Dr. Horton was recently invited to speak about Rob Bell’s book Love Wins at the Richmond Center for Christian Study in Richmond, VA. His lecture and a time of Questions & Answers are available for free download on the Center’s website.
When telling others about the message of the gospel, objections of various kinds inevitably arise. So how are we to answer the person who claims that Jesus never really died on the cross, or that the miracle stories associated with Christ are complete fabrications? The hosts discuss these questions and more as they interact with some of the claims made by skeptic Michael Shermer in his recent WHI interview. Joining the panel for this discussion is Craig Parton, author of Religion on Trial and The Defense Never Rests.
Religion on Trial
Holman QuickSource Guide to Apologetics
Resurrection iWitness iPad App
We often tell subscribers that the price of their subscription helps us to circulate nearly twice as many magazines as we have subscribers. Many of the magazines that we give away go to prisoners across the US. Today, we received a letter (and a money order to pay for his own subscription) from a prisoner in the West. I wanted to share just a brief segment of the letter with you for your encouragement:
I am a prisoner in _______ with a life sentence and I can’t tell you how much of an impact your unashamed proclamation of the sovereign grace of our God has had on my theological understanding and consequently my everyday life. Thank you for your stand on the solas and the Reformed tradition as well. I am 28 years old and grew up in the _______ ______ church family. As well intentioned as most mainline Christianity is, young men like myself need guys like you to be the unpopular voice from the past that calls the church back to the doctrines of St. Paul, the apostle of Christ.
This prisoner was introduced to Modern Reformation through the back issues that another prisoner had kept and passed along. Your gifts to Modern Reformation and White Horse Inn do more than just keep the lights on, they help change people’s lives…sometimes in the most unexpected places.
We’re in the final stretch of our mid-year appeal and your gifts make a significant difference. If you haven’t already, would you please call us at 800-890-7556 and make a donation over the phone or you can give online or by mail (White Horse Inn, 1725 Bear Valley Pkwy., Escondido CA 92027). Thank you for your support of Modern Reformation, White Horse Inn, and prisoners like this young man.
After declining several invitations, John Witherspoon (1723-94) finally accepted a call as the first pastor of Nassau Presbyterian Church and president of Princeton College. At Princeton he also taught theology, history, and philosophy to many of the new nation’s leaders, including James Madison, Aaron Burr, and a host of supreme court justices and members of Congress. Besides being the only clergyman (and college president) to sign the Declaration of Independence, Witherspoon also drafted the Articles of Confederation and gave input on the U.S. Constitution. However, his lesser-known ministry in the Church of Scotland was just as active and controversial. Before emigrating, Witherspoon wrote a Ecclesiastical Maxims, a collection of maxims that employed satire as a way of illustrating the feeble sentiments of the Kirk’s “Moderate” wing. This one is too relevant to our own day to overlook. The views he targets here are often repeated in our day and this satire reminds us that in spite of the “postmodern” advertisements, anti-confessional arguments have varied little from their “modern” script:
John Witherspoon (Ecclesiastical Characteristics, Maxim III):
“It is a necessary part of the character of a moderate man, never to speak of the Confession of Faith but with a sneer; to give sly hints, that he does not thoroughly believe it; and to make the word orthodoxy a term of contempt and reproach.
“The Confession of Faith, which we are now all laid under a disagreeable necessity to subscribe, was framed in times of hot religious zeal; and therefore it can hardly be supposed to contain any thing agreeable to our sentiments in these cool and refreshing days of moderation. So true is this, that I do not remember to have heard any moderate man speak well of it, or recommend it, in a sermon, or private discourse, in my time, And, indeed, nothing can be more ridiculous, than to make a fixed standard for opinions, which change just as the fashions of clothes and dress. No complete system can be settled for all ages, except the maxims I am now compiling and illustrating, and their great perfection lies in their being ambulatory, so that they may be applied differently, with the change of times.
“…There is one very strong particular reason why moderate men cannot love the Confession of Faith; moderation evidently implies a large share of charity, and consequently a good and favorable opinion of those that differ from our church; but a rigid adherence to the Confession of Faith, and high esteem of it, nearly borders upon, or gives great suspicion of harsh opinions of those that differ from us: and does not experience rise up and ratify this observation? Who are the narrow-minded, bigotted, uncharitable persons among us? Who are the severe censurers of those that differ in judgment? Who are the damners of the adorable Heathens, Socrates, Plato, Marcus Antonius, &c.? In fine, who are the persecutors of the inimitable heretics among ourselves? Who but the admirers of this antiquated composition, who pin their faith to other men’s sleeves, and will not endure one jot less or different belief from what their fathers had before them! It is therefore plain, that the moderate man, who desires to inclose all intelligent beings in one benevolent embrace, must have an utter abhorrence at that vile hedge of distinction, the Confession of Faith…”
On this edition of the White Horse Inn, Michael Horton talks with Greg Koukl from Stand To Reason and author of Faith is Not Wishing about the implications of the arguments put forth by skeptic Michael Shermer in last week’s broadcast. Is Christianity based on mythology; are multi-verses the best explanation for the fine-tuning that we observe in the universe; is it possible to believe in objective good and evil without believing in God? Mike and Greg will discuss these questions and more on this edition of the White Horse Inn.
Faith Is Not Wishing
The Reason for God
This is the last weekend for the “early bird” rates for the first ever White Horse Inn conference at sea, “Conversations for a Modern Reformation.” Many of you have already registered or indicated that you planned to attend. In a few weeks we’ll begin sending advance packets to those who have registered to help them get ready for the conversations that we hope will help lead to the transformation of the church.
Some of you have asked for more detail about the cruise schedule. So, here’s an updated schedule with a few more details about the time that we’ll spend together:
Sunday, January 29th
If you arrived on Saturday, be sure to worship in one of the local churches. Our good friend, Tullian Tchividjian, is the pastor of Coral Ridge PCA in Ft. Lauderdale. And, of course, Ken Jones (co-host of the WHI) is just down the road at Glendale Missionary Baptist Church in Miami.
After a day spent in worship and rest, we’ll gather back at the hotel for a special White Horse Inn taping to help kick things off.
Monday, January 30th
Let’s do breakfast before we head off to the port together. This will be a great opportunity to get to know some of the folks with whom you’ll spend the next week. The WHI hosts and staff will also introduce themselves.
We’ll leave together in buses arranged for transportation to the ship. We’ll be some of the first guests on the ship. Get settled into your rooms, head to the pool, or stop off at one of the restaurants for lunch. The ship gets underway at 4:00 p.m. Be sure to stand at a railing and wave goodbye!
We’ll eat dinner together around 6:00 p.m. and then gather together for a formal welcome reception.
Tuesday, January 31st
This is a full day at sea, nothing but ocean for miles around. It will also be our first full day together, engaged in that conversation that we hope will make a difference in our lives and in our churches. We’ll kick things off with a White Horse Inn live taping, a model of the kinds of conversations that we hope to have through the rest of the week.
Then, you’ll become a cohost of a WHI conversation! We’ll break up into groups to begin our discussion that will lead to theses for a modern reformation. You and several other conference guests will break away from other members of the group for a time of guided discussion that will help us identify the areas where we need to see reformation take place.
We’ll have a working lunch with our group members and then go right back to a time of discussion: After having identified some of the big ideas, we’ll begin breaking them down into workable theses that we’ll consider together as a large group later on in the week.
We are on a cruise ship, however, so after an early afternoon spent at work, we’ll spend the rest of the day enjoying the amenities of the cruise ship. About every ten minutes you’ll need to remind yourself that it is January!
After dinner with one of the WHI hosts, we’ll gather together one more time that night for a special presentation from Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, “What Drove Luther’s Hammer?” We’ll also have time for questions and answers, so don’t rush off to bed!
Wednesday, February 1st
Today is a “port day,” so enjoy the time in Falmouth and we’ll see you back in time for dinner and our evening presentation: Dr. Kim Riddlebarger on “A Reformation Pilgrimage.”
Thursday, February 2nd
Another port day. Enjoy Labadee and then gather together again for dinner and a presentation that night from the Rev. Ken Jones, “Reforming a Local Church: A Case Study.”
Friday, February 3rd
We’ll spend most of today together since we’ll be at sea on our way back to Ft. Lauderdale. First up is another live taping of the White Horse Inn. The hosts will be interacting with the work you’ve already done on theses for a modern Reformation.
Then, we’ll reconvene our small groups to get ready for an afternoon presentation on our theses. We don’t want our time to be spent in wishful thinking. We want to consider together what might really happen if the theses that we are considering together was actually adopted by a church: what would change? why would it matter? These are the questions that we’ll consider after lunch.
Again, we’ll break early enough that we can enjoy our last full day on the ship. After dinner together, Dr. Mike Horton will wrap things up with the evening presentation, “For a Modern Reformation.” Stick around for our farewell reception. Enjoy a few last moments on deck with the new friends you’ve made.
Saturday, February 4th
We’re back to Ft. Lauderdale today. We’ll disembark and head home. Our prayer is that the time we spent together will be refreshing and invigorating as you pursue and spread reformation in your lives and your circles of influence.
Last week (May 19, 2011), President Obama created controversy with his statement that any Israeli-Palestinian accord “must begin with a return to the 1967 borders.” Besides Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, many evangelical leaders have been criticizing the statement over the last several days.
Foreign policy experts have been discussing and debating the conditions for a lasting accord, offering thoughtful analysis on complicated questions. However, they are often drowned out by the background voices of those who insist, on biblical grounds, that any pressure put on Israel to keep its past pledges is tantamount to heresy.
Lacking both the qualifications and the authority to pronounce on the policy questions, my focus here is on the argument that many evangelicals have made over the years since dispensational premillennialism gained ascendence.
In a recent post for Charisma Magazine Online, Jack Hayford, pastor of Church on the Way (Van Nuys, California), called President Obama’s announcement “a trumpet call from God’s Spirit: ‘Beware – Take Action!’” He adds, “We are living in a sobering moment in history that calls us, as believers in Jesus Christ, to take a stand with Israel. We could be people of the last hour.”
To his credit, Mr. Hayford warned against disrespectful or violent responses. However, he reiterated a familiar defense for a policy that would basically recognize Israel’s privileges as a “holy nation” and not simply as a secular nation that is one of the US’s closest friends. Inasmuch as it has been embraced (at least publicly) by several recent presidents, the “Bible-based” argument that Mr. Hayford offers has had some influence on foreign policy. But is it, in fact, biblical?
Like most dispensationalist brothers and sisters, Mr. Hayford’s main argument is the unconditional nature of God’s promise to Israel of an earthly land and kingdom. “Israel is a land about which God says uniquely, prophetically, redemptively and repeatedly in the Bible This is Mine. God refers to Israel as He does to no other land on Earth. Israel was raised up to be a light to the Gentiles.” He makes other arguments in favor of the special relationship of Christians and Jews. “Salvation comes from the Jews,” the first church was Jewish, and Gentiles are the “wild branches” grafted onto the tree. All of this is important to remember when we are thinking about the relationship between Christians and Jews. However, does it have anything to do with the nation of Israel and Palestine or the United States?
The deeper problem in the argument supporting Mr. Hayford’s urgent call concerns the nature of the promise that God made to Abraham. He writes, “The Lord selected a people … He began by selecting a man named Abraham. The Lord said that through the seed of Abraham (in relationship with his wife, Sarah, giving birth to the promised child, Isaac) all the nations of the Earth will be blessed … every human being having access to the divine blessing of Almighty God. In Genesis 12:3, the Lord says in the covenant He makes with Abraham: ‘I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
I can agree with the point that “This relates not only to a people (the Jews), but it also relates to a land (Israel),” and that God did in fact judge Israel’s enemies. Nevertheless, God’s covenant with Israel was itself conditional. It is not Israel’s land, but God’s, and if Israel breaks the covenant, then the land will “vomit out” Israel as well (Lev 20:22). God himself will lay the nation waste through other nations and send his people into exile “east of Eden.” The land will no longer be holy, but common, even though God continues to work through the holy line—the “stump of Jesse,” from whom David and eventually the greater David (the Messiah) would come. Throughout the law (especially in Deuteronomy), the temporal promise of “long life in the land” is conditioned on Israel’s faithfulness to the covenant it swore at Mount Sinai. It is distinct from the unconditional promise of everlasting life and peace through Abraham’s Seed, through whom all families of the earth will be blessed.
The way the Gospels, but especially Hebrews and Galatians, interpret these passages is to recognize that the Sinai covenant was temporary, conditional, and typological. It was a shadow of the things to come—namely, Christ and his kingdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus announces a “regime change” from the civil laws of the theocracy. Instead of driving out the enemies of God, the True Israel—those united to Christ—are to endure suffering for the gospel and to pray for their persecutors. God’s common grace is shed on the just and the unjust alike in this age. Having fulfilled its job, like a trailer for a movie, the old covenant is now “obsolete” (Heb 8:13). Christ’s ministry, far greater than that of Moses, fulfills the everlasting promise that God made to Abraham. Now, blessing has come from the Jews to the ends of the earth in Jesus Christ, the true Israel, the true and faithful Son of David, the true Temple.
The church has therefore not replaced Israel; rather, the borders of Israel have now been extended. No longer a geo-political nation, limited to one people, it is an international remnant “from every tribe, kindred, and nation” (Rev 5:9). So while I do believe that Paul’s teaching in Romans 9-11 leads us to expect a great outpouring of God’s Spirit on ethnic Jews in the last days, this has nothing to do with the state of Israel.
A lot more could be—and should be—said (I treat this at length in The Christian Faith [535-47, 729-33, 919-90] and elsewhere). However, it’s worth concluding this brief response by mentioning that not even Orthodox Jews believe that the modern state of Israel is holy. The messianic kingdom for which they long is strictly “from above.” It comes with the Messiah and cannot be a secular democracy. So they too realize that the state of Israel is not in any way a revival of the Mosaic theocracy. They are still living in exile, even in Israel.
To conclude: God’s promise to Abraham included (1) and earthly land and (2) a heavenly land. The central claim of the New Testament, anticipated by the prophets, is that although Israel (like Adam—Hosea 6:7) has thoroughly violated the conditions for inheriting the first, God has been faithful to keep history moving beyond the sinfulness of his human partner—including us. Through Christ, he has fulfilled this promise, bringing blessing to all the families of the earth. All heirs of this kingdom are “a holy nation,” living in the common nations of this age.
Especially given the legacy of Christian persecution of Jews throughout the medieval and modern periods, there is a special obligation of Christians to defend the common rights of the Jewish people to a flourishing existence. Yet, by acknowledging that God’s promise of a temporal, geo-political theocracy and land were conditional and that this covenant now lies in the past, we are free to support our friends in Israel and Palestine in their pursuit of a stable peace that will doubtless require trust and negotiation on both sides.
On this program, Michael Horton talks with Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine and author of numerous books including, Why People Believe Weird Things, Why Darwin Matters, and most recently The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. The conversation centers on Shermer’s new book, and why he believes his skeptical and agnostic worldview presents a better explanation for the universe than the claims of the Christian faith. Following the interview, Michael Horton talks with Dean L. Overman, author of The Case Against Accident & Self Organization, about the mathematical improbability of life forming by chance.
The Believing Brain
Holman QuickSource Guide to Apologetics
The Case Against Accident & Self Organization
Dean L. Overman
This post is actually written for followers of Harold Camping to read on May 22, after their leader’s failed prediction of Judgment Day on May 21 (today) passes.
Undaunted by our Lord’s explicit warning against predicting “the day and the hour” of his return and his warning about false prophets in the last days, as well as by his own failed speculation that Jesus would return in 1994, Mr. Camping has squandered enormous resources on full-page ads in national newspapers and billboards across the country for his new date.
Reared in the Christian Reformed Church (in which he was an elder), Mr. Camping owns “Family Radio Network,” with over a hundred stations and translators in the US, and others around the world, including Moscow, Istanbul, and in various parts of Africa. His organization also owns several TV stations.
I recall listening to Mr. Camping’s “Open Forum” as a teen-ager, hearing for the first time serious teaching on the doctrines of grace. However, since 1988, when he left the Christian Reformed Church, he has gradually adopted a variety of teachings. In biblical interpretation, he employes a hermeneutic in which there are multiple layers of meaning and, as in much of medieval speculation, the “spiritual interpretation” seems to be his preferred method. So it’s not surprising that he would mine the Bible much like a medieval alchemist, looking for the secret meaning.
Some of these teachings are well-represented in evangelicalism, but contrary to Reformed teaching—such as the distinction between a rapture of the saints and the second coming of Christ. Other teachings are odd interpretations that he claims to have received directly from God, although they resemble past errors in church history. In recent years, he has argued that there is no eternal punishment (hell is simply death) and so emphasizes God’s eternal decree that Christ’s work in history is merely a demonstration of what he already accomplished in eternity.
By the turn of the millennium, he announced the end of the “church era,” calling his followers to abandon their local churches. And many did. Years ago, as president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, which sponsors James Boice’s “Bible Study Hour,” I met with Mr. Camping. He was asking us to delete any reference to the church in Dr. Boice’s sermons, which we refused to do. So many loyal listeners could no longer hear the broadcast. Resolute and self-confident in the meeting, Mr. Camping seemed for the first time to me then to have crossed the line from the idiosyncratic to the heretical.
Apostasy is a serious business. Nevertheless, Christ extends his open hand to Mr. Camping and his followers to return to him and his body. Tragically, some followers will be completely disillusioned on May 22. Having already abandoned the church, many will likely become skeptical of anyone who claims to teach Scripture, indeed even of Scripture itself. (I’ve even heard of one follower who said that if the prediction turns out to be wrong, then the Bible is wrong.)
Of course, Jesus may return tomorrow, or the next day, or long after we die. We simply do not know. However, we can be sure that the errors that he teaches—quite apart from his failed predictions—are enough to regard him, tragically, as a false prophet.
Also tragic is the shame that such movements bring to the cause of Christ. Predictably (no pun intended), atheists are planning “rapture parties” around the world. (BBC report: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-13468131; NBC report: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2J0ce66hzQ
As for the rest of us, we’ll be in church this Lord’s Day, proclaiming Christ’s death and resurrection, longing for his return…on his Father’s timetable, which none of us knows.
I’ve read stories this morning at Slate and in The New York Times about Harold Camping’s prediction that the rapture will occur tomorrow. Each one makes the same kind of reporting mistakes that drive our friends at GetReligion batty. But what’s really tragic about the mainstream reporting on this issue is the barely disguised, thinly veiled mockery that provides the undercurrent for each narrative. There’s been fantastic theological and exegetical reflection elsewhere (here and here, for starters), which I won’t repeat here. Instead, I want to think about how we should interact with our friends and neighbors who have been overtaken by Camping’s madness.
A few days ago, the local Los Angeles evening news program featured an interview with Michael Shermer, the former Christian turned skeptic that Mike Horton interviewed for the next episode of White Horse Inn coming up this Sunday. Shermer and the anchor sat across from one another and traded smirks, eye rolls, and knowing grins about all those deluded Christians who believed that Jesus was coming back on Saturday. At some level you probably expect this from people who have no concept of living between the ages; of praying with the apostle John at the end of Revelation, “even so, come Lord Jesus!”; of feeling the same missionary burden that propelled these otherwise normal Americans into the streets to warn of the judgment to come.
The real danger post-Saturday doesn’t come from the skeptics, however, it comes from people like you and me. Having lived through Camping’s failed prediction in 1994 and his 2002 rejection of the visible body of Christ on earth, many Reformational Christians feel the same desire to smirk, roll their eyes, and use the worst kind of language to describe fellow Christians who have been deluded by false teaching. We also probably feel a justified sense of outrage that Camping is making a mockery of Christ and his church, giving skeptics like Shermer a free shot at one of our cherished hopes.
We must be very careful about how we respond. Will we join our friends at the “Rapture Parties” that are planned for pubs and living rooms around the nation? Will we laugh at those who have spent the last several months of their lives dedicated to a true but untimely belief? What will we say on Saturday night or Sunday morning?
History teaches us that previous generations caught up in eschatological fervor often fell away from Christ when their deeply held beliefs about the end of the world didn’t pan out. While Camping must answer for his false teaching at the end of the age, Reformational Christians are facing a pastoral problem come Sunday morning: how can we apply the salve of the Gospel to the wounded sheep who will be wandering aimlessly, having discovered that what they thought was true (so true they were willing to upend their lives over it) was not? If this isn’t true, they might reason, then what other deeply held beliefs and convictions and doctrines and hopes might not be true?
It’s at this point that we need to be ready to provide a reasonable defense of our reasonable faith. Christianity is not founded upon some complex Bible code that needs years of analysis to reveal its secret. Christianity is about a man who claimed to be God, who died in full public view as a criminal, and was inexplicably raised from the dead three days later appearing to a multitude of witnesses. When his followers, who witnessed his resurrection, began speaking of it publicly, they connected the prophecies of the Old Testament to the life and death and resurrection of this man who claimed the power to forgive sins. This is the heart of the Christian faith, the message that deserves to be featured on billboards, sides of buses, and pamphlets all over the world. It is also the message that needs to be reinvested into the hearts and lives of those who found hope and meaning in Harold Camping’s latest bad idea.