Why does the church reflect the polarization of the culture at large? What is the future of Christian higher education? Why is formal theological education sometimes seen as irrelevant by the church? Sean and Scott will answer these questions and more with our guest, new Talbot dean Dr. Ed Stetzer.

Dr. Ed Stetzer is the new dean of Talbot School of Theology, starting in July, 2023. Dr. Stetzer hosts a weekly radio program, Ed Stetzer Live, the Church Leaders Podcast, speaks widely on areas of Christian mission and contemporary culture, is the Scholar in Residence at Mariner Church, Irvine, California and is the author of numerous books, including his most recent, Christians in an Age of Outrage. He has a background as a church planter and holds a Doctorate in Missiology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Episode Transcript

Scott: Why does the church reflect the polarization of the culture at large? What's the future of Christian higher education and theological education in specific? Why is formal theological education sometimes seen as irrelevant by the church? We'll answer these questions and a whole lot more with our special guest, our new Talbot Dean, Dr. Ed Stetzer. I'm your host, Scott Rae.

Sean: And I'm your co-host, Sean McDowell.

Scott: And this is Think Biblically from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Ed, thank you so much for being with us And welcome to the Talbot family, taken over as the new dean of Talbot School of Theology. So delighted to have you with us, not only on this podcast, but at Talbot in general.

Ed: Well, looking forward to being here and moving here. July 1, 2023 begins, and looking forward to a journey together with you and lots of our other amazing faculty and staff.

Scott: Yeah, I think there's a lot of fun coming.

Ed: Yeah, I think so.

Scott: It's gonna be great. So help our listeners get to know you a little bit.

Ed: I just love how you introduce the state of the culture, the state of theological education, All of this is gonna be addressed in the next few minutes.

Scott: Yes, we are.

Ed: So we're gonna cover it all.

Scott: Yes, we are.

Ed: I appreciate the bold way that Talbot School of Theology...

Scott: In the next 45 minutes.

Ed: Exactly, exactly. Cover it all.

Scott: So help our viewers get to know you a little bit better. What are some of the things that you are most passionate about? You know, those things that keep you up at night and get you up in the morning.

Ed: So I would say that I'm very driven by helping God's people join Jesus on mission in the world. That's partly because I'm a missiologist, so I actually pursued that as a formal area of training. But also, I think we live in a very convulsive time. We're in the midst of a cultural convulsion. Turbulence and tumult is the reality of our day. And I think the answer is for Christians to stand out, step out in faith, show and share the love of Jesus in the midst of a broken and hurting world. So I'm very driven by that. Ministry-wise, I would say that I'm the father of three amazing daughters, and when you're the father of three amazing daughters, sometimes that keeps you up at night. So Donna and I have been married for... We got married at 20, we're just kids, don't tell our daughters we got married at 20. So those are so much... They're the joy of my life. I love the local church, Ephesians 3:10 says, "God has chosen the church to make known his manifold wisdom," and look forward to even serving here in my local church as well. So those are things that drive me, that I'm passionate about.

Scott: Yeah. Now let me just follow up on that briefly. Your daughter... Two of your daughters are going to school here in Southern California.

Ed: Yeah, that's true, that's true.

Scott: One's at Biola.

Ed: Well, so the one at Biola is a funny story. So there are, of course I have three. One's finishing up her master's degree at the University of Toronto in vocal performance. And she's the oldest, the youngest, the middle one's at Cal Baptist over in Riverside. And the youngest one, we're very close, you know, youngest daughter, very close to her. But she sat me down, I don't even know, maybe six, seven months ago, maybe longer. And to me and Donna and said, you know, I really love you guys, but you know, dad, you're at Wheaton and you've got an unusual last name and everyone would sort of know that I'm your daughter, so I'm going to go to Biola." And so then a few months ago I sat her down and said, "Hey, we're coming too." So... [laughter] But you know, so...

Scott: And her response?

Ed: She has warmed to the idea since that initial response, but we're the ultimate helicopter parents I guess. But you know, in our world, I mean, leading Christian colleges and universities, There's a handful and certainly Biola is one of them. And I've known and appreciated Barry for years. We've been friends for years. And so, yeah, so I had to remind her too that, you know, it's just like probably like there are a bunch of other universities as well, but, you know, Biola is uniquely positioned and yeah, I'm thrilled to be a part of it and she has warmed to the idea.

Scott: I'm glad to hear that.

Sean: Being a McDowell, I have serious sympathy for your daughter.

Ed: Oh, I imagine that's a good point. It's a good point.

Sean: "Oh, you can't escape from this last name." But that actually brings me to what I wanted to...

Ed: And you went to the field, though. You went into the same field.

Sean: I did. That's a whole 'nother story. We could talk about that at a different time. But I'm curious how you navigate having such a visible platform, because I've seen this with my father growing up. I have a decent platform today, live in that world. You're Twitter following, you're speaking. You've got a big platform. How do you navigate that as just as a Christian leader, especially because we've seen a lot of Christian leaders fail publicly? What are some of the downsides of that maybe?

Ed: Yeah, I think a lot of it comes down to stewardship, is how do you steward the place that God has put you. And so I wanna steward well, if any influence that I have, I wanna steward well that influence. So part of that is how you think about it. And also I don't think that I'm entitled or somehow special in this sense. I think it has to do with the fact probably that I entered a field that people, about three years after I entered the field or graduated, people all of a sudden were very interested in mission, like missional and mission things. And so I got to be a voice in some of that space, about joining, you know, the church joining Jesus on mission in the world. I would say that there are challenges with that. You know, we're, again, partly because we're living in a very divided time. People are mad all the time. And I would say, you just gotta get used to, I mean, you see the same thing. There are, you know, consistently just people who are unhappy with you. But at the end of the day, I wanna get up and I wanna work for an audience of one, I wanna please the Lord. I wanna be faithful to the Scriptures. I wanna help Christians live on mission. But I also recognize that there's really no, there's really very few things you can say that people won't get upset about. So, I used to recycle tweets. You have some sort of pithy tweet that you put out five years ago and you put it out again. And five years ago, everyone was like, amen, and now it's like, well, actually, and it's sort of–

Sean: - Interesting.

Ed: - People are just, and I occasionally retweet my haters, just to point out that you got... I would say Christian leaders are gonna have to get used to the fact that if they're gonna be faithful, even just faithful biblically, you're gonna be a villain in some people's stories. And the question is, in whose story are you gonna be that villain? And again, for me, I wanna work as an audience of one faithful to the Scriptures, helping Christians live on a mission.

Sean: Well said.

Scott: As a missiologist and have the heart that you have for global missions and connecting the people of God to the mission of God in the world, what would you say are some of the major hurdles that are out there to the church continuing to fulfill the Great Commission?

Ed: Yeah, I think there are... And it depends on where you are. So in the English-speaking Western world, in the last few months, I've spent a month in Australia, I've been over in the UK, of course, here in the US and Canada, I think in the English-speaking Western world, there are challenges in the culture to being faithful. And I think Christians are a little unsure now that they've found themselves on the other side of the cultural divide. In other words, what we hold to be true, what we hold to be scriptural, the world might seem as small-minded or intolerant. And I think Christians aren't used to being in that space. And it's happened over the last few decades. We've lost our home field advantage. And so I think Christians in some ways sort of maybe lost their footing. I think we're, for example, at an historic low ebb of evangelistic engagement. Wow. 30 years ago, people were going to EE classes and training in their churches how to share their faith. Today, usually when I hear someone talk about evangelism, it's almost always them sort of maybe pointing out how people did it badly rather than how we might do it rightly. So I think one of the challenges is there's some real headwinds from culture pushing against some of those things. And Christians find themselves, like I said, on the wrong side from the world's perspective of the cultural divide. So I think that's a challenge. Now you go outside of the English-speaking Western world, the situation is different. You go to the majority Muslim world, you're having a very different conversation of religious persecution, of how do you engage cultural contexts of people of Muslim backgrounds that are shaped by their context as well. So it's a complex answer, but in the Western world, I would say that's one of the challenges. How do we help Christians regain solid footing? And I don't mean that. I mean, I think theologically, you know, Christ is the cornerstone and the Scriptures are faithful and true, but it's more how do we help them regain confidence in the Gospel and their Christian witness? And I would also say a lot of Christians have kind of not done well with this as well. So how do we help recognize that there have been diverse ways and not all those ways have gone well the last few years. How do we find the way? And one of the reasons I came to Biola and Talbot was I like the language you use about Winsome Convictions, about, I've heard Barry Corey talk about a hard center and soft edges, and all those things I think resonate well. A lot of Christians right now go into war, and I don't think you can war against the and reach the world at the same time. So I think the question is how do we stand up, how do we stand out, how do we remain faithful on what are really difficult issues? And that kind of goes to your question too. I mean I wrote an article, you know, I just got an email a minute ago from Billy Wilson, the president of Oral Roberts University, one of our sister schools. Billy's a great guy. You know, but when they were in the Sweet 16, I know nothing about sports, I had to Google what it was, but—

Sean: This is a big deal.

Ed: It was a big deal.

Sean: Yeah.

Ed: They also got significant pushback to say they shouldn't be allowed to compete.

Sean: That's right.

Ed: And so I wrote an article in USA Today defending them and defending biblical values and speaking about what's called the Equality Act and other things. And I gotta tell you, the pushback was substantive. I mean, phone calls and angry letters and more. So you have to acknowledge that there are things that we have to stand for, but how we engage in these conversations really matters to our Christian witness. Now, Christian witness is not everything. You can't base everything you do on witness, on sharing the gospel. You can't winsome your way out of every issue, you know, 'cause we care about being winsome. But I think finding that balance is a real key thing in the cultural moment that we're in, and I think we're not, we've figured that out fully.

Scott: - One of the things that I think I've sensed just in the last few years, particularly since the Obergefell decision, is feeling like, excuse me, I'm in exile in my own state.

Ed: - Totally, yeah.

Scott: - In exile in my own community. And sharing the gospel as an exile is really different than sharing the gospel when... I like the way you put it, when you have the home field advantage. So how would you advise folks who are in, maybe evangelicals like us, who are in areas of the country that are more hostile to Christian faith than others, to share your faith well while at the same time recognizing the landscape for what it is, being an exile in your own community?

Ed: Yeah it’s funny people have pointed out to me that I have made a move from the frying pan to the fire when it comes to where you live geographically. At least it's warmer here, you know. But you know, you're in very... Like for example...

Scott: I think it might be a warmer fire. [laughing]

Ed: Yeah, exactly. Like when Roe v. Wade was overturned. It did nothing in Illinois or California. So we're still having to advocate in and around issues of light. We're still in the process of trying to persuade people. But what I would say is, it is... I lived in Nashville. You know, I'm not a southerner, but I lived in the American South for a season. I actually was born and grew up outside of New York City. But there is a different feel. The assumption in the suburban Nashville area where I lived is that when you move into a neighborhood, people ask, "Hey, you wanna come to our church?" When I came to Chicago, it was two years before somebody engaged in a faith conversation with me. Now, a lot of people might have known that I was... But two years before somebody started a conversation with me that was to share the gospel, I actually wrote an article about it. It was an Uber driver, Jane the Uber driver. And she did a great job. And so what I would say is here we find ourselves perceived by a significant percentage of people in Illinois, California that actually see us as part of the problem, not part of the solution, as part of what needs to be, we need to move on from, not we need to move toward. But I think the opportunity here is that all across the English speaking Western world, you know, I was just, you know, I teach some at Wycliffe Hall at Oxford and my course is Christianity and contemporary culture. And the reality is, I think everybody in places like the UK or Australia or California or Illinois and increasingly in Nashville as well, that the ideas that are driving the cultural shift are actually collapsing in on themselves. And the whole modern experiment is failing. And if you had said three years ago where we would be right now in a culture, I don't think anybody would have believed it. Remember 2019, making those great resolutions and more. But I think that part of what we have to do is also show an alternative story. So this is what it looks like when Christians, changed by the power of the gospel, live faithfully in line with the scriptures, and their lives are full and meaningful, and they're doing good works, and they see your good works, and glorify our Father who's in heaven. But the way they live has proven itself out. And I think this is, and Sean, I love the work you've been doing. You often engage younger generations to really help them be strong in their faith so they can live differently than the world around us. I think that's gonna be a key future for us. So in places that are more hostile, and you think about, I just preached a couple of months ago by the time we were recording this at a church in Australia where the, it's called City on a Hill Church. It was easy to Google. And the pastor there's name is Guy Mason. And a guy who became the head of a, they would call it a “footy club,” very prominent footy club in Australia. That somebody out--

Scott: That's Australian rules football.

Ed: There you go.

Scott: Not foodie.

Ed: Yeah, that's right. Footie, right, footie. So the guy who becomes the head of this club is the chairman of the, I think the elders of the board at this church. And people look at the doctrinal statement, the church holds views that are orthodox on on issues of sexuality and more. And it becomes the front page news of every newspaper in Australia. And they actually, this person gets pushed out of the job.

Sean: - Wow.

Ed: - So I think that we're seeing already in other parts of the English speaking Western world where this leads and we're trying to figure out how to navigate that. But we start a few steps back from where it might be in Nashville where you say, hey, do you go to church? Do you know Jesus? Here it might be that negative perceptions are the starting point. But Jesus is not done. The Holy Spirit's still at work. And I just listened to a podcast at the time of this recording just yesterday, but someone I'd work with, Molly Werthern, professor of history at the University of North Carolina, talking about... And she wrote “Apostles of Reason.” I'm using it in a book I'm writing. And she just talked about how she just came to faith in Jesus. She, in a secular environment here in the gospel, J.D. Greear, Tim Keller, and others, and Colin Hansen did the interview for the Gospel Coalition, and we just emailed this morning, her clear articulation of her seeing, understanding, and responding to the gospel was deeply moving.

Sean: Wow.

Ed: The fact that secular contexts are growing doesn't mean the gospel can't still be advancing.

Scott: Hear hear.

Sean: Amen to that. Now, how much of that intersects with questions of politics? Because I can only imagine in 2024, we can see the writing on the wall, how divisive and bitter, and all the issues will be at play coming up. Has that been a part of your missiology in the past? What role do you anticipate playing, if anything, as the elections near?

Ed: Yeah, and it's tricky because it depends on what you mean by politics. So for example, I wrote in that USA Today article about orthodoxy around issues of sexuality, and I specifically mentioned a bill called the Equality Act, which I believe is the greatest threat to religious liberty in our lifetime.

Sean: - I agree.

Ed: - So I guess the question then becomes is, is that political? You know, I encourage pastors to speak up on issues of pro-life issues. I think it really matters. Yet, there are laws right now being debated and being passed. I think it matters how we speak of immigrants and refugees, people made in the image of God worthy of dignity and respect. So I think there are realities that have political ramifications. Now in my case, you know, when I came to Wheaton, I was the head of the, I just came as the head of the Wheaton College of Billy Graham Center. And part of what my job was, you know, Wheaton has this, you had this unique center. My job was just to help people engage culture. So I interviewed in 2016, I interviewed major presidential candidates. I interviewed Marco Rubio. He happened to go to a church that I was the teaching pastor at and Jeff Booth, Ben Carson, I mean fascinating conversations.

Sean: - Yeah.

Ed: - And I think, you know, and I was also, I was a public commentator, I was at Christianity Today at the time. A couple years after that, Wheaton asked me to step into a dean role, and so I've been the dean, and depending on when this releases, I may still be the dean, I'm the dean until the end of June. [laughing]

Sean: - Sure.

Ed: - At Wheaton College School of Mission, Ministry and Leadership. It did lead to a shift because it's less of a public commentator role and more of an equipping and leadership role. So, and now, of course, even from here, I've been a dean and a professor at Wheaton College, still head of the Billy Graham Center, but the school here is what I'd say, faculty-wise, six times, seven times larger. So I think for me, I'm more, there's different stages and you wanna be faithful to where God has placed you and the voice he's given you. I think for here, I'm gonna be more focused on how do we equip well Christians, 'cause remember, for those of you who don't know, the Talbot School of Theology is also the robust undergraduate program at Biola University. Every student takes 30 hours for a Bible minor. So we want them to come out well equipped for the world that is not as friendly as it used to be. But then also too, our graduate program, over a thousand students in our seminary program and more. So for me, I think we don't need to step back from issues that the world would try to say is just politics. I don't think that issues of morality and justice and character, I don't think those are just politics. But I think they all have political dimensions. But my role here probably will be more equipping pastors and leaders. I’ll still–Talbot's asked me to, the school's asked me to still continue my speaking and writing ministry. Hopefully, by the time I start this job July 1st, I will have finished my book on the future of evangelicalism. If not, I am in trouble with Mrs. Stetzer. [laughing] Yes, exactly. And then I've got another book under contract. So I'm gonna continue writing and speaking. But mostly what I do is train pastors, leaders, but those things will have dimensions that the world would sometimes use political.

Scott: So you spent a lot of time in this particular LifeWay.

Yeah, Lifeway, nine years of LifeWay.

Scott: In doing a lot of research on the state of the church, the state of the Bible and theology and things like that. As you reflect on the state of the evangelical church today, what are you encouraged about and what are you worried about?

Ed: - Yeah, so I think people need to realize that the perception of evangelicals in one of the corridors of power is probably negative. I talk to a lot of reporters, I work a lot with religion reporters intentionally, 'cause I want them to have an evangelical who really believes the evangelical stuff to call. And some of them are very fair, most of them are very fair in the religion reporter world, sometimes it's more broadly. And I think that's probably unfair. I really wish, I mean I think there's sometimes a dismissiveness towards people of devout faith who, and what I would say is I see the tutoring programs and a small town in Alabama, engaging persons coming from financially disadvantaged, marginalized communities, crossing racial, language, and ethnic barriers at a small, wonderful Pentecostal church in rural Alabama, just to use as an example. And you go to places like that, that sometimes people in New York and LA, I've lived in New York and now I'm living near LA, that they might be dismissive of, called flyover country. But those people are showing and sharing the love of Jesus in ways that really encourage me. Specifically, I would say, there are three or four, 'cause I'm asked this question often in the media as well, I'm encouraged the future of evangelicalism by Christians who are seeking to live out the truths of the gospel, its implications in their lives, and I see that all over the country. I see that all over the world. Second, I'm encouraged by the continued growth of church planting. I think church planting is now, I've written more on church revitalization than I have on church planting. But also too, many of those church plants are engaging communities that are places you'd be shocked to see church plants. So I recently did some stuff with a group in San Francisco, the Bay Area, just these church plants proclaiming the gospel in a very secular environment and seeking to live out faithful the truths of the gospel. I would also say the beautiful increased diversity of the church. You see that just in the UK. I preach at a church pretty regularly there called Kensington Temple. It's a flagship church of the Elam Pentecostal denomination. Right in Notting Hill in London, so everyone knows the neighborhood from some movie that I didn't see. But I go to that church and it's 122 countries represented. Many women from every tongue, tribe, and nation in London.

Scott: Wow.

Sean: That’s amazing.

Ed: Or even at Moody Church. I went to that church for four years, almost four years, which nobody should be the interim of anything for four years. But anyway, I was the interim pastor at Moody Church for longer than three of their pastors have been the pastor of Moody Church. But 82 countries represented there. To see that just powerful is a beautiful thing. And I would say too, I'm, fourthly, and that's my four things, is I'm encouraged what I see in the next generation because we're in a season of clarification. Being a Christian, which was the default position, Congress is 90 something percent Christian by self-identification. Now, I don't think there's actually an ongoing spiritual route going in Congress. People have thought, believed that there is a cultural value with identifying with Christianity. And I think for older people like in Congress, it probably is. So you say, "I'm a Christian," and identify as such. That's not true for a 24-year-old today. So I think what you're seeing is for that 18-year-old, when she identifies as a Christian, there's a real seriousness to it, whereas identifying as a Christian maybe in prior generations was something you did because it had a cultural value. There was a cache associated with it. So I think one of the... And again, I don't think it's good that the decline in self-identified Christianity is here. I think sometimes people, "Yay!" I don't think it's good. But one of the silver linings of that cloud is a greater clarity on what a Christian is and is not. And I think, so you're seeing nominalism, so nominalism is perhaps the greatest religion in English speaking Western world. So nominalism is falling away. What's replacing it is mostly secularism, but also among the next generation of more devout faith and practice. So what we find is younger adults tend to be more serious about their faith. They hold faith at a lower level. When they do, they hold it at a higher level. So I think that's an important distinction.

Sean: - Okay, so nine years at LifeWay, four years at Moody, this time at Wheaton. How old are you? I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. [laughing]

Ed: - So first of all, it was not four years at Wheaton. I was at four years at Moody. So I was seven years. It's so funny 'cause people, like I was talking to a friend of mine and we were direct messaging on Twitter. I'll name her Sharon Hodde Miller. I host her on podcasts. She's got a new book on kindness. So she says to me, "You were just at Wheaton, such a short time." And I said I was at, I was seven years at Wheaton. That's like a– there's time for a biblical jubilee. So I was at nine years at LifeWay, seven years at Wheaton. Before that, I was at the North American Mission Board as its missiologist in residence for five years. And then I was a seminary professor for three years. And then prior to that, I was a church planner. So I started, Donna and I moved to the inner city of Buffalo, New York when we were 21 years old. It was the fastest shrinking city in America at the time. And we felt God call us to plant a church among the urban poor. And so most people who first read anything by Ed Stetzer read a church planting book. And so I wrote what was called, first it was called "Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age."

Sean: - Of course, you had to call it that. [laughing]

Ed: - I didn't call it that, but it was a little blue book. And then the language sort of shifted, you know, and these publishers, you know, so it was then planting missional churches. But that's sort of the space. I think that's part of why I love the church. So one of the things that's gonna make people nervous at Talbot is every once in a while I'm gonna be at this wonderful church. And I sometimes tweet that I got a free Sunday, I wanna come, I'll preach at a small church if you're under 100, here's what it is. And then I'll sometimes tweet after that, I miss being a local church pastor. And it always makes people nervous at wherever I work. Because it doesn't mean I'm gonna quit, but I think that, I can't think of a more important role or job than that of the local church pastor. So anyway, so that's kind of part of my passion is the church.

Sean: - By the way, when you sent out that tweet, I don't know, six or eight weeks ago, one of my friends, who's probably the most influential person, one of the most influential in my son's life, one of his coaches, local pastor, small church, he's like, he called me, he goes, "You see what Ed did? I'm so glad he's at Talbot, because most people don't realize how hard it is to be a small church pastor, and for somebody like Ed to step in." So I love that. I might copy that someday. Maybe I'll tag you and just offer that as well.

Ed: It's super great.

Sean: Once my kids are gone.

Ed: You never know where you're gonna end up. And so I have a rule, I put it on Facebook, 'cause I'll say yes, but I'm gonna, so if I end up at some really weird place, I'm gonna preach something that maybe...

Sean: - There you go, there you go. - But I've ended up at a Japanese background Presbyterian church.

Sean: - Wow, interesting.

Ed: - I've ended up at a black missionary Baptist church. I've ended up at a couple of Pentecostal churches, Southern Baptist church. And most recently was Irvine Harvest Community Church, which is funny 'cause I went there and I tweeted and everyone said, "Harvest isn't a small church." I said, "No, it's not that harvest."

Sean: - Yeah, a little different. [laughing]

Ed: - It's this wonderful church. Talbot students there, got to meet Talbot students there.

Sean: - That's funny.

Ed: - And so, yeah, so I love doing that. And one of the things I wanna do is, you know, on most Sundays, I mean, not most, probably almost all Sundays, I'm preaching somewhere because I just love the church. And part of my move here is I'm teaching pastor and Scholar-in-Residence at Mariners Church, which is in Orange County. You live in Orange County, he lives in Orange County.

Sean: Yeah.

Ed: So we're in Los Angeles County at Talbot, so I'm learning the geography, but just across the border there. So I love the local church. Eric Geiger is the pastor there, and we have been close friends for 15 years. I used to be his teaching pastor in Miami when he was at a church in Miami. So we're just continuing that tradition. We served as vice presidents of LifeWay to get together. But again, nine years at LifeWay, seven years at Wheaton, I have not changed jobs a lot. I just wanted to get that out there.

Sean: - We appreciate that.

Ed: - That's a long time.

Sean: - I sense you're getting this question a lot, so don't worry, take a deep breath. We're glad to have you. [laughing]

Ed: - It's the thing, it's the thing like, I guess it feels like just a quick time at Wheaton, but seven wonderful years.

Sean: - That's awesome, that's a good show.

Ed: - So we had a great time, and I love the folks at Wheaton, and I'm thankful. We saw, you know, at the time of this recording, we just did graduation, and to see students, we had students from probably 11, 12 countries walk across that stage.

Sean: - That's cool. That’s so cool.

Scott: That’s great. Yeah.

Ed: It was super fun and it felt like a kind of a nice conclusion to conclude at a graduation time.

Sean: So let me ask you–

Scott: So you'll notice he did not answer your question.

Sean: [laughing] Oh I know, I know. He didn’t have to–

Ed: Oh, it's on Wikipedia. I'm 56 years old. I don't think that's a secret. So it's always where you can't like, you know, I don't know how people know that, but it's like on Wikipedia. So it's 56 years old. I was born on September 2nd, 1966 in Manhasset, New York at Jewish Hospital. So now you know all the specific details.

Sean: - Amazing, amazing. Well, here's a tougher question for you than that one. Probably one of the hardest issues that the church has dealt with over the past few years, especially during COVID, is just polarization, division. We see it in the wider culture, clearly. We see it within the church. As a missiologist and just someone who loves the local church, what's your advice how to navigate this? Because when I look at myself, I think I want to die on the right issues. And I don't know that I always do, but it's like I want to be as charitable as I can be towards people on secondary issues, die on the right ones. What's your advice for people, given there's so much difference on racial issues, whatever the issues are?

Ed: Yeah, and I would say that one of the first things is you're just going to have to get used to the fact that no matter what you do, people are going to be happy with you. I think we had this really very nice season of maybe from 80s and the 90s and the 2000s that were really outliers historically. And I think a lot of this was Billy Graham's influence. Cause Billy Graham, we sounded really kind of in still the shadow when Billy Graham sort of brought everyone together. And we could have promise keepers, right? And a million men could go in the mall and talk about issues that were actually challenging in our culture, right? It's, I think it was a little young for you to have been at that meeting, but I wonder, you might have been to a Promise Keepers thing or two.

Sean: I was at the right age. I went. I went.

Scott: He went with his dad. [laughing]

Ed: He went with his dad. Exactly, exactly. just to date us.

Ed: But even Coach McCartney talking about issues of racial reconciliation and more, I think it really matters, still matters that we speak up on those issues. But doing that today would get you pushback from different quarters. It's a different world. And I think partly, you have to remember that when you're a pastor or a church leader and you step into stuff and you use language, for example, that is language that is associated with whole movements, you may not necessarily be trying to associate with that entire movement. But then all of a sudden people are like, "Well, I heard my pastor use this or I heard one of our staff use this. Is that what we mean? Is that what we believe at our church?" So I think it's been a real time of sorting. I called it, I'm the editor of a magazine, general of a magazine called Outreach Magazine, and I wrote in there, I called it the great sort. So people are sorting themselves, where before, well if you go back 50 years ago, they sorted themselves theologically by denomination. So you're an Anglican, you would go to Newtown, you look for an Anglican church, and I'm don't, I’m not necessarily saying this is true, but my guess is if you went to a Newtown, it wouldn't necessarily be, I have to be in an Anglican church. 50 years ago would be the case. 20, 30 years ago it was, I gotta be an evangelical and maybe a Pentecostal or a charismatic, spirit-filled tradition or a different tradition. Today, increasingly it's sorting ideologically. So people that we held common things, we believe the gospel the same way, we believe Jesus died on the cross for our sins and our place, we believe the authority of scripture, but we're speaking up on social issues in a different way, I think that's a big shift, and it's really multifaceted. I just was at the installation service of Charlie Date's in Salem Baptist Church in Chicago. If you've never been to an installation service in a historic African American church, it is a fascinating and powerful experience. But you know, even people in different races, ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures are trying to figure out how to speak up on these issues and to encourage and to stay in the same faith community as people who maybe express those things differently. So what I would say is part of what we're gonna figure out, we're gonna have to figure out, is how we can disagree on some things that are, for example, when it comes to, we talked about politics earlier, I see Christian pastors constantly commenting on politics in a way that can become overwhelming in ways, and sometimes I wanna say, maybe that's not the place to use your voice. For example, I don't think Jesus had a preferred marginal tax rate that was... He was really wanting to see that level. I see pastors commenting on that. Now let me just say that the tax rate here in California is too high, so I have an opinion on that. But I would say that there are people who hold to the same view of the authority of Scripture, the need for personal conversion, who would walk with us on issues of being pro-life, caring about issues of justice, caring about how we treat people around the the world and in our own communities who really recognize that one of the great issues that face before us are issues of gender, identity and sexuality. And I would just say that maybe we need to acknowledge that we're gonna need one another more. However, I actually don't think we're gonna see cultural convulsions historically have... We see one in the '60s here in the US, in the '60s, late '60s, early '70s, late 1800s to early 1900s. They seem to come every 60 years. authors have pointed out, and they seem to take a longer time to resolve than... We're maybe through three years, maybe it might be six to eight years, maybe we're halfway through. So I think our students and pastors and church leaders that I work with a lot are gonna need reservoirs of resilience to walk through a more conflicted time.

Sean: Interesting.

Scott: That's a good point.

Ed: We're gonna need communities to support, we're gonna need to find ways to walk in common alley with people who share the same view of the gospel with us, even when we may disagree on how to address some cultural issues.

Scott: Ed, you've been in Christian higher education for seven years at Wheaton.

Ed: Thank you, seven years. How many years?

Scott: Seven long years. [laughing]

Ed: Seven long years.

Scott: Now you're heading into...

Ed: Thank you, Sharon Hodde Miller. Seven years.

Scott: And then you're now into this stretch starting at Biola with Talbot as an embedded seminary within a broader Christian university. I've noticed lots of observers on the scene, almost writing an obituary for Christian higher education. What do you see as the future for Christian higher education? Do you think that obituary is on target or premature? How do you feel about that?

Ed: Well, it's... Obituary might be too strong, but there's some obituaries. I mean, we're seeing Christian schools close. Sometimes moving online is a variation of that as well. I think... Now, again, it's sort of like preaching to the choir because I'm assuming that people who listen to this podcast believe these things. But maybe we can ask them to join us in seeing the treasure that universities, Christian universities and universities are for... I mean, the reality is, to see students come to a Christian college or university, see their worldview line up with the scriptures... And again, I don't expect a 17-year-old to come in with that, but to see them be challenged, one of the reasons I love the 30 hours here at Biola, to see them challenged and to be rich in the scriptures, to engage in theological understanding. I think we really need to ask the question for many Christians, even listening here, how do we advocate for the role of the Christian university? And we care about liberal arts, we have multiple programs here. I would say there has been a pretty big shift in church practices. So if we go to now the seminary level, and just for people to know, we call it... I'm the dean of the Talbot School of Theology, and that includes our undergrad and our grad. And sometimes people just say seminary, and we do have a seminary, but it's the Talbot School of Theology is the totality of that. You're an undergrad faculty, aren't you, Sean?

Sean: - I am full-time at Talbot, but I do one undergrad class.

Ed: - One undergrad class, okay, good, good, good. So with that being said, I think the reality is, and we found this at Wheaton. So we saw our program in two years double in size. And the reason we did is we wanted to stay close to the church. Now it's much smaller than Talbot's program. So we had maybe 400 non-duplicating headcount in our program. But in the number of hours doubled in size because we created partnerships with, you know, the open Bible churches is a wonderful Pentecostal denomination that we're there. They send us students as well. We partnered with Propel, Christine Kane's organization and saw over a hundred women go through. And right now we have, I think probably still 100 women doing their master's degree there. We partnered with Acts 29. We have a cohort of Acts 29 students going through this together. So we intentionally ask questions like, how do we make it accessible? But it's still, you know, Wheaton's a quality education. Talbot's a quality education.

Sean: Sure.

Ed: So what I say to them is, you know, you might come, like they might come three times a year and take classes, but they're gonna do all the reading and all the writing, we don't want to, right now, there's a bit in Christian theological education, there's in some court contexts a kind of a race to the bottom. Let's make it as easy, as short, and as accessible as possible. And I'm for accessibility, I'm for affordability, but I don't wanna race to the bottom to do the least. I want us to, and one of the things I'm passionate about Talbot is to have the robust theological education. But the reality is, a lot of churches don't see as important like they did 30, 40, 50 years ago. So I think by providing ways, we really want to invite students to come stay, live with us locally here at Talbot. We have a wonderful residential program. But we also have robust online program. We have other ways you can engage. I mean, the apologetics program you're in is predominantly online.

Sean: - It is, yeah.

Ed: - And you know, I was just over at the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics and they were talking about the number one apologetics program in the world is over at Biola and Talbot. And I love that. So what I would say is, I don't think the obituary is written, I think undergrad is in a challenging time, but you've got to remember too, there's like, I think, I'm trying to remember, it's one or 2 million, it's either, I forget which one, but there's like a whole lot less students after the pandemic than the beginning. It's just people said, “I'm not gonna do it anymore.” And now we're about to go into demographic cliff that about 15, 16 years ago, people quit having kids. And I would just say that on the other side, I think Christian universities are gonna emerge, I think, stronger, but it also, we're going to need the help of churches and schools. I was just on the phone with a pastor over on the other side of town here in the Southern California area. And he said to me, you know, we just have to help our students see the value of Christian education, higher education. And so I don't think it's there, but I think we are through some tough times and I hope our listeners will be engaged in helping to advocate for that and know that Talbot, we're gonna work to engage church spaces even more effectively than we have, we have already, but even more effectively than we have so that we can make education more accessible to students who maybe can't relocate. We want you to, if you can, come here and be with us. We have both options.

Sean: - I got one last question for you about this, but first off, I just have to know, you are the first guest who's brought a desktop.

Ed: - It's not a desktop.

Sean: - That is a desktop.

Ed: - It's a 16-inch Mac. [laughing]

Sean: - 60-inch Mac is called a desktop.

Ed: It's a 16-inch Mac,

Sean: Oh. [laughing]

Ed: And I'm sorry. What is that little thing? Is that like, is that even a Mac?

Sean: It's got a superhero on it man. C’mon now.

Ed: It's got a superhero. You know, it's probably copyrighted, and you're putting it on the video. So violation of that. All right, good.

Sean: Well, now that's an issue you have to deal with.

Ed: That's true. I am the dean. We need to talk about your copyright infringement. We're going to get a letter from Marvel.

Sean: So my question is, spell out for us specifically the value in a theological education. So you know I teach in the apologetics program a subgroup of Talbot?

Ed: Let me stop you right there. That's all I know is that you teach in the apologetics program.

Sean: Fair enough.

Ed: So you're in a subgroup of Talbot.

Sean: Well, I mean, just it's one department of Talbot.

Ed: Okay, so the apologetics program is a department, separate department at Talbot.

Sean: Yeah, it's a program within the program.

Ed: Okay, I'm learning as I go. So I use interviews to learn things. Okay.

Sean: So one of the things that I do is I push our program because I believe in it. And I tell students certain things about the value of it. So for example, the letters after your name have a lot less value than they did.

Ed: Yeah, agreed.

Sean: They might open up some doors, give you some credibility, but so that helps. The idea of just having a deadline when papers are due creates a certain level of discipline. I go to the class on evil and resurrection, I go through every paper and give very personalized feedback they can't get. That discussion with their other, not only the faculty at times, but with the other discussion boards interacting, there's that value. I try to lay out for people what that value is, because a lot of people think, well, Sean, I can just instead of going to your class, you have debates on the resurrection online, I can just watch that. I can watch William Lane Craig online, I can learn all this stuff. And in the past, I'd say, well, you don't know what's reputable on the internet.

Ed: True.

Sean: Well, now you've got Wheaton and you've got Biola giving courses online, people can do free. So what's the value for somebody to spend their time and their money getting a degree in theological education today?

Ed: Yeah, so 21 years of age, just got married at 20, finished up my undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry, Donna in education, moved to the inner city of Buffalo, New York, kind of not thinking I needed theological education. And I had taken two courses from a school at that time that was sort of moving away from being a Christian school, so I took two religion courses and quickly realized that, and I'm so thankful that people didn't record my sermons back then. [laughing] Can you like just imagine? I was terrible at times. But I quickly learned that I need to know more. That leading is a complex thing. So we're talking about leadership, but also even theologically. And you know, I was kind of, I was already kind of passionate about theology just as a young undergrad. It just mattered to me. But what education does is it forces you, 'cause you're in, you're forcing yourself, but it forces you to engage topics you might not normally engage. So I was very interested in early on, and maybe as a new pastor, like Reformed theology, I was very interested in Reformed theology. So I could read all day long, but maybe I didn't really like read a lot about maybe the Holy Spirit, or maybe about apologetics, or the other things. So going through a prescribed course of study, I think is so helpful because it enables you to engage resources and writings that people who really think through these things have said these are helpful, representative ways for you to learn about theology, about the Bible. So you ought to know some things about those topics. You ought to know about theology. You ought to be able to go through what pneumatology is and what your soteriology is. And those things are not things that you would normally just pick up a book on soteriology, but then someone's gonna have a conversation with you on what do you believe about salvation and how is God at work and what does it mean that he's drawing women and men to himself? So I would say a prescribed course of study takes you on that journey. It is for some people, like sometimes churches will be looking and they'll look for somebody and having a Bible major or something or seminary degree will be part of it. And so I think that's good. For me, it's more I want you to be prepared and the people at theological institutions, and you don't want to pick one that's kind of aligned with where you are, right? 'Cause they've thought through the kind of things you need to know, and you probably haven't thought about those things in the same way that they have. And so I'm very thankful for that. So I did, you know, I was pastoring, and so I did two master's degrees when I was full-time pastoring in church planting. And then I did a DMin while I was full-time pastoring in church planting. So then I eventually did the PhD when I was a professor. But so I think that's a big part of it. I would say too, it is an investment. And, but it's, it also, when you bring that level of investment, and I've seen this with students, you know, when we have students that aren't vested in their own education, maybe someone else is paying for it, they aren't as vested often. So when you're paying for this, you are vesting in this commitment and on this journey. And I want you to know at Talbot and at other institutions, right, that we see it as a stewardship. You're trusting us to steward your time well.

Sean: - That's great.

Scott: - Ed, I think this has been so helpful for us. I think, I hope our viewers have enjoyed getting to know a bit of the new dean at Talbot School of Theology. We're looking so forward to having you come and start.

Ed: - Can't wait.

Scott: - And I wanna encourage our viewers to be sure and keep Dr. Stetzer in your prayers as he assumes his new role as dean. Keep Talbot and Biola in your prayers as we, you know, we still face challenges. The headwinds of culture are pretty strong here in California. And so we'd appreciate you all keeping…

Ed: And what a great place to study because you're seeing where culture could be in some of these other places in 10, 15 years as well.

Scott: Yeah, we've said to our friends in other parts of the country, this movie is coming to a theater near you.

Ed: It's true, it's true.

Scott: So we are delighted to have you spend the time with us. Thanks so much for all your insight, for the things you're passionate about. We look so forward to having your leadership at Talbot in the years to come. So thanks for joining us, hope you've enjoyed this conversation, and we'll see you next time.