White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

WHI-1060 | Preaching the Word in a Culture of Narcissism

Our age is not known for its love of the truth. Rather, some are calling it a culture of narcissism. And, unfortunately, evidence of this is found not only in our secular culture, but in countless evangelical churches and best-selling Christian book titles. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warned that in the last days people would become lovers of themselves and would not endure sound teaching. With itching ears, he said, they’ll raise up teachers to suit their own passions and turn away from the truth. So what are we to do in such a time as this? On this program, the hosts will walk through 2 Timothy 3 and 4 to discuss Paul’s advice about preaching the Word in a culture of narcissism.

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Father of Many: An Appreciation for John Stott

Yesterday at 3:15 pm London time, John Stott was welcomed into the presence of Christ, whom he served so faithfully for many decades.  Tim Stafford’s eloquent obituary jibes with my own limited experience with this great man.  In the presence of John Stott, you were palpably aware that you were among one of God’s giants—not in the usual “American” style of big personalities, but sort of how you might imagine being in the room with a godly grandfather.  It’s the humility, graciousness, and intense personal concern that seems most striking to a visitor.

Having met him once before in the States, I visited Dr. Stott at his flat on a couple of occasions years ago while I was studying in England.  Reversing the roles as I had imagined them, he fussed over his guest with a cup of tea and open-ended conversation, surrounded by books and work-in-process.  A lifelong bachelor, he encouraged me to accept my own singleness up to that point as a gift—at least for a time—to focus on study and labor.  Because God did not give him children, he told me, he had spiritual offspring all over the world.  He didn’t say it proudly, as if referring to nameless masses, but I suspected he had actual faces in mind.  It was a great encouragement.  We talked about the state of evangelicalism, which seemed to be a source of encouragement and disappointment.  A few years ago I had the honor of writing a foreword for his new edition of Baptism and Fullness: The Holy Spirit’s Work Today.

John Stott belongs to a generation of British evangelical leaders who worked patiently, prayerfully, persistently, and intelligently within the established church.  They were not known for their own achievements, networks, and influence, but for their exposition of God’s Word with clarity, dependence upon the Spirit, and concern for both the lost and the gathered.

Even when friends and co-laborers (such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones) disagreed with him, they did not impugn his character.  There are so many lessons that we can learn from John Stott’s example, especially in a time and place given so much to self-promotion.  Although his hand in shaping the better streams of global evangelicalism is obvious, he always carried on this ministry as a parish pastor of All Souls in London, where he was raised and spent his entire ministry.  Looking at this whole ministry from the outside, as a mere acquaintance, I admire his concentration on the ministry of the word rather than on his own impact and legacy.

The evangelical cause around the world has reason to mourn John Stott’s death, but even more reason to praise the Triune God for a legacy that others can now reflect upon precisely because he does not seem to have been obsessed with it himself.   In his final hours, according to the obituary, family members gathered around him listening to Handel’s “Messiah.”  A completely fitting end to a wonderfully attractive life.

Enlightenment Fundamentalist Slays 80 at Norwegian Summer Camp

At least 76 people are dead after Anders Behring Breivik massacred campers on an island off the coast of Oslo, Norway.

Finally, the media has a face and a name for making its heretofor unjustified claim of moral equivalency between conservative Christianity and Islam.  Religion may be fine as long as it’s private, and you don’t really believe the key teachings of any one in particular.  In any case, those who think they need to act on their confessional convictions in daily life—much less encourage other people to embrace them—are on the path to terrorism.  Finally, we can reassure ourselves that Islam is not the problem; it’s “Christian fundamentalism.”

But for anyone interested in the facts of the case, the secularist narrative has lost its poster-boy.  In an on-line manifesto, Breivik makes it clear that he is not a “fundamentalist Christian.”  He prefaces one comment with, “If there is a God…” and says that science should always trump religion.  So in terms of religious convictions, he sounds more like Richard Dawkins than Jerry Falwell.  Yet, unlike Dawkins, Breivik pines for the “good ‘ol days” of Christendom, especially the crusades.  “Regarding my personal relationship with God, I guess I’m not an excessively religious man. I am first and foremost a man of logic. However, I am a supporter of a monocultural Christian Europe…”

The nineteenth century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche shrewdly observed that in his day the bourgeois elites of Europe wanted  the fruit of Christianity (i.e., moral culture) without the tree itself (i.e., the actual doctrine and practice).  Breivik is not a poster-boy for “Christian fundamentalism,” but the fulfillment of Nietzsche’s prophecy.  It’s one thing to confuse the kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this age, but we need a new category besides “fundamentalism” for the secular faith in “Christendom” without Christ.

Anders Breivik.  Here is someone who thinks of himself as a general in “a culture war”—a defense of Christendom without Christ. “As this is a cultural war, our definition of being a Christian does not necessarily constitute that you are required to have a personal relationship with God or Jesus.”  In fact, “Being a Christian can mean many things,” he says, but mainly it’s about protecting “the European cultural heritage” with “reason [as] the primary source and legitimacy for authority.”

It is not required that you have a personal relationship with God or Jesus in order to fight for our Christian cultural heritage and the European way. In many ways, our modern societies and European secularism is a result of European Christendom and the enlightenment. It is therefore essential to understand the difference between a ‘Christian fundamentalist theocracy’ (everything we do not want) and a secular European society based on our Christian cultural heritage (what we do want) (emphasis added).

At least in religious terms, it sounds like the average European or North American: “It is enough that you are a Christian-agnostic or a Christian atheist (an atheist who wants to preserve at least the basics of the European Christian cultural legacy (Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter). The PCCTS, Knights Templar is therefore not a religious organization but rather a Christian ‘culturalist’ military order.”  It’s hatred of the cultural “other,” not faith in Christ, that drives groups like Breivik’s.

In another irony, Breivik’s portrait of the reinvigorated crusader invokes the “die-a-martyr-and-go-straight-to-Paradise” doctrine of Islamic terrorists.  “We are not only automatically granted access to heaven in light of our selfless acts; our good deeds and final sacrifice will be added to the divine storehouse of merit and will therefore help other less virtuous individuals…”

One thing Breivik clearly is not: a Protestant.  In fact, he hopes that all Protestants will return to Rome under a unified papal system that (he hopes) will recover its old crusader nerve.  “I usually refer to Protestantism as the Marxism of Christianity. As long as you ask forgiveness before you die you can literally live a life as the most despicable character imaginable.”  Interesting thing to say after you’ve massacred 80 Norwegian campers.

WHI-1059 | The Road to Emmaus

What is the Bible principally about? Some say it’s about life transformation, while others say it’s a recipe book for achieving health, wealth, and prosperity. But what if you had the chance to listen to Jesus himself explain the basic message of Scripture? Interestingly enough, this is exactly what we find in Luke chapter 24 as Jesus walks with his disciples on the road to Emmaus. On this edition of the White Horse Inn, the hosts walk through this fascinating chapter and discuss its implications for our understanding of Scripture.

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Whom does Jesus love?

This gem is from William Still’s The Work of the Pastor (Rutherford House, 2001) and can be found on pages 54 and 55 of that edition of this invaluable work.

On one occasion I had a hint from one of our senior boys that a certain young student had been floored, humbled, and at last would be coming to see me. I was glad because he had been with us eighteen months and although he had not got on very well academically, any time we had been in conversation, even in my home he always said–sitting primly on the edge of a chair–that he was getting on well.  He was such a pious little fellow, cocky, bouncy and facile: I found him a bit of a humbug and used to long for him to go. Well, my senior boy, who is near his age, cracked him open one day, and he collapsed in a heap and admitted how miserable he was, and how afraid he was that he would be cast off if he admitted it. I said to him, ‘This cocky act of yours did not deceive. I don’t assume that everybody on the face of the earth is “Getting on fine, thank you”, and all they have to do in life is to put other people right. So that the more you gave yourself airs, the more sure I was that you were a fraud, acting a part. And you were so unattractive like that. Don’t you know that sinners are the only kind of men Jesus can love? Remember how he sent the Pharisees packing until only the woman taken in adultery was left standing with him? I don’t believe you thought you would be cast off if you admitted you were a nasty little mess inside. You were just trying to make yourself believe that you were that rather wonderful image you tried to project.’

WHI-1058 | Conversations with Tullian Tchividjian & Thabiti Anyabwile

On this edition, Michael Horton talks with Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The conversation centers on Tullian’s forthcoming book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Later, Michael Horton talks with Thabiti Anyabwile, author of The Gospel for Muslims and The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity. Thabiti is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands.

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Being under the Word with Carson, Keller, and Piper

The fine folks over at The Gospel Coalition have released another video discussing various aspects of ministry and the church. In this video D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Tim Keller discuss the Christian’s relationship to God’s Word, especially pastors.

Biblical Authority in an Age of Uncertainty from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Christianity and Politics, Progressive Style

Guest-Post by Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC (which worships in Teddy Roosevelts church).

It is amazing how quickly we forget that the confusion of Christianity with politics has happened on both sides of the political spectrum.

Theodore Roosevelt broke from the Republican Party in 1912 to form a third, Progressive Party for his presidential run — the so-called “Bull Moose Party,” so named because Roosevelt said he felt like a “bull moose” after bolting the Republicans. Sporting red bandanas (symbolizing the rise of the proletariat) and viewed as radicals by establishment Democrats and Republicans, the Progressives gathered for their nominating convention in Chicago in August 1912.

The convention was a historic event in American politics, marking the first time a candidate appeared at his own nominating convention. But perhaps most remarkable was its religious fervor, well detailed in Edmund Morris’s Colonel Roosevelt. The New York Times reporter wrote, “It was not a convention at all; it was an assemblage of religious enthusiasts.”

As Roosevelt mounted the stage preparing to speak, he led the assembly in the singing of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Roosevelt’s address was entitled, “A Confession of Faith,” and it closed with a motto he had already invoked at the Republican convention weeks earlier, “We stand at Armaggedon, and we battle for the Lord.” As Morris notes, “If Progressivism was, as more and more critics were suggesting, a religion, it needed its mantras.” A tumult ensued — “enthusiasm turned to ecstasy” — and ten thousand voices sang Roosevelt’s name to the tune of “Maryland, my Maryland.”

The convention closed with the singing of the Doxology.

Basic Apologetics: How can Jesus be the only way?

William Cwirla (LCMS): At issue is the “scandal of particularity,” that Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life, and that “no one comes to the Father except by him” (John 14:6). Statements like these would be hubris at best, insanity at worst, except for the fact that Jesus died on a cross and bodily rose from the dead.

This is why the Apostle Paul makes the bodily resurrection of Jesus as an historic fact the lynchpin of his apologetic. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). If Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead, we could not be sure of any of his claims or the claims of his apostles. They could easily be the work of madmen or ambitious religious zealots. The bodily resurrection of Jesus, an historic fact established by the testimony of eyewitnesses who saw him, touched him, heard him, ate with him, validates Jesus’ claim to be the way, the truth, and the life.

The Buddha didn’t rise from the dead; Mohammed didn’t rise from the dead. No one else but Jesus died and rose. This means we have to take all of his claims seriously, or we will be living in denial of a plain fact of history.

What often lies behind this question is failure to apprehend the paradox that salvation in Christ is both inclusive and exclusive at the same time, and so people charge God with being “unfair.” Jesus is the inclusive Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who drew all into his death when he was lifted up on the cross. “He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). At the same time, Jesus is exclusively the Savior of the world; the world has no other Savior because the world has no other death that atones for sin.

Michael Brown (URC): The Bible is very clear about the exclusivity of Christianity. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The apostles subsequently preached this same message: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). But this is precisely what many people in our culture find so scandalous and offensive about Christianity. An objector will often ask, “But isn’t God pleased with the person who lives a good, moral life and sincerely tries to do what is right even if he doesn’t come to God through Jesus Christ? What happens to that person when he dies?”

The answer, according to Scripture, is very simple: the person who truly lives a good and moral life does not need to come to God through Christ at all. A good person is in no danger of God’s judgment and needs no Savior. He has nothing to worry about; when he dies he will go directly to heaven on his own merit.

But the question is not what happens to good people when they die; rather, the question is: What happens to guilty people when they die? The problem is that the standard of goodness and morality is not our own, but God’s, and he demands perfection! Says Paul in Romans 2:13: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law.” This is something that only Christ has achieved. No one except Jesus has lived a good and moral life that is acceptable to God. This is Paul’s whole argument in Romans 1:18-3:20, namely, that everyone has sinned against God and the whole world is under his wrath. Thus, there are no good people. Our own righteous deeds are not good enough for a holy God who must, by his very nature, demand a righteousness as good as his own. This is what makes Christ the only way to salvation: he is the only true doer of the law. He is the only one who has kept the law perfectly, satisfying all its demands for those who believe (see Rom. 8:1-4).

Still, one might object: But if Jesus is the only way, what about the natives in the deep jungles of South America who have never heard of Jesus? How can God judge people for rejecting Jesus if they have never heard of Jesus?

Again, the biblical answer is rather simple. God will not and cannot punish someone for rejecting Christ who has never heard of Christ. That would be unjust and there is no injustice in God. A person is not condemned for rejecting Jesus of whom they have never heard. Rather, they are condemned for rejecting the Father who has made himself clear to the whole world (see Rom. 1:19-20).

WHI-1057 | The Great Commission & The Great Commandment

Sometimes we confuse the Great Commission (making disciples through the gospel) with the Great Commandment (serving our neighbors through loving works), as if the official mission of the church is the same as the individual Christian’s many obligations in the world. If Christians are called to citizenship, social justice, and good works in the world, does this mean that the calling of the church as an institution is to transform the kingdoms of this age? This special edition of the White Horse Inn was recorded live at The Gospel Coalition in Chicago, and features special guest Julius Kim, associate professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary California.

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