Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman discuss the thinking of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and the progression of Western philosophy, which has culminated in the post-truth culture we find ourselves in today.
Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman open by explaining Jim’s role as a “cultural apologist.” After a detour into different approaches to preaching, they state that, in a general sense, all of Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato, Aristotle, and Kant (riffing off of the quote by Alfred North Whitehead).
Plato began by claiming that the soul exists before the body and that the material world is fundamentally flawed. It is a “shadow” of the real things, which are “spiritual” or “mental,” and the purpose of physical life is to purify one’s soul. Additionally, according to Plato, if we wanted to study apples, we would think about “appleness.” We wouldn’t study it by looking at apples in the physical world. This Greek categorization of the spiritual and “everything else” is what led to the “Sunday versus Monday” Christianity, which Jim expounds upon.
Then, they delve into Aristotle, who opposed his teacher. Aristotle said that to understand things we should look at the material world. To study an apple, we need to look at apples themselves in the physical world.
They then leap centuries to consider how Plato and Aristotle respectively influenced different applications of the church. While you can loosely trace Plato’s influence to modern Protestantism, you can trace Aristotle’s influence to the Catholic church.
At this point, we can say that Immanuel Kant in the eighteenth century was trying to exercise his thinking to unite these two ways of thinking. The “empiricist” (focus on the physical) and “rationalist” (focus on the rational) were raging in debate at this time. Kant, in trying to marry these two ways, ended up saying that we cannot know the “thing in and of itself” either rationally or empirically. This kind of subjectivism swept Europe. America, however, was somewhat protected from these ideas by “commonsense realism,” which Mark and Jim discuss more.
They then speculate into the two paths Europe and America took in history, given these two opposing views. For instance, Kant’s focus on “duty for duty’s sake” became a potential grounding for the German people’s acceptance of the horrors of Nazism. Recently, this subjectivism, which has become relativism, reached America, which Jim talks about as our “post-truth” culture. At this point, they turn to more recent thinkers like Marx, Freud, and Darwin, discussing how they have continued to influence our thinking until we have become “sexual, economic animals.”
How do we not allow ourselves to be influenced by these ideas in our culture?
We must pray without ceasing, be aware of Jesus’ presence, and renew our minds by taking them captive to obey Christ. Regular Bible study is critical to making sure we submit to the ultimate truth, revealed by God. Only he can be the ultimate standard of objective truth.
P.S. Jim’s most pivotal book to date, The Coming Tsunami, is now available on Kindle, hardcover, and Audible.
Resources and further reading:
- The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self – Carl Trueman
About the hosts
Jim Denison, PhD, is an author, speaker, and the CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content.
Dr. Mark Turman is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.
Transcribed by Otter.ai
Mark Turman 00:03
You’re listening to episode two of the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Terman, the executive director at Denison forum, and I’m here today with Dr. Jim Dennison, the chief vision Officer of Denison forum. Jim, how are you?
Jim Denison 00:14
I’m doing well, Mark, how are you today
Mark Turman 00:16
doing great. Looking forward to talking to you. Today, Dr. Denison, and I will discuss the cultural earthquakes that he writes about in his new book, The coming tsunami. If you haven’t listened to our previous episode, I want to encourage you to do so Dr. Denison. And I talked about the broad basis of the book, we did an overview, and why he believes this is the most pivotal book to date that he’s ever written, had a chance to read the book. I agree with that and look forward to discussing different parts of it with you today, Jim, as we get started in and expand on some of the other ideas and thoughts that are going on and are revealed in this book, I want to back up and in help our readers and our listeners to understand what Denison forum is all about. And we use the term and it’s not exclusive to us, but the term apologist. In our ministry, we use the term cultural apologist that really sets a context and have a frame around what this book talks about. Help us understand from your perspective, those terms, cultural apologist apologists, perhaps in the more traditional sense, what’s the difference?
Jim Denison 01:24
Yeah, thank you for that question, Mark. And apologist, as you know, goes back to the Greek root of Pola give, which means to make a defense. And so you find that with Stephen in Acts, chapter seven, you find that with Paul before the Sanhedrin, and again before the Roman authorities later in the book of Acts, and so an apologist is someone who defends the faith just in broad classical terms, what you would think of as traditional apologetics something that I have taught for many years in seminaries have a lot of background and academic experience with is more defending the faith in the context of the resurrection, let’s say, or the validity of Scripture, or the virgin birth or the necessity of faith in Christ, the uniqueness of Christ, that sort of thing. That’s what we typically think of. When we think of apologetics. I’m thinking of Josh McDowell Evidence That Demands a Verdict. And chapter after chapter has excellent material on the resurrection and how we can defend the resurrection, from historical perspectives, from archaeological perspectives and so forth. Well, a cultural apologist, is a little different than that, as I understand the tournament as we use it. We’re thinking in this context of somebody who speaks toric who seeks to articulate and defend biblical truth in the context of cultural issues. And so what we’ll certainly move into traditional apologetics on occasion, the resurrection, the validity of Scripture, and so forth, we’re really more dialoguing about issues like abortion or euthanasia, same sex marriage, we’re looking at the trends that are in the culture. And as a traditional apologist word we’re presenting biblical truth, and then seeking to defend that truth. One other element I would add in the context of cultural apologetics, especially at this cultural moment, is we more often find ourselves using secular arguments for spiritual truth. Because most of the time, we’re dealing with secular issues. And a lot of the audience we’re seeking to persuade is not as persuaded by biblical citations by biblical argument. And so a good friend said to me some time ago that he felt that my calling was to provide secular reasons for believing in spiritual truth. And I think that’s true in a lot of ways. So that’s, in a sense, what we mean when we talk about cultural apologetics here. So it’s really
Mark Turman 03:29
a both and not an either or That’s right. There’s a great deal of overlap and a great deal of reinforcement, certainly coming from traditional apologetics. And I’ve heard you speak a number of times about these issues, particularly out of x 17, where Paul is in Athens, and how he tries to start with some of the mentality and understanding and beliefs that are already there, and then build back to an understanding of biblical truth.
Jim Denison 03:59
Exactly. So I love taking people to that very spot, Marcel, where we think he had that conversation with what’s known as the Areopagus, which was, as you know, the kind of the intellectual elite of the day back in an earlier day before the Romans, they were the ruling council of the Greek Empire, you would think on some level, and by this time, they’re still really the academic leaders of the Western world, even more than the Romans would be. Imagine getting to speak to the collective faculties of Harvard, Princeton and Yale. And that would be the idea here. Well, Paul is not going to persuade them by citing what we think of as biblical truth.
Mark Turman 04:33
Right? He said, When he goes and gets the Old Testament, and that starts quoting Hebrew scripture, that’s not going to impress them
Jim Denison 04:38
no more than if I recording the Quran to you, right? It necessarily would. Or if I were necessarily quoting Plato, to somebody that doesn’t have a background in that space. What he does know is that quoting Greek philosophers to Greek philosophers, will get traction. And so he starts by pointing out something that’s in front of them visibly, is just walk through the agora, the mall there that’s right on the other side. Out of Morris Hill, there’s still ruins of it today. And they’re all these altars to these various gods and the transactional religion of the day. If you’re going to war, then you sacrifice to Mars if you need wisdom, you sacrifice to Athena. So they had altars to all the various gods I could think of. That’s why they had so many gods on Mount Olympus. And so what? Well, then he found an altar to the unknown God, right, just in case they left one out, cover all the bases, it didn’t want to offend anybody. Right? Exactly. So and so he starts with that. He says what you think of as unknown, I want to proclaim to you. But then as he begins his apologetic presentation, he doesn’t a cultural more than a Biblical sense.
Mark Turman 05:36
He gets to the place where he quotes up amenities, and he quotes a Radies their own philosophers, he never heard. So that’s who those people were. That’s who they were. That’s who they understood. Now he did. He doesn’t give us footnotes for who these people are in the conversation. But that’s, that’s part of the context. That’s where I use philosophers.
Jim Denison 05:53
And the commentaries will tell you that they’ll come in and show you where to find these various citations that Paul is using him. And so he’s using citations that were just common to the culture, things that were sayings that were known to be authoritative, that were accepted as truth. And the same
Mark Turman 06:06
way we would use an idiom. That’s right, you know, that’s right, or an axiom in our culture, something that everybody kind of uses in the general flow of their language and conversations. That’s
Jim Denison 06:16
right. You can think of it almost in a legal sense. I’ve introduced evidence in the court hearing. And now as I’m trying to persuade the jury, I can cite that evidence that has already been entered in by the judge has been accepted as authoritative by both sides as trustworthy by both sides. That’s why I’ll be signing precedents that have already been determined by the courts previously, right. So that on the basis of settled jurisprudence, we can make an argument for some new assertion that we’re wanting to make here. It’s exactly that psychology that’s at work here. It’s Jesus said, John, for the woman comes for water. So he starts with water and leads her to living water. It’s the idea of starting where they are, and building commonality from where they are to where they need to go. And that’s what Paul’s doing. And that’s in many ways what we tried to do.
Mark Turman 07:01
So having a sense of people get the idea that we’re not from two completely different worlds.
Jim Denison 07:06
That’s right. We’re building bridges here, right? We’re starting there. Justin, the martyr had the idea, we often call them justin martyr. But martyr wasn’t his last name. He was Justin and he was martyred. It’d be an unfortunate last name. Yes. Yeah. It’s one people would remember. We would remember it, you’d remember it. That’s right. You know, Justin victim, you know, we’d be kind of the thought here. But nonetheless, he had the idea of the seminal logos, seminal meaning in Greek for seed, the idea that there’s a seed of truth. In every person, it goes back to John one that light that enlightens all men was in coming into the world. So adjusted would want to do is come along and find that place of truth that you already accept, and start there, build a bridge from there. When I was in Bangladesh, some years ago, I had the privilege of sharing the gospel with a group of village II moms of religious leaders in this community. They were so impressed by the ministry we were working with there, because they were doing micro loans that were doing fish farms, they were doing remarkable need and meeting, ministry, earning the right to share the gospel. And so these men came down and we had dinner together, we served them dinner, which in their culture was very important thing to do. And then they asked me, why is it that you’re doing this coming from the other side of the world? Well, that gave me a chance to explain God’s love in Christ. And the way I did this was by starting with commonality, Muslims believe that Jesus, he says, he’s known in Arabic, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, ascended to heaven, and will return at the end of history. They have a higher view of Jesus and a lot of secular Americans, right? Yeah. And so the funny thing Mark was, after you’ve said those things, reminding Muslims of those, what you’re supposed to do, and your apologetic presentation is then ask, How could Jesus, be born of a virgin, live a sinless life, ascend to heaven returned at the end of history, and only be a man? Is the question you want to ask a Muslim at some point earned the right to ask questions, because the Quran says that Jesus was no more than a man. So you want to ask that question? Well, on this occasion, after I’d reminded them of those four facts about Jesus, the leader of the moms through the translator then said to me, well, there’s something I’ve always wanted to ask Christian. How could Jesus be born of a virgin livers in this life, ascend to heaven, return at the end of history, and only be a man, he asked me the question I was going to ask him. I wanted to stop him and say, No, wait a minute, I’m supposed to ask you that question. Right? It’s a perfect opportunity to talk about the deity of Jesus, the relevance of Jesus, my ministry partner there with me, went back to his laptop, brought it out, showed him pictures of the empty tomb. We just recently been in Israel, and he gave me a chance to talk about the resurrection. And now do what you would think of as classical apologetics around the resurrection itself, having done cultural apologetics around what they believed to be true. Right and starting there.
Mark Turman 09:50
Yeah. So kind of just listening to you talk kind of makes me think about if I, if I wanted to have a conversation with some people about astronomy might start with, Okay, do we agree that the sun comes up in the east and go down goes down on the west, and that that’s consistent. And that’s at least a place that we can agree upon and start with, which really starts to segue into the conversation we want to have today particularly about what it means to be in a post truth culture. We’ll get to that in just a second. But I want to remind everybody that what the book that you wrote the coming tsunami is is a lot about is really focused in the context of American Christianity and American culture, Western, if you want to go that far, which would generally be Western Europe, that that’s the context that we’re primarily dealing with, we understand that we live in a global environment, my pastor used to remind me all the time had a great turn of phrase that technology has made the world a neighborhood, but only Christianity can make it a brotherhood. Only the love that we have for God and the love that he gives us, each other can actually turn it into a brotherhood, we realize that there’s a global reality. The pandemic is certainly illustrated that in deep, deep ways, but we’re really trying to focus in on what’s going on in our culture. That’s what the book is really centered on how we are facing some unprecedented challenges that we’re talking about in in today’s world. And that that’s really where the Dennison forum and where you are trying to stand in speak, I like to tell people that everyday whether we realize it or not, we’re standing at the corner of history and hope. And everyday is lived that way. And in the same way, we’re standing at the corner of culture and biblical truth. And Denison forum is about trying to speak clearly and biblically and effectively in that space. And that kind of leads me to where I want our conversation to go next, which is we talked last time about Dennis and forum wanting to influence 25% of the evangelical population of America or Western Christianity. That is a big, big bucket when you start talking about evangelicals. So can we dig into that a little bit, surely. And broadly, and this kind of grew out of my experience of being in Israel myself, I know you’ve been a number of times. And the sense when I was in Israel, that we were going to different sites, and particularly when we got to Jerusalem, we started seeing the Roman churches, the Roman Catholic churches, expression in celebration of the sacred sites, we saw the Eastern Orthodox, and then we would see what what would be called Protestant and or evangelical in some sense. But then it’s I also had a sense from the, from the culture, the surrounding Jewish and Muslim culture, they didn’t care about any of that we were all just one in the same Is that a fair way of saying that that’s what it feels like in Israel
Jim Denison 12:59
absolutely feels that way. Because at the end of the day, a lot of the divisions that really separate us from each other here, over there are far less significant than issues they’re facing that we really know very little about in this world. As you’re thinking, for instance, as a Palestinian Arab Christian in Bethlehem, with a security wall with the rise of Islam in their world. They’re trying to survive as a church. And they’re not worrying too much about your eschatology about whether you’re a Baptist Methodist assemblies, your Catholic or Orthodox, they’re really wanting to know, do you believe Jesus is Lord? Do you believe Jesus died on the cross rose from the dead? Do you believe that He is our Savior? And if you do, we have so much more in common than we have that which divides us and in the world that they’re facing? That really is a unifying factor,
Mark Turman 13:46
right? And it just seems like in our part of the world, if you’re a Christian, you, you still have to put a bunch of adjectives around your what kind of a Christian, are you? And for the sake of this part of our conversation that we have, in this one big bucket, we have Catholics, we have Roman Catholic Christians are all Catholics, you might say, we have what is today become commonly known as mainstream Christians, and we have evangelicals. Can you just separate those out just a little bit more than that, and what we we have to think, at least in terms of those three buckets, right?
Jim Denison 14:23
Well, we do and again, part of what makes it so complex these days, is that there’s so many commonalities between them. Now, that didn’t used to be the way that it is. Now, prior to Vatican 219 62 to 65. You could make greater distinctions between those three categories than you would now and back in the day when evangelicalism was such a minority even in the Christian world, you wouldn’t say that mainline denominations shared that much with evangelicalism and certainly Catholics not much with mainline. Now that’s changed in some very remarkably significant ways. There’s a Monsignor at Christ, the King Catholic Church in Dallas, one of my heroes, Pastor friends, whom I would characterize as being as F angelical as I am in the context Have what we might think of as Evan Jellicle. And yet he’s a Roman Catholic priest, very dear friends of mine and PCUSA, which is a mainline denomination, who are just as F angelical. As I would say, I am one of whom came to Christ at a Billy Graham crusade can’t get more evangelical than that, right? And I know some people that we think of as angelical, who are now going to Catholic churches are very active in Orthodoxy on college campuses, or who are joining what we think of as mainline denominations, a very large interest in Anglicanism, for instance, these days, among younger Evan Jellicle Christians. And so really the blurring of the distinctions in this day, I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s answering Jesus prayer in John 17, that the we would be one so the world will believe the father centrism. But to get back to your question on a more foundational level, if we’re to make a distinction between Catholic and Protestant first, the way I think most simply to do it historically, is the Catholic belief that God gave the Bible through the church. So the church is the means by which the Bible’s to be interpreted. That can be papal edicts that can be the Creed’s and councils. It’s just as you want the courts to interpret the Constitution and you want medical faculties to interpret medical textbooks. So the church is the means by which the Bible’s to be interpreted. So two sources of authority, right, you have the Bible as interpreted by the church. And when we mean the church, we mean the capital C Roman Catholic or cathartic, which means universal church, that was that is headquartered in Rome with a pope. And so the church’s official teachings are the lens by which the Bible is to be interpreted. Now this Martin Luther fella comes along in the Protestant Reformation, and basically says no to that. It’s what’s known as sola scriptura. Only the Bible sola fidi, only face sola Gracia only grace, the Protestant assertion is that the Bible stands on its own, that any Christian can interpret the Bible with the aid of the Holy Spirit. And what makes the Bible different from a law book, or a medical textbook that you’d want to go to medical school to interpret is the Holy Spirit who inspired the text can teach it to us, that lives in every believer, and every believer, Catholic or Protestant. And so the basic distinction is one of authority. A Protestant with all sorts of variations here, doesn’t see a pope as a final authority through whom God speaks to and leads the church. They may have authorities like the archbishop in Canterbury, for the Anglicans, or so forth, but it’s basically a distinction of authority between Protestant and Catholic. And then to come along and speak up Evan Jellicle, is yet a different distinction. That historically, was an argument making being made that the gospel and by that we mean, the plan of salvation, the need to trust in Jesus as your personal Savior and Lord needs to be more intentional, needs to be preached more directly needs to be made more missional than it has been in mainline denominations.
Mark Turman 17:48
And then it was, yeah, so I was listening to a recent podcast, new podcast put out by David French, who I know that you read quite often. And a friend of his Curtis Chang, they had had an entire hour long conversation about what is an evangelical at a new podcast, you can check out if you’re looking for good stuff called good faith, I would highly recommend it. But they delved into this, and to kind of the fluid definition of what evangelical really means in our culture, and was very helpful. But one thing I got out of that was is that the, the commonality of this term evangelical is fairly recent, certainly within the last 100 years or so, and really much so kind of coming after the Second World War, right.
Jim Denison 18:33
That would be right, you go back to the 20s and 30s, with a Scopes Monkey Trial with what you think of as the development of what was known as the fundamentals. Right, the decision that there were these five essential fundamentals of the faith that had to be insisted upon, and then out of that starts a movement that after World War Two, led primarily by Billy Graham, and by others like him, you think of fuller in his radio ministry and so forth, and the founding of Fuller Seminary, Christianity today that comes out of this Wheaton, a number of institutions, Gordon Conwell and others that start moving into this space, this moving forward of a belief that these basic essential foundational doctrinal affirmations were being blurred on some level by the so called mainline denomination
Mark Turman 19:17
that even even at that point, the mainline, there was a feeling that the main lines were kind of being subsumed into the culture too much.
Jim Denison 19:23
That’s right, that they were being too liberal.
Mark Turman 19:25
It was a kind of a reform movement in and of itself. That’s right.
Jim Denison 19:29
Exactly. So And early on was very much within the mainline denominations themselves. Billy Graham growing up in the Baptist Church, which wouldn’t be so mainline but his wife Presbyterian, to the day she died within a PCUSA. And so a lot of this reform movement started within just as Martin Luther started a reform movement from within the Catholic Church, right. It wasn’t I don’t think so much of desire to set out a different movement per se. And there really is no church out there. I guess there are some that would have angelical in the name, but that’s not all that common. It’s more of a descriptor than anything. But out of that is come on variety of things you identify as EV angelical churches, you think of Bible churches this way you typically think of Baptist churches in this space. You think of Assembly of God churches as being more in this evangelical space, for instance, kind of the free church tradition, right, you might think more than the mainline denominational. So one way to come back and get at this historically, again, that might make a little some sense and might be a little helpful. I’d said before that in the Catholic idea, it is the Bible interpreted by the church and the Protestant idea, the protester idea, it’s the Bible interpreted by the Holy Spirit to the individual. However, there was a massive question in the 16th century, as you know, well, what do we do with the Catholic Church? And the one answer was, we’re going to keep everything the Catholic Church does, unless it is expressly unbiblical. And that’s why a lot of the Protestant churches looked a lot like the Catholic churches kept a lot of the liturgy right up to a lot of the formation of it, a lot of the formalism of it, a lot of the organizational structure of it unless they found it to be on biblical, they felt that the papacy was unbiblical. And so they dismiss the idea of a papacy per se, but they kept a lot of instill do if you walk into an Episcopal Church, it looks a lot like a Catholic church. If you walk into a lot of Presbyterian or Lutheran churches, they’ll look a lot more like a Catholic church. Well, there was another answer to the question that said, we will keep whatever the Catholic Church is doing. If it is expressly biblical. It wasn’t enough that it wasn’t unbiblical, just a different way of asking the question. That’s right. Now, it had to be actually taught in Scripture explicitly, explicitly. For instance, every baptism we find in the New Testament is a baptism of a believer, right, probably by immersion, as we understand them coming up out of the water, and so forth. And so these were known as the radical reformers, as opposed to the magisterial reformers, because they were supported by the magistrates, so to speak. And these radical reformers came along and said, Well, we’re only going to baptize believers by immersion. Those are the Anabaptist, the rebaptised, and so forth. And so this radical reformation that really leads in many ways to the evangelical movement, as you’d see today, comes along to say, we’re only going to do what the Bible teaches. It’s not enough that the Bible doesn’t forbid it, the Bible actually has to teach it. So you get these three categories, you get the Catholic, the Bible, interpreted by the church, you get the mainline Catholic tradition elicits excluded by Scripture and the radical or evangelical only what the Bible expressly teaches is yet another way to distinguish between the three
Mark Turman 22:21
and you still, you’ll find expressions of that same thinking in churches and faith life today, right? Does the Bible explicitly forbid it? Does the Bible explicitly endorse it or teach it and, and there can be tensions and tug of wars within anyone’s local congregation or denomination or, or that church of
Jim Denison 22:40
Christ that has historically not had instrumental music in its worship service? The Bible doesn’t forbid that, in fact, you find instrumental music all through the Old Testament, but it no more explicitly teaches it, no more explicitly requires it. And so that’s one of the reasons Church of Christ would have a difference on instrumental music than a lot of other even evangelical churches might have. What does the Bible expressly require? Well, at the end of the day, foundationally, the Bible requires us to go therefore, and make disciples of all nations teaching them everything I’ve commanded you baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you. So we come along as evangelicals and say there are these basic, essential foundational teachings that we have to lift up and have to bring forward right, whether the mainline denominations do or not whether the Catholic tradition does or not. And the good news is from another angelical perspective, in recent decades, we’ve seen all three, really gravitating to pushing forward, legitimising endorsing these same principles. The idea that everyone needs a salvation relationship with God through Christ, the idea that that relationship isn’t conferred by the church, but by the Lord Himself and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the idea that the Bible is the absolute Word of God, not just a word from God, but the Word of God, the idea that everybody needs to hear, I will see more Catholics seeing those things now, right, then you might have thought I am doing now, Billy Graham, back to Billy Graham early, as you know, in his crusade ministry, refuse to exclude Catholics, from those that would endorse support, he would have Catholics up on the platform took enormous criticism from the Protestant, especially the angelic evangelical population, but I think that built a bridge to Catholic churches in ways that were really significant, right? So I rejoice in the fact that the entire church has become Evan Jellicle, more than ever before, in the sense of these basic essential foundational beliefs, not because of angelical had anything to do it that the Holy Spirit is at work, I think promoting these values.
Mark Turman 24:33
And yeah, so and like said, I’m just trying to lay a foundation because I think it undergirds so much of what we want to talk about within the book of tsunami and, and this idea of truth and our understanding of truth and this word, evangelical you and Galleon in the original language. This simply means good news or good news tellers. Right? That’s right. And that there’s several ways to think about that word in our culture today, even people that are not people of faith have become acquainted with this word evangelical and have particular reactions to it. And that there’s at least three different ways. There’s a theological way to think about the word evangelical. And we talked about that, in other conversations that what is sometimes called the Beddington quadrilateral have a high, high view of Scripture that as you say, the the Bible is not a diary of religious experience. It is the objective, authoritative word of God, there’s a high high view of Scripture, among evangelicals, there’s a very clear focus on Christ, that Christ is central to the whole essence of Christianity, and that that must be maintained, it cannot be lost, among all the other things, that there is a focus on what I would call decision or conversion that to be a Christian is a choice. It is not a matter of simple heritage. I, I know that before I was a Christian, the first decade and a half of my life, if you were to ask me, I wouldn’t have had a lot to say. But I would have probably said, Well, I’m a Christian, because my parents,
Jim Denison 26:09
and you are just Hindu or Muslim, and I go to church, you believe in God, you must be a Christian,
Mark Turman 26:13
but but to be an evangelical is to have this idea that you come to understand some of the basic fundamental realities of the story of Jesus, and intentionally make a decision to believe and to follow to embrace Him as the Forgiver of your sin and the leader of your life.
Jim Denison 26:34
The way I’ve often said that if I could interrupt real quickly is I’ve never met anybody in all the years that was joining our church or visiting a church so that if I asked, Are you married, they would say, I’m not sure, right? I might be married might not be married. I believe in marriage, men do a lot of weddings. If you’re married, you know it. You stood next to somebody at an altar and said, I do you made a commitment. We have angelical want to say to you, you need to make that commitment to Jesus. We’re not telling you how it had to happen. We’re not saying there’s one prayer, you had to pray necessarily. But there needs to be a time in your life that you ask Jesus to forgive your mistakes and failures. You ask him to be the Lord of your life, you give your life to Him. That’s this evangelical cry,
Mark Turman 27:12
and they’re not. It’s sometimes Billy Graham in crusade ministry was been criticized for this, that he made it too simple, right? And maybe at times, especially among evangelicals, we we make it to Pauline that it needs to be a Damascus Road, dramatic experience, even though we can’t point to a similar experience with Peter or John or most of the other apostles. And many of the people we see as heroes of faith, particularly in New Testament, we can’t see a similar kind of experience, but we see them coming to it maybe over time,
Jim Denison 27:47
and absolutely believe it can be done, then it can be either. Absolutely, yeah, as long as you know, you’ve come to that decision. That’s where my wedding analogy fails, right, is that you don’t to be married, you have to have been in a place where you made that definite decision. I have some of my heroes of the faith can’t tell you the day, that they asked Jesus to forgive their sins and be their Savior and Lord, in a Pauline Damascus Road experience. It’s been more a growing conviction in their life, but they absolutely would tell you, they’re trusting Christ as their Savior, they know that they asked Him to forgive their sin be the Lord, which has been more a process,
Mark Turman 28:18
right. And so all of that in to kind of round this out that an evangelical believes in those three, three things, a high, high view of Scripture as God’s word as authoritative to us, the person of Christ, the significance of his work, and being our Savior and Lord, the need for a clear understanding and decision that you believe in Him and follow Him. And then this idea of what is sometimes referred to as activism that there is the fruit of that decision showing up in your life, you’re, you’re trying to align your life intentionally, to the will and way of God as it’s exposed in the Word of God, and that you’re trying to be this person of good works. Not in order to gain God’s love, but because you have God’s love. That might be the the simplest, theological explanation of what evangelical is. But what’s grown up, particularly in the last 2030 years, anyway, is that there’s a cultural definition of evangelical if somebody, Can you unpack that a little bit, what does it mean to be a cultural evangelical and not just a theological or absolutely Evangelical,
Jim Denison 29:27
and this conversation is not intended to be partisan. It’s not intended to endorse parties or candidates anything such as that we are deliberately intentionally a nonpartisan ministry. So I want to say that
Mark Turman 29:38
but in our in our culture, and particularly in our politics, yes. We hear a lot of conversations about the evangelical right. That’s right. And so that’s how it’s become a part of the normal cultural conversation that we’re all a part
Jim Denison 29:51
of absolutely true. And that’s just historically true. Whether we like it or don’t like it, whatever we want to say about it. So you go back to the late 70s, early 80s. You see Roe v. Wade in the indoor spin of abortion, the decision that was made in the 60s to de legitimize official prayers in public schools not that you can’t pray in school, but the official prayers, you know, that were read over the over the loudspeakers, that sort of thing. And so movement starts 6070s, coming to fruition in the early 80s, what’s known as the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell, religious roundtable, Ralph Reed, others, believing that what they would think of as evangelicals, but we’re describing now need to move forward in a political way, in order to lead the country in a direction that is in the country’s best interest to go. We’re not just trying to enforce our beliefs, we’re trying to help the country be blessed. Right? We want America to be a nation, God can bless. And we don’t believe God can bless a nation that permits abortion, we don’t believe God can bless a nation that doesn’t have prayer in public school as they would have understood it and so forth. So we’re going to get involved in political activism as a means to that end, we’re going to start endorsing candidates, we’re going to start aligning with political parties,
Mark Turman 31:00
relative to specific issues, looking for policies that we can support that we
Jim Denison 31:04
can support together exactly. We’re going to be a political action committee, as it were. The Moral Majority was founded on the belief that there is the silent majority in America of people who agree with us, but have never been marshaled around political activism, right. And in fact, we want to do that Ronald Reagan’s candidacy leading up to 1980, even though he was running against Jimmy Carter, on Sunday school teacher in a Baptist church, right was the first place where a lot of folk began seeing this in action. I remember Ronald Reagan speaking to the Southern Baptist Convention and saying, you can’t endorse me, but I endorse you being the idea and kind of building commonality here. So that’s when the culture began seeing evangelicalism as a political movement. Now, they didn’t understand. And I don’t know that we did a good job of explaining that, that really, we’re only engaged in politics, to the degree we can help our nation move in a direction God can bless. Right. And this is just one means of doing that. But abortions, illegal issues, so we need to fight back, legally, we need to get involved in electing presidents who will nominate justices to the Supreme Court to overturn this because it’s a legal pathway. And we can’t change the laws of the country unless we’re engaged in the legal dimensions of society, there was a great deal of concerns to lose about Hollywood, and about a lot of what’s being put out in popular culture. So the belief is we need to get in front of that. We need to get more evangelicalism involved in Hollywood involved in popular media, conventional media, and in censorship, if necessary, if what’s being done is harmful to our kids and that sort of thing. So it’s an activism to your fourth part of that quadrilateral in a way that the culture hadn’t seen before. Right. evangelicalism now want to hasten to say Catholics have over the decades over the generations been active mystic politically in America, a mainline denomination, certainly so. But it was kind of a new thing for these evangelicalism to be involved and reactive and became very successful at this in terms of electing their preferred candidate a great deal of the time. And even if the candidate they didn’t support got elected, that person often had commonalities like Bill Clinton, it wasn’t supported by the Republicans, obviously, or by the evangelicals, who had approach still has a pro choice position on abortion, but nonetheless active in a Baptist church. And somebody that would certainly be more of angelical, than might have been the case in previous generations. So all that to say, on a cultural level, the country began identifying evangelicals with Republican Party with conservative politics, and began seeing us as a political action committee, and not seeing politics as a mean to Iran, but us as a means to its end, which is a big difference. That’s a huge difference, isn’t it? And then just to be candid, during the Trump administration, as Evan Jellicle, faith leaders became publicly identified with him endorsing him from their pulpits, endorsing him in their personal spheres of influence, forming groups of believers to be seen, pictures taken of them in the White House praying for him endorsing positions that weren’t necessarily overtly biblical, in terms of the nature of the issue itself. Then even more, the culture began to see evangelicalism as identified with a specific candidate, a specific party, a specific kind of agenda in the culture. And I would say if he asked person on the street, what an evangelical is today, they probably won’t respond theologically, right, probably won’t respond, doctrinally they’re going to respond culturally slash politically. And that’s kind of where we are today.
Mark Turman 34:34
Yeah. And there’s so there’s a real challenge around that, and particularly around how we use the term ourselves how we might identify ourselves as an Evangelical, maybe with or without understanding, but to really start for all of us if we’re going to be equipped and we really want to be culture changing Christians who are being Salt and Light who are asking God for places of whatever influence he wants us to have, and then to be living faithfully their identity is a huge topic in our culture in so many different ways. And I believe that, that Christians take their identity from the relationship with Christ. And, and not from the culture and not from what other people or other parts of the society or culture want to give to us. But what is Christ give to us and inform about our identity. So that’s why it’s important. Part of what I love about this book and about our ministry is its role in defining reality. I can’t remember what business leader I think it may have been Warren Bennis, or somebody who said, the first job of a leader is to define reality. And the last is to say thank
Jim Denison 35:48
you, and in between, you’re a debtor and a servant, right, Max Dupree and leadership as an art. Okay,
Mark Turman 35:52
let’s, let’s start right there. As we get into this idea of what it means to be in a post truth culture, why is it important, when you lay out in the coming tsunami, these four earthquakes, that we now live in a post truth, culture, the rise of the sexual revolution, the Advent and coming of critical theory, and then secular ideology or secular religion? Those are big concepts, each of them in and of itself? Why is it important for us as believers to understand the reality that those four earthquakes are framing for us?
Jim Denison 36:37
Yeah, thank you that really is, in so many ways, a definitional question, not just for the book, and not just for our ministry, but for where I think America is going. Right. And where I believe God is calling American Christians to stand up and make what difference we can with the influence that God’s entrusted to us. So the the idea of these this analogy of underwater earthquakes that you don’t see the cause of the tsunami that you do, has its limits. One limit is that I will come along to say that these four earthquakes are themselves causal related relative to each other, as well.
Mark Turman 37:07
Well, I was going to ask you that is, I had a leader in my church that like to say, you know, if you, if you make enough small mistakes close together, you’re going to end up with a really tragic result as if you had made a really big mistake. And I’d say that we’re there and talk about that a little bit in this context, as well, the compounding effect of these four realities that you’ve framed for us how they actually build on each other, and are like a series of dominoes that just keep falling after each other. I would, as I’ve thought about this in different ways, it’s the idea of post truth culture and the rise of the sexual revolution seemed to have been with us for quite a while, and had been in a number of conversations, basically, my whole adult life. Now, the other two earthquakes seem to be just now their tidal waves starting to hit our shores, if you will. And but what about the compounding effect and like said, just the understanding how important it is to understand the reality that we’re actually dealing with, if we’re really going to make the assertion that we are living in unprecedented times in our part of the world and in our faith?
Jim Denison 38:19
Absolutely. So and part of the reason we want to see these as causal is that the first one, that denial of biblical truth we’ll talk about here in a moment, is foundational to all the others. If this weren’t true, the others wouldn’t be true. The culture couldn’t have come along and redefine sexual morality, if it still believed biblical morality,
Mark Turman 38:35
right, as long as it continues to do seemingly on every day that’s changing its understanding of sexuality.
Jim Denison 38:44
Evolving even more, that’s because it made the definitional decision that biblical morality was outdated, irrelevant, if not dangerous. So once that decision got made, then you’re free to make that second decision Is that Biblical? sexual morality is outdated, irrelevant, if not dangerous, and then you’re free. In the third spaces, we’ll talk about down the way with critical thinking to say that those who agree with these things are oppressive toward the sexual minorities that have been produced by the sexual revolution, LGBTQ people in specific but it could be racial minorities and others. And then you get to the fourth place that would say, well look that in its individual flourishing, that’s a path to authenticity. And anything that impedes that is dangerous to society must be replaced. And that’s where we’re going with this fourth replacement ideology, radically secular ideology, but it really starts with this denial of truth itself. And the reason it’s so important for Christians to understand that is, if we don’t know what’s causing the disease, we don’t know how to treat the disease.
Mark Turman 39:38
Yeah, so yeah, so that would be like, in in this particular case, relative to the coming tsunami be like reading the middle of the book without reading the first part of the book. That’s right. And he goes, that’s where our tendency is, because we want to use your metaphor. We see an experience the tidal waves sweeping into our lives and in our culture into our families. And we get panicked and we start trying to address the crisis in front of us the trouble the challenge that the confusion that’s being caused. And sometimes that’s all we do is we run around in panic ways to try to address the the present crisis in front or reactively. Dealing with the symptoms, yeah, without understanding all of what created it in the first place. And creating that kind of a frame and understanding that we need to think more upstream at times.
Jim Denison 40:30
Absolutely. So and therefore, because we’re tracing this chasing the symptoms, rather than the disease, we ultimately can’t solve either, plus the disease is more likely to affect us. If we don’t recognize it. It’s the air we breathe, that it’s the water we drink, that it’s the culture we swim in. It is the world in which we live, we not only can’t help the culture, we really can’t inoculate ourselves and our children and our grandchildren. Quick example, a very dear friend of mine has just finished his 12th of 12 chemotherapy treatments as follow up for pancreatic cancer surgery that he had back a number of months ago, he was beginning to feel some symptom, he had a friend that put him through physical they found the cancer, the pancreatic cancer and immediately began attacking it is such a difficult cancer to defeat. And because they knew what kind it was the knew what kind of surgery to perform, and they knew what kind of chemotherapy to do and follow up. And we’re hoping and trusting. So far, the test results have been good, and we’re trusting God that God’s going to use medicine and even miraculous means to keep my friend from dying from this terrible disease. Well, if they treated him generically for the symptoms, they would have treated him for nausea, they would have treated him for headaches that could have treated him for fatigue. Without knowing the source of the disease, they treat the symptom while the disease continues to progress. While we’re going to get to a day this gets me over into my work in genomic and medical ethics and such that we will not treat pancreatic cancer the way we do now. We treat cancers within categories. Now, one day, we’re going to be able to do a genomic sequence on his specific cancer, and have an engineered therapeutic treatment to that specific genomic sequence that you wouldn’t apply to any patient but him because every cancer is a genetic mutation. One day, it’ll be like laser as opposed to carpet bombing,
Mark Turman 42:12
as I heard you say before, there’s no such thing as cancer, that’s our cancers. That’s right, that are very specific and very unique, even to each individual 10 categories
Jim Denison 42:20
of breast cancer, five categories of colon cancer, and right now the best we can do is treat within these categories where we’re getting to the day, we’ll be able to treat the specific colon cancer based on its genomic sequence. And then that day will look back on what we do now as though it were lobotomy as that were shock treatments, right. So we’re bloodletting or whatever. That’s how crude our methods are now compared to where they will go, well, the more you can diagnose the specific disease, the more you can treat that specific disease. And that’s my understanding to shift metaphors, these earthquakes enables us to reverse the tsunami that’s been caused by these earthquakes. And that’s why having these conversations understanding these I think is so critical,
Mark Turman 42:58
which is also a little bit where the metaphor breaks down. The idea of reversing an earthquake, right? And we talk about that around here in a in a tectonic plate. You can’t reverse a we can’t reverse the earthquakes that come across the globe. In that sense. We can’t stop the senator Andreas Fault from moving. But these spiritual cultural realities are different. That’s hearts are not tectonic plates, right? Exactly. Yes. And when we start talking about truth, I think my whole adult life and certainly my whole experience as a minister, I gotta tell you, I’ve never connected very well to the term postmodern, I connect a lot better to the term post truth. I don’t know if there’s a difference. There’s a great deal of similarity in overlaps there is a difference. But I gotta tell you, Jim, when I get into this conversation, I first start thinking, have we ever been here before? Is there anything in the Bible that points in this, and my brain always goes back to the story of Easter, it always goes back to the trial of Jesus, and to the conversation that is happening between Jesus and His accusers, as well as the authorities in this very pivotal statement in the Easter story where Jesus is on trial, he’s having a conversation with Pilate, who ultimately condemns Him to the cross. And in that conversation, Jesus makes statements about truth about who he is. And pilots what I think cynical statement is, well, what is truth? So it is not a new thing. Solomon said, there’s nothing new under the sun. That’s right. The struggle with truth and the embracing of truth has always been with us from biblical times. Well back to the beginning of time and into today. So when we start talking about living in our day in a post truth culture, what do you mean by that? And what are you trying to describe? I’m sure us as it relates to America at this moment,
Jim Denison 45:03
terrific question. And it really, at the end of the day, he has a differentiating issue, what makes us different from the day of Pilate and so forth. So back in Jesus day to get a running start at this, you had people worshipping Caesar, of course, you had people worshipping the gods of Mount Olympus, you had the followers of Platonism, Aristotelian ism, you had the Stoics, epicurean cynics skeptics. You had, obviously, Jews, you had all sorts of various worldviews who were competing with each other. And Pilate can say, Well, which one is right, really, in rather a cynical fashion, you had all this kind of smorgasbord of truth. You could say it was a non truth culture. Everybody had their own truth, right? Well, here’s what’s different today, as opposed to then there was still nonetheless a belief in objective truth claims. One could still make an objective truth claim and be understood, to be able on a level of validity to say so if Paul were to stand up, for instance, in the synagogue, and quote, Hebrew scripture, and then demonstrate through proofs, through historical through art, through logical means that Jesus is the fulfillment of that people would track with him, because they believed in objective truth. When Paul is or Peter speaking to Cornelius, and he begins recounting what Jesus has done in his ministry, the fellow listening to him colonialist doesn’t say, well, that’s just your truth. He doesn’t just say, well, there’s no really such thing as truth at all. And so you’re just giving us your opinion. But there’s, he doesn’t say that he’s persuaded by objective truth claims, because they believed in objective truth. Now, they could disagree about what that objective truth meant in the context of religious dogma. But nonetheless, so now we move forward to the 1716 1700s, a fella named Immanuel Kant, who is himself responding to some earlier movements in the culture. To put it in the briefest possible terms, he has this idea, that truth is how your mind interprets your senses. And that’s all it is. That’s all it is. That your mind has an eight categories, quantity, quality relation modality of the four categories that it asks of your sensory experience, it’s kind of like your mind’s a software, sitting on your laptop, it’s Microsoft Word, let’s say, and your senses are the keyboard, that’s inputting this sensory experience that the software is going to interpret. And the result goes on the hard drive or in the cloud, or on the printer wherever it goes. And that’s knowledge says content is Critique of Pure Reason. Well, as a result, because your mind isn’t mine, and your senses are different from mine concepts, as a conclusion, there can be no such thing as absolute truth. You cannot know as he says, the thing in itself.
Mark Turman 47:37
And that’s, and that’s a way of thinking in a way, a presentation that he made 400 years ago,
Jim Denison 47:45
yeah. changed history. Absolutely. What’s known as Kantian epistemology, changes history, it sweeps Europe, it becomes conventional wisdom in the academy from then especially in America after World War Two to now
Mark Turman 47:58
for various starts, it starts to or illustrates a very vivid way, the power of ideas, no doubt, is this this concept that we was so beautifully articulated by John F. Kennedy, right? nations come and go, but ideas live on.
Jim Denison 48:13
That’s right. When I teach the history of Western thought, I will say to the students, it’s Plato, Aristotle, and Kant, and everything else is a footnote. Wow. And those really are the three. Now if you’re looking at the seminal starts to why we think the way we think I can get you all the way there, if you’ll give me Plato, Aristotle, and Kant
Mark Turman 48:30
all the way to the point of what I’ve heard you say before, which is we no longer use the phrase, I think, or I believe, we now very commonly in ways we don’t even realize how significant it is. We say, I feel that’s right. And we make almost all of our decisions based on that way of thinking.
Jim Denison 48:49
And these are my feelings as opposed to your feelings because your feelings aren’t my feelings, and I have no right to force my feelings on you. So there’s Conte an idea that truth is how your mind interprets your senses. So by definition, therefore, there can be no such thing as absolute truth is different. That’s what wasn’t happening with Pilate and Jesus, that wasn’t what culture thought before Kant, this absolute denial of the possible existence of truth itself. But Mark, that idea whether you’ve ever heard of Immanuel Kant has now become so pervasive in Western society, it is the air we breathe, it is assumed as an absolute starting point in any intellectual conversation. So it turns the Bible into a diary a religious experience. So it Matthew, Mark, Luke and John experience, but I have no right to force that on you. It makes the church a purveyor of social programs. It makes Christianity one way up the mountain doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re sincere and tolerant. It makes evangelism the unfair imposition of my values on somebody else. It is a denial of objective truth status across the board categorically
Mark Turman 49:57
and is like it has just invaded Did everything about the way Western society that’s right operates every dimension. And and knowing that we’re getting to the point where we need to stop today, and we’ll pick it up in our next episode. But but can we just? Can you give us an idea that this is not really true of the rest of the world?
Jim Denison 50:18
That’s right, a couple of things to say in response very quickly, before we wrap up, first of all, what we’re saying right now, is not the memo, the rest of the world has necessarily adopted. Okay? If I were to go to China and say to Chairman xi, I know that’s just your statement. That’s just the Communist Party statement. But that’s not my truth. And you have no right to force your beliefs on me, I won’t get very far down that road. Well, I know. And there are authoritarianism in Japan, which is itself extremely influenced by western values in a variety of ways. There’s, nonetheless, a common consensual sense of morality and values. That is, while I grieve some of its applications is nonetheless so far somewhat impervious to this kind of relativistic thinking that you find him as you’re looking at the explosion of the church in Sub Saharan Africa. They didn’t get the memo that the Bible is a diary of religious experience. When you’re seeing my Cuban friends, giving their lives to preach the gospel, they never got the memo, that the Bible is just your truth, but you have no
Mark Turman 51:16
right to force it on. And then everything just needs to be interpreted by your senses, by your senses as you feel
Jim Denison 51:20
it yourself. So at the end of the day, two things quickly that I’d want to leave our listeners with. And then we’ll pick obviously this up in the next episode, that really unmask the fallacy of this thinking, first of all, to say there is no such thing as absolute truth is to make an absolute truth claim. Here’s Immanuel Kant said you cannot know the thing in itself. He was making a statement about the thing in itself. There’s no such thing as truth. And I’m sure of it. It defeats its own logical premises. Right. The other thing to say quickly is it doesn’t work on a practical level either. If all truth has personal, individual and subjective, then tragically, the whole cost of just Hitler’s truth and 911 is just alkaitis truth,
Mark Turman 52:01
you can never talk about right and wrong. You can’t have speed limit loss, you can never under any context, if not take that to its logical extension. There is no such thing as right and wrong. That’s right, no such thing as legality, which seems to be in our culture, the way people use selectively this idea that there’s no such thing as truth.
Jim Denison 52:18
And the key is selectively Yeah, they will pick this idea up when it suits their desire to advance some value that they’re afraid you’re going to object to. Right. I will argue for tolerance unless I think you’re intolerant, for instance, and so just know that this idea won’t hold, it will not ultimately be how society understands truth. And yes, we have on a since been here before there was a group called the skeptics, three centuries before Christ, who made the same claims. That’s why they’re called the skeptics, a truth is personal individual. And they do it on content terms. But nonetheless, the idea it doesn’t hold a society cannot hold together. If it denies truth, and therefore morality, and therefore legality. It can’t hold together,
Mark Turman 52:57
right? Because truth in reality being synonyms here, it just tried. We simply can’t function in a world like that it becomes it collapses in on itself as chaos.
Jim Denison 53:05
That’s exactly right. It’s the old idea that you go back to Zeno’s paradoxes back in the day that he was trying to Greek philosophy. Nonetheless, he would argue this is kind of an analogy. I’m sitting here, you’re sitting there, I’m at point A, you’re at point B. I’ve drawn a bow and arrow and I’m about to shoot the arrow at you. Before the arrow can get to you. Would you agree it has to get halfway there? Well, that’s point C. Before I can get there, does it have to get halfway there? That’s point D. Before it can get to point D does it have to get halfway there? That’s point E, before it can get to he doesn’t have to get halfway there. It’s point if the arrow never moves. Now, that paradox Xenos paradox has never been disproven, given its linear terms. But I bet if I aim a bow and arrow at you, you’re going to duck and you should, yes, at the end of the day, logical reasoning aside, content epistemology aside, there’s something in us that knows Truth is truth. And it’s critical that we align ourselves with the truth jayvee Lammi. Castle, he said, The man that jumps out of the 10 story doesn’t break the law of gravity. He illustrates bruises.
Mark Turman 54:06
Yeah, exactly. Thank you for a fascinating conversation today. I hope it’s been helpful to our listeners. And just remind you again, the name of the book is the coming tsunami. You can find it at coming tsunami.com We hope that you’ll preorder it if you do, you’ll get to be a part of a special webinar that we’re planning for the end of this series, and we hope that you’ll jump in on that. Thank you for being a part of this. Jim, thank you for today. My
Jim Denison 54:29
privilege. Thank you so much, Mark.