Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman discuss the state of moral and legal authority in America, why God is our ultimate spiritual and moral authority, different ways of knowing God’s truth by interpreting the Bible, where Baptists and Catholics disagree, and how Christians should view authority.
Dr. Jim Denison begins by discussing how Americans view authority and why we regard the rule of law as higher than even the president’s power and the difference between legal, moral, and spiritual authority (0:59).
They cover why religion was important to America’s founders and how Americans are sorting our views on morality through the judicial courts and legislation at a state, and even city, level (12:07).
They comment on the conflict between religious liberty and the civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community (16:01). Dr. Denison considers the differences of spirituality and morality from an “epistemological” perspective for Christians: the intuitive, rational and practical (28:09). This is relevant for Christians to how we pray, read the Bible, and ultimately our view of authority (34:14).
They close by tying everything together, discussing the priesthood of all believers, community, church leadership, and the Bible’s grounding authority for our lives (42:43).
Resources and further reading:
- “The power of living biblically” Sermon by Dr. Jim Denison
- “The rise of a post-truth culture” Podcast with Dr. Turman and Dr. Denison
- “How we should think” Podcast with Dr. Turman and Dr. Denison
About the hosts
Jim Denison, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and the CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content.
Mark Turman, DMin, is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.
Transcript by Otter.ai
Mark Turman 00:10
You’re listening to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, the host and executive director of Denison Forum, sitting down again with Dr. Jim Denison, our founder and CEO. We’re going to talk about culture, hope, biblical truth. And today we’re going to talk about authority. So Jim, good to see you again. How are you?
Jim Denison 00:28
I’m doing well, Mark, good to be with you today as well, so grateful to have these conversations with you.
Mark Turman 00:32
Well, we hope that it’s useful to our listeners, and that it’ll be something that brings them clarity as well as direction and just get to hear that so many times from different angles about what you’re doing and what we’re doing, and just so grateful to be able to do this and to have this opportunity to use a podcast as a way of helping people as well. What made you want to talk about authority? Where did that start bouncing around in your heart?
Jim Denison 00:59
Thank you. Well, it’s really on two levels. First of all, I’ve been recently doing a series of sermons that I’m preaching on Sundays in chapel Virginia, and I attend church, kind of starting the new year, sort of a deal, living your best life kind of a deal a life, God can bless. And so we’ve talked about living nationally, we talked about using time effectively about using your influence effectively. And I came to realize really, at the foundation of all of that is living biblically. By that I mean thinking biblically, acting biblically living in obedience to Scripture, because God can’t bless what Graham says, kids, you can’t bless your kids, if you know they’re going to be harmed by what you do, can give them the keys to the car, if you know they’re going to wreck the car and endanger their lives. And so if we won’t live biblically, it’s not legalism here. It’s that we can’t live a life that God can bless if we’re not lined up with what’s best for us. So that was one piece of it. The other was something that occurred to me, as I’ve been watching the news continue to unfold about the top secret classified documents issues relative to President Trump and President Biden and Vice President Pence. And who knows what else and what’s next. Right?
Mark Turman 01:55
Yeah. Yeah. Who else who knows how many people are cleaning out their closets in their garages?
Jim Denison 02:00
Even as we speak? Even as even as they’re not? There probably should be, you know, I’m looking around myself to see if I have any classified documents, you know, it’s just, it’s just kind of this crazy, who would have thought a few months ago, right, just as crazy thing? Well, in the midst of all that is everybody, you know, seeing all the different pundits in the deal, and obviously, the political rancor and all that something that apparently hasn’t occurred to anybody, I haven’t seen anybody say this as well, you know, he’s the Commander in Chief, he should be above the law on this. This shouldn’t matter. He should get to do with classified documents, whatever he wants. I mean, after all, he can classify him an unclassified if he wants to. He’s the leader of the free world. He’s the most powerful person on the planet. We keep saying, the why does this apply to him? Why is this a big deal for him? I haven’t heard anybody say that. I haven’t heard Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden, Mr. Pence say that haven’t heard their supporters say they haven’t heard anybody say that. Because we understand that we’re a nation of laws, not lords, as it were right, that we’re governed by the rule of law, not the rule of man. And so even the president is under authority, in that sense, and we’re grateful for that. We want that to be the case. Well, as you know, in the last few decades, culturally, that whole idea has come completely undefined. Now, we live in this post truth culture where you have your truth, and I have my truth, my body my choice, as people keep saying, I can do what I want with my body as regards abortion, to euthanasia, sexual orientation, gender identity, whatever the issue is, I mean, didn’t the dictionary a few years ago, Oxford called post truth the word of the year. So we live in a culture that doesn’t believe that authority is my point, even though the President has to live under authority, we don’t believe in authority. So we don’t understand why we need to live under authority. We’re not going to live under biblical authority. That’s how those two come together. Why would I live in a biblical authority if I don’t want any authority, if I want to be my own authority, so all of that was in my in the background, as it came together to have these thoughts preach this sermon, and now have this conversation with you.
Mark Turman 03:53
And it’s and it’s very important for us to understand we’ll get to this in a minute because the Bible has a lot to say about authority and and about God as our King and the ultimate authority you in recent months, love to talk about I love to hear you talk about Jesus being our King, what does it mean for he, for Jesus to be our king and referencing the document? scandals, if you’re gonna call them scandals? It wasn’t all that was always that way in history, right? There would there would have been a number of instances where we could talk about including biblical history relative to the to the Roman Empire and to the Caesars where nobody would have questioned what documents he had or didn’t have. So it may be demoralizing to us in some way to see that our leaders would miss handle sensitive documents like this, and other experiences where people are held accountable and by authority, that can be demoralizing to us in some ways, but in all in other ways. It’s really a good thing to realize that we are trying to live out this Very unique principle that no one is above the law, as you said that we are a nation of laws, not lords, which is a very much at the heart of what the American experiment is all about. And to try to live out the rule of law. And that means that people are, the only way it has meaning is if that actual accountability gets transacted, it’s kind of like the large scale version of what we talked about in parenting, right? You can, you can make all kinds of parenting rules. But if you don’t enforce the consequences, or the rewards, if you will, if if choices don’t have actual outcomes that parents implement, then there really is no such thing as parental authority, parental leadership, which is really, I was thinking about getting ready for this podcast and this conversation that we run into authority and start grappling with it very early. We, we run into it, even as infants, I would think from a physical standpoint, we start learning lessons about natural law and the authority that comes with things like gravity and other simple physical laws of the universe, we start running into the authority of family and parents, when we’re small children and parents are teaching us don’t run out in the middle of the road. And they’re giving us guidance and authority that is intended to nurture, protect and guide us. But in this particular case, we’re talking about spiritual authority or moral authority. And maybe I’ll just get you to clarify right there. Are we taught when we say spiritual authority, is that the same thing as moral authority? It’s
Jim Denison 06:36
a great question. And I’m gonna put it in that context. If I could back up for just a second say a couple things about what you just said, and then get a running start at that. I’m so glad you pointed that out. I think we Americans, so take for granted the uniqueness of our American experiment, this idea that we’re a nation of laws and not lords. I mean, back through history, how often would it have been the case that a Caesar or a king of Napoleon or whomever would be caught up in a scandal about what documents they kept or didn’t keep? But think about that, even in today’s context? I’m thinking back to Watergate, the resignation of President Nixon, because he was assumed to be impeached and probably convicted by the Congress. Well, that wouldn’t have worked in Cuba. That wouldn’t happen in Russia wouldn’t happen in China, right? I mean, I’d love to go to Israel been there more than 30 times over the years, they last had elections nearly 20 years ago. The outcome wasn’t what Mahmoud Abbas wanted it to be, there have been no election since a mosque got themselves elected, and they’re so unpopular in Gaza, they won’t call the elections. In most of the world that even has something like democracy, the democracy is itself a means to the end of the dictator. And so we just should be grateful as Americans, so we can have a conversation about classified documents and all of that and be frustrated, but be grateful that we’re even a World War that lives right. But in our culture, I don’t know that we understand the relationship between moral authority and spiritual authority. I do think that we have this sense that kind of like the golden rule is he who has the gold makes the rules. You know, morality is what I say it is. The morality is what I believe it to be that in a nation of laws, ultimately, it’s a Supreme Court that would decide what is moral or isn’t in a legal context, but nobody’s thinking in a spiritual context. They’re, they’re asking what is moral or what is immoral relative to a body of secular laws, not in the context of spiritual or biblical authority. Quick example of that is nobody’s thinking about making adultery illegal so far as I know, even though spiritually we should be, morally we can’t find a way to do that in the context of law. We can’t figure out and I think that’s probably right. I’m no lawyer, but I think it’s probably right. How would you make adultery illegal? How would you go about declaring that immoral from a legal point of view? And vital and how you would do that on a practical level? What are the extenuating circum? Circumstances here? What’s What’s the definition of adultery? How does all of this work? And how would the courts get involved in all of that? So we make a distinction in our culture, between moral slash legal authority and spiritual authority. And then when we separate Sunday and Monday and religion in the real world, now spiritual authority as a hobby, spiritual authority might be for you, but I’m not a spiritual person anyway, right? Or I might be spiritual, but not religious, like so many people say. And so we’ve lost any spiritual foundation for moral authority. According to George Washington, that’s a drastic mistake. In his farewell address, as you know, he said of all the dispositions and habits are essential to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. And he added that we must take with great care, any position that would say that we can have morality without religion, Thomas Jefferson said that Benjamin Franklin said that John Adams, that our constitution is made only for a moral and religious people, and is wholly unsuited to the governance of any other. So the founders believed that morality dependent on religion and democracy depended on morality which depended on religion. We’ve decoupled those things in our culture. We’ve created morality only around legality. If it’s legal, it must be moral. We’ve lost the spiritual foundation. We therefore have no north on the compass. We have no map by which to govern, and we ought not be surprised that we are where we are as a result.
Mark Turman 10:05
And we we find ourselves living in a tension, right, where, as you say, the founders were trying to lay out this framework of spiritual authority as the foundation of moral and civil authority. But at the same time, we had this reality where they were trying to make a clear distinction where there would be a Free Church and a free state, and trying to protect the freedom of conscience. And the part of the faith family that you and I emerge from the Baptist part of this were very much a part of leading this conversation, the formation of the Bill of Rights, that type of thing that said, you know, we were going to try to build a country in which religion is not a litmus test for participation and for leadership, especially, because we believe, expressly not and we believe that faith can only be genuine if it is freely chosen. And so we’re going to try to create a community where we can all live together in some kind of harmony and mutual thriving. But that doesn’t mean you have to believe a certain thing or a certain way you get you have the right to believe nothing at all. And so we have that tension as well. And getting back to your point, I was recently doing some reading that some things that you had written and some other things, were the idea of legislating things like adultery, it’s actually been tried was tried in Massachusetts, in the early days of that colony by the Puritans. And
Jim Denison 11:37
you remember that? Yeah. Scarlet Letter? Yeah, you could
Mark Turman 11:40
be you could be, you could be jailed, or even possibly killed for such such things as adultery. Right, when the only thing but it was certainly one of the things. So it has been tried before. But we are struggling to figure out how to live in that tension, right, absolutely freedom of conscience, freedom of conscience, and yet have some kind of substantial foundation to our shared civility and morality.
Jim Denison 12:07
And that’s the challenge, isn’t it? Because we’re in a day to day that I just don’t imagine the forefathers could have understood in their context. You’re absolutely right, a Free Church and a free state is absolutely their goal. But I do believe that there was a consensual religious morality that was part of their worldview, even out of their enlightenment experience, even as secular as maybe they’re more on their own personal lives. They didn’t understand the kind of pluralism that we live with, how could they have 200 years ago, 250 years ago? How could they have understood what to be in a culture of as pluralistic as we are now? And so now, we’re trying to continue the experiment of a Free Church and a free state and have a consensual morality without a religious foundation. But we’re in the day now, where we can’t even decide what life is, can’t decide when life begins, can’t decide how marriage ought to be defined, can’t decide how death ought be understood. Basic, foundational, massive, ethical issues are now in question and why they just weren’t 250 years ago. I mean, demonstrably, categorically, just were not. And so now we’re in a day where we’re continuing this experiment, where we need a kind of a moral religious foundation for democracy. But we’re understanding morality so differently, and understanding truth itself so differently. And in that world, I really think it’s an open question. The degree to which all of this works itself out. One quick example of that, that we talked about all the time, is the collision between religious freedom and sexual freedom. In a day when I ought to have the freedom to stand up against LGBTQ beliefs, the other person could say, Yes, but I have the freedom to live according to my LGBTQ beliefs. Okay, fine. You go your way, I’ll go my way. What do we do when I want to make a website, the company and you want me to make a website for your gay marriage for your gay wedding, which is before the Supreme Court right now? Or I want to do a big shop and you want me to make a cake for your same sex wedding, which is the masterpiece cake shop case that’s continuing in the courts? What do you do when the two come together when they come into collision? The founding fathers did not give us guidance for what to do. When a web designer doesn’t want to make a website for a same sex wedding. We just don’t find that constitutional guidance here. And further, we don’t find the kind of moral north on the compass decreed to us. That gives us an easy way to solve that. So we’re very pragmatic people. Pragmatism was invented by American philosophers back in the 1870s, a whole movement called pragmatism, truth is what works. Charles Sanders purse and William James John Dewey were kind of the leaders of all of that’s held us together pretty well. Truth is what works. What do you do when what works for you doesn’t work for me? That’s where we are right now. And we’re legislating this case by case piece by piece bit by bit. And who knows how this ultimately is going to work itself out.
Mark Turman 14:48
Do you think? Do you think that that is the just the way that we’re going to work out our consensual morality or Because or there just doesn’t seem to be any other way other than this case by case, because as as you were saying some would in the, in the case of what’s before the Supreme Court, the masterpiece cake story, obviously there’s this one line of thinking that says, Well, the answer here is to group it to civil rights. We’ve talked about this before, that being being gay is the same thing is being of an ethnicity. And it should be seen in that way. And so it should be attached to civil rights legislation, it should be seen in that same lens. And there’s very strong arguments to the counter of that. But do you think that the path forward is just going to be this really hard, messy plotting experience of case by case? And can we anticipate that that might at some point just kind of settle into some kind of renewed or revised shared understanding? Or is it likely to be more contentious than that?
Jim Denison 16:01
Yeah. Isn’t that a great question? Really? I think there are two roads to kind of a binary why on the road with all sorts of implications along the way, and I think you’ve sketched them out really well. The first is to see it as a civil right. Well, that’s a pretty simple solution here. Back in the 60s, it wasn’t difficult to say, Okay, here’s white majority ethnic minority to different classes, let’s elevate ethnic minorities to have the same civil rights as white majority. Let’s apply that to LGBTQ we’re done. They have the same civil rights as ethnic minorities do, and a cake chopped, has does not have the legal ability to say I won’t make a cake for an African American Wedding. So they by definition, don’t have the ability to say no to a cake for a same sex wedding. And we’re done. Part of the problem with that is not only all the, as you said, all of the cases against doing this that way, and all the challenges. It’s, it’s an LGBTQ, as a coalition is at war with itself relative to civil rights. Um, just pick the T up with an LGBT Q, you have transgender rights over here and women’s rights here in the context of women’s athletics. So a biological male, according to the t of this has the sole right to choose to claim themselves to be a female and compete against females. Now, females are losing all of the advantages that have been gained to them over decades of work to try to give them equality and women’s athletics. So equal access to women’s scholarships, equal ability to be able to compete as men. Now women are losing women civil rights are being lost to transgender civil rights. So making it a civil rights answer is messy in a way it’s not with ethnicities. I’m not aware of any argument that black civil rights were privileged over Latino civil rights are Asian civil rights or Korean civil rights. I’m not aware that there was a context in which part of an ethnic minority was privileged over others, but with T vs. Women, that’s exactly what’s happening right now. Most of the argument I’m seeing against transgender civil rights is being led by feminists, many of whom are very religious, a number of whom would say that they’re atheists, they’re in no sense making a religious argument. So that’s one place where that answer to this just breaks down, and I think will continue to break down. I’ve heard a number of legal scholars say that transgenderism is the Achilles heel of the LGBTQ civil rights equality movement, for the reasons we’re describing right now. So the other fork in the road is okay, we’re gonna have to do this piecemeal case by case it’s not so simple as to say it’s just a blanket, civil rights conversation, we’re gonna have to do this down the way, the way I think that’s what the way it’s sorting itself out about abortion right now is doing it by democracies. We’re at a place where the Supreme Court says, We’re not going to do this by fiat, just like we’re not going to do the other conversation by Fiat elevate this to civil rights in the context of the 1964 civil rights legislation to be done with it. That’s not going to happen. So because there’s no Fiat that the federal government is going to impose on abortion right now. It’s state by state, as you know, it’s in some places city by city, county by county, and we’re gonna sort ourselves out into not just you live in Austin, or do you live in Midland in the context of Texas? What part of Austin Do you live in? What part of Midland Do you live in? What part of Dallas do you choose to live in? That’s the way it seems to be sorting itself out over here. And so long as we have a Supreme Court that I think rightly does not wish to legislate from the bench. They’re going to continue to resolve these issues as narrowly as possible, with as little implication for the future as possible. I think Ruth Bader Ginsburg was right. When she said Roe v. Wade, overreached, and gotten into legislation and solve problems that it wasn’t intended to address. I think the courts not going to do that under Roberts. His his desire very much is to be an incrementalist very much to be a minimalist, not to create any more precedent than they have to. So for the foreseeable future, that does seem to be the direction we’re going is to more and more messiness, more and more contention, more and more legislation, because the courts are how we resolve moral issues, absent spiritual authority, and that’s where our culture seems to be these days.
Mark Turman 19:58
Right. One more Question. They don’t want to move to some other aspects about authority that you wrote about and spoke about. You said to me recently that you thought that it would come down to you read some others that thought it would come down to. I think you referenced this a minute ago, the battle between religious freedom and sexual. And in a conversation we had a couple of weeks ago, you said there are those that say that, you know, given that if that is really where the battle line ultimately comes, that sexual freedom will win and defeat religious freedom because of the strength of human sexual design. Can you comment on that a little bit that’s really disturbing on a lot of levels. But talk about that, just if that’s really where the battle line is between our religious freedom and sexual freedom. Where do you see that we are in that anything else you want to say about that? And and what that means for us if that is the battle? Yeah, thank
Jim Denison 21:02
you. That’s Chuck Colson, his observation that may be of others as well, before I first saw it was something he predicted a long time ago, Charles Colson that that was inevitably going to be where we were going to go in a pluralistic secularized culture that has no moral north on the compass to resolve this. And that’s ultimately where the battle lines were going to be drawn between religious freedom and sexual freedom. And he made the same argument that we’re making here today, that sexual impulse being what it is, in an era religious culture, in an increasingly secularized culture, that the sexual freedom impulse was going to with one piece, it’s inside that is that our culture has gotten to a place I’m afraid even a lot of angelical throughout this place, where we’re deciding that really what it comes down to is we want the courts to give us the right to be wrong. The what sexual liberty or excuse me, religious liberty means today, what First Amendment religious freedom expression means today is that we get to claim the religious right to be culturally wrong, that it’s culturally wrong, to be unwilling to make a website for LGBTQ weddings, that it’s culturally wrong, to be unwilling to make a wedding cake for a same sex wedding celebration, just as it would be if it was an Asian or a Hispanic or whatever. And so all we have left to claim is a First Amendment right to be wrong. It’s hard to make that prevail just on the merits. And over time, ultimately, societies tend to want their laws to align with what they consider to be right. That’s what happened with Bob Jones, back in the 1980s, when they wanted the right to be wrong, relative to interracial dating on their campus, if I remember properly, and the IRS came along to say, Well, look, we confer 501, C three, it’s our choice to do that, you were no longer aligned with what they called settled public policy, visa vie, the 1964 civil rights legislation. And so you can no longer have 501 C three status if you want them in your policies, because we won’t give you the right to be wrong. And Bob Jones, at least at the time, chose to give up the 501 C three status, rather than amend their policies relative to interracial dating. It’s those kinds of places, it’s going to be what the NCAA does with a world warbirds basketball program, it’s going to be what the Society for American Academy of Religion does, with religion professors at Baylor University, or a Dallas Baptist University, we’re going to see it in all first of all, and all of these voluntary organizations, these private organizations, they can do what they want. NCAA can kick anybody out, it wants to anytime it wants to don’t even need a justification for doing so. And so they’re not going to give you the right to be wrong, is what I’m saying. Culture, we typically
Mark Turman 23:36
have to do that. Yeah. So are we seeing an example of that you and I live in Dallas, and somewhat by default, and by choice, that means that the local sports teams or our sports teams, right, whether we like it or not, that makes that makes us Dallas Maverick fans, and as we’re recording this big news in the NBA is that the Mavericks just traded for Kyrie Irving and Kyrie Irving is a phenomenal basketball player but has an interesting presence in the culture, having in recent days, months, said some things that are pretty controversial, such as the world is flat, and the Holocaust didn’t happen. And other things of that nature and the conversation in the midst of this trade has been well, can the culture particularly now the culture of Dallas, Maverick basketball, can it tolerate will it give Kyrie Irving quote unquote, the right to be wrong? While he is being a basketball player for this particular team that we that we like, locally? Yeah, is it that’s essentially what’s going on? Is it about giving Kyrie Irving the right to be wrong?
Jim Denison 24:53
Great question. And I think it is, I think that our culture to this point has said okay, you have the right to deny the whole of cost. horrifically, horrifically, you have the right to claim the world is flat, if you want to, you can do that. Okay, now we’re gonna give you the right to be wrong, so long as it doesn’t hurt us. That’s where our culture is. That’s where our pragmatic culture is, at this point didn’t hurt me for you to call the world flat. So I guess I’m gonna let you do that I’ll just give you the right to be wrong. But if it hurts me, that’s when you no longer have the right to be wrong, whether it’s a same sex wedding cake, or a same sex website, or whatever that might be. My prediction here is we’re so pragmatic. We’ll give Kyrie Irving the right to be wrong, as long as he keeps going 27 points again, so long as he keeps shooting 19.9% from the free throw line, we’ll give him the right to be wrong, I doubt we would have traded for a marginal player who thought the Earth was flat, and denied the Holocaust, and was going to bring all of the cultural issues they’re going to come to bear in Dallas even more than was the case in New York, but pragmatics when, right, so will give you the right to be wrong, so long as it doesn’t hurt me, is where I think we are, through all that back to your question. First of all, the sexual impulse versus the religious impulse and a secularized culture, plus just who we are as fallen human beings, right, when you expect that Chuck Colson would be right and that the sexual freedom impulse would went over the religious freedom impulse. And then second, if the religious freedom impulse is built on a desire and a claim that I have the first amendment right to be wrong. My prediction is that over time, cultures just don’t forever, give people the right to be wrong, especially when hurts them, which is what so many of our rights to be wrong claims are perceived to be doing, you can add a third piece very quickly mark to that. And that is that we as a culture had been built around being a republic rather than a democracy, with an enormous sympathy for the minority. And that should be as it is so grateful, it is what it is. We’re not simply a majority rule, kind of a culture. I mean, that’s why the founders gave so many protections to minorities. And that’s why the bill of rights exist. Well, if the LGBT community is seen as a minority that has been victimized by the majority’s desire and insistence on the right to be wrong, our culture is even more going to be opposed to that right to be wrong. Not only are you hurting people, you’re hurting a minority, you’re hurting a victimized minority by your desire to be wrong, or your willingness to be wrong in your desire that we give you the right to be wrong. And you give you 501 C three protections, and give you access to NCAA basketball tournaments, and give you free access to the culture. I just don’t see how long the culture is going to move in that direction, given those kinds of rubrics that surround the issue.
Mark Turman 27:32
Right. So let’s let’s talk about this from, from a biblical standpoint, as you spoken, wrote about recently about authority, there’s not a time when somebody you don’t get to your 10th birthday. And after the after the birthday cake and all the celebration, you don’t sit down and say okay, Mom and Dad, I need to choose my moral authority. I need to choose my spiritual authority for the rest of my life. We don’t have conversations like that. I’ve never,
Jim Denison 27:58
although my granddaughter is so brilliant. That might be coming. I don’t know, you know, that could become Yeah, she’ll probably suggest it to you probably tell me what might should be.
Mark Turman 28:09
So exactly, no, but you talked about in spoke about choosing the Bible as your authority as both your spiritual and moral authority. So I want to talk to you about that as something we would advocate for, obviously, and why that’s important. But I want to expand that conversation a little bit if we could at the beginning and talk about the authority that comes from prayer from the Bible, from the church. And then if we have time, maybe we’ll get to the general authority that comes from the community that we live in. Whether that’s, you know, we’re talking about a city or even a country that we live in, but talk about a little bit the authority, the nuances and the distinctions between the authority that might be experienced in our prayer life as an exercise of faith. You talk a lot about prayer, and the need to spend time with God every day and to listen for his voice, this belief that we have as Christians that God is actively involved in our life every day that we have this gift of prayer, that the Bible speaks so deeply about, what is what are the some of the distinctions we need to think about and understand because you and I’ve talked about this in different contexts before we we no longer in our culture, say, I this is what I believe we now say this is what I feel. And that easily translates into people’s understanding and practice of prayer. Give us some of the nuance between the authority that we should understand through our prayer life versus that of what we see in the bible verses that of what we would hope to experience in a local congregation that we are a part of,
Jim Denison 29:57
that’s a great question. It really is. Haven’t thought about it quite Those terms but I’m really glad you did that that way and framed it that way. My first thought is to move to what philosophers call channels of epistemology. Isn’t that exciting? Don’t you think everybody right now listen, okay, there’s
Mark Turman 30:10
a real gem. None of us can spell that
Jim Denison 30:12
they just real that finally we’re getting to channels of epistemology. I’ve been waiting this whole podcast for finally somebody to do this. And now finally, we’re here. That’s exactly the part I need. Right? Aren’t we so grateful for this? I mean, nobody’s turning this off right now. Nobody is rolling their eyes or looking for sports, right? What’s this Kyrie Irving thing you’re talking about? You know, that’s not happening. Oh, no, everybody wants to hear it all the time. Tell me more about channels of epistemology all the time. But nonetheless, no, but we, you know, not to be a little diverted here, channels epistemology, or how you know what you don’t pistol pistol Knology comes from the Greek word epistemology, meaning knowledge, it’s word about knowledge. So it has to do with how you know what, you know, just a fancy word for all three ways, you know what, you know, or the rational, practical, intuitive. You do math rationally. You start a car, practically push the button, turn the key, and it starts unless you’re an automotive engineer, in which case you do irrationally, you do it because you understand by pushing the button or turning the key, I can tell you that I’m a 65. Mustang. I have no idea how that works on my car today. So I’m starting my car practically, we’re having this conversation pragmatically, I have no idea how the technology works that makes this happen. If I did, we’d be doing it rapidly. So we do some stuff rationally, some practically some intuitively. i We make some we like people who don’t like people, typically intuitively, you could do it pragmatically based on what they do for you. You could do it rationally, not a cost benefit analysis, I guess. But usually, relationships function and kind of this intuitive sort of a way? Well, we all do all three of those, although one of those tends to dominate our personality. I’m highly rational doesn’t mean I’m smart. I don’t mean that just, I think I make decisions based on rational principles, primarily. Jeff Bird I’ve worked with for 34 years, you know, Jaffe essentially runs our day to day ministry is highly pragmatic, his backgrounds in engineering, he has an MBA, he’s the guy in the room that will ask the question, well, how are we going to pay for that? Where are we going to find the time for that? I don’t want to think about that. I wish he wouldn’t ask that question. But I’m glad he does. My wife is incredibly intuitive, really good at just sensing right from wrong and being very discerning and all that always good to have people in your life that are quite you aren’t right, just in terms of being able to kind of balance out in the interim, all that to say in terms of your question, Where does authority lie in the context of personal prayer relationships, personal intuition with God, I would suggest that you do them in the order the rational than the practical than the intuitive. So I’m having an intuitive experience with God, I sense that God is leading me to go do X, measure that pragmatically, practically talk to people that can help you think about the context of that the circumstances of that, the just the pragmatic results of all of that, but ultimately take it rationally to Scripture, God will never lead you contrary to His Word. Does this sense line up with scripture? Does this sense make sense? Biblically, try to see if you can get practical and, and rational kind of evidence for this kind of substantiation for this talk to people who are more rationally wired or pragmatically wired than you are, they’re primarily intuitive and get some help around all that. Don’t watch out just based on an intuitive sense, as though that were your final authority. Your feelings are not your final authority, as my youth ministry you say was in high school, that your feelings are the caboose, not the engine, they’re supposed to get dragged along by the engine not to be the engine, right? Your feelings can have been on the PT head for supper last night, or how much sleep you got. Or if you’re worried about the Super Bowl, or whatever it might be. And so absolutely pay attention to your feelings know that God leads us intuitively. Paul had his Macedonian vision, right. Joseph had his dreams. I mean, God does do that. But measure the intuitive by the practical and especially the rational of Scripture, would then then you’re putting your feelings under the authority, first of Scripture. And second of the community of faith in that pragmatic sense. We believe in the priesthood of every believer, but we sometimes forget about the priesthood of all believers. That the way to measure the individual is against the collective to see what is God saying to the body, not just to a part of the body, do all that together. And I think we have our best chance to be under authority has gotten tense.
Mark Turman 34:14
Okay, so, yeah, so now maybe epistemology does matter more. So that’s always helpful from Yes. Really helpful from the stamp. That was my goal, okay. Is to make you like, Yeah, I know. It was your Yeah, in the exam is coming soon as this podcast. That’s exactly right. And, yeah, but it’s really helpful to understand that those three categories of epistemology really makes us sound smart. Yeah, but it does. That is the way we live. This is how we know everything, right? And it’s just it’s not good or bad. It’s not Christian or non Christian. It’s just the way human beings operate. Okay. And this idea that we are we are experiencing life and making decisions and understanding reality through the This intuitive sense, this rational sense and this pragmatic sense, and then lining those up with the intuitive being related to our prayer life, the pragmatic being related to our interaction with the community and asking for their guidance, wisdom and input shared input in that, which is why every believer needs to be in a community of faith. And then the rational, is it really not worthwhile to try to sit back and say, Well, I can understand all three of those, but they’re not equally weighted. I, I think of an old Oklahoma preacher named preacher Holic who his daughter was a member of one of my churches. And she gave me his his autobiography might have been one of the only books that he wrote just or maybe the only book he wrote, but it’s first time I ever heard somebody say, you know, if it comes down to me praying to God, or me reading the Bible, I’m always going to opt for reading the Bible, because what God has to say, to me is more important than what I have to say to him, is it? Is it really not really worthwhile to sit back and say, well, of all of these three things, the intuitive the the pragmatic, and the rational, the Bible, the church and the prayer, we shouldn’t we should or should not wait them equally. Is that Is there even any value in that conversation?
Jim Denison 36:20
Good question. That’s more the Wesleyan direction where you had this idea of you have scripture, you have tradition, you have a reason. It’s kind of a three legged stool, you know, and, and a three legged stool, you need all three of those. It’s kind of the Catholic impulse, the idea that the Bible was given to the church, that the church is a means by which the Bible’s to be interpreted. And now the creeds and councils of the church become equal in authority. Now, as a means of interpreting the Bible, we want to be fair to the Catholic tradition here, but nonetheless become authority in your life as well. And sometimes one would say equal authority. It’s a sense in which the Bill of Rights is equal in authority to the Constitution, that at events, you know, is a way of looking at all of that Supreme Court rulings are equal in authority to the Constitution that they’re supposed to be based on. And so you can kind of look, I think at it at that point, I would myself be reluctant to have that three legged stool and have all three of them be equal in length, as it were, you know, so that in Wesleyan terms, you’ve got reason you’ve got tradition, you’ve got Scripture as equals all three, I think the foundation of it has to be biblical. Someone said God said it, I believe in that settles it to which someone else said, No, God said it, and that settles it, whether I believe it or not. And so I really want to say that the Bible is God preaching that the Bible is God’s unchanging authority, that the Bible is the foundation by which to measure what the community wants to do. And what I want to do. If I’m going to put community at the same level as scripture, well, you’ve got Jim Jones, you’ve got colts, you’ve got all sorts of horrific community authority out there. That would be equal to Scripture, if you’re going to go that direction, you’ve got individuals doing all sorts of horrible things that they’re convinced God is leading them to do that would be equal in authority. And how do you say no to that, if these three are all going to be of equal length on the stool, they’re all of equal authority. So I would say scripture comes first, probably community comes second, and I think I come third, I think I need to measure God’s word in my voice by what the community says. And most of all, what Scripture says now, very quickly, and you know how complex these things get very quickly, it’s not so simple as to say that you don’t need community and intuitive to interpret Scripture. It’s not so simple as to say that the Bible doesn’t have to be interpreted by the individual in the context of the community. The Catholic Church is right God did give the Bible through the church, it is true that the church is a means I wouldn’t say the means that’s why I’m not a Catholic, but a means by which the Bible should be interpreted. That’s why I’ve got so many commentaries on my shelf. That’s why I want to pay attention to what 20 centuries of Christians have thought about that text. That’s why I don’t want to say history started today. And leave the pragmatic out and just get the intuitive interpretation of the objective order. Nor do I want to leave out the individual. Or else once I’m in a community, now I don’t have the Holy Spirit working in my life. Now I don’t have this idea that the Holy Spirit can speak the Word of God into my life and interpret Scripture to me. That’s again, I’m not, I’m so grateful for Catholic tradition. But that’s why I’m not a Catholic. Because I believe what makes us different than lawyers who need to go to law school to interpret the Constitution, or doctors who need to go to medical school to practice medicine, is we have the Holy Spirit to interpret Scripture to us. And so I think you need all three of those in balance. But the way I would look at it would just say, scripture would be the foundation of that. And then I get to the pragmatic and then the intuitive as the means of interpreting and applying the Scripture, bottom line for me, not only when I preach, or I teach, but when I’m making decisions. I want to know what the text intends to say. Then I want to know how the Holy Spirit wants to apply that in my life. That to me is the only two questions that ultimately matter. What is the text intend to say? What is the Holy Spirit intend to say from that text of my wife today? Now it takes the community. It takes a lot of prayer and a lot of objective study to get to that place so the all three go together, but I would say scripture would be foundational to the other day
Mark Turman 40:00
Well, that, and that makes me just as we get ready to wrap up leads me down this idea because we talk a lot and encouraged a lot through the Denison forum that people would be people have the word of God that they would, that they would saturate themselves with the Word of God in a humble spirit of prayer. And, and yes, in the context of a church, we sometimes seem to bump into this idea that we believe in our tradition in the priesthood of every believer that every believer has the ability to relate to God directly through Jesus Christ and through his word. It’s a relatively recent reality in Christian history, that we have the kind of access to the Bible that we have, didn’t used to be that way. And for most of Christian history, people didn’t have a copy of the Word of God In An honor device in their pocket, where they could access the Bible at anytime they wanted to, I had a conversation with a family member just recently where we were talking about the Apostle Paul and, and how when you’re reading the book of action, his letters, it feels like it happened. Well, this happened on Tuesday, and then Thursday, this happened. And then 10 days later that happened, when actually what you’re reading is something that unfolds over about 30 years. And if you don’t realize that, then you’re probably not going to read it correctly. And was just an indication of, you know, what we do need leaders who have been trained and, and most believers are not called to, nor do they have the time to go get those kinds of level of training, even if they have time, and hopefully are reading the Bible consistently on their own. But it’s a relatively recent thing is for any, you know, for believer X, Y, or Z, to have that kind of access to the Bible, and there’s still places in the world where they don’t have that kind of access. And they need their leaders. Okay. So it’s one of those things of trying to help people to, to say, you know, what, I’m grateful that I have prayer, nobody can ever keep me from praying, I always have that intuitive opportunity, no matter what my circumstances. In most cases, hopefully, I have ready access to the Word of God, the rational part of this, I should engage that. But if I don’t have access to the Word of God, and I have access to a church or to a leader, who does, I can learn with and through them, I don’t I don’t give them blind obedience, like they, like people did with Jim Jones and with other figures that we could talk about, we don’t give them blind obedience. But we do recognize that they are part of God’s gift to the church and to us. And we should value that and appreciate that, am I am I on the right track?
Jim Denison 42:53
I think so. Absolutely, Mark. And that’s where we’re Baptist, but not entirely, but not only Baptist, right? We’re batteries to a degree, we emphasize priesthood of every believer that we also understand the priesthood of all believers, and the collective sense of this. One thing that comes along with the priesthood of every believer is the idea of local church autonomy, and the idea of a kind of a democratic or congregational sort of way of doing church. Because again, we don’t think that the pastor or the bishop or a cardinal, or whomever ought to be able to tell us what Pastor we can and can’t call what property we can own, who can be our leader, all of that. So the priesthood of every believer works itself into the priesthood of all believers in this kind of balance. And isn’t that a messy balance? It will always be a messy balance between me and us, between the individual and the collective. It’s like it’s Paul’s analogy where the body of Christ with hands and feet And eyes and ears, well, there are times when my hand takes precedence. Right now it does. Actually, I’ve got some kind of little painful cuts on my thumb here, and my thumb right now is taking precedence over the rest of my body in ways I wish it wouldn’t. If you’ve had a significant toothache, do you understand how a tooth can take precedence? Right? But that doesn’t mean that you are a tooth, or you are a thug, or you are what that one piece is, there’s a, there’s a communal kind of collectivism here. That’s how God designed all of this. So at the end of the day, I think we start by saying, Lord, teach me how to know your word and apply it to my life helped me to do that, and trust that he’s better at answering that question than we are praying it. He wants us to know as well more than we do. And through his Word, through his people through His Spirit, He will guide us if we’re willing to be guided. And that’s the good news.
Mark Turman 44:29
And the whole point of this, as you say so beautifully, and so often is, this is what it means for Jesus to be your king. And what we see in the Bible, the best of what we see in the Bible is people living their lives with Jesus being their king. And so much in our culture is about people looking at Jesus as a Hobbesian. Some of them not even doing that, but so many, just seeing Jesus as a hobby when the real call is for Jesus to be our king in every way and in everything and in every day. All right, I think that’s
Jim Denison 45:01
right. You know, to extend that analogy very briefly, I know we’re about out of time here used to play a lot of golf, you can’t do that much anymore. With his back condition we used to have a lot. And so the golf pro at the Golf Country Club was king. When I was playing golf, he got to make the rules, he got to decide who got on the course who didn’t, if you took lessons from him, he was the lesson giver, you were the lesson taker. Everybody understood most of them played in the big courses anyway, played on the tour at one point, and so he’s the king of the golf course. But when I leave the golf course, he’s no longer king of any other dimension in my life. I absolutely submit to his authority, as long as I’m conducting the hobby, over which he’s my king. And I choose that a wanting to be king of the golf course. What do I know about watering greens? What do I know about maintaining the golf course I want him to be that king, but as a means to my end, and only so long as I’m on the court, when I leave the course he loses all relevance, I’m afraid, intuitively more than practically more than intentionally. That’s how so many people in my whole career have looked at me. I’m the head pro of the country club that they’ve chosen to join, they join and they pay their dues for benefits received. They want me and our staff to be really good at our jobs. So we can teach them lessons so that we can have a great restaurant, so that we can operate a terrific swimming pool so that we can have a sauna over here and a health club over there. And they’re coming as customers for what they receive for the dues that they pay. And they want me as the CEO of the country club to be really good at my job. But when they leave the country club, none of that’s relevant to the rest of their lives. I don’t know where that analogy breaks down. And how most Americans understand their experience with the church and the body of Christ are
Mark Turman 46:43
a good word and something for our folks to think about. Jim, thank you for your time and for this conversation today. I hope it’s helpful to our audience. And just want to say again, to our listeners, thank you for being a part of these conversations is if it’s been helpful to you, please rate and review us on your podcast platform, share it with others so that they can find out about the Denison Forum Podcast, and we look forward to seeing you the next time. Thank you for being a part God bless you