How to Have Hope in a Cynical Age

Recently, Isaac Dagneau, host of the indoubt podcast for Back to the Bible Canada, invited me to discuss the themes of my forthcoming book, Mere Hope: Life in an Age of Cynicism. You can listen to the podcast at the link below as well as read the transcript.

Isaac Dagneau with Jason Duesing
January 29, 2018

Also available at iTunes


Isaac Dagneau: With me today is author and professor, Dr. Jason Duesing. Jason serves as the academic provost and associate professor of historical theology at the Midwestern Baptist Theological seminary. Thanks so much for chatting with us today Jason.

Jason Duesing: My pleasure. Thank you.

Isaac Dagneau: Midwestern has been a neat place for us, because we’ve been able to talk to a few different people from there, people like Owen Strachan for instance. So anyways, I’m wondering, before we jump in to our conversation on hope, can you just let us know a little bit more about who you are, more personally?

Jason Duesing: Sure. I serve here at academic leadership as you mentioned. I’m originally from the state of Texas. I grew up in the Houston area, and trusted Christ my freshman year of college at Texas A&M University. God was kind to bring a number of people along my path that helped me to hear the gospel really for the first time.

I grew up in a big city and hadn’t really heard the gospel before, so that put me on a path and a journey of really turning my world upside down, and led to a lot of things, but namely seminary was a part of that, wrestling with a call to the mission field, and then ultimately here into academics.

Isaac Dagneau: Did you ever think when you were in … after you were saved in freshman year that you would ever end up in this senior academic leadership role at a seminary?

Jason Duesing: No, no. Yes, not at all. Many of my friends still give me a hard time about that, even today.

Isaac Dagneau: That’s awesome.

Jason Duesing: God’s very kind in the way He surprises us.

Isaac Dagneau: Yes, for sure. That’s so good. All right, so today we’re going to be having this short conversation on hope. Our realized hope as Christians, which obviously includes our future hope. You make mention in your new book that’s going to be coming out, Mere Hope: Life in an Age of Cynicism, you make a point that we are in fact living in a cynical age.

I wanted to ask what you mean by that, but I want to ask it this way, if someone from another country, say who knew nothing of the North American, or the Western culture, civilization, if they asked you, “Hey, what do you mean by that? What do you mean when you say you’re living in a cynical age,” how would you explain it to them?

Jason Duesing: Part of it is you have to introduce them to our current Western culture, but it’s changed so much even in the last 30 years. When I was growing up there was a cartoon on television called The Jetsons, and it’s laughable now when you go back and watch it, but at that time, everything … it was a projection of the future where everything was automated, it was really automated awesomeness.

I mean everything … you didn’t have to do any chores, it was all fixed, and we just thought that, how great would it be to have all this technology? It would solve all of our problems. In those days in the 80s growing up, our greatest concern was things like World War III, was it going to really happen? Were we going to go to war with Russia?

Well since that time, we’ve gotten over that. We didn’t go to World War III, and we have all this technology, and it has solved a lot of our problems, but that’s put us to a place of really then worrying about what’s next in terms of anxiety, or it’s put as in a place where we just don’t really care. We’re sort of indifferent to much of the things around us, which causes us to really not trust much around.

Then you accelerate that into just a perpetual way in which sin reveals itself in culture, in our leaders, and people failing us left and right, it puts a lot of people in a place of mistrust and doubt. We sort of have all this connectedness, we’re aware 24 hours a day of every cataclysmal event in the world, but it’s left us in this place of, “So what?”

Neil Postman in 1984 wrote a book called, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and so we’ve moved beyond anxiety and we’re now in this place of, we’ve tried to amuse ourselves, that hasn’t worked, and so we’re left in Western culture with this kind of hopelessness where we’re just despairing because we don’t really know what to grab onto.

Isaac Dagneau: Do you think people generally are coming to an understanding of that in their own hearts and souls, and are beginning to kind of grasp through things, just trying to cure that hopelessness?

Jason Duesing: I mean in a hopeful way I think so, but I think there’s sort of, much like everything in life, there’s two ways to live, and when you come to that realization it can drive you further into despair, almost into a … One of the things I talk about in the book is really there’s two types of cynicism, an active cynicism and a passive cynicism.

The active is really like a functional atheism. It’s so much sarcasm, it’s so much distrust, it’s so much everything, that it leads you to a place of despair, to the place of there is functionally no hope, so I’m just going to live the best way I can. Passive cynicism is what we see more among believers, people who … believers in Christ Jesus, who know better. Who know and believe that He is coming again, that we have every reason to place our hope in His second coming, but we end up to a place of not really despair, but really more what I call resigned indifference.

Often in culture we hear people just saying, “Whatever.” It’s just sort of that attitude toward everything of, “Yes, I know this is true,” but really functionally the way I live is more of this kind of ‘whatever’ attitude. It’s more of a passive cynicism in that way.

Isaac Dagneau: Yeah, no for sure. It’s crazy to think about it, and I’m sure you thought about it, and I’m really glad that you talk about this in your book, because this is the main idea, that as a Christian obviously we are to base our hope and pretty much trample over this cynicism with this glorious hope, obviously in the gospel, in the midst of this cynical age, because so often our gaze is set on just what’s in front of us, this world, and that obviously creates this cynicism.

So, for many though … here’s my next question, for many including myself, this hope, this gospel hope, can become very religious, traditional, it kind of becomes heady, intellectual, I know it, I hear it from my pastor all the time, I read it in books, but so often it can never impact our actual hearts’ gaze, our emotions, our affections, or at least as it should. My question is, why do you think we can be so quick to turn our hearts eyes away from our gospel hope?

Jason Duesing: Well, we have every reason in the world to turn our hearts and eyes away, because we’re competing with so many distractions, and by that I don’t just mean the things we’ve talked about. The onslaughts of 24-hour news and social media feeding us with the latest things that’s happened, good things and bad things, to people all around the world.

I mean even in a Christian culture where we’re just bombarded with book, after book, after book of how we’re supposed to live, and how we’re supposed to do these things. It just gets overwhelming trying to even keep up to figure these things out. Part of even what I’m saying is this book is not even that long, I hope not to occupy too many people’s time and attention with it, because it is trying to compete.

I’m really just trying to get out helping people remember the core of the Christian faith, that’s why in the title I used the word, “mere,” which many people will recognize from C.S. Lewis’s, Mere Christianity, because I mean to use the word mere in the way he does, in the sense of core or central hope of the Christian life. We’re distracted from it, it’s actually really not that hard to get back to it.

It’s very simple, but we sort of have to fight for it. It does start in the mind and the heart. It’s not 12 steps or anything like this, but it’s a choice to remember and start back at what the core hope we have as Christians.

Isaac Dagneau: Right. I so appreciated that as I was reading the book myself, and just that sort of the … it was bringing it back down to the roots of the true gospel, and I love that. Speaking into that, obviously you mention four areas in the book, which we need to look. I’m wondering if you can actually just first explain what those are?

Jason Duesing: Well, I take kind of my cues from what Jesus says in Matthew 6:22, that the eye is the lamp of the body, so if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. What I mean by that is, it matters where we look and what we see, and not just with our eyes, but with our hearts as well, on what we choose to set our gaze. It’s a conscious choice every day.

So this recapturing mere hope as an answer to living in a world of cynicism begins with where we look, and so I’ve divided the book really into four sections, encouraging believers to return again to look down at the foundation of our hope, to look in at the fountain of our hope, to look out then at the flourishing of our hope, and then to look up finally at the focus of our hope.

Each one of these kind of follows a different passage in the New Testament in exploring doctrines that relate to these.

Isaac Dagneau: Yeah, for sure. That’s so good. Now, as you say that too, I’m reminded of Peter who gets out of the boat and he’s like walking towards Jesus on the sea, I don’t know if this can relate at all, because I just … I’m remembering that he’s looking to Jesus, but then he looks away at the waves and he begins to sink. I think so often for us, that’s the exact same thing that happens in our lives.

Jason Duesing: No, I think that’s a great imagery of definitely a metaphor of what happens in the Christian life. That’s why the New Testament’s replete with challenges to, where are we going to set our eyes and what are we going to fix our gaze? Not just for the pursuit of godliness, but really for the establishment of this hope that by faith we have to look beyond what we actually see physically and one of that’s just remembering what we know to be true.

Isaac Dagneau: Yeah, for sure. I’m wondering Jason, as I was reading your book in the … I think it was the third part when you’re saying you’re looking out to the flourishing of our hope, you talk about the story of you going to visit your friend, I think it was in China if I’m correct?

Yeah, and it was actually, as I was reading this, it was actually a little bit emotional for me, because I was feeling with you when you were in that gathering of people worshiping God. I’m wondering if you could just explain to us what looking at the flourishing of hope is, and then sort of explain how this story impacted you so much?

Jason Duesing: Right, well what I’m trying to do there with the flourishing of hope is just a reminder that in the Christian life we can often become too insular and become so introspective, and we need to be looking in, we need to be putting sin to death, we need to be sizing up where we are in our walks with Christ, but sometimes we do that to our own detriment. We don’t realize that all that is meant to propel us then to look out to the ends of the earth, that Jesus assigned His disciples and the churches that would follow to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

My friend, he servse now in China with the International Mission Board now for 20-something years, but when he first went there, he was assigned to a far western region of the country where there were many unengaged, unreached peoples, peoples who have never even heard the gospel at all. His first assignment was to get on his bike and to basically map out where all these peoples were.

After a number of months, he established where all these villages were, and he said, “Well, there’s one mountain range I haven’t been over, I’m just going to go up over that just to make sure.” He goes up and over, and he realizes … and he sees just scores and scores of more villages. Just people and people that nobody knew was there, never been mapped. From that point to when I was with him just a few years ago, in one of those villages he began to live and work, saw a number of people come to Christ and a church eventually planted.

I was worshiping with him in that church gathering and it all came together that, here’s my friend, we were in college, and now over the last 20 years God’s used him to go out and see the flourishing of hope, to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and these people now are, humanly speaking, worshiping and trusting Jesus, because someone who has been transformed by Christ Jesus has taken the gospel message to them.

It’s a component of this hope, we’re trying to get ourselves into a place of spiritual, emotional and mental health ourselves, but we often forget that that’s for a purpose. It’s for us to be taking the gospel to other people, to be taking that hope to other people.

Isaac Dagneau: Yeah, which is so critical, because I feel like so much of our culture tells us just to look at ourselves. It’s so autonomous, like fix yourself, all these self-help books, so it totally makes sense that the church can be influenced by that, where we’re always just preaching that, so that’s so important.

Now, obviously all of these different areas to look, like looking at our foundation, the gospel, and in the fountain of our hope and so on and so forth, all of them are essential, but when you look, Jason, at the young adult culture today, which I assume at a seminary and things like that, you deal with some … a few young adults for sure. Which area do you think is most lacking, that needs to be most emphasized?

Jason Duesing: Yes, I think especially in our context here, we have young men and women in college, in our undergraduate program, in our graduate program, and they’re all moving forward. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t have a desire to do great things for God and things like this, but the thing that I see is this final chapter, this idea of looking up and remembering the focus of our hope.

In our context in doctrinal terms, this is really eschatology, or the study of the end things, and we really lost a healthy eschatology. Sometimes in younger generations we’ve lost it because we’ve seen an older generation take it to pin point the exact date and time when Jesus would return, and that has turned them off and things like this, but in the midst of that, we’ve lost hope.

We’ve forgotten the truth … the reason I believe that God gives us through the Bible any sort of inkling of the return of Christ is not so that we can calculate the times and dates and seasons, it’s to prepare us to be ready, but it’s ultimately also to give us this hope. We know how things will end, we know what will come, we know what’s true and eternal for the next trillion years, not just the next 100 years.

So part of our regular living out the Christian life is to help ourselves and to help others to look not just at our circumstances, but up over them into the future, and put our focus on Christ Jesus and His return one day, and the hope that comes with that.

Isaac Dagneau: Totally, and I think … I was interested to know which one you would choose there. I think that’s good, because even for myself as a young adult, I haven’t been encouraged amongst my Christian friends to think about it and dwell on it. As I read through the New Testament, I find that different writers like Peter and Paul, they make this effort to sort of use language like, “We’re in the last times,” and “He’s coming like a thief in the night,” and there’s these … they use rhetoric to help their readers understand like, “You must live with this expectation, this eager expectation because it’s coming,” and I don’t see that in my culture today, that kind of language.

Jason Duesing: Well, it portrays that we’re really not relying upon God, we’re relying upon ourselves. One of the stories I tell in here, there’s a real famous sign and you see it all over, market place and things like this, this red sign that says, “Keep calm, carry on,” which is inspiring and so I don’t mean to just bash this idea. There’s some to be said in certain realms of life, of just hunkering down, especially in a sporting arena, or something like this, just sort of exercising and just sort of toughening it out.

But that’s really no way to live the Christian life, and really what that is in philosophical terms is it’s stoicism, and so there’s an evangelical or a Christian stoicism that we often find ourselves drifting into. Meaning if I can just get through this semester, of if I can just get through this trial, if I can just get through these things.

What that is, is we’re relying upon ourselves, and the Scriptures, especially I’m looking at 2 Timothy in this one chapter in other places tell us that that’s not the way at all, through suffering and things like this, there should be a looking up and a reminder of, and a reliance upon God and how He is able, not that we can do this, but that He is able and we should rest and put our trust in that.

The diminished eschatology or the weakening view of the end times really is … what that means is we have a small view of a very big God, and if we would cast our gaze up to Him and rely upon Him and throw our hands up at trials and sufferings and cling to Him, the hope will return.

Isaac Dagneau: Yeah, that’s so good. In your book as well you offer this different kind of slogan, a mandate or mantra, “It is well, He is able,” which I think is awesome. I mean if you’re listening right now and you had this keep calm and carry on in the back of your mind, I suggest you switch that now with, “It is well, He is able.” It’s so much better.

It’s interesting, I think for some of us too, Jason, it could be the Lord’s will that He really does bring some trials and suffering to help us rely on Him. I think of Paul at the beginning of 2 Corinthians when he says, “We almost died, but that was for us that we would rely on God and not ourselves,” which is so powerful.

Jason Duesing: So true. So true and good.

Isaac Dagneau: Yeah. I find too that a lot of Christians settle … this leads into our next question, settle for living like the world in that, Christianity is just one aspect of their life like a hobby, or a passion or something like that. Now from your experience, I was wondering, Jason, if you could give my generation, which is the 20 to 30-somethings, give them an appeal to live with this gospel hope in a real sense, in all areas of life? What does this look like practically for us to live this gospel hope out?

Jason Duesing: Right. I think, and again, it’s not an effort on my part just to make it simple, because it isn’t simple, it’s hard and challenging, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, what one is to do practically every day is not complicated, it’s not like you need to master this book, or you need to do these steps of things.

I think simply it really is just rooted in where we set our minds and hearts every day, and every moment of the day. One of the ways I line it out in the book is really emphasizing what the Scripture talks about as remembering it. It talks often about remembering and not just looking back to the Old Testament and seeing how God worked and reminding ourselves who He is, but it’s just every day reminding ourselves what do we know to be true? Who is God? What is true about ourselves, regardless of how we feel, regardless of what the world is telling us, regardless of anything else, the way we know our place and standing in rightness before God, sanctified by the blood of Jesus Christ, it’s because we are remembering and knowing what is true.

We see all this, all throughout the Scriptures. One of my favorite places of course is in the book of Lamentations, when the destruction of Jerusalem is falling all around them, and he comes to chapter three and talks about this great passage of, “Great is your faithfulness God,” but before that he tells them to remember their hope, remember what they have in it, and it’s this kind of remembering and coming back.

We see all throughout Scripture this kind of call to remember, so I think the best way we can fight to regain our hope every day is just starting each day by remembering what we know to be true more than how we feel, and allow that truth then to guide and direct us, and bring … it’s not something to be lived out in isolation either. This is why we have the local church, so we have a body of brothers and sisters around us to help us to remember.

When we gather corporately through hearing God’s Word and singing and praying and these things, but it’s a call to remember, it’s a call to proclaim what we know to be true.

Isaac Dagneau: Totally. It’s interesting as you say, I love that, and you say in your book reminding oneself of the gospel is one of the most practical things one can do, which is so true, as you’ve just explained. But I do want to just kind of say this as a reflection of that, because I tried to do that, but early in the morning, you’re driving to work or school, and you’re tired, it’s not just like you’re, “Okay, God’s real and you feel good.”

You have to discipline your mind to actually work through these truths of the Scripture, and it is a discipline to remember, because you’re tired and perhaps you’ve just had an argument with a friend or your wife or whatever, and you have to discipline, and it does take an effort and you have to create a habit of doing this.

Jason Duesing: Right, and no I, of course, couldn’t agree more. I mean the call to discipline ourselves for the pursuit of godliness is the Christian life, it’s just what frame of mind are we doing it? We can do it like that stoicism, keep calm and carry on sort of way, “Well, I’ve got to read this, memorize this, listen to this.”

If we do it from the fruit of the gospel, remembering what we know to be true, then the desire comes to memorize God’s word, to be in God’s Word, to pray and all these other kinds of things. So, no, absolutely, we are to pursue holiness, and to do that in a systematic and disciplined way, but as a result of the gospel, not in pursuit of it.

Isaac Dagneau:That’s so good. As our last question here before we wrap up Jason, for someone listening, perhaps they’re driving right now, or they’re cleaning the house or whatever, what’s the first thing that they can do to begin living in this reality of our future hope, and maybe it is just reminding themselves right now of the truth, I’m not sure?

Jason Duesing: Well, J.I. Packer who’s one of my favorite authors, and I would never even claim to be able to write anything close to him, although this book is inspired by his lifetime of taking theology and applying it to the culture, that’s really what I’m trying to do in a very, very brief way. He said about hope, he said, “Hope is a tender plant, easily crushed and extinguished, and every believer must budget for having to battle for it.”

Hope is something we can do every day to really wake up and seek to claim, and to realize that if we are feeling out of sorts or feeling off or whatever else, we should be trusting in what we know to be true. So that call to remember, first and foremost, and that desire to battle for hope, is something we should start and do every day.

Isaac Dagneau: That’s so good. Well, thank you so much, Jason, for your time and your wisdom. If you’re listening and you’re interested in more, in this hope, in this reality and how to help our heart’s gaze look at all these different aspects of our hope, then you should totally get Jason’s book. Get it, read it. Mere Hope: Life in an Age of Cynicism. I’ve had the great privilege of reading it, it’s solid, it’s gospel focused, it’s rich in Scripture, it’s rich in Lord of the Rings if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, and it’s short as Jason has said, which is really helpful for us.

So anyways, it’s available right now on Amazon pre-order. I’m going to provide the links for you if you’re interested on that, but it comes out in June of this year. So anyways if you have … if you’re interested in more with Jason’s kind of writing, different things like that, you can go to Anyways, again, thank you so much Jason. I hope to have you back on the show again.

Jason Duesing: My joy, thank you so much Isaac.

The Most Important Discipline I Learned in Seminary

As long as you are proud you cannot know God. – C. S. Lewis

Last year around this time, I preached a message in Midwestern Chapel I called “The Most Important Doctrine I Learned in Seminary” and building from Hebrews 2:17 talked about central and vital role the doctrine of propitiation played in my life, and still plays.

This year, I wanted to return to the theme and, this time focus on “The Most Important Discipline I Learned in Seminary.” For that discipline proved (and still proves) to be one of the most life-giving and freeing disciplines I have found for living the Christian life.

In brief, using Ephesians 2:11-13 that discipline is the conquering of pride by remembering and reminding.

The Problem Discovered

While seminary is where I discovered how effectively to put pride to death, I knew of my need for this discipline soon after I became a Christian while in college. In my cinder block walled dorm room, at the age of 19, I read with devouring interest C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. When I arrived at chapter 8, entitled “The Great Sin,” however, it was as if someone yanked back the curtains that had covered my life and all my clouded thinking to that point and revealed it for what it was–stained and shaped by pride.

Here is what I read:

“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, every imagine they are guilty of themselves …. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it in ourselves, the more we dislike it in others …. [T]he essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” (109)

After reading this chapter, I felt overwhelmed and even started to sweat under the realization of the weight of my sin. As a young Christian it hit me – though freed from the penalty of sin by the blood of Christ, my struggle with and the remaining presence of even “canceled sin” was bigger and deeper than I knew.

I asked, How can I escape this Great Sin when it hinders everything? Everywhere I turned, every thought I had, every analysis of true motive, there it was – and what is more, I realized if left there it would destroy everything.

The Discipline Learned

Over the next few years as I completed college and headed to seminary, as I grew in my faith and walked with the Lord, I continued to discover pride and the depths of this Great Sin more and more.

For, as C. S. Lewis helps us diagnose it, the way we find pride in our lives is when we realize that “Each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride …. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only having more of it than the next man” (109).

What he means is that pride is not just being proud because you are clever, pretty, or wealthy. It is thinking that you are cleverer, prettier, and wealthier than someone else (109-110). Indeed, when we become aware of pride, we discover how much we love ourselves more than anything or anyone else. Even more than God.

Agreeing with C. S. Lewis and discovering that it was true that pride is the Great Sin and the root of all other sin–and finding it increasing areas in my life–I wanted and needed to find a sanctifying and daily way to conquer it.

My desire was not merely to become a “better” person (as there might be pride in wanting to conquer pride). No, it was more fundamental than that for to see ultimate greatness or ability in anything other than God is idolatry. Or, As Lewis says, “As long as you are proud you cannot know God.” (111). And I wanted (and want) to know God.

In God’s kindness, while in seminary I was helped greatly by my local church pastor, seminary professors, seminary chapel, and the reading of good (and old) books. From these means of grace, I found the most important discipline I would learn in seminary: conquering pride by remembering and reminding.

Ephesians 2:11-13 is a wonderful passage to help grasp this discipline:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 

From this, we are taught simultaneously to (1) remember who we are apart from Christ (v.11-12) and (2) remind ourselves who we are in Christ (v.13).

When we practice this discipline with regularity we come to a place of humble joy realizing that we had nothing before Christ and, in Christ, we have nothing but Christ!

And when we live there, with Christ, pride dies.

To hear the entire message with further explanation along with my 5 ways to put this discipline into practice, you can watch this recording from earlier this semester at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

The Hope of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began (2 Tim 1:8-9)

Paul’s second letter to Timothy is believed to be his last. While personalized to Timothy and his work in Ephesus, clearly the teaching of the letter was intended for more readers.

At the time of his writing, Paul was in prison likely facing execution, and because of this, as Calvin notes, “all that we read here … ought to be viewed by us as written not with ink but with Paul’s own blood” for what he was suffering and sacrificing.[i]

Timothy was losing heart, undergoing difficulty, troubled at Paul’s arrest, and in need of encouragement. The temptation toward enduring by Stoic hand-wringing must have been strong. Paul, however, was not losing any hope at all, for Paul was no Stoic or Cynic. Instead, he pleads with Timothy not to be ashamed and points him to Jesus Christ.

If you were in prison and facing death, what would your final written letter contain?

In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Civil Rights leader was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama.

From his jail cell, he wrote a letter especially to his fellow clergymen who preferred he not attempt to advance Civil Rights as fast as he was. Their passive indifference, their stoicism (and perhaps cynicism), if you will, challenged Dr. King, but like Paul, he did not lose hope.

In his letter he wrote,

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future … We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom.”[ii]

Like Paul in jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. was focused on a future hope, not mired in the present circumstances.

Indeed, just four months later, Dr. King was speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC proclaiming his dream that, in part,

my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character …. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”[iii]

As 2 Timothy marked the last words of Paul written from death row, he used his final letter to strengthen and provide Gospel hope for others. Dr. King, too, knew the right focus of a future hope, and wrote and spoke to encourage others to such an effect that, in 1964, the nation would see the passing of the Civil Rights Act and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. King.

The third Monday in January marks the federal holiday commemorating the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. The 2018 observance is especially significant as this year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968.

Indeed, the MLK50 Conference, held April 3-4 in Memphis, among other events and commemorations, will mark this anniversary to give Christians an opportunity “to reflect on the state of racial unity in the church and the culture.” This is needed and timely as it gives Christians, as they reflect, also like Paul, to plead and to point.

For as James Bevel put it in his funeral sermon for Dr. King:

There’s a false rumor around that our leader’s dead. Our leader is not dead. Martin Luther King is not our leader. Our leader is the man who led Moses out of Israel. Our leader is the man who went with Daniel into the lions’ den. Our leader is the man who walked out of the grave on Easter morning. Our leader never sleeps nor slumbers. He cannot be put in jail. He has never lost a war yet. Our leader is still on the case. Our leader is not dead. One of his prophets died. We will not stop because of that.”[iv]

For the hope of racial unity in the church and the culture, let’s reflect on the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and not stop in our pursuit of the hope of all people (Rom 15:12), Jesus Christ.


This article is an adaptation from my forthcoming book, Mere Hope: Life in an Age of Cynicism. Available from B&H Books on June 1, 2018.

Mere Hope
Jason G. Duesing
B&H Books, 2018

Look for Mere Hope: Life in an Age of Cynicism on June 1, 2018. Available for pre-order at Amazon and LifeWay from B&H Books. 



[i] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 179.

[ii] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in Bryan Loritts, ed., Letters to a Birmingham Jail (Chicago: Moody, 2014), 36.

[iii] Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream,” in James Melvin Washington, ed., A Testament of Hope (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1991), 219.

[iv] Cited in Mark Noll, A History of Christianity in the US and Canada (Errdmans, 1992), 544.


Latest CV



“Like A Steersman in a Storm.” The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 21, no. 2 (Fall 2016): 1–4.

Editor, The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 21.2 (Fall 2016).

Book Review “Did Genghis Khan Invent Religious Freedom?” at The Gospel Coalition, March 8, 2017.

“Why An 81-Hour MDiv?” Challies, March 20, 2017.

Book Review “The History of Theological Education” in Midwestern Journal of Theology (Spring 2017): 112-117.

“Religious liberty: Its true end and ultimate goal,” at ERLC, May 29, 2017.

“The Preacher as Missionary,” at Preaching Source, June 2017.

“The Role of the Anabaptists in the Reformation,” in Light (ERLC, June 2017).

“The Pastor as Missionary,” in Portraits of a Pastor, Jason K. Allen, ed. (Moody, 2017).

“What do Reformation Anabaptists Have to Do with Contemporary Baptists?” in SB Texan (October 2, 2017).

“Humphreys/Patterson–1987: A Southern Baptist Debate on the Atonement,” in MJT (Fall 2017).

“Is this a dream? Engaging today’s cultural reality with hope,” at ERLC (October 25, 2017).

“An Humble Attempt,” in The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia, Harry S. Stout, general editor (Eerdmans, 2017).

Series Co-Editor, A Treasury of Baptist Theology, Deron J. Biles, editor, Pastoral Ministry: The Ministry of a Shepherd (B&H Academic, 2017).


“Henry Jessey (1601-1663)” in The British Particular Baptists, vol 4. Michael A. G. Haykin and Terry Wolever, ed. (Particular Baptist Press, forthcoming 2017).

“A Biblical View of the Nations” in The Worldview Study Bible (B&H Academic, forthcoming 2018).

Mere Hope (B&H, forthcoming 2018)

“Faith Alone” in Five Solas (Moody, forthcoming 2018).

“Baptist Contributions to the Christian Tradition,” in Baptists and the Christian Tradition, Matthew Y. Emerson, Christopher W. Morgan, and R. Lucas Stamps, eds. (B&H Academic, forthcoming 2019).

Historical Theology for the Church (B&H Academic, forthcoming 2019)




“The Most Important Thing I Learned In Seminary” Chapel Sermon on Hebrews 2:17 at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO, January 25, 2017.

“Faith Alone: The Heart of the Reformation.” Grace Community Church, Overbrook, Kansas, February 19, 2017.

““Freedom Found Under an Umbrella: The Life and Thought of Martin Luther” – a Reformation 500th Anniversary.” North Greenville University, Tigerville, South Carolina, April 11, 2017.

“Hope Lives Till We Have Faces – 1 Peter 1:3-9.” Chapel Service, North Greenville University, Tigerville, South Carolina, April 12, 2017.

“Faith Alone – Romans 1:17.” Chapel Service, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO, August 29, 2017.

“The Purpose of the Church – 1 Tim 3:15.” Fall Bible Conference, Grace Baptist Church, Manhattan, KS, September 10, 2017.

“The Mission of the Church – 2 Tim 1:12.” Fall Bible Conference, Grace Baptist Church, Manhattan, KS, September 10, 2017.

“Faith Alone” Eastwood Baptist Church, Midwest City, OK, October 1, 2017.

“Faith Alone” Raintree Community Church, Lees Summit, MO, October 8, 2017.

“The History of the Future.” Men’s Retreat, New Community Church, YMCA of the Ozarks, Potosi, MO, October 20-21, 2017.

“Faith Alone” New Community Church, Wildwood, MO, October 22, 2017.

“The Thorough Reformers: Baptist Contributions to the Christian Tradition,” paper presented at the Evangelical Theological Society, Providence, RI, November 16, 2017.





“Committee on Resolutions named for 2017 SBC.” Baptist Press, March 29, 2017.

500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation Sparks First NGU Lectureship in Theology and Culture.North Greenville University, April 12, 2017.

Interview discussing religious liberty on the His People program. Pilgrim Radio, April 24, 2017.

“Patterson-Humphreys atonement debate remembered.” Baptist Press, October 20, 2017.

“SBC: 30th Anniversary of the Humphreys-Patterson Debate” featured on the SBC This Week podcast, October 20, 2017.

“Radical Reformation included in Baptist commemorations.” Baptist Press, October 30, 2017.

“Myanmar crisis draws BGR aid, recalls Judson legacy.” Baptist Press, November 1, 2017.

“Bach Among the Theologians,” interview with Timothy George, Beeson Podcast, December 19, 2017.

Bach at Advent: A Conversation with Timothy George

Recently, one of my heroes among historical theologians, Timothy George, invited me to discuss the value of listening to the works of J. S. Bach in conjunction with the seasons and celebrations that Christians observe throughout the year, such as Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. This conversation stemmed from a short piece I wrote in April, “Welcoming Bach Among the Theologians”.

You can listen to the podcast at the link below as well as read the transcript provided by Beeson Divinity School.


“Bach Among the Theologians” – Beeson Podcast
Timothy George & Jason G. Duesing
December 19, 2017

Also available at iTunes.


Beeson Podcast Transcript, Episode 371
December 19, 2017

Announcer: Welcome to the Beeson podcast, coming to you from Beeson Divinity School on the campus of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Now your host, Timothy George.

Timothy George: Welcome to today’s Beeson podcast. The year was 1685. The place was Germany, and there was a new baby boy in town. His name, Johann Sebastian Bach. Undoubtedly, in my humble but accurate opinion, as my friend Charles Carter says, the greatest composer in the history of music. We’re going to listen to some Bach today, as well as talk about Bach with a very special guest I’ll introduce in just a moment. Right now, let’s go to Johann Sebastian Bach. Whatever you’re doing, if you’re driving down the road, maybe you’re at home, you just mowed the lawn. Whatever you’re doing, take a few minutes off and listen to this great, great music by Bach.

[Music playing.]

Wow. Wasn’t that great? Well, you can hear all kinds of great Bach music in many different forms. We’re going to talk about Bach today. Bach is, of course, a wonderful composer, one of the great leading lights in the history of music and musicology. Our focus today is Bach among the theologians. I got the idea for this podcast by reading an article by a friend of mine, Dr. Jason Duesing. Dr. Duesing, Jason, is the provost of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which is in Kansas City, Missouri. He’s written a very interesting post, or blog, called, “As a new semester begins: Welcoming Bach among the theologians.” It got me thinking, “Wow. We need to do a Beeson podcast episode connecting Bach and theology.” Who better to introduce it to us than Jason Duesing, who has felt so deeply about this himself? So, Jason, welcome to the Beeson podcast.

Jason Duesing: Thank you so much for having me. It’s truly a joy to be here and to talk about these things.

Timothy George: Now, in your article, what really grabbed my attention was a little autobiographical vignette you had there about when you were a graduate student, how you used to listen to Bach and how that actually helped you in some ways in your studies, as you were deep into important ideas. I might tell people, by the way, that you’re a church historian by training, written a wonderful biography, biographical theological study of Henry Jessey, one of the most important of the early English Baptist pastors and theologians. That was your field. As you were working on Jessey and other things, I suppose, you were listening to Bach. Let me ask you this question. Why Bach?

Jason Duesing: To continue the autobiographical strain, we all go through journeys in our Christian life, and of course, while our minds are renewed, once we place our faith in Christ and have the Holy Spirit indwell us, but lots of our personality and other interests are renewed and changed as well. I grew up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, as a pretty typical Generation X kid and had no interest much in music, much less this type of music, the type of music my own children call the kind without words. I didn’t have much … if you’d had said I would one day be here talking about this, I would have been most surprised. Over the years I just grew to have a fascination with, and especially the personalities behind the music, namely Bach himself, his theology and some of these things. Once you learn more about the man it causes you to appreciate the music itself.

I found him to be a very helpful companion through years of intense academic study. As I, then, continuing in the academic profession even now, academic ministry, he is a regular constant companion. Dr. George, I’m a night person, not a morning person, and so often in the wee hours of the night it’s me and Bach sitting there working and writing and things like this. I discovered a few years ago a wonderful program that you can access online. Anyone around the world can. It’s a part of the BBC Radio 3. They have an episode called “Through the Night.” It’s six hours of uninterrupted music, the time that we’re talking. Bach is regularly featured there. Oftentimes, in the evenings, that was my path as I was, as you say, working on dissertation and other academic endeavors.

Timothy George: That’s a wonderful recommendation: “Through the Night.” I know Billy Graham used to have a program called “Songs in the Night,” and that was probably a little different kind of music, but “Through the Night” is made available through the British Broadcasting Company. I guess it’s available online, right?

Jason Duesing: It is, and you don’t have to listen to it at 1:00 a.m. if you don’t want to. You can listen to it at any point in time. One of the most beautiful things about it is there are no commercials. It’s six hours of straight, the type of music that’s helpful to really think to and work through and things like this.

Timothy George: Those British know how to do great music and great programming on radio. I listen to some of it myself. You’re a Baptist theologian as I am, and I don’t know exactly what kind of church experience you had growing up. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church. Actually a Southern Baptist/Independent Baptist church. We were kind of borderline. We listened to a lot of music, but it was not Bach. It was Stamps Baxter, it was … and below that, if you can think of it. It was great music in its own way, and I still love some of that music today, but it was a very different genre. However, I know that Bach is often played in music, in churches, as a part of the music. What was your experience growing up in the church and Bach?

Jason Duesing: In the suburbs of North Houston, I’m sure I heard some Bach as we were … I was reared Episcopalian and mainline Episcopalian all through my teenage and high school years. In that setting it was far more theologically liberal and therefore, sadly, I don’t recall ever hearing the good news about Jesus in terms of how it related to me personally in any way. I didn’t trust Christ. I wouldn’t mark my conversion until my freshman year in college. In many ways you could say that I had a very silent upbringing in regards to sacred music or church music, especially the likes of Bach, but really any of the delightful pieces that you mentioned that you enjoyed. I had to actually relearn hymnody for the first time as a college, and really not until seminary did I really even learn the great hymns of the faith.

Timothy George: Yes. That’s one of the passions that I have, is hymnody. It seems to me that we’ve lost a lot of that in the church. Of course, Bach wrote hymns. He wrote musical pieces that have been made into hymns. We still sing some of those in the church today, and a lot of other great hymns. I’m not against praise choruses. I’m not against contemporary music if it’s done well and it has content. The Lord can use it and be glorified by it, but we lose something when we cut ourselves off from that great musical tradition of which Bach is maybe the greatest representative.

Jason Duesing: Along the way, one of the things I came across was … and part of the field in which we work, historical theology and church history, I had heard of the great historical theologian Jaroslav Pelikan, and had read many of his works just through the course of my studies and own interest, the great Yale scholar. I stumbled across a book that he wrote in 1986 called, “Bach among the Theologians.” Pelikan, of course, as you know and know much better than I, was a Lutheran before he made the journey to orthodoxy, so he had an interest in Bach and wrote a wonderful little book called, “Bach among the Theologians” that’s just full of all kinds of treasures and things. It was through the reading of that book really that sort of inspired me to put some simple thoughts down in this blog article.

Timothy George: I’m glad you mentioned that book. I’m holding it in my hands right now. “Bach among the Theologians” by Jaroslav Pelikan, published by Fortress Press. I don’t know if it’s still in print. Probably not, but maybe you can get it somehow in out of print books or something. It’s a wonderful little book. One of the points he makes in that book is a comparison of Bach and Vivaldi. Vivaldi was, of course, a contemporary, a little older contemporary of Bach, and Bach learned a great deal, according to Pelikan, from Vivaldi in terms of style and form. The point of comparison that Pelikan makes in his book is “The Four Seasons,” the most famous, maybe, of Vivaldi’s compositions. He wrote many. He compares that to Bach’s “Four Seasons,” and they’re very different. For Vivaldi it’s summer, fall, winter, spring, the seasons of the year, whereas for Bach, it’s the seasons of the Christian year. Advent, Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost. He says his whole life and his musical formation was geared around following Jesus Christ throughout the year, through the liturgical seasons of the year. What do you think about that?

Jason Duesing: I think it’s a real instructive way and a really helpful way, almost catechetical in the sense that it’s helping us to appreciate the music along with a liturgical format so that we can understand the pieces in which he composed and how they might align up with some of these celebrations, whether it be Christmas and Advent, or Easter, along those lines. I remember reading … That’s right. Early in the book, I remember reading that chapter and it was very instructive for me, again, helping to kind of piece together some things.

Timothy George: Now, we are both theologians. We spend a lot of our time talking and bantering about ideas and doctrines and teachings of the church and of the Scriptures as they’ve informed the church. How has theology, Bach’s music in particular, shaped your theology?

Jason Duesing: Well, one of the pieces that was recommended to me early, it’s certainly highlighted in this book by Pelikan, I remember coming across, in other articles it being recommended, is Bach’s Mass in B Minor. It’s, of course, a beautiful piece to listen to, but even listening to it and understanding why he composed it the way he did, again, I’m not a musicologist or even really can even carry a tune, so I’m well in over my head in a lot of this discussion, but as a layman, if you will, working through this, it helped me to, as he’s crafting or composing this music to come alongside worship. I would say more than anything, it’s really helped in my doxology as much as my theology, in terms of shaping, stirring my heart and things like this.

[Music playing.]

Pelikan in the book, he even mentions it one time, he said that talking about Bach, the highest activity of the human spirit was the praise of God, that such praise involved the total activity of the spirit. For Bach, clearly his music was worship. It really helped me find another way in which to worship God through listening to some of these things.

[Music playing.]

Timothy George: Pelikan quotes a scholar named Jacob Spitta and I want to disagree with Spitta as he is quoted by Pelikan, saying that Bach’s work captures the bold spirit of native vigor which called the German Reformation into being. I don’t think that’s Pelikan speaking. He’s quoting Jacob Spitta there. When I think about the music of Bach, I would not say it’s the bold spirit of native vigor that called the German Reformation into being. If that were the case then we would be worshiping Thor and Wuotan, not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was the gospel that Luther recovered in the Reformation and that Bach gave such great musical setting to in his work. Of course there’s vigor, there’s dynamism in this music, but it’s something deeper than that. There is a content involved here. It’s the gospel of Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t want to give a presentation of Bach that kind of sidelined that the way this scholar seems to do.

Jason Duesing: Yes. I couldn’t agree more. Pelikan, of course, doesn’t dwell there that much anyway as he stays somewhere else. He really moves on to even categorizing a lot of what Bach composes, especially even that Mass in B Minor is something he calls evangelical Catholicity. I think there, in that term, you get more to the root of this celebration of the gospel. Later in the book he does even go at lengths to define what he means by that term. He talks about it in terms of using the phrase the re-discovery of the gospel in the Reformation and the renewal of the church and things that follow the Reformation itself on into Bach’s own era.

[Music playing.]

Timothy George: You know, we could talk about our favorite Bach pieces probably longer than we have time to on the Beeson podcast, but I think his St. John’s Passion is just tremendous. You’ve mentioned the Mass in B Minor. That’s also, some say, the greatest piece of music in the world. Then there’s this wonderful Magnificat, the Christmas setting.

[Music playing.]

He was a Christmas and Easter kind of composer, just like Luther was a Christmas and Easter kind of theologian, I believe.

Jason Duesing: I agree completely. Among Bach devotees, I think there’s a greater number of us among theologians than perhaps we realize. Perhaps we should start our own sort of … I don’t know what you do these days. A Facebook group or something.

Timothy George: I could hear a new session of the Evangelical Theological Society being born right here on the Beeson podcast. Dr. Duesing has called for a new association of theologians who love Bach. Count me as member number two after you.

Jason Duesing: Among my friends that are this way, periodically going back to the Four Seasons throughout the year, we’ll sort of remind each other of what we’re listening to, trying to listen to some of these Bach compositions at the time of the liturgical calendar in which he wrote them. At Christmastime, listening to certain pieces, or Easter, and things like that. That’s another thing I recommend in terms of an annual participation and appreciation of Bach’s music, listening to them at the time of year he intended for them to be played.

Timothy George: You know, so much of this music is, as you were pointing out with your reference to the “Through the Night” program on BBC, it’s widely available. You can just go to YouTube and put in J.S. Bach and you’ll get hundreds of possibilities of varying quality, yes, in terms of the music, but powerful, powerful music that’s easily available to listen to as you work, as you were doing as a student, as you drive down the road, or whatever it is you’re doing, and you’re listening to this kind of music. It will shape your life. It’s not just entertainment. It’s formative in a significant way.

Jason Duesing: One question I wanted to ask you, if I could, was I was curious if you had a favorite cellist, one of those who, many of the cellists, it’s a rite of passage to perform the works of Bach, particularly the Cello Suites. I didn’t know if you had a particular favorite.
Timothy George: Yes, I do. That’s not a hard question. Yo-Yo Ma.

[Music playing.]

There are many other great ones, but I don’t know any greater than him who are living today. There are some in the past that might rank up there. I would say Yo-Yo Ma. What about yourself?

Jason Duesing: Well, I like Yo-Yo Ma, and again, I don’t know that I could honestly tell you the difference, but the one that I prefer to listen to is Mstislav Rostropovich.

Timothy George: Oh, wow. He’s a classic.

Jason Duesing: Yes. You know, Russian cellist.

[Music playing.]

It’s a little bit off track, but I think the reason why I’m drawn to him is you may have heard Rostropovich was tasked with playing, actually not Bach, but a piece by Dvorak, the Czech composer, in 1968 as a part of the BBC Proms. He was asked, this is a Russian cellist playing a Czech piece, and he was asked actually to play it on the day that the Russians were invading Prague. As the story goes, he’s playing this piece, and he plays it through tears almost the whole piece, crying, because of what’s happening between the two countries. I remember coming across that story and digging deeper, and realizing and seeing him playing all these Bach pieces. Any time I can hear Rostropovich play anything of Bach, you’ve got a ready listener.

Timothy George: And it shows how Bach touches us in the very depths of our experiences as human beings, as believers in Christ. You’re in a moment of national and even civilizational crisis, he’s being played and speaking into that.

[Music playing.]

Now, we’re almost out of time, Jason, but you bring this out in your article, that Bach routinely ended his musical compositions with two different abbreviations, two different sets of abbreviations. One, J.J., and the other, S.D.G. You often see these just written in abbreviations on Bach’s scores. J.J., S.D.G. Tell us what those letters stand for and what they mean.

Jason Duesing: This in particular was what really prompted me to see the listening of Bach as almost a devotional exercise, in that as Pelikan says, and there’s a few others that pick up on this as well, is that throughout Bach’s handwritten compositions, you’ll see that J.J. usually at the top of a piece, and then S.D.G. near the end. The J.J. stands for Jesus help, or “Jesu, juva”. He’d start each piece in a posture of submission before the Lord asking for the help of Christ Jesus, almost in the sense of John 15, apart from you I can do nothing. Then the piece is composed and played, and then at the end the S.D.G. is of course the famous, really imprint of the Reformation, “Soli Deo Gloria”, to the glory of God, and so alone. That piece sort of concludes his work. It’s this statement of whatever I’ve done here, as much as man may say this is brilliant, I’ve done it in submission to Christ, relying upon his help and anything that is good that comes from it is to God’s glory. I thought what a fitting exercise, even for thinking about our own lives and days, that we start each morning “Jesu, juva” and we end each day, “Soli Deo Gloria,” much like as Bach did with his own pieces.

Timothy George: Beautiful. Jesus help, to God alone be the glory. A prayer and a confession. That roots us right back into the great faith of the Reformation that we’re celebrating this year in 2017 in lots of different ways. One more question, and we’ve covered this, but I wonder if you want to add anything else. You’re speaking now to pastors, to students, to lay persons all across the world, really, that listen on this internet. What would you say to folks like this, in general, about Bach and his importance as a great musician of the Christian faith?

Jason Duesing: He, as I say, I think the primary importance for anyone who is not a regular listener to him is that it can be a very stretching and helpful exercise to increase your devotion to God and allow you to, as you’re listening, truly to worship and appreciate. Even on a greater level, you’re talking about, as you say at the beginning, one of the greatest composers and musical geniuses of all time. To see this great world renowned work of art done in service to God is truly an act of worship and something from which we can all benefit and grow from. Even if you were, or are, like I was, not really fond of music without words, perhaps starting with Bach and moving in a journey of greater appreciation of this great composer.

Timothy George: My guest today on the Beeson podcast has been Dr. Jason Duesing. He is the provost of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. A fine church historian, a scholar whose work has enriched our understanding of the Baptist tradition and the Christian tradition. Today we’ve been talking not about church history in general, but about Johann Sebastian Bach, the great composer who was born in 1685 and died in 1750. He music is living still. It can enrich your life. We’re going to listen to some of it right now. We’re going to listen to this chorale on “Ein feste Burg,” Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” Thank you, Jason, for this wonderful conversation.

Jason Duesing: Thank you.

[Music playing.]

Announcer: You’ve been listening to the Beeson podcast with host Timothy George. You can subscribe to the Beeson podcast at our website, Beeson Divinity School is an interdenominational evangelical divinity school training men and women in the service of Jesus Christ. We pray that this podcast will aid and encourage your work, and we hope you will listen to each upcoming edition of the Beeson podcast.


Mere Hope

Life in an Age of Cynicism

How are Christians to live in such difficult times?

Unique of all people, Christians are called to embrace a hopeful outlook on life. Mere Hope offers the core, Christ-centered perspective that all Christians share, and that Christians alone have to offer a world filled with frustration, pain, and disappointment. For those in darkness, despair, and discouragement, for those in the midst of trials, suffering, and injustice, mere hope lives.

The spirit of the age is cynicism. When our leaders, our families, and our friends let us down at every turn, this isn’t surprising. But we need another perspective; we need hope. Rather than reflecting resigned despair or distracted indifference, author Jason Duesing argues, our lives ought to be shaped by the gospel of Jesus—a gospel of hope.


Mere Hope
Jason G. Duesing (with a foreword by Russell Moore)
B&H Books, 2018

Available for pre-order at Amazon and LifeWay from B&H Books. 



For updates and more information follow Jason G. Duesing on Twitter at @JGDuesing or Facebook or Goodreads.

Throw them Overboard: Why & How I Help Students Improve in Writing

The waters were all about me even to my throat,

the abyss encompassed me.

The seaweed was wrapped about my head

at the roots of the mountains.

I went down into the countries beneath the earth,

unto the peoples of the past.

But you raised up my life from the pit,

Yahweh, my God.

— J. R. R. Tolkien’s translation of Jonah 2:6-7[1]

At some points in the semester, I am sure my students feel like Jonah.

Thrown overboard and weighed down by multiple writing assignments, they find themselves unsure how they are progressing at the graduate level and eager to find rescue from the end of the term lifeboat, though that, too, seems out of reach.

Yet, I am okay for them to feel this way–at points. The key, though, is that they not end there for there is a purpose to the time spent sinking in the depths of academic research and writing. Indeed, I aim to be the one to throw them overboard.

For my Baptist History course, students first write a 1,200 word critical book review on their choice of two volumes I presented to them at the start of the semester. The second writing assignment is a 10 page (minimum) theological biography research paper due at the end of the semester.[2]

While not connected in any way in terms of content or parameters, I have linked these two writing assignments in one specific way, namely, that the first serves the second in helping the student to gain skill in writing.

While the process may feel like “seaweed wrapped around their heads” the end result, if I do my job right, will be a overall improvement (and hopefully enjoyment, though not required) in the writing task for each student.

Why do I do this?

As I explain on the first day of class, one of the side effects of a journey with me as professor is that, whether one hopes for it or not, I use my courses to help improve writing skills. In the ministry assignments to which most of the students in my classes will go, the ability to communicate clearly their thoughts will prove crucial for their own efforts of building trust, strengthening relationships, resolving conflicts, organizing and casting visionary leadership, and, most importantly, communicating the gospel message well (Col 4:4). For those who find themselves set apart for the ministry of the Word in preaching, the ability to convey their message in written word only helps insure they will do even better verbally.

Further, as was the case with me, many seminary students come not having a strong liberal arts undergraduate experience. Many were called to the ministry while they were pursuing medicine, or engineering, or business, and the like. They have not written a paper or a book review since high school, if even then.

However, rather than lower expectations, I aim to raise the bar high and then design my course in such a way as to help the students reach that bar, if not exceed it, by the end of the semester. In order for this plan to work, the high expectations set for the multiple writing assignments play a key part.

Like I said, this approach is not at all what many students signed up for or even expect from a church history course, and truthfully, along the way, many may wonder why they did. But, as with all things worthwhile, this is a part of rigid preparation required for a marathon of ministry service.

Regularly, I try to remind students that the semester is 15 weeks long, and everything we do in the course serves an intentional and specific purpose, and that there are no wasted assignments or lectures. Thus, some things will not make sense and likely appreciation for the challenge will not come until the semester is over. And for, some, it will not come until years after.

While I seek to teach and shepherd students in a gracious and edifying way, I am not concerned with my current or week-to-week approval rating. Indeed, I hope that for some, they will not think about or appreciate some of what I am doing until six or seven years from now when they are serving with their young family on the streets of Moscow or in the wilderness of Africa–for that is when they will need it the most. [3]

I confess that while I do not want to be known as the hardest professor who teaches the toughest classes, I do want to be in that conversation simply because I want students, especially at the start of the semester, to feel like they cannot take any shortcuts when it comes to my class.

I intentionally start with these high expectations and then as the semester progresses and students are feeling stretched, regularly offer opportunities for grace (as well as a generous but intensive opportunity for extra credit). If I start with low demands that are too laid back, I can never ratchet up the demands to provide correction that will have any lasting effect. Now hopefully, I balance all of this with worthwhile lectures and interpersonal time and attention so that the students know I see my role as an investment in their life and ministry and one that I take equally as serious, if not more so, that what I am asking of them.

The truth is, I have had very few students fail my classes and if someone has done poorly usually it is because they simply failed to do the work or prepare for their quizzes and exams. So while many students, at times during the term, might feel their semester is over and hope for a high grade is lost, the reality is that is the furthest thing from the truth.

For them, in many ways, the semester is just beginning and as they persevere they find they are on their way to dry ground, raised from the pit, and seeing and learning anew the faithfulness of God.

Here are the specifics of how I use the two writing assignments in tandem to affect the class learning experience as a whole:

(1) A directed Book Review with clear expectations.

  • I select books I have read and know well and believe will substantially support and supplement the aims and goals of my lectures. Also, I assign books for which I want to read reviews. If the professor enjoys reading the assignment, the professor wins, and the students win as well. No one likes receiving a paper back from an unhappy professor.
  • I schedule the due date for the book review assignment during the first half of the semester to get the students writing early before their assignments are due for their other classes. Also, in order for the feedback from this assignment to be of any benefit to aid them in their final writing assignment, they need to get it back sooner rather than later.
  • The first assignment gets graded twice. In my larger classes, I use a graduate assistant to grade first all the reviews for style and grammar issues. Then I grade them for content and assign the final grades. This is a significant investment of time, but it is an investment that pays off immediately with regard to in-semester improvement in what the student produces in their final research paper.

(2) As a part of their final research paper, I require a preliminary Prospectus and Bibliography assignment.

  • This is a short assignment where the student, well in advance of the due date for the final paper, submits a paragraph summary of what they intend to write, including a draft thesis statement, along with a snapshot bibliography of their research at that point.
  • I tell the students that I require this assignment because I needed it required of me. Essentially, this forces the student to engage their paper at an early point in the semester and not at the last minute when resources are scarce and clear thinking is hard to find. Further, it allows me to provide immediate feedback and guide their research to ensure they get on the right track and read the right sources.

(3) A doable and hopefully intriguing research paper.

  • Much like the book reviews, I assign the type of research paper that I enjoy writing and reading. In my history classes, this typically is a “theological biography” paper of fixed length and prescribed structure.

By the time I am grading the final paper (like I am finishing this week), I begin to see enjoyable results. Regularly do students rise to the challenge and attempt to write the very best paper they have ever attempted in all their schooling, and it shows. Students who despised history are now spending time in deep research and reading.

Sound too good to be true? Well, this does not happen with every student, but it does regularly happen with many students. This transformation process alone is why the teaching the same courses semester after semester never grows old. The semester long journey with students overboard in the water and back to dry ground makes it new and rewarding, to the glory and praise of God.

[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, “The Book of Jonah” in The Journal of Inkling Studies 4:2 (Oct 2014), 5-10.

[2] In addition, they read and are quizzed over 1,300 pages of reading and have a cumulative final exam, among other assignments.

[3] Certainly, there remains much room for improvement in my approach and planning. In the 12 years I have been teaching at this level, I have learned something new each semester and have made many adjustments along the way. Also, I am the product of hopefully the best of my professors. Much of what I do that is profitable can be traced directly or indirectly to Malcolm B. Yarnell, III, David Alan Black, David Puckett, Gregory A. Wills, Keith Harper, Paige Patterson, David P. Nelson, Jason K. Lee, John Hammett, L. Russ Bush, Russell D. Moore, and many more. That said, all shortcomings and inconsistencies in my approach are alone certainly mine.

5 Crucial Terms to Know for the Task of Global Evangelism

Baseball has long been my sport of choice. In my school age years, I played other sports with friends in their yards or driveways, but only pursued baseball at a competitive level. As a result, it was not until college that I learned the rules of how to play basketball and football.

I can remember several weeks where my roommates and I were playing basketball and aside from knowing I needed to hustle and “get open,” I had no clue what was happening. My teammates would tell me to “run the court” or “block out” or “set a pick,” and I stumbled and faked my way along until I could learn how to play the game. I was eager to play hard and help my team to win, but I lacked an understanding of the terms for playing.

When it comes to considering the work and needs of missions, many of us would be helped to acknowledge that we need a greater understanding of the terms. We know the Great Commission, support and practice evangelism, and even advocate for the missionary task. Yet, often “missions” to us is like a game we enjoy watching but don’t know how to play.

So, during this time when many churches are focusing on their annual Global Missions giving, I present here some basic definitions of 5 crucial missiological terms. Some of these are elementary and well-known, but for the exercise of building a team where everyone knows the terms and how to play together, I hope you will find this review helpful.

1. Missionary. John Piper provides a helpful classification of two types of missionaries found in the Bible: the Timothy-type missionary and the Paul-type missionary. He explains, “We call Timothy a missionary because he left home (Lystra, Acts 16:1), joined a traveling team of missionaries, crossed cultures, and ended up overseeing the younger church in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) far from his homeland.”[1]

The Timothy-type missionary, however, stays on the mission field in the same location even after churches are started and established.

The Paul-type missionary “was driven by a passion to make God’s name known among all the unreached peoples of the world. He never stayed in a place long, once the church was established.”[2] The pursuit of traveling to places where there is no or little knowledge of Jesus Christ (Rom 15:20) distinguishes this type of missionary.

Whether they stay in one place or continue onward to other frontier areas, a missionary is one who crosses cultures to share the gospel.

2. Nations. The Bible records that nations were first created by God in response to the construction of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11). Previously having one language, the people were dispersed throughout the earth with distinct languages. The nations, both the Jewish nation and all Gentile nations, continue as central entities in the plan of God to display His glory and work out salvation and judgment.

It was to the nation of Israel that God sent his son, Jesus Christ, as Messiah to “suffer and rise from the dead the third day, that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Lk 24:47, emphasis mine). It is the commission of Christian churches (Mt 16:18) to continue the task of taking the message of God’s plan of salvation (Rom 10:14-15) to those nations who have not heard (Rom 15:21).

This message will be proclaimed by God’s children to the nations until the end of the world (Mt 24:14). At that time, the Messiah will return to the earth and all nations will submit to his rule and reign (Phil 2:10-11). People from every nation will worship him (Rev 7:9).[3]

Piper helps us again here by reminding that the task of missions is “not just reaching more and more people but more and more peoples—tribes, tongues, peoples, nations.”[4] When we understand this biblical definition of the nations (and the prescribed task to reach them) we are encouraged to know that the task of reaching all nations is finishable, for  “the task is finishable because while the number of individual people keeps growing and changing, the number of people groups (by and large) does not.”[5]

3. Reached and Unreached. In Romans 15:19, Paul says, “From Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ.” In 15:23, he explains that he no longer has “any room for work in these regions.” What Paul is essentially saying is, “The furthest east I have ever been is Jerusalem, and the furthest west I have ever been is Illyricum. And everywhere in between—in all the places I have been—the ministry has been fulfilled.” He has fully preached the gospel of Christ.

The idea here is not that every person in that region, as big as it is, is now a Christian. We know that is not the case. But he is saying that all the people in this region now have access to the gospel. He has sown seeds, and churches have sprouted up, and there are preachers there who will continue the work so that everyone in this huge region now has access to the gospel. The gospel has been preached here, the ministry has been fulfilled, and it’s now self-sustaining. In our language today we would call this region “reached” and “no longer unreached.”[6]

In missions, most define a people group as reached when “there is an indigenous church able to evangelize the group.”[7] However, there is ongoing discussion about at what point an indigenous church is “able.” That is, what percentage of the population of the people group is needed eventually to achieve the status of reached? Missiologists Zane Pratt, David Sills, and Jeff Walters, in Introduction to Global Missions, follow the common classification of a people group being reached when evangelicals consists of more than 2% of the population.[8]

However, former missionary and fellow missiologist Robin Hadaway recently argued that setting the reached line at 2% is too low and hinders the healthy establishment of churches in a newly-reached area. He recommends raising the threshold back to 10-20%, and along with that, sending more missionaries to these areas previously thought of as reached.[9] While that is a fruitful and important discussion, there is agreement at least that people groups with less than 2% evangelicals are clearly “unreached.”[10]

4. The 10/40 Window. Unreached people groups exist in just about every country of the world, but they are most concentrated in what’s been called the 10/40 Window. Here’s a brief explanation of that term:

The 10/40 Window is an imaginary box that encloses an area of the globe from 10 degrees north of the equator to 40 degrees north of the equator, and from Northwest Africa to East Asia. Not only does this rectangle contain the majority of the world’s unreached lost; it is also home to three major religious blocs: Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism; as well as areas of greatest poverty. [11]

The 10/40 Window[12]

As this region represents such a high concentration of unreached peoples, churches and missionaries rightly focus on the 10/40 Window for preaching the gospel to “those who have never been told” of Jesus (Romans 15:21).

5. The Global South. In the later part of the 20th century, the largest populations of evangelicals around the world started from the historic West to shift South. The church is growing rapidly in Latin America, Africa, and Parts of Asia. “More Christians live there than in the United States, and they send out more missionaries than the United States and Western Europe.”[13] As a result, churches and missionaries in the 21st century are having to increasingly adjust their thinking of the West as “reached.”

Certainly, there are more evangelicals still in the West compared to the 10/40 Window, but the rise of nominal Christianity and the uncertain commitments of the children and grandchildren of evangelicals mean that one day soon, if not already, the churches of the Global South will have need to send missionaries to the West.

As we gather in our churches and families to pray for the ongoing global work of the Great Commission, I hope this refesher of these basic and crucial terms will aid you in this biblically designed team task of seeing the earth filled with “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14).

At this time of year, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention are focusing on their annual Global Missions Offering called the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. [14] All gifts given toward this goal of $160 million go directly to missionaries serving on the field. Here is a helpful video and invitation from Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Seminary, about this offering.

This article is an adaptation of a portion of my chapter, “Pastor as Missionary,” that was my assignment in the new book edited by Jason K. Allen, Portraits of a Pastor (Moody Press, 2017). Here is more information about this new book:

Portraits of a Pastor: The 9 Essential Roles of a Church Leader

Jason K. Allen, General Editor
Moody Press, 2017.




[1] John Piper, Brothers. We Are Not Professionals (B&H, 2013), 223.

[2] Ibid.

[3] This paragraph is adapted from my forthcoming entry in the Worldview Study Bible (B&H, 2018).

[4] Piper, Brothers, 223.

[5] Ibid.

[6] This paragraph is adapted from Jason G. Duesing’s, “A Plea for Ambitious Evangelicals,” in Union University Pulpit, (2013): 43-51.

[7] Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! 3rd ed. (Baker, 2010), 217.

[8] Zane Pratt, M. David Sills, and Jeff K. Walters, Introduction to Global Missions (B&H, 2014), 27-30.

[9] Robin D. Hadaway, “A Course Correction in Missions: Rethinking the Two-Percent Threshold,” in SWJT 57:1 (Fall 2014).

[10] In fact, Pratt, Sills, and Walters, Introduction, 27-30, argue that for greatest accuracy, the term “unreached” needs further refinement into “unengaged unreached people groups” (UUPG) and “uncontacted unreached people groups” (UUUPG). The UUPGs are those groups with populations with less than 2% evangelicals and where no church planting has taken place among them for the last two years, and the UUUPGs are those groups hidden, hostile, or isolated with whom no contact has ever been made for gospel advance.

[11] Pratt, Sills, and Walters, Introduction, 30.

[12] The 10/40 Window, By Danthemankhan at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

[13] Pratt, Sills, and Walters, Introduction,, 32.

[14] See also David Brady’s helpful article on the history of the LCMO.

Prayer, Missions, and The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia

During his final years in Northampton, Massachusetts, Jonathan Edwards received an invitation from Scotland to participate in a Concert of Prayer as a “means” of rejuvenating the revivals.

As Chris Chun deftly explains, Edwards had already come to think of prayer as an appropriate conduit for advancing the awakenings and in response he published in 1748, sermons on Zechariah 8:20-22 entitled An Humble Attempt.

In the 1740s and 1750s, Edwards’s work encouraged many both in America and Scotland, “by united and extraordinary prayer, seek to God that he would come and manifest himself, and grant the tokens and fruits of his gracious presence.”

For, he argued,

The greatest effusion of the Spirit that ever yet has been, even that which was in the primitive times of the Christian church, which began in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, was in answer to extraordinary prayer.

This optimistic treatise, while not evident in Edwards’s lifetime, helped to launch the modern missions movement. In 1784, William Carey and Andrew Fuller received An Humble Attempt and read it with eyes primed for the task of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. In this sense, Jonathan Edwards served as a “grandfather” of modern missions.

Edwards’s An Humble Attempt is the subject of my entry in the newly released The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia. Edited by Harry S. Stout, Kenneth P. Minkema, and Adriaan C. Neele, this volume contains over 400 entries from over 200 hundred scholars including Midwestern Seminary’s Christian George, Michael McMullen, and Owen Strachan.

Over five years in the making, the The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia is a joint project of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University and William Eerdmans Publishing Company.


The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia

Harry S. Stout, General Editor
Kenneth P. Minkema and Adriaan C. Neele, Associate Editors

Eerdmans, 2017.


See also Owen Strachan on “The Ongoing Jonathan Edwards Renaissance” about other new Edwards publications out or to appear soon.


Introducing “A Treasury of Baptist Theology”

New this month from B&H Academic is the start of a new series: A Treasury of Baptist Theology. With plans for over two dozen volumes, this series will feature the work of Baptist theologians and church leaders on a wide range of topics written from a Baptist perspective.

The vision for the series comes from Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and I count it an honor to join him as the TBT series editors. Patterson shares:

Baptists have always been grateful for the contributions of great Christians from every era. Where would we be without Athanasius’s The Incarnation of the Son of God, Augustine’s Confessions, or the multiplied books of the Reformers who laid the foundation for the Reformation? And as much as we look forward to the return of Christ and a true ecumenism, adjudicated by none other than the Lord from heaven, we must until then be faithful in the expression of the truth as we know it. The Treasury of Baptist Theology represents an effort to do exactly that.

As you begin to read these volumes, our prayer to God is that He will use them to encourage faithfulness from all in delivering the New Testament witness to our own era. The concept of a believer’s church–that is, a church made up of only twice-born men and women who have witnessed their faith through the covenant of believer’s baptism and who have committed themselves wholly to the fulfillment of the Great Commission as given by our Lord in Matthew 28:18-20–will hopefully incline the hearts of all to the Savior and to His program of witness to the nations.

Along the way, the plea for religious liberty will also be made apparent, together with the teachings on those doctrines where there is agreement across denominational lines, such as Christology, the Trinity, and other significant foundational doctrines. Volumes on evangelism, apologetics, and God’s purpose for the home will also be among those coming from the series.

So being your journey with us, and hear the significant witness of today’s Baptist theologians. And may God help us to embrace these doctrines with the same thoroughness and commitment as those in the generations who have gone before.

The first volume in the series appears this month. Deron J. Biles, professor of pastoral ministries and preaching at Southwestern Seminary is the editor and contributing author of Pastoral Ministry: The Ministry of a Shepherd. Joining Biles in writing chapters are several of his colleagues as well as former Southern Baptist Convention president, Fred Luther, and current chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, Stephen Rummage.

Together, the authors of Pastoral Ministry examine Ezekiel 34 and explore facets of the life of a shepherd and pastoral ministry. Biles explains:

The New Testament applies the image of the shepherd to the role of the pastor. In contrast to the faithless shepherds of the Old Testament, shepherds in the New Testament are never pictured as unfaithful …. One can preach to the sheep, but one can only pastor among the sheep. Being a pastor requires proximity to the sheep. “Preacher” is a titled earned by excellence in education and eloquence, but “Pastor” is a title earned by hands-on ministry ….

Pastor, God has told you in His Word what He expects from you. The responsibilities of your calling are clear. He expects His shepherds to feed the flock, strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, protect the flock, bring back those driven away, seek those lost, and lead the flock …. This is what God said you are to do. If God honors you with the care of His sheep, follow the ministry of the true Shepherd.

Here is more information about Pastoral Ministry:

Pastoral Ministry: The Ministry of a Shepherd

Deron J. Biles, Editor
B&H Academic, 2017.



  1. Introduction: The Ministry of a Shepherd, Deron J. Biles
  2. Feed the Flock, David Allen
  3. Strengthen the Weak, Deron J. Biles
  4. Healing: The Forgotten Art of the Church, Paige Patterson
  5. Shepherds Must Bind up the Broken, Dale Johnson
  6. The Shepherd Who Protects the Sheep, Malcolm Yarnell
  7. Bring Back Those Driven Away, Tommy Kiker
  8. Seeking the Lost and Perishing, Matt Queen
  9. Leading the Flock, Fred Luter
  10. Trusting the True Shepherd, Stephen Rummage

What others are saying about Pastoral Ministry:

“After pastoring a church for fifteen years, Pastoral Ministry was refreshing and encouraging to read. It reminded me of exactly what the Lord has called his shepherds to do.” — Matt Carter, pastor of preaching and vision, Austin Stone Community Church

“Nothing is more important to the church today than to have a clear view of the role of the pastor …. The pattern for the shepherd is the Great Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ.” — Jimmy Draper, president emeritus, LifeWay Christian Resources

Pastoral Ministry … is more than a ‘how to’ book; it’s a ‘who am I’ book …. You will be challenged to look within your own heart to consider how God is pastoring you.” — Mark A. Howell, senior pastor, Hunters Glen Baptist Church

“The high calling of a pastor is to shepherd the people of God with the Word of God for the glory of God …. I pray that the Lord will bless this book to encourage and equip pastors to be the shepherds God has called them to be.” — David Platt, president, International Mission Board