In this episode Kurt interviews Dr. Ed Stetzer of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. They talk about politics, 2017, American Christianity, church planting, and the fate of the Chicago Cubs.
Listen to “Episode 26: Interview with Ed Stetzer” on Spreaker.
Kurt: A good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. Today we’ve got a special interview for you to play. In December I went over to Wheaton College and I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Ed Stetzer and we talked about politics, about 2017, about American Christianity, and the work that Ed is doing at Wheaton College so a great chance, he’s a great personality if you ever get a chance to listen to him, maybe find some of his sermons online or if you’re in the Western suburbs get a chance to come out to Wheaton College at some point, he’s got a lot of speaking opportunities there since he now works there, but before we get around to playing that interview, I’ve got a few points of business if you will as is the usual point of the introduction here of the show. So for those of you who don’t know in August, we had a big apologetics conference and we’ve got the plenary videos up available over at our web site and we’re going to post those at our Facebook page as well so if you want access to those plenary sessions you may do so and also if you were an attendee of that conference, one of the benefits of attending is that you get free access to those videos so if you’ve got any questions, just go ahead and contact us about how to do that and we can connect you to that. Last week we talked about sort of a 2016 in review and this week, the interview is more about looking forward to 2017 so after we play that interview, then we’re going to talk about 2017 and our aspirations for the show. I know we talked a little bit about that before, but here I’m in studio today with Chris and Kevin so we’re going to be talking about what good things can come from that. Now before we get around to that though, we’ve got a special guest caller here who called in a couple of weeks ago to talk about movies and so I’m pleased to be joined again here by the Mark Lester. Mark, I’m wondering if you’re there and if you’re here to tell us what’s going on and how your movie reviewing has been going.
Mark: It has been going. Oh. I hear an echo on my side, but that’s fine. I can deal with it. My movie reviews have been doing well. I still have, before I do my what you would call a top ten of the year, I still have at least two more movies left to see now that I think of it. One would be which I’m seeing tonight which is Hidden Figures…three African-American characters who helped with the John Glenn in space I believe that’s what it is in the early 1960’s and then the main movie that I’ve been wanting to see which is Silence which is Martin Scorsese’s newest picture which I think goes into wider release next weekend which are the main ones I want to see before I do a top ten list, but I can definitely give you a list of really not-so great movies that I saw this year, which I only made the list of five of them which because not being an actual movie critic yet which is the dream, I have not been able to, I am not going out there just to see really bad movies all the time, although sometimes I do just for the heck of it, so I can butcher them or what have you. My five movies of the year that were what I would call disappointing were, the first one, which was….
Kurt: So this is your top five worst movies of the year. Is that right, Mark?
Mark: Yes. You could call it that.
Kurt: And would you recommend that people see these because they’re so bad or not to see them because they’re so bad?
Mark: It depends on the movie itself because not all of them are like so God-awful because, like I said, I haven’t seen the so God-awful movies, all of them at least, but I wanted to at least have a rounded number that sounded well enough to it, so five for me was that movie at the beginning of the year called Race which was that movie on Jesse Owens which was like, a movie that could have been, obviously an American icon, the legend of Jesse Owens, but it was a movie that could have been made so much better but it was so forgettable that I feel that most if I had not explained what movie it was, if I had said the movie Race people would not have remembered it in the first place.
Kurt: Alright. What was your second worst? Number 4.
Mark: Number 4 for me and I might get in trouble with this, and I don’t care, was Batman v. Superman because Suicide Squad was definitely a lot more disappointing. Batman v. Superman I didn’t have much faith going in because I thought Ben Affleck was going to be the worst part of the movie, when he was actually one of the best parts of the movie.
Kurt: Some of that may be the concern was bad scriptwriting.
Mark: Yeah. Definitely. Sure. The battle between the two was cool to look at and stuff, but it took forever to get to and it also had as good of an actor as Jesse Eisenberg is, he was horrible as Lex Luthor. I’m sorry. He was just absolutely horrible as Lex Luthor. #3 for me was a movie I actually thought I was going to like. It was called Me Before You, was another one of those Nicholas Sparks types movie of, you know, romance and stuff like that. First off, it was the first time in my life I ever went into a movie and I was the only one in the theater so I’m pretty sure people heard about it before I did, but I think what happened with that movie was it was basically about this guy who is paralyzed from the neck down in an accident and has to be taken care of and the person who volunteers to take care of him ends up falling in love with him and stuff and I’m like, “That sounds like a good idea”, but they make decisions towards the end where I’m like “This doesn’t seem true to their characters like at all” so it was just….
Number two for me was the remake of Ben Hur which was totally not needed at all. I loved the original one with Charlton Heston from the late 1950’s which actually was a remake itself of a 1925 silent movie and that movie that Charlton Heston…
Kurt: I’m not sure I knew that. I didn’t know the Heston movie was a remake itself.
Mark: Yeah. I’ve not seen the original 1925 or whatever version it was, but I loved the Heston one a lot and this one was just totally by the books, offered nothing new at all and it just threw Morgan Freeman in there because it would be like, “Hey. It has Morgan Freeman in it. Maybe people will like it.” But he looked bored out of his mind too, so yeah, it was definitely not worth it.
Number one for me without a solitary doubt would be Independence Day Resurgence which I honestly went and, you know, you and I are the same age Kurt. We grew up in the 90’s. Independence Day, the original was a staple in my childhood.
Kurt: You watch it every Fourth of July.
Mark: Yeah, but this one was just, I mean, Will Smith not being in it was by far not the worst part of this movie. I went seeing it mainly because I had to see how this character who clearly died in the first one would be alive for the second one and apparently he was in a coma for like, you know, twenty years. Now I don’t know anything medically, but I don’t know if that’s possible, but you never know. I don’t know. Anyway, the point being is that the movie was, if you were a fan of the first one, just see the first one and pretend the second one did not exist at all. It was really really bad.
Kurt: Just kind of like the prequels of the Star Wars films. Just pretend they never were made.
Mark: Yeah. I guess that’s definitely another topic for another day.
Kurt: Of course. Well Mark, we’ve got to get going here, but thank you so much for your top five worst movies of the year. We appreciate having you on from time to time on the show and if you want to read more about Mark’s reviews, you can check out checkmarkedfilmreviews.com. Thanks so much Mark. Take care.
Mark: Thank you. You too, sir.
Kurt: Alright. We appreciate bringing Mark on from time to time to talk about his film reviews and what he’s doing there. Mark is an avid moviegoer. He’s at least there every weekend watching something. Probably sometimes twice, but he’s really an astute film critic. He’s seen more movies than the hours you’ve been alive. He’s the type of guy that just knows everything, and if you ask him who won best supporting actress in 1955, he’ll know it. He’s just got this great great trivia knowledge about films. Again you can go to his website at checkmarkedfilmreviews.com.
If you want to have your voice heard on the show, there’s a way you can do that. You can give us a call and of course the number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. You can also text in to this show. Just text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888. Once you do that, you can send me messages about the show. If you liked the show, if you didn’t like the show. Some topics ideas you might have or guests you want on. We’ve got some good things in the works coming up. Next week we’re going to be bringing on Erick Erickson, who had been the long time editor-in-chief at redstate.com and I guess last year he went off and started The Resurgent, but we’re not going to be talking about politics believe it or not. We’re going to be talking about theology and the development of Christian doctrine so he in his graduate work has studied Athanasius and I have studied Vincent of Lorens and they both write about the development of Christian doctrine so we’re going to be talking about that with a man who’s known more for his political views than his theological positions so it should be good to talk with him about that and then in a couple of weeks we’re bringing on Thomas Jay Oord who is an open theist. We’re going to be talking about providence though, but he’s perhaps better known for being an open theist and so we’re going to be talking about his new book on providence, so we’ve got some good shows coming up. If you have topic ideas that you want here on the show, let us know. We’ve got some feedback and we’re going to start working on a series on worldviews so it’s not going to be consecutive every week, but I think maybe once a month we might devote a week to a worldview so let us know what you want and we’ll go ahead and try our best to make that show happen for you. Alright, so without further ado, allow me to play for you this thirty minute interview. Please stick with us. Especially after the interview we’re going to be talking about what Ed said and what 2017 holds, but enjoys the interview because Ed is such a laid back guy. Right off the bat you’ll see that he’s just got this great personality about him and let us know what you think too. Give us a call and we’ll take your calls after the interview.
Kurt: Alright. I’m here with Dr. Ed Stetzer.
Kurt: And it’s a great honor to have the chance to…
Ed: It’s a great honor.
Kurt: Yes it is.
Ed: So much a great honor, but okay.
Kurt: Perhaps it’s a greater honor for me.
Ed: It’s a great honor for me to be with you.
Kurt: You are the interim pastor at the Moody Church in downtown Chicago and the executive director.
Ed: Small struggling church in the city.
Kurt: About 120 some people?
Ed: Something like that. Yeah. It’s actually the oldest extant megachurch in the world. There are megachurches that aren’t around anymore, but it’s the oldest megachurch in the world that’s still around. Pretty fascinating. It’s still a megachurch. Kind of cool anyway.
Kurt: That is cool. They do tend to die out. Especially once the head guy….
Ed: Yeah. This one’s got a long history. It’s fascinating. Pastor Lutzer’s just an amazing legacy, but Warren Wiersbe. Harry Ironside. Crazy.
Kurt: Yeah right. That’s awesome. What a blessing.
Ed: Sorry. You wanted to interview me and I’m just
Kurt: No. Quite alright. Okay. So I’ve got some questions. You’ve been at Lifeway for a very long time.
Ed: A decade.
Kurt: You’ve now transitioned.
Ed: Seems like a long time to you, but that’s just a little segment for me.
Kurt: Yes. Right. I guess that’s right. So you’ve been looking to statistics and trends and analyzing the culture, so to get us started I’ve got a question because a lot of Christians are concerned about what has been called the culture war and not that I’m in support of culture warring for the sake of culture warring, but some Christians are concerned. Why does it seem like we’re losing the culture war?
Ed: I think a lot of Christians say they just won the culture war. That’s kind of the weird thing. Here’s the thing about evangelicals. 81% voted for Donald Trump, President-Elect Trump, at the time of recording soon to be president Trump and so, which I hated to see coming. I thought that, because statistically the culture has sort of turned a corner and what were now once mainstream values are now kind of minority values. Christians and evangelicals, conservative Catholics, all this kind of tribe there, they’re sore of now in the minority view so the culture war, most of whom, we did a survey a few years ago, most Americans and the vast majority of Protestant pastors think that Christians are on the losing side of the culture war and they lost, and again it’s just the selection is such a weird thing.
Kurt: It’s an anomaly.
Ed: I think every doctoral dissertation on politics written twenty years from now will begin with, “With the exception of 2016”, cause statistically cause who knows? I was talking to Bill Crystal, the commentator of Weekly Standard, and we were just having dinner and he said something that was really, he said, “You don’t ever know. Before Ronald Reagan was elected it looked like everything was moving in a direction that was very progressive and then boom, it turns and changes for a decade or so.” So I don’t know, but as far as, if current trends continue and, then I think ultimately Christians are increasingly recognizing they’re not a religious majority, but instead are a convictional minority and so I think we have to learn, we’re going to have to learn to live, particularly, you know, for example there’s a big discussion about LGBT persons and their rights compared to religious rights and religious liberties, and I don’t think we’d have this conversation 20 years ago, so this conversation doesn’t go away. As a matter of fact President-Elect Trump has said on same-sex marriage, that’s settled law, but he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade which has been settled law for a few decades. So anyway, it’s a little confusing. It’s a little confusing right now. So if you asked me that question before the election when everyone thought Hillary Clinton was going to win, I’d written a beautiful 800 word article on what it’s like to live in the new cultural reality after Hillary Clinton was elected president, but that article still sits in my folder of my computer. I think my publisher might think “Who? Who?”
Kurt: In an alternate reality.
Ed: In an alternate reality. But here’s the thing I think, I was talking to John Stonestreet. We do a show together called Breakpoint This Week and we still see this as a pause, the trends still continue. On religious liberties issues it’s kind of a reprieve. In issues like, we’re recording this at Wheaton College. Issues of taxes and schools and the accreditation of schools, there could be a pause on those issues, but I don’t think those issues are going away, so the culture war, it is still, and I’m like you, I don’t like to use the term. I think you can’t war at a people and reach them at the same time, but the culture war is still going to swing around maybe, but again Bill Crystal like you said, and he was a Never-Trumper so he’s not saying he was supporting Trump, you just don’t know. And then Ronald Reagan came along and he was a game changer and we were talking moral majority, but in the 70’s no one was talking about any of this stuff. In the 70’s, 60’s, 70’s, again, that’s a little ancient history for you young man. For me as well. I graduated high school in the 80’s, but in the 60’s, 70’s, everyone assumed we would have a far more progressive society, but boom! Get the 80’s and does that happen again? I don’t know. Everyone was writing the obituary for the moral majority a few months ago, not the moral majority, for the religious right a few months ago, and nobody’s talking about that now. Look at the cabinet appointments of President-Elect Trump. These look a lot like the religious right, not all of them. Some of them look a little strange, but it’s a mix, so enough politics. We’re not talking politics. On the recording right here so you can be watching for that.
Kurt: For those that do listen to this show, we do talk about politics from time to time. I think it’s important for Christians to not stray away, as long as they’re talking politics in the right way, in a civil way.
Ed: Are we talking the right way?
Kurt: Of course. For sure. I think so.
Ed: You should have like really upset people on here yelling about politics.
Kurt: Yeah. That would be interesting.
Ed: I’m mad and I’m not taking it any more.
Kurt: Okay. So you talked about the convictional minority, so maybe long-term trends. Maybe I should rephrase it. Maybe I should say evangelical Christians have believed that they have been in charge of the culture and it seems that there has been a shift if you will in that there have been nominal Christians leaving liberal churches and it seems that they’re just associating more with the secular.
Ed: That’s some of it for sure.
Kurt: What would you say are some of the other trends that you’re seeing in the culture?
Ed: Well you mentioned evangelical so evangelicals are relatively steady. Not growing, I mean a little bit, but not as a percentage of the population. 2007, 2014, PEW said there were more evangelicals, but not a higher percentage of the population. Mainline Protestantism is hemmorhaging, collapsing.
Kurt: Maybe for good reason.
Ed: Well, I mean there’s a mix. It’s funny because, I’m an evangelical, but I came to Christ in a mainline Protestant church so I want mainline churches to be sharing the Gospel and growing, but it’s a multiple thing. Part of it is demographics. Part of it is theology, progressive churches, it’s ironic today because so many progressive churches become progressive in a desire to reach people and then in a real historic twist of irony everyone doesn’t come. Dean Kelly wrote a book years ago called Why Conservative Churches are Growing, research look, and part of it was they offered distinction from the culture. When you pretty much believe what the culture believe, why would you do something as every Sunday morning give money, serve, whatever, because we’ve already got that. Protestantism is there. Catholicism, it’s kind of interesting. I wrote a long series for an evangelical missions quarterly and then added a Catholic addendum because when you look at the numbers, a few had Catholicism down, but everyone else had Catholicism flat, not dissimilar to evangelicalism. Then there’s historical African-American churches, that’s a kind of fourth category that in research we tend to use relatively decently steady, so really the big outlier is mainline Protestantism, is its hemorrhaging possible to even collapse? If trends continue, mainline Protestantism goes away in a few decades, but trends never continue. They sort of slow. You don’t kill a church. You don’t kill a denomination. They go on forever. Think about it. Churches just go on forever, so those are some of the bigger trends, but I think 1% a year more Americans become the nones, nones as in none of the aboves. There was a study, PRRI did a study, a bit of a outlier, it said it was up to 2%, but typically it’s been about 1% a year, but that means, don’t miss this Kurt, in twenty-five years, 25% more of the population will be secular. That’s a pretty stunning shift so what’s happening is the nominal Christians or the cultural Christians are the largest still but fastest shrinking group. Secular people, the nones are not atheists, they’re not aggressive, most of them, they’re the fastest growing up now, so we’ve got a little bit of a two-step dance here. On the one hand we’ve got to keep reaching people calling themselves Christians, but you really need to know the Gospel and respond, but we’re going to have to increasingly reach people who don’t call themselves Christians, 1% a year, and 25 years from now that’ll probably be the largest block in our society.
Kurt: But that nones group though, is that saying that they don’t have any beliefs or is it really they don’t affiliate with a type of religion.
Ed: More of affiliation.
Kurt: So they could still very much be open
Ed: They might believe in God. Some of them pray, what’s interesting too, here’s some of the weirdest data. The Pew study is so big you can actually analyze the atheists, so what’s funny is how many atheists believe in God and pray. That shouldn’t be a thing, but they identify as atheists, I guess you can call yourself whatever you want, “Well I sort of believe in God.” But you’re an atheist! But the nones are actually, they’re very disassociated from organized religion, but there’s sometimes a spiritual interest, but they’re more secular than nominal Christians, but not as secular as maybe a full on atheist. Some of them still say they believe in God which is kind of the whole definition.
Kurt: Maybe it’s like someone who calls themselves a Christian, but doesn’t believe in God. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Maybe there are a few strange atheists that are culturally atheists.
Ed: Being a cultural Christian makes sense, because Christian is the prevailing view, not the way you and I would define it because we’re evangelical Christian, but like Christian means good person. You say to someone, “Are you a Christian?” “Yeah. I’m a good person.” But atheist doesn’t mean that. Atheism statistically, atheism has a bad reputation statistically. People don’t like atheists. We saw that, back to politics. We saw that in the election, so when the DNC emails were hacked, can I just say these are phrases that I didn’t expect to be saying a year ago, some of the people who were trying to get Hillary Clinton elected, they said about Bernie Sanders, “Listen. We need to force him to say he’s an atheist.”
Kurt: These are the internal emails of the DNC.
Ed: And one person said, “Yeah. My Southern Baptist friends wouldn’t go for that.” And so there’s a sense that if you’re an atheist, at least Hillary Clinton’s supporters in the DNC thought that you couldn’t be elected president. That was their plan. Of course, Sanders would later say he’s not an atheist so he sort of describes himself as a secular non-practicing Jewish person. Atheism, it’s funny because all these books, but atheism’s not the big issue, if you want to reach most people. For most people it’s they’re nominal Christians. 25 years from now will just be secular people who are sort of post religion. They’re not mad atheists. They’re not Dawkins. They’re not trying to debunk Christianity. They’re just sort of over it.
Kurt: Right. But maybe even still those hard-core atheists are the ones influencing these people to.
Ed: That’s true. Could be. And these hardcore atheists are influenced, I forget who the study was, but a lot of them just had bad experiences with Christians. So much of this is personal but so complex. It’s not just a thing. It’s things. It’s all a mix.
Kurt: Right. So what are some things that we as evangelicals can do to reach the Nones out there? What are some of the strategies that you might….
Ed: I think a lot of it is not dissimilar to reach anybody. It’s be a loving neighbor. Be a friend. Build a relationship. Ask some questions and answer some questions that maybe they’re struggling with. People wonder how can there be a good God when there’s evil in the world? These are real issues that people have. Be willing to go that journey with them, but when they see your life, and your life that’s been changed by the power of the Gospel, that shapes the way you relate to others, the way you serve the hurting, the way you’re married, the way you raise your kids, and they see something different, they see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven and they’re drawn to that, so I think that’s part of it. I think that this is where, I think apologetics becomes more of an issue here too, because when you’re reaching nominal Christians they sort of already acknowledge there’s a God, and they’re not just theists, they’re nominal Christians, so they acknowledge there was a Jesus, that there’s a Bible, so I can appeal to all of those things. I can say, when I grew up I grew up nominally religious, but I knew there was a God, I just didn’t think I could know Him personally. I knew He wrote a book. I just didn’t think I could understand it. So now, I can share that. I was a nominal Christian. But now I think it takes a couple steps back, maybe ten steps back, and say upon what basis would I even say there is a God? And so that becomes some of the maybe classic apologetics arguments, but to help people, in my field it’s called the angle skill. So you’ve got no awareness, -7, and some awareness, and so I want to move them from -7 to -6 to -5 and that’s gonna take a longer journey. When I came home, I became a new Christian, I went to witness to somebody and I said to them, first thing I heard, I shared the Gospel and I said “Are you saved?” and they said “Saved from what?” I said, “I don’t know, but you need to be. I just was.” When you ask, “Are you saved?” as a brand new believer, it assumes so much. Well you can’t assume all that. Sin and consequence and God and savior and cross, you can’t assume those any more.
Kurt: Yeah. Wow. It really is interesting because I guess we took certain things for granted.
Ed: We’ve lost our home field advantage. Where everyone used to know and use the same terms. Now it’s a different field.
Kurt: I can say from my experience when I’ve taught at some churches, some of the older folks when I asked people, “How would you share the Gospel with people?” A lot of the older folks would say, “Just read the Bible.” But that’s kind of lost.
Ed: ….I can think of members of my family who are not Christians. I would say to them, “The Bible says”, and they would say “So?” In other words, they could even agree that the Bible says it, but upon what authority would I say that the Bible is the authority we should believe? So again, that wasn’t me though. As a kid, I grew up, I knew the big book, we had a family version of it, we had names in the front, so I believed that there was something in there and you just had to show me so that’s why like the Romans Road is an evangelistic tour. You start at Romans 3:23. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 6:23. The wages of sin is death. Right? So, works great if everyone sort of agrees the Bible is authoritative, what sin is, what death is, what God is, what the cross is, who Jesus is, but if those aren’t all there, that Roman Road is ultimately a dead-end. Now again, some of those people almost get like, “How should they hear without a preacher? The Word of God doesn’t return void.” The Word of God doesn’t return void, but if it’s not understood by the hearer or not acknowledged by the hearer, you’re starting at a place where you don’t share common understanding.
Kurt: Yeah. And so there’s just a gap between what you’re saying and what the person understands. You just don’t get it. So I want to know more about the current work that you’re doing here. Tell me about some of the new stuff you’ve got.
Ed: Okay. We convene Christian leaders to think more deeply and thoughtfully and effectively and fruitfully around evangelism, church planting, global missions, things of that sort. So we just last week, what day is today, so last week, so Friday we had the evangelism, the Billy Graham Center fellows, their scholars in academia, ph.d. or terminal degrees and help think more, so the Billy Graham Center fellows. Two weeks before that we had the Evangelistic Leaders Fellowship which is national denominational network leaders to learn from one another. We had the Church Planters Leadership Fellowship. We do symposiums and consortiums and all this sort of stuff.
Kurt: There’s a great way to equip the church.
Ed: Yeah. That’s what we do. Sometimes parachurchy, you may have Prison Ministries or parachurch ministries. I’m pointing that way because on the other side of this wall right here…
Kurt: You aren’t pointing….
Ed: Not to the picture of…The woman at the well.
Kurt: The woman at the well.
Ed: Actually, I don’t know who this is. Phil Ryken loves this pointing, president of Wheaton College. So he came in, we do a podcast, and he said, “Oh I love that,” and he mentioned the person’s name and I just nodded and pretended I knew who it was. Somebody famous, but anyway, we do Prison Ministries, we have academic programs, people get their masters in evangelism, leadership, missional church movements, that kind of stuff. We’ve got a lot going on. Real blessed to be here.
Kurt: Yeah. So you brought up church planting.
Ed: I’m for that.
Kurt: I’ve got some questions about that.
Ed: Okay. You kind of opposed?
Kurt: Well I mean…
Ed: Yeah. It sure sounds like it.
Kurt: There is a place for planting churches, don’t get me wrong, but when you go to a Christian school you meet guys that are doing ministry degrees and they’re all like, “Hey. I want to plant a church.”
Ed: It’s kind of the big thing now.
Kurt: It’s like, “Hey. I want to be a hyper-Protestant.”
Kurt: Why can’t we just get involved with churches that are existing already and do ministry work there? Why does it seem like we should go and do our own thing and re-invent the wheel?
Ed: Does that make you hyper-Protestant?
Kurt: If you want to do that in a place where they’re already churches.
Ed: So there can be no churches.
Kurt: So let’s say Utah. Very large Mormon population. I got a buddy…
Ed: How about Chicago? You don’t need any more churches in Chicago?
Kurt: Well you’ve got the Moonies.
Ed: Yes. Good. Moonies. We’ve got it all covered. Exactly. So I’ve planted six churches so I obviously have a different view.
Kurt: Sure. But my view is very ignorant.
Ed: That’s okay. Don’t let ignorance keep you from expressing a view.
Kurt: Hence I’m asking the question.
Ed: I think it’s fair. And I think it’s a question a lot of people ask so I’m just having a little fun. Okay. So why plant churches? Well first of all, churches, new churches do tend to reach people who wouldn’t go to established churches, so it’s a strong form of evangelism. The reality is churches go through a life cycle. So churches are birthed, every church that you attend somebody started, and so, matter of fact. Where do you go to church? Is it a secret? Can I say it on the Podcast?
Kurt: No. It’s fine. I go to Faith Evangelical Covenant Church in Wheaton.
Ed: Which was founded when?
Kurt: Back it was fifty years ago.
Ed: Fifty years ago when someone started that church. Where we had the conference where you and I met and bonded over the Defenders Media conference here. I remember. That church was planted a couple of decades before.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s Right. Christchurch of Oakbrook.
Ed: Yeah. So what happens is there’s a cycle. New churches are birthed and those churches actually engage people in a new fresh way. Statistically, baptisms is a typical measure. Not all churches are credo-Baptist, baptize for belief. But among those that do, I don’t remember the stat off the top of my head. People can google it. To my recollection it’s about 3-14 is sort of the number or where is it 4-5 more evangelistically effective per person in a new church plant than in an established church.
Kurt: Draw that out a little bit for us.
Ed: A new church grows to a hundred in a year and an established church is a hundred? The new church will baptize fourteen people, the established church will baptize three, so that’s the ratio I’m remembering. Fourteen and three. I’ve got it in a book somewhere.
Kurt: I heard somewhere that 67% of statistics are made up on the spot.
Ed: 67.2 is actually the number. But that’s actually a real statistic. I wrote about it. I actually know the source and everything else. So church plants are more evangelism effective. They feed into the life cycle question. Also too, they reach people, when I was planting a church in Tennessee, if Chicago doesn’t need new churches, Tennessee certainly doesn’t.
Kurt: My wife’s from Tallahassee, Florida and there’s a church on every block.
Ed: It’s true. Tallahassee, Florida is basically lower Alabama. It’s just right there. The panhandle of Florida is LA. It’s Lower Alabama. As a matter of fact, I have a friend who planted a church in Tallahassee, Florida, and they’ve reached all kinds of people that weren’t connecting through established churches. Statistically, anecdotally, it seems that when new churches are planted it helps established churches because it prods them to get going when maybe they weren’t, so overall I think the new churches help reach people the established churches don’t. We need all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.
Kurt: What would you say, if there is, is there a sweet spot for numbers in a church for the purpose of discipleship? So small churches, they struggle to do some things. Big struggle, medium churches maybe have some struggles.
Ed: It depends on what you want to do. For example, a house church with 15-20 people will be strong on discipleship because they’ll be up on each other’s lives? You want to have a full children’s program or youth program? Then you’re talking 3-600. You want to have, I was at one church I spoke at Southeast Christian Church at Louisville, Kentucky. They had a support group for UPS Pilot’s wives, so it depends on what’s going on. I tend to be, I love all kinds of churches. God’s used the house church in China, the megachurch in Korea, let’s hold our models loosely and our Jesus firmly. Let’s have all different kinds. So I don’t think there’s a sweet spot in that sense. Like I said, we did a research project on the organic church network, Neil Cole’s group, and they were very strong in discipleship, doing some really great stuff, so it really depends on the church and kind of the vision that the church elders and leaders ultimately have.
Kurt: One of your themes.
Ed: I’ve got a theme.
Ed: I’ve got a believe it or not.
Ed: Oh yeah. That’s my theme song. You know that song was? You don’t know that Kurt. It’s from the Greatest American Hero. Joey Scarbury sang it. I’m walking on air.
Kurt: The question I have then is regarding this theme I see in some of your writing. Exegete the culture.
Ed: Yes! Cultural exegesis.
Kurt: What is that? I’ve heard about exegeting the Bible, but what does it mean to exegete the culture?
Ed: So when you send a missionary to the Pocat in Africa, you want that missionary to know the Pocat, to understand the Pocat, to figure out the forms that would be best to communicate the Gospel, how they might worship God in spirit and in truth, so that’s analyzing, exegeting the culture. When you exegete Scripture, you look at what’s in there so you can explain it, biblical exegesis, we actually at Wheaton have a master’s in Biblical exegesis. So in a sense, cultural exegesis, you want to exegete the Scripture, but you want to exegete the culture, so you can effectively communicate and ultimately apply the Scripture into the cultural context. So that’s the thing I talk about a lot, but my PH.D. is in Missiology so that’s my field is helping people, so I think, now, you say “why do you have a PH.D. in missiology but you focus on the Billy Graham center, you do a lot in North America, because I think the culture has changed so much we need to treat it like a mission field like we would the Pocat in Africa or the Ketchua in the islands of Peru and then in doing so part of it, we understand the culture so we can engage the culture and with ways that are appropriate so the Gospel’s communicated as well.
Kurt: Yeah. It doesn’t make much sense to talk to an audience that isn’t there and so if you’re talking about certain ideas or concepts, you’re not going to be reaching those people. There’s a fellow pastor in Detroit that I was speaking with a few weeks ago. He says, “I never talk about Mormonism because there are no Mormons in Detroit.” It’s African-American. It would be pointless. He says “I talk about abortion. I talk about homosexuality. I talk about Islam,” because there a lot of Muslims there in Detroit, but he never talks about Mormonism. It’d be a waste of time.
Ed: Good point. I hadn’t thought about that. It’s a good way to point it because ultimately you want to be what Peter writes, be ready to give an answer. People are asking different questions in Salt Lake City than they are in Detroit, but the Gospel ultimately has the answer and so, contextualization relates to that, it’s how to contextualize the communication, the means across which the Gospel can be communicated so people understand it and respond to it well.
Kurt: Hey. We’ve got just a few more minutes here.
Ed: Just a few more minutes here. Can I just say you’ve got a great voice. Hi! My name is Kurt.
Ed: That is a pretty good one. I like it.
Kurt: I had no previous academic experience in communication.
Ed: But you do have a great voice. It’s all you need!
Ed: It’s all you need.
Kurt: My wife tells me I’m getting better.
Ed: Does she? That’s her goal.
Kurt: Just this last week she said Kurt, you’re getting better at interviewing people.
Ed: Wow. She says “You are not as horrible as you used to be.”
Kurt: That’s right.
Ed: There’s an old Saturday Night Live skit where Chris Farley says, “Remember when you were with the Beatles….that was awesome.”
Ed: Alright. Sorry.
*Talking over each other*
Ed: I don’t watch it. When I was younger and not a Christian I watched it. Now I don’t. I just watch Christian television.
*Conversation with talking over each other about SNL.*
Ed: Okay. Maybe sometimes. The political stuff. Maybe.
Kurt: The stuff making the rounds in social media.
Ed: I wouldn’t actually watch it either because I’m a Christian. I don’t watch movies either.
Kurt: Oh right. Yeah. Or TV shows.
Ed: Or TV shows.
Kurt: You don’t even read books, except for the Bible.
Ed: Except for the Bible. Only in King James English. Scofield reference.
Kurt: Yes. That’s right. Who needs Greek?
Kurt: Okay. So you had lived in Nashville for a long time.
Ed: Been a decade, which is a long time to you.
Kurt: But now you’re here.
Kurt: And so how are you experiencing the cold weather here in Chicago?
Ed: Wow! It’s quite. So I preached to one church on Sunday and I had 84 degree weather when I landed in Chicago. I don’t think it got to -16, but that would be a hundred degree shift in 24 hours. That just messes you up. That just messes you up. Chicago’s good. I lived in Buffalo. I grew up in New York City, so it’s not too bad. The kids are adjusting. We went shopping for jackets for the kids and I have all girls.
Kurt: Shopping for coats.
Ed: Coats. Coats. Not jackets. Right. Coats. Coats. Coats. Like big thick coats and my daughter says to the saleslady. “Don’t you have anything that’s a little more stylish?” The saleslady is 20-something, pretty girl, which is important to my daughters. I’ll explain in just a minute. This pretty girl says to them, “Oh. It’s so cute. We don’t do stylish here in Chicago for four months.” And just hearing from a pretty girl who is a salesperson, “No we don’t do stylish for four months.” My girls are “Okay.” So now they’ve got these things and it’s a different world, but it’s a good world and we love what God’s doing at Wheaton, having a good time. I love being at the Billy Graham Center, I love being at Moody Church, I love learning, getting to meet people like Kurt and others and Defenders Media. See I work that in.
Kurt: Thank you. I appreciate that. Final question. On May 16, 2016, you wrote a post on the Exchange and you said, I quote, “P.S. This is the year for the Cubs.” So my question to you is, How long have you known that you have the gift of prophecy and will they win it all again in 2017?
Ed: Okay. So I knew, I did write that, I knew the pretty well. So I know nothing about sports. So I knew there were going to be
Kurt: You’re like the Cubs play what sport.
Ed: They were going to the Super Bowl and I knew that it was going to be a hat trick and they were going to win the Stanley Cup, and so I actually got into it because you can’t live in the city and not get into it, and now I know who Baez is…
Kurt: My three year-old knows who Baez is.
Ed: Exactly. And that’s about it and there’s no follow-up questions because that’s all I know so I started watching , but I think they’re a young team and this could be a dynasty and I’m kind of excited, so that’s all I know. No follow-ups please.
Kurt: They do have a lot of young guys on their contract for awhile.
Ed: And what the seventh largest gathering in human history?
Kurt: I was part of it.
Ed: I wanted to go, but I had to get doctoral dissertations.
Kurt: Who needs that?
Ed: He flew in from Brazil. A friend of mine.
Kurt: He can wait.
Ed: I’m like, dude. He said I got to go today. I’m like Oh no. So we wanted to go.
Kurt: I was skeptical about that because I told my wife, “It’s going to be crazy.” And she said, “I kind of want to go.”
Ed: You should go. It’s a human history thing.
Kurt: I’ve been a longer Cubs fan than she has and it’s like
Ed: Did you see anything or
Kurt: We were about 30 people from the front so we did see them on the buses.
Ed: I would have liked to do that, and the thing is I was hoping they would go by, the original plan is that they didn’t have the route nailed down.
Kurt: They changed the route.
Ed: I was hoping they’d go by Moody church and we have a little place on top where you can look and the staff was already to go and they didn’t go by that route.
Kurt: Shucks. Cool. Ed Stetzer. Thank you for your time.
Ed: Thank you Kurt.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors and I hope you enjoyed that interview with Dr. Ed Stetzer. The benefit of doing a pre-recorded interview is I can work in those audio clips, those references he made. I didn’t do them for all the pop culture references he made, but a couple of them. That’s a fun little variety that we can bring into the show when we do these pre-recorded interviews. Alright. So I’m here joined in the studio with Chris and Kevin and we’re going to have a little bit of a discussion here about some of the things that Ed talked about. If you want to get in on the discussion, you can give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. For those that are watching on the livestream here on Facebook, we will also pay attention to those comments that are rolling in so if you want to engage in our discussion you can do that as well. Alright. Gentlemen. Just a few questions to start with. Have you heard of, I think he called it the angle scale before so someone starts at a -7 or a -6. You’ve got to lead them one by one. First of all, are you familiar with that method of evangelism…so Kevin’s not. Chris is. What are your, perhaps I’ll start with you then Chris. What’s your perspective on that approach?
Chris: I mean, as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t change the short-term mechanics that you use and prefer, but it does give you, at least for me I’m a wide shot kind of guy and I like to see how things are going from the 20,000 foot view and that’s a 20,000 foot view of working with someone long term. It’s a way for you personally to measure it. Well I talked to Dave today. He’s my friend from class. I’d say he’s a -2 but last week he’s a -3 and you can kind of in your mind gauge how you’re doing so I think at the very least it’s a useful morale boost for you and a good way to be honest about, he’s not ready for the Romans Road but he is ready for a good lunch at McDonald’s.
Kurt: That’s good, because I’ve had a number of people here who have even questioned the ministry style of apologetics because they say, “Oh well you just need to preach the Gospel,” and even someone has said here about the show, “Well why don’t you present the Gospel on the show?” Well that’s not necessarily what we’re about. That might be assuming our listeners and perhaps some of our listeners are at a 3 or 4 or 5 when really we’re trying to reach people that are at a different number or at least train these people to reach people that are over here in the negatives and get them closer. I think that angle skill is really helpful. It requires a lot of patience though. Some people, they see me engage online and interact with people. They say, I don’t know how you have so much patience for that guy or something like that. Well, guess what! That’s long term evangelism. That’s taking people from a -8 to a -7 or say you’re at a -10, this is the hardcore atheist who just spouts so many incorrect things about the Bible. You first have to correct them on what they’re saying about the Bible and show, oh gee. Maybe they don’t know exactly what it’s all about because when you do that the next thing you know they’re moving to a -9 and then a -8 and then gee, oh, this one fellow that I had to engage with. I won’t name him, but he said something a couple of weeks ago along the lines of, “Kurt. I reject a lot of forms of Christianity, but you sort of present a view that I’m unfamiliar with.” And so I think hopefully that it can be appealing to this guy, that gee, maybe there is more intellectual rigor into this guy’s faith and it might bring him over a few points on the scale.
Chris: What’s interesting is you’re talking about it and I’m realizing it now when people say “Preach the Gospel” and I’m “There’s not gaps.”We are, there’s not a clear, could you show me a clear-cut section in the Bible that says “And now, the Gospel”, but we have things traditionally as a church that we used to summarize it very quickly, but there is nothing in the Bible that says, “These words are what you must say.” Rather, Jesus and His subsequent disciples show us, “Here is what he taught us,” and apologetics is part of that because Jesus when he is praying in John he says you desire and I desire for these, referring to these disciples, to know the truth. Well what’s the truth? Your word is truth. And so it’s all about, if I can say it as vaguely as possible, truth and love and how Jesus brings out a new covenant and that’s the Gospel. And there are many ways to preach that as long as you bring it back to relationship with Him.
Kurt: Stetzer said that we’ve lost our home field advantage here where we don’t use the same language any more, a common language of understanding and maybe that’s the issue here is when people say, “Well hey. You should just preach the Gospel”, they’re assuming that there’s a common language. They’re assuming that hey, you need to repent from your sins. Well what does that mean? Hey. You just need to read the Bible, the Gospels there? Well how do I know the Bible’s reliable? Right? So people that are saying, “Well you just need to preach the Gospel.” They’re coming at it from the assumption that we have a home field advantage, that there’s common ground. But that common ground is now lost and so our goal then is to perhaps recreate that common ground or maybe even to modify the words we use with new meaning to reach them where they’re at so just like what you would do when you be a missionary. You adapt terms to their language so that they can understand them and that’s how you reach them. Right? It’s a strange concept for us here in English, but maybe that’s just what we’ve got to do.
Voice: And to meeting their needs because if you are just sharing the Gospel with them, they could be like, well why should I care?
Kurt: That’s true for you but not for me.
Voice: Exactly and so it’s a different way about things and if it doesn’t meet a need of theirs, they’re going to drift away or reject it anyway.
Kurt: Yeah. So like the relativists who says, well that’s good for you but not for me, so instead of saying you need to repent because you’re a sinner, another option might be, let me tell you about Jesus and His Kingdom and how good the life is here in His kingdom. That is going to reach the person much more quickly than repent, even though the person does have to repent, you’ve got to reach people where they’re at and so yeah, maybe we’ve got to adapt our methods in order to reach them. Maybe the Romans Road isn’t going to work here anymore so we need to find a new Romans Road. What is going to be that thing, that four-step, I hate to use this business term, but elevator speech to reach them.
Voice: I think the Romans Road still has its place and its place is still the same, but that demographic has shifted a bit so it still works in the same places that it used to but like you said that common language has been lost, that demographic of where it works has shrunk and a lot of people have stepped backwards away from that moment, so we have to lead them back to that moment so we have to lead them back to that moment where someone could hear the Romans Road and the brain goes “Aha. I understand what you’re saying now.” But they’re all the way back. Now they say people are becoming dumber, but they’re saying “I’ve already heard this” and so they become numb to it and you kind of have to work with people and work on their hearts to bring them back to that place.
Kurt: Yeah. So to use the, I think it’s called the Anglo-scale, I’ve got to look that up. Maybe the Romans Road works for people at a 3 or a 4, but when you’re dealing with a -5, you’re not even close. They’re gonna be like, “Who cares about that?” So yeah, that’s a good point Chris, it still works for some people, but maybe that demographic, the number of people there has declined for which that would work.
Voice: Satan hasn’t been twiddling his thumbs the last fifty years. He finds ways to combat what we’re getting good at.
Kurt: Right. It’s like market competition. We’re going to get into that momentarily here. I asked Stetzer about church planting, because he’s a missiologist so that’s just what he studies, how to reach people and I haven’t studied missiology all that much and so my experience at BIOLA was a lot of guys said, “I want to start my own church,” so of course the impression I got was, “Gee. Why not join in with churches that are already existing? Why do you want to start your own thing?” So that was the question I posed to Stetzer and of course he pushed back a little bit because he has planted, what did he say, six churches? Of course, he’s much more an expert in this area, but something he said really stuck with me. He talked about how church plants can help established churches to sort of get going, to get themselves up into gear. To realize, “Hey. We gotta do this or we gotta do that.” So I thought that was interesting was to use an economic principle because in a sense, even though it’s church, there’s market competition. You are vying for people, you’re trying to reach people. I don’t want to use the economic principle all that much because we all are on the same team, the same mission, but to a certain extent, yeah, you’re trying to get people into your church community, but I think that was an interesting point that stuck with me, that maybe church planting is good because that dying church over there, not necessarily needs to be replaced but maybe revitalized and in order to do that the church plant can sort of be that agent which says hey, you got competition now, and as with any business when there’s competition, you’ve got to lower your prices or you got to offer a new product or something like that and so maybe that is a good thing. What are your guys thoughts on church planting and how that effects established churches?
Voice: It makes a lot sense what you’re saying, that there can be cooperative competition and it’s like the difference between an established company, it’s like a juggernaut, it’s a money machine, but it has a bloated bureaucracy and so maybe become disenchanted with it because it’s so fixed and they want to try different things and different things might work but they might only work with a smaller group or something and that’s why start-ups do so well sometimes. I agree. It’s a great analogy.
Kurt: Yeah. Isn’t it interesting that we have churches that have these bloated bureaucracies. What are we doing? We’re just paying ourselves. Paying a lot of admin. That’s also a problem in colleges and universities now is that they’re not spending as much or more on teachers and professors, but the admin, and so you’re getting just these admin workers and it seems to be taking away from the focus or vision of its original intention.
Voice: Right. And it becomes focused on the structure more than the community or the individuals involved and so yeah, smaller groups are more agile. I think there’s a big comparison to an economic view of things.
Kurt: Right. But we want to be careful not to bring in too much, I try my best to not bring into too much, you don’t want to take away the flavor of ministry work.
Voice: You don’t want to make it about money or something else and a lot of people make that association. I have a friend who basically started the field of combining economics and religion in the sense of looking at the growth of religion and this sort of thing from an economic standpoint and a lot of people used to think that religion is irrational and therefore it’s not really subject to these sorts of dynamics, but it is, and he does a great job. I’ll have you talk to him.
Kurt: Sure. My grandfather was someone who thought that churches were just kind of like businesses, but of course, not having to pay taxes or things like that and I’m sure that there are people out there, especially atheists, that want churches to be paying property taxes or income or things like that, to be treated like a business.
Voice: He studied, not so much the finances of a church, but the supply and demand viewing these beliefs as supply and demand and like you’re saying, can a refining something that’s working for people, a Christian community that works for people that grows shows that there’s a supply and demand even though money might not be involved.
Kurt: Right. Alright, well hey, we’re running short on time here but you guys remember that time that we interviewed Ed Stetzer on the show? That was awesome.
Kurt: The reference to SNL, that was a classic Chris Farley skit and he did it multiple times. When he would ask a dumb question too. If you’re listening you gotta look this up on Google. If he asked a dumb question he’d be “AW! What a dumb question!” in his typical Chris Farley way. He could really make people laugh at the silly humor. It wasn’t, I’m sure he had crude humor at some points in his comedic job, but most of the time I think he’s often remembered for just that silly, I don’t know how to describe it, but just hit himself in the head, call himself stupid, self-deprecation type of humor, I guess that would be it. Oh yeah. I wish he was still around because he was a funny guy. Cool. Alright. I hope you enjoyed that interview with Ed Stetzer. I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can give us a call at any time during the week. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. Pay attention on our Facebook page, not only to Veracity Hill and to Defenders Media. On our social media in general, our Twitter accounts as well, we do giveaways from time to time, so we’re going to be announcing a winner here for a Defenders Media $25 gift card to Amazon.com so we had a giveaway going just through the new year and so it’s a good opportunity for you guys to get free money or we’re often giving away books that publishers give us, so it’s a good chance to win free stuff so go ahead and if you don’t already like our pages you can do that, that’s Defenders Media and Veracity Hill, and eventually our goal is with the Facebook live stream is to do them straight from the Veracity Hill page. We’ve from several weeks done them from my personal profile, but the long-term goal is from that page, and so we might in the coming months transition that way, but thanks so much for those who have been listening and following so much on Facebook livestream and enjoying that. I hope it’s been a blessing for you even when we have the hiccups and technology, difficulties that we encounter them from time to time so thanks for your patience on those issues. That does it for our show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons. Those are folks that just chip in a couple bucks a month to help the show run. I’m also thankful for the partnerships with our sponsors. Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, and the Illinois Family Institute and the finally also Evolution 2.0. Thank you to the tech team today. We have Chris and Kevin in the studio and I want to send a shout out to our guest from the pre-recorded interview, Dr. Ed Stetzer, thank you so much for the opportunity to sit down and talk to you, and thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
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