How Can We Study Theology for a Lifetime? Dr. Wayne Grudem

Guest: Dr. Wayne Grudem | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Grudem as they discuss lifelong theological study. Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Grudem’s personal journey into theological study

Dr. Wayne Grudem serves as distinguished professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary. He received his doctorate from the University of Cambridge and served as General Editor of the ESV Study Bible (Crossway, 2008). Dr. Grudem is the author of several books, including Systematic Theology (Zondervan Academic, 2020), and What the Bible Says About How to Know God’s Will (Crossway, 2020).

As we close this season of our Faith Seeking Understanding podcast, we want to first thank you for being a faithful listener. We sincerely hope you have been encouraged and helped in your understanding of the faith!

Stay connected with us! Keep your ears open on this channel for future projects from Phoenix Seminary and connect with us by subscribing to

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Brian Arnold (00:00):

I just want to say, as we close this season of Faith Seeking Understanding Podcast, we want to first thank you for being a faithful listener. We sincerely hope you've been encouraged and helped in your understanding of the Christian faith. Second, we hope you'll stay connected with us. Keep your ears open for future projects, and you can connect with us by subscribing at Again, that link is Thanks for listening.

Intro (00:29):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:44):

Well, today we want to bring you a special episode of Faith Seeking Understanding. This is our 100th episode. Our heart for this podcast was to help Christians grow in your faith. That's why we've tackled doctrinal topics, ethics, biblical studies. We long to see Christians continue to deepen in their understanding of God and the Bible, and how we ought to live as followers of Christ. And all this comes from a fundamental conviction that theology matters. I first came to take theology seriously as a senior in high school. But it was in college during my first semester that our Campus Crusade was working through John Piper's book, Desiring God. And from there, the theological hook was set in my soul. And not long after that, a mentor of mine knew that I was very interested in studying theology, and told me that I just had to read this book called Systematic Theology by a guy named Wayne Grudem.

Brian Arnold (01:34):

And that summer, I was completing a 500 hour internship for my paramedic degree, and I went to Barnes and Noble, and I remember buying that systematic theology book, and just devoured it that summer. And I can remember walking to the ambulance and turning it around and seeing that he was a graduate of Harvard for his undergrad, and seminary training at Westminster, PhD in New Testament from Cambridge. And that he worked at this place called Phoenix Seminary, which I had never heard of before. But I think it's fitting in this 100th episode to talk to my friend and colleague, Dr. Wayne Grudem, who's the author of that systematic theology, just to talk today about how we can study theology for a lifetime. Dr. Grudem, welcome back to our podcast.

Wayne Grudem (02:18):

Thank you, Brian. Good to be here.

Brian Arnold (02:20):

So that's just what I want to do today. I want to just talk to you as you reflect and think on your lifetime of studying theology, how our listeners can take some cues from that and study theology for their life as well. So I would love to just hear more about your story. How did you come to love the study of theology?

Wayne Grudem (02:41):

Well, I think it started back when I was 13 or 14. I don't quite remember. My pastor at a Baptist church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin taught a Thursday afternoon class after school on Baptist beliefs. And I read this little book, chapter by chapter, and found out you could find out how we got the Bible, find out what the Trinity is. You could find out that God is omnipresent and omniscient and omnipotent and eternal, and it explained what those meant. And the author was doing that by putting together verses on those topics from all different parts of the Bible. And all of a sudden, I was amazed to think that you can put together teachings from different parts of the Bible and come to a conclusion about what you should believe. I didn't know that at the time, but that junior high school after school religious studies experience set the pattern for my life.

Brian Arnold (03:44):

And then from there...which I think is really great, I think it's a good reminder for people even listening that you never know what's going to be said to a kid in your children's ministry, or youth ministry, or high school, early college, that's going to hit them in such a profound way. I remember for me it was sitting there in church, probably same age, junior high, and hearing the pastor string together a bunch of Bible verses in his sermon, and just thinking—how does he know all those? Like this is a pretty big book. How is he doing that? And it just struck me. But that really was a flash until my senior year of high school. So what was it from there, then, that really kind of helped set that hook for you?

Wayne Grudem (04:28):

Well, I picked up from my parents a habit of daily Bible reading and prayer time. So when I went off to college, I already had established a habit of spending some time in God's word, the Bible, and some time in prayer every day. And I continued in that through the rest of my life.

Brian Arnold (04:48):

What age were you when you started that?

Wayne Grudem (04:52):

Brian, I don't remember.

Wayne Grudem (04:56):

Wow, that's a good question. It was early, probably sometime in junior high high school, but I don't remember. In college I majored in economics, and thought I was going to go to law school and then into politics. But I became a leader and eventually president of the Christian Fellowship Group at Harvard, and found that I was actually a sort of pastor to other students. And I loved it. Then I heard the president of Westminster Seminary, Edmund Clowney, he would talk, he said—if you think you're called into Bible teaching or preaching or being a pastor, try out teaching and see how it goes. So I went to the Sunday school superintendent at Park Street Church in Boston and said—you have any classes that I could teach? And he said—yes, fourth grade boys. So I taught 12 fourth grade boys, who were noisy and unruly and just a lot of fun. And I enjoyed doing that. Later, Margaret and I got married and we taught seventh grade boys and girls Sunday school class. But I loved explaining God's Word and applying it to people's lives. So I shifted my economics major, I was almost done, I completed the requirements and graduated, but went to seminary instead of to law school. I went to Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Got a tremendous education there.

Brian Arnold (06:25):

All right. Before we even go further into that, I've heard the story of the fourth grade boys before. Would you tell the last part of that? What happened 30 years later?

Wayne Grudem (06:34):

Yes. I was speaking in Clearwater, Florida at a church, series of meetings. After one of the evening talks, a navy chaplain came up to me and said—you maybe don't remember me, but I was in your fourth grade boys Sunday school class, and you prayed with me to receive Christ. There he was, a Navy chaplain. And I was just...I was deeply thankful to the Lord for that. And it was an indication of—we don't know the results of our ministry.

Brian Arnold (07:06):

That's right. Who knows how many other people would say that about your ministry, that you'll just not know this side of heaven. But just staying faithful to what you've been called to do. So you're at Westminster then, and which professors had the most profound impact on you? What were you starting to read, both theologically, that really started to spark your interest to become a theologian, but also even devotionally at that time? Were there things or people you were reading or listening to and preaching that were helping that even devotional aspect of your life?

Wayne Grudem (07:38):

Westminster gave out to prospective students a little book called The Hidden Life of Prayer by David McIntyre. And I have read through that book numerous times since then. It's just the story of the lives of people who had significant prayer ministries at various times in church history. I also...I've been brought up a Baptist in a sort of a dispensational background—Scofield Reference Bible teaching was good. But I was being challenged to think about reformed theology. And I remember thinking—these people who are espousing a reformed view of the sovereignty of God are also the people who are doing study on the way the Bible applies to mathematics and science and medicine and education and the study of history and business and all of life. And that was a strong argument in favor of a reformed view of the sovereignty of God over all things. You asked at the beginning, Brian, about what books have influenced me. I have a list on my website, I think there are 12 of them. The Bible more than any other book, far beyond any other book. Should I read the list?

Brian Arnold (09:05):

Yeah, I would love that.

Wayne Grudem (09:06):

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Louis Berkof, Systematic Theology. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. I read that in college and thought—I wish I could write that clearly and argue that precisely.

Brian Arnold (09:23):

It's a book that you still require your students to read today.

Wayne Grudem (09:26):

I do, Christianity and Liberalism.

Brian Arnold (09:28):

Which was written what, 1923?

Wayne Grudem (09:31):

1923, approximately.

Brian Arnold (09:32):

Okay. A hundred years ago this year. And when you read it, it feels like he was writing it yesterday. It's an amazing word.

Wayne Grudem (09:37):

Right. And students who read it all of a sudden realize why their liberal protestant church that they went to growing up didn't preach the gospel. Because it was just—Christianity is a manmade religion, rather than the Bible being the very words of God to us. So that was fourth, Machen—Christianity and Liberalism. Number five, Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith. My senior year at Harvard, I took a class in philosophy from the Department Chairman, Rogers Albridge. And it was about 20 students with a discussion on...a lot of time on Descartes, much of the time on whether there was a God and whether we could know that he existed. And I read Cornelius Van Til's Defense of the Faith while participating actively, eagerly, vigorously in the discussions with my fellow students. And I found Van Til extremely helpful, saying that the Christian faith comes as a whole system, not just one individual fact at a time, but it all works together. I mentioned already McIntyre, The Hidden Life of Prayer. John Murray, Principles of Conduct. Murray was a Westminster professor, and that's an ethics book. Which again, was an eyeopener to me that you can discover what the Bible says about all aspects of life and Christian ethics. John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. B.B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation <laugh>. That's a different book.

Brian Arnold (11:13):

How so?

Wayne Grudem (11:15):

There are no Bible verses in it.

Brian Arnold (11:17):

Oh, interesting.

Wayne Grudem (11:18):

But it's mixed in biblical content. And he distinguishes belief from non-belief in God, and then among belief in God, Trinitarian versus non-Trinitarian belief. And then Roman Catholic versus Protestant, Protestant liberal versus Protestant conservative, Protestant conservative versus reformed Protestant. And it's a well-reasoned book, The Plan of Salvation. It impacted me. In Warfield, the inspiration and authority of the Bible—that was my grounding in biblical inerrancy. And it was huge. I did go one year to Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, but left after the first year, because they had abandoned their commitment to inerrancy of Scripture. And Warfield was a big help to me in thinking through that question.

Brian Arnold (12:10):

Which if I could, if I can jump in again, just real fast. I don't think you mentioned this when you said you were at Park Street in Boston during your time at Harvard, but Harold Ockenga was the pastor there, and people like him and Carl F. H. Henry were influential in the founding of Fuller Seminary. And then George Marsden even has a book about how quickly Fuller kind of turned away from some of those founding principles and convictions like the inerrancy of Scripture. So yeah, you went there in the 1970s and already found that they were teaching things that were not in accord with the founding of the school. And then, yeah, transferred to Westminster. I think that's a fascinating part of the story in American Evangelicalism in the last 50 years. I think that's an important part of the story. So, sorry. And then the last two books?

Wayne Grudem (13:00):

Yeah. I could mention that Carl Henry, who was one of the original founding faculty members at Fuller, Carl and Helga Henry sat in our living room in Illinois after Sunday dinner, and they said—we still don't know how Fuller Seminary went wrong in the way it did.

Brian Arnold (13:18):


Wayne Grudem (13:19):

It's quite amazing. But it was a commitment to try to please the liberal, secular—I think secular—liberal academic institutions and denominations that led them to move away from inerrancy...well, anyway, that's another story. Last two books: Geerhardus Vos, V as in Victor, O-S, Biblical Theology. This was a introduction to biblical theology to me that was...every page was so packed with wonderful insights into Scripture. And then the last one I put on the list was John Wimber, Power Evangelism, because Margaret and I spent five years in the vineyard movement and had was ministering to us in our personal spiritual lives, but enabled us to minister to others as well. And we saw numerous, numerous immediate answers to prayer for various physical and emotional and situational needs in people's lives. So that's a list of 12. There are probably more.

Brian Arnold (14:21):

Well, and I think we all have those lists of books that have impacted us. And it really is even where you're at in your life, in your Christian walk, how much time you've been with the Lord, what you've read already, that I think in many ways sets those books of great importance in our life. Like I mentioned, John Piper's Desiring God was so impactful for me as a college student, and really set me on this trajectory. Your book, Systematic Theology. I always mention James Sire's Universe Next Door, which really helped me understand how to understand Christian worldview, and the questions that are asked, and to dismantle other worldviews like philosophical naturalism. And then I always put on J. I. Packer's Quest for Godliness, because I love how he did history, but it also is such an impactful book through the Puritans, who were just deeply devotional. So maybe I should fill mine out till 12, but there's four of them on my end. So then you went from Westminster, felt called by God to go to the next level, if you will, to pursue PhD work. You decided to go to Cambridge. What made you want to study New Testament, and what were some of those impactful things that God was doing in your life there?

Wayne Grudem (15:38):

Well, I ended up...I had some life experience in people connected with the charismatic movement, but I was also a graduate—or a student—at Westminster Seminary, which was strongly suspicious of miraculous gifts today. And so I ended up writing a PhD dissertation on one hot issue in that controversy, and that is the gift of prophecy. And when I got to Cambridge, you might imagine, I was wondering—would my faith be strong, or would I succumb to the more liberal tendencies in the university? First thing I ended up doing on the gift of prophecy in the New Testament was the background study on the nature and function of prophecy in the Old Testament. And lo and behold, what did I find? It claimed to be God's very words, again and again. And claimed to be absolutely truthful. And I documented that on a survey of the Old Testament teachings on prophecy. And my supervisor, professor, C. F. D. Moule, very famous—pronounced it Moule—New Testament professor, read what I wrote and said, "Well, I guess that is what it says, isn't it?" <laugh> And he asked me to present it to a group of PhD students. So my confidence in the truthfulness of Scripture, and the absolute authority of Scripture, deepened and was strengthened during my PhD study.

Wayne Grudem (17:09):

What else? Our oldest son was born there. We had wonderful friends and a great church in Cambridge. And then partway through my three years in Cambridge, I had an opportunity to teach for an Intervarsity group in Austria at Schloss Mittersill to teach a class on Christian ethics. And I found I liked the classroom, I liked teaching, I liked interacting with students. And so, when time came to finish my PhD work and get a job, I went to Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota for four years. And then Trinity Divinity School in Illinois for 20 years. And now here 22 years at Phoenix Seminary, which has been great.

Brian Arnold (18:00):

And I can imagine some people listening and thinking—well, you guys are professional theologians. And I use that word a lot lighter about me than you. And of course we study and we read these great books of theology, and that's kind of what God has called us into. But I'd love for you to take a few minutes, just talk to a listener who says—you know, I want to whet the appetite for theology. I want to start studying these things. I have no idea where to begin. I don't know what that path looks like. What encouragement would you give to them, and how can they start taking some steps to grow in this area?

Wayne Grudem (18:37):

Oh, boy. Enroll at Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (18:41):

There you go! <laugh>.

Wayne Grudem (18:45):

Well, that's one thing. And I have in my class that I teach on Tuesday afternoons here, I have one retired businessman in his early seventies, and another retired funeral director, actually, in his fifties or sixties. It's not too late. And they're just interacting with students, and they're providing additional wisdom and insight. I've also had a number of people, Brian, say that they're—just in reading my systematic theology, though it's 1600 pages—they're surprised by two things. One, it's easy to understand. And two, it helps their spiritual life. So I hope it would increase, encourage people's appetite for theological study.

Brian Arnold (19:41):

And I can testify to that. I know it's hard for you to speak of your own work in those ways, but that's the story of my life—is reading that, understanding theology in a way that took me deeper but was accessible. And it can be intimidating, looking at a 1600 page book. But for those listening, really, these self-contained chapters that you can just read a week at a time if you wanted to, and in a year or two years you've really studied the totality of theology from the Word of God all the way through end times, through eschatology. So it's a very readable resource. Yeah. What else would you point them to?

Wayne Grudem (20:19):

Just spending time in the Lord's presence. Every day I read...most days, some days I really rush, but most days I read sections from the Old Testament—usually a chapter—and then a chapter from the New Testament. And I have a notebook of things I pray for myself, my family, my relatives, my friends, my church activities, seminary, et cetera. But then the most joyful time is just time when I spend, not reading another verse, not saying another prayer, but just resting in the Lord's presence and enjoying his presence with me. It's during those times that a lot of problems in life, the answer appears clear all of a sudden, or the Lord puts on my mind something new that I hadn't been thinking about that I could undertake as a project, or many other things. But just resting in the Lord's presence and knowing God personally is what the Christian life is all about. And if we neglect that, everything else goes awry eventually.

Brian Arnold (21:40):

You, I believe, have your students read...I can't remember, is it Helmut Thielicke?

Wayne Grudem (21:50):

A Little Exercise for Young Theologians.

Brian Arnold (21:51):

That's right. That's right. Which is a helpful place to start—but a lot of these same kinds of ideas, if I recall—that we can't let our desire to study theology outpace our desire to be with the Lord. And I think a lot of people get concerned about that. That one of the reasons why they don't want to study theology is they feel like they'll lose that devotional aspect. But what I've seen in your life, even, is the complete opposite, is theology really serves to fuel that devotional aspects of your life and your desire to be in the Lord's presence. And you're doing it with a fuller understanding of who he is, which can only help in those moments.

Wayne Grudem (22:31):

I think so, as long as we're believing in the Bible and believing things that are true about God. And that's what the Bible teaches us, of course.

Brian Arnold (22:39):

Of course. And for those listening, I'll follow up on your plug. If you want to go deeper into the things of God, and you're here in Phoenix—or you're somewhere else—whether through coming to Phoenix Seminary or joining us online, it's a great place to study with an incredible faculty who love the Lord, believe his Word, totally truthful, inherent, inspired, infallible, and love the disciplines of history and languages and theology to really help give that foundation of biblical truth for a lifetime. We talk about studying for a lifetime of faithful ministry, and that doesn't just mean people who are in vocational ministry. It means all those who are called to serve the Lord in whatever capacity that they're in. And I appreciate your faithfulness of theological education for 40 plus years, seeing as God's called you there in your writing ministry that has really impacted this generation.

Brian Arnold (23:36):

I like to say that...kind of what John Piper preached into existence, even through Passion: One Day Live, and what he's been able to do in awakening in many ways. But you've been the theologian of this generation, and I've benefited from that. And just want to thank you for the impact that you've had in my life. And I know a lot of the other guys I know who came to study theology with me during my time in seminary were there in large measure because of reading your systematic theology. So thank you for giving your life to studying theology so that we could study theology as well.

Wayne Grudem (24:11):

Well, thank you, Brian. I'm thankful that the Lord has allowed me to have some positive impact on the Church, so I'm thankful for that. And I'm now at 75 just concerned that I don't make any mistake and adopt some wrongful teaching.

Brian Arnold (24:32):

Yeah, well...

Wayne Grudem (24:33):

In the last years of my life. I've seen people not quite finish well, and I want to finish well.

Brian Arnold (24:40):

Well, we can pray to that end. And I have every confidence that you will. Well, thank you Dr. Grudem, for being with us today. And I just want to say, as we close this season of Faith Seeking Understanding Podcast, we want to first thank you for being a faithful listener. We sincerely hope you've been encouraged and helped in your understanding of the Christian faith! Second, we hope you'll stay connected with us. Keep your ears open for future projects, and you can connect with us by subscribing at Again, that link is Thanks for listening.

Outro (25:17):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at

What is Paul's Vision for the Christian Life? Dr. Jarvis Williams

Guest: Dr. Jarvis Williams | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Williams about Paul’s vision for the Christian life. Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Jarvis Williams holds a PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he has taught since 2013. He is the author of several books, including Christ Redeemed ‘Us’ From the Curse of the Law: A Jewish Martyrological Reading of Galatians 3:13 (T & T Clark, 2021), Galatians, in the New Covenant Commentary Series (Cascade Books, 2020), Christ Died for Our Sins: Representation and Substitution in Romans and Their Jewish Martyrological Background (Pickwick Publications, 2015), Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God (Baker Academic, 2021), and The Spirit, Ethics, and Eternal Life: Paul’s Vision for the Christian Life in Galatians (IVP Academic, 2023).

Stay connected with us! Keep your ears open on this channel for future projects from Phoenix Seminary and connect with us by subscribing to

Subscribe on:

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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:15):

The story of Paul's conversion is one of the best stories in Scripture. Paul grew up as a Jew and rose up through the ranks. And in Philippians three, he actually bragged about this upbringing. He said, "If anyone thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless." Paul believed he was doing service for God by killing blasphemous Christians. That is, until Acts nine. We read that Paul was breathing threats and murder against the church, and he was on his way to kill Christians when he met the risen Lord Jesus Christ. There, on the road to Damascus, a blinding light encircled him, and he saw the Lord. And his life was never the same.

Brian Arnold (01:03):

He was now part of the Christian faith that he once sought to destroy. And then Paul got busy making much of Jesus, preaching all around the Mediterranean and planting churches. Much of the New Testament is composed of his letters that he sent to pastors and churches in his absence. His heartbeat for salvation and the Christian life saturated his writings. If we want to know what it is to live as a Christian, we must understand Paul and his letters. And to discuss Paul's vision of the Christian life, we have with us today, Dr. Jarvis Williams. Dr. Williams has taught at Southern Seminary since 2013, and he's published numerous books, including Christ Redeemed 'Us' from the Curse of the Law: A Jewish Martyrological reading of Galatians 3:13. He's written commentaries on Galatians and Romans. He wrote a book called Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God. And for the topic of our conversation today, he wrote The Spirit, Ethics, and Eternal Life: Paul's Vision for the Christian Life in Galatians. Dr. Williams, welcome to the podcast.

Jarvis Williams (02:01):

Thank you for having me, Dr. Arnold.

Brian Arnold (02:03):

So I always ask our guests one big question, and today the question is—what is Paul's vision of the Christian life? And I think a lot of Christians kind of focus on the front side of salvation, without thinking much about our forward progress in the Christian life. And I wanted to talk today kind of about the holistic approach, everything from salvation through glorification, kind of what Paul lays out in Romans 8:29 through 30—what we call the golden chain of salvation. And that's a lot to tackle. But maybe with your expertise on Romans and Galatians in particular, you could help lay out that vision of Paul—all the way from what does it mean to be saved, to how do we live out that Christian life?

Jarvis Williams (02:39):

Hmm. Yeah. As you know, I just published a book on The Spirit, Ethics, and Eternal Life in Galatians with the subtitle, Paul's Vision for the Christian Life. And if we're thinking about Galatians as a primary text to answer that question, I think Paul thinks of the Christian life in a threefold way. I think we can basically summarize it—that God saved...God has worked in Jesus Christ, through his cross and his resurrection, to make us right with himself by faith. So justification by faith is an example of that. He's also worked horizontally through Christ. To make us right with one another. And part of that horizontal redemption that we have in Christ is the transformational power of the Spirit. So that in Christ Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, I can walk in the Spirit and by no means fulfill the lusts of the flesh. And live, of course, rightly related to God by faith in Christ, but also live rightly related to my fellow man and my fellow Christian brother or sister in Christ, in the context of the church, and in the context of society.

Jarvis Williams (03:38):

And then also there's a cosmic piece to this Christian life, that is that God in Christ has acted in order to renew and restore the entire creation. So right now, by faith in Jesus, we have tasted that not yet aspect of this cosmic redemption yet to come. But the already aspect of the cosmic redemption has been realized by the endowing presence and power of the Spirit. So when we think about the Christian life, it is not only about how my sins can be forgiven—although it certainly is about that—but it's also about how, holistically, I can live a life pleasing to God in this current age as we anticipate the age to come and the kingdom of God.

Brian Arnold (04:16):

So if we can't kind of unwind even some of those pieces, one of the key themes in Pauline theology seems to be his view of the law. So he's coming up out of Judaism, and it seems like he's wrestling through—what use is the law for Christians? How do we think through that? And then what does justification mean in light of his view of the law? Maybe we can start there.

Jarvis Williams (04:40):

Yeah. I mean, if you look at the argument in Galatians, I mean, he's making a pretty precise argument trying to compel these Galatians not to turn away from his gospel and to embrace works of law. So it seems to me, in my view at least, the opponents in Galatia are likely Jewish people who profess to be believers, but I don't think Paul thinks they are believers. And they've entered into these Galatian churches, and they're preaching this other gospel which is focused on Torah works. I think some of the things they're emphasizing are likely circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and food laws. But Paul makes the point that the Galatians must keep the entire law perfectly—toward the end of chapter five—if, in fact, they're trusting in the law. But, of course, he makes the argument in chapter two, verse 16 that the law is not the badge or the mark of the people of God. And the law is not the means by which sinners become right with God. But you're justified—2:16—by faith in Christ.

Jarvis Williams (05:34):

He says that three times—"justified by faith in Christ, apart from the works of the law." So in Galatians Paul doesn't speak very positively about the law, except for when he talks about the law serving as a temporary guardian until Christ would come, so that we will be justified by faith in Christ. But in Galatians he's particularly emphasizing that the Galatians have everything they need to live a life pleasing to God, because they have believed his gospel. And his gospel also includes the transformational power of the Spirit, because Jesus—he died on the cross, he resurrected from the dead. And because of his cross and resurrection, yes, we have our sins forgiven. Yes, we're justified by faith in Christ. But Galatians, chapter three, verse 13 and verse 14 tell us that we also receive the Spirit, which is the blessing of Abraham. So the Galatians don't need the law of Moses to live a life pleasing to God, because they have the transformational power of the Spirit.

Jarvis Williams (06:30):

But if you look elsewhere in Paul's writing, such as in the pastoral epistles, Paul makes the point that the law is good if you use it lawfully. But the law is not a mark of the people of God. And it's not the the means by which the people of God live a life pleasing to God. But rather, the gospel, and the Spirit, and faith are those things that mark us off as God's people. And the Spirit empowers us and indwells us, so that we can live a life pleasing to God. Because of what Christ has done for us in his cross, and in his resurrection. And our union with him by faith.

Brian Arnold (07:00):

Man, what a articulate, concise description of a Pauline view of salvation. That is a tour de force. And thinking through...I love those levels of kind of the vertical, the horizontal, the cosmic relationships. Now Galatians has been a battleground epistle in terms of this view of Pauline soteriology. I'm thinking particularly something like the New Perspective on Paul, and I don't want to take us too far outfield here. But how does that relate, especially when you're thinking of the horizontal relationship? Because it does seem like one of the things the New Perspective camp has really tried to emphasize is some of those horizontal relationship aspects of our justification by faith. So how do we think through those pieces? And, you know, I know some of our listeners that's probably brand new, thinking—but what is the New Perspective on Paul? So I'm going to ask you to do the impossible. If you could just <laugh> define that pretty quickly, and then explain how that goes through those three issues you mentioned on justification.

Jarvis Williams (07:54):

As you know, I mean, the New Perspective is not monolithic. It's very complex. And I think one thing that the New Perspective is saying is that the traditional way of understanding justification, as articulated by Luther, for example, they challenge that way of understanding it. So just to clarify my view, and then to set it in conversation with a New Perspective understanding of justification. So I think justification is a forensic declaration, a forensic verdict, that God announces on our behalf, because of Jesus' penal, substitutionary atonement for our sins, and his resurrection from the dead. So in Christ Jesus, I have Christ's righteousness, his perfect righteousness, imputed to my account, transferred to my account by faith. And that righteousness becomes mine. But it's not something that is inherent within me. It is a status of righteousness. It's not transformative righteousness. It's a forensic declaration, whereby God counts me as righteous in Christ, so that there's no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Jarvis Williams (08:57):

So that's a vertical declaration that God gives me, based on what Christ has done for me. But when Paul talks about salvation, although justification is a piece of his salvation, justification is not the only aspect of Paul's salvation. So when I talk about salvation in Paul being vertical, horizontal, and cosmic, I don't mean justification is vertical, horizontal, and cosmic. I mean salvation is. So when I say salvation, I mean simply—God's saving action in Christ. And so I think of that in a threefold way, that is, vertical—justification by faith, horizontal—God reconciles us with one another and he gives us the Spirit, and then cosmic, God is also delivering the universe from its enslavement to sin. But justification in Paul is only forensic. It is not transformative. Whereas, the indwelling power of the Spirit is, in fact, transforming. So I think what I'm saying would differ with certain readings in the New Perspective, as it relates specifically to justification.

Jarvis Williams (09:54):

So that I see justification as a soteriological category that talks about imputation, and is connected to my union with Christ by faith, and is connected to penal substitution, and these sorts of theological categories. Whereas, certain advocates within the New Perspective will see the idea of justification being, yes, forensic, but they would see it more as this idea of God fulfilling his faithfulness to the covenant, always doing what he has always promised to do, which is to fulfill his promises to Abraham, in Abraham, through Abraham, and for the world. And they don't emphasize, as I like to say, the entry language aspect of justification, namely that it's a soteriological category. But although some would not like this sort of distinction, I think some New Perspective people would identify justification as an ecclesiological category, whereby God is simply saying—who are the people of God.

Jarvis Williams (10:45):

So one quick text to try to bring try to land this very complex plane. So in Galatians chapter two, verses 11-14, there's a Jew/Gentile issue happening there. And Peter's in Antioch, and he's having table fellowship with the Gentiles. But when some from James shows up, Peter pulls back. And Paul says, "Peter, look," basically, "What are you doing? You're not walking in a straightforward manner in the truth of the gospel." And he emphasizes to Peter that—Peter, there's no distinction between Jew or Gentile in Christ. Yes, there are Jews, and yes, there are Gentiles in Christ. But Jews and Gentiles, Peter, are in fact justified the same way. So when you get justification mentioned in Galatians for the first time, it's in 2:16—in the context of this table fellowship issue. In my view, when Paul says, "we're justified by faith in Christ" in 2:16, he's giving Peter the theological reason why his behavior toward Gentiles is wrong—namely, because Jews and Gentiles, justified by faith in Christ, have Christ's righteousness counted to our account by faith, have Christ's righteousness imputed to our account by faith.

Jarvis Williams (11:44):

Whereas a New Perspective reading would say that the idea in 2:16 has nothing to do with the imputation of Christ's righteousness. They would say it has nothing to do with a status of righteousness reckoned to our account on the basis of faith. But it rather is a declaration about who can have table fellowship together. Whereas I'm saying it's a declaration, or an announcement, that God has made us not guilty. There's no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because of this redemptive work of God in Christ, by means of his wrath-bearing death and his victorious resurrection from the dead. I know that answer was way too long, but hopefully it is, at very least, clear for your listeners.

Brian Arnold (12:22):

Perfect. Oh, I love it. And Luther would be so proud of his disciple right now. <laugh> I mean this is the gospel that lights Europe on fire in the Reformation, and that transforms lives today. I thought you laid that out so beautifully. And to recognize this is the vertical aspect of it. And now, if we can shift even to that secondary—I don't know if I want to call it secondary, right, salvation bound up in all these pieces—but justification by faith, handling the vertical relationship with God. But then there's the life by the Spirit that you mentioned. And one of the things I love about the book of Galatians is Galatians five, thinking about this new life that we have, with this union in Christ now lived out through the Holy Spirit who's indwelt inside of us. What does that mean for Paul? That we now live by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit?

Jarvis Williams (13:10):

Yeah. Scholars have pointed out in more recent scholarship that Galatians 5:13—6:10 is an integral part of his argument. It seems to me, when you get to chapter 3:2, from 3:2 to 6:10, that's the central section of the letter. And Paul begins 3:2 with this question—"I only want to ask one thing of you: how did you receive the Spirit?" And he repeats that question on numerous occasions. It seems to me that one of the concerns Paul has is that these Galatians do not have the Spirit, because some of them are contemplating to turn from his gospel. And one point he wants to emphasize, I think, when you get to the central section of the letter, is that if they walk away from his gospel and embrace the law of Moses, they are proving that they have never been justified by faith in Christ. Because those were justified by faith in Christ—they don't seek justification by means of Torah.

Jarvis Williams (13:59):

And furthermore, if they walk away from his gospel, they're also proving that they have never received the transformational power of the Spirit, because justified people walk in the Spirit. If you're pursuing justification by means of Torah, as opposed to by means of Christ, you do not have the Spirit. So when you get to Galatians chapter five, verse 16, he tells them that they have everything they need in Christ to live a life pleasing to God. Not a perfect life pleasing to God, but a faithful life pleasing to God. And so he says in 5:16 that if you walk in the Spirit, you will by no means gratify the lusts of the flesh. I think for Paul, he very well understands that believers have genuine battles with sin. We have battles with the flesh.

Jarvis Williams (14:43):

We struggle with different types of things in our Christian experience. But what he's emphasizing in Galatians is that because of God's saving action in Christ, because God offered Jesus Christ to die for our sins and God raised him from the dead, and he's given us the Spirit who indwells our hearts, and he cries out, "Abba, Father"—every single believer has the supernatural moral capacity enabled by the Spirit to live a victorious Christian life in their battle against sin. Now again, that doesn't mean there are no struggles. It doesn't mean that we do that perfectly. But it does mean we can live a consistent pattern of gospel faithfulness, because the Spirit has enabled us, and freed our will to be compelled to obey God as we are enabled by the Spirit. So, for example, we can then have—because the Spirit produces in us—we can have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, compassion, and self-control; against such things there is no law.

Jarvis Williams (15:45):

We no longer have to be slaves to idolatry, or sorcery, or enmities, or strife, or jealousy, or outbursts of anger, or selfish ambitions, or factions, or divisions, or envies, or drunkennesses, or things like these. We can instead live a life pleasing to God, because God saved us for this purpose. Just to bring Ephesians in for a moment, Paul says this in Ephesians 2:1-10—we were dead in trespasses and sins, but then God made us alive together with Christ. And in 2:10 he talks about God...part of that salvation is that God is enabling us to live in accordance with the good works for which he has prepared for us. So one thing I think Paul wants us to learn from Galatians is that believers do not have to live a defeatist Christian life where we are subject to sin's power, because we are liberated from sin's power, Galatians 1:4. We're redeemed from the curse of law, Galatians 3:13, and we have the transformational power of the Spirit.

Brian Arnold (16:42):

Wow. Absolutely. I mean, I love that. I mean—you're preaching, I'm turning the pages. Man, that is powerful, to think through how the Spirit...I love what you said—we don't have to live the defeatist life. As you were saying that, it just triggered in my mind how many Christians live like they're living the defeatist Christian life. The "woe is me" and trapped in patterns of sin and unable to progress. And so inward focused, navel-gazing that they're not progressing in godliness. And I think part of that shift too, if I can bring this in and get your thoughts on it, is we live in a time that is so fearful of legalism, that people don't want to walk in holiness. Or there's not...if they're encouraged to walk in holiness, they're being labeled as legalists. Do you see that as a challenge? And I just want to say to those people—no, walk by the Spirit! I mean, there is a law of Christ. There is a Christian ethic, and Paul wants us to live in light of that, as you said, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Jarvis Williams (17:45):

That's a very good word. I do think for those of us who are reformed—I'm thoroughly reformed in my understanding of salvation—I think we get a little anxious when we talk about obedience at times. And I don't quite understand why that is, because Luther cared about obedience. Calvin cared about obedience. And I don't know if it is because of cultural context that we're living in, or what. But God's saving action in Christ redeems us holistically, so that he has liberated us from the power of sin and death. And an aspect of that liberation is that yes, we get future resurrection bodies when Jesus returns at the end of the age, but also another, the already aspect of that, is that we have the Spirit of God living in our hearts, and we have eternal life right now.

Jarvis Williams (18:33):

And that life is manifested by means of a pursuit of living in step with the Spirit. So for Paul, the concept of Christian ethics, or pursuing an ethical life, or living in accordance with the standard of morality that the Spirit outlines for us—that's not legalism. That's just good old-fashioned Christian obedience, for which Jesus also redeemed us to live. But I do think you're right. I do think there are people who, for whatever reason, get anxious when you talk about obedience. And I think some of that might be because of maybe the cultural moment we're in, or also because of maybe a weak conscience, and they're aware of the reality of their own sin. But what I want to say is that if your conscience is weak, all the more reason to embrace what God has done for you in Christ, which is a liberation of your will by the power of the Spirit, so that you can live a life pleasing to him that Jesus has purchased for you by his death and resurrection. So it's I would exhort Christians to consider—it's not up to us to live the ethical life. It's God in us, right? "The life I now live," Paul says, "I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." And I think more and more Christians need to tap into that reality. And I include myself in this as well, because I think, by default, I struggle with a legalistic mindset.

Brian Arnold (19:54):

Well, yeah. Guilty as well. And that's actually the text, you just quoted Second Corinthians five, and that's the text I preached for Easter this past week. And then combined it even here to Galatians 5:24—that belonging to Christ means we're crucifying the flesh with its passions and its desires. How do we do that? The Spirit indwelling inside of us. How do we have the Spirit indwelling inside of us? We've come by repentance and faith to justification that God gives to make us right with Him. As you mentioned, all of his obedience transferred to our account. Not that we are the ones who have that righteousness, but it's been counted, it's been reckoned, considered ours. This is just the good old gospel, once for all delivered to the saints. So another...I'm going to put you on the spot one more time for a quick answer.

Brian Arnold (20:37):

Time is kind of winding down. Romans seven, I've seen a lot of times paired with Galatians five, in terms of the life of the believer. Where Paul says, "Why I do the things I don't want to do?" And that's been a topic of contention for New Testament scholars. How do you see Romans seven playing in? Because I do see Christians quickly go to that text, of saying—well, I would love to be walking in the Spirit, but here I am, constantly doing things I don't want to do. How do you understand Romans chapter seven?

Jarvis Williams (21:04):

Yeah, that's a very good question. So I take Romans seven to be part of a section that starts back in Romans 5:12. I do take 5-8 as one section as a whole, but I think 5:12 up to seven hanging together as well, in terms of the argument. So chapter five, Paul tells us that in Adam, because of Adam's transgression, we all sin, and we all are conceived in sin. And we also participate in sin, because we are conceived in sin. But in Christ Jesus, Christ has reversed Adam's curse for us. And so where Adam's transgression was triumphing, Christ conquered and triumphs super abundantly over Adam's transgression. And so then when you get to chapter six, Paul makes the point that we're liberated and freed from the power of sin, and that we can live a life of righteousness pleasing to God.

Jarvis Williams (21:51):

Because sin no longer rules over us as an evil tyrant. And then when you get to chapter seven, I think Paul is making the point that the law does not lead to life, but Christ does. And so when Paul is using this language of, "what I do, I don't want to do, what I don't want to do, I do, but not me, but sin dwelling in me," I think he's talking about Paul and the Jew in Adam, apart from faith in Christ, and all people in Adam, apart from faith in Christ. That's our predicament. That is, we are enslaved to the law, enslaved to the power of sin. The law doesn't liberate us, the law doesn't help us. But Christ Jesus—toward the end, he says in Roman 7—does. And of course, a challenge to my reading is that Paul uses the first person singular "I," and he talks sounds like he's making an autobiographical statement.

Jarvis Williams (22:41):

But for me, I think a key piece to the argument that I'm trying to make is in Roman seven, Paul says that he isn't—I'm paraphrasing him—but he basically says, I'm enslaved to the power of sin in Roman seven. But that's the opposite point he makes in Roman six. He says—we're not enslaved to the power of sin. So then I read Romans 5:12 up to seven, toward the end, together. And I think what Paul is saying in Romans seven is that Saul of Tarus, in Adam, and all Jews, in Adam, apart from faith in Christ—that we are all enslaved to sin's power. But in Christ—Romans six—we've been liberated, and there's no condemnation—8:1—for those who are in Christ Jesus. So practically this raises questions about—what about the Christian's battle and struggle with sin?

Jarvis Williams (23:30):

Well, my point is that, yes, Christians battle and we struggle with sin. But that's not the point, I don't think, Paul is making in Romans seven. I think that could be a point that you find in Galatians five, where you have the flesh and Spirit that are waging war against each other, and they have nothing in common. And sometimes Christians, they are subdued by the attractiveness of the flesh—Galatians chapter five—and Paul's calling us away from that, to live in step with the Spirit. Because that's the realm into which we've been delivered, and we've been delivered from the realm of the flesh. Whereas in Romans chapter seven, he seems be making a point about the fact that in Christ Jesus, Jews and Gentiles have liberation from sin, and the law, and the power of sin, and how sin uses the law to condemn us. But he's not talking, I don't think, about the Christian's battle with sin in Romans seven. That's not my reading of the text. But I realize, you know, I could be wrong. And the evidence is evenly matched, quite frankly. It could go out either way. But at this point, that's how I land in my interpretation.

Brian Arnold (24:29):

Yeah, it is. And I actually wrote a PhD paper on that for Tom Schreiner, and actually took the other position. But I think you are convincing me that your position is a better reading of that text, and that Galatians five still talks about that sin/flesh or the Spirit/flesh struggle. Well, unfortunately, we are out of time, but I do want to mention your book again, The Spirit, Ethics and Eternal Life: Paul's Vision for the Christian Life in Galatians. Hopefully this conversation has given our listeners...whet their appetite for reading deeper into your book. And I'm just sorry that I finished my PhD in 2013, it's when you came to teach at Southern. I wish I'd have had you as a professor during my MDiv days. I appreciate how you put together the gospel there so clearly for us and for those listening. And I appreciate you taking the time to be with us today.

Outro (25:17):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at

What is Sin? Dr. Cornelius "Neal" Plantinga

Guest: Dr. Cornelius “Neal” Plantinga | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Plantinga about sin. Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Neal Plantinga holds a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and served as the president of Calvin Seminary from 2002-2011. Dr. Plantinga is the author of several books, including Engaging God’s Word: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Eerdmans, 2002), Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists (Eerdmans, 2013), and Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Eerdmans, 1996).

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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:17):

We live in a world of brokenness. We constantly hear horrific things. School shootings are becoming all too common. We hear of wars and rumors of wars in Russia and with China. We grow fatigued of hearing about divorces and fractured relationships. We're stunned to know that over 60 million babies have been killed through abortion. Add to this catastrophic natural disasters. Tsunamis take out hundreds of thousands of lives and cause nuclear plants to fail, risking many more. Earthquakes in Turkey cost tens of thousands of lives. Hurricane force winds and waves beat against levees until they fail. We live in a world of absolute destruction, and we often feel like things just aren't right. The world around us gropes for answers. Sadly, they often miss the point. Perpetrators are often called victims. Natural disasters are entirely the result of carbon emissions, even though ancient writings talk about floods and droughts.

Brian Arnold (01:14):

The truth is, all of these problems, natural and moral, come down to sin. We are sinners living in a fallen world, and things will go from bad to worse, as Paul tells Timothy. We need a robust view of sin if we're going to understand ourselves, our world, and our hope that is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ. Well, with us today to talk about sin is Dr. Neal Plantinga. Dr. Plantinga earned his PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary, and served as president of Calvin Seminary from 2002 to 2011, as well as several stints in pastoral ministry. Dr. Plantinga is the author of numerous books, including Engaging God's Word: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living, Reading for Preaching—which I must say, I found very delightful—and, for our topic of conversation today, Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Dr. Plantinga, welcome to the podcast.

Neal Plantinga (02:08):

My pleasure.

Brian Arnold (02:10):

So I always ask our guests one big question, and today the question is pretty simple, and yet very complex—what is sin? And let's just kind of go straight at it. How do you define sin?

Neal Plantinga (02:21):

Lots of ways to define it, but a simple biblical definition would be—any thought, word, or deed that displeases God.

Brian Arnold (02:34):

And so that, obviously, yes, then encompasses so many different things. I love the basic kind of definition. It's very similar to the one I use with my kids, to get them to understand the significance of sin, and disobedience, and rebellion against God as fallen creatures. And that we not only sin just because we sin, but we're sinners, and we sin because we're sinners. So you wrote this book, Not the Way It's Supposed to Be, and if I recall, you talk about bringing this doctrine out of the moth balls of kind of the theological closet. How, or why, rather, do you think sin has been relegated to kind of a peripheral thing in the churches?

Neal Plantinga (03:19):

That's a sad story of 20th century Christianity, that the only reality that we have to understand, in order to understand grace, is sin. And yet lots of churches have put the pause on this topic, have refused to talk about it much, or talk about it only superficially. One of the reasons, I think, is that a lot of American Christianity is a little bit in bondage to the desire to add people to the congregation, to make many more seekers join the church. And if you have sin on the agenda, it can sound discouraging or depressing. So a lot of preachers have really soft pedaled it. And I think that's a mistake.

Brian Arnold (04:16):

And it does seem like if we want to be very some overgeneralization, a lot of the early 20th century to the mid 20th century, there was a lot of theological liberalism, which relegated sin to a different level, because people didn't want to talk about man's sin and God's wrath. And then, yeah, you get the seeker-sensitive movement of the eighties and nineties, in particular, which is—let's attract people into the church by reminding them that there's a God out there who loves them. And, of course, that's not a bad thing. But it misunderstands the character of God, and man's fundamental problem and plight, which is sin. So—

Neal Plantinga (04:59):

One of the most spectacular things about God is that God loves us while we are still sinners. In other words, that God is a God of grace. And you can't make any sense of grace unless you have a robust view of sin.

Brian Arnold (05:16):

So maybe let's step back to the very beginning of the story. And we see, just two or three pages into the Bible, we are met with human sinfulness. And then the whole rest of the Bible really is God's rescue mission, of coming—and you just, you know, quoted Romans 5:8, that God demonstrates his love for us, and that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. So the Bible does not try to push sin under the rug. It actually tries to expose it, in order to fix it. So how do you kind of help people in the church, and your time in theological education, have that more robust view of sin? Even thinking maybe biblical theology, and then also systematic theology?

Neal Plantinga (06:02):

If people are students of the Bible, if they have an appetite for Scripture, I can talk with them simply about what the Bible says. And the Bible is clear about sin. It's what disturbs the way it's supposed to be. It's what disturbs God's plan for human flourishing. And we are culpable for it. It displeases God because it's a spoiler. It wrecks God's good creation, and it wrecks even God's approach to us in grace. If people are not students of the Bible, or don't take Scripture seriously, then I would talk to them about the fact that you'd have to be numb not to notice that there are terrible things wrong in the world, and that people are often to blame for the things that are wrong. Even people who superficially confess a no-fault morality, if somebody cheats them or lies to them, they will be indignant—which shows that they themselves have a concept of sin.

Brian Arnold (07:14):

And I love that that's a universal reality. Even going back to the book of Romans—"all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We could even say, "all have sinned and know that they have sinned." They recognize this in themselves. And, of course, as you mentioned, in interactions with other people, when they themselves have been wronged, it stirs up that justice that God has put inside of us. Which should actually lead them to recognize—wait a minute, if I get upset when somebody sins against me, and God is morally perfect, how must he feel when I have sinned against him as well?

Neal Plantinga (07:51):

Yeah. Well, I think that every Christian needs a concept of what it means to grieve God. We can offend God, we can be scandalous toward God, we can ignore God. We can trespass against God's law, or come short of God's law. But because God loves us, when we sin, we grieve God. We make God wounded. And I think that is a personal angle on sinning that I think is healthy.

Brian Arnold (08:31):

Yeah, I'd love to hear you even expand more on that, because I think that's probably foreign to a lot of people who might even be listening.

Neal Plantinga (08:41):

You know, early on in Scripture, we read that God repented of having created at all. Now that needs a good commentary, to say that God repented of having created at all, but it tells us at least that God is deeply offended and gravely disappointed with how the perfect world he created has deteriorated and fallen victim to sin and corruption. So God has a capacity for being grieved, for being wounded, for being gravely disappointed in people he loves. And I think, for Christians who love God, the knowledge that God is grieved by our sinfulness is a helpful governor, a helpful break on our sin.

Brian Arnold (09:35):

Yeah. And I appreciate you using even the story of Noah. And I'll ask people, when I'm talking about that story, if they even have a category of a God who, because of human sinfulness, will save eight people on the ark and the rest will be drowned. You know, when we often tell the story of the ark, it's in kids' church, and there's this picture, you know, put up with giraffes' heads out the window, smiling, and Noah waving on the top with his wife and kids. But it's a tragic story.

Neal Plantinga (10:10):

It’s a desperate story

Brian Arnold (10:11):

And a seriousness of how God views sin. And then not to confront people with that in the church, or even in our evangelistic opportunities, is a dereliction of their greatest need for us to communicate to them.

Neal Plantinga (10:29):

I think preachers who won't preach about sin are committing homiletic malpractice.

Brian Arnold (10:34):

Absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, a lot of it is a reaction know, this is everybody's favorite person to dump on, on this question, but Jonathan Edwards—Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. And you think about this fire and brimstone preaching and things, but one—the Great Awakening happened. People saw their sinfulness and turned to God. And the second thing is—Jesus wasn't ashamed or embarrassed to talk about hell. I think that's where a lot of it comes from, Dr. Plantinga, is there is an embarrassment that people feel today, or just a level of uncomfortability, to say to people that their sins will lead them to hell, but that God has loved them so much he has paid the price to purchase them from that.

Neal Plantinga (11:20):

Well, I think that's entirely right. And that, when we think about what our Savior endured—I'm thinking this week, for example, and will preach on Sunday about Jesus being mocked, and how this is an assault on human dignity. Soldiers who isolate Jesus, who strip him, who put a fake scepter in his hand, and a painful fake crown on his head, and bow before him. These soldiers are committing a grave offense against the eternal Son of God. And they don't see it, and don't understand it, but it is nonetheless a huge offense. And I think in Matthew's account of it, in chapter 27, he says very tellingly that when the soldiers had quit mocking him, they led him away to crucify him. As if crucifixion is simply a way of finishing mockery off.

Brian Arnold (12:35):

Wow, that's powerful. Yeah, that's is the epitome of human sinfulness that those who were created by God put the Son of God to death.

Neal Plantinga (12:48):

Right. And so here we see that sin is not just anti-creation. It is anti-grace. Jesus Christ is God's gift to the world, to save the world. And here human beings are resisting their salvation and, in fact, attempting to cross him out. To make him of no effect. A great part of what's tragic about sin is not just that it spoils creation, but that it also resists grace.

Brian Arnold (13:23):

Absolutely it does. And it shows just how deep and pervasive the sin problem is in the human heart. You know, for those who who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, it is almost unthinkable that we would've stayed in our sins and not turned to him by grace. But for the one who is still living in sin, dead in their trespasses and sin, as Paul says in Ephesians chapter two—they're following the course of this world. They don't want the grace of God. They don't want God. They want to be their own masters of their own fate, and live life according to themselves, which is the cosmic treason. We were created to have relationship with God and follow the Lord, and his will, and his commands, in obedience. And yet we've turned, each one of us, like sheep and gone astray. Go ahead.

Neal Plantinga (14:12):

I think it's important to accent what you just said, in quoting Paul—that we are dead in our trespasses and sins. The grace of God to me is most impressive in that it requires a supernatural act to regenerate a dead human heart. It takes the power of the Holy Spirit to raise a dead human heart and to make it alive, to make it responsive, to make it aware of God, and to kindle love for God. So one of the standards of faith that in my denomination we adhere to is called the Canons of Dort. And in one of the places in the Canons it says that "God's regeneration of a dead heart is a miracle no less spectacular in power than creation or the resurrection from the dead." And I think that's something very much worth thinking about when we confess that, without the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Not just comatose, not just out to lunch, but dead.

Brian Arnold (15:33):

And for somebody who might be listening, yeah—Ephesians chapter two, one through 10, really lays this out. But the creation piece is Second Corinthians four, where in order for people to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, the same one who said, "let light shine out of darkness"—Genesis one—has to shine in our hearts. It is that significant, I agree with you, of a miracle to watch the dead come to life. But it is the overwhelming grace of God that allows it to happen, that purchased it, that paved the way in order for sin to be dealt with. If I may, I want to transition us just a little bit, and ask a question that I hear a lot of times come up, as it regards sin. And it is this idea coming from James chapter two—that all sin is kind of equal in the sight of God. And yet in Scripture we have even different words used for sin, whether it's just "sin," or "trespasses," or "abomination." How do we think about even various levels, if I can use that word, or intensities of sin?

Neal Plantinga (16:42):

It's an important question. And the answer to it is, I think, not going to be entirely easy. But here's one thing to say—all sin is equally wrong. So a murder is wrong, but hatred of a person is wrong. They may not be equally grievous in the consequences that each generates, but they are both wrong. So I would say that all sin is equally wrong, but not all sin is equally bad. There are relatively minor sins, and there are truly grave sins. And one way of measuring the difference is whether Scripture is explicit in prohibiting them. And also in how grave their consequences are.

Brian Arnold (17:46):

I think that is a good way to look at it, even—think about the Old Testament law. Some things came with very kind of minor punishments, but that doesn't mean you weren't disobeying the Lord. And that didn't mean that it wasn't pretty significant. But at the same time, not everything called for the death penalty, let's say. And even in our current penal system, we would say the same thing. There are laws that have different consequences to them, but once you break the law, you're a law breaker, which I think is James's point, right? Is once you've stumbled at any point and broken the law, you are guilty of sin. You know, even with Adam and Eve—it may seem trivial to some people that God would cast them away from the garden because they ate a piece of fruit. But the reality was—it was a heart turn from God, turn towards self, and wanting to follow their own sinful appetites. It was way bigger than just the act of what they were doing. It was the heart behind what they were doing.

Neal Plantinga (18:41):

I think it's important, not only to say that, Brian, but also to add that even at the beginning when Adam and Eve are guilty, and they are threadbare, and they are cold, and they are wretched, and they are naked, and they know they're naked, God sews for them skins to warm them in a world grown chilly from their own sin. This is an amazing first instance of the grace of God. They should not have needed something to warm them, and yet they do. And God provides something much better than their own pathetic attempts to cover up.

Brian Arnold (19:30):

And I don't know if you'd agree with this, but I actually see that as one of the first examples of imputation—of the one who did not need to die—which was the animal dying in the stead of the sinners—and yet they are clothed with the garments of the one who died, as a symbol of what Christ's righteousness will do for us, as it covers us. And he's imputed us with his righteousness.

Neal Plantinga (19:57):

I think that's a very suggestive idea.

Brian Arnold (19:59):

Yeah. Not everybody agrees with me, but I've always seen that in that picture. And then, even the recognition that we're clothed in heaven, you know, it's something I press on people is—if Adam and Eve were naked in the garden, why are we not naked in heaven? And I think a lot of it is—just as they were covered in the garment, we are going to be covered in these white robes to signify we're not in heaven on our own. We're only there because Jesus Christ has paid the penalty of our sin. Which before the fall, they did not need, right? And then after the fall, of course, that's what they need. But it does...sin ties together the entire narrative of the Bible from beginning to end, of no need for Christ as sacrifice for us until sin enters. And then the whole rest of the story is Christ coming for us to die in our stead. What a beautiful thing. I mean, we're recording this just before Easter, and excited for the celebrations that will come as we reflect on the need for Christ to come and die. And how grateful I am that he conquered sin in his death, and conquered death in his resurrection.

Neal Plantinga (21:08):

The atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Brian Arnold (21:11):

Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Dr. Plantinga, what resources would you recommend for our listeners on the topic of sin? This could be everything from just a theological work on this to very practical things about fighting sin.

Neal Plantinga (21:27):

Yeah. I think every Christian who has a little education—and actually, if you have only some education, you can do it too. Every Christian ought to read Saint Augustine's Confessions. It's a confession of sin. It's a confession of faith. It tells you about the soul of one of our faith's greatest thinkers and theologians. And then I never get tired of suggesting that people read—and reread—C.S. Lewis. He saw deeply into the human predicament, and his descriptions and accounts of human pride, and envy, and anger, and so on, are often right on the mark. So I would suggest those two things right off the bat.

Brian Arnold (22:19):

I love that. I mean, both of them have a way of peeling back the human heart and saying things that we all know are true, that reveal ourselves. I mean, Augustine and the pear tree, for instance. And not even wanting those, but sinning just because he wanted to sin. And Lewis is so good.

Neal Plantinga (22:39):

Yeah, and he ended up throwing those pears away.

Brian Arnold (22:40):

Yeah, exactly. What a remarkable testimony of the grace of God, as we've been talking about, even of how God saves him, and pulls him from those things. And then the beautiful testimony of his mother, who prays for him incessantly. So much we can learn from Augustine's Confessions. And then, yeah—C.S. Lewis is just a master of the human soul, and writing in that kind of way. And then we commend your book to people as well, that I mentioned before. Not everything's right in the world. And I think everybody knows that. It's one of the best evangelistic tools we have to just point to the sinfulness of the human heart that we all know is there and present. And what an opportunity to take people from that to the place of mercy and grace at the cross of Christ. Dr. Plantinga, I'm so grateful that you joined us today to talk about this important topic.

Neal Plantinga (23:28):

I was glad to be with you, Brian.

Outro (23:30):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at

How Should Christians Engage in Politics? Dr. Jonathan Leeman

Guest: Dr. Jonathan Leeman | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Leeman about Christian engagement in politics. Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Jonathan Leeman is the Editorial Director for 9Marks. He teaches at several seminaries and serves as an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in Washington D.C. Dr. Leeman is the author of Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule (IVP Academic, 2016).


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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:18):

One of the most surprising things to happen in the last several election cycles is how the media has singled out evangelicals as a major voting block. It's not surprising to me that evangelicals comprise a significant, and predominantly unified, voting block. But that people would be surprised by it—even many within the church—is curious to me. It seems fashionable as of late to suggest that Christians should shy away from engaging in politics. In part, this comes from a good place—we're citizens of heaven, where our primary allegiance lies. But we also live in this present world, which is full of politics, and it's hard to imagine a Christian abandoning the opportunity and responsibility of engaging in politics. So the real struggle is—how do Christians engage? If our hope is heaven, then certainly we don't want to pursue politics as our chief end. But we can't bury our heads in the sand either.

Brian Arnold (01:08):

We have a responsibility to see laws enacted that help our neighbors flourish. That even raises the question about what issues we should prioritize. And there are a lot of contenders—abortion, LGBTQ issues, racial justice, environmental concerns, healthcare, taxes, student loans, border control, gun control—or lack thereof—and a panoply of other issues. Well, to answer some of these specific questions, we need to first set the stage about how Christians consider themselves in relation to politics. Many people want to jump straight to specific issues, but we need to think first about how to think about politics and the church. So to talk with us today about how Christians can engage with politics, we have with us Dr. Jonathan Leeman. Dr. Leeman earned his PhD from Wales, and serves as editorial director for 9marks. He has written and edited over a dozen books, and edits the 9marks Journal and series of books. He also teaches at several seminaries, and serves as an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in the suburban area of Washington D.C. Dr. Leeman, welcome to the podcast.

Jonathan Leeman (02:07):

Thank you so much. You can call me Jonathan.

Brian Arnold (02:10):

All right, Jonathan. Well, I'm—go ahead.

Jonathan Leeman (02:12):


Brian Arnold (02:13):

We always ask our guests one big question, and the question that we're going to ask you today is—how should Christians engage in politics? And you've actually written a rather large book specifically on this topic, titled Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ's Rule. I thought maybe we could start off by just talking about what made you write this book? What led you to that, and kind of what's the main theme of the book?

Jonathan Leeman (02:36):

I think since I was a little kid, I was always interested in questions of politics. Don't tell anyone, but when I was in high school, I was convinced I would be President <laugh>.

Brian Arnold (02:45):

I still have a lingering hope, Jonathan, that that one day... <laugh>

Jonathan Leeman (02:50):

That I would be president?

Brian Arnold (02:51):

Yeah, that's right. Exactly. You got my vote.

Jonathan Leeman (02:53):

<laugh> Thank you. No, so I've always been interested in questions of justice, and good societies, and righteous societies. Even as a non-Christian, these things interested me. And so undergraduate I studied political science. That was my major, then I went to graduate school and I did a master's in political theory. And then my PhD is in the area of political theology. I worked for a congressman, I interned for a congressman, in college. I interned in the House of Commons in Britain, and the European Parliament in Brussels. And so, had all of these experiences, ended up as a journalist in Washington, working for an international economics magazine. So this has just been a natural area of interest for me. And that book, Political Church, as well as the ones that followed after that, it came out of my PhD work. It's basically what folks might call a political theology. What is your theology of politics? What is the state? How does it relate to the church? What is justice? How do all these things fit together? So that was my dissertation work, PhD work, in that area. And then other—hopefully more popular—titles, like How the Nations Rage have then come out of it in the years since then.

Brian Arnold (04:01):

Well, all those are important works, and I'm so thankful we have people like you who have actually studied these things. A lot of people will pontificate on them. They might be interested in them as kind of a hobby on the side, but to have somebody who's really studied these things, as you have, and to bring them into the local church, I think, is what we are desperately in need of today as we think about these things. Will you define even some of these topics that I think we need to start with, of—what is politics, and then what is the church? I think if we don't start there, we're going to run into some problems. So how would you define those two terms?

Jonathan Leeman (04:34):

Yeah. Politics, we typically talk about politics as the area where we make decisions that impact the whole of society, right? I mean, in some ways, politics more generically is just—how do you you organize people together in the polis, in the city, taking the Greek root of that word. But the way we typically use the term today, just decisions that impact the whole of society. Governing decisions, you might say. And another way to look at it, is politics is the domain of justice. So far as your views of justice go, and what is just, so far your politics go. And that's part of the reason why this is such a contested area of life. Justice and injustice are those things that provoke our anger, right? You look at injustice, a child being abused, and what's the righteous emotion in response to perceiving of an injustice? Well, it's anger—I oppose that! Right? When you see an injustice. And politics is the domain. And we work out these issues of justice and injustice in our society together, which is why it's such a hot, you know, never talk about it at the dinner table, sort of topic.

Brian Arnold (05:42):

And maybe we can...maybe...let me just jump in and say—let's take one topic, for instance, and just show how that goes. With the abortion, you know? Christian worldview would say—God is knitting people together in their mother's womb. Every life is precious. They are, from conception, in the image of God, and worthy of protection and dignity. And then on the other side, it is—how unjust is it to have a woman carry to term a baby that she doesn't want to care for? And so, both these sides meet and say—our side is more just, and your side is unjust. Every single issue we could talk about, even probably speeding laws, we could say are matters of justice, and how people think about those as matters of justice and injustice. And those issues have only become more polarized, I feel like, in recent years, as society's becoming more secularized, grounds of authority are being questioned. And that's only going to continue to magnify the problems I think we're experiencing today.

Jonathan Leeman (06:41):

Well, think about your conceptions of justice, and your ideas of right and wrong, back up into your overall moral worldview. And your overall moral worldview backs up into your conception of God, or Gods. Or who God is, or what God is, and so forth, right? You can almost see the flow chart. Just think, your views of God or God's—arrow, your moral worldview—arrow, your views of justice—arrow, what you think public policy should be. In that sense, every single one of us steps into the public square as governed by our God or Gods. That's true if you're a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, progressivist, player, whatever, right? We all step into the public square, whether we're talking those issues you named before, whether we're talking about abortion, same sex marriage, immigration, federal housing policy. We step into the public square with certain moral views, certain views of what justice and injustice are, and behind that, a certain view of God or Gods, or whatever.

Jonathan Leeman (07:41):

So in that sense, the public square is necessarily a battleground of Gods, where we're all there seeking to pull the levers of power on behalf of our God or Gods. That's inescapable. Now I'm not saying I don't believe in the separation of church and state. I do. That's another conversation though. All I'm saying is, phenomenologically, if I could use a fancy word there, just like what I'm trying to do, and what the thing is, is me there seeking to pursue a particular vision of justice. And yeah, you're right—on the issue of abortion, for instance, you have rival conceptions of justice at play. And so with every other issue we're dealing with.

Brian Arnold (08:18):

Well, that's a helpful, I think, background for the politics side. And then you're about to define the church.

Jonathan Leeman (08:25):

Well, the church, in the Bible, if you're a Christian, you understand it to be the society of people who have been born again by God, through his Spirit, in the repentance and faith in the gospel. Right? I trust the gospel. Jesus died for my sin and rose again in my place, and I'm now united to him in repentance and faith, and following after him. I'm declaring him King and Lord, right? All that's the good news of the gospel. And my response to that good news. So he is now King of Kings, Lord of Lords. All authority in heaven and earth have been given to me. What is a church? It's the society of people who have come together for the preaching of that gospel and the Bible, as well as the affirmation of one another through baptism and the Lord's supper.

Jonathan Leeman (09:06):

We agree to gather weekly and encourage one another in following Christ together. So the church steps in, into society, right? As an outpost, call it that, or an embassy, of the kingdom of heaven on earth, right? So we go to the church, and we say to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, "Lord, how would you live in my family life? How would you live in my work? How would you live as a citizen? How would you have me love my neighbor as myself? Right? How do I follow you in all of these ways?" And so that's what Christians get to do every week when they gather on Sundays, is they hear from their King, and then they go out, and they scatter out into the world, to live according to their King's instructions, and according to the new life they've been given in their King.

Jonathan Leeman (09:52):

And so, in some ways, our neighbors should love the work of the church. They'll see our good deeds, says Peter, and give praise to God, right? In other ways, however, they won't like the work of the church. Because we go before the nations and we say—hey, by the way, he's not just our King. He's your King. He's everyone's King. You're called to bow before him. And they don't like that. So there's a sense in which the presence of a church in a society is kind of good and bad news for that society. We're kind of the ointment and the fly in the ointment. We're going to have a mixed presence in that regard. But that's what we do, is we gather and we seek to hear from our King, and then go live accordingly to his rule in our lives.

Brian Arnold (10:33):

And we've seen that mixed presence from the very beginning. We see it in the Old Testament, of the mixed presence as Daniel is in Babylon. We see the mixed presence throughout the history of the early church, where Christians are not willing to, let's say, burn incense to the genius of the emperor. And they are now going to be put to death as a result of that.

Jonathan Leeman (10:53):

Exactly right. At the same time, you get these proconsuls writing to Caesar, saying—these Christians are not only caring for their own poor, they're caring for our poor.

Brian Arnold (11:03):

That's right. Exactly.

Jonathan Leeman (11:04):

They're gaining popularity. We have to do something, you know?

Brian Arnold (11:07):


Jonathan Leeman (11:08):

So, yeah, that's exactly right.

Brian Arnold (11:09):

So this becomes a big challenge, and one of the people who's helped me think through this the most is Richard Niebuhr, in his book Christ and Culture, as he's trying to discern how Christians have responded to, how we are to engage in the culture around us, and if I may take an extra step and even say politically, if we're kind of against politics, if we're against culture, or full adaptation of it, kind of on the other end of the spectrum, and then lots of options in between. I don't know if you found that to be a helpful heuristic tool for understanding these pieces or not. But certainly at play is, within even local congregations, different views on what Christians' responsibility is to engage in politics. And I would love to hear you just talk through that, and how do you counsel people, and pastors, and people in the church on—how are we best, as believers, who do live in another world, and yet find ourselves in this world as well? How do we best engage?

Jonathan Leeman (12:09):

Yeah, sure. What's helpful about Niebuhr's book, as well as Carson's, kind of—D.A. Carson did a follow up Christ and Culture Revisited—is what both of these authors do, is help you realize it is complicated. You know? And there's some Niebuhr has these different paradigms—Christ in culture, Christ above culture, Christ under culture, Christ and culture and paradox, Christ against culture. And the thing is—and Carson really draws us this out well—there's some truth in each, right? So there's no simple formula I can give you. That's the challenge. But we know from Jesus, we're to render to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's. We know from, you know, Jesus in John's gospel, he says to Pilate—you would have no authority if it weren't given to you from above. So Caesar and Pilate are very much under God, right?

Jonathan Leeman (12:55):

So it's not like you have one domain, a religious domain, and another domain, a political domain. No, it's not like two separate circles. What you have is a big circle—God's stuff. And inside of that, a smaller circle—Caesar's stuff. That's the picture the Bible gives us. And working that out is hard. Let me put it this way. Politics, political engagement for the Christian is one area of our discipleship, right? It's one area. And Christians need to be discipled and learn what the Bible says about these things, right? So when I become a Christian, every part of my life comes under Christ's Lordship. My—as I said before—my work, my play, my family, my income, what I do with my wallet, what I do with my sexuality, everything comes under Christ, including my politics. It comes under Christ's Lordship.

Jonathan Leeman (13:43):

So engagement step number one, let me just break it down practically, engagement step number one is study what the Bible says about this domain of government. What authority God has assigned to government. What authority hasn't. What about religious freedom? Is that a biblical idea, or is that just a pragmatic, or what do we do with that? Right? So I need to study what the Bible says. Step number two, I need to seek what justice is, and seek to live a just life among my neighbors. Step number three, what does it mean to love my neighbor as myself? So I'm going to seek to love the neighbors in my cul-de-sac here in suburban Washington, D.C. in ways that God calls me to, right? Now, all of this needs to be set, however, within—as you said, or you suggested—sort of the eternal perspective that we have of the hope being in heaven.

Jonathan Leeman (14:29):

Now, does my hope in heaven mean that I can just like, "oh, this is all going to burn, forget it?" Well, no, it means everything in this world counts in some ways. Has eternal repercussions. So I care quite a bit about this world. But finally, my hope is not in this world and justice in this world. My hope is finally in God's bringing his perfect final justice in heaven. So what that means is I seek to be responsible with the things here and now—neighbor love—yet always put that in the light of eternity—God love—right? Let me put it like this. I'm called to love my children. I have four daughters. I'm called to love them, feed them, care for them, teach them, and all of these things. The way I love them most of all, however, is to point them to Jesus Christ.

Jonathan Leeman (15:18):

So I feed them—for Christ's sake. I clothe them—for Christ's sake. I teach them right and wrong—for Christ's sake. I'm doing everything I do in the here and now, in these temporal questions, for eternal reasons. You can't separate the temporal and the eternal. They're inseparable. But there's an asymmetry there. I'm doing the temporal for the sake of the eternal. Okay, let's go back to—what does that mean for our engaging in politics? It means I seek to love my neighbors. I seek to do justice. But I'm doing all of these things for eternal ends and with eternal hopes. Now, what that means you actually do, back to the nitty gritty, is very much going to depend on what stewardships you have. If you live in communist China or Muslim Iran, you have a different stewardship in the set of opportunities than you do as a democratic citizen in the United States. You know, if you're the cup bearer of the king, what stewardship do you have? If you're a voter, what stewardship do you have? If you're a slave, what stewardship you have? You don''s different parts of the world. You just...we all have different stewardships, and we're called to use whatever we can for the sake of justice and love, where the Lord has provided opportunity.

Jonathan Leeman (16:29):

I just hosed you a with a lot.

Brian Arnold (16:30):

Well, that's great. And I think it's a helpful paradigm. Let it walk its way out in maybe some examples. So here I am, talking to you today from Phoenix, Arizona, where the border is a constant issue and concern here. And you get these conflicting views on this, right? Of some Christians who would say, we need a borderless society. How would Jesus welcome the sojourner and the stranger? And let's have a borderless country. And others who would say, well, I am a citizen in the United States, and it's okay for sovereign nations to have borders. And that's an okay biblical thing too. It doesn't mean I hate my neighbor, but it does mean that I recognize that there's national sovereignty. So how do Christians engage? Because you can—and I know you have to have seen this as well—that in the same church you'll have people with those two radically different views. So even maybe with some pastoral sensitivity, how do you approach that as a pastor, knowing those two views are there? And then how do you disciple those people to think in a very biblical way?

Jonathan Leeman (17:33):

Yeah, great question. The first thing I want to do is talk about the two different kinds of Scriptures, or two different kind of issues that we can find in politics. We have what you might call straight line issues, and we have what you call my jagged line issues, right? Straight line issues are those issues that there's a straight line, you might say, between the biblical text and a policy application. You mentioned abortion. In the Bible, you know—you shall not murder, you were created from your mother's womb. There's a pretty straight line, as a line of reasoning, to the policy application "abortion is wrong." Or let's think about racist policies. There's a pretty straight line between the fact that we're all created in God's image, and Jim Crow laws, for instance, are sinful. All Christians, therefore, should—I would propose—be pro-life. All Christians should be anti-racist policies.

Jonathan Leeman (18:22):

Those are straight line issues. That's only a few issues. Most issues, most political issues, aren't that. They're jagged line issues. Let's talk about healthcare. Let's talk about immigration at the border. Closed borders, open borders, how many immigrants through a year, that sort of thing, refugees, and so forth. Well, I have a number of biblical principles I'm going to bring to bear, but the Bible doesn't directly say. I'm going to have to follow a line of reasoning that kind of moves from inference to inference, to judgements about certain circumstances, different kind of questions that Christians might disagree on, and yet still come together in the Lord's table. Call these jagged line issues. Straight line issues, you can bind the whole church. Jagged line issuesm you have to leave in the domain of Romans 14—Christian freedom, right? You think we eat meat. I don't think we can eat meat. But we can still love each other at the Lord's table.

Jonathan Leeman (19:17):

So as you're pastoring a church, or trying to live just as a church member, in all of these kind of contested areas, question number one is—is this a straight line issue that we really are going to make a condition of membership? Like, you cannot be a member of the Ku Klux Klan and join this church. You know, that's a straight line issue. Or is this a jagged line issue? Where we can have arguments, have discussions based on biblical principles, but we need to do so charitably, recognizing that it's a matter of Christian freedom, and at the end of the day, our unity in the gospel is more important than our unity across these difficult political issues. And I think, honestly, that those two different buckets—straight line, jagged line bucket—is crucial for the saints in two ways. One, maintaining the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace amidst elections and different issues. And number two, I think it's also essential for our witness. We need to be careful about going before the nations and saying, "hey, nations, I know exactly what Jesus thinks on this issue." No, you don't! I remember driving in a car once with a political science professor, Christian political science professor, and I said, "so do you think you know what Jesus thinks on healthcare, immigration, tax policy?" He said, "yeah, I do." I'm sorry, no you don't <laugh>. You know what I mean?

Brian Arnold (20:32):

That's bold.

Jonathan Leeman (20:33):

Yeah, I don't think that's good for our witness when we pretend like we do. We end up saying more than the Bible says, and that's not helpful.

Brian Arnold (20:42):

Well, and it is amazing how much that line blurs. You know, to go back your jagged line/straight line, which I think is a really helpful way to understand that, is a lot of Christians don't see many jagged lines. They see a whole lot of straight lines, and they think they're right about all those pieces, and they're not triaging these things well, or leaving Christian freedom for disagreement there. And it just causes tons of problems in the wake. And what I find is—I'm, I'm almost 40, I'll turn 40 next month—and I see a lot of people in this generation who are really reacting against politics in general, because they've seen maybe, if I can broadly generalize, a lot of folks in the boomer generation who have maybe over-emphasized politics, and had more straight line issues, and seen it all that way. And it's just...

Jonathan Leeman (21:34):

It turns up the temperature when you make everything a straight line issue. Let me make one qualification. I'm not saying, and I trust, Brian, you're not saying, that over here in jagged line bucket—we're not saying it's moral relativism. We're not saying this is Wheaties versus Cheerios, right? Some jagged line judgments really are better, wiser, even more moral. I'm just saying that you're not an apostle. The Holy Spirit is not revealing himself to you as he did an apostle with the Word of God. It means you're looking in the Bible. Okay, let's, you know, let's talk about immigration some. I understand the principle of moral proximity. I'm more accountable to my kids than I am to other kids in the neighborhood. And so I'm called to protect my kids, okay? That's a biblical principle I'm going to bring to bear on questions of borders, right?

Jonathan Leeman (22:20):

So I'm going to bring that principle to bear, and say—look, a nation does have a primary responsibility to protect its own citizens, rather than the entire globe. If you try to protect the entire globe, you're just going to commit all sorts of abuses. Okay? So that's...I'm bringing biblical reasoning to bear. But again, I'm going to recognize I'm doing this with a little bit of a loose grip. Because I could be wrong. So I'll make my case, but then I'm going to respect you and show you charity if you happen to disagree with me, and we'll say—no, Jonathan, I think you actually have an obligation to those people, more of a moral obligation, as a Christian, to those people south of the border. What if they're Christians coming across? Don't you have a responsibility to your fellow Christians? Then I'll say—oh, yeah, I hadn't really thought about that. That's helpful. Let's keep reasoning together on this difficult matter

Brian Arnold (23:10):

And to torture the metaphor, if we can—it's not even just straight line and very jagged line. I mean, there's going to be lines all the way in between those, of some things that are more jagged than others, and really trying to reason through that. Well, one of the things that I think our listeners find really helpful is pointing them to some resources. What are some things that they could be reading to help think through how Christians engage in politics? And feel free for some shameless plugs about your excellent books as well.

Jonathan Leeman (23:38):

Thank you. In addition to Political Church, I wrote a couple of others. One called How the Nation's Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics for a Divided Age. How the Nations Rage, that came out, I want to say in 2019 or 20. I wrote a little book, How Christians Can...How to Love Fellow Church Members Who Disagree Politically. It's a little tiny booklet. How Can I Love Church Members With Different Politics? Other resources I would commend—Visions and Illusions, by David Koyzis. Just an excellent little book on the idolatry that's common across different ideologies. The relationship with an ideology and idolatry. And shows how the kind of ideologies we take for granted can and quickly move in an idolatrous direction. Politics after Christendom, by David VanDrunen is an excellent political theology. It's a little bit thicker. I could keep going, but that's a start.

Brian Arnold (24:34):

Very helpful. And people will recognize as soon as they wade into this—the water gets pretty deep pretty quickly, in terms of the complexities of the issues and the different camps of thought on this. But I do appreciate your approach to it. What does the Bible say, first and foremost? And we need a biblical literacy for people to know what the Bible says, so as it becomes to bear on these political questions, they'll actually have an idea of how to even frame that. So, Jonathan, thank you so much for being with me today, and for your work on this really critical topic.

Jonathan Leeman (25:06):

Thank you, brother. Good to be with you as well.

Outro (25:09):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at

What is Christian Leadership? Dr. J. Michael Thigpen

Guest: Dr. J. Michael Thigpen | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Thigpen about Christian leadership. Topics of conversation include:

Dr. J. Michael Thigpen is professor of Old Testament at Phoenix Seminary. He previously served as the executive director of the Evangelical Theological Society, as well as an associate professor of Old Testament and Semitics at the Talbot School of Theology. Dr. Thigpen holds a PhD in Judaic, Hebraic, and Cognate Studies from Hebrew Union College.


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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:19):

In First Peter five, Peter writes, "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'" It is interesting that Peter gives the example of a shepherd leading a flock, since one of the last conversations that Peter had with Jesus was Jesus asking Peter three times if he loved him.

Brian Arnold (01:12):

And each time Peter said he did, and Jesus told him to feed his sheep. Jesus was installing him as a shepherd over the sheep. And in First Peter five, Peter was instructing the church how to lead well. Yet today we see so many people in Christian leadership not leading this way. We hear too often of toxic leadership where pastors abuse the flock. Too much leadership is focused on CEO business principles, and not enough on shepherding flocks. In an age of cultural shift, in an age in which the church is witnessing decline, we are in need of strong shepherds who can, with wisdom, patience, love, and boldness, lead the flock of Christ. With us today to talk about Christian leadership, is Dr. J. Michael Thigpen. Dr. Thigpen holds a PhD in Ancient Near Eastern studies from Hebrew Union College, and serves as professor of Old Testament at Phoenix Seminary. Prior to this, he was the executive director of the Evangelical Theological Society for 10 years, and was a professor at Talbot, in addition to decades of local church ministry experience. Dr. Thigpen has a breadth and depth of leadership experience that makes him perfect for this topic. So Dr. Thigpen, welcome.

Michael Thigpen (02:20):

Thank you, Brian. It's great to be with you.

Brian Arnold (02:22):

So, as you remember, we ask our guests a big question, and today it is—what is Christian leadership? So I would like to kind of frame this discussion biblically. So there's a lot of different views on this today, and how different, you know, even consulting groups talk to churches about leadership and things. But let's start with the Bible. How does the Bible portray Christian leadership?

Michael Thigpen (02:49):

I think the Scriptures portray leadership as that which is in line with God's character. So it shares his character traits. It is enabled by his Spirit, and it's driven by his Word. So as we put those things together, we're always thinking of ourselves—if we're in a place of leadership—as under-shepherds, or junior shepherds, as it were. So that we are trying to work in the way that the Great Shepherd does. And so we should be like him in character, we should be like him in the ways that he relates to his people. And those, then, really are that they're Spirit-empowered and that they are driven by the Word. And so the Word's going to do all sorts of things for us, because it's going to both correct us when we've gone off onto the wrong track, and it's going to encourage us and show us the right paths that we could go. But all this can't be done in our own human power. So, much like Zerubbabel is told in Zechariah that this has to be accomplished "not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit." And that's in his leadership of the rebuilding project of the temple. So I think those are the core pieces. There's a lot to unpack there, but I think it's his character, empowered by his Spirit, and driven by his Word.

Brian Arnold (03:59):

Well, let's look at maybe some examples that we have in Scripture. I know you've written on some of the period of the times of the kings, with David and Saul, and thinking through leadership as it really comes out of even those stories. So what kind of led you to study even that, you know, those texts, and what can we learn from that even today as Christian leaders?

Michael Thigpen (04:21):

The book that I contributed to, it was interesting. A group of guys got together and they wanted to write a book that was about what the Scriptures say about leadership, because they felt like the majority of what we were getting were books that sort of gave us two or three principles, and then expanded it. And so they asked us to go, book by book, and unpack what the Scriptures had to say about leadership. And I did the united monarchy, so the period of the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon. And what I found really interesting about those is that Saul, as we think back on him, we always think of him as a leader who failed. We generally think positively about David as a leader—he was a man after God's own heart. And we think about Solomon—he's the greatest, he's the wisest, he completes the temple. But all their stories are much more complex than that.

Michael Thigpen (05:11):

Saul actually has some positive periods, and there are places where he's praised in the texts, but we generally don't grab that. David has these huge failures. He is a murderer and an adulterer. So how is it that he is both a man after God's own heart, but he also has these terrible falls into sin where he is just unrighteous? And then how do we think about Solomon, who is one of the greatest ever? He's the wisest, he's so rich, he's so powerful, and in many ways he looks successful, but yet he is one who leads the nation into idolatry, and the nation splits after him into north and south. And so, really kind of unpacked these, and they all...that's where my...sort of that trio that I gave you of them being in God's character and responsive to his Word and empowered by his Spirit, really come from looking at these three. Because they all represent a wrestling with God's character—in that they both reflect it in some cases, and they miss it in others. They respond differently to the Word as rebuke is brought to them, as encouragement is brought to them. They have different ways of doing that. And then the nature of whether or not their work is Spirit-empowered is a bit different as well.

Brian Arnold (06:25):

Which gives me great solace, knowing that there is no perfectly portrayed leader in Scripture outside of Jesus Christ. That each of them have their own blemishes in leadership, and each of them have their own triumphs, where they're actually following the will of God. I like that trio you've done. So let's actually unpack that, then. And if you want to throw in some biblical examples as we go, I think that'd be helpful. But you're talking about character, and the character of God, and what it requires of those who will be leading. I have the opportunity to lead a Bible study on Tuesday mornings with some people here in Phoenix, and we're walking through First Timothy right now. And in First Timothy chapter three, you get all of these qualifications of elders and deacons in the church. And the only one that has any kind of focus on skillset is that elders are able to teach. But the rest of these are character qualifications. So what is the character of God? Tell us about the character of the leader.

Michael Thigpen (07:27):

Well, I think if we...the probably the clearest statement of God's character, if we want to look at the Old Testament, is Exodus 34. So this is after the golden calf, and Moses says—look, I want to know you, and know who you are. So show yourself to me. God says—well, I'm going to pass by. You can't see my face, but I'm going to let you see the after-effect of me moving through. And he pronounces his name, which is a way of saying, "this is who I am." And what he gives him is this statement of how merciful and gracious he is, the kind of God that he is, but it is remarkably balanced in the way that it moves forward. So as he pronounces his name for Moses, he tells him that he is a God who is both just, but also merciful. He is a God who is forgiving, but yet he will hold sin to account.

Michael Thigpen (08:15):

And it's...I like to frame it as it's a way of giving full disclosure about who he is, and who he is calling his people to be. So I think if we start with that—he is a God who takes seriously the nature of sin. And he says to Moses, "I will by no means let the guilty go unpunished." I will never let that happen. At the same time, he is a God who is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands. He forgives inequity and transgression and sin. So we have to be able to grab ahold of that, I think, first. And this is really when I think about the nature of the Word and its role in us, right? As we think about what Paul's going to say to Timothy—he's going to tell him that the Word is going to do kind of basically two things for you. On the negative side, it's going to rebuke you, it's going to correct you. But that is for the purpose of then training you in righteousness, and making you equipped for every good work.

Michael Thigpen (09:09):

So that as we think about character traits, we're always thinking about those two sides. Are we in a character where we receive the correction of the Word well? We receive the correction of others well? And are there developing character traits where we are pursuing and being equipped for the work of God? And so I think, you know, I mentioned David as a character here, who we wrestle with, because he is a murderer and an adulterer, yet he is someone who is after God's own heart. And then we have Saul, who is just this kind of train wreck of a leader, except that there are a handful of places where he responds well and faithfully, and accomplishes the work of God. And so the question I wrestled with when I looked at them is—how do they turn out so differently? And I think in every case the primary difference of why David is approved and Saul is rejected, is not because one is inherently more righteous than the other.

Michael Thigpen (10:02):

Saul's not out committing murder, he's not out committing adultery. David is. The difference comes in, in that when Samuel confronts Saul, Saul always responds with excuses. "It's not my fault, the people made me do it, they're the ones, I was scared of them." And so there's always this sense in which he is rejecting rebuke and correction. Part of the function of the Word here. In this case, through the prophet. For us, through the Scriptures. But he's rejecting that. So he refuses to learn and to grow through his mistakes, be trained in righteousness. Whereas David, you know, Nathan looks at him and says—you're the man. You're the one who did this. And he responds in humility and in repentance. So it's not that David is inherently more righteous than Saul, but he's responsive to discipline in a way that Saul refuses that discipline.

Michael Thigpen (10:53):

So I think it's this, for me, it's what, you know, oftentimes is thought about as the crucible of leadership. How do you respond to the challenges? And I think the most frequent challenge that we get is our own sinfulness. And the way that we engage with that, as others bring us critique, as the Word itself brings us critique, our two primary paradigms is—I can be like Saul, I can push it away in excuse, I can give myself an out, and never respond well to discipline. Or, I can, like David, fall on my face in repentance and say in Psalm 51, you know—God, I've sinned against you and you only. And then work our way in a way that we allow the Word to grow us in responsiveness to that. Or we can push it away. And I think that's a primary sort of character paradigm of how we respond to discipline.

Brian Arnold (11:38):

And I think a lot of leaders somehow believe that their sinful areas are not as widely recognized as they are. Your people know them. They see them. There's no hiding those things, or not thinking they're that big of a deal. You know, we talk about toxic leadership a lot today. I feel like that's where a lot of pastors are losing ministries right now, and other institutional leaders, is around the area of just yeah, toxic leadership. Where they're not willing to repent, where they're not willing to see sin in their lives, acknowledge it and turn from it. Why do you think that is? What is it that is prohibiting so many leaders from doing that?

Michael Thigpen (12:27):

I think sometimes it is...this is where, for me, Solomon comes in. Solomon's an interesting study, because if you look at him externally, he's completely successful, right? He's super wise. People are coming to him from all over, other nations, to sit at his feet and learn from him. He is corporately successful, right? He's got so much gold roaming around, he's making military shields out of gold, which means that they're just for show. They're not useful in battle. They're only there to say—you want to know how rich I am? This is how rich I am. And he's been able to build the temple and all of his administrative structures. So if we look at him from the outside, he is the very model of a successful leader. But we know that his life is falling apart, because he's falling into idolatry and he's doing these other things.

Michael Thigpen (13:17):

So I think part of what happens with toxic leadership is we confuse results with godliness. And there is an extent to which we can look at many things that, on the external, are successful. But what we need—and I want to say this carefully—what we need are not necessarily successful leaders. We need godly ones. So that if we were to look at certain aspects of leadership, you know, we might say—well, well wait a minute, was Jesus a successful leader? Right? He never really wins over the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He ends up getting himself killed. The guys that he selected to come around him—they're not the best bunch in the world. Peter's always putting his foot in his mouth. You know, he selected one guy who's going to go out and betray him. So if we look externally, we might even be tempted to look at him and say he didn't lead them well, because it didn't turn out the way we think it should have turned out.

Michael Thigpen (14:09):

And so that confusion of sort of external success versus godliness in character, and following the Word, and being Spirit-enabled leads us then to say—well, it's okay if I'm abusive or heavy handed, or I have to have it my way, because I'm getting the results that I want. Because we're looking at an external measure, not an internal one. And this is part of what God says about David, right? I look at the heart. I don't judge things the way that you do. I don't look at this externally. I'm going to look at the heart of the individual, and that's how I'm choosing my leaders, and that's how I'm moving them. And so, in that way, we might think of that as being one of our primary keys here. So I think people are tempted to abuse, in many cases, for what we might say are some good reasons. Because they think the results they're getting are the ones that they're supposed to be after, right?

Michael Thigpen (15:00):

So for pastors, it's the ABCs of ministry—attendance, buildings, and cash. If the numbers are going up, then that must be good. That must mean that things are going well. The building projects are getting done. That must mean that things are favorable, and that God's blessing us. And if cash is good, and the tithes and offerings are coming in, then we must be doing well. When in fact, all of that can be hollow on the inside. So I think I'm being a good leader by being heavy handed in doing that. But in fact, all I'm doing is looking at the wrong measures for whether or not my leadership is actually effective, because I'm looking at the externals and not at the heart—either at my heart or at the heart of the people. I think that's at the core of a lot of abusive leadership. It's because we're defining success wrongly—by looking at it, not first and foremost through the lens of character of the Word and of the Spirit, which would then bring in all the fruit of the Spirit that we're supposed to have.

Michael Thigpen (15:59):

And, in fact, that's oftentimes not how we lead.

Brian Arnold (16:02):

So let me shift the spotlight for just a second, from the leader to the congregation. Let's just use pastors, and continue to use them as our example. It does seem like that's what churches are looking for. They want the CEO. There are these business people in the congregation. They run their lives on metrics and accomplishment and achievement and profit margins. And then when the pastor comes in, they'll throw a thin veneer of "we want godliness and character." But really what they want, what every church says that it wants—whether or not they're willing to do what it takes to see these things happen or not—is growth. you said, the ABCs of pastoral ministry. And I think that burden is placed oftentimes on pastors, as to whether or not they're doing a good job or not on those pieces, by the congregation. So maybe people are listening today who are not pastors. They're in local churches. They might serve as deacons or elders, or they might just be lay folks in the church. How can just Christians in the pew help realign the pastor's focus on what matters most in Christian leadership?

Michael Thigpen (17:11):

I think in a couple of ways. One is the cooperative nature of ministry. So I should not expect that the pastor is omnicompetent any more than I am. If I'm in the pew, I know that I'm good at some things, I'm not good at others. And so, part of the body concept is that even though this person is our primary leader, they're not going to have everything that the church needs. So to the extent that I put everything off on them, and the success or failure here is all on their shoulders—well, that's missing the concept that we're working this all together as a body. So we should have people who are really great at planning, and finances, and all these other sort of technical skills, pouring into the work of the church. So that the pastor's gleaning from that, because the whole body's operating together, and they're not doing this all on their own.

Michael Thigpen (17:57):

They're gaining wisdom through the counsel of others, and so they're doing that. But then they're always keeping in mind that for themselves, the hallmark of how they're going to be measured by God is their relationship to Christ. And whether or not they're growing in the fruit of the Spirit, or they're growing in all the ways that know, as Christ will say to his disciples—people are going to know you're mine by the way you treat one another. He doesn't say by your success, by your portfolio, by all of that. He uses these things that are always character orientation. Which is why that's what we get for the leadership qualities—with the exception of being able to teach, all of them are character qualities, because he is really looking to grow people who look like his Son. So we were created in the image of God, we've fallen, and we sin, and we don't reflect him rightly.

Michael Thigpen (18:45):

We're not rightly connected to him. So in being saved, then, God is recreating us more and more into the image of his Son, who is the perfect image of God, who reflects him. So we keep that big picture in mind. Then it means, then, that the way that I begin to judge my pastor is—you know what, perhaps he's not great at this, but we've got people in church who are. So let's pour in with him so that we do this work together. And always what I'm looking for is—is he growing in likeness to Christ? And then—is he leading me to grow in likeness to Christ? That is our measure of success. And the other things will come and go. So we've always had, you know, think of the wisdom literature, who we've always had the wicked poor and the righteous poor. We've always had the righteous rich and the wicked rich.

Michael Thigpen (19:35):

It's never that external measure. It's always their character that results in whether or not they are rightly related to God. So we've got to take that into the church as well. And then sometimes we want people to run in these directions and we push it off on them, because we want them to do it for us. And I think sometimes we think about the nature of the vicarious work Christ has done for us. He did all this on our behalf. And we actually want that to happen everywhere. I want my wife to be the one who takes care of all these things at home. Christ did it for me. Why doesn't she just do all these things? I want my children to just do it for me. I want my pastor to just do it for me. And it's really a way of not doing, as Paul says in Philippians, working out my own salvation with fear and trembling. Because God's the one at work in me, it's his power that's doing this, but I've got to work hard. I really want someone else to do that work for me. So I throw all that on the pastor. And I've got to own it myself, because although I'm part of the body, I also have to do my own work if I'm going to be a rightly related part of the body.

Brian Arnold (20:37):

I love all that, Mike. And just the thought of what ministries would look like if the church was spurring their pastor on to deeper godliness. And the benefits that the flock would receive through the character conforming to Christ more and more, and how that will have the reciprocal effect on them growing into godliness and Christlikeness as well. It's scary out there, the rat race that pastors are up against. I think it's one of the reasons why we see so many of them leaving ministry, is they just can't keep pace. They can't be as cool as the church down the street. They can't get as many baptisms as another church does, and they just feel like utter failures when they love their people well. When the pastor down the road may not ever actually be with the sheep, all he is doing is working on marketing and a great 25 minute message, but not on some of the actual aspects of pastoring. So if you've got a great pastor out there who's really godly and pouring into you, let him know. And then you've got two other aspects that you've mentioned, and we don't have a ton of time, but could you give some summary of how those play into godly leadership?

Michael Thigpen (21:42):

Yeah, I think it really is the Word and the Spirit. And those two are so cooperative, because the Spirit's the one who gives us the Word, and he's the one who causes the Word really to do its work in us, as he is reshaping us and we're cooperating with him. And so I think all this is that we...sometimes I think our greatest failure is that we say it's our pastor who's the one who is supposed to know the Word. And that is true that they're charged with teaching us the Word. But I'm called to have the Word hidden in my heart so that I won't sin against God. I'm called to be shaped and formed by it. So the fact that they're using's kind of like a doctor and a patient. I have to do everything possible to be healthy, but I want their expertise, and I want their care for me to help me when I'm sick, and to move me forward into greater health.

Michael Thigpen (22:34):

But I've got to do the work myself to do that. Carry out their instructions. So we need that sort of cooperative work, where they are the person of the Word for me, in that they're bringing that to me and they're teaching me. But at the same time, I've got to unpack that in my own life. I've got to unpack it in my own heart and in my own family, in my own business and all those things. So that we're working together to be shaped into the people of God through the work of the Word. And that's ultimately the work of the Spirit in both of us, so that we do that. And I think it's another one of those places where if I put it all off on the pastor, then actually when I'm doing is short-cutting the Spirit's own work in my life. If he's the one responsible for knowing the Word, as opposed to teaching me to know it better. He's the one who's responsible for shaping me, as opposed to my own responsiveness to the Spirit's work. It really is, again, this cooperative nature. They're key, and they're central, and I need them. But I need them to help me, so I can also do what I'm called to do.

Brian Arnold (23:33):

So those are really helpful, and I think back to the Reformation, where you really have this Word-Spirit movement and conformity, more and more to the character of Christ. You know, I think Martin Luther who said, "The Word did it all." And you see the movement of the Holy Spirit moving out through revival, as the Reformation poured out, and what God might do in our day through that. Mike, what are a couple resources that people might want to pick up and read on Christian leadership, kind of the way that you've laid it out?

Michael Thigpen (24:03):

Yeah, I think the first one for dealing with toxic leadership is Mike Kruger's Bully Pulpit. I think it's one of the best new resources dealing with the way that leadership goes off the rails. And so I think that's a really good one. And then I would recommend—this is one that I contributed to—it's a book called Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader. And it is written for everyone who leads. Which is everybody—not just for pastors. And that's a Kregel work that's out in their Biblical Theology for the Church. And so, that one edited by Ben Forrest and Chet Roden. So those two, I think—Bully Pulpit and then Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader. Those are two great places to start.

Brian Arnold (24:46):

And I think that's a really helpful place to end is we've talked a lot about pastors and what church leadership looks like, but this really is for any Christian who's in any kind of leadership role—that you would be conformed by the character of God, that you would do your work through the Word, and empowered by the Spirit. And that's going to have a major impact on whatever you're doing, especially as it as it pertains to the church as well. So Mike, thanks so much for your time today.

Michael Thigpen (25:14):

Happy to be here. Good to be with you.

Outro (25:16):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at

What is Revival? Dr. David Hogg

Guest: Dr. David Hogg | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Hogg about revival. Topics of conversation include:

Dr. David Hogg serves as vice president of Academic Affairs at Phoenix Seminary, where he also teaches Church History. Dr. Hogg has many years of pastoral and seminary ministry, and holds a PhD in Medieval Theology from St. Mary’s School of Divinity at St. Andrews University in Scotland.



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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:18):

On February 8th 2023, reports came that revival fell on the campus of Asbury University. Following a regular chapel, students stayed, not to converse with friends or talk with professors, but to pray and repent. And for the next 16 days, people met nearly around the clock to worship, to pray, and, for some who traveled great distances—even from other countries—to have the smoldering coals of their faith rekindled. Stories from other campuses began to be told, and hope is high that we might be experiencing another awakening throughout our country. With revival, though, comes skepticism and questions about what constitutes genuine revival. Was this an authentic outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Or was this a manufactured phenomenon that was emotionalism unhinged? I, for one, am hopeful that this was an actual expression of revival. What I certainly don't want to be is guilty of praying for revival, and then being skeptical when God does it. Nevertheless, it stirs up a lot of questions about what revival is. So to talk with us about that today, we have with us Dr. David Hogg, who serves as vice president of Academic Affairs at Phoenix Seminary, where he also teaches in church history. Dr. Hogg has served numerous years in pastoral ministry, and has taught at multiple seminaries. He received his PhD from St. Andrews in Medieval Theology, and is published widely. Dr. Hogg, welcome back to the podcast.

David Hogg (01:39):

Thank you. It's great to be here again.

Brian Arnold (01:41):

So our big question for today is—what is revival? And obviously this is a lot of talk right now with what is going on at Asbury University just recently. And one of the first questions that I hear people talk about a lot when it comes to revival is—how do we define revival, and how do we differentiate revival from awakening?

David Hogg (02:02):

Yeah, that's a good question. You're going to find people, of course, on different sides. You know, you could go the etymological route—revival, what does it mean from the Latin, and so forth. And awakening. And it seems to me that no matter what term we might want to apply, so often the two things that we often look for and hope for in revival or awakening is, number one, that people who are not believers would become believers. And number two, those who are believers would be spurred on to greater faithfulness and devotion to their Savior. And so, whether, you know, revival tends to be used in terms of people coming to faith in Christ. We see that in, for example, the Second Great Awakening, and Finney, and so forth. Whereas awakening tends to be used a little bit more for believers who are already...people who are already believers, and then are spurred on to greater devotion.

David Hogg (02:55):

We see, you know, examples of that in the comments of, for example, Jonathan Edwards in the First Great Awakening, when he and George Whitefield and some others commented on just how amazed they were at the increase in faithfulness, and even like family worship, amongst those who are already believers. So I don't know if that quite answers your question, but there are usually those two components. And in my mind, you know, we can fuss about some of the terminology, I suppose. But those are sort of the two things that we look for most when we're talking about either revival or awakening.

Brian Arnold (03:28):

It's interesting that you say that, because I've actually heard those terms used in the reverse. That revival is something that happens when you're already a believer, and the faith has grown cold and you need something to kind of stimulate it to get back. And awakening is kind of a conversion response. You can see even in this conversation there's different understandings of even how these terms are used. But lumped together, it really is this idea that the Spirit of God is moving in a unique way, calling people from sin—whether that's for the first time to salvation, or whether it's patterns of sin in their life, and they're repenting and turning away from those things and growing in godliness. And it happens to be that it is widespread. It's like the Spirit really just pours out and overflows into more people than we generally see happen, right?

David Hogg (04:13):

Yeah, absolutely.

Brian Arnold (04:14):

So when we talk about this, I think our minds immediately go to—and I think this is right, and this is where you kind of went too—was people like Jonathan Edwards. And we're going to talk about him, the First Great Awakening, but what about this idea, biblically? So if we want to see God move, we want to see him do it in ways that he's done in his Word, he's talked about this. Do we see examples of this in the Bible? Thinking about the Old Testament, thinking about the New Testament. Where would you point somebody to say—that is an example of what we're talking about here?

David Hogg (04:46):

Hmm. Well, of course the most obvious, I suppose, is Acts two. I mean, you can't miss that one for the trees. You know, the coming of the Spirit upon those who are gathered together on what we now call the Day of Pentecost. And, you know, there, I think it's interesting, because we have a both/and, in terms of—on that day there were people, you know...that those who were in the upper room continuing to pray after Jesus had ascended, and those are people who were believers. Those are people who understood, even in a nascent way, they understood that Jesus, in fact, is the Messiah. And they were excited about this, and the Spirit descended upon them, as we read, in tongues of fire. And then, at the same time, that because of that, they then are preaching, they're teaching, they're spreading the Word. They're engaged in what we now call "gospel conversations" with people. And it led to, you know, 3000 souls being saved. And then we continue to read in Acts about how that spread. So there's sort of a both/and there in Acts two. I think that's probably the most obvious place. I don't know. What would you...I mean, yeah.

Brian Arnold (05:49):

Obviously, Acts two is the one that the mind goes to. And you see this kind of outpouring of the Spirit. I mean, the whole point of Pentecost is the Spirit has come, he's indwelling his people, and new believers are coming into the fold. Why don't we see something like that in the Old Testament as much? I mean, I guess you get these periods, periodically, where you'll have some sort of a mass repentance, and there'll be sackcloth and ashes and things. I mean, do you attribute that to even the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament as being different than the work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, especially in regards to the indwelling of the believer?

David Hogg (06:27):

So I would say that, yes—I want to be careful here—so I would say, yes, there is a different working of the Spirit between Old Covenant/New Covenant...what we would call Old Testament/New Testament, perhaps. But I think the difference is not so much—again, I want to use my language carefully here—not so much in the...maybe the manner of the Holy Spirit's working, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. I mean, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ really did change absolutely everything in history. I mean, the whole basis of new creation is founded upon his being raised from the dead in history. And so, in a certain sense, the work of the Holy Spirit, post-resurrection is of a different...well, it is a work that comes with resurrection power.

David Hogg (07:21):

And which, you know, in time could not have happened before the resurrection. That does not mean the Spirit was weaker in the Old Testament, or the Spirit was not active in the Old Testament, or under the Old Covenant. It simply means that the experience that we could have in history of the Spirit is going to be, I think, different between Old Testament and New Testament believers. The Spirit is required in both cases for someone to be saved. But that resurrection power really does change something. And I think that's what we see in Acts two, and the rest of the Book of Acts, and the unfolding of...I mean, the spread of the gospel throughout the whole world. Does that make sense?

Brian Arnold (07:58):

It does, it does. I would just want to really press on the New Covenant passages in the Old Testament. Things like Jeremiah 31, things like Ezekiel 36 and 37, where it does seem like the indwelling presence of the Spirit is going to be what differentiates it in many ways, is that the believer in the Old Covenant...I mean, you see the Spirit kind of coming in, especially with kings and things, where David will have the Holy Spirit, but whether or not he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit all the time, I think, is a matter of discussion. But it doesn't seem to be that the average Israelite is. Whereas, the New Covenant is—all of a sudden it's not going to be tablets of stone. It's going to be written on the heart. And even the picture that we get of the Valley of the Dry Bones, where the Spirit comes in and really animates, and brings life to that which was dead.

Brian Arnold (08:46):

So, yeah, I mean...and as we think about revival and awakening throughout the Church Age, it is something that we would often attribute, I think, to the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through his people. So yeah. And I appreciate your caution there. We don't want to pretend like—or not even pretend like—we don't want to suggest that the Holy Spirit was somehow absent, and just like finally appeared in the New Testament. Which is not what I'm suggesting. But a unique way, post-resurrection, like you said, that now is in the Church Age. So I want to talk about the First and Second Great Awakening some. And even into the modern period. But you and I are church historians of an earlier period. So as I study the Fathers, as you study the medieval period, do we see these kinds of peaks of revival and awakening in the early church and in the medieval church, would you say?

David Hogg (09:46):

Yeah. You know, I think we do. But I think the other thing we have to bear in mind is we are not going to have the same records for these sorts of things, so it's a little harder for us to examine that. So, for example, you know, the First Great Awakening takes place in the early mid-18th century, when you have people writing about this, and writing letters, and we have their correspondence, and we have all sorts of information. Whereas in the ancient period, and then in the medieval period, not so much. We don't have nearly the levels of literacy, and so forth. So just as a cautionary aspect to this, we need to recognize the differences in the material that's available to us. But, you know, just think about the Middle Ages—you know, it's...when we think of the church in the Middle Ages, I think there's...we have to distinguish between the church as represented by the writings of those who were in power—which were not always good Christian people, dare I say it.

David Hogg (10:40):

But there were then...then there were those who were the average Jane and Joes of the church. And in that respect, like, I can think of the 12th century, and you have a group like the Waldensians. The Waldensians, you know, they had some of their quirks and so forth. But for the most part, that seems to be a movement in which we see God working to continue to call people to himself. They were labeled as heretics by the church authorities of their day. But to many people, they could pass for evangelicals, believing, for example, that, you know, that they should read the Bible for themselves, believing that they shouldn't...that recognizing the importance of the church in interpreting Scripture, recognizing that someone—now, not everyone's going to believe this...go along with this position even today—but recognizing that and believing that people should be baptized after they profess faith

Brian Arnold (11:29):

Only the right ones. Yes. Go on.

David Hogg (11:31):

<laugh> There is that side. So, but it's kind of intriguing to me. Like that, I would say, that's a movement of the Spirit that at that time took place in what we would now call Northern Italy in the 12th century. And that's God, you know, making sure that the apostolic succession rightly understood is actually continuing. And when I say apostolic succession rightly continuing, I mean those who are continued to be, like Peter in Matthew 16, the right speakers, the correct proclaimers of what is the gospel and the truth. And those who do that are in apostolic succession. And I think we see, therefore, that there are—this is just one example—but we see these movements in the church where the Spirit takes ahold of somebody and that person begins to—and this is almost always the case—begins to read Scripture far more fervently, and begins to reckon and to love God more, and to enter into longer periods of prayer with greater fervency. And the result of that is—cannot help but be—some sort of change that is Spirit-led. Whether it's a massive change that's been well documented, like the First and Second Great Awakening, or whether it's something that is less documented, like the Waldensian movement in the 12th century.

Brian Arnold (12:47):

And I think it's important to note what you said there about this greater fervency in reading Scripture, in prayer, in just this consciousness of who God is in your life. That happens on an individual basis. You know, as I think about conversion stories in church history, all the way from Justin Martyr up through John Wesley, and in my own life, of this heart that is strangely warmed, kindled for the things of God in a way that it wasn't before, that's really the miracle of the rebirth that's playing out. And what we're saying right now, I think, is when that happens on a large scale, at a fast pace, you have a revival that is happening. And, you know, even when I think about the medieval period, too, I think about some of those preaching orders that developed. Things like the Dominicans or the Franciscans, where they said—we need to preach the gospel in the vernacular of the people, so that they can understand and respond to God as well.

David Hogg (13:45):

Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's also worth noting that not all revivals or awakenings, depending on how you want to define those things, are geographically or population-wise massive. I mean, there are revivals, for example, in the 19th century in Northern Scotland, that unless you know something about Scottish history or British church history, most people don't know about. But, you know, for smaller geographic locations, massively influential in terms of what the Spirit did in a group of believers, and then, through them, drawing many to himself. So it's also worth noting that when we think about these things, it doesn't have...a revival, or, well, a work of the Spirit that is unusually powerful—it doesn't have to...we don't have to wait for it to be a certain size before we can say, "Oh, okay, so this is now a legitimate revival. Or a legitimate awakening." Sometimes they do happen on slightly smaller scales.

Brian Arnold (14:40):

It can happen in a church. It can happen in a ministry. Right? And even the time frame. I think when people think of the First Great Awakening, it's...they're thinking years of awakening and revival. When really, it's about 18 months. And just as surprisingly as it came, it kind just went out. And you stopped seeing some of those kind of mass movements kind of happening. But there's a lot of people who are awakened during that time who continue on with that level of fervency. And then, of course, we could talk about the Reformation as its own kind of revival. And then from the Reformation of the 16th century, you move into the 17th century, and you get these great movements of the Puritans in England. And even one of my favorite, yet unappreciated, groups of the pietists on the continent.

Brian Arnold (15:26):

And there's some real, beautiful things happening amongst the pietists. Even things like small groups. I don't know if it was in the Pia Desideria by Jacob Spener, but...I can't remember who I read it in, but basically saying that they started small group ministry. So there's nothing new under the sun, folks. If your church is starting small groups, and you think, we're really on the cusp of something—they've been around for about 400 years. And then, of course, we go into the awakenings that people are most familiar with—the First and Second Great Awakening. So if we can just take a minute to kind of unpack what happened there, with the First Great Awakening figures like Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield. So what really stands out to you from that First Great Awakening?

David Hogg (16:12):

A couple of things stand out to me. And I would...I mean, yes, you have Jonathan Edwards preaching on justification. Jonathan Edwards was preaching on sin, and doing, some historians have now questioned this, but for the most part, we recognize Jonathan Edwards, amazingly, was probably the most boring preacher on the planet. You know, he read his manuscripts, and so forth. Some people are trying to now say—oh, no, no, no. He was far more exciting. But for the most part, it seems like he was not a pulpiteer, as we now use the phrase.

Brian Arnold (16:40):

Like David Hogg, correct, yes.

David Hogg (16:42):

<laugh> Or not. But yeah, I mean, so it's kind of intriguing that here's a man who's just simply preaching the Word. That's one thing that catches my attention. You know, he's not trying to manufacture something. But also what intrigues me is the kind of pre-Great Awakening and post-Great Awakening. And what I mean by that is like the awakening that took place with Edwards in the 1730s and 1740s, and Whitefield and Wesley, and so forth, depending on how you're going to look know, define that. All of that was...the precursor was, for example, Edward's own grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, just faithfully preaching and ministering God's Word. And almost in a sense, I think, preparing the soil on which his grandson would then spread the seed of the gospel. So to some degree, there's something to be said for the continuing faithful ministry in between revival, or great awakenings, that simply is continuing to prepare that soil.

David Hogg (17:40):

The other thing I like about least the First Great Awakening, as we often refer to it, is some of its broadness. You know, there was an interdenominational aspect. You've got Whitefield, who's an Anglican. William Tennant was a Presbyterian. Jonathan Edwards was a congregationalist. Eventually...the Baptists are always late to the party, but eventually they joined in the fray. So you get like a multi-denominationalism here, where people are so focused on the person and work of Christ, and the wonder of God in his triune nature, and the glory of salvation to sinful and fallen humanity, that to a degree, there's that recognition that—well, we're in this together. Well, we may have our differences over infant baptism, or, you know, church government, or what have you. There is a wonderful unity that pervades. And in a way, you've got to ask yourself—is this not the answer to Jesus's prayer in John 17?

Brian Arnold (18:32):

Oh, and I think in many ways it is. And we just see it manifest in so many different ways, even between the First and Second Great Awakening. But even with what God is doing today, that people aren't using the right labels for things, they could miss some of the great movements of God. So the First Great Awakening, I like to think of it as, you know, just this genuine work of the Holy Spirit. But when I talk about the Second Great Awakening, I like to use the phrase "recipes for revival."

David Hogg (18:59):


Brian Arnold (18:59):

Yes. So here we have guys like Charles Finney. It's out of the Second Great Awakening kind of era, and all this religious movement, if I can say it like that, that you get things like the LDS church. That you get things like Jehovah's Witnesses. You know, a lot of heresy was born out of the Second Great Awakening. So what do we learn from the Second Great Awakening, and how do you kind of juxtapose those?

David Hogg (19:25):

So I I juxtapose them is the First Great Awakening, I would say was...I don't know. It is probably not the best term for it, but it's a bit of a surprise. I mean, even Jonathan Edwards, when things started to happen, I think rightly so, he said...he asked the question, "Is this genuine? Did the Holy Spirit really work in this way?" Now eventually he came to the conclusion—yes. And I think a healthy sort of cautious optimism—or call it skepticism, if you will. But I think that' know, there's a bit of a surprise, was the First Great Awakening. The Second Great Awakening was a little more planned, in a way. You mentioned Charles Finney, and it's kind of interesting. Finny is famous for saying that "religion is the work of man, and the result of the right use of appropriate means."

David Hogg (20:12):

And he still believed that you...obviously, you can't plan for the work of the Holy Spirit, but Finney was very much a believer in—I can manufacture something here. I can use means that the Spirit will then honor, I suppose we could say, and many, many people will be brought to salvation. So we can actually, we can...if we want revival, we can bring it. And Finney was very much in that vein of thinking. So for him, mass advertising was important. Just protracted meetings, just on and on and on, until something happened. You know, there are aspects of that that I think were very different than the First Great Awakening. And I suppose one of my critiques...and that's not the only aspect of the...the Second Great Awakening is a bit more complex than most people think.

David Hogg (20:59):

But on that aspect of the Second Great Awakening, I think, one of the things we can...we should at least pause and think about is yes, I think there's...we need to think about—to what degree can we manufacture this? Now, I happen to be on the side of—I'm not sure we can. You know, but I do think there are certain practices, certain habits of grace that Christians ought to be practicing with greater faithfulness, that I think will lead to the Spirit moving, and so forth. But I think the Second Great Awakening just raises some of those questions. And what happens when you set some theology aside, as I would argue Finney did, in favor of some pragmatic things that you think you can just produce? Does that answer your question?

Brian Arnold (21:44):

Oh, it absolutely does. And, you know, just to give some tangible aspects of this for our listeners, I would point to things like the altar call. So Finney had what he called "the anxious bench," and if you felt like the Holy Spirit might be moving and calling on you during the service, you'd actually come up on stage where there was a bench, and people would be praying for you while he's up there preaching. You know, I know from a lot of the background I have, it is still very common to see altar calls, as though that's how Jesus did it. That's how Paul did it. That's how, you know, Justin Martyr did it, I mean, just for the ages. But really, it's relatively new in church history. Not meaning it's necessarily bad, but just I like to know the origins of things, and where they're coming from.

Brian Arnold (22:25):

And then, maybe on the other side of that, where I would press on people today—and this is kind of a unpopular opinion—is, man, if we get the lights just right, and just enough fog coming from the machine, and we amp it up in this room, but we got to make sure like we amp it up early, then we get the right slow song right before the message. Like, we can do these things, and manufacture an atmosphere in which we think the Holy Spirit will be more, you know, likely to work. Now we are humans, and we...our hearts do pull towards affections in certain ways. And that's not bad. And so I think we need to be thoughtful. So don't hear me, if you're listening to this, hear me just taking shots at everyone right now. I'm just saying we need to be very thoughtful about what we're trying to do, and are we trying to manipulate the Spirit to do what we want him to do?

Brian Arnold (23:13):

Or are we trying to really create an atmosphere in which we think worship can be done in a God-honoring way, where preaching's going to be heard, and we want that to pierce hearts? So. Well, I mean, there's so, so much more we could say about revival, and I wish we could. But I did want you to maybe tell us a couple resources that people could be reading if they want to learn more about revival. Maybe specifically about the 18th century revivals, but more, I just even mean broadly, and how they might be praying for it.

David Hogg (23:44):

Yeah, I think that's good question. There' may not necessarily be...well, there's a book that I think...I actually required my students to read it. Doug Sweeney's The American Evangelical Story is, I think, just a helpful resource in helping people place the Great Awakenings in a broader context. And to see that there are lots of other things going on. I think, you know, that's a helpful resource. There's a series of books that I think are also rather helpful—The Dominance of Evangelicalism with David Bebbington, The Rise of Evangelicalism by Mark Noll, The Expansion of Evangelicalism by Wolffe, and so forth. There's a series of books there. 

Brian Arnold (24:25):

Fantastic books.

David Hogg (24:25):

Yeah. Great books. And I think all of them do what needs to be done, which is not to deny the work of the Spirit, as though they're going to turn around and say—oh, well the Spirit is not at work. But no, they accept that the Spirit is at work, and sometimes in wonderful ways, but they also want to say—but it's part of a larger history. There are other things going on, and you need to be aware of these things. So I would actually point people to those resources as a way of helping them ground what they're thinking in a historical context.

Brian Arnold (24:53):

I think those are really helpful works. And then, if I might just add one more, Lloyd Jones's, Martin Lloyd Jones's, book on Revival, as a way to really pray for, anticipate, expect. And folks, let's continue to do that. Let's hope that God is working at Asbury and other college campuses. Let's pray that he'll do it in our churches, and let's pray that he'll do it in our lives. Dr. Hogg, thanks so much for joining us today.

David Hogg (25:16):

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Outro (25:18):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at

What Does it Mean to Be a Catholic Protestant? Dr. Michael Allen

Guest: Dr. Michael Allen | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Allen about unity within the church. Topics of conversation include

Dr. Michael Allen serves as John Dyer Trimble professor of Systematic Theology and academic dean at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He is the author of Ephesians in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Brazos, 2020), Sanctification in the New Studies in Dogmatics series (Zondervan Academic, 2017), and, with Scott Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Baker Academic, 2015).



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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:16):

Just before Jesus died, he prayed a prayer that has come to be known as The High Priestly Prayer in John 17. Part of that prayer was Jesus's desire to see the church united. He prayed, "I do not ask for those only, that is, the disciples, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." However, unity is not a word that many people would use to describe the church today. For centuries, at least since the time of the Reformation, the church has continued to fracture into quite literally thousands of denominations. But unity mattered to Jesus, and it should matter to us as well. His prayer is that people will know that he is the truth by the unity of his people.

Brian Arnold (01:04):

So how can we pursue that unity in the church today? Well, here to help us understand this question is Dr. Michael Allen. Dr. Allen is the John Dyer Trimble professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, where he also serves as academic dean. In addition to teaching, Dr. Allen has written and edited numerous books in the field of systematic theology, including the Brazos Theological Commentary on Ephesians, the New Studies in Dogmatics Volume on Sanctification, and, particularly relevant to today's discussion, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation, which he co-authored with Scott Swain in 2015. Dr. Allen, welcome to the podcast.

Michael Allen (01:43):

Thanks so much for having me.

Brian Arnold (01:45):

So we always ask our guests one big question, and today the question is—what does it mean to be a Protestant Catholic? So right off the bat, that's going to be confusing, I think, to a lot of people listening in. And we're going to need to do some defining of some words here. Let's just begin with the word catholic, catholicity. What do you mean by this word?

Michael Allen (02:04):

Yeah. So the word catholic, or catholicity, comes from a Greek term that means "according to the whole." And so the idea of catholicity is about wholeness in different ways. The Bible commends the importance of being a whole Christian—not someone who grows in head alone, or in heart alone, but someone who is whole and effective, formed in every which way. The Bible commends the idea of the whole people of God—the idea that there are folks around the globe and through the ages from every tribe, tongue, and nation. And, as Ephesians two puts it, we're one body, we're fellow citizens, we're all members of the household of God, we're a temple of the Spirit. The Bible also commends the idea of the whole counsel of God, that all of God's Word is inspired by God, and it's useful for equipping us for every good work. So catholicity gets at that wholeness that we are meant to receive from Christ, and to pursue, day by day. Obviously, catholicity sometimes gets heard as being distinctly Roman, or Roman Catholic, and that's completely understandable. They've had good branding for years upon years now, and have sort of owned that name. But catholicity and the Holy Catholic Church is something that all of us, as Bible believing, credal Christians—we cherish dearly. And so it's a really important idea.

Brian Arnold (03:34):

Well, and just to piggyback on that last idea—the credal nature of it. For those who may not know that the ancient creeds do confess our faith in "one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." That we are part of this idea, this church universal, that is meant to be united. And that is the small "c" catholic, right? That universal kind of concept of that. So then how would you define protestant? Actually, before we get there, if I can plug a recent episode that I did with David Hogg on Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, where we—perhaps cheekily—said that Protestantism is older than Catholicism, if we date Catholicism to the Council Trent in 1546, where they made some really strong declarations that really have formed a lot of the Catholic church as we know it. Even today, as a Counter-Reformation Council. So with that idea, kind of Roman Catholicism as being separate than what we're speaking of, what do you mean by protestant?

Michael Allen (04:41):

Sure. Protestants are those folks influenced by a 16th century set of concerns regarding ways in which the church had begun acting out of character. That is, acting and believing and practicing in ways that neither fit biblical teaching, nor even the earliest ways of the Christian Church. And so this isn't the first time in church history—there are earlier waves attempting to reform various ills, but there's an especially important movement in places like Germany, Switzerland, eventually in England and Scotland and elsewhere beyond, that is going to really coalesce and receive a remarkable amount of opposition from Roman leadership, but also a ground swell of support. And that leads people like Martin Luther to be booted out of the Roman Church, and to begin the task of forming what become known as Lutheran, and Reformed, and other churches, that we sort of sum up as saying they are "Protestant." They have protests regarding these ills, or problems, regarding worship, sacraments, pastoral care. Concerning the authority of Scripture and its relationship to tradition, or concerning the place of repentance and its relationship to the justification we have in Christ. Those are going to be the main concerns. And, you know, those are things that are, by and large, going to be shared by Protestant Lutherans, Reformed Anglicans, Methodists, or Baptists.

Brian Arnold (06:18):

So I think it was B.B. Warfield who said something like, "in the balance of the Reformation hung, on one side, Augustine's view of the doctrine of grace, and on the other side, Augustine's view of the doctrine of the church." And they had to really weigh—what do we do with this, that we are one church and this will fracture it? And yet these doctrines of justification by faith alone are so critical, that we can't give that up. So wrestling through this idea of even catholicity, like, how do we pull these pieces together to see a more united church? How do we do that, with even the groups that you just mentioned, there—Methodists, and Presbyterians, and Baptists, and Anglicans? You know, I can see people listening and saying—what are we meant to do with some of this? We're putting the cart a little bit before the horse, I think, with that question, but just curious to see how you would start to help us think through that.

Michael Allen (07:15):

Sure. Well, it is a challenge. There's no way around it. You'd alluded earlier to the language of the Nicene Creed, where we confess belief that there's one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. And those four descriptions of the church, they come in two pairs that relate to each other, so that the church is holy and set apart, but it's apostolic. It's not set apart to be alone. It's set apart for mission to others, to draw them in. Similarly, the church is one, and it's catholic. It's unified, or one, but it's also catholic and whole, or diverse and broad, worldwide in every sense of that term. And necessarily, there's going to be a challenge of thinking about—what are ways in which unity can be sought that are unproductive? When does unity become homogenization, or conformity that that isn't necessary, that is rote?

Michael Allen (08:12):

Even that' might say externalism. But on the other hand, when are we allowing diversity that actually involves pluralism and—in some fashion in each of us—betrayal of biblical truth? Those are real challenges we all constantly have to address—how to rightly pursue both the unity and togetherness on the one hand, and the diversity and breadth on the other hand, of the kingdom of God. And through the ages, Christians have found that's a constant search for equilibrium, as with other areas where we're trying to repent and to obey better. It's a pilgrimage, and we don't arrive in this life. But it's something that even those Protestant Reformers pursued to the very end. Folks like Martin Luther and John Calvin and Martin Bucer continued meeting not only with one another—with different Protestants—but they even continued conversing with Roman Catholics, hoping that they could eventually, prayerfully, come to a common shared commitment about biblical truth and practice. And the fact that they may not have succeeded in every way they wished is no demonstration that their concern and their desire and and their prayers were wrong. I think that's a model for all of us. And so, in all sorts of different ways, and in very different contexts, trying to live into what we share, and to benefit from and bless those with whom we differ, are both crucial tasks.

Brian Arnold (09:51):

Well, it's to be Christian, in many ways. You mentioned...I like how you said pilgrimage. And you mean, even in this life of—as we're trying to sort these things through between the unity and the diversity. But you also made a comment about "through the ages," as the church has sought to do this. One big part of what you have been calling people to is this idea of retrieval, of really mining out the past, and trying to figure out how that pertains today. So maybe if you would describe what retrieval is, why it's so important, and I'd be interested just to hear—what turned you onto that? What was it in your intellectual pilgrimage that led you to some of these great sources? And what were some of those in particular that had such an important impact on you?

Michael Allen (10:36):

Yeah. Well, maybe I'll start with the personal, and then move to the conceptual. I found, as a reader, and someone who is pressed in both a great high school context and then liberal arts study at college, that as I kept looking at both Christian authors and non-Christian authors, folks at the cutting edge, I kept observing over the centuries, and in very different settings, from very different authors—the folks who kept pressing, and creating, and constructing, and challenging in new and fresh ways, were folks who had been shaped deeply by knowledge of those who'd gone before them. And that just struck me, overwhelmingly, as I read so many classical authors, modern poets and novelists, and, yes, lots of theologians through the centuries. And that then led me to think biblically, theologically, how do we make sense of that reality? That the people who are at the cutting edge of the arts, the humanities, the letters, and Christian thought especially—they seem to be people who are well-steeped in what's gone before them.

Michael Allen (11:45):

And I just observed the remarkable role the Bible gives to listening intergenerationally to those who've gone before you. The shortest way to note it is simply to say—we do theology with reference to the fifth commandment. We honor our fathers and our mothers. Not just literally those who raised us as children, but our fathers and mothers in the faith. And honoring them means listening, acknowledging, seeing them. Seeing them as they actually are—not some sort of idyllic, whitewashed notion. But seeing them respectfully and receptively. Not standing over them in judgment, but trying to listen to them and to receive what we can. And I've just been struck, especially, how the Epistle to the Hebrews really challenges that. Most of us realize Hebrews 11, the so-called Hall of Faith, commends these Old Testament saints who do so many wonderful things, all of them by faith—so-and-so did such-and-such by faith.

Michael Allen (12:47):

So-and-so did such-and-such. And then it wraps up, it says, "surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we are called to run the race set before us." So we don't try and live in the old era, but we try and learn from the old era to run the race for today. And then it calls us to look especially to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith. The greatest example of living by faith. But the next chapter, Hebrews 13:7-8 says, "remember your leaders, those who taught you the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. For Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." In other words, it's not just the famous Abrahams and Sarahs, and, you know, great figures of the Old Testament. It's not merely Jesus. But it's also myriad saints who have played roles since him. Anonymous figures to the wider public, but close figures to each of us, who've taught us the Word of God, who finished well, and who...we don't follow their every idiosyncrasy, but we learn to imitate their faith. And we can do that confidently, because Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Because he doesn't change. Their faith, then and there, continues to be a resource and a prompt to us, here and now. And so, retrieval is just this practice of attempting to glean from the whole church. Attempting to learn from the whole range of the communion of saints. To receive from all of them, that we might better listen to the whole Word of God.

Brian Arnold (14:17):

And it's a posture of humility. One of saying that I need to learn from others who've gone before me, in a recognition that God's Spirit has been moving and active in his church for 2000 years. And hopefully that our work is not in vain. Right? The books that you are publishing now, that will be history in a century, that saints can look back and see what the Lord was even telling the church in this period as well. So I'm grateful for your walkthrough of retrieval. I think that that's the best actual walkthrough of that that I've heard before. So that's tremendous. One of the things you mentioned there, because one of the critiques that happens with retrieval, is there's a lot of consternation today of retrieval of certain people, as though we have to swallow the whole of them.

Brian Arnold (15:05):

And let me just give a very specific example that's kind of live right now is Thomas Aquinas. So a lot of people are retrieving some medieval theology, especially as it pertains to the doctrine of God, and they're taking a lot of hits for it, because people would say—he seems to be wrong on some of these areas. So how in the world could you retrieve him on that? I'm sure you're seeing a lot of these same dust-ups that I'm seeing. So how do you respond to somebody who would give that as a caution, or a warning, or a red flag on those things?

Michael Allen (15:36):

Sure. Yeah. I think there's a lot to think through there, and that's an important, interesting example. You know, I think on the one hand, we want to be open to challenge from resources of the past. We also want to be open to challenge by—and I think this is a real thing we need to be alert to today—we want to be open to challenge by people who are not perfect and complete. It just so happens that the greatest voices from the Christian tradition—they all have their failings. Some larger, some smaller. Augustine's my favorite. He was not a Protestant. You mentioned the Warfield quote. And that's true in one sense. It's also remarkably simplistic in another sense. And so, as I learned from Augustine more than anyone else, I also have to humble myself and learn from someone here, where I find that others have rightly challenged him there.

Michael Allen (16:28):

And there's that difficult dance, in so doing, especially in an age where we cancel people who have a sin to their name. Aquinas obviously has a host of beliefs any Protestant will find problematic. On the other hand, the early Reformers rely on him in all sorts of ways. And if we pay attention to Thomas, it's interesting to observe that he himself is relying on others. Augustine above all else, but a host of other earlier theologians. And he's trying to learn from them, to sift from them, to reflect on their sometimes competing claims, to better hear Scripture. And, you know, in a real sense, looking to someone like him, or to Luther, to Peter Lombard, or to Augustine himself, is actually an example of learning how to be a catholic—small c—theologian. Someone who is already themselves really dealing with an earlier tradition, trying to receive it productively as a guide to Holy Scripture.

Michael Allen (17:30):

And so when I study Thomas, and do so with my students, my goal isn't for them to be Thomas. It's for them to learn to be reformed and catholic. And Thomas is going to directly inspire that at times, where he's in the center of the credal faith, where he's remarkably engaging earlier sources, and trying to help people be attentive to Scripture. But especially, also, where he's not trying to rally a school or a party. He's trying to to be a whole, a broad, a catholic Christian, drawing on those who've gone before him. And so, you know, I do think we want to engage people like him, but we want to engage people like him not as the latest character, who we are happy to be on Team Thomas or something, but as a gateway and entryway to a bigger conversation that precedes him and continues after him, and includes, you know, not only Peter Lombard, and Maximus the Confessor, and Augustine, and so forth, but later is going to include other figures—the Peter Martyr Vermiglis, and John Owenses, and Francis Turretins and Herman Bavincks, and so forth.

Michael Allen (18:44):

So the key is to find a way in, to journey around in that great stream of Christian conversation around Holy Scripture and its significance for us. And as you said, I think you named it rightly, to be humble. To be alert. Not to be defensive, not to seek to posture, and to sort of always put down people in another tribe, but always to ask rather—what are ways they can challenge me to hear the Word better? What are ways I can be grateful for what they've offered? And where are spots where I nonetheless feel compelled to differ, because God's Word leads me to do so? And all of that's important to being a whole and mature Christian.

Brian Arnold (19:25):

One of the things you mentioned there was even cancel culture. And it's ironic to me—a lot of the voices today that are strongest against cancel culture in the broader culture, when it comes to the theological world, cancel a whole lot of folks in the stream of Christian thought. That might not, like you said—tribalism—might not agree with their tribe in every single way, cross every T, dot every I. Whether that's even in their own lives or in their theology. And we need to be careful. I like how you said about journeying in that stream of Christian conversation that has been going on for 2000 years. And we can...because we've had 2000 years of reflection, it's easier to even see where people kind of go off the rails, and where we can call them back. But that our faith can be so much deeper if we will take the time to understand them, to read these sources. And then when we come today to have these conversations, even across denominational lines, understanding where they came from, how they got there, what their theologians have said, gives us a lot of even starting ground to have conversations across those places. You know, we don't have a ton of time left, but I was wondering if you might take a doctrine and give an example of what reformed catholicity looks like for you?

Michael Allen (20:37):

Yeah. In one sense, you could take almost any topic, of course, and ask—how do you lean into thinking in a reformed manner? How do you lean into being open to the wider catholic breadth of a tradition? Just by way of one example I've been thinking anew about lately—humanity is the image of God. It's a perennial issue. It's also a pressing one for a range of reasons today, where understanding what it means to be human—the study of what we call anthropology—matters, again, in some fresh ways. Christians through the ages have had this catholic notion. It's not always involved uniformity or homogeneity in every sense, but this idea that human beings are made in the image of God, and that means there's a dignity to every human life, there is a value. We want to be careful, sanctity isn't quite the right term here, because it's not necessarily holiness, but there's dignity, there's beauty, there's purpose, there's significance—that is a reality for every human creature.

Michael Allen (21:44):

And that's been a remarkable catholic emphasis. And that's why, of course, the Christian faith has been at the forefront of, over the centuries, developing things like notions of human rights, thinking about the just war tradition, beginning to sort of act out Christ's abolition of things like slavery. That those are implications of affirming the dignity involved in bearing God's image. All of us, not just one tribe, not just one gender, not just one class or caste, but each and every one of us. At the same time, reformed folks, when we get this side of the Protestant Reformation, have had a concern that we make sure and understand that the image of God is not simply something that marks out our dignity like a token or a badge, as if part of us makes us special. But one big emphasis of the reformed is that the whole person—not just our soul, but also our body—the whole person is the image of God.

Michael Allen (22:49):

And imaging God involves every facet of you in some sense. Doesn't mean there aren't certain aspects of life that be more or less to the foreground at different times and in various ways, but that the human is the image of God, not some faculty, not some small aspect, or a specific sliver of the human. And that, too, speaks to the significance of all of life. The concern that God has for all of our humanity. That all of it, in some way, is meant to be given in devotion and love to God, and to thus render glory to God—a great hallmark of the reformed tradition. And so, that's not to say that there aren't any non-reformed people who believe that, but that that's one way in which Protestant reformed folks have believed we need to make sure and clarify how all of us share the image.

Michael Allen (23:44):

It's not, you know, simply because we all have a soul. It's not simply because we all have a body. It's because we are this psychosomatic whole. We have this complete nature that God has fashioned and designed, that we might receive graciously from him, and that we might return glory unto him, as we seek his kingdom and as we do good to our neighbors, his fellow images. So, you know, that's a way in which we can see both a sort of shared, unified Christian commitment, as well as this inflection, this idea, that there's a reformed notion that slightly tweaks, or specified how we receive it, so that we don't receive it in a misleading or a misapplied manner.

Brian Arnold (24:29):

And I think that is the issue of the day, right? Anthropology, how retrieval and reformed catholicity can speak into that is going to be critically important, I think, for how Christians approach that issue in the most robust way today. Well, I would commend our listeners to check out your book on Reformed Catholicity with Scott Swain, and even just mention Phoenix Seminary professor Steve Duby, who's also done a lot of great retrieval in his work on classical theology. So there's a lot of things we could say about this, but we're all seeking to be faithful in this faith once for all delivered to the saints, what the Lord has done in the last 2000 years through his church, that we might stand on the shoulders of these giants. Dr. Allen, thank you so much for your time today.

Michael Allen (25:15):

Oh, it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Outro (25:18):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at

What Does Nature Teach on Men and Women? Dr. Joe Rigney

Guest: Dr. Joe Rigney | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Rigney about the differences between men and women, as revealed in nature. Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Joe Rigney serves as president and associate professor of Theology and Literature at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He is also a pastor at Cities Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is the author of several books, including The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying HIs Gifts (Crossway, 2014), and Strangely Bright: Can You Love God and Enjoy This World? (Crossway, 2020).



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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:16):

There's a lot of confusion today about a lot of different things, and one of the most significant places of confusion today is on gender. What does it mean to be a man and what does it mean to be a woman? And we recently saw this blow up in the past year or so when Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson was asked, "What is a woman?" And her answer was, "I'm not a biologist." As though she could not answer that question. And it just signals the larger confusion in our culture today around ideas of gender, transgenderism—these words that we have now that were not in our lexicon before. But, as Christians, we recognize that gender matters. And God has this in the opening pages of the Bible in Genesis chapter one, that we are made male and female in the image of God. And it matters to God.

Brian Arnold (01:03):

And so we need to think Christianly about these topics of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. And while a lot of ground has been traversed biblically on this topic, I think it's also important that we think about—what has God done in our nature that demonstrates the difference between men and women? Well, to help us understand this today, we have with us Dr. Joe Rigney. Dr. Rigney serves as president and associate professor of Theology and Literature at Bethlehem College and Seminary. In addition to his work at Bethlehem, he is a pastor at Cities Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He frequently writes for Desiring God, and is the author of several books, including The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts, and Strangely Bright: Can You Love God and Enjoy This World? Dr. Rigney, welcome to the podcast.

Joe Rigney (01:52):

Well, thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here.

Brian Arnold (01:54):

So we always ask our guests one big question. Today that is—what does nature teach on men and women? And you and I have been around long enough, that we have seen this ground, as I mentioned before, traversed a lot through Scripture, and some of those significant passages about that. But fewer and fewer people are looking to the Bible in culture today to identify what a man, a woman is. But you've actually moved into kind of the realm of natural theology on this to help answer this question. How did you come to even start thinking about it in that way?

Joe Rigney (02:29):

Well, I think one of the things I began to notice about my own reflection on it, was one, that the Bible regularly argued from creation or from nature in all sorts of ways. So some of the books I've written—Things of Earth, Strangely Bright—were about what God reveals about himself through the natural order. So I'd already been kind of, you know, leaning into that world for sort of Christian life and how do we love God and enjoy the world, that sort of thing. But then it dovetailed with realizing that what the Bible says in its commands and in its exhortations about manhood and womanhood, whether in the church or in the home, actually fits with the way that God made the world. It made sense that there was this connection between special revelation and general revelation. And so that was really what kind of led me into it.

Joe Rigney (03:14):

And then what I realized was that I think for a lot of Christians—we fear that the biblical teaching sort of is free floating or arbitrary. And that there's really a faith-strengthening dimension to realizing that what the Bible says accords with the way God made the world. And so it really...what led me into it was a desire to sort of buttress the faith of Christians by helping them to see that God's commands, God's imperatives, fit with his indicatives, with the things that he's done and made. And that was sort of the connection—that there's a faith-strengthening dimension. And I think in some ways an apologetics one for the world around us. That the world just is the way it is. God made it that way. And that you can appeal to that. You can have a confidence that when you're speaking to someone—they live in the world God made, they were made in his image. And that therefore, you're not speaking into the void, but that there's something on the other end that you're trying to tap into, in hopes that God would awaken someone to his Word and his world and his reality in all these different ways.

Brian Arnold (04:17):

And that's one of the reasons why I'm really grateful for your work, is helping bridge that gap between what the Bible says and what is true in nature are not opposite things. It's not that God is somehow trying to trick us or something. And you mentioned that he's not arbitrary. And I had a dear, sweet friend of mine who...that's where she was struggling on this issue. Is not whether or not the Bible teaches what we call complementarianism, but—well, God just decided to make it that way, so I'll follow it. But not that there's anything in nature itself that bears that out. And just for our listeners, who may not know that word—complementarianism is just a biblical teaching that God has created men and women with equal worth, value, dignity in his image, but he's given them separate roles and functions in this life. As opposed to egalitarianism, which would really remove that kind of distinction between men and women, bringing kind of a sense of equality into every aspect, denying that there's different roles and functions. Are you fine with those definitions?

Joe Rigney (05:20):

Yeah, I think that works.

Brian Arnold (05:21):

So moving then from from Scripture to natural theology, let's ask some of these questions, even about human biology and anatomy. What is a man, and what is a woman? I mean, can you believe we're even asking these questions today? But here we are. So how would you answer these?

Joe Rigney (05:37):

Yeah. So I think...when I think about grounding the biblical teaching in something in nature, I typically make a distinction between what I'll call creation and nature itself. So creation would be what you learn in the Bible from the early chapters of Genesis. So it would be things like—God made Adam first and then made Eve. God made Adam...or made Eve out of Adam's side. She created him as a helper. These are all things revealed in the Bible about the original creation of man and woman. They're really important. The rest of the Bible draws upon them, assumes them, grounds things in them, Paul appeals to it in his letters, things like that. But then there's this other thing you can call nature, which is more...things that we can know by natural revelation, and that are evident to all people right this minute.

Joe Rigney (06:24):

You don't need to have a Bible at all to know them. And when I think about that question as applied to men and women, there's a few things that you know about every human being. You know, that every human being who's ever existed—Adam and Eve may be excepted, because they were special-created—every other human being was made...was the son of human parents. Or a daughter of human parents. So every human being is an actual son and an actual daughter of human parents. And because—what does it mean to be a son? Well, a son is someone who will grow up to be a father, or is ordered to fatherhood. Is a potential father. A daughter is the kind of human being who is ordered to motherhood, is a potential mother. And that potential is there, even if, because of a variety of reasons, you never actually have biological children.

Joe Rigney (07:13):

So you may never get married, and so never become a father or mother. You may get married and you have infertility, or other things like that, and you may not become a father and a mother biologically. But God has still designed you with that sort of purpose in mind. Maybe one way to think of that is—everyone is meant to be a spiritual father and spiritual mother. God's built us for that purpose. And that's basically, at the sort of universal level—every human being is either a son or a daughter, a potential father, a potential mother, a brother, or a sister. And that those realities then, that package, is what constitutes us as men and women.

Brian Arnold (07:52):

So it seems like a lot of people are concerned today, as we talk about these kinds of issues, of gender stereotypes, right? This is the kind of thing that we hear of, somehow this Donna Reed or something picture in their mind, or Leave it to Beaver kind of scene, of this woman in an apron, vacuuming and making sure the chicken is cooked just perfectly for her husband—who's been at work all day—to come home. And there's a lot of pushback and rebellion kind of against that view today. So what are some of those specific roles that we would say—we're not gender stereotyping, this is just true of the differences of the genders. While also recognizing that there's freedom on some of those issues. So how do you even help people, confused in this cultural milieu today, understand that?

Joe Rigney (08:41):

That's great. Yeah. So I would begin again with that, you know, we're all sons and daughters. Sons or daughters. We're all potential fathers or potential mothers. Those are basic facts. And then, sort of along with those, then what God has done, is have these built-in tendencies and traits that emerge from and serve those facts. So because you' know, men are made to be fathers, God's designed us in a certain way. And this is where you run into those sort of tendencies, trajectories—the sort of things that you cluster together, often on a bell curve. So there's outliers. It's not that every man is this way, but it's sort of things like—men in general are taller and stronger than women. It doesn't mean every man is stronger than every woman.

Brian Arnold (09:23):

How dare you, sir.

Joe Rigney (09:24):

But it's a general truth,

Brian Arnold (09:25):

Right. That's exactly right.

Joe Rigney (09:27):

And then there's other things like that. You know, in general, women tend to be more people-oriented, and men tend to be more task-oriented. Now, of course, there's task-oriented women, and people-oriented men. But again, kind of clustered. And these are sort of real tendencies and traits that emerge, especially as you sort of survey large groups of people, and they're pervasive across cultures. These are, in some ways, universal. But you can' don't build as much on the tendencies, because there are outliers. Instead, you realize those tendencies are serving these other, more fundamental, facts. I am...God has built me to be a father, and that's true of my own children. I have three boys. But it's also true in my ministry as a pastor. I want to be a father in the church.

Joe Rigney (10:11):

Whereas I think women ought to aspire to be mothers in the church. And then those sorts know, the household of God as a mirror of the natural family become really important, as then you navigate what roles do men and women relate? Well, in the church, it's going to be brother to sister. It's going to be father to daughter. An older man is supposed to...Paul says, is to treat younger women like daughters. Timothy's supposed to treat older women like mothers. He's supposed to correct fathers...older men, like as a father, with respect and honor. And treat sisters in all purity. And so those familial relations really do kind of form the kind of backdrop that help us and guide us as we think—what are the appropriate and fitting ways—those are important words—that fit the kind of human being I am, either a man or a woman?

Brian Arnold (11:03):

And thinking about that bell curve illustration that you're using, transgenderism is in some ways a gift on this, as weird as that sounds. I think about something like Lia Thomas, I believe is the name—right—of the swimmer who is a biological male, wanted to compete in women's athletics, destroyed the competition, and yet swimming against men was like 450th or something like this. Just demonstrating, I mean—transgenderism is going to keep saying to us, over and over and over, that there is something different between the genders. And nature will win out. Give nature time, and it will show itself to be what it is.

Joe Rigney (11:42):

That's absolutely right. It does show. And there's an interesting example. This was years ago, I think it was like a Heineken commercial. It was a British Heineken commercial. I don't know how I ended up seeing it. But it was one of those extended, like four minute sort of commercials. And in it, there was a transgender...there was a male presenting as a female, and doing so in maybe a more effective way than sometimes...that can be. In other words, you might not have...if you didn't know, you might not have known without being told. But what was interesting, is that in this interaction, that this man who was presenting as a woman had with another man, an older man, who was kind of a more man's man, that the man's man began to...would treat this other transgender woman like a woman.

Joe Rigney (12:29):

And it was, it was sort of nature. He knew—this looks like a woman, and therefore he treated her with more gentleness and kindness than he probably would've had it been another man. And so, even there, and things like that, there's ways that we can't sort of avoid the natural tendencies that men have to, say, want to protect women. Or to orient them in a way that's different than sort of the masculine, you know, wrestling, direct conflict that men sort of thrive on and enjoy when it's another man—feels inappropriate. And I think that there's things like that, that are sort of pervasive, and that culturally there's massive incentives to sort of deny what you can see with your own two eyes, and your own behaviors. So we have to sort of pretend those aren't really there. That we're going to buy into—men and women are just interchangeable, and you shouldn't treat them differently, regard them differently, orient to them differently. And yet nature, like you said, is really stubborn and will reassert itself.

Brian Arnold (13:26):

One of the many unpopular opinions I like to suggest is—you really don't get transgenderism without radical feminism of the 20th century. You need to get to that point—what you just said—men and women are interchangeable. Once there's no difference between the sexes at all, or the genders at all, why can't a man identify as a woman? Why can't a woman identify as a man? And now we're starting to see—well, maybe there is a difference. And I do wonder if there's any unwinding of some of those other pieces that have led culture astray, just in recognizing this experiment has failed. So one of my favorite things about you, Joe, is your pastoral background and heart as well. This is a live kind of issue for a lot of people in our churches today. I hear pastors constantly telling me that they're getting more and more young people with gender confusion, gender dysphoria. And how does this thought—of thinking through men and women from a natural theology kind of perspective—guide you in pastoral ministry, and the kinds of advice you give to young people struggling with this?

Joe Rigney (14:33):

Yeah. The first thing it does is actually more in me than it is in relation to them. And it does have comes back to that confidence piece. That they're...I'm going to deal with reality as God made it, and not reality as the world around me insists on lying about it. And so that gives a kind of settledness. So one of the things I often know, there's an old story about a preacher who wrote in the margin of his manuscript, his sermon manuscript, "argument weak—shout here" And there's a way in which—

Brian Arnold (15:07):

<laugh> I've never heard that.

Joe Rigney (15:08):

Sometimes in our ministries, when we feel like we might lose the argument, we sort of compensate by trying to elevate our decibel level, right? We're going to compensate for the weakness of our argument by shouting. And that can come out kind of in that shrill, angsty way, or it can come out in a kind of apologetic way, like a—"oh, I'm sorry that the Bible teaches this, but what are you going to do? You get kind of stuck with it." And the first thing it does for me in my ministry is give me a settled confidence that the way God made the world is good. And that I believe it's good. I see its goodness reflected in my own life, in my marriage, in my parenting, in my community. And so that when I'm speaking, whatever I'm going to say to the person sitting in my office, it's coming out of a stronger confidence that like God is wise and good, and he's made us. And manhood is good, and womanhood is good.

Joe Rigney (15:54):

It's good to be a man, it's good to be a woman. And that it doesn't have to be this zero-sum competition about which is better, sort of the war between the sexes. Nor does it have to be this folly of interchangeability in order to have...attain some sort of nebulous equality that's just false to reality. And so, brushing that aside then means I can deal with a person sitting in front of me as a man or a woman, and seek to speak to that goodness. And then what I'm trying to say to them is say—hey, I know that you have these tendencies, you have these trajectories, you have this nature that's there. And I'm just wanting to say—Jesus reorders it. He blesses it, he redeems it, he wants to guide it and govern it, so that you become a true human being. You become a mother in the church, you become a father in the church, a brother in the church, a sister in the church. And boy, isn't that great? And isn't it amazing? And so I want there to be a kind of...what I hope is infectious and contagious joy and happiness that God made it this way. As opposed to that shrillness that comes from an angst about—oh no, we're losing. Or the apologetic—I don't ever want to talk about this, please don't make me.

Brian Arnold (17:01):

Yeah, there's...I was speaking to a group of youth just a couple weeks ago, about 530 high school and middle school kids. And I had 30 minutes in one of my sessions to deal with—what does it mean to be a person? And in that 30 minutes, I was able to try to go over the image of God, and God's plan for men and women, and what marriage is, even, in that regard, and then have to hit issues like abortion, homosexuality, and transgenderism. <laugh> All in 30 minutes. So it was a lot to handle, as you can imagine. But a lot of students came up after that weekend and said that was the most impactful talk on them, because all they hear constantly is—that's wrong, don't do it. Instead of what you just said there, of portraying the beauty of what God has done in creation. That when we submit ourselves to that, we're actually living in his favor as it relates to our human relationships. And we're living within the way that God designed it best. God wants human flourishing. So when people think about, you know, Christians being up in arms about this, and how bigoted we are and things—really, it's love for neighbor. We want to see our neighbors living out God's plan and design in their life, believing wholeheartedly that that's going to lead to the greatest joy that they could possibly have.

Joe Rigney (18:18):

That's absolutely, that's absolutely right.

Brian Arnold (18:20):

This is an area where you and I probably have some commonality, in terms of taking a lot of body shots on complementarianism and our views on some of these things. So what are some of the most significant challenges you've had on this kind of issue, as you've sought to lead faithfully in your role at the seminary and also in the church?

Joe Rigney (18:49):

Yeah, I think one thing is it doesn' can explain it as clear as you can. You can unpack it. You can try to make it sound as good as you believe it to be. And some people still aren't going to be persuaded. And I think that's true on just the gospel in general, but an issue like this it can feel heavy and hard when you see people who just can't get there. Or that dig in. I think it gets particularly hard when they twist the Scriptures, and you see the contortions people are willing to go through in order to make it not say what it manifestly says. And so those would be some of the harder ones is when you see people who—man, I think that there would be just such a relief if they would embrace the way that God has designed and made them.

Joe Rigney (19:38):

And I think there is an element of...sometimes people ascribe it more narrowly, you know...where our nature will always be expressed in particularly cultural ways, but the cultural ways could vary from culture to culture. And sometimes those can be sort of more narrow and fixed, and people sort of buck against the cultural script. And they think they're...and then they abandon nature. And they don't need to do that. There's actually flexibility, because God's wise in how he made the world. So you don't have to conform to some particular gender stereotype in every respect, in order to embrace what we're talking about. But when they do reject it, it can be really hard. It's heavy to see people decide that they're going to continue to buck against the way God's made the world and what his Scriptures teach.

Brian Arnold (20:24):

And like you said, the response is not—weak point, shout louder. The point is—live it out faithfully, and it let it be a guide and a model for people. And when they see it, people are going to gravitate towards it, because it's beautiful and it's outworking. So again, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us on this topic, especially from the side of nature, which you hear so rarely these days. What are some resources that you would point our listeners to that have helped you think through this issue?

Joe Rigney (20:55):

Yeah, I'll give you a couple, I'll give you two quick articles that I've written that might help. One's called With One Voice, and it's on the relationship between nature and Scripture. That's a little more theological. But it helps to kind of, what is general revelation, special revelation. So you can go look, just search "Rigney" and "With One Voice," and you'll find that article online. And then there's another one on this issue particularly, called Indicatives, Imperatives, and Applications, which really is getting at that—what's the foundation in nature and creation, and then how does God's Word build on that? And so Indicatives Imperatives and Applications. Both those are articles you could find online.

Brian Arnold (21:29):

Joe, that's the one that I heard a few years ago, is that right? And let me just tell you all—

Joe Rigney (21:33):

That's right. That's the address from CBMW.

Brian Arnold (21:35):

It was fantastic. I was riveted the entire time. I found that to be one of the most helpful things I've heard on this issue in years past, so thank you for that. Yeah, go ahead with books.

Joe Rigney (21:45):

That's encouraging to me. Yeah, so the two books I'd recommend is, there's a little book by the chancellor of our school, John Piper, called What's the Difference? And it's a short book on kind of just what, you know, what's the difference between men and women? That I think gives a good kind of little intro into the sort of what...trying to, as best we can, describe or define the quality of what masculinity is and femininity. So that's a good, really small book called What's the Difference? by John Piper. And then the other one is a more recent one by Kevin DeYoung. I think it's called Men and Women in the Church. Or Men and Women in the Home and Church, or something like that. So Kevin DeYoung. And I would say it's a little fuller. It's a little bit bigger, but still geared to a popular level. It'd be a great place for people to go if they were trying to get—what does the Bible teach on manhood and womanhood? And it really brings in both what the Scriptures teach, and how nature factors into that.

Brian Arnold (22:34):

And Kevin is just so gifted with clarity in all of his writing. So I would commend those resources to you as well. Well, Joe, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this today. I think this is one of the most significant issues facing culture today. When we think about the sexual revolution, when we think about LGBTQIA+, these really come back down to the nature of what does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? What has God spoken in his Word? And what has he revealed to us in nature? And I think in understanding those things, Christians can have a very important and impactful witness in this world today. So, Dr. Rigney, again, thank you so much.

Outro (23:13):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at

How Should Christians Engage with Islam? Dr. Ayman Ibrahim

Guest: Dr. Ayman Ibrahim | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Ibrahim about Islam. Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Ayman Ibrahim holds a PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary, as well as a PhD from Haifa University. He is professor of Islamic Studies and the director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Ibrahim is the author of several books, including A Concise Guide to the Quran: Answering Thirty Critical Questions (Baker Academic, 2020), and A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad: Answering Thirty Key Questions (Baker Academic, 2022).

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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:16):

Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. And when we think of Islam, we typically think of the Middle East—maybe North Africa, Indonesia, some of these countries that have significant Muslim populations. But recently we've seen a lot of Muslim expansion into places like Europe. Douglas Murray, in his book, The Strange Death of Europe, catalogs how much Muslim immigration is happening there. And if we look at the United States, the same as happening here as well. And I think it causes a lot of consternation for people, but as Christians, I hope we see this as a great opportunity. Instead of just taking the gospel to the nations, sometimes God brings the nations to us. So today I want to talk about—how do we, as Christians, engage with Islam? And to help us understand this question, we have Dr. Ayman Ibrahim. Dr. Ibrahim is professor of Islamic Studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at Southern Seminary. He holds two PhDs in Islamic Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary and from Haifa University, and has taught in various countries around the world on the topic of Islam. He is the author of A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad, and A Concise Guide to the Quran, as well as numerous other books and publications on the history and theology of Islam. Dr. Ibrahim, welcome to the podcast.

Ayman Ibrahim (01:29):

Thank you so much for inviting me. It's an honor. Thank you, Dr. Arnold.

Brian Arnold (01:33):

So we always ask our guests one big question, today that question is—how should Christians engage with Islam? But before we even get down into how Christians engage with Islam, I think it'd be really helpful to set the stage for what Islam is. So if you could give us even a brief history of Muhammad, the Quran, and the Five Pillars, I think those would be really helpful things of context—and I know that's got to be very difficult to give concisely,

Ayman Ibrahim (01:59):

Briefly, Islam is a world religion that is followed by somewhere between 1.5, 1.8 billion-with-a-B. So those who are Muslims follow the religion of Islam. And Islam is a religion that goes beyond religious sets of beliefs, because it's more like also a cultural identity, or even a nationalistic movement. So you feel like Muslims are united in some sense that goes beyond religious boundaries. Most Muslims—and I'm saying most, because Muslims are not all the same—most Muslims have two sets of important elements of their faith. One is what they do, what they practice, what they perform. And it's called the Five Pillars of Islam, including fasting during Ramadan, which is coming this month, end of this month, and alms giving, and going to the pilgrimage. So there are some five practices that every Muslim, or most of Muslims, hope to perform to be considered the real Muslims. And the other set of beliefs are called the Six Articles of Faith, which is mostly among Sunni Muslims in particular—believing in a Law, believing in his Apostles or Prophets, believing in his books, the books, the Scriptures he sent, and so forth. So among the majority of Muslims, there are two sets of items. One is what Muslims do—or practice—called the Five Pillars of Islam, and what Muslims believe, which is called the Six Articles of Faith.

Brian Arnold (04:01):

Well, that's really helpful. And even to give our listeners some context, I believe Muhammad was born in 570, and even within the next hundred to 150 years, Islam really swept through, especially kind of the Southern Mediterranean basin, where Christianity had had a significant stronghold for a long time. But by 650 or so, a lot of those places that had been Christianized for several hundred years were then in Islamic hands. And then from there, kind of continued to spread around the Middle East. One question I have for you, even as we kind of begin, it actually came from my 11-year-old son last night. He's starting to have a lot of theological questions, and world religion kind of questions. And right before bed, he said, "What are the Muslim Scriptures? And I said, "Well, they're the Quran." And he had a lot of questions about how the Quran came together. So what would you say, yes to an 11-year-old, but to our listeners as well, as to what the Quran is and how it came to be?

Ayman Ibrahim (05:01):

Well, the Quran is a book that is mostly like two thirds of the New Testament. And it has chapters, and each chapter has several verses. And it's not arranged in chronological order, but it is believed by Muslims to be the inerrant word of a law that was given to Muhammad, his apostle. And, as you correctly mentioned, Muhammad was an Arabian bedouin who supposedly was born in 570, and until he was 40 years old, he was one among the Arabs, a merchant doing some trades. But then, he allegedly received a revelation from Allah, through the angel Gabriel, and that was what became later known as the Quran. So this is the conservative, conventional understanding among Muslims regarding their Scripture, the Quran. However, from a scholarly perspective, there is a lot of doubts regarding how this book was formed, or was shaped, because many scholars believe that it was canonized over time, and it took centuries for it to be formed in the way we have it today.

Brian Arnold (06:32):

And that's not a really popular thought among Muslims today, is it? They don't think about the Quran going through these changes. One Church Father—some people call him Church Father, I think he's a bit more medieval—but John of Damascus, who even brings out some of the textual problems in the Quran, in what—the ninth century? And so he grew up in Muslim lands, and knew the Quran inside and out, and saw some of these challenges. And what a lot of Muslims think today is this pristine Quran, that just kind of fell out of heaven, isn't really quite the case.

Ayman Ibrahim (07:08):

Yeah, absolutely. You are very accurate, because we need always...whenever we approach topics in Islam, we need to distinguish between the belief among the masses—the conservative, conventional belief—and what the evidence, what the data, what the historical accounts provide. Even Muslim historical accounts do not support a book dropped from heaven. So you are accurate when you say that Muslims believe that it is a book that is preserved throughout centuries, and it's the only preserved text, or Scripture, but their own sources do not support such a claim.

Brian Arnold (07:54):

That's exactly right, I think. And to recognize—that is a point of entry, I think, Christians can have, even in terms of conversations with Muslims. So I do kind of want to shift gears then, to think about this question—having kind of laid the foundation of what Islam is, you know, what even of your own background helps you not only converse with Islam, but also help others? I mean, you're at my alma mater. I'm a three-time graduate of Southern Seminary. So thankful that you're there. These are important things for us to be thinking about, in this day in particular, as the world is more accessible than it's ever been. So I'd love to just hear a little bit about even your background with it.

Ayman Ibrahim (08:37):

I was born and raised in Egypt. Some believe that I was a pharaoh in the early years, but I wasn't. Pharoahs are not in my family, but probably in the very past in life. But I was born and raised among Coptic Christians. That was my family growing up. And when I was nine and a half, I began attending Coptic Evangelical Church. So it's Coptic because it's by Egyptians. So the word Coptic is more like an ethnicity, rather than a religious adherence. And interacting with Muslims all the time. They were my classmates. They were...when I began my engineering career, they were my colleagues and my coworkers. So I was really blessed to have this firsthand encounter with Muslims. And I encountered different kinds of Muslims—some were just cultural, very nominal, they knew nothing about Islam. And some were religious, committed, and wanted to adhere to the letter of the faith. And I also encountered some radical. So that's why I always try to help my American friends understand that Muslims are not all the same, and Islam is not monolithic. That's a general insertion I always try to provide to my friends in America.

Brian Arnold (10:17):

I think that's a really helpful thing to segue into that point about, is, you know, we hear these words like Islamophobia, and things like that today. And even just in the recent context of the last 20 years, I think all Islam is kind of cast in a certain sense, given the fact of September 11th, and then, you know, multiple wars and things like this that are being fought, just kind of set that stage of—it's not monolithic. You're going to find different, even commitments, if I can say that, to Islam. Much like you would find in Christianity. You'll find a bit of a spectrum of people who take their faith a bit more seriously, and people who it's more of a cultural identity.

Ayman Ibrahim (10:59):

Yeah, absolutely. I don't find the word Islamophobia appealing in many aspects. It is misused in our day. I understand that some people can be fearful or scared of Muslims. I can understand that. I understand this exists. However, the word Islamophobia, if I examine it a little bit, it is a phobia of Islam. And Islam, as a set of ideological assertions, should not be shielded from evaluation. So I always tell my students—we need to distinguish between Islam as a religion, and Muslims as followers of that religion. Muslims are to be loved, we care for them, we have good news given from the Lord for them, and we love to engage them in conversations and have them in our homes. However, Islam as a set of belief system shouldn't be shielded from evaluation.

Ayman Ibrahim (12:12):

And basically, the word Islamophobia in our days is used's like a weapon against any kind of evaluation of the truth claims of Islam. That's why you feel like—well, is this really accurate? Is it a phobia, like irrational fear, of Islam? Or some people are actually concerned for what is going on in terms of people adhering to the letter of the faith, and through which, making a lot of atrocities. Actually harming some Muslims. So there are some Muslims who are harming some Muslims. So I think we need to approach the word Islamophobia with a little bit of nuance here. You see what I mean?

Brian Arnold (13:03):

Oh, absolutely, I do. And I would agree with that. I think part of the way—because I would also say it's not a helpful term a lot of times—it's used in the media a lot. And I never know exactly what they mean by it. I do wonder though, if some people would say that Islam does not seem as open to the same critiques that even Christianity is. I'm thinking in the western world, right? And a lot of that seems to stem from fear, thinking—if we criticize Islam with the same ferocity that we do with, you know, Christianity, that it would be dangerous. And we saw that, you know, Je Suis Charlie in France, what was that, 10, 15 years ago? Something like that. So, you know, it is often said too, I hear, as people think about engaging with Islam, and I can think of a very prominent evangelical institution, university, that a professor said a number of years ago—it's one of the major Abrahamic faiths. Islam is. Just like Judaism and Christianity. And so we all kind of go back to the same God. So I hear this a lot. How do you evaluate a statement like that?

Ayman Ibrahim (14:18):

I evaluate it from my interaction with Muslims as adherence of the faith and with studying Islamic texts. I think this, one umbrella that is bringing Islam, Christianity, and Judaism under Abraham is a big social, public discourse, but it doesn't have true roots in history or in theology. So let me explain briefly. Even Muslims, in their own texts, in their own sacred texts, do not believe that they have many common arguments, or many common grounds, with other faiths. But in recent years, it was really important for Islam to be joining a major movement of—all of us follow the same faith, in general. All of us worship a similar God, all of us...and it's part of a social movement, rather than a theological one. So do I believe that we...the three religions follow the same direction of Abraham? I really don't feel this is an appealing idea. However, I understand that some people want to advance this thought to make it more, like—okay, you know what? We want to live in harmony and we want to promote coexistence. So I think in that direction, you know, I think...

Brian Arnold (16:03):

Absolutely. And we should certainly want peace amongst each other, right? And not warfare, not shedding blood. But I like how you make the theological distinction. You know, I think about even something like First John 2:23—"No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever confesses the Son has the Father also." Jesus makes this point in the gospels to the Jews who say, "God is our Father." And he says—you don't have God as your Father if you don't acknowledge that I'm his Son. Same thing with Islam, right? Is that's one of the central truth claims of Christianity. If you deny that the Son is co-eternal with the Father, and has been sent by the Father for the redemption of sin, and if you deny the Holy Spirit—right, the Holy Trinity—you don't have God as your Father. And I think that's an important theological distinction.

Ayman Ibrahim (16:51):

Absolutely. And once you begin a conversation with a sincere Muslim, this whole idea of "we are all Abrahamic," or "we are all worshiping the same God"—this argument will fall apart, because Muslims will never accept some particularities in the theological claims of Christianity, and vice versa. So, you know...

Brian Arnold (17:14):

So let's get to something really practical. Let's say we've got some listeners who have some neighbors who are Muslim, or coworkers, and they want to know, as a Christian, how do I best do this? A lot of fear. And I don't even just mean in terms of violence or something like that. I mean, in terms of—I don't think I'm going to know what to say. I don't know how to approach it. I'm not sure what some of the best inroads are to the conversation. What do you say to Christians to really help them think through engagement?

Ayman Ibrahim (17:45):

Some of the most kind and most hospitable, and most generous people you will meet in your life are Muslim. Begin befriending them. Don't think of Muslims people who are different, and I want to stay away. I don't think this is the right approach, especially for followers of Christ. I encourage you—speak with Muslims, engage them in conversation, befriend them and love them for who they are. And you have a gospel that you can present in the conversation. Now, I encourage people just to think of Muslims, not as projects, but as really people that you can befriend. And you can begin a conversation by asking, "So how did you come to America? Tell me about your family, about your siblings. How does life treat you in America?" Just sincere, good conversation. And trust me, if you don't begin talking about God in like two, three minutes, Muslims will begin talking about this. Muslims are not like Westerners—afraid of conversation about politics or religion. They are always ready to talk about politics and religion, all the time. So you don't need, really, to force a conversation about God. It will come through. So overcome your fears, begin a conversation with Muslims. Don't try to force the religion. Just talk about life, and then present your identity in Christ in the conversation. And you will be surprised how wonderful the friendship will develop.

Brian Arnold (19:43):

And if we have the Holy Spirit of God living inside of us, there's something different about Christians, that eventually people are going to say—what is that? Why are you different? Why are you handling suffering different? What is that reason for the hope, as First Peter says, in you? Well, let's get into even some of the theological pieces then, of you've befriended them, you've started a great relationship. What are some of the hurdles that Christians are going to experience in discussing the faith with a Muslim? And here I'm thinking about things, even like the Trinity or Scripture. What are some of those most common areas?

Ayman Ibrahim (20:20):

There are social and cultural barriers that Christians need to cross. And there are some theological. So I always try to tell my friends here in the States that one of the social or cultural barriers is that many Muslims come to America with the idea that Christians are Hollywood members.

Brian Arnold (20:48):

Is that not true? Oh, okay, yeah, yeah.

Ayman Ibrahim (20:51):

Because Muslims do not often separate between religion and state. So when they approach America, they are seeing America as Hollywood promotes. And that is for them, America as a Christian nation. Of course, we know that this is inaccurate. But Muslims think—okay, if Saudi Arabia is a Muslim nation, America is a Christian nation, and they always think in that paradigm. So I always say to my female students and my male students, your first role is to present the image of Christ. For female, I say—no, we are not...I am follower of Christ. I'm not like what you see in Hollywood. And, of course, for men too—I don't mess around, or stuff like that. Now, for the theological aspects, as you mentioned, Muslims often have this erroneous, like, wrong idea that Christians do not have a reliable Scripture. So you need to cross that barrier. And I explain this in detail in my book, in my recent book, Reaching Your Muslim Neighbor with the Gospel. And another barrier is—oh, Christians worship three gods. How can you handle that question? Of course, we don't worship three gods, we worship only one God in three persons. And this actually is very plausible to explain to Muslims if you get the chance to do that. And I detail the explanation in my evangelist book, Reaching Your Muslim Neighbor with the Gospel.

Brian Arnold (22:32):

So that's what I was going to ask next, is just some idea for resources that you would have for people. So you've written this book, Reaching Your Muslim Neighbor with the Gospel. You've also...I mentioned these before, your book on the Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad, and A Concise Guide to the Quran, which I have, and I find to be very helpful, as really good introductory guides to understanding Islam, some of their most sacred texts, and obviously prophet. And now also this help that you've given the church in—how do we actually engage our Muslim neighbor? Because this is going to become more and more common, I think, just as there's immigration happening worldwide. And like I said before, I think that's a good...I mean, I hope Christians can see that as a beautiful thing, a good thing, an opportunity that really has not been afforded in the history of the world. That because of more porous borders that are happening, that does increase evangelistic opportunities with people that would not have been there before. Are there some other resources that you would point people to?

Ayman Ibrahim (23:33):

Yeah. Well, the three you mentioned are the most important for our audience today. Because the one on evangelism is very practical, and, it gives some questions that you can ask Muslims and some ways that you can describe the Trinity, the Triune God, and how Christians are not polytheists, and how you can trust the Bible as reliable. And the other two, one on the Quran, and one on Muhammad's life, is because these two are important. Because these are the two major foundations of Islam. If you want to say Islam is one thing, it is one religion built on two foundations—Muhammad and the Quran. And both are explained in these tool books, you know?

Brian Arnold (24:25):

Well, thank you so much for serving the church by writing these. I have found them to be very accessible. I think anybody could pick them up, and read them, and benefit from them. And I just want to address the Christians listening right now of the opportunity that we have—that Jesus Christ is ransoming people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and false religion. And we have an opportunity to take the gospel in love to people who will also confess him as Lord. So thank you so much for your work that you're doing at Southern Seminary and through your writing ministry to help Christians think about how to engage Islam. And thank you so much for joining me today.

Ayman Ibrahim (25:04):

Thank you so much, Dr. Arnold. It was a pleasure, and I pray God would expand your work and bless you abundantly.

Brian Arnold (25:12):

Likewise, brother. Thank you.

Outro (25:14):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at

What Do Christians Need to Know About Contraceptives? Dr. Ken Magnuson

Guest: Dr. Ken Magnuson | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Magnuson about the ethics of contraception. Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Ken Magnuson serves as the executive director of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is professor of Christian Ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as at Phoenix Seminary. He is the author of Invitation to Christian Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues (Kregel Academic, 2020).

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Intro (00:02):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:20):

Recently I had Dr. Ken Magnuson on Faith Seeking Understanding to talk about reproductive technology. Well, today I want to talk about the other side of reproductive technology, and that is contraception. And on this issue, there's a lot of assumptions that are made, but very little reflection as it comes to it. And I want us to frame this conversation around all reproductive technology—whether it's in vitro fertilization, or it's contraception in terms of birth control—from a biblical worldview standpoint. We need to think through—how does God want us to procreate in a way that honors him and honors our commitment to be fruitful and multiply? And there's no easy answers to these questions. And so I'm thankful that Dr. Magnuson is joining us again to talk about them. Dr. Ken Magnuson is professor of Christian Ethics at Southwestern Seminary, and also teaches Christian Ethics at Phoenix Seminary, in addition to his full-time gig as executive director of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is the author of the recent book, Invitation to Christian Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues. And I have always found Dr. Magnuson to be a well thought through person on these issues. Dr. Magnuson, welcome back to the podcast.

Ken Magnuson (01:33):

Thank you, Brian. It's good to be with you. And please—do call me Ken.

Brian Arnold (01:37):

<laugh>. You got it, Dr. Magnuson! All right. So we always ask our guests one big question, and that today is—what do Christians need to know about contraceptives? Or if we wanted to get a little bit more spicy, should Christians use contraception? Now, that is obviously a very big broad kind of question, as there are many different kinds of technologies, that go into contraception. But maybe we could set the stage by thinking through the difference between birth control and contraception. How do you differentiate those?

Ken Magnuson (02:05):

Yeah, so these terms are often not defined, but it is helpful to distinguish them. And they're sometimes used interchangeably. But I use contraception to refer to methods that prevent fertilization. And by the way, even there, some people will define contraception as anything that prevents implantation or earlier. So I'll use contraception to refer to methods that prevent fertilization, while birth control may be used to refer to anything that prevents birth, including methods that prevent fertilization—and those that act after fertilization occurs, either by preventing implantation, or even preventing birth later. So birth control may refer to contraception, as well as various forms of abortion. And, of course, this is really important, because whatever other issues we may talk about with respect to contraception—this is a great divide. You know, whether we prevent the beginning of life, or end life after it's begun.

Brian Arnold (03:13):

Well, and I'm always stunned by the animus that even Christians have on this issue. I mean, people really care about this topic—whether or not they've thought about it much, they still care about it a lot. One of the things, even just to set the stage in a different way, when I'm teaching my students through church history, one of the most important inventions, I think, in the history of the world, is the printing press. I think the printing press gives us the Reformation, the Reformation gives us even—and this is very...a hundred thousand foot, right—leads us into even places like the Enlightenment, because you have an explosion of information and things. But when I ask them about the 20th century, what is the single most important invention of the 20th century? Think about planes, and cars, and computers. I mean, lots of different things. I always press them that birth control is likely the most significant. And by that, I mean like oral contraception, the pill, is the most significant technology created in the 20th century. Because it fundamentally changes humanity and what global population looks like. And has almost endless ripple effects to it. Would you agree that that is the significance of the topic we're talking about?

Ken Magnuson (04:21):

Yeah, I think that's huge. And it has had that kind of impact, by separating in a much more profound way, procreation from marriage. And so it has an impact on sex outside of marriage, as well as the way that people think about procreation—married couples think about procreation.

Brian Arnold (04:45):

Well, let's talk about that, maybe before and after something like the pill is introduced in the 20th century. How were people thinking through the issue of contraception before, and then maybe even after, the sexual revolution? What have you seen in...I know you're a modern ethicist, but you've done some work in the history of ethics as well. How has that shift occurred in the last hundred years?

Ken Magnuson (05:10):

Yeah. It's interesting, and a lot of students I've had haven't really thought about this. So I know a lot of other people haven't thought about this a lot. But prior to the 20th century, every Christian denomination—the Catholic church and every Protestant denomination—opposed the use of contraception, including for married couples. And the first denomination to open the door a crack to the use of contraception in marriage came in 1930, with the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. And even there, while allowing for contraception within marriage, they condemn, and I quote here, they condemn the "use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience." And just think about how things are different today. But at any rate, in the following decades after that, every major Protestant denomination followed the Anglican church, and contraception was deemed permissible by the majority of Protestant leaders.

Ken Magnuson (06:14):

Not all, by any means, but by the majority. And there was even some talk that the Roman Catholic Church would reverse its position on contraception at Vatican II in the 1960s. And they were encouraged by a good number of Roman Catholic scholars to do so. At the end of the day, they didn't, and so the Catholic position has remained opposed to the use of artificial methods of contraception. But that's how profound an impact that we have seen in the 20th century. And then, you know, as you say, in the sixties, things changed dramatically with the advent of the birth control pill, and it shaped cultural values—especially with regard to sex outside of marriage, and sex apart from procreation. That produces a radical change. And this is one of the reasons why I think this is an important issue—it didn't take long for Christians to follow our culture into an embrace of contraception.

Brian Arnold (07:15):

Yeah, I was going to ask you the why question. Why is it that in the 1930s, even, you have this statement from the Anglican Church saying—not even for reasons of luxury or lifestyle—whatever it is—that if we're honest today, that's what happens. People get married, you know, especially if they're in their younger twenties, and they are saying—hey, let's put off kids for five years. They don't really think much about going onto a pill, and then in their own timing want to have children. I mean, that was very prevalent, even when I was a student in Southern Seminary. I mean, that almost just went untalked about.

Ken Magnuson (07:53):

I think it's the assumption and expectation, isn't it?

Brian Arnold (07:56):

It is.

Ken Magnuson (07:57):

When a couple gets married.

Brian Arnold (07:59):

Absolutely. Okay. So let's get into some specifics about this, because we might say—I'm not sure if you'd say this or not—but something like Natural Family Planning. Is that an okay approach to having, you know, some sort of—I don't want to call that contraception—but you're trying to avoid having children, right? By using that. Or do we need to really think through—every sexual act needs to be open to procreation?

Ken Magnuson (08:31):

Yeah. So you're raising, largely, the difference between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant thinkers on this, in some ways.

Brian Arnold (08:42):

Yes, I am. That's exactly what I'm doing.

Ken Magnuson (08:43):

So...and as you indicate, the Roman Catholic perspective is that each and every act of sex within marriage must be open to procreation. You can't block off that possibility. And so they have turned to Natural Family Planning as an acceptable approach to limiting the number of children. And by that—most people probably have an idea of that—but by that, is you do the best that you can to identify the woman's fertile period, and avoid coming together during that time. And then you wouldn't use any form of contraception when coming together. And what's interesting to me on that, Brian, and as a historian, you might appreciate this—is that I think most Catholics would see this as the most consistent view, as consistent with Augustine's understanding. It's kind of an Augustinian perspective. Because Augustine was opposed to sex outside of an openness for procreation. But in fact, Augustine would roundly reject the Roman Catholic view, because the entire marital life can be organized around having sex without an openness...without wanting to procreate. And Augustine's view was that your intention ought to be...not just that you're not blocking the opportunity, but your will should be that you come together to procreate. So the Roman Catholic Church has come far from that.

Brian Arnold (10:20):

Right. And I'm sure some people might already be doing the math, and although he had a—in essence, like a concubine, right? Earlier on in his life. If you know the story of Augustine—I know you do—for our listeners who know that story, he did have a son named Adeodatus, but then he was single the rest of his life. And so I think that always comes into play, especially as you're talking about the Roman Catholic position. How often single men, and men without children, are making determinative statements. Do you run into that? Is that something that you see as part of the argument?

Ken Magnuson (11:00):

Yeah, I mean, I...

Brian Arnold (11:02):

It may be irrelevant, but I'm just saying like—it seems to be part of it.

Ken Magnuson (11:05):

Right. I mean, it's not that we can't speak to things that are outside of our own experience, or something. But that is definitely a criticism and a concern. And I think we have to put it in a perspective of a theology of marriage and procreation, and, you know, all of these things. And not just, you know, our own experience, or the leadership of the church's experience, or something like that.

Brian Arnold (11:40):

So, okay. Now let's kind of move down the line a little bit. What are some from Natural Family Planning, and then kind of moving into contraceptions of like condoms or the pill, things like this—how do you think through those things biblically?

Ken Magnuson (11:57):

Yeah. I mean, I think I'd want to back up just a little bit to think in general terms—what kind of an issue is this? Is it a moral issue? Is it merely a pragmatic issue? And I say this because I think it's treated like a pragmatic issue by many—maybe most—people. And by that, I mean that we have forgotten that there are moral questions related to contraception. And secondly, that it's assumed or expected, as we've already talked about. But then third, that the primary questions about contraception are pragmatic, such as—which method is most effective? Or even, you know—do you want to have children now? If not, then you ought to use contraception. It's that kind of pragmatism. But I would argue that it is a moral issue, because it involves significant questions that are central to a robust Christian view of morality.

Ken Magnuson (12:52):

So teleological questions like—what is marriage for? And what is the place of procreation within marriage? That's very much a moral question. So questions related to virtue, such as what is our motive for having or not having children? And then questions related to moral actions, like, you know, then considering different forms of birth control and whether some are acceptable to use and some are not. And when we get to those specific questions, which you're asking, then I think we might be able to...we can distinguish barrier methods that prevent fertilization, such as the use of condoms, diaphragms, things like that, and methods that act after fertilization. And this would be things like—an IUD may prevent fertilization, or it may prevent the implantation of an embryo. And avoid...definitively avoid those methods that may act after fertilization.

Brian Arnold (13:58):

And I think, yeah, beginning with even—what is the heart motive behind it? It know, how do I say it? There is, I think, an intention for a lot of people for wisdom, right? They're...let's say they're 22 years old, fresh out of college, saying—hey, let's establish the career, and get some money set aside, and really prepare for a family. Now the reality is, I think most people who have had kids would probably say—there is no such thing as getting ready for children, right? <laugh> They're always going to be a little bit more disruptive than anyone can prepare for, which is okay. Like, we all have to go through that experience. And so there's never the full preparation of that. And I think even challenging that, these days—and I'm in a different place at almost 40 than I was at 24 when I got married—of thinking through what does it mean to be ready to have children?

Brian Arnold (14:51):

And what does it mean to just kind of jump right in, as, you know, God leads you to be married, you're open for family. Anyway, yeah. I think...yeah, setting it there with heart motives, but I think there could be...I guess what I'm trying to establish is there could be a sense in which the heart motive isn't necessarily, I don't think, wrong. But maybe not as helpful as it could be. And then that even raises the question that I want to be sure we get to in this segment is—can this just be open to Christian conscience on these matters?

Ken Magnuson (15:24):

Yeah. So a lot of good points there. And I might just follow up briefly with what you're saying, and agree that I don't think that even the assumption and expectation that a couple goes into marriage, that they'll use contraception, you know, perhaps so that they can strengthen their marriage in the beginning and things like that. I don't think that comes from a bad motive. I would simply say that our cultural, and our...there's been such a reset in the 20th century, that we might want to challenge some of those expectations. I think you're spot on thinking about like—are we ever really prepared for children? Well, in some ways, waiting and waiting makes us less prepared, because we develop certain patterns and things in our marriage that children interrupt more than if they come early in our marriage. So it's not always, you know...we need...I think we need to at least question some of those assumptions and begin to raise children who are ready for marriage and procreation. Whether those things occur or not, they are ready for them. Right? And then we can kind of move forward with some of the other questions.

Brian Arnold (16:47):

And that is totally reframing everything, isn't it? To say—this is what cultural expectations are today, but could we even raise our children...I mean, that's a convicting word for me. My kids are 11 and nine, thinking through—yeah, if they're going to be married in 10 to even 15 years, how do we start preparing them for the recognition that God's design for family is good? So okay. So go from kind of where we've been, now maybe into some specifics of contraception.

Ken Magnuson (17:20):

Yeah. So, in terms of how we might approach thinking about them? Is that...?

Brian ARnold (17:26):

Yeah, I think so. Because it's been my experience that, as we talk about these things, a little bit in the air, people kind of want the on-the-ground, is this in, is this out, what are the general principles that we're applying to these things? So if we go to the...maybe the other extremes. So if natural family planning is on one side, I would think anything that's abortifacient—so it causes an abortion, so there is a fertilized egg that cannot implant, or destroys it, like a Plan B kind of pill—would be outside the bounds on that side.

Ken Magnuson (17:55):

Yeah. Anything that acts after fertilization has taken place, I think we should clearly reject. And then there's other questions that are questions of wisdom. And so some things might be a matter of...well, you know, here's getting at thinking about the place of procreation within marriage, right? So developing a biblical view of marriage and procreation, seeing children as a gift that we ought to welcome, not a burden and an obstacle to our plans. We've kind of touched on that, you know, but that's really important. And once we do that, then asking questions such as why we may want or not want to have children, whether our motivation or attitude is in line with understanding children as a gift from God, how we may glorify God in our marriage, and those kinds of things.

Ken Magnuson (18:52):

Are we willing, you know, going back to the Lambeth Statement—are we willing to sacrifice some of our pleasures and conveniences and welcome children? And so know, I think here, Brian, we ought to shift from something like a presumptive question, that there's an expectation that we would use contraception, and press the question of—why do you want to have children? Instead to ask—why do you want to use contraception? And, you know, I don't think I can answer the those questions for each couple, but it's the kind of thing that couples need to think about, pray about, be thoughtful about.

Brian Arnold (19:30):

Do you feel like they're even asking those?

Ken Magnuson (19:32):

I don't think they preclude the use of contraception, but they get us to think about it a little bit more.

Brian Arnold (19:38):

And that would be, I think, a welcomed hope for this even episode of the podcast—is just to get people thinking about it. Because I think there's so much assumption of this is just what you do. You get...if you get married a little bit younger, you wait to have kids, so you're going to go on the pill, and it's just a part of the process. And I don't even feel like, as a young man, when I was...I started seminary at 21, but I got married at 24, so I was thinking about these things somewhat, but to be honest with you, not in depth nearly at all. And so it's something that I think it would be interesting to even have the conversation with my wife about—if we could rewind the clock, would things be different?

Brian Arnold (20:19):

Because we were married four years before we had our first child. And it wasn't until, you know, probably 10 years after that, that I really started thinking through these questions. And so my guess is a lot of the people in the church aren't. And as soon as it does come up, it does seem to create a lot of strife with people that maybe haven't thought about it, that are assuming it, and saying basically—this is a matter of private Christian conscience. It shouldn't even be on the topic for discussion.

Ken Magnuson (20:48):

Well, and I'm glad you said that kind of thing, because I think there are couples who become very, you know, kind of upset that you raised this question and things, and that's not my intent. My intent is like—let's think more deeply about this. Let's think carefully about this. And part of my motivation, Brian, is that I've talked to numerous couples over the years who had these kinds of questions, who looked to resources to answer them, and couldn't find them among Protestant pastors and theologians. And so they turned to the Roman Catholic Church writing on these things, and feel like—well, there's some thoughtful, you know, approach. And they adopt more of a Roman Catholic perspective on this. And—which, by the way, has much to contribute to our conversation, right? I don't think it's quite right, but it has much to contribute. And lacking a lot of thoughtfulness from Protestants on those, couples have turned that direction.

Brian Arnold (21:50):

So maybe if you could summarize...because I do want to go into resources. I mean, there's so much we could say about this topic, and you segued it really well. But before we get to what resources are helpful for people, could you just maybe in a paragraph or so, summarize how you would encourage somebody to think about the topic of Christianity and contraception?

Ken Magnuson (22:12):

Yeah. And so, going back to—first of all, I would praise somebody for thinking about it, right? That this is an issue we ought to be thoughtful about. Secondly, I would...we've talked a little bit about Roman Catholic perspective. I do think that kind of a general Protestant perspective is something that we might call the principle of totality, which is to say that marriage, in general, should be open to procreation, but not necessarily each and every act of intercourse within marriage. So it's not required of each act, but our marriages...we should be thoughtful, and make sure that we are open to procreation, if God would bless us in such a way. And then just think through the kinds of questions that I raised earlier, you know—why do we want or not want to have children? Are we willing to sacrifice our pleasures and conveniences, and things like that?

Brian Arnold (23:09):

Okay. So now—what are some helpful resources that you'd point people to, who are really wanting to think through this question?

Ken Magnuson (23:16):

Yeah, good question. So there's a book that''s now going on 20 years old, but by William Cutrer and Sandra Glahn, called The Contraception Guidebook. And it's a helpful one, published by Zondervan in 2005. It goes through a number of issues, and I think it's just a basically helpful...provides some helpful perspective. And then there's two kind of discussions in journals or magazines. One is in First Things that a lot of your listeners would probably be familiar with. If they're not, they should be—from December of 1998. But there's's a symposium on contraception. And I would have readers check that out, because you get people with different perspectives talking about this. Christianity Today has also done some things, interestingly, in November of 1991, and then in November of 2001. So if readers want to find that, there's some people discussing that. And I do want to serve the nerds that are listening to your program, and a historical survey—there's a massive treatment by John Noonan, who's a Catholic theologian, just called Contraception. It's a history of its treatment by Catholic theologians, and it is a very helpful read to try to understand how the Roman Catholic Church thinking on this has developed through the centuries.

Brian Arnold (24:46):

Those are excellent resources, I think, for people to look at. Well, this is obviously an incredibly important topic. On the very first page of your Bible, we're reading about God's hope for procreation, as he wants us to be fruitful and multiply. And it's something that Christians have thought about for 2000 years. And we need thinking Christians in this generation to continue to discuss how God's plan for the family is a beautiful plan. Dr. Magnuson, thanks for spending so much time on your own personal research of these things, and for taking the time to be with us today.

Ken Magnuson (25:16):

Thank you. It's great to be with you.

Outro (25:18):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at