are new to the conversation and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Here’s a preview:

In what sense has the current conversation been merely a matter of different emphases, and in what sense are there genuine disagreements?

I have only had opportunity to read bits here and there. However, I can speak to your question more generally. Sometimes it’s no more than emphasis. However, faithful preaching includes the law and the gospel—never assuming that believers know either well enough that one can be heard without the other. Of course, we do have to be sensitive to different contexts of pastoral ministry, but every believer and therefore every church is simultaneously justified and sinful. Not only at the beginning, but always, every believer needs the law and the gospel.

It would be a lot simpler if we could say that congregations tending toward legalism need more gospel and those leaning toward antinomianism need more law, but I question that this is how it works.

In the first place, I’m not sure that “legalism” and “antinomianism” are the best categories for what seems to me at least to dominate contemporary “Bible Belt” religion in the U.S. today.  Sure, there are some antinomians (in theory) who believe that you can be justified without being sanctified—even without continuing in faith. Sure, there are some who say that the third use of the law (guiding believers) is no longer in effect. In their view, referring to the Ten Commandments as normative for how we should live would be going back “under the law” in the sense that Paul condemned. I’m also sure that there are legalists out there. But the portrait of the preacher threatening card-players with the fires of hell is a distant memory, replaced by the smiling motivational speaker telling you how you can have your best life now if you follow his seven easy principles.

That’s where I think it all gets so tricky. We’re using theological categories when one of the most transformative events in our churches has been cultural: namely, what Philip Reif called “the triumph of the therapeutic.” What we’re dealing with today in the majority of cases, I believe, is not accurately described as either antinomianism or legalism, but a pragmatic and narcissistic appeal to moralism. It’s not “stop going to parties or you’ll go to hell,” but “follow these ten principles and your life will be a party.” It’s “principles for living” on any number of life management topics, mining the Bible for quotes, but for the most part ignoring the interests of the text itself.

So you can’t really call this diet antinomian: it’s full of imperatives (rules, steps, principles, motivational tips—some kind of “To Do” list). But you also can’t call it legalistic, because the reference point isn’t really salvation or damnation—or even God,  but me and my happiness or unhappiness. God only makes a cameo appearance. The whole paradigm is what sociologist Christian Smith defines as: moralistic, therapeutic deism. Say what you will about the legalists and antinomians of yesteryear, but despite their heterodoxy, they were more interested in the Triune God and in interpreting and applying Scripture than a lot of what passes for evangelical preaching today.

Read the rest.

Reformed and Charismatic?

Thanks for the healthy debate and interaction on the previous post. Obviously, those who believe that miraculous prophecy continues after the apostolic age should not be lumped together with radical movements like the New Apostolic Reformation.  Nevertheless, it does provide an occasion to think carefully about the compatibility of Reformation theology with Charismatic emphases.  This is especially the case when there have been renewed calls for a “Reformed Charismatic” synthesis in our own circles.

I’ve never been willing to die on the hill of cessationism: that is, the belief that the miraculous gifts such as prophecy, healing, and tongues have ceased.  I’m still not.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that non-cessationism is neither exegetically sound nor historically compatible with Reformed theology. Furthermore, the surprisingly widespread popularity of more radical views of ongoing sign-gifts, coupled with political ambition, pushes me into the unpleasant position of challenging the views even of far sounder brothers with whom I agree on so many important points.

As a Charismatic Calvinist, Wayne Grudem has been used by God to bring the doctrines of grace to many who would likely not have encountered these truths otherwise.  I have immense respect for his clear defense of many cardinal doctrines of Christianity.  At the same time, the Calvinism-Charismatic bridge goes in both directions and his view of continuing prophecy has contributed to a curious hybrid that in my view cannot survive in the long run.  Reformed theology is a system—not one imposed on Scripture, but one that arises from the self-consistent Word of God.

Mark Driscoll, a student of Grudem’s, has recently claimed to have regular visions of the sinful—usually sexual—behavior of people he encounters. “I see things,” he says, although the gift he describes is nowhere exhibited even in the apostolic era.  Also posted on his Mars Hill website is a critique of cessationism as “modernistic worldliness,” lumping this view with deism and atheism.  “Functional cessationism is really about the mind, but functional charismatic theology is really about the heart.”  He concludes with a plea: “…you Reformed guys, especially you who are more Presbyterian, you tend to ignore the Holy Spirit and attribute everything the Spirit does to the gospel.” Sovereign Grace Ministries, led until recently by C. J. Mahaney, has also followed Grudem’s path toward a synthesis of Calvinistic and Charismatic emphases.

There is much to admire in these men and their labors.  I am not targeting these friends and brothers, but pleading with them—and with all of us—to rediscover the ordinary means of grace, ordinary ministry, ordinary offices, and to long for a genuine revival: that is, a surprising blessing of God on his ordinary ministry in our day. The false choice between head and heart, the Spirit and the Word, has been a perennial polemic of the radical wing of Protestantism.  Mark Driscoll’s plea above reveals that dangerous separation of the Spirit from his Word.  Only by assuming such a cleavage can one argue that Reformed theology ignores the Holy Spirit.

We have had enough “apostles,” “prophets,” and “Moses-model” leaders who build ministries around their own gifts.  We need to recover the beauty of Christ alone upon his throne as the Priest-King of his church, exercising his ministry by his Spirit through preaching, sacrament, and discipline in mutually accountable communion with the wider body of Christ.  Reformed theology is not just the “five points” and “sovereign grace,” but a rich, full, and systematic confession.  It’s a human and therefore fallible attempt to wrestle with the whole counsel of God—in both doctrine and practice, soteriology and ecclesiology.  Until we rediscover this richness, “Reformed” will mean “whatever my leader or circle believes.”

Of course, the biblical case that must be made cannot be made well in this brief space.  However, I’ll focus on the question of whether the gifts of prophet and apostle have ceased.  In Ephesians 4:7-16, the apostle says that offices prophets and apostles as well as pastors, teachers, and evangelists are gifts of his heavenly ascension.

Against both Rome and the radical Anabaptists, the Reformers argued that prophet and apostle are extraordinary offices, for a foundation-laying era.  They are sent at key moments in redemptive history, and their writings are added to the canon of Scripture.  Like the distinction between a nation’s constitution and its courts, the biblical canon is qualitatively distinct from ecclesiastical interpretation.  The former is magisterial (normative), while the latter is ministerial (interpretive).

Particularly in the wake of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, this question has divided Christians into two camps: cessationists (believing that the gifts of healing, prophecy, and tongues have ceased) and non-cessationists.  Non-cessationists find no exegetical reason to distinguish some of these gifts and offices from others in terms of their perpetuity.  However, cessationists hold that the New Testament itself makes a distinction between the foundation-laying era of the apostles and the era of building the church on their completed foundation (1 Cor 3:10-11).  Although the New Testament establishes the offices of pastors/teachers, elders, and deacons, it does not establish perpetual prophetic or apostolic offices with their attendant sign-gifts.  With this in mind, we must examine each gift in question.

Paul treats prophecy (prophēteia) as preaching, which although illumined by the Spirit is (unlike the scriptures) un-inspired and therefore must be tested (1 Cor 12:29; 1 Thes 5:19-21).  At Pentecost, the gift of tongues was a Spirit-given ability to proclaim the gospel in languages that one had not been taught.  The diverse crowd of visitors to Jerusalem for the feast asked, “And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” (Ac 2:8).  We should therefore understand “tongues” as synonymous with natural languages, which some were miraculously gifted to speak and others to interpret.  This served not only as a sign that Christ’s universal kingdom has dawned but as a practical way of disseminating the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.  None of these gifts was given for the personal edification of believers alone, but for the spread of the gospel and the maturity of the saints in that Word.

Similarly, the gift of healing was a sign that Christ’s kingdom had arrived, bringing a preview of the consummation in all of its fullness at the end of the age.  Yet signs always cluster in the Bible around significant turning-points in redemptive history.  Like the temporary prophesying of the elders in Moses’ day, the extraordinary gifts of signs and wonders are given to validate the sacred ministry of human ambassadors.  Once that ministry is validated, it no longer requires further confirmation.  (For an excellent treatment of this topic, see Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Perspectives on Pentecost  (P & R, 1979), especially 94-95, in relation to Wayne Grudem’s contention that “prophets and apostles” in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 refer to the same group.) It would seem, then, that the gift of prophets and apostles (along with the gifts of miracles, prophecy, and tongues) was given but fulfilled its foundation-laying function.  Just as Paul’s understudy Timothy is an ordinary minister, we find no evidence that his ministry was attended by extraordinary signs and wonders.

Some theologians, such as Wayne Grudem, recognize that the office of apostle has ceased, but are “unsure if this question” of the cessation of spiritual gifts “can be decided from Scripture.” [This and following Gruden quotes from his Systematic Theology, 906-912, 1031; cf. Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament Today (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988), 226-252.]

With Grudem I agree that 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, which speaks of prophecies and tongues passing away “when the perfect comes,” is inconclusive.  Paul is most likely referring to the consummation, when there will be no need for faith and hope and all that will endure into eternity is love (v 13).

However, I do not find Grudem’s case for continuing prophecy persuasive.  He clearly distinguishes prophecy today from the prophecy that delivered the sacred oracles of Holy Scripture.  This is both the strength and the weakness of his position.  Grudem believes that the kind of prophecy that is ongoing in the church is distinguished from preaching and teaching by being “a spontaneous ‘revelation’ from God….” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1058)

So the distinction is quite clear: if a message is the result of conscious reflection on the text of Scripture, containing interpretation of the text and application to life, then it is (in New Testament terms) a teaching.  But if a message is the report of something God brings suddenly to mind, then it is a prophecy. (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1058)

In my view, this interpretation introduces a definition of prophecy that is not consistent with its practice in the apostolic church.  Nowhere is prophecy distinguished by its spontaneous quality.  Furthermore, in spite of his salutary caution against raising such prophecies to the level of Scripture, this interpretation still raises the question as to whether the Spirit issues new revelations that are not already communicated in Scripture.  If prophecy is defined simply as Spirit-given insight into Scripture, then is this not synonymous with preaching?

Today, the Spirit validates this ordinary ministry of the gospel through preaching and sacrament: the signs and wonders that Christ instituted to confirm his Word.  If it is true that the apostles understood their work to be an extraordinary ministry of foundation-laying and their miraculous signs as its validation, then “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ….If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward” (1 Cor 3:11, 14, emphasis added).

While living stones are continually being added to the temple, the edifice itself is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Eph 2:20).  As the person and work of the head is distinct from that of its members, the foundation-laying ministry of the apostles is different from the “up-building” ministry of their successors.

Where apostolic preaching became Scripture, our proclamation, faith, and practice stand in continuity with the apostles to the extent that they conform to that rule. To understand Scripture as canon, within its Ancient Near Eastern treaty background, is to recognize that, like the redemptive work to which it testifies, it cannot be revised by addition or subtraction (Dt 4:2; Rev 22:18-19).  While interpretations are always subject to change, the constitution has been given once and for all.

Similarly, the canon that witnesses to Jesus is the covenant that he ratified in his self-sacrifice.  In its appeal to this canon and its practice of its stipulated rites, the church participates in the heavenly reality as servant rather than Lord of the covenant.  Just as Jesus-history is qualitatively distinct from our own, the apostolic canon is qualitatively distinct from the subsequent tradition (or preaching) that interprets it.  One is magisterial, the other ministerial.  Just as the church does not extend or complete the work of redemption but receives, interprets, and proclaims it, the church does not extent or complete revelation.  The interim between Christ’s advents is not an era of writing new chapters in the history of redemption.  Rather, it is a period in which the Spirit equips us for the mission between Acts and the Apocalypse—right in the middle of the era of the ordinary ministry with its new covenant canon.  Just as the church cannot extend the incarnation or complete Christ’s atoning work, it cannot repeat Pentecost or prolong the extraordinary ministry of the apostles, but must instead receive this same word and Spirit for its ordinary ministry in this time between the times.

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