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How Can We Understand Jesus' Parables? Dr. Peter Gurry

Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Peter Gurry about the parables of Jesus.

Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Peter Gurry (@pjgurry) serves as Assistant Professor of New Testament at Phoenix Seminary. He's also co-director of the Text and Canon Institute, as well as an elder at Whitton Avenue Bible Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Gurry is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Dallas Theological Seminary, and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of several books, including Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism (IVP Academic, 2019), and Scribes and Scripture: The Amazing Story of How We Got the Bible (Crossway, 2022).


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Intro (00:00):

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


Brian Arnold (00:18):

Jesus is the greatest teacher in the history of the world, and he often taught using parables. Some of the most well-known and beloved stories of Scripture come in the form of parables. Think about the prodigal son, who takes his inheritance early, squanders everything in a life of sin, and then slinks back to the father, who meets his returning son with great joy. Or the story about the mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, which sprouts into a large tree. We're told it's like the kingdom that seems to start small, but grows enormously. One of my favorites is the persistent widow, who is unrelenting in her request to the wicked judge. Eventually he gives in, and Jesus tells us that our Father, who is gracious and kind, is even more willing to provide for those who ask of him. Through these stories, we come to know what the expansion of the kingdom is like, the significance of faith, and the heart of God. But why did Jesus talk in parables? Even his disciples wondered why he talked cryptically.


Brian Arnold (01:13):

How are we to read the parables? How can we understand them? Well, here to guide us through the parables today is Dr. Peter Gurry. Dr. Gurry is assistant professor of New Testament at Phoenix Seminary, and co-director of the Text and Canon Institute, and serves as an elder at Whitton Avenue Bible Church in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition to teaching courses in Greek and New Testament, Dr. Gurry conducts research in the field of New Testament textual criticism, and has a book coming out in October, titled Scribes and Scripture: The Amazing Story of How We Got the Bible, co-authored with Dr. John Meade. Dr. Gurry, welcome back to the podcast.


Peter Gurry (01:48):

It's good to be with you.


Brian Arnold (01:49):

So our big question today is this—how can we understand Jesus' parables? And when we look at the New Testament, those first four books of the New Testament, or the Gospels, and Jesus frequently talks in these things we call parables. So let's begin with definitions. What is a parable?


Peter Gurry (02:05):

Right. Good question. So, what is a parable? Okay. The Greek word behind it is very similar to our English word. In fact, we get our English word straight from it. It's parabole. And it comes from a combination of two parts, which means sort of something like "to throw beside." And the word actually...a good example of kind of getting at the idea of it is that it can be used of two ships that come side by side to fire on each other in a sea battle. Okay? The idea is to set two things side by side for the sake of comparison. Okay? So think that that's what a parable is—setting two things side by side for the sake of comparison. Okay? My own personal favorite definition of the parable is it's a metaphor or simile, drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application—and this is my favorite part—to tease it into active thought. One of the things that makes the parables so significant is that they're the kind of things that hang with you. They puzzle you. And I think that's one of the reasons why Jesus taught so often with them, is because they have that ability to tease our mind into active thought.


Brian Arnold (03:07):

And why they stick so well. Even a lot of people who don't know much about the Bible, you say the prodigal son—they know that story, and they have some conceptions about that story. And probably even think of themselves, or somebody else in their life who is the prodigal son or daughter.


Peter Gurry (03:21):



Brian Arnold (03:22):

Well, you know, at first glance, we look at stories like parables and they seem like cute sermon illustrations, and they should be really clear and easy to understand. But even the disciples, we see in Scripture, struggled at times to understand the parables. Why is that? Why did Jesus choose this method of teaching then?


Peter Gurry (03:39):

Right. So keep in mind that parables were common enough in Jesus' culture. So you find them in the Old Testament, for example. Remember when David sins with Bathsheba, and Nathan, the prophet, comes to him. He tells a parable to convict David of his sin. And in fact, in the book of Proverbs, you find the Greek word for parable used to describe the Proverbs. And one of the things that people should probably know is that the word parable is used in the New Testament for much more than just the famous long narrative parables. It's used for very short little sayings as well. Okay?


Brian Arnold (04:10):

So give us an example of one of those.


Peter Gurry (04:12):

Uh, you put me on the spot. I can't think of one.


Brian Arnold (04:14):



Peter Gurry (04:14):

I was just trying to think of an example, but there's one in Luke, I think, when he says "Physician, heal thyself."


Brian Arnold (04:18):



Peter Gurry (04:19):

I think he calls that a parable, if I remember right.


Brian Arnold (04:21):

We'll say that it's so.


Peter Gurry (04:23):

We'll say that it's so. All right. You heard it here first, folks.


Brian Arnold (04:25):

<laugh> Even if not. You know, but there's this perplexing part in Matthew 13. So Jesus just gets done telling the parable of the sower. The sower goes out to sow, some seed falls on the path, some falls on the rock, some fall in the thorns, it gets choked out, some falls on the good soil. And then Jesus is like—thank you for coming to my TED talk, walks away. <Laugh> And the disciples are thinking, what on earth did that mean? And they want to hear. And Jesus kind of chastises them a little bit, and then basically says—seeing they will not see, hearing they will not hear, to you have been given the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but not to them. What are we to understand then about the parables?


Peter Gurry (05:05):

Yeah. So I think the important thing in Matthew 13...keep in mind, Matthew 13 is Matthew's kind of largest section of parables, all parables about the kingdom. And Jesus quotes from the book of Isaiah here to justify his use of parables. And he says, essentially that he is like Isaiah in that when Isaiah comes on the scene and is giving his prophecy, the people have already not responded to the revelation and to the warnings they've been given so far. And by this point in Matthew's gospel, Jesus has been doing all kinds of things to show his authority. And he's gotten nothing but resistance from the Jewish leaders for it. And so by the time you get to Matthew 13, he starts teaching in parables. What he's essentially saying is...he says—this is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.


Peter Gurry (05:50):

So he's basically saying—look, because they haven't listened to what I've already told them, now I'm going to make it even harder for them, as a form of judgment on them. They've rejected the revelation God's already given them, in my ministry and before that. And so they're now going to be given more revelation, but it's going to be in a form that they can't understand, that will only heighten their responsibility and judgment. So what I think is important, though, is we do need to qualify the Matthew 13 saying a little bit, because later in Matthew's own Gospel, when he's in Jerusalem in his last week he tells another famous parable—the parable of the tenants. And that's very clearly a parable about himself. And Matthew tells us that after he gives the parable, the Jewish leaders know that he told this parable about them. So I think it's important to note that he doesn't...that not all of the parables are designed simply to confuse people, do you see? Rather, these ones are told as a form of judgment, and then other ones they do seem to at least get the gist of enough to know that they're in the crosshairs, if I can put it that way.


Brian Arnold (06:44):

So let's get a pastoral application in here, because I often hear people who are teaching, preaching, saying—well, Jesus taught in stories, look at the parables. Now go and do likewise. And that's always seemed a little simplistic to me of what Jesus is trying to accomplish and what we're trying to do in preaching through illustration.


Peter Gurry (07:01):

Sure. So especially because in terms of Matthew 13, it's a form of judgment. I think a preacher would want to think carefully about that. I mean, I do think in general terms, just in a sense that, you know, Jesus' parables are extremely memorable and they're well-crafted, that a preacher ought to be wanting to preach in a way that's memorable and well-crafted, for sure. I mean, I guess one counter to that is just to say—well, Jesus didn't only teach in parables. Right? So it's not like the end-all be-all of preaching.


Brian Arnold (07:30):



Peter Gurry (07:30):

But, um...yeah.


Brian Arnold (07:32):

Well, let's get into interpretion. That's okay. Let's get into interpretation of parables and, you know, maybe tease out—what are the theological implications? Can we over-read parables and pull out too many details? I think even in the early church, sometimes they got allegorized, so that every last minute detail was used. But then some people, I think, undersell what we can learn from parables. So how do you teach students, even, kind of the interpretive process of parables?


Peter Gurry (07:59):

Yeah, good. So the early church loved to read the parables allegorically, and we can talk a little bit about what that means if you want. But essentially, the early church tended to read the parables and think every single detail mattered.


Brian Arnold (08:10):

Let's do one.


Peter Gurry (08:12):

So let's look at Augustine's famous one, all right? Where he gives his interpretation of the parable of the good Samaritan, all right? And he says—the man who goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho is Adam himself. Jerusalem is the heavenly city of peace from whose blessedness Adam fell. Jericho means the moon and signifies our mortality, because it is born, waxes, wanes, and dies. The thieves who come to rob him are the devil and his angels, who stripped him, meaning they stripped him of his immortality, and they beat him by persuading him to sin. And they left him half dead. You get the picture, okay? By the time you get to the good Samaritan—you may not be surprised—but the good Samaritan, he says, the word Samaritan means guardian. And therefore, the Lord himself is signified by this name. The binding of the wounds is the restraint of sin. Oil is the comfort of good hope. Wine, the exhortation to work with fervent spirit. The beast that the man is laid on, the donkey, is the flesh in which he deigned to come to us. Being set upon the beast is belief in the incarnation of Christ. The inn is the church. You get the idea...


Brian Arnold (09:10):

Paul is the innkeeper!


Peter Gurry (09:11):

Yes. The innkeeper is the Apostle Paul, right? So every detail has some connection to theology. And what's amazing about Augustine, before we...we're going to probably criticize him here in a second, but before we do, I think we should at least point out to people that that's a really rich reading of the parable, and really edifying to people. When people...anytime I do it with my students, and they get this whole allegorical interpretation, and see it as a kind of microcosm of all of salvation, they're kind of blown away. They oftentimes don't buy it, all of it...


Brian Arnold (09:42):

Some of it's reaching, but I just want to end it and go—and all God's people said, "Amen."


Peter Gurry (09:46):

Yeah. Well, you being the early church historian.


Brian Arnold (09:48):

I am an early church historian. I do have an affinity for it.


Peter Gurry (09:50):

For sure. But I think, you know...but even today I could show you Tim Keller's little book on the prodigal son, called The Prodigal God. And he actually follows the basic line of Augustine, in seeing that it's actually the good Samaritan who is Jesus. And we are the man who's been beat up. Whereas I think probably listeners are almost always conditioned to read us as the one—we should be the guy that comes and helps.


Brian Arnold (10:10):

We should be nice, yes.


Peter Gurry (10:11):

Yeah, that's right. We should be the good Samaritan, which is true. But we rarely see ourselves in this position of the guy who gets beat up and needs help. Right? So I think Augustine is actually onto something in that particular part of his interpretation. But I do tend to think—


Brian Arnold (10:24):

I'm glad to hear you think Augustine's onto something. The greatest theologian in the history of the church. I think Augustine's got some potential as a theologian one day, yeah.


Peter Gurry (10:32):

He's on something here. But that brings us to, I think, what is the big question, okay? Because here's the issue. When you go back to Jesus' parable of the sower, which we've already gone over a little bit, it's important to realize a lot of the details do have connections, and some do not. So, for example, all the soils represent something, okay? And in the case, say, of the birds that come and take the seed, the birds represent the devil who snatches the Word. Right? But what's interesting is that in the parable world, you have multiple birds—it's birds, plural. And Jesus doesn't draw any significance from the fact that there's plural birds. So I always tell my students what that teaches us is a principle that the question we have to ask with every parable—and there's no magic formula—we always have to ask which of the details matter, and how many of them matter. And in my opinion, the best way to sort that out is always pay careful attention to the context in which the parable occurs.


Brian Arnold (11:21):

So before, in terms of like what you mentioned at the end of Matthew, where it's in the context of the Pharisees are near, and Jesus tells it, and they're like—that sounds a little suspicious, I think he's talking about us. So we're going to read the details of that parable, even in light of him critiquing the Pharisees. So it would not be wrong to see the Pharisees as actors within the parable.


Peter Gurry (11:44):

That's right. Or take the parable of the prodigal son. Okay? Probably the most famous, along with the good Samaritan. If you read it in isolation, you can come to all sorts of conclusions about it. But when you read it in context, you see there are two parables right in front of it. They are both parables of lost-ness, where things are lost—the lost coin and the lost sheep. And in both cases, the lost thing is found, and most importantly, is that after the lost thing is found, there's a celebration. And if you read right before those two parables, Jesus castigates the Scribes and Pharisees for not responding appropriately to the fact that sinners and tax collectors are responding to his ministry. And we're told that the Jewish leaders are grumbling, right? Okay, well then you read the parable of the prodigal son, and it's really a story about two lost sons. Not one lost son, but two lost sons.


Peter Gurry (12:28):

And what does the father do when the son comes home? He throws a party for him. Which is exactly what Jesus has said the angels in heaven do anytime a sinner repents. And the question in the parable of the prodigal son is—will the older brother come into the party? You see, it's not just a parable about God's forgiveness of the repentant sinner. It's certainly about that. But there's a whole second half of the parable that's just as long as the first half. And it's all about the older brother and the question of whether he's going to come in and join the party and celebrate with him. Which is just what the Scribes and Pharisees have been doing.


Brian Arnold (12:57):

I think that's absolutely key. Because the first two ones, yeah, the lost sheep and the lost coin, don't come with that other part. And I think people really forget the older brother in the story of the parable of the prodigal son, which seems to be the emphasis. Now we can pull out—what is the father like as he runs towards his son? There's a beautiful picture there. What does it look like to be in the pigsty of sin, and knowing that your father is full of love and grace, and returning? But what is it also like to be a self-righteous Pharisee? Who his heart is hardened against the father?


Peter Gurry (13:28):

And thinks that some people don't deserve God's forgiveness.


Brian Arnold (13:30):

Unjust, yeah.


Peter Gurry (13:31):

Not realizing that no one deserves God's forgiveness, including them. Right? In a way, it's the story of Jonah, right? Retold.


Brian Arnold (13:39):

Yeah. Which also doesn't have the ending that people think it has.


Peter Gurry (13:42):

But also it's an open-ended story of how will you respond, right?


Brian Arnold (13:47):

Yeah. Not the way we get it in Sunday school, often, in a lot of these stories. But I think that's critical. So setting the parable in the context in which it comes in the Gospels. Who is Jesus' audience? How is he addressing this? Why is he using this? Will even help us with the details of the parable itself.


Peter Gurry (14:04):

Yep. So I avoid telling my students that there's always one point of the parable. Because I don't think that's quite helpful. But then I also tell them, say, you don't need to feel bad if there are details you don't know what to do with. Because they may just be there sake of the parable, the story. In fact, Tertullian, who I'm sure you're a fan of, Tertullian says at one point, in talking about the parables, he says—look, there are details in the parables that don't matter. Why are there a hundred sheep? Because you have to have some number from which the other...the one is lost. Why are there 10 coins? Because there has to be some number from which the other is lost. Why is there a broom? Because that's how you sweep a house. Right? <laugh> So Tertullian realizes—and he's from the early church. So not everybody in the early church just goes hog wild on the allegorizing. Some of them do recognize there are some restraints here, and maybe not everything is significant.


Brian Arnold (14:45):

Yeah. Well let's talk about another kind of interpretive challenge that we get when we come to the parables. And one of those is moralizing. So taking the parables in order to teach kind of moral principles. Like we said with the good Samaritan—be a good person. And another school of thought that almost completely negates that and says—no, let's make them all about Jesus or something. So how do we find ourselves on that kind of interpretive spectrum?


Peter Gurry (15:10):

Yeah. So this is kind of part of a much larger debate about how to kind of apply the Scriptures, and how we think about the doctrine of sanctification and all that. But I would say, you know, the parable of the good Samaritan is a good example, in that—and I hate to just say it's both/and—but I think it is both. And because Jesus does clearly say at the end of the good Samaritan—go and do likewise. So there has to be some moral imperative with it in our teaching of it. But what I find so fascinating in the parable of the good Samaritan is that the question asked that begins the parable is—who is my neighbor? Remember this? The question Jesus asks at the end is—who was a neighbor? Which is a slightly different question. And whenever that happens, it's really fascinating.


Peter Gurry (15:49):

You ought to pay close attention. And that's where I think Jesus getting at something deeper than just—love other people, or love your enemies, which I think is part of it. But I think it's a bigger question of—who's been a neighbor to you first, that then has transformed you in such a way that you can then be a neighbor to others? Because the lawyer's response is quite interesting. He won't say "the Samaritan." It's almost as if he can't put the word on his lips. He says, "the man who showed mercy." Which of course is the right answer. But it's striking that he refuses to say "Samaritan." It's as if what Jesus is saying is—your heart has to be changed first, before you're going to be in a position to actually be a good Samaritan to somebody else.


Brian Arnold (16:25):

Well, absolutely. I think that's an important detail of that kind of text. And help us to stay on the donkey, as we would say. I love to quote Martin Luther on this. He said the church is like a drunken peasant—falls off one side of the donkey to come up and fall off the other side. And I think we kind of go between the moralizing of the text, and then saying—well, there's no moral implication of the text at all. And we need to be people who say both/and. We can glean both these things from them. Just like you said—there might not be one only interpretation to a parable. There's multiple things that Jesus is doing. That's part of it. You said at the beginning, "arresting our minds, with vivid language."


Peter Gurry (17:03):

A great way, I think, to think about it, is actually going back to the Reformers, who distinguished various uses of God's law, of God's imperatives to us. They said one of the uses of God's law is to convict us of sin. Right? But one of the uses of the law is once we've been convicted of sin, and repented of our sin, had our hearts transformed, then is to help us know how to live. And so, for example, when I'm preaching, I think two things. One, I want to remind people of what Jesus has done for them. Always. That's first and foremost. But then I also need to give them guidance about how to live. They need that help. They need that instruction. Right? And so, like you said, it's not either/or, but ideally I always want to keep both of those two things together—remind people of what Christ has done on their behalf, that they can't do for themselves, because that will humble them. But then, having heard that good news, now there is a question, a legitimate question, of—okay, now how do I go out and love my neighbor?


Brian Arnold (17:48):

Okay. Let's switch gears. And let me ask you this question, as you've taught electives, even on the parables before. Are there any parables that seem to surprise students? Like the ones that just aren't thought of that often and have kind of surprising interpretations to them? Or ones that you see are some of the more challenging ones to interpret?


Peter Gurry (18:07):

Yeah. My own personal favorite one is probably the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, because that's one that students often have a lot of questions about, or are very confused about.


Brian Arnold (18:16):

Yeah. Well it's interesting—you're saying a parable. That's going to shock maybe even some listeners, because that's a little bit of an open debate. Is the rich man and Lazarus a parable? Or is it more of a historical story?


Peter Gurry (18:26):

Okay. This is true. Yes. John Calvin, for example, thought it was a real story. And he thought that for what is a good reason, a true observation, that is it's the only parable—if it's a parable—it's the only one that has a named character in Lazarus. So Calvin, rightly noting that, rightly observing that, drew the conclusion that it's not a parable then, as a result. The problem is, I think, Calvin, at this one point, was not reading his Greek New Testament carefully enough, because this parable starts the exact same way in Greek that the last four parables in Luke's Gospel have all started, including the parable of the prodigal son. But the parable of the lost sheep starts with "a certain person," parable of the lost coin, "a certain woman," the parable of the prodigal son, "a certain man." Then the parable in the beginning of chapter 16, the dishonest manager, "there was a certain rich man." And then our parable, "there was a certain rich man." It's a little bit clearer in Greek, because English translations tend to vary their translations of the particular Greek construction there. But yeah, I think it's very clearly meant to be a parable. Now where I agree with Calvin—having disagreed with him, maybe I should redeem him. <laugh> Calvin says, regardless of whether it's a real story or a parable, what really matters is the theology of it.


Brian Arnold (19:33):

That's right.


Peter Gurry (19:33):

And I totally agree with him on that.


Brian Arnold (19:35):

So what trips your students up the most about this parable?


Peter Gurry (19:37):

Well, what's so confusing is on first read it seems to be a parable about how poor people go to heaven and rich people go to hell. Which tends to find...you know, our affluent students tend to find a little bit disconcerting. And then also it seems to indicate that people in hell can see people in heaven, and talk to each other across this divide, but you can't cross it. So there's a number of things that really just trip students up in this.


Brian Arnold (20:01):

Well, as any scholar likes to do—in 30 seconds, resolve it for us. <laugh>


Peter Gurry (20:06):

Well, okay. So just a couple things. One is, keep in mind it's not a parable about rich people going to hell and poor people going to heaven, because if that were the case, then Lazarus wouldn't go to Abraham's bosom, or his side. To say Abraham's bosom is a way of saying you have a prime place at the great feast, the banquet at the end of all time. Right? And so Abraham, of course, in the Old Testament is extremely wealthy. So the fact that he's there just shows you that this is not about rich people going to hell. What it is a parable about, though, is the way, or the danger, of wealth cauterizing our hearts and making us insensitive to the needs of other people. So the rich man lives in opulence. He wears purple and fine linen. He feasts essentially every day.


Peter Gurry (20:46):

Meanwhile, Lazarus is outside his gate, and just wants to eat the scraps from his table—what's for the dogs. But instead of eating the dog food, he doesn't get even that, the dogs actually come and make him their food, because they come and lick his sores. Right? And then what's remarkable is once the rich man ends up in Hades and he is in torment, he still knows Lazarus's name. And I think that's the reason for the name in this parable, because it's...what Jesus is saying to us is—if you think you're going to get the rich man off the hook by saying, well, he wasn't aware of the man's need...that can't be the explanation. Because he knows his name. What are the chances that this guy has been outside his front door all these years, and he's completely unaware, but somehow knows his name? If you know somebody's name, and they're on the street, that's because you know their situation too. He could have helped him. And he didn't. And what's so striking is that even in the afterlife, the rich man seems to continue to have a very hard heart. He continues to seem to want to sort of boss Lazarus around and tell him what to do, and shows no signs of remorse for his previous actions.


Brian Arnold (21:47):

Yeah. And I think that is...obviously, if we want to pull a main point away, that'd be it. But one of the things I pull away from that text, too, is how he wants to go back and tell his brothers about this. And they say—you have Moses and the prophets. So it even shows the sufficiency of Scripture. People say, "oh, well, if God just showed himself right here, sent somebody back from the dead, or did whatever." That's not the issue. Scripture is actually sufficient to convict hearts and change them.


Peter Gurry (22:09):

And that's what Jesus had said—and this going back to the importance of context for interpreting a parable—Jesus had brought up three things right before this parable in criticizing the Pharisees. He says they were lovers of money, they were those who justified themselves before men, and he tells them—the law and the prophets were until John, and that it's easier it for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the law to become void. And what does he say at the end to the rich man? He says—they have Moses and the prophets. If they don't listen to them, neither will they be convinced if someone would rise from the dead. So it's a threefold, I think, point of the parable. One, the dangers of wealth, the dangers of self righteousness, and then thirdly, the danger of thinking that you somehow need more than God's Word to know what he expects from us.


Brian Arnold (22:52):

Well I love that we got to take a deep dive into an actual parable to watch kind of how you think through them and ways that we can interpret them. So for those listening today, if you could mention maybe one or two resources that you find helpful for people who want to know the parables, where would you point them?


Peter Gurry (23:12):

The best book by far is one by Klyne Snodgrass on the parables. It's a big one. So if you're a pastor out there listening, that's the one you need to grab, especially if you're going to do a preaching series through the parables, or maybe teach them in Sunday school. There's another smaller book that really builds on that book, but brings it down to the layperson, by an author named Michelle Lee Barnewell. And I forget what the title of her book is, but it's got parables in the title.


Brian Arnold (23:34):



Peter Gurry (23:34):

It's short and sweet, but draws out many of the good insights from Snodgrass' bigger book.


Brian Arnold (23:40):

And then one of the things you mentioned earlier is Tim Keller's book on the prodigal God. So that might be...if somebody wanted to read about the prodigal son, a specific parable, that would be another one.


Peter Gurry (23:50):

Yeah. And especially if they want to see it in a very different light than they probably are used to thinking. If they're used to just thinking, you know, the good—sorry, the prodigal son is, you know, pretty simple and obvious, you might pick that one up.


Brian Arnold (24:01):

Well, thanks for this conversation today. I think people are going to continue to be enamored by Jesus' parables. And I hope that everyone listening today goes back and reads one and can be benefited by understanding the kingdom, and the necessity of faith, and just how Jesus brings these important themes to life through these everlasting stories.


Peter Gurry (24:21):



Outro (24:13):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like 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 Does Theology Help Us Read the Bible? Dr. Bobby Jamieson

Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Jamieson on how good theology helps us to better read the Bible.

Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Bobby Jamieson is an associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is the author of several books, including Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God (Crossway, 2013), The Paradox of Sonship: Christology in the Epistle to the Hebrews (IVP Academic, 2021), and Biblical Reasoning: Christological and Trinitarian Rules for Exegesis (Baker Academic, 2022).


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Intro (00:00):

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


Brian Arnold (00:17):

In Luke 24, Jesus had just been raised from the dead, and he was on the road to Emmaus and he revealed himself to two of his followers. And in Luke 24:27 we read this—"And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Jesus told his followers that he is the key to understanding the Old Testament. It's all about him. He is the key that unlocks the theological depths of Scripture. Well, the Bible is primarily a book about God. It is written so that we might know him, love him, obey him, and enjoy him. And because it's about God, it's a theological book. We want to know God rightly, but what is the relationship between the Bible and theology? Don't we read the Bible to know theology? Well, yes. But can it also be true that our theology helps us read and understand the Bible? Well, today to help us with this understanding of the Bible and theology, we have Dr. Bobby Jamieson, who's just written a book with Tyler Wittman called Biblical Reasoning: Christological and Trinitarian Rules for Exegesis, which is set to release on June 14th of 2022. Dr. Jamieson serves as associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. And he's written several other books, including Sound Doctrine with 9Marks and The Paradox of Sonship, Dr. Jamieson, welcome to the podcast.


Bobby Jamieson (01:37):

Good to be with you.


Brian Arnold (01:38):

Or I should say, "welcome back." For those who maybe didn't catch the first episode, he's got a great book on the call to pastoral ministry, and we talked to him about that. But today we want to talk about this big question, and that is—how does theology help us read the Bible? So let's just start off with the objective that you guys set forth in your book, where you say this—"Our goal in this book is to assemble a toolkit for biblical reasoning. The toolkit's goal is to enable better exegesis. The gospel of that exegesis is ultimately to see God." Well, that is a lofty goal. So kind of unpack that for us a bit.


Bobby Jamieson (02:13):

Yeah, that's right. We are trying to take account of the overall purpose that God has put into the Scriptures. The overall reason for which he's given the Scriptures, which is to enable us to come to know him. And ultimately that knowledge will result in us seeing him face to face. And it'll be a complete and full knowledge, when we see him face to face. But until then, we see his glory in the pages of Scripture. And so, in a sense, we take our bearings in how to read Scripture from its greatest goal, it's overall purpose, which is to enable fellowship with God. And, as a means to that end, one of the ways that a right understanding of theology serves our reading of Scripture is that by pursuing the overall theological vision that the whole Bible teaches us, it gives us eyes to see deep and mysterious realities that are attested to us in Scripture. And it helps us to penetrate deeper into the mysteries of what Scripture teaches about our God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. About our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God and became man. And so, because there's a theological depth and mystery to what Scripture bears witness to, we want to have a toolkit for reading Scripture that is calibrated, that is developed, according to the ultimate concerns of Scripture, and the ultimate subject matter it teaches us about.


Brian Arnold (03:30):

Well, that's a great segue into all these pieces that we're going to need to talk about today, starting with some of the theological terms that you're using that I think might be really helpful for our listeners to get some definitions of. So you use the word exegesis, that's kind of a seminary kind-of-feeling-word. How would you define that?


Bobby Jamieson (03:48):

It is. It just means the interpretation of texts. And particularly, trying to pay careful and patient attention to the details of any given passage of Scripture that we're reading


Brian Arnold (03:59):

And then words like dogma or doctrine. Do you define those pretty similarly? Or do you find some shades of difference in those?


Bobby Jamieson (04:07):

That's a good question. We don't necessarily rely on any kind of special definition of a word like dogma. We're more concerned with doctrine as teaching. That is, you know—what is Scripture teaching us about God? What is it teaching us to believe about him? There's a kind of specific material content—what Scripture teaches about God, about us, about the shape of our redemption, and so on. And so one of our key points is that the right reading of Scripture leads to the formulation of doctrine we can distill and crystallize. We can kind of summarize and penetrate to its essential subject matter. And then what happens is each of those truths that we perceive in Scripture has certain implications for how we read the whole Bible. So we spend a lot of the book distilling theological principles that then become exegetical rules.


Brian Arnold (04:59):

So I could imagine somebody already listening and thinking, is there some circularity to this kind of an argument, of—I need the right theology in order to read the Bible well, but at the same time, I get my theology from the Bible? So how does that process begin? How do you encourage people to start down that path of letting your theology kind of guide in reading Scripture, but understanding that Scripture is what builds our theology?


Bobby Jamieson (05:23):

That's an excellent question. And you can kind of make a little mental picture of kind of—Bible, you know, you could picture an open book, something like that if you have a little graphic, you know, draw an arrow up toward theology, which would be a vision and understanding of who God is. You do get your theology from Scripture, and that's absolutely crucial. And we try to model that. There's a sense in which we are also especially concerned to then trace an arrow back from theology to Scripture. And to say that because the right theology comes from the Bible, it also sends you back into the Bible better equipped. So I appreciate the question about circularity, but my main answer would be—it would be a positive feedback loop. It would be a virtuous circle. It's kind of like exercise. You know, if the more you do it, the better you get at it, the better you get at it, the more you enjoy it. That's how you get into shape, maybe after a season of complacency.


Bobby Jamieson (06:14):

There's a virtuous circle going on there. Similarly, like with appetite, right? You might be trying to control your diet and maybe you want to eat stuff that's bad for you, but you start to eat healthier, eat salads and vegetables and all the rest, and then you start to develop an appetite for it. We would say, intellectually speaking, there's a positive feedback loop, or virtuous circle, going on. You could even call it a spiral, where we're penetrating deeper into the reality Scripture is bearing witness to. Scripture has inexhaustible depths. We never come to the end of it. We never fully exhaust it or explain it, because Scripture is bearing witness to the infinite life of our Triune God. And so another answer to the charge of circularity would be—everybody's got theological presuppositions. Everybody's got thoughts about God. Everybody's got thoughts about what God is like. The question is—did you get those thoughts from the Bible? Or are you just making it up and saying—"Well, here's what I think God is like"? And so, in a sense, it's not a question of what theological understanding you're going to bring to Scripture, but are you bringing one you got from Scripture, or that you got from somewhere else?


Brian Arnold (07:18):

And there's this naivety that we can come to the Bible as a blank slate, and read it, and build our theology. Like you said, everybody who's coming to the Bible is coming with some preconceived notions of what's there. The question is—are they good ones? Have those been shaped and formed through historical theology, right? Is this the faith once for all, delivered to the saints that you're bringing to the text? That's helping shape the parameters of belief? Or are they really just ill-defined, not well-conceived ideas of who God is? And then the reading of Scripture could go awry.


Bobby Jamieson (07:50):

Yeah, that's right. And you know, we are trying to learn from the history of the church, and kind of humbly...humbly, though also critically, engage with major teachers in the history of the church. For instance, the way Augustine teaches the Trinity, which was very influential for our whole book. One of the main things he does is lay out a series of exegetical rules, which is basically—when you get to passages like this, here's what you should understand. Some passages simply teach Jesus is one with and equal to the Father. When you get to some other passages where Jesus talks about his humanity, his own lowliness, his humility and humiliation, well, you need to understand it's speaking about him as he has become incarnate for us, and those passages don't contradict the ones about his being God, they're not conflicting with those.


Bobby Jamieson (08:31):

You need sort of two categories or two buckets. And Augustine has a few other really important rules, but it's important to notice that he's sort of laying down rules for our reading of Scripture, not that come from outside the Bible, but, as it were, that emerged from within. So you could think about a rule...you know, one kind of rule is like a speed limit on a road, where, you know, the road outside my office here probably has a 25 mile-per-hour speed limit. That's kind of imposed. It's arbitrary. The government could decide to change it. But another kind of rule would be internal. Like it's a rule that apart from very borderline cases...if you're a living human being, you're breathing. Where you have breath, you have life. Where you have life, you have breath. That's why if somebody's injured and they're not breathing, you're in real serious trouble and you need to fix it immediately. And so what we're trying to argue is that the kind of rules we are developing, they're not rules that are imposed from outside of Scripture, but they're rules that emerge from seeing the way Scripture talks, and trying to read Scripture consistently with Scripture.


Brian Arnold (09:27):

And that's an important, I think, lesson for people who are listening. That it's not arbitrary. It's not something that's found, even outside of Scripture. But Scripture kind of starts to lay those groundwork principles that are then built upon. And then we can look at texts and say—well, here's why we read these texts in certain ways. And I think Augustine's a great guide on that. I mean, it's a pretty dense book, but it is a masterpiece in Christian history, Augustine's work on the Trinity. He also lays out—


Bobby Jamieson (09:51):

In some ways,


Brian Arnold (09:52):

Go ahead.


Bobby Jamieson (09:52):

In some ways, we're giving cliff notes to Augustine's On the Trinity in our book.


Brian Arnold (09:56):

Which is really important. If people have not taken the dive into the deep end of the theological pool, it might be good to get some guidance and guide rails to enter into that book. He also, On Christian Doctrine, he lays out his rules for exegesis and how to read Scripture, but it's really neat to see him actually in the practice of it, more primarily, in On the Trinity. Well, let's talk about that, because it's been pretty common in recent years for people to retrieve theological interpretation of Scripture, even as they see it, through the church fathers. How have you understood that movement, and how does your book even kind of play into that? Or does it?


Bobby Jamieson (10:38):

That's a great question. It's a shame Tyler can't be here, because as we talked about the book, and we talked about how it relates to that movement, we had sort of a gag prepared, which is basically...I don't know if you've seen the Muppet's show? I don't know if you've seen their very first ever sketch, which is this beautiful musical number called Mahna Mahna. And at the end, there's those two critic guys, Statler and something or other, you know, the two old dudes who sit up in the balcony?


Brian Arnold (11:01):



Bobby Jamieson (11:02):

And one of them says, "The question is—what is Mahna Mahna? And the other one says, "The question is—who cares?" And I think on one level, we certainly appreciate theological interpretation of Scripture as a movement. We've learned a lot from it. Many people who are engaged in that movement are our teachers, mentors, friends—influential figures for us.


Bobby Jamieson (11:25):

And so we do think there's a lot that's been gained through that movement, or helpfully added. You know, the theologian Mike Allen has a recent article where he talks about theological interpretation as a movement as somewhat of a crisis measure. Like there's certain aspects of interpretation of Scripture that, especially in the academy, and even to some extent in evangelical churches, are neglected. And so there's kind of a renewal, or recovery, or trying to kind of right the balance. And I suppose in that sense, you could say our book is contributing to this overall movement of theological interpretation of Scripture. In some ways, what we're trying to do is really say—well, good exegesis should be theological. You shouldn't have to sort of have a special tag or label to kind of justify it as sort of so-called theological interpretation.


Bobby Jamieson (12:12):

So on the one hand, I suppose you could put this into that conversation, and say it's downstream from some of those resources. On the other hand, we don't...we're not really concerned about that term or that movement per se. Certainly one of the things we have in common with those who are self-consciously doing theological interpretation of Scripture is...yeah, that we are especially trying to read the Bible in a way that gets us to and is aiming at theological vision and understanding. And, you know, some of the most influential voices for us are church fathers, but we also draw heavily on Reformation, post-Reformation scholastics, all kinds of people.


Brian Arnold (12:52):

Well, I think there's a certain professor that both of us were impacted by, at our time in seminary. And I think part of that retrieval...because I was in a class of his in 2008, and this is when a lot of this stuff was happening, and it felt like exegesis was cold, was disconnected, was really focused on background issues. And what TIS or theological interpretation of Scripture seemed to do was remind people, if nothing else, then to say—the Bible is primarily a theological book, and should be read that way. And so you and Tyler have kind of at least brought back some of this paradigm. And I want to go back to the Trinity piece to say—how does the understanding of the Trinity shape our reading of the text? Give us some examples of why a Trinitarian, or even Christological reading of the text is beneficial.


Bobby Jamieson (13:41):

Sure. Let me think about that for just a moment. You know, one category of text where a Trinitarian understanding is going to be helpful would be any prophecy of the Messiah, or the pouring out of the Spirit in the Old Testament. Where at the very least, retrospectively, we can understand that this is...you know, in the case of the Messiah, it's not just sending a human figure, but God himself come to redeem us. And then we can understand some of these, you know, hints of—well, how is it that, you know, according to Ezekiel 34, it's going to be my servant David who becomes their shepherd, but also the Lord says he himself is going to be their shepherd? Or Isaiah chapter nine, where there is a prophecy of the Messiah, but this Messiah is also called "Mighty God"?


Bobby Jamieson (14:38):

Or again, some of the Psalms, where you have a very exalted role given to this son of David, especially Psalm 110, verse one—the most-cited verse in the New Testament. "The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." Understanding the fullness of the revelation of the Trinity allows us to understand in a way that was just not available at the time, at the revelation of those prophecies, at the original singing of those Psalms. We can understand this is the one true God—a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who's come to save us. So I do think it can shed some retrospective light on the Old Testament, particularly where we have explicit prophecies looking forward to the coming of the Son and the Spirit.


Bobby Jamieson (15:20):

I think also, there's a sense in which to simply—and this would be an example of an explicitly Trinitarian category—to understand the fullness of who Jesus is, we need to understand that he is both God and man. So that'll get us into a sort of a Christological or incarnational category in a moment. But to understand that that is not in any way competing with Israel's Scriptural confession that there is one and only one true God, we already need a grammar for divinity, a way of speaking about the one true God that can accommodate plurality within the Godhead. So somehow, if we're going to say Jesus is both God and man—and really everything Scripture and the Gospels and the Epistles and Acts witnesses to about Christ fits into one of those two categories—well, we need a way of talking about God that is able to include who Jesus is, and of course ultimately, the Spirit as well.


Bobby Jamieson (16:15):

So even passages, like, you know—what is Jesus claiming for himself in the Gospels when he calms the storm? When he walks on water, when he extends forgiveness, when he raises the dead, all these kind of things? Well, to the extent that these are divine attributes, that these are divine actions, we need a concept of God that's big enough to include Jesus. So in that sense, we need a Trinitarian category, even for reading the Gospels. And just since you asked about a Christological one as well, you know, here's an example. Something like 1 Corinthians 15:28, which we discuss in detail in the book. Paul says, "when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all." Now, a lot of people read this passage and wonder—does this mean the Son is ever after, always after that point subjected to the Father? Does that mean he's permanently subjected to the Father?


Bobby Jamieson (17:16):

Does that mean he's eternally subjected to the Father? Does this, in any way, sort of give us a window back into eternity past? And so on. And I would say that all those questions actually would constitute somewhat of a misreading of the text, because this...first of all, this passage is speaking about Jesus as a human being. It's in his incarnate state, ascended, reigning in heaven, completing his Messianic rule, and then handing over that rule to the Father when it is fully complete and we're in the new heavens and earth. And even when you dig into the context of the passage, there's all sorts of indications that Jesus is fulfilling the human destiny here. He is the true and better Adam, who's actually subduing creation. He is the one who Psalm eight speaks about, that "all things are put in subjection under his feet." Earlier in the passage, he's referred to in terms that go back to the Son of Man of Daniel seven, who's a human figure. Who's given divine authority.


Bobby Jamieson (18:07):

So I think in order to understand a passage like this, 1 Corinthians 15:28, we need to see that it's speaking about Christ as man. And those two words "as man"—they're sort of a bracket, or kind of an umbrella, where we realize Jesus is also divine, but this is speaking about what is true of him because of his humanity. It's speaking with reference to humanity. Jesus isn't only human, but he is truly human. And this act of delivering up the kingdom to the Father is one that he performs as a human being. And so we shouldn't see this as somehow speaking about his intrinsic divine relationship to the Father. So a category like distinguishing between what Scripture says about Jesus as God, or as man, number one, it can help us read a passage rightly. Number two, it can help prevent us from drawing some wrong theological inferences that would sort of lead us away from an understanding of the Father and the Son's full unity and equality.


Brian Arnold (19:05):

Well, and that doctrine there, I think, is one of the most complex of all Scripture. I mean, people often go to the Trinity. I think the understanding of what we call the hypostatic union, that Jesus is one person with two natures, and then how does that play out, has gotten some theologians recently in some pretty difficult places. I mean, for those listening who don't know, Bobby is kind of dancing on some landmine kind of areas right now in current theological debates. But this is critically important for understanding who Jesus is, the relationship in the Trinity, and how we understand some of these Christological passages. And I think you're right. I mean, a lot of these are talking about Christ as man in his incarnate form, right? And so knowing those rightly help provide some of those exegetical principles I think you're talking about at large in the book, and how we bring those to bear in our reading of Scripture.


Bobby Jamieson (19:53):

Yeah. And I think one thing that understanding the hypostatic union also helps us do is see that it's really true that this human being Jesus does divine things, because this human being Jesus really is God the Son, incarnate. We don't need to sort of try to resolve this tension by saying—well, there's kind of a God-person acting over here, doing divine stuff. And there's sort of a human-person acting over here, doing human stuff. That would fall into the Nestorian heresy, which is condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, and the Council of Ephesus before that in 431. But really understanding...the hypostatic union, it simply means that the divine Son truly united a human nature to himself, such that this divine person really is human. All of its capacities belong to him, all of its actions and suffering belongs to him. So it really is that he got hungry. It really is that he got tired and slept at the bottom, you know, in the stern of the ship, and so on. So the hypostatic union might sound very complicated, or like it's a kind of abstract concept, but the point is simply to underscore the reality of how Christ is human, truly and really, and so all of its attributes, characteristics, predicates belong to him.


Brian Arnold (21:13):

So Bobby, you're obviously a first-rate theologian, but you're also a pastor. And some pastors like to listen in, and what would you say to them in terms of encouraging their flocks with what you're talking about today? Like how have you put this through kind of the lens of pastoral ministry, in the ways that you encourage people in your church to read Scripture?


Bobby Jamieson (21:37):

Sure. A couple of things. I mean, I would hope that reading straight through the book could equip a pastor to feel more comfortable and confident in handling passages that do have deeper or trickier theological issues. So for instance, in the first half of the book, which Tyler was the main drafter of, you know, he engages in detail with passages that talk about God relenting, or even in some translations, repenting or regretting an action he undertook in the human realm. You know, God regretted that he made Saul king, that type of thing. Well, how does that fit with God's sovereignty? How does that fit with God's freedom? How does that fit with God being the one ruler over all things? So there are passages when you're just trying to teach through the Bible that present theological challenges.


Bobby Jamieson (22:19):

And we're trying to equip pastors with a kind of grammar for understanding a lot of those things. And then especially concentrated in the New Testament, passages surrounding Christ's divinity, or the Trinity. I think sometimes those doctrines can seem like you have to kind of climb up 50 stairs to get to them. And by the time you get to them, you're out of breath, and it feels like your brain has kind of fallen apart. We're trying to help actually make them exegetical tools you can bring with you into your sermon prep work, into looking at an individual passage. So I hope it would...you know, in a sense, we're trying to beef up the theological horsepower under the hood to help pastors cover more territory in Scripture, and do it more confidently. Not so much that it would always come to the surface, right?


Bobby Jamieson (23:03):

Not the technical terms, necessarily, not the theological terms, but the content, that we're trying to model how you can present some of this, even with a certain simplicity in the exegesis, but it's informed by this theological grammar. I think another encouragement I would have for pastors, and I did a brief article on this for 9Marks about how to preach expositionally in a way that teaches the Trinity, which I guess if listeners want to follow up on that, this would be one way to do that. But we would also encourage pastors to, at least from time to time, where it's appropriate in the text, to include some thicker doctrinal instruction as part of the application of a passage. So I'm preaching through Philippians right now, so that's included some teaching on perseverance of the saints, like out of chapter one, verse six, some deeper teaching on the incarnation, Christ's incarnation in chapter two, verses six through 11, you know, some deeper teaching about the relationship between God's sovereignty and our efforts, our responsibility, and the Christian life in chapter two, verses 12 and 13.


Bobby Jamieson (24:07):

We're not encouraging people to turn sermons into doctrinal treatises, but we're trying to help pastors gain some doctrinal depth and specificity, that can then enrich and enliven preaching through the Bible, section by section, paragraph by paragraph.


Brian Arnold (24:21):

Well, there is, it seems like, an epidemic of Christianity-lite in the Western world these days. And one of the things I think that's helped the church, even in periods of revival, is taking people deeper into the things of God, to understand those complex passages, to have what you said—that framework underneath. I heard David Alan Black in one of his books, actually, had said one time—the pastor should be like an iceberg, where people see the 10% above, but they sense the 90% beneath. And that pastors would have that toolkit available, ready, accessible, and able to then proclaim God's truth to people in a way that brings the depth that it so richly deserves. Well, Bobby, this has been a great conversation. I'm excited for this book to come out. I think it'll be helpful for me, for our students at the seminary, and for pastors and churches. And for those who just want to know some of these theological complexities that can come into their reading of Scripture.


Bobby Jamieson (25:11):

Thank you so much.


Outro (24:13):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like 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 Foundation for Christian Ethics? Dr. Kenneth Magnuson

Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Magnuson on the foundation for Christian ethics.

Topics of conversation include: 

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


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Intro (00:00):

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


Brian Arnold (00:18):

We're a couple months into 2022, and we're already facing several major ethical questions. The Supreme court is ruling on the Dobbs v. Jackson case, which could overturn the important practice of abortion. Russia has invaded Ukraine, provoking the entire world to consider war. Men are competing as women swimmers, and winning. Within the last year, Arizona has legalized recreational marijuana. These are just four different ethical issues we're facing that require a lot of reflection. It feels like the ethical boundaries are stretching in every direction, and many Christians are asking hard questions—what's right? What's wrong? And how do we know the difference? Well, to help us understand foundation of Christian ethics, we have with us today Dr. Ken Magnuson, who is professor of Christian Ethics at Southwestern Seminary, and also serves as the executive director of the Evangelical Theological Society, which is housed at Phoenix Seminary. Dr. Magnuson has published numerous articles and essays in the field of ethics, writing on topics like teleology, virtue ethics, divine commands, and various contemporary ethical topics. Most recently, Dr. Magnuson has published Invitation to Christian Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues as part of the Invitation to Theological Studies series. Most notably, Dr. Magnuson is the only professor in my seminary education that gave me a B. And I'm not bitter about it, either. All right, Dr. Magnuson, welcome to the show.


Ken Magnuson (01:37):

Thank you very much.


Brian Arnold (01:39):

So we always ask our guests one big question, today the question is—what is the foundation for Christian ethics? So let's just kind of set the table with how we hear people talking about morality and ethics today. Things like "love is love," "you've got to be true to yourself," are some of these things that we hear repeated often. So how do you, as you look out, see kind of the landscape of ethics in the Western world today?


Ken Magnuson (02:05):

Yeah. Well, there's certainly been a move away from the Judeo-Christian framework and foundation for ethics. And in its place, ethics is very much subjective and privatized, turned towards the autonomous individual. So "love is love is love is love" is one example, and it sounds nice, but it's very subjective and, frankly, not true, right? We properly distinguish various kinds of love, whether that's brotherly love, or romantic love, or love for my Boston Terriers, right? And some things that may be called love, we know are not—such as a high school teacher running on off with a student, saying they love each other. But the more general point is that we have a moral relativism, where individuals think they decide what is right and wrong for them. And, you know, I was thinking, Brian, I read just this week in a post on social media, someone inserted a comment into the debate saying, "Nobody is right or wrong—it is just preference and opinion." Now that might be true about some things, but it has been applied broadly to most any issue, and tragically this shows up in a bumper sticker like—"if you don't like abortions, don't have one." And so that's kind of where we are.


Brian Arnold (03:23):

It's kind of a moral soup out there right now, isn't it? Where things are, just like you said—we've gone from a place where yeah, there are places where we can have differing opinions, and there are places where there is objective truth and facts. I mean, we could not even have imagined—so I took your ethics class in 2005—I could not have imagined a world in which you have things like transgenderism. And as prevalent as it is now. And if you're not in full-throated support of it, you're a bigot.


Ken Magnuson (03:50):



Brian Arnold (03:51):

And we see, as this is even playing out, there's some common sense things that are happening that I just think everyone 50-100 years ago would have been scratching their heads—just couldn't even believe that we'd get to this kind of a place. So let's set the foundation then. How...or let's start with why. Why is it important for Christians to really develop a strong ethical foundation? I know for me, when I took your ethics class, I was thinking about all the applied ethics. What we call applied ethics, right? So—what is just war theory? And talking about things like abortion. What I found most fascinating was the first half of the semester where you just said—we've got to build out a foundation for how we even think, because we're going to be hit with all kinds of issues we don't even know yet. And if we have the right foundation built, that will be what we draw from, right? Or build upon, rather.


Ken Magnuson (04:41):

Yeah. Exactly. So if we were just to go from issue to issue, we may kind of settle on what we think we should think about a particular issue, but we don't really have a way of navigating new things that come to us. And as you said, we are facing all kinds of new things all the time. And so, without some solid foundation, we're just going to be driven by opinions and trends. I mean—so looking at broader cultural trends again, you know, we're just driven by opinions, trends, individual desires, or, you know, the common, you know, "being on the right side of history," as though we're supposed to know what that is, so often. And so it's a morality just built on shifting sand.


Brian Arnold (05:28):

Yeah. The right side of history thing has become the driving factor, I think, for a lot of people—is I don't want my statues, my plaques taken down in 50 years, because I wasn't on these issues in the right place. I think that's going to burn a lot of people in the end, who think that they're on the right side of history, and might not be. And the reality is, we need to be on the right side of God, more than concerned about worldly history. So what are some schools of thought that have been used over time to kind of build a foundation of ethics?


Ken Magnuson (06:00):

Yeah. Well, briefly, I'll give a few that are main categories or perspectives that are used to frame ethics and moral reasoning. And one of the things I would encourage listeners to do, even as I mention these things, is to think—are these consistent with what Scripture teaches us? So first, one of the dominant perspectives in ethics is deontology. And this comes from the Greek term deon, for duty. So deontology focuses on our moral duties, and these are derived from objective moral norms or principles to which our actions should conform. And the classic statement of this view is found in the philosopher Immanuel Kant—"Only on that maxim—or we might say moral principle—which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." Now what that means, is...his point is to identify universal moral principles or laws that apply to all people at all times.


Ken Magnuson (06:59):

So that's deontology. A second view, which is a direct challenge to deontology, is consequentialism. And this is a view in which right and wrong are determined solely by the consequences of our acts. And the most well-known and broad version of this perspective is utilitarianism, and its basic principle is to base our actions on what will bring the greatest good for the greatest number of people. And typically the greatest good focuses on human happiness. Now I should mention a very narrow view of consequentialism is called ethical egoism, which bases the consequences on what is in the individual's interest or, you know, what is the greatest good for me? And so, deontology and consequentialism, as much as they are antithetical to one another, I should say, have this in common—they focus primarily on what makes an act morally right or wrong.


Ken Magnuson (07:58):

So a focus on the action. And they also tend to think of ethics in terms of moral dilemmas or difficult situations, which take a good amount of intellectual work to figure out. I mention that, because a third perspective challenges both of these views. It's virtue ethics. And with virtue ethics, the focus is not as much on the moral act as it is on the moral actor, or the moral agent, the person doing something. And related issues, such as character and virtue, how virtues are formed, where they're formed in community, and that kind of thing. And so here the challenge and focus of ethics is not on moral dilemmas so much, or ethics as an intellectual problem, but rather the problem of ethics is centered, you would say, more on the will. So we know what is right and wrong. We know what we ought to do, but what does it take to do what we ought to do?


Ken Magnuson (08:55):

So those are three of the main categories. I should mention one other perspective, and that is teleology, which is important to distinguish from consequentialism. Some consider them to be the same, but I would say that's not necessarily the case. And in its robust form, teleology is not the same as consequentialism at all. Teleology comes from the term telos, for end, or ends, in the sense of purpose or goal. It can mean some other things, but for our purposes, think of goal or purpose. So rather than thinking that acts should be determined solely in due of the consequences that result, teleology is critical for Christian ethics, considering things like design and order and purpose in creation, how our actions fit with purposes given by God. And also how God's commands fit with his purposes, so that we can make the connections that God reveals to us. So those are the major sort of categories that we can think of in ethics. There's some others, but those are the major ones.


Brian Arnold (10:06):

Yeah. And it shows how long people have been reflecting on this. If you think about virtue ethics, the name that we often associate that with is Aristotle. Right? So the Greeks are concerned about what is ethical? And what is a virtuous person? And how does that lead to human flourishing? Right? But it struck me, even as you were talking, how fundamentally challenging this is in our day, because even if we're driving at something like happiness or what is the best for the most people, what is the standard by which we even judge that?


Ken Magnuson (10:35):



Brian Arnold (10:35):

And so now, lead us into maybe a Scriptural way. Like how do you put this together as a Christian? Because we do have an objective source of reality and truth that we can look back on and say—well, this is coming from God, and he establishes order, right? And what is right and what is wrong. So yeah—how do you pull those all together?


Ken Magnuson (10:58):

Yeah. So I would say first, when you think of those categories, consequentialism is the one that simply doesn't fit with Scripture. Right and wrong are not established by consequences produced, even though consequences are important. So if we're looking for a biblical foundation, as you indicate, we begin with God. We begin with God and his character, his purposes, his will. And thinking even...knowing God as creator has huge implications for ethics, because we have confidence that creation and our lives have design, and purpose, and meaning, right? God created us for a purpose, and it gives life meaning. And, I would say, we also have someone to answer to—as creator, right? Also, as we think of God as creator, we can marvel at the fact that he created us and he guides that with what he commands us to do.


Ken Magnuson (12:02):

He knows us, and cares for us, and instructs us how we are to live in accordance with his design and purpose. And we are grateful. We ought be thankful for that. But then also...so in that, we have something of the teleology that I'm talking about, right? God's purposes in design and so on. Second, a foundation for Christian ethics in biblical perspective, is instruction that we have from God and his Word. So God's will and his purposes for our lives are revealed in his command. In our day, rules and commands are often seen as oppressive, hindering how we want to live, but that's not a biblical worldview. The Psalms, for instance, delight in the law of the Lord, the instruction of the Lord, and Psalm 1 exhorts us to meditate on it day and night.


Ken Magnuson (12:57):

Psalm 119 is replete with phrases delighting in the law, in God's Word, and uses, I think it's eight Hebrew terms for God's Word. One of the better known ones, verse 105, says "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." So it's...God's Word, God's commands are not oppressive, but liberating. I was thinking about a helpful example for this. If you were lost in the jungle, and there's all these pathways you could take, but you have no idea which way to go, and there's one way back to camp, which is your safety. And you just didn't know how to get there, and somebody dropped a map down for you which showed you exactly where to go...and there's only one way to get back to camp, right?


Ken Magnuson (13:52):

Every other way is perilous for different reasons. But you wouldn't look at that map and say—"Well, this is oppressive, somebody's trying to say I have to go this way." Right? No, it'd be liberating to know—this is revealed to me. I'm told where to go. This is incredible, you know? So we reject God's commands at our own peril. And we can say a number of other things, but I'll just mention the idea of virtue, because this is so important. Christian ethics is concerned with character, as it conforms to and is grounded in the character of God, as revealed in Scripture and seen clearly in the person of Jesus. So we are to be just because God is just, we are to love because God is love and he loves, and we are to be faithful and true and compassionate and merciful because God is all of these things. And God calls us to be holy because he is holy. So you can see aspects of deontology, or things having to do with commands and principles. You see teleology—order and purpose. And you see virtue in the biblical picture. And they all fit together. I would just say last, that if these things are not grounded in God and his Word, they become subjective very easily.


Brian Arnold (15:16):

Well, I think a lot of people are looking for some profound way, besides—know your Bible. To know your Bible is to know God. And so when issues come up, and you know the heartbeat of God, you know how to respond to those in a biblical way. You know, one of the things that doesn't seem to be as popular anymore is imitation. I think about, you know, the Apostle Paul saying, "follow me as I follow Christ." I mean, if we actually look like Jesus, then we are going to be virtuous people who do ethically right things, because we're grounded in Scripture. And I see so many people in Christian ministry these days saying—"oh, don't look at me, don't look at my example, don't follow me." And that's not really the biblical model. We should be seeing people displaying biblical wisdom and virtue in a way that beckons people to follow after them. So one of the things you even say in your book is—the failure to make disciples and, yes, to teach ethics, is something of the great omission of the church. And so we we don't have a lot of pastors and churches helping people build that solid foundation, and then address the ethical issues as they arrive from a biblical standpoint. Why do you think that is? You've been in the seminary world for 20 years. Why aren't churches and pastors teaching through this more?


Ken Magnuson (16:37):

You know, I think it's hard to pin down for me. I've talked to a lot of people about it, and I think there's a lot of different reasons. And the reason I say something about it being an omission, is because right there in the Great Commission, which a lot of Christians emphasize, it's not just making converts, but making disciples. And Jesus explains what that means. And chief among his...you know, what follows is—"teaching them to obey all things that I have commanded." And I think, you know, in some cases, it's just a fear of adding something to the gospel. Or it's a fear of being legalistic. And I've talked to people through the years who come from a background that just feels very legalistic. And, by the way, I think in some cases, I don't think it was quite that it was legalistic, so much as there were just really unpleasant people telling them what to do, you know? And not grounding that in Scripture.


Ken Magnuson (17:46):

But rather just in, you know, being bossy or, you know, that sort of thing, I don't mean to minimize the fact that there is genuine legalism out there. And that's...I think that's one of the things that turns people away. Another thing is just, as you mentioned, I think there's a...I guess I would call it something of a false humility in the issue of imitation, right? You know—"don't follow me, look to Jesus" kind of thing. Well, that may be some form of humility, but it may also be a little bit of escaping our responsibility to seek to model how we ought to live faithfully before the Lord.


Brian Arnold (18:30):

It is an unfortunate pendulum swing that we're seeing on the legalism piece, of, you know, people growing up in churches that they felt were legalistic. Didn't understand why the commands of God are good for us—I loved your illustration—and are now in this almost what we call antinomianism, right? Like against the law. It's all grace, grace, grace. And so there's no tie to the ethical pieces, because that would be to lead people to legalism. And so there's a lot of confusion in the church today about these things. I would maybe add even just one more. And that is, I think a lot of pastors are concerned about being too political. They associate a lot of the ethical issues with American politics, and then don't say anything. Or some churches, that's all they do. Right? And pastors are having a hard time, I think, wading through—what should they tell a congregation on marijuana? In fact, as big of an issue as that's been in Arizona, I've almost never heard that from a pulpit at a church. You know, we've got major Supreme court cases happening on the issue of life. I don't hear that being talked about in churches. And maybe it was just my experience, but, you know, how would you encourage pastors who might be listening how to address these issues, even from the pulpit, that they might feel like are too political, but really are just ethical issues?


Ken Magnuson (19:42):

Yeah. I think it's important to frame them, first of all, that Scripture has something to say about how we live our lives, and that the pastor isn't looking to control people, or something like that, but rather to work through what Scripture teaches us about something like marijuana. Or about gambling. You know, gambling's becoming very widespread. And, you know, I'm afraid a lot of Christians are engaging, right? And, you know, does Scripture have something to say about that? And, you know, one of the things I would add, in terms of people's fear, is that at least I've noticed in talking with people, in maybe challenging some kind of behavior, it quickly turns to—"you're judgmental." Right? And so that takes it out of working through—what does Scripture teach us about how we should live, into—you are telling me to do this, and you are not even a good example. Or, you know, that kind of thing. Every challenge to behavior is put in terms of being judgemental and hypocritical.


Brian Arnold (21:04):

Yeah. And at some point we're just going to say—this is what God has declared. And even though we fall short of these things, we still know that these are good, right, holy, and true.


Ken Magnuson (21:14):

Yeah. And let's walk together in this, right?


Brian Arnold (21:16):

That's right. That's right. Okay, Dr. Magnuson, so in addition to your book, which I found very helpful—Invitation to Christian Ethics—what is maybe one or two other resources you would point for somebody? Maybe a really introductory kind of volume, and maybe one that's a bit more advanced?


Ken Magnuson (21:38):

Yeah, sure. So kind of introductory, really quick give a couple examples—Scott Rae, his book Moral Choices is very good. John Jefferson Davis' book Evangelical Ethics. And for kind of a encyclopedic on biblical ethics, Wayne Grudem's book on Christian ethics is excellent just for having so much there. For really advanced, for doing a deep dive, I highly recommend—this is like almost doctoral kind of level—I highly recommend Oliver O Donovan's work, either Resurrection and Moral Order, or his three-volume Ethics as Theology. It's richly rewarding to dive deep into that.


Brian Arnold (22:26):

That's a great set of resources you've given. I would highly recommend those to our listeners as well. Well, it's really clear that the world is losing any foundation for ethics. And we see that in the way that things are falling apart in those illustrations I used at the beginning. But we have the foundation, and we have objective truth. We have God's word. And as you said, Dr. Magnuson, it's the map. And I hope we can find it, to use it to find the path again. So thank you so much for laying that out for us, and reminding us of the truth that we have. And the ethics that we have. And that they're good.


Ken Magnuson (22:59):

Thank you, Brian.


Outro (23:00):

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


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



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

Topics of conversation include:

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


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Intro (00:00):

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


Brian Arnold (00:17):

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


Deepak Reju (01:36):

Thank you. Glad to be here.


Brian Arnold (01:38):

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


Deepak Reju (01:54):

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


Brian Arnold (02:49):

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


Deepak Reju (03:21):

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


Brian Arnold (04:00):

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


Deepak Reju (04:12):

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


Brian Arnold (04:34):

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


Deepak Reju (04:38):

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


Brian Arnold (05:36):

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


Deepak Reju (05:51):

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


Brian Arnold (06:30):

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


Deepak Reju (07:07):

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


Brian Arnold (08:07):

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


Deepak Reju (08:24):

Yeah. That's exactly right.


Brian Arnold (08:26):

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


Deepak Reju (08:51):

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


Deepak Reju (09:39):

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


Brian Arnold (10:41):

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


Deepak Reju (11:09):

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


Brian Arnold (11:33):

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


Deepak Reju (12:01):

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


Brian Arnold (13:00):

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


Deepak Reju (13:36):

Very much so, very much so.


Brian Arnold (13:38):

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


Deepak Reju (14:14):

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


Deepak Reju (15:33):

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


Deepak Reju (16:31):

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


Brian Arnold (17:14):

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


Deepak Reju (18:15):

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


Deepak Reju (19:14):

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


Deepak Reju (20:19):

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


Brian Arnold (21:37):

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


Deepak Reju (22:19):

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


Brian Arnold (22:29):



Deepak Reju (22:29):

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


Brian Arnold (22:40):

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


Deepak Reju (22:59):

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


Brian Arnold (23:58):

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


Deepak Reju (24:37):

Glad to do it. Thank you for the time.


Outro (24:39):

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

What Is Christology? Dr. Steve Duby


Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Duby on the subject of Christology.

Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Steve Duby serves as associate professor of Theology at Phoenix Seminary. He holds a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the University of St. Andrews, and is the author of several books, including Divine Simplicity: A Dogmatic Account (T&T Clark, 2015), God In Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology (IVP Academic, 2019), and soon to be released, Jesus and the God of Classical Theism (Baker Academic, 2022).


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Intro (00:00):

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


Brian Arnold (00:16):

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):

Thank you.


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.


Outro (25:11):

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.