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

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

Dr. Grudem’s personal journey into theological study

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

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

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

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Brian Arnold (00:00):

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

Intro (00:29):

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

Brian Arnold (00:44):

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

Brian Arnold (01:34):

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

Wayne Grudem (02:18):

Thank you, Brian. Good to be here.

Brian Arnold (02:20):

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

Wayne Grudem (02:41):

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

Brian Arnold (03:44):

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

Wayne Grudem (04:28):

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

Brian Arnold (04:48):

What age were you when you started that?

Wayne Grudem (04:52):

Brian, I don't remember.

Wayne Grudem (04:56):

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

Brian Arnold (06:25):

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

Wayne Grudem (06:34):

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

Brian Arnold (07:06):

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

Wayne Grudem (07:38):

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

Brian Arnold (09:05):

Yeah, I would love that.

Wayne Grudem (09:06):

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

Brian Arnold (09:23):

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

Wayne Grudem (09:26):

I do, Christianity and Liberalism.

Brian Arnold (09:28):

Which was written what, 1923?

Wayne Grudem (09:31):

1923, approximately.

Brian Arnold (09:32):

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

Wayne Grudem (09:37):

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

Brian Arnold (11:13):

How so?

Wayne Grudem (11:15):

There are no Bible verses in it.

Brian Arnold (11:17):

Oh, interesting.

Wayne Grudem (11:18):

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

Brian Arnold (12:10):

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

Wayne Grudem (13:00):

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

Brian Arnold (13:18):


Wayne Grudem (13:19):

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

Brian Arnold (14:21):

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

Wayne Grudem (15:38):

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

Wayne Grudem (17:09):

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

Brian Arnold (18:00):

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

Wayne Grudem (18:37):

Oh, boy. Enroll at Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (18:41):

There you go! <laugh>.

Wayne Grudem (18:45):

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

Brian Arnold (19:41):

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

Wayne Grudem (20:19):

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

Brian Arnold (21:40):

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

Wayne Grudem (21:50):

A Little Exercise for Young Theologians.

Brian Arnold (21:51):

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

Wayne Grudem (22:31):

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

Brian Arnold (22:39):

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

Brian Arnold (23:36):

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

Wayne Grudem (24:11):

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

Brian Arnold (24:32):

Yeah, well...

Wayne Grudem (24:33):

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

Brian Arnold (24:40):

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

Outro (25:17):

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

Earn your M.Div. with Phoenix Seminary - now 100% online.


Today, Phoenix Seminary is excited to announce the further expansion and enhancement of our online learning programs. Beginning this Fall 2023, new students will have the opportunity to complete a Master of Divinity fully online. Phoenix Seminary already offers a fully online Master of Arts in Ministry, Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies, and a Graduate Diploma in Biblical and Theological Studies.

"As part of Phoenix Seminary’s commitment to training men and women for a lifetime of faithful ministry, we are thrilled to be able to extend our impact on future generations of pastors and ministry leaders through our fully online programs, now including the M.Div." said Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. David Hogg. At Phoenix Seminary we train men and women for Christ-centered ministry for the building up of healthy churches in Phoenix, the Southwest, and beyond. That is why we are expanding our online degree programs and enhancing our online learning experience to train more faithful ministry leaders. Join us to pursue theological training at your pace with like-minded students in the Southwest and throughout the world.

Beginning in the Fall 2023, new students will be able to pursue a Master of Divinity in Biblical and Theological Studies or a Master of Divinity in Christian Studies fully online. Our faculty have crafted their lectures in our state-of-the-art studio, offering students a "master class" experience for online training. Students will continue to receive excellent theological training, delivered to their place and at their pace.

"Phoenix Seminary has been preparing future pastors and ministry leaders on our campus through scholarship with a shepherd’s heart," said Hogg. "We are now excited to extend this commitment to the wider church through these fully online programs."

Learn more about training online for a lifetime of faithful ministry, access free course lectures for Old Testament and Church History, and hear from current online students at

Does God Change? Dr. Ronni Kurtz


Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Kurtz about the doctrine of God’s immutability.

Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Ronni Kurtz serves as assistant professor of Theology at Cedarville University. He previously pastored for several years in Kansas City, and taught theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Spurgeon College. Dr. Kurtz is the author of No Shadow of Turning: Divine Immutability and the Economy of Redemption (Mentor, 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):

If one thing is true about the gods of the ancient world, it was that they were capricious. That is, they changed their minds often. They were given over to humanesque passions. They essentially behaved like debauched children. Well the God of the Bible, however, is much different. He does not change. Scripture says, "God is not a human that he should lie; not a human being that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" And the New Testament, in the book of Hebrews, we read this about Jesus—"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever." Our God is not given over to whims. And the Bible tells us that it is because God does not change that we are not consumed. Sometimes doctrines like God's unchangeableness, or what we call divine immutability, make God seem distant and uncaring. But this is precisely opposite of how we should feel.


Brian Arnold (1:06):

The Bible tells us we should have great confidence and comfort in God because he is immutable. Well to help us understand divine immutability, we have with us Dr. Ronni Kurtz. Dr. Kurtz serves as assistant professor of Theology at Cedarville University, and previously taught theology at Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College in Kansas City, Missouri, where he also pastored for eight years. Dr. Kurtz's focus is scholarly work on the doctrine of God and the doctrine of salvation, and the fruit of that research most recently is his book, No Shadow of Turning: Divine Immutability and the Economy of Redemption, which is set to come out in November of this year. Dr. Kurtz, welcome to the podcast.


Ronni Kurtz (01:43):

Thanks for having me. I really appreciate you and appreciate what you're doing here with the show.


Brian Arnold (01:47):

So we always ask our guests one big question, and today the question is—does God change? So let's just begin with some definitions. Can you give us a brief definition of divine immutability?


Ronni Kurtz (01:59):

Absolutely. Yeah, to answer the question as plain as I can, the answer is no, God does not change. To give a little bit more of a robust definition, I think the best way to think about God's unchangingness is to say that we affirm divine immutability, which states that not only does God not change, but it is impossible for him to change. The reason it is impossible for God to change is because God is perfect. And so we negate any kind of change to his perfection. If he was to become "more perfect," if he was to change for the better, he wouldn't have been perfect. And if he was to change for the worse, he would no longer be perfect. So because God is perfect, he does not alter for the good or the bad. And I would add to that definition, that this is very good news to the Christian.


Brian Arnold (02:52):

Yeah. Even as I read in the introduction from Malachi, I mean, our hope that we are not burned up, consumed, obliterated, is the fact that God does not change. And if his character is good and loving towards his creatures, especially those in Christ, that gives us great confidence in who he is. And I'm sure we'll dive into that in a little bit. Maybe even set the stage for some of our listeners who can hear topics like this that sound really abstract to them—why is it so important for us as believers—and even believers who are not pursuing theology, they're not theology professors, they're not pastors—why is it important for them to understand and know doctrines like immutability?


Ronni Kurtz (03:29):

Yeah, absolutely. I love this question. It's at kind of the heart of where I want to spend my life, which is the intersection of doctrine and affections. And I think immutability—something like a truth that God doesn't change—really does have a strong impetus to stir the affections of Christians. And the reason is, is when we talk about theology, I think one of the best definitions of theology—and this comes from a long line of people, this is not original to me. But I think when we talk about theology, what we're after is the study of God, and all things in relation to God. And some people might argue that theology can be unpractical, or kind of stale, or cold, but I would maybe push back and say—well, Second Corinthians three says that we are transformed from one degree of glory to another by beholding him.


Ronni Kurtz (4:22):

And I think as we contemplate God, as we contemplate all things in relation to God, and we do that very important work of beholding him. As we turn our mind's eye Godward, and try to get a grand view of who God is and what God is doing, it will transform us. And so taking a sustained period of time to think about how miraculous it is that God is unchanging, I do think is a transformative exercise. Especially because what we see in doing that, is we recognize that it's not good news for a God to be unchanging if he is a bad God. But it is remarkably and eternally good news for God to be unchanging if he is a good God. And examining the unchanging essence of God, you examine the goodness of God.


Brian Arnold (05:17):

Well, I think that's a really firm and beautiful foundation to build this discussion of immutability on. And I love how you tie theology and affections together. If we are going to love this God, we need to know this God. So let's begin with kind of a threefold witness you talk about, as you engage the doctrine of divine immutability from history, and Scripture, and Christian reason. Why are those each necessary as we think about this topic?


Ronni Kurtz (05:49):

Yeah, honestly, we could build a doctrine of God off of any one of those. Being a Protestant theologian myself, obviously Scripture has the final authority in the way that I think about theology. And so I want to make sure that all of my doctrine is grounded in Scripture. But these three, you know...if we think about it as a stool, these three legs of the stool really allow us to have a robust doctrine of immutability. Because the reality is—immutability can be difficult when we start really asking questions. We could talk about passages, like the ones you read in the intro, like Malachi, which says very plainly and simply, "I the Lord do not change." However, we could also think about passages where it seems at least God might change his mind, or discover something, or change his plan. He threatens to punish, and then because of repentance he doesn't. Or vice versa.


Brian Arnold (06:44):

Yeah, we'll dive into those here in a minute. Because I think those are really critical passages, I think, as we...


Ronni Kurtz (06:49):

Yeah, absolutely. And so I do think we need more than simply just saying, "Aha, I have this one proof text and now the case is settled." I think we need a more mature understanding of divine immutability than that. So I, in the book, as you mentioned, I kind of pursue an affirmative case of divine immutability using three kind of tools—a historical analysis, a biblical and exegetical analysis, and an analysis from systematic theology or Christian reasoning. And so I think there are tons of texts in the Scriptures—you quoted some of them—Hebrews is amazing, James one, 16 through 18, obviously, "God is the Father of lights and in him there's no shadow of turning." There's a multitude of texts that deal with immutability. And then throughout history, that historical lane—divine immutability, unlike many doctrines, really enjoyed a near-unanimous affirmation, regardless of credal position, regardless of denomination, regardless of era. It's not really until the modern era you start seeing people kind of tinkering with immutability. So there's a really strong historical element. It shows up in both creeds and confessors. And then finally, Christian reasoning. Even if immutability wasn't in the Scripture—which I think it is, explicitly—I think you would end up deducing something like God's changeless by virtue of his other attributes, by virtue of his perfection. And so from Scripture, from history, and from reasoning, I think we can arrive at this doctrine we call immutability.


Brian Arnold (08:24):

So let me dive in as a historian. I think you're right, that that has not been subject to discussion, really, in church history. This has been kind of a unanimous, everyone holds that we serve a God who does not change. But you did mention in the modern era some of that shifted. And even in the last 20 or 30 years we're seeing some unique challenges to this, that it's possible some of our listeners have been engaged with, without even recognizing it. So what are some of those most recent challenges you've seen to divine immutability?


Ronni Kurtz (08:57):

Yeah, this is an important question for us who happen to be doing theology in the modern era. You're right. Kind of turn of the Enlightenment, you start seeing some folks tinkering with, or at least revising—if not totally rejecting—the doctrine of divine immutability. Throughout my work I read as many sources as I could that disagree with immutability, and I tried to help the reader by giving somewhat of a taxonomy or just categorizing—why are people moving away from a more classical articulation of immutability? And in my categorization, I came up with five major reasons. And I labeled these reasons as "the problem of—". So these people say, "I can't affirm immutability because the problem of x." And here are the five problems. The first is the problem of relationship and soteriology. So basically, "How can I really have a meaningful relationship with a God who doesn't change?"


Ronni Kurtz (9:54):

The second one is the problem of the incarnation—is not the second Person of the Trinity taking on flesh a change in itself? So that's the second problem. The third problem is the problem of creation and divine action. At one point, God was not a creator, and then he "became a creator." Is that action in itself—and any action by God—not a change? That's the third. The fourth is the problem of volition and knowledge. So sometimes in Scripture, it seems like God wants to do one thing and then he changes his mind and does another. So is that volitional aspect not a change? And then fifth, the problem of divine freedom and contingency. If God wills something, and then has no ability to change his mind in doing that, does he not have freedom? And so those are...really, that's kind of a 30,000 foot flyover, but those are really the five major reasons you see people start to deviate or deny a classical articulation.


Brian Arnold (10:53):

Alright. So if we're flying at 30,000 feet, I want to dive bomb on a couple of these and get a little bit of a closer look. Because I even get these as a seminary professor as well, from students who are perfectly orthodox, but have these questions of like the incarnation. So here you have a God who's not changing, and in the incarnation—what we call the hypostatic union—Jesus Christ, fully God, takes on human flesh and becomes fully man, and exists with these two natures in one Person. So how can God not be changed? And especially as we've held historically—Christ is united to that body now forever. So how does that not admit some level of change in God? So how do you answer that question?


Ronni Kurtz (11:37):

Yeah, absolutely. So I don' the book, I don't actually give...because the purpose of the book is to explore why immutability matters for salvation, I don't go back and kind of answer each of the problems. But I'm happy to do so here, because I do affirm a classic articulation of divine immutability. And I think for this particular one, the problem of the incarnation—by the way, there are two really good books I would recommend here. One is called Does God Change? by Thomas Weinandy. And it should honestly be called Does God Change in the Incarnation? Because he basically handles this exact question at length in a full book. And the second is from a theologian you may have heard of, named Steven Duby—Jesus and the God of Classical Theism is an excellent book here.


Ronni Kurtz (12:22):

And I think Dr. Duby does a good job, as does Dr. Weinandy, of showing how Christology is so important here. And sadly, many of us evangelicals have had a hard time really developing a robust Christology, when doing so would help us answer this particular question. Because you already brought up the doctrine that matters—the hypostatic union. The union of these two hypostases: the divine and the human. And another doctrine...we don't want to get overly technical here, but another helpful doctrine is the communicatio idiomatum, or the communication of attributes. What is the communication between those two hypostases—the divine and the human? And what we're going to see is Jesus is a remarkable miracle in the incarnation, because what you end up having in the incarnation is almost the turning of every one of the divine perfections on its head.


Ronni Kurtz (13:18):

Here you have an unchanging God taking on flesh, and now changing every second. Every second of Jesus' earthly ministry, he's getting older. His hair is growing longer. He's...whatever it may be. He's experiencing change, moment by moment, even though his divine nature is utterly unchanging. So what we then would predicate, as orthodox Christians with our Christology, is that the divine nature of Jesus never changes. Period. But the human nature of Jesus changes all of the time. And then we would need to do the careful work of—how do those two hypostases communicate? And my particular theological tradition is going to say that they don't. There is not a communication of change between the human nature, the human hypostasis, and the divine.


Brian Arnold (14:06):

And I think it's really important that people hear that piece of—Jesus, in his divine nature, never changes. How is it that God never changes while even taking on the incarnation in the human flesh? The divine nature itself never changes. The second thing I'd want to point out, as the president of an institution, is Steve Duby is one of our professors. So you mentioned we may know him—absolutely. We're really proud of Steve and the work that he's doing in that realm of classical theism, and his new book Jesus and the God of Classical Theism is really helpful on these points. I want to dive into one more area, because I think people can get rattled a little bit as they're reading their Bible. And they begin with an assumption, a lot of times, that God doesn't change. I think that's kind of an innate Christian assumption, in many ways.


Brian Arnold (14:46):

And then they get to a place in Scripture where it looks like God changes his mind, or the text says God changes—right—his mind on some of these things. Maybe unhelpfully, in some of the translations, but the point is I think it can rattle people a little bit. You know, I started off talking about the capriciousness of the gods of maybe the ancient near east, or the Greco-Roman world. Is God similar to that in some of these Old Testament passages? Because if he is changing in those places, then—like you said, if he changes at all ever—then he is a God subject to change, and that has really disastrous consequences. So maybe highlight one of these texts and help walk us through it.


Ronni Kurtz (15:23):

Yeah. Man, there's so much we could say here. And I think this is such an important discussion, because it gets not only at predicating something like divine immutability, but it also gets at just how we read our Bibles. And that is know, if we live not on bread alone, but we also live on the Word of God, how we treat the Word of God is so vital to the flourishing of our own soul and the forming of our person. And I love diving into kind of hermeneutics, as it relates to those kind of tricky passages. And there are a number of them. So you could think of, for example, when the Lord and Abraham are discussing Sodom and Gomorrah, and it seems to be a genuine back and forth about the number of faithful people that must be found for God not to punish the people. That seems to be a genuine give and take, back and forth kind of change. Or any kind of...anytime in the Old Testament in which God promises destruction, but then relents. Or even in a passage like Saul, where it says God regretted.


Ronni Kurtz (16:35):

These are really important passages. And we want to treat the Scripture with dignity and honor. We don't just want to gloss over them as if they're not important, because they're divinely inspired passages that we must take seriously. So I would say a few things to this discussion. First is—I think we have a couple of options. We can at least...because we have the existence of two kinds of passages—passages that seem to indicate God doesn't change, and passages which might seem to indicate God does change—I think we can do one of three things. One, we can conclude that the Bible is contradictory. And I don't want to do that. I don't think your readers should do that. The second thing we can do is conclude that the passages which say God doesn't change are literal, and the passages which say he does change are somewhat metaphorical.


Ronni Kurtz (17:27):

Or the third option is we can say that the passages that say God does change are literal, and the passages that say God doesn't change are somewhat metaphorical. I'm going to argue—and I argue in the book—that the best option is to affirm the route in which we affirm that God does not change is literal. And those passages which say he does change are metaphorical, in some way. Now the question should be—why? Why would the Bible use metaphorical language to describe God's changing or not changing? And I think the best answer there—and there's more to this, but to bring the conversation down as accessible as possible—is I think God is accommodating his divine nature. We do not understand, as the creatures who change constantly, we do not understand an unchanging essence. Who we are is changing all of the time.


Ronni Kurtz (18:20):

And so, as God is self-communicating, as he is revealing his glorious essence, we would not be able to comprehend his glorious essence in all that it is. And therefore he accommodates himself. John Calvin called it...John Calvin said that "God baby talks to us." He brings it down to our level of comprehension. And so he communicates in ways that seem to be changing, even though his essence doesn't. And this is another reason why I think you need a theological method, or a Bible reading method, that's bigger, more mature, more wise than simply pointing out a "gotcha" verse. I think it's more robust than this.


Brian Arnold (19:02):

Well, and that's how heretics do it, right? They get the "gotcha" verse and exacerbate it, and, you know, make it into this bigger thing than it is. Because the rest of Scripture is very clear that God does not change. So we need to set those in the context of the greater revelation that is overwhelming—that God does not change. And then understand these passages in light of that. Well, I want to get really pastoral with you for a minute. You spent some time as a pastor, and doctrines like this are really important for Christians to really grapple with, because of things like suffering, things like loss, things like depression and anxiety. How do you, as a pastor, take a doctrine like divine immutability and encourage Christians with it?


Ronni Kurtz (19:50):

Mm. I love this question. There are so many ways to be encouraged by God's changelessness. So many ways. For example, just a couple off top of my head—because of the work of Jesus Christ, because of his active and passive obedience applied to you, listener, if you're a believer, by virtue of your union with him, you have been declared righteous. Not because of your merits, but because of the merits of your high priest, Jesus Christ. And you can go to sleep tonight, knowing that that declaration of your righteousness is going to be intact tomorrow when you wake up, because God is unchanging. He has declared it, and it will be. He has said it, and it will come to pass. You are, if you are in Christ, righteous. Not only will his declaration of your righteousness not change, but his righteousness will never change. If your salvation is predicated on your being clothed in his righteousness, you need a kind of righteousness, as the hymn says, that will never fade in its glorious hue.


Ronni Kurtz (20:58):

You need a kind of righteousness that will be unfading, that will be unchanging. And another way that this is really pastoral is—I think the flip side of divine immutability is the technical doctrine that we call pure act. God is purely act. God is not needing to react to things left and right. Unlike us, God is not living his life reactionary. Which this means that God, when he pursued the economy of redemption, this was his idea. This was not because he saw how pitiful and pathetic us creatures are and thought, "Ah, I better do something to rescue these people." No. Salvation was his idea. It wasn't a change in what he was going to do. It's not like he had another plan and thought, "I'm gonna scrap that plan and pursue these people." No, he came after us out of the fullness of himself. And so that is eternally glorious news. This is not God's plan B. It is his glorious essence in our direction. And we can be very confident in the sturdiness of our salvation, because we can be confident in the sturdiness of our Savior.


Brian Arnold (22:10):

There's a real beauty in that. I like how Scripture often talks to us as we're sons and daughters of the king. And just thinking about how a kid, for them, even though their parents are changing and things, there's something about a steady, stable parent that brings a lot of comfort to the child. And how much more infinitely so is the Heavenly Father. That as we get pushed around by circumstances and changes in life, he never changes. And that's a beautiful thing for the soul. Well, what are some resources, Ronni, you might point people to—in addition to your book, of course—that would help them explore this topic? Both maybe at an academic level, and at more of a practical, personal level.


Ronni Kurtz (22:49):

Yeah. On the academic level there's a few. I'm not just saying this because I'm talking to the president of Phoenix Seminary, but Duby has done great work here, both book form and essay form. In essay form he has a few pieces on what to do with those repentant passages you can find in the International Journal of Systematic Theology. And book form, he has not only Jesus and the God of Classical Theism, but God in Himself with IVP is an outstanding book. A couple of books from some Catholic writers that are really helpful here is the first one I mentioned—Does God Change? by Thomas Weinandy. Another one is The Unchanging God of Love: Thomas Aquinas and Contemporary Theology on Divine Immutability by Michael Dodds is an excellent book. None Greater by Matthew Barrett is more of an accessible treatment of the divine attributes, and he has a chapter on immutability there that's particularly helpful.


Ronni Kurtz (23:45):

If you read Knowing God and you come across that really striking Charles Spurgeon quote at the very beginning of Knowing God, when he talks about how "theology will make you feel but nothing." And that's actually from a sermon called Divine Immutability from Spurgeon. And so I would suggest reading that—that sermon—if you want your soul stirred for the Lord by virtue of this doctrine. And yeah, I think...I hope that my book can strike a little bit of a balance between academic and pastoral. But those are just a few off top of my head.


Brian Arnold (24:18):

Well, I appreciate those recommendations. All of them are fantastic. And I look forward to reading your book when it comes out. I think these doctrines are so critically important. The crisis of our day is that people don't know God. And if they knew God, if they could love him as God, their affections would be stirred. And one of those chief ways is understanding God is unchangeable. So thank you for kind of helping us understand this doctrine better and even placing it in it's kind of pastoral significance for people.


Ronni Kurtz (24:44):

Absolutely. Thanks for having me.


Outro (24:46):

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



Three Medieval Theologians You Should Read

C .S. Lewis once wrote that we should read two old books for every new book. The reason for this is that old books are able to lead us towards different ways of thinking, to say nothing of providing us with different perspectives than the ones bombarding us every day. But surely this advice doesn’t include books that were written from a worldview in which there are obvious errors? Should we, for instance, read medieval texts? Some authors, after all, believed the earth was at the center of the universe. Their periodic table of the elements included earth, wind, fire and air. And as for medieval views on medicine, well, let’s not go there! True, there were some odd ideas floating around in the Middle Ages, but in his influential book, The Discarded Image, Lewis makes the persuasive case that no worldview is an infallible catalogue of ultimate realities just as none is mere fantasy. This is a stark reminder that even in our own day we have bought into and include certain fantasies in our thinking that we don’t, can’t, or won’t see.

Helping to raise our gaze beyond the horizon of contemporary culture are medieval authors such as Thomas Aquinas, Anselm of Canterbury and Gregory the Great. At different times in history each of these has received equal measures of praise and disdain. Aquinas, for example, has found both admirers and detractors amongst evangelicals. Anselm is both beloved and eyed with suspicion by Christian readers. Gregory has been loved for his pastoral sensitivity and despised for being a pope. Truly, great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. What I find encouraging, however, is that there is a growing, healthy interest in medieval theology. There is a line of faithfulness to God’s Word that extends from us back through both the Reformation and the Middle Ages, and we ignore it to our detriment because of the riches deposited there by the Holy Spirit.

Now that you are excited and ready to get reading, where should you begin? Here are three short samples that will whet your appetite for more.

Gregory the GreatThe Pastoral Rule

Gregory the Great was the pope from 590–604 and well deserved the title, “Great.” Gregory overcame tremendous obstacles in a world that was crumbling politically and economically as the Roman Empire was in the latter stages of its collapse. He cared deeply about planting churches, training pastors and spreading the gospel. He may be most famous for sending a monk named Augustine (not the famous author of the Confessions) to England along with about 40 other people to help in the work of evangelizing pagans. The Venerable Bede records the essence of these men’s hearts by preserving the letters Augustine and Gregory wrote to one another as they grappled with the practical issues of church planting and discipling new converts.

Among the works for which Gregory is best known, at the top of the list is his work, The Pastoral Rule. If you are tired of the drumbeat, that seems to be growing incessantly louder these days, that propounds a version of pastoral ministry that glorifies personality, extroversion, magnetic charisma and enthusiasm, this will be a balm for your soul. Here Gregory speaks of Christ likeness, character, integrity in public relations as well as in private living, and piety that flows from the work of the Spirit.

I commend to you the translation published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007. For further reading on Gregory you could begin with R.A. Markus’ Gregory the Great and his World.

Anselm of CanterburyMeditation on Human Redemption

At the beginning of his life, no one would have guessed that Anselm would one day become the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. Born to an upper middle class family in north Italy, Anselm seemed destined for anything but the ministry. After his mother’s untimely death and due to a deteriorating relationship with his father, Anselm struck out on his own and wandered Europe for three years. After that time, he settled down and pursued studies with the most famous teacher of his day who eventually convinced him to become a monk at Bec in northwest France. Anselm’s evident intelligence, administrative acuity and political savvy led to him climbing the ranks from monk to prior to abbot to archbishop. Even with the demands and distractions that come at the highest levels of leadership, Anselm continued to pastor and write.

Anselm is probably most famous for two works: his Proslogion in which he argues for God’s existence and his Cur Deus Homo in which he sets out a satisfaction model of the atonement that is a precursor to later expressions of substitutionary atonement. While I heartily recommend both of these, I have found his very short (8 pages) Meditation on Human Redemption to be very rewarding. Like so many of Anselm’s works, it is best read slowly and contemplatively. Consider, “O hidden strength: a man hangs on a cross and lifts the load of eternal death from the human race; a man nailed to the wood looses the bonds of everlasting death that hold fast the world.” (my emphasis) As friends of mine might say, “That’ll preach!”

I commend to you the translation published by Penguin Classics that, happily, not only contains the Meditation on Human Redemption, but also Anselm’s other prayers and meditations. For further reading on Anselm, Eileen Sweeney’s contribution is the most recent, Anselm of Canterbury and the Desire for the Word.

Thomas AquinasThe Sermon Conferences of St. Thomas Aquinas on the Apostles’ Creed

On the one hand, Thomas Aquinas needs no introduction because, of all the figures in medieval Europe, Aquinas casts the longest shadow. On the other hand, while many have heard his name, their knowledge of who he was and why he matters is less clear. Much like Anselm, Aquinas was born into a well to do family in Italy who sent him away for an elite private school education. When political troubles erupted, Aquinas was forced to move and studied first at Naples and then at the University of Paris. In both places he outpaced his contemporaries, but because of his quiet, introverted demeanor, he was mocked by his fellow students as the “Dumb Ox” (he struggled with a weight problem). Eventually, when one of the greatest theologians in Europe overheard this mocking he upbraided the students telling them that one day the whole world would hear Aquinas’s voice. And so we have!

The text for which Aquinas is most famous is his systematic theology, the Summa Theologica. A similar work, but written with a more apologetic edge, is his Summa Contra Gentiles. Both of these are worth reading, but both of them are, well, about 1,500+ pages longer than the average tome. Among the myriad options of other works by Aquinas, it would be worth settling down with The Sermon Conferences of St. Thomas Aquinas on the Apostles’ Creed. As you would expect from the title, this is a collection of sermons Thomas preached on each line of the Apostles’ Creed. Here you will find a down to earth, street view of the great man’s theology in bite-sized morsels.

I commend to you the volume edited and introduced by Nicholas Ayo (for those of you eager to brush up on your Latin, this edition has the Latin text on the left page and the English translation on the right). For further reading on Thomas Aquinas a good place to start would be Denys Turner’s Thomas Aquinas: a Portrait.

Dr. David Hogg serves as professor of Church History and director of Library Services at Phoenix Seminary. Prior to joining Phoenix Seminary, Dr. Hogg taught at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina and Beeson Divinity School in Alabama where he was also the Academic Dean. In addition to his academic pursuits, Dr. Hogg was an Associate Pastor and then Senior Pastor over an 11 year period. Dr. Hogg and his wife Sarah have three boys and, as a family, represent three different nationalities.

Three Reasons We Should Sing Sound Theology

I still remember (with terror) the first time I led worship anywhere. 

I was 19 and I had just moved across the country to do an internship at a church. We were headed to a nearby college campus to do a student’s meeting when suddenly the worship leader for the meeting said he couldn’t make it. I halfheartedly volunteered to lead worship since I played guitar and piano and played on my worship team back home. To my surprise someone handed me a guitar case and a stack of songs and chord charts. And before I knew it, I was in the backseat of the college pastor’s car trying to figure out what songs to put into my setlist. 

I had played worship music for years. I knew chords and tabs. I understood the basics of how to arrange a band. But I realized then that I needed more than a series of chords and lyrics strung together. 

Even at 19, I loved reading theology and studying my Bible. I was passionate to see people hold on to sound theology. But I realized, suddenly, that I hadn’t paid nearly enough attention to how singing and sound theology come together. How should the theology in my backpack affect the stack of songs on my desk? It’s a question that shapes us far more than we know. 

Our Singing Reveals Our Theology

When I was growing up our church sang these lyrics: They rush on the city / They run on the wall / Great is the army that carries out his word.

As a kid I loved the song because I loved pretty much any song that talked about marching and armies. But years later I discovered that the Scriptural reference to those lyrics was Joel 2 which describes Judah being invaded. God’s people weren’t marching on walls to conquer, they were being conquered. Inadvertently our church had been singing about the destruction of Jerusalem with great joy. 

What we sing reveals our theology. In that case it perhaps revealed that our church, born from the Jesus Movement in the early 80s, needed more solid Scriptural understanding. We needed a better Old Testament theology to help us understand how New Testament Christians relate to things like the invasion of Israel. We needed a better theology of the cross to help us see that Christians do indeed conquer, but they do so through the cross. 

But lest we chuckle too loudly, let’s examine our own songs. What do they reveal about us? And I’m not thinking here of outright heresy (though that’s out there!), but something more subtle: What’s always emphasized? What’s never sung about? Sometimes we can be rigorous in our theological textbooks but lax in our worship playlists—which often reveals that we are, perhaps, not quite as rigorous as we think. 

One of the most important tests is whether our worship songs are fundamentally pointed upward or inward. When I first began playing on our church worship team years ago, one of our worship leaders was a veteran of those early Jesus Movement days named Danny. Danny gave me a simple rule of thumb: these songs should not most fundamentally be about us, but about the Lord. 

Psalm 115:1 sums this up well: “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” The Psalms are full of David pouring out his heart and circumstances before the Lord, but on the most fundamental level, the Psalms are about God. They are not just about how wonderful it is that David is rescued, or that he will be vindicated before his enemies, or that his heart is happy. They are about the God who rescues (Ps 136), God who brings justice (Ps 35:27), and God who delights our hearts (Psalm 42:1). The emphasis makes all the difference. 

Danny gave me a rule of thumb I still use: Do the lyrics contain more “I”s than “He”s? That is, Am I singing more about myself, my circumstances, and my feelings? Or am I singing more about the Lord and his character and actions? The better lyrics will point me to God’s character and actions as the basis of my hope and help and joy. 

So, if you were to flip through your church’s songbook what theology would you find? If you opened your favorite worship playlist what theology would you hear? What do your songs say about your theology? 

Our Singing Shapes Our Theology

But the reverse is also true: our theology is often formed and shaped by the songs we sing. 

As I talk to Christians today and ask for their favorite worship music, they often describe music they love because of “the feels.” Some prefer soaring stadium rock, others a touch of gospel and soul, others an uplifting pop hook, still others the nostalgic sound of an old hymn they grew up singing. But too often, we fail to see that we can't separate “the feels” from the lyrics. Music moves us emotionally in a powerful and profound way. Why else would Saul have wanted David to play music to soothe his mind and heart (1 Sam 16:23)? The question though, is where the music is moving us. 

Often, I remember worship song lyrics more easily than Scripture. This sometimes surprises me because I work at memorizing Scripture. I never try to memorize a worship song—I just find that suddenly it’s in my mind. I hum it as I make my coffee. So, when the songs we listen to carry solid theology, they are a beautiful gift to our souls. But when they carry unsound or even anemic theology, we’re fooling ourselves if we think they won’t pull our spiritual life in that direction. 

Think of the way that the book of Psalms has functioned in the life of God’s people for centuries. Psalms would have been sung while walking to Jerusalem, in worship, in times of distress—and everything in between. Some Psalms remind the reader of God’s kingly rule and power (Ps 2). Other Psalms remind the reader of God’s character (Ps 23). Songs of ascent carry key truths about God and His people and the precious bond between them (Ps 122:9 for example). 

Take Psalm 73 as an example. The Psalmist begins by acknowledging God’s goodness but moves quickly into confessing how he nearly slipped into unbelief. We walk with him as he struggles from seeing the wicked apparently prospering. But ultimately, he comes into God’s sanctuary (73:17) and gains new perspective. Then he rejoices in great joy: 

Whom have I in heaven but you? 

And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 

My flesh and my heart may fail, 

but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever 

(Ps 73:25–26, ESV).

Notice how this Psalm encourages God’s people: it encourages them with sound theology, with truth about God. The Psalmist doesn’t feel better because the music moved him emotionally—that fades quickly. He feels better because he apprehended who God is, and that changes everything about how he views his circumstances. 

My friend Jon, our Deacon for Worship, has another rule of thumb: He wants our church to sing songs that we can sing around a hospital bed in 50 years. That’s shorthand for saying that the lyrics of our songs should carry theology that will still be true in 50 years—and that our theology should be sturdy enough to lean on even in times of great trouble. 

Years after Danny helped me learn the basics of church singing, he was diagnosed with cancer. He fought it for years, but in his 50s, we found ourselves at the hospital with him about to pass into glory. Jon sang worship songs around his bedside for hours with our worship team. As church members and his non-Christian coworkers came to say goodbye, they were overwhelmed by the songs. Without us even realizing it, the songs had given us the theology we most needed in that moment: that God was in control, that God was good, that eternity is a joy and not a terror for the Christian, that we can rejoice in the face of death because we follow a resurrected savior. 

Are your songs sturdy enough to sing around a hospital bed in 50 years? 

Our Singing Doxologizes Our Theology 

Lastly, theology should be doxology. Theology should result in praise. 

The first Systematic Theology textbook I ever read was Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I loved its readability and clarity but kept finding something puzzling at the end of each chapter: a hymn. At first, I thought it was just one chapter only to discover that every single chapter had one. When I finally read the first chapter (I had somehow missed it before) I found this simple explanation: 

The study of theology is not merely a theoretical exercise of the intellect. It is a study of the living God and of the wonders of all his works in creation and redemption. We cannot study this subject dispassionately! We must love all that God is, all that he says and all that he does. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart” (Deut. 6:5). Our response to the study of the theology of Scripture should be that of the psalmist who said, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!” (Ps. 139:17). 

We might find ourselves fighting to tread water through the theological depths of Romans 9–11 and the mysteries of divine providence, but the theology there is not merely meant to be endured or survived. Instead, Paul emerges on the other side of the deep end of the theological pool singing aloud in praise. 

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36, ESV) 

The theology of Romans 9–11 becomes doxologized: it gets turned into an outpouring of praise. 

At our church, we sing a song of response after the preached Word. The response song often turns the truth of the text to praise. For example, when we preached on the judgment throne at the end of all things (Revelation 20), we asked the question, “Who can stand before this judgment?” We found the answer throughout Scripture, in Revelation 7:13, and in Romans 8:33: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (ESV). Then immediately after that we sang this: 

Before the throne of God above 

I have a strong and perfect plea 

A great High Priest whose name is love 

Who ever lives and pleads for me 

My name is graven on His hands 

My name is written on His heart 

I know that while in heaven He stands 

No tongue can bid me thence depart

This is theology doxologized: the truth of who God is and what Jesus has done for us moved us to worship, and the lyrics and music helped us express those feelings. And through helping us express how the theology moved us, in turn, the music began to shape what we thought and felt. 

Good Theologians Sing

Much to the great relief of my congregation, I no longer lead times of singing at church. 

But I still think it is vitally important to understand what we sing and why. What we sing reveals what we believe, and what we believe should inspire us to sing. And that makes all the difference for both the songs we sing at church, the songs I sing before bed with my kids, and the songs I sing on walks around my neighborhood. 

So go sing, fellow theologians. 

Ricky Alcantar serves as the lead pastor at Cross of Grace Church in El Paso TX. Beyond his local context Ricky serves on the Sovereign Grace Churches Church Planting Group and has written for publications like Vox, Boundless, and the Rio Grande Review. He is also a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and Sovereign Grace Pastors College and is pursuing further seminary work at Phoenix Seminary. He loves his wife Jenn, his three sons, his city, and thinking about writing instead of actually writing.

Why Your Student Ministry Needs Theology Proper and Church History

If you take a look around most student ministry series, conferences, and curriculum you’ll see one word that consistently pops off the page—“apologetics.” The teen years are full of questions, debates, and crises of faith. So naturally the defense of the faith is a common subject. 

Apologetics are good and important; this is not meant to denigrate the field. But I think we’ve gotten the cart before the horse in student ministry. In our desire to answer every niche question we are missing opportunities to teach the big truths of our faith with clarity, which would filter down into the apologetic assurance we were seeking to begin with. 

In the age of TikTok, Instagram Reels, and relentless public assault against the Christian worldview, students can easily become overwhelmed with a litany of questions about creation, the Old Testament  law, gender, specific texts, moral failings of Christian leaders, and much more. We could conceivably spend every discipleship meeting and student gathering just addressing these questions. While this could be helpful to a point, we would really just be giving students a quick fix to problems that require much deeper thought. In student ministry, we must resist the temptation to defend the Christian faith with 1-minute soundbites. I think most student ministries would do better to focus on theology proper and church history, which would in turn produce students who know the faith they seek to defend. 

The Importance of Theology Proper

In my experience, GenZ has a harder time with the morality of God than determining whether or not there is one. How do we reach the student whose burning question is not “does God exist?” but rather “is God good?” The answer is through theology proper. Theology proper is just the study of who God is. When we spend more time teaching about the Trinity, God’s attributes, and His work in the world, students naturally develop the instincts needed to handle  other apologetic questions. 

But teaching students theology proper is difficult. Topics like the Trinity, aseity, and transcendence cannot be adequately covered in a couple of lessons. To understand such deep and complex topics usually requires exposure over the course of months and years. As students begin to understand these topics, they provide categories that actually aid apologetic efforts by grounding answers in God’s nature, instead of treating each question as a horizontal talking point. I’ve never seen a student caught up in the beauty of the Godhead suddenly abandon their faith over a niche intellectual argument. 

Now, many of my more apologetically minded youth workers may say this strategy is not a step away from apologetics, it’s a step from pop-apologetics to real, good apologetics. They may be right. Even so, I’d wager everyone could do with more meditation on God’s nature and work–while some could do with a bit less opportunity for conflict. Theology proper offers a win-win.

The Importance of Church History

Much like theology proper, church history may not seem like the most invigorating topic for student ministry. After all, debating the age of the earth or talking through the newest celebrity deconstruction story might make for much easier marketing to get students in the room (and that does matter). But church history is one of the few tools that forces our students to look beyond their cultural moment and see the bigger picture of what God has done and will do through His people.

Church history teaches students that the controversies today do not represent existential threats to the faith. The church has weathered wars, theological debates, cultural upheavals,  complete reformations, and consistent persecutions without collapsing or ceasing to exist. Knowing these stories helps students take what seem like world-changing conflicts and put them in proper perspective. The biggest issues facing the Church often change, shift, or even vanish. Knowing this helps students doubt their doubts and take more seriously their faith that has lasted throughout the ages. 

Teaching church history also allows us to be honest with students about the past. GenZ is keenly aware of the sins of past generations; They notice every time Christians sweep our own dirty past under the rug out of ignorance or fear. Being open about our failures and flaws yet still telling God’s story will tear down apologetic barriers and situate them in God’s big story.


Theology proper and church history aren’t easy to teach—and they certainly aren’t quick or flashy—but they are worth it. As it turns out, if you’re a youth worker and you’re tackling theology and church history well—you’ll actually be doing great apologetics.

If you don’t feel equipped yourself in these areas, then invest in good books like Church History in Plain Language or The Story of Christianity. Consider also systematic theologies like Wayne Grudem’s, John Frame’s, or Millard Erickson’s.  More than just reading, invest in solid seminary training. In fact, Phoenix Seminary has made all their Church History 1 and Old Testament 2 course lectures available free of charge.

Our students will face doubts and concerns regarding their faith. If we want them to defend the faith instead of walking away from it, we should ensure they really know what they’re trying to defend. Are you providing the easiest answers, or the right ones?

Will Standridge serves as the preteen and student pastor at Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. He received his B.A. from Boyce College and M.Div. from SBTS. Will blogs frequently about student ministry philosophy. He is married to his high-school sweetheart, Kendyl.

What Do Mormons Really Believe?

The term Mormonism denotes a religious group currently headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, who call themselves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But since the foundation of Mormonism, there have been at least 400 splinter groups of the LDS church that began with the founder, Joseph Smith. Mormons believe that God, through Joseph Smith, restored the teachings of the church after hundreds of years of apostasy.

If you speak with a Mormon about their religion, it is very likely they will try to focus on the similarities between their theology and our own. They will say things like “Jesus died on the cross for our sins,” and may even say “we are saved by grace.” They have an entire vocabulary that sounds nearly identical to our own.

It isn’t until you dig a bit deeper into how they define their terms that the dissimilarities become more apparent. They call their deity God, but he's as different from the one true God of Christianity as your mother is from my own, despite the fact we may each call ours Mom. 

So that brings us to the ultimate question, what are these “restored” truths that make the Mormon church distinct from—and thus ultimately not just a subsection of—orthodox Christian teaching?

Polytheism vs. Trinitarianism

When we consider the Mormon view of God and the traditional Christian view of God, Mormonism seems a bit more like Hinduism, or maybe even Greco-Roman paganism. They have more gods than we would even count in Hinduism, with an infinite array of gods going back eternally and, presumably, forward eternally as well. Additionally, their understanding of these gods is not unlike the anthropomorphic deities—with hands and fingernails and toes and eyeballs—of the Romans and the Greeks. Both these ideas are incompatible with the God of the Bible.

Although a full unpacking of the doctrine of the trinity is beyond the scope of this post, it is enough to say that the traditional Christian view of God excludes the possibility of any other gods. That we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit should not be seen as polytheism because we know that the three persons of God exist eternally, equally, as one God. In Mormonism, not only are Father, Son, and Spirit not a single being, they aren’t really equal beings, either.

As it turns out, the Mormon concept of God is essentially an exalted and perfected version of a human. They believe that God began as a man and, like all gods had done before him, became a god. Even before he was man, he was a preexistent spirit in some preexistent world, the offspring of an older god and his celestial wives. Mormon doctrine holds that, after he became a god, he and a heavenly mother had spirit children that include you, me, Jesus, and even Lucifer. God, according to Mormons, wasn’t always God; his deity was the result of living an exceptionally holy life.

And this brings us to the next doctrinal issue that separates Mormonism from orthodox Christian teaching.

Eternal Progression vs Creator/Creation Distinction

In the Mormon church, there was an apostle named Lorenzo Snow. He was a contemporary of Joseph Smith and became Mormon in 1836, six years after the publishing of the Book of Mormon. Lorenzo Snow coined a phrase: “As man is, God once was; As God is, man may be.” This is what Mormons call the law of eternal progression. 

This doctrine teaches that humans have a destiny to follow in the same footsteps as God, and as God did for his god, and his grandfather god, and great-grandfather god, and so forth. However, there is a bit of a rift in the Mormon church over the question of how this progression can be rectified with the idea of God’s power. Does God continually progress forever, gaining bits and pieces of knowledge along the way in a never-ending existence that puts him closer and closer to omniscience? Or did God somehow, at the exact moment he became a god, gain the full knowledge of all things? The Mormon prophets have actually castigated one another, each calling the opposite view dangerous and false. In this respect, Christians agree with both sides, because either way, this doctrine is dangerous and false!

The Mormon church will pull out Bible verses, especially 2 Peter 1:3-4 to support this idea, claiming that even the Bible teaches that humans can become gods. But that verse, when taken in context and in light of the entire narrative of Scripture, is talking about how we participate together in our relationship with God. It’s called divinization or theosis, and it’s not the same as the Mormon teaching that we become gods, real divine beings. 

For Mormons, the range from humans to angels to God is a matter of degree, with each falling at a different stage of glory along the same spectrum of existence. Mormons would assert that humans, angels, and gods are all the same beings, but with different degrees of glory. No monotheistic religions—not Islam, not Judaism, and certainly not Christianity—have ever taught this. Christian doctrine teaches that God is God, and He created angels, humans, and everything else. 

Thus, for Mormons, the entire distinction between who is Creator and who are creatures is erased. According to Mormon theology, each of us, prior to earthly conception, existed as a spirit child and literal sibling of Jesus. This teaching denies that Jesus is the creator that John 1:3 declares Him to be. So even though a Mormon might speak about God being eternal, their view of him is no more eternal than their view of you or me.

As you can imagine, this idea has serious implications on the doctrine of salvation, which is another significant deviation to be aware of.

Salvation by Works vs Salvation by Grace Through Faith

Growing up in the Mormon faith, I believed a little saying: “Try, try your best, and God will make up the rest.” There was no urgency; God sent a Savior, and you would be just fine as long as you were a relatively good person. But at the same time, the book of Mormon seemed to teach mission impossible; you’ve got to reach perfection in this lifetime, or else. So I struggled as a young boy. 

I was taught that baptism in the Mormon church creates a blank slate. I asked, “Well, what if I sin after this?” The understanding was that I’d get marks on my slate again. That worried me greatly! I knew that no unclean thing could enter celestial glory with Heavenly Father, so I figured I would beat the system by waiting until I was 88 years old, rather than 8—the traditional age—to get baptized. 

But then I lived in fear for the next year, haunted by thoughts like what if I got hit by a semi-truck having failed to do what I knew I should have done? So I capitulated and got baptized. All that to say, Mormonism teaches a works-based salvation—grace plus works. I was never told just how many works.

In fact, it reminds me a little of Catholicism right before the Reformation. Martin Luther would go to his confessor, von Staupitz, at all hours of the night with his sin. He did so reasoning that to get to heaven, I need to repent and confess, but to repent and confess, I need to remember my sin—if I wait, I might forget. This burden continued until he came to the realization that Scripture taught differently: “the righteous shall live by faith.

In Mormonism, it’s similar. Part of what’s required for salvation is faith, but part is also repentance. And once you get into understanding what repentance means to them—going to the point of no return without having the thought, urge, or desire to sin again, according to one of their prophets—you realize that you have to repent all the time!

However, just like in other discrepancies, a well-studied Mormon will try to assert that their view isn’t really any different. They will look to Wesleyans or Methodists—those who take an Arminian perspective and may believe that you can lose your salvation—to say that their view does align with orthodoxy, but it really doesn’t. Scripture makes it clear in Ephesians 2:8-10 that we are saved so that we can do good, not saved by the amount of good we do. Grace isn’t a safety net in case you fall short, it’s the solution to the fact that we all do.


If we consider just these essentials of our faith regarding who God is, who man is, and how man is saved, all of which find their answer in the person and work of Christ, we do well. And the only conclusion we can draw is that Mormonism isn’t a denomination of Christianity, but a complete diversion from Christianity.

Dr. Corey Miller is the President/CEO of Ratio Christi (2015-Present). While he grew up in Utah as a seventh-generation Mormon, he came to Christ in 1988. He has served on pastoral staff at four churches and has taught nearly 100 college courses in philosophy, theology, rhetoric, and comparative religions. He is also author or co-author of Leaving Mormonism: Why Four Scholars Changed their Minds (2017), Is Faith in God Reasonable? Debates in Philosophy, Science, and Rhetoric (2014), In Search of the Good Life: Through the Eyes of Aristotle, Maimonides, and Aquinas (2019), and Engaging with Mormons: Understanding their World, Sharing Good News (2020).

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 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 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 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


What Does It Mean to be Human? Dr. Kelly Kapic

Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Kapic on how to understand the limitations that come with being human.

Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Kelly Kapic serves as professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College. He is the author of several books, including The God Who Gives: How the Trinity Shapes the Christian Story (Zondervan Academic, 2018), Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering (IVP Academic, 2017), and You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News (Brazos Press, 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):

Do you ever feel like you just can't get it all done? Things are piling up, and no matter how much time you give them, it just won't all get done. Do you ever feel like you just don't measure up? Well, welcome to the club. We all feel like that. But why is that? Well the answer is that we're human. Being human means a lot of things. It means that we're made in God's image and we've been given dominion over creation. It means that we have enormous capacity and have great ambition to make this world better. But it also means that we're finite. God didn't create us to be infinite. He created us to be in dependence on him. Well here to help us understand what it means to be human, especially in our limitations, we have with us Dr. Kelly Kapic. Dr. Kapic is professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He has written books on a variety of theological topics, ranging from the theology of John Owen, to theological anthropology, to various issues in practical and pastoral theology. Some of his books include The God Who Gives: How the Trinity Shapes the Christian Story, and Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering. Most recently, he has written You're Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God's Design and Why That's Good News, which released back in January of 2022, and is the topic of our conversation today. Dr. Kapic, welcome to the podcast.


Kelly Kapic (01:35):

Oh, it's great to be with you. Thank you for having me.


Brian Arnold (01:37):

So we always ask our guests one big question, today that question is—what does it mean to be human? So let's just start off there. What makes a human, human? Especially in, you know, differentiating that between animals or the rest of creation?


Kelly Kapic (01:52):

Yeah, well obviously that's a huge question. For us, part of what I'm trying to explore as Christians is to understand—to be human is to be a creature. I think that makes us nervous. I mean, we could get into the theological idea that we're made in the image of God, which is absolutely vital to us. But part of what I'm trying to help us understand is—we were made to be human, and to be human as a human creature is not a problem. It's a benefit. And we could explore...I actually think to understand what it means to be human, we should look...we should spend less time comparing humans to animals, and more time comparing ourselves to Jesus, who is the image of God. We're made in his likeness. And so if you want to know what it means to be truly and fully human, we look to Christ. And that raises all kinds of interesting questions. But yeah, I'm interested in exploring—what does it mean that we're creatures? And to be a creature, even a human creature, is not inherently sinful. Sin is a later problem, but just being human isn't a problem. Does that make any sense?


Brian Arnold (03:02):

Absolutely, it does. And I'm looking forward to unpacking that. And I love even just setting our focus on Jesus as the ultimate human. He is what humanity is meant to be, right? In his even sinlessness. But I wonder how often people get some of the finitude issues confused with sinfulness issues, right? So we're created to be finite, but sin enters the world. So how do we understand all that in terms of—was Adam...did he have more capacity than we had, or is finitude more of an issue of the fall? How do you walk people through that?


Kelly Kapic (03:40):

Yeah. And that's great. And you know, the word finitude or finite is not a word we use a lot. So just to make sure people are tracking with us, it's just a fancy word for meaning creature, having limits—space, time, knowledge, power. And so, even though...Christians, we talk about having eternal life. Actually, we have a beginning, and we are always dependent on God. So we are...only God is infinite, and by definition, all of us are finite. And so finite's just a fancy word for creature. Let me just jump to really a pastoral implication of this, to help us understand what we're actually trying to get at. So many of your listeners will probably be like me, where, when I put my head on the pillow at night, I feel—not just tired, but I feel often a wave of guilt come over me.


Kelly Kapic (04:30):

And what's interesting is when I explore that, it's not always that it's because I'm reflecting on my day, and I think, "Oh, I was cruel to that person" or "I was greedy in that case" or know, sinful things. But what's interesting is often the wave of guilt, when I analyze it, it's actually, "Kelly, you didn't do enough—why didn't you get more done?" And that's fascinating, because I think it's an example of where, in my own heart and life, I have confused finitude and sin. And so I feel guilty all the time, but as a theologian, as I've explored it, I have felt guilty for actually just being a creature. And so in this book I'm trying to help myself and others work through the theology of it—to recognize God never intended us to do everything. And so we're living with...we have plenty of sin in our lives we need to deal with, but doing more is often not the problem.


Brian Arnold (05:26):

Well in this world, in this day and age, we're encouraged to do more and more and more. We are so measured by our output—you know, are you a high capacity person or a low capacity person? Are you the kind of person we want to hire and promote and place a lot of responsibilities on? And if you do, you have high worth. If you don't, somehow your worth is decreased. And that has crept its way into ministry. So you know, there's a lot of pastors who might be even listening. So how have you seen that, you know, come into the church? And what even word of encouragement would you give to pastors who feel that guilt, just simply because they're finite?


Kelly Kapic (06:07):

Yeah. Well, for a long time we've tried to make machines like people, and what's happened is—we've actually made people like machines. And Christians...we've even baptized this. And so, we have elevated efficiency and productivity as the greatest values. And that even creeps into the church. So you know, well-meaning business people will get in the church, and they'll realize how inefficient the church is. And they'll come in and they'll want to fix it. But here's one of the reasons why a lot of pastors listening feel constantly frustrated. You have a good plan for your week, you know how much you want to get done. You know—this is what you're going to do. And then Monday, Aunt Susie dies, and now you're dealing with a grieving family and a funeral. And then Monday afternoon, you're dealing with someone whose child is dealing with an addiction. And you haven't even gotten to Monday evening, and your entire week is shattered, right?


Kelly Kapic (07:03):

And I can help the pastor—as long as you don't love anybody, you can get everything done. And so what I want people to realize is God's value is not efficiency or productivity. It's love. But that then means we need to reevaluate our lives, our values, and some of those things. There's a lot more to say on that, but I would just say to pastors—part of the reason why those of us in ministry feel guilty all the time, is because we have baptized time is money. We commodify it, and that actually isn't a path that tends to make space for love. Love happens in the margin. And we try and max out our lives, and so there's no margin. And so to help and serve people actually makes us angry. So you have a lot of ministers and Christians who are smiling, but deep down they are enraged. And these are all larger conversations.


Brian Arnold (08:03):

It is. But I want to press in a little bit more there. I was telling my wife even recently—somebody's got to do some more work on why pastors are so angry. I see it, I talked to...I was having some conversations recently with guys whose dad was a pastor. And they said, you know, "I know my dad loves the Lord, and you know, he was never sinning against us majorly, but he was just an angry guy." And then they started seeing that in their own life. And the busier I become, I see that more in my own life. And I think it would surprise a lot of people to realize how much their pastor, or somebody leading in ministry, is dealing with anger behind a facade of the slapped-on smile, like you said. So let's pierce a little bit deeper into that issue. Because I think it's under-talked about in the churches today.


Kelly Kapic (08:58):

Yeah. Because part of what's going on are expectations. Expectations from the church, but to be honest, I often find that pastors themselves, know, those in ministry, those in nonprofit ministry and leadership, very few have as unrealistic expectations of those leaders as they have of themselves.


Brian Arnold (09:18):

It's self-imposed, absolutely.


Kelly Kapic (09:20):

Yeah. And what's interesting is if I ask—do you think God expects...we don't tend to blame God, but when you...if you can slow down and ask, and sit with honest questions, the reason why we feel guilty, the reason why we feel angry, is actually we do think God expects all of it of us. He expects us to be everywhere, to do everything, to know every answer. And in our heart we know we don't, and can't, and so we're just angry. Because it's being given a task that's impossible, and yet to pretend like if we just tried harder, we could. So we need to have pastoral care for pastors. And this is's not a small problem. It's a major problem for us.


Brian Arnold (10:05):

It is. And I love how you know, we're talking about the self-imposition of it, and the weights that we put on ourselves. And it's really then a fear of failure. Like, I feel like anger comes out of—I'm going to fail at this. I can't be successful at this. And I want to succeed. I think a lot of people in pastoral ministry have been those who have succeeded in a lot of things in life, and they get accolades for that. And then feel like—if I'm not doing that, then I'm failing. And if I'm failing, ultimately I'm letting God down. You have this quote in your book, or this quotation, let me read it—"The Creator God is not embarrassed by the limitations of our bodies and his material world, but fully approves of them, in and through the Son's incarnation. Only when we appreciate this can we clearly see how our human limits should not be confused with sin, but rather seen as a positive aspect of our humanity." So there's something actually glorious about our limitations. God is not embarrassed by those. And he's actually in this position of—when he sees us trying to act like we don't have those, he knows things are going to break for us.


Kelly Kapic (11:08):

Yeah. Yeah, it's huge. So do you mind if I take us in the direction of talking about humility for a second here?


Brian Arnold (11:15):



Kelly Kapic (11:15):

Because that' part of the argument I make in the book, it's framed around different questions, and one of the questions is—have we misunderstood humility? And I think we have in some pretty profound ways, historically and even in the contemporary church. So if you ask a Christian—why should we be humble? Our immediate answer is—well because we're sinners. And I'm a theologian, I think we are sinners. We need to repent of sin. And our sin should foster in us a humility. But actually, if you build the foundation of humility on sin, that then distorts the whole structure. Which is why people think...we know we should be humble, but then we try and achieve it by just thinking worse and worse of ourselves. Right? But if—and I'm gonna circle back to your actual question—if you build humility, not on the doctrine of sin, but on the doctrine of a good creation, then everything changes.


Kelly Kapic (12:11):

So here's the question—even if there were no sin or fall, should we, as human creatures, be humble? Right? And the answer is yes. Because even before sin and fall we were, by our design, dependent upon God, dependent upon our neighbor or others, dependent upon the earth. And in those dependencies—that's all part of the good of God's creation. Think about how the word dependence, even me, it strikes us as such a bad word in our culture. And I know that there are problems, like inappropriate dependencies. But the good of creation is these kind of dependencies...sin doesn't make us dependent, sin twists those dependencies. So all of that to say, learning to say, not just "I'm sorry," but "I don't know," or "Can you help me?" Those are humble questions that are not...they're not at even admitting sin. They're just part of the good. And then we get to celebrate other people, rather than compete with other people. So that's a lot, but a way to start to think through some of those.


Brian Arnold (13:22):

Well, and even kind of bringing some of those themes together is the idea of sleep. I mean, the fact that we were created...I'm imagining that Adam was sleeping his eight hours a night before the fall. And, I like to imagine, unmolested by mosquitoes, out in the Garden of Eden, enjoying some really deep rest. And God tells us he doesn't sleep. So like—he's the one who can be awake and handle those things. But even the fact that we need sleep should remind us of our humility, should remind us of our finitude, should remind us that we can't do it all. That God is the one who's still at work, even when we can't.


Kelly Kapic (14:02):

Yeah, no. And it was fun to kind of...there's a section on a theology of sleep, and realizing, exactly as you said—the fact that God doesn't sleep is why we can sleep. Right? But when you're in war, if there's no one to watch your back, you can't go to sleep. But we can sleep, because God never does. Right? And just kind of thinking through that. And even a one-in-seven day of rest, these kind of biblical experiences that much of the church, and definitely the world, has forgotten is one of the reasons why we're all exhausted. And it's really hurting us.


Brian Arnold (14:38):

Exhausted, and then what we said before—exhaustion, and the feeling that you can't get it all done, leads to anger. And we see plenty of that in our world today. I wonder how much of those are just connected. And if we were a people who, again, in humility, put more on the Lord than on ourselves, we would...


Kelly Kapic (14:55):

Yeah. Just one thought on that. So for example, you know, when we start to think about our lives—and we can all feel how stressed out we are and how much—it's often then that we say, "Well, look at how much Netflix people watch," and "Look at how much time they spend scrolling on their phone, on Facebook or Twitter," or whatever. All of those things are true, but where I've come to is I no longer...we tend to blame those things. And I now think they're a symptom of a much deeper malady. In other words, I don't think we have a time management problem. I think we have a theological problem. I don't think we actually know what...not just what good work looks like, but what good rest looks like, what pace looks like. And part of that's just because we'd have to talk about time, and you know, what is time, and how we have started to think about time, and how it's really not just smartphones, it's the fact of electricity, and at 11:30 at night you can turn on your computer and start working for an hour. And we act like that hour is the same as your body at nine in the morning. And there's all kinds of factors that it's not the same, but we have decontextualized time, and it's really affecting our bodies, our relationships, all kinds of things.


Brian Arnold (16:11):

It's a complex of issues. And we're kind of in the middle of lots of different attacks on that, that is complicating everything. And I know I feel that, you know? Like when Scripture it's pretty clear that we have a Sabbath rest. Like God knew that we would have a tendency to want to overwork ourselves. But he wanted, you know...Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. And you know, so many people—and myself included. I mean, I am...this is a really helpful conversation for my own heart and soul of thinking how much space I give to work and things that just have to get done. And the list just keeps getting longer. And what you feel like you can accomplish gets less. And so you rest less. And then you're in this cycle of constantly trying to do more.


Brian Arnold (16:54):

You know, one of the areas you even take that in your book, is in terms of identity, right? That we can find our identity wrapped up in who we are, what we accomplish, the what you do of life, right? When you first...women this is true of too, but I feel like it's especially true of men, of asking that question—what do you do? And that becoming the totality of our existence. And we want to justify that by then how much we get done, to demonstrate how much worth we have. So how have you seen identity come into the question of finitude in our day?


Kelly Kapic (17:28):

Yeah. I think there's a lot of confusion on identity, both...coming in different directions, the right and the left. I hate using those terms. But it comes in different ways from both sides. So, for example, people don't even tend to realize how contemporary it is that when you say, "Who am I?" or "Who are you?" we try and answer that question by simply looking inside of ourselves for an answer, right? Through a psychological evaluation. We say, "Oh, here is who I am." Whereas for much of the history of the world, and through much of the globe today, if you ask someone who you are, who are they, they will tell you about their tribe, their land, you know, their family, their DNA in that sense, or even their vocation, what they do. And it's interesting—biblically, there's something about both the external factors and the internal factors that help us understand who we are.


Kelly Kapic (18:24):

And so I think identity is pretty complex. And so, in Christian circles, we rightly tell people to have their identity in Christ. And I absolutely think that's true. But here's a bit of a problem on the right side (the other one is on the left), is we tell people—have your identity in Christ. Absolutely true, because that relativizes all other identities. But the reality is—the fact that I am from this family, and this land, and have this history, and this biology, that's not insignificant. It's part of my identity. And to be a Christian doesn't mean none of those things matter. It just means none of them have ultimacy. So we can honor people's particularity without letting any of it have an undue power or destructive force, right? So I do think identity is partly related to what we do and everything, but it's ultimately in Christ. But we can value and honor one another's differences, even as we're united in Christ.


Brian Arnold (19:25):

That's fascinating. I might have to have you back on someday to talk more about that. Because I think that gets into a lot of the complex issues even of our day, and how those things are being teased out, like you said...and left and the right, and from all over. Let me ask you a kind of a question on the other side. So, you know, I'm a seminary president, and I served as a pastor, and wanted to see our church, you know, really impact the community, and grow, and see people get saved. And so I don't really struggle with being driven or having ambition. And so I'm tempered by what you're saying on the side of—I need to recognize my finitude more, and rely more on God. But could it be a license for some people to excuse laziness? So how does drivenness and ambition kind of fit into your thinking of this book?


Kelly Kapic (20:14):

Yeah. And, I's interesting, I do get versions of that question. I think it's a legitimate question in the sense of, you know, are we just telling people to be lazy? But the answer is no—to be human is...part of it is actually, work is a good thing, using work, when I say the word work in our culture, we instantly think paid. That's not what I'm talking about. Right? But the use of the good gifts God has given us, paid or unpaid, is all reputable. But the short answer to a longer conversation would be, I think, whether you struggle know, probably you and I struggle more on the end of overworking, and then you have some people struggling on sloth, is part of what I would argue—and do argue in the book—that we need communities.


Kelly Kapic (21:00):

See the problem is we're not the best judges of these things. So we do need spouses. We need friends, we need the church. We need others to help us navigate our lives, because we do tend to go to various extremes. And sometimes the appropriate pastoral word is—you have gifts that you're not using, you're neglecting, and you need to get busy. Right? And to others it is—you think you matter too much. And so I think that doesn't tend to be something we're very well equipped to answer on our own. We tend to need others, and that gets hard, because we need to trust others. But that's...part of the book is to try and help, not just individuals, but communities try and figure out—how do we live in a countercultural way that actually can be a light to the world? And the final thing I'll just say is, an Eastern Orthodox theologian I read not too long ago said—the problem in our day with the secular world is not just that people have forgotten that God exists, or something like that, he said—people have forgotten what it means to be human. And I think he's right. And I think part of the church's witness to the world is to present a humane way of living. And in that, we can start to point them to God again.


Brian Arnold (22:23):

Well, I think this is one of the more important books of our day. I see a huge need for this—in my own life, and I just...I talk to a lot of pastors, and I see how they are running themselves ragged, and not really leaning into remembering their finitude. One of the things that really impressed me with your book is just how many sources you're pulling on. What would you recommend to our readers, in addition to your book, that really helped you think through these issues?


Kelly Kapic (22:56):

Oh, goodness. That's a great question. Dead people. People from different times and different cultures are definitely the way to go on this. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is absolutely brilliant on some of this stuff in his book Creation and Fall, for example. Augustine has had a massive influence on me. And in the book, they'll see like Aquinas and Calvin, but Bonhoeffer is very readable. And Augustine's great. But yeah, those would be some places that I think of immediately.


Brian Arnold (23:28):

Well, as a church historian, I like it when people say "read dead people." Because, you know, it's like C.S. Lewis' famous thing—it's “the clean sea breeze that blows through our minds.” And they've kind of run their race, so they're not really going to disappoint us at this point in who they are. But Kelly, really, thank you so much for your book. I really encourage people to read it, and to take their time thinking through it, meditating on it. Because I think it can be transformative for our lives. It's definitely the right word in this moment, for where we're at—especially in American Christianity. Again, it's You're Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God's Design and Why That's Good News. Kelly, thanks for the conversation today.


Kelly Kapic (24:11):

Oh, it's been great. 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

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 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 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