White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Happy Birthday Marty!


Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. Who could have conceived of the work that the Lord would do through this child of Hans and Margarethe.

The White Horse Inn (both in its original Cambridge location and this organization) is a beneficiary of God’s work in and through Martin Luther and the other Reformers of the Sixteenth Century. Sadly, the work that they started is still in process today: even in our own Reformational churches there is a need for repentance and reformation.

Celebrate Luther by giving your own time and energy to considering how we might work toward reform in the church by joining us at our Conference at Sea: “Conversations for a Modern Reformation.”

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Get LIBERATEd for $55! (ends today)


The gospel of grace is more drastic, more offensive, more liberating, more shocking, and more counterintuitive than any of us realize. There is nothing more radically unbalanced and drastically unsafe than grace. It has no “but”: it’s unconditional, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and undomesticated. It unsettles everything. There is a dangerous depth to the gospel that needs to be rediscovered and embraced. That’s what the LIBERATE Conference is all about

We are thrilled to be invited back to participate in next year’s LIBERATE conference at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church! White Horse Inn hosts Mike Horton and Rod Rosenbladt will be speaking, plus there will be a live White Horse Inn taping.
You can REGISTER FOR LIBERATE now (if you haven’t already) because the best pricing ends today.
If you’re looking for an excuse to get out of the winter cold, this weekend conference in south Florida promises to be of spiritual and climatological benefit to you. We hope to see you at LIBERATE February 23-24, 2012.

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Conversation with Tullian Tchividjian–Redux

Back in June, Michael Horton talked with Tullian Tchividjian about his soon-to-be-released book Jesus + Nothing = Everything. This book was just released on October 31 and we would like to highlight again this great conversation between Mike and Tullian. (Note: this WHI program also contains a fascinating discussion with Thabiti Anyabwile on his conversion from Islam and his current ministry.)

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Horton Interviews McKnight about The King Jesus Gospel

Responding to Michael Horton’s review of his new book, The King Jesus Gospel, Professor Scot McKnight offered further remarks. So we recorded a White Horse Inn interview with Scot. It’s a good discussion for us to have and we’re grateful to Scot for keeping the conversation going. The full interview will be available to our WHI partners and excerpts will be aired in a few months on the White Horse Inn.

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“He Contributed Nothing New to Theology” Celebrating Tom Oden’s 80th Birthday

Thomas Oden had a dream in which he was walking through a cemetery and came upon his own tombstone, which read, “He contributed nothing new to theology.” Given his trajectory, there was nothing in the life and work of the young Methodist theologian that would have suggested such a testimony, much less that he would celebrate that epitaph. Under the thrall of radical existentialism, Tom Oden was like most of his friends in the theological guild of the 1960s. Then he discovered the great conversation that leads from the New Testament to the ancient creeds and Christian writers to the Reformation. Consequently, he began to wrestle with the claims of the gospel in the light of the claims of modernity. After Modernity, What? served as a kind of manifesto for his new course. He saw (and helped to create) a fresh crop of younger evangelicals and erstwhile liberals for whom the orthodox faith shone brightly in the twilight of modernity. He calls them “young fogeys.”

I recall fondly several occasions when Tom was a guest on the White Horse Inn, spending hours afterward regaling us with selections from Athanasius and Theodore of Mopsuestia. The house was always full on those nights with young people hanging on his every word. There was a lot of laughter. In fact, on the program he made the point that the radical gospel of God’s grace in Christ frees us to laugh. He observed that fundamentalists and feminists don’t laugh very much. They take themselves with a deadly seriousness. Tom has written many books, including a systematic theology, but his greatest legacy will undoubtedly be the Ancient Christian Commentaries series.

Robert Godfrey often says, “If you do the old thing long enough it will be new again.” Actually, Tom Oden has contributed much that is new to theology, at least to modern theology. He has not only introduced moderns (and postmoderns) to forgotten giants, but has done so as our contemporary, struggling to free himself of the ancients didn’t wrestle with modernity. Of course, they struggled to find the right formulations for apostolic teaching within their own Greek and Latin backgrounds. However, Oden’s own vocation of retrieval (which is different from repristination) has indeed been one of the new things that continues to enrich evangelical faith and practice.

At a time when so many Christian leaders are putting their finger to the wind, waiting for the latest trend either of academic culture or pop culture to show the way, Oden’s cry, “Back to the sources!”, has led many to take historic Christianity more seriously and to drink from its wells more deeply. He isn’t reducing the richness of the orthodox faith to a few fundamentals. Rather, he is pointing the way to resources that we have often neglected. He actually believes that the Trinity, Chalcedonian Christology, the atonement, and justification through faith alone are more interesting than church growth strategies and forming political coalitions. We join so many other grateful beneficiaries in thanking God, and congratulating our friend, on his 80th birthday.

In addition to the following interview in Christianity Today check out some Modern Reformation articles and interviews.

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Billings and Lingenfelter on “Incarnational Ministry”

For several decades now, “incarnational ministry” has been a catch-phrase in evangelical (and mainline) missiology. But is the Incarnation a unique and unrepeatable event in history that we proclaim or is it a metaphor or model for our mission in the world as well? A while ago, Reformed theologian and missionary Todd Billings wrote an article for Modern Reformation challenging greater reflection on this question (see here for links to articles and audio). In that article, he engaged the eminent missiologist Sherwood Lingenfelter, who pioneered the emphasis on incarnational ministry. Professor Lingenfelter responded to this article in our blog comments to which Professor Billings replied.

Here is Professor Lingenfelter’s original comment:

In a lecture at Fuller on Thursday, February 24, 2011 Professor J. Todd Billings of Western Theological Seminary quoted from portions of my book, Ministering Cross-culturally, Baker Academic 2003 (pp. 13-25) that presents the case that the incarnation of Jesus Christ is God’s metaphor for those of us who hope to engage in cross-cultural ministry. I was at the lecture, and felt that did not approve of my characterization of Jesus as a 200% person (100% God, 100% human), and the idea that humans could aspire to be 150% persons.

Billing’s critique of this common missiological theme is appropriate, and helpful. I agree with his point that the incarnation is “a divine act—something only that God can do,” and that “the power in the incarnation is precisely in its uniqueness.” As I have read back through my work, I would no longer write, “If we are to follow the example of Christ, we must aim at incarnation!” (p.25). I have never imagined that humans could become “fully incarnate” into another culture, as Jesus, wholly God, became fully human in our world. In fact my metaphor of becoming 150% persons makes that very clear. We can never achieve “full identification” with people of cultural origins different from our own. Therefore to state that we should “aim at incarnation” is clearly sloppy language and gives people poor direction for ministry.

At the same time, I continue to be moved by the power of the metaphor, and I find it compelling, particularly as presented in Philippians 2: 1-12 (NIV). The apostle Paul pleads with these new believers in Philippi to “have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had,” and then he unpacks that thought, saying, “who, being in very nature God … made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant … as a human being he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross.” We can imitate this attitude of Christ, and in fact, if we embrace this as God’s metaphor for our lives as followers of Jesus, we will have the insight to “not cling to” our self-centered cultural ways, and to take on “the very nature of a servant” among whatever people and ministry to which God calls us.

Professor Billings chooses to call this “ministry in union with Christ.” As long as he uses the Philippians text as Paul did to describe this union, and seeks to motivate us to step out of our cultural bias and add to our repertoire those values and practices which enable us to effectively serve and share the living Christ with others, he and I have no disagreement.

Sherwood Lingenfelter
September 12, 2011

Professor Billings was kind enough to offer a response:

First, I want to thank Prof. Lingenfelter for his response to my critique of Incarnational Ministry at the lecture, as well as in this posting online. As I mention in my full-length critique of Incarnational Ministry in Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church, I think that Lingenfelter’s book has helpful practical insights for missionaries, as it responds to a genuine problem that missionaries face: how to move beyond a missionary-compound mentality and genuinely become self-sacrificial learners of another culture. I think that Lingenfelter’s response indicates his virtue as a scholar: in the lecture and the posting, he is willing to rethink theological claims that are central to his book. I have presented a lecture-version of this material to various missiologists, many of whom have responded with much less grace and open-mindedness than Prof. Lingenfelter. When the writer of a common textbook (in a second edition) is willing to acknowledge a shortcoming in his work, it is ironic that those who learned from such textbooks are much less open to rethinking their theology of ministry.

Second, while I would refer readers to Union with Christ for my full argument, I would note that after surveying the literature on incarnational ministry, a central tenet of most approaches is that the act of becoming incarnate is put forth as a “model for ministry” to be imitated. Thus, to accept my conviction that the incarnation is “a divine act—something only that God can do,” and that “the power in the incarnation is precisely in its uniqueness” means abandoning this central, underlying claim to most “incarnational ministry” proposals. In the posting, Lingenfelter refers to this as a “metaphor,” particularly as it occurs in Phil. 2:1-12. In Union with Christ I work with this passage extensively, and show how it simply does not present the act of becoming incarnate as a model. Instead, the passage is about our union with the incarnate one, Jesus Christ the servant – whose life of humble obedience we are called to reflect by our union with Christ through the Spirit. This, it seems to me, is quite different from considering incarnation to be a “metaphor” to serve as a model for our ministries. But Prof. Lingenfelter’s comments on this are brief, so I will just say that we would need to have more discussion about the interpretation of Phil. 2:1-12 after my full account is released next month in Union with Christ.

Overall, I am very grateful to Prof. Lingenfelter for his honest and thoughtful engagement. Let me emphasize again that there are many practical and helpful insights in Ministering Cross-Culturally, which is one among numerous books which uses “incarnational ministry” in a way that is subject to my critique.

J. Todd Billings

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Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta Wants to Reinstate Pelagius

Mollie Hemingway, a writer for The Wall Street Journal (and, we might add, Modern Reformation) reported recently on the latest political machinations of the U.S. Episcopal Church leadership.

And who said liberals were inclusive? Well, they are in one sense—of Gnosticism, Arianism, and Pelagianism, for example. In fact, the Diocese of Atlanta has just passed a resolution seeking to give Pelagius a place of honor in the church. The resolution reads:

R11-7 Contributions of Pelagius

Whereas the historical record of Pelagius’s contribution to our theological tradition is shrouded in the political ambition of his theological antagonists who sought to discredit what they felt was a threat to the empire, and their ecclesiastical dominance, and whereas an understanding of his life and writings might bring more to bear on his good standing in our tradition, and whereas his restitution as a viable theological voice within our tradition might encourage a deeper understanding of sin, grace, free will, and the goodness of God’s creation, and whereas in as much as the history of Pelagius represents to some the struggle for theological exploration that is our birthright as Anglicans, Be it resolved, that this 105th Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta appoint a committee of discernment overseen by our Bishop, to consider these matters as a means to honor the contributions of Pelagius and reclaim his voice in our tradition And be it further resolved that this committee will report their conclusions at the next Annual Council.

On hearing the news, retired South Carolina Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison expressed disdain. Bishop Allison has written about the practical Pelagianism in our day, including a few articles in Modern Reformation over the years (see his articles). In his book, The Cruelty of Heresy, Allison writes, “The broad stream of Western thought since the 17th Century has been characterized by a confidence more congenial to Pelagianism than at any time in history. And Pelagianism is the banana peel on the cliff of Unitarianism.” In response to the decision, Allison lamented, “As one considers the theologically inept accommodation to the secular world, there should be no surprise that Pelagian doctrine of the will’s freedom without grace would be dug up again. A world losing its trust in God will compulsively trust in the human will to obey if it is sufficiently rebuked, exhorted, threatened and scolded. No wonder Richard Hooker and St. Augustine called it a ‘cruel doctrine.’”

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It’s Not About Luther, It’s About the Gospel

Upstaged by Halloween, October 31 is also Reformation Day. As Protestants mark the 490th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the Ninety-Five Theses, how has the landscape changed? No longer issuing papal bulls for the excommunication, arrest, and even death of Martin Luther, the Vatican has been engaged in charitable conversations with the Lutheran World Federation as well as the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). According to many, especially mainline Protestants-but also evangelicals, the Joint Declaration on Justification (1999) settled the centuries-old dispute. A decade of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” widened the era of good feeling. So it’s no wonder that many evangelicals as well as mainline Protestants were wondering with Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, Is the Reformation Over? (2005).

You can listen to our interview with Mark Noll about this book here:

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It will come as no surprise to our readers that we dissent from this widespread opinion. There has been no material change in the Roman Catholic position on the issues that led to the excommunication of the Reformers. Even the Joint Declaration overcame the central doctrine of controversy only by embracing a Roman Catholic definition of justification as forgiveness and actual transformation (i.e., sanctification). See the excellent article by church historian Scott Manetsch, “Is the Reformation Over?” Manetsch nicely summarizes the points of controversy and concludes that these remain crucial divisions.

There has indeed been movement in terms of faith and practice, but it has been Protestants who either no longer agree with the Reformation answers or don’t think that they’re important anymore. (Presumably, the question of how sinners are justified before God is no longer relevant in the context of twenty-first century culture.) The Vatican is much kinder and gentler. The Vatican II rhetoric of “separated brethren” sounds a lot better than “pernicious and heretical sect,” but when it comes to the material issues at stake, nothing’s changed. The worship remains corrupted with human inventions that bury God’s Word; the authority assumed by the magisterium assaults the majesty of the church’s King to rule by his own Word and Spirit, and most significantly, Rome continues to reject in no uncertain terms that we are justified by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone. As Calvin put the matter in his generous appeal to Cardinal Sadoleto, justification is “the first and keenest subject of controversy between us.” After all, “[w]herever the knowledge of it is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown.” Were the Reformers right when they said such divisive things? Is it possible that they were correct then, but not now? What has changed since the sixteenth century with respect to God’s way of saving sinners that would cause us either to give a different answer now or to dismiss the question as irrelevant today?

Aside from the material questions, it’s a combination of tragedy and comedy to watch Protestants fall over themselves to curry papal approval. On his visit last month to Germany, Pope Benedict was greeted with gushing praise for saying a few kind things about Luther (see here). After the pope visited the monastery in Erfurt where Luther resided, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Church of Germany announced to journalists that “Luther has experienced a de facto rehabilitation today through this appreciation of his work.” “We heard this very clearly from the mouth of the pope,” he said. “What follows now formally is another question … but that’s not so important for me.” However, as the Reuters report cited above observes, “Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi begged to differ on Saturday. ‘To say that would be exaggerated,’ he told journalists in Freiburg, the last stop on the pope’s four-day tour of his homeland. ‘What this is about is having deep faith and I think it emphasises the commonalities we have in our love of faith.’” Wow. It sounds like the story of a water boy who publicly professes his infatuation with the star cheerleader only to be told, “Let’s just be friends.”

Yet all of this unrequited love swirls amid busy preparations to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s church-dividing theses in 1517. We see that as well in the recurring announcements of Protestants (the Vatican itself being curiously silent) that the rift is overcome-because Rome no longer thinks Luther is a heretic. The gospel is apparently no longer at issue. Rather, it’s Luther. Do you like our Reformer (i.e., us)? “‘It would be nice if they could declare him a doctor of the Church,’ Erfurt’s Lutheran Bishop Ilse Junkermann told Reuters.” It’s sad to watch, just from a human-interest point of view.

No changes to the current Catholic Catechism? No papal pronouncement at least opening conversation to the possibility that the positions promulgated since the Council of Trent might contradict Scripture? Again, unrequited love even on this score, as the same post reports: “Vatican officials have suggested in the past that no official rehabilitation was needed because the ban expired at Luther’s death. ‘One cannot do anything for Martin Luther now because Martin Luther, wherever he is, is not worried about these condemnations,’ Cardinal Edward Cassidy, then the Vatican’s top ecumenical official, said in 1999.”

I like Luther a lot. I look up to Calvin as a mentor through his writings. But do I really care what Rome thinks of “my guys”? No, not really. It’s not about them. It’s about the gospel and the wider issues connected to it concerning authority, superstition, and idolatrous worship.

The Reformation isn’t over. Not by a long shot. What we need most right now is not the rehabilitation of Luther, but the rehabilitation of true proclamation. We need it now, even in Protestantism-perhaps especially in Protestantism, more than ever.

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Testimony to the Lamb

Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body (Heb 13:3)

Some Christians read the Book of Revelation with a bit more depth and personal comfort than the rest of us. They read with striking immediacy Christ’s urgent preparation of his followers for persecution. While I may thin out the Apostle Paul’s references to suffering for Christ’s sake as if it referred to a rough week with illness, these brothers and sisters under the cross today understand what Paul meant when he called himself “an ambassador in chains.”

On average, 171,000 Christians are martyred every year around the world (see here). Updates on specific regions may be found at persecution.com.

Since 2009, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, 32, has been imprisoned on the charge of apostasy. Although he has been sentenced to death, the final decision is now in the hands of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (see Christianity Today and ACLJ). Written last summer, the following letter (translated from Farsi) by Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani to his flock is a moving testimony to God’s grace.

A Letter to His Flock from the Pastor Imprisoned by the Iranians

Dear brothers and sisters, Salam

In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I am continuously seeking grace and mercy to you, that you remember me and those who are bearing efforts for his name in your prayers. Your loyalty to God is the cause of my strength and encouragement. For I know well that you will be rewarded; as it’s stated: blessed is the one who has faith, for what has been said to him by God, will be carried out. As we believe, heaven and earth will fade but his word will still remain.

Dear beloved ones, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of a few verses, although you might know them, So that in everything, you give more effort than the past, both to prove your election, and for the sake of Gospel that is to be preached to the entire world as well.

I know that not all of us are granted to keep this word, but to those who are granted this power and this revelation, I announce the same as Jude, earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints.

We are passing by special and sensitive days. They are days that for an alert and awake believer can be days of spiritual growth and progress. Because for him, more than any other time there is the possibility to compare his faith with the word of God, have God’s promises in mind, and survey his faith.

Therefore he (the true believer) does not need to wonder for the fiery trial that has been set on for him as though it were something unusual, but it pleases him to participate in Christ’s suffering. Because the believer knows he will rejoice in his glory.

Dears, the “judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

Therefore those who are enduring burdens by the will of God, commit their souls to the faithful Creator. Promises that he has given us, are unique and precious. As we’ve heard he has said: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you”

How can it be possible for a believer to understand these words? Not only when he is focusing on Jesus Christ with adapting his life according to the life Jesus lived when he was on earth? As it is said ” O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”

Have we not read and heard: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Many attempt to flee from their spiritual tests, and they have to face those same tests in a more difficult manner, because no one will be victorious by escaping from them, but with patience and humility he will be able to overcome all the tests, and gain victory.

Therefore in the place of Christ’s followers, we must not feel desperate, but we have to pray to God in supplication with more passion to help us with any assistance we may need.

According to what Paul has said: In every temptation, God himself will make a way for us to tolerate it.

O beloved ones, difficulties do not weaken mankind, but they reveal the true human nature.

It will be good for us to occasionally face persecutions and abnormalities, since these abnormalities will persuade us to search our hearts, and to survey ourselves. So as a result, we conclude that troubles are difficult, but usually good and useful to build us.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must be more careful than any other time. Because in these days, the hearts and thoughts of many are revealed, so that the faith is tested. May your treasure be where there is no moth and rust.

I would like to remind you of some verses that we nearly discuss everyday, (Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.) but as long as our human will has priority over God’s will, his will will not be done.

As we have learned from him in Gethsemane, he surrendered his will to the father, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

What we are bearing today, is a difficult but not unbearable situation, because neither he has tested us more than our faith and our endurance, nor does he do as such. And as we have known from before, we must beware not to fail, but to advance in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, And consider these bumps and prisons as opportunities to testify to his name. He said: If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

As a small servant, necessarily in prison to carry out what I must do, I say with faith in the word of God that he will come soon. “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Discipline yourself with faith in the word of God. Retain your souls with patience. For there is no man that doeth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly.
May you are granted grace and blessings increasingly in the name of Lord Jesus Christ.

Yusef Nadarkhani
Lakan Prison in Rasht

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The Gospel-Driven Life in the Malay Language

Mike Horton is the author or editor of over 25 books, so we’re not surprised when a new shipment of books bearing his name arrives at our offices. Sometimes it’s a brand new book he forgot to mention that he wrote over Spring Break!

The other day we had a shipment arrive in our office of a few copies of Dr. Horton’s The Gospel-Driven Life translated into a different language. What language? Google Translate to the rescue! The language is Malay which is the official language of Malaysia and Indonesia (per Wikipedia).

Malay now joins a good number of other languages into which Dr. Horton’s books have been translated, including Arabic, Latvian, Portuguese, and Spanish. The resources of the White Horse Inn are also having a broad impact. For instance, in the past 30 days we have had visits to our website from over 130 countries! Soli Deo Gloria

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