What is Denison Forum and how did it start? 

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What is Denison Forum and how did it start? 

February 27, 2023 -

The Denison Forum Podcast with special guest Dr. Jim Denison

The Denison Forum Podcast with special guest Dr. Jim Denison

The Denison Forum Podcast with special guest Dr. Jim Denison

Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman discuss the mission of Denison Forum, the origin story of the ministry that now reaches millions, how he writes The Daily Article, and the different brands of Denison Ministries.

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Show notes:

To begin, Dr. Jim Dension gives the elevator pitch for Denison Forum and how James Davison Hunter’s idea of “manifesting faithful presence” clarified his vision for Denison Forum (0:25). Dr. Denison discusses how Christians should use their influence in America (7:59). Then, he launches into the history of Denison Forum, starting with the early years then moving into The Daily Article (16:15).

They consider what “culture” means and why we want to equip Christians to change the culture (28:57). Dr. Denison shares how he makes The Daily Article and how he picks the topics for it (33:35).

They talk about what Denison Ministries does and its unique mission with multiple brands (44:57). Dr. Denison closes by talking about whether strategic planning is biblical and how we can use influence to advance Christ’s kingdom (48:34).

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts

Jim Denison, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and the CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content.

Mark Turman, DMin, 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  00:10

Welcome back to The Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison forum. Thanks for sitting down with us again, we’re having another conversation today with our founder and CEO and cultural apologist Jim Dennison. Jim, how are you?


Jim Denison  00:24

I’m doing well today. Mark,


Mark Turman  00:25

how are you, sir? Doing great, great to have a conversation with you today, we’re going to pull the curtain back a little bit because we get various questions. And when when they seem to come around more often, from various people were like, maybe we should answer that question for a lot of people and see if we can be helpful. So we’re going to talk today about what is Dennison forum. Some people have followed us followed you for a very long time, and some have not. And they wonder, okay, what is that? And so just to give a little bit of background on myself, I’ve known you for 35 some odd years and have great, didn’t we, Mark? Yeah, it wasn’t a first kindergarten. Well, I was in kindergarten, you were in first grade? Yeah, that’s what it was. That’s right. Yes. And, but it’s been a while since well, a long time ago. And then I started following your writing what is now known as the daily article, we’ll get into that in a little bit for at least a decade or more, I think it’s been much longer than that. And then then I started working with you three years ago, and unlimited role and then full time about 1516 months ago, I still get this question sometimes from my own family members. So what is it that you do and what is this? And there’s a lot of ways to answer the question, what is Dennison forum and we’ll even touch upon a larger reality that some people may not be aware of called Denison ministries. I’ve had people say, is that located? So you all are based in Denison, Texas, which is just north of Dallas? Like, well, that’s a reasonable guess. But that’s not it, either. I guess you could simply say we are a nonprofit ministry, that would be an answer, maybe not the best answer. But give us the Jim Dennison explanation. If you’re on an elevator and somebody says, So you run the thing called Denison forum, what is that? How do you answer?


Jim Denison  02:26

That’s a great question. Because a lot of what we’ve been called to do, we think doesn’t really have a playbook to follow doesn’t really have an antecedent, a quick example that we can just point people to and say, we do that, you know. And we typically learn everything we learned by associating new information with old information, you learn new words, by associating them with old words, and so forth. It’s just how it works, and just how learning works. And so it goes all the way back to Plato in his doctrine of enemies, as you know, that your your soul remembers what it learned in a pre incarnate state or something, and even can go that far. But nonetheless, I digress. So in the context of Dennis, and for him that people ask me, what is it that you do the shortest what fits on the t shirt answer I can give them is, we exist to build a movement of Christians that will use that influence to impact the culture for Christ. With the shorter, even version, shorter version than that is we exist to build culture changing Christians, to help Christians use their influence to make a difference in the culture for Jesus. That’s what we’re about. That’s the point of the spear for us, is to help you use your influence in the culture to make a kingdom difference. So we’re going to be about cultural engagement. And we’re going to be about helping Christians to understand the culture and therefore be able to engage the culture with biblical truth. But that’s the that’s the essence of it to build a movement of culture changing Christians.


Mark Turman  03:39

Okay, so a couple of things. jumped to mind. Just in that comment, one of them being there must be a conviction or a principle, that idea that everybody has influence is is that undergirding correct. This idea.


Jim Denison  03:56

Absolutely true. In fact, a lot of what sharpened my thinking about this is a book we’ve discussed several times over the years that I read a number of years ago by James Davison Hunter called to change the world in which he proves that culture changes not just by winning elections, or building big institution, it changes when you achieve your highest place of influence and live there faithfully, he calls it manifesting faithful presence. Now that can be done for good or for bad. But nonetheless, culture changes top down. That has been enormously persuasive for me, in the sense that all of us have a place of highest influence. You have somebody that’s following you, somebody that’s watching you, somebody that’s paying attention to you. And if you use that influence faithfully, that influence will make a difference you might be able to see or might not be able to see, but that’s how culture changes. Well, that’s a short version of a 400 page book, but that’s ultimately the thesis that really undergirds what we do here. Everybody has a place of influence. We want to help you use that influence for Christ.


Mark Turman  04:51

And that and that’s not to say we’ve had conversations even questions about this a number of times and not not everybody agrees with James Davidson Hunter, right But but that’s not to say that elections and institutions and those types of things are not important they are, it’s it is good for Christians to be in the public realm to hold public office, those types of things. But that that doesn’t, you don’t want to narrow that down to the point of saying you can only really impact the culture, if you get to one of these places of office and power, that type of thing. Let me,


Jim Denison  05:30

I would, I would say very quickly, if I could, then in the hundreds thinking, he would say elections and institutions are very important, but they’re a means to the end of utilizing the influence that they afford. The point in winning an election isn’t just to win the election, it’s to use the influence that you now have, as an elected official, the point of an institution is to utilize the power of the institution to bring about the influence that the institution is mission really focused on. If you’re Apple than you’re wanting to build technology that changes life. You know, that’s an enormous ly significant institution, but it has a mission the institution serves. And so he would say, Absolutely, you ought to win elections absolutely ought to be. He wants churches to grow. He’s himself a committed Presbyterian Church of America, laymen absolutely once said, he just sees it as a means to an end, what he’s correcting is the idea. If I have a big church, that’s an end unto itself, I must therefore be accomplishing my purpose, I got elected, or I got somebody else elected, good friend of mine became mayor of Dallas some years ago, and he became frustrated by all the Christians that helped him get elected that did nothing to help them serve. You know, we thought, well, we want we want the election, therefore, culture must change, just by virtue, defacto of the fact that we have this position. And that’s really the point he’s making. A lot of the criticism of his thesis I think has come from people that don’t understand the point I just made, that in hunters thinking that’s a means to an end, valuable means to an end. But nonetheless, the larger purpose is to use the influence that the election to the institution forwards or advances to the individual. Well, let


Mark Turman  06:59

me off of that chase a rabbit for a moment that is related, but not directly on topic for us today, which is I had this question come up. So in that in that line of thinking, Should Christians seek to get into places of increasing influence? And then is it our goal to implement our beliefs into policy or law? In whatever places of influence that we get to? Is that what our goal should be to actually bring our beliefs as biblical Christians into policy and law? Or simply okay,


Jim Denison  07:38

I believe absolutely, we should.


Mark Turman  07:40

And, and is there another would would a counter argument be? Well, we’ve talked about this before on our podcast recently, just simply contending for the right to believe what we want to believe, or as you said, the right to be wrong if if the culture thinks we’re wrong, correct? Yeah,


Jim Denison  07:59

at the very least, it’s that that’s a First Amendment argument. It’s a freedom of speech argument, freedom of religion argument, that is the right to be wrong. That was part of what they intended, because they understood that minorities, who the culture would consider to be wrong to and 50 years ago, nonetheless had the right to be wrong. So there’s always been that baked into the Constitution, the First Amendment, but when we want to go past this, I think, is to do what others are doing. I don’t know anybody in the culture, we could think of a lot of examples, who isn’t trying to use the influence they’ve gained as a celebrity or an athlete or a CEO or whatever, for some larger purpose, and isn’t bringing their mission or beliefs and values to bear as a CEO. I mean, the reason Bob Iger has made the changes at Disney he’s made is because he has an agenda. He has a way of understanding what Disney ought to be about values that ought to be endorsed thing and how it ought to be doing business. He’s not an agenda list person who now has his office and just wants to make the trains run. He has himself an agenda, and he wants to bring that agenda to bear. So should we. Now the difference here, the reason I’m not advocating for a theocracy here is that we ought to be bringing biblical values to bear where we have cultural influence in the context of that culture. I don’t believe I have the right in a theocratic sense to impose biblical values, let’s say in a political context, that I can’t get through the electoral process, to do it, by dictum, to do it by fiat, if it won’t pass muster in the courts, if it’s not representative of the elected will of the people, I need to be persuading minds here. I need to be getting the culture on board with me, but I don’t get to co opt it. I don’t want to be a boss that gets elected into power and then abolishes elections. You know, I don’t want to use this in a subversive sense to bring biblical values to bear in a way that the culture wouldn’t endorse on some level. And so that’s what I’m not arguing for, is to be a subversive kind of theocratic sort of revolutionary, but I absolutely believe that we ought to be trying to get elected mayor be on the city council or be on the school board, whatever it might be, so as to bring biblical values to bear because they are themselves best for everybody in that context. Living biblically is the best way to live, even if you don’t believe in the Bible. And that was all of us. And that’s what we want to bring into the context.


Mark Turman  10:07

Yeah, that was where I was going in my thinking is that we’re not, we’re not trying to get into places of influence so that we can then say, well, well, God said, so this is the way it’s going to be. That’s right, we want to have more of a persuasive approach, kind of like what the Apostle Paul talks about. And I believe, Second Corinthians five, when he says, we, we seek or we try to persuade people, that’s because, and it’s, it would be naive of us to think that other people who are of different faiths or have no faith at all that that they’re not doing the same thing, and hopefully doing it in the same way through a democratic process. But they still, as you said, they have an agenda, they have a set of beliefs, and they are seeking to advance that through their levels of influence, hopefully, in, you know, like said, proper ways, not dictatorial, or totalitarian ways. But we’re naive to say that anybody that is in these places of influence doesn’t have an agenda. They


Jim Denison  11:08

know too much a Duke advancing LGBTQ advocacy, for instance, at Apple. Now he’s done that and all that. So far as I know, anyway, he’s not been subversive about that he’s not done something that’s outside his Board delegated authority at Apple. But he’s made it very clear that we stand here at Apple for certain values. And some of those are going to be LGBTQ activism and endorsement and all the things inside that he’s an illustration of Hunter’s thesis. Now, the outcomes are certainly not what I would support or endorse, obviously. But he’s an he’s an analogy of how that can work in the context of the process. And if you have a chance to be in the debate, and you can’t win that debate, well, then that’s kind of on you. At that point, truth should win, right? I mean, Truth Wins, as they say, and so, and God’s word never returns void. And so, but yeah, the point would be to use the process and the influence that you have, through the process to advocate for biblical truth, because that’s what’s best for everybody, not because it’s my personal opinion, I’m now enforcing on you. And because I’m the pastor of the church, you must all like classical music, or because I’m the CEO of Denison forum, you must therefore root for the Cowboys. I mean, you know, not that the Cowboys don’t need more fans. But that’s another story for another time,


Mark Turman  12:18

because you’re taking us down a big rabbit trail. Now a big huge problem,


Jim Denison  12:22

a massive issue there. But nonetheless, it’s the difference between saving values and what you could think of as sanctifying values and sectarian values, issues that might be important to specific groups of people. But that might not necessarily be effectively enforced on the entire body of Christ, or in this case, the entire culture. And there needs to be some nuance inside all that,


Mark Turman  12:44

right. So take this around to where some of our listeners will probably connect in some way. A few years ago, there was a very popular small Bible study came out called the Prayer of Jabez. Some of our listeners will remember that little bitty vignette of Scripture a postcard really out of the Old Testament where this prayer comes from, essentially, the prayer is Lord expand my borders or, or expand my boundaries, that was then interpreted as Lord expand my influence. Generally, you can go down that road as far as you want to in responding. But just wondering, is that a way of saying Christians, you should ask God, God put me wherever you want God, place in my hands, whatever level of influence you want me to have, and not to seek that in arrogance. But that goal or that ambition of God, put in my hands, whatever influence you want me to have, is legitimate and biblical. I think it is, is that what Jay bez was trying to get us toward?


Jim Denison  13:54

You have not yet as you know, exegetically with that one verse, you know, of Jay bez and Chronicles, that’s a bit of a challenge to get him into some, obviously, some kind of institutional application or whatnot. The degree to which it was personal, or was even something we ought to be endorsing here, you know, Wilkerson, there was a lot of debate around all of that, but it certainly illustrates something you see across scripture. I think there’s a reason Paul spent two and a half or three years in Ephesus, and only three weeks in Thessaloniki, Thessalonica, as we call it, that Paul went to places of influence when he had the Macedonian vision. It wasn’t a man of Philippi. It was a man of Macedonia. Well, Macedonia, as you know, is a big area. And from that, he passes Minneapolis and passes Santa Thrace to get to Philippi. Because as the tech says, It was a leading colony. It was a leader, it was a metropolis of the day. And in God’s influence, he his first convert, there is Lydia, who was a dealer in purple, and therefore a very wealthy person who had a home so large that the church could the infant church could meet in our home. And so the idea of working in places of influence places where you can have influence is I think, in Paul’s example, is something we ought to be thinking strategically toward. It would be more than just God give me influence that would be Lord, how can I expand my influence as effectively as possible where I am now, to use Hunter’s idea to apply that if you’re going to be a journalist, he would say, Go write for the New York Times. Now USA Today may have a bigger audience, but New York Times has greater influence. If you want to be able to Supreme Court, you have to go to Harvard or Yale Law School. We’re not arguing they’re better than anybody else. It’s just all nine justices went to Harvard or Yale Law School. And that’s typically the case, though he’s wanting you to think strategically, to wherever you are, as you’re hearing this conversation. How can I maximize my influence where I am right now, this podcast is an example of that. It’s you and me, Mark, wanting to maximize the influence God’s entrusted to us. No place in our founding documents doesn’t say Thou shalt have a podcast, it’s not in your job description of mind that we have to go do this. We’re wanting to maximize our influence. And that’s the reason that we’re having this conversation. So I would encourage listeners to even think strategically in that direction within my kingdom, calling within my gifting and my larger sense of vocational direction, how can I maximize that? Not from my sake? Not from and that’s where you have to know your own heart here, right. But to the degree that I can understand this as to the glory of God, Lord, how can I be as strategic as possible?


Mark Turman  16:15

So take us back a little bit. That’s yeah, very, very helpful. Take us back a little bit to how this all got started. You and I have spent a good number of our years measured by decades pastoring churches, which are very strategic, very important. We’re very eager to be partners with local churches and with local pastors. And a big part of what we’re trying to do is fresh initiatives is to equip pastors and leaders to use their influence in their church and in their culture. That’s a big part of what we’re trying to do. That’s right. But you and I were doing that we were pastoring churches and trying to maximize our influence across that opportunity. Give us the short history of how you move from pastoring a church to doing what you do today. What’s the what’s the history of Denison forum?


Jim Denison  17:09

Well, thank you. That’s a that’s a common question. So I probably should get a running start at that just a little bit. I’ve talked about this, I think some in some past podcasts. I grew up in Houston, Texas, my father had fought in the Second World War and never went to church again, after that, saw such horrific things had such horrible experiences. He couldn’t reconcile with his faith and never went to church. And so I grew up in a loving home, no spiritual life. All my dad’s questions, got invited by some friends at the age of 15, to their church came to faith in Christ through that, but still intellectual issues and electoral questions. I was the kid in 10th grade Sunday School asking how do we know the Bible is really true? How do we know that Jesus is the only way? What about Buddhists and Hindus, that sort of thing? I just need theological questions, issues that I guess I inherited from my father, some of my wiring as well, I’m sure all of that someone gave me CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity changed my life. By the way, everybody’s going to have to read Mere Christianity, either before they get to heaven, or when they get there. If you haven’t read it yet, you may as well just get it over with, because when you get there, there’s going to be a big stack of them right inside the pearly gates. And there’s a little detour and you got to sit down and read it before Peter will let you and, Peter, I have no idea. But nonetheless, I digress. But that’s how important the book is. To me. It’s CS Lewis, grappling with intellectual issues. First time I’d seen anyone do that. And watching him do that syncing that I just had an enormous sense of gratitude in the sense that here’s somebody doing what I want to do what, what my passion is toward doing wind up doing a PhD in philosophy of religion out of that passion taught for several years, as you know, that’s where you and I first met was in that context, I thought it would be a seminary professor, the rest of my life. Long story short, I wound up being called and I’ve been a part time pastor, I’ve been called into pastoral ministry in Midland, and in Atlanta, then in Dallas in 1998. But through all of that, really the kind of narrative that ran through all that was dealing with cultural issues dealing with intellectual issues. A lot of the preaching, I did a lot of the teaching I did, I saw myself my life text is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. And but I felt as a pastor, my calling was to equip our members to use their influence to it to impact the culture, just what we’re talking about now, doing that even before I read Hunter’s book, but having the sense that that was really what I was made to do was to be that kind of person. Then now to answer your question in 2008, a couple in our church in Dallas, sold the business for a great deal of funding came to my wife and me was the belief that we should be about a larger ministry, they would help financially. We weren’t thinking about that had no context for that at all, no idea what they meant. They didn’t really know what they meant by that either. But as we thought we prayed a great deal about this. We became convicted that in fact, that’s what we were supposed to do was launch a ministry for the church, capital C church, that would help the church collectively do what I’ve been doing an individual purchase, which is helped Christians use their influence to impact the culture for Christ. So This couple helped us financially to get started my best friend the last 35 years, Reverend Jeff Bird. And I’ve worked together in three churches. He’s the other side of my brain. His background is in business. He has an MBA, he’d always been the guy that really ran the business side of everything we did, he agreed to do it with me, and to run the business of it. So in February of, oh, 914 years ago now, because we’re really smart guys, we started a donor based ministry in the height of the Great Recession.


Mark Turman  20:27

Because our guys, yeah, you’re gonna put put God to the test here. That’s right,


Jim Denison  20:32

you know, something like that. But this couple was very helpful to us financially. And we had other donors that came along early to help us do it as well. And so that’s where we got started. Back in February of oh nine, Jeff and me, just the two of us. Well, the Texas Baptist Convention, my good friends there, the executive director at the time was a dear friend asked me to be the theologian in residence, a voluntary position, I’m still in that voluntary position today. But it allowed us to use their 501 C three till we got our room, we office in what was then the Baptist building in downtown Dallas until we got our own space couple years later. And so that’s where we started, we had no idea what to call this, we didn’t have a name, we didn’t have didn’t have business cards didn’t have logo. Well, in the Texas Baptist Convention, they have centers for various things. So we are first name was center for informed faith. That’s what we call this back in oh nine, for want of a better name. And we just kind of lumbered along that way through a year or two as the Center for informed faith. No one could understand that name. No one got it, they were all the time messing it up. We engaged a public relations firm to help us figure out how to chart the course forward. And they convinced us against my better thinking that the only known variable than anything we did was meat, that in Texas Baptist life anyway, I was known by some people, and they kind of knew who I was and what I did. And so we needed to rebrand it as Denison forum, just because people would then know what it was on a level they didn’t if it was Senator friend, forum faith. And so I didn’t really want to do that. That wasn’t the intention here. Our goal has never been for this to be simply a platform for me. I respect and admire people that do that. I’m not opposed to that at all. But we were kind of hoping this would kind of be like the Albright that started a Campus Crusade for Christ now crew, it didn’t name it for himself, didn’t want to restrict it to himself, that we didn’t really want to do that. But became convinced that just for name recognition alone, just for growth purposes alone, we had to do that. So that’s when we renamed it the larger name at the time was Dennis and for him on truth and culture was the larger name that we adopted back, I don’t know, 1011 12 years ago, something like that, shorten it to Dennis and forth. But that’s the reason that the name is what it is. But the larger founding vision, as I said, was to help Christians engage the culture with biblical truth. And we have some donors that helped us get started back in Oh, nine. And that’s the genesis of the ministry.


Mark Turman  22:50

So take me back, just for a moment. Okay, it’s it’s week one, you left your job as a pastor of a local church in the Dallas area. You and your partner, Jeff, sit down across a desk and say, Okay, now what? So what does week one month one look like? Ask a question. Now, what are we going to do?


Jim Denison  23:15

We got everything wrong. I mean, everything wrong. I mean, I can show you my five year plans, you know, that were not worth the paper that were printed on. So back when we got started, we were working inside the Texas attempts convinced that’s a very large, it’s the largest denomination in Texas, there are actually more Texas Baptist churches and there are Catholic churches in Texas 5200 churches or so. And so our thinking initially was we would be working off of that platform. So I spent the first year kind of doing whatever they wanted me to do, going around to speak in churches, doing conferences and seminars, doing writing all around this idea of helping Christians engage the culture with redemptive biblical truth. And working inside that space and kind of this denominational context. Well, when we started the deal, we had this daily email thing that that started back in the year 2000 had about 7000 readers at this point in time. I started in the year 2000, because I had this idea over Christmas before 2000 Christmas, doing some journaling on my laptop. I thought, you know, I could turn this into an email devotional if anybody would want it. So we put a little signup card inside the Bulletin of our church in Dallas, see if anybody would want this and 700 people signed up, shocked us. So I started writing email devotionals. They were Word documents attached to emails. All right. I would write them on Thursday for the next week and my assistant, my loyal gracious assistant, would manage all this on her computer. And we would send them out as a morning email devotional thought to the 700 readers went on that way for a couple of years. We called it the word today. Well, we called it little presumptuous, this is the word. There’s no other word. This is the word today, but nonetheless, that’s what we call it. Well, a couple years later, Jean Robinson gets ordained by the Episcopal Church, the first openly gay Bishop and Episcopal Church, a lot of people asked me what I thought about that. So I use this morning devotional thing to speak to that question, what does the Bible say about homosexuality, it kind of turned into cultural direction. Well, that turned the word today into not a devotional, so much as a cultural piece. And so every morning, I find something in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, I could write about that we would, but it was still that morning. But that was a daily thing I was writing in the morning, as opposed to the week before we change the title to God issues. And again, people understood, okay, so God has issues. I mean, what’s the thing here? You know, it was issues for which God would be speaking was the idea, but see how good I am at naming things. Right. And so that’s what we called it. So what we do now to your question, we started in oh nine we had about by this time, it’s grown to about 7000, readers of this daily email thing called, at that point, God issues, no marketing strategy for it, we were only doing it just because it just seemed like a good thing to do. So when we start this ministry center, friend, forum faith, we have this thing that we’re doing, and we kept doing it. I mean, why not? Which is kind of one of the things we did, but if I’d been told to give it up, back in oh nine, in order to focus more on speaking in churches and doing conferences or whatnot, I certainly what happened, we didn’t see it as at all missional. Really, to what we were doing, just kind of one of the things I brought with me, when we came into this new role. Well, that over time became re named the daily article, because again, we’re so good at catchy names, right? The daily article, that now I mean, over the years, that has by far been the single most significant strategic thing our organization does. I mean, probably Mark 80% of our funding, as even dentists and ministries with five brands now, probably 80% of our funding comes from dentists from daily article readers. It’s grown to 340,000 subscribers, more than 2 million and social reach of some sort or another. So say that to say back in oh nine, God knew that that daily article is 7000 readers was going to be critical to our future, we had no idea that that was at all going to be the case. So we got started by going to churches speaking on Sundays, doing conferences, and writing this little article on the side. Is the answer your question, how we got started back on week one, we didn’t have a like I said, didn’t have it. Didn’t have a business card didn’t have a logo? Oh, my goodness, we were looking for a logo back in the day, right? So Texas Baptists had this group in San Antonio that they worked with graphic artwork. So they got us on the phone with these guys. And we kind of described Jeff and me as best we could fumbled around kind of explaining the elevator speech all that we weren’t anywhere near as clear as I am now and describing it to you. The Logos we got back. I mean, they were just they were they were not encouraging. You know, a megaphone was one of them a radio terrible, right? Yeah, no, well had a good friend who’s actually worked with our ministry. For years, it had a friend, it was a graphic artist. So we appealed to her. And she created a kind of a compass looking thing. That wish he turned the sea of Center for informed faith into a compass, and we still have him around someplace. So that was our first logo. We didn’t have to answer the phone we didn’t know literally didn’t have to answer the phone down with the Baptist building in downtown Dallas and all of that. So yeah, one of them won’t be became dentists. And for him, we needed another logo, we tried again, couldn’t get any. I have a good friend in Midland, who’s a graphic artist, he just took pity on us and designed the Dennison forum logo. My friend Darrell Dutton, in Midland, Texas, just out of pity designed what we have now is that kind of a de thing that is the Dennison forum logo. So all that to say, Jeff, and I have been really, really good at strategic thinking and, you know, graphic design. And, you know, we, God has been very gracious and graceful donors that have been very kind.


Mark Turman  28:49

Now, we’re grateful for the Holy Spirit, straightening a bunch of that out over time,


Jim Denison  28:53

right? Straight looks with cricket sticks. Absolutely. Yeah, no doubt.


Mark Turman  28:57

Well, I want to want to get a little bit more detail into because like I said, The Daily article has become so well known, and is really the thing we’re first known for. So I want to get into that in a moment. But before we do, we use the word culture a lot. We toss that around. But sometimes you tripped me up when you say, well, there actually is no such thing as culture. There’s cultures. So when when we’re talking about this, many of our people hear this, you know, I suspect that somebody says, Oh, I’m gonna send you what my friend or what this guy I’ve heard of named Jim wrote today, he writes on cultural issues. It’s one of those words of we kind of think we know what we mean by that, that it means something about society or all of us living together. When you’re talking about culture or cultures. What do you mean?


Jim Denison  29:49

That’s a great question. There’s been a great deal of debate about that in the literature. You know, as you know, I mean, this is itself a word. That means as many different things as people want to choose to make it mean it doesn’t have the default. and Oxford dictionary definition that everybody agrees is the right answer to the question. You know, it’s more of a sociological term more of a sociological kind of a construct. And in that context, it really can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. So what I mean by it, and quite frankly, what most of the scholars in the field mean by culture is something along the lines of what a distinct group of people believe, and do in a distinct place as at a distinct time, what they believe and do, what they believe and how they act out of their belief. But the reason no such thing as culture, rather cultures, it’d be I guess, a net leave would be an analogy. There’s no such thing as leaves, they’re just leafs, leaves as a word that describes leafs. But if I ask you what color are leaves you want us you want to know is that an oak leaf or a pecan leaf? Is that in the spring, or is that in the fall, you need to know more things before I can tell you the color of leaves. It’s a category culture is a category. There’s a very different set of beliefs and acts I’ve discovered in East Malaysia, when I was a missionary there back in the day than in Houston, Texas, where I grew up, you couldn’t get on any really significant level, have a very long conversation about the cultural overlap between those two worlds. I mean, there’s some things have in common, of course, they love their kids, they certainly want you know, to thrive in the world, that sort of thing. But you can’t get very far before you see belief and act looking very different in Houston, Texas, and on the island of Borneo. And so that’s where you want to come along and say to be clear, to be specific to really cultures. So if you want to be academic about this, what we really exist to do is to engage a movement of Christians who will use their influence in their specific sphere, to change how people believe and act in their context. It’s hard to put that on a t shirt. So we just culture changing Christians, but that’s what we mean if you unpack the term.


Mark Turman  31:57

Right. And I think it’s been helpful to me to talk through this some with you about, we’re actually as individuals, usually a part of multiple cultures. That’s right. And we move in and out of them. My family has a culture, my neighborhood kind of has a culture. Certainly we you know, we have often taken pride in being in the Texas culture, as we should, as we rightly should, everybody should. Everybody should everybody should jealousy to be a part of the Texas culture. American listeners think you may have, but there’s, you know, there’s also an American culture in some sense. But there’s also very different cultures on you know,


Jim Denison  32:36

the cold Western culture. Yeah, you could go on Yeah,


Mark Turman  32:39

east, the East Coast culture, we hear people talking about the West Coast culture, the Midwest culture, there’s there’s a lot of different groups that we are a part of that somewhat overlap, but somewhat don’t. And so realizing that you are a part of multiple cultures, and that you kind of intuitively understand that there are distinctives and kind of expectations. As you engage in move about in those different cultures, it’s important for people to just have that framework.


Jim Denison  33:11

Yeah, the term intersectionality has gotten a really bad rap. And because of the way it’s been sometimes used or misused, and in critical race theory, but it nonetheless makes your point that we are an intersection of a variety of cultures of a variety of relational experiences and realities and knowing that and understanding how they all make up who you are, and they all on some level, define your influence is a really important exercise as you’re unpacking all this.


Mark Turman  33:35

Yeah. So that hopefully brings some some clarity to what we mean when we’re talking about culture and cultures. But I get this question fairly frequently. From our followers from our listeners, they want to know how in the world do you put this daily article together? How among all of the things that you could talk about from either a news culture you know, we sometimes talk about the daily article, as news discern differently. How in the world do you decide between the between what you see in the news and the culture and what you see biblically, people just want to know how in the world does this come together? Because it is a unique resource that many people are being blessed and helped by. They just, they don’t know how to compare it to something else. It kind of what we started with a few minutes ago. It’s not like, oh, well, his is kind of like his is kind of like hers is kind of like these three, most of the people I encounter with this question are like, it’s very unique. I just wonder how he puts that together.


Jim Denison  34:43

I’m grateful for that. Unique doesn’t have to be a compliment, necessarily. But you know, we’ll assume that it is today. We will for today we’re gonna go with that we’re gonna we’re gonna call it a good unicorn, right as opposed to the other. So, really, it comes to two very different ways to vary to day by day to two very different answers to the question. Some of the time, probably I would say, even maybe the majority of the time, in my own personal Bible study and other work I’m doing and other places where I’m, where I’m experiencing the world, I get a sense from the Lord, that there is a message I’m to articulate in a daily article, and I start journaling on that I start writing on that I right now have daily articles for the next five days open on my machine here, you know, in front of me with various ideas that are in them, things that are just kind of on my heart things I think God’s putting on my, on my spirit that I’m supposed to write about on some level. And so there are days when I come to the news through that filter. Okay, I know I’m really supposed to write about this. And so what is it in the news that would help me to do that as effectively as possible, that might make people interested in the topic that might get us from here to there. It’s like the pastor that knows he’s preaching through Ephesians, and is looking for opening illustrations or whatever at a specific sermon that will get him where the text already wants him to go. But he’s not building a sermon around his illustration around his opening issue, the opening issue is there to serve the agenda that he already had in place, that happens a good deal of the time, the other rest of the time, and this just depends on day by day, there’s something in the news that just strikes me that I just know, I’m supposed to write about most of the time, I don’t even know what I’m supposed to say about it. I just know I’m supposed to talk about that. The one that went out today is a good example of that you and I are having this conversation that after Valentine’s Day, I really did not know what I was going to do with the article that went out this morning, had some thoughts but wasn’t real clear on it certainly didn’t have the definition or direction about that. And of all things, I saw an article that talks about monogamy among various species. Turns out crows are monogamous. Turns out. Termites are monogamous. Who knew? Who knew? Who knew Who cares, right? monogamous, who cares, I want them to be less termites, not more termites, you know, being monogamous and reproducing and all this. I really, Mark did not know where I was gonna go with that. I just knew I was supposed to kind of talk about that. So I kind of unpacked that start working. And from there ideas just came to be A to B to C to D. And that will end up producing the article that went out this morning. And so sometimes the news moves that direction, I guess there’s a third category. And that is, there’s sometimes things that are so obvious in the culture that you’d have to write about them. The Asbury revival that we’ve been talking about in recent days is such a massive thing. It could be any way that I don’t have to wonder in the news, should I be writing about this, and it wasn’t a bridge over to something I already knew I was going to do. When you know when January 6 happens when the State of the Union happens Super Bowl, you know, happens. There’s some massive cultural things that you can’t really be engage in cultural issues and not talk about. So I guess I should have included that as kind of a third category. But yeah, so that’s kind of how I get to the idea. And it just kind of unpacks. And I’ll tell you a lot of the time, I started with no idea where it’s going to end. And the Lord just kind of leading me through it. So the practice of it very quickly is I typically typically write a rough draft of the daily article the day before, in the afternoon, before, I’ll go to bed with a version of it, some version of it that is, if I had to send it out, this is what I would say, get up at four o’clock the next morning, our editor gets up at five. And no excuse me gets used to get up at five now gets up a little before six, and does the edits of it and actually does the technology to send it up. So I’ve got a couple of hours in the morning. And on occasion, I start over, some things happened overnight. And I just put I’ve written has no bearing on that. And I just need to put that to the side and start over a lot of the time that changes pretty drastically, from overnight to what’s happened in the news. Some of the time, it doesn’t change much. And what I wrote the day before winds up being pretty much maybe 80% of what we wind up sending out the next day. So it’s two stages. One of them that’s a rough draft the day before. And then the other that I finalized that next morning, between four and six, and then our editor takes it from there, and does the technology to send it out. And we have a man on our staff that records it as the podcast and goes from there.


Mark Turman  39:11

Yeah, and there’s a there’s a lot to it and likes it is is become a an evolving work of art, you might say. But I hope so. Well, we hope so. And like I said the the response seems to indicate that but you and I’ve talked at different times about how people need interpreters, or what we might call navigators. Because we do live in a world that’s so different, particularly because of technology media. We see some increasingly interesting numbers particularly related to Gen Z that they get their news their understanding of the world doesn’t come through. Typically traditional news pathways are out Let’s they get most of their news through some form of social media feed. So that’s a new reality is not necessarily I’m not not commenting on whether that’s good or bad. It just is. That’s the, as somebody says, the younger generation are digital natives. And so that’s just the world in which they engage in which they live, why wouldn’t they get their news from there? But we’ve talked about how we’re trying to be in some ways interpreters and navigators for people. Can you unpack that a little bit and how that’s some of what the daily article and our other resources are intended to do?


Jim Denison  40:38

Yeah, thank you for that there really three things that I think in the daily article specifically, and in our other resources, as well, we’re here to do in the service of building a movement of cultural change, and Christians, Christians who will use their influence and biblical and redemptive ways, the first thing to do is to help them understand the culture itself, hard to change, something you don’t understand hard to engage something that doesn’t make sense to you. And so quite often, I’ll have something going on in the news, and I’ll explain it kind of as a reporter might do that, then I’ll try to step back and put into cultural context try to do the why. Why is this happening? Why are people thinking this way? Why does this specific issue exist as it does? Why is the culture where it is, in the context of that that’s my first piece is kind of an explanatory piece, you know, the second thing I want to do is then relate biblical truth to that. One of the things I probably should have said this earlier, that is a significantly a massively important value to us is that we’re here to speak biblical truth to cultural issues. In fact, if I’m doing a t shirt, that’s often what I say, we’re here to speak biblical truth to cultural issues, or not political pundits. I’m not opposed to that at all. In fact, I’m grateful for people called to be opinion columnists in a Christian context, or they have have a missional sense to kind of offer their opinion, biblically informed, I’m sure, opinion, but are not doing so much biblical exegesis as they’re offering opinion about issues. That’s not us. We’re not here to represent a denomination, even though we started in the Texas Baptist world. We’re not here to represent a party, we’re certainly not here to do partisan thinking. We’re here to help people think biblically about the cultural issue. So that’s our second pieces. Now, what would Scripture say? What does Scripture intend to say about this? Why that we’ve unpacked inside the what is going on right now? Then the third piece is now what do you do about that? What’s a practical application? What’s the thing that this biblical response to this cultural issue should mean to you? Is there something you ought to be praying something you ought to be doing something out to stop doing? How should you be different as a result of this? I don’t think you can ever encounter the Bible genuine encounter the Bible and be the same. God’s word should change you in some ways, the Holy Spirit works through Jad Packer called the Bible God preaching, well, how could you hear God preach and be the same? Right? So our third piece toward the end every time is to try to land on some practical outcome, some application of this discussion in a way that could be personal to you. So that’s really the moves here is explaining what’s happening, looking at what the Bible would say, and and looking at what a practical application of that biblical response could look like.


Mark Turman  43:09

And yeah, and trying to help people with that so much, because there’s just so much coming at everyone, right? There’s so much in terms of just information and news. And, you know, a lot of times we’re just overwhelmed by all of it and just kind of want to shut our eyes and shut our ears off and not listen to any of it. But it’s important to be informed, it’s important, most important to be biblically informed about seeing the world through eyes of faith, Eyes of Hope, and eyes of truth. And I think that’s so much at the heart of what we’re trying to do. As we get ready to wrap up, not only grateful for you and for just your sense of faith, stepping out you and Jeff to step out and follow the Lord in the creation of Dennison forum. But things have changed over 14 years from the two or three of you sitting in a borrowed office. Talk about that a little bit. There’s now a larger umbrella that we we don’t talk about a whole lot for various reasons, but referred to as Denison ministries. So there’s been some pivots over 14 years from what started out and still is Denison forum. But there’s some other areas that we’re pursuing. Now. Can you talk a little bit describe that a little bit people may not be aware that there’s actually more to us than simply what they experienced in the daily article and through our website as the Dennison forum, talk about some of those pivots that have happened along the way over 14 years.


Jim Denison  44:45

Yeah, thanks. And so here again, I’m going to illustrate how good we are at naming things. how good we are at public relations. Do you get


Mark Turman  44:53

that you get called into market stuff all the time, right all the time? Yeah.


Jim Denison  44:57

As a best practice of what not to do you know? best example of that. So, back when we started way back in 2009, we had to have a name that the IRS would recognize us as, and we filed as dentists and ministries. We did that back when we were senator for inform faith, but we were doing business as but. But our lawyers at the time said the IRS will better understand this, if the word Ministries is in it. And so they we called it, Dennis ministries. But no one ever knew that we never use that term in any kind of a public sense. It just was the IRS name for us from back in the day. Well, back a number of years ago, back 2014 2015, we came to the belief that we ought to offer a devotional resource to the readers of The Daily article, to help them spiritually to be encouraged to do the things that daily article was asking them to do. It takes a certain amount of courage to stand boldly and biblically in this culture, it takes a certain amount of spiritual formation for that to be effective. And so we wanted to start a devotional ln of us, that then became what we now call first 15 First one, five, that’s intended to help you spend the first 15 minutes of your day, encountering God in a devotional context. And so it offers a devotional, and then some guided prayer and worship videos, and it’s a 15 minute encounter with God. So that became our second brand called first 15. Well, my wife came forward along that time with a belief, we ought to offer resources to help parents raise children, to know and love the Lord in the context of this culture. And that’s where Christian parenting started as a third brand. Well, over all the years, my wife has been a Bible teacher for well, more than 30 years now, every church we pastor chi, lead very large women’s Bible studies, she is still teaching one that we took over the last church, we passed her that as 500 women and on a given time, and so we wanted to conserve all their Bible teaching resources and make them available. And she’s been doing that digitally. Now, for the last two or three years. COVID really moved us in that direction as well. And so that’s foundations with Janet and eventually will outlive her and just be foundation someday. But it’s her Bible teaching ministry available. And then when you came along, and we wanted to be more intentional about pastors, we started yet a different lane on the freeway that is a pastor resource, we right now call it a pastor’s view. And it’s a biweekly newsletter. But out of that comes zoom calls on occasion and white papers and other resources we’re excited about developing as we come down the way. So we have these various brands now that have some autonomy, they have their own directors, they have their own marketing strategies inside them. All of that collectively gets us to a monthly audience of 6.8 million, of which about 2.9 million is dentists in forums specifically. And all of that’s under the umbrella now of dentists and ministries. We just needed an umbrella term for that. And so now, it’s very confusing. You have done this in forum and dentists, administrators, why would you do that? You know, well, we didn’t intend to do that, that shouldn’t how smart we are in terms of our naming and strategic, you know, thinking and all of that, but we just kind of stumbled into that. But we just have this umbrella. That is kind of a IRS sort of a thing. That is the umbrella for now, these five different lanes on the freeway, but they all intend to work with each other to help people use their influence to make a difference in the culture.


Mark Turman  48:10

Well, and it’s obvious that God has been putting his hand to favor on that over 14 years, just the reach the respect and the influence that God is allowing Dennison ministries Dennison Forum and the other brands to have is just like said, if it had been up to coming up with a really good plan, that that probably would have never produced anything anywhere close, right?


Jim Denison  48:34

We have lots of plans, none of them had anything to do with what you and I’ve talked about today, as it turned out, you know, no one in the Bible gets a five year plan. But that doesn’t deter me for some reason, I’m still willing to come along and do what the Holy Spirit doesn’t do and try to create these strategies and plans, you do have to have some strategic thinking. I mean, biblically you do you want to count the cost before you build you. I mean, like I said earlier, Paul, I think was very strategic in how he went where he went to spend his time as he did. Your Highness monk some years ago, I think proved that Paul was following trade routes, as a leather worker, as a textile worker in the things that he did to support himself as he was doing this by vocational mission work, but he went where you can make a living, he went work and support himself in the seasons when he did that. But he was also being strategic. So there was a place for that. But you want to hold it loosely. Right? You know, a good friend of mine, a mentor of mine said, you want to stay faithful to the last word you heard from God, I’ll open to the next. And that’s a balance. Now when you get that figured out, write your book and we’ll I’ll read it. But that’s the idea here right is to try to hold this loosely and be faithful to what you know while open and what you don’t and kind of let the Lord lead you step by step through the seasons of life.


Mark Turman  49:41

Well, you you and Jeff and and the rest of the team have done that so well trying to live out you know what James says right not to be arrogant about I’m gonna go do this or that but rather if the Lord wills and the Lord wills, hold it, hold it loosely and say, Lord, you’ve given us the ability to anticipate to dream and to and to plan strategically, but always, and we see this in the Bible. We see it with Paul, as you said, you know, there was Paul wanted to go north at one point, and God made it very clear, no, you’re not going that way, you’re gonna go a different way. And we kind of look at that and marvel at that, but just his willingness to say, Okay, God, if you don’t want me to go that way, I’ll go a different way. And we’ve


Jim Denison  50:24

never been to knowledge. Yeah, to my knowledge, Paul was trying to go back to what he knew, you know, heading back east, heading back into what we call Turkey today. And God calls him to Macedonia try knowledge. He’d never been over there. He certainly didn’t know he was introducing the gospel to the Western world. Right, and that what we call Europe was going to then be Christianized. and Europe was going to send missionaries to America. And you and I, we’d be having this conversation. Paul had no way to knew that was it Martin Luther that said that history turns on tiny hinges, at least, if you didn’t, he should have right we attribute a lot of things to people, but it’s a good point, nonetheless. So these tiny hinges and that’s one of those hidden points of history. And the point is Be faithful today, I often say you cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness. So be faithful to that, use your influence back to what we started. Use your influences effectively in the Spirit of God as you can today, and trust God with tomorrow, and know that God leads where he intends us to go, and it all works out.


Mark Turman  51:19

Well, thank you for that. Thank you for the way you’ve been doing that so faithfully, not just over the last 14 years, but all along since that time that you came to Christ. And we hope that this has been informative for our audience to understand us a little bit better, might even help us to understand ourselves a little bit better as we talk through it. I think that we have one of the benefits. And we just want to thank you for what you do. And we just pray for God’s blessing on all of Denison forum and Dennison ministries in the days and years to come. And, Mark, thank you


Jim Denison  51:50

for that. It’s such a privilege to do this with you. I’m so grateful that God called you here. I mean, we can ask you the exact same question. You founded this church that you pastored for 25 years. What were you thinking? I mean, if anybody’s tenured, if anybody has the ability to retire at a place it would be you were you were and yet you by God’s grace, as we see it, you know, took this same sort of depth of faith to come over and help us do this. And I am every single day grateful to you for the courage of that and your willingness to follow where we’re so grateful that God led you and so yeah, I feel exactly the same way about you.


Mark Turman  52:25

Well, thank you and we thank you for being our audience today. And learning with us a little bit more about what Denison forum and Denison ministries Ministries is all about, you can find this, obviously on the web, and if you have questions, you can just simply email us at info at Denison forum.org Thank you for this time with us in the Denison Forum Podcast. We’ll see you next time. God bless you


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