The Denison Forum Podcast Season 1, Episode 1
Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman talk about the origins of Jim’s new book, The Coming Tsunami, and God’s calling on Jim’s life to cultural apologetics.
In this first episode, they cover:
- how Christians should engage the culture
- newfound unity between denominations
- rising atheism
- how to turn the cultural tide
- and hope for a new awakening
In part 1, Jim and Mark delve into Jim’s life and upbringing.
Jim’s father experienced the horrors of World War II and couldn’t reconcile them with Christianity. So, Jim grew up in a “loving, wonderful home but no spiritual life and all my father’s questions.” Eventually, after following Christ in his teens, God called him to ministry.
Fast-forward to two or three years ago. The Holy Spirit pressed on him the “urgency of the moment” in our culture, which eventually led to the writing of The Coming Tsunami. The analogy runs like this: unseen forces (earthquakes) can lead to cultural symptoms that make Christianity a danger in the eyes of the culture (the tsunami).
In part 2, Jim and Mark discuss:
- the sociology of how to change the culture
- and the best strategies for Christians to accomplish it in America
The election of conservative Christians to the presidency seems to have led to passivity among many Christians; political officials cannot change the culture. The way to change culture is to practice what you preach and exercise your influence wherever you are.
In part 3, they talk about encouraging ways God is moving.
For instance, they discuss the growing unity in the church between denominations, the miraculous awakenings in Islam, and the explosive growth of Christianity in Asian countries.
Next, they cover the influx of atheist, secular thinkers into mainstream Western culture. Many are brilliant scientists but overstep into philosophy and theology, places where they make frequent errors but still hold massive influence. This and subjects like the church abuse scandals have broken the church’s image in the modern eye. Philosophy has consequences, and you can trace the ideas of today back generations to people like Kant.
Finally, Jim shares his pastoral insight into how the Lord moves.
While we may feel desperate now, God works awakenings when a culture is on the brink of despair. The Spirit has worked like that before in America, and he can do it again.
P.S. Pre-order The Coming Tsunami today and you’ll be invited to an exclusive, virtual, live Q&A with Dr. Denison discussing whether Critical Race Theory is biblical. Visit TheComingTsunami.com to pre-order and follow the directions on that page to receive your invitation to this book launch event on January 25.
About the hosts
Dr. Jim Denison CVO and cofounder of Denison Forum and a cultural scholar. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy and Master’s in Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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.
Resources and further reading
- The Coming Tsunami, Jim Denison
- Wrestling With God, Jim Denison
- How to Change the World, James Davidson Hunter
- The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
- The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins
- god is not Great, Christopher Hitchens
- The CEO Forum: “Created to support and minister to Christian CEOs and Senior Executives, CEO Forum exists to provide a unique approach to The Great Commission.”
- “How dreams and visions of “Isa” are awakening the Islamic world,” Mark Legg
Transcribed by Otter.ai
Mark Turman 00:01
You’re listening to Episode One of the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison Forum. I’m here with Dr. Jim Denison, Chief vision Officer of Denison forum. Jim, how are you?
Jim Denison 00:12
I’m doing well today, Mark, how are you, sir,
Mark Turman 00:14
great, glad to have this conversation with you as to where this podcast might go, a little bit of a new experience for me after being a local church pastor for almost 35 years. And so this is a new adventure for me. So looking forward to how this is gonna work out. But we’re starting today, a mini series of five episodes covering and based upon the book that you’ve recently written, that’s going to come out in January called the coming tsunami. So looking forward to having that conversation with you. If you’re listening to this podcast and want to pre order the book, you can do that at the coming tsunami.com. And we hope that you’ll check that out. And if you do, there’ll be an opportunity for you to be a part of a special presentation in late January about the book where you can be a participant in that. But Jim, just want to kind of take this book and and even back the train up a little bit and talk about where this book came from in terms of your prayer life, your thinking, I’ve written or I’ve read and listened to you talk about a number of issues, some of which are in this book and some things that are new. So I have a sense that this has been deeply ingrained in your soul for a very long time. But for our listeners, help us to understand how is this book really an outgrowth of your faith, your sense of calling, and even the founding of Denison forum itself? How is it rooted in that?
Jim Denison 01:45
Well, thank you, Mark. That’s a perceptive question actually really is. So I do need to do a little history, I think to come back and kind of get a running start at this. For those that might not know my story. My father actually is my story in so many ways. Dad grew up in a small town in Kansas, very, very active in his church. In fact, we found out many years later that he had friends or that thought he might go into vocational ministry because he was so connected to what was happening in this little Methodist Church in Kingman, Kansas. And then second world war came along, Dad volunteered for the army was made a radio operator on an island in the South Pacific 300 Min station on the island, only 17 survived the experience, it was so horrific for dad that he was never able to find his way back to church. Right? I don’t know that we would say that he had had no faith before would have lost on some level. Wouldn’t faith that be a whole nother conversation? I don’t think that I’m believing my father’s in heaven today died when I was in college. But he could never make his faith work with what he experienced there with evil and suffering that he saw personally. And so I grew up in this loving wonderful home but no spiritual life and all my father’s questions. If there’s a God, why is there war science and faith, evil and suffering all that long story short, my brother and I were invited by a bus ministry of a local Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, to ride the bus to their church back in 1973. That’s where I heard the gospel, eventually came to faith in Christ, but still had all these questions all these intellectual cultural issues. Mere Christianity by CS Lewis was actually game changing for me the first time I’d seen anyone deal with faith intellectual, I still have my copy of it that I got in high school out there on the shelf. And it was from that to this. I’ve been fascinated by cultural and intellectual issues. So when God began calling me into ministry, it was toward that kind of a direction, one up doing a PhD in philosophy, teaching philosophy at four seminaries and pastoring churches over the years starting this ministry in 2009. But the narrative behind all that was really my dad in so many ways, reaching people like that people have intellectual cultural issues, places where we could help them to think biblically about the issues of the day, and equip Christians to do the same thing. So that’s been in a larger kind of a narrative sense what I’ve been doing for many, many years, many decades of my life. But I will tell you, I could take you to the place in my neighborhood where I was walking one morning, maybe two to three years ago. And I was making a turn around one particular block. And Mark, it became remarkably tangibly clear to me. I, since the Holy Spirit’s speaking to me about the urgency of the cultural moment, where we are and where we’re going. An overwhelming sense that there is a coming, rising tide of opposition to biblical morality, to Biblical faith to biblical witness, and America unprecedented in American history. I begin syncing that two or three years ago that we were moving into that moment that we’re moving into that cultural kind of chapter as, as it were, not claiming persecution, like you’d see in North Korea, of course, are in China, some of the Muslim world but but a sense of opposition to biblical basic Orthodox Christian belief and practice in the public square.
Mark Turman 04:58
And I’ve heard you say that then the We’ve talked about that, that we’re really particularly talking about in America in perhaps, if you were to include Western Europe, but we’re not what that moment has been for you has really been focused on that this is unique in the West, this is unique in the United States, because of our history where we’ve had a great opportunity to exercise faith with religious liberty, and to not be fearful of the kinds of persecution and oppression that you mentioned, that go on in China and other parts of the world. That this kind of catalyzed this message of this book kind of catalyzed around the sense of this is unique for our part of the world, and for what we have known as Christians and as churches in this part of the world.
Jim Denison 05:47
It’s exactly right. And that’s a clarification we need to keep making here. I think I’ve been to Beijing, I’ve met with underground church pastors in China, I’ve been to Cuba 10 times I’ve worked in Bangladesh, I lived in the Muslim world when I was in college. I would never compare this to that. But I would also say that what we’re facing, I think, in America and in the West, is unprecedented, from a philosophical perspective, as well, from a cultural perspective as well. A lot of what we’re facing is different from what they’re facing in North Korea, or China or some of the Muslim world. There’s a rising worldview challenge. There’s a rising ideological belief, that essential orthodox biblical doctrine is on the merits dangerous, is on the merits discriminatory on the merits, not just outdated, not just irrelevant, not just oppositional politically, but is dangerous to flourishing for individuals. There’s that sense that when I was on that walk that morning, I just begin to feel inside of me. So I began unpacking that with those of us in this ministry, with our leaders, with our board with key donors, and that really over the last two or three years has changed pretty much everything we do here, We’ve reorganized as a ministry to try to grow as quickly as broadly as we could our impact our influence, to equip as many Christians as possible for this purpose. We’ve identified 27 million as the evangelical population in America based on some data, some surveys, a tipping points, typically 25%. So we wanted to get to 6.6 million people that we were influencing every month with biblical truth. And we’ve done that now in our ministry, in the belief that we have to get there because of the urgency that’s in front of us. And so that was really two or three years ago, the first answer to your question was this kind of growing sense of urgency inside me. And then in recent months, kind of a second chapter a second answer to your question, building on the first, some of the clarity around what actually the threat is, began surfacing for me, I began seeing more specifically what the actual issues themselves are, and how they feed each other, how they grow each other, some of which are obvious to us, some of which not so much yet in the culture. But I began putting names and faces to issues that began identifying the specific issues that are behind this larger opposition that I’ve been fearing and facing for some time. And that was really what led to the book and to this conversation today.
Mark Turman 08:07
And so that’s one of the things we’ll get to probably in our next episode is the combination of these upheavals or earthquakes that we talked about, we’ll get to the metaphor of tsunami in a moment. But I’ve heard you talk at least about the first two quite a bit over the last few years. But the other two earthquakes that we’ll get to, relative to things like critical theory and in a secular ideology, or a secular replacement religion, are really kind of the waves of those just now starting to show up and to make impacts that are really affecting the everyday believers lives. But it really is kind of catalyzed, I think, in my experience of Denison forum, this idea and calling of trying to be like the men of Issa Carr, who, back in David’s time understood the times they understood the culture and the moment and the place in history in a very significant way. And I love the statement, they understood the times and they knew what Israel should do, they became key in terms of how they might help to lead the nation in the things of God at that point. And that’s a lot of what we’re trying to do that’s at the very heart of what Denison forum is all about, we talk about the desire to help Christians to be salt and light in the world. One of the books that we’ve talked about being important James Davidson’s 100 book, How to change the world. Tell us a little bit about that the book, and how that book has influenced your thinking about the role of Christians in our culture today
Jim Denison 09:46
now Great, thanks. I’m glad you brought that up. Skip Ryan was a longtime pastor at Park City’s Presbyterian Church in North Dallas when I was pastoring. A park City’s Baptist, we were part of an accountability group. There were three pastors of us that got together for lunch couple times a month, prayed for each other Every day, Skip’s been a dear friend over the years and a real intellectual leader, I think in the angelical world. So we were at lunch together more than 10 years ago, 1012 years ago. And he asked me if I’d seen this book by Hunter, I was familiar with Hunter Hunter back in the early 90s 1992, or three, was a person that coined the phrase culture wars, for instance, wasn’t advocating them. He was just describing them, teaches Sociology at the University of Virginia turned down Princeton to stay at Virginia, I think is perhaps the the leading sociologist in the evangelical world today. And so skip put me on to this book that at that point, had just been published called to change the world in which Hunter I think proves sociologically how culture changes and how it doesn’t change. And reading that book, that magnum opus by Hunter was absolutely foundational for me, formative for me in terms of what we do here in this ministry, even to this very conversation. So Hunter takes apart how cultures change and how they don’t. He demonstrates cultures don’t change just by winning elections, good to win elections, right, want Christians and involved in the political process. I think God’s calling more Christians in a public service and are answering that call. But Hunter shows that that by itself, is not enough to significantly change a culture. For instance, divorce rates skyrocket in the Reagan administration, gay marriage first became legal under George W. Bush presidency, not their fault at all. Not saying that just it’s just not enough right to elect Christians. Only a piece of the story. That’s right. And we so often think it is a good friend of mine ran for mayor of Dallas, and when he was elected, it’s like the Christians then kind of retreated back, we elected our guy. Yeah. And he told me later that was so discouraging, and so disheartening not to have Christians continue forward with him. So that by itself doesn’t 100 demonstrates that building big churches by itself is not enough to change the culture. He is himself a very committed Christian, and the PCA wants it to be big churches wants her to be evangelism. But his point is that loss people don’t go to religious stuff. People that need influencing outside the church don’t typically go to the church. You can look at the growth of the mega church phenomenon under Bill Hybels and record that have they changed the culture
Mark Turman 12:04
I remember when I heard you talk about that book several years ago and and read it then had to reread it again for a doctoral seminar that I was in a couple years ago. And I I remember him, pointing out something of the same thing that Chuck Colson for all that the good that he did for former Watergate conspirator and established Prison Fellowship, and now the Colson center, and also James Dobson, and the advent of Focus on the Family. All of that was good to a point. But not
Jim Denison 12:34
enough, not enough, you know, at this point, you know, exactly right. And again, lost people don’t,
Mark Turman 12:40
they don’t tune into Focus on the Family. That’s right, parenting advice, or a run perspective, right.
Jim Denison 12:45
And I was a non Christian long enough to remember what that was, like, you know, even at the age of 15, I wouldn’t have cared what the pastor of sermon series was, or if he was doing contemporary or traditional worship down there, what it might be, to me, that was no more relevant for me, than if we were having this discussion about Muslims or about Buddhists, or about Hindus. If there’s a Buddhist temple down the way, I’m not really going to care what they’re doing inside their culture, because I won’t see that as relevant. And
Mark Turman 13:08
we’ll say, certainly true of my testimony, I came to Christ at 17, a little bit older than you. But I had no interest in church. I was in church by my parents instruction, first decade of my life. And then as about a 10 year old kid, it was almost like they flipped a switch. And we just stopped going to church, I would, it would take a couple of decades before I was to learn some of the reasons about why they went from being deeply involved in a faith community to not being involved at all. But as a 10 year old, I was thrilled to not have to put on uncomfortable clothes and go to a stuffy building and watch things that I didn’t understand. And when I ended up coming to Christ, through the testimony of a couple of friends in high school, I walked into an evangelical church for the first time and listen to an evangelical pastor preach for the first time. And I’m pretty sure up to that point, I might have heard at a maximum three minutes of Billy Graham on television and was still not impressed. At that point in my life. Little did I know, it would be a relatively short amount of time before I was the guy standing at that pulpit, trying to do what my pastor was doing so but to your point, I had no interest in these things was paying no attention to what some would call the Christian subculture wasn’t clued in that there was a different way of looking at life and and looking at everything really.
Jim Denison 14:38
I understand that that’s where I was and that’s where so many folks outside the church are today. There’s the spiritual but not religious movement. Right. It causes a lot of people to say they not only don’t need to be in the church relative to their souls, a very small percentage of non Christians are afraid of going to hell, depending on the surveys that you’ll see something like 2% right for they might be going to hell so they’re not going to church to escape Hill, nor do they They have to go to church to be spiritual, because they believe they can get spirituality in nature or wherever they want to do that. And so they see the church is outdated and irrelevant. I will tell you mark, the clergy abuse scandal has caused irreparable harm not only obviously horrifically horrendously to its victims, but to the witness of the church in a scandal
Mark Turman 15:19
across, we’re not just talking about what’s going on in the Roman Catholic Church, but the Protestant groups as well. So the wide sweeping
Jim Denison 15:26
That’s right, absolutely. And as again, undermining any relevance of the church to the larger culture. And so back to Hunter’s Point is you can grow these large churches, which is terrific to do but don’t think you’re changing the culture just by doing that. So then it comes along to ask well, how does culture change and really kind of compress a pretty complex argument, at the end of the day, you achieve your highest place of influence and live there faithfully cause of manifesting faithful presence. And if you will do that your influence your visibility, will make an impact on the culture that you can see, and you probably can’t see. In fact, in the book, he’ll say, it may take generations ultimately, to see the outworking of the cultural influence of somebody doing what he’s describing. And in the book, he makes it clear this can be for good or for bad. You could make the argument, for instance, to digress just a little bit the back 30 years ago, when a group of folks got together to try to legalize same sex marriage, and started with normalizing through the media and through popular culture, and then ultimately to legalize and now to criminalize those that would oppose that they were following exactly what Hunter was saying. They were getting to places of influence in the culture, they were using that influence to accomplish their agenda. So whether it’s for good or for bad, he thinks sociologically, that’s ultimately how culture changes, you achieve your highest place of influence, live there faithfully, he would call that again, manifesting faithful presence, it’s being sought by Christians. And that’s what this ministry exists to do, is to equip people and empower people to encourage people to live with excellence in their influence, and use that influence for Jesus, whatever that means, whatever that looks like, however, God’s calling you to do that, and the coming tsunami seeks to unmask the opposition that we’re facing. So we could use our influence more effectively, in the cultural assignment God’s given us.
Mark Turman 17:12
So let me let me let me take this conversation a little bit differently based on some things we talked about recently. When you start talking, we talk around here a lot about this phrase, it’s meaningful to us building a movement of culture changing Christians. When you think about, well, if you came to your last day, and you ask yourself, did I really do I got asked me to do, did it really make a difference? When you think about seeing change in the culture? How do you think about that? How would you measure that? I mean, what would give you encouragement that we actually are as Christians, living our lives in manifesting faithful presence in every sphere of influence that we can? And it really is redeeming the culture? So terrific question, how would you gain some sense of maybe it really is happening, and God did use us to bring about an awakening or a new movement of God in our generation?
Jim Denison 18:10
I think those good answers the question and bad answers to the question, the wrong answer. The question is to do this by measuring church attendance, the way we’ve historically done that, that more people showing up on Sundays in denominations that measure such things is the outcome and the evidence of such if that’s the case, it’s clearly not working, especially in the mainline denominations, where you’re seeing such decline today across the board. But as Glenn, Stan and other people have proven in his book, The myth of the dying church, if you’re looking for growth in ways that aren’t measurable in those old traditional models, then there’s a good answer to your question. If you’re seeing on college campuses and explosion of interest, as you’re seeing right now, in on campus, Christian expression, whether it’s Bible studies on campus worship services on campus, and interest in the Orthodox Church, and college campuses, more college students interested in historicity and rootedness it, tradition in liturgy, and all that is inside that explosion that we’re seeing right now, Youth for Christ is seeing enormous growth crew used to be Campus Crusade for Christ seen enormous growth, just not in ways that you would traditionally measure. So if we’re looking for measurability, we’re going to look for places where it could be almost indigenous to the culture, where you’re seeing things happening in ways that are a movement more than they are in institutional expression. And we’re seeing that right now. We’re seeing that in some ways that are very exciting. And the younger people are, the more we’re tending to see that to be the case, a second place that you’d be looking at, are we seeing more believers using their influence in what you would think of as a pretty bold or courageous way, in the larger culture. And we’re seeing that as well. For instance, I get to work with the CEO forum, which is a gathering of CEOs and very large corporations. They have to be in very large corporations to be qualified to be in this group, all of whom are evangelical Christians. I’ve gotten to be at some of their retreats recently speaking and some of their spaces Recently, and I am so encouraged by the degree to which these men and women are using their platform internally and externally, to stand for biblical truth in redemptive ways. And I can’t give examples without betraying some confidences right. In some of these rooms where these men are talking with each other sharing with each other. The war, the stories are telling the price they’re paying, the degree to which they’re willing to stand for biblical morality in their space, leaves me in awe of the risks they’re taking, and the courage that they’re manifest. So
Mark Turman 20:30
they so whether they read 100 book or not, there are some people that are intuitively or intentionally being drawn into this idea that Hunter has, of allowing yourself seeking the highest place of influence and living in manifesting faithful presence, their CEO Forum is an expression of some people that are doing that
Jim Denison 20:51
doing exactly that. Yeah, precisely. So on a third level would be the number of Christians that are running for public service right now, that are engaging in public office who are very committed what we think of as angelical, conservative born again, Christians, and who were doing so as a means to the glorifying God, not to do with the autocracy, not to try to bring about some sort of church dominated state, but really trying to use their influence effectively for Christ, I will pick an example of this at the risk of sounding partisan, we’re nonpartisan ministry, this is not an endorsement on any level, it’s just an example, Glenn younguns, recent election, as Virginia in Virginia, as an example of this, he is a member of CEO forum, he is a person that has donated something like $40 million of his personal wealth, to the common good to meeting need. Some of it in Christian context, some of it in less what we would identify in that way. And as somebody who really felt he was called into this space, as a Christ follower, to do this to honor Jesus. So that’s not an endorsement of a party or of an individual. But it’s an example of people that God seems to be moving in to be calling them into this sort of public service. At a time when it’s very difficult to do that, when it’s been more difficult to be in public service. And maybe it’s ever been, I’m seeing some of that, which is really encouraging to me. A fourth answer the question very quickly, would be the degree to which we’re around pastors, and you’re seeing this as well, who we’re seeing themselves less institutionally, and more culturally than ever before, that are wanting to get their church out into society. They’re wanting to measure success, not by who comes, but by what they do, because they came, I think COVID had a lot to do with that, right, realizing that we can do church without the walls, getting beyond the walls. Yeah, exactly. We can meet felt need in ways that digital technology provides that we couldn’t before. We’re seeing people that are trying to find new kingdom visions for how to work outside denominations necessarily work in partnerships in ways that are exciting.
Mark Turman 22:46
Now, there seems to be definitely some movement across traditional denominational lines, it almost feels like the believers in the pastor’s that I’m talking to that we’re all syncing, this tsunami that you talked about, we’re going to get to a little bit more specifically in a moment, but it’s almost like any friend in the foxhole. Right? It seems to be growing, not to the point of putting down all distinctives in in all understandings of theology and faith, but looking beyond some of the territorialism that we’ve had into this idea of, hey, if there is as we sense, in some ways, a growing sense of opposition to fundamental, evangelical Christian belief in practice, then we’re going to need each other. And we need to certainly get beyond and should have always been trying to get beyond but especially now, the pettiness that sometimes keeps us apart from each other. And and there seems to be the linking of of more partnerships that weren’t always there before.
Jim Denison 23:55
Absolutely, which is answering Jesus Prayer and John 17, the right would be one, so the world will believe the Father sent the Son. That’s one of the ways I think God is redeeming this cultural moment is to make us realize we need each other on a different level. And then a fifth answer the question that we can measure anyway, is the degree to which people are accessing spiritual resources in unprecedented ways. You version that recently passed 500 million downloads the growth of our ministry, during the pandemic, when we essentially doubled in terms of our reach as people were seeking digital resources with spiritual content, spiritual truth for the crisis like this. Again, I think God’s redeeming the pandemic in that way. We’re seeing a fascination right now with spiritual resources in a in a way that really is outside the tradition again, it’s not necessarily going to a Christian bookstore, as much as it is finding resources. It’s available to you, whether it’s YouTube videos, whether it’s podcasts like this, where people are really I think, experiencing what St. Augustine said when he said Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. Pascal said, we have a God shaped emptiness in us. And now the Lord is using this moment for all the downsides of disease. Technology is using this, I think, to speak to that hunger in the heart and their analytical. There’s a lot of analytical evidence that God’s redeeming this in that way. And it’s very exciting.
Mark Turman 25:10
So there’s, there’s a lot of reasons to be encouraged here. Even though we’re going to spend some time as we talk about the things that you point to in this book, we’re going to talk about a lot of the darkness, and some of the things that are very troubling and that we need to be concerned about and that we need to be prepared for. There’s also a whole lot of signs of hope. We have to think about that differently. We have to, we have to broaden our understanding and this idea about the Holy Spirit that is Jesus said, He blows where he wishes, you, you sense the movement of the Spirit, you sense the movement, like you do the wind, but you can’t control the wind. And you can’t control all the places where he may be moving and active in this world. And we don’t want to get to the point where we just call anything, a movement of the Spirit, because that wouldn’t be legitimate. But as you said, we can’t just measure it by the sometimes overly simplistic ways of, you know, how many churches do we have how many people came to church, how many people did we baptize, those things are always valuable to a certain extent, but really never told us the whole story anyway.
Jim Denison 26:13
And that’s what God’s doing now is really outside that in remarkable ways, quick example of what God’s doing in the Muslim world. That’s another example of this more Muslims come into Christ in the last 15 years than the previous 15 centuries. And most of them, many of them through visions and dreams of Jesus. Muslims believe very much in dreams and visions, they believe that’s how God gave the Quran to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel is through visions and dreams. And now he says he’s known in Arabic as appearing to Muslims, apparently about the millions around the world in a white robe. And they’re responding to this vision. And they’re wanting to know more about this mark, there’s actually a group in Egypt that took out billboards. And the billboard said, If you’ve seen the man in a white robe, call this number. Well, and Muslims are calling that number, and are coming to faith in Christ. Last week, I had a discussion with a dear friend of mine who founded a ministry in Bangladesh, that earns the right to share the gospel by doing micro loans by doing fish farms by doing the absolute obvious relevant ministry to the needs of the day. He shared with me last week, they’ve seen more than 10,000 Muslims come to Christ just in the last few years,
Mark Turman 27:18
which is sounds it sounds astounding to us as American Christians, we just were totally unaccustomed, for the most part, to that kind of movement of the Spirit. We need to sometimes go back and reread the book of Acts, right. Because God’s not limited to, to the more rational what you might call rational, logical way that we tend to think about faith and, and that you have to come to Christ through this very mental logical kind of way where we might consider that to be strange, in most ways that people would be called to faith through visions and dreams and that type of thing. That’s just not a part of our world. But it’s still an indication that God is very much at work. And it kind of comes back around to what you said earlier. That what’s going on, whether it’s the clergy abuse scandals or other things, it’s almost like, perhaps the devil decided he had to come up with a particular strategy for the church in the West, the church in America, so as to try to discredit the gospel to try to discredit Christ. And that’s a lot of what this book is about. Absolutely. This is about exposing and identifying that particular strategy that the devil is trying to orchestrate in our culture.
Jim Denison 28:41
I think that’s exactly right. A dear friend of mine who spent his life in the Middle East as a missionary, would tell you that the rise of radical Islam, at exactly the same time that the spiritual awakening began in the Muslim world is not a coincidence. The radical Islam is Satan’s attempt to get the West to be frightened of Muslims at the very time, we should be loving them, and reject them at the time, we should be praying for them, and join them in this movement. And that was Satan’s response to that in our culture. It’s kind of the opposite of that CS Lewis in The Screwtape Letters has Satan has two strategies. One is to make you think he’s more powerful than he is, and you’ll be scared of them. The other is to make you believe he doesn’t exist, right? I think he’s doing that in our culture. And what’s happening here is we’re seeing a rising opposition to biblical truth in a way that’s become so persuasive for so many millions of people as to make the gospel out of bounds as to make biblical morality dangerous to society. And he’s doing it in a way that is so culturally aligned with where we’ve been over these last several decades, that it just becomes conventional wisdom, to the average person you’re speaking to. I get around people quite often in the academy and it’s just astounding to me from when I started doing this 40 years ago, to where I am right now, how conventionally how much it’s just conventional wisdom, that if you’re a scientist, you can be a Christian, that in my case, if you’re a philosopher, you can’t be a Christian, that if you’re really a thinker, that you can’t be a Christian because everybody knows that Christians are homophobic, bigoted, prejudiced, narrow minded discriminatory, that they’re tied to myths of the past that they’re superstitious, that we’re as antithetical to the progress of history as if you and I were defending the gods on Mount Olympus that were seen in exactly that way. When Richard Dawkins says religion is a virus on the soft virus in the software of humanity that must be expunged. He’s not speaking, pathetic, predictive truth. He’s describing reality, for the people that live where he lives
Mark Turman 30:39
and back that up a little bit. There may be some, perhaps many I don’t know, who don’t have a real frame of reference for who people like Richard Dawkins is. And but Trey set out for just a little bit in terms of who’s Richard Dawkins? And who does he represent internally, there’s actually a significant group of, of thinkers and scientists that would kind of fit in this bucket around Richard Dawkins, and how they have actually risen kind of like we’re talking about in the Muslim world relative to radicalism, how they have kind of in the last few decades, really mobilized and become aggressive militant. People like Peter Singer, talk about that a little bit about how that has kind of coalesced together in this in this pivotal moment that we’re syncing.
Jim Denison 31:27
I’m great. I’m so glad you brought that up. Richard Dawkins is a British biologist, a scientist, evolutionary biologist, by trade, that’s his background. He’s not a theologian, he’s not a philosopher, something he needs to be reminded of pretty often because he gets into this space. So this massive book that has really been formative for so many is called The God Delusion. And it essentially makes this argument that religion in general is dangerous to society, that religion regardless of what specific god or gods we have in mind here, focuses on heaven instead of Earth, it focuses on buildings instead of people we now know it causes nine elevens. It causes clergy abuse scandals. We know that religion as a category is outdated, irrelevant and dangerous to the future of society. That human flourishing requires the kind of personal authenticity that religion is the enemy of that’s been Dawkins claim. He’s made it on pseudo scientific grounds over the years, he’s made it by trying to expose what he believes are the errors of Christianity, in particular, in Judeo Christian movement, largely. And he’s become, in many ways, the face of what’s called the angry atheist movement that you’re describing Christopher Hitchens, very much part of this Daniel Dennett, part of this Peter Singer, Sam Harris, a number of people who are brilliant communicators. I mean, Richard Dawkins is a brilliant writer, a brilliant communicator, Christopher Hitchens actually got to debate with him once and might come back to that, at some point, an absolutely brilliant writer, I mean, a genius as a wordsmith, as a creator, Sam Harris, a brilliant communicator, these were some of the first people to maximize digital platforms to be putting up podcast and YouTube videos and such back in the space. And so they really captured the attention of a generation of people that want themselves to be committed to intellectual life, that want to be part of the academy in some way. And they’ve given them the ability to, in some way find warrant and justification for rejecting a gospel they didn’t want to believe anyway.
Mark Turman 33:22
And in would you say in some ways, it kind of got out of their lane or sometimes do get out of their lane all of
Jim Denison 33:27
them? Yeah, none of them train theologians done to them train philosophy, right. When Christopher Hitchens book came out some years ago, God is not great how religion poisons everything. I wrote a review of it for our website and made it part of my book on wrestling with God that was coming out of that same period of time. I have a whole appendix in the back of my book wrestling with God exposing the dozens of mistakes Hitchens makes in the book just on the merits, things that a first year seminary student or even college religion student would know he’s wrong about, not just miss citation of Scripture, not just getting facts of history wrong, but just basic, simple religious dogma, the that he’s misrepresenting that he’s misquoting that he’s mischaracterizing in ways that either he doesn’t understand or he’s being pretty manipulative, about have a whole appendix, just exposing all of that. And so none of these folk have any professional expertise in this space. It’d be as though I were to come into Richard Dawkins world and try to take on evolution as though I were somehow a biologist myself
Mark Turman 34:28
from a fundamental biology standpoint. Exactly. Exactly. So first thing he would say is you’re not a biologist, you have no standing in this conversation. Right? Yeah. He thinks he has standing in theology, exact philosophy. That’s right. That’s been a lot of the challenge. And and, and what we’ve seen is a healthy response in some way what I would call a hopeful response with people like you and the Denison forum other people that I’ve recently been exposed to over the last number of years, people like John Lennox, who has the ability to stand into these conversations. and talk about things such as you know, you’re kind of out of bounds in terms of the merits, and to be a response to this, but it’s not really always the case. But sometimes it feels like the case that the the Christian community, the evangelical community’s always in a response mode catching up. It’s not always the case, it just sometimes feels like that more than it should. But let’s, let’s take a few minutes. It’s all of that is fabulous background, in my opinion, to wear this book. And the message of this book, more importantly comes from in terms of your thinking in terms of your heart, but let’s just stop for a minute. We we live in Texas, we don’t live on the coast. The closer we get to that were our trips to Galveston when we were kids down on the Texas coast. Why the metaphor tsunami? Tell us where that comes from and why that is what this book is named?
Jim Denison 35:53
Well, you’re right down in Galveston, we don’t see a lot of tsunami warning signs. Do we all know when those good hurricane coming in? Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So I was in Hawaii not too long ago, got to go over there on miles, frequent flyer miles and all that stuff. And in Hawaii, you see these signs everywhere, as you get close to the coast tsunami warning signs and pathways and when tsunamis are coming, here’s where the shelter is. And this is what you need to do and all that sort of thing. So tsunami, as as folk might or might not know is typically a very large tidal wave you
Mark Turman 36:19
with when I was a kid, we just call them tidal wave. Yeah, exactly
Jim Denison 36:23
the same kind of idea. They’re typically found around what’s called the Ring of Fire the Pacific Rim, as it were. One example would be back on March 11 2001. There was an earthquake underwater 45 miles off the coast of Japan that caused a tsunami that killed nearly 16,000 people destroyed 120,000 structures, massive tidal wave. Well, the tidal wave, you see, is caused by forces you typically don’t right tsunamis can be caused by meteors. It can be caused by mudslides, but 80% of the time they’re caused by offshore earthquakes. In the case of Japan, 45 miles offshore, an earthquake you didn’t see an earthquake that was so far away that unless you had a Richter scale, or some way of measuring trauma, you wouldn’t even know it existed. It didn’t topple any buildings where you are it didn’t, didn’t attend any highways didn’t do what earthquakes do when their land base. It’s not like the San Andreas Fault sort of thing. You don’t see that earthquake out there, that underwater earthquake, but it causes. It’s the catalyst of the tidal wave that you do see. And so to use this metaphor, I believe that this tsunami that were in the early stages of this cultural rising opposition has been caused by underwater earthquakes, some of which we’re more familiar with and others, but that which over the last 30 or 40 years have been combining their forces in a way that are creating the moment that we find ourselves in today.
Mark Turman 37:39
And so yeah, and so a little bit of the, or maybe a lot of the panic that we believe that we feel as Christians and as churches, particularly in our culture, is really about the waves that we’ve started to experience. But the book takes us back to where the quakes are. And we’ll get into this, perhaps in our next episode, that some of these quakes have actually been starting quite a long time ago, can be measured by decades, if not by centuries, right. That’s right correctly, so that that we need to look that far back.
Jim Denison 38:15
And that’s again, one of the things that I’ve hoped to be able to do in terms of providing a larger service, through the book and through the ministry that we do here. CS Lewis again in Izmir Christianity explains that he came into what’s known as apologetics methods of defending the faith, because as he said, that was the place in the line thinking in military terms, where the line was the weakest, and the place to which he felt most naturally inclined. And so to it, I naturally went, he said, Well, as I’ve said, I’ve always had a natural kind of bent toward ideas, cultural, meta narratives, kind of trying to connect the dots anyway, trying to explain why we are where we are. philosophers like me are always fascinated by the whys just to begin with. And so even back when I was teaching philosophy in seminary, starting back in the 1980s, I was dealing with a lot of these issues we’re talking about right now. But what I felt like I maybe could do is explain some of this in terms that would be maybe more translatable to folk that don’t have that background, haven’t spent their life studying philosophy and Western culture, per se, but also explain why it’s happening, why it’s so relevant today. And so to your point, the first earthquake that we can talk about further down the way is a denial of biblical truth. Well for that academically, you go all the way back to Immanuel Kant. And really prior to Kant, to kind of catch that stream. That’s true three centuries ago, right? And
Mark Turman 39:33
if you get to this point, if you weren’t trained as a philosopher, theologian, you may not even know who Immanuel Kant is
Jim Denison 39:38
exactly, much less a card and the Reformation prior to that and all that goes into so.
Mark Turman 39:42
So before we get into those in our next episode, tell us why it is important that we understand the roots of this and then I have a follow up question that I’d like you to respond to, which is, is this insignificant measure even the major reason is that the church failed in its witnessing ministry. Is that, in part, the answer to how these earthquakes started, that resulted in these tsunami waves of cultural impact that we’re that we’re dealing with and that you talk about in the book. I think
Jim Denison 40:20
there’s absolute truth in that, unfortunately, tragically, I would say that’s categorically true. My friend, John Stonestreet, that now leads the Coulson Center has a statement that I’ve quoted quite often, good ideas have consequences, bad ideas have victims. powerful statement, by the way, and so wonders, so understanding the bad ideas out there is just as important as the good ideas, right? Understanding the virus that’s causing this pandemic is critical to ending the pandemic, right. And so it is that we have to go back in and earth why we got to where we are, in order to better understand where we’re going and what we can do about it. Abraham Lincoln said, if we could better understand once we’ve been we could understand where we are and where we’re going. And it’s that kind of an idea. So that’s part of why unearthing these ideas, and explaining the relevance today is critical, not only understanding the president but predicting the future, and being able to respond, redemptive Lee, in terms of the church’s role in all of this, I think far more not knowing the knowing far less intentional than not, it has been true that the church has, in many ways not been the salt and light that we needed to be in the culture over these decades. And even going back the centuries, you could say as well, if the church had been more effective in communicating the actual essential gospel truth to the culture, I don’t think we’d there would have been nearly as much bandwidth, as much oxygen in the room for a lot of what we’re seeing right now, not just the things of recent decades. But even going back to some of the philosophy behind a lot of what we’re talking about. One quick example, I mentioned, Immanuel Kant University of Koenigsberg, in Germany, we’re in the early 1700s. Here now, as we’re talking about late 1600s, early 1700s, the church of the day, as he understood it was so staid, was so formal was so irrelevant to everyday life, at least as Kant would say he experienced it, that he himself was in no sense part of it, found it no sense to be relevant to his life, or satisfying to him intellectually. There’s a story about how the faculty at the University of Koenigsberg would line up to go into chapel. And Kant would join them, walk all the way up to the door, get to the door, and then turn and go back home a different way. In his mind, the church was just not relevant to him intellectually, or personally didn’t mean that he didn’t believe in God, per se. In fact, he had a moral argument for God’s existence that is still debated, used on some levels today, as a category. But he found in the church, no relevance, it spoke to his heart, and was
Mark Turman 42:37
probably carrying around a lot of the same kind of very deep, very important, very significant questions about all kinds of things dealing with faith, and wasn’t finding meaningful answers. We talked about a lot around here about what it means to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Perhaps that’s the unique niche of Denison forum, is to try to help believers to be equipped to think well about faith and to answer some of these questions, whether they’re old questions or new questions. But maybe that was somewhat lacking in his day. And in the decades and centuries that followed, I would
Jim Denison 43:17
say that would be true. If you move to the second earthquake that we’ll talk about, which is a denial of biblical morality. Now you’re back in the 50s, and 60s. And you’re at a time when you’re seeing cataclysmic things happening in the culture, whether it’s Vietnam, or It’s Woodstock. It’s Watergate, it’s all the things happening at that era. And there was so many people anyway, that rightly or wrongly felt the church was on the sidelines of all of that, that the church wasn’t speaking into the issues that the church and the clergy and the institutions that denominations weren’t finding ways to build bridges over to new generations of college students and young adults. And rather, were dismissive of them, were more rejecting of the hippie generation, as it was called, then there, we’re trying to find ways to build into that. Now, there are certainly exceptions to that. And we’re grateful for that there were the Jesus people, as you recall, the 60s and and some movements that are still going today that came out of some of that Calvary Chapel in California, the things so that certainly by no means across the board true. Nor is it true, that whether it’s Immanuel Kant or those rejecting biblical morality in the 60s, that they didn’t have their own agendas they brought to the bear as well, in many ways, this just justify kind of what they wanted to believe anyway, I think. But I also think it’s unfairly true to say that the church wasn’t at that point, if you’re thinking in America anyway, trying to be as bridge building, trying to be as indigenous trying to be as entrepreneurial in reaching out to the larger culture as these massive changes are occurring. And it in some ways, is an instructive lesson for us in this moment. How do we make certain that we’re being as incarnational as initiatory as we need to be as we reach out into this generation as well?
Mark Turman 44:50
And so the the book really, we kind of maybe start to move toward closing up today is really a clarion call to action. And but it really is centered in this call to action. To be the best Salt and Light you can be, to do what the Bible teaches us to do to be in the world, but not of the world. To live our lives in such a way that our lives reflect toward Christ and point people in his direction, and in the book is really starts off defining realities, as a kind of the first job of, of every leader is to try to define reality. So people understand where they are. And that’s the first part of the book relative to these four earthquakes that we’ll talk about in our next section that, that we’re living in a post truth culture, we’re living in a post biblical morality culture, that we’re seeing the rise of things like critical theory, which is a very interesting topic for a lot of people right now. And then this wraparound idea of secular ideology, secular religion, if you will, and what comes from those things individually and collectively in terms of tidal waves of consequences. And then we’ll finish up in the book, talking about redemptive strategies that believers need to embrace that, in my opinion, kind of, is in the spirit of First Peter, particularly First Peter, chapter four, where he talks about Don’t be surprised about the fiery trials that you’re experiencing, that we’re probably in some of that maybe in more of it. And one of the interesting things I’ve heard you say about this book, and the message of this book is that you hope you’re wrong in some ways. Finish up with that statement. Why do you hope that what you’re pointing out in this book, you hope that you’re wrong about a lot of ways? What do you mean by that?
Jim Denison 46:35
Yeah, one is on a very personal level, I heard a pastor years ago say beware of people who preached on hell as though they liked it, you know, they say you should ever preach on hell without a tear in your eye. And so we certainly if we love our Lord, and we love our neighbor, don’t want this to be the case. We don’t want what we’re seeing now, and are going to see coming down the way to happen, because so many millions of lives have been devastated as a result. And we don’t want this to be true even in the present context, much less as it will get worse, I’m afraid of things continue down this way. But there’s also a sense in which it’s always too soon to give up on God. Actual tsunamis can’t be reversed. I actually saw Mark not too long ago, somebody that thought maybe he had come across a way of creating some sound waves underwater sound waves, that once the underwater earthquake had occurred, could perhaps be sounded in front of that earthquake, and could stop the tsunami before it gets built. But that was never, never tested, it was never experimented out. And so it just purely a theory. So to my knowledge, there’s no way physically to stop a tsunami once it’s actually started spiritually, that’s not true. Spiritually, it’s always too soon to give up on God spiritually, we can still be part of a Holy Spirit inspired, transformative spiritual awakening. In fact, I would say, there have been four Great Awakenings in American history 1734 1792 1858 1904, and five, every one was preceded by desperation. If one thing God could do in this, one way God would redeem this is to cause the church to be more desperately praying, more desperately sacrificing courageously in their witness in their influence, more desperately engaging the culture than we would be otherwise, then that’d be a good thing. It’s too soon to believe that God can’t reverse this tsunami, and that we can’t see a better future than will be the case otherwise. And that’s what we’re talking about. That’s what we want all of us that we can influence to join us in being as a movement of Christians who will use our influence redemptively. Proactively courageously. Knowing that salt and light always works way out of out of its volume, takes a very little bit of salt to shape all the food you’re eating takes a very little bit of light to defeat the dark. Well, that’s the good news of God’s goodness and His grace.
Mark Turman 48:44
Yeah, that’s the economy of God and a good word because every believer has the same choice every single day, when faced with desperation, you can either become dependent upon God through prayer and other means that he’s given us or we become despondent. We face that challenge and that opportunity every single day. Well, Jim, thank you for being a part of this first podcast relative to tsunami and what this book is all about. We want to invite our listeners to continue this journey with us. In the next few episodes, we’ll be talking about these four earthquakes of culture, and particularly what it means to be in a post truth culture. That’s coming up on our next episode. If you’ve been in challenge, if you’ve been challenged or inspired by what you’ve heard today, as we have talked about the background of the coming tsunami book, we hope you’ll share this with a friend. We’re grateful that you’re a part of the Denison forum ministry. We hope you’ll like this on Apple podcasts. And we look forward to having you a part of future conversations. Have a great day.