White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

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)


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


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


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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.

Of Declarations, Resolutions, and Theses

Now that R. C. Sproul, the elder statesman of Reformed theology in the U.S., has also come out against the Manhattan Declaration, a number of folks are offering explanations or observations about their role with or the import of the Declaration. Since both R.C. and Mike Horton have emphasized the close connection the current Declaration has with previous announcements of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, the Resolutions for Roman Catholic and Evangelical Dialogue that was published in the July/August 1994 issue of Modern Reformation have appeared as supporting documentation on several blogs and websites.  We also wanted to draw attention to the Ten Theses for Roman Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue that we published in the March/April 1994 issue. Between these two statements, we believe a cordial and clearly defined course of conversation can develop between Protestants and Roman Catholics who, while aware of our important differences, are also willing to develop closer working relationships on matters of social justice and/or pursue reconciliation of the divide the church suffered when Rome anathematized the Gospel.

From a Movement to a Church: Part 4

[This is the last part of a four part series from Mike Horton on some of the misunderstandings that are prevalent within American evangelicalism about the “nature, marks, and mission of the church.” Earlier installments can be found here.]

Misunderstanding #4: “We can’t go to church because we are the church”

We’ve heard this one a lot lately, but again, it’s not really new.  Many of us were raised with this idea in old-style conservative evangelicalism.  In one sense, there is much to commend this view.  The church is certainly not a building.  In fact, there is no holy place on earth except for the temple consisting of living stones built up into Christ (1 Pet 2:4-10).  However, the way it is often argued goes beyond this insight. Some who invoke this phrase today tell us that the Reformation was wrong when it defined the church by the marks of preaching, sacrament, and discipline.  This put the focus on the church as a place where certain things happen instead of a people who do certain things.  How should we respond?

First, notice where the emphasis is placed in this construction.  Whereas the marks of the church identified by the reformers focus on the church as a place where God is active in serving his people with saving benefits and then sending them out into the world as renewed neighbors, the new phrase makes the church (or at least individual Christians) the active agent.  In other words, the emphasis falls on our doing instead of receiving that which God has done and is doing for us.  Not surprisingly, this emphasis picks up a lot of collateral confusions along the way, like the call to “living the gospel” or “being the gospel.”  Have we forgotten that the gospel is the Good News about God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ?  It is for us, but it is not about us.  The gospel is concentrated entirely on Christ’s doing, dying, and rising, not on our experience, piety, or acts of service.  The gospel creates faith and obedience, but only because it the gospel itself is the announcement of Christ’s obedience, death, resurrection, ascension, and return.  Of course, the public service includes the response of the covenant partner in spoken word, prayer, and song.  Nevertheless, it’s always just that: a response to God’s act of judging and promising, through Word and sacrament.

Second, besides confusing our work with Christ’s, this formula confuses the church-as-gathered with the church-as-scattered.  The church has to be a place where God does certain things (such as judge and absolve sinners) before we can be a people who do certain things.  Our obedience is “the reasonable service” that we render “in view of God’s mercies” (Rom 12:1-2).  The church as an official institution is Christ’s embassy on earth, with his ministerial authority to exercise the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Mat 16:19).

However, the church is not only made up of officers—pastors, elders, and deacons.  Gifts have been given to every member for the good of all.  Furthermore, common gifts have been given to believers and unbelievers to fulfill their creation callings.  So the church as gathered is visible in the so-called “marks” of preaching of the Word, administration of the sacraments, and discipline, while the church as scattered refers to individual believers engaged in their ordinary callings throughout the week as parents, friends, co-workers, employers, employees, citizens, and volunteers.  The church, then, is both a place where the Covenant Lord speaks a new creation into being and a people who spill out into the world as heirs of that new creation.

The church as an official embassy of Christ’s kingdom does not have the authority to issue public pronouncements on every conceivable topic or to order the world’s affairs.  However, Christians may work together, or alongside non-Christian neighbors, to love and serve their neighbors, to engage in political action, and to pursue particular programs for community improvement.  Again, it’s a matter of respecting the “common” without trying to make it “holy.”  The commission of the church-as-institution is limited to the ministry of Word, sacrament, and discipline (which includes the physical as well as spiritual care of its members).  The activity of Christians, however, is much broader as they engage in their myriad vocations in the world.  And where God has not clearly directed our steps, believers have the Christian liberty to use their own sanctified common sense in the way that they raise their kids, vote, entertain themselves, and volunteer their time and talents.

The rediscovery of the doctrines of grace, nicknamed by TIME and Christianity Today as “the New Calvinism,” promises to reinvigorate Reformed and Presbyterian churches that too often take this treasure for granted.  At the same time, having been reared in individualistic evangelicalism, I have been regularly overwhelmed with the godly wisdom in churches that have been baptizing, teaching, and caring for the flock in body and soul from womb to tomb.  That’s where evangelicalism is weak.

At Pentecost, Peter declared, “The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Ac 2:39).  Focusing on covenant nurture across the generations, older Reformed churches help us to understand what it means to deliver God’s promise to “you and your children.”  “New Calvinists” can help us become more intentional in our mission “to those who are far off,” reaching those outside the covenant community.  Let’s do this together!  As the movement matures, my hope is that it will draw more deeply and broadly from the Reformation’s wells.  If “Reformed” simply identifies someone who believes in God’s electing grace, then Thomas Aquinas was Reformed.  However, just as Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and other traditions are defined by their confessions, Reformed Christians confess their faith together through carefully considered statements.  Under the normative authority of God’s Word, the Three Forms of Unity (consisting of the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort) and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms summarize this consensus.

Ecclesiology is a significant part of the churches that emerged from the Reformation.  Anglican theologian Paul Avis has observed, “Reformation theology is largely dominated by two questions: ‘How can I obtain a gracious God?’ and ‘Where can I find the true Church?’  The two questions are inseparably related…” According to the churches of the Reformation, the true church is found “wherever the Word is rightly preached and the sacraments are properly administered.”  Our challenge today is to move from a Reformed movement to Reformed churches.  We must question not only the human-centered doctrine that dominates so much of American religion but the methods and form of life that arise naturally from such doctrine.  There is a particular kind of piety and conception of mission that is generated by the doctrines of Scripture.  At least since the Second Great Awakening, the Reformation and its confessional distinctives have played a less discernable role than pietist and revivalistic emphases.  In fact, at the end of his US tour, Dietrich Bonhoeffer could summarize his observations concerning American religion generally as “Protestantism without the Reformation.”  So let’s have a new Reformation that recovers the God-exalting, Christ-centered, grace-proclaiming faith and practice that will bring renewal not only to Reformed churches but, we pray, to the wider body of Christ around the world!

-Mike Horton

WHI-974 | What is Discipleship?

What does it mean to be a follower of Christ? Should Christians focus more on “being the church” rather than going to church? Can we really “live the gospel?” On this edition of the White Horse Inn the hosts will interact with these questions and more as they discuss the nature and meaning of discipleship.


What is Discipleship Anyway
Michael Horton
Working on Our Grammar
William Willimon
Why Johnny Can’t Preach
T. David Gordon


The Gospel-Driven Life
Michael Horton
Knowing Scripture
R.C. Sproul
Putting Amazing Back Into Grace
Michael Horton


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The 20th Anniversary CD!

Did you like the Romans Revolution CD that we gave out to supporters of White Horse Inn last summer? Then you’re gonna love the new 20th Anniversary CD that is now available for a gift of $100 by the end of the year!


The MP3 CD includes 20 classic episodes plus extensive bonus material including: the pilot episode, the entire 2 hour (!) Robert Schuller interview, and the Dad Rod Christmas Special along with outtakes and bloopers. One reviewer has already written in: “I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats.”

Maybe you’re thinking a CD like this would only appeal to Inn-heads or Inn-atics. Well, we know they’ll love it, but this would also be a great CD to give to someone who needs to be introduced to the treasure trove of Reformation resources that you’ve been enjoying every week for twenty years. We’ve included Modern Reformation articles and even some old Horse’s Mouth newsletter articles to take you deeper into the different topics the hosts tackle on this CD.

We’re asking for $100 because this is the most important season for our fundraising. We know the CD is valuable, but we also want you to participate with us in getting this message out to more and more people in the New Year.  We’re grateful that you’ve been supporting us in the past; your tax-deductible gift will be a tremendous encouragement to us for the future.

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