White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Mockingbird’s Favorite Videos

One of our favorite blogs, mockingbirdnyc, has a series of posts on their favorite songs, movies, and television shows of 2009. Jeff Hual, a contributor to the blog, also posted his top seven videos of the year. Here are a few teasers. You’ll want to visit the blog to see the whole thing.

Number 7: Rick Warren on the “Gospel of Doing”…

Pastor Warren explaining to his congregation all of the things they have to “do” if they want to get to heaven.

Number 6: Bill Hybels on “Holy Motivation”…

Pastor Hybels explains how getting angry and then using that anger to fuel a fervor for social justice issues is a biblical concept (who knew!).

Number 5: Megachurch Sermon Trailers–In Search of Relevance…

Ah…smell the moralistic therapeutic deism. Obviously, if getting into heaven is about all this doing that we have to do (as Pastors Warren and Hybels have asserted), then the preacher had better get busy with giving us some practical things to be doing.

Number 2: You Were Born For This? (From the Author of “The Prayer of Jabez”)…

Of course, if the Prayer of Jabez had actually worked for everyone, we wouldn’t need a follow-up book about how to “live a life of predictable miracles”:

Divine Financial Advice

Do you know the difference between causation and correlation? It is sometimes difficult to tell the two concepts apart. It’s sort of chicken and the egg or chaos-theory butterfly stuff.  I’m wondering about all of this again after the Christmas Eve story on MSNBC: Is the Bible a Good Investment Tool?

Causation would say, yes, if you follow the principles laid down in the Bible you will be successful (in finance, parenting, politics, Super Mario Brothers, whatever).  Correlation says, no, while it shouldn’t surprise us that the Bible speaks truth to financial power, its effectiveness is limited by its purpose and the Bible’s purpose isn’t to set our financial house in order.

There’s no problem with asking how my new life in Christ should affect the way I make financial decisions, of course. But there is a significant problem with marketing the Bible as as part of an investor tool-kit.  The one approach remembers that redemption and new creation are central to the Bible’s themes and God’s purposes. The other approach reduces the Bible to the kind of advice many of us get in our inboxes everyday from other financial gurus. What happens if “taking the Bible literally” when it comes to finances doesn’t pay off? It’s easy to unsubscribe The Motley Fool. It’s a little harder to return to Scripture as a source of truth and life after you’ve weighed it and found it wanting for your bank account.

Of course, we wouldn’t have this problem if we didn’t ask the Bible to speak to issues it doesn’t really care about. The irony is that by making the Bible say more than it does, we rob it of its real authority over our lives.

WHI-977 | An Interview with Marilynne Robinson

On this edition of the White Horse Inn, Michael Horton talks with Pulitzer Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson about many of the themes she explores in her writings, such as the affects of Darwinism on human self-reflection, the significance of the theology of John Calvin, and the complexity of grace. Dr. Robinson is the author of Home, Gilead, and The Death of Adam.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

The Death of Adam
Marilynne Robinson
Gilead
Marilynne Robinson
Home
Marilynne Robinson

PROGRAM AUDIO

MUSIC SELECTION

Zack Hicks

WHI-976 | The Word Made Flesh

Christianity is the religion of a book, and this particular book contains a good deal of words to be read, reflected upon, and applied. But God’s word contains more than instructions on how we should all behave. Ultimately it points to a person, the Word of God made flesh, who descended from heaven in order to save the fallen race of mankind.

RELATED ARTICLES

What is Discipleship?
Michael Horton
The Bombarding Images of TV Culture
D. Groothuis
Christ & Humanity
Michael Horton

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

On the Incarnation
Athanasius
The God of Promise
Michael Horton
The Gospel Driven Life
Michael Horton

PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

Artist: Sandra McCracken Song: “Lo The Storms of Life Are Breaking”

You’ve GOT to Hear These!

Have you given your $100 end of the year gift to White Horse Inn? If not, you haven’t yet heard the great bloopers and hilarious out-takes from long forgotten episodes of WHI! We’ve posted short clips from a few of them below. You’ll have to get our brand-new 20th Anniversary CD to hear them all!

WHI Dad Rod Christmas Special Introduction

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Special Listener – Billy Graham

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Celebrity voice impersonated

Special Listener – President Clinton

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Celebrity voice impersonated

Out-take – “You have 25 minutes to go.”

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Out-take – “It’s like a barrel full of suds…”

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Out-take – “If we were talking about that…”

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Spoof Commercial – “Dad Rod Cruise”

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This is just the tip of the iceberg! We’ve also put the full-length (2 hour version) of the Robert Schuller interview, classic WHI episodes, and pdfs of related MR articles. There’s more than enough to keep you thinking, praying, and laughing through the New Year.

Give your $100 gift by December 31st and we’ll send you a copy of our 20th Anniversary CD. Thanks for standing with us; thanks for laughing with us!

It Pays to Go to Church

In 1840, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that, “preachers in America are continually coming down to earth.  Indeed they find it difficult to take their eyes off it. The better to touch their hearers, they are forever pointing out how religious beliefs favor freedom and public order, and it is often difficult to be sure when listening to them whether the main object of religion is to procure eternal felicity in the next world or prosperity in this” (Democracy in America, 2.2.9).

This problem has continued to plague practitioners of religion in America since the time of de Tocqueville, right down to the present day emphasis on “the practical” over “the theological,” having Your Best Life Now, rather than focusing on the significance of what Jesus did way back then.  However, CNN is running a report today that a Chicago area church has taken things in an entirely new direction.  At The Lighthouse Church of All Nations in Alsip, Illinois, they’ve decided to use the offering money to fund a weekly lottery.  With game show music in the background, the pastor reads the winning number and the contestant, uh, sorry, congregant is awarded a cash prize. And by all accounts it appears to be bringing ‘em in.  Since The Lighthouse Church began the lottery just over two months ago, they have nearly doubled in size.  This may be the beginning of an entire new chapter in the history of the Church Growth movement.

Here’s the video from CNN:  Lottery lures more to church

Todd Billings on the New Calvinism

Todd Billings, professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary, recently wrote an article explaining the New Calvinism for Christian Century.  Prof. Billing, featured in the March/April 2009 issue of Modern Reformation, argues that a significant danger to the theological recovery sought by the New Calvinists is the less than accurate and inadequate way of equating Reformed theology (with its ecclesiology, especially) with the so-called Five Points of Calvinism.

Different authors in different places (including this place) have made this argument and Prof. Billings provides another compelling voice for this important conversation.

WHI-975 | The End of Secularism

Secularists have argued for many years that religion is an entirely private matter that should not inform public life and policy decisions. But what about secularism itself? Is it really a neutral position itself? On this edition of the White Horse Inn the hosts discuss these issues with Hunter Baker, author of The End of Secularism.


(6MB MP3 Download of the Peter Berger Interview mentioned in this week’s program)

RELATED ARTICLES

Religion & Politics
Horton, Guinness, Wallis, et al
Jerome, Augustine & The Fall of Rome
Kim Riddlebarger
God & Other Law Makers
J.W. Montgomery

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

The End of Secularism
Hunter Baker
Where in the World is the Church?
Michael Horton
Christ & Culture Revisited
D. A. Carson

PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

Ex Nihilo

Clarity Before Unity

["Clarity Before Unity" originally appeared in the Between the Times department in Modern Reformation's November/December 2004 issue. We're posting it now because in it we can hear directly from those inside the drive for evangelical and Roman Catholic cooperation, mostly recently manifested in the Manhattan Declaration.]

On October 4th and 5th, Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, sponsored an important conference on ecumenism, “In One Body Through the Cross:  The Gospel Imperative Toward Christian Unity.”  The focus of the conference was The Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity, a document formed over a period of three years by a group of some sixteen theologians meeting in Princeton, New Jersey, and organized by The Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology.

Many of the drafters, such as Carl Braaten, R. R. Reno, and David Yeago, assembled at the conference to discuss the issues the proposal raised.  They were joined by notable theologians such as First Things editor, Father Richard John Neuhaus, Fuller Seminary president, Richard Mouw, and the Dean of Beeson Divinity School, Timothy George.

Lutheran theologian Carl Braaten, in his opening remarks to the conference, was quick to admit that the subject of ecumenism is in many quarters “regarded as a threat,” adding that many fear in this a “meltdown of our respective traditions.”  “However,” he went on to say, “Lutheran identity must not be allowed to trump Christian truth.”

Within the first few pages of the Princeton Proposal, homage is paid both to the findings of the New Delhi Assembly of the World Council of Churches (1961), and the work of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation.  The latter, according the Princeton Proposal, “consigned to oblivion the mutual condemnations of the Reformation era.”  Nevertheless it also acknowledges that great divisions remain, and few see a way forward.

MR had the opportunity to talk at some length with Carl Braaten, Richard John Neuhaus, and R. R. Reno about a number of the issues on the table for discussion at this ecumenical conference.  The following are mildly condensed versions of those conversations, and are offered here under the assumption that clarity is to be preferred before unity:

Carl Braaten, Lutheran theologian and editor of the Princeton Proposal

MR:  The Roman Catholic Council of Trent condemned Protestants for their view of justification, and given that Trent is still officially binding doctrine, how can there be any real ecumenism until either Protestants give up their view of justification or the Catholic side renounces Trent’s anathemas?

Braaten:  The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between Catholics and the Lutheran World Federation says that we don’t have to reiterate all the anathemas anymore.  This was a high level doctrinal discussion which didn’t discount the importance of Trent or say that Lutherans are right and the Catholics are wrong.  Together they worked things out in such a way that the issue of justification is no longer church dividing.

MR:  Was there an explicit recantation of Trent in the Joint Declaration?

Braaten:  There was no recantation on either side, but they concluded that the way the churches are thinking about justification today, those old condemnations no longer apply.   They didn’t say that those issues didn’t apply at that time, so they didn’t recant anything. So history moves on, theology changes, and we don’t have to stick with the old condemnations.  Now, if we still believed that Roman Catholics are teaching heretical doctrine on justification, there would be no Joint Declaration.

MR:  Which side moved from their original position, the Catholic or the Protestant?

Braaten:  I think the right wing in both traditions think there was a sellout.  For example, there are Lutherans who don’t accept the Joint Declaration.  Those are cautionary words, but I think it is the best the two bodies could do at the time and it does help to remove the antagonism, lower the temperature, and make it possible to come to the next round of dialog without all this animosity.  It’s not the end of the road, it’s just one little baby step along the way.  And I don’t think it is the last word on justification by any means.   I can find reasons myself why I wouldn’t say the formulation completely meshes with my own understanding of justification.  But as long as we understand that our justification is in Christ, through faith, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and then we have sufficient ground to come together.  At least as much as is possible under the present circumstances.   We don’t come together at the Table of the Lord; there’s no open communion.  But we do come together in prayer and Bible study and in Bible centered worship.  So a lot of things are going on now that would have never happened fifty years ago, and that’s because of the ecumenical dialogs.

Richard John Neuhaus, Roman Catholic priest and editor of First Things

MR:  Carl Braaten, at the opening of this conference called the issue of the pope, the big elephant in the middle of the room.  Can you conceive of a scenario in which there would be visible unity of the various Christian bodies without the pope as its head?

Neuhaus:  I think the expression “at the head” is perhaps not the best way to put it.  If you ask, can one conceive of full communion among Christians that does not include the exercise of Petrine ministry clearly grounded in the New Testament and instituted by our Lord to be a center of strength and guidance for the brethren, then the answer to that is no, because that would be contrary to our Lord’s intention.  Then if you ask, is there any other existing office in the world, present or past, that could exercise that Petrine ministry other than the bishop of Rome, then I think almost everybody would say no, there’s no other believable candidate.  So, no, I think whatever you believe we envision will be one in which that ministry will be exercised by the bishop of Rome.  But as he says, this will be done in a way that is very different from how it has often be exercised in the past, which has often been a source of disunity.

MR:   The Council of Trent in 1564 declares that, “If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins,…let him be anathema.”   Now, if Protestants assert that justification by means of imputation is the heart of the gospel, how can there be any consideration of uniting with Catholics until this issue is resolved?

Neuhaus:  First of all, Trent was very careful to not condemn anybody by name, but said that if someone says such and such, as we understand this term to mean, let him be anathema.  Now, did they understand what Luther, Calvin, or other major Reformation figures meant generally?  Sure, but did Trent anathematize the Reformation consensus on justification?  I think the answer to that is no.  And I think this is the point made by the Joint Declaration.

MR:  So what in the Joint Declaration from your perspective, modifies Trent, or softens its blows against the Protestants?

Neuhaus:  It’s not a question really of modifying Trent…

MR:  Because it’s still in effect, right?

Neuhaus:  Oh, well yes, there are a lot of things in the history of the church that a very orthodox Catholic is very free to say, indeed obliged to say, were not adequately expressed, or were expressed in a way that has to be understood in that particular historical circumstance.  Thus, Catholics believe that through the magisterium of the church through the guidance of the Holy Spirit there is a constant and reliable further unfolding of the truth.  So just as you can’t take one part of Scripture and play it off against another part of Scripture, likewise you can’t take one part of the magisterial tradition and play it off against others. We look at the sixteenth century and many of the things that were said by those chiefly responsible for the divisions on both sides reflect profound misunderstandings of what the other side was saying.  And so, four hundred years later, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it’s possible for us to see the inadequacies of the expression of all sides.  And so it’s an ongoing fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that he would send his Spirit to the church who would lead us into all truth.  It’s sometimes a messy process, but we believe the promise is still being kept.

MR:  But wouldn’t the first step toward closer unity between Catholics and Protestants be to have Rome issue a clear statement that the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent, which have anathematized Protestants, are no longer in effect?  But to date, there has not been an official recantation of this position.

Neuhaus:  That’s right.  And there never will be a recantation of a council statement.  See that’s a very Protestant way of thinking.  You say, okay, how are we going to constitute our fellowship?  On the basis of our agreements and disagreements? Catholics understand that it is not doctrinal identity but a continuity of persons and office in the apostolic community that binds us together, and particularly as that is expressed sacramentally in the Eucharist.  And within that community, over 2000 years, you’ve had a lot of schlock!  I mean really bad stuff has happened, as well as the Holy Spirit keeping his promise through all of that stuff.  You don’t go and say, okay, now we’re going to repudiate this part of our tradition, and change our anathemas and turn them around in the other direction.  No, because that would be against the unity of the church.

MR:  But Peter did this.  He was willing to admit that he was wrong when he was confronted by Paul.

Neuhaus:  Yeah, but they didn’t excommunicate one another.  They continued in fellowship.

MR:  But Peter did acknowledge his error.

Neuhaus:  Absolutely, and Pope John Paul II has gone around acknowledging errors like mad.

R.R. Reno, recent convert to Catholicism and author of In the Ruins of the Church

MR:  The way the Protestants view it, the Council of Trent condemned the heart of the gospel. Given that perspective, is it then wrong for a Protestant to attempt to re-evangelize a person of the Catholic faith?

Reno:  Doctrinal affirmations are part of systems.  They’re like ecological systems.  The word justification in Tridentine theology is in a different eco-system than the same word in classic Protestant theology. Thus they condemned things from within their own ecology.

MR:  But clearly, a Protestant, hearing Trent’s anathemas would feel condemned.

Reno:  Of course.  What it basically means is that God is going to save us in our bodies.  That’s what the doctrine of purgatory is all about.  Something real has to happen in your life, it can’t just be declarative.

MR:  So how then does one proceed in the ecumenical task with those Protestants who still believe that justification is the article on which the church stands or falls?

Reno:  With those people, I just throw my hands up.  They need to believe that the Catholic Church rules out their position.  They have to believe that.  So, does that mean the church is infallible?  Well, yes.  At some level you have to see that even with the Biblical episode in which Peter does the wrong thing, it comes out right in the end.  The teaching office of the church is not trustworthy propositionally, it is trustworthy spiritually.  It will not do harm to your soul to let your life be formed by the church’s teaching.

How Helpful Is The New Pew Study?

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a new study on American religious habits yesterday. Like many studies of the same sort, it is filled with alarming anecdotes chronicling the rise of religious syncretism (the mashing together of beliefs from New Age, Christian, Native American, Hindu traditions, etc.). One woman, quoted in a USA Today story on the study said,

Regina Roman of Alexandria, Va., calls herself “a very grounded Episcopalian” who’s active in her church. But, she says, “I’m also stretching the boundaries of how we are to be here and now in this day, age and culture.”

She leads pilgrimages to Egypt, New Mexico and Ireland to help travelers discover the truths and visions in Coptic, Native American and Celtic traditions. Roman celebrated the winter solstice with a home ceremony for guests to delight in the sun’s gifts.

“We are all in relationship with the cosmos. We need to honor that,” says Roman, who doesn’t see herself crossing barriers but rather “coming full circle” with ancient ideas.

The actual statistics, however, don’t seem to be as clear: “Between 47% and 59% of Americans have changed religions at least once, according to a Pew survey released in April.” “Changed religions” as in moving from Baptist to Wiccan? Or, is this moving from Bible church to Lutheran?

The study goes on to say that “28% of people who attend church at least weekly say they visit multiple churches outside their own tradition.”  Again, how broadly is “tradition” being defined here?

Some statistics are clearly problematic: between twenty and thirty percent of self-described Christians

  • believe that people will be reborn in this world again and again (22%)
  • believe that Yoga is a spiritual practice (21%)
  • believe that the position of stars/planets can affect people’s lives (23%)
  • have been in touch with the dead (29%)
  • have found “spiritual energy” in trees, etc. (23%)

In addition  to pointing out a crying need for catechesis in our churches, this survey should also encourage pastors to be aware: don’t take your congregation’s grounding in the faith for granted. Continual teaching (especially in identifying alternative religious movements and contrasting them with the Gospel) is crucial for disciple-making.

For more on the new spiritualities that are changing America’s religious landscape, check out the May/June 2008 issue of Modern Reformation, “The New Spiritualities,” available online to subscribers (the print version is also available for purchase by calling 800-890-7556). If you’re not yet a subscriber, you can sign up for a thirty day free trial here.

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