White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

The Myth of Neutrality

Christopher Hitchens is dying of cancer.  You know Hitchens, of course, as one of our era’s most infamous atheists. He is the author of God Is Not Great and makes frequent appearances in the pages of Vanity Fair and Atlantic Monthly. Hitchens was recently interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper about his battle with cancer. He told Cooper that despite facing death, he still doesn’t pray and he will not pray. So, he said, we shouldn’t believe any reports about a deathbed conversion; he is secure in his nonbelief.  When asked about the reports of groups of Christians who are praying for his health, Hitchens expressed gratitude for their kind thoughts but said that they shouldn’t waste their breath praying to a God who does not exist.

Hitchens, a former socialist turned conservative commentator, has spent the better part of the last ten years as an advocate for what has become known as the “New Atheism.” The so-called “New Atheists” are not just blandly agnostic or politely atheistic. They are militantly atheistic, relentlessly in-your-face with their rejection not just of Christianity but any form of theism.  They present a special challenge to American Christians who have long enjoyed a place of privilege: even where Christianity was rejected, it has been given a place of honor among competing religious philosophies. It has had a sort of first among equals approach that has lifted Christianity above the fray and removed it from the kind of criticism that it must now bear.

With the rise of the New Atheism and the willingness of writers like Christopher Hitchens to actively and relentlessly criticize Christianity, we have entered into a new era. I, for one, welcome it: not least because the New Atheists have done us all a significant favor by deconstructing the myth of neutrality.  By the myth of neutrality I mean that belief that asserts religion is a personal matter, that it doesn’t matter if you are religious or not, and that being religious or nonreligious makes no real difference in one’s life.  The New Atheists have not been satisfied with saying that religion is banal or meaningless. They believe that religion is a menace. Because of this belief, it is not enough for them to not be religious themselves. They work hard to convince others not just of the foolishness of religion but also of its danger.

Unfortunately as our interview with Kenda Creasy Dean revealed, the church is facing an epidemic of unbelief and apostasy among its teens and young adults. As a pastor, I see evidence of this trend first hand: teens flirting with unbelief, thinking about rejecting Christianity because they wonder if it really matters what they believe. When I ask, “why are you considering walking away from what you once professed?”, the response is usually an apathetic shrug. “It just doesn’t matter,” people say. “It doesn’t matter if Christianity is true. I just want to live my life my way without reference to God.”

And this is why we must be forever grateful to the New Atheists. They say, it does matter: it’s a matter of life and death. According to writers like Christopher Hitchens, religion (Christianity, even) is hateful, violent, and dangerous. It is not enough in their view to be apathetic toward it, you must actively resist and reject it; you cannot be neutral.

This is what the Bible says, too. There is no neutrality when it comes to God.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18-23)

According to the Bible everyone, everywhere has an innate knowledge of God. Everyone knows something about God (specifically, his eternal power and divine nature). That knowledge, however, is suppressed. Humankind attempts to bury that knowledge beneath a sea of false worship.  This means that apathetic agnostics and atheists old and new are not merely ignorant of God, they are actively resisting and defying what they know to be true.

I’ve been thinking about this as I work through the Book of Exodus with my congregation. Specifically, I think that this truth gives us insight to how Pharaoh answers Moses in Exodus 5:2. In Exodus 5, Moses and Aaron are making their first appearance before Pharaoh, requesting time for Israel to travel into the wilderness to worship the Lord. In response, Pharaoh asks, “Who is the Lord?”  What sort of question is this? Is it a reflection of Pharaoh’s ignorance of his Hebrew slaves’ religion? No, this isn’t ignorance. Pharaoh is defiantly rejecting God. He not only claims to not know the Lord, he refuses to obey his voice and asserts his own authority in response to the prophet’s message from God.  Although the original Hebrew lacks emoticons, it’s not too difficult for us to hear Pharaoh sneer as he asks, “Who is the Lord?”

Pharaoh is a clear example for us of those who not only refuse to acknowledge God but actively resist him. Pharaoh’s unbelief is an expression of rebellion against the God that he innately knows.  But Pharaoh doesn’t just reject the natural revelation that he can observe in the creation and that is written on his conscience.  Pharaoh is also rejecting special revelation from Moses and Aaron.  The prophet of God has spoken, giving Pharaoh a direct and personal message. But Pharaoh compounds his guilt by rejecting not just the shadow of knowledge he has of God, but even the clear knowledge.

This defiance of God leads to the brutal oppression that Pharaoh unleashes against Israel. It isn’t enough for Pharaoh to dismiss two crazed prophets of a deity he doesn’t know. He must also persecute and torment the people who did profess to know this God. In so doing, Pharaoh shows us how the “myth of neutrality” gives way to the tragic trajectory of unbelief: Unbelief cannot stop at a mere intellectual rejection of God. Since such intellectual rejection isn’t neutral, you must fill in the vacuum with something to worship. In Pharaoh’s case, he had plenty of idols to worship, but more than anything was his own enthronement of self-determination: rejecting God’s voice and directive he asserts his own authority, and he unleashes his power in defiance of God.  That final act of aggression is the end result of intellectual rejection.

If you are toying with belief in God, thinking about rejecting him in order to determine your own life, know that in the end you will not be mildly opposed to Christianity or even apathetic toward it. The path of rejection leads to oppression and persecution. Unable to quiet the persistent testimony of nature and conscience, those who reject God must unleash their rage against God and his people. This is why Christians are persecuted around the world. This is why you are mocked and made fun of by your nonChristian friends. Those who lash out against God and his people are demonstrating how Exodus 5 is still relevant to us today: there is no neutrality with God.

WHI-1017 | Almost Christian

On this edition of the program, Michael Horton talks with Princeton Seminary professor Kenda Creasy Dean about her new book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church. Kenda, along with sociologist Christian Smith, was one of the researchers for the National Study of Youth & Religion project that surveyed thousands of teenagers over a five-year period. In her new book she observes that “if churches practice moralistic therapeutic deism in the name of Christianity, then getting teenagers to church more often is not the solution (conceivably it could make things worse). A more faithful church is the solution.”


Almost Christian
Kenda Creasy Dean
Soul Searching
Christian Smith
The Gospel-Driven Life
Michael Horton


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Doug Powell

Give Me That Old Time Religion

Several weeks ago I conducted a funeral for an elderly grandmother, a life-long Presbyterian. In addition to her life-long commitment to Jesus Christ and her hope in the gospel, this grandmother is to be commended for passing on the faith. Surrounding her hospital bed as she died were her children and grandchildren, each sustained by hope in the resurrection.

As their mother and grandmother died, the children and grandchildren decided to sing together. Out came the iPads, iPhones, and Blackberrys as each family member scrolled through their songs or surfed the web for something that the entire family could sing. Several suggestions were made: a hymn, a praise chorus, a Scripture song, a Gospel tune, a contemporary worship song, but sadly the group soon discovered that they could not find a song that they all knew. This family, bound together by a faith that passed through the generations, couldn’t sing the songs of their faith.

Eventually they did find one song: yes, “Amazing Grace”–the first verse at least seems to be known by almost everyone, everywhere! But what was striking to me as I heard this story relayed was that for each succeeding generation it became increasingly difficult to find a song to sing. The grandmother and her generation probably had hundreds of songs that would have been familiar across denominations, stretching back for hundreds of years. The children (now middle-aged), however, only had perhaps a dozen or so songs that they could sing together. The grandchildren (all in their twenties) couldn’t find one song that they all knew. It wasn’t just that they didn’t know their parents’ praise choruses or their grandparents’ hymns, they didn’t know their own generation’s songs.

Of course, what’s strange about this is that their generation is living in a time of unprecedented production of Christian music.  But because the Christian music industry prizes innovation and change, no song ever has the time to become “their” song. When the economic engine is driven by new songs, there is never time for songs to become tried and true songs. Churches compound the problem by constantly updating their “set list” to reflect the songs being churned out by the industry. The result isn’t just a severed connection with the past (as tragic as that may be); this generation is losing its connection to one another. Unless you attend the same congregation (and perhaps the same genre-specific service), you won’t know the songs that your cousins are singing.

This isn’t so much an argument for hymnody (there are better ones than this anecdote), it’s rather a plea for unity: there are very practical consequences to age segregation in the church and a constant reinvention of the mission and marks of the church and a lust for the new and improved. The division of the church along theological lines sometimes can’t be helped, but it’s certainly possible for us to reverse course and find unity across generational lines.

The responsibility to achieve that unity doesn’t just belong to the pastors and church musicians who sometimes determine the cultural situatedness of the congregation, responsibility must also be borne by those who sit and sing and pray and listen. Will they choose to immerse themselves in the history, language, and speech of the faith? Will they reach across generational divides so that when it comes time to sing at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb we won’t all be looking at one another in confusion and dismay?

Calvary Chapel Catholic

King's College - New YorkA guest post by Rev. Dr. Brian Lee from Christ Reformed Church, Washington, DC

There are a lot of interesting ways to slice the recent dust-up over Dinesh D’Souza’s selection as President of the King’s College in New York City, covered thoroughly in a recent article at Christianity Today. We could consider what it tells us about politics and cultural transformation as the core identity of evangelicals, or how it illustrates the transformation of Christian institutions away from their founding principles. But perhaps most interesting is what it says about the status of the doctrine of the church in evangelical circles, and the degree to which individual believers conceive of themselves as atomistic units, defined only by their own faith and experience.

D’Souza is a Roman Catholic married to an evangelical, and has been attending a Calvary Chapel for the last ten years. But none of these ecclesiastical relationships or practices defines him:
“I’m quite happy to acknowledge my Catholic background; at the same time, I’m very comfortable with Reformation theology,” D’Souza told Christianity Today. “I’m comfortable with the evangelical world. In a sense, I’m part of it. …I do not describe myself as Catholic today. But I don’t want to renounce it either because it’s an important part of my background.I’m an American citizen, but I wouldn’t reject the Indian label because it’s part of my heritage. I say I have a Catholic origin or background. I say I’m a nondenominational Christian, and I’m comfortable with born-again.”

Apparently, church membership is like citizenship or cultural self-identification, and we are as free to associate freely with various churches as we are to hold dual citizenship or celebrate our hyphenated ethnic heritage as Indian-Americans, or whatever the case may be. Understood thus, America is as much a theological as well as cultural “melting pot.”

Of course, this flexibility is not unrelated to the fact that the Reformation theology D’Souza is comfortable with is characterized by him as reflecting “an intramural type debate and squabble” among Christians. King’s College Statement of Faith clearly upholds Reformation principles of “Scripture alone,” justification by imputation via “faith alone,” and denies the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. What does it mean to “completely adhere to” such a statement of faith as required by King’s, and not renounce a Roman Catholic faith which explicitly endorses the opposite?

One solution is provided by the Statement of Faith itself, which appears to provide the ultimate escape clause. The introduction notes that:
“We accept those areas of doctrinal teaching on which, historically, there has been general agreement among all true Christians. Because of the specialized calling of our movement, we desire to allow for freedom of conviction on other doctrinal matters, provided that any interpretation is based upon the Bible alone…” (italics added).

This caveat is utterly ambiguous, and doesn’t identify whether it is referring to the list of 17 doctrines that follow, or allowing for some subset of them to be negotiable. The key, however, is in those words italicized above: “Because of the specialized calling of our movement…” Huh? More ambiguity here, but one isn’t sure whether to praise King’s for recognizing that it is at best a “movement” and not a church, or to challenge them for so flagrantly confusing the gospel with cultural transformation.

The Rev. Brian Lee (PhD) is the pastor of Christ United Reformed Church in Washington, D.C.. For any information on the church, contact him at pastor *AT* ChristReformedDC.org

Live White Horse Inn Recording At Desiring God 2010 National Conference

Desiring God - 2010 National ConferenceOur friends over at Desiring God have invited us to participate in their upcoming 2010 National Conference, starting this coming Friday, October 1 and running through Sunday, October 3. Unfortunately, the conference is already sold out. However, if you are one of those who signed up to attend, we wanted to remind you to join us for the following activities:

Dinner with White Horse Inn
Please bring your dinner and join us for a special White Horse Inn recording in the Conference Exhibit Hall from 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm on Friday, October 1, 2010. Ask questions and be part of the audience as Mike Horton and the “usual cast of characters” record a program on “Textual Narcissism.”

On this edition of the program the hosts will discuss the rising problem of me-centered biblical interpretation. Is the Bible primarily about us, or is it about God and his grand story of redemption throughout history? That is what’s on tap for this special live edition of the White Horse Inn!

Bookmark this Event
On Saturday, October 2, 2010 Mike Horton will be speaking about some of his recent books, taking questions, and signing copies at the Conference Exhibit Hall from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

White Horse Inn Display
Also, be sure to stop by the White Horse Inn display (booth #26) to get an update of what’s happening at the Inn.

To review upcoming White Horse Inn events click here.

Atheists Know More About Religion?

According to the Los Angeles Times, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has just released the results of a recent survey on general religious knowledge, and apparently atheists and agnostics outperformed religious adherents.

For example, most Protestants were unable to identify Martin Luther as the leader of the Reformation, whereas those who identified atheist or agnostic were more likely to answer this and other questions correctly.  Just below them were Jews and Mormons.  In fact, according to the article, Mormons fared better than Evangelical Protestants in their knowledge of the Bible.

This matches up nicely with the work of Kenda Creasy Dean, project researcher for the National Study of Youth and Religion.  In her new book Almost Christian, Kenda argues that Mormons are more intentional about passing on the faith than any other religious body in the U.S., and her chapter devoted to this phenomena is titled, “Mormon Envy.”  Michael Horton recently interviewed her for a White Horse Inn broadcast, and that will be available at whitehorseinn.org beginning Sunday, October 3rd.

The survey results also confirm our own White Horse Inn polling data.  In a survey we conducted of approximately 70 Christian adults at a recent Evangelical convention we found that less than half agreed with the statement, “There is no one who does good, no not even one. There is no one who seeks God.”  The quotation is from Psalm 14, Psalm 53 and Romans 3, and is one of the principle proof texts for the doctrine of original sin.  Most of the Christians we interviewed were not only unfamiliar with these Bible verses, but were in active disagreement with the theology promoted in these texts (Program note:  the White Horse Inn episode featuring the results to this recent poll will air in late November).

We also conducted a poll in 2009 of approximately 100 individuals at a Christian Music event (70% of whom were young Christians between 13 and 25) and the results were even more troubling.  When we asked about the same verse from Romans 3, we found that only 1 out of 3 recognized it as a Bible text and agreed with its content (31% to be exact).  You can find the complete results to this 2009 survey here.

WHI-1016 | Difficult Texts of Scripture

The hosts have been making the argument for the past few weeks that Christ and his grand rescue mission is the major subject of Scripture. The core of the Christian faith, they argue, is his saving work on our behalf, not our own personal transformation. But if this is really the case, how shall we interpret various biblical texts that seem to contradict this view? For example, Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Do verses like this undermine the doctrine of justification by an imputed righteousness? Tune in to find out (originally aired November 26, 2006).


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New Mosque vs New Church

This interactive map from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows the locations of 35 proposed mosques in the United States that have encountered community resistance.  According to the Mosque Study Project 2000, 688 new mosques have opened in the last ten years.

According to a 2007 report from Leadership Network, nearly 4,000 new churches are started each year in the United States. The simple math is that new churches outnumber new mosques by nearly 59 to 1.

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


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

  • 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.

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!

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