How Tom Wright Changed My Life

Yesterday (7 February 2020), St. Mary’s College of Divinity at St. Andrews had an event to honor and remember Tom Wright (a.k.a., N.T. Wright) for his tenure at the university. Professor Wright held a distinguished chair in New Testament for nearly a decade (a chair previously held by Richard Bauckham). As Professor Alan Torrance mentioned yesterday evening, he was responsible for millions of pounds being poured into St. Mary’s via student enrollment and grants. He was also instrumental in Logos (the program I study in) starting and being developed at St. Andrews. But I want to point out a few other ways that I have benefitted from his lifetime of scholarship.

When I was a high school student, I first heard the name N.T. Wright when my pastor and worship pastor wanted to take a group from the church to Oklahoma Christian University where he was speaking. The trip ended up being cancelled, and I didn’t get to go. (I would then meet him New Orleans some years later where he signed every book I had by him at the time, and then I would have classes with him some years after that.) Instead, I wouldn’t interact with Wright’s work for another couple years until I picked up the book Simply Christian and then Simply Jesus after that. Again, I wouldn’t interact with his work in any meaningful way until my undergraduate years.

The two primary things I learned from N.T. Wright which I should have known, but never did, were: the Jewishness of Jesus and the New Testament, and the Christian hope of future resurrection. I grew up in Christian communities that never spent much time thinking about how deeply Jewish Jesus was or the four gospel accounts which talk about him or Paul’s letters or any of it. Jesus is Jewish—not formerly or temporarily Jewish. Jesus continues to be Jewish, as does the New Testament. How are we to read the gospel accounts, Acts, Paul’s writings, the letter to the Hebrews, or the letters from Peter or John or Jude if not as profoundly Jewish texts? Yes, they often write to a wider audience—especially Paul’s letters, but they do so from a religious background and history of thought which is profoundly Jewish.

Finally, Tom Wright taught me the Christian hope. I always imagined death to be the end. I don’t mean that I thought we would just die and that there would be nothing. But I did imagine that we would die and go to heaven—some would go to hell—and that everything would just be disembodied and ethereal. However, in reading Wright’s works, I realized that the New Testament teaches something profoundly different. It teaches that God will raise us bodily from the dead in the end and bring heaven to earth. It teaches that if God doesn’t raise us like Jesus, then we ought to be the most pitied because we are wasting our lives. I can’t even recount the experience of reading The Resurrection of the Son of God for the first time. If I could get everyone to wade through its hundreds of pages, I would want every Christian to read it.

In summary, Tom Wright changed my life. His teaching impacted how my professors read the New Testament. In reading his work, I realized how profoundly he impacted my own professors. In reading his work, I realized essential truths of the Christian faith for the first time. In reading his work, I realized the Christian hope, and in reading his work, I realized that the story of Jesus is the climax of the story of Israel. I, like many, am forever indebted to the life and scholarship of N.T. Wright. May God bless him abundantly in his retirement (even if, it’s just “in name only”)!

Christian Worldview with Tawa Anderson

In this article, I interview Dr. Tawa Anderson about Christian worldview. Anderson is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Assistant Director of the Honors Program at Oklahoma Baptist University. He co-authored An Introduction to Christian Worldview: Pursuing God’s Perspective in a Pluralistic World which released in 2017. Anderson frequently speaks on issues concerning Christian apologetics, worldview, and philosophy for churches, seminaries, universities, and schools.

See my previous interview with Dr. Anderson on Christian Apologetics here: Christian Apologetics.

Thank you to Dr. Anderson for taking the time out of his schedule to answer these questions for us. My questions and comments appear in bold font, and his responses follow them.

Two years ago, you and your co-authors published An Introduction to a Christian Worldview: Pursuing God’s Perspective in a Pluralistic World. Could you explain what “worldview” is? What a “Christian worldview” is? And why you chose that subtitle?

We define worldview as “the conceptual lens through we see and interpret the world and our place within it.” Worldview is like a set of glasses that we wear, through which we view and interact with reality. If we wear pink-colored glasses, the world looks pink (even if it’s not); if we wear the wrong-prescription lenses, the world will look very distorted. So having the right set of glasses is important—it helps us to see the world the way it really is.

The subtitle of our book was chosen as an indication that a Christian worldview is, ultimately, a pursuit of God’s perspective on reality. Christians recognize that God alone has a true and accurate understanding of life, the universe, and everything—our goal is to chase after God in relationship, but also in understanding. If God sees reality truly, then we want to see the world the way that God sees the world, so that we also might understand reality truly.

A Christian worldview, broadly put, is one which embraces the biblical contours of Creation – Fall – Redemption – Glorification, places the Triune God at the center of reality, and embraces Scripture as the inspired and authoritative self-revelation of God to His people.

If our worldviews are really so pervasive in how we interpret things, then how can we ever reach consensus? How could we ever get people to see things “our” way?

We talk about worldview impacting people in four ways: confirmation bias, experiential accommodation, the pool of live options, and life motivation. Confirmation bias describes our tendency to look for and accept information or arguments that agree with or support what we already believe. Experiential accommodation is the process of interpreting new data or experiences in a way that fits with our existing worldview. The pool of live options is the set of possible explanations that our worldview will permit. Life motivation describes the way that our worldview encourages us to behave and react.

With respect to those first three worldview influences, we can see how people with different worldviews will generally fail to reach consensus, and why it seems nearly impossible to get people to ‘see things our way’. Our very fundamental worldview means that we see the same data, but interpret that data in very different (perhaps even contradictory) ways. Within my Christian worldview, for example, the sudden remission of Aunt Martha’s cancer will readily be interpreted as an answer to concerted desperate prayer; but within my sister’s non-Christian worldview, such a miraculous interpretation of events is outside the pool of live options—there will have to be some other explanation.

With a plurality of competing worldviews, and the strong influence that worldview has upon us, how can we pursue consensus?

The first step, I think, is promoting worldview awareness—we need to be aware of the impact our worldview has upon us when interacting with other people. When are my worldview presuppositions causing me to dismiss someone’s position or arguments? Do I reject this piece of data for good reason, or simply because it doesn’t fit with my pre-existing understanding?

But, of course, it doesn’t help much if we are aware of our worldview influences but other people are not. Hence, it is important to try to educate people broadly about the existence and influence of worldview presuppositions—not in a way that challenges people to re-think their fundamental commitments, but rather asks them to become consciously aware of their worldview.

Why should Christians think through their own worldview and those of others?

We confess that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6), that Christ has come to “testify to the truth,” (John 18:37) and that “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). So, it seems, truth has a central role in a Christian worldview. Hence, a Christian should be in constant pursuit of truth in his or her own worldview. Obtaining an increasingly true worldview will bring us closer to a full knowledge of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The only way to obtain an increasingly true worldview is to subject our worldview to rigorous, conscious, and logical self-examination. We talk in our book about three “worldview truth-tests” that can help us adjudicate the accuracy of our worldview (and those of others): internal consistency (logical coherence), external consistency (evidential correspondence), and existential consistency (pragmatic satisfaction). Applying these tests to worldview components can help us apprehend truth more accurately.

How has studying Christian worldview changed your relationship to Jesus?

Probably the most fundamental impact has been my increasing awareness that I do not possess the full truth. I have always known this in some sense, but I have generally been overly confident (and dogmatic) about particular stances or beliefs that I hold. There are two sides to this.

First, many of those beliefs end up being secondary within a Christian worldview—not unimportant, but not central to the faith. In our textbook, we differentiate between “Core,” “Secondary,” and “Peripheral” worldview beliefs, and note that what identifies overarching worldviews (like Christianity, atheism, Islam, Buddhism) are Core beliefs. Worldview study has helped me to more clearly (I think) identify the core tenets of the Christian faith—those beliefs, attitudes, loves, and behaviors which are central, and without which there is not an authentic Christianity. Gary Habermas likes to crystallize core Christianity around the deity, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. I think that’s helpful, but prefer to think of the ancient creeds (Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed) as fuller articulations of essential Christian doctrine. I have had a tendency to make secondary things ‘hills to die on,’ and I feel that as I grow in worldview awareness (and hopefully Christian maturity), I am less likely to make mountains out of molehills. For example, there was a time in my Christian life when I would have held that someone who embraces theistic evolution has left behind orthodox Christianity. Today, while I still reject the modern Darwinian synthesis (random mutation and natural selection as a sufficient explanation for the diversity of biological life), I recognize that someone can be an authentic orthodox Christian and embrace divinely-ordained evolution as the means of God’s creative activity. The issue of how and when God created are secondary; the doctrine that God created is primary (core).

Second, my growth in worldview awareness has helped me better identify the perspectival nature of human knowledge. Other people who are just as intelligent and well-meaning as I am come to radically different worldview conclusions. They, like me, are triply f’ed-up: we are all finite, fallen, and fallible. Hence, I cannot claim to have a monopoly on truth, and neither can they.

How has studying Christian worldview changed your relationship to those around you?

Four things to say here.

First, with respect to non-Christians who hold different worldviews, I think I have become more gracious. I am able to enter into their worldview, and understand why they might see the world the way that they do. This does not make me any more likely to believe that their fundamental worldview is true, but it does help me to understand who they are and why they stand where they do. In turn, this helps to build bridges between my worldview and theirs, such that I can (Lord willing) help them consider the winsomeness and truthfulness of the Christian worldview.

Second, with respect to non-Christians who claim that their worldview is obviously true and Christianity is obviously false, I think I have become more stringent. It pains me to see people who are so blinded to the possibility that they could be mistaken, and who seem to mock those who would embrace the ‘ridiculous superstitions’ of traditional religion.

Third, with respect to fellow Christians who think differently than I on secondary or peripheral issues, I have (again) become more gracious. I have a long ways to go here, and I know that in the past I have hurt fellow believers by arguing too vehemently about secondary issues. The biblical appeal for unity within the body of Christ requires that we accurately identify the core of Christianity, such that we fight for that, and never fight over the secondary issues. I’m getting there, but clearly am not there yet.

Fourth, with respect to people who profess Christianity but reject the historical core of the Christian worldview, I have become less patient. I would join the late Ronald Nash in appealing for ‘honesty in advertising’. If one is going to reject the objective existence of the Triune God, reject the inspiration and authority of God’s self-revelation in Scripture, reject the objective divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, reject the historical resurrection of Jesus on the third day, reject the notion of Christ’s death on the cross atoning for sin, and reject belief in life after death—then that person has no more right to call themselves a Christian than I have to call myself a black woman.

Thank you again to Dr. Anderson! Look for more interviews with Tawa Anderson and others in the near future! If you missed his interview on Christian Apologetics, you can view it here: Christian Apologetics.

Pastoral Theology with Matthew Halsted

In this article, I interview Dr. Matthew Halsted about pastoral theology. Halsted is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of McLoud, OK and a lecturer at Oklahoma Baptist University. His academic research has focused on biblical hermeneutics (i.e., interpretation) and the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament especially in Paul’s letters. He is the founder and director of Trinityhaus (a center for Christian thought). He has presented papers and given talks nationally and internationally, and he is passionate about bringing academia into conversation with the local church.

Thank you to Dr. Halsted for taking the time out of his schedule to answer these questions for us. My questions and comments appear in bold font, and his responses follow them.

What is pastoral theology? And what interests you about pastoral theology?

Broadly speaking, “pastoral theology” can be defined as fleshing out theological truths within the context of Christian ministry—particularly at the local church level. It is, by definition, applying God’s unchanging truth to the ever-changing circumstances of the lives of a worshiping congregation.

I suppose what interests me most about pastoral theology is that it requires attentiveness to both the needs of the congregation and to the biblical text. This relationship between Scripture and congregation is fascinating to me. Pastors must remain faithful to the Bible as God’s Word and, at the same time, be creative in how the truth of the Bible is fleshed out into the life of the congregation. This relationship between the truth of the fixed text and its fresh application to the contingencies of parish ministry is the heart and soul of pastoral theology.

Because pastoral theology covers several different topics, I would like to give you space to share your thoughts on a few different ones. How about we start with the office of pastor? Do you think pastors have a special kind of authority? Why or why not?

That’s a good question. There is a sense in which pastors should recognize that their position is one of “authority.” It has to be remembered, though, that it is a derived authority. That is, pastors are not ultimately in charge of, or responsible for, the church (thank God!). Rather, a pastor’s authority is authoritative in so far as it is connected to the truths of Scripture. My Protestantism may be getting the best of me here, but under no circumstances is a pastor to be considered authoritative unless that pastor is operating within the boundaries of biblical, orthodox truth—which has been handed down through the ages.

I have to add one more thing, if I may. Our culture is obsessed with “authority” and “being in charge.” I immediately think of the situation in Mark 10. In that chapter, James and John requested positions of power and glory in the kingdom, but our Lord admonished them to be cautious. The pagan leaders, Jesus said, were too fixated on how they could “exercise authority” over people (v.42). This is not to be the way of Christ followers. Because I think Jesus remains the best mentor for pastors, I think his own model is worth following: Instead of being preoccupied with notions of power and authority, people would do well to become servants. Pastors ought to be the first servants of the church—if they desire to be faithful followers of their crucified Lord.

Prayer seems vital to pastoral ministry. How does your theology of prayer shape your ministry? And how do you teach your congregation to pray?

There is a huge temptation for pastors to reduce their entire ministry down to nothing more than “talking about God.” In many ways, this temptation is always present because—to state the obvious—the pastoral vocation seems to be about doing just that: talking about God. As pastors, we are expected to preach about God, teach about God, and talk about God. To make matters worse, we are expected to teach others to do the same! But if were are not careful, we will make God into an object to be analyzed instead of the One with whom we are to commune. Prayer helps us in this regard.

Indeed, prayer is communion with God. Of course, this involves making requests, lavishing praise, raising doubts, and confessing sin. But these things are not what prayer is; prayer is communion. If we are truly communing with God, then of course we will be doing these things.

Eugene Peterson made a statement once that prayer is not so much about being nice before God but rather about being honest with him. I also agree with Peterson that, if Christians want to develop a prayer life, the Psalter is necessary curriculum. It is indispensable.

Do you think prayer changes how God acts, and if so, in what ways?

I recall reading C.S. Lewis on this very question. His musings, as always, are helpful as we navigate this topic. Following Lewis, I think the ideal prayer request is a request for something good. But if God is good, then surely God would already want the good for which we are praying—independently of our praying or not praying. And if God is powerful, then surely he would be capable in his own strength to bring it about—again, independently of our praying or not praying. So, why pray?

I’ll be the first to admit that prayer is a mystery in this regard. But I think something along the following lines is true. First, because prayer is fundamentally about communion with God (as C.S. Lewis also observes, as I recall), then it only makes sense that God would want to involve his creatures—the objects of his love—to engage him in communal acts such as prayer. Second, if a relationship such as this is to be meaningful in any sense, then a person must be capable of making choices that are significantly free. This leaves open the possibility for God’s people to pray or not pray. And if prayer is to be one of these significantly free acts, it must be—in some way or another—effectual.

What this means is that some things will not happen if we don’t pray. In other words, some prayers are acts that bring about change that, all things being equal, would not have been brought about except through prayer. This seems to be what is meant by certain passages of Scripture such as James 4:2 (“you do not have because you do not ask”). Here, something is not happening because of the lack of prayer.

It is reasonable to suppose that God, in his sovereignty, has set up this world such that his creatures have this sort of significant freedom. This does not imply, of course, that everything depends upon our prayers or that God’s overall plan is itself dependent upon our praying. I have certain metaphysical commitments that permit me to think God, as the Absolute Good, will always get his way no matter what his free creatures choose to do or choose not to do—a subject for another day!

To change the topic a bit, John Calvin argued that a rightly ordered church includes the Word and Sacraments. What are these two different things? And could you explain your approach to both?

I think Calvin is largely correct here. The Protestant emphasis on the preaching of the Word is absolutely important to maintain. It is God’s Word, for example, that brings forth faith; it is God’s Word which instructs, guides, and corrects the church. So the proclamation of the Word, if it is not central, will result in a church that is not rightly ordered. The same can be said of the Sacraments—that is, the Eucharist and Baptism. The Eucharist, mysteriously, functions in the life of the church as a gracious benefit. It is a reminder of God’s goodness—one that is loving and confrontational all at the same time. Baptism, too, is inherently confrontational. It is an initiatory rite into a Kingdom that is opposed to this world’s powers. Like the proclamation of the Word, if the Sacraments are not properly placed within the life of the church, then our witness to the world will go impeded.

For pastors young and old, how would you encourage them to develop their pastoral theology? What resources or biblical passages would you direct them towards? What mistakes would you encourage them to avoid?

Every pastor needs to be a praying pastor. It’s essential. Prayer serves as a reminder that we are insufficient to bring about the Kingdom of God. I think one mistake pastors make is to treat their ministry as if everything depends on them. As a result of this mindset, pastors get emotionally discouraged and burned out. The truth, however, is that the success of the church depends on God, not us. All we are required to do is be faithful to do what he has given us to do, and he will take care of the results.

Again, I think the Psalms are super important for pastors. The main reason is because they will teach us to pray. I also think becoming familiar with the prophets, particularly Jeremiah, would be good for modern pastors. I have found the prophets to be encouraging friends and colleagues. In terms of other resources, I highly recommended Eugene Peterson’s works. His insights are gold.

Thank you again to Dr. Halsted! Look for more interviews with Matthew Halsted and others in the near future! If you missed my interview with Tawa Anderson on “Christian Apologetics” or my interview with Timothy and Faith Pawl on “Mary, the Mother of God”, you can view them here: Christian Apologetics and Mary, the Mother of God.

Translation Notes for John 1:19-34

Translation Notes

John 1:19-34

Vocabulary to Review/Learn before Translating (in order of appearance):

πόκρισιν – answer

μάντα – strap

ποδήματος – sandal

πέραν – on other other side of, beyond

παύριον – the next day, tomorrow

μνς – lamb

Τεθέαμαι – see

περιστερν – dove, pigeon

1.19

Make sure to find the right subject for ἀπέστειλαν and the correct direct objects.

1.21

You may want to be more dynamic in your translation to account for English vocabulary which would be unnecessary to write in these Greek constructions.

1.26

You will have to supply the subject for ἕστηκεν.

1.28

Sound out Βηθανίᾳ and Ἰορδάνου, and you should be able to guess the places.

Parse βαπτίζων.

1.30

I advice being very dynamic with this.

Parse γέγονεν.

1.31

Parse ᾔδειν.