White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Five for Friday

We’re starting a new feature at the WHI blog, Five for Friday. Five for Friday is so named because we’ll ask five questions of pastors, missionaries, theologians, and regular Joes/Joans who are working for Reformation and post their answers on Fridays. Clever, I know.

If you know of people who are leading the way forward to a new Reformation in their native countries, within their denominations, or in their congregations, we’d love to feature their stories. Send us an email and we’ll send them our five questions.

Our inaugural guest is Sebastian Heck, who is working to establish a Reformed presence in Germany, starting in Heidelberg.

What historical connection does Heidelberg have with the Protestant Reformation?

When Frederick the III became elector of the Palatinate, the region surrounding Heidelberg, the city of Heidelberg quickly rose to become one of the most prominent centers of Reformed theology in all of Europe. Through the assiduous publication of Reformed literature as well as the training of hundreds of Reformed pastors who went out from Heidelberg to many different contries, Heidelberg eventually merited the name “the Geneva of the North.” While the Lutheran Reformation had begun almost 50 years earlier, in the early 1560s, Germany experienced what many call a “second Reformation” – the Reformed Reformation. One of the best known and most beloved products of that time is the Heidelberg Catechism which, upon publication in 1563, was immediately translated in many different languages and became the confessional statement uniting Reformed believers across European borders. While Geneva affected primarily Switzerland and France, Heidelberg led to the founding and prospering of Reformed churches in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and many other countries. Even the United States would soon benefit from Reformed believers emmigrating and bringing the robust faith of the Heidelberg Catechism to the shores of the New World.

Germany is in most people’s minds associated with Martin Luther and Lutheranism. What is the state of confessional, Reformational Lutheranism in Germany?

It is true that people usually associate Reformation Germany with Martin Luther and Lutheranism and not so much with the Reformed faith, but Germany did have a strong Reformed church, at least for a few decades.  There are two major expressions of Lutheranism in Germany today. The first is the Lutheran State Churches. The better and healthier of these are usually the ones that were heavily affected by Pietism. Pietism served as a cushion against liberalism and higher criticism. In general, the State Churches tend to be quite liberal and miss one, two, or all three of the marks that we believe make a true church. The buildings, the liturgies, the hymnody and psalmody might still be there, but unfortunately the gospel has been excused, and along with it the proper administration of the sacraments. The second expression of Lutheranism is the so called “Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church” with about 200 congregations, a sister church to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. It is by far the more conservative of the two, but even this church is struggling with the influx of liberalism as well as issues such as pressure to allow women ordination.

What are the greatest dangers to reformation in modern day Germany?

The greatest danger to reformation in modern day Germany is simply this: that no one might be interested in doing it. Many believers, both in Germany and outside of it, have capitulated and no longer believe reformation to be possible. Disbelief in the sovereignty of God is a great hindrance to any work of reformation. But so is an exceedingly broad and superficial evangelicalism, or even an “evangelical,” non-confessional version of Reformed Christianity in Germany.

What we need is not necessarily Martin Luthers or John Calvins, but faithful, well-trained pastors who are willing to suffer and be persecuted – and churches that rely utterly and completely on the promises of God as well as the means he has ordained for the planting, the growth, and the perseverance of the church. Any compromise in these areas is bound to suffocate any impulse towards reformation.

What does your group try to do to influence German Reformation?

Reformation2Germany is an endeavor to do three things: (1) to plant confessional Reformed churches that rely on a Word & Sacrament ministry, i.e. the means of grace, (2) to publish Reformed ressources, both popular and academic, both contemporary and classics, through our publishing house Wortverlag, (3) to train pastors. We believe all these things need to be there and to feed into each other for any work of reformation to be sustained. As there is currently no confessional Reformed denomination in Germany, with the first church plants we are laying the ground work for a new Reformed denomination in Germany and hope to be able to train our own pastors.

How can donors who are willing to stand with you help the cause?

As you can imagine, the entire work of Reformation2Germany needs solid outside funding. It is next to impossible, at least initially, to garner any support from within Germany, given the state of the churches there. For convenience sake, we maintain a project support account with Mission To The World (PCA) where you can easily donate. Please find detailed information on our website. Even with a small but faithful donation you can help bring the reformation back to the Land of the Reformation and return a favor that has once been granted to you.

For further information, to donate or to sign up for the Reformation2Germany newsletter, please visit our website.

Wright Wednesdays: part 4

Justification and God’s Righteousness: Imputation and the Future Hope

Whatever the merits of John Piper’s critique, it is disappointing that Wright fails to engage with “old perspective” writers who emphasize the importance of covenant and eschatology as he does but without surrendering the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.  “Biblicism,” the assumption that a concept must be stated in so many words in the Bible in order for it to attain the status of a biblical doctrine, is apparent in Wright’s rhetorical question: “if ‘imputed’ righteousness is so utterly central, so nerve-janglingly vital, so standing-and-falling-church important as John Piper makes out, isn’t it strange that Paul never actually came straight out and said it?” (46). How would Wright defend the doctrine of the Trinity?  Or the hypostatic union in the incarnation?  Systematic and historical theology appeal to a host of concepts and terms that are not found expressly in Scripture that are nevertheless crucial for stating precisely the intention of the whole teaching of Scripture on a given topic.  Indeed, Wright employs many constructions that articulate a biblical view that cannot be found in exactly the same words in the Bible.

There may be legitimate exegetical debates over what exactly Paul means by logizomai and its cognates (particularly what is imputed and why), but it is generally agreed to mean “impute” or “credit.”  In fact, Wright has no trouble holding that the believer’s sins are imputed to Christ, so why the difficulty with the imputation of his righteousness?  Jesus says that the sinner rather than the Pharisee “went to his house justified” through faith in God’s mercy (Luke 18:14).  Like other terms, such as “redemption,” “salvation,” “atonement,” “the new birth,” the importance of justification cannot be determined by a word-count.  The biblicistic tendency emerges again when Wright says that “all the discussion of ‘formal cause’ of justification as against the ‘material cause’” represents an intrusion of questions alien to Paul and the first century (50).  Yet in the next chapter, he even quotes Daniel 9:4-19, including the penultimate sentence: “We do not present our supplications before you on the ground of our righteousness (epi tais dikaiosynais hēmōn, translating al tsidqothenu), but on the ground of your great mercies” (62, emphasis added).  The formal cause of our salvation is God’s grace, the material cause (or ground) is Christ, and the instrument through which we receive it is faith: salvation by grace, in Christ, through faith.  What is so anachronistic about this?  I think it is pretty obvious in Paul—and in passages like Daniel 9.

Over and over again, Wright insists that when the Bible talks about righteousness, whether God’s or ours, it’s not talking about “virtuous acts,” but keeping covenant promises (63).  Aside from whether keeping your word is a virtuous act, who is he targeting?  [Wright correctly rejects Piper’s definition of “righteousness” as “God’s concern for God’s own glory” (64)].  Wright follows Ernst Käsemann in arguing that God’s righteousness is chiefly “his faithfulness to, and his powerful commitment to rescue, creation itself.”  For Wright, it is even more specific: “…in Paul’s reading of Scripture, God’s way of putting the world right is precisely through his covenant with Israel” (65).  Righteousness is relational, but not in the sense of “getting to know someone personally,” but rather in terms of “how they stand in relation to one another”—i.e., “the status of their relationship” (66).  In my view, this is another case of overstatement—an over-correction of pietistic individualism.  “God’s righteousness”—especially in the Psalms and prophets—clearly includes an important aspect of divine faithfulness to the covenant.  In this sense, justification clearly includes not only God’s “righting” of sinners apart from their works, but of righting the world.  The resurrection of the righteous, which most Jews longed for, is clearly tied especially in Paul to the justification of the ungodly who have already received this verdict in the present.  Christ not only bore our sins, so that we can withstand his judgment, but secured the righteousness and peace that will dominate all of creation at his return.  However, none of this future hope is conceivable apart from the repeated emphasis of Paul on the present justification of the ungodly by imputed Christ’s righteousness to all who trust in Christ.  Not only is all of this consistent with a Reformed understanding of justification; it is part and parcel of a great deal of exegesis even before Käsemann, much less Wright.

Next week we’ll turn to Wright’s misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of the covenants God made with Abraham and Israel.

WHI-961 | Unfashionable

Is it possible that the contemporary church has been so caught up in the quest for relevance that it has ceased to be noticeably different from the world? That’s the thesis of Unfashionable, a new book by Tullian Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham, and pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Michael Horton talks with Tullian about his important new book on this edition of the White Horse Inn.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Unfashionable
Tullian Tchividjian
The Gospel-Driven Life
Michael Horton
Prophetic Untimeliness
Os Guinness

PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

Artist: Ex Nihilo; Song: “Here is Love”

Wright Wednesdays: part 3

[We're continuing with Mike Horton's review of N. T. Wright's Justification]

Justification and God’s Single Plan: Justification and God’s People

Wright properly emphasizes the integral relationship between justification (soteriology) and the uniting of Jew and Gentile into one family in Christ (ecclesiology):

In Galatians 3:29, after heaping up almost all his great theological themes into a single pile—law, faith, children of God, ‘in Christ,’ baptism, ‘putting on Christ,’ ‘neither Jew nor Greek,’ ‘all one in Christ’—the conclusion is not ‘You are therefore children of God’ or ‘You are therefore saved by grace through faith,’ but ‘You are Abraham’s offspring.’  Why does that matter to Paul, and at that point?

Good question.  But it verges on bizarre that Wright could include Reformed theology in his sweeping indictment: “Most new perspective writers have no answer for that.  Virtually no old perspective ones even see that there is a question to be asked” (36).  Although he properly recognizes, “There is no such thing as a pure return to the Reformers,” Wright seems to think that he has attained a pure return to Paul, as if he did not bring his own questions and presuppositions to the text.  In fact, he advises, “For too long we have read Scripture with nineteenth-century eyes and sixteenth-century questions.  It’s time to get back to reading with first-century eyes and twenty-first-century questions” (37).

Like many biblical theologians of late (even in Reformed circles), the question of how one is saved (the ordo salutis) is regarded as quite secondary to the main theme: the history of redemption (historia salutis).  Keeping these two aspects together was the genius of biblical theologians like Geerhardus Vos, but Wright’s penchant for downplaying the former over the latter has become standard fare.  For Wright especially, the proper concern for the history of redemption includes a strong sociological and political component: “Thus, for instance, the attempt to read a text like 1 Corinthians 1:30 (‘[God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption’) in terms of an ordo salutis,” says Wright, “…is not only unlikely to make much sense in itself, but is highly likely to miss the point that Paul is making, which is the way in which the status of the believer in Christ overturns all the social pride and convention of the surrounding culture” (42).  The real problem with Paul’s opponents was not that they were trusting in their own obedience to the works of the law, he repeatedly insists, but that Jews and Gentiles alike were elitist.

Wright complains that the reformers simply did not read Paul with his own concerns in mind, such as God’s plan “to sum up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10), with the two peoples (Jew and Gentile) becoming one family in Christ in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham (43).  If they had, then there would have been “no split between Romans 3:28 and Romans 3:29.  No marginalization of Romans 9-11” (44).  Again, at this point one suspects that Wright has constructed a straw opponent.  A cursory reading of Calvin’s Ephesians commentary tells a different story.  Nevertheless, Wright states confidently, “And, as I have argued before and hope to show here once more, many of the supposedly ordinary readings within the Western Protestant traditions have simply not paid attention to what Paul actually wrote” (50).  The Reformation tradition simply doesn’t see any “organic connection between justification by faith on the one hand and the inclusion of the Gentiles within God’s people on the other…” (53).

Wright insists that the Jews of Jesus’ day were waiting for God’s activity within history, for Israel and the world.  “They were not, in other words, understanding themselves as living in a narrative which said, ‘All humans are sinful and will go to hell; maybe God will be gracious and let us go to heaven instead and dwell with him; how will that come about?  Let’s look at our scriptures for advance clues’” (49).  As typical throughout this volume, Wright both caricatures the opposing view and transforms an important insight into the main point.  It is in the Gospels that we first encounter questions like, “What must I do to be saved?” and “Who then may be saved?” and “What is the work that I must do to be saved?”  Indeed, the severity of the sanctions for violating the Sinai covenant provoked this concern, particularly in the wake of the prophets’ judgments that were fulfilled in Israel’s exile.  But just as there is a greater exodus to come for all who believe, there is a greater exile.  Wright assumes that we’ve never talked about the first-century expectations being that of a political messiah who would end the exile and drive out the Romans.  Once again, his target is “a non-historical soteriology” (61).  The same criticisms can be found in Vos, Ridderbos, Murray, Kline, and host of other Reformed exegetes.  However, their target was not the Reformation but an individualistic and non-historical soteriology that is basically pietistic in origins.

Next week, we’ll look at Wright’s complaints about the importance we give to imputation.

Mega-disappointment and Ordinary Means

Carl Trueman’s newest post at Reformation21 gives great insight into the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” movement that is so widely discussed around the blogosphere and conference circuit.  His penultimate paragraph should be required reading for every church leader in the land:

Finally, I worry that a movement built on megachurches, megaconferences, and megaleaders, does the church a disservice in one very important way that is often missed amid all the pizzazz and excitement: it creates the idea that church life is always going to be big, loud, and exhilarating and thus gives church members and ministerial candidates unrealistic expectations of the normal Christian life.  In the real world, many, perhaps most,  of us worship and work in churches of 100 people or less; life is not loud and exciting; big things do not happen every Sunday;  budgets are incredibly tight and barely provide enough for a pastor’s modest salary; each Lord’s Day we go through the same routines of worship services, of hearing the gospel proclaimed, of taking the Lord’s Supper, of teaching Sunday School; perhaps several times a year we do leaflet drops in the neighbourhood with very few results; at Christmas time we carol sing in the high street and hand out invitations to church and maybe two or three people actually come along as a result; but no matter — we keep going, giving, and praying as we can; we try to be faithful in the little entrusted to us.  It’s boring, it’s routine, and it’s the same, year in, year out.   Therefore, in a world where excitement, celebrity, and cultural power are the ideal, it is tempting amidst the circumstances of ordinary church life to forget that this, the routine of the ordinary, the boring, the plodding, is actually the norm for church life and has been so throughout most places for most of the history of the church; that mega-whatevers are the exception, not the rule; and that the church has survived throughout the ages not just – or even primarily – because of the high profile firework displays of the great and the good, but because of the day to day faithfulness of the mundane, anonymous, non-descript  people who constitute most of the church, and who do the grunt work and the tedious jobs that need to be done.   History does not generally record their names; but the likelihood is that you worship in a church which owes everything, humanly speaking, to such people.

The Archbishop, the Reformation, and the Theology of the Cross

Our friends over at Mockingbird NYC posted a fantastic quote from Archbishop Rowan Williams’ book, The Wound of Knowledge, in which he draws a direct link between the Reformation’s rejection of the Roman Catholic Church’s claims to infallible authority and Luther’s Theology of the Cross.

The Reformation put a question of the utmost gravity to all Christians, a question about the continuity and dependability of human response to God. It affirmed that the Church was capable of error; that no amount of scholastic tidiness could guarantee fidelity to God; that there was in the Church no secure locus of unquestionable authority. It pointed eloquently to human brokenness, the failure of reason and order. But it did so only to claim triumphantly that the Church’s security lay in this very failure, in the insecurity and un-rootedness which drove it always back to its spring in the Word made broken flesh. Against the self-sufficiency of Christendom is set – rightly and decisively – the cross. To Christians looking for a sign, an assurance, it offered only the ‘sign of the Son of Man’, God hidden in the death of Christ… Luther is a reminder to Catholic and Protestant alike that the strength of Christianity is its refusal to turn away from the central and unpalatable facts of human self-destructiveness; that it is there, in the bitterest places of alienation, that the depth and scope of Christ’s victory can be tasted, and the secret joy which transforms all experience from within can come to birth, the hidden but all-pervading liberation. (p. 160-61)

W. H. Auden on the Crucifixion

Regular Modern Reformation contributor Rick Ritchie who blogs at Daylight sent over the following thought-provoking quote from the poet W. H. Auden:

Just as we are all, potentially, in Adam when he fell, so we were all, potentially, in Jerusalem on that first Good Friday before there was an Easter, a Pentecost, a Christian, or a Church. It seems to me worthwhile asking ourselves who we should have been and what we should have been doing. None of us, I’m certain, will imagine himself as one of the Disciples, cowering in agony of spiritual despair and physical terror. Very few of us are big wheels enough to see ourselves as Pilate, or good churchmen enough to see ourselves as a member of the Sanhedrin. In my most optimistic mood I see myself as a Hellenized Jew from Alexandria visiting an intellectual friend. We are walking along, engaged in philosophical argument. Our path takes us past the base of Golgotha. Looking up, we see an all too familiar sight – three crosses surrounded by a jeering crowd. Frowning with prim distaste, I say, ‘It’s disgusting the way the mob enjoy such things. Why can’t the authorities execute people humanely and in private by giving them hemlock to drink, as they did with Socrates?’ Then, averting my eyes from the disagreeable spectacle, I resume our fascinating discussion about the True, the Good and the Beautiful.

WHI-960 | The Experience Economy

There is a new trend in the business world. Offer your customers rich experiences, and they’ll keep coming back. But is this a good model for churches to adopt? On this edition of the White Horse Inn Michael Horton talks with business writer James Gilmore about his books, The Experience Economy, and Authenticity.

PROGRAM AUDIO

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Artist: Doug Powell, www.dougpowell.com

On the Nature of Faith

One of the most difficult things about Christianity is that it completely contradicts the natural order of things. Consider, for instance, what we think about winning, success, and life: they all go together in our minds! Sadly, too many “talks” masquerading as Christian sermons in even Reformation-minded churches confirm us in our innate desire for what Luther termed, “a theology of glory.” But true gospel-centered, “theology of the cross”-focused Christianity says that life comes after death, that glory comes through suffering, that losing our lives is the only means of finding them, and that God is most active when he seemed most remote.

This is bread and butter for White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation (often to the consternation of our critics who want us to talk about life-change and progress). Reading this week in Ed Clowney’s The Message of First Peter (published by IVP in 1988), I was reminded of the pastoral comfort that this message (not the one focused on success and betterment) gives:

Peter has reminded us that the testings do not destroy our faith, but purify it. Since the peculiar nature of faith is its looking, not to oneself, but to the Lord, it is most strongly grounded when it is most dependent. ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ So the Lord said to Paul, and Paul could therefore say: ‘For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ In order to resist the devil we draw near to God. (216, emphasis mine)

Our prayer is that you would find yourself in churches and surrounded by communities of faith this Sunday that emphasize this great truth and encourage you by pointing you to the strength of the Lord, the God of all grace.

Horton at Gordon-Conwell This October

Mike Horton will give a plenary address, “Rediscovering the Church after Evangelicalism,” at the Renewing the Evangelical Mission conference honoring David Wells this October at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary outside Boston.

The conference will be October 13-15 (Horton to speak the afternoon of the 15th). Early registration ends September 4th.  Other speakers include Os Guiness, Bruce McCormack, Mark Noll, J. I. Packer, Cornelius Plantinga, Tite Tienou, Kevin Vanhoozer, Miroslav Volf, and Lauren Winner.

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