White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

The Science of Atonement

A great find from our friends at Mockingbird: from this week’s Economist, a story about the relationship between guilt and pain.

WHI-1035 | Is Faith in Christ Necessary?

According to a recent Pew study, 70% of Americans agreed with the idea that “many religions can lead to eternal life.” What’s more striking is that when this same question was put to self-identified evangelical Christians, 57% agreed. So is this view correct, or is faith in Christ the only way to heaven? That’s the focus of this edition of White Horse Inn as the hosts continue their series through the Great Commission.


The Gospel Commission
Michael Horton
Christ Alone
Rod Rosenbladt
Only One Way
ed. Richard Phillips


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Doug Powell

Help Wanted!

Will you be in southern California on February 18th?

Are you free from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.?

Would you like to help White Horse Inn create a study resource in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the publication of Mike Horton’s book, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace?

We’re looking for 15 people to be in the live studio audience on February 18th in Carlsbad, California as Mike Horton leads a small group through twelve sessions corresponding to the twelve chapters of Putting Amazing Back Into Grace. These sessions will be professionally recorded and packaged with a study guide and a new edition of the book later this year. All those who participate as members of the studio audience will get the complete package when it is published.

We have limited space available for this event and we need to know if you are committed to participating, so please leave a comment or contact us (please direct your comment to “Marketing”) to secure your spot and receive further instructions.

Thanks for your help!

WHI-1034 | The Mission Statement

The Great Commission is both deep in its intensity (making disciples, not just converts) and wide in its extensiveness (“into all the world”). But even where it was once strongly preached and professed, the Gospel’s light seems today to be a flickering candle. How do we take the message of the gospel into all the world? On this edition of the program the hosts discuss the meaning of Christ’s mission statement in the context of today’s religious pluralism.


Bible & Mission
Richard Bauckham
The Gospel Commission
Michael Horton
The Christian Faith
Michael Horton


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David Hlebo

The Gospel Sonnets of Ralph Erskine

I’ve recently started reading Ralph Erskine’s Gospel Sonnets to my four children with great profit. Written in 1720, this book combines incredible theological precision with beautiful poetry. Thanks to Google, you can now read or download a pdf copy of this hard to find book. Here are a few lines dealing with both justification and sanctification:

The believer, being married to Christ, is both justified and sanctified

Proud nature may reject this gospel-theme,
And curse it as an Antinomian scheme.
Let slander bark, let envy grin and fight,
The curse that is so causeless shall not light.
If they that fain would make by holy force
‘Twixt sinners and the law a clean divorce,
And court the Lamb a virgin chaste to wife,
Be charg’d as foes to holiness of life,
Well may they suffer gladly on this score,
Apostles great were so malign’d before.

When as a cov’nant stern the law commands,
Faith puts her Lamb’s obedience in its hands:
And when its threats gush out a fiery flood,
Faith stops the current with her victim’s blood.
The law can crave no more, yet craves no less,
Than active, passive, perfect righteousness.
Yet here is all, yea, more than its demand,
All render’d to it by a divine hand.
Mankind is bound law-service still to pay,
Yea, angel-kind is also bound t’ obey.
It may by human and angelic blaze
Have honour, but in finite partial ways.

Thus doth the Husband by his Father’s will
Both for and in his bride the law fulfill:
For her, as ’tis a covenant; and then
In her, as ’tis a rule of life to men.
First all law-debt he most completely pays;
Then of law-duties all the charge defrays.
Does first assume her guilt, and loose her chains;
And then with living water wash her stains:
Her fund restore, and then her form repair,
And make his filthy bride a beauty fair;
His perfect righteousness most freely grant,
And then his holy image deep implant;
Into her heart his precious seed indrop,
Which, in his time, will yield a glorious crop.
But by alternate turns his plant he brings
Through robbing winters and repairing springs.
Hence, pining oft, they suffer sad decays,
By dint of shady nights and stormy days.
But blest with sap, and influence from above
They live and grow anew in faith and love;
Until transplanted to the higher soil,
Where furies tread no more, nor foxes spoil.

CBD Interviews Mike Horton for “The Christian Faith”

Matthew Miller, the academic blogger at Christianbook.com, recently interviewed Mike Horton about The Christian Faith. Below are some highlights from the interview:

UPDATE: part two of the CBD interview with Michael Horton is also now available online.

Matthew: Predestination is, of course, always a hot button topic for Christians of every tradition. You ground your doctrine in the Trinity (following Barth?). What major implication does your grounding of the doctrine in divine ontology have for Christian theology?

Horton: Hmmm. A lot of comparisons to Barth! However, here as well I’d have to say that it’s the older Reformed theologians who most influence my thinking on this point. The covenant (federal) tradition of Reformed theology begins with the covenant of redemption, made between the Father, Son, and Spirit, before creation. In fact, I point out Barth’s rejection of this motif on the basis of what I take to be an inadequate appreciation for a robust view of the persons of the Trinity as distinct persons.

Calvin emphasizes that predestination can never be discussed safely unless we seek our election in Christ and not in ourselves or in God’s secret councils. Unfortunately, many have heard defenses of predestination that don’t follow this advice and the result is a doctrine that is indistinguishable from Islam. Happily, that does not characterize the confessional theologies of the Reformed tradition, but it circulates in popular presentations—by friend and foe alike.

The Fear of Antinomianism

Fear is a powerful motivator. We’ve grown used to it being used in politics to argue for (or against) certain economic, immigration, or military proposals. We sometimes don’t recognize its misuse in the church.  This week, the fear of antinomianism (which means the rejection of God’s Law as a standard of righteous action required of God’s covenant people) has been raised.  There have been genuine antinomians in church history.  There are many today, who set aside God’s law as the standard for God’s righteous judgment, usually substituting their own prescriptions.  However, accusations have been raised over the last few days that target people who are decidedly not antinomian.  In a recent Christianity Today article by Jason Hood, the antinomian charge was directed at contemporary Reformed preachers and writers.  Elsewhere, the White Horse Inn was rebuked for encouraging this false teaching.

There’s no point in responding to accusations point by point.  Anyone who subscribes Lutheran or Reformed confessions is conscience-bound to repudiate antinomianism as a perversion of biblical teaching.  We do not deny the abiding role of God’s moral law in exposing our sin (first use) and guiding us in grateful and godly living (third use).  So if Reformation Christianity is “antinomian” (the perennial charge from Roman Catholic and Arminian quarters), then it would help if critics would let us know the new definition.

The conventional wisdom in many Christian circles is that “we need to find the right balance between law and grace, so that we don’t fall into legalism or license.” Although this counsel has a long history, its most recent expression was urged in Jason Hood’s article.  The author expresses concern that too many Reformed Christians today are encouraging antinomianism—or at least reveling in the charge.  The author especially criticizes appeals to the point made by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (on the basis of Romans 6:1) that if we aren’t accused of antinomianism, we haven’t preached the gospel properly.  In that verse, Paul asks the rhetorical question that he assumes his treatment of the gospel thus far will provoke: “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”  The author of this article points out that Paul immediately answers in the strongest possible terms, “By no means!”  Yet his article implies that those of us who invoke Lloyd-Jones’ point might answer otherwise.

This misunderstanding can be cleared up easily by looking at what Lloyd-Jones goes on to say in that Romans commentary.  It could also be cleared up by looking at the sharp denunciations of antinomianism in the Lutheran Book of Concord and the Reformed (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort) and Presbyterian standards (Westminster Confession and Catechisms), as well as the Savoy (Congregationalist) and the London Baptist confessions.  With Paul, we answer without hesitation,

By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (vv 2-4).

What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with more gospel!  In other words, antinomians are not people who believe the gospel too much, but too little!  They restrict the power of the gospel to the problem of sin’s guilt, while Paul tells us that the gospel is the power for sanctification as well as justification.

The danger of legalism becomes apparent not only when we confuse law and gospel in justification, but when we imagine that even our new obedience can be powered by the law rather than the gospel.  The law does what only the law can do: reveal God’s moral will.  In doing so, it strips us of our righteousness and makes us aware of our helplessness apart from Christ and it also directs us in grateful obedience.  No one who says this can be considered an antinomian.  However, it’s not a matter of finding the right “balance” between law and gospel, but of recognizing that each does different work.  We need imperatives—and Paul gives them.  But he only does this later in the argument, after he has grounded sanctification in the gospel.

The ultimate antidote to antinomianism is not more imperatives, but the realization that the gospel swallows the tyranny as well as the guilt of sin.  It is enough to save Christians even in their failure and not only brings them peace with God in justification, but the only liberation from the cruel oppression of sin.  To be united to Christ through faith is to receive everything that we need not only to challenge legalism but antinomianism as well.

For more on this important distinction, please see my friend Tullian Tchividjian’s post and the post of my friend and colleague at WSC, R. Scott Clark.

UPDATE: some of you are asking for a more specific response to Frank Turk. A number of charges were laid against WHI, all in the spirit of brotherly concern. We appreciate the time that Frank took to write his six page letter, the 300 comments that it generated, and the interest that you are taking in the ongoing dialogue. But none of the WHI hosts has ever said that the Bible only has indicatives and imperatives.  And none of us has said that once you’ve said “Law & Gospel,” you’ve done your exegesis. Nor are we responsible for antinomian statements from people who listen to WHI (any more than Frank Turk is responsible for all the comments made after his blog post). We’re simply saying, with the Reformers and the confessional Reformed as well as Lutheran theologians through the ages, that Law and Gospel summarize the “two words” of that one Word that God has revealed to us.  There is narrative, poetry, wisdom, instruction, dialogue, parable, and other genres, but the most basic distinction to make when reading and proclaiming God’s Word is the one between Law and Gospel.  This is not only Luther, but Calvin, Bullinger, Ursinus, Perkins, Owen, Bavinck, Berkhof, Hodge and Murray.  Just as preaching “Christ crucified” doesn’t mean simply repeating the phrase, “Christ crucified,” but interpreting the whole of Scripture in the light of Christ, bearing in mind the distinction between command and promise is not just a matter of parroting the words, but of making sure that we don’t turn promises into commands and commands into promises.  There is a lot more that we have to bring to our study of Scripture, but when we get that wrong, everything is confused.

The Christian Faith at National Review

Mike Potemra has some nice things to say about Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith at National Review Online.

Are You God’s Redemptive Agent?

This was recently sent to us from a White Horse Inn listener in the Seattle area:

I was flipping through radio stations on my way to work today and stopped for a moment on a Christian radio station and heard an advertisement for a Christian university with a concluding slogan that made me say out loud to myself “Wow! I can’t beleive that!” The school’s promise was that if I enrolled as a student I would be prepared to become “God’s creative and redemptive agent in the world.” I couldn’t believe this incredible offer since it sounded like they were making me a promise to become a member of the Trinity. So I did some research and confirmed on the school’s website that becoming “God’s Creative Agents” and “God’s Redemptive Agents” is in fact part of their vision for all students. Now, I don’t actually beleive that the school meant to say that they will help mold their students into the Messiah, but I wanted to pass this on to you yet another example of the common confusion that we are called to be the gospel rather than being called preach the gospel.

– Micah Adamson avid White Horse Inn listener, enjoying hearing you talk about getting the gospel right and getting the gospel out in your focus on the great commission this year.

Michael Horton & The Christian Faith

Michael Horton was recently interviewed by John Starke about his new book The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way. This highly anticipated work is being released this week from Zondervan, and is now available from various online retailers. The book is currently among the top ten bestselling books of Christian theology at Amazon.com, and is #1 in the sub-category of “systematic theology.” Justin Taylor recently reported that the book is heading back to the printers since Zondervan has already sold out of its stock from the first print run. Stan Guthrie and John Wilson recently discussed the book at some length on the Books and Culture podcast. They called it, “A textbook worth reading outside the classroom.” Here is an excerpt from John Starke’s recent interview:

As you look at theological developments today, what challenges should young scholars, pastors, and leaders be spending energy on for the next 20 years or so?
We Americans are activists, and that’s definitely true of evangelicals. That’s been part of the movement’s strength. But [it] can also become a weakness. Like Martha, we can be “troubled by many things,” rather than choosing “the better part” with Mary, sitting at our Lord’s feet as disciples. There is a lot of work to be done in recovering sound doctrine and exegesis, but Christianity is not just a list of truths; it is a church. It’s possible to have been raised in the church today without ever having really belonged to the church. One can go from the nursery to children’s church to youth group to college ministry without ever having been baptized, catechized, and making a public profession of faith for membership in a local body. To be a disciple is to become an apprentice of our Lord through the ministry that he established in the Great Commission. It’s not just about “getting saved,” but “growing up into Christ” in his body. So we need to do theology not only for the church but in the church, and we need to think through more concretely what that looks like in an age of “mission creep.”

Systematic theologies are always, by nature, in summary form. But was there an area in your text that you wished you could have developed further?
That’s part of the torture of writing one of these things. In my four-volume dogmatics series with Westminster John Knox I could wander into themes that interested me already. But that’s also why I learned a lot from having to focus also on many important topics that I had not treated. My Zondervan editors were terrific—and persistent—in keeping to my word limit, so I had to curb my enthusiasm and make sure I treated the whole breadth of Christian doctrine. If I had more space, though, I would have added a fuller exploration of the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. Classic Reformed treatments (think of Calvin’s Institutes, for example) included these sections, but there’s been a tendency in modern systems to divide the labor between systematic theology and ethics. I think that can contribute to the pulling apart of the fabric of faith and practice, dividing the spoils between theologians and ethicists. Although I endeavor to integrate these throughout the book, having a distinct section on the Decalogue would have been useful, I think.

Resources for further Reading / Listening
Full text of John Starke’s interview with Michael Horton at the Gospel Coalition Blog
9Marks interview with Michael Horton
WSC Office Hours audio interview with Michael Horton
Books & Culture Podcast discussion of The Christian Faith

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