Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman reflect on the most meaningful mentor figures in their lives. Dr. Denison talks about Dr. John Newport, while Dr. Turman talks about the first church he ever pastored.
Dr. Denison and Dr. Turman briefly discuss certain mysteries of the Christian faith (2:41). Then, they turn to talk about mentors in their lives. Dr. Denison reflects on Dr. John Newport’s academic and pastoral mentorship (10:41). Dr. Turman talks about his experience as a church pastor of five people and how the deacons mentored him (18:14). They conclude by talking about how eternal significance can come from present faithfulness.
Resources and further reading:
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.
Dr. Mark Turman is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.
Transcribed by Otter.ai
Mark Turman 00:08
This is the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison forum and host. We’re glad that you’re joining us today sitting down again with Dr. Jim Dennison, cultural apologist and CEO of Denison ministries. Jim, how are you this afternoon?
Jim Denison 00:21
I am doing well. Mark, how are you sir?
Mark Turman 00:23
Doing great. Welcome to summer again, we’re doing our summer favorites series and just having conversations a little bit lighter and amazingly, maybe a little bit shorter.
Jim Denison 00:32
Amazingly, having conversations that don’t go on forever.
Mark Turman 00:33
Some would say miraculous, who would have thought.
Jim Denison 00:35
Who would have thought that that could have ever been possible? That’s not let the word out that we can do this? Yes. And we might expect it more often.
Mark Turman 00:43
You know, we really think about it the the summer favors should be longer, because it’s about lazy summer conversation you go, we should be in no hurry.
Jim Denison 00:51
That’s what we should be. Probably.
Mark Turman 00:53
But we won’t do that to our audience. So yeah, looking forward to the rest of the summer, in our part of the world, it gets extremely hot. And in some ways, we’ll be looking for a place to be anywhere other than North Texas in late July, early August. It can be really uncomfortable. And we’re grateful for those that invented air conditioning.
Jim Denison 01:17
You know, that is one of God’s greatest gifts, right, you know, makes it possible to live here, as they say. And so I grew up in Houston, where the mosquitoes the state bird of Houston, and and grows well in humidity and humidity. Yeah, 90 degrees and 95%. Humidity is just how it works. It’s a wonderful combination, you can see the air that you breathe. And so I just thought that’s how the world worked, you know, and right Come to find out not everybody does that. And so can’t imagine being in a place. That wouldn’t be what you just described.
Mark Turman 01:44
Well, in my childhood, I had an older sister who lived in Houston, when I was young, and I’m one of eight kids. She was the first I was the seventh child. So she was well into college and then into young adult life when I was in my childhood, always a summer trip to her house in Houston, always at least a long weekend, every summer. And that’s where I learned that in certain places like Houston, in the summertime, it rains every afternoon, every afternoon, which you’re kind of grateful for, but it doesn’t really cool anything. It’s just see the humidity, it just it just builds up so high that it has to go somewhere. And so it comes in big drops, as opposed to just floating in the air. And then it goes away. So and this is our Public Service Announcement encouraging people to visit Houston, that’s right for their summer vacation.
Jim Denison 02:35
That is pretty funny. A lot of good stuff in Houston. I could go on and on about that a lot of reasons to go there. But the humidity would not be one of them.
Mark Turman 02:41
Right? Yeah, that and it’s a great place great food that Houston has really come into its own largest city in America, remarkable culture, and the perfect grandchildren, my grandchildren live in tourism anyway. Right? The food has really become a big part of the Houston experience and culture very much a multicultural city. So we’re going to all of our friends in Houston and know that we’re on their side. That’s right, so, but we’re going to pick up where we left off last time in our summer series about people. But we’re also going to talk a little bit about transformational moments as we continue this conversation about presence, about relationships, about being where you are present, and playing off of and building off of the theological reality that, as we said, last time, God didn’t send a text message, he didn’t tweet, he sent his son, he came in real presence. And one of the real kind of mind boggling realities of Christian belief is that God became one of us live that we might be one with Him that we are with him. Yeah. Yeah. And was perfect among us, which is another kind of mind boggling doctrine of the Christian faith. Yes. And, and only then and because of that was capable of being the adequate insufficient sacrifice for our sin. Now, can you unpack all of that? You know, in three minutes, can you help us understand all of that? Sure.
Jim Denison 04:06
The mystery of the incarnation, right. So, in fact, some years ago, I was in Turkey, traveling around doing a book on the seven churches revelation, our tour guide was a Muslim, very committed Muslim. And his great challenge, of course, is Trinity and incarnation because it just doesn’t make sense, right? To which I said, Well, I’m kind of glad it doesn’t. If I could understand God, either he wouldn’t be God or I would be God. There ought to be mystery in this. And in fact, there is is God three or one is Jesus fully divine for the human? Is the Bible, divinely inspired to humanly written, does God know the future? Do I have freedom to choose? And the answer is yes. To all of those. But this is very idea that God would become one of us that we could be one with Him. You know, the way I heard him explain one time was a scientist was struggling with the incarnation and why would God do this? Why would God need to do this? Although once a shadow fell across the net mount, and the shadow frightened the answer, he suddenly started scurrying around because they were worried about this imminent threat, and he wanted to tell the answer meant them no harm. But he couldn’t do it said the only way he could do it would be to become an app. And it was in that moment he said he understood the Incarnation in a way he had not before.
Mark Turman 05:09
Wow. Well, it’s talking to a few of my minister friends recently, and we just had this conversation if, if we could understand it all, that wouldn’t be much of a god. That’s right. And he would be way too small. That’s right. For not only our own lives, our own sin need, but the magnitude of the world, and the reality of what the world is and what the world needs.
Jim Denison 05:35
We do know enough to do what we need to do. You know, it’s a speculative Western kind of Plato, Aristotle sort of a thing that wants it all figured out there once all the speculative questions. The Bible is not speculative. So much of its its practical, doesn’t tell us everything we want to know. But certainly it tells us all we need to know. I think it was the great theologian Mark Twain who said, it’s not the parts of the Bible, I don’t understand that bother me. It’s the parts of the Bible. I do understand that bother me. So while we may have questions that we can’t answer, because our minds are finite and fallen, we certainly have enough to do we have enough obedience to go on for an entire lifetime dealt with. And one day, you know, we looked through glass darkly, one day face to face one day we will known even as we are known, and perhaps then we will have the answers or will stop asking the questions.
Mark Turman 06:15
Right? Yeah, I’ve heard you explain this a number of times, that there are things that God might like to tell us, we just simply don’t have the capacity, like trying to teach calculus to a four year old, right? We just simply don’t have those capacity unless that four year olds want to migrate? Well, yes, there is that exception, of course. But the the idea that they’re just things we can interest in must interest to God, because we just simply don’t have the capability, at least not yet. Right? When, when we do see through the glass, clearly, we’ll have a whole different grasp of natural reality is just this morning, we were in a meeting with our team and talking to one of our team members. And she said, Yeah, you know, I get to heaven. I’m gonna roll out my scroll of questions for God, and then we got interrupted, but I was gonna say to her, and probably when we first get there, we’ll just go Oh, yes. And we’ll crumple up the scroll of questions and move on. And it will be that clear.
Jim Denison 07:16
And perhaps that quick, my guess is they’ll either be answered or they’ll no longer need answers. Right? You know?
Mark Turman 07:19
Yeah. And what a comforting reality that will be. Yes. Let’s talk a little bit about transformational relationships. We started last time talking about people that we’ve encountered that really made a significant impression on us in a very short amount of time, you talked about Billy Graham, I talked about a pastor that’s retired now, Jim Henry, want to move that conversation forward, because life is all about relationships, it’s all about relationship with God, by faith in Christ. It’s all about relationship with each other great commandment that Jesus gave us, it’s about loving God with all of your being, it’s about loving your neighbor as yourself. Let’s talk about people that we’ve had a season of life with, or a season of time with, didn’t stretch out for a decade didn’t stretch out for a lifetime. But there was a season in our lives when we were significantly, perhaps even intensely engaged with this person. And they have shaped us in very significant ways. For me, that was the very first and in some ways only pastor I ever had and who we both know Paul Powell, who’s now in heaven. I look back on it now. And I was actually only in the church that he pastored for a relatively short, probably two and a half year period. And then went off to college. And I stayed in relationship with Him and in relationship with the church. But I was no longer a permanent resident of the town. Because I was spending most of my time at college. And then once I finished college, there was a short period, and then I was off to graduate school. So there wasn’t a very long period of weekly interaction with him and with the church, even though it seems like it was very deep and long to me. But he became my primary mentor, ministry mentor, this larger than life inspirational figure in my life. But really, when I now look back on it, it it only represents about maybe a two, perhaps three year window in my life. But so much of the way I think about faith and understand the Bible, and try to walk not only by faith, but in a joyful, resilient kind of faith is based in what I saw, modeled in him, and in many ways, what I saw and experienced through his preaching because that was that’s the way I know him mostly. And I can remember sitting on the second row of the Church in rapt attention, just literally on the edge of the Pew because of how clear and strong he was as a puppeteer as a preacher. But that was a relatively short season of mine. Who would you name somebody that you had a season of significant intense engagement with who shaped you and marked you and still does?
Jim Denison 10:23
Yeah, the first name that comes to mind for me is Dr. John Newport. So Dr. Newport was Academic Vice President provost at Southwestern seminary when I was a student there, starting in 1980, all the way through faculty service and PhD and finally leaving in 1989. So for the last five years of that I was a doctoral student there a PhD student in philosophy, religion, and among other things he did, he was one of the major professors in that area in that department philosophy of religion. Dr. Newport was the most brilliant man I’ve ever known. On so many levels, not just academically, but just on so many levels, just this enormously formative figure. He did his first PhD in New Testament studies, became pastor of a church in Mississippi and a college town where there was a university nearby became aware of the apologetics issues and questions that were being asked God interested in that went back to school, did a master’s in apologetics, and then did a second PhD, this one in philosophy of religion at Edinboro, University of Edinburgh, and turned out numerous presidencies of seminaries because he knew his heart was in the academic space, and needed to be more there than in the administrative space. Well, when Russell Dodi became president of southwestern Seminary in the late 70s, his first call was to Dr. Newport, who at that point was in an endowed lifetime chair at Rice University, and gave that up to come to Southwestern to work with Dr. Delta to help create at Southwestern what in my experience, there was the finest Evan Jellicle academic experience in the world. In fact, Christianity today called us the finest Seminary in America during that period in time, well, I got to know Dr. Newport personally, because he became professor and several of the seminars I took there, and he just took me under his wing, he just kind of adopted me as it were spiritual, I had so many meals in his home so much time personally with him, just mentoring me exampling, for me, but the reason I bring him up is because of all the ways I could talk about Dr. Newport in his influence, the thing that so impacted me, then it still does now, was the practical dimension of his intellect, the degree to which he wanted to serve God academically to the outcome of salvations, to the outcome of spiritual growth to the outcome of actual Kingdom results, from what he was doing the opposite of the ivory tower academic for whom it’s an end. That’s fine to have people that are helping us in that way. But for him, everything he did with his genius, was a means to helping people no God. I didn’t understand that didn’t understand why he was so, so passionate in that way. So I began to understand his story a little better. He was part of the youth led revival movements. Back when he was in high school in college. He was an evangelist at an earlier point, his mother had been an evangelist at one point in her life as well. And his first academic experience was as an evangelist, going around to churches preaching revivals, evangelist. So when I discovered this very audaciously, I came to Dr. Newport. I was in my second year of study with him. We were in a Tilak seminar a year long seminar and Paul Tillich, I was pastoring a small church in the country in those days outside of Fort Worth. And I asked, just very audaciously, if he would ever be willing to come out to our little church and speak would he ever be willing to do that? He said he would love to come and do our revival, which back for those that wouldn’t be old enough to remember in the day, were typically several days long. Ours was Sunday through Wednesday, where we came together to experience personal spiritual renewal. And we hope to see lost people come to Christ as well. The old fashioned revivals than we used to do that he wanted to come and do that at my little church with 100 on a really good day.
Mark Turman 13:49
And air conditioning, air conditioning in a tent did hazard there was a day when these were held outside and in the tent in the middle of the summer,
Jim Denison 13:56
those were bad, especially if you’re in Houston or where we are exactly. So yeah, so we want to make that point clear. And so he agreed to come do this Sunday night through Wednesday night. The outstanding I would say Evan Jellicle academic in America, coming to my little church to preach Sunday through Wednesday, he forbade me to introduce him to the congregation as anything more than a colleague of mine from the seminary, didn’t want them to know his academic background and just dismiss him as somebody that wouldn’t be relevant to them. He came out started Sunday morning, and then stayed Sunday night through Wednesday night with this little church, went to lunch with us after church on that Sunday morning, came back out did each of the evening services. Well, before the services, he sat down with me and showed me his sermon outlines, wanted to make sure that I thought what he was doing would be relevant to the people so I knew what he was coming into preach each of those. And then we would sit up on the platform during the worship service. And he would be whispering to me wanting to know what the needs were in the congregation of the people that I saw sitting out there. So I would do my best to explain who I thought might need to salvation experience who was really praying about this or struggling with that, in that 10 minutes, five straight times, he completely reformulated his message in his mind. Wow. So that when he got up to preach it like he was like he had known for months, who was sitting there in that little church, I’ve never seen that done once, much less five straight times.
Mark Turman 15:14
So I’ve seen pastors on platforms whispering to each other. That’s not usually what they’re doing. And they might experience and that’s not usually what the conversation is where you were sitting there telling him, I’m not sure this person has a relationship with God, this person lost just lost their spouse, this person has a child that’s gone sideways. And you were having those kinds of pastoral, his workstations at his at his request. That’s right. And then he completely read of the Spirit since that he should change what he was going to preach about based on those conversations. That’s right,
Jim Denison 15:50
five straight times. Wow. Out of that event, a woman named alto Clyde now with the Lord came to me with a burden for revival in the community, and wanted to start a prayer meeting in our home to pray for revival. That prayer meeting went on for 20 years. Wow. And it started out of that revival, the jogger, Dr. John Newport, Academic Vice President and Provost to earned PhDs. I don’t know how many honorary degrees. At that point, he had published 40 different academic works, wow, that he came out to a small church in the country outside of Fort Worth. I’ll never forget, obviously, this was back in the mid 80s. And I’ll never forget his doing that his investment in me as investment in us, but that the way to which he model practical scholarship, as really the passion that we can serve Jesus with whatever gifts God’s given us. And in his case, it was his genius mind that he just gave to God and God used in such transformative ways.
Mark Turman 16:47
So if you had taken Dr. Newports resume, and slid that under the noses of the five most influential people in that church and said, This is who I want to bring down would have shown up Nope, they would have said, we won’t understand a word that says
Jim Denison 17:05
he will be in no sense relevant to us. I’ve had five Deacons in the church, wonderful church to love the church. My first church in so many ways stolen my heart. Let me see if I can think one was bricklayer another was a roofer. Another worked in the butcher shop, we were always very nice to him. Fourth installed spas. A fifth was a retired farmer. We actually got six, we actually added the one that did the spas, we added him and the six worked on the assembly line at General Motors. Those were the Deacons in our tribe. Sure. Wonderful people. No, I mean just salt of the earth. They loved us. They loved our family. Both of our sons were born while we were living in their part not born in the parsonage, but what we’re living in the parsonage, right? And just meant still mean the church still means the world to me, I still get asked back on occasion to do things, and I love them. But yeah, that’s who they were. That’s who God graciously called to pastor me in my first pastor it and they were so kind to me, they they felt like part of their calling because they were proximate to the seminary was to help young seminary students learn how to pastor. And so really, I thought I was pastoring them, they were much more pastoring me than I was pastoring them that answer your question? If they had seen that resume? They would have just assumed as I would have, if I were them based on just the resume? Well, there’s no way he’ll have anything to say relevant to me. And turned out it would be just the opposite.
Mark Turman 18:17
Yeah. And who knows what eternal implication, that meeting end of that prayer meeting? That’s right. Heaven will reveal what that’s all about. And those kinds of people that you just described, those deacons really kind of collectively form the people I would talk about. So in the first three churches that I pastored pastored, for churches in Texas, the first three of them, I am thinking right now of different men in each of those congregations, who were pastoring me as a young pastor, but always out of enormous difference to me, as the pastor, but now I look back on it, they, they were mentoring me, they were showing me and and all of these churches, it was never spoken about. And it was always we hope God leaves you here forever. But were we know he’s likely going to use you in other places. Because that had become like you said something of the rhythm of their churches. Yes. And they weren’t mad about it. They just had come to see that that was a part of the way God used the height of their kingdom assignment. So the first church I pastored had seven regular attendees, my wife and I being two of the seven Ah, that’s a good number. And and we had to drive to two hours down to state highways to farm to market roads and to gravel roads to get into the church. Wow. But lead Deacon, of that church was a man named judge Jr. Crosby And he had never married. When I first met him, he was caring for his parents who were both. In febrile health his father had actually had a leg amputated. And he spent his life taking care of them and taking care of the church. And we became fast friends, and JR Crosby illustrated for me what faithfulness was all about. What? What compassionate and tenderness and surrendering your rights for the rights of others. And just the first person I ever baptized when I became a pastor was at this little church we had a young man 10 years old, who came out from the neighboring town and came with his grandmother and at one point professed faith in Christ and wanted to be baptized. Well, we didn’t have a bad history in the church, we baptized in the cattle pond, the stock pond, and JR felt that I was so much of a city slicker, so much a city boy, that he spent all of Saturday putting a 20 by 20, white tarp into the pond with rocks holding it down so that I wouldn’t get my feet muddy when I baptized as a servant, and that’s that’s the kind of person that he was when I moved to my second church first full full time church I had there was a long standing Deacon there named John or named Wayne Griffing. Griffin, who was of the same ilk, he was the same. Exactly just adopted me and adopted my daughter as his granddaughter and he and his wife, anime, wanes and heaven now anime still living had a conversation with her pastor, just the last couple of days, and, and was of the same whatever, whatever it takes. It just whatever you need, whatever it takes, and poured out his life for both his family, his congregation and his small community, and again, modeled this sacrificial spirit. And then when I moved to my third Church, the First Baptist Church, a van, a wonderful bricklayer, by the name of John Green, who built buildings all over East Texas school buildings and bank buildings and hospitals, all that the same kind of spirit, just whatever it means, whatever it takes to be the person who meets the need right in front of them, be that in their community, their church, their family, whatever. That kind of wholehearted devotion to the Lord and sacrificial spirit. Just whatever that takes. And those are the those are the people those are the men and the women that I think of. When I think of that’s the kind of believer that I want to be what a gift there were to you and through you, and and they have left indelible impressions upon me. That’s, that’s what real discipleship mean means to me. And it’s, it’s not something you see on a billboard, none of them would, in any way ever say that they had notoriety or a claim. They never saw themselves that way. They just saw themselves as being the best faithful disciple that they knew how to be. And my pastor who I mentioned a moment ago, I can remember as a young believer sitting in church one Sunday, and he’s preaching as he often did, about what it meant to be a healthy, fully committed disciple to Christ. And he made a statement and when he said it, I thought that it sounded a little bit offensive. He said, Christianity goes forward on the shoulders of plain vanilla Christians. And I kind of winced when he said it, but the more I thought about it, you start thinking about what Jesus said, When he starts talking about the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Who’s Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, that kind of thing? I think it was Timothy Keller or John Piper, who said one time maybe Philip Yancey, I think it’s some pastor or some church leader, Psalm servant, you’ve never heard of, that drew absolutely no attention to himself, who’s going to be at the front of the line? Because of his complete devotion to Christ and his commitment to loving people. That’s the kind of people I think about.
Jim Denison 24:30
I love the fact that none of them had any idea you’d be talking about him on this podcast, right, you know, cannot measure the eternal significance of prison faithfulness, like we talk about if you’ll just be faithful today. God will use you tomorrow in ways you couldn’t imagine today. That’s just how it works. Dr. Newport had no idea when he came to our little church in Mansfield, Texas back in the 1980s, that I’d be talking about him today. He’s been with the Lord a number of years now. And that’s just how God does it. That’s just how he uses your present faithfulness. So don’t measure success by what you’re seeing today, somewhere. just by what God could do tomorrow, and an omnipotent God can pretty much do what he wants. And so let’s just be faithful to Him.
Mark Turman 25:06
So just got a minute or two, I’m gonna give you the last word here. So we talk a lot about building a movement of culture changing Christians have, as we’ve even talked about today being a catalyst for God’s next great awakening, talk a little bit about how every single day, every one of us as believers has the opportunity of influence, every person has influence.
Jim Denison 25:31
Now, that’s exactly right. And all we need to do is see it the way God sees it. First of all, we need to understand that God has not only a geographical call, but a chronological call, he has a place for you and a time for you. You are where you are in when you are, by His providence by his design and his intention. And you must be there for a reason, you wouldn’t be there if it weren’t that you were there for a reason. Charles Spurgeon was once asked by a person working in a fire department how he could be a missionary for the Lord. And Spurgeon said, start in the fire department, start where you are, bloom where you’re planted, see yourself as a missionary where and when you are, then second, understand that God was yesterday preparing the people you’re just speak to today, he’s already going ahead of you. He’s already preparing the way he’s already scattering the seed. He’s already plowing the ground he’s already making ready for the thing he’s calling you to do today. So if you simply be faithful and obedient to today, know that God already has a plan to use your today even tomorrow. So the key to all of that, I think is Ephesians 518, being filled with the Spirit submitted to the spirit, trust everyday to him, just get alone with him get asked the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind whatever you need to confess and confess what comes to your thoughts. Then literally, intentionally ask the Holy Spirit. I know I talk about this a lot. But ask the Holy Spirit to take control of your mind in your life. Ask him to use you and guide you. And he will do that I promise. You’ll hear yourself say words you didn’t plan to say, you’ll find yourself in conversations you weren’t expecting. You’ll feel things in your heart that God is moving you toward, you’ll just be prompted and led all through the day by God. Some of those ways you’ll understand a lot of them you won’t. But God will use you today for tomorrow. If he’ll be faithful today. That’s his promise.
Mark Turman 27:08
And that includes right in the middle of a of a big summer celebration, all the people that you may meet all the places you may go. That’s right, Your missionary, wherever your missionary in those contexts you don’t you don’t take a vacation from being a missionary for Christ. You never know. You never have any idea what that might mean when you’re on an airplane or standing in line at an amusement park, what that might look like and how God might use you for a moment or for a season that’s much longer. And so we hope that that will be helpful to you inspirational to you, and we hope you have a great summer celebration. We’ll see you next time.