This week the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting was held in the city of Phoenix. Since I was in town, James White invited me onto the Dividing Line to discuss the G3 Conference, our upcoming Reformation tour, and SBC issues. It also happened to be my 40th birthday, and in typical James White style—I was served my very first Muscle Milk birthday cake.
Joni Eareckson Tada’s Advice for When You Don’t Wake Up Feeling Happy — Randy Alcorn writes, “In an interview with World Magazine, one of my heroes of the faith, Joni Eareckson Tada, shares this advice for what we can do on days when we don’t wake up feeling happy.”
Video: “Do Not Give the Devil a Foothold” by Alistair Begg — In this short video, Alistair Begg provides some good advice.
The Good News of Christianity: Do You Know How to Be Saved? — John Piper explains an important text.
My Observations from 2017 SBC in Phoenix — H.B. Charles Jr. provides some observations from the recent SBC in Phoenix. One of my observations is that we should all be grateful that he was elected as the president of the pastors’ conference for 2018.
God Desires Your Heart, Not Your Degree — We too often place emphasis on things that are not exactly necessary in the service of the Lord. Although degrees and education is helpful for preparation, it’s not specifically necessary. What is necessary is true knowledge of God and preparation to rightly handle God’s Word.
Theology Word of the Week: Truth
ἀλήθεια, (ας, ἡ (ἀληθής) (from Homer down), verity, truth.
1. universally, what is true in any matter under consideration (opposed to what is feigned, fictitious, false): James 3:14; ἀλήθειανλέγειν, έ᾿ρειν, John 8:45; John 16:7; Romans 9:1; 1 Corinthians 12:6; 1 Timothy 2:7; εἶπεν αὐτῷ πᾶσαν τήν ἀλήθειαν, everything as it really was, Mark 5:33 (so in classics); μαρτυρεῖν τῇ ἀλήθεια to testify according to the true state of the case, John 5:33; in a broader sense, λαλεῖν ἀλήθειαν, to speak always according to truth, Ephesians 4:25; (ἀληθείας ῤήματα ἀποφθέγγομαι, as opposed to the vagaries of madness, Acts 26:25); ἀλήθεια ἐγένετο, was shown to be true by the event, 2 Corinthians 7:14. ἐν ἀλήθεια, in truth, truly, as the case is, according to fact: Matthew 22:16; John 4:23f (as accords with the divine nature); 2 Corinthians 7:14; Colossians 1:6; ἐπ’ ἀληθείας a. truly, in truth, according to truth: Mark 12:32; Luke 4:25 (Job 9:2 the Sept.; Philo, vit. Moys. i., § 1).
b. of a truth, in reality, in fact, certainly: Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21; (); Acts 4:27; Acts 10:34 (Clement of Rome, 1 Cor. 23, 5 [ET] and 47, 3 [ET]); (cf. Winers Grammar, § 51, 2 f.; Buttmann, 336 (289)); κατ’ἀλήθειαν in accordance with fact, i. e. (according to the context) justly, without partiality: Romans 2:2; εἴτε προφάσει, εἴτε ἀλήθεια, Philippians 1:18; ἐν ἔργῳ καί ἀλήθεια, 1 John 3:18 (Rec. omits ἐν; so Ephesians 4:21 WH marginal reading).
2. In reference to religion, the word denotes what is true in things appertaining to God and the duties of man, (`moral and religions truth’); and that a. with the greatest latitude, in the sceptical question τίἐστιν ἀλήθεια, John 18:38;
b. the true notions of God which are open to human reason without his supernatural intervention: Romans 1:18; also ἡ ἀλήθεια Θεοῦ the truth of which God is the author, Romans 1:25, cf. 19 (ἡ ἀλήθεια τοῦΧριστοῦ, Ev. Nicod., c. 5, 2; accordingly, it is not, as many interpret the phrase, the true nature of God (yet see Meyer at the passage)); truth, the embodiment of which the Jews sought in the Mosaic law, Romans 2:20.
c. “the truth, as taught in the Christian religion, respecting God and the execution of his purposes through Christ, and respecting the duties of man,” opposed alike to the superstitions of the Gentiles and the inventions of the Jews, and to the corrupt opinions and precepts of false teachers even among Christians: ἡ ἀλήθεια τοῦ εὐαγγελίου the truth which is the gospel or which the gospel presents, Galatians 2:5, 14 (cf. Winer‘s Grammar, § 34, 3 a.); and absolutely ἡ ἀλήθεια and ἀλήθεια: John 1:14, 17; John 8:32, 40; (); ; 1 John 1:8; 1 John 2:4, 21; 2 John 1:1-3; Galatians 3:1 (Rec.); Galatians 5:7; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 13:8; Ephesians 4:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:10, 12; 1 Timothy 2:7 (ἐν πίστει καί ἀλήθεια in faith and truth, of which I became a partaker through faith); ; 2 Timothy 2:18; 2 Timothy 3:8; 2 Timothy 4:4; Titus 1:14; 2 Peter 1:12; (3 John 1:8, 12); ὁ λόγος τῆς ἀληθείας, Colossians 1:5; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Timothy 2:15; λόγος ἀληθείας, 2 Corinthians 6:7; James 1:18; ὁδός τῆς ἀληθείας, 2 Peter 2:2; πίστιςἀληθείας, 2 Thessalonians 2:13 (Winer‘s Grammar, 186 (175)); ὑπακοὴ τῆς ἀληθείας, 1 Peter 1:22; ἐπίγνωσις τῆς ἀληθείας, Hebrews 10:26; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:25; 2 Timothy 3:7; (Titus 1:1); πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας the Spirit (of God) which is truth (1 John 5:6) and imbues men with the knowledge of the truth, John 14:17; (); ; 1 John 4:6; ἐγώ εἰμί ἡ ἀλήθεια, I am he in whom the truth is summed up and impersonated, John 14:6; ἡ ἀλήθεια σου (Rec.) (i. e. Θεοῦ) the truth which is in thee and proceeds from thee, John 17:17; (ἐστιν ἀλήθειαΧριστοῦ ἐν ἐμοί, i. e., controls, actuates, me, 2 Corinthians 11:10); εἶναι ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας to be eager to know the truth, John 18:37 (seeἐκ, II. 7, and εἰμί, V. 3 d.); to proceed from the truth, 1 John 2:21; to be prompted and controlled by the truth, 1 John 3:19; μαρτυρεῖν τῇἀληθ., to give testimony in favor of the truth in order to establish its authority among men, John 18:37; ἀλήθειαν ποιεῖν to exemplify truth in the life, to express the form of truth in one’s habits of thought and modes of living, John 3:21; 1 John 1:6 (Tobit 13:6 Tobit 4:6; cf. Nehemiah 9:33; ὁδόν ἀληθείας αἰρετίζεσθαι, Psalm 118:30 ()); so also περιπατεῖν ἐν τῇ ἀλήθεια. 2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:3f; ἀπειθεῖν τῇἀλήθεια is just the opposite, Romans 2:8; so also πλανηθῆναι ἀπότῆς ἀληθείας, James 5:19.
II. (subjectively) “truth as a personal excellence; that candor of mind which is free from affectation, pretence, simulation, falsehood, deceit”: John 8:44; sincerity of mind and integrity of character, or a mode of life in harmony with divine truth: 1 Corinthians 5:8; 1 Corinthians 13:6 (opposed to ἀδικία); Ephesians 4:21 (see I. 1 b. above); ; (); σουἀλήθεια the truth as it is discerned in thee, thy habit of thinking and acting in congruity with truth, 3 John 1:3; ἡ ἀλήθεια τοῦ Θεοῦ which belongs to God, i. e., his holiness (but cf. περισσεύω, 1 b. at the end), Romans 3:7; specifically, veracity (of God in keeping his promises), Romans 15:8; ἐν ἀλήθεια sincerely and truthfully, 2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1. The word is not found in Revelation ((nor in 1 Thessalonians, Philemon, Jude)). Cf. Holemann, Bibelstudien (Lpz. 1859) 1te Abth., p. 8ff; (Wendt in Studien und Kritiken, 1883, p. 511ff.) 
- THAYER’S GREEK LEXICON, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Thank you, Tim, for taking time to participate in this interview. I was recently thinking back to how I came to know you. I was first introduced to your blog when I was working for a printing company in Atlanta shortly after becoming a Christian. Soon, I moved to Louisville where I attended seminary, and I continued to read your blog during those years. I think I was intrigued by the fact that you had a passion for theology, but you earned a living at the time building websites. I too was moonlighting as a web designer while in seminary in order to pay the bills while pastoring a small church.
After being called to pastor my home church near Atlanta, we connected in person through our G3 Conference — which you’ve been involved with since the beginning. After getting to know you in person, my appreciation for your work has only increased through the years.
What I would like to discuss with you is the idea of reading and writing for the glory of God.
First of all, in terms of reading, how do you balance your time in the books between academic projects and personal devotion?
Challies: Sometimes I do it very well and other times not so much. I am less concerned with the amount of time given to each of the pursuits and more concerned with the significance I place on them. What I mean, is that I don’t think I need to read 4 hours of the Bible in order to “earn” the right to read 4 hours of other books. When it comes to Bible reading, I try to do that first, before anything else. That sets it as my main priority and elevates the Bible above other books. I try to do my devotions at a time (first thing in the morning) when I am not rushed. Beyond that, I read other books when I have time and as I find myself interested in reading them. I usually try to read the book I’m interested in now, which is why I always have at least 3 or 4 on the go. One of my favorite things to do is to read one chapter of a book, then switch to a second and third book and read one chapter in each of them, then start over again.
Other than the Bible, what book has been the most helpful for you in the area of sanctification (growing in grace)?
Challies: I always point to 3 books, which I suppose is cheating a little, so bear with me. R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God gave me just a glimpse of God’s holiness and compared it to my unholiness. In that way, it changed everything. Jerry Bridge’s The Discipline of Grace taught me about the gospel and the importance of dwelling on the gospel every day. It changed everything, too. John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation taught me why I must put sin to death and how to actually go about it. And yes, it changed everything too. I’ve read thousands of books over the course of my life and many of them have been helpful and edifying. But those three changed me forever. I return to them often because they continue to teach and change me.
What book has been the most helpful in your understanding of the doctrines of grace? Why?
Challies: I’d have to go with James Montgomery Boice’s The Doctrines of Grace. It was a book I picked up “randomly” one day while browsing a local Christian bookstore—a bookstore that had very few quality books in it. Yet for some reason they had a copy of that one just sitting there. I picked it up, read it, and emerged from it with renewed Reformed convictions. I had been raised in Reformed churches but had deliberately wandered into mainstream evangelicalism. That book showed me all that I had walked away from and convicted me that I had abandoned key gospel truths. Shortly after I picked up a couple of similar books, one by Michael Horton and one by R.C. Sproul. From that point there was no looking back.
As you have studied the doctrine of the church, has there been one particular author (other than Mark Dever) who has been helpful in your understanding of what a healthy church looks like?
Challies: Well, there’s definitely been no one more helpful to me than Mark Dever. That said, I mentioned picking up a book by James Boice. That same day I picked up another book—another book that had no good reason to be at that little Christian bookstore. It was John MacArthur’s Ashamed of the Gospel. While Boice’s book addressed the theology I had left behind when I walked away from Reformed churches, MacArthur’s book addressed many of the doctrines of the church I had left behind. At that time I was in a church that was following the principles of church growth. MacArthur’s book was written specifically to combat that way of doing church. So on that one day I picked up two books that did their work within me. One called me to pure doctrine and the other called me to a pure church. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it was not long before we moved on from that church and joined Grace Fellowship Church where we remain today.
What biography of any historical figure (not bound to church history) has intrigued you the most?
Challies: It may sound a bit cliché, but probably Abraham Lincoln. I’ve read lots of biopgraphies of him, but my favorite is A. Lincoln by Ronald White. When I was a child I read a couple of biographies that painted Lincoln as a great Christian figure. I realize now that the story is much more nuanced than that and that many historians have attempted to figure out exactly what he believed and when he believed it. Still, I find Lincoln a fascinating figure and one who exemplified many important traits. He was a man of conviction who stands in sharp contrast to so many of today’s pragmatic leaders. He was a man of both toughness and kindness who stands in sharp contrast to so many of today’s too-hard or too-soft leaders. He was exactly the man America needed in its darkest hour. We could do with leaders like him today.
A while back you put out a series of posts on your blog regarding the best commentaries for specific books of the Bible. If you were placed on a deserted island with nothing other than your Bible and one set of commentaries, what set of commentaries would you choose?
Challies: I’d probably go with the Reformed Expository Commentary series—but only if it has been completed by then. (Do you know exactly when I’m going to find myself stranded on this island?) For now the series is still in progress and that would reduce the number I could take with me. So I might go with the Bible Speaks Today set, mostly so I could have Stott’s New Testament commentaries with me. I could read those all days, which is good because I suppose I wouldn’t have much else to do on that island. I suspect I’d come back godlier for the time spent in them.
When you started writing your blog, did you see yourself as developing into an author and conference speaker?
Challies: No, not at all. That was never the intent. And even today, that’s not the intent. I write the occasional book and speak at a number of conferences, but what I love to do most is blog—write articles, prepare book reviews, and collect good material from other sites. That’s my main passion. Actually, I need to be very careful with the books and conferences because they can actually be a distraction from what I consider my main ministry (or business or whatever it is). When I set out to write my purpose was really just to share the occasional article with family and perhaps with friends. It was only later on, as the search engines began to work their magic, that other people began to read my site. That was a surprise to me, but also a surprising joy. It has been thirteen years now that I’ve done it every day!
Many polemical blogs are helpful to the church as a whole, but many Christians are turned off by the tone of some blogging ministries. What advice would you provide someone who feels a passion to defend the faith in the world of the blogosphere?
Challies: You’ve heard it before, but it’s actually true—I know because I went to the Bank of Canada to verify it: The way to detect counterfeit money is not to study bad money but to study good money. You’ll be far better at identifying the funny money if you are an expert in identifying the real thing. This is true of doctrine as well. It’s true of false teachers. The way to identify error is to become intimately familiar with the truth. For that reason I’d like to see blogging ministries, especially discernment ministries, focus on what is good, what is pure, what is holy and lovely. If we teach people to know and love what is good, all that is evil will stand out in ugly contrast.
Suppose you could talk to a room full of new budding bloggers, what advice would you provide them about how they should approach blogging as a Christian?
Challies: First, I’d want them to believe that blogging matters. It really does. It really does make a difference to people—to God’s people. Second, I’d want them to understand that so much of what passes for advice to bloggers is actually gimmickry. The absolute best thing a blogger can do is focus on great content—high-quality articles. A beautiful design, powerful headlines, and beautiful graphics are all wasted if there isn’t quality content behind it. Third, understand who it is that you are writing for and find ways to bless and encourage them through what you write. There is always the temptation to write articles that benefit myself—they point people to Amazon so I can earn affiliate dollars, they increase my “platform” so I can get conference invitations or book deals. But blogging at its best is blogging that is done with a desire to server others, not self.
As an author, you’re always working on a new project. What new book should we expect to see released from Tim Challies in 2017?
Challies: At this point I have no plans to release a book in 2017, though I suspect there will be one in 2018. But, as I mentioned earlier, I am more and more convinced that my main emphasis ought to be on creating one good article every day. By the time I have done that, I have little time and little creative energy left for much else. I will continue to write books, but only at a pace that doesn’t take me away from my main ministry.
What benefits can come from writing, even if you don’t want to write a blog or author books, but you simply journal on a weekly basis?
Challies: There is a sense in which blogging is my meditation. I don’t know what I think, I don’t know what I believe, until I have written about it. Writing allows me to corral my thoughts, to get them down on virtual paper, to take them from vague and unformed to sharp and focused. This is true of what I write for my blog, but equally true for what I write in a journal that only I will ever see. Writing is a valuable practice, whether or not that writing ever becomes public.
Tim, thank you once again for taking the time to answer these questions today.
If you would like to learn more about Tim or find his books, you can visit his website – Challies.com.
Thank you, Matt, for taking time to have this conversation today. I first came to know you through our mutual friends at HeartCry Missionary Society as we were in the planning stages for the first G3 Conference. It has been a joy to get to know you over the years and to watch how the Lord continues to use you and your gifts for His glory.
What I would like to discuss with you is the idea of teaching history and theology through the advanced media technology that’s available to us today.
First of all, tell us how an old skateboarder and punkrocker named Matthew Robinson came to love Jesus Christ and have a passion for healthy churches.
Robinson: I suppose a person with my background doing what I do is a bit enigmatic, and if you ever see me out of a suit and tie you may wonder, “Who let this guy in here?” Haha. I don’t like making much of my past (Romans 6:21 comes to mind) but I’ll give a quick flyover. The Lord has allowed me to pass through so many different “neighborhoods” on my journey. I grew up in a conservative PCA church in Tupelo, Mississippi where I was catechized and taught the basics of the Reformed faith from a youth. At the same time, I went to the only Christian school in the area, which was an Independent, Fundamental, King-James-Only Baptist operation where I learned that Jesus don’t like your hair to touch your ears, rock and roll is devil music, and you have to ask Jesus into your heart again every time you sin. I really wasn’t all that interested in learning theology from either place, though. The truth is, I was a particularly rebellious “bad kid” from the very beginning.
Somewhere in the mid-to late-eighties, I set my heart to run after the world, and that’s what I did for fifteen or so years. Somewhere around 98 or 99, I started really feeling the destruction that kind of lifestyle leads to. We weren’t just going to jail on the weekends anymore, people started getting sentenced to prison. We weren’t just waking up with hangovers, etc., but people were becoming junkies, overdosing and dying. That kind of lifestyle had promised so much freedom and happiness, but it led to pure misery. I’d tried to get it together to one degree or another many times, and just never could do it. I mean, I wasn’t homeless. I owned a skateboard shop, took trips all over the southeast to skate and film with the crew, etc., but I was just always in self-destruct mode. There’s no reason to get into the particulars of those years. It’s not all that impressive. One author called it “a banquet in the grave,” and that’s a pretty apt description.
The people I knew who seemed to be good at “keeping it between the ditches” all happened to be Christians. There were my parents and the people I knew from my childhood who were church folks who were good examples of living right, but there was also this whole group of young people in my town who were meeting in this warehouse on Sunday afternoons for this really unstructured worship service kinda thing. I knew them because they’d asked me to come and build skateboard ramps in their warehouse so they could reach out to kids on the weekends, and I skated there a good bit. One of my best friends from childhood, Jon Yerby, (who, many years later, did the soundtrack for the Behold Your God: Rethinking God Biblically study), was hanging out with these guys, and Ron Brandon (who now works on conference and filming trips with Media Gratiae). I’d thought of myself as an atheist for years and was very antagonistic toward Christianity. But I started reading the Bible, especially the Gospels, and trying to look more and more into what it was about this religion that actually helped people. I think I was trying to hack Christianity, find the code or something. But it didn’t take long reading the words of Jesus before realizing, “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.”
Around that time, I was working in a gas station on these long shifts and reading a ton to pass the hours. I remembered that, years before, someone—Yerby I think— had given me a book that was still out in my glove box. It was Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. Just about the time that I was ready to grant that Jesus was a “good teacher” from whom we could learn some life principles, I encountered Lewis’ Trilemma and was disabused of that notion. Turns out, Jesus never gave us that option. He was either a lunatic, a liar, or exactly who he says he is—the Lord. This rattled around in my head for some time. When I reached out to the friends in the little group I mentioned earlier about it, I remember them asking, “What do you think this means?” and to my great surprise I replied, “I think this means that I’m Christian.” None of us really had a very Biblical understanding of the new birth at that time, so the reaction from the group was basically, “Welcome to the family of God, brother!” I started hanging out with this totally new crew of people. They were young, cool, clean, happy, mostly sober, and always having a good time together. Basically what most church websites look like—haha. It was such a healthier scene than the one I had been in for so long, and even though it was shocking to so many people, I completely reinvented myself from a very outspoken atheist to a Christian.
Sadly, it didn’t take many years for the “new” to wear off of that little scene, and it busted up. Most of us—including myself—were not born-again, and that showed itself in time. Some of the people from those days have gone on and grown in the Lord a great deal, but many of them would be just as embarrassed of their “Christian phase” they went through in the late 90s as they are the JNCOS they wore back then. I’m ashamed of the stuff I did when I was a full-blown heathen, but not nearly as ashamed as I am of the things I did over the next 10 years as a lost religious person, carrying Jesus’ name through the dirt with me.
I did meet my wife, Meagan, during those days, and that is one of many evidences of God’s relentless kindness to me. After we got married some folks from the original crew got really excited about this preacher guy out in Seattle who cussed a lot in his sermons and was doing a lot of “down and dirty” church planting, supposedly reaching thousands of unchurched people in his city. It was decided that we should “plant a church,” which was terminology that was brand-new to me, but seemed to be the air everyone was breathing at the time. This was around 2004, I think. So our little group morphed into a “church plant” downtown. We had the rock band, the candles, the really relevant movie clips in sermons, the whole Open and Affirming / Belong Before You Believe thing going on. We heard that this group called Acts 29 was getting started, and our “core group” flew out to Seattle and actually met with the pastor I mentioned earlier for several days. It was nuts. I remember it being a Church Planting seminar that bordered on being a game show in the sense that there was a prize which consisted of lots of money and a bunch of “mature families” who would literally move to your town and help you get your church plant to the next level or something. He chose our little group out of this whole conference of Church planter dudes to be the recipients of all this Acts 29 support. I was just this tattooed, proud, foulmouthed kid—not really a leader in the thing at all, more of an observer—but part of this team nonetheless, and we “won.”
Anyway, the little church plant wound up busting up before any of that could ever come together, and the people just went their separate ways. I was pretty much over it with Christianity by then. What I thought was going to be a real life-changing thing was really just built around this false idea of a Cheers-like community and everyone’s felt needs being met, and when all that failed to be what I hoped it would be, I felt like Christianity was kind of a sham. But something else weird happened around that time too. I started listening to Christian radio. I don’t mean the music—I’ve never been a fan—I mean the talk shows. I just thought that’s what Christians were supposed to do. I started becoming more politically focused and “informed” by this radio station in my town that was pumping out the so-called “Christian perspective” on current events, culture, politics, foreign policy, etc. I guess you could say that Christian talk radio was kind of like “the gateway drug” for me to get more and more sucked into right-wing politics and culture. All the rhetoric about “They’re destroying our country! They’re destroying our way of life!” really started getting to me. I mean, just a few years before I was living in warehouse, hosting gutterpunk shows, and had grown up with an anti-racist, anti-fascist mentality, but now I’m a new husband and a new dad and I have this new sense of “Christian worldview” about everything that is, unbeknownst to me, completely divorced from the person of Christ, and I’m looking at the people around me going, “Don’t yall hear what he said?! They’re going to destroy our country! They’re going to destroy our way of life!” All growing up I had a “Them vs. Us” mentality, only now the “them” had shifted from being “the man” or whatever to being democrats, or people pushing any number of diabolical “agendas” through the educational system and the media, or people from other countries, and religions and backgrounds, people who didn’t look and talk like me, etc.
I think I started to believe that the source of my problems was that I’d been on the “left” for so long— as a heathen, and even in the kind of Christianity I was initially involved with—and that the solution was to go further and further to the “right.”
Even though the Christian radio guys had introduced me to this whole system of thinking, they ultimately weren’t willing to go far enough to the right in order to match their rhetoric with what I felt was the only appropriate reaction. I mean, you’re screaming about people coming to destroy our way of life, and the solution you’re offering is that we should all go dutifully vote for the “R” side of the ticket? C’mon, man! So I began to seek out more conservative “Christian” news sources and personalities and ideologies on the internet. That led down a massive rabbit hole into a really dark season in my life. I moved my family out into the woods, pretty much completely isolated from everyone else, and was staying up all night researching everything from conspiracy stuff to survivalist / Y2K stuff, into hardcore rightwing identity politics and even what I now see as outright racism wrapped in Christian words. I was getting all of this ideology from places that were pretty much the armpit of the internet back then, but it scares me to death to see how mainstream it all is in the current election cycle.
I was just as miserable as I’d ever been. Only now instead of a burnout kid skating around the city and fighting rednecks with my crew of ne’er-do-wells, I was turning into this wanna-be rural, xenophobic, neo-Alt Right “patriot” guy who sat behind a keyboard and spewed anger and vitriol at people for not thinking, doing, looking, and hating the same way I did. The most shameful thing about it all is that it was done in Jesus’ name. The main reason I don’t mind exposing myself to the shame of telling this part of my story is because it is so important to me to let people know what I was then was NOT a Christian at all, but a jaded, hurt, disillusioned, afraid, paranoid, sinful, selfish, and ultimately lost religious person who desperately needed to meet the Jesus that I foolishly thought was approving my way of thinking.
I was the most Christian person I knew, even though we hadn’t been to church much at all in a few years. None of them were hardcore enough for me. They wouldn’t talk about the issues that mattered, and, as they say on the radio, that was why we’re losing our country. We “home churched” with some likeminded families in another town from time to time, but I was only interested in Christian stuff—Christian politics, Christian culture, Christian education, Christian family dynamics, etc.—not the least bit interested in Jesus Christ himself. But you know the most dangerous thing about being self-deceived is that you’re the last one to know it.
Some friends had been going to a church called Christ Church over in New Albany, MS and they were starting to act a little funny. They weren’t nearly as interested in the things we had in common for the last several years. When we got together now they were talking about Christ, and books by a bunch of Puritan names I’d never heard like Flavel and Owen and Rutherford. They invited me to come to their church for a long time, but church just wasn’t a high priority for me. We eventually visited a few times, and I was underwhelmed to say the least. I thought the pastor, Dr. John Snyder, was a liberal. He was obviously a Yankee, and even though a lot of homeschool families did go to the church, he never preached about homeschooling or the government or any of the other hobby horses I was interested in. He just talked about Jesus all the time, and I already knew all about Him. I was bored with Him. I slept through the sermons, looked for things to be offended by, and eventually found a big enough one that I felt justified in leaving for good. After a visit from one of the dear friends who had originally invited us, urging me to reconsider my decision to take my family back out of church, I was persuaded that we really should be in church somewhere, and this was as good a place as any, so we went back.
At some point after returning, the Lord began to do what the old writers called a “Law work” in my heart. The sermons started keeping me awake—not just in church, but in my bed at night. John was preaching through a three-year series on the character of God, (much of which would go on to become the content in the Behold Your God series, years later). The way he talked about God, it was like He was a real Person. And little by little I realized that I didn’t know that person at all. Not only did John talk of Christ all the time, but the people in the church did too. I would overhear conversations at the lunchtime meal on Sundays where regular folks would be describing in very real and tangible ways how Christ had been precious to them that week. There was a verse that I’d never seen before, and it wouldn’t leave me alone: 1 Peter 2:7. Now, to you who believe, Christ is precious. Christ was useful to me, I mean, He’s the way you get to heaven, right? Lots of things were precious to me. I was precious to me. But Christ… precious? I knew it wasn’t true.
Around this time someone also gave me a CD of this guy who lived in Alabama preaching a sermon that somebody had titled, “A Sermon That Has Angered Many.” I listened to it over and over again. I was beginning to see so much about God and His Christ that I had never seen before, and in light of it all, I saw myself as what I really was—a fake, who had molded a god in my own image, fitting all my own views on everything, and calling it Jehovah. I was certain that the God who truly does exist was real, and that His wrath abided on me.
The thing is, I had asked Jesus into my heart a million times over the course of my life. I also had a basic understanding of the mechanics of the gospel—double imputation, justification by grace through faith alone—so there was no new, secret knowledge that I needed to learn in order to become a Christian. I’d turned over a new leaf almost a decade ago and gone from being a druggie to a pretty cleaned up guy, so I knew it was more than just another new leaf that I needed. The question that was burning inside me was, “How can a man be right with God?”, and the answer came to me in every sermon I heard—Look to Christ.
The Lord brought me to an end of myself, humbled by what I’d seen and heard in His word and humiliated by my years of false profession and ugly self-worship, and I did not know what to do apart from calling out to Him… have mercy on me, a sinner… and He did. I’d like to say that the clouds parted and the glory of God fell on me, etc., but that’s not really what happened at all. God allowed me to see the beauty of Christ in light of the ugliness of my sin. He gave me eyes to see the preciousness of Christ in light of the direness of my need. Christ became precious to me indeed, and I repented of all the false things I’d put my hope and identity in for so long. I was lost, but now I was found, in Him.
I think there are some commonalities in issues of authenticity and identity in all the crazy neighborhoods I drove through, so to speak, on my way to being brought to Christ. I was always looking for something real, something authentic, something that isn’t fake, and whatever I determined to be authentic was what I took my identity from. Whether that was in the skateboarding and punkrock culture of my youth, or the “I’m a cool kind of Christian” era of my early 20s, or the “I’m telling it like it is!” rightwing political phase of my late 20s / early 30s, I took my identity from whatever I thought was really authentic. When I met Christ, I realized that my identity is in Him. He is my culture now. I have more deeply and genuinely in common with the person from the other side of the world who has been united to Christ than I do with my own flesh and blood who sits across the table from me drinking sweet tea and holding Christ at arm’s length. The Father has given Christ a people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation. He has accomplished their redemption on the cross, and the Spirit of God is now going out across this earth with the word of God in the mouth of his preachers, and He is applying that redemption to them as they hear and believe the gospel. And I get to be part of taking that great message of redemption to the world. Whether it’s through preaching and teaching myself, or by using media to capture and replay the preaching and teaching of others, it’s amazing. Christ is all and in all, and eternal life is knowing Him.
You are now the Director of a nonprofit multimedia ministry — Media Gratiae. Explain the name and purpose of your ministry.
Robinson: Media Gratiae is a Latin phrase for “the means of grace.” We are a small, independent film studio and publishing house that is focused on creating and publishing media that is, as our name indicates, focused on the means of grace: the Word of God, prayer, singing, fellowship with the saints (via biographical works), etc.
A few years after I became a Christian I became aware of a sense of calling into ministry. I spoke with my elders about it, and they advised that I should consider going to seminary. To save money, I took a job as a graphic artist in a very unlikely place: this very culturally conservative “Moral Majority” type of organization in the next town over. They had a newly launched video department who had reached out to John Snyder about creating a video-based teaching series several times in the past, and he had declined. “We don’t even have a place to show a video in our church, I don’t think you guys have the right guy. Thanks, but no thanks” was his response. After I’d been working there for several months I was moved from being a graphic designer to what they called a “Project Manager.” My first “project” was to go and talk my pastor, Dr. Snyder, into making the video series they’d been hounding him to do for over a year. I was told that we could do whatever we wanted to do, work with whoever we wanted to work with, etc. They were even willing to offer him a contract that gave him control over how the material was marketed. It started to become apparent to Dr. Snyder and myself that maybe the Lord was initiating something here, and to continue to say “no” would be disobedience.
We planned out what would eventually become known as the Behold Your God: Rethinking God Biblically study. Dr. Snyder wanted to take God’s self-description in the Bible and apply it to some very foundational areas of the Christian life. I wanted to introduce people to some of the many people from church history that I had been introduced to at Christ Church New Albany. We also wanted to let people hear from contemporary ministers and historians we know and love, like Paul Washer, Conrad Mbewe, Richard Owen Roberts, Anthony Mathenia, and others. So we made a laundry list of all the things we would do if we could do anything we wanted to do, and amazingly they basically handed me a credit card and told me to go for it! I’d never made a movie or directed/produced a video project on that level, but growing up in the skateboarding world instilled a DIY ethic in me, and we did the whole thing on a shoestring budget. We cruised around the UK for three weeks in a borrowed red minibus, sleeping in hostels and friends’ homes along the way. It was a blast. I had a great crew, and I learned on the fly, but the Lord’s kindness to us at every turn is just undeniable.
As we were preparing to release the project, I was frankly having more and more hesitation about connecting the content of the study with the ideology and methodology of the organization who funded it. I suggested that we release it under the name Media Gratiae in order to provide a degree of separation in both directions, and they were into it. Nobody thought much would come from it, me included. We launched the study with a conference in Memphis, Tennessee in late January 2013, and the next day Paul Washer, Anthony Mathenia, and I got on a plane and flew to Atlanta to a brand new thing called the G3 Conference. It was the first place I ever exhibited the study, and the response was really good. We made a lot of friends that week who have been dear to us ever since. We call them all our G3 Family to this day.
I spent the next year on the road, exhibiting at conferences like Desiring God/BCS, Ligonier, and a ton of smaller conferences, etc. and the study just took off. This little video Bible study that was kind of supposed to fly under the radar became the best-selling thing that the organization I worked for at the time had ever produced, and they wanted to know what I wanted to do next. I told them I wanted to make I documentary about a dead guy they had never heard of, and amazingly, they said “go for it.” So over the course of 2014 I worked with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ family, members of the MLJ Trust, Iain Murray and a host of friends at the Banner of Truth Trust, and a truly stunning cast of contributors to create the documentary project Logic on Fire, the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
I got to personally announce the film via video at T4G in 2014, We filmed at T4G in Louisville, Kentucky, the Banner of Truth Ministers Conference in Leicester, England, and a few dozen places in-between. I did Q&A panels about the film on the main stage at the 2015 G3 and Desiring God/BCS Conferences. I gave a talk and showed a teaser from the film at the Ligonier Conference that year, and then we held the World Premiere of the film at the TGC conference in Orlando in April of 2015. I suppose Dr. Lloyd-Jones is quite the calling card! Ha! But there has just been a tremendous amount of open-armed acceptance and support for the work we do with Media Gratiae from so many people and organizations and conferences and publishing houses and retailers and bookshops, it’s just truly overwhelming.
Running Media Gratiae had been my full-time gig as sort of a “division of a division” of the organization I’d gone to work for in 2011, but some ever-present and unavoidable internal conflict grew there as Media Gratiae continued to grow and enjoy the support of so many conferences, organizations, and ministries that are pretty far outside of their theological and methodological wheelhouse. It became obvious that Media Gratiae had outgrown the seedbed that God used to sprout the work, and I was able to sort out an amicable parting of ways with them just six months after Logic on Fire was released.
In October of 2015, Media Gratiae became an independent nonprofit multimedia ministry and publishing house under my continued direction and with a board of directors made up of men from our local church and a sister church in Radford, VA. To say that 2016 has been a “building year” would be quite the understatement. I went from having a shipping department, online store department, website and IT department, accounting department, customer service department etc. who handled all the day-to-day business side of operating Media Gratiae to suddenly having all those things and more fall squarely into my lap. We had to throw some processes in place very quickly to make things continue to run, and we are honestly still building and repairing some of those processes.
However, over the course of 2016, we have managed to publish a new series of Bible study workbooks by our friend Paul Washer, build a brand-new studio and office space in our home base of New Albany, Mississippi, and line out a few major and minor projects for 2017. In many ways it has been the most challenging year of my life, but we have always operated on the principle that God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply. Looking back to the very beginning, we can say before the Lord that we did not even initiate this work with Media Gratiae—He did—and He will have to continue to bless and sustain it for as long as He wants it to continue. We can’t do it. Even if we had unlimited staff and resources, we are powerless to make the material spiritually beneficial in the life of one single person. We are cast upon the Lord for His good pleasure.
There is a hymn by John Berridge that really sums up our approach to the work here at Media Gratiae. My favorite two stanzas from it go:
The means of grace are in my hand,
The blessing is at God’s command
Who must the work fulfill;
And though I read, and watch and pray,
Yet here the Lord directs my way
And worketh all things still.
Prepare my tongue to pray and praise,
To speak of providential ways,
And heavenly truth unfold;
To strengthen well a feeble soul,
Correct the Wanton, rouse the dull,
And silence sinners bold.
That has been my constant prayer for the last five years since I started Media Gratiae, and He has shown Himself to be “all sufficient” time and time again.
Media Gratiae recently released a new Bible study – what’s it called and what do you hope it accomplishes in the lives of those who use it?
Robinson: It’s a series of Bible study workbooks by Paul Washer called Biblical Foundations for the Christian Faith. These are Bible studies in the most literal sense. Paul put them together in such a way that it is impossible to progress without an open Bible in front of you. As much as we love Paul, there is very, very little of Paul Washer in these studies. What I mean is, the books are really just a guided tour through your Bibles on five of the most foundational areas of the Christian Faith. We begin where everything has to begin—with God. Book One is on the Biblical witness to the character or the attributes of God. Book Two is on the gospel—what does the Bible say that the gospel message is? Book Three is on the state of mankind apart from God. Book Four is on Fasting and other spiritual disciplines, and Book Five is on what the Scriptures have to say about themselves. They are tremendous resources for people to use for personal devotions and even as homeschool / Christian school curriculum, but we really love to see them used within the context of the local church in small groups, Sunday schools, etc.
I’m hoping that these studies will drive people to derive and develop their Theology directly from the Word of God. With all due respect, it really doesn’t matter what your favorite preacher or theologian says about who God is or what the gospel is or what the condition of man is, etc. What matters is, ultimately, what does God say in his word about this? “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” (Isaiah 8:20).
You can watch an overview video where Paul introduces the series on this page, and there are videos introducing each of the individual books as well. Take a look there for more information.
Have you always had a love for history or is that something that was birthed in your heart after you became a Christian?
Robinson: At some point I realized that all this that we see around us didn’t start with us, and that to understand it we had to come to terms with where we are in this timeline of history. I think that realization started when I was trying to sort out political and cultural problems pre-conversion, but it certainly blossomed in a healthy way post-conversion. I love Iain Murray. He is the truly the People’s Historian, and his biographies can and should be read by everyone. Praise God for that brother and the work that Dr. Lloyd-Jones set him out to do on Wednesday nights at Westminster Chapel all those years ago!
What preacher has influenced you the most from church history?
Robinson: I really would have to say Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, for a number of reasons. Even though the Doctor and I don’t agree “right down the line“ on every little thing, He has undoubtedly impacted my little life more than any other figure. As I mentioned earlier, I was converted under the ministry of Dr. Snyder at Christ Church in New Albany where I now live. I wrote in the Director’s Statement to Logic on Fire:
My pastor, Dr. John Snyder, was privileged to sit under the ministry of Rev. W. Vernon Higham at the Heath Church in Cardiff, Wales, for a number of years in the late 1990s. From the time Rev. Higham was a young man, he’d been very close to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Those who knew their relationship best describe Rev. Higham as being like a son to the Doctor. In very significant ways, the emphasis and ethos of Rev. Higham’s 40-year pastorate at the Heath were shaped by the Doctor’s own ministry at Sandfields and Westminster Chapel. In turn, Dr. Snyder’s time sitting under Rev. Higham was essentially formative of his own pastoral ministry. Dr. Snyder writes that it was in the Heath Church that he “gained a real sense of what a church might be when God is the great and only attraction.” It was there that, week after week, he first saw “the reality that the God we meet in Scripture is more than sufficient for all our needs and desires,” and saw it actually demonstrated that singing, praying, and most importantly, preaching Christ crucified is enough for the Lord to build and grow His church. It is no understatement to say that I have been eternally benefited by the pattern of ministry that Dr. Snyder saw in Rev. Higham, that Rev. Higham saw in Dr. Lloyd-Jones, and that Dr. Lloyd-Jones saw in the pages of his New Testament.
Take for instance, a small town mechanic who’s also a Christian. He has no formal education and no desire or calling to serve in pastoral ministry. Why should he take time to know about Martyn Lloyd-Jones?
Robinson: Well, in Philippians 3:17, Paul tells the brothers to “join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” The Spirit of God speaks through the author of Hebrews in chapter 11, and he points us to an impressive list of imperfect but remarkable men and women whose lives are meant to encourage and challenge our faith. Looking at people who have run the race well according to the pattern we have in the Scriptures is a real means of grace to God’s people, and I think DMLJ is one of the clearest patterns we have in both life and ministry in the last 100 years. The Doctor was much more than a preacher. He was a good husband and a good father, and most of all He was a good Christian. I believe that it is as important to understand why he made the choices he did in both life and ministry as it is to read his preaching—and that is saying a lot. Borrow a copy of Logic on Fire from somebody to whet your appetite, but eventually, you have to work your way through the 2-volume biography by Iain Murray—something I hadn’t even done until AFTER we made the film, (haha).
In your Behold Your God project, what is the most memorable moment of your time filming overseas?
Robinson: This is a hard one to answer, but I do want to be honest. In just under three weeks we visited George Muller’s home and orphanages in Bristol, England; the Met Tab, Spurgeon’s College, and Westminster Chapel in London; the churchyard where Daniel Rowland was converted in Llandewi Breffi and his church and chapel in Llangeitho, Wales; Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s church in Dundee Scotland; the town of Keswick in the Lake District of England; and what felt like a million other places in between. There were some wonderful experiences there—ones that I can see now were God’s kindness in preparing me for what was about to happen—like spending time walking around the ruins of Samuel Rutherford’s church in Anwoth and visiting his grave in St. Andrews. Rutherford and his Letters would become a constant companion to my wife and I in the months just ahead.
We’d just wrapped production and were in Edinburgh on what was meant to be the next-to-last night of the trip. When I got up to my room that night, John was waiting for me. He collapsed into me sobbing, and told me that my 2-year old son, Mobley Joseph, had died that day in a tragic accident back home in Mississippi. I spent the next hour on Skype, praying with my wife with an entire ocean between us, and my crew scrambled to find me a flight home. The next 24 hours was a blur of cab rides and flights back to my family with John by my side for support. Just a few dozen hours later, I was standing in front of my family and a crowd of hundreds of friends from every era of my life, and John Snyder and I preached the gospel at my son’s funeral.
This is worth sharing for at least one reason. We had just made some massive claims about an all-sufficient God in the Behold Your God study. Now I, along with my wife and our three living children, were cast on Him completely. He would have to show whether He really is all that He promises to be to His people, or whether that is all just good religious talk. Almost 5 years later, I want to give an honest report, that He is all that He says He is and more. He is near to the brokenhearted, and His nearness is truly our good.
JESUS, Jesus, all-sufficient,
Beyond telling is Thy worth;
In Thy Name lie greater treasures
Than the richest found on earth.
Such abundance—such abundance,
Is my portion with my God.
Who is the most interesting person you had the privilege to meet during any of your film projects?
Robinson: Oh man, there’s no way to narrow it down. Over the last 5 years I have had the privilege of sitting down across from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who are some of the loveliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. We had the most delightful time together. I’ve interviewed pastors and theologians and historians that I look up to so much—just off the top of my head, I think of Iain Murray, Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur, Ligon Duncan, John Piper, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, DA Carson, Kevin DeYoung, Ian Hamilton, Eifion Evans, Andrew Davies, Geoff Thomas, Jeremy Walker, Richard Owen Roberts, Paul Washer, Vernon Higham (who just recently passed into Glory), and so many more. Some of those men have become dear friends over the last several years, and I’ll tell you what stands out to me most about every one of them. They are not impressed with themselves in the slightest. These “lions among men,” they are men who have been dealt with by God, and they are humble, gentle, truly Christlike men.
This may not mean much to many people, but there’s another personal connection here for me, having grown up in the whole 80s and 90s skateboarding / DIY / punkrock culture. We didn’t believe in heroes. We didn’t have superstars like Michael Jordan and we didn’t have rockstars like Justin Bieber or Axl Rose or whoever, you know? When you met people who were professional skateboarders back then or the bands that you listened to, they would come to your town, skate your spots, play your skatepark or your little all-ages venue, give it everything they had in them just like they were in front of a million people and getting paid a million dollars, then go eat at your Taco Bell, go back and crash on your couch, and just be so stoked that they had the privilege of doing what they loved for a living. That part of that culture was admirable. When I became a Christian and started doing this work with the men I look up to most in this world, I can’t tell you how happy I was to learn that the same thing is true of them. These men are just men, and they know it. When you’ve come to know the God who truly is, you can’t help but say of yourself, with the Psalmist, “What is man that You take thought of him?”
Can you provide some testimonies of how local churches have benefited from the study materials put out by your company — Media Gratiae?
Robinson: We get so much feedback from churches in the US and all around the world who have somehow stumbled up on the Behold Your God study or the Logic on Fire film or most recently the Biblical Foundations series. It never ceases to amaze us to hear how God has been pleased to use the materials for the good of His church.
One that comes to mind immediately was back in 2013, just after the Behold Your God study was released, I got an email from a lady who was frantic. She said that the study had been a real blessing to her; however, there were some members in her group—including the pastor—that were fighting most of what they were studying. She said that the pastor was particularly upset that Finney’s innovation “the prayer of faith” or “the sinner’s prayer” was being called into question, as they used it almost weekly in her church. She wanted more information on the subject, and was really concerned that there would be discord and confusion in the next meeting. We asked her to pray and ask her pastor to go back over all that he had been learning of God’s character in His word through the study, and ask whether his approach really lined up. A few weeks later, we got an email from the pastor, which read, in part,
“First I want to say how much I appreciate the study, for it has caused me to think about God in ways that I had never thought of before. I have been in the ministry for the past 22 years and I can honestly say I have been going down the wrong road with respect to my thoughts about God. The study has caused me, these past 4 months, to honestly and with all my heart, behold God as He is revealed in His word. Sadly, it has taken me this long to see God for who He really is. In a way I am grieved that I did such injustice to God by thinking He existed to serve me! Thank you so much for all you have brought to light in my life as I seek to serve Him.”
Fancy cinematography, etc. can never accomplish that, but the Spirit of God, working through His word can. That is just one of the many churches we have heard from that have been affected in deep and tangible ways by coming face to face with the God of the Bible through the study. Obviously it doesn’t always have that affect, but it does remind me that God is far more zealous for His own glory than I could ever be.
There’s another story that really serves to illustrate something we Westerners should think about. It comes from a church that uses the study in their Middle-Eastern business hub city that is populated by people from all over the world. They said that everyone was on the same page and really benefiting from the study all the way up through Week Seven, the week on applying the character of God to the way we worship. There was a lady who had grown up in a western nation that was really bothered by the idea that God gets to tell us how He wants to be worshiped, and we are not free to innovate in that area. I don’t know if it was expressive dance or using drama or some other thing in worship that she was defending, but her argument was something along the lines of, “This is how I am comfortable worshiping God. This is how I grew up worshiping God. This is how everyone I grew up with is comfortable worshiping God. I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal!” Finally, a sister who had grown up in an Eastern pagan culture spoke up and said, “Do you know how I grew up worshiping? I placed a little bowl of rice and an orange in front of a statue. That is how I was comfortable worshiping. That is how everyone I grew up with is comfortable worshiping. But when I came to know the God of the Bible, none of that held any meaning anymore. He is God and He has told us how He is to be worshiped. That is enough!” It took someone who had grown up practicing Eastern idolatry to expose the “evangelical idolatry” that is so prevalent in the West, and her point was made loud and clear.
One of the things that most encourages me is when I hear from pastors who have watched Logic on Fire when they are weary, when they are wavering in trusting that God’s word preached in the power of God’s Spirit truly is the hope of the church, and they are encouraged to get back on their knees, then back into the pulpit on Sunday morning with confidence and great joy in the Lord! To me, the greatest measure of success that the film has reached is that I’ve been told it is required viewing for the preaching students in the Master’s Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary, Bethlehem College and Seminary, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, et al. If young men will come out of their seminary training with a Spirit-wrought determination to cut themselves off from the arm of the flesh, lash themselves down to the Word of God and to prayer, and preach the word like the weight of eternity is in the balance, and that film played even a small part in that conviction, I am a very, very happy man.
Regarding the use of technology, obviously you have a passion to harness it for God’s glory, but what cautions would you provide to those who lead churches regarding the necessary boundaries of video usage during a worship service?
Robinson: Very simply put, film and web and print are all just media. The printing press was “new media” at one time, and I’m sure there were people who questioned whether that technology could ever be blessed of God. Obviously I believe that video and other multimedia can be used, or, as you said, harnessed for God’s glory. My caution would come in the form of a challenge: What if you stripped your worship service back to just the things we see in the Scripture—corporate and pastoral prayer, the reading of the word, the preaching of the word, congregational singing, the sacraments / ordinances, and fellowship with the saints—would anyone still come? Is anyone interested enough in Jesus Christ at your church that if you didn’t offer them anything but Him, would they still come?
Matt, thank you for taking time away from your work to talk with me. I look forward to seeing you at the G3 Conference in January.
Robinson: We’re 5 years deep this year, brother! I wouldn’t miss it for the world. See you in Atlanta.
If you would like to learn more about the work Matthew Robinson does with Media Gratiae, head on over to Media Gratiae and check out their work.
Today, I’m publishing an interview with Emily Thomes (@Emilysatt19), a young Christian lady who once identified as a homosexual. I initially met Emily at a recent G3 Conference, and since then she has been actively speaking out about her former sin struggles and her new life as a Christian. Since her conversion and over the past year, Emily has become Mrs. Benjamin Thomes.
Hi Emily. Thank you for joining me for this conversation. We first met at the 2016 G3 Conference. Since then, you’ve had a busy year. You’ve recently married your husband Benjamin Thomes and you’ve written some articles (see: “Girl in the Picture“) that have become rather controversial. In this interview, I’d like to talk through your conversion to Christianity and your views regarding marriage, headship, and the sin of homosexuality.
In recent days, you have spoken out about your life before you were converted by Christ. Can you briefly walk us through what that looked like?
Sure thing. I grew up in a relatively moral home and family. I attended church occasionally and even church camp some during the summertime. I made a profession of faith and was baptized pretty early in life. While believing I was saved, fully trusting in that sinner’s prayer and the water, I grew into being a really rebellious individual. Before graduating high school, I was smoking weed regularly, drinking, and sleeping with girls. In my young adult life before coming to know the Lord, I’d slowed down slightly. I was working full time so I wasn’t able to really party as often but was still smoking marijuana daily and was still dating and sleeping with various women. That was my life up until the day I was born again.
As you well know, our nation has recently faced a decision to legalize same-sex marriage. What do you think about this decision?
It breaks my heart. I know how easy it is for our own flesh and heart to deceive us and provide us comfort and assurance in sin. It makes it all the more easy when the world around us not only affirms but encourages our sin, too. When I first realized I was attracted to girls as a child, I kept it to myself for years because it wasn’t accepted like it is today. I can’t imagine growing up with same-sex marriage being legal and celebrated. I’ve got a few friends that are now legally married to their partners, and it’s even harder to try and point them to truth. With it legalized, the message I’m attempting to share daily is even more ridiculous.
It’s becoming increasingly popular to hear people toss around the category of “gay Christian.” Is it possible to be a gay Christian?
I hear that expression far too often. It’s really important to be clear with our terms when discussing things like this, and it’s why I try and use phrases like “practicing homosexuality” and “same sex attracted” in order to maintain clarity because “gay” means different things to different crowds. It is absolutely possible for one to be battling same sex attraction as a believer. I’m in that camp currently. Even as believers, our flesh will always pull us towards various types of sins. Now, can one practice homosexuality unrepentantly, meaning without contrition, conviction, and without a daily desire and attempt to abstain, and be a Christian? No. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 makes that very clear, regarding homosexuality specifically. In a general sense, we see throughout the epistles and the gospels that those who are saved don’t continue in unrepentant sin and that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. Though our flesh desires sin, believers will deny themselves and follow Jesus instead. We won’t make any provision for the flesh and we will flee sexual immorality rather than leap into it. This isn’t to say that believers won’t ever fall into sin. Undoubtedly they will; it’s why we so eagerly await the glorification and removal of these bodies of death we currently carry around. When believers stray, the Lord convicts and disciplines those whom He loves and they will repent and be restored or else they were not of us.
As a former homosexual, what advice would you provide to the church today (in general) regarding methods and strategies of reaching people with the gospel?
We’re called to love God and love our neighbors. In order to do both of those, we must be reaching out to those that are lost in order to bring them into the fold. We’re all sovereignly placed in our communities and workplaces and families in order that we be ambassadors for Christ in those roles. Charles Spurgeon said that every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter; that’s because those who are regenerate have a burden to see the lost saved. In our congregations, we ought to be being equipped and exhorted to be faithful witnesses when we’re outside of the assembly. It’s crucial that we be uncompromising but also gracious and humble in our evangelism. We’re to be Jesus to those who are still in darkness and that cannot exclude truth or love.
Would you encourage churches to develop homosexual support groups that reach out to those who struggle with the sin of homosexuality and seek to provide support for former homosexuals within the church?
Hmm. That’s a good question. My initial instinct is to say “No” though I’d be open to persuasion. It’s not been of much benefit for me to discuss, regularly anyway, my battle with same sex attraction with those who battle it also. It’s actually been most helpful for me to discuss the differing struggles that myself and others face in order to see that though the specific sin struggle varies, the human condition does not. It’s also helped others to better understand homosexuality and see it through the lens of scripture and as another sin that one can fall into rather than something completely foreign. Too much of an emphasis on same sex attraction, in my experience, can nearly glorify the sin and make the struggler feel like more of an alien than what comes with it anyway. It’s also an easy way to continue holding on to the identity that’s rooted in sin rather than in Christ for those that are prone to that type of thing.
What advice would you provide for people who are dealing with sexual identity problems and are thinking about pursuing a homosexual lifestyle?
I would say that if someone is seriously considering entering into an unrepentant state, they need to be questioning if they do in fact belong to the Lord or if they’re actually already unrepentant. It’s very normal, because of the fall, for believers to think on sin and to wrestle with the thoughts that can entice us, but deliberately choosing to walk in and remain in rebellion to God is a very serious matter and is not the fruit of a regenerate person. Experiencing an inclination towards sin proves you’re human; it doesn’t give one a license to sin and the believer won’t take it as one.
Other than the Bible, what resource (book, article, or sermon) has helped you think biblically about the homosexual agenda in our nation?
Rosaria Butterfield has probably been my greatest influence regarding understanding sexuality and identity thus far. Her books, articles, and videos have been very helpful to me personally. I’ve actually recently been hearing and reading Kevin DeYoung regarding homosexuality and our culture, and he articulates it wonderfully. Listening to Al Mohler on The Briefing daily has also been instrumental in helping me to understanding the sexual revolution and how our world is moving forward into it in both blatant and more subtle ways.
How prevalent is pornography in the homosexual community and what would be your advice for people who find themselves trapped by the pornography industry?
I can only answer this one from my own experience in my life and that of those whom I’ve spoken with in the LGBT. From what I can discern, porn is unfortunately rampant across all groups of people presently. I used to watch it and knew many others that did also. I also know that it, like heterosexual porn, is available in ridiculous quantities. For those struggling with porn, like those battling any sin, it’s important not to elevate or diminish it. Yes, it is a deplorable sin that God will not overlook. He’s either dealt with it at the cross or will do so in eternity. But no, it is not a sin or a sin struggle that the Lord cannot enable the believer to overcome and even use it for His glory and the good of the user. Accountability with this sin is a huge benefit to the one wrestling it whether that be believing friends, Covenant Eyes, a browser that filters through explicit content, or all of the above. As with all sin, the fight is real and though we will fall, He will sustain and keep His people to the end.
Often times you hear people who are former alcoholics consistently referring to themselves as former alcoholics as their mark or identity. Is it helpful to consider yourself a former homosexual as your true identity in life?
I can see no reason that one would label themselves by any sin struggle, past or present. If I’m speaking to someone about sin and specific struggles, I’ll be open about my battle with same sex attraction, but I’m not going to use it as a modifier for my place in Christ. Biblically, in Corinthians specifically, we see that Paul while carried along by the Holy Spirit said “As were some of you” regarding those who were practicing homosexuality. He also tells us that we’re new creations in Christ, that the old has passed away, etc. Part of growth and sanctification is that we’re no longer fixating on our sin but on the finished work of Christ. We will see our shortcomings daily and everyday, we’ll look to Jesus instead of ourselves. We’ll fight and mourn our flesh but cling tightly to the promises of God and put off the old self in exchange for the new one.
If you could speak to all evangelical preachers, what advice would you give to them regarding their preaching ministry and the need to reach out to people struggling with sexual identity and the sin of homosexuality?
It sounds simple but I’d encourage pastors to holdfast to a biblical worldview when dealing with the sin of homosexuality from the pulpit and personally with those who are battling it. Faithful pastors will discuss homosexuality in the same way that they discuss sexual immorality among heterosexual couples. They won’t cower back from it, but they won’t elevate it to being so heinous and unknown that those who are in it are beyond the hand of God should He draw them. In the same way that pastors and those they’re shepherding should reach out to the lost battling alcoholism or pride, we must attempt to reconcile those practicing homosexuality to Christ knowing He gives the growth if He chooses to. Remembering that if not for the grace of God we would all be practicing every single kind of wickedness ought to drive us to push past our discomfort and into loving our neighbors with truth. As bothered as we are by the sins we don’t understand, the sins that we coddle are far more grotesque to God, yet He loves us still.
If you could talk to law makers and politicians, what advice would you give to them as they continue to embrace and further the homosexual agenda in our nation?
I would proclaim the gospel to them firstly and explain that like all those who have yet to be born again, they stand in rebellion to a holy God who will not overlook their sin. I’d plead with them to reason within themselves concerning creation, the clearly intended design, given our anatomy if nothing else, and the unignorable Creator who will hold all of humanity accountable for every word and deed.
Apart from the Lord opening their eyes to see His glory though, they’re unlikely to view the “homosexual agenda” as a bad thing. Without a biblical worldview, this is another civil rights matter and we would truly be on the wrong side of history. I remember believing that in standing up for the LGBT I was standing for the underdogs, and I saw that as noble. Apart from the God of the Bible and a right understanding of sin and sexuality, telling people that their desires are wrong and that they must stop doing them, especially because they don’t cause physical harm to another person, would make us actually bigoted. Remembering the ideals I held for so long allow me to pity those who are under this strong delusion rather than to be angry with them. Their hearts are darkened. They truly do believe that sexual orientation is as much of one’s personhood as race or gender and unless He grants them sight for spiritual matters, they’ll continue in that understanding. I pray for those who are blinded by all sin but this sin in particular because so many believers view them, and not the spirit that leads them, as the enemies. May we look at those propagating the homosexual agenda as broken, fallen people who are in need of a Savior and are attempting to find peace and happiness apart from Him like we all once were.
Is submission to Christ and submission to your husband (the idea of complementarianism) belittling or oppressive to women?
Submission to one’s husband is God’s design for wives as it’s His design for husbands to love their wives like Christ loves the church and gave Himself up for her. Scripture makes it very clear that wives are coheirs with their husband of His grace and that both bear His image and are therefore equal in value and in worth. Contrary to my previously held ideals and those held by so many today, gender has significance. Gender is assigned by God and the roles prescribed to each are as well. As the Creator, God knows how His creations best function and has lovingly provided a system for us in which we can best operate (and be sanctified if you’re like me and meekness doesn’t come at all natural to you) and model His gospel to the world. Like Jesus to His Father, wives are to humbly submit in all things to their husbands. Like Christ to His bride, the church, husbands are to sacrificially love, pursue, and nourish their wives. Before becoming a believer, complementarianism was preposterous. I didn’t understand that it wasn’t because I lacked worth but was instead because I had worth that God intended me as a helpmate to a husband who was to love and provide for me. I feel not belittled but made much of understanding that I’ve been given protection, security, and unconditional love from both the Lord who saved me and the husband He ordained for me.