Earn your M.Div. with Phoenix Seminary - now 100% online.
Today, Phoenix Seminary is excited to announce the further expansion and enhancement of our online learning programs. Beginning this Fall 2023, new students will have the opportunity to complete a Master of Divinity fully online. Phoenix Seminary already offers a fully online Master of Arts in Ministry, Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies, and a Graduate Diploma in Biblical and Theological Studies.
"As part of Phoenix Seminary’s commitment to training men and women for a lifetime of faithful ministry, we are thrilled to be able to extend our impact on future generations of pastors and ministry leaders through our fully online programs, now including the M.Div." said Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. David Hogg. At Phoenix Seminary we train men and women for Christ-centered ministry for the building up of healthy churches in Phoenix, the Southwest, and beyond. That is why we are expanding our online degree programs and enhancing our online learning experience to train more faithful ministry leaders. Join us to pursue theological training at your pace with like-minded students in the Southwest and throughout the world.
Beginning in the Fall 2023, new students will be able to pursue a Master of Divinity in Biblical and Theological Studies or a Master of Divinity in Christian Studies fully online. Our faculty have crafted their lectures in our state-of-the-art studio, offering students a "master class" experience for online training. Students will continue to receive excellent theological training, delivered to their place and at their pace.
"Phoenix Seminary has been preparing future pastors and ministry leaders on our campus through scholarship with a shepherd’s heart," said Hogg. "We are now excited to extend this commitment to the wider church through these fully online programs."
Learn more about training online for a lifetime of faithful ministry, access free course lectures for Old Testament and Church History, and hear from current online students at ps.edu/education-online.
Preparation for Proclamation
By Adam Bailie
In his first inspired letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul says,
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV)
Fellow preachers, I propose to you that the best preaching ends up with people who are meeting with God and who are amazed with the power of God through the message delivered to them, more than they’re amazed at a messenger or deliverer. I am convinced that applicational expository sermon preparation is essential to the aims that Paul embodied with the Corinthians. The sermon we must prepare can then be defined as “public, biblical proclamation that derives its message exclusively from the intent of the author and conveys implications specifically for the life of the hearer.” In order to help us toward that end of applicational expository preaching, I want to encourage you with five sermon evaluation questions that will directly inform your preparation for the next sermon you are entrusted to deliver. I will then give you ten steps to better prepare to preach.
1. Is the sermon accurate?
Was what I preached accurate? Did I get the text right? It’s an uncomfortable question, but it is the right one because we are heralds of the King’s words. Exegesis and hermeneutics are not the disciplines of the ivory tower, but are the constant tools in the herald’s hands in every sermon preparation engagement.
2. Is the sermon authentic?
Did the text get me right? Did I deliver this, having been moved by the Spirit with the meaning of the text and its direct impact on my life? Or did I merely deliver a lecture or disperse content detached and disengaged from the Spirit-intended implications on life? As Mike Bullmore has often reminded me, God intended to say something and get something done with every text we preach.
3. Is the sermon articulate?
Did I make the meaning and implication of the text clear? Simple and clear do not necessarily mean simplistic or dumbed down. Nor do complex and complicated necessarily mean deep or sophisticated. Clarity is an often-overlooked aspect of preparation. Think deeply, connect dots relentlessly, and tie the knots of logic and reason as tightly as possible so that the hearer has every opportunity to understand and be affected by the Word of God.
4. Is the sermon accessible?
Did I make the text contextually attainable? Did I know my audience? While preaching, did I assess and adjust to the hearers' non-verbal communication from the pews? The preacher who merely delivers a speech is far less concerned with accessibility than the shepherd who is feeding the flock, the discipler who is discipling the hearers, and the evangelist who is evangelizing the crowd. If accessibility is prioritized the most underdeveloped listener can grab the truth of the text, and the most mature will be shaped further by the text they have perhaps encountered on various occasions. Illustrations, humor, applications, and even delivery style will be the watermarks of accessible sermons.
5. Is the sermon applicable?
Did I connect the dots from learning to living? Having been trained in a deeply exegetical and explanation-weighted preaching context, I’m terrified of Christians erroneously thinking that they’re growing merely because they know more about the Bible. Knowledge without love (application) ends up pumping pride (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1; 13:1-3). Be sure to actually bring the text to bear on the lifestyle of the hearer.
With those evaluation questions weighing in on your preparation, now we begin the step-by-step process:
1. Prepare your heart.
Start with prayer and permeate your preparation, guys. Preparing a sermon should be a rich and powerful aspect of your walk with Christ. You’re with him, and the Spirit is with you. If you’ll engage that way, he is as much involved in the prep as he is in the proclamation.
2. Examine the text.
Exegesis is the observation and examination of the text. Find and record all that you see in the grammatical, logical, theological, and contextual connection points in the passage. See John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (chapter 6) and learn to query the text thoroughly.
3. Compile the truth.
Sketch out the formation of the argument and the elements. Determine the primary truth or the big idea of the text. You can ask, “What is lost if this portion of the Bible is removed from the Bible?” So the implication of that text ends up becoming central to the big idea.
4. Organize the structure.
You have an exegetical outline by examining the text. You have an explanatory outline—what the text is saying—by compiling the truth. Now move into an applicational expository outline by connecting this text to the life of your hearers. That’s organizing the sermon structure from What? to So what? to Now what?—which personalizes it.
5. Inspect the framework.
This is the first time in preparation where commentaries should be used. Technical commentaries help answer technical questions. Expository commentaries help answer explanatory questions. Applicational commentaries help answer applicational questions. Devotional commentaries help answer the devotional questions of what you’re supposed to feel and believe and what’s supposed to happen. Inspect with commentaries; don’t plagiarize them.
6. Confirm the sermon.
Take the sermon to a meeting to get feedback about how best to bring it home in the context where you will preach it. One voice should talk about the connections in the text. One voice should talk about the verbiage and what is said and how words are used. One voice should talk about applicational elements in the text and how it can come home to hearers. Do not come to that meeting hoping to get a sermon. Come with a sermon that the meeting is going to help make better.
7. Color the sermon.
Add to the sermon sharp hooks and tight buttons. Sharp hooks are introductions that create the need to listen. Tight buttons are conclusions that close loops and send hearers toward response and life. Illustrations, commercial breaks to discuss a pertinent topic, humor, and quotations can all be used to further color the sermon.
8. Construct the notes.
I’m not going to tell you how I do my notes. Work and rework notes until you figure out how your brain works so that your notes serve you. You are not a servant of your notes. Your notes are a servant of your brain. They’re there to help your brain.
9. Consecrate the sermon.
Pray it hot. Linger with the Lord for boldness, for tenderness. Consecrate that sermon to the King and His agenda. Devote it to him. Pray through the big idea with him. Pray that you would love the people listening. Pray for boldness that comes from a vertical engagement in your preparation with the Word of the living God.
10. Proclaim the sermon.
Proclaim it. Preach it. No biblical preaching is devoid of teaching, but there’s plenty of teaching that is devoid of preaching. Preaching is a heralding ministry that finds its heritage in the prophets. So preach. We are not having a talk, and we’re not having a conversation. We’re not welcoming everybody into a conversation. We actually are spokesmen for the King. Manage post-sermon interactions and sensations carefully. You are not as good as your highest praise, and you are not as bad as your harshest critic. Just don’t believe either one too much.
Finally, I’ve got some resources that have shaped my life as a preacher and might do the same for you:
• Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson is the most influential. • Preaching by John MacArthur • Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I love, love, love that book. • Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell • Preach the Word by Ryken and Wilson • Grasping God’s Word by Duvall and Hayes • Between Two Worlds by John Stott • The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper • Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper • Famine in the Land by Steven Lawson
Adam is Senior Lead Pastor at Christ Church in Gilbert, AZ. He planted Christ Church in December 2012. He earned his M.Div. from The Master's Seminary and previously served on the pastoral staff of churches in California and Texas. Before training with Harvest Bible Fellowship and coming to Phoenix, he planted and was the lead pastor of Grace Church of the Valley in Kingsburg, CA. He and his wife Renee live in Chandler with their two daughters and a son. They are thrilled to be in the East Valley for the sake of Christ's fame.
Why the Puritans Canceled Christmas
By Nathan Tarr, PhD
In 1659, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony canceled Christmas. The purpose of this brief essay is to explore why they did so and what we—rightly looking forward to enjoying our Christmas traditions—can learn from their decision. We can work toward a helpful understanding of Puritan opposition to Christmas by reminding ourselves who the Puritans were, what they were like, and what was happening at the Christmas revelries to which they were opposed.
The term “Puritan” covered a motley crew of men and women, in both England and America, from the mid-16th to the mid-17th centuries. It was perhaps not quite as broad as a term like “evangelical” is today, but it often carried a similar (and ironical) imprecision. Some Puritans, for example, focused almost entirely on political debates of the day. Others took church government as their primary area of concern. Still others were known for their intentional pursuit of piety. To say that “the Puritans” did any one thing—including canceling Christmas—is a bit like squaring the circle. It is hard to find a formula where everybody fits. We are focusing in this essay on the theological reservations that animated the Puritan discouragement of Christmas celebrations.
Some of us may not see a need to ask why the Puritans would take the step of canceling Christmas. Christmas is bright, and colorful, and filled with joy. Puritans being Puritans, of course, they opposed it for just these reasons. Were they not the well-known antagonists of delight, festivity, and fun? In a word, the answer is no. Scholars like Bruce Daniels, Leland Ryken and, more recently, Michael Reeves have done important work rehabilitating our imagination where the character of the Puritans is concerned. And more work is needed! The Puritans, in actual fact, took robust delight in colorful clothing, food and drink, art and instruments (if not in church), natural beauty, sport (though not on the Lord’s day), and marital sex. Their enjoyment of these and other of God’s good gifts resounds from their journals, letters, sermons, and even the accusations of their enemies. What was it, then, that they found so onerous about Christmas?
We begin to get an idea of their concern when, already in 1621, Governor William Bradford censured newcomers to the Plymouth Colony for taking Christmas day off from work. Nevertheless, Bradford wrote in his log, “If they made the keeping of [Christmas] a matter of devotion, then let them keep [it in] their houses, but there should be no gambling or reveling in the streets.” Taking Bradford at his word here, he is admitting a legitimate way to celebrate Christmas—in our homes, as a matter of religious devotion. He is also identifying the issue at the root of his resistance to the holiday, namely, a spiritually crass and socially disruptive celebration disconnected from the reason for the season.
Perhaps you are beginning to wonder at this point whether “Christmas” was something altogether different in 17th-century England (and New England) than it is in our experience today. That question comes from a good instinct! We should get the past clear before we critique it. So, if Puritans were not canceling carols, ginger bread houses, hot chocolate, and puppies, what kind of celebration did Puritan leaders believe we would be better without? We should imagine a scene less like setting up a manger and more like Mardi Gras. Known as "Foolstide," cross-dressing, heavy-drinking crowds would parade the streets singing bawdy songs and demanding entrance to upper-class residences. Those houses not sufficiently quick to open the door and provide the meat and drink demanded would be vandalized before the crowd moved on. Presided over by a Lord of Misrule, the street festival often took special delight in interrupting church services. It was a night neither silent nor holy. As Hugh Latimer wrote in the early half of the 16th century, “men dishonor Christ more in the twelve days of Christmas than in all the twelve months besides.”
Here was the heart of the Puritan aversion to Christmas as it was celebrated in their time. The social order was disrupted. Townspeople reveled in an excuse to “do what they lust and follow what vanity they will.” The devotion of true religion was ignored or antagonized outright. As a political minority, the Puritans resisted these expectations for decades, but to little cultural effect. Their convictions did not change when they found themselves in a position to influence policy. And so, in the colonies of the New World as in Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, the Puritans exercised their political power to cancel or curtail the irreligious celebration of Christmas.
In his The Battle for Christmas, Stephen Nissenbaum has argued that the traditions marking our holiday season are relatively new and thus very different from those combatted by Governor Bradford’s prohibition on “reveling in the streets.” Even so, there is a caution in the Puritan stance that is worthy of our consideration. The most basic service that the Puritan example can perform is to (re)call our attention to the dual nature of our Christmas celebration. We enjoy this month both a cultural and a religious holiday. They happen at the same time, and are called by many of the same names, but they are very different. The cultural holiday is full of parties and candy, presents and decorations on everything from clothing to cookies. The religious holiday revolves around the myriad ways we consider afresh the news that God has come as our humble Savior and will soon return as our victorious King. The first celebration awakens the ache of acquisition. The second awakens the ache of advent.
Keeping these two holidays distinct in our hearts and minds is not easy, especially with mangers in front of malls and advent wreaths arriving from Amazon. But the Puritans thought it a safer course to cancel Christmas altogether than to risk confusing the holy truth of our Savior’s birth with self-focused, God-less frivolity. So how can we take steps to give both Christmases—the cultural and the spiritual—their proper emphasis in our lives? We should drink our eggnog, decorate our houses, and buy our presents, yes. But what would it look like in our families, and in our churches, to celebrate in a manner that makes it clear that Christmas, ultimately, is a “matter of devotion”? How does the way we engage the public holiday reflect the tempering of Advent’s truth? Each of us will, no doubt, answer these questions of priority and emphasis a bit differently from one another. The Puritans, as is often the case with examples from church history, do not give us the answer. But they do raise the question of Christian devotion. And being prompted to wrestle with such an important question is itself a gift.
Nathan Tarr (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology & the Doctor of Ministry Program Director at Phoenix Seminary. He has enjoyed many years of pastoral experience, first as the founding pastor of Christ Church in Knoxville, Tenn. (2005-2018), and then as the associate pastor of discipleship and missions at Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. (2018-2020).
What is a Christian Response to Abuse? Dr. Steve Tracy
Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Tracy on the subject of abuse.
Topics of conversation include:
Why churches have become havens for abusers
Defining the five categories of abuse (sexual, physical, verbal, spiritual, neglect)
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):
Over the past decade or so, we have witnessed horrific story after horrific story of abuse and scandal in the church. The place where people should know peace and security has for many people become a place of fear, abuse, and shame. And many churches have not handled accusations of abuse well. Victims go unheard, pastors and leaders go unpunished, and the church's reputation is smeared along the way, as the image of Christ is in this world. Yet believing that the church God's plan for the world, how can our churches do a better job in preventing and handling abuse? We want pastors and churches who are above approach. We want victims of abuse to find healing in Christ, through the church. We want guilty parties held accountable. Our guest today has been addressing the topic of abuse for decades. He was, to my knowledge, one of the few voices highlighting these problems decades ago.
Brian Arnold (01:10):
My favorite part about him is his love for God that overflows into overseas missions. For the past several decades, he has taken the ministry called Mending the Soulto the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help victims of sexual abuse, providing the healing power that comes through the gospel of God's grace. I love to read missionary biographies, and I hope that someone someday writes his story. Well, today we have with us Dr. Steve Tracy, who is here to help us think through these difficult issues. For years, Dr. Tracy has served as professor of Theology and Ethics right here at Phoenix Seminary. He and his wife are also co-founders of Mending the Soul Ministries, a Christian nonprofit which provides written resources and training on abuse, trauma, and sexuality. And they have been actively involved for years on the mission field, as I mentioned, in the Congo, Uganda and Mexico. Dr. Tracy's the author of numerous publications and articles, including his book, Mending the Soul on the topic of abuse. Dr. Tracy, welcome to the podcast.
Steve Tracy (02:05):
Thank you, Dr. Arnold. It's my pleasure.
Brian Arnold (02:07):
So we always ask our guests a big question, and today I think our question's heavier than any question we've dealt with on the podcast. And that is—what is a Christian response to abuse? So you open your book by urging your reader to wake up to the fact that abuse is rampant. It's rampant in society as a whole, and unfortunately in the church as well.
Steve Tracy (02:30):
Brian Arnold (02:31):
So what led you to this topic, to even start thinking about, long before others kind of joined the chorus?
Steve Tracy (02:38):
Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, ultimately God, who is sovereign and at work and every aspect of our lives, orchestrated things very specifically. When I did my doctoral training, I thought I'd be teaching Greek grammar and training pastors in theology and exegesis, and addressing abuse was the farthest thing from my radar. But just a concise response would be—my years as a pastor I kept encountering abuse. I wasn't looking for it. In fact, I didn't see it for a long time. But it just kept coming up as a root issue in so many of the things people were struggling with. And then my wife, Celestia, as a Christian counselor, kept seeing abuse. And she didn't go into counseling planning to do abuse trauma therapy. But again, it was just something that she kept seeing, and through a series of events—including a missionary family, that was the turning point, that had to leave the field because all their kids had been abused by a missionary colleague, and Celestia was seeking resources—God really put it on our heart to be part of the problem. You know, it's easy to say—why is no one doing anything? And God, through all of that, really put on Celestia and my hearts to be part of the solution. So creating written resources, starting a ministry that would provide good, solid, biblically-based resources to help the church address this ugly issue.
Brian Arnold (04:11):
And at this point, I don't think I'm exaggerating at all to say it's helped tens of thousands of people through their own abuse, and even helping churches recognize what they can do on the front end to help prevent this as much as possible. So we've seen just story after story in the last 10 years or so, but we're just kind of exposing what's been there for a long time. Why do you think churches have become such havens for abusers?
Steve Tracy (04:36):
Yeah. I think part of it is our naivete. We want to believe the best. In one of my seminary classes, I actually show a video of a former youth pastor who was incarcerated for molesting up to a hundred boys in his ministry. And he's very honest about the fact that Christians are naive because they want to believe the best about people. And so they just don't see sometimes pretty clear warning signs under their nose. I think Satan takes advantage of some of the...you know, those are good qualities, to want to believe the best. We want to be gracious, but that can cause us to overlook what we must not overlook. So I think that's a factor in the...the church is a spiritual family. And so again, I think in families we maybe are drawn to think the best, because—hey, I know this person, they're a Sunday school teacher, whatever. And again, that can lead to some unfortunate dynamics of unwarranted trust.
Brian Arnold (05:48):
I'm thankful that when I was finishing seminary this was becoming a more prominent topic of discussion. And so when I entered my pastorate in 2012, unbeknownst to me, was gonna be my biggest fight as a pastor of my church when I said we need to take this seriously and create policies and procedures of multiple layers of accountability when we're dealing with kids ministries and nursery workers, that there's always multiple adults there, that we're going to do background checks for people who are going to be working in children's ministry. You would have thought that I just made a blanket accusation of everybody in the church. I was shocked, Steve. That even just by suggesting we should move in this direction, that's what I was met with, is—how dare you. This is the church. And that's not how...the church doesn't operate like the world operates. And people have nothing to hide. And I'm like, well, if they have nothing to hide, then they shouldn't be worried about background checks. Anyway.
Brian Arnold (06:38):
And it took me a year to convince people to move in that direction. I ended up having to go house by house with people who didn't like it, to discuss these things with them. I was...I guess I was just shocked that we would meet resistance, knowing what's going on in this world today, and what the responsibility of the church is. And we can get into that here in a little bit, but I thought maybe you could even begin by defining some terms for us, things like abuse. How do you define that in your ministry?
Steve Tracy (07:05):
Yeah. I define abuse as any misuse of God-given power to take advantage of another person. I mean, that's at its broadest level. And in many different biblical passages, such as Ecclesiastes 4:1-2, which talks about abuse being so prevalent that it'd be better off to not even be born. I mean, that's how starkly the writer of Ecclesiastes states it. But he talks about how the oppressors, the abusers, had power. Those who were victimized did not. So abuse is the misuse, because power ultimately always comes from God. And we can break that down into five different areas. Sexual abuse is the misuse of sexual potency to take advantage of another person. Physical abuse...and I think each of these really come out of our being made in the image of God. God doesn't have sexuality, but as image bearers, he made us sexual beings, which I think is about a capacity for intimate relationships.
Steve Tracy (08:15):
God is a God in intimate relationships for all of eternity—Father, Son, and Spirit. We have that capacity. Our sexuality is such a beautiful God-like quality, and yet Satan tempts us to misuse it so that instead of expressing love, it expresses lust, it steals. God's given us, there's a command right in Genesis 1, "have dominion." As soon as God creates, he gives the man and the woman the capacity to have dominion. That's power. But when we misuse power, that can lead to physical abuse—the use or threat of use of physical force to harm another person. God's given us verbal power. Again, we repeatedly see in the creation account "and God said, and it was so, and God said, and it was so." God's words are powerful. They create the very universe.
Steve Tracy (09:11):
As his image bearers, our words have power. Scripture repeatedly talks about the power of the tongue—Proverbs, James. So when we misuse our words, the power of our words, to belittle, to scapegoat, to threaten, to attack another person—that's verbal abuse. Spiritual abuse is the misuse of spiritual authority to force a person to do something that's ultimately unbiblical and harmful, whether that's Scripture, church tradition, my position—those are spiritual powers. And neglect is a fifth category of abuse. And it's not using your power when you should. Neglect is the failure of a parent or caregiver to provide a child their basic needs. And Scripture addresses that. 1 Timothy 5:8 talks about fathers who were neglecting their children being worse than infidels. Scripture addresses each of these categories of abuse, very forthrightly. And so should we.
Brian Arnold (10:16):
And there seems to be a lot more awareness today, even of some of these other categories. I think about spiritual abuse, and some pastors and churches that have been highlighted in recent years that have had some toxic environments and what that's led to in terms of spiritual abuse. Or, you know, you get, today even, like health wealth gospel areas of—God told me this, and so you must do it. Which can be harmful for people as well. So talk to us then about shame, and the effects of shame you've seen in the church in your ministry. And then I want to even then start to transition to—how do you start walking along someone who's experiencing that?
Steve Tracy (10:57):
Yeah, I am absolutely convinced that abuse is one of Satan's most powerful weapons against image bearers, and that is every human being. And shame is one of the worst effects of abuse. Any kind of abuse. It produces debilitating shame. Shame can be a good thing when we really have violated the law of God, and we have that sense that something's wrong. That can be a call to repentance, but Satan likes to hijack any of God's good gifts. And some have called it toxic shame. It's shame that doesn't call us to repentance. It doesn't give us a message that there's something wrong that can be corrected, but toxic shame speaks to us that we are permanently defective. That there's nothing that can be fixed, but rather we need to hide, because if people really knew who we were and what we'd done, what had been done to us, they would reject us.
Steve Tracy (12:04):
It's what we see in one of the most detailed accounts of sexual assault in Scripture, in the life of Tamar in 2 Samuel chapter 13, when her brother, or half brother, rapes her. And she says...when she three times says, "no, don't do this" and he just uses his power against her and doesn't listen to her and assaults her. But she says, "how can I get rid of my shame?" And in fact, we see that immediately after she's abused she tears her garment. She puts ashes on her head. And she lived in her safe brother's house the rest of her life, desolate. That’s what shame does. It sends these horribly destructive, and ultimately unbiblical messages that the evil one just loves. Satan is a slanderer, he's an accuser. So shame is a very effective way that Satan can accuse abuse victims. So common.
Brian Arnold (13:07):
And I'm assuming that listening to this podcast are people who have experienced one of the five categories of abuse that you mentioned before, and are kind of in that place of shame right now. So how do you begin to take somebody in that place, or maybe pastors listening who are counseling people, in this way? I think every person has a story, even if not of themselves, of somebody in their life that has experienced abuse.
Steve Tracy (13:34):
Brian Arnold (13:35):
How do you start walking them through those places of healing then?
Steve Tracy (13:39):
Yeah, it's a great question, Brian. And I would argue, while we haven't all experienced abuse, capital A, if you will, you know, typically the kinds of things that could be prosecuted, we've certainly all experienced abuse, small a. And that's harmful. We can all think of, my goodness, junior high. Ways that we've been maligned, bullied, things said about us, verbal abuse that stung, and we can still remember some of those things and call up feelings of shame. And all too many of us have experienced abuse, capital A. In terms of the healing process, you know, it honestly, it always always gets back to Christ. I am so astounded as I think about the fact that as hideous and ugly and horrible and destructive as abuse is, Christians, unlike followers of any other religion, believe from the Scriptures that salvation itself comes through the Son of God being horrifically, and even fatally, abused.
Steve Tracy (14:53):
Often we don't think of the death of Christ in terms of abuse, but it was horrible abuse. Really every category. And I would include sexual, to the extent that Christ was crucified naked to shame him. I think it's important for abuse victims to realize that Christ himself understands. The writer of Hebrews, in Hebrews 4, says we have a merciful High Priest who is tempted in all points like we are, except that he didn't sin. So we're called to boldly go to him in time of need. He's merciful. He understands the things that an abuse survivor have suffered. Some of which maybe the people around them don't understand, but Jesus does. And for most of us, we couldn't have avoided our abuse. I mean, in some cases we may have made some really bad choices that contributed, but even then, Christ suffered willingly. He didn't have to be abused, but he did for our sake. So I think that's a really important starting place. To recognize a) Jesus understands and he is merciful, and b) salvation itself is a result of abuse. Which tells me, God delights in redeeming the worst and bringing, as the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 61 says, "beauty from ashes." God does that—delights in doing that—for abuse survivors. So I think that's...Jesus is certainly the starting point.
Brian Arnold (16:35):
I mean, what a beautiful God who would come to suffer, knowingly suffer, all those forms of abuse on our behalf so that people could really find in him a Savior that looks a lot like them. He has suffered in ways that are unimaginable, especially as he is God suffering for his creation. I'm so grateful to, even in my own heart right now, hear these truths again, and remember what a great God and great Savior we have in Christ. That he can be looked to by people, not as a God who is distant, who's far away, who doesn't understand, but a God who's gotten right into the mess of humanity and experienced it on our behalf, even.
Steve Tracy (17:23):
Brian Arnold (17:24):
Yeah. So listener, listen well to the words of Dr. Tracy. You've got a Savior in Christ. So, you know, the original question, just thinking through—how can we as Christians help people who've been abused? I think what happens is, it's not even intentional piling on, but people just don't know how to handle it. And so a lot of times they don't handle those things well when it comes up. So what do victims of abuse need from their friends, from fellow church members, from pastors, from elders in their church? How can these people in place in their life begin to help them?
Steve Tracy (18:01):
Yeah. I mean, there's a long list of things, Brian. That's the million dollar question, and I'll just make some suggestions. And some of this is going to sound too simple, but we can stumble over some of the basics. First thing I'd suggest is listen. You know, in James 1, James tells us that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. Abuse survivors, one of their greatest needs is for people to patiently, lovingly, listen. Without trying to fix, if you will, throw the Romans 8:28 in in a really inappropriate way. Let alone say, "well, why did you do that?" Implying—if you wouldn't have done that, you wouldn't have been abused, et cetera. I think lovingly listening is an extremely important starting point. Related to that, just being willing to grieve with people.
Steve Tracy (19:02):
Paul told the Romans in Romans 12:15 that we're to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." I think one of the...it's straightforward, but that doesn't mean easy we can do for abuse survivors is to tell them we are so sorry for what they've experienced and be willing to enter into their pain. I mean, to the extent that we let their pain impact us. And that may, to some extent, cause some brokenness in us. We weep with those who weep. We advocate that one of the biggest mistakes churches have made is over and over they advocate for the abuser. I could give just countless examples of that. Scripture is so clear, Isaiah 1:17 says, "seek justice, correct oppression, plead the widow's cause." To be advocates for the abused, to—where necessary, where appropriate—to defend them. I believe it was Solomon who wrote Proverbs, the voice of his mother there in Proverbs 31 says that "a godly person is a voice for the voiceless."
Steve Tracy (20:21):
So that the advocacy defense comes in. Educating ourselves. That's so important for—as individuals and certainly as church leaders, that we get some basic education on abuse. So that we don't, as I did too often as a young pastor, said really harmful things. Not maliciously, but because I didn't understand what abuse does. So basic education is really, really important. And the last thing I'd suggest is addressing abuse. Surveys of Christian women who've experienced domestic violence tell us that the number one thing that they desire from the church is for the church to acknowledge that abuse happens, even among Christians. Just to be willing to talk about it, you know, that we address abuse pretty regularly from the pulpit, in Sunday school lessons, in premarital counseling, et cetera. And Scripture has literally hundreds and hundreds of passages on abuse, but often we don't have a lens for that. And so we're not looking for it. Then we don't address it, but it's there. We have more than enough biblical data to work with.
Brian Arnold (21:35):
Well, Dr. Tracy, I think that's a great handful of things that people can start thinking about and implementing pretty quickly. One of the things I would commend to you all is to read his book, Mending the Soul. You have a second edition coming out soon, is that right?
Steve Tracy (21:47):
I do, hopefully by the end of the summer. I talked Zondervan into adding a third, new material, because we've learned so much in the years, and it's been thoroughly updated. So yeah, hopefully that will be out in the fall. And I would definitely recommend our mendingthesoul.org website. But we exist to serve the body of Christ, so there's a host of resources, articles I've written, lots and lots of free downloadable resources. We have a workbook that's designed as curriculum for churches, for small groups, Mending the Soul workbook for men and women. We have trainings for facilitators to know how to lead those healing groups. We have some...yeah, just a range of things for traumatized kids, their caregivers, et cetera. So that's why God put on our heart to start this ministry—so we could be part of the solution.
Brian Arnold (22:46):
Yeah. Yep. Well, I appreciate what you've done in those areas. And even, you know, we didn't have time to talk about it, but what you've done overseas, where women are exploited in horrific ways,and some of the ministry you've had. Well, I want to give you kind of a chance at the end here, just to give that final kind of word, maybe—you know, I hate to say it—but a 30 second exhortation to somebody listening right now who has been the victim of abuse. Maybe he has never told anybody. Just a word of encouragement to them. And then maybe one thing they could do even after listening to this today.
Steve Tracy (23:18):
Yeah. Let me just in closing say—I understand personally. Abuse has touched my family very, very deeply. It's touched me, and I don't have time to go into our story here, but let me just say to those of you who've experienced abuse—I understand what it's like. I understand the heartache, the shame, the pain, the costliness, the disruption. And I can personally testify that we serve a God who heals. I've walked that, my family has walked that, and Celeste and I have the privilege of working—serving—countless men and women, children, around the world. Some of whom have experienced the most grotesque kinds of abuse. We work with massacre survivors in the Congo, and torture survivors. And I don't even talk about much of what we experience. It would be retraumatizing for people. But I only mention that to say—we've seen the worst of the worst.
Steve Tracy (24:23):
And I am convinced, to the core of my being, that there is no abuse that's too much for God to heal. It's a process. Doesn't happen quickly. Doesn't happen overnight. But maybe my faith, my experience will give you just a little bit of a glimmer of hope. That we serve a God who delights in redeeming, and healing, and restoring. And I really encourage you—talk to someone, to take an initial step. Check out our website. You know, if you're not ready to talk to someone, at least grab some resources. There are people, increasingly educated spiritual leaders, who want to make a difference. Hope is possible. That's what the cross is all about.
Brian Arnold (25:10):
That's a great word of final exhoration. Dr. Tracy, thank you so much for your ministry in this area and for your time on the podcast today.
Steve Tracy (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 you 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 Do We Understand the Book of Revelation? Dr. Jeffrey Weima
Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Weima on the book of Revelation.
Topics of conversation include:
The genre of the book of Revelation
The purpose and structure of the book of Revelation
The figurative and symbolic use of numbers in Revelation
The main message to each of the 7 churches and how that message applies to the church today
Resources for further study on the book of Revelation
Dr. Jeffrey Weimar is professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary. He leads preaching seminars for pastors and church leaders, and has taught as a visiting professor for Phoenix Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program. Dr. Weima is the author of several books, including1-2 Thessalonians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series (Baker Academic, 2014), and The Sermons to the Seven Churches of Revelation: A Commentary and Guide(Baker Academic, 2021).
Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.
Brian Arnold (00:17):
What comes to mind when you think about the book of Revelation? Is it a beast coming up out of the ocean? Is it major global warfare with the anti-Christ leading the charge? For me, my mind goes back to growing up in a church obsessed with the end times, where you could find prophecy charts plastered all around the Sunday school rooms. But what is Revelation really about? How are we supposed to read and interpret this strange book? Well, primarily it's a book written to persecuted Christians wondering if it was worth it to follow Christ, even unto death. The letters written to the seven churches at the beginning of the book were called to perseverance, reminding the reader that Christ is the victor, he will come again, and he will establish the new heavens and the new earth. And because they can be assured of victory, they could persevere through any trial or persecution in this life.
Brian Arnold (01:04):
It is a wonderful reminder for those today who struggle with whether or not following Christ is worth it. Well here to help us understand the book of Revelation is Dr. Jeff Weima. Dr. Weima is professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary. And he's the author of several books, including the Baker Exegetical Commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians, and most recently, The Sermons to the Seven Churches of Revelation. Dr. Weima also has led preaching seminars for pastors and church leaders, and has even taught as a visiting professor for Phoenix Seminary's Doctor of Ministry program. Dr. Weima, welcome to the podcast.
Jeff Weima (01:39):
Thank you. It's great to be here.
Brian Arnold (01:41):
So we always ask our guests one big question, and today that question is—how do we understand the book of Revelation? And I do want to get to the point where we talk about kind of your area of focus within the book of Revelation, which is specifically those letters in Revelations two through three, written to the seven churches in Asia Minor. But before we get there, I was thinking maybe we could set the stage for people, to help them understand the whole book of Revelation. So kind of walk us through—what is the genre of this? When do you think this was written, and what's the purpose of the book?
Jeff Weima (02:13):
Well, all great questions. And like great questions, not always easy to answer shortly, but here we go. So you've already in your intro talked about the fact that it's apocalyptic writing. And it's very important for Christians today to recognize that even though the Bible has one overarching message, and one author—ultimately God or the Holy Spirit—that one overarching message comes to us in a variety of different genres, is the fancy word, or kinds of writing. And we have, of course then, historical books, although they're not pure history, we have legal documents, we have something called gospels, parables, letters of course, and added to the mix is something called apocalyptic. And so it's very important for the reader of Scripture not to kind of treat all the Bible the same, in the sense that it's all the same stuff.
Jeff Weima (03:08):
Yes, it has a fundamental unity, but it comes to us in these different forms of writing. And so apocalyptic is, at least to our ears, quite unique. Now in the ancient world though, there are a number of documents that have the same kind of writing style—a little bit of Daniel, maybe part of Mark, but there are books that many Christians today haven't heard of because they're outside the Bible, like The Apocalypse of Abraham, or 4 Ezra, or 2 Baruch. But the important point is for the modern hearer to realize that this use of natural phenomena, like lightning and hail and events, or animals and numbers in symbolic or figurative ways—that actually is not so strange or unusual for the people of that day, but it's common to a certain form of writing. So that's the first thing—to take seriously the genre of writing, and have that impact your interpretation.
Jeff Weima (04:06):
Another big misconception has to do with how we view the book. Interestingly, a lot of modern Christians are a bit intimidated by the book of Revelation because of that apocalyptic style of writing. But actually that's more true of Western Christians. I lead biblical tours to the middle east, and my exposure have been to Orthodox Christians, whether they're Greek or other kind, actually in that part of the world, they're less scared and actually more in love of the book of Revelation than we are. So it's just maybe helpful to realize that although we experience Revelation one way, maybe a little bit fearfully or intimidating, other Christians around the globe have an opposite reaction. Now another misconception—and this relates to the book of Revelation as a whole, and also to the seven letters, as they're often called, Revelation two and three—has to do with the book's overall purpose.
Jeff Weima (05:03):
And in the introduction, you kind of captured some of that stereotype, which is true, but maybe I think needs to be nuanced a bit. So what is common, and this is my own experience too, originally, before I dove a little deeper into the book of Revelation, is I saw them as like superstar Christians. You know, these are the Christians who are being persecuted heavily, you know, for their faith. And they hang in there, even to the point of death. And Jesus kind of writes them this book, this apocalyptic book, which says—"Way to go, you superstar Christians! Hang in there! Life is hard now, but one day I'll return, and I'll vindicate your faith, and all things will be made made new." And although that is part of the message of the book of Revelation, it distorted a very real fact—that actually the book of Revelation was written to Christians who were less than superstars.
Jeff Weima (05:57):
In fact, of the seven explicit churches that are addressed in chapters two and three, only two of the seven are healthy churches. And the two healthy churches are kind of hidden in the structure. They're number two and number six. So the opening prominent position, Ephesus, or the emphatic concluding position, Laodicea, or the lengthier by far middle position, Thyatira, all of these churches are actually unhealthy. And that's not only important for properly interpreting the book, but frankly it makes the book more relevant for us Western Christians. So I'm almost about to stop, just let me say this last point, and then I'll kick it back to you. If you, like I did originally, thought of Revelation as written only to these superstar, martyred Christians, there was a tendency to not pay too much attention to the book. Because, well frankly, I'm not under persecution. I don't worry about being martyred for my faith.
Jeff Weima (06:53):
And so as a result, not only from an apocalyptic point of view that made the book kind of fearful or distant, but it just didn't seem very practical or relevant. And I've discovered through a careful reading of my analysis of the book is that actually it was written to second or third generation Christians who were trying hard to fit into the secular culture of that day. And in their desire to fit in, they compromise their faith in all kinds of ways that Jesus is not happy with. And when you read the book that way, it makes the book extremely relevant for, I think, an affluent Western church today that is trying maybe too hard to kind of be accepted by a broader culture and society, and too willing to make compromises in their faith. And so I think that this book is crying out to be preached and to be heard by the contemporary church today.
Brian Arnold (07:49):
Well, I'm looking forward to diving into that. I love hearing the relevance that you see for today with as much compromise as we see in the church. But before we get there, I just want to ask you this one last question, kind of about the structure of the book of Revelation. How do you see these sermons fitting into the overall structure? Why are they placed at the beginning of the book, and how does that relate to the rest of the reading of Revelation?
Jeff Weima (08:14):
Well, it's a good question because it raises an aspect of interpretation that, well, frankly, biblical scholars have only in more recent times—maybe 30 years or so—come to better appreciate. And that is—we have to look not just at what the Bible says, the content of the Bible, we also have to pay very careful attention to the form of the Bible, the structure or the form with which that content comes. That's true of all of Scripture. And therefore, it's obviously true also of the book of Revelation. And so the book of Revelation has been written with great care, again, not just its content, but also its outline or its structure. And that has implications for thinking of the seven letters—or as I may have a chance to explain—better, the seven sermons to the seven churches as a whole. Those chapters have a very deliberate structure. And then not surprisingly, chapters two and three, those seven letters, or seven sermons, have a relevance for the document as a whole, the rest of Revelation—chapter 14 through to the end.
Jeff Weima (09:20):
Now there's some debate, of course, about that structure, whether it's kind of sequential, or whether it's more circular in terms of its argumentation. And I don't know if this is the best place to get into those discussions. I'm not really interested in doing that so much, but I do think it's important for your hearers, to say for all of Scripture, including the book of Revelation, we have to pay attention to the structure. And the seven sermons at the beginning of the book of Revelation clearly are foreshadowing things that are going to be picked up later on, and kind of set the stage for the visions that will be revealed in the rest of the prophetic utterance of the book of Revelation.
Brian Arnold (10:04):
Well that's a really helpful piecing together, so that people, as they're approaching Revelation, can understand the significance of the churches. Well, I want to dive into that now and hear from you some of the research that you've done. You've called these sermons or prophetic oracles to the churches. So let's just begin there. Why sermons? Why these churches? Why Asia Minor? And just start maybe going church by church and helping us understand what Christ is saying.
Jeff Weima (10:31):
Sure. So now, the distinction between sermons and letters...I'm being a little bit technical, but remember I'm an egghead New Testament professor, and maybe there are reasons to be technical. Also I've written a book on letters and letter structure. And so I'm very much always looking carefully and encouraging readers to know the letter, the structure of a letter. Because the letters of the New Testament do have of a particular structure. And Paul in particular is such a skilled letter writer, that changes in that outline or structure are, I would say, always significant. They reveal important truths about the message that he, under the inspiration of the Spirit, was led to say. And so I'm a little bit sensitive to whether a letter is really a letter or not. And when you look at the so-called seven letters of Revelation, they...well, they frankly don't have the kind of things that New Testament letters have. Or that secular letters of that day have.
Jeff Weima (11:29):
Now, that doesn't mean, though, that they don't have a structure. So just as important it is for the New Testament letters, for the reader to know what that structure is, and to recognize how interpretation is impacted by changes to that structure. Exactly the same thing is true for the seven...well now what do we call them? If they're not letters, they have to be something. And so you rightly, I think, highlighted the fact that they are prophetic utterances. They are a word of prophecy, as long as you understand what prophecy is. But I call them sermons, because it's a little more user-friendly title for what a prophetic utterance is. A prophetic utterance is a word of the Lord, addressing not predominantly things in the future—we would call that foretelling, right—but predominantly addressing things happening in the reader's day, and in their context and in their culture.
Jeff Weima (12:25):
And we would use another word—not foretelling, but forthtelling. And so that's what a good sermon does. It's a word of the Lord, written to a particular audience, addressing a particular situation. And with that mentality, I think, that's the proper way to approach the seven letters as a whole. They're written addressing, first and foremost, the situation of Christians in the first century who happened to live in Asia Minor. Now, at the risk of talking too long, I think I remember you asking something about why these seven? Well, we maybe can't answer why these seven, but the seven itself is important. I hope that readers have some sense already that numbers in the book of Revelation almost always have a more figurative or symbolic meaning. And seven is a sign of completeness, or wholeness. And we know for sure that there were other churches, other congregations in Asia Minor. For instance, the seventh one in the climactic position of the end—and I could already sew a seed in saying it's the worst of the seven churches.
Jeff Weima (13:33):
It is in what's called the Lycus Valley in Western Turkey or ancient Asia Minor. And just down the road, only 10 miles, is the city of Colossae. And Christians will know that there was a church in Colossae and there's the New Testament letter written to the Colossians. And so we know that there were other congregations in Asia Minor. And so these seven are picked because John, again, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is addressing not just the seven, they are representative for the larger church at whole. Not just even in Asia Minor, but the church in the ancient world. And these churches that he knows something about because he has a close relationship with them, I guess, address issues that are not only relevant for that immediate congregation, those seven, but are also significant for the larger Christian audience that John expects to be listening in on—I wouldn't say the mail of the seven letters—but listening in on the sermons to the seven churches.
Brian Arnold (14:35):
Okay. So let's go maybe church by church, and explain what the main message is to each of these churches. And then I want you to start connecting that to modern day. I think you peaked our interest early on in talking about the compromise of the Western church, and the things that we could be learning from these churches, I think would be wonderful to hear.
Jeff Weima (14:58):
Well, great. Now remember, of course, I wrote a book on the question you just asked me. And so obviously I have to be way, way more brief now, and feel free to cut me off, but I'll start off. So there are seven, and I've already mentioned once that the healthy churches are hidden within the seven. So number two and number six are the only healthy churches. And they have some parallels with each other besides just being healthy churches. So the first one—and the remaining ones are all unhealthy churches—and the first one is Ephesus. So Ephesus is almost certainly the largest of the seven locations, the seven cities. It was the third or fourth largest city in the ancient world. And they're commended for something. Jesus typically commends the church for something before he then gives a complaint against the church.
Jeff Weima (15:50):
And so they're commended for their orthodoxy, for their correct teaching. And it's important for the church today to hear that Jesus applauds the church, gives them two thumbs up, for well, being concerned with the truth. Not accepting people who claim to be apostles, but are not, and not putting up with people with false ideas, and even mentions one group called the Nicolaitans, and so forth. So Jesus applauds them for their orthodoxy, but says—wait a minute, you have forgotten the love you had at first. And there's a debate about the meaning, but I think a strong case can be made—and I'm by far not the only exegete or scholar who says this—but that they were so concerned with orthodoxy that a climate of suspicion permeated their congregation, and they were failing to be the loving, caring community that they had been at first.
Jeff Weima (16:45):
And so the first sermon focuses not so much on lack of love for God and Christ, but lack of love for brothers and sisters. And that seems to be relevant for some congregations today. There are some congregations today who rightfully, and Jesus would applaud them for knowing the truth, and defending the truth, and teaching the truth. But the danger always comes along with that, that you still don't fail to love the other half of that summary of the law, not only God and Christ with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength, but also your neighbor as yourself. So that's the church of Ephesus. The second church is to Smyrna, just going a little bit north, another port city. And this is one of the two healthy churches. And they are persecuted for their faith, and Jesus applauds them for hanging in there, right?
Jeff Weima (17:39):
Despite the adversity that they face. In fact, Jesus is so happy with them, he has no complaint, right? It really would be desirous of any congregation today to have Jesus look at them and say, "You know what? I only have thumbs up for you!" Anyway, they're commended for their persecution and enduring that. And although that's a hard sell today in the Western church, we ought not to be blind that our brothers and sisters around the globe are experiencing all kinds of opposition. It may not always be death, but there are all kinds of other powerful and painful ways in which brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering. Just to pick China, for example, I do hope that our audience knows that the government of China is forcing churches to tear down crosses from their building. Or, because you can't get permission to start a brand new church building, you have to rent a space, and it's really hard to renew your rent. And on your government ID card, you have to list what faith or religion you are.
Jeff Weima (18:40):
And if you put Christianity, you have some very significant financial and other pushback. And so anyway, the second sermon is to Smyrna, the church of the persevering persecuted. I'm going to go on to the third one, and we're back to the unhealthy churches. And it's Pergamum. Pergamum, that I call the church of idolatrous compromise. Idolatrous compromise, because they are doing something that, well, sounds weird and strange to Christians today, but it was a huge problem in the early church. And that is—meat sacrificed to idols, or sometimes translated food sacrificed to idols. And it was such a big problem. It was not only a problem for the third sermon, the church to Pergamum, but I'll throw in there also the fourth sermon, the sermon to Thyatira. And it was a big problem, because Acts 15—most Christians know about Acts 15, and that it dealt with the issue of circumcision—but it also dealt with other issues.
Jeff Weima (19:41):
And one of the issues it dealt with was, again, meat sacrificed to idols. And the problem was such a big deal in Corinth, that Paul takes not one, not two, but three plus chapters—1 Corinthians 8, 9, 10, and one verse from 11. Such a big deal, it was. And so again, we don't have time unless you ask me, right, but this business of participating in religious meals, cultic meals, and as a result, you become guilty of idolatry. Now that's relevant for the church today. Not because we're tempted in the same way. In other words, most of us aren't tempted to partake in some kind of pagan meal, right? In which we honor some deity and therefore become guilty of idolatry? But there are all kinds of other idols that we are venerating, that we are paying too much attention to, and making ourselves guilty of idolatry. I could, if I had time, talk about the idol of sports, or the idol of self pleasure, or the idol of nationalism. I mean, a lot of things are not bad in and of themselves, but an idol, to quote someone famous, right, an idol is a good thing that you turn into an ultimate thing. A good thing that you turn into an ultimate thing. And so sermons number three and four deal with a very relevant problem today, the problem of idolatry. I'm gonna keep going. You haven't cut me off yet.
Brian Arnold (21:08):
Yep. Fire away. We probably have about three or four minutes, if we can, you know, kind of summarize those last ones with main message and big takeaway for the church today.
Jeff Weima (21:17):
Okay. So then we're up to Sardis, number five, and they are the church of deadly complacency. Deadly complacency. That, I think, also describes much of the Western church today, right. We've been around for too long. We're resting on our laurels. We're living off the fumes of our glory days in the past. And that was the problem of Sardis. And Jesus comes along and says that complacency is not just a bad thing, but it's so serious it can be a deadly thing. That's Sardis. Then we get church six, and we have the second of the healthy churches, the church of Philadelphia. Another persecuted church. And they also persevere, and Jesus also gives them two thumbs up with no complaints. And so they also are a healthy reminder for not only the ancient readers of the book of Revelation, but Christians today, whether they're international or whether they're here in the states. But that when we suffer for our faith, right, we're commended for doing so.
Jeff Weima (22:13):
And then the last church is unfortunately the worst. And that is Laodicea. The church of—I hope I don't offend anyone, but it comes right out of the text—the church of vomit and vanity. The church of vomit and vanity, because not only does Jesus have nothing good to say about them—ouch, there's no commendation—but he says, You guys, when I look at you, you make me want to throw up. You make me want to puke." I mean, there's a Greek word that's not translated accurately in most translations. Most translations soften it by saying, "I want to spit you out of my mouth." But the Greek is quite clear, no—"I want to vomit you out of my mouth." And yet, to this church that is so on the wrong path, Jesus has words of compassion and grace that the modern audience also needs to hear. Right? "Those whom I love I rebuke." And he says, "I stand at the door and knock." Jesus wants to have a relationship with these Christians, an intimate one, in which he eats with them. And so it's interesting that to the worst of the worst church, Jesus has powerful words of grace that I think also are important to be heard by the contemporary Christian today. Did I make my limit?
Brian Arnold (23:28):
Yeah, that is a tall task to do in that amount of time, to summarize these churches as you have. I was wondering if, maybe in addition to your book, The Sermons to the Seven Churches of Revelation, if you might offer one or two resources that would be helpful for our listeners.
Jeff Weima (23:44):
Well, a good commentary—and of course, how do you define a good commentary—will obviously treat the two chapters, right, but in a much briefer way. Another option, if people can swing it, is to do a biblical tour. I lead these kinds of trips, and other people do too. But if you have a chance to travel to these places, then suddenly you become a lot more aware of the historical context and how that sheds light. And anyway, one more commentary by a guy named Greg Beale. What's good about his commentary—it's a little bit thick and intimidating—but he's an excellent scholar in recognizing the Old Testament allusions in the book of Revelation. So one of the reasons that modern Christians have a hard time understanding the book of Revelation is we don't know the Old Testament well enough to pick up what these Old Testament allusions are. And so a commentary like Greg Beale's does a good job in helping us hear what John expects the original hearers to have heard. And a lot of the book makes much more sense when you know the social world, the Greco-Roman social world of that day, and the Old Testament allusions.
Brian Arnold (24:55):
Okay. Yep. I love that commentary as well. And you've given us a lot to think about with these seven churches. I know I'm convicted of my own heart, thinking through what the Lord might say to me. But also trying to think for my own church and what God might say to our church today in a secular age of compromise, that we might stand true on the Word of God. Dr. Weima, thanks so much for joining us today.
Jeff Weima (25:15):
Brian Arnold (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 you 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 the Church's Role in Counseling? Dr. Deepak Reju
Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Reju on the subject of counseling.
Topics of conversation include:
The difference between discipleship and counseling
How the church congregation can engage in counseling one another
When pastors should seek additional counseling support outside of the church
How to think about secular therapy and biblical counseling
Resources for equipping believers to care for and counsel one another
Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.
Brian Arnold (00:17):
One of my favorite descriptions of the church is that it's a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. The church is made up of a bunch of people who've been saved by faith in Christ, and who are on a progressive journey towards Christlikeness. And this progress we call sanctification is full of bumps and potholes. The world often thinks that Christians either have it all together, or pretend to, but the truth is that our lives are messy, too. Christians are struggling in their marriages, with raising children, with addictions, with pornography, with fear and anxiety, and a host of other hard stuff. Thankfully, there's a lot more recognition of struggle today than in previous generations. And Christians are turning to churches and pastors for help. But what is the role of the church in counseling? Or how much counseling should a pastor do before he refers someone to a professional counselor? How can we find help in the church for the burdens we bear? Well, to help us understand the church's role in counseling, we have with us today, Dr. Deepak Reju. Deepak serves as pastor of biblical counseling and family ministry at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He earned his PhD from Southern Seminary, and he's the author of several books, including Great Kings of the Bible, The Pastor and Counseling, She's Got the Wrong Guy, and Pornography. He's also served on the board of directors of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and also as a trustee for the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. Dr. Reju, welcome to the podcast.
Deepak Reju (01:36):
Thank you. Glad to be here.
Brian Arnold (01:38):
So we always ask our guests a big question, the one for today is—what is the church's role in counseling? And you've served in this kind of capacity, as pastor of biblical counseling and families at Capitol Hill Baptist Church—how'd you end up in that role? What kind of attracted you to that ministry in the church?
Deepak Reju (01:54):
Well, I am a first child, Asian American. So I'm the oldest child in my family. And I was working here at Capitol Hill as Mark Dever's personal assistant. And he said to me, "I think your gifts are in counseling." And, you know, typical oldest child and Asian American—older authority figure in my life speaks in, I say, "okay, what should I do next?" And he said, "Why don't you think about going, getting a degree, and coming back and working for me as an associate pastor?" So that's the short version of it. It turned out in that same period, another elder, unbeknownst to Mark, came to me and said something similar. And just, I thought, "Okay, a lot of men who know me are starting to say this is what I should do with my life. So I should probably listen."
Brian Arnold (02:49):
Well, isn't the Lord so kind in his Providence to bring those people into our lives at the right time to speak multiple words to us to get us in those places? It's a special gift that guys have—there's a lot of pastors who I don't necessarily think have as soft of a pastoral heart. So to be a guy who has that can really make an impact in churches. So one of the things that we probably need to set out at the very beginning, is maybe even the difference between discipleship and counseling. So let's define our terms a little bit. How would you define discipling?
Deepak Reju (03:21):
So discipling we think of as the one-on-one ministry in which we're invested in someone else's life. Typically we associate that with Bible study and prayer. And the overall goal is for helping them to grow in Christ—so for the sake of their spiritual growth, for the sake of their spiritual good, we do everything we can to come alongside of them and help them. So that's essentially discipling. Now we associate that mostly with one-on-one, but I am discipling when I'm teaching an entire classroom. I'm discipling when I do family worship with my wife and kids. So we can think of it more broadly, but typically we think about it as that one-on-one mentoring context.
Brian Arnold (04:00):
In which, some counseling-like things happen. As somebody, maybe a little bit further along in the faith, identifies things in their disciple's life, and walk them through that biblically.
Deepak Reju (04:12):
Yeah, that's exactly right. So, you know, discipling is what we're all called to do, and we're all asked to do, as Christians. So we often say in our membership interviews, as we're sitting with prospective members—we understand that all Christians are responsible to be investing in others and have others invested in them, in a ministry of discipling.
Brian Arnold (04:34):
So, then, how does that differ from counseling more proper?
Deepak Reju (04:38):
Okay. So if I'm talking about counseling...if you think of discipling as a spectrum of things that we encounter in the Christian life, the stuff that we see that are really the hard things, the nasty things, the really difficult things in life, so the adultery, the addictions, the eating disorders, the worst kinds of conflict, just the really hard things that we encounter—that's what we associate with counseling. So counseling is an intense and problem-focused form of discipling. And you notice what I'm doing—I'm making discipling the overarching category. I'm making counseling a subset of that. So whenever we're coming alongside those who are struggling with really hard stuff in the Christian life, and we're willing to speak to them, come alongside them, love them, invest in them—then we're doing what I'm defining then, as counseling.
Brian Arnold (05:36):
And that is...are you seeing an uptick in that in the churches, especially with the pandemic, with a lot of strife in culture? It seems to me, from my vantage point, that a lot of people are in a place right now where they're seeking out counseling.
Deepak Reju (05:51):
Yeah. I think that is very much true. In fact, I think the shift has been...I think some of the younger generations see counseling as normal. I mean, you can hear, especially in the secular community, people joke about like having a therapist being the normal thing that they do, and surprised when their friends don't have their own therapists. Well, actually, how much more so should we, rather than going and seeing professionals, be willing to be involved in each other's lives in a local church? Otherwise that makes a statement about what our churches are, and what the gospel is.
Brian Arnold (06:30):
Well let's dive into that a little bit more, because I think one of the things that you lay out is how a church broadly can be engaged in counseling. And it not just be that thing that the pastor is responsible for. Because I know when I pastored a small church in western Kentucky, you were kind of everything. You are the youth pastor, you're part-time janitor at times, you are obviously leading the church and preaching, but also the chief counselor. And that was seen as something that there was the clergy-laity divide, and only the pastor could really offer that level of counseling. How do you set that forth in a place like Capitol Hill?
Deepak Reju (07:07):
Yeah. So I think there's a common false assumption that the care of members is the responsibility of professional pastors and licensed counselors, and not the congregation. And a member once said to me, "After all, we pay our pastor to do the dirty work, right?" And yet I think God has made really clear in his Word, that believers have a responsibility for one another. If you join a local church, you've got a biblical obligation to be invested in others' lives. So we try and lay that out really clearly as you join, as a member. We have a whole class dedicated to the involvement of members in each other's lives, and set that up as an expectation—that if you're joining this church, you should expect to have other people in your life, and you being invested in other people's lives. It's just a fundamental part of what it means to be a Christian. It's not just a program that we do. This is what it means to be a believer in Christ.
Brian Arnold (08:07):
Well, and to remember that Paul says to the church at Ephesus, that the pastor's job, really, is to equip the saints in order to do the work of the ministry. And so it's not just to do the messy things, which the pastors will of course do, but it's to help train other people to carry those burdens as well. And that's what creates healthy churches.
Deepak Reju (08:24):
Yeah. That's exactly right.
Brian Arnold (08:26):
So how do you, then—let's get a bit more particular—how do you, from Scripture, help guide people in your church to greater understanding? Because it seems, you know, from the outside, watching Capitol Hill for 15, 16 years, you have a very healthy church that seems to really buy into this model. So how do you get somebody who's been used to sitting kind of in the pew, watching ministry, to really engaging?
Deepak Reju (08:51):
Yeah. There's a lot of ways I think you could defend this Scripturally, but I think the most straightforward way to do it is just simply listen to and pay attention to the one another passages in Scripture, because they're written about one Christian and their involvement, engagement, their life, with another Christian. What do Christians do with each other? Well, listen to...I just wrote down a couple of different texts to read to you. So John chapter 13, "A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you're my disciples, if you love one another." Romans chapter 12, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." Romans chapter 13, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law."
Deepak Reju (09:39):
Romans chapter 15, "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." Romans chapter 15, again, "I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another." Ephesians chapter four, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." Ephesians chapter four, again, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you." And then, 1 Thessalonians five, "Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." And so, what do you see in the verses? The verses are speaking to Christians, and the general direction is to oblige Christians, to love one another, be devoted to each other, to honor one another, to accept one another, be patient, be kind, be compassionate, forgive, and even to instruct one another. So there is clearly an obligation for Christians to be invested in each other, in each other's lives, to be deeply involved. And I think that's unavoidable if you're just simply reading your Bible.
Brian Arnold (10:41):
Yeah. And when church becomes a spectator sport, you show up, you watch, you expect the ministry to be done by the people who are being paid full-time. And there really isn't deep engagement in the church. We just don't see this happening. And then when crises come into people's lives, or even in culture as a whole, the church seems ill-prepared to actually address these things in people's lives, which creates a whole subset field for people to look to, to answer those questions that oftentimes the church is equipped to do.
Deepak Reju (11:09):
Yeah, and most people are walking in with a consumer mentality, as they walk in on a Sunday morning, or they even join a church. Like the motto "it's better to receive than give" is their mentality when it comes to walking into church. So this is saying—no, actually, as you show up, expect that you're going to give, and others are going to give to you. And this is what supernatural community looks like.
Brian Arnold (11:33):
So let me press on some areas, because I'm imagining some people are listening, they're in, you know, counseling right now outside of their church. And maybe even they've been directed there by a pastor. So I want to ask kind of a series of questions around this. One of them being, when should a pastor say, "You know what? Maybe there's some additional help that we may be able to find outside of the church." Or where are times that you even find it could be helpful in somebody's life to direct them elsewhere? Or do you?
Deepak Reju (12:01):
Yes. I think you do. I mean, I'm deeply sympathetic to a pastor, for example, who's in an unhealthy church, and he has very little help overall, and he's overrun and overwhelmed. I think it's really good to find other partners in the ministry where you can come alongside them, they can come alongside you, and help you with that burden. But what the danger is, is too many pastors just simply pass off the problem situations to professionals outside of the church, and are not willing to be involved. So I want to fight against that, because I want space for a pastor to be able to partner with, say professional counselors in their community, but I don't want pastors to assume—my job is just leadership and preaching, all the problems go to the professionals outside my church. Because that again—that makes a statement about the power and effectiveness of the gospel in local churches.
Brian Arnold (13:00):
One of the sweetest periods in church history, I think, because I'm a church historian, is the Puritans. And I love how they thought of themselves as "physicians of the soul." And many of them wrote—I mean, I think about like Richard Baxter, wrote voluminously on the issue of pastoral care, and really engaging people's lives with the gospel, in ways that would help them through issues that we would address to modern day counseling. And the church has kind of lost that vision. And I know...I mean, you work with Mark Dever, who did his PhD in Puritans. And so this is, I'm sure, informing a lot of what's happening there at Capitol Hill Baptist.
Deepak Reju (13:36):
Very much so, very much so.
Brian Arnold (13:38):
So let me...you know, I want to continue on this, because one of the things that Phoenix Seminary's even had recently, is a Master of Arts in Counseling that leads to licensed counseling, kind of bringing in some secular psychology with biblical worldview. But there's a whole spectrum on these kinds of things, from biblical counseling all the way to secular counseling. People have a conception of Christian counseling, integrative counseling—I mean there's a whole world of these kinds of things. I would love to just hear you kind of speak into that, and what, in your experience, you have seen to be most effective.
Deepak Reju (14:14):
Yeah, so I started in psychiatric studies. I was a typical—I guess I can say it, because I'm saying it—I was a typical Asian American geek. You know, went to undergraduate thinking I would do either engineering or become a doctor. I did go on to med school. So I did psychiatry studies. Then I ended up doing a minor also in psychology. I went and studied with integrationists, which are the vast majority of evangelicals. People who are trying to integrate their faith with some kind of psychological model. I studied with non-Christians in the psychiatry and psychology departments. I studied with Christians and integrationists. And, you know, as I did all of that—and appreciated lots of things that I learned in all these different environments—the thing that kept on bugging me, especially in my PhD studies, was when the question was asked about effectiveness, and what really makes a difference in people's lives, it always came back to things like empirical research, or what the studies say. That was the authoritative source of understanding how we find change and what brings about change.
Deepak Reju (15:33):
If the studies prove it, or if we can show through our clinical work what psychological models are effective, then that's what we do. And yet, I was dying to know—does the Word have something to do with any of this? Does Scripture have...especially not...a lot of people talk about authority and sufficiency. I just want to put out the category—relevancy. Is Scripture relevant to my troubles in my daily life? Does the Bible make a difference in how I do it? And so I started moving in the direction of biblical counseling, because it felt like that was the one movement that was committed to finding a way to show how Scripture informs us, and educates us, and equips us, and empowers us, and strengthens us to face some of the hardest things in the Christian life.
Deepak Reju (16:31):
You know, the simple way to say it is—does the gospel matter when we come to those really hard things that we associate with suffering? Or is it just some theological truth we stick in an ivory tower, but it really doesn't have any bearing on the nitty-gritty of life? That's what attracted me to biblical counseling, because there were a slew of people that were beginning to talk about—well, how do we build a bridge from the biblical text into the worst situations in our local church? And as a pastor that was hugely appealing to me. But then, even as a clinician, as someone who's trained as a therapist, as someone who wants to be a Christian and know how to have my faith active in these things, that was also hugely appealing to me.
Brian Arnold (17:14):
Well, let's even, you know, get practical about one of the ways that people seek some of those outside even the Christian bubble counseling, of something like A.A. I worked as a paramedic for 10 years in Louisville. And a lot of the people, friends of mine, colleagues, had gone through A.A. They had overcome their addiction to alcohol or, you know, they would even go to like, N.A. I think it is, right? Narcotics Anonymous? And overcome that. And then, when I tried to share the gospel with them, it was, "Oh, no, I've already got my solution through A.A. That's what my Savior is." You know, I had a guy tell me, "I pray to a door knob, but that's my higher power. And through that, I've been able to overcome alcohol. And so I don't really need the gospel." So how have you even had to wrestle through some of those tensions? And what is the difference then, between something like A.A. And the church when it comes to how we think through counseling? And even what we're trying to accomplish for this person, who is an infinite soul?
Deepak Reju (18:15):
Well, the difference would be...let me just name three. There's a lot of things I could point to, but God's Spirit. Because it dwells within us, if you are a believer in Christ. It brings conviction and change, Ephesians 3:16. God's Word, because it's sufficient, authoritative, and relevant, like I just mentioned. So Isaiah 55:10-11. But then God's people. God uses loving, redemptive relationships in community to sustain us. So 1 John 3. But here's my caveat to that. You know, a lot of Christians, as we're talking about dealing with hard things...well, whereas I think most of my members could easily sit down and study the Bible and pray with another member, and there's no training required, a lot of Christians don't have the confidence, and they don't even know where to go in Scripture when they face some of these hard things. So if a friend shows up and says, "I'm an alcoholic," or "My marriage is falling apart," or "I'm addicted to pornography," most of the believers in our pews don't know where to go in the Bible.
Deepak Reju (19:14):
They just don't know how to build a bridge from the biblical text into that person's life. And so I want to help them to know how to do that. But I also want to build a community of people who are not scared of the hard things. They're not going to back away when something like suicide, or addiction, or adultery...they're just not scared by those things. In fact, they feel a responsibility to step in, because they feel like they are covenant members in the same local church. So my story was—a young lady, who was a part of our congregation, sadly attempted suicide multiple times over the course of two years. And, as typical for me as a counseling pastor, I got the call when she had made an attempt and was rushed to the hospital. And so I rushed to the hospital. And you know, it was my delight as a pastor when I got there to find out that two single women had beaten me there.
Deepak Reju (20:19):
And so by the time I arrived, not only had they ministered to her with the Word, prayed with her, but when I got there, they were playing a card game to begin to lighten her spirits. And you know how helpful that is to me as a pastor? Knowing that, you know, the people in my church are not scared, but rather, when something like suicide shows up, they said, "I want in. I'm not moving away, I'm not backing away. I'm going to run towards that." Well, you know, most of our members, when you first hear something like this, they're scared about these big categories. They don't know how to face it in their own life. So that's where equipping people in your church, this gets into. Are we doing what you mentioned earlier, Ephesians 4? Are the pastors and the shepherds and evangelists equipping God's people for the work of the ministry? Well, that includes these hard things. And I think that's what it means to be a supernatural community. That's the difference between A.A. or S.A., or all the other different accountability groups that the secular community offers, and the church. We're a supernatural community, with supernatural resources, to help you in the hardest things in the Christian life.
Brian Arnold (21:37):
Well that vision of the church, and that vision of those kinds of Christians, is world changing. For people to see engagement on those issues with people, not self-righteously saying, "How could they ever do that?" But saying, "But by the grace of God." You know, all of us are struggling in so many different ways, but we can encounter Christ together through struggle, through sin, and actually come out the other side more sanctified than we were on the front side. And doing that in community with one another is a beautiful vision for what the New Testament lays out. I liked how you walked through those passages of the one anothers, of what that could look like in a church that takes that seriously.
Deepak Reju (22:19):
Amen. Amen. And you know, the reality is, for the listeners who are hearing our conversation—you don't have to do much, and you're going to run into these problems. Because we live in a fallen world.
Brian Arnold (22:29):
Deepak Reju (22:29):
So my disposition is like—well, why not then get equipped? You're going to face it. So do something so you're ready when the hard conversation comes.
Brian Arnold (22:40):
Well maybe we can kind of land there, and just say—what are some resources, obviously the Word and a church that teaches the Word faithfully, but what are some books that could be helpful for somebody listening today saying, "Hey, I want to buy into that. I want to be that kind of church member who shows up at the hospital ready with the gospel?" What resources do you find most helpful?
Deepak Reju (22:59):
Yeah, so if a listener is ready to take on a 300 plus page paperback—not everybody's ready to do that—then Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul Tripp is a good start, I think, if you want to digest a lot more of this. If you think—that's a little too much for me, I don't have enough margin to take that on right now, then another one that's really good, that'll be shorter, briefer chapters, would be Ed Welch's Side by Side. Both of them lay out a beautiful vision of what it means to be in community with one another, and be able to do this kind of thing. Now more broadly, beyond counseling, just thinking in terms of just what does an overall community, a supernatural community look like? Then my boss, Mark Dever, and our other associate pastor, Jamie Dunlop, wrote Compelling Community, and that's by 9Marks. That's a good overall vision of what a supernatural community, invested in one another, what that could be.
Brian Arnold (23:58):
I think those are really helpful resources for people listening. I found Paul David Tripp's book Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands to be so helpful for me, thinking through that as I went into the pastoral ministry, of how we can help equip people to do that, and what my call even is within the church. Well, Deepak, this was really helpful, I hope encouraging to our listeners, as we do live in this fallen, broken world, to see the church as a resource. Not just a resource, but the place where God is calling us to lay these burdens down and carry one another's burdens, as Paul commands us to in Galatians 6. So thank you so much for this conversation. Really helpful for me. And I know it's helpful for our listeners too.
Deepak Reju (24:37):
Glad to do it. Thank you for the time.
Thank you for listening to the Faith Seeking Understanding podcast. If you want to grow more in your understanding of the faith, consider studying at Phoenix Seminary, where men and women are trained for Christ-centered ministry for the building up of healthy churches in Phoenix and throughout the world. Learn more at ps.edu.
What Is Christology? Dr. Steve Duby
Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Duby on the subject of Christology.
Topics of conversation include:
What are God’s incommunicable attributes?
God’s aseity, and why it matters for Christology
The importance of Philippians 2 in understanding Christology
God’s immutability as it relates to the incarnation
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 are many mysteries in the Christian faith. How did evil enter the world? How does divine sovereignty and human freedom work? How can God be one and three? But to me, the grandest mystery is that God could become man. What does it mean that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man? How does this work? It is a profound mystery, but it is the very cornerstone of the Christian faith. Particularly, we want to focus today on what it means that Jesus was God. Not many people today doubt that Jesus was a man. Basic historical record confirms that Jesus of Nazareth was a man who lived 2000 years ago. However, to say that he is God is another thing altogether. Well, to help us understand Christology, we have theologian Dr. Steve Duby with us today. Dr. Duby is associate professor of Theology with us at Phoenix Seminary. And he's written several books, including Divine Simplicity and God in Himself. And he has a book coming out soon titled Jesus and the God of Classical Theism. Dr. Duby, welcome to the podcast.
Steve Duby (01:11):
Thanks for having me.
Brian Arnold (01:12):
So we always ask our guests the big question, today that question is—what is Christology? But I thought first you might tell us what even attracted you to this topic?
Steve Duby (01:21):
Yeah, well the easy answer is I'm a Christian, so I care about Jesus. Jesus matters. But of course going a little bit beyond that, I have spent some time trying to study God's attributes, trying to study the doctrine of the Trinity. And inevitably, when you deal with those questions, you start thinking about how the person of Christ fits into all of that. How do earlier teachings from the church, that you can find in a place like the Nicene Creed, how do those fit together with the way that Jesus is described in the gospels? So it was a natural thing for me to pursue that question. And in particular, to think about how Jesus is the highest revelation of God, and yet he lives a human life. He undergoes change, he suffers—how does that fit together with an earlier Christian account of God, according to which, God doesn't change, God transcends time, and so forth? So those kinds of things have gotten me interested in studying this topic further.
Brian Arnold (02:18):
And honestly, it's something that a lot of Christians have probably not thought much about. And even in the academy, it's not been dealt with a ton—to say, what does it mean for Jesus to be fully God? And looking at that through the lens of classical theism, looking at that...particularly one of the things you have focused on are God's incommunicable attributes. And if that's true of who God is in his essence, then it must be true of Jesus, for him to have the essence of divinity. So maybe define for us really quick, what we even mean by incommunicable attributes.
Steve Duby (02:47):
Yeah. Those are attributes of God that are often most challenging for us to reflect on. Those are the ones that are not shared by us creatures. That's what incommunicable means. Not shareable. There's a sense in which we're not exactly like God, even when it comes to attributes that we do share, like wisdom and goodness. We don't have those in an infinite way as God alone does. But there are certain attributes of God that are not shared by us in any respect, among which would be independence, or aseity. God has life in and of himself, from no one else. Well, he's the only one that has that. And those attributes—they're challenging for us to study. And they also raise some serious questions about how it all connects to Jesus. Because as I said, he's the highest revelation of God, and yet living this ordinary humble human life that's filled with change, that's located in time, that involves suffering, and so forth.
Brian Arnold (03:41):
Well, let's spend some time—because I'm sure you do this a lot in your book—diving into some of those particular words you just used, which are foreign to many people today. Like God's aseity. So what does that mean of the triune God, and then, particularly, what does that mean of Jesus? And why does that matter for Christology?
Steve Duby (03:58):
Yeah, that's a great question.
Brian Arnold (03:59):
Steve Duby (04:00):
Yeah. Well, I like complimenting questions. It's very important. Aseity, it is an unfamiliar word, but it just comes from the Latin phrase a se, meaning "of himself." And so when we say aseity, we're just trying to signify that God has life in and of himself. He doesn't depend on anybody else, or anything else, to be the God that he is. That's true of the Father, Son, and Spirit. They share that divine attribute. And it's also, we have to say, true of Jesus all throughout his incarnate life and ministry. He didn't get rid of that when he took on flesh. And among other things, that means that he didn't stop being capable of being the Savior that we needed him to be. When we read a passage like Philippians two, for example, where Jesus emptied himself, Paul doesn't specify anything of which Jesus emptied himself, or anything that he got rid of. He just says "he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant." So an attribute of God like aseity continues to be true of Jesus. And that's important, because we need him not to stop being God when he comes to us to reveal God, and to make atonement, and be our Savior—with all that that encompasses.
Brian Arnold (05:11):
Well, one of the things that has happened in the course of church history, is a lot of heresies have come in, which are things that are not true of the Christian faith. Many of these deal with the person of the Son. So somebody like Arius, who said "there was a time when the Son was not." And then that sparks the Nicene Creed, and a lot of theologians are writing on this in the fourth century, and then on. And then we see a resurrection of this, really, in our modern day with people like Jehovah's witnesses, who are like modern day Arians. And that's why it's important for us to know these things. And you just touched on another one, which is what we call kenosis—that the Son empties himself. And I think a lot of people, even in our evangelical churches, would read something like Philippians two and say—Jesus had to get rid of his divinity. Part of his humility is getting rid of divinity. But then he is not God anymore. So how would you walk through somebody in your church who would even say—okay, what does it mean that Jesus let go of his divinity? And you would say—well, let's stop there, because that's not how we think about that. So walk us through maybe even Philippians two. Because I think it's important for us to use that as a point of intersection for who Jesus is, especially as God
Steve Duby (06:16):
It's a crucial passage for the Christian life, and for our Christology, of course. In Philippians two, Paul is pointing out Christ as the chief example of humility that we have to imitate in the Christian life. And then, in order to spell all of that out, he starts talking about how the Son of God humbled himself, took on human flesh. In verse six...in verses six through 11, I should say, Paul goes on to speak about how Christ is in the form of God, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of human beings. And as I said before, one important thing there is that when Paul says Christ "emptied himself," he doesn't go on to specify something of which Christ emptied himself. So this is not an emptying by subtraction. It's not an emptying by getting rid of something.
Steve Duby (07:06):
It's actually an emptying by addition, which might sound funny, except all that that means is—Jesus not only was still God, but also took upon himself something that was below God. He took upon himself our lowly human nature. And as he lived on earth—and of course he still lives in heaven in a human nature—as he did that, he didn't set aside his divinity. It's tempting to go there, but on a closer look at the passage, he continues to be God. And then in his human nature, he humbles himself by becoming obedient to the point of death. That passage, that hymn, if that's what it is, a song sung by early Christians, it ends with Jesus being exalted. Which might raise questions about how he gets something from that, if he still was God the whole way through. But he's exalted in the sense that his divine glory was manifested, and he's exalted in his human nature, of course, in that he receives the immortal resurrection body that we all are looking forward to. It's a great passage, pivotal for Christology, and such a wonderful example for our Christian life.
Brian Arnold (08:14):
One of the illustrations I've heard used for that, and I'll keep this theologian nameless, in case you blow up the illustration. But he said—imagine, you know, here we are in Phoenix, lots of Tesla dealerships. And imagine you get this nice Tesla, and you take it out for a test drive, and you run it through the desert on a rainy day that happens twice a year. And this thing gets covered with mud. That might help explain what we mean by, you know, he empties himself by addition. In that you come back, and you've got this car caked with mud, but underneath is still the pristine Tesla. I mean all analogies break down, but is that kind of what you even mean by "emptying by addition?"
Steve Duby (08:56):
I can see the connection there. The Tesla has not lost its Tesla-ness, if we can create an English word. Yeah. So throughout his earthly life, there is...or as Jesus begins his earthly life, we might say, there is an emptying that involves taking on a human nature. And we can add, there is also, usually, a concealing of his divinity throughout that time. There are times when his uniqueness, his divine glory breaks through, or peaks through, for example on the Mount of Transfiguration. But for the most part, what was seen was a human person living in ordinary human ways. And then, of course, his divine glory is manifested in a special way when he is exalted. So I've never thought about Tesla in that way, but I suppose...
Brian Arnold (09:46):
But now you will.
Steve Duby (09:47):
Now I will.
Brian Arnold (09:49):
So let me ask you about another one. And you kind of opened the door for this earlier, and that is God's immutability. God does not change. In fact, one of the ways we know God is God, is that he doesn't change like a man changes.
Steve Duby (09:59):
Brian Arnold (10:00):
So, but then with the incarnation, you have God taking on human flesh. And so a question that I get, every time I teach Christology, from a student who's alert and thinking is—does that mean that God changes? Especially because one of the things we say about Jesus in his—we'll call it the hypostatic union, I'll let Dr. Duby define that for us here in a little bit—is that Jesus not only took on flesh for us, but that he'll be embodied forever.
Steve Duby (10:33):
Brian Arnold (10:34):
Where he wasn't before the incarnation. So has that emitted some change In Jesus?
Steve Duby (10:41):
That's a great question. I think it's important to recognize that in the hypostatic union—so I'm going to use that phrase, since you've invited—
Brian Arnold (10:48):
Go ahead and define it.
Steve Duby (10:50):
It's...that is just referring to the union of Christ, two natures in one person. The union of his deity and his humanity in the one person of Christ. And in the hypostatic union, it's important to remember that Jesus's divinity does not get switched over to his human nature. There is no confusing of the two natures. So, in light of that, we can talk about Christ in more than one way. We can say that in his unchanged divine nature, he continues to be the unchanging God. His divinity is distinct from his humanity. So there is a meaningful way in which we can say he continues to remain unchanging and unchangeable.
Steve Duby (11:31):
We would only get into trouble there if we assumed that the divinity of Jesus and the changeable humanity of Jesus somehow had to blended together. Then you would have trouble saying that he remains unchangeable as God. But the two natures remain distinct in the one person of Christ. So we say a number of things about Jesus that are applicable to him with regard to his divine nature, and a number of other things that we say about him that are applicable to him with regard to his human nature. Which I think leads to some unusual statements that we make about Jesus, and that even the Bible makes about Jesus. One thing I often like talking with students about is how Paul in Acts 20:28 says that God put these Ephesian elders that he's talking to, over the church. Overseers of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
Steve Duby (12:22):
So apparently for Paul, and for Luke who records this, you can say—God has blood. But the key there, is we're talking about the person of Christ, who is both divine and human. So the meaning is—this person, who is God, who also has a human nature, has blood, with regard to his human nature, that he shed for our forgiveness. And there are other things that we can say, in talking about the person of Christ, that might sound strange at first, but can be clarified on further inspection. So you said something along the lines of—is it okay to say that God changes? Well, if we're talking about God as God, with regard to his divine nature, no, he doesn't change. But if we're talking about...if by God we mean this person of God the Son, who is truly God, but is also truly human, if he...if the question is—does God change with regard to the human nature that God the Son assumed, then yeah, you can say God changes.
Steve Duby (13:20):
Just as you can say—God suffered, God poured out his blood for the church. We're in a unique situation when we're talking about the person of Christ. So we have to be nimble and alert to how language works. And it's actually exciting to be able to speak clearly about this and understand what it means. I think it's theologically exciting, but also spiritually edifying in some ways.
Brian Arnold (13:43):
Well, in a lot of ways, right? And it's like you said—not confusing the nature. So I'd mentioned Arius before—"there was a time when the Son was not." So the Nicene Creed happens. But then that sparks a lot of Christological debates in the fourth and fifth centuries. And it leads to what we call the Chalcedonian Definition in 451, where they're really having to narrow in the focus—what does it mean for Jesus Christ to exist in one person with two natures? And one of the errors that's made, and I think you were alluding to it earlier, is—and we're just going to douse you with theological terms right now—is eutychianism, or monophysitism, which is this idea that the two natures blend into one new nature, and so you can almost imagine...an illustration that I've used, which again, you might blow up, is, you know, like a Gatorade powder into water, that kind of...you have this powder, you have the water, but it kind of blends and mixes into one new substance. But that's not what the church fathers saw Scripture teaching. That we really need to keep these two natures not confused, not intermingling, but we can say that God does not change. The divine nature never emits change, but the human nature does. Now, as we talk about things like the suffering on the cross...or maybe even walk us through the passion narrative, from the garden where Jesus says, "not my will but your will be done," into what it means for God to suffer on the cross.
Steve Duby (15:08):
Yeah. That's a big question. I've identified your questions as great questions. Now this one is simply...it's a big question. So I suppose it's great too. But in Gethsemane, we have Jesus, of course, as you said, praying to the Father—not my will, but yours be done. That is a glimpse into the fact that Jesus has, not only a divine will, but also a human will. And in that human will, to put it simply, he was not looking forward to the cross. He really despised the pain that he was about to experience. So in his natural human will, he expressed to the Father the fact that he didn't like the thought of what was about to happen. But of course, in Christ's case, he never allowed any of that to deflect him, to turn him away from doing what the plan of God had set forth.
Steve Duby (15:52):
So he was still determined to go to the cross. In that regard, he says to the Father that he wants the Father's will to be done. Interestingly, because the Father, Son, and Spirit all share the divine will, that means he wanted his own divine will to be done. We may not see that just from that passage, but thinking with the whole of Scripture we have to say that as well. Of course there are other things that happen in the run up to the cross. There is the arrest, the trial, and so forth. But then, when we come to the cross, we see Jesus...we see the pinnacle of Jesus's suffering on earth. And there are questions that come up there about whether the Father also was suffering in some way in that moment. And then there are questions about whether Jesus, not only in his humanity, but perhaps also in his divinity, was undergoing suffering on the cross.
Steve Duby (16:41):
Historically Christians have said—no, the Father was not suffering in this moment. And they've also said—no, Jesus wasn't suffering in his divinity, but only in his humanity at that moment. Now I think the question that comes up for us, as we hear those things today, is—doesn't that make the Father sound cold or cold-hearted? Doesn't that make Jesus sound inappropriately invincible, or something like that? Like the Terminator, who cannot really relate to human pain? Although I've never seen The Terminator, if I'm allowed to say that. So I don't know if the Terminator could relate to human pain or not.
Brian Arnold (17:12):
I don't think so.
Steve Duby (17:13):
Okay. Fair enough. So we're good to go. With regard to the Father not suffering, he doesn't have a human nature, which means that even as he loves, even as he cares deeply for creatures, and for his own perfect Son, he is not subject to being harmed by the evil, or by the bad things that are happening in the world.
Steve Duby (17:34):
That's at the heart of what we mean when we use the attribute impassibility. It doesn't mean God doesn't care. It means that God is not subject to being harmed, or losing his own wellbeing. So the Father was impassible, and also the Son, in his divinity, was impassible. In his divinity, Jesus just could not be deprived of his own wellbeing, his own fulfillment, his own stability, as God. That doesn't make God cold-hearted, that's actually good news for us. We need the God who cannot be defeated by evil, who cannot be brought down by evil, to deliver us from our evil and suffering. That is vital. And that's a comfort to us in the Christian life. And the Lord has been so gracious that we also get the other side of this, where the divine person that we needed to come and save us, he has come to save us, and in his human nature has experienced true human suffering.
Steve Duby (18:28):
It's not a combo of divine and human suffering that we might not be able to relate to. That might not quite make him our sympathetic High Priest. But in fact, the suffering that Jesus has undergone is pure, unalloyed human suffering on the cross. In which, of course, he bore the penalty of our sins, but also in which he was equipped to be the sympathetic high priest that the book of Hebrews talks about in chapter two. So in Christian theology we have a God who is unable to be conquered by evil, unable to be distressed or overwhelmed by evil, and also a God who took on flesh to suffer for us and to experience firsthand what it is to undergo suffering in the trials of human life.
Brian Arnold (19:11):
It's the beauty of the Christian message. It's unparalleled of anything else—that an infinite God, who cannot experience evil, or cannot be taken out by evil, right? Taking on human flesh for us. It is remarkable what our God has done for the salvation of people, and it should always lead to doxology. I think that's important for our listeners to hear. This is not just about talking about esoteric terms that theologians toss around. This is infinitely important for our lives and our eternity—to know this God and to love him, because we've been loved by him.
Steve Duby (19:49):
Brian Arnold (19:50):
So how does this play out? So we talked about the cross. I want to now talk about the incarnation. I want to talk about the manger in Bethlehem. And I think it was Cyril of Alexandria, but I could be wrong, talking about how "he upholds the heavens from the manger." So how is that happening? How is baby Jesus upholding the universe by the word of his power?
Steve Duby (20:12):
Well, you're using the word "how," and that's a question that we are always drawn to. I'm tempted to say—I don't know how, but I do know that I need to say that it happens. That it is the case. And yet, in our human existence, and in our theology, we always want to get into the question of how a little bit. How does that actually take place? I think we're limited in our knowledge of the how at this point, but we can say some things. I would also, among other things, I would point back to the distinction between Christ's nature, two natures. He remains God, even as he has assumed human flesh, in which he starts out as a baby. So by his unchanged divinity he is still exercising divine power, including upholding the entire universe by the word of his power, Hebrews 1:3. And at the same time, this one person now exists in a human nature, and in that human nature is subject to the limitations that it involves, including limitations pertaining to normal human development. So yes, he doesn't have the strength even of a full-grown man when he is newly born. And yet with regard to his divine nature, divine power, together with the Father and Spirit, he's upholding the heavens and the earth. I still don't know that I'm penetrating into the question of how...
Brian Arnold (21:36):
Nope. Sure aren't, no, but that was beautiful.
Steve Duby (21:38):
So that's actually a lesson in Christian theology here, I think. We cannot always comprehend the how, but we can do something, there. We can get to it a little bit. And then also we can at least reinforce that we're not slipping into logical contradictions here. I think the attack on the faith would be—you're talking nonsense, one person can't do both of these things. I can say—actually, we don't have a logical contradiction. But that still doesn't mean I've fully comprehended the mystery, as God himself alone will do.
Brian Arnold (22:08):
Alone will do. Even in eternity future, we will not have access into all knowledge, because then we'd be God. And we are not God. So there's going to be things behind the veil of mystery that the Bible talks about in Deuteronomy 29:29—even there are secret things that belong to the Lord, and only to the Lord, that we won't know. So I was mostly just joking with you, because I agree with you—we need to have some epistemic humility in recognizing things we cannot know. And yet, you know, theologians have talked about the ability for Jesus, in his divine nature, that cannot be held just to this little baby in a manger.
Steve Duby (22:44):
Brian Arnold (22:45):
Right? I mean, part of him having omnipresence that doesn't go away, omniscience that doesn't go away just because he's a baby in a manger. And I know theologians have at times referred to this as the extra Calvinisticum, and attribute it to Calvin, but Athanasius certainly talks about this as well in his book On the Incarnation in the fourth century.
Steve Duby (23:06):
So you've introduced the Latin phrase here. Not...I haven't. I'm just cleaning up the mess, that's all.
Brian Arnold (23:12):
Absolutely. But I think it's fine to even just stop there and say—that's as far as we can really go into some of these mysteries. Maybe a bit further, but you probably do that in your book.
Steve Duby (23:21):
Yes. Yes. Do we need to talk about the extra Calvinisticum?
Brian Arnold (23:24):
No, I don't think so. I think we need to leave people longing for more, and going out to get your book. When does that actually release?
Steve Duby (23:31):
It is supposed to come out in June with Baker Academic, and they have two other books coming out at the same time on related things—on the person of Christ and Christology. And I hope all three of them complement each other.
Brian Arnold (23:44):
And I want to remind everybody—it's Jesus and the God of Classical Theism. I will say, I mean, one of the things I appreciate about Dr Duby is he is accessible, but he's going to make you work too, because you're dealing with the things of God and that requires a certain level of reflection. So I encourage you to get out there and read it. But I also want to see if you can recommend a couple resources that are for the theological novice, just beginning to wade into some of these issues. What have you found to be the most helpful?
Steve Duby (24:12):
Well, one book that that would be accessible here would be The Person of Christ. It's in a series of books that introduce major theological topics. That one is by Steven Wellum. And he's got a bigger book on this as well, God the Son Incarnate, published by Crossway. So those are a couple of starting points. Another option would be to pick up a big theology book that you've found trustworthy on many topics, and dive in there on the person of Christ. So it's usually a topic treated in your average systematic theology book.
Brian Arnold (24:48):
Absolutely. Well, Dr. Duby, I'm so grateful that you joined us today. And what I hope this does for everyone, more than anything else, I hope we we've grown your knowledge of God, but more that we've grown your love for God. That the God of the universe would take on human flesh for us and our sinfulness, and give us a way to be reconciled back to himself—that is love that is profound. So thank you for leading us into that today.
Steve Duby (25:09):
Thanks for having me.
Thank you for listening to the Faith Seeking Understanding podcast. If you want to grow more in your understanding of the faith, consider studying at Phoenix Seminary, where men and women are trained for Christ-centered ministry for the building up of healthy churches in Phoenix and throughout the world. Learn more at ps.edu.
What Is Baptism? Dr. Mark Dever
Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Mark Dever on the subject of baptism.
Topics of conversation include,
What is baptism?
How this practice differs among different denominations
Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary
Brian Arnold (00:17):
Just before Jesus was lifted on a cloud back to heaven, he told his disciples, "Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." Jesus's final command was to baptize new believers into the triune name of God. But what is baptism? There's been no shortage of debate over the millennia about baptism. Why do we baptize? What does it mean? Should we baptize babies, children, or just adults? How should we baptize? Should we immerse? Can we sprinkle? And just a fair warning for some of our listeners—a bit of a trigger warning—my guest and I are both credo-baptists, which means we hold to believer's baptism, that is, baptism is only for those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Well, to help us understand baptism, we have with us today Dr. Mark Dever, who serves as the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Dr. Dever earned his Ph.D. in Ecclesiastical History from Cambridge University. He's the president of 9Marks ministries, and has taught at a number of seminaries. Dr. Dever has authored lots of books and articles, including What is a Healthy Church?, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, and Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Dr. Dever, welcome to the podcast.
Mark Dever (01:24):
Thank you. It's good to be with you.
Brian Arnold (01:25):
So we always ask our guests one big question, today that big question is—what is baptism? And I thought we could maybe orient it around some of those questions I laid out at the beginning—the what, the why, the how, and the who of baptism. So let's just begin with—what is baptism?
Mark Dever (01:41):
It's a sign of our being saved in Christ.
Brian Arnold (01:46):
So that's, I think, a pretty good, bare definition. Where do you go in Scripture to point to somebody to say, maybe like Roman six, or, you know, Jesus's own command for baptism, or his own example of baptism as this kind of mark of what salvation looks like?
Mark Dever (02:02):
Brian, you've just mentioned the two basic places I would go. In Matthew 28, Jesus commands his followers to make disciples of all nations. And then he specifically says, "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I've commanded you." So Jesus, in his final command to his disciples, gave that as a command. And then when you go over to Romans chapter six, that you mentioned, Paul is writing the letter to the church in Rome, a church he'd never been to, but yet he could say, very confidently at the beginning of Romans chapter six, that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death—"we were buried therefore with him, by baptism, into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." So Paul's assumption is that everyone who's been converted there in Rome has been baptized. And, conversely, that all of those who've been baptized, are in fact converted.
Brian Arnold (03:00):
And I love the picture that Paul gives us in Romans chapter six. And I know we'll talk a little bit about mode of baptism, how we should do it, but this picture of burial—this is a Christian coming, somebody who's professed faith in Christ, who says, I am dead to my old self, the old me is gone, my sinful nature is gone. I am raised to walk in newness of life, in that 2 Corinthians 5:17 way—if you're in Christ, you're a new creation, the old is gone and the new has come. You know, one of the things that I've seen in Southern Baptist world since I was a child is some illustrations being used, like a wedding ring. So if I take my wedding ring off, I'm still married. But it's a symbol and a sign to everyone that I have been married. What do you think about an analogy like that?
Mark Dever (03:39):
I mean, a sign is not the thing that it signifies. A birthday cake is not a birthday. A wedding ring is not a marriage. But the difference between the wedding ring and baptism is that wedding rings were not commanded by Jesus. Baptism was commanded by Jesus. You can choose not to use a wedding ring and still be married. You can choose not to be baptized and still be a Christian, but I would have questions then. Because if Jesus commanded it, why are you not doing it? You're saying you're following Jesus, but yet he commanded this and you're not doing it. So I'd have serious questions for the person who says they're a follower of Jesus and doesn't follow Jesus.
Brian Arnold (04:16):
Right. Well, the very first thing you're supposed to do is get baptized. And you say, I want to follow Jesus as my Lord, and you won't follow him as Lord for the most basic command. How will you follow him with the rest of it?
Mark Dever (04:26):
Brian Arnold (04:27):
So, you know, maybe this is actually a good place to talk about how our view of baptism even differs from some other ecclesiastical traditions. Because somebody might be listening who's Catholic or Presbyterian or Episcopalian. And we hold a bit of a different view of baptism. So maybe walk us through—especially starting with Catholicism—how our view would be different from them. And then maybe even in some of the different Protestant traditions.
Mark Dever (04:52):
Sure. Let me begin with the Bible. The Bible says that baptism is what you and I do when we believe in Jesus Christ. It's a picture of the new life we have in him. And that idea of believer baptism has never been controversial. There is no Eastern Orthodox church on the planet, there is no Roman Catholic church, or Lutheran church, or Anglican church that would not recognize the validity of believer baptism. All Presbyterians, all Methodists, all Congregationalists understand this and believe this. It's just not controversial. Now there is a question though, Brian, about baptizing the children of believers. That's where other groups that call themselves Christian have advocated something that we don't clearly see in the New Testament. That's true, say with Eastern Orthodox churches—they will immerse an infant three times in water in the name of the Father, of the Son, and the Holy Spirit—and they will assume that God's grace will work through that baptism to save them.
Mark Dever (05:47):
Similarly, Roman Catholic churches will sprinkle or pour, once usually, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And they will also assume, like the Eastern Orthodox, that that child is therefore regenerated by the grace of God coming through the sacraments of the Church. Our Lutheran friends are not super clear on this. They want to be very clear that justification by faith alone, and yet they will press baptism as if it is salvific. But when you press a Lutheran theologian, as I have before with friends who are Lutheran theologians, on whether or not the unbaptized who is trusting in Christ is saved, they would say yes. So their position is close to ours. Luther himself had a kind of believer baptism position, but he posited that there would be infant faith. Our Presbyterian friends have a different view—they would have baptism given to the children of believers, and they would see it paralleled in the sign of circumcision in the Old Testament. And then that would be a similar reading of our Congregationalist friends. And then Methodist would be less developed in a particular way. Anglicans would be like the Reformed.
Brian Arnold (06:58):
Well, that's a lot of different positions that people have taken on baptism throughout the history of the church. I do find the Lutheran...
Mark Dever (07:04):
Oh Brian, no. Oh, Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. No, no. Just to be clear, man. No one has disagreed with what you and I do on baptism.
Brian Arnold (07:09):
Mark Dever (07:11):
Everybody agrees on that.
Brian Arnold (07:12):
Mark Dever (07:13):
The questions people have raised about—what about our children?
Brian Arnold (07:17):
Mark Dever (07:17):
And that's where the disagreements have been all over the field.
Brian Arnold (07:21):
But even if we go to the Roman Catholic view—it is regenerative. So we would have a disagreement there with baptismal regeneration kind of view, even in the Campbellite tradition, the Church of Christ...
Mark Dever (07:32):
Well hold on, hold on. To be a little fair to our Church of Christ, Campbellite friends, they...they're generally not going to like the phrase "baptismal regeneration." They're going to understand...they're...what they are, are Arminian Finneyites. I mean, they would believe that their cooperation, their obedience, is what God uses to save them. And that first step of obedience is baptism. So it wouldn't be quite the same thing as our own Catholic or Greek Orthodox friends.
Brian Arnold (07:58):
Not quite the same, but in some of the discussions I've been in with them, the articulation of it is not far off, oftentimes.
Mark Dever (08:04):
I agree. It certainly ends up functioning like that.
Brian Arnold (08:06):
That's right. And you take...
Mark Dever (08:08):
I'm just trying to be fair. I always want to present a position that I disagree with in a way that they themselves would most strongly and well present it.
Brian Arnold (08:15):
Sure. I hope so, as well. I think that's always fair to do for people. The Lutheran position is kind of interesting, because he, you know, even in Tempted by the Devil, it is "I've been baptized" as a marker for him, what has brought him kind of into the Christian faith. But there's been just a lot of different understanding, especially like you said, it is with infants and children in particular—what do we do with them? Are they part of the covenant? And as a church historian as well, you see this practice arise in the early church, it seems out of practicality. You have a high infant mortality rate, and you've got people saying, you know, I'm not sure this is going to do much, but let's baptize my baby. Everett Ferguson, in his big book on Baptism in the Early Church has this line in there of—as so often the case in the church—"the doctrine followed the practice."
Mark Dever (09:07):
Yeah. I think that's exactly right.
Brian Arnold (09:09):
And so, what kind of...maybe...
Mark Dever (09:10):
So Brian, is everything at Phoenix Seminary as accurate as the statement you just made?
Brian Arnold (09:18):
Um, as far as the doctrine following the practice?
Mark Dever (09:23):
Brian Arnold (09:25):
Well, I would...I would maybe ask you to give me a particular of a doctrine you might have in mind.
Mark Dever (09:30):
I just think you gave a really good summary of stuff on baptism, and I was impressed.
Brian Arnold (09:34):
Oh! Well, yes. Let's just say it's all perfectly pristine at Phoenix seminary. <laugh>
Mark Dever (09:39):
Excellent. Much like my church
Brian Arnold (09:41):
Absolutely. You know, it's one of those things that I try to tell people, you know—it's the faith for all, once delivered to the saints, and we have this great tradition behind us. And as a fellow church historian, I think the more we know history, the better we can have, you know, a robust doctrine today that's relevant.
Mark Dever (10:00):
Brian, what's your dissertation on?
Brian Arnold (10:01):
So I wrote on justification in the second century, basically arguing that the view the Reformers took is present in the second century through a series...
Mark Dever (10:12):
Well, where did you do that?
Brian Arnold (10:13):
At Southern. Under Michael Haykin
Mark Dever (10:15):
Brian Arnold (10:16):
I'll give a little blurb—so Baylor University Press published it—it's Justification in the Second Century. So you can find it there.
Mark Dever (10:24):
Did you read Ligon Duncan's dissertation on the covenant in the third and fourth-century fathers?
Brian Arnold (10:28):
I haven't, I would love to...he and I have talked about it before, and haven't been able to do it. In fact, here's another interesting connection between me and Ligon Duncan, is he was going to be doing a book for Christian Focus on Irenaeus. And the day I defended my dissertation, Michael Haykin said—he has not done that volume yet, would you be interested in doing that? And Ligon came back around and said, I want to do that. So I did a different volume in that series, and I did mine on Cyprian of Carthage. And so even this question of baptism, you know, Cyprian talks about it as "wiping away Adam's contagion." And you get this early, even, I think a lot of people look at Augustine, really, with thinking through the issue of original sin, and how that can be taken away through baptism. But really, I think you can find the roots of that even in the third century.
Mark Dever (11:16):
Yeah. That's my reading as well.
Brian Arnold (11:18):
Well, and then I think, you know, if we're talking about mode, I think that could be interesting for people. You know, we talked before about immersion. What does it look like in Romans chapter six to immerse somebody, to show the picture of the grave? You are being buried. And I love baptizing people and showing that imagery—buried with him in his death, raised to walk in newness of life. But through the earliest writings after the New Testament, things like the Didache, you have other modes already being introduced for terms of practicality. So how do you kind of walk people through that, and the significance of the mode? And do you ever allow other types of modes?
Mark Dever (11:56):
Well, I think we want to first ask what does the word baptidzo mean? And if the word baptidzo only means immerse, then I think we at least begin with the assumption that we would therefore only immerse. Now you've brought up that example from the Didache, where they do specifically tell them to immerse in running water, and then, you know, living, zao—if not living water, running water, then in still water. And then if not able to immerse in still water, then pour. So...but what they're describing in all of that is baptismals, is baptism. So the question is—is that end of the first century, beginning of the second century's use of Greek by Christians, is that how they were reading the word that Paul would've written 30 and 40 years earlier? Or that Jesus would've spoken, that Matthew would've written down in Matthew 28, you know, 50 years earlier? Is that how they would've understood that word?
Brian Arnold (12:49):
And what say you?
Mark Dever (12:50):
So. Well, I'm saying we don't have much information to go on. And so I would say that it seems to be wise to normally practice immersions. That's all that we do, but I don't think I can quite close it to say that baptidzo only and always means immerse. Or must mean immerse. Because of...exactly because of the Didache usage that you bring out there.
Brian Arnold (13:12):
Yeah. And there are the extenuating circumstances. What if somebody accepts Christ on their deathbed in the hospital, you know, I think that would open up a question for many people as to whether or not...
Mark Dever (13:21):
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! But then, then my question is—I think there's another issue at play—which is, well, why is it so urgent that you baptize them with this sign? I understand if you're Roman Catholic and you think this will wash away their sins. But if you just think this is a testimony, is there some lack in the thief on the cross, that he's not baptized? No, there's no lack at all. So why would I assume that someone who's providentially hindered from baptism is somehow lacking something? If I have a Roman Catholic theology, that's confusing for me, I understand that. And then I need to do something extreme or unusual. But if I'm a Bible-believing, evangelical Christian, then the mere fact that someone is physically restrained from receiving baptism, it causes no problems at all, from my understanding, of their salvation.
Brian Arnold (14:03):
Yes. And to be clear, I wasn't arguing that. I was just saying it opens up that kind of...even in the modern day, I think, people would ask those kinds of questions. To which I think your response is the right response to those.
Mark Dever (14:14):
Yeah. But just to be clear, rather than going for mode, then, I would go for the question of—help me understand your understanding of what obedience means in your situation.
Brian Arnold (14:23):
Mark Dever (14:23):
So I would work on that before we would get to mode of baptism.
Brian Arnold (14:25):
So the response I got back one time from, we talked about Campbellites earlier, about the thief on the cross, is—the New Covenant hadn't been initiated yet, because it was before the resurrection. Have you dealt with that argument before?
Mark Dever (14:37):
I think I would just find that argument unconvincing.
Brian Arnold (14:40):
Fair enough. Okay.
Mark Dever (14:41):
So I think the question, Brian, back to mode, really, I think, more particularly gets to—are you a member of a local church? If you are a member of a local church, does that local church require baptism for membership? And if that local church does require baptism for membership, then the question would follow—and can you transfer into membership? Can I become a member of your church without being baptized in your church? And your answer would almost certainly be yes, because you don't want to re-baptize, you would understand rebaptism is a sin. And therefore, if you've been baptized in another church, you would happily take that. But then the question—would there be any limitations on that baptism in another church you would take? And certainly if that baptism was not in connection with the preaching of the gospel and the belief of the triune God, then that would not count as a Christian baptism.
Mark Dever (15:25):
So you wouldn't take that. So you would understand that he was unbaptized, so they would need to be baptized. But what if they had been baptized at a gospel-preaching church in the name of the Trinity, but that baptism had been done by pouring water on their head? Would you take that as a baptism? And would your church take that as a baptism, and therefore they could be a member of your church? That's the question. Even if your church itself does not practice baptism by pouring on believers, would you accept it as a baptism, if the person presents themself to you as having been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, believing the gospel?
Brian Arnold (15:57):
And what does Capitol Hill Baptist church do on that?
Mark Dever (16:00):
Wow. Yeah, we would be so concerned about re-baptizing, that we would err probably on the other side. We would assume they have been baptized. Depending on other circumstances. We would have a lot of questions.
Brian Arnold (16:10):
What do you do for a Presbyterian, who is baptized—
Mark Dever (16:15):
Again, it would be—yeah, if they came to Christ, and they were baptized after their conversion, in a gospel-preaching church, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, if the only thing at issue is the mode—we would almost certainly accept it.
Brian Arnold (16:27):
Okay. So what would you do for—now, just to be clear for those listening, if somebody comes in—
Mark Dever (16:33):
I just want to be clear—I can't speak for the elders or the congregation. I'm just giving you my guess.
Brian Arnold (16:38):
We will not hold you to it. But if somebody comes in to your church and says, "I was baptized as an infant in the Presbyterian church, grew up, feel like I've always known the Lord, I want to become a member at your church." What do you do?
Mark Dever (16:53):
Right. We would tell them they need to understand that what happened to them as an infant was not baptism, and that they need to be baptized.
Brian Arnold (16:59):
That's right. Yep. So just to be clear for everybody, that's not considered a re-baptism. The first one was just considered not a baptism, so you're not re-baptizing somebody. You are actually baptizing them for the first time.
Mark Dever (17:10):
Brian Arnold (17:11):
Yeah. Well, you say in one of your books, that "baptism is the discarded jewel of Christian churches today." And one of the things that...you know, I like pulling back on the early church again, is just how beautiful the imagery was. We mentioned the Didache before—the running water, and washing sins away. I was pastoring a church in Western Kentucky, and we were a hundred feet from the Ohio River, and there was a boat ramp there. So I would love to...you know, we'd end church a little bit early, walk—as a congregation—walk down to the river, and baptize them in running water, as a symbolism of their sins being washed downstream. Why—
Mark Dever (17:51):
I'm from western Kentucky. Where were you?
Brian Arnold (17:53):
So I was pastoring in Smithland, Kentucky, which is just outside of Paducah, about 11 miles up the river.
Mark Dever (17:58):
Okay. Yeah. I'm from Madisonville.
Brian Arnold (18:00):
Madisonville. Okay. And I loved doing that as a congregation. And it did seem to give a bit more emphasis on baptism. Why do you call it the "discarded jewel" today? Why have churches not taken it as seriously?
Mark Dever (18:15):
Because even in the way people are practicing it spontaneously, they're showing they just don't understand how significant it is as a statement of the church about the person's eternal state. About their regeneration or not.
Brian Arnold (18:30):
Well, so let's give an example. I was in Campus Crusade in college, and in 2004 we were on a summer project in Clearwater, and somebody accepted Christ. And they baptized them in the ocean. And it was before I had thought much about these kinds of things. I was not involved in the actual baptism, I must say. But is that kind of what you're meaning? Not in the context of the local church, just kind of offhandedly—hey, you accepted Christ, we're going to baptize you? And not be thinking of how this fits in the broader framework of the church?
Mark Dever (19:03):
I would cry foul on a couple of points there. I would say, first of all, the speed of it. And second of all, who is then baptizing? And I would say, normally it would be done under the auspices of a local congregation, who would be affirming this person's regeneration.
Brian Arnold (19:20):
So, you know, let me push you on that point. Because I can imagine somebody crying foul here, and saying—what about someone like Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts? He comes to saving faith, and he says—let's stop the caravan, let's go get you baptized right now. So how would you interpret something like that?
Mark Dever (19:38):
First of all, it's in the Bible. I'm going to be real good with it. Second of all, I've got a deacon in the local church that was appointed, and he's filled with the Holy Spirit, and he is specifically led there by the Spirit of God. And the Ethiopian official is actually reading an unusually pertinent part of Scripture. So it seems to be well set up for evangelism. It's as if the Lord wants to get the church, the gospel, to Ethiopia. And so I would assume the Lord is doing something wonderful to expand the church around the world, and I would be right in line with it.
Brian Arnold (20:14):
Good. So how can we maybe give some advice to maybe some pastors who are listening? What can they do—
Mark Dever (20:19):
But Brian. So to that point, when we baptize, what we're doing every week, when we have our baptisms, is more like a Passover than it is like the Exodus. So the Exodus is a gigantic supernatural thing that's done to begin the new life, the people of God. And that's paralleled with Pentecost in the New Testament. But when you and I meet every Sunday, it's not so much like Pentecost, you know, with these remarkable external signs of the Holy Spirit almost guiding our hand, as it were, as we write. You know, what we do is more like the Passover ceremony every week, where we are remembering what God did at Pentecost, or at the cross and the resurrection. So I think it's just not very wise or accurate to think that our morning service is a lot...is primarily being typified by Pentecost.
Brian Arnold (21:12):
Well, I think that's helpful. I was going to ask—what do you do to make it not the discarded jewel? But even framing it in that way helps people understand the significance of what it is that's happening there. Let me ask you—.
Mark Dever (21:23):
Once you understand this moving sign of the cross that's put on every believer as they enter the church—what a wonderful, spectacularly appropriate, deeply symbolic sign this is of our beginning, our public following of Christ.
Brian Arnold (21:40):
Amen. So let me ask you this. And it may not be fair, because we're winding down on time, but one of the more controversial things that you've done, as I understand it, is you wait quite a while for youth to be able to become baptized. Kind of walk us through, briefly, what your practice is, and why you do that.
Mark Dever (22:03):
Yeah, we think three-year-olds can be saved. We think you have to repent and believe and trust in Christ. We don't know of an age limit on that in Scripture. Baptism, however, we understand is more like marriage. It's taking on an adult commitment of membership. And so, therefore, we, like Baptist churches in the past, and many Baptist churches still around the world today, we wait until someone's an adult to baptize them.
Brian Arnold (22:26):
Okay. That's pretty clear. Yeah. Thank you for that. What are some resources you'd point people to, who have never really taken baptism seriously, never really thought much about it, that would be pretty accessible for them to pick up and read, to have a more biblical view of baptism?
Yeah. And he's fantastic. For those who don't know, he's on staff there at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. We've had him on the podcast previously, on the call for pastoral ministry. Really thankful for the work that you're doing, what you have done to help remind people how important ecclesiology is. What we think and do in the church matters, because this is the church bought for by the blood of Christ. So thank you for helping me understand that better, and for our listeners today.
Mark Dever (23:16):
Thank you for listening to the Faith Seeking Understanding podcast. If you want to grow more in your understanding of the faith, consider studying at Phoenix Seminary, where men and women are trained for Christ-centered ministry for the building up of healthy churches in Phoenix and throughout the world. Learn more at ps.edu.
Merry Christmas from Phoenix Seminary!
Photo credit: Don Baltzer
Merry Christmas from all of us at Phoenix Seminary!
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6–7)