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 over...do 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 to...you 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 the...it 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 ps.edu/online.

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, what...hockey 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 truth...so 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't...it'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 ps.edu/online.

The Simple Gift of Being Present

My wife and I love to open our home to friends and neighbors. We know that our world can be isolating and lonely, so we want our hospitality to open the door for community and conversation. One of the results of our hospitality (and certainly being a pastor) is that friends will ask us for advice when they are going through a tough season.

We always start with one question: “are you involved with a church?” A few years ago, this would not have been as big of an issue. But the pandemic truly impacted the simple grace of being together in a church family. Christian friends who know that they are out of the habit of gathering at a church need the gentle nudge—and sometimes stern push—to gather with their church every week.

We begin our counsel with being a part of a church because Christians who are isolated are outside of God’s good design. And then they are left to face trials and troubles without the help that God ordained in his church. Truly, the first thing a Christian needs to do is show up in a church. And there are three reasons to trust in the grace of gathering with God’s people.


God’s Command

Hebrews 10:22–25 invites believers into the grace of being a part of God’s church. The phrase “let us” gives the blessings we encounter in community. The invitation also comes with a command to “not [neglect] to meet together.” Neglecting the gathering means that believers miss out on the good gifts that the community comes together to celebrate. When occasionally skipping the service becomes a habit, Christians become isolated from the teaching of our confession of hope, they miss out on encouragement, and they end up discipled by the world instead of the church. We gather because God has invited us into the goodness of the community of faith.


God’s Purpose

Showing up matters because God’s command has a purpose; we encourage and build one another up when we gather. Hebrews 10:24 says that we “stir one another up to love and good works.” The blessing of gathering with the church is far more than what we get out of it, and includes what we give to our brothers and sisters as well. When we meet, we stir one another up. When we pray together, we intercede for the needs in our community. And when we sing praises to God, we also sing to one another the truth about God. Ephesians 5:19 tells us that we are not singing to God alone, we sing to one another. When we sing “Great is thy Faithfulness” we are proclaiming the glory and faithfulness of God. But we are also reminding our brother, who did not think that God was all that faithful this week, that he can trust God despite changing circumstances .


Christ’s Nature

Perhaps the strongest reason for showing up is the truth that the church is the body of Christ. And we know that Jesus came in the flesh. Jesus was born and grew up; he ate and drank; he met with and taught people. Jesus did these things because he is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). If Jesus came in a physical body, then the church, as the body of Christ, should come together physically, too. If a part of a human body is missing, it alters life significantly. Take out the wrong body part and it will end a life.

In the age of sermon podcasts and live-streamed worship, we can get some of the good that comes from a service but still miss out on all that God provided for us in the gathered church. It may seem like a small thing, but showing up is a way of living out the nature of the church as the body of Christ. He showed up more than 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, and we show up each Lord’s Day to experience the grace of the gathered church.


So, when you feel strung out or tired, come to church. When your kids won’t listen and can’t get ready on time, come to church. When people are visiting from out of town, come to church. When you have been every week for years and feel burnt out, come to church. When your marriage is in a rough spot, come to church. When your career is going sideways, come to church.

You don’t need to have your life in order. You don’t need to wear your Sunday best. You don’t need the church bumper sticker on your car. You don’t have to feel in the mood. The simple gift of being present will bring you encouragement and community (while doing the same for your brothers and sisters) because that is how God designed his church to work.

Andy Shurson is a church planter and pastor of Desert Ridge Church in Phoenix. He is a graduate of Belmont University and Dallas Theological Seminary. Andy has served in the local church for years as a lead pastor, youth pastor, and in many other volunteer roles. He is also a writer who has written resources and curriculum for churches across the country.

What is the Church's Role in Counseling? Dr. Deepak Reju



Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Reju on the subject of counseling.

Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Deepak Reju is the pastor of biblical counseling and family ministry at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He serves on the board of directors of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and is also a trustee for the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. Dr. Reju is the author of several books, including Great Kings of the Bible (Christian Focus, 2014), The Pastor and Counseling (Crossway, 2015), She’s Got the Wrong Guy (New Growth Press, 2017), and Pornography (P & R Publishing, 2018).


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Intro (00:00):

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):

One of my favorite descriptions of the church is that it's a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. The church is made up of a bunch of people who've been saved by faith in Christ, and who are on a progressive journey towards Christlikeness. And this progress we call sanctification is full of bumps and potholes. The world often thinks that Christians either have it all together, or pretend to, but the truth is that our lives are messy, too. Christians are struggling in their marriages, with raising children, with addictions, with pornography, with fear and anxiety, and a host of other hard stuff. Thankfully, there's a lot more recognition of struggle today than in previous generations. And Christians are turning to churches and pastors for help. But what is the role of the church in counseling? Or how much counseling should a pastor do before he refers someone to a professional counselor? How can we find help in the church for the burdens we bear? Well, to help us understand the church's role in counseling, we have with us today, Dr. Deepak Reju. Deepak serves as pastor of biblical counseling and family ministry at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He earned his PhD from Southern Seminary, and he's the author of several books, including Great Kings of the Bible, The Pastor and Counseling, She's Got the Wrong Guy, and Pornography. He's also served on the board of directors of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and also as a trustee for the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. Dr. Reju, welcome to the podcast.


Deepak Reju (01:36):

Thank you. Glad to be here.


Brian Arnold (01:38):

So we always ask our guests a big question, the one for today is—what is the church's role in counseling? And you've served in this kind of capacity, as pastor of biblical counseling and families at Capitol Hill Baptist Church—how'd you end up in that role? What kind of attracted you to that ministry in the church?


Deepak Reju (01:54):

Well, I am a first child, Asian American. So I'm the oldest child in my family. And I was working here at Capitol Hill as Mark Dever's personal assistant. And he said to me, "I think your gifts are in counseling." And, you know, typical oldest child and Asian American—older authority figure in my life speaks in, I say, "okay, what should I do next?" And he said, "Why don't you think about going, getting a degree, and coming back and working for me as an associate pastor?" So that's the short version of it. It turned out in that same period, another elder, unbeknownst to Mark, came to me and said something similar. And just, I thought, "Okay, a lot of men who know me are starting to say this is what I should do with my life. So I should probably listen."


Brian Arnold (02:49):

Well, isn't the Lord so kind in his Providence to bring those people into our lives at the right time to speak multiple words to us to get us in those places? It's a special gift that guys have—there's a lot of pastors who I don't necessarily think have as soft of a pastoral heart. So to be a guy who has that can really make an impact in churches. So one of the things that we probably need to set out at the very beginning, is maybe even the difference between discipleship and counseling. So let's define our terms a little bit. How would you define discipling?


Deepak Reju (03:21):

So discipling we think of as the one-on-one ministry in which we're invested in someone else's life. Typically we associate that with Bible study and prayer. And the overall goal is for helping them to grow in Christ—so for the sake of their spiritual growth, for the sake of their spiritual good, we do everything we can to come alongside of them and help them. So that's essentially discipling. Now we associate that mostly with one-on-one, but I am discipling when I'm teaching an entire classroom. I'm discipling when I do family worship with my wife and kids. So we can think of it more broadly, but typically we think about it as that one-on-one mentoring context.


Brian Arnold (04:00):

In which, some counseling-like things happen. As somebody, maybe a little bit further along in the faith, identifies things in their disciple's life, and walk them through that biblically.


Deepak Reju (04:12):

Yeah, that's exactly right. So, you know, discipling is what we're all called to do, and we're all asked to do, as Christians. So we often say in our membership interviews, as we're sitting with prospective members—we understand that all Christians are responsible to be investing in others and have others invested in them, in a ministry of discipling.


Brian Arnold (04:34):

So, then, how does that differ from counseling more proper?


Deepak Reju (04:38):

Okay. So if I'm talking about counseling...if you think of discipling as a spectrum of things that we encounter in the Christian life, the stuff that we see that are really the hard things, the nasty things, the really difficult things in life, so the adultery, the addictions, the eating disorders, the worst kinds of conflict, just the really hard things that we encounter—that's what we associate with counseling. So counseling is an intense and problem-focused form of discipling. And you notice what I'm doing—I'm making discipling the overarching category. I'm making counseling a subset of that. So whenever we're coming alongside those who are struggling with really hard stuff in the Christian life, and we're willing to speak to them, come alongside them, love them, invest in them—then we're doing what I'm defining then, as counseling.


Brian Arnold (05:36):

And that is...are you seeing an uptick in that in the churches, especially with the pandemic, with a lot of strife in culture? It seems to me, from my vantage point, that a lot of people are in a place right now where they're seeking out counseling.


Deepak Reju (05:51):

Yeah. I think that is very much true. In fact, I think the shift has been...I think some of the younger generations see counseling as normal. I mean, you can hear, especially in the secular community, people joke about like having a therapist being the normal thing that they do, and surprised when their friends don't have their own therapists. Well, actually, how much more so should we, rather than going and seeing professionals, be willing to be involved in each other's lives in a local church? Otherwise that makes a statement about what our churches are, and what the gospel is.


Brian Arnold (06:30):

Well let's dive into that a little bit more, because I think one of the things that you lay out is how a church broadly can be engaged in counseling. And it not just be that thing that the pastor is responsible for. Because I know when I pastored a small church in western Kentucky, you were kind of everything. You are the youth pastor, you're part-time janitor at times, you are obviously leading the church and preaching, but also the chief counselor. And that was seen as something that there was the clergy-laity divide, and only the pastor could really offer that level of counseling. How do you set that forth in a place like Capitol Hill?


Deepak Reju (07:07):

Yeah. So I think there's a common false assumption that the care of members is the responsibility of professional pastors and licensed counselors, and not the congregation. And a member once said to me, "After all, we pay our pastor to do the dirty work, right?" And yet I think God has made really clear in his Word, that believers have a responsibility for one another. If you join a local church, you've got a biblical obligation to be invested in others' lives. So we try and lay that out really clearly as you join, as a member. We have a whole class dedicated to the involvement of members in each other's lives, and set that up as an expectation—that if you're joining this church, you should expect to have other people in your life, and you being invested in other people's lives. It's just a fundamental part of what it means to be a Christian. It's not just a program that we do. This is what it means to be a believer in Christ.


Brian Arnold (08:07):

Well, and to remember that Paul says to the church at Ephesus, that the pastor's job, really, is to equip the saints in order to do the work of the ministry. And so it's not just to do the messy things, which the pastors will of course do, but it's to help train other people to carry those burdens as well. And that's what creates healthy churches.


Deepak Reju (08:24):

Yeah. That's exactly right.


Brian Arnold (08:26):

So how do you, then—let's get a bit more particular—how do you, from Scripture, help guide people in your church to greater understanding? Because it seems, you know, from the outside, watching Capitol Hill for 15, 16 years, you have a very healthy church that seems to really buy into this model. So how do you get somebody who's been used to sitting kind of in the pew, watching ministry, to really engaging?


Deepak Reju (08:51):

Yeah. There's a lot of ways I think you could defend this Scripturally, but I think the most straightforward way to do it is just simply listen to and pay attention to the one another passages in Scripture, because they're written about one Christian and their involvement, engagement, their life, with another Christian. What do Christians do with each other? Well, listen to...I just wrote down a couple of different texts to read to you. So John chapter 13, "A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you're my disciples, if you love one another." Romans chapter 12, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." Romans chapter 13, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law."


Deepak Reju (09:39):

Romans chapter 15, "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." Romans chapter 15, again, "I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another." Ephesians chapter four, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." Ephesians chapter four, again, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you." And then, 1 Thessalonians five, "Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." And so, what do you see in the verses? The verses are speaking to Christians, and the general direction is to oblige Christians, to love one another, be devoted to each other, to honor one another, to accept one another, be patient, be kind, be compassionate, forgive, and even to instruct one another. So there is clearly an obligation for Christians to be invested in each other, in each other's lives, to be deeply involved. And I think that's unavoidable if you're just simply reading your Bible.


Brian Arnold (10:41):

Yeah. And when church becomes a spectator sport, you show up, you watch, you expect the ministry to be done by the people who are being paid full-time. And there really isn't deep engagement in the church. We just don't see this happening. And then when crises come into people's lives, or even in culture as a whole, the church seems ill-prepared to actually address these things in people's lives, which creates a whole subset field for people to look to, to answer those questions that oftentimes the church is equipped to do.


Deepak Reju (11:09):

Yeah, and most people are walking in with a consumer mentality, as they walk in on a Sunday morning, or they even join a church. Like the motto "it's better to receive than give" is their mentality when it comes to walking into church. So this is saying—no, actually, as you show up, expect that you're going to give, and others are going to give to you. And this is what supernatural community looks like.


Brian Arnold (11:33):

So let me press on some areas, because I'm imagining some people are listening, they're in, you know, counseling right now outside of their church. And maybe even they've been directed there by a pastor. So I want to ask kind of a series of questions around this. One of them being, when should a pastor say, "You know what? Maybe there's some additional help that we may be able to find outside of the church." Or where are times that you even find it could be helpful in somebody's life to direct them elsewhere? Or do you?


Deepak Reju (12:01):

Yes. I think you do. I mean, I'm deeply sympathetic to a pastor, for example, who's in an unhealthy church, and he has very little help overall, and he's overrun and overwhelmed. I think it's really good to find other partners in the ministry where you can come alongside them, they can come alongside you, and help you with that burden. But what the danger is, is too many pastors just simply pass off the problem situations to professionals outside of the church, and are not willing to be involved. So I want to fight against that, because I want space for a pastor to be able to partner with, say professional counselors in their community, but I don't want pastors to assume—my job is just leadership and preaching, all the problems go to the professionals outside my church. Because that again—that makes a statement about the power and effectiveness of the gospel in local churches.


Brian Arnold (13:00):

One of the sweetest periods in church history, I think, because I'm a church historian, is the Puritans. And I love how they thought of themselves as "physicians of the soul." And many of them wrote—I mean, I think about like Richard Baxter, wrote voluminously on the issue of pastoral care, and really engaging people's lives with the gospel, in ways that would help them through issues that we would address to modern day counseling. And the church has kind of lost that vision. And I know...I mean, you work with Mark Dever, who did his PhD in Puritans. And so this is, I'm sure, informing a lot of what's happening there at Capitol Hill Baptist.


Deepak Reju (13:36):

Very much so, very much so.


Brian Arnold (13:38):

So let me...you know, I want to continue on this, because one of the things that Phoenix Seminary's even had recently, is a Master of Arts in Counseling that leads to licensed counseling, kind of bringing in some secular psychology with biblical worldview. But there's a whole spectrum on these kinds of things, from biblical counseling all the way to secular counseling. People have a conception of Christian counseling, integrative counseling—I mean there's a whole world of these kinds of things. I would love to just hear you kind of speak into that, and what, in your experience, you have seen to be most effective.


Deepak Reju (14:14):

Yeah, so I started in psychiatric studies. I was a typical—I guess I can say it, because I'm saying it—I was a typical Asian American geek. You know, went to undergraduate thinking I would do either engineering or become a doctor. I did go on to med school. So I did psychiatry studies. Then I ended up doing a minor also in psychology. I went and studied with integrationists, which are the vast majority of evangelicals. People who are trying to integrate their faith with some kind of psychological model. I studied with non-Christians in the psychiatry and psychology departments. I studied with Christians and integrationists. And, you know, as I did all of that—and appreciated lots of things that I learned in all these different environments—the thing that kept on bugging me, especially in my PhD studies, was when the question was asked about effectiveness, and what really makes a difference in people's lives, it always came back to things like empirical research, or what the studies say. That was the authoritative source of understanding how we find change and what brings about change.


Deepak Reju (15:33):

If the studies prove it, or if we can show through our clinical work what psychological models are effective, then that's what we do. And yet, I was dying to know—does the Word have something to do with any of this? Does Scripture have...especially not...a lot of people talk about authority and sufficiency. I just want to put out the category—relevancy. Is Scripture relevant to my troubles in my daily life? Does the Bible make a difference in how I do it? And so I started moving in the direction of biblical counseling, because it felt like that was the one movement that was committed to finding a way to show how Scripture informs us, and educates us, and equips us, and empowers us, and strengthens us to face some of the hardest things in the Christian life.


Deepak Reju (16:31):

You know, the simple way to say it is—does the gospel matter when we come to those really hard things that we associate with suffering? Or is it just some theological truth we stick in an ivory tower, but it really doesn't have any bearing on the nitty-gritty of life? That's what attracted me to biblical counseling, because there were a slew of people that were beginning to talk about—well, how do we build a bridge from the biblical text into the worst situations in our local church? And as a pastor that was hugely appealing to me. But then, even as a clinician, as someone who's trained as a therapist, as someone who wants to be a Christian and know how to have my faith active in these things, that was also hugely appealing to me.


Brian Arnold (17:14):

Well, let's even, you know, get practical about one of the ways that people seek some of those outside even the Christian bubble counseling, of something like A.A. I worked as a paramedic for 10 years in Louisville. And a lot of the people, friends of mine, colleagues, had gone through A.A. They had overcome their addiction to alcohol or, you know, they would even go to like, N.A. I think it is, right? Narcotics Anonymous? And overcome that. And then, when I tried to share the gospel with them, it was, "Oh, no, I've already got my solution through A.A. That's what my Savior is." You know, I had a guy tell me, "I pray to a door knob, but that's my higher power. And through that, I've been able to overcome alcohol. And so I don't really need the gospel." So how have you even had to wrestle through some of those tensions? And what is the difference then, between something like A.A. And the church when it comes to how we think through counseling? And even what we're trying to accomplish for this person, who is an infinite soul?


Deepak Reju (18:15):

Well, the difference would be...let me just name three. There's a lot of things I could point to, but God's Spirit. Because it dwells within us, if you are a believer in Christ. It brings conviction and change, Ephesians 3:16. God's Word, because it's sufficient, authoritative, and relevant, like I just mentioned. So Isaiah 55:10-11. But then God's people. God uses loving, redemptive relationships in community to sustain us. So 1 John 3. But here's my caveat to that. You know, a lot of Christians, as we're talking about dealing with hard things...well, whereas I think most of my members could easily sit down and study the Bible and pray with another member, and there's no training required, a lot of Christians don't have the confidence, and they don't even know where to go in Scripture when they face some of these hard things. So if a friend shows up and says, "I'm an alcoholic," or "My marriage is falling apart," or "I'm addicted to pornography," most of the believers in our pews don't know where to go in the Bible.


Deepak Reju (19:14):

They just don't know how to build a bridge from the biblical text into that person's life. And so I want to help them to know how to do that. But I also want to build a community of people who are not scared of the hard things. They're not going to back away when something like suicide, or addiction, or adultery...they're just not scared by those things. In fact, they feel a responsibility to step in, because they feel like they are covenant members in the same local church. So my story was—a young lady, who was a part of our congregation, sadly attempted suicide multiple times over the course of two years. And, as typical for me as a counseling pastor, I got the call when she had made an attempt and was rushed to the hospital. And so I rushed to the hospital. And you know, it was my delight as a pastor when I got there to find out that two single women had beaten me there.


Deepak Reju (20:19):

And so by the time I arrived, not only had they ministered to her with the Word, prayed with her, but when I got there, they were playing a card game to begin to lighten her spirits. And you know how helpful that is to me as a pastor? Knowing that, you know, the people in my church are not scared, but rather, when something like suicide shows up, they said, "I want in. I'm not moving away, I'm not backing away. I'm going to run towards that." Well, you know, most of our members, when you first hear something like this, they're scared about these big categories. They don't know how to face it in their own life. So that's where equipping people in your church, this gets into. Are we doing what you mentioned earlier, Ephesians 4? Are the pastors and the shepherds and evangelists equipping God's people for the work of the ministry? Well, that includes these hard things. And I think that's what it means to be a supernatural community. That's the difference between A.A. or S.A., or all the other different accountability groups that the secular community offers, and the church. We're a supernatural community, with supernatural resources, to help you in the hardest things in the Christian life.


Brian Arnold (21:37):

Well that vision of the church, and that vision of those kinds of Christians, is world changing. For people to see engagement on those issues with people, not self-righteously saying, "How could they ever do that?" But saying, "But by the grace of God." You know, all of us are struggling in so many different ways, but we can encounter Christ together through struggle, through sin, and actually come out the other side more sanctified than we were on the front side. And doing that in community with one another is a beautiful vision for what the New Testament lays out. I liked how you walked through those passages of the one anothers, of what that could look like in a church that takes that seriously.


Deepak Reju (22:19):

Amen. Amen. And you know, the reality is, for the listeners who are hearing our conversation—you don't have to do much, and you're going to run into these problems. Because we live in a fallen world.


Brian Arnold (22:29):



Deepak Reju (22:29):

So my disposition is like—well, why not then get equipped? You're going to face it. So do something so you're ready when the hard conversation comes.


Brian Arnold (22:40):

Well maybe we can kind of land there, and just say—what are some resources, obviously the Word and a church that teaches the Word faithfully, but what are some books that could be helpful for somebody listening today saying, "Hey, I want to buy into that. I want to be that kind of church member who shows up at the hospital ready with the gospel?" What resources do you find most helpful?


Deepak Reju (22:59):

Yeah, so if a listener is ready to take on a 300 plus page paperback—not everybody's ready to do that—then Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul Tripp is a good start, I think, if you want to digest a lot more of this. If you think—that's a little too much for me, I don't have enough margin to take that on right now, then another one that's really good, that'll be shorter, briefer chapters, would be Ed Welch's Side by Side. Both of them lay out a beautiful vision of what it means to be in community with one another, and be able to do this kind of thing. Now more broadly, beyond counseling, just thinking in terms of just what does an overall community, a supernatural community look like? Then my boss, Mark Dever, and our other associate pastor, Jamie Dunlop, wrote Compelling Community, and that's by 9Marks. That's a good overall vision of what a supernatural community, invested in one another, what that could be.


Brian Arnold (23:58):

I think those are really helpful resources for people listening. I found Paul David Tripp's book Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands to be so helpful for me, thinking through that as I went into the pastoral ministry, of how we can help equip people to do that, and what my call even is within the church. Well, Deepak, this was really helpful, I hope encouraging to our listeners, as we do live in this fallen, broken world, to see the church as a resource. Not just a resource, but the place where God is calling us to lay these burdens down and carry one another's burdens, as Paul commands us to in Galatians 6. So thank you so much for this conversation. Really helpful for me. And I know it's helpful for our listeners too.


Deepak Reju (24:37):

Glad to do it. Thank you for the time.


Outro (24:39):

Thank you for listening to the Faith Seeking Understanding podcast. If you want to grow more in your understanding of the faith, consider studying at Phoenix Seminary, where men and women are trained for Christ-centered ministry for the building up of healthy churches in Phoenix and throughout the world. Learn more at ps.edu.