Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman discuss Dr. Denison’s unique role and calling, apologetics and theology, “loving your neighbor,” how to manifest our faithfulness well, and how Christians must avoid dualism.
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Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman discuss Dr. Denison’s various roles he’s taken on (including his job at Dairy Queen) and God’s calling on his life (2:00). They reflect on the meaning of apologetics and theology, especially in reference to culture (7:32). They turn to talk about how to shine our light into the world by manifesting faithfulness well and how to love our neighbors (13:19). After this, Dr. Denison talks about the pitfall of dualism and Gnosticism, which says that the body doesn’t matter in this life, as they unpack Jesus’ saying to Love God with “all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (32:31). They conclude by talking about whether we can measure our spiritual health and three steps on how to draw closer to God (46:45).
Resources and further reading:
- “Toward a Theology of Faithful Presence” – James Davison Hunter
- How to Bless God by Blessing Others – Dr. Ryan Denison
- The Coming Tsunami – Dr. Jim Denison
- Know What You Believe – Paul E. Little
- Know Why You Believe – Paul E. Little
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.
Mark Turman 00:10
You’re listening to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison forum back with you today and sitting down again with Jim Denison. Jim, how are you?
Jim Denison 00:19
I’m doing well. How are you, sir?
Mark Turman 00:20
Doing great. I want to talk to you as we begin today about the many hats that we sometimes get to where we get to wear the hat of disciple, Christian father, grandfather, husband, grandfather, go back to grandfather and father is one of our favorites, right? Tell us again your grandfather name or title is
Jim Denison 00:41
I’m grandpa Jim. And the reason for this is there are other grandpas but they’re the bad guys.
Mark Turman 00:45
Those are the enemy. Yes, they are the competition. Yes. And it’s right. We must be defeated every day. We understand that well. So you’re sticking with this title grandpa gently so that’s been assigned. Okay. Yes. And it is usually the oldest grandchild. Was that where your title came?
Jim Denison 01:01
And because she is perfect. Anything she suggests or decrees? Perfect.
Mark Turman 01:05
Yes. Yes, exactly. So so her name is Ixia which is a beautiful and unique name.
Jim Denison 01:10
And it’s a Greek name, means a person of worth and value.
Mark Turman 01:14
Wow. And she is all of the all of that and more. Well, just going to just tag you in here for the moment that we’re recording this on my granddaughter’s my oldest grandchild birthday. She is four and I’m hoping that her mother will let her listen to at least this part so I can say Happy Birthday Abigail, would you like to sing happy birthday? You would not want probably nobody that’s nobody but maybe me and her would want me to sing happy birthday but I’ve already done that. Well there you go. So anyway, lots of different hats. And you and I’ve talked about this on a couple of occasions here in the office about okay, what are you these days you’ve been a professor at the seminary level and at the university level you have been a pastor you have been many different things in several different kinds- you left out my job at Dairy Queen – probably one of your best right? Where the double dip cone was my specialty. Oh, well now now you have been particularly called out because some of us really love Dairy Queen.
Jim Denison 02:17
Well there you go. And when you drove up and one of the double dip cone whatever I was doing I got called. Those things aren’t all that easy. You got to get the ice cream stacked up just right then you got to get it in the chocolate in there long enough that you get enough chocolate but not too long where it falls off and that’s really bad.
Mark Turman 02:31
So these are these are this was a blizzard days? That’s correct. In our part of the world. Not everybody lives in our part of the World Dairy Queens not everywhere. Unfortunately, true. Yes. But now at Dairy Queen, there is something called the blizzard, which you and I would say significantly surpasses the McDonald’s on every level version. Just bigger, man. That’s right. Yes. Imagine what you can get at McDonald’s, but on a better level with Oreo stuck yet. And that’s right, and anything else and anything else you want. So this was the cone was the dip comb was way before way before the blizzard ever came up?
Jim Denison 03:07
That’s right. Yes. This was back in the pre-comagnon days or Neanderthal or something.
Mark Turman 03:11
Yeah. So I didn’t know you had that skill. Yeah. Good to know that there’ll be something to fall back on. So these days, these days, however, if somebody says, Hey, Jim, what do you do? Or what are you these days? Great question. We’ve tried to find some titles or some words that would give some clarity to that. So here’s someone that may have also struggled with proper descriptions. early church father named Irenaeus. Yes. Okay. You helped me understand this the proper way to pronounce his name, erroneous, erroneous. The reason I bring this up is Christianity Today, does a little segment called today in Christian history. This week, they noticed that the anniversary of Irenaeus as his death was on June the 28th 195 18 127 years ago, and that’s
Jim Denison 04:08
usually his day on the liturgical calendar as a result. Okay. So
Mark Turman 04:11
that’s significant, because as he is described, he was the Bishop of Lyons, France, one of the most important Christian writers of the second century. Yes. Okay. So lots of things that we could talk about here. But one of the things that Christianity Today noted about him, he was considered Many consider him to be the first theologian of the Christian church, since others at that time or apologists, not theologians. We’ve already lost people, just in these terms already. But let’s talk about that a little bit. A simple definition, first of all of what an apologist is, and then these days we’re using the term cultural theologian for you. unpack that one for us as well. But let’s Start with what is an apologist
Jim Denison 05:02
Be glad to try so comes from the Greek word of Apologia, which means to make a defense you’ll find that in the scriptures as descriptive for instance a Paul when he was defending himself before the Sanhedrin or before the Roman officials and says Surya by the sea. So when you’re making a defense, you’re making an apologetic. Today, you think of an apologetic as an apology, you know, so an apologist is someone who apologizes, right, somebody who says they’re sorry, a lot. Well back in the biblical era, and apologists is someone who defended something of significance in their lives. So you see Justin the martyr, a people call him Justin Martyr, but martyr wasn’t his last name, right? He was just a nice he was martyred. So it’d been very unfortunate last name, but Justin is considered maybe the first, post-biblical apologist. You see Paul being an apologist and Acts 17. And Maurice Hill, you seeing being a personal apologist, in Acts 22. It says Surya, for instance.
Mark Turman 05:54
In this case, like In Paul’s case, what we, when we see this happening in the book of Acts, particularly, Paul is not simply defending himself as he’s defending his faith in Christ that as a means of defending himself,
Jim Denison 06:05
he’s on trial himself and turns it reframes it as an opportunity to defend the Gospel itself. Since it’s for the gospel, he is on trial, right? If he would give up preaching the gospel, they would release him it’s because of his advocacy of the gospel that he’s on top. And so a lot of the New Testament is apologetic in the sense of defending, First Peter three commands us to be ready always to make a defense to make an apologetic for the hope that we have yet to do so with gentleness and respect, and some will usually
Mark Turman 06:31
we usually talk about that as an explanation be ready to explain your faith well, but that is apologetics.
Jim Denison 06:38
It is, it’s explaining what you believe in and why you believe it. Some years ago, Paul Little had a book, know what you believe his first was know what you believe. But then the second was, know why you believe and know how to be able to defend it to others. And so an apologist essentially, is someone who defends the faith. So you have all sorts of categories, a cultural apologist, as I have done a great deal of over the years as a person that defends a faith in the context of cultural issues. You could have an apologist in a more traditional sense, who defends a central biblical foundational beliefs, defending the resurrection, defending the authority of Scripture, defending the deity of Christ, that sort of thing. And so apologetics has some specialties, but you could summarize it all by saying it’s somebody who makes defenses, usually in an intellectual fashion of the faith that they hold that they wish others to hold as well.
Mark Turman 07:24
Okay, so that as distinct from a theologian in particularly in this case, cultural theologian, how would you make a distinction?
Jim Denison 07:32
Yeah, thank you. apologetics has historically been seen as a category within theology. So theology by its root definition is a word about God. They also got in the Greek and logos is word. So a word about God is what the ology is its words about God, one could say. And so we get into various specialties here. You think of a systematic theologian, as someone who develops doctrines in a systematic way around a Christian belief of the doctrine of God, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of scripture
Mark Turman 08:02
of salvation, salvation, this is how salvation works from a biblical
Jim Denison 08:06
right, the soteriology, as it would be called ecclesiology is the doctrine of the Church or eschatology, the doctrine of in times anthropology, the doctrine of meant, so if you’re in a systematic theology class, that’s what you’re learning. And you’re finding verses in scripture that help you develop this doctrine of the in times, and maybe you’re looking at this through the course of history, and now you’re doing historical theology. What would your NAS have said, What would Agustin have said, What would Calvin say. Now that’s historical,
Mark Turman 08:32
trying to learn how did Christians in the past think about these things?
Jim Denison 08:38
That’s right, and try to work them out to an understand them. These theological questions or issues, whatever they might be, if you’re a biblical theologian, now you’re looking at Paul’s theology of the church, or John’s theology of the End Times or whatnot. So again, it’s theological questions, asked either specifically of Scripture, or asked in a more systematic fashion of all of Scripture are asked historically, of what Christians through history have said about these various subjects. So there’s various categories that you think of as theology, but in principle, you’re asking biblical or theological questions about God essentially, right? And then you’re asking them a various sources, whether it can be scripture or history,
Mark Turman 09:14
and there’s a lot of different pathways you can go because well, it is. It is words about God. And so that’s the broadest subject you could come up with. Big, big topic, obviously, the theology should be a big, big topic, carve out this niche that we’re talking about cultural theologian and putting those two things together.
Jim Denison 09:35
Sure. So it’s done in two ways. One way to do it is a theology about culture. That’s a discipline unto itself. What would theological tradition what would biblical truth teach us about culture itself? What is culture? How does culture work?
Mark Turman 09:47
Does the Bible say anything about culture? Exactly. What the word culture is or should be
Jim Denison 09:51
Exactly so. So that would be really a theological question about culture. And I do some of that have some interest in defining what culture means what it looks like? what we mean when we’re describing culture itself, but really more the direction that I go in this world is the other way that cultural theologian works. And that is bringing theological resources to bear on cultural issues, cultural challenges, cultural topics, whatever they might be. The daily article is my theological response to the issues of the day. For instance, on occasion, it’d be more of an apologetic response, where I’m making a defense of the faith if that becomes necessary. But that’s not by any means. All that we do here all that I do. Some days, I’ll be doing biblical exegesis, I’ll be actually executing a passage as it relates to that issue. So then you could call me a biblical theologian. There are days when we’re looking more at what a doctrine of scripture might say about this. So at that point, I’m being more of a systematic theologian. But what it would all have in common is, unlike what I did as a pastor, or what I did, as a seminary professor, I’m focusing each day on the issues of that day in the culture. And so I’m being a theologian in the sense of bringing theological resources to bear on cultural issues, whatever those issues might be.
Mark Turman 10:59
Okay, well, I’m gonna back up just one little bit in the train here, which is the word exegesis, which is exposing a particular Bible text about what it says, and how that might apply to an issue that you’re confronting today.
Jim Denison 11:13
That’s right. Yeah. In an exegesis, what we’re really exegesis needs to draw out of is what the Greek means. And so what we’re wanting to do here is really four things. First of all, what does the grammar say? What are the words themselves actually saying a lot and explain what this Greek word means? Or this Hebrew word means or whatever? Then second, historically, what did those words mean in their original context? Because words change over time. In the King James, it says that does he has could not get to Jesus because of the press? Well, we look at that and think those terrible media people, right. But in King James day, the word “press” just meant the crowd. And so words change over time. So you look at the grammar than the history. Then third, you come along and ask what theological truths can we learn? And then practically, how do we apply those truths? So grammatical, historical, theological practical, are the four steps by which we do biblical hermeneutics biblical interpretation, you could say, and that’s what I’m trying to do, especially on those days when I get to do more with the text than I do sometimes on other days,
Mark Turman 12:08
which means having an elevator description of what you do, what we do at the Denison Forum can be a bit challenging at times,
Jim Denison 12:16
it can be they the old saying is you wanted to fit on a t-shirt? Well, sometimes it needs to be a big T-shirt, I’m afraid,
Mark Turman 12:22
right? So we hope that that helps our audience understand a little bit more of our ministry, your ministry, how we approach things, intersecting our culture with biblical truth and helping people to understand things sometimes often referred to in many contexts as a biblical worldview. That’s right, and how to be practically redemptively involved around something that we talk about a lot and strategize around, which is we want to be a catalyst, as you said, recently, to a spiritual awakening in our world, in our culture in our part of the world. In particular, we want to help catalyze a movement of culture-changing Christians, which is a term that we want to address in some significant ways in this conversation as well. What does it mean to be a culture-changing culture, impacting culture influencing Christian that God calls all of us to be? So we want to talk a little bit today about the focus the definition as well as the habits of what a healthy believer is, because you have to be a healthy believer in order to really create the kind of influence in the world that God would want you to be. You can’t be salt and light, as Jesus said, as he called us to be. Unless you’re experiencing His light and his truth, unless you’re becoming more like him. In your character, you’re not going to be an effective culture changing Christian,
Jim Denison 13:49
Mark Turman 13:49
Is that a fair argument?
Jim Denison 13:50
That’s exactly right. If I were 100 pounds overweight, wanting you to take my diet, I doubt that you would agree. If I want to get you on my regime about how to run marathons that have never been 100 yards and it’s hard to get you to do what I’m not doing.
Mark Turman 14:03
Yeah. My pastor used to say, Would you buy vitamins for somebody that looked like they had one foot in the grave? Exactly. So not those vitamins? So we want to talk a little bit about that. And here’s how I’m framing this conversation. When I was pastoring, my Church in McKinney, I taught an orientation class, a membership class, for anybody that was interested in being a part of our church as a member, we would do what we called an entry point class where people would come and we would talk to them about what our church was all about what our Church was founded on, what our values were, I taught every single one of those classes for 25 years, there was not a single person in 25 years that came into Crosspoint church that didn’t have a conversation with me and with others, but particularly with me about what our church was all about. It would take us a couple of hours. It might not have been the funnest thing that anybody ever did. But what we wanted to do was we wanted to start our relationship well, we wanted them to understand what our church was all about. We wanted them to understand our expectations of them because we knew they had expectations of the church. And so we tried to start that off. When our church was in his early days, we sat down and looked at the Bible, particularly the book of Acts and said, What is the church? What is it supposed to do? And what is it supposed to be? And we settled on what we called the three great declarations of Jesus, or about Jesus, we called them the great confession, the great commandment and the Great Commission, some people will recognize them immediately. The great confession is where a person’s relationship with God through Christ begins. Jesus is Lord, that when a person comes to understand that and they believe it, they accept it. That’s the moment what we would call conversion, the moment when they have become a part of God’s family. They have accepted Jesus as their Forgiver. And their leader, the great confession, Jesus is Lord. The great commandment was something that Jesus talked about several different times. One time he was asked Jesus, what’s the most important thing in the Word of God? And I’m gonna let you answer because you know this, well, you love to talk about this.
Jim Denison 16:19
Often, the greatest commandment in Jesus’s estimation was, and you find this in Matthew 22, find it more 12, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. This is Mark’s version, and to love your neighbor as yourself. So there were 613 commandments still are in Judaism to this date, 365 negative commands one for every day of the year, 248 positive one for every member of the body as they define that back in Jesus day. So the 60 613 commands, it’s really a trick question. If you’ll pick one, they’ll accuse him of rejecting the others is the idea here. But he answered so well that even those that ask the question, the lawyer that asked the question was impressed in response. And so that’s how Jesus summarized all 613. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength, love your neighbor as yourself. Now notice, he was asked, What’s the greatest commandment, and you’re calling it the greatest commandment as well? And yet, it seems to be too, right. It’s because there’s not really too, it’s really two wings of one airplane. It’s two sides of one coin. It’s two parts of exactly the same thing. I can’t love God without loving those God loves. I can’t love my neighbor without loving God, because it’s in loving God, I have the strength to love my neighbor. And so they really do go together, don’t they? And it’s in that context that this becomes what Jesus called the great commandment that really defines describes, and I think catalyzes everything we do.
Mark Turman 17:35
And when you get into studying this, you find out that he’s actually quoting from the Old Testament of asexual taking from Deuteronomy six, and that, that this would Medicus, Leviticus 1918 is loving your neighbors. So this would have been somewhat familiar, especially to those that were diligent students of the Mosaic law. But because of like you said, the lawyers response, you can make an argument that they hadn’t really connected all of this and they weren’t thinking this way. It was not at that point, common knowledge that people were going around saying, Well, this is the most important thing.
Jim Denison 18:08
That’s correct, ya know, what Jesus was doing here had not been done. In fact, typically, the rabbinic tradition prior to this was much more on the negative than the positive. Instead of saying do to others what you’d have them do to yourself, the rabbi’s would say, don’t do to others, what you do not want them to do to yourself, that sort of a thing. And so this positive, proactive ethic of loving in this way and loving your neighbor, whoever your neighbor is, was categorically not the ethic of his day, when you’re looking at this huge divide between Gentiles and Jews and men and women and slaves and free. And this concept that I could love anybody just based on proximity, as my neighbor was something that was categorically unique and radical. And as part of what made the Christian movement so unique,
Mark Turman 18:49
and really lays the foundation for what might be argued as Jesus most familiar story, which is the story of the Good Samaritan, which, whether you’re a Christian or not, in our culture, almost everybody recognizes that story. They may not know that it’s a Jesus story. They may not know why Jesus told the story, it was in response to the question, Who is my neighbor, but he’s defining what neighbor? That’s right. It’s a neighbor is not somebody who lives close to you that you happen to like or no, that’s it. That’s not the best biblical definition of nails,
Jim Denison 19:21
right? Anybody with a need I can meet? Right? You’d never argued that the Samaritan would be on any level of proximity a neighbor to those that were otherwise in the story here, but in fact, they wouldn’t be Samaritans lived in the central part of what we think of as Israel today, some area and typically a Jew went from Galilee in the north down to Judea in the south by going around some area. It was anything but neighbors in the sense of someone living next to me in my neighborhood, is the concept here. And so when they ask Who is my neighbor, Jesus picks a person who is categorically not geographically likely to be the neighbor of the person asking the question to make the point that at that moment, as the Samaritans travel willing that road between Jerusalem and Giroux and Jericho, which was a very dangerous road in Jesus day, and happens upon a Jewish person that’s been assaulted. In that moment, that person becomes his neighbor. So my neighbor is anybody with a need, I can meet, wherever they are, however they are, they can be on the other side of the world, but I can pray for them. And then they’re my neighbor. Right, they can be close enough to me that I can bring them to the hospital as a Samaritan did, and then they’re my neighbor. But the neighbor is whoever has a need, whatever that need is, for whatever reason, they have that need, to the degree that I can help with that need that makes them my neighbor,
Mark Turman 20:32
right. So great understanding there. So Jesus says this is the greatest and most important commandment. And we’re gonna dive into that a little bit more, but kind of these three pillars, the great confession, Jesus is Lord that begins your relationship on a personal basis with Jesus as your God as your Savior, your forgiver and your leader, that then leads into a lifestyle and a life long pursuit of what it means to learn to love the way Jesus has loved us. The Bible says that when I taught this, at my church, I would talk about the great commandment. And I would say, Jesus is putting two things together here that may have been and probably were separated in his day, which is a love for God and a love for people. And the way I would very simply try to express that was Jesus was saying, you can’t be right with God and wrong with people or right with people and wrong with God, right, these two things are dynamically connected. And if you separate them, then you’ve separated something that God says cannot ever be separated, you can’t love me and hate my grandkids. Exactly. And then that led to the last one of these pillars, which was the great Ken, Commission, the great commission of going to represent Jesus to the world around us, to the people around us, to help them to know the greatest person and thing we’ve ever come to know, which is Jesus Himself. And that we were privileged to be invited as Christians into a partnership with him and now in with the Holy Spirit, to actually make Him known to other people. And that’s the work of the church. That’s the work of every Christian, individually and collectively, which is to help Jesus to be known so that others can become a part of his family and his following as well. So I want to go back and spend some time with you unpacking this great commandment, because here’s the basis of what I’m talking about. We want to see a an awakening in our time in our country, our generation, and we want people to use their influence. We talk about sometimes James Davison hunters book to change the world, James Davison Hunter, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia, and a committed believer. Yes, he wrote a book that is important and that you and I have a particular affection for about using Well, I’ll let you explain what does he mean by manifesting faithful presence?
Jim Denison 22:54
Yeah, it’s really his magnum opus, it’s number of years old now called to change the world in which he proves I think he’s a remarkable sociologists. The University of Virginia created the Institute for Advanced Studies of culture turned on Princeton to stay in Virginia, committed Presbyterian limit, he claimed, I think, proves that culture does not change just by winning elections, it doesn’t change just by building big churches, although he’s in favor of that, it changes when you achieve your highest place of influence and live there faithfully. That’s what he calls manifesting faithful presence, he would say that if for instance, you’re interested in journalism, he would want you to try to write for the New York Times, may not have anywhere near the circulation of USA Today, for instance, but that’s the most influential newspaper in America, he would want you if you want to be an attorney to go to Harvard or Yale Law School. Not that they’re necessarily better than other law schools at all. But all nine Supreme Court justices went to Harvard or Yale Law School. So the idea is, wherever you are, whatever vocation is yours, how can you do it at the highest level of influence of excellence. And if you’ll do that with excellence, if you’ll be a biblical Salt and Light Christian there, God will use your influence in ways you can measure in ways you can’t measure to do things you can see and things you can’t see. I love Alfred North Whitehead statement that great people plant trees on every set under. And that’s what you’ll ultimately be doing here. So yeah, his idea of encouraging people to manifest faithful presence was a game changer for me in understanding how culture changes, and has been foundational to what I’ve tried to do and what we try to do here in this ministry as a result,
Mark Turman 24:22
and the idea being if all of us as Christians will adopt that direction, not not in any way, saying, God will love you more, if you are at the top of your field. This is not a performance thing. But there is this principle that I ran into a number of decades ago excellence, we ought to pursue excellence out of gratitude for what God has done in our life just by giving us life and and by what he’s done for us in Christ. But excellence honors God and it inspires people. And I believe that that’s totally legitimate and that’s why we ought to try to be our best out of a motivation. have gratitude not a fear not of performance, not of God will love me more, if I perform well, but because God has loved Me fully, I want to be excellent. Yeah, to honor him. And then asking God, God, whatever level of influence whatever places and opportunities of influence you want me to be in, in this season of life, in this season of culture, wherever it is that you want to assign me, I want to be in that place. And I want to be that faithful Salt and Light, presence and influence you want me to be?
Jim Denison 25:33
And that is the prayer every day, right? So yes, the Holy Spirit help us do that is the good news. You’re not on your own on this Ephesians 518. Being filled with the spirit means to be controlled by the Spirit to be submitted to be led to be empowered by the Spirit, and know that God is already preparing you today for how he wants to use you tomorrow. You don’t have to go to seminary and learn Greek for God to be able to use you that as long as you use the gifts God’s given you the influence or resources you have. And you’re willing to submit those everyday to him, he will use your life to make that kind of impact on the culture. That is what advances the kingdom. And there’s
Mark Turman 26:05
not just one category of this, right? The great thing about this, we talk about spiritual gifting and preparation. God needs people everywhere. He doesn’t just need everybody to become a minister. We need Minister No, no doubt about it. We need pastors. But we also need plumbers and we need lawyers. And we need doctors we need every kind of thing and person you can imagine. And that spreads the salt that spreads the light far and wide,
Jim Denison 26:35
in fact, in ways that a lot of us can’t do on our own by doing this myself. So some years ago, I was pastoring a church in Dallas and living in a neighborhood not far from the church. Somebody bought the house next to us, tore it down, built a new house. Their kids will end up at our Vacation Bible School later that summer. And so my wife and I were at dBs, as we called it kind of walking around and someone introduced us to what turned out to be our new neighbors that had built this house they had just moved in, we’ve not yet had a chance to meet them. The husband, when he discovered he was living next to the Baptist preacher could not have looked more disappointed. This was not a weekday for
Mark Turman 27:16
we could go a long way with a whole lot of podcasts about why that was true.
Jim Denison 27:20
And yeah, and justifiably so. Right. He had not done diligence at that level. His real estate agent had not told him it was too focused on his architectural plans. Exactly. So if he just picked up the neighbors, he could have known this was knowable, but nonetheless, it was too late now, right? It was clear in that moment that if somebody was going to make a direct impact on him for the gospel, it might not be the Baptist preacher living next door, we actually became good friends, but it did take some time, had to outlive some things that he had inherited from some other apps. So you’re an acquired taste is that very much so to the degree that I was acquired? I definitely wasn’t acquired taste. absolutely the case. And so there just are people that are can attorneys can reach attorneys, physicians can reach physicians, neighbors can reach neighbors back to our point in a way that others might not. And people look at you and me like the professional Christians, the paid Christians. Well, of course, we believe that stuff. Or of course, we would say that because that’s our job. Well, in my experience, the most effective witness is the person who’s faithful to Christ when they don’t have to be when it’s hard, when they’re paying a price to do that, when they’re trusting Christ, even when things aren’t going well in their lives when they’re suffering when they’re hurting when they’re grieving. And they’re still following Jesus. Other people see that in their lives, and it makes an impression they may never know about. I remember reading years ago about this family that lost two children to an influenza epidemic one winter. The next spring Easter came early that year in their first time back in church was Easter Sunday. So the parents were there, the two remaining children were there. They sang the hymns, they participated in the service. They were part of this day of celebrating the resurrection of Christ. After the service people were walking out, a little boy was walking out his hand in his father’s hand. He pointed to that family that had lost the two children over the winter, and said to his dad, they really believe it, don’t they? And the father asked, well believe what and the little boy said Easter they really believe it. Well, that that family knew that maybe never knew the impression they had made on this little boy, just by being there. On that Easter Sunday. On that Easter Sunday. You and I were in a podcast earlier today with Chris Brooks, one of my favorite pastors in America. And he was telling the story about 911. And how impactful that had been on his life, how he likely could have been in the building that day, if he had not just 10 days earlier made a vocational change and moved out of the finance industry into what eventually became vocational ministry, but took him years to be able to go back to because he had lost friends in that building, because he was so personally impacted by what happened on that day. Well, that gives Chris a credibility with other 911 victims and or survivors and families that I don’t have, right having been in Dallas on that day grieving as all American instead, but not losing anybody I knew, on that day not being specifically close to New York, I’ve been there a few times, but not really that close to it. And so Chris has a ministry to other people, I don’t have my son, as a cancer survivor, as a ministry to cancer survivors I don’t have right I have a ministry to parents of cancer victims that my son doesn’t have. And so really, the question is, where has God given you influence? What’s your Jerusalem? What’s that place where your gifts, your life, experience, your struggles, your suffering, have equipped you to make a difference? Well be faithful there, manifest faithful presence there. And you’ll be what we call a cultural changing Christian.
Mark Turman 30:36
And that’s the one of the amazing things about being a Christian, it would be amazing in its own right, if Jesus just forgave us of our sins in and adopted us into His family took us to heaven, that that would be overflowing overwhelming by its own, right, yes. But he goes a step further and says, Come along with me and be my partner, have a part in what I’m doing. That’s what this season that we call the age of the church is all about, come along with me and be my representatives be those people of influence for me, he could do any and all of this by himself without us and do it, the arguably much more effectively than using cracked pots and sinful people who are in the process of being prepared for heaven. But he chooses to involve us. It’s why we call it the great comission. Because it’s not simply that we do it by ourselves, or we do it with other Christians. This is something we do with and through God’s presence in our life to the Holy Spirit. So we call it the Comission. But let’s go back to that great commandment again, because the argument that I’m making in this podcast is you can’t be an effective representative of Christ, you can’t be that salt and light that you could be, unless you’re being a healthy believer. That means that you started your relationship with Christ by acknowledging him as Lord, but that you’re starting to unpack and to apply this great commandment. You can, as a friend of mine says, We were involved in a ministry together, the great commandment must precede and derive what the Great Commission is, you’re not going to you’re not going to be a great representative of Christ. Unless you’re becoming a healthy, strong believer who learns to live out what it means to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. So here’s my first question about this great commandment. Do you think Jesus was wanting us to understand ourselves in these four categories of heart, soul, mind and strength? You might argue, okay, well, we’re, we’re laying over a psychological template onto something that Jesus wasn’t thinking or teaching in that way. How would you respond to that?
Jim Denison 32:56
That’s great question, because the Greco Roman world was so different from the biblical anthropology there, in the Greek mindset that you take all the way back to Aristotle, and really the orphan called before that you have body, soul and spirit as separate things. The Orphic, cold taught Protagoras, who taught Plato who taught the world that your soul existed and pre incarnate state, and it would sin we would say, and it was punished by being put in your body. And the whole point of life is to purify your soul so that when you die, it goes back where it came from. And that’s what philosophy was initially for back in the early earliest era of Greek civilization and Western culture. So in their world, you’ve got this body, soul and spirit is three separate things, three separate entities, what philosophers would call three different ontological realities, I’ve got to, I’m looking at a table here, I’m looking at an iPad, and I’m looking at a notepad. Well, they’re all connected to each other, as we’re having this conversation, the notepad and the iPad are laying on the table. But we all understand they’re separate things, I can pick the notepad up. In fact, I’m doing that right now. And now it’s no longer laying on the table. So they’re not the same thing. They’re different things that are just related on some level to each other. A lot of people unfortunately, bring that kind of Greek psychology into the Scriptures. And they assume that we are divided up like that, they’ll find passages like First Thessalonians 523, may your spirit soul and body be preserved blameless to the coming of Christ, and assume that’s what Paul’s talking about, that your body is a separate thing from your soul, which is separate from your spirit, and your soul and your spirit are rattling around inside your body somehow, in some way.
Mark Turman 34:22
And if you if you think of it that way, that you would basically say that faith is just focused on your soul, right? Is that the body no longer man, that’s all that Christian faith or any faith is really addressing is just that soul part of you. And if you want to engage that you can, but that’s just a part and is fairly separated off from these other parts.
Jim Denison 34:44
Yeah, in fact, that’s Gnosticism, which was the earliest heresy in Christian history was the idea that the body was was inherently evil. They got that from the Greeks and the soul is good. So you don’t want to focus on the body you want to focus on the soul. So that moves in two directions. Either you punish the body and some of the Gnostics were especially ascetic or He doesn’t matter what you do with the body. And most of the Gnostics were very libertine, with their body very permissive
Mark Turman 35:04
and messy, whatever you want to with it, it doesn’t matter doesn’t matter.
Jim Denison 35:07
That’s just the tent. Yeah, you know, what matters is what’s inside the tents.
Mark Turman 35:11
And you’ll even hear this sometimes you’ll hear this from Christian pastors at a funeral. Well, this is just his Earth suit,
Jim Denison 35:18
right? As though it didn’t matter, right? You know? Well, if the body is inherently evil, then how can Jesus take on flesh and be sinless? Why would Jesus care so much about healing bodies? Yes, he met physical need to meet spiritual need. But there are times in Scripture where those two aren’t necessarily connected, where he’s just meeting me because he cares about need, because he cares about the physical need at the time, and we assume their spiritual outcomes. But those aren’t always defined in Scripture. And he’s the great physician, who cares about every dimension of us. So I would not bring heart, soul mind and strength forward in a kind of a Greco Roman, sort of, you’ve got a heart separate from your soul separate from your mind separate from your, from your strength, sort of, I think, rather, I would say they are aspects of the same person. Just as I am a husband, a father and a son, doesn’t mean that the husband’s in one corner, and the father’s in a different corner and the sons in a different corner. Those are three different ways of speaking of me, body, soul, and spirit are three ways of speaking of me, there’s the fleshly component of me, there’s a spiritual component of me, there’s a psychological component of me. And all of that is who I am just in one thing, but I would say the biblical anthropology is holistic, doesn’t divide us up like the Greeks. And so the same with this, Jesus does use these words heart, soul, mind and strength. He doesn’t just say love God with all of you. He doesn’t just say love God completely, he does use these different words. So he must mean something by them. And back in Deuteronomy, you see some earlier expressions of this as well, and you have Mark’s gospel that adds strength, that Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t happen. So apparently, there are some distinctions to be made here. But not to answer your question in the sense that they are different things per se. I think to love God with all your heart, the heart was the seed of the intellect, emotions and will in Jesus culture. So to love God with all your heart, I think is to enter into a relationship with Him. If if I love you with all my heart, that means I have a personal engagement with you.
Mark Turman 37:09
Okay, so you’re but you’re talking about something more than just simple emotion. That’s right. It’s not that I, I get really happy or I get tearful or emotions are a part of it, would you say it, but it’s not simply defined as I love God with all of my emotion. That’s right. It’s
Jim Denison 37:27
more about loving him in an intimate way. It’s about wanting a personal intimate relationship.
Mark Turman 37:32
And not just a knowledge about that as right. But a relational engagement. That’s,
Jim Denison 37:37
and that’s where it starts. In fact, back to your great confession, that would be a way of describing salvation is to love God with all your heart is to make him King and Lord of your life, it’s to submit your life to him. It’s to move into a loving, personal, intimate relationship with Him, as a husband does with a wife, when they give their heart to them, when they love them with their heart. That means that they love them in an emotional, intuitive and neat, personal, intimate
Mark Turman 38:02
way. This description is beautiful in its own right, it takes me to what Jesus is praying about just before he’s arrested when he’s praying for oneness, that we would be one with Him and one with the Father, as he and the Father were one that the Bible says that marriage is a picture of this kind of spiritual oneness, as you said, Ephesians, five other places, that this is really what the word heart is focused on. I think so not, not to the exclusion of others. But that’s right, as this specific way of talking about that aspect of the relation.
Jim Denison 38:37
That’s right. And then I think myself, and there are different ways to push this, no would want to press it too far. But I think soul, mind strength, and then neighbor are expressions in some ways up this. If I love God with all my heart, then deliver them with all my soul. Now we’re focusing more on the spiritual dimension of my life. So I’m thinking about my prayer life. I’m thinking about reading scripture, thinking about the way I worship, I’m thinking about the way in which I practice various spiritual disciplines solitude, or submission, or fasting or meditation, all of that I think of loving God with all my soul. When I love God, with all my mind, I’m thinking about loving God with how I think I’m thinking about Second Corinthians that calls me to take captive every thought, to make it obedient to Christ, to think biblically, to understand scripture, and to reason through Scripture and to apply
Mark Turman 39:23
scripture to life and even to just simply love learning. That’s right, as a steward of God, that’s right, that He has given us incredible minds and that whatever our minds are capable of, we ought to try to engage as a way of honoring him, both in terms of thinking biblically about all things but thinking about all things to try
Jim Denison 39:47
And doing it with excellence right in Isaiah one where the Lord says, Come let us reason together. The Hebrew says, Come let us argue it out. You find job arguing with God, you find Abram and then later Abraham arguing with God, you Jesus on the cross cried, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Thomas? Who has these questions of Jesus? And Jesus answers the questions. He doesn’t condemn Thomas for the question.
Mark Turman 40:09
And you see this in the Psalms, oh, all the samosas they all the time I’m posing questions to God, a number of the Psalms, you see all kinds of emotional as well as intellectual gyrations going on within the Psalms as people struggle with life and they struggle to work it out in their understanding of how this relationship with God works.
Jim Denison 40:33
Yeah, in fact, Jesus Christ from the cross, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me as a direct quote of Psalm 22 verse one. And so again, you find the Psalms, the hymnody of Israel, as it were, but all these questions that get to be asked, and God authorizes those questions and, and even honors them. So loving God with all my mind is to is to love God, I think with intellectual excellence, and to do so in a way that thinks biblically and thinks that the prism of Scripture, the donor, who gave the academic scholarship that led me go to college, when I graduated, told me something I’ve never forgotten, said the Holy Spirit has a strange affinity for the train mind. I really believe that’s true. All other things being equal, the more trained we are, the more usable we are. When Saul of Tarsus was learning Greek theology, or Greek philosophy, I doubt he knew when to he’d be quoting up amenities in a radius and act 17 as being an apologist for the Christian faith. So we love God with a heart, soul, mind and strength, our strength is the practical dimension of this. It’s how we live morally. It’s to act morally, it’s to act biblically, not just to think biblically, but to act biblically. And if I do all of this, I will love my neighbor, as myself I have to, it’s going to be the natural expression of loving God intimately loving him spiritually loving, and biblically loving. And practically, I’m going to act redemptively in my relationships with others. And then the way this becomes the Great Commission is now my neighbor is hopefully prayerfully drawn to love God with his heart, soul, mind and strength in the love his neighbor, as himself, and then his neighbor. And so multiplication sets in, and you get a kind of a cyclical sort of a movement that starts happening now. And we’re not growing by arithmetic. Now, we’re not growing by addition, we’re growing by multiplication, and that’s how the Kingdom grows.
Mark Turman 42:11
Okay, so let me see if I can kind of summarize and grasp this. So point of, of clarity. So strength doesn’t just have to do it can obviously relate to physical string. Yes. But what the way you described it is more about our actual decision making our outward lives, our outward practical decision making, okay, I now know these things, I think these things, I believe these things. Now, the this is the choices that I’m going to make, at any given moment on any given day, to respond and to initiate in a biblical way. And then to do that toward the people in front of me, who are my neighbors, if you want to love God, well then treat his children. Well, that’s right, in the same way, kind of bring this back around to our children and grandchildren. The greatest thing you could do for either of us would be to treat our children and grandchildren well, especially our grandchildren, especially our That’s right, they deserve it way more and more. But well, let’s just take the whole conversation about deserving out of it. That’s right. But that would nothing would throw our hearts more than to see people treating our grandchildren well. And the same with God, that if you want to love him, well love his image bearers, love people made in His image for whom Jesus died for whom Jesus died, love them, well, that’s the way you love him well, or one of one of the primary if not the primary way that you love him.
Jim Denison 43:32
And that’s how these things all relate to each other. That’s again, why we’re not being Greek about this, we’re not dividing us up into five parts of us hearts on mine, strengthen neighbor, really, the more we do the one the more we do the other. You know, if you think of it again, in the marriage context that you described, I would think these commit the great commandment functions extremely well there. I’m to love my wife with all my heart and an intimate lamb to love her with all my soul, in the sense of worshiping with her in the sense of growing closer to Christ with her. I’m to think with excellence with her I’m to act in a very moral way with her and I’m to, in as she’s my closest neighbor than I am to in live redemptively, in meeting her need, because again, a neighbor has anyone whose need I can meet. And then in terms I can help her to love the others that she knows in the same way. And then the cycle kind of sets and at no point am I dividing this up? I’m not putting a quota system. Well, how well if I loved Janet with all my soul today, well, how about love I loved her with all my mind today. Well, I’ve got a quote 10 verses today, or I haven’t loved it with my mind. You know, we don’t get into this kind of sort of legalistic sort of animus atomistic sort of an idea. It’s more of an expression, I think of a relationship that’s both horizontal and vertical. What can be considered cruciform. You’ve got the vertical relationship, loving God and the horizontal relationship loving neighbor.
Mark Turman 44:52
And as those two things come together, are loving as Jesus loved us, which can be one of the best uses of the Christian symbol of the cross, the abiding symbol of Christianity. Not only reminding us of Jesus’s sacrifice for our sin, the most loving, amazing thing that’s ever been done for anybody is his sacrifice for us. But then remembering that that symbol takes us to this place of, of the connection of our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with each other. Which kind of brings me back to this idea. Sometimes you will hear people, you’ll hear well meaning Christian teachers say, okay, but there is a sequence here is about loving God first and most and then loving your neighbor. You don’t want to go too far down that road.
Jim Denison 45:36
I do understand that I can’t give what I don’t have. If I’m not in a loving relationship with God, ultimately, it’s the fruit of the Spirit, the first of which is love, which is the gift I can give my neighbor. That’s why I really do have to have a relationship with God in order to have my best relationship with my neighbor. But again, this is not so sequential, as to see I never love my neighbor before I became a Christian, and non-Christians can’t on some level, love their neighbors, I would certainly never want to say that. No, but I want to say that if I’m not close to God, right now that I therefore can’t, on some level serve my neighbor. But I would say again, the empower each other. And I would say the more I love my neighbor, the more I’m drawn to love God, as an expression of that call manager, the great counsel that was once asked what he would suggest for a person who was suffering from mild depression, not clinical depression, that’s a very different thing, but mildly depressed. And he said, Well, I would tell them to leave their house, across the street, knock on their neighbor’s door and ask what they could do for them. And the understanding that the more I serve others, the better I serve myself, well, by loving my neighbor, I find I’m loving the Lord as well. And I’m also loving my neighbor as myself by loving my neighbor, and it all kind of goes together in God’s plan.
Mark Turman 46:45
Okay, so we want to be careful about doing this, because there is a danger in this which is getting to, as you said, atomized around. Okay, how do I know if I am healthy as a believer right now, so that I can’t I want to be this influential messenger and missionary to my world, whatever that means, whatever the framework of that is, I want to be the healthiest, influential Salt and Light person I can be. How do I measure that? We sometimes you know, we say physically, right, you go to an annual physical and you just know the doctor is going to take certain vital signs. Yeah, you don’t feel well, you feel like you need to go to the emergency room in the hospital, you know, the first thing you’re going to do is check your temperature, your blood pressure, there’s just certain fundamental vitals that they’re going to do every single time because that’s the starting place of determining the level of your health at that particular moment. Is there something similar like that for a Christian, when they look at a verse and at a pivotal moment like this, in Jesus’s teaching love, this is the most important thing. He says, everything else hangs on. I remember, as a young believer, when I first came across this, I was like, Oh, well, I’ll just memorize this part. And I don’t need to read the rest of the Bible. I don’t need all of the 66 books. I’ll just focus on this part. And I was taught that, you know, you couldn’t really simplify it that way. But it does stand as that kind of a hinge point. And is there a way it? Should there be a way that Christians think about okay, this is how I do regular checks on my health? Are there some practices? Are there some touch points that you would say as we kind of wrap up today? Think about it this way, in terms of looking at the health of your relationship with Christ and others?
Jim Denison 48:45
That’s a great question. I think there probably might be three ways to look at this. The first is to see if there’s anything that’s in my life in this present moment, that is displeasing God. So at this point, I’d recommend a spiritual discipline called the spiritual inventory. We had a man on our staff when I was pastoring, in Atlanta that had served a Campus Crusade for Christ now crew for a number of years to actually follow Josh McDowell into his role there a fella named Dan Hayes, a terrific believer, remarkable person. So shortly after he joined our staff, we were planning a staff retreat, and we’re going to focus on spiritual disciplines. So he encouraged us to do something that was in a book he had written fire seeds of spiritual awakening, in which he described a spiritual inventory, get a piece of paper, get a pen, get alone with the Lord, ask the Lord to bring to mind anything in your life that displeases Him, and write down what comes to your thoughts. Simple as that. So we did this, at the staff retreat to the staff retreat at my church in Atlanta, we each were given an hour pad of paper and go sit down someplace and do this. So I sat down I still remember it so vividly. I was sitting at a bench looking at this lake at this retreat center. The first few things I wrote down were things I knew I needed to deal with things that I just had been putting off things that I knew I needed to make right with God or, or really come back and do business with God about and then mark I gotta tell you for a while that was like I was taking nation. I had never asked this question of the Holy Spirit before, bring to my mind anything in my life that is displeasing you anything that is grieving the spirit, as the Bible says, or quenching, the spirit of Scripture says, it was like taking dictation. And then the second thing Dan had us to do is just go through that list and confess this varies. And be very specific about this, no one’s going to see the paper, you’re not going to turn it in. In fact, we put them in the fireplace was what we did after this. And so nobody’s going to see this, but you and God, so be very brutally honest and be very specific. Then go back and claim first John one nine that if we confess our sin is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I mean, don’t do that generically. Lord, forgive me for this, do it specifically, Lord, I ask you to forgive me for this and this and this. And this. It was an experience, I will still run I it was more than 20 years ago, 25 years ago. And I still remember it that vividly. And so I would encourage us to consider that as if that’s the first answer to your question. How am I doing with the Lord will ask the Lord that? Are there places where I need to do business with God at that point. So that’s the first thing we can do. A second thing we can do is to ask ourselves around this great commandment sort of a question, a little bit of self inventory. How long has it been since I told the Lord who loved him? How long has it been since I worshipped him for no reason except to be in His presence? When’s the last time I read Scripture just to hear from God, not to finish a quiet time not to prepare a sermon or a Bible study. But just because I wanted to be in the presence of God. When’s the last time I learned something loving him with all my mind, biblically, or otherwise? Just to honor God? How would I say I’m doing morally loving him with all my strength? And this is back to the first part. But are there places where I’m really not as biblically aligned as I should be? Would my neighbor say I’m loving them? As myself? questions I can ask myself, and then on the third level, and accountability partner. So first, I’m asking the spirit to show me second, I’m asking myself how I think I’m doing and asking the Spirit, he can guide me in this, of course. And then third, I can ask somebody that I trust. How do you think I’m doing? Are there areas in my life? Kind of the Holy Spirit question, if you were making the list of things in my life you think are not pleasing to God? Places where I need to be different? What would you say? Where are places where you would affirm me, where you would encourage me, places where you think I am walking closely with a word where I’m keeping in step with the Spirit, as the scripture says, and then have this conversation back and forth, where I’m then providing this accountability, conversation with my friend as well. And doing that with some regularity, doesn’t have to be every day or every week, but with some kind of regularity. That kind of a rhythm, I think is honoring to the Lord, and is the sort of thing that can help us to measure where we are. So we know where we’re going. It’s been said you can’t make progress without measuring. If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know where you’re going. Abraham Lincoln said, If we knew where we were, and whether we were attending, we could better know the course to take. And so I really think it’s all of that together.
Mark Turman 52:57
Yeah. And that to that accountability piece, I believe that you give your accountability away. Nobody comes and takes it from you, especially in this sense. That’s right, you give it away, joyfully and voluntarily. That may take some time, this part of the reason that God puts us into church families, so that we can create these kinds of safe, accountable relationships where people are for us, but they are for us in sometimes the way of telling us hard things that we don’t necessarily want to see or hear. And we get to do that with them as we build trust and depth with them. That’s part of the reason God puts us in a church family is to have an opportunity. That might be somebody in your family, it might be your spouse, but sometimes that could be the person that it doesn’t need to be That’s right. Spouses operate in different contexts, families, parents with children can operate in different contexts that that might not be the best person for this. But we have a spiritual family, we have a whole bunch of sacred siblings that we could develop a relationship with for this kind of interaction.
Jim Denison 53:58
So that I like that — sacred siblings. Yeah. Some siblings weren’t so sacred. There are some that are?
Mark Turman 54:05
Well, they’re all sacred is not necessarily meaning that there is. Right. That’s right. Well, thank you for the conversation. I think it’s very, very helpful. And again, I think it connects to this larger idea that we are so interested in and passionate about being a catalyst to what God wants to do in terms of spiritual awakening in our place in our world, in our culture in our time. And that that can happen as we make ourselves fully available to him, and seek to do that consistently daily, and to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Thanks for helping us with that. Jim, I think it’s very much foundational for what we want to see God do in our midst and through our efforts, and we hope that it’s helpful to our audience. Thanks for being a part of the conversation.
Jim Denison 54:55
Well, my privilege marks so grateful for your contribution to this for the partnership I get to share with you not only on these podcasts but in this ministry as well.
Mark Turman 55:03
Well thank you look for more episodes from the Denison forum and again, if you like what you heard, please share it with others recommend us, rate us review us that will help others to find our podcast and we thank you for being a part of our community. God bless you