Mikel Del Rosario Podcast Image

Mikel Del Rosario

Mikel Del Rosario is a PhD student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Cultural Engagement Manager at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel manages the Table Podcast and helps Christians defend the faith with confidence, courage, and compassion through his apologetics speaking ministry. He holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.
Recent episodes featuring Mikel Del Rosario
Why Do People Leave the Church?
Mikel Del Rosario Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager here at the Hendricks Center, and our topic today is “Why People Leave the Church.” And we’re going to be talking with a deconversion expert. My guest today coming to us via Skype from sunshiny Southern California is John Marriott. John, good to have you on the show. John Marriott Thank you, it’s great to be here; I appreciate the opportunity. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah, John is the Director of Global Leadership and Partnership at Biola there at The Cook School, my alma mater. So, good to see you and have you on the show. I want to talk about this whole idea of deconversion. You’ve been called a deconversion expert. First of all, what is deconversion, and then how did you get interested studying that? John Marriott Yes, it’s a little bit ominous to be known as a “deconversion expert,” but I guess I’ll take the title. I got interested because I was starting to work on a Ph.D. here at Biola in intercultural studies, and I was looking at something to do with Buddhism. And I realized it was a challenge because it was almost an entire new language that I needed to learn, a whole way of looking at the world that I needed to educate myself in. I had a conversation one night with a professor, and I was just sharing with him about a blog I’d run across, and it was about people who had left their faith. And I was amazed at how many people had posted their narratives online about how they were once Christians and now they no longer were. And she said that that would make an incredible research project. And I said, “Do you think that’s something that I could do for my dissertation?” And she said, “I think that that would be great.” And so I started to look into it and became more intrigued, and that’s eventually how I came to write my dissertation and then continued doing more research in that area. Mikel Del Rosario Hmm. Did you have any personal experience with that? Like was there a Christian that you knew who had deconverted? John Marriott I did, and it was – it made a real impact on me. It was – in 1996, I was competing for an NCAA Division I Track and Field Program, and we had gone to Florida State to compete in the Florida State relays. And I was doing the triple jump, which was my event, but I was having a really difficult time. I was not meeting the expectations for myself or the university, and I was feeling really dejected. And one day, one of my teammates came and said, “You’ll never guess who’s here.” And it turned out that Jonathan Edwards, the world record holder in the triple jump, who’s from Great Britain, was at Florida State training. And Jonathan Edwards was a hero of mine because he was the contemporary Eric Liddell. He had missed competing in the Olympics and in the World Championships because of his conviction that he didn’t want to compete on Sunday. A year earlier, he had broken the world records three times, and yet the British press thought that he was more impressive for his Christian testimony and the character of his life because they couldn’t find any skeletons in his closet. And I was so impressed with him, and he did my event, he would have been the one person that, if I could have talked to anybody in my struggle, it would have been him. And then, providentially, here he is at the same track meet that I’m going to be at. And I went up and introduced myself. He invited me out for lunch, and he told me about how he wanted to go to Dallas Theological Seminary when he was done competing because he wanted to study Israelology. He wanted to do a systematic study on the nation of Israel. Several years later, I was on the Internet, and I was looking up Jonathan Edwards and wanted to know where he was now and what he was doing after he retired and came across an article that said that he was now an atheist. And that really rocked my world. That was probably in the background of also why I decided that this would be something to study. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. Well, you wrote your dissertation on the topic, and then you came out with a book called A Recipe for Disaster, which I have right here, and the subtitle is Four Ways Churches and Parents Prepare Individuals to Lose Their Faith, and How They Can Instill a Faith That Endures. Be a little bit more specific about what you mean by “those who lose their faith.” How would you define that? John Marriott Yeah, that’s a really good question, and I appreciate you asking it. So, in the book, I say that I’m coming at this from a more sociological perspective; I’m not coming at it from a theological perspective because there are two sides, of course, as listeners will know, to the issue. Some people believe that a born-again believer in the family of God can lose their salvation or can apostasize, can reject what they once believed and walk away, and go from being born again to someone who is a reprobate. There are others who will say that this is impossible, and that if you are truly born again, you will persevere to the end. I don’t take a position on that in the book. What I do in the book is I interview people who once identified as Christians and had a clear Christian testimony, that were very committed to their faith, that were positions of leadership—some were pastors, some were missionaries—and they came to the place where they no longer believed; they lost their faith. They felt that they couldn’t continue with intellectual integrity to affirm something that they no longer believed, and they walked away. And I think it’s important to say that regardless of whether these were folks who were once saved and lost their faith, or these are people who were never saved to begin with, the issues that I raise in the book are issues that I think that people of both theological persuasions need to hear. Because even if you can’t lose your faith, these kinds of issues are—that set people up for a crisis of faith—inflict all kinds of people, even if it’s not possible for one to lose their faith. And so, regardless of where one comes down on the issue, I think that the four ways that I lay out in the book are valuable for both sides there. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. So, in your study, how large of an issue is this in America. We hear statistics like, you know, 50 percent of Christian kids who leave the church—you know, who go to college—will walk away. And what are the stats that you’ve actually uncovered that are substantiated? John Marriott Yeah, it’s always hard to know exactly because the stats are never the same, and there’s lots of people who are reporting on this, from the Southern Baptists, to the Assemblies of God, LifeWay, UCLA, Fuller. All of them have different numbers, but they’re all pointing in the same direction. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention, a number of years ago, said that between 70 and 88 percent of their young people will leave the faith and not return. The Southern Baptist Council has said that 88 percent of their young people, by the time they’re 18, leave the church. Barna has reported that 61 percent of young adults who are now disengaged from the church once were very committed as teenagers. The Assemblies of God say that 67 percent of their young people who attend a public university leave their faith after four years. The Fuller Youth Project says that’s between 40 and 50 percent of young people who leave high school and go on to college struggle to retain their faith. LifeWay says that 70 percent of young people leave their faith after college and only 35 percent of those return. And UCLA did a nationwide study several years ago asking freshmen what they identified as their religious identification, and of those who checked “born again,” by the time they left university four years later, 59 percent of them did not check “born again” at the end of their university experience. And so, it’s always difficult to know what the difference is between someone who says, “I was a Christian and I’m no longer a Christian,” or, “I’m just leaving the church.” But all of the studies point in the same direction, that this is becoming a significant problem. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. So, of course, God knows people’s hearts; we don’t know people’s hearts. And so, you’re looking at this from a sociological perspective of people who were active in church, people who had a Christian testimony—as far as human beings can tell—who now no longer identify as Christian. Now, for those who have moved out of the church, have left the church, now identify as not Christian, are most of them atheists? Agnostics? Are there other worldviews or religions that they gravitate towards? John Marriott Yeah, it’s hard to tell. Certainly we see an increase in those who would identify as “nones”—the N-O-N-E kind of none—that say, “I no longer have any religious perspective.” Now, in that group, there can be people who are agnostic and who say that, “There might be a God, but I just don’t really know.” Then there would be others who would say, “I definitely don’t believe in the existence of God,” and still others who would say, “I don’t possess that belief that God exists.” And so, there’s kind of a wide range of folks in the category of “none,” but that category is definitely growing as we become a part of post-Christian secular culture. So, I don’t see an increase in other world religions amongst those who are leaving Christianity. They typically leave and say, “I just don’t think that there’s anything—that there’s really anything here. So, I don’t identify as any kind of religious person.” Mikel Del Rosario Hmm, that’s interesting. I talked to an ex-Jehovah’s Witness recently who says this is a growing problem amongst people who are leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses as well because they are taught that all the churches on earth are false except for the Watchtower. When they find out the Watchtower is false, then they say, “Well, I guess I’m going to be an atheist now; I’m going to be an agnostic ’cause there’s no sense checking out other churches ’cause they’re all false.” So, yeah, this is a problem that I’ve found as well, even amongst groups like that, like Jehovah’s Witnesses. People who deconvert from that don’t look at other religions. They just go to atheism or agnosticism. Now, on the cover of your book, there’s a wooden spoon, and it’s very interesting that you have a wooden spoon on the front of your book, and it’s called A Recipe for Disaster. You use this cooking metaphor in the book, which I thought was really unique. Explain to us a little bit about what that – what you mean by that. What is the recipe for disaster? John Marriott Yeah, the recipe for disaster is my attempt to try and give a holistic approach and understanding to the loss of faith. And many times people will say, “Oh, you are interested in why people leave their faith. What’s the reason why people leave their faith?” And I don’t think that it’s that simple. It’s not so easy as to say that there’s just one reason or a predominant reason. I think that there are – just like in a recipe, there are ingredients, there’s a preparation, and there’s a cooking environment. I think there’s something similar going on in loss of faith, that there are certain ingredients – and those would be the personality traits, the values, the psychological make-up that people bring to the deconversion process. There is a preparation in the same way that we take ingredients to bake a cake and we prepare them a certain way. People are prepared and socialized into their religious background or into their Christian world. And then there’s a cooking environment where you take all of those ingredients that have been prepared a certain way, and you put them into an oven or a microwave or a deep fryer, and at the end you should get a product like a cake or something like that. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. John Marriott And our culture is the cooking environment. So, when you take an individual who checks off enough boxes on what I would call a deconversion profile, and you prepare them in a particular kind of way that I would identify as a poor preparation methodology, and then you send them out into our world that is becoming more secular and much more difficult, I think, to maintain a robust Christian faith in, that would be the recipe for disaster. And in the book, I say, “You can’t control much of the ingredients – the personality traits and the temperament of someone; you can’t do much about the culture that we live in; but we really can do a better job, I think, of preparing people well to live in the culture that we find ourselves in. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. Yeah, it’s interesting, the cooking metaphor. Now for those who are watching the video, you have a shirt that says “Cook” on it. That’s The Cook School of Intercultural Studies. It has nothing at all to do with cooking. John Marriott Correct. Mikel Del Rosario [Laughs] That’s from Dr. Clyde Cook, is that correct? John Marriott Correct. Mikel Del Rosario Who was the president of Biola at one point in time. And his son, actually, Dr. Craig Cook, was my Bible teacher at Faith Academy in the Philippines where I grew up, and that’s one way I learned about the school. And no relationship to the – but do you like to cook yourself? John Marriott No, I am not a good cook at all. Mikel Del Rosario [Laughs] So, when you think about all the ingredients, you’d say there’s a kind of profile that certainly doesn’t guarantee that somebody’s going to walk away, but in your study, you’ve seen these kinds of traits are prevalent amongst those who do. What are some of those traits? John Marriott In the literature – and I’m talking about, like, the academic literature – you’ll find lots of articles in the last five or six years that identify the kind of personality traits that seem to be predominant among those people who leave religious traditions. And I appreciate how you phrased it – is that there’s never a guarantee that just because someone has these sets of characteristics that they will leave. But there is a statistical predominance, or there’s a statistical likelihood, that says if you have these in a robust number, then yeah, you are more likely to really wrestle with your faith and to maybe struggle with it and then walk away. And so, one of them would be “open to experience.” And this is one of the big five personality types that psychologists say that you’re particularly born with and almost lasts throughout your entire life. And a person who’s open to experience would be someone who’s interested in learning about new things, who wants to hear the other side of an argument. Who, if there is someone from a different worldview or religion giving a talk down at the Student Union, they’re interested in going to hear about it. Skydiving? Let’s go give it a try. Right? So, anything that’s new and that they can have a new experience from or learn something from, people who are open to experience and score high in that are also people who tend to lean towards deconverting. Others would be having a “low tolerance for an authoritarian style of leadership,” being told what you need to do, being told how you have to think – particularly if that is inclined to be more on the right side of the spectrum of political beliefs and a right-wing kind of authoritarian leadership style. There would be a “high sense of self-determination” that many of these folks have. There’s a professor in Hong Kong named Harry Hui who has come out with a study looking at a number of several hundred Chinese converts who came to know the Lord, who lived as Christians for a while and then left the faith. And he followed these folks as a cohort, about 600 of them, and he surveyed them before they ever became Christians. So, out of the 600 he surveyed, he followed those who became Christians all the way through until they ended up no longer identifying as Christians. And one of the things that many of them had in common was that they had a high sense of self-determination, which meant that they needed to be in control, that they needed to be the captain of their own ship, that they didn’t want anyone else telling them how to live. And that’s fascinating to me because it seems like that was a character trait they had before they became Christians, while they were Christians, and when they left the faith. “University educated” is another one – people who have at least one year of university education, scoring lower in benevolence and the care and concern for others, and then being particularly analytical and being maybe a little bit above average in intelligence and looking at things from a more analytical perspective. All of those character traits are ones that people who have left the faith seem to score high in to varying degrees. Mikel Del Rosario Hmm. And then you talk about the environment when you have that kind of a person in an environment where you talk about being “over-prepared.” Explain what you mean by that, how the church can sometimes over-prepare people for engagement with the broader culture. John Marriott “Over-preparation” is a term that I use for really well-meaning and sincere folks who misunderstand and mistake their particular view or take or version of Christianity for Christianity itself, and then say that to be a real or genuine Christian, you must accept and affirm all of this or nothing at all. It’s kind of an ultimatum, and if you don’t accept all of it, then you’re really not being a true follower of Jesus, because a true follower of Jesus believes the Bible, and this is what the Bible teaches. And it is this massive raft of beliefs where secondary and tertiary beliefs get elevated to the primary. And what ends up happening is – and I think that you’ve identified this even with your Jehovah’s Witness friend that has left their faith – is that folks don’t often think that maybe there are other perspectives out there that they can go to if they don’t find this perspective of Christianity to be one that they can buy into. Now, I think that we always need to set the Bible up as our ultimate and final criterion for truth, but what happens in being over-prepared is, when doctrines get elevated to the essential level, it’s like a house of cards, and if you pull out one of those cards, the whole house will collapse. And some of those doctrines that people are told to believe, and that if they’re going to be true Christians that they have to affirm, are ones that really challenging and practices that are very narrow. And well-meaning, well-intentioned parents and church leaders, passing on their faith, often pass on way more than what is the essentials of Christianity and make it something that becomes a burden for them to bear. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. So, confusing the secondary and tertiary things with the essential things, or elevating those things, or confusing an interpretation of the text with the text itself then leads people to say, “Well, hey, if I was raised a young earth creationist, and I’ve come to believe that that’s no longer a viable belief and I believe something else, well, I guess all Christianity’s false then. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, and there is no God.” So, is that kind of what you’re saying? John Marriott Yeah, absolutely. That is the primary example that I hear from people. Now, I think that young earth creationism is an eminently justifiable biblical position. And so I’m not saying anything about that. But what I would say would be, when you make that a fundamental, essential element of the faith that must be true, because if it’s not, then it becomes the one Jenga block that’s holding up the rest of the tower – and I’ve heard this statement made by good folks in the young earth creationist movement that says, “If Genesis is not a literal 6-day, 24-hour creation period, then it is the foundation for the rest of the Bible, and if that foundation is gone, then the rest of the Bible also goes with it.” And so, all that needs to happen is for folks to get to the place where they say, “I just don’t think that that’s true anymore, and if it’s not true, then the rest of the Bible can’t be true either, and so what am I left with? I’m left with either I have no intellectual integrity, and I keep trying to affirm something that I don’t believe in anymore, or I have to have intellectual integrity and say, “I just don’t – I can’t believe it anymore.” So, they don’t realize that there are other interpretations or other ways that they might understand the text that are broader, that are different, that are more flexible. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. So, when you say over-prepared, it’s kind of Christianity’s essentials plus something else. John Marriott Yes. Mikel Del Rosario And if that tertiary or secondary thing turns out to be something they’re not convinced of anymore, then they begin to question their faith and leave their faith. John Marriott Yes. Mikel Del Rosario What about the idea of under-preparing people in the church? What did you mean by that? John Marriott I think under-preparing is when we fail to really understand the power and the impact that our culture has that we live in and the difference that exists between it and the world of the Bible. There seems to be almost a sense of vertigo, amongst many people who left the faith, in trying to reconcile their understanding of the text of the Bible with the contemporary world. The Bible is a book that’s enchanted. It has all kinds of what we would consider – many people would consider today mythical kinds of creatures, where there’s talk of Leviathan, there are talking snakes, there’s Samson killing a thousand people with the jawbone of a donkey. There’s all these fantastic stories, and yet we live in a world that is completely disenchanted. We don’t live in a world where we appeal to God for why a drought happens, or we don’t look for – necessarily, for miracles in our world. We look to the scientific, to the technological. And in almost every area of our life, we are continually growing in every academic discipline that we study. So, you’re starting kindergarten and learning what the numbers are, and then by the time you’re done with your education at university, if you’re good enough, you could do enough math to send a rocket into space and bring it back. Same thing with physics, and the same thing with history, the same thing with all the other disciplines. But unfortunately, when it comes to the Bible, almost all of our understanding gets left at an elementary school kind of a level, and it’s very difficult to reconcile on Sunday hearing about Adam and Eve and naked people and a talking snake in a garden and then going off to UCLA on Monday and talking about mapping the human genome and how we’re going to make cell phone technology even faster as we beam our voice invisibly out into space and bring it back. How do we bring these two worlds together in a way that it doesn’t seem like there is a massive disconnect? Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. And so, there’s genre issues, there’s worldview issues that people have to wrestle with, and sometimes we’re not preparing them for that. Is that what you’re saying? John Marriott Yes. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. Okay, then you also talk about people who are ill-prepared and how we’re ill-preparing people. What’s the difference there? John Marriott The difference would be, ill-prepared is when people have – and I use the phrase in the book – that they’re kind of “half-baked,” and a half-baked individual is one who has half the truth, but maybe not all of the truth. They’ve been given some information that’s correct, but not all of the information, and it’s not a well-formed biblical conception that they have. And that leads to a set of expectations and assumptions that often are unfulfilled. An example would be the concept that many believers would have of who God is. And they would know that God is loving, and that they would know that God is good and that God is kind. And yet He allows very difficult things to come into their life. And when they have lived for Him, and they have tried to serve Him, and they’ve given their life for Him, and then they say, “Well, wait a minute. Why is this happening to me? Why is my child getting sick?” or, “Why am I going through this financial problem where I am losing my home?” They say, “This is not what I expected; this is not really the God that I was serving. Is this what I can expect from God?” And the crisis of faith comes because there’s a set of assumptions and expectations they have that God doesn’t fulfill because the concept that they have of Him has not been rounded out and fleshed out in a robustly biblical way. Mikel Del Rosario Hmm, hmm. And so, maybe even reading difficult parts of the Bible that weren’t covered in Sunday school or from the pulpit give people a little bit of a worldview shock, saying, “Well, I thought God was all loving. How could He be angry in this passage? How could He wipe out these people?” How much of the problem of evil would you say and suffering like you were mentioning, how much of that really plays into the deconversion story of a lot of people that you’ve talked to? John Marriott It plays in in two ways. One is intellectual, and the intellectual problem of evil I think primarily is now focused on the problem of God in the Old Testament. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. John Marriott I think that we see [break in audio] of people like Pete Enns, and Greg Boyd, and others, the evangelical world has recognized that the outside world has exposed many in the church to these terror texts and some of the darker passages of the Old Testament that, in the past, we’ve either maybe ignored or skipped over or just have said, “Well, we’re not really sure how to deal with this, but we just trust God,” where I think people like Dawkins and Hitchens and Sam Harris have really brought that to the fore. And now young people especially are saying, “I didn’t realize that this was in there. I didn’t realize that Jephthah offered his daughter up as a sacrifice and God didn’t stop it, and that God annihilated the Canaanites, and unfortunately the word genocide gets misapplied to that passage quite often. And so, there’s this intellectual problem with the problem of evil because they see it as almost, it can’t ever be justified. So, we have to figure out a way around that intellectually for the problem of evil, some people will say. The emotional problem of evil is the one where – it is maybe a bit more common – is that, yeah, like why would you believe in a good God and a loving God when you stop and think about all of the tragedy that happens in the world, especially when it comes home to you and it really impinges on your life, because if this is supposed to be the good God of the universe who deeply loves us, then why does He let these bad things happen? Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. You mentioned this idea of false reciprocity in this idea that, “Well, I’ve been living for God, and why is this happening to me?” We see that in Job, for example; we see that even with Paul’s life. And yet a lot of believers sometimes struggle with that. You know, when it’s your own personal self vs. reading it in the Bible, or even if you have read those passages and understand, when it’s your own personal self, that’s an emotional problem that sometimes makes people question their faith and walk away. What would you say, then, churches can do to help people better be prepared for those kinds of existential crises? John Marriott Well, one way I think is that we need to do a better job of setting expectations and by really pointing out that throughout the Bible you find God’s people – some of God’s all-stars like Jeremiah and the apostle Paul going through some really, really difficult experiences. Not just experiences at the hands of others, because I think that that’s one way we can say, “Hey, I at least feel like I’m suffering for righteousness’ sake,” or, “I’m being persecuted because I’m following Jesus.” But there are lots of things that happen in the life of the apostle Paul, where if I was him, I think that I would be very frustrated with God, because there are some things that you would think that God could have intervened in his life and spared him from that are outside of the will of agents who were opposed to him. So, for example, he says, “I spent three days and three nights in the deep.” If I was living for God the way the apostle Paul was, I would sort of expect that maybe he would get me out of sitting in the water for three days and three nights. And he tells Timothy to bring a cloak to him in prison because he’s cold. Right? These are just small things, but there are lots of inconveniences and hardships that God’s people go through that are in the text, and that Jesus even says, “I tell you these things in advance so that when they happen that your faith won’t fail,” John 16. I think that we need, especially as it becomes more difficult to live a full public Christian life in the United States, I think that it’s helpful to highlight those things, that God’s people are not immune to suffering and hardship, and that He does not always intervene, and that He does not necessarily owe us anything because we have been faithful to Him for X many years. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm, yeah. The Bible is very, very real when it comes to evil and suffering, and Jesus does say, “In this life you will have trouble.” Not the favorite Bible memory verse people like to crochet on their babies’ blankets, but the Bible is very, very real when it comes to that. Well, how – what would you say – I’m thinking about some of our viewers and listeners now – what would you say to a Christian parent who has a high schooler, who has maybe a first-year college student, who says, “Hey, we raised our child in the faith. They believe the Christian worldview is true, and they just don’t want to be Christian anymore; they just don’t want to be a part of the Christian life.” How do you counsel a parent to begin to engage their child that way? John Marriott Parents are the most influential people when it comes to retaining faith. That’s not disputed by anyone. A number of studies show that friends are important and have an influence, people in church have an influence, people outside of the faith have an influence, but the people who have the greatest influence on whether young people will retain their faith are parents. And so, I think that what I would say to somebody who is in that situation would be to be very patient and to listen really well, because often it is easy to assume that it’s an apologetic issue. And I am convinced that it is less an apologetic issue, and it is more of a cultural value issue. What I mean by that is, Jonathan Haidt has written a book. He is, by his own definition or his own self-description, is an agnostic Jew liberal. So, he says, “You know, I’m not a Christian; I’m not a theist,” and he teaches at NYU. And he has argued that when it comes to many of the disagreements that we have over religion and politics, that we tend to think that the arguments are going on at this level up here at sort of the cognitive level of the reason level. He says, no, they generally are anchored in some deep value, and it’s a value where you need to get down to and find out what it is that young people are finding so distasteful about the Christian worldview or the Christian life or living as a Christian. And that value is often the result of, and has been embedded in them by, the culture that we live in. I had a student ask me if he could talk to me once, after a talk I gave about Christmas, and I said, “Sure.” And I thought we were going to talk about Christmas or something like that. And he said, “Can I talk to you about homosexuality?” And I said, “Sure.” And he said, “So,” and he pointed to his head and he said, “up here I know that the Bible says it’s wrong, and I believe that it’s wrong.” Then he said, “But down here,” and he pointed to his stomach, he said, “I just don’t know how I can say that because I don’t feel that it’s wrong; I think that it’s intolerant, and I think that it’s unfair, and I think that it is suppressing people’s right to be who they are.” So, for him, the issue wasn’t what he intellectually thought; it was this value that he had embedded in him, and that has come directly from the culture that he’s a part of. I would encourage parents who are in a situation like this to really listen well, to try and engage, to not immediately jump to try and solve the problem and answer the questions, but to listen and to love and to pray and to continually model their faith well. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. How much does disappointment with God play into the deconversion stories that you’ve worked with in your study? John Marriott It’s hard to know. That’s a good question because if you listen to enough deconversion stories, and you listen long enough, and you hear people talk about their disappointment with God, you start to wonder whether or not they have actually become either atheists or agnostics, or they are just – and I mean this sensitively – throwing almost an adult temper tantrum, where they still believe in God, but they’re very angry with Him, and they’re not going to give Him what He wants, which is maybe worship or acknowledgement. And I think that disappointment with God plays a big role in that because they feel a sense of betrayal from God. They expected that He would provide them with a spouse, or that He would give them their job, or that because they had sacrificed and gone to the mission field for God and had given their life for Him, that God would give them the child that they always desired. And when God doesn’t do that, they feel like, “I’m kind of angry at You, and maybe You’re not really there.” Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Now would it be any different if you were talking to – there are a number of pastors who watch the show, who listen to the show – if you were talking to a pastor who was concerned about somebody on their staff, or even themselves working in the church, who are kind of wrestling with this and considering leaving the church, difficult as it is, because they just can’t believe anymore, what would you say to them? John Marriott Well, the first thing I would do is I would listen. I try and listen really well. The second thing I would do is I would sympathize with them because I don’t think it does anyone any good to put up a false front of exaggerated confidence. So, for example, while I am – I think that there is enough reasons for a hope worth acting on, I don’t have absolute certainty or 100 percent confidence that what I have committed my life to is true in some sort of – with some apodictic certainty. Right? I think that faith is being able to have enough reasons to act on and to continue to go forward in more of, in a trust kind of a manner. So, I would want to hear where they’re coming from, and I would be able to – I would want to empathize with them in that struggle. I would also say that it’s probably important to step back and maybe to evaluate and to ask some important questions like, “What are some of my assumptions? What are some of my expectations that I have, and are they reasonable?” Another question I would ask would be, “How much of the doubts and the questions that I have are a product of the culture that I live in and that may not necessarily be good objections or good doubts, but they seem that way because of the culture that I’m a part of?” And third, I would maybe hope that they would ask questions like, “Is there another way that I can still be a Christian?” An example that I am thinking of is a young man who grew up in a very charismatic environment, saw lots of what he came to believe were not genuine experiences of the Holy Spirit. It was very fundamentalist. He was told that he needed to be separate from the world, and there were many practices that he couldn’t engage in like dancing or imbibing in any alcohol. And he believed that that was Christianity; he didn’t know any different. He thought that this was what it meant to be a Christian until he came across a more Reformed perspective on Christianity, one that engaged his mind, one that said that perhaps he was right in some of his evaluations of the excesses in his movement, and one that said you need to engage the world from a Christian perspective, and that you do need to get out and be a contributor to culture, and that being worldly doesn’t look this way. That’s what really rescued him and saved his faith, was thinking about being a Christian otherwise. And so, I think that when I talk about being over-prepared, that’s one of the setbacks and problems of being over-prepared. People need to have the essentials grounded and then a faith that is flexible enough to be able to question some of those issues that maybe they just don’t think sit right with their understanding of the Bible. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. So, how is doing this study for you? How has this impacted the way that you now speak to student groups and do ministry? John Marriott It has helped me to clarify what’s important, and I think that there is a difference between essential and important. I think that I want to – I really want to communicate the essentials of the faith, but I don’t want to downplay that there are other important doctrines that aren’t necessarily essential. I do think that as Christians we need to honor the Lord by studying His Word and trying to understand what it does teach. But as I communicate to young people, what I try and communicate is, I want to make sure I’m communicating the essentials, and I want to give them accurate concepts of what it means to truly believe in Jesus. I spoke with a woman who has been a missionary on the mission field as a pastor. Her and her husband were in a church up in California – here up in California for years, probably 30 years. And I gave a talk about deconversion, and I mentioned that belief is not necessarily being a psychological state of mind where you’re certain about everything, but it’s a committed trust experience where you think that there is enough information to take that risk and step into the arms of Jesus and follow Him. And she came up afterwards in tears, and I was shocked. And she said, “I never understood that before. I always thought that belief was meaning you had to be certain of what you believed, and if I wasn’t certain, then I wasn’t really a good believer, and maybe I wasn’t a believer at all because I questioned some of these doctrines.” And so, I try and clarify that for people as well. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm, yeah, it’s interesting you say that because a lot of people think that doubt is the opposite of belief, when in fact, unbelief is the opposite of belief. And a lot of times, when people doubt, they’re kind of chewing on their faith; they’re kind of mulling it over, and arguably, some people do leave the faith. But arguably, that’s what helps some people get really serious about this faith. I know in my life and in college that’s what happened to me. It was just kind of mulling over, “Do I really believe this?” And I think a lot of Christian students have to go through that, where for the first time they’re out of their parents’ house. “Am I going to go to church today or not? I don’t have to, nobody’s making me.” Right? John Marriott Right. Mikel Del Rosario We all have to come to those points in our lives where we make our faith our own. Well, what’s the number one takeaway that you got from doing your study? John Marriott The number one takeaway was surprising, and it was that – it ended up being the title of my dissertation, and the title was “The Cost of Freedom.” Because after listening to and interviewing a lot of people who are professed former Christians and reading narratives online – and there are lots of narratives online, and I would encourage people, if they feel as though they can do so without it being too much of a stumbling block, to read some of those because it will help you get an idea of where people are often coming from. For some, it’s really clear. You’ll say, “I don’t think that this person really understood the gospel message.” For others, it’s not so clear; they were involved in full-time ministry for years. But the number one takeaway was that regardless of how difficult it was in losing their faith, in losing their community, in losing their identity and losing their metaphysical kind of map of reality, for almost every person that I interviewed, it was worth it, they said, because of the freedom that they found in shedding the Christian faith. Now that should tell you something about what often motivates deconversion. It’s a particular kind of Christian faith that doesn’t match up with the words of Jesus who says that, you know, “I’ve come that they might have life and life more abundantly,” and, “If the Son sets you free, you’ll be free indeed,” and that, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Somewhere along the way, they were told and they were indoctrinated or socialized into a version of Christianity that was burdensome, that weighed them down, and that became intolerable. And that is sometimes the result of an excess number of beliefs that they had to affirm, and sometimes it’s that combined with many practices that they either had to do or that they had to shun. And so, when someone says that they feel freer now than when they came to Christ, that’s a real red flag as to the kind of faith that they had bought into. Mikel Del Rosario Hmm. Well, can you tell us a story of not only deconversion but of someone who actually came back into the church after a period of wandering away? John Marriott Yes, I can, and I’m glad that you asked that because I’d rather end on a positive note than a depressing kind of a one. Darrin Rasberry is, for listeners, is someone that they should look up, because Darrin is a young man who was a believer and then left the faith – now again, when I say believer, I say he identified as a believer; I’m not sure whether or not he was truly born again, but he would have said that he was a committed believer – left the faith and then moved into not just a position of saying, “I’m a none,” or, “I’m an agnostic.” He was a very committed atheist. He was part of a group called “Debunking the Bible” online. John Loftus, who is also someone who identifies as a former Christian and is now a very strong antagonist towards Christianity, has written a number of books against the Christian faith and why people should leave the Christian faith, has a website called “Debunking the Bible.” And Darrin worked for him for years. I believe it was about 15 years that he was an online atheist apologist. But eventually he said that he came to the point where he could no longer, with integrity, deny some of the things that he was experiencing and coming across in his life – both academically/intellectually and emotionally and personally – and realized that maybe the story that makes the better sense of reality is not the one that he was living in now but the one that he had left behind. And he revisited his Christian faith, and he started thinking about it more from a – more from an academic/intellectual perspective and eventually came to the place where he said, “You know, I’m really pretty committed now to the idea that God exists, and I’m also pretty committed to the idea that He walked the earth in the person of Jesus.” Now, he will say, “I’m not sure what I think about things like inerrancy and who all the authors of the Bible are,” but he would now identify as a Christian and a genuine follower of Jesus once again. And he is one of a number of people who have left the faith and then have returned. And so, I want to encourage listeners who know someone who has left the faith, have a family member who has left the faith, that there is a difference between Judas and Peter. Peter denied Jesus three times and eventually he returns; Judas doesn’t. People are like books until the last chapter’s written, we really never know how they’re going to end. And so, I want to encourage our listeners that just because someone has moved away from their faith does not mean that that’s the end of the story. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah, yeah, that’s a great, great story. Thanks for sharing that. Yeah, for those of us who have – we have people in our lives who we’re praying for daily, I would say don’t give up, keep praying for them; God hasn’t given up on them, and God loves them more than we do. So, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us on the show and sharing with us, John. Thank you. John Marriott Oh, you’re very welcome. I appreciate it. And if anybody would like to get in touch with me, you can get in touch with me through my website which is www.johnmarriott.org, which is two Rs and two Ts, or www.losingmyfaith.org. And I’m happy to talk with people who are believers who are really wrestling with their faith and who are struggling and trying to maintain it; I resonate with that, and I can appreciate where they’re coming from. And for those who are trying to think well about how we disciple and socialize the next generation into the faith so that they have a faith that endures, I’m also happy to engage in conversations about that as well. Mikel Del Rosario All right. Well, thanks so much, John. And we thank you so much for joining us on The Table today. If you have a topic that you would like us to consider for a future episode, please e-mail us at thetable@dts.edu; that’s thetable@dts.edu. And we hope that you will stay with us, and we’ll see you next time here on The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. The post Why Do People Leave the Church? appeared first on DTS Voice.
Leading with Courage and Compassion – Classic
Mikel Del Rosario Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager at the Hendricks Center. And today our topic is leading with courage and compassion. I have two guests in the studio today. First guest is Dr. Darrell Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament at Dallas Seminary. Welcome, Darrell. Dr. Darrell Bock I’m glad to be here. Mikel Del Rosario Thanks for being one of our expert guests today. Dr. Darrell Bock I’m feeling odd in this chair, but I should be okay. Mikel Del Rosario And our second guest is Bill Hendricks, Executive Director of Leadership at the Hendricks Center. Thanks for being on the show. Bill Hendricks Thanks for having me. Mikel Del Rosario Well, Darrell, I want to just dive right into our discussion and you wrote an article recently about leading in a shifting culture, a rapidly shifting culture. Explain to us a little bit about this cultural shift that you’ve seen in your ministry. Dr. Darrell Bock Well, you can think about it in a variety of ways. Let me just give a couple of examples. Think about communication just for a second. I remember being very, very young in 1962. I was eight years old at the time. People can try and figure out how old that makes me now, but I won’t do the math. And when the Telstar satellite gave the first live broadcast between Europe and the United States, and it was such big news that they broke into the broadcast that they were in the midst of … I think I was watching a cartoon or something … and, lo and behold, we got to see the UK live. And then just think about how often that happens today, in a variety of ways. Not just on news channels, but I can call my neighbor from halfway across the world. We can FaceTime together, that kind of thing. So that’s one kind of change. And then there’s this … there are the social changes that, of course, we’ve seen in my own lifetime, as well. So we live in a time of rapid change, in which the leaders in the church are having to speak to people who are also having to cope with all these changes in one way or another. The world that our children are growing up in, or our grandchildren in my case, is very different than the world I grew up in. So how does the church prepare people for that? That actually is a challenge for leaders in the church. And so we exist, at the Hendricks Center, to help leaders negotiate through that, and to think through what those changes represent, and the kind of pressures that are faced as a result of some of those changes. Mikel Del Rosario You talked before about how, in this time, as we’re doing ministry, we find that more and more throughout the country the Bible isn’t the answer in the minds of many people, but rather it’s the question. And so it’s a different game from when, let’s say 19th century, 20th century America for most of the 20th century, where you could quote the Bible to someone as a pastor, and have them give a little bit of respect, maybe, to the text, because of their cultural heritage. How do you see the church having to respond to that kind of change? Dr. Darrell Bock Well, it responds in a couple of ways. One is that people better be equipped to explain what the Bible is, and why they believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. And the second is they need to be able to say I … there’s a line that I say when I speak about this … that we used to be able to say, “It’s true because it’s in the Bible.” And whether someone was a member of the church or not, there was enough Judeo-Christian net around our culture they’d say, “Well, that’s at least a respected religious source. That’s gonna help me think about how to live life.” And so they would accept it, whether they accepted everything about what the Bible was or not. Today, that’s no longer true. A lot of people have questions about the Bible. They have questions about what kind of work it is, that kind of thing. So now we have to argue that it’s in the Bible because it’s true. That’s a different kind of argumentation. The idea is, well, God has inspired this and said this is the way to live, because this is a helpful way to live on its own intrinsic merit. So how do you make that argument in that kind of a way, and how do you think about it? So, the church has to think about how the Bible addresses the authenticity of life, and what makes for a good way of living in human flourishing, and not simply put the imprimatur of the Bible on it, but understand the theological and human, and anthropological rationale for why God would say that’s a good way to live. Mikel Del Rosario We talk about that a lot, nowadays, in terms of cultural engagement at the Center. But Bill, let me ask you to take us back to the ’80s, when the Hendricks Center first began. Talk a little bit about your dad, and how Howard Hendricks began to focus on leadership, and what his focus was in that regard. Bill Hendricks Sure. And, as you mentioned, my dad is Howard Hendricks. He taught at Dallas Seminary for 60 years. He founded what was called the Department of Christian Education. And some of the themes that he was big on, I guess you’d say, in addition to education were leadership, and mentoring, discipleship, and Christian home was another classic area for him. And, of course, nobody got through seminary without having to take his Bible Study Methods course. That was pretty much a required course for all concerned. And he had a huge influence, and he’s now with the Lord. But in the mid ’80s, he used to say, “The greatest crisis in America is a crisis of leadership. And the greatest crisis of leadership is a crisis of character.” And with that kind of spirited mind, he founded and brought some others in to work with him on what became called the Howard G. Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership. And they began to really think through what does it take to lead people, not just in churches and in Christian institutions, but also out in society, in the marketplace and in workplaces, in the military, in government? Dad was very much about the practice of the word. He had done his thesis on the Book of James. And so a lifelong theme for him was, “Let’s not just be hearers of the word, let’s be doers of the word.” And he kept driving toward the practical. How does this apply to everyday life? And it really was the perfect setup for where things have gone today, because today, more than ever, we need to be asking the question, “How does our theology, how does our Bible, how does it work? In day-to-day life, what difference does this make?” And people are really seeking that answer, if they’re people of faith. Mikel Del Rosario Well, Darrell, in the article that you wrote, you mentioned four words, four concepts that begin with the letter C. So it’s … that thing’ll preach, right? Bill Hendricks It’s a very DTS view. Mikel Del Rosario Well, what we want do … Dr. Darrell Bock It’s against all my instincts. I just want to get that out on the table right now. Mikel Del Rosario Well, what we want to do with this … rest of our conversation is walk through these concepts. And conveniently they all begin with C, so they’re easy to remember. And the first one is comprehension. So, tell me. What do we need to understand as leaders ministering in these rapidly changing times? Dr. Darrell Bock Well, the challenge of what’s happened to the Center has been that we started off focusing on the leader, on his character. But it became clear, particularly with this cultural shift that we just talked about, with the shedding of the Judeo-Christian net, that having a leader with character in and of itself wasn’t gonna be enough. Now it’s important and foundational. You’re not gonna go anywhere without the issue of character. Bill Hendricks That hasn’t changed. Dr. Darrell Bock That has not changed. That’s … it’s central. But, the ability of the leader to comprehend Scripture and to comprehend society … that’s two S’s. The ability to understand Scripture and the culture around them both, to switch hit, to be able to move in either direction is really an important part of leadership. At the Center we talk about having biblical agility in shifting times. And it’s the ability to read and react. Now I may have to explain this to some people. Those who are footballipture fans know exactly what I’m talking about. When you hand the ball off to a runner and he’s in the sweep play, and they’re … the linemen are pulling out in front, the play is drawn to have a hole in a certain place. But that doesn’t mean that’s where the hole’s gonna be. And so, as the runner is coming to the sideline and deciding when he’s gonna make his cut up the field, he’s got to read and react, both to the way the linemen are configured, and the way the defense is coming at him, so that when that … And he also needs to anticipate where that hole is gonna be by the time he gets there. And so all those skills that are pictured in that metaphor are the skills of the leader who’s able to read and react, both knowing what he’s carrying on the one hand, what the Scripture has to say, and how to cut through life in the midst of it all. So this comprehension is two-fold. It’s the understanding of the Scripture, which generally speaking, seminaries have been pretty good at training people to be able to do. But then the understanding of the culture is something, generally speaking, that has tended to take a lesser position. And yet, it’s very, very important, as well. And so the ability to … what we … another metaphor that we use in the Center is, the ability to switch hit. The ability to go from life to the Bible, or life back to the Bible. To be able to go both ways, and it’s not always the same move … is important in being a leader, and in knowing how to discern what it is that needs to be done in particularly difficult circumstances, oftentimes. And those circumstances have become more challenging in many ways in recent times. And so we’re trying to equip people with both levels of comprehension. So if you look at, for example, these podcasts that we do, some of them are biblically content oriented, they’re theologically oriented, they’re about doctrines and teaching and that kind of thing, or apologetics. But others of them are very much situational scenarios, the types of spaces and places people find themselves in, and they’re wanting to know, how do I assess this and know how to respond biblically. So that’s comprehension. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. So there’s that biblical agility, the ability to switch hit. You can go from, “Today’s lesson is from John 1,” and then exegete that for people. Or you can say, “Well hey, I’m having trouble with my marriage, I’m having trouble responding to this person at work, and how can the Scriptures help inform what I’m going through?” Dr. Darrell Bock Exactly right. So we have, on the one hand, material that deals with the content of Scripture. For example, we did a podcast in relationship to the whole same-sex marriage discussion, going through eight key passages that talk about the issue of same-sex desire, and what Scripture has to say about that. But we’ve also, on the flip side, done other pieces that talk about people who grew up in a home where his parents divorced, and they each entered into same-sex relationships. And he was raised in that kind of a context, came to the Lord, and how now does he relate to his parents? Or we flipped it around. We’ve had an interview with someone who was same-sex attracted, told their mom, came to the Lord eventually, and talked about what that relationship was like through that entire journey. So we’ve gone from both the text to the life situation, and the life situation back to the text. We go both ways. Bill Hendricks Well, and I’d point out in those illustrations, Darrell, something that we talk about a lot at the Center, which is that oftentimes the … when we’re on the side of understanding the culture and the issues, a lot of that is really messy. Like the answers are not so obvious, because the situations are often so murky. And many times we’re dealing with people, and people who hold a particular view, who are coming from an altogether different worldview. And so we have to read that, and we have to understand, “How are they seeing life?” Just like you said, if our approach is to just say, “Well, the Bible says X,” if they don’t believe the Bible, they think it’s as relevant as Aesop’s Fables, then the conversation’s over at that point. Dr. Darrell Bock Yeah. In fact, we’re working on talking about a template to think about this. There’s what’s going on in the culture, there’s what the Bible says. Often those two things are in conflict with one another. We live in a fallen world, so our world is full of tension. And particularly oftentimes those tensions are between what the Bible aspires for people to be, and the way they actually live. And yet, regardless of how you resolve those two things … and that’s already challenging enough, in many cases … you’re still left with the relational level of how do I actually relate to someone who’s coming from a very different place than I am. And is it strictly gonna be a confrontation? And what is that actually, in the end, going to achieve? Or, is it a combination of what I call challenge and invitation. I’m gonna challenge them with way Scripture calls people to live, on the one hand. But it’s always with an invitation to step into what’s possible from God’s hand, and through God’s grace. And hopefully, at the relational level, I’m always wrestling with those two elements, side by side, so that I don’t back off on my convictions on the one hand, and I’m actually engaged in the conversation with a willingness to learn and to hear what’s being said on the other. But at the same time, I’m also extending this invitation to say, “There might be a better way to live. There might be a more profitable way to do things than the way we are engaged with each other right now.” And that, I think, is part of what’s important to what the Center does, ’cause a leader, to lead, has to be a leader not just in what he thinks and what he sees, but also how he relates to the people that he’s leading. Mikel Del Rosario So thinking about comprehension, we have the Scripture that we need to understand, we have the culture that we live in, or the subcultures that we live in. Maybe we have to manage a couple of different things. Dr. Darrell Bock Yeah, that’s an important point. There’s more than one culture that we’re floating around in. You’re always dealing with hybrids in one degree or another. Mikel Del Rosario Is there anything else that you’d say we need to understand to be better leaders? Bill Hendricks Absolutely. I think Darrell touched on it, but we need to understand the person that we’re dealing with. Oftentimes we deal with issues. But, of course, in dealing with those issues, we’re dealing with people. And one of the real problems in dealing with folks who disagree with us is we easily can dehumanize them. And then we begin to attack. And what we need to see is this is a person, made in God’s image. And they may have come to a very different conclusion than we have. And that may mystify us. But one thing that’ll help is, have the person begin to tell you their story. The Italians have a saying, “I can’t know you unless I’ve dined with you.” I like to say, “I can’t know you unless I’ve heard your story.” When I hear where you’ve been, where you’ve come from, your background, some of the situations you’ve been through in life, some of the things that have happened to you, some of the things that you’ve done, it just … it can’t help but begin to generate some compassion, and at least an ability to put myself in the other person’s shoes and say, “Wow. I think if I’d been through that I might end up at the same place.” And that has a way of treating the person as a person, and humanizing the conversation. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah, yeah. So we need to understand Scripture, we need to understand the context, the culture that we live in, and we need to understand people, as well. Other people and ourselves. Dr. Darrell Bock When we did this in relationship to world religions, we did it through three questions. We said, “What is this religion about? What makes it tick? What draws a person to this faith? What … I call it the Velcro factor. What causes them to stick to this religion and be an adherent of it? And then, how does the gospel speak into that attraction?” And so, whereas traditionally what we tend to do is to say, “Well, here’s what this religion believes, and here’s what the Bible says about it.” Now that, again, is valuable to know the difference. You gotta know what you’re dealing with. But the flip side of it is, is that I’m addressing someone, if I can address them from where they are coming from as the starting point, I’m in a much better place to have a conversation with them, and to draw them into what it is, to get them to be reflective. I see Paul doing this in Acts 17. He starts off by saying, “I see you’re very spiritual.” Now he doesn’t like the idols that they’re worshiping at all, but he does say, “I see that you’re very spiritual. And since you’re spiritual, let’s have a conversation about spirituality.” And then he dives into it. And so, this way in is a way of connecting with someone in the midst of sometimes very challenging conversations. And good leadership knows how to do that and do that well. Mikel Del Rosario And spending this unhurried, unrushed time with people, humanizing them, like you say. So you’re not working with someone like this is a Buddhist, quote/unquote, or a Muslim, but this is my friend. Bill Hendricks This is a person. Mikel Del Rosario Liam or whoever it is. We saw this doing Vietnamese refugee ministry in Orange County. It’s just spending time with people. Then you don’t see them as a label. You see them as a person. Dr. Darrell Bock And the fascinating thing is, texts like, say, Colossians 4, 5, and 6, talks about engaging with outsiders as an opportunity. They don’t see it as a threat. It’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s nothing to back off from. It’s nothing to fear. There’s another passage in 1 Peter 3 that says, “We’re not supposed to fear the engagement that we have, but we’re supposed to set Christ apart as Lord in our hearts, and be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is within us, but with courtesy and respect, with gentleness and respect.” And so the text sees these as opportunities for engagement that have an opportunity, where we have an opportunity to represent faithfully God’s presence in the world. And hopefully we do that from our character in the way we engage with people. So this relational dimension is a very important part of what we need to understand as we engage. Bill Hendricks And there’s one other level, Mikel, and that is understanding our self. The older I get the more I realize that self awareness, it may not be the only thing at the heart of leadership, but it’s certainly at the heart of leadership. If I don’t know myself, both the good and the bad, then I’ve got a big problem. In Galatians, for instance, Paul, he gets pretty angry at the Judaizers. And he says, “Why don’t you just go ahead and go all the way and emasculate yourselves?” And you’re thinking, “Wow, that’s really strong, almost mean-spirited language. Why would he do such a thing?” Because, in Galatians 1, he’s already opened up his robe and said, “Look. I was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. I was murdering people.” He doesn’t want people to go back there. He knows himself well enough to know that if the law could save it would save. But in fact, it didn’t. And he’s very honest about who he is. And he … On the other side, people also need to know something about what I like to call the good truth about who they are. And as you know, my specialization has to do with people’s giftedness. And so we have a variety of resources at the Hendricks Center in helping particularly students come to grips with how God has designed them, and what their strengths are, so that they can deploy those strengths where they can be most effective. So self-awareness is also a comprehension thing. And it’ll overlap with one of the other Cs that we get into later. Dr. Darrell Bock So what we’re saying is, is that you have the character of the leader, which certainly is fundamental and the core starting point. It’s your hub. But, what that character needs to be sensitized to and aware of is what Scripture says on the one hand, and what’s going on around people on the other, and what’s driving them to be, and respond the way in which they are responding. And a leader who’s very discerning about that is much better equipped to lead then just a good person who may be good and warmhearted and everything else, committed to the Lord. But if they’re oblivious to what’s going on around them, they’re gonna be struggling to walk into some of these difficult areas, oftentimes, that we’re often have to not only lead individually, but remember, leaders are leading institutions, and they’re having other people follow them, so that there’s a corporate dimension to leadership that is important to keep in mind, that the leader has to be equipped to be able to be a part of. Mikel Del Rosario Well we’re starting to bleed into that second concept, which is the second C word, which is compassion. And we’ve already talked about compassion a little bit. Sometimes you see such polarization out there in the public square, where people have forgotten how to listen to each other, and have those difficult conversations. I really like this GPS, spiritual GPS illustration you give. Talk about what it means to get a spiritual GPS on someone. Dr. Darrell Bock Well I tell people that when you first meet someone, especially someone very different than you, that the first thing you ought to do is be a good listener. There’s a wonderful passage in James that talks about being quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. It’s a great text. And so the idea is to be a good listener. And then I say the next thing you need to do is to get a spiritual GPS on someone. You need to get to know the person well enough to see what drives them, what causes them to tick. What are they interested in? What are they invested in as a person? What influences have impacted them? And I often say, in the midst of talking about this that we’re meeting more and more people today who’ve never darkened the door of a church. So, anticipate what their understanding of Christianity’s going to be if they’ve never walked into a church. It’s gonna be what the absorb from the culture around them. Now, think about that. What do you think that portrait of Christianity’s gonna be like? It’s probably gonna be something that’s gonna have to get addressed at one point or another, ’cause it’s probably not too faithful to the faith that you’re familiar with. Okay. So all of that is important to know. Are there influences in the background? Was there a bad church experience in the background? All those kinds of things can be very important. And so you pursue that. And the other thing that I say is, you want to put your doctrinal, theological, and identity meters on mute. Now that’s said very carefully. I’m not saying turn them off. You’re not gonna be able to. You’re gonna register with things that are said to you. And you should. You should pay attention to what you’re hearing. But what I mean by that is, is that our tendency is, when we hear something that’s off, is, “I’ve got to respond. I’ve got to respond immediately.” We immediately go into rebuttal mode. And the way you know, in a conversation, whether you’re listening or not, is whether you’re in a mode in which, if I had to repeat what this person said to me in different words so that they would say, “You get it,” I could do that. Or, I’m in a mode in which I say, “The way I’m gonna respond to this person is …” And so that’s how you sort out whether you’ve got that meter on mute or not. And so you put it on mute, and you just try and figure out … GPS. You’re trying to figure out where they’re located. And down the road … And we’re assuming here … in some of these conversations we’re assuming, we’re talking about these long-term relationships that people have, the ones they care about the most. And so, you’re gonna get a chance down the road to bring up the stuff that you hear. But initially what you want to do, I want to understand what drives this person, what makes them tick. That’s part of compassion. And another important part to realize about this is that the attempt to understand someone doesn’t equate agreement with them, nor does it equate defection because you’re compromising on anything. You’re trying to get to know the person. And really, before you can do a good assessment on someone, the better you understand them, the more likely you’re assessment is to be more on target. So, we’re talking about something that’s almost a requirement, relationally, in order to be able to interact well. And particularly in areas of conflict, it’s important that you at least know what you’re disagreeing about well. And so we say, in these difficult conversations, which is a part of compassion, that when you interact with someone, and you can both say, “Yep. That’s exactly what we disagree about. Now let’s talk about it,” you’re in a much better place than sometimes what often happens in these conversations, particularly when they’re debates, you end up talking past one another, and you really aren’t touching the issue that you really disagree about. Mikel Del Rosario That’s so important to develop that empathy, that understanding of the other person, rather than feeling like, “They said something I disagree with. Now I have to defend the entire contents of the Christian worldview, because they have a different view than me on this particular topic.” You were talking a couple days ago about, sometimes behind closed doors, people are really honest with you and they say, “You know what? I just don’t care. I just don’t care.” Are we stuck? Are they stuck? Is there a way forward? How do we help people to develop that kind of compassion? Bill Hendricks Yeah. I think a lot, anymore, about how do you get people to care? The phrase is out there, “Compassion fatigue.” You hear about people starving or you hear about terrible atrocities, and it’s so much of it, after awhile you just become calloused to it, and you get compassion fatigue. But how do you care? And I don’t think you can gin it up. I don’t know the whole answer to that question, but do know one thing. We ought to pray for more instances in which God takes us through a time of personal brokenness. When somebody goes through a really deep or dark valley, the death of a loved one, a serious life threatening illness, an auto wreck, a financial reversal, getting fired, stuff that’s really rocked their world. Dr. Darrell Bock Maybe severe depression. Bill Hendricks Yeah. That basically takes them beyond their strength and, “Now I got nowhere to go but look up to God and cry out to Him.” That’s actually a good thing. Because at that point, you begin to look around at other humans and go, “Wow. I’m also in this human condition. I live in this fallen world, and now it’s affected me.” It somehow has a way of engendering some compassion for people that are struggling. And people who don’t have the gospel. Many people know that I lost my first wife back in 2000 to breast cancer. So I now have an 18-year PhD in grief and loss. A verse that has come back to me again and again and again, of course, is in I Thessalonians 4, where Paul says, “I don’t want you to grieve as those who have no hope.” And so this idea that, as Christians, we grieve, but not as those who have no hope. That’s absolutely true. And both sides of it are true. We do grieve. Grief really is real grief. It hurts, and it doesn’t really ever subside. The severity may, but grief is not like five stages and you’re out of it. It’s a cycle. And these cycles will come back throughout your life. But it’s not as if we have no hope. And I do not know what people do who grieve but have no hope. To see your whole world vanish before your eyes and not have God, that’s a rough thing. By the way, that same principle applies to a lot of other things. We suffer, but not as those who have no hope. We have financial reversals, but not as those who have no hope. So, as Christians, we live in the same vicissitudes that everybody else … The only difference is that we have some hope. But that ought to give us some compassion for people that have not yet found Jesus. Mikel Del Rosario And you do a lot of work with people in the business world. How do you help them integrate this idea of compassion and empathy into their vocation? Bill Hendricks Well, the same place we’re talking. I’m like, “Let’s see people as persons, not just a means to get money to be made.” In other words, every person that you interact with in the workplace, maybe the people that report to you, yeah, we’ve got work to get done here, and we’re paying them a salary or wage to get that work done. But people bring all of who they are to work. And so they not only bring … It’s like Henry Ford, back in the day, said, “When you hire a hand, the whole body shows up.” And that’s so true. The person brings all of their challenges, all of their problems, all the relational things they’re going through, all of their hopes and dreams. They bring all of that to work. And so we need to see people as whole persons, and begin to care about where is their life going? Obviously as Christians, that bigger thing of where’s their eternal destiny going? And we need to bring Christ to them, not just by hammering on them to repent and turn. The gospel certainly needs to be shared, but it needs to be shared, not just for eternity, but for right now. The values of our king that Darrell mentioned, it’s an attractive set of values. Life goes better when we treat people as we would want to be treated, for example. And we show them patience, and we show them kindness, and we show them compassion. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. So compassion works, not only in your individual, spiritual conversations, but even at work, where you see your coworkers as people. Bill Hendricks Oh, and especially at work, because that’s where most of us interface with most of our colleagues. Dr. Darrell Bock And even in communities. Sometimes we tend to talk about these things as if they’re strictly individualized. But there actually is a dimension of this that’s bigger than who I am, or who you are, but who we are as a community. And so how does the church show its compassion, and how do leaders lead with enough compassion so that the community takes on that value and that virtue in such a way that they see, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” How do we live in such a way that ministers and engages in such way that that message gets reinforced by the way we as a community treat people? Bill Hendricks One of our heroes at the Hendricks Center is a guy named Tom Landis. Have you had him on a podcast yet? If not, we ought to. Mikel Del Rosario We had him live, here. Bill Hendricks We had him live? Mikel Del Rosario Yes. Bill Hendricks I know we’ve had him live at the seminary. Tom Landis is an entrepreneur, and he’s a restaurant guy. But a couple years ago he created a concept called Howdy Homemade Ice Cream here in Dallas. And the whole staff at Howdy Homemade is special needs people. And his vision, his passion is to create more jobs for special needs people. And he’s doing that out of his conviction that people matter. And not just high IQ people and educated people, but special needs people, too. And he pointed out to me that for many special needs people, they grow up and they’re mainstreamed. And then, when the get to be 18, 20, somewhere in there, all their friends go off to work or to college or the military or wherever they go, and they’re there by them self. And it quickly becomes apparent to them, “Gee. There’s no job for me.” Many of them get institutionalized. But what happens at that point is they’re life expectancy plummets, because they don’t have a purpose. If you don’t have a purpose, then you start to die. And that’s literally what’s happening there. And so Tom realized this problem and he said, “Well, they ought to have jobs like everybody else.” And so he created a kind of work there at Howdy Homemade which actually fits some of the skills, some of the ways that special needs people can contribute, because a lot of the work is repetitive, and it … interaction with the customers and so forth, it actually works for them. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. So compassion. Now we’re moving into courage, which is the next C concept. We’re starting to see how these things dovetail together. Talk to us a little bit about the kind of courage that we need to have as Christian leaders in this shifting culture. Dr. Darrell Bock Well, the main thing is the courage to walk into difficult places and spaces. That it’s easy … There are reactions that are easy. I can react against something, and I push back, and all I do is stiff-arm what’s going on. And when I stiff arm, I’m keeping distance. I can withdraw. I just don’t want to have anything to do with that. That’s just too complicated. I am not going there. And frankly, I think in many situations in the church, that’s probably the default category … is we just stay out of it. Just, I don’t want to stir the waters. Bill Hendricks Don’t want to rock the boat. Dr. Darrell Bock Don’t want to rock the boat. I want as much peace as possible. Meanwhile, this stuff is all simmering underneath and eating away at your community, if you don’t deal with it. And then the third way is to step forward and step in, to have the courage to step forward and step in. Hopefully you’ve done it with … you do it with good character, you do it with a comprehension, some comprehension of what’s going on, and you do it with enough compassion that when you step in, you have something to offer. And in the midst of offering it, you’re not only modeling something about how to deal with it, but you’re also helping other people get their hands and heads around what’s going on, and how to go about dealing with it. So good leadership, I think, has the ability to have this courage, to step in to the difficult space, to the difficult place, and to have something to offer once you step in, because you have all these other components that you’ve brought with you that make it, that allow you to function even in the midst of the difficulties. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. So I’m hearing us putting together these two things, courage, and compassion together. So you can have your convictions on one hand, that you don’t let go of those convictions. But you have the kid of character where you’re able to be charitable and winsome in your discussions. Dr. Darrell Bock That’s exactly right. And so … And you do it in a way that causes people to reflect. I often tell people that engagement oftentimes … sometimes the best thing to do is to not make a statement, but to ask a question, or to make an observation. And the question or the observation is designed to give the person on the other side of it the opportunity to just step back and pause and think through what’s going on. Again, I come back to Acts 17. What Paul does, after initially commending his audience for their spiritual … for the openness to spirituality, is to talk about what their connection to idolatry means. And he causes them … he’s hoping to give them pause about where they … “Do you really think you can confine the creator, God, to a building?” Just think about that for a second. That’s designed to give you pause. It takes courage to go there. And so, he doesn’t step back. Another thing that takes courage is, Paul understood, when he was introduced at Mars Hill, that they didn’t introduce him this way, “We’d like to welcome this apostle who’s part of a new religious movement that we really are finding fascinating, and we’re curious about. And we think he has something very significant to say to us, so we invited the apostle Paul to come and address us, and we’re all ears.” No. They viewed him as a cultural curiosity. They described him as a seed picker. That’s like a little bird that flits from this to this to this to this. And the suggestion is, a mile wide and an inch deep. That’s the way they were viewing Paul. But he has the courage to step into that situation and address them as honestly and directly, and try to serve them, despite their attitude, as he engages them. All of that takes courage. All of that involves risk. And the key risk is having enough security in your identity in the Lord, and the security that that gives you to be able to take the flack and the push back and everything else that will come from taking the risk, to step into that space. A good leader understands that often will happen, that not every … when you step into the fray, not everyone’s gonna be on your side. Or, another way to think about it … this is one of the ways in which our culture has changed … is we’ve gone from being the home team to being the visitors. And in the midst of being the visitors, we get all the pressure, not just of playing the home team, but of playing the audience that’s rooting for the home team. And so, that takes … To play well on the road takes a particular fortitude, ’cause a lot of people are yelling against you, as you’re doing what you’re doing. That all takes courage. Bill Hendricks Well, and on top of that, meanwhile, back at the ranch, if we’re the visiting team, back home you got some people that are mad about the fact that we’re no longer the home team. And they’re not happy that you’re out there on the road, frankly. To extend the metaphor, they’re … sometimes there’s people … you’re not only taking flack from the culture around you, but you’re taking flack on the back from people that formerly you thought they were on your team, but they’re made that you’re even out there trying to engage. Dr. Darrell Bock That’s right. And the best thing they would think you could do is just withdraw and get out of it. And the flack … But when you withdraw and get out of it, look what you’re doing. You’re actually creating a vacuum. You’re creating a vacuum in which there is no counter voice. And when … and that space fills. That space fills with something. So to withdraw … Bill Hendricks It’s a concession. Dr. Darrell Bock It’s a concession. And so, this courage is extremely important for the leader, the ability to step into that space, and engage, in some cases challenge, but to do so in a way that, at the same time, is inviting, because think about the way in which God initiated getting our attention. The way he initiated getting our attention was to come into our lives, was to engage with us. Bill Hendricks And that’s when we were enemies. Dr. Darrell Bock That’s right. Bill Hendricks Like you said, we didn’t throw him a parade when he came. The people that threw him a parade ended up putting him on a cross. Dr. Darrell Bock Back in that I Peter 3 passage that we were talking about there’s a line that says, “The just for the unjust to bring you,” he’s talking about his readers, ” to God.” And he’s reminding them where they were at the start. We’re all in the same boat. Everybody needs God, without exception. The person who’s accepted what God offers, and the person who hasn’t accepted what God offers. Everyone needs God. And what we are trying to do is to say, “Look. Just as God took the initiative with us, when we had our backs turned, we know what that’s like. I know where you’ve been, and I think there’s a much better place to be than the place where you are. Bill Hendricks And this is why I get so excited about our brothers and sisters who are working in fields like journalism, and the arts, and entertainment, and business, and government, and messy spaces. But they’re believers who are saying, “We want to take our faith with us when we go to work, ’cause we want to make a difference here. And we want to show what Jesus would do in this space.” Dr. Darrell Bock And one of the side things of that, of course, is that we’re all believer priests. Every one of us. Doesn’t matter what our vocation is, doesn’t matter what our calling is, ’cause we all have a calling. God has put us all in a space, in a place to minister, and leaders in the church who are vocational in their Christian commitment in terms of being in the church and trying to inspire others about their walk, need to be sensitive to the fact that everyone has a calling, and everyone has a place. That takes courage, too, because a lot of times people think that the vocational task that they’re engaged in has little or nothing to do with their Christian life, and their Christian walk. When in fact … Bill Hendricks It has everything to do with it. Dr. Darrell Bock And it has everything to do with God’s program. I like to tell people that churches are ignoring the most basic evangelistic program that God put in place when he made us to begin with, which was to steward the creation well. Well, how are we gonna steward the creation well is we don’t have farmers and workers and technicians, et cetera, and doctors and lawyers, people who lay the concrete on the ground so we can get from point A to point B. Bill Hendricks And think God for garbage collectors. Dr. Darrell Bock Just go through. Yeah. Don’t even think about what happens if that doesn’t get picked up. And so, you’ve got all these vocations that exist, that God has called us to regard as a way of serving one another, as we steward the creation well together, which is the creation mandate. And in the midst of that, it takes courage, and it takes leadership to step into that and say and affirm, everyone has a space and place that God has put them in. And God’s evangelistic program is to spread people out across the creation, in a variety of vocations, so they can rub shoulders with other people. I sometimes tease people that the Great Commission says, “Go into all the world.” Well actually, God’s already sent you there. Bill Hendricks You don’t have to go far. Dr. Darrell Bock You can try and shut that off, but you’re already in that game. So, how do we inspire people in the midst of that to be what God has called them to be where he has them? Mikel Del Rosario I like how Bill mentioned people, and all these media and politics and all these different places that you mentioned as well. If Christians don’t step up to the table, if we don’t have a space at the table, then our voice won’t be heard, and we’ll see less and less Christian influence in society. So we need to be out there. Brings us to the last … it’s already been implicit in our conversation. The last C is the idea of character. And so we think of all kinds of different things that come to mind, maybe, when you hear the word character. How would you define character in this regard? Dr. Darrell Bock Well, in this case, character that we’re talking about is the character that images the presence and power of God. We’re talking about the fruit of the spirit, which actually is very relational. We’re talking about authenticity. We’re talking about integrity. We’re talking about genuineness. We’re talking about a person who has nothing to hide. There are a lot of ways to think about what character is. And we need the spirit of God to have this character. It’s not something we have instinctive. You don’t default to character. And so … And that’s the core. I can have all the reading I want around me. I can have all the courage. I can have all the compassion in the world. But if I don’t have character, it’s not gonna ______. Mikel Del Rosario How do you see the character piece playing into the faith and work conversation? Bill Hendricks Well, this is why the spiritual formation piece is so important. In other words, somebody’s personal relationship with Christ. And that doesn’t just happen. That’s something that a person intentionally meets with God on a daily, if not hourly basis, to bring them self back before God, and try to hear God’s voice, and understand his word, and be in his presence, so that his Spirit begins to change our character, transform our inner person, ’cause everything goes from the inside out. And that happens over time. And that’s why, when you go to work, you asked about the workplace tie in, to often people may be Christians, but functionally speaking, they’re pure secularists when they go to work in that they leave God at home. And they need to bring him with them. I need to be praying over the task in front of me. I need to be praying about the people around me. I need to be praying about the meeting I’m getting ready to go into. I need to be talking with God about the decision I’m getting ready to make, and invite his presence and power to demonstrate themselves in those moments. If we did, I think we’d see a lot different things happening in our work. But we gotta apply those spiritual disciplines to our work in order for that to happen. Dr. Darrell Bock So we seek to shape compassionate and courageous leaders. And we do that by training leaders to possess biblical agility in shifting times. And when we do that, when we put that package together, it’s a very … and that only happens through the power of the Spirit of God. But when that happens, you have a person who can deal with anything fresh that comes their way. They … It isn’t that they have a rote answer. In fact, the answer that they might have is the recognition that the answer in this particular situation is particularly complex. But they know not only how they should deal with the situation, but they know how to lead other people into and through the situation. And in the context of the shifting times that we’ve been talking about, that skill is essential. It requires boldness, it requires being prophetic, it requires a comfort zone with their own status before God that’s willing to take the push back. And in the midst of all that, they’re able to develop that skill to read and react to what’s in front of them, so they know when the opportunity comes they know how to seize it. Mikel Del Rosario An image that comes to my mind, just after our entire conversation here, is that image of an ambassador who’s able to interact, to engage with people who see Christianity differently than they do, whether you’re talking to that skeptical relative or your skeptical friend at work, but walking with someone before they get to the crossroads, before the gospel becomes a challenge, even, in their lives, so that we can be the kinds of leaders who can teach truth and love well, who can lead with courage and compassion. Dr. Darrell Bock And a good ambassador doesn’t just live in the embassy. He gets out and gets to know the people of the country, the foreign country that he resides in. Bill Hendricks Well, that’s their job. Mikel Del Rosario That’s right. Dr. Darrell Bock That’s right. Mikel Del Rosario Well, thank you so much for being with us. Our time has flown by, but it’s been an amazing conversation. Thank you, Bill, for being with us. Bill Hendricks You’re welcome. Thank you. Mikel Del Rosario Thank you, Darrell. Dr. Darrell Bock Pleasure. Mikel Del Rosario And we thank you again so much for joining us on The Table. Stay with us next time when we continue to discuss issues of God and culture. The post Leading with Courage and Compassion – Classic appeared first on DTS Voice.
Can All Religions Be True?
Mikel Del Rosario Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager here at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And today’s podcast topic is engaging religious pluralism. We’re going to ask the question: how can we engage with people who say ‘how can one religion be true? Can’t all religions be true?’. And I have two guests to help us with this discussion today. My first guest is in studio is Tim Yoder and Dr. Yoder teaches apologetics here he teaches in the theology department. Welcome to the show Tim. Tim Yoder Thank you, Mikel. It’s good to be here. Mikel Del Rosario And my second guest is coming to us via Skype from sunshiny Southern California, Craig Hazen. Craig Hazen is the Director of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, my alma mater. And we’re so glad that you’re here on the show, Craig. Craig Hazen Hey, good to be here. Mikel is one of our illustrious graduates here, somebody we point to all the time. If you want to do a MA in Christian Apologetics at Biola you’re gonna be just like Mikel. [Laughter] Mikel Del Rosario Well thanks, Craig. Well, I’m so glad that you guys could join us on the show today to talk about this, ’cause this is a question that a lot of people actually have. They’re trying to share their faith, and they get stopped by some of these challenges like, “Well, that’s great for you, but all religions are true.” Or, “Why can you say there’s only one way? How could that be?” But before we dive into that, let me just get a little bit of background for our listeners on each of you guys. Tim, I don’t think we have ever asked you on the show how you got interested in studying philosophy of religion. Tim Yoder That’s a great question. So I was raised in a Christian home, and I am, you know, active in my church, went to a Bible college, after the college of Bible, and seminary. And I was thinking that maybe I would be an evangelist or a missionary or a pastor. And I did some of those things. I was a youth pastor for a little while, and I was a missionary in northern Russia for a few years in the ’90s. But in all of those things it didn’t feel like that was exactly what God had in mind. And what he really seemed to be calling me to was a life committed to helping to develop critical thinking, and to raise the level of intellectual engagement in the church. And my last year of seminary, I actually had some philosophy courses with Dr. Bruce Ware, and a light bulb came on that, “Oh, philosophy. This may be the pathway to really engage these things for the purpose of helping the church to grow.” And so … Of course, that was the end of my seminary time, which was already extended a little more than I hoped. And so … but what I did, my next to be which was a PhD, I did Philosophy of Religion at Marquette University. And it’s great. And the Lord has opened up doors to engage, to teach students, and to do some writing and thinking and speaking. And I’ve really enjoyed it. Mikel Del Rosario Well Craig, how did you get interested in studying comparative religions? Craig Hazen Yeah. It really goes back to me becoming a Christian in the first place as a senior in high school. I was the campus agnostic or atheist. And there were a lot of people gunning for me. So I end up becoming a Christian. A lot of the questions I had before becoming a Christian were, “What about the other religions?” That’s one that I thought no Christian I’d talked to could really give me a decent answer to. And they didn’t seem to know anything about them. What … Buddhists, and the Hindus, and the Muslims, and stuff we’ve never heard of? There’s religions being invented on street corners in Los Angeles right now. What about those? So that was a question that carried me right into the Christian faith. And so strangely I ended up devoting my graduate education to studying those kinds of questions. How does Christianity stack up against the other great, world religious traditions? So, happy to be talking about that with you today. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. Well let’s begin by talking about the term religious pluralism. That might not be a term that a lot of people have heard. And many people mean different things by that term, religious pluralism. So Tim, can you help us understand the different ways that term is used, and what we’re talking about specifically here today? Tim Yoder Okay. Well, very good. So pluralism is a term used in a number of different contexts. I think at the heart of it, pluralism just means there is more than one right answer to a certain question. And in some ways that seems like a very obvious thing, and sometimes that seems like a very weird sort of a thing. I definitely remember in math class, when I was in elementary school, learning my multiplication tables and addition tables. And when I didn’t get the right answer, it was wrong, and I felt bad. And so there was one right answer to seven times three, or four plus four, something like that. But in other regards, it seems like there’s more than one right answer, more than one way to get to a certain place. I can come to school here by four or five or six different routes, which are all good, depending on traffic and other sorts of things. And so there’s more than one right way for me to get her. So pluralism is the idea that there’s more than one right way, or more than one right answer. And then, in this context, it means that there is more than one religion that is successful or true or will get you to heaven or get you to wherever you want to go. John Hick is famous for saying that it means that all religions are successful in terms of interacting with the absolute. So something along those lines is what I have in mind by the term. Mikel Del Rosario Okay. So we’re making a distinction between just the mere fact that, hey, there’s a lot of religions that are around. People believe different things, and we do live in a pluralistic society. That’s just a fact. Tim Yoder It is. Mikel Del Rosario And then the idea that all paths are somehow equally valid or equally true in their truth claims. Right? Tim Yoder Yes. Mikel Del Rosario Craig, when I think about truth claims, in terms of people who hold to religious pluralism, is relativism pretty much the same thing? How do those things connect together? Craig Hazen Yeah. Well, I’m sure they are. This whole idea of religious pluralism … Tim was great at giving the multiplicity of definitions of this. Some people mean by the term simply that there’s lots of religions around. The United States is a pluralistic place with regards to religion. And there’s lots of them out there. But sometimes it means that … as Tim was describing … that somehow more than one of them is true, in the claims that it’s making. And that becomes problematic, and obviously leads right to a kind of relativism. But I don’t know what kind of relativism you’d like to dish up today, moral relativism or epistemological relativism. But certainly these things are glued at the hip. Mikel Del Rosario As you’ve studied a variety of world religions, how much have you found reason and evidence really being a big part of a lot of non-Christian religions? Craig Hazen Yeah, that’s a really mixed bag. I think when you dig deep into the various religions, one thing that struck me about Christianity is how different it is in this regard. Now on the surface, they all seem to be kind of the same, making certain truth claims, and sometimes even giving good arguments about them. But when you dig down a little bit, there’s really not much there. Christianity, on the other hand, is actually grounded in such claims. As the apostle Paul said it, I Corinthians 15, starting with verse 12, if Jesus did not come back from the dead, Christianity’s bunk. It’s just not true. Your faith is worthless. Go do something else, for goodness sake. Now that’s … I like approaching a religion that way. And that actually warms my heart about Christianity, although it causes a lot of Christians to really get unnerved. They get a little bit nervous about such things. “Well, what if we don’t have the evidence?” “What if there’s really no good reason to believe that Jesus came back from the dead?” According to the apostle Paul, we’re well within our rights to move along and do something else. So I think on that particular point, if you dig deeply into these religions and what they mean by truth and evidence and rationality, Christianity ends up being a dramatic stand out. It actually sinks or swims on certain historical claims. Mikel Del Rosario That’s right. Tell that story real quick, you mentioned before, how someone came up to you at a church one day and said, “But you shouldn’t talk like that Craig. It’s like, what if it’s not true?” Craig Hazen Yeah. I actually gave a message on I Corinthians 15, verses 12 through 9, where the apostle Paul 2 times says, “If Jesus did not come back from the dead, your faith is worthless,” or, “your faith is empty.” And … This is kind of a liberal leaning church. And a woman came up to me afterwards and said, “Well, you gotta be careful with a passage like that. What if it didn’t happen?” Oh, my goodness. This church has way bigger problems than me expounding on this particular passage. You folks need to retool your Sunday school through adult education. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. So it’s surprising, sometimes, the kinds of things that people even in the church will say to us when it comes to this topic of religious pluralism. Can I really believe that there’s only one way? A lot of people would say no. What are some reasons, Tim, that you think people might say no to that question? Tim Yoder I think we should begin with the famous story of the blind men and the elephant. I think every conversation about this topic has to begin with that parable, which probably is Indian or Hindu in tradition, but it’s the idea that this group of blind men stumble upon an elephant, which they had never encountered before. And they didn’t know what it was, and the surrounded the elephant. And the one man grabbed hold of the leg and said, “Oh, wow. An elephant must be like a tree. It’s study and round.” But the other one had hold of the tusk and said, “No, no. It’s more like a sword or a knife.” And another one had the trunk and said, “No, no. It’s more like a snake.” And so the fourth one had the side of the elephant and said, “No, it’s kind of a wall.” And, of course, the moral of the story is that none of them were really wrong, so therefore all of our answers are right. And if we say we have the one true perspective, therefore we must be arrogant. And so that’s at least one way in which some that espouse a more pluralistic notion will begin. The answer to that, though, is pretty clear. And that is that just because they have part of the truth doesn’t mean that they have all of the truth. And in fact, you only really know the whole of the truth if you can see broadly and see the whole thing. So to just say that everybody is just automatically right is actually a kind of perspective on the truth, and so therefore in a way it’s almost self defeating. If you say, “Well, the true answer is that everybody is right, they’re still arguing for a true answer, a true perspective. And so the claim of arrogance still applies in some regard. The other problem that we can get into, of course, is that when people say that all religions are the same, or all religions are true, well, I like to say, I like to think of it this way. When they say that all religions are true … I’m sorry … when they say that all religions are the same, and therefore that they’re all true, what they’re really saying is that no religion is true. Because if you say that all religions are true, when faced with the clear incompatibility of religious traditions, even just on the question of God, Christians are trinitarian, Muslims are monotheistic, Hindus are wildly pluralistic, Buddhists, at least some strains, don’t believe in a God at all, and Mormons believe in a God that is the same kind of species as we are … and that’s just a few of the major religions. And that’s just in 30 seconds. Those are huge, stark, really significant real differences about the nature of the deity, which are not easily wrangled and say, “Well, it’s all just one side of the elephant.” No, they’re very different. They’re mutually exclusive sorts of positions in the nature of the deity. So you’re papering over the real differences that are there. So that when people that all religions are basically true, what they’re basically saying is that religions are not true, and that truth is not a category. And when we get into that kind of territory, then we’re in a very, very different sort of discussion altogether. Mikel Del Rosario And so … Craig Hazen One more example that helps to highlight the wonderful example Tim gave with regards to the blind men and the elephant. I did a little research one time, just looking for the earliest version of that particular parable story that I could find. And it definitely comes from the Indian sub-continent, many generations ago. But in the earliest one that I could find, there’s an interesting ending. In fact, the whole thing really isn’t centered on the blind men or the elephant, it’s really centered on a local Rajah, a local king. And this is all taking place at his palace, and in the courtyard is the elephant. And a small troop of blind men walk in and start bumping into the elephant and touching all the various parts and proclaiming what they think this is. But the story ends with a very strong focus with the Rajah, who’s up on a balcony looking at all this mayhem. Because by then the blind men are pummeling each other in a fist fight, which is actually a great metaphor for the kind of conflict we have when we disagree on religious matters. But the shift focused to him and he says this. He looks down into the mayhem in the courtyard and says, “You foolish blind men. Don’t you know you’re all touching the same thing? You’re touching an elephant.” Now the profound nature there is that it required … this is a wonderful symbol here … it required a word from above to understand the actual situation on the ground. It took somebody with a bird’s eye view, with a god’s eye view, looking down to tell the poor blind men what the real scoop was. Tim Yoder And the multiplicity of the opinions didn’t lead to. Craig Hazen So that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for that Rajah or that bird’s eye view to really enlighten us about the religious plurality that humans experience. Mikel Del Rosario Right. Because, in a sense, we are just like these blind men bumping around. And how do we know? Were just human beings trying to figure out reality. But if God has spoken, if God has given us that objective word from above, the we best pay attention to what he has to say. You were going to say something. Tim Yoder I was gonna say, and the story, in Craig’s version … which I hadn’t heard before. That’s great. I’m definitely gonna use that the next time I bring that up. The multiplicity of opinions didn’t necessarily lead to tolerance and mutual affection, but to violence. So that’s interesting as well. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. Interesting. Yeah. You mentioned how Christians are often perceived as arrogant to say, “How could you say one way’s the only way.” But it’s interesting that in Christianity you actually can’t be arrogant, because you have to say, “Look, I am kind of just like these blind men. I don’t know any better except I’m listening to the king. And I can’t say, “Oh, whatever I think is right.” I have to say, “Okay. I’m gonna trust you, Lord. I’m gonna trust your revelation so that I know what things are like, and I can’t just make it up myself.” But that leads us to the next part of what I wanted to talk about, which is some of the different ways that people tend to approach religion. And one way that I want to talk about is the all roads lead to the same path kind of model. I call that the mountain model, where you have a Buddhist going up this path, and a Hindu maybe a similar kind of path, maybe diverges a little bit, and then on the monotheistic Judeo-Christian side, you have the Abrahamic traditions on their own path. What’s the attraction to that model? And then how can we help people evaluate that model? Tim Yoder The attraction is that it means that we don’t really have to judge too much, all these competing claims. We can look at our neighbor, our friend, who might be Buddhist or Muslim or Darwinist or something else and say, “Well, they’re okay. They’re fine. They’re okay.” Nobody wants to say that somebody who was as wonderful as you say Gandhi, “Is Gandhi really in hell? Are the people like that?” And so you don’t have to do as much judging. You don’t have to do so much discernment and discrimination about competing claims, because like all rivers lead to the same ocean. All mountain paths lead to the summit. But again, the problem with that is it really undermines the value of truthfulness. If there is a real, a genuine truth about religion, or a genuine truth about the nature of God, or human nature, the nature of salvation, if there’s a genuine truth about the problem that we face as humans, and the solution, then it requires us to engage in some discrimination, in some judgment. I don’t mean racial discrimination, but I mean discrimination of ideas, thinking them through, evaluating what’s true and what’s right, so that we can get somewhere. That’s part of every academic endeavor, and it fits here. I like to put it this way. Maybe this will be helpful. When we consider religious truth claims, we have to ask whether we think that they are more like science and math, or more like food and music. Let me unpack that a little bit. Like I said earlier, in realms of science and math, there’s one right answer. And you don’t build bridges or send rockets into outer space if you have a loosey-goosey idea about the truths about math and science and engineering and physics and all those things. There’s one right answer, and we know it because stuff actually works, rockets and bridges and airplanes, and so on. But when we get to things like food or music we have differing tastes. If somebody says, “I happen to like rap,” or somebody says, “I happen to like jazz,” or, “I happen to like opera,” rarely is somebody gonna say, “Oh, no. You’re just wrong.” They might say, “I don’t particularly like that kind of music.” But they won’t say, “Oh Mikel, you like jazz? You’re so wrong.” Or food. If you like Mexican food, “Oh, that’s just false.” That’s a little strange. But we just say that we have differing tastes, and we approve of people having differing opinions about those sorts of matters. But I think that there’s a really good reason for us thinking that religious truth claims actually fit better with the realm of science and math because religious truth claims are trying to give us an evaluation or a depiction of the way things really are. That’s what the truth really is, a description of the way things really are. There really is a God, and he’s like this. There really is the problem of mankind, and it’s like this. And here’s the solution, and here’s what it is. And so we’re making truth claims about the way things are, just the way science and math try to understand the way the world really is. And so it’s not a domain in which we can just espouse our particular likes or dislikes or how we’re feeling that day. “I’m kind of in a Chinese food mood today.” No, that’s not what we’re doing when we’re doing religion. We are trying to understand the way things really are, how God really is, how we really are, what’s our problem, what’s the solution? And so I think we in areas in which a strong understanding of the nature of truth is entirely appropriate. Mikel Del Rosario You mentioned God earlier. That’s not a side thing, like on what days should you fast? Is there a God or not, first of all. And those can’t be true at the same time. You can’t have God exist and not exist at the same time in the same sense. I could tell you I’m Filipino. Hey, I really am. But if you think I’m an Irish guy, well, you can think that all you want. Or if you think I’m a six foot tall, African-American basketball player, well, you can think that all you want, but it’s just not true. I’m sorry if that offends you, but this is who I am. And so, on the other hand, if God says, “This is who I am,” and we say, “Well, I’d rather think that you are something else,” we’re just not in touch with reality. Craig, did you want to chime in on that mountain model? Craig Hazen No. In fact, Tim Yoder has this so well nailed down that I’m gonna go downstairs and make a sandwich. [Laughter] Tim Yoder Make me one, too. Put it in the mail. Mikel Del Rosario Well, that’s where we’re going next, actually, is the whole make your own buffet religion model. And I’ll start off with you on that one. What’s the attraction with that, and how can we begin to engage people who feel like, “Well hey, spirituality is is just something I can make like I’m at a lunch buffet and pull a little bit of this and that, and isn’t that what religion’s for, just to help me on my own path?” Craig Hazen Yeah. You’re reminding me of an essay by Robert Bellah. He’s a famous sociologist of religion at UC Berkeley, years ago. He got together with a bunch of other sociologists. They did this massive study about religion in America, what really is a religious person in the United States? And they boiled it down to this person that they called Shelia. And Shelia was … they characterized her … and actually found a person named Shelia who actually embodied every norm in a perfect way. So they used her as an example. But she was … number one, she was a believer, but not a belonger. A believer but not a belonger. And she was very eclectic in her religious beliefs. So she would pick and choose the things that she thought would really help her out the most. And these sociologists said that really characterizes the center point of religion in America. And so you can imagine there’s some sort of dramatic attractiveness to that kind of approach to religion. And Tim’s already pointed out some of these things. It really is a wonderful recipe for peace and getting along, ’cause religion … in religion we’re talking about ultimate questions. Who is God and what’s he like? Or is there a God, and what is she like? And what does it take to please this deity? And what’s right and what’s wrong and in the ultimate sense? All of these are things where people can come to blows over, just like the blind men and the elephant. And so that that hoped for peace, I think is probably the primary driving force in these ideas. You’re not gonna be offending anybody if you’re a believer but not a belonger. You go along with that kind of spiritual feeling, but you’re not gonna join up with the Baptists or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the local Islamic chapter. You’re just not gonna do that. And so that actually is a wonderful formula for peace. Now it ends up, truth and rationality end up taking it in the chops with this kind of approach, unfortunately. And doing a doctoral program in religious studies at a very secular university, the first thing I noticed was the scholars in these traditions and even the people who practice them on the ground, they were unified in one thing that, for goodness sakes. All roads don’t lead to God, or they don’t lead to truth or enlightenment. They were unanimous on that across the board. This is some weird thing we’ve kind of developed to maybe keep the peace, in terms of religious and deeply held issues. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. It seems so tolerant on the face of it to say, “Well, can’t we all just get along? And you’re right, we’re all right. Can’t we all be right? But Craig, I think you’re on to something here where it is almost … it is disrespectful to the leaders of these world religions to begin to twist what they say to make Mohamed’s thought fit in with Trinitarian Christianity, or to make Gautama’s Buddhist philosophy somehow congruent with the Christian faith. But tolerance really is a driving force, I think, for this. How do we see that piece fitting into engagement? Explain what true tolerance is, Craig, rather than this kind of let’s just all pretend we all believe the same thing kind of tolerance. Craig Hazen Yeah. You did a good, ground level job of describing what a lot of people thing tolerance is. It’s just a way we maneuver to keep the peace. But real tolerance ought to do that, but it ought to do it in a more robust way. We acknowledge our differences. We talk openly about them. But we care for one another as human beings, made in the image of God, or at least valuable in some deeply human or religious sense. And so there we can talk about difficult issues, but we’re always going to care and respect each other. I think that’s really where we want to go with tolerance. I wish everybody could buy into that. We’d all be learning a lot more about each other, and I think we’d all be moving towards the truth at a better clip. Mikel Del Rosario Can you think of a strategy, Tim, that would be helpful for if a Christian is in a conversation, and they feel like they get stopped by this kind of challenge. They’re trying to share the gospel … Tim Yoder The tolerance challenge. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. And they’re trying to share the gospel, and they go, “You know, that’s great for you, but that’s just not my thing.” Tim Yoder Yeah. Yes. So I want to actually begin by picking up on what Craig is saying and add to it a little bit on tolerance, because he’s right, that there’s a development in the notion of tolerance. It used to be that it meant that we respect everybody’s right to disagree. But recognizing that we have these agreements, and at some level they’re valid disagreements and we respect the other person, but we’re trying to get to the truth. But contemporary notions of tolerance seem to be the idea that we can’t really disagree with anybody, and that all perspectives are valid and are right. And so if we weigh in and say that we don’t agree with something, then we’re a hater, and we … It’s hate speech, and very serious charges. And I think that that fails to recognize … and this actually is an answer to your question, Mikel, about a strategy. Because tolerance, true tolerance is a limited virtue. It’s not an unlimited virtue, it’s a limited virtue. Tolerance is a great thing, as long as it is done within a range. There are some things that we cannot tolerate. And that’s not … not just we, not the three of us sitting around this table … but all of us. We don’t tolerate child abuse. We don’t tolerate terrorism. We don’t tolerate racism. We don’t tolerate hatred to one another, serial murders. We don’t tolerate these mass shootings. There’s a lot of things that we don’t tolerate, because they’re just wrong. And we really all grasp that. And it doesn’t really matter what religion we are in or what world view. We recognize that they’re wrong. And so there are certain thing that just are wrong. And so we don’t tolerate that. And as soon as we recognize that there’s some things that we can’t tolerate, then that helps to back off this notion that, well everything is just fine, everything is just good, everything is just okay. And then we can start to say, okay, well where do we draw the line? And once we recognize that there’s a line in place, that there are some things that are beyond the pale, then we can start to say, okay, then how do we measure these things? How do we determine what the truth is? What do we think a real prophet of God looks like? What do we think a real analysis of the problem of humankind is? And we can start to … Then we can start to really get into the details of the competing claims and evaluate them. And so … So that’s a strategy to recognize that tolerance is really a limited thing. That tolerance is a limited virtue, and so therefore that have to be some things that are beyond the pale, and by extension, then there are some ideas that are just false and that we can start to get at. Mikel Del Rosario So this idea of true tolerance then being that we’re able to respectfully disagree with people. Tim Yoder That’s right. Absolutely. Mikel Del Rosario So I could disagree with you. Tim Yoder You could. Mikel Del Rosario But I’m not going to go out and burn you car … Tim Yoder I hope not. Mikel Del Rosario … because this is, in fact, American and civilization. And so we should be able to disagree with each other instead of walking on egg shells around everyone going, “Oh, I can’t disagree with you or you’re going to think I hate you, or something.” Tim Yoder And it fits really well with the verse in I Peter about apologetics. To be prepared always to give a reason for the hope that’s within, but to do so with gentleness and respect. It’s right there in that same … Christian apologetics is not about demolishing somebody or putting to death those that disagree. Those kinds of things were wrong. What we should do is engage those with gentleness and respect. I teach to my apologetics students that the character of the apologist is as important as the content of the apologetics. Mikel Del Rosario That’s right. Tim Yoder And your character is so important. And we have Jesus as our model. Jesus was gentle and loving. Although it is interesting that, when we get to that arrogance charge that is put against is, it’s not really we, as Christians, that are arrogant. But if anybody’s arrogant, it’s Jesus. He’s the one that said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father but by me.” All we’re doing is repeating the claim that Jesus made. Of course, in Jesus it’s not arrogance because he was God. And so, he has the ultimate authority. It’s not really arrogance when it comes from God. Mikel Del Rosario But if not, it’s outright blasphemy, right? That’s why Jesus keeps upping the ante of authority. I can talk about that all day, ’cause Jesus and his divine authority is one of my main interests. But Craig, do you have a strategy that you’ve employed for people who stop Christians in their tracks with this, that’s true for you but not for me kind of a thing? How would you advise Christians to maneuver in that situation? Craig Hazen Oh, my goodness. There’s so many little tricks of the trade to work in that, but let me focus on this, and that’s just dealing in general with people from different faiths that you encounter. I often try to inculcate into my students and other people I know in the Christian faith to really be great listeners. Now it comes kind of naturally for me, ’cause I’m kind of an introvert anyway, and I like it when other people are doing the talking. But if it’s a person of a different religious background, and they’ve got all kinds of ideas, I just love to sit and listen to them. And so … Then after you listen for a good length of time, your conversation partner always feel like you get an opportunity now to say something. Of course, being a good listener accomplishes two things. Number one, you get to show the person that you really care about them. I’m listening to you very carefully. I want to know what you think. And that’s very affirming. But secondly, it also gives you an opportunity to gather intel, to gather some information to ask some tough questions. And I think this kind of Socratic method where you listen from him and you ask a couple of key questions. I’ll give you an example. A friend of mine, he grabs me at church one time says, “There’s a witch in my building.” What? “Yeah, there’s a witch. That’s what she claims. She dresses real earthy and is all kinda weird. So you gotta come fix it.” [Laughter] I don’t know what he wanted me to do. But he sets up lunch. So we’re supposed to meet. And we’re in the lobby of some big office building where they work, and there is a woman across the lobby who’s dressed in kind of an earthy way, whatever that means. But my friend doesn’t show up. So finally, after awhile I go, “That dog. He abandoned us.” So I walk over and introduce myself to the woman and we … I said, “Should we have some lunch?” And she goes, “Yeah, let’s do it.” So we sat down, we started eating. She was eating some vegetarian delight and I was eating some ribs or some animal flesh of some sort, which probably wasn’t endearing her to me. But she’s doing most of the talking. And she’s going on and on about life in her witches coven … she’s a member of Wicca, and so on … and especially about the way they approach questions of truth and morality. And it’s basically a live and let live society. Very tolerant, very morally relativistic, and so on. And I’m just kinda logging this in while I’m eating. And finally she says, “Oh, I’ve been talking for so long. I want to give you a chance. What do you think about what I’ve said?” And I go, “Well, I’m curious. What do the people, when you gather together to have discussions, what do they say about the holocaust?” That’s all I said. I was looking across the table and it was as if her world view was collapsing before my eyes. [Sounds as if she was muttering.] But she just didn’t know what to even think about that. And Tim did a great job of describing this earlier. There are certain things that are wrong. And I brought up something that she knew was wrong, but she just didn’t know how to address it coming from where she was. Well, she was very attentive to other things that I had to say after that, because she realized she was in a bit of trouble. But I handled it through listening ears and a lot of kindness. And so, the dialog ended up going very well the rest of that lunch and carrying on afterwards. Mikel Del Rosario Thanks for sharing that story. That was … Tim Yoder Yeah, that’s great. Mikel Del Rosario It’s a very real life kind of story. And I think people are not used to being listened to nowadays. Especially with Christians, unfortunately, there’s this perception … and sometimes it’s because of people’s actual experiences … that as soon as they say something, the Christian wants to correct them. And a lot of people who are near apologetics will oftentimes feel like, “Now I have to defend the entire contents of the whole Christian world view, ’cause somebody just said something I disagree with. But if we’ll just turn our truth meter down for a minute and … not off, but just save it, keep it back there, gather that intel, Darrell Bock calls it getting a spiritual GPS on somebody to find out where they’re coming from … I think that one, it’s just very attractive. Two, it does give you that intel, like Craig said. And what Craig was talking about was pushing this person’s existential sore spot. It’s like there’s love, there’s character, but then there’s that challenge. But the challenge comes in the context of that relationship. And that is a great way, I think, of getting people to think about, well here’s something I really value and believe. But I can’t say that that’s good. I can’t say the holocaust is a good thing. But how do you reconcile that with your own world view? Do you find that people are able to process that more easily when you bring it up just so bold faced like that? Like you hold this and you hold this. How’s that work together? Tim Yoder Well, everybody’s different and everybody’s gonna process things differently and respond differently. But I want to definitely affirm Craig’s approach there of listening. I think that’s really important. We do, as you said, we live in the era in which people generally do not listen. It’s modeled on all the news shows and everything else, and even Facebook and other sorts of social media. It’s all about ranting and challenging and disrespecting and trumping other people and those sorts of things. And if people really will listen, just listen, then there is the opportunity to speak back into it. And then, you have to choose your words carefully. One of the things is that as apologists and ambassadors for Christ, we’re not necessarily … our task is not to defend every doctrine of the faith in every encounter. Which is why I like the story. One simple question which revealed the sore spot or the weak point in the world view. And so we have to be thoughtful and reflective. And people need to be equipped and ready. It’s not just something that happens without any practice. But once you are … have a little bit of training, or at least thoughtfulness about this, that simple question can go a long way. I think that Craig, your story reminds me a bit of Greg Koulk’s book in which he gives a lot of strategies for those sorts of things, and putting the stone in people’s shoe and other sorts of things. And it’s a wonderful book, not so much of evidences or arguments, but tactics for engaging with people And Koulk’s stuff, it’s really excellent. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah, we’ve had Greg Koukl and Amy Hall here on the show, and I encourage our listeners, if you’re listening or watching, to go back in the archives and look for that episode on tactics. Craig, let’s say your in a dialog with somebody and they say, “Okay. I’m willing to consider this and give Christianity a fresh hearing. But I want to keep my options open. I want to investigate all the world religions,” which could very well take you five years or whatever. Not gonna happen in a workshop. But where should a thinking person begin to investigate world religions? Craig Hazen Yeah. I’ve actually had an opportunity to address this particular question with a group of secular college students in a world religions survey class. I was a guest speaker. I was supposed to be representing fundamentalist Christianity. But what I said, “Hey, I have a background in religious studies. What I’d like to do with the class is really tell you how would a thoughtful person go about a proper religious quest? How would you explore all the various religious options on the table and choose the one that’s right for you?” And it was just a way of getting at some important issues without say, “By the way, I’m going to be presenting the truth claims of Christianity and how they’re superior.” ‘Cause honestly, the shields go up at that point, and people just stop listening. So, I wanted to help them do a proper religious quest. And so I gave them … some of these I made up on the spot … but I ended up giving them five reasons why a thoughtful person on a religious quest would obviously start that quest with Christianity. And so I just walked them through these five things. And notice I didn’t say Christianity is true and you have to embrace it. I said, “It makes a lot of sense to start your quest with Christianity, and here’s five reasons why.” I’ll give those to you quickly. The first one is testability. It may not be the best philosophical term, but they understood what I was talking about. But you can actually, by testing, offer evidence for and against the position, and the evidence actually means something. In other words, you can choose whether to be a follower of Jesus or not, based on the evidence in the case. And I show them that’s really not how other religions work at all. Even when they sound like they’re about evidence, turns out they’re really not. The second reason … and they kinda like this one … I said, salvation in the system is a free gift from God. They were college students. They loved the concept of free. And so I just read them that passage in Ephesians, chapter two, and went over the parable of the prodigal son, just to show them how God just wants to just give you this free gift of salvation. And I go, “If you’re on a spiritual quest, that’s something that ought to really capture your attention. The third one was that you get an amazing world view fit. This one was a little harder to demonstrate in a short period, but I made the case that Christianity paints a picture of the world that matches the way the world really is. The fourth one is a little technical, but let me give you the fifth one, and that is you really ought to start your quest with Christianity because Christianity has Jesus at the center. And they thought, “Well, now you’re really stacking the deck.” But I go, “No. You have to understand something. Jesus is like the universal religious figure. Everybody wants a piece of Jesus. So if that’s the case, why not start with the religion that’s had him firmly planted at the center since the very beginning.” Mikel Del Rosario Yeah, that’s amazing. There’s a lot of people who would say, “Okay. Well, I’ll give Christianity a hearing, alongside everything else.” This is a great strategy for getting them to take a look at the claims of Jesus, which in my opinion are really the place to begin, because Jesus is, well, the most influential person whoever lived, undoubtedly. Tim Yoder He’s a man like no other. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. Tim Yoder There isn’t anybody else close to Jesus. It is interesting. In Islam … to back up what Craig is saying … Jesus plays a key role. He’s mentioned a number of times in the Quran. Not always entirely accurately, but he’s an important figure. There’s a wonderful essay by Gandhi on how much Jesus means to him. And so I think you’re right, that there are lots … that almost every religion wants a piece of Jesus. Jesus has the moral quality that we would expect in a prophet, unlike any of the other supposed prophets. Even some people that are excellent examples. The Confucius or the Buddha or Socrates or Mohamed or Moses, some of them have wonderful character traits. But none like Jesus. His example, his teaching, his sacrifice, not to mention the resurrection, are … that put him in a class by himself. And that’s … So I like your list, Craig, and I would … I think it’s an excellent way to start. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. I always like to drive people toward the claims of Jesus, because as much as we view apologetics work in terms of defending the resurrection, the resurrection’s a vindication of all these things that Jesus claimed about himself. And so to have people even test this whole idea of religious pluralism based on, “Well, can your pluralistic world view make sense of what Jesus said?” Jesus claimed to forgive sin. Jesus claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus claimed to be so close to the father in authority, and he keeps escalating this at his Jewish examination. How does religious pluralism make sense of that? Or do we have to twist the word of Jesus and twist the words of Mohamed and these other leaders to make sense of your religious, pluralistic world view? Well, our time is rapidly getting away from us. Anything else, Craig, that you’d like to mention as far as advice, or anything else that want to say about this topic? Craig Hazen Yeah. In terms of just engaging people of different faiths, the listening thing is very helpful, but spend some time reading even some good, solid introductory material on those religions, especially if you’re at work and you work next to a Sikh, or a Buddhist, or a Mormon or somebody. Understand were they’re coming from as best you can. You don’t have to do a masters degree or a doctorate in the field in order to do that. So you ramp it up a little bit, and make your engagement mostly about curious questions. And it’s not that you couch them in terms of like, “Help me understand what you mean by this or that or the other thing, or how this compares to Christianity, or how you would deal with this issue.” And it’s amazing how you … In that kind of approach, suddenly you are building friendships and relationships at the same time. And it really makes you an attractive ambassador … to use the word Tim was using … of Jesus in those instances. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. Tim, anything else you’d like to say? Tim Yoder Sure. I’ll take my last work from CS Lewis who wrote in Mere Christianity that … he says, “One of the great things about being a Christian is that we don’t have to believe that everything in all the false religions is false. We have to recognize that the ultimate truth is found in Jesus and his message, because he is the God man. But that doesn’t mean that everything in a competing religion is obviously false. It’s not our job to smash everything they believe. In fact, if we believe that there is general revelation, and that all truth is God’s truth, it just naturally follows that some of the things that we’re gonna find in other world views and other religions are right. And we can actually use those for common ground to begin a conversation, and then move on to the places where we disagree.” That’s clearly Paul’s strategy in Acts 17, and in a number of other places. And so I think that there’s something liberating about that notion that, again, it’s not our job to refute and smash every claim. In fact there are many things that we hold in common. It’s choosing those, and then using them to explore the deeper and more exclusive claims of Christ that is part of our responsibility. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah, on the Table Podcast we’ve done a whole series on world religions. And people can check that out. We’ve done shows on not just Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism, Sikhism. We looked at a variety of different new religious movements as well, Scientology, and we began to ask questions like what is the attraction to this religion? For people who were born into it, why do they stay? And then, how does the gospel speak into these universal human longings that we find in these different traditions. So encourage our listeners and viewers to check that out. Craig, thank you so much for joining us. A real pleasure to have you … Craig Hazen It’s a great pleasure. Thanks for having me. Mikel Del Rosario Thank you. And Tim, thanks for joining us on the show today. Tim Yoder Thank you for inviting me. Mikel Del Rosario And we thank you for joining us here on The Table Podcast. If you have a topic that you would like us to consider for a future episode please e-mail us at thetable@DTS.edu. I’m Mikel Del Rosario and I hope you’ll join us again next time right here on The Table where we discuss issues of God and Culture. The post Can All Religions Be True? appeared first on DTS Voice.
Historical Jesus
PhD Candidate and Adjunct Professor Mikel Del Rosario sits down with Mark to discuss current issues in historical Jesus studies.
Faith, Work, and Filmmaking
Mikel Del Rosario Welcome to the table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, cultural engagement manager here at the Hendricks Center, and our topic today is “Faith, Work, and Filmmaking.” We’re going to be talking about how your Christian faith can make a difference in the world of acting and filmmaking. And my guest in the studio today is Alex Kendrick. Alex is a filmmaker at the Kendrick Brothers, and he is a Kendrick brother. Alex Kendrick I am a Kendrick brother. Mikel Del Rosario [Laughs] Thanks so much for being on the show. Alex Kendrick Oh, my pleasure. Mikel Del Rosario Well, tell us a little bit about growing up and how you even got interested in filmmaking. Alex Kendrick So, Shannon is my older brother by three years. Stephen is my younger brother. So, the three of us boys grew up in Smyrna, Georgia. Mom was a schoolteacher; Dad was a minister. And we did not have a television for most of my childhood. So, occasionally we would see usually a Disney movie in the theater, and I became enamored with that whole format and process of presenting stories, wanted to make movies. So, we got a video camera, in our youth, and would run around the neighborhood, making silly little videos, usually chase-’em-down beat-’em-up type of plots. And eventually, God began stirring our hearts to do things for his glory. And so, in high school, we surrendered our lives to the Lord. In college, communications degrees, then went into ministry. And I don’t know how much detail I should go in as far as going on to Sherwood, but it wasn’t too many years after that that we ended up at Sherwood Baptist in Albany, Georgia and began the movie-making ministry there. Mikel Del Rosario Mmm, okay. Well, let’s back up to when you went to college. Alex Kendrick Sure. Mikel Del Rosario So, the transition from growing up, making little home movies. I used to do that with my friends as well. We’d make little war movies – Alex Kendrick Oh yeah. Mikel Del Rosario – in the jungle and stuff. Mikel Del Rosario But then moving to college, communications degree. I did com as well, so that’s – we’re kindred spirits there. Alex Kendrick Yeah, yeah. Mikel Del Rosario You were involved in some music, too, right? Alex Kendrick I did. So, I took piano for 14 years. Mikel Del Rosario Okay. Alex Kendrick And was in a singing group called Selah, for a while, and really enjoyed that, but that was – that kinda took a backseat to my hope and drive to tell stories and make films one day. So, after college, seminary, ordination, and ended up at a church in Albany, Georgia, and I was the associate pastor of media. They had a television outreach, radio outreach; so, I would do that. And in 2002 is where things really got kicked off. I found an article by George Barna, where he had done a national survey, basically said that movies, television, and the Internet were the three most influential factors in our culture. And took that to our pastor and asked him if I could make a feature film for the community of Albany, Georgia. And he said, “Do you know how to make feature films?” And I did not. And so, he said, “If you pray the money in, I’ll support you if God’s in it.” So, I started praying, and the Lord began prompting people to come give me the funds needed. So, $20,000.00 was given. And I had written a movie called Flywheel – this was, you know, about lordship. And so, we made that movie with just volunteers out of our church. Very low budget, $20,000.00, and it was really, really hard to make, but it made a big splash in the community, and ended up selling more DVDs than I could count. So, very, very grateful for… And then there’s some funny little moments that happened in that journey. So, I don’t know how much detail I should go in, but it was – it was the first step in God saying, “I’ve called you to this, and I’ll be with you if you honor Me.” Mikel Del Rosario Is that when you got your calling to make movies, or was it slightly before then? Alex Kendrick I would say that the desire started in my youth, really about 9, 10 years old, but it needed to be sanctified. In other words, our movies that we made as teenagers were all – instead of James Bond it was Savings Bond, or instead of Indiana Jones it was Alabama Jones. And we would do our own little neighborhood versions of these and edit from our VCR to our camcorder. But we got quite adept at doing that and learned about framing and action points and edit points and things like that so that by the time I was mature in the faith enough for God to say, “Okay, now you’re going to do all these things for Me,” I recognized that all the chase scenes and explosions and things that I loved about movies weren’t necessary for telling the stories that God may want me to tell. So, I needed to mature in that regard. Yeah, I still like good action movies, but not gratuitously so, and there needs to be a purpose to everything. So, I’m grateful for the movies that he’s allowed us to make. Mikel Del Rosario So, people know you for a lot of movies like War Room was really big, Courageous. What inspires you to make these movies? Alex Kendrick We go through a season of prayer between every film. So, I call it tilling the soil even before you put the seed in the ground. So, we till the soil with prayer, and that may go six months, nine months, or even a year of saying, “God, what do you want us to do next?” And He always prompts us in a certain direction or a theme, if you will. For Fireproof, it was marital love. For Courageous, it was fatherhood. For War Room, it was strategic prayer. For this new one, Overcomer, that we made, it is identity in Christ, which – and it seems to be timely themes as well. So, the Lord prompts us to these things. We do a lot of research, a lot of prayer. We write a script and then go into that season. And so far, we can tell that God’s timing on each of those themes was perfect, and it seemed that whenever a movie would come out with a theme, that there was other activity already going on with that theme. And so, I can see the fingerprints of God guiding us, because we – I don’t think we deserve much credit for anything. We’ve just learned to pray, to listen, and to obey Him, and to grow in our craft of making films. You know, the more experience you get, the better you get. And so, we want to continue doing this. And it’s very fulfilling, because when you see people touched by these films and moved to make decisions for Christ, or take a new area of their life for Christ, it’s very encouraging. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. Tell us one of the stories that you’ve found has come out of how the Lord has used these movies in people’s lives. Alex Kendrick Wow. So, I could go all day with this. So, there are many stories regarding Facing the – oh, I’m sorry – Fireproof – I could tell stories about any of ’em – where people would look at their marriage a different way, or a man would say, “When I realized that God loves me in a way that I do not deserve, how can I turn to my wife and say, ‘I will only demonstrate love to you when you deserve it’? That’s so hypocritical”. So, for us to say, “God, please forgive me for my sins and love me and be with me,” He does; He does love us. And so, a husband must love his wife like Christ loved the Church. And we’re not always loveable, are we? Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. Alex Kendrick There are days I’m like, “Lord, I’m amazed that You love me.” But God doesn’t love us because we’re so loveable; He loves us because He is so loving. Well, a husband needs to love his wife that way: not because she’s so loveable all the time, but because he chooses to be loving. And a wife needs to love her husband that way – not just when he deserves it, or she thinks she’s deserving of respect, but because he’s her husband, and to choose to love. And many times love is a choice more than a feeling. And so, that was the method of Fireproof. So we got so many thousands upon thousands of responses from people saying, “It clicked with me.” I’ll give you one of my favorite stories. There was a couple who came to our church. As soon as they met us in the atrium – this is after Fireproof came out – and they were weeping, gave us a hug, and they said, “We had to tell you our story.” So, we said, “Okay.” And in a very brief amount of time, they said, “We were married as 19-year-olds.” And then, after that first year of marriage – ’cause marriage is hard – Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. Alex Kendrick – they divorced. One of them went to the Carolinas, and the other one went to the West Coast. And for 26 years, they never saw each other. When the movie Fireproof came out, both of them happened to see it in the theater and were both convicted. Neither one of them had remarried. And so, the husband reached out and found her and sent her a letter saying, “I owe you an apology. I never knew how to love you. I saw this movie Fireproof, and I realized that I didn’t know what I was doing. Please forgive me for the way I hurt you.” She responded back to him and said, “I saw that same movie, and I agree with you. I didn’t know how to love you. Would you also forgive me?” Mikel Del Rosario Wow. Alex Kendrick They ended up meeting in person – this is 26 years later – and they struck up a friendship that blossomed into love, and they got remarried, this time as Christians. And to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their remarriage, they came to our church to tell us their story. Mikel Del Rosario Wow. Alex Kendrick I think that’s incredible. So, married, then divorced for 26 years, then remarried this time in the faith, but Fireproof was the catalyst that got them thinking about one another. So, it’s things like that that I’m amazed at what God does. So, that’s Fireproof. Courageous, oh my goodness, story after story, especially men who have written us, e-mailed us, phone calls saying, “When I saw this movie, I realized I was not embracing my role as spiritual leader of my home or father, and I went home to do that. I cut out the hobbies,” or, “I cut out the additional trips,” or even, “addictions, alcohol,” things like that. “And I went home and began taking my role as father and protector and spiritual leader seriously.” And hearing those types of stories make it all worth it. And so, very, very grateful. Mikel Del Rosario And that movie affected you, too – right? – in your own personal life. Alex Kendrick It did. When I was making Courageous – and I thought I was doing well as a dad, but the Lord convicted me. He said, “You need to start turning off the television in the evenings and nurturing your six children in the faith.” I have six children. And so, for a number of years after Courageous, my entire family, in the evenings, read the entire Bible together. Mikel Del Rosario Whoa. Alex Kendrick All eight of us. Mikel Del Rosario Wow. Alex Kendrick So, we went chapter by chapter. I would read sometimes, my wife would, or my older children would. We’d go through, and then we’d talk about the chapters. But we went through the entire Bible cover to cover. And so, that became what we did in the evenings. So, we never got addicted to any TV shows or anything like that. Not that – we have a TV, we just don’t regularly watch it. So, I loved going through the entire Bible with my children. So, the Lord raised the importance in my own heart of being the spiritual leader of my home. Mikel Del Rosario Mmm, wow. You told me another story before about, you know, it’s not all roses and just positive things. There’s been really frustrating things that you went through. Tell us that story about how you tried to market this movie and everyone just said no to you, and you got real frustrated. How did you handle that? Alex Kendrick So, early on, this is after our second movie, Facing the Giants, we begged God to help us; He did. We got funding for the movie; we made the movie. When it was done, for some reason I was sure that some studio in Hollywood would like it. So, we went out to California and screened it to whoever would watch it. And no one was interested in releasing it as a film. Now today, as I look at it with more seasoned eyes, I can understand why. But back then I was like, “We worked so hard on this movie. Why don’t you want to release it?” And they all said, “You know, it’s charming. It has some inspirational aspects to it, but there’s no stars in it. We don’t recognize anybody. It’s obvious it’s not a big budget movie, and there’s a lot of Jesus in it, and so, we’re gonna pass.” And so many studios passed that I was so frustrated. I came back, and I said, “God, what are you doing? Why aren’t you helping us?” And God reminded me that in the movie I say, “We must praise God when we win and praise God when we lose,” but I wasn’t doing that in real life. And I was praising God when things went well for me, when He blessed me, which is really not very strong faith. And God is worthy of being worshiped; He is worthy of our adoration because He’s God, just because He’s on the throne, not because of what He does for us – that should be secondary, actually. And I realized I was treating God like an employee, saying, “God, why aren’t You doing this for me,” as if God owed me something. And so, God is not my employee; I serve Him; He is God. And so, I changed my attitude. I asked God to forgive me for my wrong thinking. And the Lord ended up bringing Sony to us. And I had knocked on all these other doors and was told no, but when I got my act together, and I submitted it to the Lord, He brought Sony to us. Sony said, “We want to distribute this movie,” which is amazing to me. And it reminds me, “Alex, when you try to jump ahead of God and kick in the doors and make stuff happen, you can’t expect God to bless that. But when you track with God, don’t jump ahead of Him, don’t lag behind Him, and when you track with Him, and ask God, ‘You show me what doors to walk through, and You close the doors You don’t want me to walk through,’ and then I honor Him and obey Him, then I see a different type of productivity and fruitfulness.” And it doesn’t always look like how I think it’s gonna look, but God does things the way He does, and I love it. And usually, after the fact, I look back at what He did, and I say, “That was the better thing. Instead of what I wanted, what God did was the better thing.” And so, it’s been a journey of faith for me as well, as the filmmaker. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. What a wonderful lesson – life lesson – that you can apply to any industry, really – Alex Kendrick Right. Mikel Del Rosario – whether you’re in full-time church ministry, or whether you’re making films, or in another kind of business or whatever, to praise God in the good times and when things aren’t going so well. Right? Alex Kendrick That’s right. Mikel Del Rosario So, it looks like, as a filmmaker, your faith informs not only the story – the stories themselves, the writing, but it informs the way that you make the movies and the way you even handle the frustration that’s associated with that. Now, on the set, when you’re filming – I’ll tell you I have a personal connection to War Room because first time I ever heard about that movie, my best friend – one of my best friends from sixth grade all the way through high school called me and said, “Have you heard about this movie?” Because he got a call to work on – he was working with your brother – with Stephen – to work on a couple of scenes in War Room. He was the second unit mixer doing audio. And he said that on the set, that you guys began every day of filming with prayer and a devotion. Is that for all your movie? How did that start happening? Alex Kendrick It is all our movies, and it’s important to us that if we really want God’s blessing on everything we do, then we have to seek Him; we have to chase after Him. One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 29:13 where God says, “If you seek Me, You will find Me if you seek Me with all your heart.” And I love that because God wants to be found. He wants to be there for us, but He also wants us to seek Him. He deserves for us to seek Him. And so, every morning when we meet – in all of our films – we meet with the cast and crew. We pray together; we usually do a devotional; we spend some time in prayer. We ask God to bless the day, to be with us, to guide us. And we invite Him to be in every single aspect of what we do. And that has built unity among our team. It has helped us keep our attitudes in check, and it has allowed God to show off in ways He wants to show off. But I love seeing His fingerprints on these movies and watching what He does with them. And so, yeah, it’s very, very important to us that every day and every movie is dedicated to the Lord. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. Now, for those of us who are not even – we have no clue what it takes to make a movie – I’ve never been an extra or been on the set, it’s just almost – we can’t even begin to think about how many people are involved in shooting a scene like that. Alex Kendrick A lot. Mikel Del Rosario I know a little bit about it ’cause my friend holds the boom mic for a lot of movies. But in a typical scene – let’s just say you’re shooting a scene inside a house, like you had the scene in the house in War Room, where the camera followed this woman around while she was walking around the house and really kicking out the devil. Right? Alex Kendrick Right. Mikel Del Rosario How many people are involved in that? What does it all take? How many people does it take to just make a simple scene like that happen? Alex Kendrick Okay. If I take – if I take an average scene in the movie, I would say at minimum it’s 20 people and maximum it’s 60 to 70 people. And the reason for that is – well, unless it’s a scene that requires a lot of extras, and then it could be hundreds of people – but an average scene you’ll have two cameras. You’ll have the guy holding the camera and an assistant there for focus or for power cords or whatever is needed for that camera man for each camera. Then you’ll have the boom mic operator; he’s holding the boom mic over the heads with this long pole. Then you have the script supervisor making sure that all the lines are recorded. You have the director on the monitor watching. You have the director of photography on monitors watching, making sure it’s shot. You have the lighting guys there, making sure the lighting’s just right. You have the makeup and wardrobe people there. You have the acting coach if it’s necessary for any given person. And then you have extras. And then outside the set, you have a whole horde of people, including the caterers or the craft services or security or anything like that. And so, it is – it’s usually a small army of people, and I’m grateful for all of them, because it goes really well. When we started, we only had a handful of people; so, we had to do everything. I was – when I wasn’t onscreen, I was also the camera guy, and I’m moving lights around. And so, the expertise is very low when it’s that way. But the more people you get with more experience on the set, the expertise goes up, the professionalism and production quality go up. And so, I’m very grateful, especially with Overcomer; it’s probably our best one we’ve ever made. And so, you’ll see the production quality go up in part ’cause you have so many people that are gifted specifically in that area. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. Yeah, you think about all the people who are involved in making a seemingly simple scene when you watch a few seconds onscreen, and you just get to appreciate all the ways that God has gifted all these different people. Alex Kendrick It’s a picture of the body of Christ, too, because – Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm, it is. Alex Kendrick – on our sets, when we don’t have levels of respect, meaning everyone is valued, everyone is loved – I mean when the actors come on set, they’re no better than these hardworking crew members. And so, you value everyone the same. And when we start feeling like a family and like we’re doing this together, it just – it builds the unity to an incredible level. And by the end of the three months of shooting, people are weeping ’cause they don’t want to leave each other, and it’s just a joy to make a movie together, because it is hard to make a movie; it’s very, very hard; it’s exhausting. But when you do it together, and you feel like you’ve accomplished something together, it’s a blessing. So, we do it a little bit differently than probably most movies are made. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. How do you go about looking for your actors, ’cause you mentioned how the production companies are like “we don’t recognize any of these people, there are no big stars in here.” How do you go about looking for actors? Alex Kendrick So, we do auditions. And so, the way we do it is we go to two different audition companies – unless we come across them some other way – but they – we prefer to work with believers because our movies are as much about ministry as anything else. So, we prefer to work with believers. I personally don’t want someone onscreen portraying the Christian faith or presenting the gospel that doesn’t believe it themselves. ‘Cause I believe when you have the Holy Spirit in your life, when you’re walking with God, that that will come across onscreen in your even portrayal as a Christian. And again, that’s my opinion; that’s the way we operate. And I’ve seen God bless that. So, when it comes to actors, we do auditions for each role. We look for someone that’s right for the role, and then we get to know them. And if they can share their witness with us, or their testimony, we love that because we’re giving them a platform. You know? And especially when we’re representing principles, truths, or the Word of God of the Christian faith, we want to be good stewards of that. We don’t want to – you know, we don’t make movies just to entertain the saints. The saints don’t need to be entertained more than they already are. So, we make movies to edify the Church. They’re in a form of entertainment, but we make movies to edify the Church, exhort them to do what God’s called them to do and to be who God’s called them to be. And if we can edify and exhort the Church and build up the body of Christ, that’s success for us. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. How did you end up working with Kirk Cameron? Alex Kendrick Kirk is great. Kirk is a growing believer. He had received Christ near the end of his television run and did a few films. I think he did some early versions of the Left Behind movies, but was in ministry and saw Facing the Giants and gave me a call at Sherwood Baptist Church. I still remember the day I was in my office, and my secretary said, “Um, Kirk Cameron’s on the phone for you.” And I said, “Really?” So, I took the call, and we talked. And he said, “Hey, I just saw your movie Facing the Giants, loved it. I love what you’re doing. If I could ever help in any way, let me know.” So, I asked him if he would like to come audition for Fireproof, and he said okay. And so, he flew out and auditioned, and he did an excellent job, and we interviewed him and saw that he was growing in his faith. And so, he became the lead in Fireproof, and for ten years after Fireproof, spoke on the speaking circuit about marriage and family, and he used clips from the movie, and was just really faithful with that platform. And so, he’s a good friend now; we’ve done a number of projects together. He’s got a TV show now that we’ve been on, and I would love to do more projects with him in the future if the Lord wills. So, very grateful for Kirk and really proud of him. Mikel Del Rosario Now, Priscilla Shirer is another person who you’ve been working with. Alex Kendrick Yes. Mikel Del Rosario She was in War Room; she’s in the Overcomer. She’s a Dallas Seminary grad, one of our people that we point to as Dallas Seminary people who are involved now in the arts and media. She graduated here in 1998 with an M.A. in biblical studies. How did you get connected with her? Alex Kendrick So, Priscilla we met when we were working on a book related to Courageous called The Resolution for Men. And we thought it would be appropriate to have a complementary book for women, The Resolution for Women. And so, we thought – we had read about Priscilla, we knew of her ministry and her witness, and so we went and met with her and her husband Jerry. And she ended up writing The Resolution for Women. And we so enjoyed working with her, when we were praying through our next movie War Room, we wanted someone who would again use the platform of the movies in ministry in a honorable way, and we needed a lead actress. And so, as we prayed about it, both my brother and I had Priscilla come to mind. And so, we called her, and we said, “Have you ever acted before? ‘Cause we’re looking for someone for the lead in our next movie.” And she just burst out laughing. She said, “Are you kidding me?” She said, “Not only have I not acted before, you’re talking about the lead role.” And so she prayed about it; we prayed about it. Then we did some screen tests, and she has that natural charismatic aspect to her personality and the way that she presents herself that it just worked. We got an acting coach; she worked with the acting coach for a number of weeks and months leading up to the movie. And then we shot War Room, and it was – although it was hard work, it was great fun. And she’s such a delight to be around, and so professional at what she does. And I thought she did a marvelous job, and she helped with some of the resources. She wrote the book Fervent that was attached to War Room. And then we called her again, and she came back, and she’s in Overcomer, our latest movie, and does a wonderful job in Overcomer. So, I hope that she continues to blossom in her movie ministry as well as speaking and writing; she’s just very, very gifted. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah, there’s some very moving scenes in War Room, and she did a really great job there, and I can’t wait to see her in Overcomer, too. Well, let me change gears just a little bit. I saw a very old picture of you, probably from your college days, and you had signed it with one of my favorite Bible verses, 1 Peter 3 15, that great apologetics verse. Tell me about the significance of that in your life. Alex Kendrick So, 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your heart, sanctify Christ as Lord.” In other words, set Him apart as more important than anything else. Then it goes on to say, “– and always be ready to give an answer to anyone that asks you of the hope that you have, but do this with a gentleness and respect.” So, that’s my life verse. Well, how that happened, I was in college in Campus Crusade, and we would often go out on our campus – this is Kennesaw State University in 1992 to 1993 – and we would go witnessing. And I loved that. And I was in the Student Center one day, and I was talking to a college student, and he was of the Baha’i faith. They believe there’s a number of ways to get to heaven, a number of truths. And so, as I talked with him, and I heard him out, and then I presented the gospel, we got into a little bit of an argument. And I found myself growing in frustration that he couldn’t see what I saw in the gospel. And we began arguing, and eventually, when we finished the conversation, we both left frustrated. And the Lord convicted me. He said, “Alex, you are not the One that does the saving. You present truth. You should be able to articulate it well, to defend it, but you do not argue people into heaven.” And I realized I was so convicted. And when I saw that verse in Scripture, “Always be ready to give an answer for the hope that you have, but do this with a gentleness and respect.” I wasn’t doing it with gentleness and respect; I was trying to – “Why can’t you see that I’m right?” You know? Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. Alex Kendrick And it wasn’t done in love. It was done with the knowledge that I had only. And truth and love should go together. And so, that became my life verse. And so now, when I do movies, when I do speaking, when I do books, I try to incorporate a very loving but truthful approach to ministry, and so far that’s served us well. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah, that’s our seminary motto, actually, is to teach truth and love well. Alex Kendrick Wow. Mikel Del Rosario And so, marrying truth and tone, engaging with courage and compassion, these are – we’re kindred spirits in that regard. Alex Kendrick I love it. Mikel Del Rosario That’s how we defend the faith. We do so in a way that’s gentle and respectful, and that’s how Jesus would do it. Alex Kendrick That’s exactly right. So, we have to be sharp enough to know why we believe what we believe, be ready to defend it respectfully, and to articulate it. But I could articulate it, and I was ready to defend it, but there wasn’t the meekness or the gentleness the Scripture talks about. It was, “You know, you’re crazy. You don’t see my way.” Mikel Del Rosario Yeah, yeah. Alex Kendrick And so, yeah. So, I love that verse. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah, and the context of that verse, too, it’s like you read the context of 1 Peter 3, and you’re like, “This is how God made the – took the initiative to come after us. And how did God treat us when we were – before we had embraced Him and His message? How did God treat us? Why can’t we treat other people like that?” Alex Kendrick Right. Mikel Del Rosario But it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to do it. So – Alex Kendrick Yeah, that’s a great point – great point. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. So, in the movie world, then, have you encountered any intellectual challenges to your faith? Alex Kendrick I have in the sense that some people will misinterpret what we do. I remember when we did Courageous, there’s a scene where one of the officers goes to a cemetery, and he was still holding onto the bitterness that his father wasn’t there for him; his father was now passed away. So, he’s standing there before his father’s tombstone, and he had written a letter – and this was based on a real event – he had written a letter where he says, “Dad, I’ve been angry at you,” and he just reads the letter out loud. He stands there at his dad’s tomb, and he reads the letter aloud saying, “I’ve been angry with you; I’ve been bitter with you, but I realize that God is the perfect Father that I need, and He loves me and offers me forgiveness, and so I am choosing to forgive. I am letting go of the bitterness I’ve had” – even after his dad had passed away – “I’m letting go of the bitterness and embracing the Lord.” And he rips up the letter, and he throws it away, and it’s a done deal; he’s forgiven his father. Well, that’s in the movie. So, when someone saw the movie, they accused me of putting a scene where the guy was praying to his dead father. And I was like, “What?” That is not at all what we were trying to say. He was verbalizing this release of bitterness in his heart, and yes, he did choose to do it, where his father lay, but I do not believe in praying to dead people. And so, that was one of the funny ones where somebody said, “The Kendrick brothers believe you can pray to dead people.” I was like, “No, no. That’s not what we were doing.” And so, occasionally I’ll get something like that, and I also – in War Room, when Priscilla’s character, she rebukes the devil in Jesus’ name, someone accused us that she was praying to the devil. You know, when Jesus rebuked the devil, He was not praying to the devil. You know? So, when Scripture talks about you resist the devil and he will flee – so, that’s what we did in the film. So, it’s interesting that there are still those, either because of where they are in the faith, or their maturity level, they will misinterpret some of the things we do in our films. And it’s rare, but it happens once in a while. And we’ll have to say, “That’s not what we were doing; it’s not what we were trying to say.” And you try to clarify that for them. But you can’t clarify it for everybody, ’cause you’ll never know how many people think that. So, it’s a little tricky. Mikel Del Rosario Hmm, hmm. Well, tell us about Overcomer, the new film. Alex Kendrick I’m very excited about Overcomer. So, Overcomer is our sixth film, and it focuses on identity in Christ. And this is a hot button in our culture. Our culture is saying that: “You are what you feel,” or, “You are what your circumstances are.” And we believe that the Creator gets to define His creation. Our identity should come from what God says about us. So, Overcomer, our biggest budget movie, it follows a town that has the largest factory close down and move away. And when the town is gutted, when so many people move away that worked at the factory, you’re left with a school that’s cut in half. A lot of the teachers and students have gone. And my character – I play a basketball coach – he had the players to win a state championship, and then he loses them, ’cause they move away with their families. So, he’s really, really frustrated. He’s a Christian, but he’s really, really frustrated. And then the school gives him the cross-country program to help fill in some of the gaps. He doesn’t want to coach cross country. And when he goes to see who will come out, he has one girl that comes out, and she’s got asthma. And he thinks, “This is ridiculous. Why am I even doing this?” So, as most men would, he flounders a little bit, because when a man feels like there’s no way for him to win or to succeed, he gets really frustrated. Most men put their identity in their job or their status or their awards or whatever. And so, that’s a very tender place, especially for men. So, in this movie, the coach has to learn that his identity does not primarily come from his job or his success level; it must come from his walk with God and being a child of God. And then the important aspects, like being a husband, then being a father, then being a coach – right? So, if our foundation is set on Jesus Christ, everything else that’s built on that, even if it fails or falls, your foundation is still intact. But if you make your foundation your job or your success level, and that’s stripped from you, everything above it topples. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. Alex Kendrick And so, John – the character I play in Overcomer – he has to learn to reorder his identity. I am not just a successful coach or not even a failure coach; I’m a child of God first. Then I’m a husband. Then I’m a father, and then I’m a coach. And then the girl he’s coaching – her name is Hannah in the movie – 15 years old, struggling with asthma, she’s just trying to find her place in the world. She feels rejected and unloved. So, she’s learning to run, and she runs with her inhaler. And so, as she learns who she is in Christ – and there’s a tremendous scene where she begins to realize God’s love for her – and the coach is trying to reorder his identity, you have these two parallel paths, and they head toward a wonderful climactic scene near the end of the film that I think is gonna have the audience on the end of their seat as they do this race at the end of the season, and you’ll have a lump in your throat. But it’s a reminder that our identity must be found in Christ. And this is what the Lord taught me through this movie Overcomer. Not only does he create us, He knows us better than we know ourselves. Psalm 139 says, “He knew us before we were born. He knows the hairs on our head. He knows all our days laid out before Him even before we’ve lived them.” So, if He knows us better than we know ourselves – and then thirdly, He has the authority to tell us who we are, then why would we look at anything else for our primary identity. If I could, a quick analogy. Mikel Del Rosario Sure. Alex Kendrick My freshman daughter – her name is Joy, she’s in high school now – she just finished her freshman year. At the beginning of that year, she tried out for the varsity girls’ basketball team – not the JV, but the varsity girls, and made the team. She was elated. As the team – as the season went on, the coach began to see that Joy was a very good dribbler and would make good decisions on the floor. So, going into about the fourth game of the season, he said, “Here is the new starting lineup.” So, to make it on the team’s great, but there’s 12 girls on the team. To make it in the top five who start every game is more of an honor. He said, “Joy, you’re now a starter.” Well, Joy says, “What? Well, coach, I’m only a freshman. You have juniors and seniors on the bench.” And the coach said, “Joy, I am the coach. I determine who starts, and if I say you’re a starter, you’re a starter.” So, she started the rest of the season. They actually made it to the state championship. And so, she learned a lesson, and I thought that was a great analogy. It didn’t matter that Joy didn’t feel like she should get to be a starter or didn’t deserve it, it’s what the coach said and thought. Well, we serve a God who tells us that when you are in Christ, you are a new creation – the old is gone; the new is come. When you are in Christ, you’re beloved and chosen and sealed and adopted and saved and redeemed and justified. And if God says we are all those things, then that is what we are, whether we feel like it or not. Now we must embrace it and walk in it. What I loved about studying Ephesians for the movie Overcomer is the – Ephesians, as you know, is six chapters. The first three chapters don’t really tell you to do anything. It tells you what to believe. Right? So, because once – the apostle Paul knew that once you believe what Jesus says about you, what a Scripture says about you, then you live it out in Ephesians 4, 5, and 6. So, Ephesians 4, 5, and 6 talk about husbands loving your wives, and wives being respectful to your husbands, and putting on the whole armor of God and all these other wonderful things. That’s what we do in light of what we believe who we are. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. Alex Kendrick So, when I realized that, it changed not only that book, but my own perspective of my identity, that I – even if my movies bomb, I know who I am, because the foundation of my identity is founded on Jesus Christ and not on my circumstances or even my job. Mikel Del Rosario Mm-hmm. What a refreshing perspective. You know, what you said is really true about – especially for a lot of men who we attach our identity to our line of work, to a job title – that’s something the Lord taught me. I did some missionary work in the Philippines, and when that missionary work was over, you know, before that I would say, “Hi, I’m Mikel; I’m a missionary.” Right? Alex Kendrick Gotcha. Mikel Del Rosario But then after that, what do I say? “Hi, I’m Mikel; I’m nothing.” Like, “No, I am not nothing. I am a child of God. I’m an ambassador of Jesus, and I’ll represent my Lord today at a job interview, going to buy résumé paper at Office Max or whatever.” And that’s the kind of ethos, that’s the kind of self-identity that we need to have. Alex Kendrick That’s right. Mikel Del Rosario Or else whatever can be taken away from you – right? – success, it’s just – it’s all fleeting. Right? Alex Kendrick That’s right. And you know, it interesting. The two questions – and these seem like basic questions, but these two questions: who is God and who am I? My answer to those two questions will determine my sense of identity and my sense of identity will impact my behavior. So, if God is my Creator, and I’m answerable to Him, and if I am His Creation and He loves me, then that impacts the way I feel about myself, and the way I feel about myself impacts my behavior. I want to honor my Creator; I want to honor my God. But if I don’t feel loved, if I don’t feel like God cares about me, then my sense of identity changes, and then that impacts my behavior negatively, and we see that in culture left and right. That’s what’s going on in culture. But so that’s why it was important to us to tackle this issue of identity, to make this movie Overcomer, and even the book that goes along with it is called Defined Who God Says You Are. What matters is what He says and not my feelings, not my circumstances, not even my status; it matters what God says. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah, yeah. Well, what would you say, Alex, to a Christian who is wanting to get into filmmaking, they feel God’s called them to do this. What pieces of advice would you give them? Alex Kendrick So, I have – I’ve had this conversation hundreds of times with people. A young person will come up to me and say, “I want to make movies one day.” And so, I always do this, because movies can tend to be a very ego-driven thing, I always ask, “Why do you want to make movies?” And if their answer is, “Oh, I just – I want to be a star; I want to go to Hollywood; I want to make movies,” you know, whatever, then it’s better that you don’t. It’s not – it should not be an ego-driven thing. It should be like anything else. I’m a story teller because I think God wired me that way. You want to use that avenue to draw people closer to Him. I’m not real interested in making myself a star; that’s lifting up myself and putting down everybody else. But what does the Scripture tell us? “Less of me, more of Him.” And so, I’m able to use the platform, but God did not call me to be a star. You know, what is that? That’s self-worship. Mikel Del Rosario Right. Alex Kendrick And so, I tell people, “If you’re motive is to use this avenue and this art form to draw people to the Lord or to glorify God, more power to you.” Then I start giving them pointers and advice. But I try to test their motive first. And a lot of people come to us saying, “Hey, I’ve studied this camera; I’ve studied editing; I know this software; I’m ready to make a movie.” “No, you just know the tools; that doesn’t mean your heart’s ready and your mind’s ready.” You know, I think God allowed us to have a platform when He knew we were ready for it, because I know that years before that I was not ready for it. And so, I had to say, “God, would you prepare my heart? Would you get me ready?” And so, I would tell a young person, “First, check your motive. Why do you want to be in movies or make movies? Is it for yourself, or do you want to honor the Lord? Because if you want to honor the Lord, that’s great.” And then I would point to a number of – is this someone going in college by the way, or someone out of college? Mikel Del Rosario Either. Alex Kendrick You know, there are certain college – Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, Liberty University, North Greenville University in South Carolina – that have wonderful film programs from a biblical perspective. So, I would say if you’re going into college, go to a place that honors the Lord with their film program. If you’re out of college and ready to make movies, I would say then start attending places like the Christian Worldview Film Festival. They do a guild every year where you get together with other Christians, and you learn why we do what we do with the highest level of excellence possible. And I would just say learn all you can, train all you can, practice making movies, make shorts. You know Scripture says, “Despise not small beginnings,” so make shorts before you make a feature film. It’s hard to make a feature film. So, don’t start at the top; work your way up and hone your skills. And practice, just like you would practice an instrument. You know, the more you practice the piano or the guitar, the better you get. Practice filming; practice editing; do little videos. And so, that’s what we did. And then we love, personally, having interns on our set. We’ll have interns on our set. We’ll have two dozen on each of our movies that want to make films for the Lord. And so, they get on-the-job training, and we put them in our camera departments and lighting departments and wardrobe departments and editing departments, and give them first-hand experience helping to make a film. So, even on Overcomer, I think we had 20 interns that helped us make the movie. Mikel Del Rosario Hmm. Yeah, when I was in college, I was a communication major, too, at Biola University, and in the radio – television film had a friend that would be like, “You know that new Godzilla movie that’s coming out? I lighted the egg in that thing.” Alex Kendrick [Laughs] Mikel Del Rosario It’s like start somewhere – right? – see how God’s gifted you and start small and don’t think you’re gonna shoot for the stars right out the gate. Alex Kendrick But don’t hate that small beginning. Be faithful in a few things, and God’ll make you faithful over many things. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah, yeah. How about somebody who wants to go into acting? Maybe they’ve acted already in a few little movies, and they want to kinda take it to the next level. They would ask you for advice. What would you say? Alex Kendrick Yeah, I would say the same thing. Make sure that the reason you want to get into it is a God-honoring reason and not just to elevate yourself. And again, I’m not opposed to a Christian being an actor or having a high platform, but the heart is the issue. If their heart is more about them getting the attention, them getting honor, then the Lord’s not gonna bless that. He wants to use us as vessels for His glory. So, if He elevates you – you know, what does Scripture say? “Humble yourself on the side of the Lord and He will lift you up.” But the first part of that is “humble yourself.” So, if you want to be an actor, that’s fantastic, but purpose in your heart to honor the Lord with that ability. Well, then you learn all you can. So, again, I would encourage them to do it from a Christian perspective. If it’s – they’re of college age, then go to those schools that honor the Lord. If not, come to the Gideon Arts Film Festival, or even NRB that has classes on it, or the Christian Worldview Film Festival, some of these places that have all these training classes and guild – or the ICVM, International Christian Visual Media conference does the same thing. There’s a lot of these festivals and conferences, from a biblical perspective, that help hone their talent. And then if they can get into a few shorts or low-budget films, then they work their way up. And so, I think that’s – and yes, maybe God starts you at a bigger budget movie, but again, it’s all about the heart and hone your skills. And again, just like you would practice an instrument, practice. Practice what you do. Do your church plays and drama plays, and make some little videos in your backyard and just practice it. Mikel Del Rosario Yeah. How can pastors come alongside Christian who are involved in the arts, who are actors, who are filmmakers and be a better support and encouragement? Alex Kendrick They should treat them like they treat a missionary, to pray over them regularly, to send them into an area of the world that desperately needs Jesus, and to love and support them. And it may be, if someone is called into the arts, but they recognize they’re called to do it for God’s glory, that they get the same level of support from their church or ministry that a missionary would. Because we can use the screen and the television and the Internet to present the gospel just like someone going to a foreign country. Absolutely you can do the same thing. And so – but again, if their heart is right, and they can do it for God’s glory, then we should support them. You rarely see a missionary that’s haughty and egotistical going to another country. Right? Well, people in the arts should be the same way. You should be humble and honor the Lord. And so, a pastor – well, for our books, for our movies, I would say check ’em out, and if you agree with what we’re doing, then let your people know about them and use them as ministry tools. There are people that will come see a movie that may not come in the door on Sunday morning to hear a sermon. So, use them as ministry tools. And we’re grateful for those pastors that bring groups opening weekend to our films, ’cause when our distributor sees that the films are working, then they gave them even more theaters and more support, and that means more people see the ministry of it. Mikel Del Rosario That’s awesome. Alex, thank you so much for being with us here today. Alex Kendrick My pleasure. Thank you for having me. Mikel Del Rosario And we thank you so much for being with us on the table today. If you have a topic you would like us to consider for a future episode, please e-mail us at thetable@DTS.edu. We hope that you will join us again next week here on the table where we discuss issues of God and culture. The post Faith, Work, and Filmmaking appeared first on DTS Voice.
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Mar 8th, 1977
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6 days, 8 hours