White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Sufficiency of Scripture Live Taping and Conference – Sept. 24-25

THIS EVENT STARTS TOMORROW!

Are you, or will you be, in the Chicago area tomorrow and Saturday? Don’t miss this RARE opportunity to see all four White Horse Inn hosts live within driving distance!

All four hosts—Mike Horton, Rod Rosenbladt, Ken Jones, and Kim Riddlebarger—will be recording a live White Horse Inn episode followed by a Q & A session tomorrow Friday, Sept 24, in Palos Heights, IL. On Saturday, Sept 25, you will have the rare opportunity to hear from each host individually (see schedule below).

  • There is still plenty of seating – the Chicago Christian High School Auditorium seats 600.
  • Registration is only $30.00. (Groups of 6 or more only $25.00 and children under 10 are free)
  • This is a RARE opportunity to see all four hosts so close to home – so organize a group of people to head out.

REGISTER ONLINE NOW or by phone at (708) 403-3404

The Sufficiency of Scripture - Live Taping and Conference

Details:
  • When – Friday and Saturday, September 24-25, 2010
  • Who – Mike Horton, Rod Rosenbladt, Ken Jones, and Kim Riddlebarger (ALL FOUR HOSTS)
  • What – The Sufficiency of Scripture live taping and conference: designed to enhance our understanding of what the Sufficiency of Scripture means and doesn’t mean; how it is sufficient for doctrine, life, worship, and outreach.
  • Where – Chicago Christian High School, 12001 S. Oak Park Avenue, Palos Heights, IL
  • SponsorCovenant OPC, 9340 West 147th Street, Orland Park, IL 60462 | ph. (708) 403-3404
  • To register – for the conference and taping please click here.
Schedule:

Friday, September 24, 2010

5:30 – 7:30 PM
Registration & Book Table open

7:30 – 7:35 PM
Introductory Remarks
Rev. Iain Wright

7:35 – 8:30 PM
A live recording of the White Horse Inn,
featuring a discussion of “The Sufficiency of Scripture”
Usual Cast of Characters

8:30 – 9:00 PM
Audience Q & A
Usual Cast of Characters

Saturday, September 25, 2010

7:30 – 8:30 AM
Registration and Book Table

8:30 – 9:20 AM
Session 1: The Sufficiency of Scripture: What it does and doesn’t mean – Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone) isn’t solo scriptura (scripture alone). In other words, the sufficiency of Scripture doesn’t exclude the teachings of the church (such as the creeds). Nor does it mean that Scripture is sufficient for everything in life regardless of whether it actually addresses everything or not. What it does mean is that only in Scripture do we find the authoritative teaching of God’s law and gospel.
Rev. Dr. Rod Rosenbladt

9:30 – 10:20 AM
Session 2: Sufficient for Doctrine and Life – Churches of the Reformation teach the value of creeds and confessions not because they’re on a par with Scripture, but because they summarize Scripture. They stand under God’s Word. While other people and institutions communicate truth and oblige us to obey their commands, the church cannot go beyond Scripture in its doctrinal and moral teachings and the believer must refuse all authorities that add to or take away from God’s Word.
Rev. Ken Jones

10:20 – 11:00 AM
Beverage & Light Snacks – Book Table, Book Signing & Meet and Greet the Hosts

11:00 – 11:50 AM
Session 3: Sufficient for Worship – Many churches still use God’s Word in worship, but do we believe that God’s Word is sufficient for defining the public services? Or do we think that we can worship God however we like as long as we’re sincere? Dr. Kim Riddlebarger

12:00 PM – 12:50 PM
Session 4: Sufficient for Outreach – Methods for evangelism and outreach are always changing, we’re told, to make the gospel more relevant to particular times and places. Of course, there is appropriate sensitivity to our context, but is Scripture sufficient for determining not only what we say to the world but how we say it?
Dr. Michael Horton

REGISTER ONLINE NOW or by phone at (708) 403-3404

Chain of Grace?

So my wife was running some errands this morning and drove through Starbucks to get some coffee. When she pulled up to the window, the cashier said her coffee would have been $3.05, but the guy in the car ahead of her had already paid for it. Odd, she thought, but a nice treat and blessing with a sick little girl in the back seat and a stressful day in front of her. Then the cashier went on: there’s been a chain of nine cars that have done this, each has paid for the person coming after them. She told my wife that she could “take her blessing” or pass it on to the person behind her. If it had been me, I probably would have driven off–I hate chain emails and this smacks of something similar! But my wife, being who she is, paid for the person behind her (spending an extra $.80 for their nicer cup of coffee) and then felt guilty for being a little irritated at having to keep the chain of blessing going.

Blessings aren’t supposed to come with chains (either literal or figurative). The only blessing that really is a blessing is one of pure grace, with nothing expected in return (or “paid forward” as the case may be). I think this is a great illustration for how most of us live our lives with a sense of “sanctified karma” rather than gratitude. Sanctified karma says that we’re getting what we deserve, so we’d better do something nice if we ever hope to receive something nice in return. Rather than being motivated by gratitude, we’re motivated by guilt or by a twisted sense of selfishness. Living and giving out of gratitude allows us to give in the face of rejection, to love in the face of criticism, and to live out of our identity as God’s sons and daughters that we have been freely given in Christ.

May all your acts of grace be given without chains!

Interpreting Humpty Dumpty in light of other “2nd nursery rhymes”

There are so many things to be thankful for when it comes to New Testament scholar N. T. Wright. If you’re a monthly partner with the White Horse Inn, you heard Mike Horton on the bonus track for the September 19th broadcast list a number of areas where we not only agree with Wright but benefit from his scholarship and popular writing (you can find out more about our partnership program and its benefits here). Of course we also have strong disagreements when it comes to issues like justification. Along that line, we have something special in the works that will be announced around the time of the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Atlanta in mid-November!

So, in light of both our appreciation and criticism of Wright, we offer up this post from the funny fellows of The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology: how N. T. Wright would read that great nursery rhyme, “Humpty Dumpty.”

Tom Wright Reads Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Clearly the writer is telling an Israel story, and here alludes to the Temple.  This echoes other lines in early 2nd Nursery Literature, such as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard (the “storehouse” of the Temple) and the bone (resurrection life) which she sought for her dog (“Gentiles”). “But when she got there, the cupboard was bare and the poor little doggie had none.”  The temple had nothing to offer the Gentiles, and they thus remained in their state of Adamic sin and decay.

So here, too, one should not be surprised to discover that the Temple and its “wall” are bankrupt. The next line, then, is not a shock, but an expectation:

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

Again, this is patently a forecast of the Temple’s destruction (and contra Crossan and Borg, an entirely possible historical forecasting).  Doubtless this claim is intended to lead the reader to ponder the eschatological recreation of the Temple. Since Humpty stands for the Temple, he seems to be sharing in the divine identity, functioning as the locus of God’s presence, not outside of, but within creation.

Of course, this fall is an exile of sorts, the loss of God’s presence. The tension is palpable: how will humpty’s story not turn out dumpty?  In other words, this line presupposes what I have called elsewhere the great metanarrative of humpty, not least the promise of resurrection.

But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put humpty together again.

So the Temple will be built again, but not by human hands. Many have undertaken to suggest that this passage runs counter to a belief in resurrection. But this atomistic reading of the text lacks imagination. Of course, it is the king himself who will put humpty together again, and this great act will complete the metanarrative.

After all, Humpty is the place where the Creator God is resident with his creation. But the human inability to recreate Humpty does not negate all human effort for creation, which should be done in light of the proleptic nature of the king’s restoration of Humpty and all creation.

Written in Durham Cathedral, dedicated to Rowan Williams’s left eyebrow.

The author, Jason Hood, also links to “Bultmann Reads Mother Goose.”

WHI-1015 | Good News vs. Good Advice

The most important difference between the religions of the world and the Christian faith is the difference between law and gospel. At the core of every religion is the application of moral instruction and advice for personal transformation. This appeals to all human beings because we are all wired for law. But the essence of Christianity is not law but gospel. Christ fulfilled the law and paid the penalty for our lawlessness. The gospel therefore is not good advice that needs to be applied, but good news to be believed (originally aired February 10, 2008).

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

The Gospel Driven Life
Michael Horton
The Gospel Driven Life (MP3 Audio)
WSC Faculty
Christless Christianity
Michael Horton

PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

Andrew Osenga

Would Grace Make a Difference?

The other night on a local news-talk station, the usually acerbic hosts were having a pleasant conversation with the communications director for the Humanist Association, which has been sponsoring ad campaigns across the country with slogans like, “Be Good for Goodness Sake,” “No God, No Problem,” and “Don’t Believe in God? Join the Club.”

When asked to describe the central tenet of humanism, the guest quoted the writer Kurt Vonnegut’s definition: “I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I’m dead.” I was struck by the stark simplicity of that statement and I wondered if Vonnegut or any other humanist who might use that term had ever experienced grace.

If this is a good definition of humanism, it certainly sets humanism against what passes as religion (earning the favor of gods or God by our moral performance and fearing reciprocation if we fail to live up to divine standards), but it doesn’t take account of grace. The Christian concept of grace, of course, is the idea that we don’t get what we deserve (either rewards or punishment); instead, we get what Christ deserved by his life and death in our place.

I’ve also recently finished reading Frankie Schaeffer’s recent book, Patience with God, and in it he traces the relationship between many of the New Atheists and their religious upbringing. He asserts that in his own life and in the lives of many of those he chronicles, grace was absent (perhaps believed in, but life never functioned according to it). Is there a relationship between the desire to throw off the tyranny of the Law by embracing oneself as “Lord and Savior” and ignorance of grace?

Romanticism’s Revenge: The Pope Makes a Visit to the United Kingdom

Editor’s introduction: David Alenskis is a recent graduate of Westminster Seminary California and is an ordained priest in the Anglican Church of North America. He currently serves as the associate pastor of the Anglican Church of the Resurrection (San Marcos, California) and is preparing to serve as a long-term missionary in Buenos Aires, Argentina in early 2011.

Judging by recent news reports, Pope Benedict XVI like so many pontiffs before him suffers from the malady often passed down from one bishop of Rome to the next: he is a consummate Anglophile. Like Paul in anguish for his people, one could say that the Roman pontiff has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart” for British Protestants. Today, he begins his four day trip to the United Kingdom, extending in the process an implicit call for the British to return to the Roman Church. Though short, his visit to her Majesty’s realm resonates with a subtle but powerful message: the vision of the via media, the “middle way” often invoked by the clergy and laity of the Church of England, can only be found in the Church of Rome.

The Pope’s four day excursion in bonnie Scotland and merry England is not a courtesy call: there is serious business afoot. There will be many meetings and even a joint prayer service together with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in Westminster Abbey. But the primary reason for Benedict’s appearance is the beatification of the Church of England’s most famous defector: John Henry Newman. It behooves us as careful observers of current events to consider the content of the life and character of this man to understand the message of the Pope’s visit.

Newman was a bright light and leader of the Anglo-Catholic revival in the early Nineteenth Century. This movement of scholars and churchmen like John Keeble, Edward Pusey, and J. H. Newman was a British expression of religious Romanticism. In brief, Romanticism claims that God is experienced and known primarily through intuition stimulated through contact with the sublime, mediated through the natural world, through artistic expression, or even through romantic passion. According to Anglo-Catholics, this sublime experience of God is found primarily through the formation and use of elaborate rituals (derived from tradition or on top of it) and the control of the ambiance of worship. Together, a feeling of transcendence, mystery, and devotion is cultivated which draws worshippers up to God.

In pursuit of these Romantic goals, these theologians increasingly became disenchanted with the Reformation and its doctrines of salvation, authority, and worship. Instead, Newman and the others propagated belief in the via media: that God had organically preserved the Church of England to become a “middle way” between Rome and the Reformation, rooted in its own pre-Reformation tradition. Newman especially made it his project to reconcile these beliefs and practices with the actual confessional formularies of the Church of England, his efforts culminating in the infamous Tract 90 (where he argued outrageously that the Council of Trent was compatible with the 39 Articles). Newman however was too honest a man and too serious a scholar to continue this path of rapprochement for long, and in 1845 Newman joined the Church of Rome.

In a highly unusual move Pope Benedict intends to preside over the beatification mass of this same John Henry Newman; and what is more, Newman’s motto Cor ad Cor Loquitur (“Heart Speaks to Heart”) is the theme of the Pope’s whole visit to the isle.  The Roman pontiff brings the message that Newman was right: religious Romanticism and the via media find truest expression in the Church of Rome. Newman’s own conclusions are reinforced through essays found in the booklet to prepare the British for the Pope’s visit (“This invitation to faith is always spoken in the language of the heart. It is profoundly personal, most often softly spoken and not at all imperious.”), as well as through interviews with the English Catholic bishops and archbishop who share their own intuitive and emotional experiences of God through nature, pilgrimage, silence, and other encounters with the sublime.

All this comes in an age when the Anglican Communion and other Protestant churches around the world have struggled with or even submitted to a creeping liberalism, seen most obviously in the celebration of homosexuality and the denial of the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way to reconciliation with God. In this context, a post-Vatican II Roman Church issues a compelling appeal to the conservative heirs of religious Romanticism, whether they be Anglo-Catholics or evangelicals: come find the fullness of your intuitive grasping for God in the fullness of the Church led by St. Peter’s spiritual descendent in Rome. It was true for Newman: it can be true for you as well.

But as biblical Christians and heirs of the Reformation, we can submit neither to the Church of Rome nor to any other form of Romanticism. There is no “middle way” when it comes to worshipping God faithfully, and God does not call us to set our hope upon our intuitive experience of God but upon his self-revelation in his living, abiding and active Word as it is read, preached, and proclaimed. We fear and love this God by heeding the commandments he has given us, and we have faith in this God by trusting the promise he has given us to pardon and deliver us completely on the basis of the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God that the Pope Benedict’s trip to the United Kingdom changes none of this: his subtle invitation to a deeper Romanticism in the Church of Rome should not be a serious temptation for those of us who have set our hope upon the living God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has given us a sure Gospel and an unshakeable Kingdom.

-David Alenskis

Whose Forgiveness?

Forwarded to me by our own Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, a recent article in American Thinker is worth passing on to others. First a little of the article, and then some comment.

I absolutely hate making mistakes. But more than this, I fear them. As a psychotherapist, I’ve spent many hours trying to figure out why.

All roads lead back to my mother: a woman who could be sweet one minute, and then, out of the blue, erupt like a volcano. I never knew what would trigger her rage.

This is my first childhood memory, a hazy image seared into my brain: I am in my bedroom at around age 5 with my mother, having just done something naughty. My mother explodes, “If you keep doing things like that, I won’t love you anymore.”

Night after night, I cried myself to sleep, overwhelmed with despair at this potential tragedy. It didn’t seem humanly possible to survive without her love.

I cried and I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. Then, when my tears I dried up, I decided, with the logic of a small child, that I would never, ever make another mistake. Being perfect would shield me from disaster.

Not surprisingly, I became an anxious adult, a pleaser, someone who bent over backwards not to offend. But it wasn’t just my mother who catapulted me into lifelong perfectionism. It was the absence of a forgiving God.

Read full article on AmericanThinker.com

The author, “Robin of Berkeley,” offers bracing insight. You can’t forgive yourself when you’re not the one you have ultimately offended and do not have the power or authority to absolve anyone—including yourself—of ultimate guilt. Liberalism encourages a form of “works-righteousness,” where the world is divided into the saved and the damned based on personal performance. “DO MORE!” is the message and, assuming the posture of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, one can congratulate oneself—maybe even thank God—that he or she isn’t like the “tax collector” (i.e., “Republicans and sinners”). The same spirit is evident enough in conservative politics, it should be added, just with a different agenda for salvation.

Yet there is something crucially missing from this article. Rod Rosenbladt points it out in his comment: “I hope someone does a little with her about who Christ was and what His cross did, so all of this hope gets grounded where God Himself grounded it. If someone doesn’t do some “cross, blood, death, atonement, sacrifice” stuff with her, the usual trajectory is (because it is still law-based) a crash! I think Robin is more in need of a Gospel-preaching pastor than she realizes—a very, very tenuous position for any human being!”

The only place where God’s judgment and grace can be safely found is in Christ—specifically, in his thirty-three years of faithful obedience to his Father’s will from the heart, his blood-shedding substitution on the cross, and his triumphant resurrection for our justification and entrance into the new creation. The author properly points out that release from guilt only comes from God and not from our striving to do better next time. However, there is no mention of Christ. Yet apart from Christ, we cannot know God as merciful and forgiving, but only as the one to whom we are accountable and whose judgment we will face at the last.

The Strange Effectiveness of the Law

This old article from Fast Company has been sitting in my inbox for awhile now (ht Matt Perman), but its theological implications warrant a long shelf life. Consultants, authors, and brothers Dan and Chip Heath in the January 15, 2009 issue of the coolest business magazine around talk about the power of incentives for business performance. Most of us are familiar with this routine: a vacation to Palm Springs for the highest performers or lower commission percentages for the lackluster performers.  But the Heath brothers argue that inherent in that power is the chance that the incentive will backfire.

Ken O’Brien was an NFL quarterback in the 1980s and 1990s. Early in his career, he threw a lot of interceptions, so one clever team lawyer wrote a clause into O’Brien’s contract penalizing him for each one he threw. The incentive worked as intended: His interceptions plummeted. But that’s because he stopped throwing the ball.

The law in this case, the incentive, backfired and couldn’t produce the desired result.  I think many of us resonate with that experience when we consider our relationship to God. Many of us wrongly relate to God on the basis of what we do. If we accomplish our goals (the Law) we get the perk (closeness with God, a sense that God is pleased with us).  Of course, this is all an illusion since we cannot keep the Law as God requires nor does God relate to us on the basis of our Law-keeping.  Most of the Christian life for some folks is spent trying to convince themselves of this fiction.

The Law cannot empower us to throw the ball down the field. Only the love of the game and a sense of our calling/vocation can do that. And that is exactly what the Gospel does for us. It does not hold out a divine carrot for good behavior, the Gospel announces that we are accepted in Christ.

Does Your Church Pass the IRS Test?

“Paging Balaam’s ass…”

God sometimes reveals truth in the most unlikely of places: on August 16, 2010, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled against the “Foundation for Human Understanding” (FHU) which had appealed an IRS action revoking its nonprofit status as a church. The Court ruled that FHU was not a church and it based its finding in part on a 14 point test created by an IRS commissioner in 1979. Those 14 points were:

(1) a distinct legal existence
(2) a recognized creed and form of worship
(3) a definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
(4) a formal code of doctrine and discipline
(5) a distinct religious history
(6) a membership not associated with any other church or denomination
(7) an organization of ordained ministers
(8) ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed studies
(9) a literature of its own
(10) established places of worship
(11) regular congregation
(12) regular religious services
(13) Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young; and
(14) schools for the preparation of its ministers
(emphasis added)

So, let’s make sure we understand: In order to be a church in the eyes of the federal government, you need more than a charismatic leader and willing followers. You need a liturgy, doctrine, a learned ministry, accountability among ministers, regular worship in a regular place of worship, and Sunday school!  How does your church measure up?

Why is it that the secular world can see what so many in our own circles cannot see? Too many of our own church leaders are actively downplaying each one of these elements in favor of something so bland and nondescript that soon it will be hard to distinguish the average church from neighborhood associations, MOPs groups, and fraternal organizations.

When Absolution Isn’t

The headline over at msnbc.com is striking, “Taylor Swift absolves Kanye West at VMAs.” In case you missed it, the Video Music Awards were on last night and everyone was holding their breath, waiting for the next round of West vs Swift—a fight that started during last year’s awards when Kanye West grabbed the microphone from Taylor Swift and boorishly declared that the award she won should have gone to Beyonce.

Early reports on Sunday indicated that Swift had written a song, Innocent, addressing West’s bad behavior, and after everyone from Oprah to President Obama called West out, it seemed fitting that Taylor Swift would have the last final word. What was that last final word? Um…hard to say, and this is where the headline comes in.

Absolution is the Christian doctrine that God has authorized and empowered his ministers to declare the true forgiveness of sins for those who are penitent (or “sorry”) for their sins. In most Christian liturgies, the wording is something like: “In the name of Christ, I absolve you of your sins.” The minister, standing in the place of Christ and typically reading the words of Christ, looks upon the sinner and assures him that his sins are forgiven. It is a powerful, dramatic moment in the congregations that still retain the absolution. But of course, this is why it seems so odd for someone to think that Taylor Swift had “absolved” Kanye West of his sin against her. I’m not even thinking here of the fact that Swift has no standing to absolve someone—she can certainly forgive, but absolution belongs to those ministers who were entrusted with the keys of the kingdom, with the responsibility to retain or remit sins (Matthew 16:19). Instead, I’m thinking of the song she sang in which she addressed the conflict with West. Here are the relevant lyrics of the chorus as reported by the intrepid entertainment reporters at theboot.com:

It’s alright, just wait and see
Your string of lights are still bright to me
Oh, who you are is not where you’ve been
You’re still an innocent

The problem, of course, is that Taylor Swift provides neither personal forgiveness nor declarative absolution. Instead, it’s just a mushy, feel good message about innate goodness, time to become a better person, and the need to judge yourself in light of all the wrongs everyone else has committed! That, my friends, is a confusion of law and gospel, broadcast for all to see on MTV.

True forgiveness (either personal or divine) requires a cost to be born. When you forgive someone who has wronged you, you are taking the debt they owe you upon yourself, promising to carry that cost so they don’t have to. When God absolves you for your sins, it isn’t because he thinks you’re an innocent, or that your lights are still bright (side note: what terrible lyrics!). God absolves you of your sins because he has taken the debt of sin on himself in the person of Jesus.

This overwrought moment of reality TV could have been a powerful experience of forgiveness, living up (almost) to the headlines, if Taylor Swift had understood that forgiveness doesn’t mean making someone else feel better about what they did wrong. It means relieving them of a real debt, by a real sacrifice. If anything, Swift’s inability to truly forgive points us forward to a savior who won’t be upstaged by a meat-wearing Lady Gaga, one who bears in his body even today the cost of our real absolution. May you hear his words of forgiveness wherever you worship this coming Sunday! And if you don’t, get to a place where you will hear those life-changing, life-giving words.

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