In the second half of this two-part series, Sean McDowell and Scott Rae continue their conversation with pastor and author Caleb Kaltenbach. In this episode, they focus on Caleb’s new book The God of Tomorrow, which is about how trusting God’s sovereign plan for tomorrow while living with boldness and hope today.
More About Our Guest
Caleb Kaltenbach is the Lead Pastor of Discovery Church in Simi Valley, CA. He’s the author of Messy Grace and God of Tomorrow. In Messy Grace, Caleb writes about growing up in the LGBT community, finding Jesus, and learning that love doesn’t require a shift in theology. He holds an MDiv from Talbot.
Sean McDowell: Welcome back to the podcast, “Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture.” I'm your host, Sean McDowell, an author, speaker and apologetics professor here at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.
Scott Rae: And I'm your co-host, Scott Rae, professor of Christian ethics, also at Talbot School of Theology.
Sean McDowell: We are here for a second show with friend, pastor, author, Caleb Kaltenbach. You've really become an important voice on issues of marriage and sexuality, and the intersection between kind of the church and culture today. So thanks for speaking up on those issues and joining us again on the podcast.
Let me ask, since you've been a pastor for a number of years, just start with something really practical. What do you say, say a 15- or 16-year-old kid comes in to you, probably very sheepishly, maybe a little embarrassed, maybe feeling a sense of shame, and just says, "I have same-sex attraction. I've wrestled with this." Where do you go? Because I have a lot of conversation with young people that way, and I just fear as a church, that we don't initially respond well to that kind of question.
Caleb Kaltenbach: I agree. I think that we, and we might have difference opinion on this, but I think what we do poorly is we immediately want to offer solutions. We immediately want to fix. And I think the first thing that we need to do is acknowledge how they're feeling and not acknowledge as in “We agree with it,” but say, "Oh, wow, this must be a very interesting time for you, to be feeling this way and be having these thoughts," and so on. And, "How is that impacting you?" And I think we need to do more listening and asking questions. I've found that people respond really well, especially when we're dealing with tough discussions, when you ask more questions. When we make a lot of statements, I think it pushes people away. When we ask a lot of questions, I think that really helps people engage with that.
And when we're dealing with 15- and 16-year-olds, I think we have to remember that the human brain, honestly, it takes what? It's not done developing till the age of 25, so they got another 10, nine, whatever years left. And I think that we have to allow them to ask good questions. We have to engage them. Now, we do have to set boundaries, like we would with anyone, and we do have to tell them the truth. But I think that we need, we can do that within the context of asking more questions and not just shutting off what they're feeling, because whether it's real or not real, whether it's pressure from the school they're attending, or whether they really have been same-sex attracted since birth or whatever, whatever that looks like, that is their reality in that one moment. And I think that our biggest thing that we can do is be fully present, ask questions, listen. That buys us influence, and then as the conversations progress, that's when we're able to speak more into their lives.
Sean McDowell: That's really great advice. My father, one thing he did is he had prepared in his mind almost every conceivable scenario that us kids would come and say to him, as if my sister came and said, "I'm pregnant," or I said, "Dad, I'm gay." He had thought through how he would respond so when different scenarios came up, he wasn't caught off guard and able to respond lovingly, to listen, and just in a gracious way that you suggest. I think that's wonderful advice.
Let me ask you another question, kind of a bigger-picture question. I've met some pastors who say, "In the church, we shouldn't talk about issues of sexuality. We should not address these controversial issues because we don't wanna turn people away from first hearing about Jesus." And then I've had other pastors say, "No, we need to make it very clear where we stand, kind of from the top down, and address this from the stage." Where would you land on that, and why?
Caleb Kaltenbach: I would land probably somewhere in the middle, where I'm not gonna do a five-week sermon series on same-sex relationships or homosexuality or something like that, 'cause mainly I don't know what the purpose of that would be. But I don't think we should shy away from anything, any kind of topic, when it comes from the pulpit or the stage platform, whatever it is. However, I think we need to teach the whole counsel of Scripture, but I think that there is some issues within Scripture that intersect with society and they are lightning-rod issues. And so whereas I might speak about them in a sermon, or refer to them, I might not spend the most amount of time there, because I'll have more influence to spend more time talking about them in other scenarios, whether it's a class or seminar, whether it's a small group setting. I don't know what that is, but I think that we have to be very strategic in how we handle that. And I don't think that, I think that it's wrong to say, "Hey, we will never talk about something from the platform," but that doesn't mean we have to harp on issues from the platform. Because some issues are better discussed in detail in other venues, but that doesn't mean we don't talk about them there.
Scott Rae: Caleb, let me go back to the 16-year-old, Sean, that you mentioned at the very, very beginning of this. What if the same 16-year-old comes to you and says, "It's not the same-sex attraction I wrestle with, but I feel like I am a, in a boy's body but I'm a girl. And I wrestle with feelings of transgender?" Or some call it gender dysphoria. How would your response be any different to that person as opposed to the person that Sean described, who's wrestling with same-sex attraction?
Caleb Kaltenbach: Well, let me answer that question, then I'll make a comment about it. So, first of all, my method in dealing with that individual, that young man or woman, would not be any different whatsoever. I would acknowledge, I would listen, I would ask questions. And I would hope that that would allow more conversations in the future. Talking with the parents I would say, "You gotta set boundaries as well."
Now, here's my comment on that. I think that the whole issue of people who want to transition genders is completely different from people who are same-sex attracted or identifies gay or lesbian. Two totally different, and even with the, you've probably speak to this too, Sean, within the LGBT community, there are lesbians and gay men who do not like transgendered people. I remember when Caitlyn Jenner came out. She got a, Caitlyn got a whole bunch of just anger from not only heterosexual women but from lesbians within the LGBT community. And so there's even —
Scott Rae: Wait a minute, let me stop there. Tell our listeners, what do you think accounts for that?
Caleb Kaltenbach: I think —
Scott Rae: 'Cause I suspect many of our listeners, that'll be news to them.
Caleb Kaltenbach: Yeah, yeah, well, I mean it was true. I mean, Caitlyn Jenner comes out, transitions, comes out, and immediately is seen as a hero when there are even movie stars in Hollywood who are criticizing Caitlyn Jenner. There were heterosexual women who are like, "Why are we celebrating this guy? This guy's trying to steal my gender. That's all I have left." There are lesbians, even at the Q Conference, that I spoke at in April of 2017, there was a lesbian woman who was speaking there about how she's sick and tired of transgendered people who are coming and stealing the spotlight and they have no idea what it is to be a woman and they wanna be celebrated that way. I remember when Caitlyn Jenner said that that's where I live.
Scott Rae: Okay, now you've said that the, when, I think when it comes to the biblical teaching and the pastoral approach, things like that, same-sex issue is completely different than transgender, right? Spell out how the transgender issue is different.
Caleb Kaltenbach: I think that there's a great book on this by Dr. Yarhouse called Understanding Gender Dysphoria. I think this is the book on it that people can get if they wanna learn more about it. I did not know as much about people who transition as much as I do about people identify as gay or lesbian, but with the individuals that I have talked to when it comes to transgendered issues, many of them have deeper issues than wanting to transition. I've, almost every person I've talked to has gone through deep depression. Was going through it before they transitioned. They have been hurt in some way. They're, they don't know who they are. They're trying to find themselves, and they believe that transitioning is going to make a difference and help them.
And yet when they transition, all of a sudden their problems don't go away, because their problems were never about their gender to begin with. Their problems were about their own identity and who they are, how they feel about themselves. And think about it, if getting married, getting a divorce, moving, if those are big moments we go through in life, what about transitioning physically who you are, even though on the inside you're still a male or a female? And you've spent your whole life operating as a male or female, even if you do feel that way, and now you realize you still have the same problems, plus you're trying to transition your whole mind into thinking that you're a different gender now, though you're really not. That's why so many people commit suicide after they transition. And yet the whole community, which really enables people to transition and they do surgeries, they do that even though they know the suicide rate is so high. I mean, it's another operation making money off of people's death and blood. Like the abortion industry, not as high-rate, but it's still there. It's disgusting. It's awful.
Scott Rae: Could, I mean, couldn't somebody come back and say though that, even though the suicide rate is high, and most people know that going into gender assignment surgery or other steps to transition, doesn't that just underscore how much pain they're in with the gender dysphoria, knowing that they'd be willing to risk that?
Caleb Kaltenbach: Yeah, I think it, I think that it underscores how much pain they're in, but I think in this moment in time, they have said, "Okay, it's the gender dysphoria that's causing that. It's not this issue over here or that issue over here." It has, I don't know about you, when I've had to, when God has refined me, and I've had to deal with things in my life, I'll think to myself, “Okay, it's definitely this issue that's causing all my problem. No, it's this issue that's causing all my problem. No, it's this.” When, and then usually we land on the wrong thing, and it's not gender dysphoria.
Scott Rae: Okay. As I think that's such a really helpful distinction to make in making sure that the central issue stays that way. Now you've, I take it a lot of the churches that you've pastored and been on the staff of, have had a fairly good number of millennials and Generation Z folks in there. Do you, are there generational differences in how same-sex and transgender issues are viewed that you've observed?
Caleb Kaltenbach: Oh yeah. I mean, it's becoming less and less of an issue with people who are millennials and younger. And even Gen X, I would say, or whatever we're calling that now. My wife said we're calling it something different now. I have no clue. But even that generation, it's different. It's not as much. We're getting less and less and less as we move away from Judeo-Christian values in our ethics system, and in the way that we view the world, to where I believe it is that, is it Generation Y? Is that the generation's coming up?
Sean McDowell: There's about 18 different names for this generation.
Caleb Kaltenbach: Okay, those-
Sean McDowell: iGen-
Caleb Kaltenbach: ... in middle school and high school.
Sean McDowell: Yeah, essentially.
Caleb Kaltenbach: And college, yeah.
Sean McDowell: Yeah.
Caleb Kaltenbach: I think it was the former president of Gordon-Conwell, James Emery White, who said that this is the first generation that really has no religious background, no Christian background, that's coming up, and that really we're entering to, in a season in our country where our engagement in society will probably need to be more along the lines of Acts 17, and how Paul engaged the philosophers in Athens and so on. Then in Acts 22, dealing with the Sanhedrin. And I think that there are a lot of Christians and churches who are still wanting to operate this way when it comes to dealing with young people, and it's like, “No, you gotta shift,” because Paul started, in Acts 22, when he's talking with the Sanhedrin, he started with Jesus and he got to them, but in Acts 17, he started with them and where they were, and then he ended with Jesus.
Sean McDowell: Caleb, one of the tensions that I feel is that it seems like there's a desperate need for people to speak up on LGBT issues with compassion and clarity, and yet with truth. And I really wrestled before I wrote the book on same-sex marriage, do I wanna weigh in to this? 'Cause people almost get hurt and angry just speaking up on the issue.
So I posted an article some time ago that my dad had forwarded to me from the UK Guardian about people who identify as dogs. And it was some of the main arguments that were used in the LGBT community. And the thing that got me was the responses amongst Christians who were so biting and angry that I was disappointed that Christians were making fun of and were mocking this. And I thought, “Gosh, is it better to just not say anything?” How do we toe that line of speaking up, being bold, the prophetic voice, without unnecessarily just drawing people in to say things that really hurt the conversation?
Caleb Kaltenbach: Yeah. I think that, and this is my own opinion, and probably wrong, but I think that society on a regular basis gives us point after point and example after example where we can address things as they come. And we can address issues within society as they happen. I think about the shooting in the gay nightclub back in, last year in Orlando. I think about, I think the week where two African American gentlemen were shot and then nine police officers in Dallas were shot. I think about Charlottesville. And I think about, that is a perfect opportunity to talk about racism. I think about, even when Jen Hatmaker, it was made public that she had shifted in her view of same-sex relationships and marriage. And you know she got pummeled on by Twitter, which I just think, why? Plus she has a presence with HGTV. What must they think of Christians who are doing that? Yes, I disagree with her, but I'm not gonna jump on the bandwagon, but maybe that is an opportunity right there for me to talk about that tension between grace and truth and so on and so forth.
So, I think the society gives us multiple examples and multiple instances that people are experiencing every day where we can use those to speak into that, and to show grace and to show the gospel, and it doesn't feel forced.
Sean McDowell: You mentioned grace and truth, and I hear people speaking about this a ton on LGBT issues, but I don't hear people speaking about it on issues like, say, drunkenness or abusing a spouse. And I'm not saying those are all moral equivalents. Why do we uniquely need compassion on this issue? Is there something about the issue itself, or should that be our posture on all issues?
Caleb Kaltenbach: I think that needs to be our posture on all issues. I mean, it says in John 1:14, 17, "Jesus came full of both grace and truth." And we see that in the Gospel of John proved over and over again, from how he interacted with Nicodemus, started with truth and got to grace, how he interacted in the next chapter with the woman at the well. Started with grace and ended with truth. John, chapter 8. I mean, just over and over again, you have these instances. So I think we need it in everything, but I think the reason why you hear it so much right now is 'cause you see so many churches, so many church leaders struggling with how to handle this. We see it in seminaries, we see it in professors who are shifting, and academics. We see it in pastors. We see it everywhere because, I don't think that the main issue we're wrestling with are same-sex relationships or our engagement with the LGBT community. I think the main issue that we're wrestling with is the issue that we've wrestled with since the fall of humanity. And that's identity. We are always in some way, shape, or form trying to put ourselves above God. And we are tempted to repeat the sin of Lucifer. And I think that this is yet another way that we choose to identify ourselves this way.
Scott Rae: You've got a new book that's coming out in a few months called the God of Tomorrow. You, I've had the pleasure of reading through that, and we'll be endorsing it.
Caleb Kaltenbach: Thank you.
Scott Rae: And you can pay me later for that.
Caleb Kaltenbach: Absolutely.
Sean McDowell: What, you charge for endorsements?
Scott Rae: Just [crosstalk 00:17:08]-
Sean McDowell: Man.
Scott Rae: Just [inaudible 00:17:09]. He's gotta buy me a Coke after we're done.
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Caleb Kaltenbach: Well I was gonna do a BMW but that’s fine.
Scott Rae: I like how you think. But you take ... there are no sacred cows there that you're afraid to take on in that book. You take on a whole host of issues. What would you say if I, if you were to summarize the main takeaway from the God of Tomorrow for our listeners, what would that be?
Caleb Kaltenbach: The main takeaway that is that if we believe that God is all-powerful and has a plan for us to go to tomorrow and He will redeem tomorrow, He has a plan for redemption in the future, then leaning into His sovereignty should give us the courage that we need to engage society today with hope, and to do it with boldness and graciousness at the same time. That it's God's sovereignty and His path towards tomorrow that gives us a capacity to offer people hope today.
Scott Rae: What is it about our culture, where it is today, that makes you think that message is so important?
Caleb Kaltenbach: Because fear, as we talked about in the last podcast briefly, is so prevalent in our society, and you saw it during the last election. I mean, we see it in every presidential election, but there were, Trump side used fear, fear-mongering, say, "Oh, if Hillary is elected, this is gonna happen, this is gonna happen, this is gonna happen." And then her, Hillary's side used fear-mongering and saying, "Well, if Trump gets elected, this is gonna happen, this is gonna happen, this is gonna happen." And so fear was used in that way. And I remember I did a sermon series right in October before the election called "Election Predictions." And the first sermon I preached was on how Peter was responding to the people of his day about Nero. And he basically told them, I think it is 1 Peter 2, maybe 18 or something, he says, "Honor the emperor." And yet think about Nero. And so my last point in my sermon, I put it up on the screen, "If the Church survived Nero, then it'll do fine under Clinton or Trump." Because we've got to lean into God's power and sovereignty right now.
Scott Rae: Okay, now, the notion of honoring your political leaders, I think strikes a lot of people as a pretty tough one to choke down with this current administration. The point you make about if we can have, if the early Church could have confidence during the reign of Nero, then we certainly can have kind of that same kind of confidence. But how, what do you mean? What does it look like to actually honor our political leaders, especially today?
Caleb Kaltenbach: I think we've got to make a distinction between admonishing the individual versus honoring the office or the position. I think the office is ordained by God. I think that God puts people in that office. And we see that throughout the Old Testament, right? We see God giving people the leader that they want. "You know what's gonna happen, but okay, I'll give it to you." And then we see God giving good leaders [inaudible 00:20:19]. And I think that too many people will just totally disrespect the entire person, especially Christians, and just criticize, criticize, criticize. And that doesn't mean that we don't stand up for injustice. That doesn't mean that if President Trump or President Obama or keep on going down the list, or future presidents, don't do something or say something wrong, that we don't speak out against it.
But it's something, but there's a difference between speaking out against a policy, speaking out against what's happening versus ripping apart and really just shredding an individual and who they are. Because when we do that, I almost think it's tantamount to questioning God, saying, "God, I'm mad that you put this person in here, and this is my way of rebelling that this person is in office," when, you know what? I think there are many things that President Trump and President Obama did that God didn't agree with. And yet God allowed President Obama to be in office for two terms, and right now, President Trump is in office, and that doesn't mean that we don't stand up against things that our faith demands of us, but we can do that without ripping the person, taking cheap shots, and I think that's, I think honoring our leaders when we disagree with them and honoring the position is another way we worship God with our lives.
Sean McDowell: You mentioned in the last election, fear was used on both sides, they all from left to the right. Kinda my question is, can Christians or should Christians use fear in the way we interact with culture? Whether it's fear of hell, fear of our secular culture, because in one sense you could say, "Well, it works." And it clearly does. But we also have to think, not does it work, but how do we Christianly communicate? So what do you think the role of fear is within the Church? 'Cause we've all heard people abuse fear. And I look back on my own ministry. There's times I'm like, "Yeah, that was probably not the best way of using fear." So what's your advice for us at this moment when we're feeling, in many ways, a lot of fear from culture?
Caleb Kaltenbach: I think that we have to paint a picture and inspire people, what would it look like if we lived God's way? What would, how would the world be different? What would it look like if we lived God's way? And God says, "Marriage is between a man and a woman," okay? Culture says, "Disagree with that. If you keep on believing that laws could change and all of a sudden we have alienated people who are in same-sex relationships." Okay. But what if we follow God's personal ethic, His moral ethic there? What would the world look like?
I think that it's not that fear is a bad thing, but maybe painting a picture of what the world could look like, and then also showing consequences of what happens when we don't follow what God wants us to do. I mean, there are consequences, right? I mean, God even spelled off the consequences in the Old Testament when He came to different sins. Not all, I mean all sins are equal in the fact they lead to death, but all sins had different consequences that came with them. But look, "If you follow my law," God said at the end of Deuteronomy, you know what? You're gonna be blessed. If you do this, you will have long life and so on and so forth. And you see God there inspiring his people, but he's not using fear without inspiration.
I think there's a difference between fear and consequences, and the people who do things out of fear, and they're just gonna do awful things, but if you inspire somebody and change their lives, that's different.
Sean McDowell: That's very well said. You have a measured, truthful and gracious response on host of issues. I'm wondering, practically, how you respond when you see issues, maybe it's politically, maybe it's morally, that anger you? 'Cause if I just read the news in the morning, I can easily get angered, and I'd learn certain internal voices to not respond in a way that will harm the conversation and that I'll regret later. What advice would you have for us, for our listeners, when they see things, just whether it's Twitter, whether it's Facebook, with friends? What's a good internal voice we should have when we just see things that make us angry?
Caleb Kaltenbach: I would say wait two to 24 hours before you respond. Because nothing I've, if I'm emotionally charged about something and I respond, nothing good comes out of that. In the moment I think, “So?” because I'm so thinking with my emotions. But if I wait and I look back on it, I'm like, "Oh, delete that off Twitter." Right? So I think we need to wait, and we need is calm down first.
Scott Rae: So don't hit “send” in the heat of emotion.
Caleb Kaltenbach: Don't hit “send” in the heat of emotion. Pray about it. Get perspective from someone else. And you know what? If we're always responding to everything that gets us upset, soon our voice is worthless. And I think we need to be good stewards of our voice.
Scott Rae: Caleb, thank you so much for being with us. I wanna highly recommend both of Caleb's books, Messy Grace, and then your new one coming out, the God of Tomorrow. I found the God of Tomorrow to be just incredibly encouraging and hopeful. And I hope our leader, our listeners will find that to be the same thing, so —
Caleb Kaltenbach: Thank you so much.
Scott Rae: Thank you so much for joining us.
Caleb Kaltenbach: Appreciate it. Thank you.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast, “Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture.” To learn more about us and today's guest, Caleb Kaltenbach, and to find more episodes, go to www.biola.edu/thinkbiblically. That's biola.edu/thinkbiblically. If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app, and share it with a friend. Thanks for listening. And remember, think biblically about everything.