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WHI-970 | A Survey of Christian Faith & Practice

Have you ever heard of the doctrine of justification? What’s the best way to summarize the Christian gospel? On this edition of the program the hosts interact with answers to questions like these as they walk through the results of a White Horse Inn survey of approximately 100 Christians.


What is Discipleship
Michael Horton
Christless Christianity
Michael Horton
WHI Survey of Christian Faith & Practice
(500 kB PDF)


The Gospel-Driven Life
Michael Horton
The Courage to be Protestant
David Wells
Christless Christianity
Michael Horton


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Doug Powell

Those Wacky Presbyterians

Covenant Presbyterian Church in uber-hip Los Angeles has started a pet-centric worship service.  The linked article says this is something of a mini-trend, crossing denominational boundaries and showing up as “pet blessing” services or “Woof and Worship” services.

It’s easy to write this off as just another bad idea that emanates from a failing evangelicalism, but I wonder if we should pay closer attention to the crying need for community that is expressed by some of the “worshippers” at the Covenant service.  They have traded in family connections for pet connections. As important as those are, they cannot be life-sustaining, no matter what sort of piety we dress them with.

If the pastor and church in question recognized this, the possibilities for true outreach would be significant. Instead, doggie treats are served and the congregation sings a hymn titled, “GoD and DoG.” Sigh.

The Virgin Mary and ECT: A Response

In the 1960s, it was virtually inconceivable that a Roman Catholic candidate could win a presidential election and conservative Protestants were at the forefront of the opposition to John F. Kennedy’s campaign.  However, in only two decades, everything changed.  With the rise of the Moral Majority and concern over a loss of cultural values, particularly the concern to protect the unborn, Roman Catholics and evangelicals found themselves working together, speaking together, and praying together.

Moving beyond political cooperation toward deeper theological and spiritual understanding, a new initiative was born when Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things, and evangelical leader Charles Colson gathered a group of friends to discuss their differences and agreements.  In 1994, the first statement was issued from the group: “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.”  Arousing debate within evangelical circles over issues that many of us considered (and still consider) essential to the gospel that were nevertheless left murky or marginalized, this document was followed by “The Gift of Salvation” in 1997.  As the group summarizes in the current document, a third statement, “Your Word is Truth” (2002), “affirmed a convergence in our understanding of the transmission of God’s saving Word through Holy Scripture and tradition, which is the lived experience of the community of faith under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”  This was followed by “The Communion of Saints” (2003), “The Call to Holiness“ (2004), and “That They May Have Life” (2006).  This year’s installment, recently released, is “Do Whatever He Tells You: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life.”

The authors of the recent document are to be commended for having managed to distill a complex history of differing interpretations in a brief space.  The format contributes to its clarity: framing the issues and allowing both traditions to speak charitably yet frankly of their differences.  The Roman Catholic partners in the dialogue begin by affirming the centrality and uniqueness of Christ, arguing that Mary, along with all saints in heaven, “cooperates” in Christ’s intercession rather than completing or contributing to it.  Although there is much here that challenges popular Protestant caricatures (often drawn from popular Roman Catholic practice), attempts are not made to explain some of the problematic language in dogmatic encyclicals and the First Vatican Council.  We must wait for the evangelical response before there are references to Mary as “co-mediatrix” and “co-redemptrix” (terms, of course, that the evangelical partners rejected).  Nevertheless, the point of the statement was to find common ground and further discussion.

The Roman Catholic partners continue by defending the traditional Marian dogmas: her immaculate conception (officially promulgated in 1854 by Pius IX), which is said to have preserved her from the stain of original sin; her assumption, body and soul, into heaven before death (promulgated in 1950), her perpetual virginity (i.e., celibacy even after the birth of Jesus), and the propriety of offering prayers to and through her.  They do point out that the immaculate conception was debated in the Middle Ages (rejected by Thomas Aquinas, for example), but affirm it as binding dogma.  Upon her assumption, Mary became the “Queen of Heaven,” “the Ark of the Covenant,” and “Mother of the Church,” although the authors insist that in these roles Mary directs us to her Son.  “In drawing closer to Mary, we are drawn closer to Christ….Any mediation attributed to Mary is only part of the mediation of Christ, the ‘one mediator between God and men’ (1 Tim 2:5).”  When “the prayers” are mentioned as part of the ordinary worship of the early church in Acts 2:42, the authors interpret this as encompassing the communion of saints in heaven and on earth: “As we ask for the prayers of the Church on earth, so also we ask for the prayers of the Church in heaven.”

To anyone aware of the developments at the Second Vatican Council and since, these reflections will not be surprising. Although they omit important statements that might stand in some tension with their qualifications of official Marian devotion, they provide a helpful summary.

The evangelical participants are also to be commended for their clarity and conviction.  The recognize the special honor in which Mary was held by the Protestant Reformers, who were happy to refer to her (as some of our confessions do) as “the Blessed Virgin Mary” and other titles.  In fact, even Zwingli, Bullinger, and other Reformers still referred to her as “immaculate” and “ever-virgin,” so they at least did not regard these beliefs as church-dividing—although we should be glad that their successors rejected these views.  The evangelical representatives recognize that the churches of the Reformation have always affirmed with the Council of Ephesus that Mary is Theotokos, “God-bearer.”  Reformed Christians do not share the reticence of most evangelicals in calling Mary the “Mother of God,” since, as the evangelical authors point out, this was a Christological debate meant to affirm the divinity of Christ rather than to raise the status of Mary.  The evangelical partners also offer respectful challenges (supported by exegesis) to Mary’s immaculate conception and perpetual virginity, pointing out the unlikelihood of “brothers and sisters” of Jesus (Matthew 13:55-56) being cousins, as Rome contends.  They also challenge the bodily assumption of Mary and defend the exclusivity of Christ’s mediatorial work.

Of course, in consensus documents something more could always be said.  Rome’s claim that Mary is “Mother of the Church” is nowhere supported in the New Testament (or by Old Testament prophecy).  In fact, given the unity of the covenant of grace, it may be more easily said that Sarah is the mother of the church.  Or, since the church was already born with the announcement of the gospel in Genesis 3:15, Abel’s sacrifice, and Seth’s calling on the name of the Lord, perhaps Eve is the mother of the church.  However, all of this is speculation.

Ask many Protestants today why they are not Roman Catholic and they may refer to “something about Mary and the saints.”  However, for the Reformers, the heart of the problem was the sufficiency of Scripture and especially the sufficiency of Christ the Mediator for sinners.  Are we justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, or by grace and our merits, faith and our works, Christ and the intercession of Mary and the saints.

The mediation of Mary and the saints belongs to a whole system that includes purgatory as the place where departed souls may be relieved in their suffering by our prayers.  The Roman Catholic partners, in fact, mentioned this point, citing Lumen Gentium 49.  The sufficiency of Christ’s merits remains the most church-dividing issue between us and wherever there has been convergence, it has been the Protestant partner rather than Rome that has moved.  I am glad that the evangelical representatives added in this document their concern to guard the Reformation’s emphasis on “the normative authority of Holy Scripture and justification by faith alone,” especially since both are compromised in the two earliest documents.  In my view, genuinely evangelical convictions were more faithfully articulated and defended with respect to Mary than with regard to these other issues that are more central to the faith and to our unresolved differences with Rome.

I applaud the evangelical participants for offering renewed reflection on the mother of our Lord.  She ought to be honored as the chief of saints for her unique role in redemptive history.  Nevertheless, as Calvin argued so long ago in making this same point, the greatest significance of her example for us is that she, though a sinner, was the recipient of God’s free grace and blessing in the Son whom she bore for the salvation of us all.  Let us, with her, embrace that Good News so that we, with her, may be blessed forever.

-Mike Horton

T-Shirt Theology

The old bumper sticker declared, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Here’s a t-shirt for the less certain among us (ht Inhabitatio Dei)


WHI-969 | The Reason for God

How can we believe in God when there is so much evil and suffering in the world? Isn’t it arrogant to insist that Christianity is the only true religion? These questions and more will be addressed on this edition of the White Horse Inn as Tim Keller joins the panel to discuss his New York Times bestselling book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.


Basic Apologetic Questions
Cwirla, et. al.
God at University College Dublin
John W. Montgomery
Transforming Truth
William Edgar


The Reason for God
Tim Keller
The Prodigal God
Tim Keller
Christless Christianity
Michael Horton


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Zac Hicks

Contemporary Reformation

Our good friend, Gene Edward Veith over at his blog Cranach, asks the question, “If the Church were to go through another Reformation today, what do you think needs reforming? What are the issues today?”

Take a look at some of the answers. Then, contribute your own, here (comments are now open) or over at Cranach.

Horton’s byFaith Interview

Mike Horton was recently interviewed for the Presbyterian Church in America’s denominational magazine byFaith.  The interview is now online. Here is an excerpt:

So how does an evangelical church present God accurately to someone who doesn’t know Him?

First of all, we can’t put all of the weight on the sermon. The sermon is the most important part of the service, but we have to see the Word of God as communicated not only through the sermon but through the singing, liturgy, prayer, and sacraments.

Paul speaks of the Word of Christ as dwelling in us richly through singing. Children often learn the faith more by singing than in Sunday school. Do the songs we sing cause the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly?

Is the liturgy moving us from confession of sin and a declaration of forgiveness to corporate prayer, to the reading of Scripture, to preaching, and the Lord’s table? Are these things regular aspects of our worship, or do we focus more on what we do than on what God does in the service?

There are a lot of well-meaning folks who say—and they’re speaking against the consumer-driven worship service—that worship is about what we do for God; we’re serving Him; we’re the ones worshiping. And I want to say to them: It’s not that we’re consumers, but we’re not worker bees either. It’s better than that. It’s better than we could have ever imagined. The God of all the universe—who looks after the movement of the planets—became flesh for us, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Wright Wednesdays: Part 10

[This is the final installment of Mike Horton's review of N. T. Wright's Justification. The previous installments can be found here.]


Reared in a pietistic evangelical environment, I recall the revolution in my own faith when the eschatology of the prophets and apostles challenged the narrow concept of salvation that I had been taught.  However, Wright had not yet written his first controversial tome.  In fact, as a teenager, I had read with enthusiasm the little book that he wrote with two other Oxford undergraduates, The Grace of God in the Gospel (Banner of Truth, 1972).  (On our first introduction, I told Tom that this was among the books instrumental in my “inviting Calvin into my heart” and he offered an equally tongue-in-cheek reply: “Now let me help you invite Paul into your heart.”)

It was the writings of Reformed theologians and biblical scholars like John Murray, Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, and Anthony Hoekema who introduced me to the sweeping vistas of a redemptive-historical interpretation of Scripture.  Of course, my own dispensationalist upbringing was dismantled in the process. Then, as a student of M. G. Kline, Dennis Johnson, Robert Strimple, and others at Westminster Seminary California, I came more fully to see how God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 generated an unfolding drama that led to God’s single plan to bring salvation to the nations through Israel, concentrated on Jesus Christ.

Especially during my doctoral studies, I began reading some of the formative writers of post-Reformation Reformed orthodoxy more intently and discovered that they had pioneered this biblical-theological interpretation of Scripture.  At its heart was a theology of the covenant, with the promise in Genesis 15 as a lodestar.  So it was from the most “traditional” of Reformed theologians that I learned that justification was a forensic concept drawn from the lawcourt rather than a transfer or infusion of virtues; that the covenant of grace marches from the protoeuangelion in Genesis 3:15 to the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15; that this promises gestates in the womb of Israel and is fulfilled in the birth of Jesus the Messiah; that this gospel is not simply going-to-heaven-when-I-die, but a renewed cosmos.

In one conversation in Oxford, Tom Wright concurred that although he had not read the older covenant theologians closely, he too was deeply influenced by Vos and Ridderbos.  Hence, my surprise when there are no footnotes to these writers, even when he is making their points, and most of the time Wright presents his views over against the whole Reformation (including Reformed) tradition.  In my view, Wright is at his best when he elaborates and extends arguments that, however controversial in the field of New Testament studies or in popular evangelicalism, are familiar territory for Reformed exegetes.

Where I think he is wrong is on his failure to see how the two promises made to Abraham in Genesis 15 (earthly land and the inheritance of the nations) lead to two distinct covenants: the conditional covenant of law at Sinai, where the people swear, “All this we will do,” and the covenant of grace that is based on the fulfillment of the law by the True Israel, Jesus the Messiah.  As a result, his sweeping biblical-theological vision misses crucial exegetical nuances, which Paul especially highlights in Galatians 4, with the contrast between law and promise, the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem, Hagar and Sarah, Sinai and Zion.  The further implication of this confusion of law and gospel is the false dilemma he often posits (in spite of his criticism of false dilemmas) between God’s righteousness as his own covenant faithfulness versus the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

First, he routinely misinterprets the Reformation doctrine as teaching that God’s personal attribute of righteousness is transferred to believers.  No reformer advocated such a thing.  In fact, Calvin added a whole section to his final edition of the Institutes to rebut the teaching of Osiander that we are righteous because Christ’s divine nature is imparted to us through mystical union.  Rather, Melanchthon, Calvin, and other reformers understood “Christ’s righteousness” as Christ’s fulfillment of the law as the representative head of his people.  Wright believes that our sins are imputed to Jesus Christ, so why not his righteousness?  Lacking engagement with any primary text from the Reformation for his assertions, he relies entirely it seems on Alister McGrath’s impressive though controversial study of the history of the doctrine of justification.  The choice is understandable.  Assuming discontinuity more than refinement, McGrath argues (as approvingly cited by Wright), “The ‘doctrine of justification’ has come to bear a meaning within dogmatic theology which is quite independent of its Pauline origins.” Wright repeatedly asserts, following McGrath, that justification “has regularly been made to do duty for the entire picture of God’s reconciling action toward the human race, covering everything from God’s free love and grace, through the sending of the son to die and rise again for sinners, through the preaching of the gospel, the work of the Spirit, the arousal of faith in human hearts and minds, the development of Christian character and conduct, the assurance of ultimate salvation, and the safe passage through final judgment to that destination” (86).  This does not even fit Lutheranism, but less the Reformed tradition.  If anything, these traditions carefully distinguish justification from sanctification.  One of the reasons for the much-maligned ordo salutis is to speak about the many and varied gifts that come to us in Christ.  Wright’s criticisms are often sweeping and dismissive and this leads inevitably to the second concern.

Second, alongside wonderful insights, Wright’s exegesis and theological conclusions are often reductionistic.  He says that justification is a forensic term from the lawcourt that declares God’s people “in the right,” and Christ as the True Israel fulfills the Abrahamic pledge in a way that could never have happened through the law, so what is wrong with saying that we are justified by God’s crediting Christ’s lifelong obedience, satisfaction, and resurrection-vindication to believers as if they had fulfilled all obedience in their own person?  As I have hinted at in various places along the way, Wright seems to have modified his views to some extent.  Yet it would be helpful to have a summary of exactly where he thinks he had it wrong.  He does write,

Of course—and my critics will no doubt have fun pointing this out—those of us, like Jimmy Dunn, Richard Hays, Douglas Campbell, Terry Donaldson and myself, who have tried to listen to the force of this point [a de-Judaizing of Paul], have not always followed either history or exegesis perfectly.  We have been so eager to think through the implications of the alternative (and deeply Jewish) readings of Paul that we in our turn may well have ignored elements (not non-Jewish elements, of course, but elements of Paul’s inner dialectic) that the old perspective was right to highlight and which it has been right stubbornly to insist on, even if sometimes feeling like Canute with the waves of the sea washing around his throne.  But if we are to listen to what Paul says, in a vital and overlooked passage like 2:17-20, we may yet achieve the proper balance…There was nothing wrong with the plan, or with the Torah on which it was based.  The problem was in Israel itself.  And as we shall see later, the problem was that Israel, too, was ‘in Adam’ (196).

However, Reformed exegetes have labored the point that the problem was never the Torah itself, but the fact that Israel too was “in Adam.”

In my view, Wright is not as radical in this book as he is in some of his earlier works.  He seems to have softened his emphasis on a future justification by works that might be quite different from the present verdict.  There seems to be a wider recognition of Christ’s representative work, not only in his death but in his life.  More than in his earlier works, he seems in this volume to speak less one-sidedly of justification merely as a verdict concerning membership in God’s people and (although this is still emphasized), and he refers to justification also in several places as a verdict that declares sinners righteous in Christ through faith.  In fact, his apparent moderation on this point makes for some confusion when he repeats his usual sharp contrasts between his own view and the Reformation perspective.  Despite these modifications, his polemical tone and sweeping strikes against the Reformation remains as firmly entrenched as ever.

A concluding evaluation of this book would be incomplete if I did not register my genuine appreciation for some of his points.  In spite of exaggerations and false dilemmas, Wright reminds us that justification is inextricably tied to God’s covenantal, historical, cosmic, and eschatological purposes for “summing up all things in Christ.”  Even if it is in some ways an over-correction, he does remind us that justification does not emerge simply out of need for personal or pastoral needs, but out of an unfolding plan that revolves around God’s faithfulness to his own righteousness and results not only in saved individuals but in a church and a kingdom.  Even if he tends sometimes to confuse this kingdom with his own political agenda, Wright properly reminds us that even in its seminal and liminal existence in this time between Christ’s advents, it is already true that Jesus is Lord.

God promised the holy land and a worldwide family in Gen 15 (222).  “And once again the point about the Torah is twofold: (a) to cling to it would be to embrace the wrath which results from having broken it; (b) to highlight it would be to restrict the covenantal promises to Jews only.  Both perspectives matter, and the two fit snugly together within Paul’s overall view of God’s call and promise to Abraham” (222).

WHI-968 | Applying God’s Law

Is the Bible merely a manual of timeless ethics? If so, what do we do with the various civil and ceremonial laws from the Old Testament? Are we, like Israel of old, called to cleanse the land of idolatry by a kind of holy war? How should we interpret and apply texts of this kind? These questions and more will be addressed on this edition of the White Horse Inn.


What Are We Looking For?
Michael Horton
Defining the Two Kingdoms
Michael Horton
Preaching Christ
Dennis Johnson


Show Them No Mercy
Gundry, et. al.
God of Promise
Michael Horton
The Law of Perfect Freedom
Michael Horton


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Doug Powell

Coming Soon from Modern Reformation


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