Can you trust American institutions? A conversation with Curtis Chang

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Can you trust American institutions? A conversation with Curtis Chang

October 24, 2022 -

The Denison Forum Podcast discusses timely news and relevant topics with biblical insight. Hosted by Dr. Mark Turman and featuring Dr. Jim Denison, plus guests on occasion, this weekly, discussion-oriented podcast will help Christians further develop a biblical worldview on current events, equipping them to be salt and light for Christ.

The Denison Forum Podcast discusses timely news and relevant topics with biblical insight. Hosted by Dr. Mark Turman and featuring Dr. Jim Denison, plus guests on occasion, this weekly, discussion-oriented podcast will help Christians further develop a biblical worldview on current events, equipping them to be salt and light for Christ.

The Denison Forum Podcast discusses timely news and relevant topics with biblical insight. Hosted by Dr. Mark Turman and featuring Dr. Jim Denison, plus guests on occasion, this weekly, discussion-oriented podcast will help Christians further develop a biblical worldview on current events, equipping them to be salt and light for Christ.

Curtis Chang joins Dr. Mark Turman to discuss our failing trust in institutions and how to redeem them, the role of Christians in politics and the workplace, election integrity, and how to combat anxiety.

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Show notes:

Curtis Chang begins by talking about his ministry Redeeming Babel, which trains Christians to engage redemptively in different kinds of communities (2:19). Chang talks about the rising distrust of institutions, and how we can help redeem them, specifically pointing to Colossians 1:15–17 (9:47). In particular, Chang and Dr. Turman talk about work and the role of jobs in Christianity (20:27). They talk about the Trinity and how it helps us understand community (29:14). Chang delves more into how we can trust broken institutions, and how throwing them away will probably lead to greater destruction (38:00). They turn to converse about idolatry, politics, election integrity, and the boundaries of governments (48:53). Chang concludes by touching on anxiety and fear (58:37).

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts

Mark Turman, DMin, is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his degree from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

About the guest

Curtis Chang is consulting professor in innovation and organization at Duke Divinity School. He has won an Obama White House award for social innovation as the founder and head of Consulting Within Reach, a firm serving nonprofits and government. His ministry experience includes serving as a senior pastor of Evangelical Covenant Church in California.

He graduated from Harvard Summa Cum Laude. He holds a faculty appointment at American University and is also a senior fellow at Fuller Theological Seminary.  He is the author of Engaging Unbelief: A Captivating Strategy from Augustine and Aquinas (IVP) and is a former Rockefeller Fellow.


Transcribed by Otter.Ai


Mark Turman  00:09

Welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison Forum. Thank you for being a part of today’s conversation. We have a special guest with us that I’m excited to introduce to you. You may have come across some of his work, but today we’re talking with Curtis Chang, who is the founder and leader of an interesting organization called redeeming Curtis, welcome to the podcast.


Curtis Chang  00:34

Oh, it’s so great to be here. Thank you for having me.


Mark Turman  00:37

Let me give our audience a little bit of background about Curtis Curtis as a theologian is the consult is on the consulting faculty of Duke Divinity School, and he is also a senior fellow at the fuller Theological Seminary. His ministry experience includes serving as a senior pastor of evangelical Covenant Church in California. He has also been a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and has done mission work in Soweto, South Africa. He has authored or contributed to a number of books, including engaging unbelief. A captivating strategy from Augustine to Aquinas, Curtis is fueled by a passion to help Christians recognize the surprising authority and relevance of Jesus for parts of life that are often left to the secular world. We’ll get into some of that in a minute. His biblical insights are enriched by his own secular career, which includes founding an award winning nonprofit consulting firm and serving on the faculty of the School of International Service at American University. Curtis graduated from Harvard University and is a former Rockefeller fellow. He is married with two children most importantly, and lives in San Jose, California. He enjoys I like this hiking fantasy baseball and is severely addicted to dark chocolate, which I’ve never acquired a taste for Curtis Oh, my


Curtis Chang  02:00

goodness, we need to get you we need to send you some some good stuff there mark the day to get you hooked.


Mark Turman  02:05

Well, I keep hearing from your dark chocolate guys that it’s so much better than than milk chocolate, but I just haven’t made that transition


Curtis Chang  02:12

yet. Once you do, you’ll never come back, you’ll come to the dark side. Mark. All right, dark side.


Mark Turman  02:19

All right. Well, tell us a little bit. Number one, I’m just curious as to how you would choose the name for an organization redeeming What’s the story behind the name? And and where did that ministry or that part of your ministry come about?


Curtis Chang  02:36

Well, that came really about the name comes from the biblical story of of battle. It’s at the Tower of Babel. And there’s not often a lot of teaching or preaching about why that story is there and what its meaning is, and one of the things that I’m trying to help people understand is that that story is the story of the fall to hold institutionally told organizationally. So it’s, you know, the Adam and Eve story is the story of the fall, told him the lens of an individual and a couple, you know, the prototypical family. We’re Genesis 11, comes in with the Tower of Babel, it’s really trying to say, Now the problem of sin and fallenness has taken on not just individual forms, but it’s taken on institutional forms. So the Bible is a story of the fall. And but what that means, because it is it, it seems that God is wanting to convey that human organizations and their fallen nature is part of the biblical story. It also opens up hope, because right after Genesis 11 is Genesis 12, which is a story of the calling of Abram, and calling him Abram is to found the nation of the people of Israel, which is to say, because the fall has institutional form with the Bible is trying to convey God’s story of redemption also has to have organizational collective institutional form. And that’s really why the Bible story gives right you know, goes right into a room and the founding the ultimate origin story of Israel, it shows that human institutions also participate in God’s big story of redemption of humanity. And that’s why we call our our initiative organization redeeming Bible because a key part of our work is trying to help Christians see that organizations, organizational life matters to God, that they’re that our calling as Christians is includes participating in God’s plan for redeeming organizations as well as individuals. But we’re trying to introduce that perspective because organizations are human, they’re human organizations. And so if we believe that God has redeemed humanity ultimate In Jesus, then we need to kind of push out and expand our imagination of what redemption looks like to not just solely be individual, it certainly includes the individual, but also include the organizational.


Mark Turman  05:15

Well, that’s really helpful from the standpoint that as I was looking on your website, we spend so much of our life in organizations, be it in a company or a school, the PTA, and on a very small scale, the way you just in your describing that, to me, Curtis, it just thinks about, I know, when I was pastoring, churches, I would see this reality in some way, particularly like in the lay leadership, we would have a body of deacons that might have 10, or 20 men in it. And I would if I was to walk up to an average church member in my church and say, Well, what do you think about this person in our church or this deacon or this leader, and they would just rave about how they love that person? But if I asked them, well, what do you think about the deacons as a group, they usually had very negative things to say, and I was like, well, it was, it’s made up of the same people that if we talk about them individually, you you speak in glowing terms. Yeah. But now when they’re a group, you feel like they’re doing something terrible behind closed doors, that you don’t seem to like much of anything that they do in that context.


Curtis Chang  06:20

That’s so interesting. And I think what you’re describing names precisely what happens when we don’t think of an organization organizational body, as participating in the human that we most are more prone than to demonize it or to distrust it, we treat institutions. Therefore, when we don’t think of them as participating in the human, we treat them in a way that we instinctively intuitively as Christians, know we’re not supposed to treat another human individual, right. And your story precisely names that gap, that we are with an individual, we will want to extend grace, we will want to forgive, we will want to understand, okay, that person has fallen and sinful, but there’s hope for that individual. But when it comes to the institution, all that goes out the window, that we don’t extend grace, we are incredibly suspicious and distrustful, we lose all hope for institutions. And that’s just, that’s a blatant contradiction of the biblical vision of what it means to be human and to have human hope centered in Jesus.


Mark Turman  07:33

And we hear a lot of talk about this in multiple media outlets these days, when you’re speaking, organizationally, or institutionally, that includes when we use the term well, there, there is this thing called systemic racism, that that would be an example of organizational or collective brokenness in the story. But we hear that term a lot more. But we seem to be living in tell me if you have some data points on this, but we seem to be living in this in this age where there is widespread distrust, seemingly of all institutions. But before we kind of get to that just want to go back and, and just for our audience, it just sometimes helps me to remember what the definitions are that we’re talking about. So just a simple Webster’s definition of institution is there are a couple of them, one of them and established organization or corporation, especially of public character. And the dictionary uses a university as an example of that a second definition that might be helpful for us that an institution is a significant practice relationship or organization in a society or culture, an example being the institution of marriage. Right. Would you agree with that? Would you add more to that Curtis?


Curtis Chang  08:58

You know, it is a it is a term that is sort of used loosely, that that can, on the one hand, be a specific organization, but also, I think, is a set of practices that are collectively embodied, like you just said, I tend to use that term more when I mean, by institution, by by organizations, like a specific concrete organization. But I think a lot of what we’re talking about could also be applied to collective practices that that have an ongoing life beyond just the individual practice.


Mark Turman  09:30

Right? So is it how do we know that our relationship or trust within the fundamental institutions of our culture, how do we know whether that’s tracking upward or downward is it just simply a matter of repetitive surveys? And then all the


Curtis Chang  09:47

all the surveys show that distrust is is is increasing in very toxic form and an accelerating so I don’t have a statistic right in front of me, but basically, certainly distrust in the government, federal government is at an all time high distrust. And then when we had, you know, the the George Floyd incident, then there was a sharp increase in distrust in police institutions, especially among certain segments of our population. And now it seems like you know, even in higher ed took a big hit with the pandemic, and then sort of failing to deliver a quality education of experience and recovery. So basically, you go up and down the line, there is almost no, you know, no institution, including Christian institutions with the number of scandals that have hit the Christian world, from Canada camps to our zoom to Liberty University, you can just kind of go on down the line, that that institutional, distrust is an all time all time high. And this is actually part of the urgency of trying to help Christians think more spiritually more biblically about institutions, because, again, we should not be surprised that, that all these institutions are struggling or failing, because we actually have in the Bible, a narrative and and the Bible narrative is actually a prime example of that, like, oh, wait, we should expect some fallenness and brokenness, they’re human, they, they are human organizations, and just like, we would never expect a human individual to not sin not to have fallen, it’s not a brokenness, we wouldn’t expect that we should not expect that as an institution. But but instead actually, you know, realize, oh, therefore, that’s why we need to participate in God’s redemptive work for both individuals and institutions.


Mark Turman  11:46

Which is really what we see in the biblical story, right? We see this kind of back and forth telling of the story of brokenness and redemption between individuals and between, between groups or organizations like Israel in writ large, right, that then that this is the collective experience. And we see Israel as a group going back and forth between faithfulness and unfaithfulness in the whole story, and then you see elements of it in the church as well, in the New Testament context. I’m wondering is we kind of set the frame here, I’ve come across organizations over a number of years that tried to describe our society or our culture by either a number of institutions, or at least a number of categories of institutions, do you think that’s helpful to, to? You know, I know, one organization has seven, what they call pillars or mountain peaks of society? Is that a helpful way to think about it, at least in terms of in terms of government, religion, education, our business? Are those kinds of categories helpful to kind of frame the big picture? Or is that not the best way to do it?


Curtis Chang  13:00

I’m not sure how helpful that is. Perhaps at some level, I think the challenge is that just like, human individuals have an incredible amount of diversity. And it’s hard to categorize each individual like what are you, you know, like, Well, I’m a lot of things. I’m a dad, I’m a son, I’m a brother, I’m a theologian, a pickleball. Player, I’m a, you know, like, how do you I actually think organizations similarly participate in that kind of diversity, that we have a lot of organizations that it’s actually really difficult to say, Oh, you are this because they represent the diversity of humanity. You know, even if you think about a college, or a university, yes, they are an educational institution, but they’re also a research institution, they also produce public policy. They also, you know, are part of our social institution, for the formation of our youth. And so there’s, there’s just I think, I think institutions are, are very diverse. And, and therefore, I’m not sure how helpful it is to just sort of say, Oh, you’re this in particular.


Mark Turman  14:08

Right? They have multiple functions, oftentimes, because like I said, because of their length and breadth and depth of what they’re involved in, right,


Curtis Chang  14:16

exactly. And Mark, meaning if I could just say, because I think if you have listeners that are, you know, hearing me talk about institutions as participating in God’s story of redemption. If that’s a new if for some, some of your listeners, I suspect that’s like, okay, that makes sense. That that the the human is not just the human individual, but the human also is collective humans, whether it’s families, churches, nations, and so forth. But there’s, I’ve just found that there’s something about when I say organizations, and especially secular organizations, as participating in God’s story of redemption, people get really hung up. And so, if I end So I’ve actually created a course that helps Christians do that. But if I could just do like a quick soundbite here on this course to help and I don’t usually like to prove text, sort of theological truths with one verse, but but sometimes it’s helpful to have a summer reverse, that helps people just at least think, oh, wait a minute that’s in there. That’s in the Bible. Right. So if people want to just, you know, on your own, or you can follow along with me, turn to Colossians 115, two, to 18, or 217 15, to 17, just short two verses. But these are critical passages to the other church, this passage Colossians. One is really what’s the what biblical scholars call is the hem of Christ, which is it’s a regular biblical scholars believe that the early church regularly repeated these verses as part of their regular liturgy, or part of their regular service. The truths contained in these verses, were meant to be really embedded in the early Christian mind. And let me just read, starting from verse a Colossians, 115, because he was referring to Jesus here, he was the image and I want folks to key in on that concept, He is the image of the invisible God. So Jesus is the perfect image, perfect representation of the usable God, the firstborn of all creation, which means that all of creation then kind of takes is a image of the image, it’s a Jesus is the perfect image, but as the firstborn, then all of us sort of second, and then third, and fourth, and so forth, borns, then therefore, participate in this imaging function. So these just, you know, this passage is repeating that basic notion that human beings are made in the image of God, right. So he’s the image of the invisible God, the first point of all creation, For by Him by Jesus, all things are created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. So this idea that all of humanity ultimately, is a reflection of Jesus. So if Jesus is the perfect image, we are kind of, sort of secondary images. And we’re reflecting Jesus as Jesus reflects perfectly, and all things have the potential to reflect Jesus to image Jesus. But then he then then what he says all things, all things. So you’re like, Okay, well, what is included in this all things what, what can actually image God in this way. And in this is where I want folks to just sit with this because what the passage with his liturgy with his hymn of Christ is really trying to emphasize really trying to get the early Christians to remember says, This is what’s included in all things now, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things in him all things hold together. Now notice this specific example given to illustrate what all things are that have this reflective image bearing capacity is thrones, dominions, rulers, or authorities. That is biblical language for institutions. That’s the how the first century would describe the range of organizations and notice its visible and invisible. So the early Christian biblical imagination said in a given organization has both visible expression like the concrete, you know, Roman army and standing before me standing marching before me, but also invisible, but there’s also an invisible dimension, there’s a spiritual quality behind what is the visible organization. And that’s really the biblical imagination is that organizations have not just the physical concrete reality, but they also have a spiritual reality, an invisible spiritual reality behind them. And the ultimate created purpose for that spiritual function of organizations is to image God. That’s what this whole passage is about imaging the invisible God to, to bear witness to show something of who God is. That’s the purpose of every organization. And notice, it’s all organizations because the the all things is really important. So it’s not just Christian organizations. It’s not just Christian things. That image God, it includes all orders, including secular non Christian organizations, also participate in this imaging function. And the reason why I emphasize this all things that encompasses and includes secular organizations. It’s because as a pastor, as a former pastor, I know that the majority of my congregants spend most of their lives working, and spending hours and hours 4050 hours a week working in secular organizations. And if you think that that part of your life working in the secular organizations doesn’t participate in God’s plans and purposes in the world, then that means a huge chunk of your life is now just ruled out of bounds of having real significant spiritual significance. REITs real spiritual meaning. And so that’s why I am so passionate to help Christians. Understand organizations also have this imaging function. And therefore, those 40 5060 hours a week that you’re spending serving and advancing the library, the hospital, the widget, making factory, the insurance company, those are invested with God’s purposes as well.


Mark Turman  20:27

I ran into exactly what you’re talking about when you know when we’re trying as a pastor to help people see everything through a, through a sacred lens, that in a biblical way, there is no such thing as this secular part of the world over here that’s divorced from all things that are made by Christ. But recently, I was at an event and I met a man who was now in his early 60s, he was transitioning, and he described this in exactly the way that you’re talking about, unfortunately, the kind of thing that you’re trying to get people to see differently. He told me that he had had a very successful career. But now he was looking at going and working with a particular ministry that he described to me, and he was excited about actually flying out the next day to go have an interview. And he said, You know, I, I think I’ve finally gotten to the point in my life where I’ve made enough money, and I can sustain myself, and now I can go do something that’s really going to make a difference, right? And it’s like, it’s like the past, like, the last 40 years was just filler, you know, to to earn the place where he could now go do something that would make a kingdom difference for Christ. And I was like, No, you don’t understand everything you’ve been doing. But it was almost like, Well, I’ve been living a second grade kind of live until I could get up to the big leagues. And now I can really be involved directly in what God is doing. And I’m like, No, that’s not really the best way to see that. Yeah. And


Curtis Chang  21:59

we who are pastors, you know, we’d be responsibility for helping people have that sense of God’s purpose for their non explicitly Christian, you know, ministry life. And honestly, this is why this is what explains my own vocational path. So I was a pastor of an evangelical Covenant Church in California. And one of the reasons I left the past trip, I’m still a member of that church, but I resigned as a senior pastor was because I realized I was participating in the sort of divide between the sacred and secular because I while my theology was that I believed that the the 4050 hours that my congregants were working at Apple and Google, and IBM, that that they really was part of God’s God’s purposes and God’s work in the world, I honestly actually couldn’t really give a very coherent narrative narrative for why it was true that it mattered. And I realized part of that was because I had not worked in any secular organization myself. So I, whenever I graduated, I went into ministry right away, so and I can’t really preach and explain to them how their work at least effectively without some better experience working in the secular world. And, and so, and I also, you know, would always I would get stuck in trying to preach on sort of faith and work was, you get to that part of the sermon, where you want to give a call to action, right? Like any good pastor is like, Okay, now, what are you going to do with these truths, right. And whenever I got to that, constructed to that imaginary sermon, in my mind, I get to that part of the call to action, I realized, I didn’t know what to call them to, like all I had in terms of active call was like, so go volunteer, at the soup kitchen that the church runs, go volunteer to be a teacher at the Sunday school because we need more Sunday school teachers, or we need more youth group leaders. And he was always calling people to do stuff for the church, that institutional wall within the institutional walls of the church. And while that’s super important and necessary, and absolutely should be considered, I realized I just never had like in this is what it what you should be called to actually outside the walls of the church, in the organizations that you are actually spending the majority of your life and so this is why I resigned, I started a consulting firm, made up of actually a lot of folks from my church. And it was a consulting firm to serve secular, non Christian secular nonprofits. And again, I’m using secular in air quotes there, right, like, I agree with you. There’s no ultimately no secular versus sacred, but you know, sociologically speaking, these were secular nonprofits or government agencies. And the last, you know, for the last 15 years, I’ve been running this firm, and it’s just been eye opening to start to see how God’s purposes are connected to all of these organizations. And it’s given me a really rich and sort of a pattern understanding and a passion to help Christians realize that these organizations, even if they are not explicitly Christian, they are still part of that Colossians 115, to 17 collection of all things of all those thrones, dominions, rulers, or authorities,


Mark Turman  25:24

and really, really helpful for just any Christian to understand it doesn’t matter what environment that God has put you in by gifting and by passion, if you can start seeing your work as a school teacher, or as a nurse, or if you’re working in a factory building cars, or you’re managing people who do those things, when you’re in those environments, like I said, when you’re working in technology, you’re not living in a part that’s separated from the kingdom of God, that’s actually your kingdom assignment, where, where you can live out your best giftedness, all the years of your life, right?


Curtis Chang  26:03

Totally. You know, and just to kind of do one more turn on that, we have to remember that one of the primary ways that we bear God’s image is the image of God as creator, that if you look at read Genesis one and two human beings, what it meant for them to be called to steward creation, right? It really is a stewarding function that, that humanity was made to do explain in Genesis one to two, it involves creation involves bringing new things into being, it’s most immediately expressed by the, you know, the call to Eve to name the animals, like she’s breathing and creating order, like you’re this, you belong here, you’re this kind of animal, you’re that kind of owner. And then there’s other ways that you as you read the Genesis narrative that human beings begin to create things, bring new things into the world, and that’s a reflection and imaging of God as creator. And now this is the key thing is, human beings are not meant to do most things alone, especially creation, right? The biblical narrative makes it very clear that it’s not good for man to be alone. And even the creation of life can’t be done alone, it requires male and female. And therefore all the rest of kinds of of ways in which human beings create are also not meant to be done alone. And we see this in our everyday life, it’s very hard to create anything meaningful in this world, by yourself, you’re almost always going to be dependent on somebody else. Some other resources, some other people to cooperate and do this together with. That’s that’s just what an organization is. An organization is an expression of human beings coming together to create things to create new things in the world. And so if you know one of your listeners are wondering, like, wait, but I work in blank company, how does that participate in God’s purposes? One question to ask is, well, what are you creating? What is by you? I mean, the organization, what is this organization creating? What is it bringing a new into the world? And in what ways is that new reality that new thing being created? How does that image God, right? If it’s a, you know, if it’s a new piece of art that you’re creating, how does that reflect even consciously, unconsciously, not explicitly, but even unconsciously reflect something about the artistry of God, if you’re bringing some sort of new thing that organize that you’re you’re an accounting for accounting firm, and you’re bringing order into the finances? Well, that’s reflecting something about God’s desire for order and resources to be well distributed, well appointed, apportioned, and so forth. So it takes some, it takes a fresh thinking, we’re not used to thinking about organizations in this way, in this way of thinking about what what is it creating? What does it bring into the world? And in what way does that new reality reflects something about who God is, including who God is, as a creator? It’s a different we haven’t been trained to think this way. But the Colossians 115 to 17 worldview ought to train us to think this way, because again, all things were created in him, for him and through him.


Mark Turman  29:14

Right, which is a another indication of just how hyper individualized we’ve become right? That but really, the most beautiful things and many ways the most complex things are created by people working together. I mean, even even the very earliest story right? If two, it takes two human beings to create a third human being right is the way God set this up in this amazing creative order. And then you start seeing level upon level of complexity and beauty added to that which again, is reflective of who God is. And we learn through the biblical narrative that even God is doing this in, in a team setting as a Trinity right The we don’t ever find the word we don’t find the word trinity. But we see the evidence in the description of it. Even in the Colossians passage, there are these indications that God is doing this in community with himself as Father, Son, and Spirit to create this enormous, magnificent, complex creation that he just wants to love and celebrate with right?


Curtis Chang  30:26

manifests brilliant. And this is where my course really tries to help Christians think more Trinitarian in their, in their, in their thinking in their life. And you’ve named it exactly right when we say that human beings were meant to bear the image of God, we need to remember that the biblical picture, their biblical depiction of God himself, is a team, like you said, I mean, that that God Himself, in a real way, is an organizational being right, because the Trinity itself is saying, there’s one identity, one being God. So we’re talking about three different gods, it’s one God, but comprised of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons, one identity, common purpose, interdependent, right, that’s the picture of the Trinity, what does that sound like, in human terms would be a human image of multiple persons coming together in one identity with common purpose, working interdependently, to bring new new life and new reality into the world. That’s, that’s an organization. So that’s what that’s what, that’s why that’s why human organizations bear the image of God as organizations, because our very God is a triune. God, A, which has an is an organizational, if you want to call it as an organizational nature to it, which is exactly why all of life cannot be a solo sport, it is a team sport. And so the very work that you are doing in your company, even if you’re like, oh, but we just, you know, we just make widgets, or we just, you know, carry out insurance policies or, you know, whatever, you’re still doing all of that, if even if you’re having a hard time saying, Well, what how does that? How does that function reflect God, just the very fact that you’re doing it together with other human beings means you are reflecting God. And so part of the purpose for Christians in their organizational life is to think even just internally in how I work with others to get work done. How can I conduct that in a way that really reflects the Triune God that reflects interdependence, that reflects common purpose that reflects Grace extended to one another, right? That the the ways in which the fathers and sons Spirit work together, we’re meant to image we’re meant to reflect, and how we work together with other human beings, including again, in our organizational life, and that ought to begin just opening up all sorts of ways that can infuse purpose, the purpose has always been there, but for us to recognize purpose in our organizational life.


Mark Turman  33:17

And just to Yeah, just listening to you talk describe this, this beautiful functionality of being able to create God give it has given us that ability to create, and, and but then the not only what we’re doing, but how we’re doing it, and you start hearing, or at least I start hearing in your description, so many biblical calls to unity, to cooperation, as well as collaboration, and that we would, that we would come together with recognizing each other’s gifts, that none of us has all of the gifts and therefore we can’t operate independently, we have to be interdependent in the same way that God is. And then what are the gifts you know, the fruits of the Spirit Galatians five, that talks about how we would bring our best, best selves and our best behavior to this collaboration for the building of unity. So that what we do, we enjoyed doing together, you know, I, I, I had a an elder in my church who said something to me about 10 years ago, we were struggling with unity within the the church team that I was leading. And he made an observation that I held on to he said, You know, when, when unity is struggling or when unity is breaking down, the first thing that leaves the room is creativity, and nobody knows that creativity left. That’s right. That’s exactly right. And that that’s just an expression of how this dynamic actually works inside of a team setting, be it in a church or a school or a business or government or any of those kinds of environments.


Curtis Chang  34:52

Yeah, and one of the sad things mark is that, you know, in our public life, we’ve gotten so also stuck and paralyzed in our differences, that we don’t recognize this Trinitarian truth that our differences are meant to be gifts to one another, that we need the different we need the other. Even when we don’t fully share everything about you know, or don’t fully grasp that the other is a gift to us because we’re we reflect a Triune God. And I think Christians ought to be sort of at the forefront of bridging differences divides, because we do follow and reflect a God who deeply values difference different and is differences, not a threat, differences, a gift to one another. And in so many spheres of our life. And sadly, especially politically, we need to recapture this Trinitarian truth.


Mark Turman  35:50

absolutely want to want to come back around that since we’re soon to be in the midst of another election here are a few days want to come back to that in a minute, but just want to kind of frame this, again, that just the power and the beauty of what can happen in an organization, or we can even say institutional setting of coming together. And he’s actually one of the people I was talking with Dr. Dennis and about Michael Lindsey talking about how institutions change the world, because they’re the platforms by which we can connect, and bring our unique gifts to be combined with other people’s gifts. And if if something is going to last, for a long period of time and make a real substantive contribution has to be connected to an organization or an institution where it can be nurtured and cared for by more than one person. That’s right. But just but at the same time, and when we were talking in some ways around racism in my church a few months ago, you know, one of the things I wanted to point out is that since we are broken individuals, we’re going to break we’re going to build less than perfect organizations, of course, yeah, just that we just need to recognize that there’s no way for us on this side of heaven to build any organization that’s going to be flawless. And so we need to recognize that and be ready to, to redeem and to revise our organization. But at a scale now, in our society, where do you think it goes? When a culture has such a low level of seemingly all of its institutions? Yeah. And, and it doesn’t seem to be, we’re all struggling to wonder, can that ever change? You know, where do you think it goes, if it continues on this track? And then what are some of your recommendations for how any individual or even a group of individuals can participate in rebuilding trust?


Curtis Chang  38:00

Yeah, well, I am not a fortune teller. So I have no idea where this goes. Certainly the current trend lines are not encouraging. But, you know, we as Christians are ultimately always called to hope. We’re always called to believe that God’s redemptive purposes, can break in even in the most dire circumstances. And so I do think that that is that’s why a redeeming Bible exists is to to kind of create resources to help Christians imagine redemptive hope in the world, in places that they haven’t they might be tempted to give up on and that one of those areas that is, isn’t their organizations. And, you know, I think it starts one of I think, places it starts, again, is by realizing that human organizations are just that they’re human. And so we ought to treat them as human, we ought to treat them invert with the same values and spiritual convictions that we would treat an individual, right? So if we encounter an individual that has failed in a task, in a given task in a given expectation, do we automatically write that individual off for effort? Do we reject them? Do we demonize that individual do we call others to hate that individual? No, as Christians, we don’t do that. Because we believe that that individual is made in the image, the image of God, which means that that person is also a flawed a broken image of God, because sin has corrupted that image bearing function. But Jesus died for that individual and therefore, there is ultimately redemptive hope and and so we want to extend grace forgiveness to work with individual to help the individual repair what is broken in his or her life, right. So again, we got this I think most Christians got this as at the individual level, they just throw it out the window when it comes to our institutions. So no, I think we have to first start with okay when an institution lets us down which is evident really well, because it’s human, right? Just in the same way that your mom or your dad or your brother or sister will let you down in some way. And perhaps already has almost certainly already has, right? And institutions are going to do that as well. And that same kind of process of, okay, let’s evaluate what’s gone wrong, but let’s not write off that institution. Let’s try to understand and diagnose what really went wrong. How can I help to be an image of redemption for that institution? How can I participate contribute to that redemption, which doesn’t mean you just simply forget and forgive? Or you forgive, but doesn’t mean you forget? And just say, Okay, well, right. If an individual stole money from you, you’re not going to just like, open up your bank account to that person, you’re like, Okay, let’s like, we’ll take baby steps of trying to rebuild trust. I think in the same way with institutions like there are some institutions who have earned distrust. So I’m not saying all distrust of organizations bad there are really broken and flawed institutions. I’m just arguing that we don’t write them off entirely, we approach them very much the same spirit we do with individual like, we’re alright, where can I give them a second chance? Where can I give them some way to show that they are cooperating with God’s redemptive purposes? How can I help them in that process? Is that that same kind of wisdom that you have to bring to an individual’s process of redemption? We have to bring to our institutions, but it does, it does not mean we write them off. It does not mean we we demonize them, or we rally people to hate them. That institution either. So you know, I in some ways, it’s not. The hope for us as a future is the same hope we have for another individual, we have to believe God is through Jesus is at work redeeming this world. And one


Mark Turman  41:53

of the one of the ironies Curtis that I’ve had in this experience, where do you hear conversations? You know, we, we’ve lived most of my life in ministry in a season of moving away from things like denominations, you know, I’ve been a part of a denomination for my entire ministry was educated within the context of a particular denomination, but we’ve really moved away from denominational ism in one way. And so there’s this idea of well, you know, that’s just a broken, flawed system, we need to do away with it. A similar thing, when you hear in the more public setting about what we just need to defund the police. In some conversations. That’s right. Yeah. What always interests me about that is is okay, well, we could do that we could just dismantle, you know, police departments, or we could dismantle a school district, or we could dismantle a church denomination. But the very next day, we’re going to start doing some of the things that will create it all over these functions. Absolutely. We’re gonna we’re gonna replicate it, because we need them, we absolutely must have them. And so we’re not, we’re never going to wake up the next morning and say, Okay, well, we’re going to build the new institution, we’re going to do it better. And we’re going to call it something but we’re going to start organizing ourselves. Because that’s the only way that we can actually get things done that need to be that need to get done


Curtis Chang  43:17

that that God has designed us to do right to reflect who he is. You’re absolutely right. And by the way, when we start rebuilding those institutions, we’re liable to make the same mistakes that our forefathers thought there’s an for me. It’s human, we’re human beings.


Mark Turman  43:34

And as I hear you talk and this this always come across when I’ve heard you give conversations like this is that some of those mistakes or some of those bad things that end up happening that break down trust? Yes, some of them are probably going to emerge out of our selfishness, and are more on the intentional side. But then when we start working together, we’re actually going to, we’re going to do some things that we’re trying to do to make things better, and they’re going to have unintended consequences. Exactly right, that are negative that we were like, Oh, if we knew it was going to do that, we wouldn’t have done it this way.


Curtis Chang  44:10

Yeah, you know, Mark, I’m a consultant, right. So one of the things that I’ve just come to realize is, you know, when I consult with organizations, and they’re complaining about some system that’s broken, or that’s not working some policy or process or system, if you dig hard enough, almost always, that thing that they really dislike, was put in place to solve another problem. So it’s just, you know, it’s just human nature. We’re not, we are, we are short of the new heavens and the new earth that only comes when Jesus comes. Until then we’re always you know, sort of half in the heading towards redemption but still mired in sin. And so we should just expect we’re going to have this life and and so when frustrating things come up, that inevitably come up in any sphere of life and family life and individual life in a marriage, but also in organizational life. We should not be surprised, just like, oh, yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s what it means to be a broken human being on the path towards redemption.


Mark Turman  45:13

And I and I have been kind of encouraged in a strange kind of way, when I moved into the community that I’m in now, I wanted to be outside the walls of my church to certain extent, as you said earlier, and that can be hard for a pastor to do. Because you can be so busy with stuff that needs to be done inside the church. But I tried to get involved in my community in the chamber of commerce and city governments. Awesome. That’s great. And what and what I found out was, I would be sitting in a meeting for one of those organizations and, and I would hear them start to talk about problems and things that they were trying to solve. And I would sit back and go, this is just like church, or churches just like this. Yeah, that’s right. That’s right, that we to a certain extent, we all kind of feel at times, like we’re a bunch of Keystone Cops that we just keep running around, making the same mistakes and wondering if we’re ever getting better.


Curtis Chang  46:04

Yeah, yeah. And that’s the nature of life, you know, it’s, and so it’s not something that we ought to just kind of throw our hands up in frustration, think, oh, this thing is ultimately broken. It’s this thing is this thing, this thing is a human thing. And therefore, a we know, Mark, one thing I wanted to just also say is that, you know, one of the things that I found really helpful in helping Christians recognize their, their purpose, their God given purpose and organizational life, is by helping them giving them some categories. And my course does this. And again, if people are interested, they can go to redeeming And actually take this course called God’s purpose for your organizational life. But one of the things I do in this course, is I give people just a fun quiz. And the quiz is ultimately meant to help them identify, it gives them very broad, these are meant to be very broad categories of how God assigns specific individual roles, to people in organizations, I use the categories the classic biblical categories of Prophet, Priest, and King. So, you know, Prophet is somebody that’s who’s really job is to spot truth, and name truth and tell truth. You know, a priest is somebody that’s trying to bridge what is broken to heal what is broken to break, you know, heal broken relationships and restore, the peace is always the mediator. In Israel, right? The King is the one that’s trying to govern trying to bring order and seek justice, right. So again, these are broad categories, but they do represent in almost every organization, and this is where, you know, you’re talking about how every organization, whether they’re Christian or non Christian, that’s sort of the same functions. Every organization’s needs these functions, they need somebody to help tell the truth, show and guide, and explain to people the truth, they need somebody to help mediate, and bridge and create good ways of being together good processes, that’s the priest, right. And they need somebody to bring order and to to actually move things forward or to defend, you know, that those are the keenly functions. And I fully found it helpful when when Christians realize, oh, in my, again, my insurance company, I actually play a priestly function, I’m actually the one that everyone comes to, when they’re, they have a problem, right? I’m the mediator within this organization. And that that can be when you recognize that you’re, oh, God created me, even me individually to play a very specific role in this organization. And I really believe that’s true by this spirit that God has, you know, has equipped us to have gifts to give not just to the church, certainly including the church, but also these other organizations that were a part of.


Mark Turman  48:53

Yeah, just a great framework to understand how you bring that kind of giftedness and perspective in how it’s necessary, how you need all three of those things. Yeah. For any organization to work well. But we have a few more minutes, I wanted to kind of take some of what we’ve talked to talked about relative to institutions broadly, and put it around the frame of the institution of government. There’s an election coming. You know, I’ve I’ve recently thought through this and thought, well, when we go to vote this time, we’re probably going to have four or five things on our mind at least. And not not trying to put these in any particular partisan category, but just anything and everything related to Donald Trump seems to be an every political American conversation right now. Yeah. The issue of election integrity of when we go into this process as a organized country, do we really have confidence in how the process is getting implemented? The economy obviously is very big Young people’s minds, we have the the ongoing issue of abortion rights. And then foreign affairs seem to be bigger than they used to be because the pandemic has taught us that we’re much more connected than we’ve ever been. And now things like in Afghanistan and in Ukraine are much more top of mind, we’re having conversations about nuclear weapons at a scale we really thought we’d never have. But when you start talking about the institution of government, they do you feel like that we have, for various reasons, turn this into something of an idol, a kind of a cultural idol. And we no longer we’ve lost sight of the biblical both functions and boundaries of government. And it’s, it’s almost like it’s become our favorite contact sport. Yeah. Is that or is that kind of what we’re doing in American society?


Curtis Chang  51:01

Yeah, let me I would frame it this way is that we are we are turning images into idols. Right. So an organization is meant to be an image, an image points to reflect something of God, but is not God. himself, right, there’s a gap between the image and the image. And so, so organizations, including the organization of government are meant to image to reflect something of God, but there’s always there’s a gap that they’re not gonna, they’re not, they’re not the ultimate source of power and meaning and purpose. And the heightened way in which we have invested politics with so much energy, with so much passion with so much fear, right, is we are in danger, I think of turning that from an image into an idea or making it more than it should be. And once we think that it’s going to solve all our problems, or is the source of all of our problems, we’re in danger of making it an idol, right, where we invest, investing too much power and energy into it. So I do think we would do well to just like, take a deep breath and examine ways in which am I investing too much, too much power to this to government, in a way that it wasn’t, it’s not, it can’t bear that kind of wait. And then we’re women and happens, we’re turning into an idol. One of the thing I will say, you know, you listed all those different issues that you mentioned, and I want to zero in on the second one that you listed, which is election integrity. And the reason I want to do that is because I actually think that is actually a threat to a biblical understanding of organizations. And let me explain this, to give me a moment here to unpack. So when we treat another human being, as an image bearing being, that should be a guard from us from treating them, simply instrumentally. And by that, I mean, we believe that, you know, if I’m, if I’m, as I’m relating to you, Mark, that you have inherent dignity worth value, because you are made in the image of God, you’re an image bearing being right, you’re just not a you’re not solely a tool instrument, I should not just view you like, what can I get out of Mark, you know, this, even this conversation we’re having, I should be relating to you as like, you have inherent you have inherent dignity and worth. And I shouldn’t just be calculating, how do I get mark to do what I want Mark to do for me, for my purposes, right? You’re not You’re not that should not treat instrumentally. In the same way, we have to also approach our institutions, including our institutions of government and our institutions of elections, as having inherent dignity and worth, just by themselves be because they are reflecting something of God’s purposes for the world and not solely view them. How do I use them? How do I capture them? How do I compel them to serve some function of my own some some that only is benefits me or my side? And this is the problem with election denial, is that fundamentally it is motivated by a desire not to respect elections and government and government officials who oversee elections as having inherent dignity and worth and value that they they’re meant to serve a function, which is to conduct free and fair elections, but instead are viewed solely through? Are they generating the result that I want? Can I can I make them do what I want them to do? Because this the reality that I’m just going to this is this is just a factual basis, that our elections have never been more fair and more free and more stable in reality than ever before the election fit that perfectly. There’s always going to be you know, sort of isolated cases of is handling fraud here there, but it’s a tiny fraction of all what happens in elections, and for the most part are actually our election institutions are doing a very remarkable job of imaging God in terms of having fear, fear, fairness and justice. But we there’s a segment of our political life that has refused, that’s just treated them as like, no, are they given me the result that I want? Or not? And if not, I’m going to actually tear them down. I’m going to cause distrust, and even hatred towards those institutions. And that is, that’s a violation of the inherent dignity and worth and value of those institutions. Is there just simply treat them for like, are they on my side? Do they give me what I want or not? We wouldn’t do that. Within that we would, I hope we would know enough not to do that with another individual. We shouldn’t do that with our institutions. And that is, that is, you know, that’s facing us in this election. 60% of Americans have a election denier on their ballot. Most of them are on the right, but but there are some like in cases of Georgia, you know, Stacey Abrams has in her own way, not as badly as as I think the right has. But somebody on the left also has sort of cast, I think, unfairly doubt on the election process in Georgia. And this is a whole other conversation that I’m not going to go into all the details. But I want to say this is this is a problem on the right and the left is ways in which we’re undermining our institutions of elections, because we’re treating them as instruments for our side, and trying to make them do what we want them to do, versus having an inherent dignity worth as image bearing institutions. So end to end of rant.


Mark Turman  56:47

Okay. Oh, no good word. A good rant. Yeah, a good rant. Because, you know, sometimes we just seem to, you know, we forget, right? If we, if we become the election denier, then we turn around and try to get elected we we’ve basically pulled the rug out from our own our own feet, right. Yeah. Yeah. And, and we forget about some other things like the fact that we believe in a sovereign God as Christians, we believe in a sovereign God who is watching over things. Now, I’ve talked with some younger people in recent days who have said, well, I just decided not to vote, because God’s gonna take care of it anyway, I don’t think that’s a healthy way to participate. You’re not participating in the collective work that God is a part of. But we should rest that a sovereign God is watching over things. And then the other thing is just practically speaking, history seems to reveal this. I’m a child of Watergate. And one of the things that Watergate illustrates is, it’s very hard to orchestrate a deception on a wide scale. There are a very long time. Yeah, I mean,


Curtis Chang  57:56

I was just, I was just at a conference at Johns Hopkins University, where it’s actually brought together election officials from around the country, including from some of the, you know, most contested parts of the country, and I was walked away so impressed with the durability, stability and trustworthiness, again, that perfectibility, that’s never gonna be perfect. But that overall, our election system is designed in a way that makes it incredibly difficult for anybody to pull off a sort of massive, sort of, you know, stunt the way that the election deniers are claimed and happened in the last election.


Mark Turman  58:37

Right? And this Yeah, and people need to learn that kind of reality, because we send us we simplify things that simply are not simple, and the end, and that enables us to buy into things that are likely in many cases, not true. Well, Curtis, thank you for your time. Today, I do want to give you two or three minutes here at the end, I know you’ve also recently been doing some really important work in the area of anxiety, and people can find out about that, as well as about your work with organizations and institutions at redeeming Tell us very quickly about your work. Give us the three minute elevator speech about your work in the area of anxiety, because that’s connected to this in a big way when you don’t, when you don’t trust the major institutions, organizations of your society that breeds fear in us, well, who and what can I trust? Right?


Curtis Chang  59:32

Well, I think goes in the other direction as well, when we actually have anxiety and fear in our life that actually is not stemming from institutions just stemming from life and how how life is inherently filled with anxiety. But we instead rather than deal with them in the way that God intended us to deal with them. We sort of externalize that anxiety out onto institutions and think, Oh, those institutions are responsible for the things that we displace kind of our anxiety outward on to other institutions, right? So it goes in both ways. And so yeah, it’s exactly because of this connection that I wanted, I realized that, you know, I can talk to the head rationally about Christian with to Christians about how they ought to think about things like institutions or politics or things like that. But but so much of this ultimately stems from anxiety that we carry around in our life. And it’s, it’s too long, I don’t have enough time to explain why we have more anxiety in our life than we ever have before. But the reality is we do. And I believe that, again, that I think Christians have not been taught well on how to think and handle anxiety that that so much of the church, I would say, is stuck in one of two ways. We either treat anxiety as a spiritual flaw, like something to get rid of, almost perhaps in some circles, even as a sin as a sign that you don’t have enough faith. And so we’re supposed to pray anxiety away. So that anxiety is like stigmatized as a sin. And that’s one way or the other is that we we strip anxiety of any spiritual significance, and we just outsource it to secular mental health. And it’s like, okay, anxiety solely is a medical condition to be treated with medication or therapy. Now, let me be clear, I’m a fan of both praying about around about your anxiety, I’ve taken anti anxiety medication myself, I’ve been in therapy myself. But all of those approaches miss I think the fundamental biblical story about anxiety, which is that anxiety is not a problem to make go away, either by praying it away, or by medicating it away, or therapy, pricing it away. Anxiety is fundamentally not a problem we make go away. Anxiety is fundamentally an opportunity. Anxiety is an opportunity is an opportunity, which means rather than making it go away, it’s something we go through. It’s hard. It’s not easy, it’s painful, but we go through anxiety, because it is the actual pathway to spiritual growth, to becoming more like Jesus. And that’s really what my course that you can find on redeeming It’s, it’s called anxiety as opportunity for spiritual growth. And I’ve got a book coming out in May called the anxiety opportunity. How worries are the doorway to your best self. And so this is, this is my way of trying to speak to the kind of emotional reality that is gripping so many of our, of our people, especially our teens, our young people


Mark Turman  1:02:33

know, yeah, lots of research coming out in that way as well look forward to the book. And hopefully that will help us to know how God can help us to be more trusting, more trusting of him more trusting of each other, and by extension, more trusting of our institutions and organizations, wherever we are encountering them and being a part of them. Right. Hey, Matt. Curtis, thank you so much for the conversation. I hope we can do it again soon. Really, really helpful stuff. And I know that our audience is going to appreciate listening to this conversation and connecting with you in other ways as well. Thank you for your time.


Curtis Chang  1:03:08

Oh, it’s been a pleasure. This was such a fun conversation and I look forward to doing it again.


Mark Turman  1:03:12

Thank you, Curtis, and thank you to all of you for listening. And if you like what you heard today, please rate review us and share this podcast with others so that they can be helped as well. Thank you for being a part of the Denison Forum Podcast today.


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