White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Greet One Another With A Holy Kiss

“Meet the Hatfields: Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and their brothers who are here in the audience.  And meet the McCoys: Philologus, Julia, Nereus, and his sister—how are you, darling?—and Olympas, and all their family with them in the studio today.  Greet one another with a holy kiss.  All the families greet you.” (Romans 16:14-16, my paraphrase)

We know more about most families who have appeared on Family Feud than we do the final cast of characters that Paul commends in Chapter 16 of Romans. William Barclay may have a novel thing or two to say about Nereus, but really, we know little about these folks other than Paul’s high regard for them all.   At least we learn a little bit about the occupations and interests of individuals who appear on Family Feud as Richard Dawson (and Louie Anderson, Richard Karn, John O’Hurley, and Steve Harvey—the whole list of hosts over the years) greets each person right on down the line.  In Romans, we don’t get to know even that much about Asyncritus and company, or Philologis and the others.  You see, it’s not about them.

The main point of this whole passage in Romans 16 is that Paul is recollecting these saints, commending these saints, loving these saints, as he considers those who have “risked their necks” for the sake of the Gospel:  Greet one another with a holy kiss.

For those who might think it unimportant to confront Osteenism and his not so equally prosperous ilk, consider what topic Paul turns to right after asking the saints to greet one another in the customary kiss.  He warns all in Rome to do what?

watch out for those who cause divisions (Romans 16:17a ESV) or as James Boice comments on this phrase, “those who divide churches into factions that will be loyal to themselves”

and those who

create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught (v. 17b), who cause skandalon, or again as Boice puts it, “[not] scandalous behavior… but rather of adding things to the gospel that get in the way of those who are merely trying to obey the Bible and follow Jesus Christ.”

Could any two phrases better capture the essence of the psychobabble that Joel Osteen parades as Bible teaching?

And what does Paul say next?  Avoid them (v. 17c). Flee Houston, we have a problem!

Moreover, Paul (who I’d like to believe had really bad teeth and unkempt hair) goes on: for such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites (v. 18a ).

Wow.  How harsh.  And how does Paul say these scandalous scoundrels operate? By smooth talk and flattery. (v.18b)

To all in Houston, who are loved by God and called to be saints: Can’t you see the parallel here?  Those of us who warn about Joel and Victoria (“Avoid them!”) do not do so because we somehow have it out for the Osteens.  No.  We’re simply greeting you—one another—with a holy kiss.

Note how Paul concludes in characterizing these smooth talkers: they deceive the hearts of the naïve. (v. 18b) That is the crime of it all.  The false gospel feeds on the naïve.  All the more reason to know what you believe and why you believe it!

Now hand me that remote…

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.

Modern Reformation Conversations – Dr. Adam Francisco

We’re sending off the summer with two great interviews with Dr. Adam Francisco of Concordia University.  In this interviews, Dr. Francisco gives us great insight into the historical development and theological influences on the Koran, the Islam PR re-vamp, and the difference between Muslims and Islam.  Watch, learn, and be edified.

Happy Viewing!

WHI-1116 | Worship in Spirit & Truth

In John 4, Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, “God is a spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” But what does it mean to worship God “in spirit and truth”? What are the implications of this text for our understanding of worship today in the American church landscape? That’s what’s on tap for this edition of the White Horse Inn (originally broadcast December 9, 2007).

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A Better Way
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Joel Osteen and Family Feud

On Friday, July 13, 2012, Joel Osteen made an appearance in Cleveland, Ohio.  Fourteen thousand people filed into Quicken Loans Arena that evening to take in “A Night of Hope.”  I had no desire to attend, but I did want to head downtown and do something outside the gathering as an act of quiet personal protest.

For weeks prior to the event, I pondered what to do.  So one night, to find some inspiration, I tuned in the weekly broadcast from Lakewood Church.  When channel-surfing I will sometimes briefly watch Osteen, but on this occasion I committed myself to watching the entire show.  Within minutes, I knew what I should to do: So I paused the channel, went to my home-office, and returned with a pen and pad of paper.  I started writing down the key words and phrases I heard Osteen emphasize in his talk.  By the end of the hour, I had over twenty items on the list.

Recalling an interview (was it on CNN?) in which Michael Horton called Osteen’s teaching “Cotton Candy Christianity,” I wrote that term as a heading above the list.  I then thought about what alternative words or phrases might be listed alongside each item on the Osteen list.  I found this all too easy—and in less than two minutes, I had my companion set of terms representing “Historical-Biblical Christianity.”  I returned to my office and typed up the list.  Once completed, all I needed was a heading for the flyer.  Also easy: “The JOEL OSTEEN Scorecard.”  (Download a PDF file of the final product.)

On the morning of Friday the 13th, I printed 250 copies of the scorecard on pink paper (pink struck me as the appropriate color).  In the afternoon, I read Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, and I prayed that should God give me occasion to talk to anyone, that I would speak the truth in love.  And then early that evening, also equipped with seven copies of Christless Christianity that I had ordered for the event, I headed for “the Q” (or “the Loaner” as one Cleveland friend of mine likes to call it), most curious about what I would encounter.

After parking, I asked a police officer where I was permitted to stand and hand out pamphlets.  He directed me across the street, off the private property of the arena.  There I joined two Mitt Romney volunteers soliciting signatures (for what I did not know, as Romney had already won the Ohio G.O.P. primary and secured the Republican nomination).

People streamed by me.  I quickly had to figure out what to say as my pitch.  I tried, “Get your scorecard,” which generated little interest.  When I changed it to “Get your Joel Osteen Scorecard,” well, that drew much more interest.  And interestingly, when just one person in a passing cluster took a pink sheet, others were much more inclined to take one as well.  The flyers went out in bunches.  A few people asked what the sheet was for; I simply explained it was for note-taking and “checking off the terms you might hear tonight.”  That seemed to satisfy most all takers.

I also had to consider to whom I would give away copies of Horton’s book.  I decided to give to the first people I spotted carrying Bibles.  I gave away two such copies, but decided to change my criteria after one woman took a copy, crossed the street, but after examining the book, crossed back and returned to me. “I’m not interested in this,” she politely said, giving back the book.

So I decided to give my remaining copies of the book to young adults who appeared of high school age.  The highlight here: the final kid to get a copy really lit up in excitement.  He looked me in the eyes, really looked me in the eyes, unlike anyone else that evening, and said, “Thank you; I appreciate this.”  I said a quick prayer for him as he crossed the street clutching the book, and the kind of clutching one does with something truly valued.

I gave away all 250 scorecard sheets in just under one hour.  That’s about one every fifteen seconds.  The time flew by, and the experience was much more hurried than I had anticipated—a function I think of the proximity to the arena and the eagerness of most folks to get in.  As busy as I was, within a few minutes I had decided to take note of two phenomena: (1) the number of people I saw toting Bibles (those prepared to say, “This is my Bible…”), and (2) the number of people who stopped to engage in a more in-depth conversation. (I was prepared to cease all pamphleteering for just one serious conversation.)

Let me here report the results:

Bibles: 15.   That’s not fifteen carried by people who took a pink sheet.  That’s fifteen among everyone who walked by.  Bear in mind, I was practicing very intentional looking: I looked at every person who passed by my street corner.  I noticed a lot in the short amount of time I had.  Two carried iPads, for example, and maybe they had Bible software loaded; more likely not (“This is my iPad…”).  And I estimated that for every person who took a scorecard, five others did not.  By my calculations then, that’s 1,250 who walked by me.  Considering my spot was one of about a dozen crosswalks available to get to the arena, the 1,250 estimate also jives with the reported figure of 14,000 who attended.

So do the math: 15 bibles, 1,250 passers by.  That’s 1.25% Bible-carrying Osteenites.

Conversation: 2 parties stopped to spend a few minutes to talk.  Just two.

The first was a father with his three sons.  It turns out the dad was not dragging his boys to hear Osteen; they were on their way to another event.  The man was most curious about what was on the sheet, what I was doing, and why.  I showed him the scorecard.  After studying it closely, he said, “I get it.”  He then shared that he had only a slight familiarity with Osteen, that he was Roman Catholic, and that he was from Georgia.  He also commented that “down in Atlanta, we have lots of mega-churches and televangelists, and most of them are bad news.”  I shared that I was unashamedly Protestant, and was hoping to simply provoke some attending the Osteen event to pause and question what they were hearing.  The gentleman’s parting words to me: “Good for you.”

The second interaction was with a married couple, David and Kim.  Kim carried a Bible; David did not.  After taking a copy of the scorecard and examining it, David got very excited.  He shared that he had never watched Joel Osteen, had never read one of his books.  “She dragged me here,” he explained, with a nod toward his wife.  “Go on in,” I said, “But be sure to check off what words and phrases you hear tonight.  And when you get home, I have a suggestion: read the book of Galatians, the whole book.  And compare what you read from Paul with what you hear from Osteen.  In fact, I’d encourage you to read Galatians every day for one week.  It will only take twenty minutes each day.”  David looked at me, smiled, pointed at me, and said, “I’ll do that; I will.”  Then he crossed the street, with an extra hop in his step.

I did too after I ran out of scorecards.

When I returned home, a bit exhausted, I sat down and turned on the television.  A few channels into surfing, I stumbled upon Family Feud.  I watched three or four survey questions, and five or six attempts to guess the top responses for each.  Each time, regardless of the quality of the guess, family members shouted “Good answer, good answer.”  Even when the answer was an obviously bad answer, a decidedly miserable answer, the participants wishfully chanted, “Good answer, good answer.”  And it hit me just how much like Family Feud is the spectacle of Joel Osteen and his misguided followers: “Good answer, good answer.”

Make no mistake: A good answer is not the Good News.

If you have a friend who watches Joel Osteen, consider giving her or him a copy of the scorecard (on pink paper, please) and most importantly, follow-up with a conversation.

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 Reformation. Jim 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

Loving Muslim Neighbors

In the third and final installment of Michael Horton’s reflections on the relationship of Christianity and Islam, he turns to the personal nature of our relationship with our Muslim neighbors.

You can watch the previous installments here and here.

Be sure to read Dr. Horton’s article, “Loving Muslim Neighbors,” in the July/August issue of Modern Reformation (subscription required).

Part 2: Horton on the Koran

How does the message of the Bible and the message of the Koran differ? In this video (2 of 3), Michael Horton continues his discussion of the differences between Christianity and Islam.

Part 1 can be found here.

You can also read Dr. Horton’s article “Christ and Islam” from the July/August issue of Modern Reformation, on which these discussions are based.

New Modern Reformation Video

“Islam is all law. There is no good news.”

Curious about Islam? Want to dig a little deeper after reading Michael Horton’s article in the July/August issue of Modern Reformation? This is the first of three video conversations that Dr. Horton recorded to help us understand the differences between Islam and Christianity.

First up: Salvation.

WHI-1115 | Recovering Focus in a Distracted Time

Life in twenty-first century America is distracting. Thanks to the ubiquitous nature of media and countless interruptions from beeping gadgets, it’s becoming difficult not merely to finish a book, but perhaps even a thought. On this program, Michael Horton discusses this new culture of distraction with Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention & The Coming Dark Age. In the second half of the program, Mike continues this discussion with Los Angeles Times Book Review Editor David Ulin, author of The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time.

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Incarnational Ministry

Our good friend, J. Todd Billings, was recently featured in Christianity Today. His critique of “incarnational ministry” continues to ring true for many people. We were proud to feature that critique back in 2009, Incarnational Ministry and the Unique, Incarnate Christ.

Here’s a brief preview of Billings’ article in Christianity Today.

In recent decades, scores of books, manuals, and websites advocating “incarnational ministry” have encouraged Christians to move beyond ministry at a distance and to “incarnate” and immerse themselves into local cultures. Some give a step-by-step “incarnation process” for Christians crossing cultures. Some call us to become incarnate by “being Jesus” to those around us. Indeed, many of these resources display valuable insights into relational and cross-cultural ministry. But there are serious problems at the core of most approaches to “incarnational ministry”—problems with biblical, theological, and practical implications.

I encountered these problems myself as a practitioner of “incarnational ministry.” At a Christian college, I was told that just as God became flesh in a particular culture 2,000 years ago, my job was to become “incarnate” in another culture. Eight months later, equipped with training in cultural anthropology, I set about learning the language and culture in Uganda. But I quickly ran into doubts about the “incarnational” method. Would the Ugandans necessarily “see Jesus” as a result of my efforts at cultural identification? Was I assuming that my own presence—rather than that of Christ—was redemptive? Is the eternal Word’s act of incarnation really an appropriate model for ministry?

My questions multiplied as I continued my theological education. Biblical scholars and theologians assured me that the Bible and orthodox Christian theology taught nothing about us “becoming incarnate.” Going back to my professors of missiology and ministry, I heard a quite practical response: If not the Incarnation, what is the alternative model for culture-crossing ministries? Over the past decade, I have come to see that incarnational ministry actually obscures the much richer theology of servant-witness and cross-cultural ministry in the New Testament: ministry in union with Christ by the Spirit.

You can read the whole thing here.

WHI-1114 | An Interview with T. David Gordon

What is the impact of technology on the way we live and think as Christians? How has popular culture changed the way we worship on Sunday mornings? On this edition of the White Horse Inn, Michael Horton discusses these issues with T. David Gordon, author of Why Johnny Can’t Preach, and Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns.

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