White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

WHI-947 | Smooth Talk & Flattery

The Apostle Paul warns us in Romans 16:18 that by the use of “smooth talk and flattery” false teachers will “deceive the minds of naive people.” But has the contemporary church heeded Paul’s warning in this regard? That’s what’s on tap this week on the White Horse Inn. (Originally broadcast on Nov. 19th, 2006)

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PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

Artist: David Hlebo

The Limits of the Law

One of our favorite radio programs around here – other than White Horse Inn of course – is This American Life. Rarely does a week go by without the program taking up some theme that makes us pause and reconsider some great truth about Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.

The May 1, 2009 broadcast (available on the show’s archives page at thisamericanlife.org) begins with a story of one Florida judge’s attempt to instill shame in young convicts who have been caught stealing from local stores. The law-breakers must wear a sign indicating their crime (“I stole from this store”) and parade themselves in front of the store so that everyone who drives by can observe their humiliation.

The show’s producer asks the court minder what the percentage is of those who have been sentenced to this shame who eventually commit another crime. Although statistics aren’t available, the lady says she can see it in someone’s eyes. And so the stage is set to determine what course the young woman wearing the sign that day will do: she is unapologetic, the sentence has done nothing to dissuade her from crime, and she will definitely steal again, she says.

The law, even in the hands of an imaginative Florida judge, cannot create righteousness, nor as he found out after hearing this episode of This American Life can it always prevent sin. All the law can do is create a reluctance to sin again (because of fear of consequences) or shame over sin (because one has been exposed) or begrudging acceptance of a power that constrains our behavior.

Righteousness can’t be created out of whole cloth; it can only be given to those who do not deserve it, don’t expect it, and wouldn’t accept it unless they had been transformed by the new birth. Sadly, the church (in it’s effort to replicate a form of godliness without the power thereof, otherwise known as Christless Christianity) has settled for morality instead of the gospel. We are happy if people are reluctant to sin. We are still happier if they feel shame over their sin. We are living off of a fading power to constrain behavior, a power that has already disappeared in some sectors of society.

The health and eventual success of the church depends not on regaining this power of constraint, nor even of moral influence. It depends solely on our ability (or is it willingness?) to proclaim again the gospel of a righteousness that comes to us while we were yet sinners. Anything more or less is a corruption of the gospel.

Eric Landry
Executive Editor, Modern Reformation

Rent Asunder and Distressed

The familiar lines of Samuel Stone’s hymn The Church’s One Foundation have doubtlessly been in the minds of all those who long to see a unified Reformed witness–particularly in these days of celebration around the five hundredth anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. Such hopes seem to have been revived among evangelicals in the Church of Scotland recently. News from the Kirk is that evangelicals are considering whether or not they can convince the Free Church to give up exclusive psalmody in an effort to open the doors to potentially hundreds of ministers and churches after the Church’s approval over the weekend to the transfer of a gay minister to a new church.

Why must every effort at reunion require one or more of the merging partners to lose their unique characteristics? Is there a way for the evangelicals in the Church of Scotland to have formal communion with the Free Church without the Free Church giving up their long history of and principled stand on exclusive psalmody?

In 2005 Modern Reformation was proud to feature an article by W. Robert Godfrey titled A Reformed Dream. In the article Godfrey envisions a day when each current denomination is distinguished by its practices or ethnic heritage into Synods while at the same time gathered together into a worldwide general assembly according to its common confession of faith. For more on Godfrey’s vision see http://tiny.cc/MR80

WHI-946 | Rightly Dividing the Word: Law & Gospel

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Artist: Doug Powell

The Last Gasp of Civil Religion

On the May 16, 2009, episode of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor ended his The News from Lake Woebegone with a group sing of It is Well With My Soul. The entire episode is vintage Keillor: what happens when a lapsed Baptist from Georgia wants to walk the aisle at the Lutheran church?!

As I listened to the broadcast, I was struck by the audience’s willingness to sing the hymn and their familiarity with it. Granted, the show was being recorded in Georgia, but for how much longer will an audience at a public event be willing and able to sing a Christian hymn?

While a decent percentage of that audience may have had Christian convictions or backgrounds, I also wondered about those who, undoubtedly, did not have such convictions: were they (like other public choirs) just enjoying the sounds of many voices melded together in music regardless of the words they sang? Did they respond in any way to the hymn they sang?

Civil religion can be an enjoyable thing when it props up your own beliefs, but there is a significant danger, too: not having been confronted with the claims of Jesus and the demands of the Law, an individual can salve his own conscience with the singing of a hymn. Having done his religious duty or achieved some sort of religious feeling, the heart is ultimately hardened. Christian emotion divorced from Christ-centered preaching, the church, and the sacraments is no better than the hearty singing of a patriotic anthem.

http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/programs/2009/05/16/

Eric Landry
Executive Editor, Modern Reformation

WHI-945 | Christ The Center of Scripture

Is the Bible primarily a handbook for living a happy, moral lifestyle? Or perhaps its best understood as a how-to manual showing us how to fix various problems in life? On this program the White Horse Inn hosts offer their critiques of these and other related views as they make the case that the Bible is primarily about the story of redemption through Christ. (Originally broadcast on May 8th, 2005)

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PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

Artist: The Pop; Song: “I’ll Fly Away”
Album: Rain City Hymnal Vol. 1

The High Places of Power and Privilege

The changes are dramatic and telling: Christians used to occupy the top jobs in government and universities, they made up the professional class, and were blessed with wealth they used strategically. But over the last one hundred years, and especially in the last generation, the Christian population of the Middle East is declining, both in numbers and influence.

Mideasts Christians Declining in Influence (an article in the May 13, 2009, edition of The New York Times) provides an interesting counterpoint to our own society in which Christians have held places of privilege, but now feel themselves shut out and disenfranchised because of their beliefs. A throw-away line in the middle of the article provides a significant point of comparison between the situation of believers in America and in the Middle East: In America, secularism is often blamed as the reason for the loss of power and prestige. In the Middle East, the article claims, secularism is the only hope for a Christian future in the region.

The challenge for Christians in any age or location is to live as pilgrims, strangers, and exiles with feet planted firmly both in the kingdoms of the world and in the kingdom of God. Our hope isnt in nationalism (either of the American or Middle Eastern kind) or influence peddling. Instead, our confidence is that no matter in what circumstances we live, the Lord still expands his kingdom through the worship and witness of the church.

Despite our circumstances of ease and affluence or persecution and want, all Christians live under the cross in this present age. And whether we are lauded or hounded, we must constantly endeavor to resist conformation to this world (Rom 12:2). Failing to engage our culture with transformed minds that discern the will of God means that we will too-often mistake social success for divine effectiveness or social ostracism for divine disfavor. Can we have confidence in our calling even if the kingdom of man fails to give us the keys to the city?

Fixing our hope on the kingdom that cannot be shaken gives us confidence no matter what the situation is around us. May God sustain the community of Christ in the Middle East. And may God rescue the church in America from doomsday prophets and smiling preachers, both of whom confuse the kingdoms, confuse the sheep, and distract us from our high calling.

They Need a Choice

Michael Gerson, in today’s Washington Post, reviews the current project of sociologists, Robert Putnam and David Campbell, “American Grace: How Religion Is Reshaping Our Civic and Political Lives.” In their new book, Putnam and Campbell examine the religious commitments of the newly popular “nones,” or those Americans (predominantly youngish) who do not claim adherence to any established religion.

Gerson writes:

“But Putnam regards the growth of the “nones” as a spike, not a permanent trend. The young, in general, are not committed secularists. “They are not in church, but they might be if a church weren’t like the religious right. . . . There are almost certain to be religious entrepreneurs to fill that niche with a moderate evangelical religion, without political overtones.””

What does “moderate evangelical religion” sound like? In Gersom’s opinion, it would be marked by “grace, hope and reconciliation…a message of compassion and healing….”

While the message of the cross will always be foolishness and a scandal to some, those of us with Reformation sensibilities would do well to heed this sound advice. If our ministries are in accord with Paul’s view of the church’s mission (1 Corinthians 5:18ff), we may, for once, be ahead of the game. With apologies to Barbara Mandrell, we were all about grace when being all about grace wasn’t cool.

(HT: mockingbirdnyc)

WHI-944 | Culturally Relevant Preaching

Should Christian ministers work hard at being culturally relevant, or does the gospel of Jesus Christ create its own relevance? This edition of the White Horse Inn was recorded before a live audience near Washington DC, and features Michael Horton, Ken Jones, and special guest Rob Norris, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland.

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PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

Artist: Andrew Osenga; Song: “O Help My Unbelief”
Album: Indelible Grace V: Wake Thy Slumbering Children

Caring for Orphans in Their Distress

The New York Times reported today on a new movement in foster care for the children of parents in distress. Instead of waiting until a parent’s distress turned criminal (through neglect, abuse, abandonment, etc.), state agencies are turning to nonprofit (primarily church-related) groups to provide temporary “parents” for children, often at a savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. Volunteer “parents” step in to provide a home for children for any length of time, from one day to several months.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/07/us/07safe.html

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