Michael Horton – Are We Justified By Faith Alone?

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Referring to the schism of the 14th and 15th centuries, one scholar observes, ‘For nearly half a century, the Church was split into two or three obediences that excommunicated one another, so that every Catholic lived under excommunication by one pope or another, and, in the last analysis, no one could say with certainty which of the contenders had right on his side. The Church no longer offered certainty of salvation; she had become questionable in her whole objective form–the true Church, the true pledge of salvation, had to be sought outside the institution. It is against this background of a profoundly shaken ecclesial consciousness that we are to understand that Luther, in the conflict between his search for salvation and the tradition of the Church, ultimately came to experience the Church, not as the guarantor, but as the adversary of salvation.’

I hope that the credibility of this historical assessment will not be called into question, as it comes to us from the pen of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, current head of the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for the Church of Rome. (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, trans. by Sister Mary Frances McCarthy, S.N.D. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1989) p.196).

As the gavel came down to close the final session of the Council of Trent in 1563, Rome had officially and, according to her own commitment down to the present moment, irreversably, declared that the Gospel announced by the prophets, revealed in and by Christ, and proclaimed by the apostles, was actually heretical. The most relevant Canons are the following:

Canon 9. If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone…, let him be anathema.

Canon 11. 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.

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Michael Horton – Is This Good News?

In his Wednesday Mass homily this week, Pope Francis attracted considerable media attention. According to reports, the message drew on Mark 9:40, where Jesus says, “He who is not against us is for us.” Like the disciples, we can be intolerant of the good that others can do—even atheists. Because we’re all created in God’s image, there is still a possibility of doing good. So far, nothing particularly controversial in terms of classical Christian teaching. The most ardent evangelical would affirm that although our works are so corrupted by sin that they cannot justify us before God, they can help our neighbors.

However, the pontiff added, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!…We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

Reports from major outlets, including the Huffington Post, express astonishment at the pope’s comments. What is this strange new teaching? Of course, it’s not new at all. It has been an emphasis ever since the Second Vatican Council, where the previously shunned speculations of Karl Rahner, S. J., became official teaching. There is no way to reconcile the previous councils and papal pronouncements depriving non-Roman Catholics of salvation with the idea of the “anonymous Christian.” Nevertheless, there it is. Not the development of dogma, as Cardinal Newman formulated, but the flat contradiction of dogma.

Before Vatican II, the standard teaching was that ordinarily no one can be saved who does not submit to the magisterium and papal authority in particular. Especially in trouble were those who had been reared Roman Catholic and yet explicitly rejected the pope’s headship. Although they were consigned to everlasting punishment by papal decrees, the Protestant Reformers never applied the same rule to their Roman Catholic opponents. Calvin even said that although Rome has excommunicated itself according to the criterion of Galatians 1:8-9, “There is a true church among her.”

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Michael Horton – Christless Christianity: Getting in Christ’s Way

What would things look like if Satan actually took over a city? The first frames in our imaginative slide show probably depict mayhem on a massive scale: Widespread violence, deviant sexualities, pornography in every vending machine, churches closed down and worshipers dragged off to City Hall. Over a half-century ago, Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, gave his CBS radio audience a different picture of what it would look like if Satan took control of a town in America. He said that all of the bars and pool halls would be closed, pornography banished, pristine streets and sidewalks would be occupied by tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The kids would answer “Yes, sir,” “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full on Sunday … where Christ is not preached.

Not to be alarmist, but it looks a lot like Satan is in charge right now. The enemy has a subtle way of using even the proper scenery and props to obscure the main character. The church, mission, cultural transformation, even the Spirit can become the focus instead of the means for “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). As provocative as Barnhouse’s illustration remains, it is simply an elaboration of a point that is made throughout the story of redemption. The story behind all the headlines of the Bible is the war between the serpent and the offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15), an enmity that God promised would culminate in the serpent’s destruction and the lifting of the curse. This promise was a declaration of war on Satan and his kingdom, and the contest unfolded in the first religious war, between Cain and Abel (Gen. 4 with Matt. 23:35), in the battle between Pharaoh and Yahweh that led to the exodus and the temptation in the wilderness. Even in the land, the serpent seduces Israel to idolatry and intermarriage with unbelievers, even provoking massacres of the royal family. Yet God always preserved that “seed of the woman” who would crush the serpent’s head (see 2 Kings 11, for example). The story leads all the way to Herod’s slaughter of the firstborn children in fear of the Magi’s announcement of the birth of the true King of Israel.

The Gospels unpack this story line and the epistles elaborate its significance. Everything is leading to Golgotha, and when the disciples-even Peter-try to distract Jesus away from that mission, they are being unwitting servants of Satan (Matt. 16:23). “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers”-not simply so that they will defy Judeo-Christian values, but “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:4-5).

Satan lost the war on Good Friday and Easter, but has shifted his strategy to a guerilla struggle to keep the world from hearing the gospel that dismantles his kingdom of darkness. Paul speaks of this cosmic battle in Ephesians 6, directing us to the external Word, the gospel, Christ and his righteousness, faith, and salvation as our only armor in the assaults of the enemy. In Revelation 12, the history of redemption is recapitulated in brief compass, with the dragon sweeping a third of the stars (angels) from heaven, laying in wait to devour the woman’s child at birth, only to be defeated by the ascension of the promised offspring. Nevertheless, knowing his time is short, he pursues the child’s brothers and sisters. Wherever Christ is truly proclaimed, Satan is most actively present. The wars between nations and enmity within families and neighborhoods is but the wake of the serpent’s tail as he seeks to devour the church, employing the same tried and tested methods: not only martyrdom from without, but heresy and schism from within. In the rest of this article, I want to suggest a few of the ways we are routinely tempted toward what can only be called, tragically, “Christless Christianity.”

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Book Review – Ordinary

Ordinary
A “significant” move of the Spirit. The “Next Big Thing”. Programs. Young, Reformed, and Restless. These concepts, approaches, and perceptions are just a few of the items that seem to consume believers these days. Words such as ordinary, sustainability, and steadfastness seem to be shoved to the sidelines in favor of the more shall we say glamorous ways of “doing the Lord’s work”. Michael Horton, in his latest book Ordinary seeks to provide a needed corrective to the search of riding the wave of the sensational which seems to be the focus of many.

To be called ordinary frankly will not sit well with others as after all, isn’t doing the Lord’s work something that will inherently result in an epic adventure and revolution or even an explosive breakthrough that will permeate the entire earth? Horton aptly notes “We’ve become accustomed to looking around restlessly for something new, the latest and greatest, that idea or product or person or experience that will solve our problems, give us some purpose, and change the world.” What if perhaps the reality of the Christian walk is something more along the lines of what is unfortunately labeled as ordinary?

For Horton, being ordinary is not a bad thing. Moreover, to be “ordinary” does not mean we have a complete lack of passion nor does it mean that we simply sit on the sidelines doing nothing for the kingdom. Horton correctly reminds the reader “The call to action, to have an active faith, is well-supported in Scripture. “Ordinary” does not mean passive. All believers should live out what they believe, should practice what they preach. But misguided or chaotic activism makes us sloppy.” This of course begs the question as to what type of action we should be engaged in that helps to ensure we remain focused on exactly what God desires us to be about doing.

Furthermore, there seems to be the idea that our actions are that which bring about the furthering of the Kingdom of God and His will upon the earth as if our cleverly developed programs and well crafted sermon notes are the very thing that will bring people into the sheepfold and keep them there. To such an attitude, Horton states “The power of our activism, campaigns, movements, and strategies cannot forgive sins or raise the dead…That is why phrases like “living the gospel,” “being the gospel”, and “being partners with Jesus in his redemption of the world” are dangerous distortions of the biblical message of good news.” Now this is a rather challenging statement to consider given we are quite used to being told something rather different from the pulpit and from Christian literature.

I appreciated that Horton reminds the reader that “The gospel produces peace and empowers us to live by faith. We are no longer anxious, but secure and invigorated because we are crucified and raised with Christ. We are no longer trying to live up to the starting role we’ve given ourselves but are written into the story of Christ. We have nothing to prove, just a lot of work to do.” The work we have to do, while seemingly ordinary compared to the glitz and glamour and attention getting that often rears its ugly head, is nevertheless the very mission we have been given by God in His word. That mission is to declare the good news through the preached word and by loving God and loving others enough to share that glorious and needed news of salvation at every turn. It is that gospel that is the power of God. Seem a bit ordinary? In actuality it is far from it. It is quite extraordinary.

Another aspect of this book I found interesting was Horton’s discussion of the term ambition, in particular the way it is used and applied within the church today and for that matter in society at large. Ambition, if focused on the proper things, is completely biblical. Horton correctly states “if by ambition we mean simply a drive or initiative in setting and reaching goals, there is nothing more natural to us as God’s image-bearers. God created us in righteousness and holiness, to extend his reign to the ends of the earth.” This means our ambition should be the continual focus of being obedient children, always focusing on the things of God. The flip side of ambition is the selfish application of this drive, the inward focus. Horton says this sinful attitude and perspective “expresses itself in idolatry.” Just take a look around at the kingdom building of self that is taking place in far too many churches and ministries and you will see exactly what Horton is talking about. The ordinary, namely a life set on the singular goal of bring glory to God is replaced with the search for the latest craze or persona.

There are a few aspects of this book I did take a bit of an issue with the first being the manner by which Horton expresses his thoughts. There are times when it could come across that Horton is suggesting no or perhaps a diminished need for action in the Christian life. While that is not the overarching purpose of his book nor is it the underlying point he is trying to make, the way some of his points comes across could leave that image in the mind of the reader. While it is indeed God who works and God’s word that has the power, we are called to declare that word and to live a life of holiness. As you read this book, be mindful that a lack of action is not the point Horton is trying to drive home. Arguably though, it might seem that way at some junctures of this book. Ordinary is by no means a call to laziness. It is instead a call to return to a more fundamental biblical approach to the Christian walk.

Another issue I had a bit of a problem with was Horton’s discussion of infant baptism. Horton notes “The children of believers are holy, set apart by God’s promise, although some will reject their birthright.” He further notes the seal of this covenant promise “was circumcision in the old covenant, given to males only, and is baptism in the new covenant, received by males and females.” It appears this suggests the need for infant baptism which in my humble opinion should better be described as instead dedicating your child to the Lord vice being immersed in the waters of baptism, something I believe Scripture reserves for those who have clarity and understanding of what that signifies. I am not a paedobaptist which drives my point of disagreement. With that said, Horton’s purpose in being up that subject is admittedly not to make an argument for paedobaptism, but rather to note that evangelism should be something the church focuses on regardless of the age of the recipient, namely a “lifelong process of growing and deepening repentance and faith in Christ.” Perhaps Horton could have chosen another example to use other than paedobaptism to drive home that point.

There is much to appreciate and like about this book and I do highly recommend it to all believers, especially those who make find themselves caught up in the search for the next big thing or the next big persona on the Christian theological or preaching scene. We are called to be in the trenches of the world, fighting the good fight, preaching the word, and living in holiness. What for some that may seem ordinary and outdated, it is nevertheless the life we have been called to by God and Horton does an excellent job of reminding us to live a “sustainable faith in a radical, restless world” so often caught up in selfish ambition.

This book is available for purchase from Zondervan by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Zondervan for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Michael Horton – The Spirit’s Ongoing Ministry: Fulfilling Christ’s Pledge in the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16)

Michael Horton The Father spoke in the Son to create the world, and yet it was the Spirit who brought about within the unformed cosmos and thus created that ordered realm of which they spoke. Even in common grace, as Calvin noted, wherever goodness, truth, and beauty flourish in this fallen world, it is because the Spirit grants wisdom, health, and other benefits that we do not deserve.8 Thus, even in the old creation the Spirit is at work, holding up the columns of the earthly city while bringing the heavenly Jerusalem into this age.

In the new creation, the Spirit inwardly convicts us of God’s judgment and convinces us of God’s mercies in Christ. Jesus’ discourse in the upper room recorded in John 14 – 16 highlights the way in which the Spirit will mediate (and now mediates) Christ’s prophetic, priestly, and kingly reign. Christ now reigns over us in exalted grace and glory, and by his Spirit he also reigns within us, bringing us from death to life, answering the triune Creator, “Here I am.”

First of all, the Spirit’s ongoing ministry is judicial. The Spirit is sent not only to announce the coming judgment, but to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment,” with unbelief in Christ as the focus of that conviction (Jn 16:8). We see the empirical effects of this promise in Peter’s Pentecost sermon—which characterizes the spread of the gospel throughout Acts—when the apostle’s hearers were “cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Ac 2:37). The Spirit will not speak another word, but will inwardly renew, convicting and persuading us of our guilt and Christ’s righteousness.

Second, as the Son is the sole embodiment of all truth, the Spirit will be sent “to guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:13). The Father speaks and the Son is the content (Word) that he speaks, both hypostatically (eternal begetting) and energetically (the gospel). It is always the Spirit’s role, we have seen, to bring about the perlocutionary effect of that speech within creatures. The Spirit is not the content, but the regenerating source of faith in Christ. The Son did not speak on his own authority during his earthly ministry, but delivered the word of his Father. In the same way, Jesus explained to his disciples that the Spirit “will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (Jn 16:13). The Spirit does not replace Jesus, but unites us to our heavenly head. Disrupting our ordinary history, the Spirit inserts us into the new creation.9

Thus, the Spirit is not a resource that we can use, but is no less than the sovereign God who claims us for himself along with the Father and the Son. In the upper room, Jesus teaches that the Spirit will come not to confirm our pious experience or to help us to realize the ethical kingdom, but to convict the world of guilt and righteousness and judgment. Of course, the Spirit’s coming has its profound effects in our experience and ethical action, but the focus of his work is to convince us of our guilt and of Christ’s imputed righteousness and to lead us into all truth as it is in Christ. Although the Spirit preaches Christ rather than himself, Jesus Christ’s personal history must be for us a distant and fading memory, except for the Spirit’s work of ushering us into the courtroom where even now Christ pleads on behalf of his witnesses on earth and prepares a place for them.

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Michael Horton – Risen Indeed!

Every Easter affords fresh opportunities for national news magazines to take up the question of Jesus’s resurrection. It’s difficult to point with any firmness to a “consensus” in Jesus scholarship any more than in other studies. Nevertheless, even liberals recognize (and lament) a trend in New Testament scholarship away from many of the “assured results” assumed by their predecessors only a generation ago.

Many factors have contributed to this more conservative trend, but two are worth mentioning. First, there has been a trend toward earlier dating of the Gospel accounts, which undermines the critical presupposition that the most obvious reports of Jesus’s bodily resurrection and deity are later interpolations. Second, especially since the last 40 years or so, there has been a trend toward placing Jesus in his Jewish milieu and this has led—generally speaking—to greater suspicion of the quite Gentile (Greek) biases that have dominated higher-critical (i.e., liberal) scholarship.

It’s helpful for us to return to the “facts of the case.” Here, speculation is useless. It does not matter what we thought reality was like: whether we believed in thirty gods or none. It doesn’t matter what we find helpful, meaningful, or fulfilling. This is not about spirituality or moral uplift. Something has happened in history and we cannot wish it away. It either happened or it didn’t happen, but the claim itself is hardly meaningless or beyond investigation.

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Michael Horton – Singing the Blues With Jesus

It was my turn to preach in chapel. I was given John 11:1-44 at the beginning of the semester, and since, in God’s providence, it was just two days after my father finally died after a long year of tremendous suffering, we held a memorial service in conjunction with chapel that day. I had long been impressed with Jesus’ raising of Lazarus and commended it to our seminary community, as well as family and friends, gathered for different reasons but each with his or her own challenges in life.

America likes winners, not losers; triumph, not tragedy. Friedrich Nietzsche and Ted Turner have argued that Christianity is for losers, but pop Christianity in America has been trying desperately to convince everybody that this just isn’t the case. Become a Christian and you’ll be unfailingly happy, upbeat, in charge, with health, wealth and happiness; self-esteem, victory over debt and bad marriages and families. Meanwhile, we put our elderly, the terminally ill, those caught in the cycle of poverty, and others who remind us of our mortality where we can’t see them or at least where our lives do not ordinarily intersect when we do not intend them to.

Unlike the old churchyards through which one passed on the way to Sunday services, our churches today are likely to avoid contact with the tragic side of life. We call death “passing away,” we change the name “graveyard” to “cemetery,” with euphemistic names (Forest Home) that also sound, eerily enough, like the names of the convalescent hospitals they were in before they “passed.” They are not the dead among us, awaiting the Resurrection, but those who have “crossed over” and have thereby been good enough not to have done something more disturbing and unpleasant, such as dying. Or at least if they die, they do not hang around.

Often, before we can really feel the force and pain of sin and death, we are told to be happy and look on the bright side. One church-growth guru cheerfully announces that we have gone from having funerals to memorial services to “celebrations,” not realizing that this is a fatal index of our inability to face the music, whether we’re talking about the tragedy of sin itself or the suffering, death, and ultimate condemnation that it brings in its wake.

Why is it that in our churches-in the preaching that avoids sin, suffering, the cross, and death, in the music that is always upbeat and seems so alien to the “blue note” that one finds in the Psalms, in the church growth that always targets the upwardly mobile suburbs, and in the “celebrations” that cannot seem to come to grips with the tragedy of death and the common curse that has invoked it-we seem to follow the world in refusing to face the music?

We aren’t morbid when we take sin, suffering, and death seriously as Christians. Rather, we can face these tough realities head-on because we know that they have been decisively confronted by our captain. They have not lost their power to harm, but they have lost their power to destroy us. This biblical piety is not morbid because it doesn’t end at the cross, but it also doesn’t avoid it. It goes through the cross to the Resurrection. This is why the Christian gospel alone is capable of refuting both denial and despair. The hope of the gospel gives us the freedom to expose the wound of our human condition because it provides the cure. We see this in John’s remarkable retelling of the story of Lazarus’s resurrection.

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Michael S. Horton – Saved From God

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Undoubtedly the most familiar words in the English Bible, John 3:16 rightly holds the highest place in the Christian memory. For in one succinct sentence, it announces the center of biblical revelation.

First, it assures us that God was loving toward his fallen creatures even before the actual event of the Crucifixion, keeping us from the mistake (too often committed) of assuming that the Cross persuaded God to be merciful. Rather, it was because of his eternally merciful nature that he found a way to reconcile us without alienating himself. God’s love comes before the Cross, eternally prior to it, as he established a covenant of redemption with Christ as the Mediator before the creation of the world (Eph 1:4-11; Jn 6:39; 1 Pt 1:20). Second, it reminds us that God the Father is not the “bad guy” in the drama who would like to condemn, with the Son stepping in to persuade him of the loving path. What could be clearer throughout John’s Gospel than that the Father sent the Son on this loving mission? Too often, in our desire to defend the biblical doctrine of the substitutionary atonement, we risk envisioning the Father as the one who reluctantly saves sinners, as if he has to save them, after all, because the Son has offered the perfect sacrifice. Few actually state it in such stark terms, but often this is the message that people have heard as we explain the orthodox doctrine. The Son, not the Father, was the self-giving victim, but the Father was in Christ when his Son bore his wrath. Instead of confusing or separating the divine persons, let us simply wonder at the foot of the Cross at how God the Father, even in executing his just wrath, could be filled with such anguish and loathing that he would turn his eyes from his own Son (Mk 15:33-34).

But there is still more to this verse: God gave his only-begotten Son. As John’s Gospel declared at the beginning, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…No one has seen God but God the One and Only.” Not only did God send a Savior, but the Savior he sent was himself God. Furthermore, he was and remains God’s “only-begotten Son.” There are no incarnations before or after the virginal conception of Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, there is no other way to the Father but through this Son. He is not an idea or a principle, but a person. Redemption cannot come through other sons or daughters, through universal truths of human reason, experience, or morality that are somehow present in all major religions. There is only one God and one “only-begotten Son” who is capable of saving. All who are named God’s children derive their sonship by adoption, but this Son is “eternally-begotten before all worlds.” As the eleventh-century theologian Anselm expressed it, our Savior had to be God in order to pay an infinite debt and conquer sin and death. But he had to be Man, since it was humanity, after all, that had merited divine wrath through original and personal sin. So already we see that a high view of the work of Christ requires and rests upon a high view of the person of Christ.

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