White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

An Urgent Request from China

UPDATE (9/28/12): I received this email from my contact in China.

Do continue to pray for the Seminary.  I was just informed that our new location was “searched and investigated” by the police.  Luckily, we did our homework and they didn’t find anything.  But I was told the police still think “something was fishy” about the place when they left, and who knows when the next surprise attack would come.  Needless to say, the students are all very shaken up and wonders if the school should shut down for awhile.  Church leaders and I will brainstorm on this, but in the mean time, please urgently pray for this new development.

Then, our original place was surrounded by police squad cars and when the church members there demand an official answer on why they had to search the Church in such a grand scale, the police told them that they are investigating “a murder”, yes, a murder, I kid you not.  And due to the seriousness of the investigation they had to surround the church and do a thorough investigation.  Again, thanks that we left so they didn’t find anything.

I am leaving soon for China, I am at peace, but I wanted all of us to pray for the students there as they are young and most of them haven’t personally experience persecutions like the Christians before them, and are pretty shaken up.

Please continue to pray for our friends who live and minister under the threat of persecution and death.


Our readers may recall the overview I gave of my opportunity to teach a course in an underground seminary in China.  The school continues to attract growing numbers of aspiring pastors, teachers, and missionaries from all across China.  Our brother overseeing the seminary there has asked for prayer: for his health, but also for immediate concerns facing the churches (and seminaries) with the upcoming power-transfer in the nation’s leadership.  I told him that we would post this concern and I hope that you are able to take a moment to remember our brothers and sisters at this time.  I’ve removed any names that would identify the location:

As I am rehabbing my feet I have received an emergency news from China.  The entire district…is on high alert because of the transfer of power in China.  The Chinese model is “peace at all costs” during the transition of power to show that everything is calm and well, and this “peace” is created by a very strong-armed approach by the government, especially the police force that monitors all kinds of illegal activities.  Unfortunately, orthodox underground seminary is an illegal activity in China and the Church of…has received news that the police will have “major plans” to sweep through the area.  The Church, in emergency actions, has moved all of their training programs to remote locations, and that includes my seminary.  We have been moved to a very rural area where all you see is pretty much farmlands around us (but ironically with High Speed Bullet Train running right through the middle of it), and we are told we will stay here until the transition of power is done (which is towards the end of October.)  A couple of churches has already been swept by the police but praise the Lord the training programs have already moved and they have found nothing.

Also to be very safe we’ve decided to ask the non-Asian teachers to move their courses later, as there was a course that is going to be taught by a non-Asian, but was informed that the course will be move till later.  Another problem this has created is living and studying condition.  While we are able to move our student body over to a new church, but we are unable to move the library.  Also, the students are asked to sleep on the floor for the next two months.  One can imagine the tough physical strain this puts on the students, as well as the lack of resources for students to enhance their studies.  Please continue to pray for the safety of the school for the next two months, and that the students are able to adjust physically to a tough environment.

Unintended Consequences

A veteran youth minister evaluates the state of youth ministry and “big church”–he doesn’t like what he sees:

We look at our youth group now and we feel good. But the youth group of today is the church of tomorrow, and study after study suggests that what we are building for the future is … empty churches.

What Pastor Marino says is not necessarily new, but it is helpful to have a man who has spent his entire ministry working with youth to say these things. Equally eye-opening are the comments that follow his post where other youth ministers either applaud or argue his premise. In response to one, Marino says:

The blog article comes from a seminar I put together a few years ago for the Urban Youth Workers Institute. Interestingly, when I did the seminar people over 35 would sit with their arms folded and youth workers under 25 would literally be standing and cheering. I can say that they resonated with what I was saying.

I think most pastors would agree that youth and children’s ministries are some of the most difficult to navigate as a church, especially for those of us in churches that are intentional in our efforts to catechize our children and include them in the worship of the church. [For more on the treacherous nature of children's ministries, especially, see this fine post.] Let us, then, add Pastor Marino’s council to that of others like Christian Smith and Kenda Creasy Dean: rigorous theology, Word and sacrament ministry, and service to others forms not just the basis of our adult pilgrimage but also our young adult pilgrimage. As Dr. Barnhouse said, “What you win them with, you win them to.”

WHI-1120 | Your Own Personal Jesus

It is often said that Christianity is a relationship not a religion. But is this statement accurate? What are people really saying when they boil the gospel down to the idea of a “personal relationship with Jesus”? Why does this approach appeal to so many Christians in our time? On this edition of White Horse Inn, the hosts interact with this popular idea and compare it to Scripture.


Gnostic Worship
Michael Horton


Zac Hicks


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What is Faith?
J. Gresham Machen
Jesus + Nothing = Everything
Tullian Tchividjian


To Make the Word of God Fully Known

On Family Feud, the mystery hidden for surveys and responses when revealed to competing families is the hope of glory.  With every game, contestants can be seen eagerly awaiting every “top answer” uncovered, as fortunes hang in the balance.  Especially engaging is the moment in the “triple money” round, when the very last guess awaits a final judgment: it’s either on the board—in which case, the family lives on to enter the “fast money” round—or it gets the “X” and the family is banished from the stage, cast away to forever consider what might have been.

It provides a wonderful image of Final Judgment.

How interesting then to have one day viewed this set of responses written on the games show’s book of life: “If you were to get to Heaven, what would you expect to see?”

Here were the top six responses:


The set of answers requires little commentary, beyond this: What…not Gandhi?  Seriously, look at the answers.  Especially pastors and preachers: Look at the board!  It breaks the heart.

In Colossians, Paul says his “stewardship from God” is “to make the word of God fully known” (Colossians 1:25).   May the image of these top six answers motivate us all to truly strive to make the word of God fully known.

A final note: These last five weeks I have been treating Family Feud as a “cultural text”―and as a demonstration of kind of thinking done in the field of cultural hermeneutics.  Toward this end, I want to commend Kevin Vanhoozer’s Everyday Theology How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2007) to WHI listeners and MR readers.  In making the word of God fully known, it is not only essential to know and share God’s word, but also to understand the word-deprived world in which its hearers are situated.

I hope you have enjoyed this short series of Family Feud posts.


James Gilmore is the co-author of the bestselling book, The Experience Economy. A prolific speaker and popular business consultant, Jim has also been a guest on White Horse Inn and has recently written for Modern ReformationJim is a Batten Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He is also a Visiting Lecturer in Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, where he teaches a course on cultural hermeneutics.




Sanctification and Worship

If “all of life is sacred,” as a popular saying goes, then what’s the significance of going to church? The Reformation got rid of the division between Christians who worship (monks) and those who work (laypeople), but only in our individualist-expressivist culture has this downplaying of worship become a grand distortion. Calvin College professor James K. A. Smith’s recent article in Reformed Worship succinctly and insightfully untangles this amazingly practical issue. Here is an excerpt:

Christian worship gathered around Word and table is not just a platform for our expression; it is the space for the Spirit’s (trans)formation of us. The practices of gathered Christian worship have a specific shape about them—precisely because this is how the Spirit recruits us into the story of God reconciling the world to himself in Christ. There is a logic to the shape of intentional, historic Christian worship that performs the gospel over and over again as a way to form and reform our habits. If we fail to immerse ourselves in sacramental, transformative worship, we will not be adequately formed to be ambassadors of Christ’s redemption in and for the world. In short, while the Reformers rightly emphasized the sanctification of ordinary life, they never for a moment thought this would be possible without being sanctified by Word and sacrament.

Click here to read the rest of this article

What happened to God?

The 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth in 2009 gave rise to a year of debate about the world-historical significance of the French Reformer. Everything from politics and economics to art and philanthropy were cited as having been influenced (even “transformed”) by Calvin’s life and work. Much of what was claimed was highly debatable, though it does make for interesting discussion.

But what seemed to be missing from most of the Swiss city of Geneva’s marketing materials for the anniversary celebration was reference to Calvin’s very practical and immediate impact on the church and its ministry, such as the reforming of idolatrous Roman aspects of worship, the establishment of the “consistory” or body of elders to care for and govern the local church, and the centralizing of Word and Sacrament for Christian ministry.

With the quincentennial of the Reformation approaching in 1517, I anticipate the same kind of lively discussion about Luther’s legacy. What was his impact, after all this time? That’s a good discussion to have, one that is already underway. How fascinating it is to note that the person closest to the truth at this early planning conference in Germany was a Roman Catholic architect! Sometimes truth comes from the strangest of places . . .

It was an evening with a lot going on at many levels, although not once did Luther’s core premise come up – that man is saved by faith and grace alone, and that the pious acts that Catholics thought could help played no role in salvation. The word “God” was seldom used during the evening, and if memory serves, the name “Jesus Christ” wasn’t mentioned a single time.

The question that remained unanswered at the end was: what is the 500th Anniversary celebration in 2017 actually going to be about? Revisiting and strengthening evangelical faith? Or a festive and soon-forgotten occasion with colloquia, ceremonies, entertainment?

Which is not to say that what the nine distinguished “outsiders” told EKD representatives was stupid. On the contrary: it was a sum of what a broad spectrum of society feels towards religion. And God didn’t come into it.

Read the article

WHI-1119 | Christianity vs. Pop Spirituality

What is the typical message one is likely to find in the “Religion and Spirituality” section of a local bookstore, and how does that view differ from classical Christianity? On this program, the hosts contrast the historic Christian gospel with numerous bestselling alternatives, from both the world of New Age spirituality as well as many of the “practical” books in the “Christian Living” section of a typical evangelical bookstore.


The New Gnosticism
Michael Horton


Zac Hicks


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In the Face of God
Michael Horton


Horton Reviews Kingdom Through Covenant

Dr. Horton was asked to review the new book by Gentry and Stephen Wellum titled Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Crossway, 2012) over at The Gospel Coalition. Here is an excerpt of the review:

However, their argument assumes that the mere presence of commands indicates a mixture of unconditional-conditional aspects in the basis of the covenant itself. At this point, Reformed theology has traditionally appealed to a distinction between basis and administration. The mere presence of commands says nothing about the basis of a covenant itself. Circumcision (like baptism) identifies the members of the covenant, so if one is not circumcised, he is “cut off.” Nevertheless, one is not justified because he is circumcised, as Paul indicates in Romans 4:11. That would turn conditions into the basis rather than the administration of the covenant. Commands function in a law-covenant as the basis for blessing or curse: the swearer’s perfect, personal, perpetual obedience is the ground, ratified by a public assumption of the covenant obligations on one’s own head. In the covenant of grace, however, commands function as the “reasonable service” that we offer “in view of God’s mercies.”

Click here to read the rest of the review

We Have No King But Elvis

Since presented via a TV game show, it may be tempting to consider Family Feud surveys inherently frivolous. Indeed, it would not be unreasonable to feel that any public opinion survey unduly emphasizes transitory feelings over more significant perspectives.  For this reason most of us understandably look unfavorably at a politician guided more by polls than by principles.  So when it comes to matters of faith, surely we wouldn’t want to mistake ephemeral opinions for eternal truths, let alone ones gleaned from some survey.

How interesting then to consider how Jesus conducted opinion surveys: “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” he asked his disciples (Matt. 16:13 ESV).  Survey says (Matt. 16:14):

  • John the Baptist                   43
  • Elijah                                  28
  • Jeremiah                             17
  • One of the prophets              8

And of course, his follow-up question (which would be worth double the number of points if posed on Family Feud) was: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt.16:15)  Clearly Jesus could have just led with this later question, so he evidently wanted to first establish some context.  Why?  Jesus must have anticipated that none of the answers on the board for the first question would be “the Messiah.”  In pairing the questions he was therefore highlighting just how skewed from public expectations of a messiah was his earthly ministry.

Let’s now look at the top answers from a recent Family Feud survey which asked 100 people, “When someone mentions ‘the King,’ to whom might he or she be referring?”  The results:

Before rushing to condemn the survey respondents, note that the question posed was not “When someone mentions ‘the King of Kings,’ to whom might he or she be referring?”  In fact, the Family Feud contestant who uncovered the “God/Jesus” answer on the board did so by saying, “I’m going to go with the King of Kings, Jesus” (to which Steve Harvey nodded approvingly).  No, we should actually give the respondents great credit for most accurately capturing who folks are referring to today when they mention “the King.”  (And we should feel no shame in seeing the humor in “the Burger King” rounding out this list.)

The only point I would like to make about the responses to this Family Feud question is how it provides a wonderfully simple articulation of the cultural context in which the gospel is presented in our age.  Few people today are likely to mistake Jesus for John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other Old Testament prophet (if they could even name one).  No, the expectations of Jesus today are much different: some look to Jesus as a role model for respecting human rights or as a champion of various societal concerns (represented by Martin L. King, Jr.: 3), and a few others—whose “god is their belly”—look to Jesus to help them prosper (represented by The Burger King: 2). But the overwhelming majority of people really want Jesus to be Elvis, a feel-good rock star whose every gyration excites the soul.  But such a Jesus is but a “comic caricature” of the true King of Kings, as Stephen J. Nichols describes this figure in Jesus Made in America.  And this Elvis is but a Jesus impersonator.

James Gilmore is the co-author of the bestselling book, The Experience Economy. A prolific speaker and popular business consultant, Jim has also been a guest on White Horse Inn and has recently written for Modern ReformationJim is a Batten Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He is also a Visiting Lecturer in Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, where he teaches a course on cultural hermeneutics.

Mike Horton in Chicago Today

Mike is in Chicago today, speaking at the Henry Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His 1:00 pm (CDST) lecture, “Ascension and Ecclesia: Promise-Driven Ministry in a Purpose-Driven Age” will be open to the public. For directions please click here.

If you can’t attend in person, the school is live-streaming the event. You can access that feed here.

Click here for more information.

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