White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

WHI-1024 | The Sufficiency of Scripture

According to sixteenth-century Roman Catholics, the Bible was a dark and obscure book that required an infallible interpreter. Given many of the abuses and interpretive mistakes made by Rome, the Protestants were unconvinced and began to argue for sola scriptura, that the Scriptures themselves were clear on the central points of law and gospel. But what are the implications of this view? Does it mean that each of us has the right to private interpretation? What about the role of creeds and confessions? that’s what’s on tap this week at the White Horse Inn

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Sola Scriptura
Godfrey & Sproul
Scripture Alone
R.C. Sproul
The Shape of Sola Scriptura
Keith Mathison

PROGRAM AUDIO

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Andrew Osenga

Get Justified!

Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification is NOW AVAILABLE for purchase!

We’re very proud of this first book, published under the Modern Reformation imprint. Our hope is to release a new volume every year, combining the best of our classic articles with new chapters written to address the important theological and ecclesiological issues of the day.

For the next five days, you can use a special discount code to get the book at 50% off its normal retail price. Just enter XFPM89VW in the discount code box. This discount is only available through Friday, November 19th.

Once you’ve purchased and read the book, let us know what you think!

WHI-1023 | The Parables of Jesus (Part 6)

When Jesus returns will he separate the sheep and the goats based upon good works? How are we to understand Jesus’ teaching about this in Matthew 25? What about the parable of the wedding banquet; how does this story relate to our view of last things? On this edition of White Horse Inn the hosts will discuss these questions and more as they wrap up their series on the Parables of Jesus.

RELATED ARTICLES

Exploring the Parables of Jesus, Pt 6
Michael Horton
Thy Kingdom Come
Kim Riddlebarger
WHI Discussion Group Questions
PDF Document

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

The Parables of Jesus
David Wenham
The Parables
Simon Kistemaker
A Case for Amillennialism
Kim Riddlebarger

PROGRAM AUDIO

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Zack Hicks

An Impotent Symbol of Cinema Secularism

Crystal Cathedral“He who marries the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower.”

This sage warning from William Ralph Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the mid-20th century, is especially poignant with the recent announcement that an Orange County, California landmark, the Crystal Cathedral, has filed for bankruptcy. According to this recent article in The Guardian, the demise of the famous church founded by televangelist Robert Schuller is illustrative of the deeper and broader weaknesses of American evangelicalism.

A telling quote from the article:

So if you wonder why Americans are, anomalously, religious it is because we have evacuated religion of all content. There are of course theological doctrines on the books, which church members tick off, in the way that they agree to accept screenfuls of conditions for installing new software. But most have no serious interest in these theoretical matters. Whether signing on for a new therapy or self-help programme, trying out a new diet or a new church, they are looking for a bag of tricks, a collection of gimmicks and recipes that will get them the material prosperity, perfect health, beautiful bodies, ideal relationships and complete happiness to which they believe they are entitled.

Dad Rod Thursdays – “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church” In Video

We are proud to announce that the video re-recording of Dr. Rosenbladt presenting his seminal work, The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church, has now been made available by Faith Lutheran Church in Capistrano Beach, California.

As usual, please enjoy and feel free to pass along to friends or embed in your blog or Facebook. This is a different recording than the MP3 currently available for free on New Reformation Press, but he uses the same exact text that is also available there in PDF (both regular full-sheet and booklet).

Dr. Rod Rosenbladt on “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church” from Faith Lutheran Church on Vimeo.

Steve Martin’s Atheist Gospel Song

We found this over at the Huffington Post and had to pass it on. From the HP:

One of the stops on that tour was the venerable live music program Austin City Limits, and Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, a vocal quartet, performed an original composition. Lamenting that religious people have the best music, they decry the fact that nonreligious people are left in the proverbial dust when it comes to music proclaiming their beliefs. Check out the performance of “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” below.

Enjoy!

John Warwick Montgomery on Reality and Speculation

Modern Reformation contributor and noted Lutheran apologist John Warwick Montgomery recently gave the Fall 2010 Faith and Reason Lecture at Patrick Henry College.  Montgomery began his lecture by appealing to Sherlock Holmes:

“We begin – and we shall end – with Sherlock Holmes,” began Dr. John Warwick Montgomery during last Friday’s Faith and Reason lecture, entitled “Speculation vs. Factuality: An Analysis of Modern Unbelief and Suggested Corrective.” “’Facts, facts, facts,’ insisted the Great Detective. ‘It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts. I can discover facts but I cannot change them.’”

With this introduction, Dr. Montgomery, PHC’s Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and Christian Thought, posited what he views as the central roadblock to genuine Christian faith — a prejudice in which “modern unbelief departs from factual reality in favour of unsupportable speculation, leaving its advocates in a never-never land without hope either in this world or in the next.”

Faith and Reason lecture, Fall 2010 from Sarah Pride on Vimeo.

Prof. Montgomery’s work has appeared in the pages of Modern Reformation since 1993:

“Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification” by Alister E. McGrath (Book Review) – March/April 2000 Vol: 9 Num: 2
God & Other Law-Makers – May/June 1993 Vol: 2 Num: 3
God at University College Dublin – Jan./Feb. 2009 Vol: 18 Num: 1
Legal Evidence for the Truth of the Faith – March/April 2006 Vol: 15 Num: 2
Legislating Morality – July/August 1992 Vol: 1 Num: 4
The Descent of Evangelicalism: Origins of the Specious – Sept./Oct. 1997 Vol: 6 Num: 5
The Incarnate Christ: The Apologetic Thrust of Lutheran Theology – Jan./Feb. 1998 Vol: 7 Num: 1

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
By Michael Lewis
W. W. Norton & Company, 2010
266 pages (hardcover), $27.95

Reviewed by Nathan Barczi for Modern Reformation (November/December 2010) Vol. 19, No. 6. Pages 54-55.

No one saw it coming. In April 2005, former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan spoke glowingly of the burgeoning subprime mortgage industry. At his Senate confirmation hearings a few months later, current Chairman Ben Bernanke similarly disavowed any danger of a housing bubble. Policymakers, financiers, and captains of industry have spoken in near-unanimous chorus:  no one saw it coming. Michael Lewis’s The Big Short is the story of some of those who not only anticipated the collapse but made a fortune betting on it. Clearer and more comprehensive accounts of the tumult have been written, but none delivers with such force its human particulars.

The central figure in Lewis’s character-dominated account is Steve Eisman. As an analyst at Oppenheimer, Eisman earned a reputation for being brash and excessively honest about the dim prospects of the companies he evaluated. “Even on Wall Street, people think he’s rude and obnoxious and aggressive,” his wife tells Lewis. He left to run a hedge fund in 2001, and by spring 2005 his pessimism focused chiefly on the same subprime mortgage industry lauded by Greenspan. Lenders seemingly couldn’t issue mortgages quickly enough, often with little or no proof of the borrower’s capacity to make good on the payments. Eisman began looking for ways to bet against bonds backed by subprime mortgage debt. What he found was the now-infamous credit default swap (CDS).

The buyer of a CDS effectively owns insurance against the default of a bond. But why would anyone want to be on the other side of the bet, buying the risk associated with these bonds? It is one of the strengths of Lewis’s book that he embeds lucid explanations of arcane concepts in an engrossing narrative. He unpacks one more needed piece of terminology here:  the collateralized debt obligation (CDO). Picture many towers of credit default swaps backed by subprime mortgages. At the top of each tower are the highest-rated bonds and at the bottom are the riskiest bonds. In a collateralized debt obligation, slices from the lower levels of each tower are packaged together into one financial instrument. Ratings agencies accepted the argument of Wall Street firms that because the slices were coming from different mortgages all over the country, they couldn’t possibly all default at the same time. And so, although each slice was risky, the new tower couldn’t be—or so said the ratings agencies (who are the targets of some of Lewis’s sharpest criticism), pronouncing the CDOs worthy of AAA ratings, safe enough for pension funds and insurance companies (AIG, for instance), who couldn’t get enough of them.

Lewis recounts that one night in (where else?) Las Vegas over dinner with a CDO manager, Eisman realized how these pieces fit together. “I love guys like you who short my market,” the manager tells Eisman. “Without you, I don’t have anything to buy.” Wall Street’s demand for subprime-backed CDOs couldn’t be met by the stock of actual mortgages, no matter how many of them were issued. But when Eisman bought credit default swaps on those mortgages, he wasn’t merely making side bets; he was actually providing a stream of income that replicated the bonds, effectively synthesizing new mortgages without the hassle of finding an actual house or borrower. Eisman’s pessimism about the subprime market was literally fueling its growth. (This is a good place to address the widely held notion that short-selling is inherently harmful. It is helpful to allow investors who believe that the price of an asset will fall to place bets to that effect; these help to prevent bubbles from developing. Short positions that generate more of the asset against which they are taken, of course, are another matter.)  Freed from the fetters of being backed by actual homes, the market could grow without bounds, which is why its collapse was capable of such universally devastating effects. “There’s no limit to risk in the market,” Eisman explains. “A bank with a market capitalization of one billion dollars might have one trillion dollars’ worth of credit default swaps outstanding. No one knows how many there are! And no one knows where they are!” As the book ends, reality is setting in—Bear Stearns is no more and Lewis’s protagonists are wondering just what they’ve done.

Twenty years ago, Lewis was shocked when readers of his first book, an autobiographical account of the greed he encountered in his stint as a Wall Street analyst, treated it like a how-to manual for getting ahead in finance. The same dynamic is on display here:  No one who could see how rotten the subprime market had become had any incentive to do anything but seek to profit from it. The book logically leads to an appeal for better regulation to keep greed in check, a conclusion of inescapable merit. Reformed Christians are, of course, familiar with the civil use of the law to restrain evil. But as Augustine put it, “[C]ertain laws are established which are called civil laws, not because they bring men to make a good use of their wealth, but because those who made a bad use of it become thereby less injurious.” Lewis’s elucidation of the human stories underlying the movements of vast and impersonal markets serves as a corrective to the tendency to place inordinate degrees of hope in regulation. Regulation can do no more than restrain the human heart, just as markets can do no more than channel our greed toward generally beneficial ends. But neither offers any ultimate remedy for what is so vividly depicted, though never named, in Lewis’s book—namely, sin.

Lewis’s book puts a human face on the financial crisis that dominates the news of the day. Those readers will be best served who can recognize their own faces in its pages. Neither Wall Street nor Washington, DC is the sole repository of human depravity, but it’s also the case that the institutions that dominate them do not exist independently of the people who fill them or of the need for regeneration in their hearts. To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton: What’s wrong with Wall Street? I am.

Nathan Barczi is an economist, and an elder at Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and son.

The Venetian hotel—Palazzo Ducale on the outside, Divine Comedy on the inside—was overrun by thousands of white men in business casual now earning their living, one way or another, off subprime mortgages. Like all of Las Vegas, the Venetian was a jangle of seemingly random effects designed to heighten and exploit irrationality: the days that felt like nights and the nights that felt like days, the penny slots and the cash machines that spat out $100 bills, the grand hotel rooms that cost so little and made you feel so big. The point of all of it was to alter your perception of your chances and your money, and all of it depressed Steve Eisman, the CEO of FrontPoint Partners, a hedge fund that detected the subprime mess before nearly everyone else. He didn’t even like to gamble. “I wouldn’t know how to calculate odds if my life depended on it,” he said. At the end of each day his colleague Vinny would head off to play low-stakes poker, his other colleague Danny would join Deutsche Bank trader Greg Lippmann and the other bond people at the craps tables, and Eisman would go to bed. That craps was the game of choice of the bond trader was interesting, though. Craps offered the player the illusion of control—after all, he rolled the dice—and a surface complexity that masked its deeper idiocy. “For some reason, when these people are playing it they actually believe they have the power to make the dice work,” said Vinny.

—Excerpt from The Big Short

Justified: a preview of Mike Horton’s chapter

Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification will be available for purchase in one week. You can pick up the very first copies at a significant discount at the White Horse Inn booth at the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia (November 17-19, 2010).

We got some nice pre-press last week from our friend Tullian Tchividjian. Tullian was in town and we gave him a copy of the book at lunch. His first impressions?

Mike gave me a copy of a new book that he edited and published through Modern Reformation entitled Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification. I was flipping through it last night and was super impressed by what I read.  At the end of the book Mike outlines six-core beliefs that define the mission of Modern Reformation and the White Horse Inn (his weekly radio broadcast). While all of the six beliefs are foundational, I was struck by the gripping clarity of belief number two on the importance of Gospel-centered preaching. Everything he writes here not only defines my theology of preaching but is, in my opinion, the only type of preaching that will rescue the church from Christless Christianity. He writes:

Scripture is of no use to us if we read it merely as a handbook for daily living without recognizing that its principle purpose is to reveal Jesus Christ and his gospel for the salvation of sinners. All Scripture coalesces in Christ, anticipated in the OT and appearing in the flesh in the NT. In Scripture, God issues commands and threatens judgment for transgressors as well as direction for the lives of his people. Yet the greatest treasure buried in the Scriptures is the good news of the promised Messiah. Everything in the Bible that tells us what to do is “law”, and everything in the Bible that tells us what God has done in Christ to save us is “gospel.” Much like medieval piety, the emphasis in much Christian teaching today is on what we are to do without adequate grounding in the good news of what God has done for us in Christ. “What would Jesus do?” becomes more important than “What has Jesus done?” The gospel, however, is not just something we needed at conversion so we can spend the rest of our Christian life obsessed with performance; it is something we need every day–the only source of our sanctification as well as our justification. The law guides, but only the gospel gives. We are declared righteous–justified–not by anything that happens within us or done by us, but solely by God’s act of crediting us with Christ’s perfect righteousness through faith alone.

Thanks, Tullian! Those six core beliefs are central to our work and they give us a unique perspective on the current dialogue about justification that will take center stage in Atlanta next week. As our last little “teaser” before releasing the book, we wanted to post an excerpt from Mike Horton’s chapter, entitled “Engaging N.T. Wight and John Piper.” This chapter will give you a preview of the paper Mike will give at ETS next week.

Perhaps the most respected evangelical Jesus scholar, Bishop N. T. Wright has been stirring things up in Paul studies for nearly three decades. Although profiting from many of his insights, I have interacted critically with his treatment of justification in Covenant and Salvation (Westminster John Knox, 2007). My focus here, however, is on the importance of covenant theology as the context for justification, joining the conversation between John Piper and N. T. Wright.

In The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Crossway, 2007), Piper seems to regard Wright’s treatment of the covenant motif in Paul as a distraction from the apostle’s doctrine of justification. In his rejoinder, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, Wright counters that Paul’s doctrine of justification is

“about what we may call the covenant—the covenant God made with Abraham, the covenant whose purpose was from the beginning the saving call of a worldwide family through whom God’s saving purposes for the world were to be realized….For Piper, and many like him, the very idea of a covenant of this kind remains strangely foreign and alien….Despite the strong covenantal theology of John Calvin himself, and his positive reading of the story of Israel as fulfilled in Jesus Christ, many who claim Calvinist or Reformed heritage today resist applying it in the way that, as I argue in this book, Paul himself does, in line with the solid biblical foundations for the ‘continuing exile’ theme.”

While in my view the lion’s share of false choices are on Wright’s side of the ledger, I agree with his point that covenant theology is the proper context for Paul’s doctrine of justification. My concern with Wright’s view is not that he gives too much place for the covenantal motif—particularly, the unfolding of the Abrahamic covenant issuing in a cosmic redemption. In fact, I even find Wright’s end-of-exile motif persuasive and enriching. Rather, my concern is that he reduces the complexity of this covenant theology, conflating law and gospel in a single covenant type—viz., covenantal nomism.

Simply to advocate covenant theology does not necessarily specify its content. In 1991 Wright wrote that “covenant theology is one of the main clues, usually neglected, for understanding Paul.” Yet, at the same time, he is quick to distance his covenant theology from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century versions. In a later work Wright concedes that he has never read these sources: “Like many New Testament scholars, I am largely ignorant of the Pauline exegesis of all but a few of the fathers and reformers. The Middle Ages, and the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, had plenty to say about Paul, but I have not read it.” Classic covenant theology has therefore been, in my view, too lightly dismissed—even caricatured—without serious firsthand evaluation. While I agree with Wright’s claim that covenant theology is more crucial for understanding justification than Piper suggests, I argue that it is Wright’s version of covenant theology (viz., reducing different types to “covenantal nomism”) that generates false choices.

Next week, we’ll post a video interview in which Mike Horton talks about Justified and the role he hopes the book will have in the current conversations about justification, especially among the Young, Restless, and Reformed-types who have been introduced to Calvin by Piper but find Wright’s “whole world” emphasis fresh and engaging.

WHI-1022 | The Parables of Jesus (Part 5)

Jesus taught that a person is not worthy of being his disciple unless that person hates his father and mother. In fact, he goes on to say that a disciple of his must also “hate his own life.” On this program, the hosts will take a look at texts such as this as they discuss parables of costly discipleship in their continuing series through the Parables of Jesus.

RELATED ARTICLES

The Parables of Jesus, Pt 5
Michael Horton
Unity & Diversity
Shane Rosenthal
WHI Discussion Group Questions
PDF Document

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Kingdom, Grace, Judgment
Robert F. Capon
The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Christ the Lord
Michael Horton, et. al.

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Soular

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