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 of...it 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 so...now, 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 at...you 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 the...at 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 think...how 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's...you 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's...it 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 ps.edu/online.

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're...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't...you 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 of...you know, the household of God as a mirror of the natural family become really important, as then you navigate what roles then...how 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 to...it 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 say...you 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't...you 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 ps.edu/online.

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 to...it'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 Abrahamic...like, 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 as...like 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 you...like, 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 ps.edu/online.

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 just...it 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 was...it 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 other...so 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 does...it...you 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 I...you 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...it'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 a...it'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 ps.edu/online

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

Guest: Dr. Ken Magnuson | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Magnuson about the ethics of current reproductive technologies.

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 (00:01):

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):

We often say we live in unprecedented times, and sometimes it's true. Technology has revolutionized the world in ways that cannot compare to previous times. It's impressive that we can hop on a plane and be halfway around the world in a day. News travels around the globe immediately. We have satellites in outer space that can read the license plate on your car. But most significant of all, we can manipulate the way that life comes to be. Reproductive technologies have had a greater consequence in the world than any other technological advance. Contraception has changed the amount and timing of many pregnancies, as people put off having children until later in life. In vitro fertilization, or IVF, has allowed infertile couples to have children. Men can donate sperm and never even know if they have sons and daughters. Anytime we are talking about the creation of life, we have an ethical duty as Christians to pause and reflect on Scripture.

Brian Arnold (01:11):

We should not just adopt practices because we can. But we should also excitedly inhabit a world in which innovation exists, because that's a gift from God as well. But how are we to think Christianly about reproductive technology? Well, to help us understand that question today, we have with us Dr. Ken Magnuson. Dr. Magnuson is the executive director of the Evangelical Theological Society, and he is professor of Christian Ethics at Southwestern Seminary. And he also teaches Christian Ethics with us at Phoenix Seminary. Dr. Magnuson has published numerous articles and essays in the field of ethics, writing on topics like teleology, virtue ethics, divine commands, and he's the author of Invitation to Christian Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues as part of the Invitation to Theological Study series. Dr. Magnuson, welcome to the podcast.

Ken Magnuson (01:59):

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

Brian Arnold (02:01):

So, as you know, we ask our guests one big question, today that question is—what do Christians need to know about reproductive technologies? And we could ask that in a number of ways. We could say, are some of these reproductive technologies Christian? Or, how do we put on our spectacles of Scripture in order to understand these things from the biblical worldview kind of perspective? But before we do a lot of that, let's just get a lay of the land, and sketch out some of the reproductive technologies that are available today.

Ken Magnuson (02:31):

Yeah, sure. There's a lot of things out there. Assisted reproductive technologies, by the way, refer to treatments involving human eggs, sperm, and embryos, in order to assist an infertile couple to have a child. So these will include artificial insemination, which can be used with a husband or a donor's sperm. It includes in vitro fertilization, which has a number of variations, as well as very specific things like intracytoplasmic sperm injection, or ICSI. The most common form of reproductive technology is in vitro fertilization or IVF. And with IVF, a woman's eggs are surgically extracted, placed with sperm in the laboratory in a petri dish to facilitate fertilization, and then, if there are any resulting embryos, one or two of those will be transferred to the woman's uterus with the hope that implantation will occur. Now, what's fascinating—your introduction was great here—I mean, the first human being born as a result of IVF was Louise Brown in England in 1978, and it has taken off. And, so the CDC reports close to somewhere between one and a half to 2% of all births in the United States. So that's around 75 to 80,000 of the 4 million births in the US.

Brian Arnold (04:03):

So as we will get into this even a little bit more, out of that one to 2%, how many of those are unsuccessful, I wonder? Do we have any idea?

Ken Magnuson (04:16):

So, yeah. So that's one and a half to 2% success. IVF...the success rates range greatly, and it depends on how you count them. So if you take a healthy 35 year old woman or under, using their own eggs, they'll advertise that the success rate is 55%, or somewhere between 50 and 55%. But that's for each cycle of egg retrieval, which means embryos are frozen, and if the first time around is unsuccessful, they'll go back to that. So if you were to rate the first embryo attempt at implantation, that's about 41%, and that drops as you go, with older women using their own eggs. So by the time you're working with a woman over 40, that rate drops to about 7%.

Brian Arnold (05:14):

That's stunning. To think if 1% to 2% of births are produced through IVF in the United States. And of those, you know, the successful ones, those are only 7% of the total number. You know, like...as you mentioned, you can get to that math a couple different ways. But the point I think stands, that it is likely that it's not going to work in many circumstances.

Ken Magnuson (05:39):

I think it's safe to say that if you're dealing with a healthy woman under 35, you're talking about each time you try about 40%. And overall numbers probably in the low to mid thirties average across the board. So, yeah. And that's each time you try, you know—you try again, and you have the same percentage chance, but you're talking about three or four attempts...well, let's say two or three attempts at least, before you're successful.

Brian Arnold (06:13):

So let's even just say this pretty close to the front side of this episode—this is a live issue for a lot of people. I think most of us know somebody who's done IVF. I've got a family member who had triplets from using IVF, many maybe listening who have tried it unsuccessfully, and haven't really thought about all the ethical components related to it. So I know you have a pastor's heart, and you want to be sensitive around this topic, but it's important. And I think a lot of people just haven't thought through some of those ramifications of something like IVF. So how do you, as a Christian ethicist, sit down with people and start to explain what reproductive technologies mean for a marriage? Which ones can be pursued in terms of the Christian ethic? Which ones should maybe be avoided? I know these are a lot of questions, and a lot of big ones, but where do you even start on a topic like this?

Ken Magnuson (07:12):

Yeah, I mean, I think it's important, Brian...I appreciate you mentioning, you know, I think we need to approach this both from an ethics standpoint, but also pastorally. And those two things are very comfortable with each other, I think. But there are some distinctions. And so, if we're going to counsel a couple well, we're not going to just start by, you know, sort of an ethics lecture with them. Like, you know—do this, don't do this, avoid this at all costs. But we're going to hear just what they're going through, and recognize that infertility is a very painful reality, and this is reflected in Scripture. So much so, like, you see this picture in Genesis 30 when Rachel, Jacob's wife, is experiencing infertility, and she comes to Jacob and says—give me children, or I'll die.

Ken Magnuson (08:10):

And that captures something of the distress felt. And we see that elsewhere in Scripture. So I think it's important to recognize that. To hear them. To listen to them And at the right moment, share, you know, what might be...hopefully they're inquisitive and interested in hearing what might be appropriate in pursuing, if anything. And I would just say, you know, even to begin with, to say—you really need to weigh the cost, because the percentage chance that you'll be successful isn't a hundred percent, right? It's well below that. So you can pursue all of this, which takes a lot of energy, and it can be burdensome and things, and still not be successful. So part of pastoral counsel is going to be using wisdom to prepare a couple to—how will they finish on the end of this attempt if they still don't have children?

Ken Magnuson (09:10):

Now, if we get to the ethical questions, I think we ought to be very cautious. And where they violate the sanctity of human life, or the one-flesh covenant of marriage, or where they employ sex selection or eugenics—that's often not going to be the case for the kind of couples that we might counsel, but it is out there—they're very morally problematic. And then in some cases, where it assists a couple in having a child without these serious problems, it may be acceptable, but remembering that it's expensive, it can be very burdensome, and it has a rather modest success rate.

Brian Arnold (09:53):

So let's begin with some of those principles you laid out about the sanctity of human life, and the one covenant kind of bond between a husband and a wife, and how that is implicated in that. Because, you know, thinking about something like Psalm 139, where David says, "you knit me together in my mother's womb." Like, there's this active process that God has in the creation of a human life, and this is why things like abortion is wrong in the Christian worldview, right? Because we believe that God is...from the moment that there is conception, that there's a human life there. So how do you work through it from that vantage point, of just saying why this matters so much? And what is IVF, maybe in particular...how does that cross over into the discussion of the sanctity of human life?

Ken Magnuson (10:48):

Yeah. So Christians are very familiar with these conversations when it comes to abortion, less so, I think, when it comes to reproductive technology. And sometimes, out of desperation for a child, the couple will perhaps ignore some of those issues. But where it comes into play—and it's rather frequent—is with in vitro fertilization. The laboratory, or the clinic, is interested in success, right? So...and they may not have—well, normally don't have—qualms about the treatment of an embryo. And so excess embryos are created. And that's, again, in order to have greater chance of success. But what happens with those excess embryos is some are destroyed, and often they are frozen. In both cases—certainly with the destruction of embryos, but I would argue also with the freezing of embryos—we are not respecting the sanctity human life.

Brian Arnold (11:55):

So what would you even say...I knew a couple when I was back in Kentucky, that did an embryo adoption. So they actually secured an IVF created child, and she actually bore the child. How do we think through those kind of issues?

Ken Magnuson (12:15):

Yeah, I get that question a lot. And my short answer would be that I think this is a worthy thing to do. There are...the exact number is not known, but there's somewhere around a million embryos in frozen storage in the United States, and many of those will never be given a chance at life. Because what happens is a couple may in the process early on, think—well, we'll have two or three children by this means, and freeze, you know, six or eight embryos, or something like that, and try again. But then they decide, you know, one was enough, or two was enough, and those embryos remain frozen. So a couple coming along and taking one of those embryos and giving it a chance at life, I think is a worthy thing to do. There's a lot of other considerations, you know, adopting children that have been born already, things like that. But I think this is rescuing a child that already exists, in such a strange world, is existing frozen.

Brian Arnold (13:23):

So I want to go back to even the counseling kind of question. And I know when I was pastoring, this feels a lot like the discussion of suffering. And people are suffering—if they're using any kind of reproductive technology, there is embedded in that this idea of suffering, that they were not able to have a child through normal means. Right? And so, I know when I was pastoring, I recognize how important it is to get people to have a theology of suffering before they were suffering. But the problem with that is every time you preach about suffering, there's somebody who's suffering. And then that can sound unkind in that moment to them, when you're trying to give that base. I feel like the same thing is here, right? The ideal is—how do you get people who are not in this situation to think through this? But oftentimes we get the questions when somebody is in this situation, and it's harder to have the conversation, I feel like. So what would you say if a couple wants to move forward with IVF? What advice do you give them?

Ken Magnuson (14:21):

Yeah. Again, you know, I would want to caution them in the sense that this may not be successful. It may be successful, but may not be. But also, if they are serious about moving forward, I would encourage them very much to proceed with caution, and not to create excess embryos. The problem with this is some clinics won't serve a couple if they are unwilling to create excess embryos, so you have to find those clinics that would do so. It also lowers the success rate in any given cycle of egg retrieval. And so that's a downside. But if a couple is wanting to do this in a morally unproblematic—some would argue just less problematic—way, then I think that we need to honor the sanctity of human life and not create excess embryos. And then proceed again. One other thing I'd want to say, Brian, is that the stress of doing this is so great that it really puts a lot of stress on the marriage. And so I'd want to counsel a couple, and pray for them, that they would attend carefully to their marriage during this time.

Brian Arnold (15:43):

And one of the things that bridges this—I've heard you say this before, and I thought it was so helpful—is that there's not such thing as an infertile wife or an infertile husband. There's an infertile couple. How have you been able to see that kind of turn some lights on for people? I think when they hear that...when I heard that, I thought—what a helpful way to communicate that.

Ken Magnuson (16:04):

Yeah. Yeah. Because, you know, what happens a lot is we refer to the infertile spouse. And, you know, I've looked at this issue for a long time, and I see the impact of that is that if you have, for instance, an infertile wife, she may feel like—I'm holding something back from my husband, and therefore if we need to use a donor for eggs, or a surrogate, I don't want to deprive my husband of the opportunity to have a child, or for us to be able to have a child. And I can understand that way of thinking. But, you know, when we enter into a marriage covenant, we become one flesh and we make vows that our relationship is exclusive and lifelong—for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. And so that's why, just as you say, I think we shouldn't speak of an infertile husband or wife, but an infertile couple. And one spouse should not circumvent their marriage to have a child of their own, even if it seems that the spouse who is unable to have a child wants that. And I've read some studies. I know that this can be something a couple enters into, but then there's a feeling of regret. There's challenges, and I think rightly so, because it's going outside of the one-flesh nature of marriage.

Brian Arnold (17:33):

Well, and let's talk about a couple of these more specifically. Things like sperm or egg donation. Or even like surrogacy. So those seem like other common types of reproductive technology. So how do we think through those? I like the lens of thinking through the one-flesh union as a guiding principle.

Ken Magnuson (17:54):

Yeah. Yeah. Which is why I think that the use of donor sperm, or egg, or surrogacy is problematic and should be avoided. Even the use of "donor" is a bit deceptive, because we're really talking about the sale of eggs and sperm, and the hiring of a surrogate, if you will. But yeah, it's unknown, even, how many children are born from sperm donors. A number that I see often is 30 to 60,000 in the US. That might be underestimated. But this happens sometimes in the marriage where either the husband or the wife is unable to provide the necessary gamete, or sperm or egg. And so a donor is brought in. Or a surrogate is brought in, because a woman is unable to carry a child. Often though, with sperm donation, it happens outside of the marriage relationship entirely, where a single woman who wants to have a child, but either doesn't want or is not ready for marriage, pursues this in order to have a child of her own.

Brian Arnold (19:13):

And on that one we can say, I think pretty authoritatively—you should not as a believer pursue that. Right? The gift of children really seems to belong inside the marital union, right? The command to be fruitful and multiply. And I can think of some scenarios where maybe we would say—okay, that's a little bit of a different situation. And maybe it wouldn't be. I'm curious to get your thoughts, actually. If you've got a missionary, single woman out on the field, there's a child who has no parents, and she adopts the child—that seems like a different type of question that we'd be talking about than this.

Ken Magnuson (19:51):

I think it is a different question. Again, it's rescuing a child. And I think it's...you know, most of us, I think, would recognize that it's not ideal to bring a child into a one-parent household, even in that situation. But it may well be better for the child than any other existing alternatives. But when we're talking...yeah, so I agree with you on, you know, that's a clear problem with pursuing a sperm donation or something for a single woman. But I think, to me, it's a pretty clear problem to use sperm or egg donation as well. I think it's circumventing the one-flesh nature of marriage to do that.

Brian Arnold (20:39):

And you said something before that I think is really pertinent for this conversation, and that is—some of these approaches that people take to reproduction have an immediacy of "we want to have the child." But really, those decisions then last for 30 years. And the way that that can enter into some marital questions down the road. I'm thinking in the case of a couple who says—he's infertile, she's not, they get a sperm donor—he may not ever fully feel like the child's father. How does that drive a wedge in that one-flesh union, in marital strife that could happen in decades to come?

Ken Magnuson (21:21):

Yeah, it's interesting to hear. Some people seem to manage those minefields okay. But there's a lot of, you know, people who will testify that...you know, that they always feel like there's a third parent there, even though the donor was anonymous. That their child represents the union of their spouse and somebody else. Right? And that doesn't go away.

Brian Arnold (21:51):

Well, yeah. Exactly. And I think even...again, maybe in terms of analogy, like abortion. Like how often we hear the stories—and not every woman, some of them are shouting their abortion we see, and I still wonder what the conscience is really like underneath—but, you know, they have these lingering just anxieties and depression and concern of the decision that they made, no matter how long ago it was, to seek an abortion. So these reproductive technology questions have some serious, lifelong, and eternal considerations as we think through these. And I appreciate you spending your career thinking through these carefully. I...my biggest concern is when people just say, "well, hey, it's available, so we should be able to avail ourselves of it." And that is not the best approach. I love how you even think back through Genesis and creation, and what is God doing in creating men and women and putting them together in a bond of marriage? And then what is being fruitful and multiplying look like? But also your willingness to have the conversations, and recognize that some of these are better options than others. So it's not a complete no. But there are just some things to think through before a couple would pursue these. Well, you've done a lot of reading on these topics, obviously. You've written on them some. What are some of the best resources that we could point our listeners to if they're thinking through these issues?

Ken Magnuson (23:16):

Yeah. It's a good question. One of the most influential books written in this area, for me, is Oliver O'Donovan's book, Begotten or Made? It's just a little book, although it's pretty dense reading. First published in 1984, and it still has much to teach us. There's another one, actually, interestingly, one of O'Donovan's students, Brent Waters, who is an ethicist, wrote a book called Reproductive Technology, subtitle is Toward a Theology of Procreative Stewardship. And I love that. And it's a helpful book. I would also say, Ben Mitchell is an ethicist and together with Joy Riley, they wrote a book called Christian Bioethics. And in there you see a discussion of reproductive technology, among other things. I have a chapter in my text where I just try to, you know, address the most, you know, relevant issues. I don't have time to go into great depth, but I try to highlight the important issues in there.

Brian Arnold (24:22):

And I want to commend your book on many levels to our listeners. You were my Ethics professor, actually, back in spring of 2005. And I found you to be a very clear communicator, and when your book came out, that was true of the book as well, of just really helping people see the issues, and clearly get that information. So appreciate your labor on that, both in the classroom and in your writing ministry. And again, just for taking the time over the last few decades to really consider these issues. I think it's touching more and more families and homes and churches, and we want to be thinking Christians who do things in a way that pleases and honors the Lord and gives a witness and testimony to the watching world, like you said, as, as we are stewards of procreation in this day and age. Dr. Magnuson, thanks so much for joining me 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 ps.edu/online.

What is Humility? Dr. Gavin Ortlund

Guest: Dr. Gavin Ortlund | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Ortlund about his latest book, Humility: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness.

Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Gavin Ortlund holds a PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Ojai in Ojai, California, and is the author of several books, including Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage (Crossway, 2020), Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation: Ancient Wisdom for Current Controversy (IVP Academic, 2020), and Humility: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness (Crossway, 2023).

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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):

The ancients spoke often of virtue. The four cardinal virtues were prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. They thought that by living according to these virtues, they could live the good life. Christians have also thought a lot about virtue. What does it mean to live for Christ? How do we live for God under the cross of Christ? To these four cardinal virtues, Christians have added at least three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, and a fourth might be humility. At the core of the Christian faith is humility. Christ, we read in Philippians two, humbled themself to become God incarnate. We too must humble ourselves if we're to be saved, recognizing that the only thing we bring to salvation is the sin that made it necessary. And we're told in Scripture that we are to live humbly, because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Brian Arnold (01:05):

But what is humility? Why is it spoken of so infrequently? And why is it that when we speak of humility, we tend to miss the point? Well, to help us understand what true biblical humility is, today we have with us Dr. Gavin Ortlund. Dr. Ortlund holds a PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai. In addition to pastoring, Dr. Ortlund is the author of many books, including Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage—which I want to mention, was our very first Faith Seeking Understanding podcast that we did—Retrieving Augustine's Doctrine of Creation: Ancient Wisdom for Current Controversy, and earlier this year, he published Humility: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness. Well, Dr. Ortlund, welcome back to the podcast.

Gavin Ortlund (01:51):

Hey, great to be with you, Brian.

Brian Arnold (01:52):

And we're almost at a hundred episodes, so this is great that we had you at the beginning. We maybe should have waited for the hundred—that would've been a beautiful symbol or something. So anyway, we ask our guests one big question, today that question is—what is humility? And as a pastor and theologian, obviously, you wanted to tackle this issue. This is important for us, both in the academy, and in the church as well. What led you to write this book?

Gavin Ortlund (02:17):

Well, circumstantially there was just an opportunity. But as I prayed about it, I initially wasn't...I felt too busy. I thought, I can't work this in. But as I prayed about it, I just began to see an incredible opportunity to help myself, and then hopefully some others, think about this. It just seems like such an important virtue right now. I think social media kind of changes the way we're relating to each other, and that affects the church. And I've just become convinced that a lack of humility is a huge cause for frustration, for conflict, for joylessness. And so it was really helpful for me to just think about what humility actually is. And so I hope it'll be helpful for others.

Brian Arnold (02:57):

Well, I appreciate you even bringing up social media. One of the words we hear a lot these days is "platform building." And we always need to be careful when we're in positions of leadership—especially when it touches on places like the church or the seminary—that we're always living out the humility of Christ in these places. While we're also seeking to write books, and build institutions, and see the church healthy, and all those things that we're called to do, that often can lead to pride. Remembering, as leaders in those situations, how central humility is. So I appreciate you doing that. It's a hard thing, I'm sure, as a pastor, to write the book on humility. And maybe around Christmas, I don't know, you get a lot of jabbing with the family, I don't know about that. So obviously humility is something that is a virtue. It's important for Christians. But you kind of spent some time dispelling some misconceptions about humility. You mentioned things like hiding, or self-hatred, or weakness. I was wondering if you could help us understand why people think that that's humility, and why that's a wrong approach.

Gavin Ortlund (04:00):

Yeah. And this will correspond to some of the remarks you just made, that, you know, if we could take a burden off people right here at the beginning, to help them understand that humility is not a burden. It's not this great taxing thing that will rob you of the ability to influence others, or to put your best foot forward, or to have a meaningful ministry that the Lord may bless. So we want to try to...you know, one of my goals with the book is to situate people to see—humility is a good thing that leads to joy. And so these misconceptions are related to that. I think some people think of humility as hiding. So that means that basically if you've done something good, or you're capable of doing something good, you're not allowed to talk about it <laugh>.

Gavin Ortlund (04:42):

And, you know, if you can throw a 90-mile-an-hour fastball, never tell the coach. If you can paint a beautiful painting, keep the painting hidden in the closet, this kind of thing. But that's not humility. C.S. Lewis has a great passage in Screwtape Letters where he basically says, "humility is just the absence of self-bias." So anything you...if you wouldn't do that for someone else, you wouldn't want someone else to do that, we don't need to to do that for ourselves. We can...the goal is more to rejoice in our own abilities in the same way we rejoice in someone else's. So it's the absence of self-bias in that way. And then, also, sometimes people think of humility as self-hatred. As though we're just...this kind of general negativity toward ourselves. That really isn't humility.

Gavin Ortlund (05:25):

The Golden Rule says, "love your neighbor as yourself," not "love your neighbor rather than yourself." Humility will never rob us of our dignity. It never causes us to hate ourselves. That really isn't what it is. And also, it's not weakness. This may be the big one that the world misunderstands. People think of humble people as weak, or always kind of apologizing for themselves, and so on and so forth. And I actually believe humility leads to strength. It frees us from the constricting needs of the ego. It allows us to be more relaxed. It allows us to work hard, because our attention is focused outwardly. So there's just so many wonderful fruits of humility.

Brian Arnold (06:07):

And I think you've put your finger right on the pulse of how it gets misconstrued so often in society. I mean, we've all heard those different things of somebody who's talented—oh, you know, don't talk about that, no big deal, aw shucks kind of pieces, when God's given us giftings to use and hopefully bless the body of Christ. And just to use for good in this world. That sometimes people think to do that is to rob them of humility in some ways. You mentioned, I believe, in the book about C.S. Lewis's—you'd mentioned him before—his approach to humility as, I believe, it's not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less. How is that played out, in the spirit of humility, in the life of a Christian?

Gavin Ortlund (06:58):

Well, I think, you know, it is a little bit paradoxical, because if we put so much focus upon not thinking about ourselves—that, in and of itself, can become a form of thinking about ourselves. It could, you know? So it can be kind of ironic there. So there's another passage in C.S. Lewis where he talks about that, and he says—just laugh about it. You know, basically, if you find yourself doing that too much, yeah. So we don't want to become morbidly introspective about it. But I think one of the things that helps, you know—to your question about just the practicality of this—is just in everyday life, focus on what's happening around you. Focus on externality, focus on the people around you. What are they specifically saying? What are the nuances of what they're saying? Focus even on the physical world around you.

Gavin Ortlund (07:43):

You know, a lot of people right now struggle with mental health issues—depression, anxiety. Sometimes I wonder if the amount—and social media may be a factor here again—but just the amount of self-preoccupation that can be involved with that actually causes a level of anxiety. And there can be something that's just healthy and nourishing about having an external focus. So, I don't know, it's a little paradoxical, because you don't want to be too self-preoccupied in the way you're doing that. But there is a way to do that that I think is very helpful and life-giving.

Brian Arnold (08:15):

Well, one of the great ills of our current cultural moment is expressive individualism, where it really is like a hyper-individualism. And then it's even a deeper—who am I at the core? This constant inward reflection that leads to really unhealthy things so often, where Scripture constantly calls us to look outside of ourselves. Not only to Christ, but to the needs of others. And as we're doing that and serving others, we are living more humbly, because we're thinking of ourselves less. And I think you've diagnosed a lot of what's happening in the current culture, I think, with depression, anxiety. Not that those can't be clinical and things, we're not trying to confuse those. But the amount of it today—I wonder how much of it could be helped with that. So you obviously point to Christ in this, as the ultimate paragon of humility. How does Christ really point the way forward in humility for us?

Gavin Ortlund (09:10):

Yeah, I think in Philippians two there's this great passage that speaks about the incarnation—that means God becoming a man, that's the birth of Christ—and then his death on the cross as an act of "self-emptying." It says he "humbled himself," and then it speaks of it as an act of servanthood as well. And so this is, to me, a helpful foundation to start with. To think that God became a baby. There is no more mind-boggling thought, no greater act of humility could even be possible. You know? You think of the way if an important adult, like a king or someone, gets down to play with a child. We can see that this is an act of humility, but the incarnation is the ultimate expression of that—the Lord God became a baby. And I think we always have to start there.

Gavin Ortlund (10:01):

And then just to start with the gospel, in knowing that he came because we needed a Savior. Our sin was such that he had to die on the cross for it. So when we come before God, we have to humble ourselves twice. First, because we're creatures, and we're dependent upon him at every level. Every breath is a gift. We are not self-made. And second of all, because we are reconciled sinners, if we've put our faith in Christ. And so we...you know, the humble feeling of, if you've been a traitor and you're coming back to the rightful king, apologizing and making amends—that's the kind of humility the gospel should produce in us. But what I keep wanting to emphasize throughout the book and in conversations about this, is to encourage people that there's joy on the other side of that humility.

Gavin Ortlund (10:49):

And that even as Christ had to die for us, he was willing to die for us. And so when we humble ourselves before the Lord, we can...this is not an act of just mere self-negation, or like we're just chastising ourselves. Really, it's a...you know, the feeling of it could be something like when you're a child and you're embraced by a loving parent. There's a kind of humility that comes like that. The humility of being loved. And that's what the gospel should produce in our hearts.

Brian Arnold (11:19):

You've mentioned that a couple times. I think that's a really helpful thing, because people probably think of humility as a thief of joy, because all of a sudden I can't think of myself, or something like that. But it's actually the path to joy. I would love for you to unpack that just a little bit further, even something like the mechanics of it, of how does that actually work in everyday life? Yes, in front of God, but also in the way that we are loving others, and some self-forgetfulness that happens in love and service of others that actually produces joy. And maybe even tying that back in, then, to the depression and anxiety you mentioned

Gavin Ortlund (11:56):

Yeah. This is something that I find so fun to talk about, and so helpful. And this is where humility is like oxygen. Humility is to our soul and to our mental health, what a good night's sleep is to our physical health. It's normalizing. It's healthy. It's nourishing. The reason for that is that...in the book I talk about the suffocating filter of self-referentiality. When we interpret everything in relation to us, it takes the joy out of life. There's a great passage at the very end of The Hobbit that I quote at the beginning of the book, where Bilbo and Gandalf, these two characters, are talking. And basically, Gandalf says to Bilbo, it's...basically, he's saying—it's not about you. And his words are, "you are a very small person in a very wide world." And Bilbo's response is to say, "thank goodness."

Gavin Ortlund (12:48):

And he laughs. And then they smoke their pipes together. And that's the whole end of the book right there. And that response of "thank goodness" is wonderful. It conveys a sense of the relief of humility. We don't have to be a big deal. We can just relax and be ourselves. We can accept our limitations. And what that does, is it focuses our attention on the world around us, which is endlessly fascinating and endlessly wonderful. And of course, God himself is infinitely wonderful. So the way I describe the joy of humility is—if you look up at the stars on a cloudless night, and you're just overwhelmed, you know, you're just enchanted at how big the universe is, and you almost lose track of yourself. There's a kind of joy in that experience. And humility can lead us to that joy over and over, because we're saying—the world out there around me is so interesting. That is where I want to put my focus. I'm a small person in a wide world.

Brian Arnold (13:46):

Well, and you give some really practical ways that we can implement this. I think humility can almost seem unattainable as a Christian virtue. But you've given some really precise ways that we can do this. And I'll tell you, I'd like for you to mention some of them, but the one that stuck out to me the most is to visit a cemetery. And I grew up...my backyard was about 20 feet to the wrought iron fence of the cemetery, the big cemetery in our town. And so I used to play in the cemetery. I'd run in the cemetery. In the wintertime, in the back of the cemetery was a big hill that people from the city would come and sled down. So I spent a lot of my time...now, let me just say, there was no grave markers there <laugh> as we were sledding down that section of the hill.

Brian Arnold (14:27):

But I spent a lot of time in there. And I knew where a lot of different graves were. And I knew where the child's section was, where people who had died at three or four years old. And I hadn't been back to my hometown for at least 10 years—I think it had been a little bit longer than that—and actually visited my old house and the cemetery. And it was amazing how many of those gravestones I still remember seeing as I was growing up, and how the brevity of life and numbering our days can lead to humility. What are some of the other ways that you would encourage Christians to really practice humility?

Gavin Ortlund (15:06):

Yeah, the brevity of life one is an interesting one, because this is something, when I preached through Ecclesiastes several years ago, really struck me. There's this emphasis upon the brevity of life, life is a vapor, you know, we're not eternal. And yet with that is this corresponding emphasis upon—enjoy your life. It's not like existentialism, which says, you know—your life is a vapor, therefore despair. The Bible's tilt is—your life is a vapor, so live to the full. And there's these great verses in Leviticus about enjoying your work, and eat, drink your wine with a merry heart, and eat...you know, enjoy life with the wife whom you love, and this kind of thing. And I think that really corresponds to humility. To be able to enjoy life. To enjoy even the simple pleasures of life. And that is one of the other points that I mentioned.

Gavin Ortlund (15:56):

Another one is to embrace situations of weakness, and be okay with being vulnerable. We all face this, you know. For some of us, going to the doctor is uncomfortable. For some of us, when we're parents and we have kids who are disobeying us in public <laugh>. As a dad of five kids, this happens, especially when you're the pastor and it's at church, you know. Very vulnerable, uncomfortable feeling. If you're an introvert, going to a social event—this can be vulnerable. There's all kinds of situations like this. Or maybe when you're around people who are a lot more successful than you, this can feel kind of threatening. We all have those moments where we kind of feel threatened or vulnerable. And I think humility would encourage us not to shy away from those moments, but to simply be okay with not always being the best.

Gavin Ortlund (16:42):

And simply embrace the fact. There's a great passage where, in the Narnia books, where Aslan says to one of the characters, basically—you're nobody special, and that's fine. And humility is able to say—I don't always need to be the best. I can be mediocre at something, or even not great at something, and that's okay. My identity isn't found in that. That's okay. I'm not going to shy away from that. One other quick one I'll mention is just the ability to listen. I think humility and listening go along really well. And so when we're seeking humility, one of the things we can do is really listen to the nuances of what other people are saying. Don't filter everything through our own prior experiences. This is very much what humility does. It sensitizes us to the external world around us. And that includes other people. So we're really, you know, we are going into every interaction saying, First Corinthians 13, I see through a glass darkly. I don't...I'm not infinite and I'm not omniscient. So I need to listen. I need to consider what someone else...someone else has had different experiences, different insights. I can really learn from this other person. I think humility cultivates a heart that recognizes that.

Brian Arnold (17:52):

Well, I appreciate you giving some really practical advice. Because it's one thing to tell people—be humble. Without knowing ways to cultivate that. And I think you've given a good guide. And I just want to say, I'm really grateful for your vulnerability there, to even share as men in Christian leadership with families. And, you know, we've all experienced that disobedient child, where you're supposed to have everything buttoned up and the kids are supposed to be like the Von Trapp kids or something, lined up and always walking in obedience or something. And that can be hard, and it can feel challenging in those moments. So I'm grateful for you even mentioning that. I thought this was interesting—you mentioned three different types of context for humility. Of humility in leadership, humility towards leadership, and humility among peers. I was wondering if you could explain what you mean by those?

Gavin Ortlund (18:41):

Sure. These are big topics, so I'll just touch on them briefly. But humility in leadership is really important to me, because of how much we've seen the abuse of leadership in our culture generally. And sometimes in the church, unfortunately. And I think humility is a key factor there. I think a lot of people who become bullies, or become tyrants—they didn't set out with terrible motives, but somewhere along the line, they began to be led toward that. And I think humility is a huge factor. It's really hard, when you're in a position of leadership, to be accountable and vulnerable to others. To trust others. Sometimes you can become paranoid, especially if you're being attacked. To rely upon people. To give people freedom. You know, I think I say at one point in the book—everyone in a leadership position, other people under your authority will either experience your leadership as an oppression or as a freedom.

Gavin Ortlund (19:40):

And I think humility will make the difference. So one of the practical pieces of advice I give is to try to create an atmosphere of encouragement, where the primary way we're leading is by positive encouragement rather than correction. That's a simple thing. And, you know, no brilliant insight there, but it just...practically, it's helpful to remember that. Sometimes we can forget that, and we forget the power of encouragement. So encouragement is something I talk about a great deal in the book. With regard to our peers, I talk a lot about envy in the book. I think envy is one of those really destructive sins that sometimes we don't recognize. It kind of...some sins we're more aware of, but envy sometimes we can experience without realizing it. And in the book I just work through how terrifying envy is.

Gavin Ortlund (20:27):

It really is the thief of joy, when we're constantly comparing ourselves to others. So I share an anecdote from a musical conductor who was once asked, "what's the hardest musical instrument to learn?" And he said, "second fiddle." Anybody can become the first violinist, but to be the second fiddle is the hardest, to play that supportive role. And I think it's a joyful, wonderful thing if we have the kind of heart that's open to say, "You know what? If I'm second fiddle, that's fine. I don't need to be best at everything, and I'm not going to envy those who are better than me." And then the last is humility toward leadership. And there, what I'm really trying to do, is distinguish a humility toward leadership from an uncritical, passive reception of everything that a leader might do. I don't think that's what humility is. But at the same time, a lot of pastors are discouraged, having been through the COVID season. There's been a lot of division, a lot of conflict in churches. And I think it's more important than ever to think through—how can we show humility toward our leaders? How can we have a generally supportive attitude, not being nitpicky, being kind, not complaining and grumbling about things, that kind of thing. So that's one of the ways I think humility plays out in that context.

Brian Arnold (21:51):

So we do have pastors listening to this. And obviously, as somebody who's pastored for a while, how do you cultivate, especially, humility towards leaders? Would you say it starts with your humility as a leader, through encouragement that opens up opportunities for them to respond in humility back? Does it begin with the leader?

Gavin Ortlund (22:10):

I do think the leadership must...very rarely will those following outpace the leader at humility. So if the leader of an institution is not apologizing, then it's rare to find that the general culture will be one in which there's lots of apologizing that happens. This is a great example of when humility...the way it makes a difference is the ability to apologize. This is something I found with my kids. When I...just because I'm in a position of authority over them doesn't mean I never need to apologize to my children. And I find, regularly, I'll have to stop and say—you know what? I was being too grumpy. I was making a big deal out of something. I'm sorry. Will you forgive me? And when I do that, I've discovered my kids are very happy to forgive me. But it creates a different vibe.

Gavin Ortlund (22:59):

It creates a different culture and atmosphere. And so for pastors, I would say, even though it can be so painful sometimes when people will misuse our vulnerability against us, I still think—in the appropriate ways, with wisdom—we need to wrestle with this question of—what does humility look like? Not that we all just apologize, that's one example. But just, we want to have an open heart toward others. We want to model. You know, our greatest teaching will be our model, our life. That's our greatest sermon. And so, hopefully, we will step into that more, and that will influence the entire culture of our church.

Brian Arnold (23:34):

Well, that's a great word. What other resources would you point people to? And I would just say—your book is extremely accessible, really convicting, powerful word on humility. So thank you for that. Were there some other things that you encountered? You've mentioned C.S. Lewis a couple times, just reading Lewis, maybe, can help us think through humility. But what are some other books that have been helpful for you?

Gavin Ortlund (23:56):

Lewis is always great. But I also would encourage people...some older resources that people could find online...well, and also I'll mention, there's a great book by Tim Keller called The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. It's a very short, brief—it probably costs like $6—that might be of use to people. I also think some...two older resources I'll mention. One is there's a sermon by Jonathan Edwards, and I believe that it's in the book Charity and Its Fruits. And the sermon is called "A Christian Spirit is a Humble Spirit." That is one of the most powerful sermons about this topic I've ever read. There's also a great sermon by the early Church Father Basil of Caesarea that's all about humility. I have some links to that. I talk about where you can find that within the book. People could also just google Basil of Caesarea homily "On Humility" and it'll come up. Those would be two great old resources.

Brian Arnold (24:52):

Well, those are wonderful figures in church history that we can learn a lot from. And thank you for this new work in church history now that we can benefit from as well. Appreciate your time in writing it, and spending some time with us today. Thank you.

Gavin Ortlund (25:06):

Thanks, Brian.

Outro (25:08):

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 an exciting event we're hosting on the campus of Phoenix Seminary this spring, our first annual Sacred Truths Conference on February 24th and 25th. Our featured speakers will be Fred Sanders, Steve Duby, Bobby Jamieson, and myself. Our theme will focus on the core of Christianity—who is Christ, as one person with two natures, both human and divine. So I hope you'll join us, and invite anyone you know who's interested in learning more about Christian doctrine. Click the link in the show notes, or learn more and register at sacredtruths.events.

What is the Secular Creed? Dr. Rebecca McLaughlin

Guest: Dr. Rebecca McLaughlin | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. McLaughlin about her book, The Secular Creed.

Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Rebecca McLaughlin holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature from Cambridge University, as well as a degree in Theology and Pastoral Studies from Oak Hill College in London. She is the author of several books, including Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion (Crossway, 2019), 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity (Crossway, 2021), and The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims (The Gospel Coalition, 2021).

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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):

Culture is shifting beneath our feet with surprising speed, and many Christians are feeling the earthquake. Perhaps what's most unsettling is not the change, it is the attitude of the world that we must accept and celebrate the cultural and moral revolution. You might recognize some of these changes from the slogans that are used—"Black Lives Matter," "love is love," "gay rights are civil rights," "women's rights are human rights," and "transgender women are women." These have become a sort of creed for the burgeoning secular world. But how should Christians understand and respond to these claims, wanting simultaneously to reject the bad, but embrace the good? Today, to help us answer this question, we have with us Dr. Rebecca McLaughlin. Dr. McLaughlin holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature from Cambridge University, and a degree in Theological and Pastoral Studies from Oak Hill Theological College in London. She's the author of Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion, which was Christianity Today's Book of the Year in 2020, 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity, and most relevant for today's conversation, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims. Dr. McLaughlin, welcome to the podcast.

Rebecca McLaughlin (01:28):

Thanks for having me.

Brian Arnold (01:29):

So we always ask our guests one big question, today the question is—what is the secular creed? And I wonder if you can just begin by defining some of these words. What does secular mean?

Rebecca McLaughlin (01:41):

Gosh, there are so many ways to answer that question, actually. I think today, secular means non-religious. But actually the concept of secular and that word originates from a Christian view, actually, where folks were trying to separate out the spheres of life that were sort of directly overseen by the church, from the spheres of life that weren't directly overseen by the church, but no less part of God's plan. I mean, I think most relevantly for today, secular is, as I say, something that's non-religious. And I think many of my friends—I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts—many of my friends and folks that I might meet through my kids' schools would identify as secular.

Brian Arnold (02:22):

That's right. And I know Charles Taylor has done great work for us in defining some of these ideas in his work A Secular Age. Which has...it always takes a really great philosopher to kind of define the age for us. And he gives those, I think, three different definitions of secular. And those are several of them, of—it used to be kind of the clergy/laity, you know, government of the world versus the church kind of divide. But it really is becoming this idea of non-religious in many ways, which is what we're seeing happen across Europe, and it's kind of spreading towards North America as well. Do you see, though, that the impulse of secularism today as its own kind of religious belief or system of faith?

Rebecca McLaughlin (03:05):

Yeah, ironically, I think one of the core beliefs of secular faith today is that secularism is the way of the future. You know, religious belief is naturally declining, that as people become more educated, more modern, more scientific, that they're going to less and less be compelled by any kind of, you know, idea of God. And that's actually something which has been, you know, pretty much discredited in the last couple of decades. And as sociologists look ahead...when you mentioned the fact that in Western Europe, where I'm from, and now in America, where I now live, there is this sense of a kind of increasing secularization—fewer and fewer people identifying as religious, fewer people attending church or other religious services. But it turns out that this is a very Western-centric view.

Rebecca McLaughlin (03:56):

If we take a global perspective, we find that the world is actually becoming increasingly religious, that Christianity continues to be the largest—and by far the most diverse—belief system in the world. About 31% of the world right now identify as Christian. Sociologists think that'll grow to about 32% by 2060, as far out as their projections are going. Islam, being the sort of major competitor to Christianity in the world, expected to grow from about 25% to about 31% by 2060. Buddhism and Hinduism, the other two kind of largest religions in terms of the global numbers, decreasing slightly in that time period. And the big shock being actually the portion of people around the world to identify as non-religious, whether they would say they were atheist, agnostic, or just kind of not identified with any particular religion—that proportion is set to decrease from 16% to 13% by 2060.

Brian Arnold (04:53):

It really is a parochial view, to think our own unique circumstance here—like let's say North America, with the rise of the nones—that that somehow is indicative of what's happening. But I always remind them of Philip Jenkins' work, where he talked, I think by 2050, the majority of Christians will be living in the Southern and Eastern hemispheres for the first time in the history of Christianity. And I just want to tell people—that's exciting. Like, let's get on board with what God is doing throughout the world. Yes, we pray for revival here, and we want to see God work again in our churches, and we want to see our country in the Western world reignited with the faith—that's a good thing. But it's not that God is not working right now. There's a lot of exciting things happening globally. You mentioned, obviously, inside of the book even, that it's a secular creed. So why use the word creed for secularism, which kind of almost seems ill-defined?

Rebecca McLaughlin (05:47):

Yeah. I mean, I grew up in Anglican churches where we would say the creed every week, you know—we believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, et cetera, et cetera. That we make this statement of belief on a regular basis. And in the last several years, where I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from what I understand talking with other folks, this is true, you know, across America. People have been putting up yard signs, where they say something like this—in this house we believe that...and then typically, it's your—Black Lives Matter, Love is love, women's rights are human rights, and then a kind of collection of other statements, which seems to depend on which sign. You know, the one I've got in my hands right now says—no human is illegal, science is real, and kindness is everything.

Rebecca McLaughlin (06:31):

So there's an extent to which those around us are seeking to articulate a set of core beliefs, to sort of lay their claim to. This is what we in our house believe, just as, as a Christian, I would want to say, you know—this is what I believe. So I think there is a sense in which this is credal. What fascinates me about these signs is that they actually blend together some things that we as Christians should absolutely affirm. In fact, many things that have sprung out of Christianity historically, and have been been grounded on Christianity, those form the soil, as it were, in which these signs have kind of been planted. You know, all these assumptions, or these statements, in the secular creed are assuming things like human beings were fundamentally created equal, therefore, you know, women's rights are human rights.

Rebecca McLaughlin (07:26):

Therefore, people of different racial backgrounds should be seen as equal. They assume that the strong and the rich and the powerful shouldn't kind of trample on the weak and the marginalized, and that minorities should be protected, for instance. These are actually profoundly Christian beliefs. And what's happened in recent years is that a grouping of ideas sort of coalesced, which is to say, combines things that Christians absolutely should believe with things that Christians can't affirm. And in particular, if we look at those first two claims on the yard sign, I've got it in my hands now, you know, the first claim is that black lives matter, and the second claim is that love is love. So from a Christian perspective, it is absolutely straight out of the Scriptures that the lives of our black brothers and sisters matter. And it's actually, you know, profoundly sinful, the ways in which too many of our white Christian forebearers have acted like the lives of our black brothers and sisters don't matter.

Rebecca McLaughlin (08:24):

So to my mind, regardless of the fact that, you know, a particular organization has claimed those particular three words, Black Lives Matter, as a slogan, that claim is actually a profoundly Christian claim. And the second claim, that love is love, which, you know, is code for the claim that same-sex marriage is just as valid as heterosexual marriage—that's something which, as a Christian—and even as a Christian who has always experienced same-sex attraction—actually can't affirm. If you look at the Scriptures, just as firmly and clearly as they point us towards equality between people with different racial backgrounds and love across racial difference, so they actually equally clearly point us away from same-sex sexuality and having gay relationships. So we kind of have to ask ourselves, like—how have these two ideas gotten tangled up in people's minds?

Rebecca McLaughlin (09:17):

And I think it's easy for us to point to the ways in which sin in the world out there has tangled these two ideas up. I think it's much harder for us to recognize the ways in which our own history of sin has led to this bungling together. Because, you know, many folks today would say—just like you white Christians, you know, maybe somebody who looks like me—just like you, white Christians used your Bibles back in the sixties to oppose desegregation of schools, and to continue your opposition to mixed race marriages, so now you're using your Bibles to oppose same sex marriage, or even transgender identities. I mean, the tragic reality is, actually, the first part of that is true. Like, far too many of our Christian forebearers in white church were using their Bibles to try to fight against racial justice and integration in our history.

Rebecca McLaughlin (10:15):

The reason we know that is actually not primarily <inaudible>...it's actually primarily the Scriptures that call out that sin. So I think...I guess what I'd want to say, you know, to brothers and sisters today who are feeling like the ground is shaking under their feet, you know, you used a metaphor along those lines earlier in this conversation. I guess I want to say, like, we don't need to romanticize the past. We don't need to pretend that there was once upon a time when, you know, the United States was living according to Christian ethics across the board, and that's just, you know, all gone horribly wrong. And now we want to kind of get back to once upon a time. I actually think we need to instead build toward a more hopeful future, where we as Christians could be upholding Christian ethics across the board—when it comes to race, when it comes to sexuality, when it comes to men and women, all of the above.

Brian Arnold (11:03):

And I think that's helpful how you have framed it in your book, because you kind of are offering this third way. And what I see, and what I think a lot of people are feeling, is the radical polarization of people into various camps on the far sides. And those kind of who are wanting to say there's some really valid points being made, and yet we can't fully embrace and celebrate and support some of these ideas, either—find themselves homeless right now. And really seeing what's happened in the past couple centuries of when Scripture is a dominant theme in society, but it's used wrongly. Definitely in the case of something like slavery, or just unhelpfully in other issues in the last century, right? It is now seen as the enemy. Like, so we tried Scripture, we tried, you know, that was Christianity. When we would say, well, that wasn't. Right? Like, that is not a very accurate portrayal of Christ's love for the nations, of the fact that the cross is purchasing people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Brian Arnold (12:10):

That it breaks down boundaries between people, as all of us have access by Christ to God, and forgiveness of sins, and heaven. And it's the gospel, right? And so we would say, no, that wasn't an accurate picture of Christianity. But when you say that today, a lot of people would say, well, then, show us your Christian-like love by supporting and adopting, let's say—transgenderism. And I find Christians kind of on two poles of this. Of, you know, kind of a liberal Christianity emerging again, or, you know, progressives kind of moving that direction of accommodation, and saying, absolutely, and we want to be supportive there. And others who are so hostile against people that it's not giving a great face of Christianity. So how have you navigated that through this book? What has been some of the response you've gotten from this book, as you've sought to carve out that middle way?

Rebecca McLaughlin (13:07):

Yeah. In some ways I'm not even sure that it's a middle way. I think it's a—

Brian Arnold (13:13):

Or third way, sorry. Can I say it like that?

Rebecca McLaughlin (13:16):

Yeah. Or just, I mean, just a Scriptural way. You know, the problem with the sixties' segregationists was not that they were too Christian. It was that they were not half Christian enough. Like it wasn't they were reading their Bibles too carefully. They were utterly failing to read their Bibles. And the irony is—you have to do the same amount of kind of exegetical gymnastics, or like, you know, very, like creative, shall we say, interpretation of the text to affirm like racial segregation, as you do to affirm same-sex marriages. Like, you know, actually the Bible's been pretty clear. Whereas the ways in which authentic, biblical Christianity is out of kilter with society today is different from the ways in which it was out of kilter back in the sixties, for instance.

Brian Arnold (14:09):

All right, flesh that out a little bit. So how do you see...so every generation is going to struggle with its own sins, and in ways that in 20 to 30 years, people look back and say, I can't believe they missed this. Right? So if you could put on some prophetic goggles or something right now, and just say—where do you see, especially the church in the West, let's say, missing it?

Rebecca McLaughlin (14:31):

Gosh, there are so many ways, aren't there? I mean, I think of, sort of retrospectively, I think of my kids today going into Cambridge public schools as they do. And the fire is fiercest, like the opposition is hardest, when it comes to sexuality and gender. You know, my 12-year-old has had really hard situations with friends—like close friends—ditching her, because they find her Christian beliefs profoundly offensive. Even though my daughter holds them with like deep kindness and love. But if, you know, if we went back to the sixties, I'd be having to say to my kids—hey, to stand as a Christian today at school, you need to walk across segregation lines. You know? Like, we'd be having a different kind of conversation. Now if I look forward 20 or 30 years, what exactly will those boundaries be?

Rebecca McLaughlin (15:20):

It's really hard to say. I do think that, you know, the transgender movement is clearly sort of front foot right now of how culture is moving. But...and I think this is especially true in the UK, and I think it's becoming true in the US as well—an increasing number of secular voices, and especially secular feminist voices, who are are saying quite strongly to ways in which transgender thinking is going, and the kind of ways in which it's basically making the word "woman" ultimately meaningless. So I don't know. Even in...honestly, even in the next two to five years, I don't know how these goal posts are going to shift. I don't think it's going to be the same, actually, as the movement <inaudible> culturally. I would believe that's actually a much easier transition, in cultural terms, than the movement of saying—actually, regardless of whether your body is male or female, you can identify as a man or a woman.

Brian Arnold (16:21):

It does seem to be...yeah. The transgenderism is going to be what breaks a lot of the ideology. Right? We're seeing that in the irony even of a century ago, dealing with women's suffrage. And a lot of ground that was made in the 20th century almost erased immediately, if a man can identify as a woman. And it does seem like you have a lot of voices, even from folks outside the Christian camp, like a J.K. Rowling, who are pointing out some of these obvious challenges. And so I do wonder, does that have any rebound effect, if we can just say, on the LGBTQ, the other letters in there? I'm not sure that it will, but it does seem like transgenderism is a bridge too far for many people.

Rebecca McLaughlin (17:07):

Yeah, I think because it so profoundly disrupts some of the things that we take to be normative and basic kind of realities of life. And oddly, I mean, one of the things that fascinates me is that for transgender thinking to work—and I want to be careful here, because you know that it is absolutely true and real. There are people who experience profound gender dysphoria, you know, a profound sense that they...that their biological sex doesn't fit with how they feel about who they are in a relation to other people. So I never want to speak in ways that kind of deny or diminish that, and the real pain and suffering with that experience. It's not an experience I have had, so, you know, I want to be especially tender around that. At the same time, the transgender sort of ideology which says—your and my inner sense of our gender is actually more true, more real, more substantial, than our bodily reality.

Rebecca McLaughlin (18:08):

That's almost oddly spiritual <laugh>. Like, it's sort of like a secular version of the soul, a male and female soul that might be mismatched with a male or female body. And it sits very strangely with a generation of people who would likely say they didn't believe in soul. You know, they're not religious. They're not one to say that there is this kind of spiritual reality beyond our physicality. But there's a sort of separating out of the physical from the spiritual, which sometimes even as Christians, we actually, we fall into this trap. You know, we talk about "one day our souls will go to heaven." And actually, the Bible teaches one day we will be...our bodies will be resurrected. We'll be whole people again. We're not sort of really ultimately separable between our bodies and our souls in any kind of long-term way.

Rebecca McLaughlin (18:57):

But it's sort of fascinating how people are having this sense of—I have an identity that is non-physical, but that is more true and real than my physical body. And I think one of the ways in which we as Christians can kind of speak into this, is actually by the very tangible love that we extend to each other, and to those outside the church. Because, you know, you and I need to be loved. Not only sort of incorporeally, like aside from our body, we actually need to be loved sort of physically as well. We need to be hugged, we need to be fed, we need to be engaged with in these very kind of visceral, physical ways. And I think we can, as believers in Jesus, extend sort of tangible, physical welcome to those outside the church, that they might really struggle to find in other sort of communities. In fact, they might really struggle to find community. There's an epidemic of loneliness.

Brian Arnold (20:02):

There is. The isolationism—not even just COVID, just in this modern world—there is...I live in Phoenix, and everybody has a block wall in their backyard. So you pull into your garage, you shut the garage door, and any life that's lived is outside in your blocked-in backyard. Yeah. It's a very isolationist kind of culture.

Rebecca McLaughlin (20:22):

Yeah. And if we say to our kids—your job is to find your deepest personal identity all by yourself, in the inner resources of your heart, and that's kind of who...like, that's who you are. We're actually kind of pushing them towards aloneness. Whereas, if we say to our children—in Christ, you are actually part of a family, part of a community, you're part of a body that's way beyond, you know, you individually. But you're a vital part of that, but you're sort of necessarily corporate—we're actually calling people towards something that's not isolated, that's by nature done in community. And I think that's where, you know, the local church is so profoundly important for all of us, but especially for our younger people.

Brian Arnold (21:08):

And I really do appreciate...I'm thankful you took the conversation here. That you didn't just leave the book without the last part. You have a calling to loving arms as kind of like the last chapter. Because it's one thing to kind of diagnose these things and say—yeah, this is what's happening. This is why people are saying this. But it's another to say—okay, what can we do about it? I get that question all the time from my position, from donors, or people in churches, or students, perspective students, who say—okay, how do we actually engage then? Because it does feel like we're in a different moment right now. And to say, I mean, it's the love of Christ. I mean, it doesn't graduate beyond that, right? It is really engaging the people around us. I love how you even said, in the life in the body of the local church—that is kind of a microcosm of hopefully the way the world should be.

Brian Arnold (21:56):

And I think as people experience more loneliness and isolation, and they look to the church and they say—why do things look different there? Hopefully we're seeing—and I pray this, I'm expectant that the Lord will continue to do this—better racial relations in the church than what's happening outside in the world. And a place where men and women are serving in the local congregations, and giftings are used, and, you know, we can really see a view of heaven through the life of the local church and through the love that goes from that place out. It's how the early church began to grow, right? Is something looked so different about that community than the secular, if we can use it that way, as in non-Christian world of the early church, and they saw a difference and impacted the world.

Rebecca McLaughlin (22:49):

Yeah. I think a lot of Christians today think that we need to fight against the culture. I think actually we need to fight for the culture. And I think we might need to fight for the culture with the weapons that Jesus has given us, which are the weapons of love. Then it's not actually our job to shatter opposition down or to, you know, use the same dirty tactics against our enemies as they might use against us. But I mean, Jesus specifically, in word and deed, forbade us to do that. And our sense that—gosh, things are really hard right now, and we need to fight. I think that's true. We need to be absolutely sure that the Bible is dictating how we fight and what we fight for. And we're not fighting for our own self-righteousness, or for our own, you know, sense of pride, or even for our own kind of national identity—that those are not things for us to fight for.

Brian Arnold (23:42):


Rebecca McLaughlin (23:42):

We're to fight, with love, for those around us. We are to love our enemies and to seek their good in the most profound sense, which means showing kind of practical love toward them, and sharing the message of Jesus with them.

Brian Arnold (24:00):

So the answer is not—your neighbor has a sign with the secular creed, and you have your own sign that you nail into the yard that has your creed on it. It is—love your neighbor with Christ-like love. And by doing that, will impact the world.

Rebecca McLaughlin (24:16):

Yeah. Ask your neighbor around for dinner. Ask them about what they believe. Offer to take care of their kids, and get them groceries when they're sick. All these things. Invite them to church, introduce them to your Christian friends who they might have something in common with. Yeah. And be willing to be willing to listen, as well as to speak.

Brian Arnold (24:36):

Well, Rebecca, I'm grateful for this book. It's hard to take something that's so relevant to what's happening right now, and take a step out of it, see it, diagnose it, and speak into it. So thank you for the work you've done on that. And thank you for joining me today on the podcast.

Rebecca McLaughlin (24:51):

Thanks, brother. Take care.

Outro (24:53):

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 an exciting event we're hosting on the campus of Phoenix Seminary this spring, our first annual Sacred Truths Conference on February 24th and 25th. Our featured speakers will be Fred Sanders, Steve Duby, Bobby Jamieson, and myself. Our theme will focus on the core of Christianity—who is Christ, as one person with two natures, both human and divine. So I hope you'll join us, and invite anyone you know who's interested in learning more about Christian doctrine. Click the link in the show notes, or learn more and register at sacredtruths.events.

Does God Have Emotions? Dr. Steve Duby

Guest: Dr. Steve Duby | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Duby about the doctrine of God’s impassibility.

Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Steve Duby serves as associate professor of Theology at Phoenix Seminary. He holds a PhD in Systematic Theology from the University of St. Andrews, and is the author of several books, including Divine Simplicity: A Dogmatic Account (T&T Clark, 2015), God In Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology (IVP Academic, 2019), and Jesus and the God of Classical Theism (Baker Academic, 2022). He is also currently writing a commentary on Habukkuk as part of the International Theological Commentary series.

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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):

Today we're going to talk about a question whose answer will seem very obvious on the face of it to many listeners. But upon deeper reflection, I hope to challenge this assumption. The question is this—does God have emotions? The answer would seem to be yes. Think about such passages as that speak of God's jealousy, his anger, his love, and his mercy. Consider just Psalm 145:8-9, "The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made." However, God often distinguishes himself from the capricious gods of the ancient world, who are governed by their emotions. And it is abundantly clear that God is not a man that he should change, and so often the emotions signal a change. Several important questions are in order. What do we mean by emotions?

Brian Arnold (01:12):

And are emotions the same things as the passions? Well, here to help us understand this question, we have with us Dr. Steve Duby. Dr. Duby is associate professor of Theology with us at Phoenix Seminary. He's also the author of God in Himself, Divine Simplicity: A Dogmatic Account, and most recently, Jesus and the God of Classical Theism: Biblical Christology In Light of the Doctrine of God. Which I must say to you, listener, just received the Book of the Year from Christianity Today in the Academic Theology category. So we're really proud of Steve and his work. He's also writing a commentary right now on Habakkuk for the International Theological Commentary series. Dr. Duby specializes in the doctrine of God, and we're fortunate to have him with us today to talk about this question. Dr. Duby, welcome to the podcast.

Steve Duby (01:56):

Thank you for having me.

Brian Arnold (01:58):

So, as you know, we ask our guests a big question. Today that is—does God have emotion? So, first things first. Why even ask this question?

Steve Duby (02:10):

Well, I think it's important to keep in mind a few things that we encounter in the Bible. First of all, we do see passages where there are words like wrath, anger, compassion, and so forth that are applied to God. And so we want to carefully understand what those passages are getting at. And then we also do encounter passages where God is above change, or above being subject to the passions and weaknesses that we human beings have. So I think the question really comes down to having a coherent understanding of the Bible's description of God. That's how I would boil it down.

Brian Arnold (02:47):

Well, let's define some of these terms that we're going to be using. Things like emotion, and passion, and affection. How would you maybe differentiate these three terms?

Steve Duby (02:58):

I think it's possible to talk about all three of them in a way where they are roughly synonymous with each other. And they've been used for different purposes at different periods in Christian thought. So if we take the term passion, for example—passion is a matter of being affected in a certain way by something. And that can sometimes be applied to being affected in a good way, as if I wasn't fully satisfied, but then I acquired something good, and now I am satisfied, I'm happy. But usually earlier authors would say, in the strictest sense, passion has more to do with being affected in a bad way. So I have encountered something, I've become connected to something that's bad, that has an impact on me where I no longer have my own wellbeing, and I need something to be fixed. And you could talk about affections in a similar way. These are ways in which someone is affected, either for something good or for something bad. Emotions would certainly be the more popular term, I think, in our culture today. And I'm willing to grant that we could get into some refined distinctions as to how that word usage might differ. But I'm also okay with thinking of that as being roughly synonymous with passion or affection in this discussion.

Brian Arnold (04:25):

And maybe another word that we need to talk about, kind of the technical theological word for what we're discussing today is impassability. So describe and define that doctrine for us.

Steve Duby (04:37):

Yeah. Divine impassability is the teaching that God is not subject to passions, in the sense that he is not subject to being affected in such a way that he is harmed or damaged by something, or deprived of his well-being. And you can also apply it to the side of good things as well. So you can say—God never has to acquire something in order to finally be fulfilled, or in order to finally be satisfied. I think that sometimes people get nervous about the term impassibility, because they think it takes something away from God, as if he can't really enjoy good things anymore, or as if he cannot truly despise bad things. And so I would want to say—look, we need to be clear. What we are removing from God, when we describe him in this way, is the idea that he might be affected in such a way that he's damaged, or he's deprived of his well-being.

Steve Duby (05:32):

We creatures, even though we sin, we do evil things, we can never, strictly speaking, bring harm to God, or damage God, or deprive him of his own wellbeing. And then when it comes to what we might call good emotions, what we're saying is—God is already fully satisfied in himself. He never has to pass from being not okay to finally being fulfilled, or finally being okay. But we're not denying God's enjoyment of good things. So we can talk about impassibility, and yet at the same time recognize God truly does despise evil things, and God truly does enjoy the good things in his creation.

Brian Arnold (06:10):

Yeah. Let's just even camp out here for a minute, because I think we're kind of at the essence of what we're discussing. If—just to make sure I'm hearing you right—so if anything could be added to God that would bring him greater happiness, then there was something lacking in God. And God, by definition, could not be lacking in something. Is that what you would say?

Steve Duby (06:34):

Yeah, I think that's a significant part of the line of thinking. And it's important to remember that when we see...when we talk about the good things that are in creation, God is happy about them. But strictly speaking, those things are good, only insofar as they reflect the goodness that God already had in himself. So when he creates the world, he enjoys the good things in it. But it's not as if he is finally getting something that's absolutely brand new, that he was not yet in possession of, or not able to enjoy. So the good things in creation matter to God. It's just that they don't make him better than he already was.

Brian Arnold (07:16):

Or—the bad things that matter to God don't harm his character. Don't harm him.

Steve Duby (07:22):

Exactly. Yeah, he truly despises sin, and he wills to punish sin. When people don't repent, we're just saying that, strictly speaking, our sin doesn't cause damage to God or deprive him of his well-being.

Brian Arnold (07:36):

Okay. So let's go to a Scriptural example, if we may. So Genesis six, the world is in total decline and chaos and full of sin of every kind of degree and magnitude. And God repents, <laugh> of creating man, and he's going to destroy them all. How would you understand that from a view of impassibility? Because it seems...I could see somebody making the argument—from a text like that—that God is deeply wounded by the sinfulness of man. He is actually almost changing his mind about creating them in the first place, and wants to extinguish mankind. So what do you do with a passage like that?

Steve Duby (08:18):

The same passage also talks about God grieving over the state of humankind. So that's significant as well. I think that there are multiple ways to approach a passage like that. There are some Bible readers, Bible scholars, that would say—look, I'm only going to look at this one passage on its own. And if I let the rest of the biblical canon shape my understanding of this, I'm somehow not doing justice to that individual passage. I don't see biblical interpretation in that way. I think we need to let what the biblical canon teaches us across the board affect how we read individual passages, so that we read them in a more coherent way, in a way that honors the fullness of God's revelation. So I would be willing to look at Genesis six and say—okay, I know of some other passages, and Brian, maybe we could talk about those things in Acts or Hebrews, where I am not led to think that God is subject to passions in the way that we are.

Steve Duby (09:16):

I'm willing to bear those texts in mind, and start to think—okay, perhaps I'm not meant to read this text literally. Perhaps it's communicating something metaphorically. It's interesting, though, that sometimes in the world of biblical studies people don't like that approach, because they think a metaphor is somehow a poor way of communicating, or it somehow takes away the force of the passage. And I would say no, actually, metaphors communicate powerfully to human beings. So if I'm thinking across the whole canon of Scripture, and thinking—okay, I don't think that, strictly speaking, God can be damaged or deprived of his own wellbeing. What might this passage still be teaching me? Well, a historic line of thought in the Christian faith—one which I find to be compelling—is that this sort of talk, it doesn't have to do with God undergoing literal passions, literal ways of being affected, in which he's damaged.

Steve Duby (10:11):

It teaches us something about God's actions in that moment. So in the case of God repenting in Genesis six, the point is that God acts as a repentant human being would act. That is to say, he does something different here as a repentant human being—having once done one thing, would now begin to do something else. So what is it that's new in this passage, then? Well, it's the fact that God is no longer going to permit sin to grow on the earth. He's about to bring the flood and perform a new action. So historically, exegetes have read passages like that in this way, where this is not about God being harmed, damaged, or anything like that. It's about God undertaking a new action. And furthermore, it helps us...the metaphor here helps us understand just how drastic this is. My goodness, it is so drastic, and the condition of the earth is so bad, it needs to be communicated in terms of a metaphor about God repenting and grieving—that teaches us something, not only about God performing a new action, but about the heinousness of human sin as well.

Brian Arnold (11:20):

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this. Because I've heard some theologians explain it as in...it's like, God's always responsive the same way. He doesn't admit change to himself, but if it's dealing with sin, he's always dealing with it in terms of wrath and justice. If it's something that reflects the fruit of the Spirit, he's responding in love and grace. Is that a way to describe it? Is that God is not changing? His disposition is always this way towards this action?

Steve Duby (11:52):

Yeah. I think that's a helpful element to bring into the discussion. Yeah. God always looks on sin, despising it, willing to punish sin when people don't repent. He is always glad, or rejoicing in godliness. I think the one thing that we might add is just that it's still true that God does perform different outward actions. So we do have to account for something new happening. I think we just have to say, strictly speaking, that doesn't change the perfection or the attributes of God himself. It just has to do with what God produces outwardly. That's probably how I would handle that.

Brian Arnold (12:29):

Yeah. I think that's a...I think it's a fine way to handle that, Dr. Duby. That sounds good. <laugh>

Steve Duby (12:35):

I'm glad you approve.

Brian Arnold (12:37):

Absolutely. So how, then, do we...I want to kind of come back to the original question—does God have emotions, almost on the face of it? If we read a passage with, like, love and wrath and compassion and mercy—those are emotions. So God is emotional in that sense, but just not in the sense that he is changing in his emotions? Or that he is harmed? Or that he is somehow gaining in what was lacking? Would you still consider or call those emotions, or would you want to shy away from that?

Steve Duby (13:09):

I think if someone just asks me point blank—does God have emotions, yes or no? I would begin by trying to make some distinctions. What do you mean by emotion? What is it about the word emotion that you think is fitting here? And I would be willing to say—in one respect, I see your point. If someone is saying God has emotions, because God enjoys what is good and despises what is bad. But strictly speaking, if the word emotion involves that passage from either being okay to no longer being okay and being damaged, or that passage from being unfulfilled to finally being fulfilled and having one's own well-being, then I would say—no, we don't want to apply that language to God. Unless we're willing to clarify—there's a metaphorical component to this description, where we're using these words in an unusual way in God's case.

Steve Duby (14:06):

So like any theology professor, I suppose, I'm going to want to step in and try to offer some distinctions before offering a simplistic yes or no answer to the question. I would normally try, then, to encourage people to shy away from speaking about God literally having passions or emotions for different reasons. People in the Christian tradition have been a bit more comfortable with the word affections. Maybe that's one that's a little bit more straightforwardly salvageable in this case. But I think, really, I'd want to move past just the question about the one word and get to the content of what we need to think through.

Brian Arnold (14:46):

And Dubs, I love how you begin that. If somebody asked me point blank, yes or no, I would write a 400 page book <laugh> describing my answer.

Steve Duby (14:58):

Yes. I suppose, if I can circle back, I'm going to say—no, he doesn't have emotions. But then I'm going to say—the thing that you think you need to still preserve about the word emotion, I still think we can preserve that. Even as we talk about God being impassible. Because he does enjoy the good and hate the bad, or despise the bad.

Brian Arnold (15:16):

Well you just wrote a marvelous work on Jesus and the God of Classical Theism. How does this doctrine of impassibility—that God is not suffering the emotions—to the person of Christ?

Steve Duby (15:32):

Well, I think it's important to keep in mind that when we talk about the person of Christ, we're thinking about a person who has two natures. So he has a divine nature, as well as a human nature. In his divine nature that he shares with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, he is above suffering. He is above passions, or being subjected to the loss of wellbeing. But then he does have a true human nature. And when he was born and lived on earth, he was living in his human nature, in a state of being vulnerable to the weaknesses that we have as human beings. Vulnerable to suffering, both in his body and in his soul, as he experienced bad things in his life. So on the one hand, as God, he is not vulnerable to passions. But in his humanity, he certainly did undergo passions.

Steve Duby (16:24):

And as Hebrews two talks about, that equips him to be our merciful high priest. So we can rejoice in him being invincible, on the one hand, and also, at the same time, being subject to our lowly weaknesses. Although we might add, now that he has undergone the resurrection and been glorified, he is above human suffering as well. And perhaps that sounds funny to us, but he does, on the one hand, remember the suffering that he went through, and he remembers that as he intercedes for us in heaven. And, on the other hand, it's actually good news that he's now above even human suffering, because he is where we are headed. Where God will wipe away every tear, and will end our mourning, which is something that's part of our Christian hope.

Brian Arnold (17:08):

Exactly. Yeah, that doesn't sound funny to us, it sounds hopeful. It sounds glorious. So I can remember, I don't know, 15 years ago or so, open theism was a big deal. Where there's a question of—does God know the future? And if God knows the future and bad things are still happening, then that makes God liable in some way. I could see somebody making a very similar discussion here, is that we want a God who suffers the emotions, so that he can really, truly, fully understand us, get us, in the ways that we want that to be true. So how do you handle this pastorally, to somebody who says—that makes God sound a little bit more remote, the way you're describing an impassible God. So how would you respond?

Steve Duby (17:57):

Yeah, well, I think it's okay to say—when a person is ready to have the heavier theological discussion—I think it's okay to say God is very distinct from us. He's radically distinct from us. And it is true, and also good news, that God is not subject to losing his own fullness, or his own wellbeing. That's helpful for us to bear in mind, because this is the one that we need to get us out of our bad situation. It's not a good thing if our deliverer, if our rescuer, is stuck in the very same situation that we are stuck in, because he himself would need a rescuer. Now, I think at the same time, it's appropriate to clarify—that doesn't mean God is somehow mechanical. He still does despise the bad things that happen, and it's not as if he evaluated them as neutral.

Steve Duby (18:55):

He truly despises them, and he wills to get rid of them in his new creation. I would also add—when we think about the value of having someone who can relate to our human situation, that is still also what we have through the incarnation of God the Son, as I said before. Even though he's above passion or the loss of well-being in his divinity, he still was truly subject to passions and undergoing damaging things in his human life, in both body and soul. So I always say—I think we have the best of both worlds here, with a God who is above those things and truly able to rescue us. And, at the same time, one who has taken on human flesh and can fully relate to our weaknesses, and passions, and all of that. And I think that both sides of that are necessary for all the pastoral comfort that we want to bring to someone who needs to know that they will eventually get out of a miserable situation. But at the same time, they're interested in knowing Christ the high priest, who can sympathize with us. So I like to say—it's the best of both worlds.

Brian Arnold (20:04):

I think that's a great response. I think that's exactly what people who are even suffering need to hear—is that we don't have a capricious God who just changes, but we have a Jesus who's incarnate, who understands, because he suffered likewise. You alluded to Hebrews two earlier. I'd like to read verses 17 and 18 for encouragement. "Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." And we have that, the one side of the best of all worlds there, of Christ incarnate for us, suffering temptation, but without sin, in our stead. And because of that, we can be saved, because we have the God man. So I appreciate your work on this topic. It's obviously a big topic, a heavy topic, requires a lot of thought and reflection. In addition to your work, which has been really helpful, I think, for people to understand this question—what else have you found to be a helpful resource that you'd point our listeners to?

Steve Duby (21:13):

Oh my goodness. On impassibility in particular?

Brian Arnold (21:15):


Steve Duby (21:18):

Divine Impassability. Well, if someone wants to go deep, Thomas Weinandy's book Does God Suffer? would be one place to go. You've put me on the spot, so you're going to have to determine how long you want the podcast to run.

Brian Arnold (21:34):

We've got a couple minutes. <laugh> Or books that you would just say—absolutely stay away from. If you've got the guts to just name names, I say let ‘er roll.

Steve Duby (21:43):

Oh my goodness. Well, one never knows where this will end up on the internet. So I guess...let me just say this. I think it would be a mistake to focus a lot on perspectives that are really dealing with this at the simplistic level, where someone says—obviously Jesus suffers, therefore divine impassibility is wrong. No. We need to think through the fact that he suffers as human. That doesn't automatically entail that he suffers in his divinity. There are people that I think read the Old Testament passages with God repenting and grieving and so forth, simplistically. And I I really think we need works that go across the disciplines, where someone can read Old Testament texts carefully, but then also take forward the best insights of the Christian tradition, from Church Fathers and medieval and Reformation thinkers as well. So I think working with the Bible, but also with the insights of the Christian tradition is really key here.

Brian Arnold (22:41):

Are there any particular theologians from the past that you'd recommend on this question?

Steve Duby (22:48):

Augustine does some some helpful things on the passions in the City of God. I have found Aquinas's book Summa Contra Gentiles. It was actually a work of theology and apologetics, Book One of that, around chapter 89-90, and in that area. If someone really wants to dive in, I think that's very helpful. Also, Petrus Van Mastricht, whose work Theoretical Practical Theology is rolling out in English, it's being translated gradually into English. His treatment of God's will, and the affections of God's will, I have found to be very helpful as well. Which...that's a deep book, but I think it's one that should be accessible to a careful reader.

Brian Arnold (23:32):

And I love that you're sending people back into the tradition. Christians have thought about this for millennia. It's important. If we want to know who God is, both in himself—as you have helped us through several books—but also knowing him as he's relating to us in the person of Christ, it's important to keep both those pieces in mind, if we really want to know who God is. And take hard passages—I appreciate what you did earlier with Genesis six, of saying—we don't have to just stay right here. We need to think about the whole canon of Scripture. How is God revealing himself to us? And in some of those even clearer places, helping us now go back to Genesis six and read it in a way that shows even greater grandeur of who God is for us, even in those hard places of Scripture.

Brian Arnold (24:20):

So, Dr. Duby, thank you for your labor in working hard to help theologians, and pastors, and people in the church really grapple with who God is, because I believe in knowing him, we love him more. So thank you for that, and for the discussion today.

Steve Duby (24:34):

Thanks for having me.

Outro 1 (24:36):

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.

Outro 2 (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 an exciting event we're hosting on the campus of Phoenix Seminary this spring, our first annual Sacred Truths Conference on February 24th and 25th. Our featured speakers will be Fred Sanders, Steve Duby, Bobby Jamieson, and myself. Our theme will focus on the core of Christianity—who is Christ, as one person with two natures, both human and divine. So I hope you'll join us, and invite anyone you know who's interested in learning more about Christian doctrine. Click the link in the show notes, or learn more and register at sacredtruths.events.

How Does the Old Testament Law Apply to Christians Today? Dr. Tom Schreiner

Guest: Dr. Tom Schreiner | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Schreiner about the role of the law for Christians today.

Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Tom Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison professor of New Testament Interpretation and professor of Biblical Theology, as well as associate dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books, including, as part of the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series, Romans (Baker Academic, 2018), The New American Commentary Volume 37: 1-2 Peter, Jude (Holman Reference 2003), and The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (Baker Books, 1998).

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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):

One of the most frequent arguments made against Christians today is that we pick and choose what we will follow from the Bible. We obey and uphold the parts we like; we disregard the parts we don't. I hear this most often when it comes to things like homosexuality. A Christian will point to Leviticus 20:13, which reads, "if a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." To which someone will respond, "I'll see your Leviticus 20:13 and raise you a Leviticus 19:28, "You shall not make cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord." As they point to the Christian with tattoos all up and down the arm. It's a "gotcha" kind of moment. To be honest, many Christians aren't quite sure what to do with the Old Testament law.

Brian Arnold (01:06):

How does it apply to Christians today? Does it apply, in light of Jesus and the New Testament? Are Old Testament laws arbitrary, or do they reflect something about the character of God? Well, to help us understand the Old Testament law today is Dr. Tom Schreiner. Dr. Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison professor of New Testament Interpretation and professor of Biblical Theology at Southern Seminary, where he also serves as associate dean of the School of Theology. Dr. Schreiner is a prolific writer, having published numerous books, including commentaries on Romans and First Peter, Second Peter, and Jude. And significantly for today's conversation, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law. And I've got to say as well, one of my favorite professors during my time at Southern Seminary. Dr. Schreiner, welcome to the podcast.

Tom Schreiner (01:52):

Well, good to talk to you again, Brian. And just call me Tom.

Brian Arnold (01:56):

<laugh>. Well, Tom, I will say—I'm a little less sweaty today than I was when taking Romans Exegesis class and fearing to be called on to translate. So this is a much more comfortable situation.

Tom Schreiner (02:09):

<laugh>. That's great

Brian Arnold (02:10):

<laugh>. But in all seriousness, appreciate what you've done to train up thousands of ministers for the gospel. Well, we always ask our guests a big question, today that question is—how does the Old Testament law apply to Christians today? So when we even say “Old Testament law”, what is it that we're talking about?

Tom Schreiner (02:27):

Yeah, well actually that term is somewhat complex, because the word law is used different ways in the Bible. Sometimes when they use the word law, they're just referring to the Old Testament as a whole. Right? Paul can quote from Isaiah and say it's the law. Or you can have "The Law and the Prophets," which is a way of referring to the whole Bible. So it can refer to the Pentateuch, it can refer to particular commandments. But usually people are talking about the commandments found in the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch.

Brian Arnold (03:02):

So let's talk about those first five—the Pentateuch, the Torah. It has a couple different names—book of Moses—that we refer to it by. So what does law mean in that context?

Tom Schreiner (03:13):

Yeah. Well, there are laws in that there are covenantal laws, or you could say instruction. There's actually a big debate—should we say instruction or law? I actually feel that debate...I think both are actually true most of the time, because the laws, the commands, are also instructions. So, you know, most of what we find when the word law is used, are particular commands that are given, right? Honor your father and mother, and so forth and so on. Or even the commandments you mentioned at the beginning. So usually when the word law is used, and that's true in Paul as well, especially, it has in view particular commands that are given by God.

Brian Arnold (04:01):

Okay, well, so I've heard the number 613 of these laws given in the Old Testament. It can seem like God is a little persnickety in terms of what he's wanting his people to do. Some of the laws, which seem really strange to us today as we hear them, which obviously in the original context would have meant a lot more to the original readers of the text—why all these laws? What is God trying to do? Especially if you can put that in light of covenant, I think it'd be really helpful.

Tom Schreiner (04:32):

Yeah, I think that's a good way to frame it. What we have in the covenant is—God saves, he delivers, he rescues his people from Egypt. So he bestows his grace on them by liberating them and freeing them from Egyptian slavery. And then he gives them commands and laws. So the laws were not given, even in the Old Testament, in order to establish a relationship with God. But the laws were given as a response to God's saving and redeeming work of his people. And yeah, there's a lot of laws, but many of those laws relate to—how do you offer sacrifices? There's a lot of detail there on the sacrifices and the tabernacle. And there are other specific laws as well, but the broader category we should keep in mind is their response, their loving response, to God's grace. How do you follow the Lord? That's what the laws are given for.

Brian Arnold (05:39):

So even if we highlight what most listeners would know—the 10 Commandments—as kind of foundational laws of the Old Testament, I think a lot of people miss the preamble, right? Which reads, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." He's already done the saving. And I think a lot of Christians kind of get this muddled in their minds, of the laws functioning as a way of earning righteousness or earning salvation somehow. Instead of, as you mentioned, recognizing God has already done the saving, and now, in light of what he's done, and in light of the covenant that he's given them, they're doing this in response, in many ways. What does it mean to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? What does it mean to love God and love your neighbor? And these laws reflect the character of God. One of the things I hear a lot today from people—and I don't know if you're hearing this too—is that the laws seem arbitrary, or the Bible teaches things that are arbitrary. So do we see in the Old Testament law just God just kind of picking and choosing arbitrary laws? Or does this say something about who he is?

Tom Schreiner (06:41):

Yeah. Well, I don't think the laws are arbitrary. I would argue that the laws reflect the character of God. I think it's in Deuteronomy four, and I don't remember the exact reference, but what other nation has such good laws? So the law was not viewed as a burden. Read Psalm 19, read Psalm 119—the law is a great gift in that sense. God clarifies, as you said really well, I think, all the laws summarize—love the Lord and love your neighbor. So they're really a beautiful description of what it means to live in relationship with God, and to live in relationship with one another.

Brian Arnold (07:28):

So now let's kind of even shift to the New Testament a little bit, because how are we to read the law in terms of like a Pauline lens? So you've spent a lot of time in your scholarship thinking about, writing about these things, especially as they come through books like Romans and Galatians, and Paul wrestling with the law. I think about something like Romans seven, where the law is this good thing that was given to the Israelite people, but Paul's trying to help his readers—oftentimes a mix between Jews and Gentiles—understand what the law was in place for, and now their response to the law. So how is Paul wanting us, as Christians today, even to understand the Old Testament law?

Tom Schreiner (08:14):

Yeah. Well, one of the major themes that comes out is Paul emphasizes repeatedly—no one can keep the law sufficiently so that they're justified before God. And as we said earlier, I don't think that's a new teaching. I don't think Paul's making this up, de novo. This is...I think this has already been taught in the Old Testament, but he is very clear—salvation only comes through the grace of God that is given to us in Jesus Christ. So the law is not a ladder by which we enter into a relationship with God. And clearly, even today, people misunderstand that, don't they? I mean, most people would say—if they're not Christians—what does it mean to be right with God? Well, it means being a good person. And Paul teaches—but no one's a good person. Everyone falls short of what God requires. If you try to base your relationship with God on your obedience to the law or any moral code, you'll fail. So that's a fundamental theme, right? What does Paul say? We're not justified by works. We're not saved by works. He says that again and again. I think that teaching is in Jesus as well.

Brian Arnold (09:33):

So if we can even move back...I want to go back and talk about Old Testament law. Do you find it helpful to even give the threefold understanding of kind of like that moral/ceremonial kind of breakdown of the law? Do you find that to be a helpful idea? Because again, thinking about like how I started my introduction, when people say—oh, well, you say homosexuality is a sin, but then you have tattoos. And there's a hermeneutic question that is involved with this as well, of even understanding the purpose of the law then, and how we understand it now. So is that a helpful breakdown or not?

Tom Schreiner (10:11):

I would say yes, but I want to explain. I think it is helpful. I think, at the end of the day, it is right. I don't think Paul discusses the law specifically in that way. By which, I mean, for Paul...well, I think what Paul argues is we're not under the covenant with Moses, the covenant with Israel. So I think he argues comprehensively—that covenant is no longer the covenant under which Christians live. We live under the New Covenant. All the stipulations of that covenant, then, have passed away. By which, I mean the covenant made with Moses. We're not under any of those stipulations, per se. So that's the first thing. So we're under the New Covenant, not the Old. But then we circle back and we find Paul citing some of the commands of that covenant as authoritative, right?

Tom Schreiner (11:10):

"Honor your parents, don't commit adultery, don't murder, don't steal, don't lie," et cetera. "Don't commit idolatry." So why does Paul quote certain commands as authoritative, if he says we're no longer under that covenant? And I think the answer is—those commands are not authoritative because they belong to that covenant. We're not under that covenant anymore. Those commands are authoritative because they reflect the character of God. And then, I think it's right to say theologically—well, why do they reflect the character of God? Because there are absolute moral norms, and there is a sense in which that's different from ceremonial law. So Don Carson—you know that name well, many of the listeners will know that name—I think Don rightly says—the moral/ceremonial/civil distinction is helpful, if I can use a technical term, not a priori, but a posteriori. Which means, at the end of the day, theologically, I think it's right.

Brian Arnold (12:16):

I think it's pretty helpful too, especially as we move into hermeneutics and how we're to interpret some of these laws. Some of them, like you said, are repeated in the New Testament. They're obviously something that has a Christian ethic to it for all times. Right? And some of the ceremonial ones that the whole book of Hebrews is telling us are null and void, because the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin. Christ is the final sacrifice. All those were meant to foreshadow what his atonement would accomplish for humanity. And then obviously, civilly, we're not under any kind of a theonomy at this point anymore, no matter how much some people would like that today, <laugh> it seems like, as that's become an enraging debate once again, of do we want to have an Old Testament Israel, kind of civil religion here in America? So how...I mean, you've done a lot of work in the Reformers as well, and they talked about this "third use of the law." What is the third use of the law? And is that an appropriate way for us to view the law today?

Tom Schreiner (13:19):

Yeah. Well, the third use of the law is that the law gives us instruction on how to live. And if you keep in mind what I said in my previous answer, then I would say yes, the moral norms of the law describe for us what it means to reflect back on what we talked about earlier—to love God and to love our neighbor. So it, you know, it applies to what you talked about at the outset. Homosexual relations are wrong, because they violate a moral norm, a moral absolute. But eating, you know, pork—which was forbidden in the Old Testament—that does not violate a moral norm. Or getting a tattoo. Those...there were certain ceremonial laws that set Israel apart from the nations. And I think that was the fundamental purpose of many of those laws. Those laws are no longer needed, because now the gospel, in the New Covenant, is going to all nations. Whereas in the Old Covenant, the gospel was primarily restricted to Israel.

Brian Arnold (14:32):

Well, let's dive in a little bit more there, because I could see somebody saying—who gets to decide which ones are more ceremonial, and which ones have more of a moral flavor to it? So why couldn't the homosexuality piece just be a ceremonial kind of thing for Israel in that day, to set them apart from other nations, but that it doesn't have this kind of blanket moral undertone to it?

Tom Schreiner (14:58):

Yeah. Well, I mean, the first thing I think I'd want to say is—this is not new. You know, what we're saying. You know, I think contemporaries might think—oh, well now they're making this up about homosexuality, because they're biased against us, or something like that. But what we're talking about right now, Brian, it's the historic Christian position throughout history, making these distinctions between moral norms and ceremonial norms. So I think that's helpful, right at the outset. We're not saying anything new here. But then secondly, Scripture itself is our guide, and our authoritative guide. And we see, say in Romans chapter one, that same sex relations are wrong, because they violate God's created intention. From creation, God made man male and female. So Paul doesn't only give a moral norm, but he gives a rationale for it—when God created human beings, he created them male and female. And it was his intention that male and female unite together in marriage, one man and one woman. And that's very clear in Genesis 1 and 2. And that's what Paul draws on. So it's really a whole Bible theology of what it means to be a human being.

Brian Arnold (16:21):

I think that's really helpful. We're not just plucking verses out and saying, "Aha, there you go!" It really fits within the whole framework of what Scripture is, and understanding why God has given us certain human institutions like marriage, what it represents in Christ and the church, and how that can only be represented through a male and a female in a marital union. That we're not just saying, "Well, Leviticus 20 says this." It is—look at the whole Bible and why God has given us these important relationships, and how they reflect upon him as well. Well, you've been, obviously, a professor for a number of years, and a pastor as well. Where do you see in scholarship—because this is one of the most contested issues, I feel like, is Paul and the law—and then even pastorally where you see Christians struggling with this idea of the law. I would love to hear your thoughts on both sides of that, of why you've spent so much time in your scholarship on this question, and how you've helped people as a pastor.

Tom Schreiner (17:21):

Yeah. Well, I suppose I've spent a lot of time on this because the law is so closely tied to the gospel. How we understand the law relates both to—how are we saved? Are we justified by our works? Are we justified by the works of the laws, as Paul says? Are we justified by our performance? Now the Reformers and Evangelicals have, I think, been clear throughout the years, but there are always people who are disagreeing, and there are movements that call into question these fundamental truths. And I think this is so important, pastorally, that we're right with God not based on what we do, but based on God's grace through faith. So that's the first thing. And then the second thing, something we've talked about—yes, I also want to say that the law...by the power of the Spirit, God empowers us to live in a way that's pleasing to God. Not perfectly. But God...you know, we're saved by faith. We're saved by God's grace, but then God empowers and strengthens us through his Spirit. And pastorally, that's really important to me. I want people to be saved, and to rest in God's wonderful grace, and not look fundamentally to themselves. And then I want people to look to the power of God, to the Spirit, to transform their everyday lives. And that's a beautiful and wonderful reality.

Brian Arnold (19:00):

So to get a little technical, you know, one of the interlocutors you've had for the past couple of decades is what we call the New Perspective on Paul. Do you still see that as a significant challenge to your reading on some of these areas of Paul and the law? Or do you see some new things on the horizon that are more challenging today?

Tom Schreiner (19:25):

Yeah, there are some new movements out there, but I don't think they're having a great impact—at least right now—on evangelicalism. I think the New Perspective...it's not new anymore, right?

Brian Arnold (19:38):

Right. It's as old as I am, I think...well, older than me, actually. Yes, yes.

Tom Schreiner (19:42):

Yeah. Sanders's book was written in 77, so I always joke now when I talk about it—how new is this anymore? <laugh>? But I think it has, though, filtered down enough into the churches. I mean, fascinating—when I was in Ethiopia, they had tons of questions about it, because they've been taught a lot about the New Perspective. So I think, at the pastoral level, it's still important. Actually, at the scholarly level, I don't see it as...it's not being talked about as much at the scholarly level right now, interestingly enough.

Brian Arnold (20:18):

Well, that was my feeling. Yeah, that's why I asked, is because it seems like that was...it was like all the...like a plague, if you will, in the moment of everybody talking about it. And it was like locusts eating up all the trees of theology in 2005, kind of when I started seminary. And it was all the rage. And now I just don't hear it as much anymore. Which is why I wanted to get your take on that. But it's like a lot of things that start in the academy, like the New Perspective, and they filter their way down. And so I could see it actually being more of a challenge in the churches today than it was 15 years ago, as these ideas have been now brought in through so many different pastorates.

Tom Schreiner (20:55):

I think that's exactly right. That's where I'm encountering it more now—people in the churches. And when I went to Ethiopia, all the students had so many questions. And it's not just there. When I'm here as well, just at the everyday church level now, there are people who have been influenced by the New Perspective. I think it's still a minority, but it's out there.

Brian Arnold (21:18):

Well, and I appreciate your work on this. I think it's been important to spend so much of your career dealing with this. And saying what you said earlier in our discussion—this is what the church has held. You know, my work focused on this, even in the early church, and we see it obviously through the Reformers and evangelicalism. And when these doctrines come under attack, it makes me sad, because it's dealing with the fundamentals of the gospel and what does it mean to be saved? What does it mean to not look to our works, not look to ourselves? But we must find our righteousness in someone else, and that's Christ. And the double imputation that comes at the cross is so central to the gospel, that we need it. So thank you for your voice on this. What are the resources you would recommend to people as they're trying to think through issues of the law—how that relates to the New Testament, what that means for Christians today? What do you find to be the most helpful?

Tom Schreiner (22:11):

Well, I like Steven Westerholm's work. So he has a long book on Old and New Perspectives on Paul, but he has a shorter one called Justification Reconsidered. I think that's a very helpful work as well. And I have a shorter book on the law called...I think it's called 40 Questions for Christians on the Biblical Law, something like that. I also like Frank Thielman's work on the law. I think that's a helpful resource. And I almost forgot this one—Brian Rosner has a nice book on the law. I'm trying to think of the title, but it's in the series edited by Don Carson in the New Studies of Biblical Theology.

Brian Arnold (22:54):

Which is a great series for understanding these kinds of questions. I've been helped by many of those volumes. If I could even throw one out, talking about the law—L. Michael Morales's book on...is it, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? or whatever. It's a biblical theology on Leviticus, which I found—

Tom Schreiner (23:12):

Yeah, I read that book. Yeah, that's fantastic.

Brian Arnold (23:14):

It is. It's a fantastic book. Yeah. And let me just say, it is amazing, I'm sure, for our listeners just to know how much scholarship you've brought to this world, that you're not remembering the title of your own book. <laugh> That's pretty impressive.

Tom Schreiner (23:26):

I don't know if that's impressive or not.

Brian Arnold (23:30):

Well, it's in the Kregel series, and that whole series is great, especially for introductory works. I've not been able to look at your book on that one yet, but I'd love to—for helping my own understanding on this. Well, Dr. Schreiner—Tom—it's always a pleasure to talk to you. I've benefited from you, not only as a professor, but also through your writing. I'm thankful that you've spent so much of your career getting people to look back to Christ and the gospel. What it means to be justified by faith alone, and how the law plays into that. So thank you for your work, and for our discussion today.

Tom Schreiner (24:04):

No, it was great being with you, Brian. Thank you.

Outro 1 (24:06):

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.

Outro 2 (24:49): 

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 an exciting event we're hosting on the campus of Phoenix Seminary this spring, our first annual Sacred Truths Conference on February 24th and 25th. Our featured speakers will be Fred Sanders, Steve Duby, Bobby Jamieson, and myself. Our theme will focus on the core of Christianity—who is Christ, as one person with two natures, both human and divine. So I hope you'll join us, and invite anyone you know who's interested in learning more about Christian doctrine. Click the link in the show notes, or learn more and register at sacredtruths.events.

What Is Orthodoxy? Dr. Trevin Wax

Guest: Dr. Trevin Wax | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Wax about his new book, The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of Christian Faith.

Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Trevin Wax is vice president of research and resource development at the North American Mission Board. He is a visiting professor at Cedarville University, and previously served as a missionary in Romania. Dr. Wax is the co-founder of The Gospel Project, and is the author of several books, including Gospel-Centered Teaching: Showing Christ in All the Scripture (B&H Books, 2013), The Multi-Directional Leader: Responding Wisely to Challenges from Every Side (The Gospel Coalition, 2021), and The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of the Christian Faith (IVP, 2022).

Subscribe on:

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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):

We are witnessing what seems to be an exponential rise in so-called deconversion stories. Evangelicals en masse are abandoning the faith, and doing so loudly. Two stories which come to mind are those of Rhett and Link, former Campus Crusade staff, that are now world-famous YouTubers. Several years ago they both said that they did not find the Christian faith credible anymore after doing some studying. But close in the wake of such stories is always the Christian ethic, which has become unsatisfying. Add to that an unhealthy obsession with what is new, and you have a recipe for abandoning orthodoxy. Quite frankly, I don't think a lot of Christians have done a good job demonstrating what makes the faith beautiful. Things familiar and old become dusty and faded in an age of constant newness, where antiquity is a vice, and novelty is a virtue. We need our fires re-lit for historic Christian orthodoxy.

Brian Arnold (01:13):

Christianity is a beautiful truth that pervades every aspect of creation and every facet of life. It's why I'm excited to talk to today's guest about his new book. So here to help us talk about orthodoxy, is Dr. Trevin Wax. Dr. Wax is vice president of research and resource development at the North American Mission Board, and is a visiting professor at Cedarville University, and previously served as a missionary in Romania. Trevin is a prolific author, a co-founder of The Gospel Project, and the author of several books, including most recently, The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of the Christian Faith. Trevin, welcome to the podcast.

Trevin Wax (01:53):

Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Brian Arnold (01:55):

So we always ask our guests one big question, and today the question is this—what is orthodoxy? So could you begin by just simply defining what orthodoxy means?

Trevin Wax (02:05):

Well, you know...I I knew when I was going to write a book called The Thrill of Orthodoxy, that I was going to have to do some work defining what orthodoxy is at the beginning. And what I settled on was—what is that bedrock, or Trinitarian faith that all wings of the Christian church say—yes, we confess that. We believe that. And the best summaries that you can find of that are really in the three major creeds that all wings of the church look at and say—we, you know, we affirm that. We adhere to that. I'm speaking of the Apostle's Creed, which is probably the oldest there, the Nicene Creed, and then the Athanasian Creed. These are...they're not really long, but they're statements that summarize Scriptural teaching about who God is, and what he has done for us.

Trevin Wax (03:05):

They don't go into a lot of great detail. Which is why, you know, you'll find confessions of faith from different denominations and different traditions that seek to unpack other aspects of biblical teaching faithfully. But those creeds are really a summary statement of what the Bible itself teaches about the identity of God, and what it means for us as Christians to confess our belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. And so, for purposes of this book, I wanted it to be kind of a Mere Christianity kind of book, that even though I'm writing specifically from an evangelical perspective, I wanted people to...I wanted to go back to the very, very basics, the most fundamental of everything that we believe, and say—this is the bedrock that you can stand on. And so I go back to those creeds as faithful summaries of what Scripture teaches.

Brian Arnold (03:57):

So I'm sure for some of our listeners, some alarm bells might be going off. where they've been so used to saying, "the Bible is my only creed," that anytime we add any kind of a human creed and say, "that is what the bedrock of orthodoxy is," they get a little nervous about that. But I like what you said—that this is really just summarizing what the Bible says. So how do you work people through that question, that angst, when they have it?

Trevin Wax (04:21):

Well, I mean, first I go back to the Bible itself, because you see credal statements come out in the Bible. I mean, already from in Deuteronomy, you know, the Shema of the Israelites, you know—we believe the Lord, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you will love him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. You know, so you've got credal statements even making their way into the New Testament already. When Paul talks about the "gospel that is of first importance," he lays out what is essentially a credal statement. You've got some statements like that in the pastoral epistles as well. So there's already a sort of an understanding that we are going to sum up—in actual doctrinal affirmations—what it is that we believe to be true already in the Scriptures themselves.

Trevin Wax (05:06):

But, you know, I mean, I'm a Protestant, so I believe that Scripture alone is our final and ultimate authority. And there is no such thing as a...you know, as an inspired creed, in the same sense of the way that the Bible is inspired. That's certainly the case. Which is why for me in this book, when I laid out the creed in the first chapter, those three different creeds, on one side you've got the lines of the creed, and then on the other side you've got all the Scripture references that sum up, that are summed up in those lines of that...it's backing up what it is that we're affirming. And the way I'm doing that is to help people see, you know, these creeds aren't set in opposition, or even over against, or over Scripture.

Trevin Wax (05:50):

But if Christians, for thousands of years now, have looked at these creeds and have said—that is a faithful representation of what the Bible itself teaches, then to go against those creeds is really to go against all the believers who have come before you. So that's a pretty safe way of saying—these are good guardrails. They don't tell us everything about the Christian faith, but they tell us something so essential, that to get this wrong is going to lead you into extraordinary error. And so that's really where the creeds come in as helpful. They're good expressions, and they're good guardrails. You know, they're not the Bible, but as long as they're faithfully summing up the Bible, we can look to them as helpful resources.

Brian Arnold (06:37):

And like you said, for 2000 years Christians have found these—and I like the word guardrails—to say, "what do we think the Bible says about who God is, and who is Jesus, and who is the Holy Spirit?" Like, we need that. I remember—we both have a background in the Southern Baptist Convention, and this was probably 10 or 15 years ago now—there was a controversy in the International Mission Board of missionaries saying, "I don't want to sign a creed. I don't want to sign the Baptist Faith and Message, but I'll sign my name at the end of the Bible. That's my only creed." And you know, that created quite a stir amongst many of us theological students, because the problem is—a lot of heretics can do that, right? Not saying that those missionaries were, but there's a lot of people who would affirm things about what the Bible teaches that I would say are wrong. That the creeds would say are wrong. But that they would say—I hold to everything in the Bible. And so these confessions of faith...and for people to know this has been a strong impetus for believers since the very beginning. I think about...another thing I'd thrown into your mix of the Apostles Creed, and Athanasian Creed, and the Nicene Creed, is things like the Regula Fidei. So Iranaeus, writing these kind of statements of faith that the—Christians have always had this strong desire to summarize the Christian faith with credal-type statements.

Trevin Wax (07:49):

Well, and also to provide a framework for biblical interpretation. You know, I think it's actually a product of the Enlightenment, I think, of an Enlightenment mindset, to come to the Bible and to think that we come to the Bible without any sort of preconceived notions, and it's just a...we're a blank slate coming to the Scriptures. We are coming to the Scriptures already with some sort of, you know, expectation as to what we might find there, that does shape what we receive. And what the creeds can do is, if you really get...you know, see the framework, the sort of scaffolding that they provide for you, it's to be able to say—look, the church comes to the Bible with these fundamental affirmations of the faith, these presuppositions in mind, and this is the way to read Scripture as well.

Trevin Wax (08:33):

So there is a sense in which it does help us be better interpreters of Scripture. Because you realize if you interpret Scripture in a way that's going against one of those foundational tenets, then you also...it helps to kind of put you back on track to be able to say—okay, there must be something off in my interpretation here, because it's going against the, you know, the church on a key distinctive, or a key doctrine, that Christians everywhere have said—that's essential to our understanding of orthodoxy. Confessions are a little bit different. I mean, I guess for me, confessions are basically what denominations, or different Christian groups—it's the way they flesh out the creeds. And I would hesitate if there's someone that's actually being, you know, paid by a denomination to be a missionary or something, if they have a hesitancy to sign their name to a statement of faith. I would say—well, you know, as long as you're partnering with this denomination, you know, to not affirm everything in the confession may, you know...it doesn't necessarily make you a non-Christian, but it does beg the question—why belong to this particular group if you don't affirm what this particular group believes?

Brian Arnold (09:44):

That's right.

Trevin Wax (09:44):

And so I think that's the question that you've got to have at the denominational level when it comes to those larger confessions.

Brian Arnold (09:52):

Well, let's talk about the flip side. If orthodoxy is on one side, heresy is on the other. And I feel like that's a word that is used quite flippantly today. That people like to just throw that around at anything they don't like. So how would you define heresy?

Trevin Wax (10:05):

Yeah, I think there are three different categories we have here. We've got, you know, you've got orthodoxy, which is, you know, essential core convictions, bedrock of the faith. You've got errors, which are, you know, are problems. And I think all of us have them. Every tradition has them. We don't always know where the errors are, or we would change them. None of us are omniscient in that way, and the Lord will have to straighten us all out in the end, I think. But then you have...so you have orthodoxy, you have theological errors, which we want to take seriously, or we want to discuss, but then you also have errors that are so distorting of the core tenets of the faith, or are denials of the core tenets of faith, that we would say it's heresy.

Trevin Wax (10:49):

Like we would look at this as destructive doctrine. Damnable doctrine, if I can use that word on the radio station. Because really, I mean, heresies, when propagated and continuing to be put out by teachers...one of the reasons why the Church Fathers and the Reformers and other people were so up in arms about particular doctrinal deviations is because they believed that these errors were like giving poison to people instead of medicine. And, you know, you ought to get up in arms if someone's dispensing poison as medicine, right? So I think heresy...we tend to be a little flippant, I think, we use the H-word too often. I think sometimes we confuse errors for heresy, or sometimes something that might distinguish us from one group of Christians and another group of Christians.

Trevin Wax (11:47):

We will call that other group heretics, when it may not be that they're actually espousing heresy. We may just see them as being in error in one way or another, on some particular matter of biblical interpretation, or practice, or what it might be. So I think we do have to be careful that we don't rush to that word, because when everyone that disagrees with you is a heretic, you really lose the drama of that word when you really need it. And Lord knows we do need to call out false teaching. It's one of the things that the apostles do, and we ought to be equipped for. But if we rush to call everyone who disagrees with us false teachers, we actually elevate certain issues that are not bedrock, or not core convictions—we elevate them to the level that we then are parting ways or slandering actual brothers and sisters in Christ.

Brian Arnold (12:42):

And I agree with you. I think we have to reserve that word for things that if you believe this, or you don't believe this, and it's heresy, it means it'll send you to hell. Like, this is a dividing line of the faith, of in or out. And I'll keep that tier, if you will, as lean as possible. Kind of like what you were saying—what are the core creeds of the faith that have been believed on by Christians for 2000 years, that we would say—this is bedrock Christianity? Just for our listeners, one of the actual first conversations we ever had with a guest on this program was with Gavin Ortlund, who wrote the book, Finding the Right Hills to Die On. That same kind of thing of—we need to know what is urgent, what is the dividing line between truth and error, and orthodoxy and heresy, and keep that as thin as possible. And then we can have a lot of intramural debates and discussions on some of those lower tier issues. It's one of the things my students have been most impacted by, is thinking through things like theological triage. How do we weight different doctrines and know which ones we need to, you know, burn at the stake for, if that time ever came and it was necessary? And ones that we could just be like—well, we'll find out one day in glory.

Trevin Wax (13:50):

That's right. And, you know, some of those things...there is also, though, this category—and I think Gavin speaks to this well—those second tier issues, they are really important. I mean, there are reasons why, you know, I'm in the church I'm in, and I'm not worshiping with brothers and sisters down the street every Sunday. And it's not because I don't think they're brothers and sisters, but because some of those issues actually do divide us into different congregations. It's unfortunate, and we're seeking to be faithful to the Scriptures as best we know how. But there is a sense in which there are some departures from orthodoxy that are not yet in the level of heresy, but that are distortions, that if continuing to move in a direction will lead you to serious danger.

Trevin Wax (14:33):

So, you know, I'm one who wants to see good theological debate take place, with the Bible being the source that we're constantly going back to. And I think the triage question of being able to look at different doctrines and seeing—can we agree to disagree on this and be in the same congregation? Or can we agree to disagree on this and still be in brotherly fellowship? Those are questions that we really need to ask well. Because one of the challenges that we face today is when everything becomes either a heresy, you know...either it's pure orthodoxy or heresy, we wind up being able to lose any sense of nuance or distinction. And so that some of the things that our group may adhere to, we lift it to a level beyond where it actually is in that hierarchy. And the great thing about those ecumenical creeds that go back to the early days of the church, is like, there you can basically say—I can have full confidence that whatever Christianity looks like a hundred years from now, 200 years from now, should the Lord tarry and not return by then, Christians are going to agree on those essential matters.

Trevin Wax (15:52):

They're going to agree on those core doctrines.

Brian Arnold (15:55):

Well, that's right. That's where I've always struggled with, when we get students, or just people in the church, who can't see how important things like creeds are. You know, in my church, and most of the churches I've ever been in, we don't recite the creeds. It's...they're almost unknown, I feel like, to many evangelicals today. It almost sounds Catholic to them, that there are these creeds that are followed by the Catholic church. But we have overdone sola scriptura, to the point where those are not seen as helpful guardrails, as you mentioned before. Well, every now and then—and this has not happened to me very often—somebody writes a book that I'm like—wow, I really wish I could have written that book. And this is one of them.

Brian Arnold (16:37):

When I saw it come out, and I saw the title, I thought—how important is this book for today? So I'm going to talk a little bit more specifically about this idea of the "thrill of orthodoxy." You know, the way I started off talking about guys like Rhett and Link—I was in Campus Crusade. They led some of the stuff that I was in when I was in college. And to watch all these deconversions—they're happening so often—and I think you're putting your finger right on part of the problem is they've lost the sense of wonder and awe. So what really led you to write this book, and what are you really trying to communicate to the church today?

Trevin Wax (17:11):

Well, I was burdened, in putting together this book, I was burdened because I felt like a lot of Christians these days...because, you know, there are so many cultural currents that are out there that are pulling at us. There are these cultural winds that are blowing pretty heavily. And, you know, I was concerned because I felt like there are a lot of Christians who have lost confidence in the goodness and truth of Christianity. If it's not confidence in the truth of Christianity, they've lost confidence that it's beautiful, that it's good. And one of the ways I thought to try to counter that would be to say—well, let's take a closer look at what it it is we believe, where we're sort of planting our flag here, and let's actually show...you know, the moving away from orthodoxy has this initial jolt of excitement, right?

Trevin Wax (18:00):

Like, you're doing something innovative. That you're pushing the boundaries. You know, you're not being boxed in, in some way. And that really appeals to people in our culture in particular, and the way that we view religion and spirituality and Christianity. And what I wanted to do was to say—no, let me show you that that's actually backwards. And I remember this even as a student. You know, I started studying theology back when there was the emerging church movement that was taking place. And there was a lot of...there were a lot of good questions being asked about how we reach people in a post-modern world. And, you know, what ministry practices or ministry mentality, mindset shifts should we have? Because of, you know, some of the challenges of post-modernity and whatnot.

Trevin Wax (18:50):

There were a lot of really good questions being asked, but a lot of the answers that were coming out of that movement, to me, were just...eventually I realized—these are really overly domesticated. I mean, it's making Christianity more and more palatable for post-modern society in ways where it was losing the sharp edge. It was all about the fuzziness and ambiguity and mystery, and not really having clear lines of delineation, or clear lines of right and wrong, or truth and falsehood, and whatnot. And eventually I got into studying, you know, the history during the Reformation period, theology from then, back to the Church Fathers and others. And then I realized—oh, no, now this is where the excitement's at. <laugh> It's back with this historic orthodoxy that has stood the test of time, that is...yeah, there are new expressions and new ways to apply these ancient truths, but they're not endlessly adapting. They are not just, you know, endlessly revising forever, reconstructing the faith in new ways, and whatnot. They are...this is time tested. And so I eventually realized that's where really the excitement is at, that's where the missionary encounter is. And so that's my encouragement, as well, to people, through this book, is to go back to those core fundamental truths and to realize that the adventure is here.

Brian Arnold (20:19):

Yeah. The beauty is there. The goodness is there. The truth is there. It's been what saints have wrestled through for millennia. One of my favorite church history quotations is from Jaroslav Pelikan who said, "traditionalism is the dead faith of the living; tradition is the living faith of the dead." And I love being connected into the tradition. I mean, my background's church history. Patristics is what I studied, Church Fathers, and seeing that living tradition, that living faith of the dead that continues down generation after generation, to be part of that is a great adventure. That quest for novelty. I was...I remember very well, around 2005 when I started seminary, the five minutes of emergent church that was all the rage, and how quickly that kind of went out. And then I've just never been interested as people move from new idea to new idea, when we've got the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We've got 2000 years to study what men and women, led by the Holy Spirit, have written and passed down. And that we get to be part of this grander story of God that begins in the Garden and ends in the New Heavens and the New Earth. That's a thrilling story. And so, yeah, it makes my heart sad when I see people abandoning that in evangelicalism today, to cling onto something that's just a vapor.

Trevin Wax (21:40):

Yeah. And I think they don't think that it is. I think they think they're on the vanguard of the newest thing that is going to be there. And what I want us to say through this book is—don't fall for that. That's...you know, C.S. Lewis would call it "chronological snobbery." You know, G.K. Chesterton would say—that's believing that something is right because it's Thursday instead of Wednesday <laugh>. When the calendar really isn't what's determinative here. And so, you know, I don't think we should just adhere to things because they're old, but I do think we've got to be on guard against this sort of restless desire to just grab onto a fashion because it's new.

Brian Arnold (22:16):

Yep. That's right. Well, you mentioned C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. Who have been your most helpful guides in doing this kind of research?

Trevin Wax (22:24):

Well, certainly Lewis and Chesterton in this book. I mean, I do think that Dorothy Sayers and sort of the drama and the dogma that she says, you know—"the drama is the dogma," that this is really where you find adventures and what Christianity actually teaches. She's phenomenal, I think, on this. I'm definitely very influenced by John Stott, who was a global Christian leader, whose work really continues to resonate with me, but was able to, I think, do that triaging really well—to bring together a lot of different groups that had a lot of challenges and a lot of differences, and yet could come together around some of these core convictions. And then of course, just, you know, throughout the book you will constantly see me going back and quoting different, you know, theologians, ancient theologians.

Trevin Wax (23:24):

Augustine is probably one of my all-time favorites. I'm reading Confessions right now again, because I read it...it's the first book I read every calendar year, in a different translation, usually. But there's just so much history and treasure in the past, and we're in this time when the cultural winds are blowing pretty strong right now. And I think if the tree is swaying, this is the time when you want the church to understand how deep the roots go. And that's the...you know, no matter...all the different things we may argue about, debate about—there are a lot of those things, we're going to have differences on, you know, how we should react to this thing or that thing in the world, or what our posture should be, or what we should do—at the end of the day, though, when everything gets kind of muddled and confusing, you've got to go back to the basics. And that's what I'm hoping this book will help people do.

Brian Arnold (24:17):

Well, and I think it does. And it is an incredibly important...I think it's one of the most important books out right now, because this pull towards the new and away from that rootedness is stronger than it's been in a long time in the Western world. So thank you so much for writing this book, and for the conversation today.

Trevin Wax (24:34):

Thank you so much for having me.

Outro 1 (24:36):

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.

Outro 2 (25:19):

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 an exciting event we're hosting on the campus of Phoenix Seminary this spring, our first annual Sacred Truths Conference on February 24th and 25th. Our featured speakers will be Fred Sanders, Steve Duby, Bobby Jamieson, and myself. Our theme will focus on the core of Christianity—who is Christ, as one person with two natures, both human and divine. So I hope you'll join us, and invite anyone you know who's interested in learning more about Christian doctrine. Click the link in the show notes, or learn more and register at sacredtruths.events.