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Know what you believe and why you believe it

Christian Persecution in Iran

Elam Ministries granted us permission to repost this story from their latest newsletter. If you would like to know more about their work or the status of Christian persecution in Iran, please visit www.iran30.org.

Dear friends,

In a dramatic session before the revolutionary court yesterday (Sunday August 9) in Tehran, Maryam Rustampoor (27) and Marzieh Amirizadeh (30) were told to recant their faith in Christ. Though great pressure was put on them, both women declared that they would not deny their faith. Maryam and Marzieh were originally arrested on March 5, 2009 and have suffered greatly while in prison, suffering ill health, solitary confinement and interrogations for many hours while blindfolded.

On Saturday August 8, Maryam and Marzieh were summoned to appear in court on Sunday August 9 in order to hear a verdict on their case.  The chief interrogator had recommended a verdict of ‘apostasy.’  However, when they arrived, no verdict was actually given.  Instead, the court session focussed on the deputy prosecutor, Mr Haddad, questioning Maryam and Marzieh about their faith and telling them that they had to recant in both verbal and written form. This made it clear that in the eyes of the court, Maryam and Marzieh’s only crime is that they have converted to Christianity.

Mr. Haddad, asked the two women if they were Christians. “We love Jesus,” they replied.  He repeated his question and they said, “Yes, we are Christians.”

Mr. Haddad then said, “You were Muslims and now you have become Christians.”

“We were born in Muslim families, but we were not Muslims,” was their reply.

Mr. Haddad’s questioning continued and he asked them if they regretted becoming Christians, to which they replied, “We have no regrets.”

Then he stated emphatically, “You should renounce your faith verbally and in written form.”  They stood firm and replied, “We will not deny our faith.”

During one tense moment in the questioning, Maryam and Marzieh made reference to their belief that God had convicted them through the Holy Spirit.  Mr. Haddad told them, “It is impossible for God to speak with humans.”

Marzieh asked him in return, “Are you questioning whether God is Almighty?”

Mr. Haddad then replied, “You are not worthy for God to speak to you.”

Marzieh said, “It is God, and not you, who determines if I am worthy.”

Mr. Haddad told the women to return to prison and think about the options they were given and come back to him when they are ready (to comply). Maryam and Marzieh said, “We have already done our thinking.”

At the end of the session, Mr. Haddad told them that a judge will give them his verdict, though it is not clear who will be the judge in their case now.  He also allowed Maryam and Marzieh to have a lawyer represent them in the case for the first time since their arrest.

Both women are back in Evin prison tonight.  During their five-month ordeal, both have been unwell and have lost much weight. Marzieh is in pain due to an on-going problem with her spine, as well as an infected tooth and intense headaches. She desperately needs medical attention. Two months ago the prison officials told her the prison had proper medical equipment and that they will attend to her, but so far no proper treatment has been given.

Despite the concentrated effort of officials to pressure them into recanting their faith, Maryam and Marzieh love Jesus and they are determined to stand firm to the very end no matter whatever happens.  They have demonstrated their love for Jesus and would offer their lives for Him if they were called to do so.  After today’s court session they said, “If we come out of prison we want to do so with honor.”

Maryam and Marzieh’s case is a clear and harsh violation of human rights and religious liberty by Iran’s authorities. They deserve the support of all those who respect human rights and to be released without charges so they can pursue a life of freedom.

Thank you for praying.

The Elam team

Visit elam.com to learn more about Elam Ministries.

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Why Two Kingdoms?

Over at Kevin DeYoung’s blog, the conversation of the day has been the apparent conflict between two-kingdoms theology and neo-Kuyperianism. For those not familiar with the jargon, the question revolves around how a Christian individual and the church as a corporate gathering of God’s people properly engage the surrounding secular culture.

DeYoung (and Justin Taylor who links to it) are grateful for some of the wisdom they see in the two-kingdoms approach, but still have some questions and objections to it, which leads DeYoung to chart a third course for engagement between the church and the world.  Modern Reformation magazine and White Horse Inn have developed a bit of a reputation as promoters of the Reformation doctrine of the two kingdoms. We asked regular contributor Jason Stellman to interact a bit with Kevin DeYoung’s analysis of the two kingdoms doctrine.  Jason will be addressing this issue even more directly in an upcoming article, “The Destiny of the Species,” for our November/December 2009 issue of Modern Reformation, “Zion.”

On his blog DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed, Kevin DeYoung posted a thoughtful article weighing the pros and cons of two-kingdoms theology when weighed alongside the more popular Kuyperian position according to which “every square inch” of creation is Christ’s, who gives the believer the charge to redeem it. DeYoung raises some good points, but I’d just like to address his concerns about the doctrine of the two kingdoms and its potential dangers. I’ll paste DeYoung’s concerns and follow them with my responses:

“An exaggerated distinction between laity and church officers (e.g., evangelism is the responsibility of elders and pastors not of the regular church members)”

As far as I can see, there is no connection between two-kingdoms doctrine and DeYoung’s concern here. While it may be the case that some two-kingdoms proponents understand Eph. 4:11ff in a non every-member-ministry sense, it’s certainly not a necessary consequence of two-kingdom theology.

“An unwillingness to boldly call Christians to work for positive change in their communities and believe that some change is possible”

This one’s tricky. What one church member may call “positive change” could be deemed tragic in the mind of another. In the Seattle area where I minister, positively changing the community may take the form of shutting down the Gap because of its oppressive business practices that harm the third world’s poor. My guess is that it’s not this kind of positive change that DeYoung has in mind. The two-kingdom position actually protects the churchgoer from having the minister’s cultural values tyrannically forced upon him.

“The doctrine of the ‘spirituality of the church’ allowed the southern church to ‘punt’ (or worse) on the issue of slavery during the 19th century”

Guilt-by-association is never good argumentation. Plus, Charles Hodge taught the spirituality of the church, and he was a Yankee.

One last point: I find it ironic that DeYoung lists among Kuyperianism’s pros the fact that it, and not the two-kingdoms doctrine, highlights the goodness of creation. I would argue precisely the opposite. When one looks at the world and its beauty, grandeur, and ale and only sees the redemptive potential of these things, then is that really an example of appreciating creation for its own sake? Rather than surveying the world and thinking “So much unredeemed creation, so little time,” the two-kingdoms advocate sees creation as “very good” and worthwhile, albeit fallen. And before enjoying said creation, we remember that God’s whole purpose for the common grace sphere is to prolong life and thus erect a stage on which he can perform his redemptive work of calling sinners from this creation to a new one. When that work is done, Babylon will fall, will fall, and the world will pass away, and the lusts thereof.

What is our good news to this passing age in the meantime? Certainly not that Jesus is waiting to return until we’ve Christianized the planet, but that at an hour we think not the Son of Man will come with salvation and judgment, surprising a sleeping and rebellious world (you know, just like as it was in the days of Noah).

-Jason Stellman

The Rev. Jason Stellman is pastor of Exile Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Woodinville, Washington. He is also the author of Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet. Jason blogs at De Regnis Duobus.

For more information about the two-kingdoms doctrine, check out the following issues of Modern Reformation:

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The Gospel is a Complete Surprise

From session 2 of Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity DVD series:

It’s the gospel that’s surprising; it’s the gospel that comes to us and throws us off our horse, because the gospel isn’t wired into us. The gospel only came about because after the Fall—though God could have invoked the judgments that he threatened in the Law—he instead promised a Savior and clothed Adam and Eve, took all their fig leaves, and clothed them with the sacrificial skins of animals pointing forward to Christ. That was a surprise, a complete surprise. God could have wiped them off the face of the earth at that point and that’s why they ran because their law compass said, “we’d better run.” That’s why religions, you know, throw kids into volcanoes; and have things like penance where they’ll go through and make all kinds of satisfaction—crawl on their knees, bloody their knees–do whatever needs to be done; go on suicide missions; do whatever it takes in order to appease this God they know they’ve offended.

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More on the Emergent Church

Last night’s White Horse Inn broadcast featured Mike Horton interviewing Jim Belcher, author of the newly released Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional. Back in 2005, WHI producer Shane Rosenthal went to the Emergent Church Convention in San Diego and wrote up some reflections for Modern Reformation magazine. Here is his summary statement, which anticipated much of what you heard last night between Mike Horton and Jim Belcher:

As I made my way back to my hotel room, I realized that the discussion had been very instructive. Not only did I get a better sense of what drew people to Emergent, but the conversation gave me some insight into the thinking process of those wishing to start an Emergent church. The issue is much deeper than hairstyle, as Keel indicated, or even worship preferences. It also goes deeper than appreciating postmodernism. At its heart, the Emergent movement is about failure. Having hitched their wagons to modernism in so many ways, many evangelical churches have failed to provide a place of solace and transcendence in the midst of a dying culture. Now with the waves of postmodernism crashing upon our shores, the failure of churches still clinging to modernist assumptions are increasingly apparent, especially to the next generation. Having failed to define ourselves by Christ’s story, our churches look like entertainment centers, self-help seminars, political rallies, and Kiwanis clubs. Most of us do not really know the person in the pew sitting next to us, and we have failed to live noticeably different lives than those of our non-Christian neighbors.

The Emergent convention was not merely about diagnosing the ills of the contemporary church, it also pointed us to various treatments and therapies. This is where I fear the Emergent Church fails to give us much lasting benefit. Labyrinths, yoga, and prayer sculpting (to give only a few examples) might make us feel better for the moment, but we need medicine of a stronger sort. Burning incense might help cover up the dank smell of a church facility, but it will not ultimately lead to reformation. Without question, recovering a lost sense of community is a grand idea, but if the community itself is not about something other than itself, it will not last. We need Christ: We need to be caught up in his story, rather than our own. We need to better understand his Word and his mission for the church, not our own Cain-like attempts at spirituality. While “re-thinking church” can sometimes be a step toward ecclesiastic renewal, it should never be forgotten that it has just as often been the root cause of schism and heresy. Truly authentic Christian faith and practice is not recovered by an examination of what other churches have done, whether ancient or modern. It can only be recovered if we once again focus our attention and submit to Scripture as our norm for faith and practice.

[“Experiencing Emergent” Modern Reformation( July/August 2005) Vol. 14 No. 4 Pages 28-35]

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A New Site

Welcome to the new White Horse Inn website. We’ve created this site to make our resources easier to find and easier to use. Thousands of people from over ninety countries regularly visit White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation. We hope this reconfigured site makes it easier for you to find the tools to help you “know what you believe and why you believe it.”

Where should you start? Our First Time Visitors tab has a number of streaming WHI shows and articles that will get you up to speed. Our FAQ tab can answer some of your basic questions. But feel free to drop us a line if you need to know something more specific.

Whether  you’re a long-time friend of the Inn or a newcomer, we’d also invite you to consider donating to the cause. Although the economy is making things difficult for a number of nonprofits these days, we’re happy to report that our supporters are behind the mission of White Horse Inn and we’re poised for growth (this new facelift to our website is just the first of many improvements in the works). Your donation to White Horse Inn won’t just keep our lights on, it will help spread the message of the Reformation–a message we think is necessary for the church to recover her witness and work in this in-between age.

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Interview with Simonetta Carr

41a2oi3u65l_sl150_Modern Reformation recently sat down with Simonetta Carr, the author of John Calvin (published by Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), and asked a few questions about her work and the philosophy behind children’s literature.

Why is it important for our children to read Christian biography?

There are several reasons. I was motivated to write this biographical series for young readers when I realized that most children today are not aware of the concept of “church history” as the progress of God’s people throughout the ages. They read Bible stories, they see other believers today, and they read a few stories about a few individual Christians who lived in between, but the connecting thread seems to be missing.

With these books, I don’t want to tell children, “Look how wonderful these people were! Let’s all be like them.” There are other biographies that do that. I want to explain how some Christians have impacted history – secular and non-secular – and how their teachings affect what we believe today. I am also hoping to introduce children to the real characters, with all the struggles and the intensity of emotions that have accompanied their decisions.

How should parents use this series and your book?

Some parents have read the book to their children in one sitting, and others have used it as a study guide, one chapter at a time, and both of these approaches seem to work well. My hope is that these books will be readily available to our young people, who can then read and re-read them on their own, and that they will spark an interest which parents will be able to encourage with additional material. As I read with my children devotional books based on quotations by John Calvin, I notice that their level of interest is much higher now that they understand how God shaped Calvin’s life and moved him to write what he wrote.

For homeschooling families, these books can provide a basis for unit studies. Currently, Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) is using the book on John Calvin to formulate a series of lessons that will be used within their clubs.

Why does the story of John Calvin resonate with young readers?

I passed this question on to my own children, and they said that they were impressed to see how Calvin kept faithful, in spite of great difficulties and opposition, to the truth and to God’s calling in his life.

What is the most important point you want children to take away from the life of John Calvin?

His humanity. Calvin never tried to set himself up as a Protestant Pope, as some critics accuse him to have done. His actions and his writings were conscientiously motivated by a compelling love for God’s truth as it is revealed in Scriptures and for Christ’s church.

What is your next writing project?

I have completed a book on Augustine of Hippo, which is presently being reviewed by experts in the subject, and will be published, God willing, in December 2009. I am also beginning research on John Owen for a book scheduled to be published in December 2010.

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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

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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

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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.


Eric Landry
Executive Editor, Modern Reformation

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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.

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