Isaac Adams and Austin Suter are back on the podcast to recount a significant disagreement they experienced in their friendship. They go back into the disagreement with Tim and Rick and discuss issues of contempt, interpersonal differences, complexities and wounds, and spiritual battle. They caution against a bulldozer mentality and highlight how to press into hard conversations with gentleness in order to save and deepen a relationship rather than to abandon it.


Rick Langer: Welcome to the Winsome Conviction Podcast. My name's Rick Langer. I'm a Professor at Biola, in the Biblical studies and Theology Department. I'm also the Director of the Office of Faith and Learning. But, the reason that I'm here today is because I work with my good friend Tim Muehlhoff on the Winsome Conviction Project, and the Winsome Conviction podcast.

Tim Muehlhoff: Rick, great to be with you. Remember when we had Arthur Brooks on campus?

Rick Langer: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Fascinating individual. He's a researcher from Harvard, correct?

Rick Langer: Well, it's American Enterprise Institute. I think he's at Harvard now, has been... You name it. He's probably been there, but yes.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, you got to work somewhere. He came and he said a quote that I've often thought about, that America does not have an anger issue, we have a contempt issue. Anger is, you and I can be angry at each other, but we're protecting the friendship, right? You're not leaving the church, we're not ending the marriage, we're not, not talking to family members. He said contempt is, I'm mad at you, and I don't care if the relationship succeeds.

Rick Langer: We are not disagreeing about an issue, we're now disdaining the person.

Tim Muehlhoff: And we'd be better off without you in the family or in the church or in the business that we work at. Americans are really struggling with this. We're having deep conversations, but if Brooks is right, our contempt is driving us to abandon relationships. We did a podcast a while ago where we invited two Biola University during our Torrey Bible Conference, Isaac Adams and Austin Suter, and they work for a group called United We Pray. It was just a great time. And I encourage you to go back and listen to that podcast as we talk a little bit about their organization, United We Pray.

But in it, they talked about some of the struggles of their friendship. It was, they talk about race together as an interracial friendship. And we talked a little bit about some of their struggles, but we thought it'd be great to do a deep dive into a struggle, to see if all the complexity it takes. And one thing I went and re-listened to that podcast, Rick, you know what struck me? That could be marital communication in a heart beat.

Rick Langer: Oh yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: We were talking about friendship, I'm thinking, that needs to be shared at a family life marriage conference.

Rick Langer: It could be anything.

Tim Muehlhoff: There was such good stuff about, perception checking, short accounts and things like that. We invited them back. They graciously agreed. We want to welcome back, Isaac Adams and Austin Suter. Welcome back guys.

Isaac Adams: Good to be here.

Austin Suter: The marital couple is happy to be back on the couch talking about, you know?

Rick Langer: That's true.

Tim Muehlhoff: But isn't that true, guys? Honestly, everything you said in that last podcast, honestly would apply to parenting, marriage, church relations, community relations. I mean, it was such basic, good, often neglected human communication.

Isaac Adams: Praise the Lord.

Tim Muehlhoff: Now, we just assume that you guys never have any deep disagreements, that you guys are always working it out and is done very quickly and effectively, but, we suspect that's not the case. We were wondering, and we just appreciate your transparency of maybe doing a deep dive into a disagreement that you've had that really took time, energy, prayer and even recognizing spiritual battle. Would you guys be as transparent, and again, keep details to a minimum, but maybe do a deep dive into a disagreement you've had?

Isaac Adams: Yeah.

Austin Suter: Well, something Isaac shared on the last episode is just how different he and I are as people. Isaac is the feeler, he is aware of his own emotions. I'm a series of circuits. And Isaac mentioned how he reads the room well, which he does. And he can often tell that something is off with me, before I'm able to really identify it or articulate it. And that was the case in this one. We recorded a podcast episode and I wasn't thrilled about it, and I was trying to figure out why. And Isaac was sensing in me, and I can't remember how you phrased it, but it was something like, "You seem disgusted by this group of Christians." And I think we talked for two hours. Because we were like, "We need to not leave this room until we have this one sorted."

Isaac Adams: We talked on the last podcast about these things are hard to almost remember, because when you're just going about your days of just like, "Hey, I'm going to say this." I think I said, there seems to be a particular, I don't know if ire was the word, but a particular... Maybe it was contempt or something. I was like, "You seem to have a particular disgust, contempt, whatever we want to use, for this group of Christians that is starting to come out. It's starting to leak in things you write, in things you say, and we need to talk about this." Because I think there's a difference in our reckoning of that group of Christians, where I was perhaps having... I was at least, I don't want to say I was being more gracious, but I did not share that frankly. And I was like, "Austin, I think this is off here."

And so, I was like, "What is behind that?" I think Austin would say, this wasn't like he woke up one day and was like, "I'm angry at these group of people." He was saying it was something I think that had developed, and I'll let Austin talk about that more, over time, and even developed out of hurts and wounds and hypocrisy, that I think Austin was seeing. And so, that was something I was trying to bring to him to say, "I don't get how... Because to me it was seeming unbalanced on the other side. I was like, "You are willing to, let's just say verbally go in, punch, lambast this one group, as opposed to this other group that you don't seem as bothered by. And I'm not getting what's going on and I feel like it's hampering our ministry. Because, we're ready to blow this one group up but this other group, I almost feel like you're defending. That they too have issues that we need to speak out and call against." Is that fair brother?

Austin Suter: Yeah. And we're speaking about this in an intentionally vague way of, but I think we can put a little bit of legs on it.

Isaac Adams: Of course.

Austin Suter: Is that, I was really frustrated with Christians who are self-consciously, ideologically, theologically, conservative. And I was defending Christians who are on the other side. And where that came from is, I thought some of our more conservative brothers and sisters, were doing a poor job of representing their opponents arguments. And I thought that that misrepresentation was dishonest and I didn't want to give it any airtime on our ministry. And what that became is, I didn't want to give any folks to my right, airtime. And it had gotten really unbalanced and I had drifted into that spot and it wasn't a self-conscious decision.

And because of my lack of understanding of my own emotions, it took Isaac drawing that out of me to even figure out what was going on. And I think I was perceiving something true, but I was handling it really poorly. And that's what Isaac was able to point out. And I think we both moved, as a result of the conversation. Because I think, you hadn't been perceiving the error as much as I had, but you needed to really rein in my response.

Isaac Adams: And I think... Go ahead, Tim.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh no. Go ahead, Isaac.

Isaac Adams: No, no. It would be more verbal processing of what happened.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, let me ask a question that maybe our listeners are thinking. I appreciate the fact Isaac that you are doing... Remember the last podcast we did together? We called it Perception Checking. You have a perception and you go to Austin, and say, "Austin, this is what I'm picking up on." Let's say a hypothetical, Austin, what if you go, "No brother, that's not it. I appreciate you checking your perception, but that just isn't how I feel and I don't think that's the case." How do you navigate that? This one, I'm picking up a little bit that Austin you felt like there was truth somewhat to what Isaac was saying, but what do you do in a friendship where, one friend comes to the other and says, "I'm really picking this up," and the other friend says, "Brother, I don't think that's true?" How would you navigate that?

Isaac Adams: That's a good question. We have it a bit easier because, we are very good friends and Austin also works for me. I would say [inaudible 00:09:42]. "Well, perceived or not, we got to shift." But, I think in a friendship where those things persist, I think the person who's bringing something has to recognize, they are bringing a perception. I think this one, it sounds more like perception. I think I was trying to say, "Austin, this is a thing." And maybe that's how I said it. I was like, "Hey, you wrote this, you said this and you're acting this way." But I think it's useful to say, be it a perception or not, and we can get... This is a lot of counselor language, but how I'm experiencing you and I think how others are experiencing you, this is not like, "Hey, do you have feelings?" It's like, "Hey man, this is a reality and whether or not you feel that way, perhaps you are not the expert on you." And that's exactly [inaudible 00:10:39].

But I think there's a requisite humility for both people to be like, "There might be something true here." It doesn't even all have to be true, but there might be something true. And I think that, in those instances, because I think you have to have that. And in ministry we have to have that of like, "Well, pastor you said X or Y." And again, in friendship we have to have that. And I'm like, "Yeah, I really don't think that's it, but is there something there? Something I can glean there?" And I think it's proud to say, it's either, 100% I'll take it or 0%... It's like, "You know what? 85% of that I just think is off, but that 15 is enough for me and my fallen heart to work on."

Austin Suter: Well, something else to commend in what Isaac did and how he approached me, is he gave me concrete actions that I was doing things I had said, things I'd written, and was asking me to explain, and trying to get to the bottom of my heart behind them. He wasn't coming to me and say, "Hey, look, you're mad." He hadn't judged my heart. He hadn't judged my motives. He was trying to get me to explain them, based on how I was acting. And I think that comports with just the first Corinthians model of, we're called to call out sin and we are competent to judge man's heart.

Rick Langer: That's really good.

Tim Muehlhoff: He shared in effect the facts and then invited an interpretation of them from you. "Here's what I've noticed, talk to me about it," as opposed to sharing the judgment after having shared the facts.

Austin Suter: Exactly.

Rick Langer: And to be honest, Rick, that's completing perception checking. Perception checking from a communication theory perspective is, I notice something, let's say you are looking at your cell phone during a meeting, that's my fact, you are looking at your cell phone. I then offer different interpretations for you to comment on. One could be, "Hey, are you distracted and you don't care about the meeting? Or is there something important going on that you need to address?" And then the other person can step in and say, "You know, there actually is something really important." That's rounding out perception checking, is I do offer different interpretations and ask you to comment on my perception or interpretations of what's happening.

Tim Muehlhoff: Are there other things about this story? I'm not sure if we've gotten all the way through this or not. You guys are telling a great story. We got into some other things that came out. Is there more to tell or things about how this was resolved? Why it was valuable?

Austin Suter: It was a really hard conversation and part of it is because of who we are. And our own personal makeups and experiences were baggage that we were carrying into the conversation. But we had years of rapport and grace and showing up for each other and just trust, that we were able to sort through it. And Isaac's knowledge of me helped and he assumed I needed help deciphering my own emotions and he was right. And my knowledge of him helped lower the temperature as well, in that, the episode in question that I had a problem with, involved a guest speaking and Isaac was running the interview. And after the guest would speak, Isaac would just verbally affirm what the guest was saying. He was just going, "Yeah, yeah." But doing that in a conversational way and the way humans talk to each other. Is that?

Isaac Adams: Yeah. I just did it.

Austin Suter: But I know he does that. I know that's a conversational habit of his.

Isaac Adams: That's good, brother.

Austin Suter: That I was able to bring my own frustration with the episode down in saying, 'Yeah, that wasn't Isaac cosigning him."

Tim Muehlhoff: Right. [inaudible 00:14:51]. Austin, let me point out something that I think is really profound that needs to just be highlighted, that Isaac knew your baggage. I think that's so important to know in marriage or ministry or in neighbor relations, "Hey, this is why this topic... You just need to know why this topic is hard for me, this particular topic, it just pushes my buttons." And it's good for you to know some of the backstory why this one gets me and other ones don't get me. I think that's really important to highlight that, it's really good to know each other's journeys and baggage of why certain conversations just produce pretty intense reactions.

Isaac Adams: Yeah, Tim, I have just two thoughts on that. One is, I've heard a pastor say, and I feel like I repeat this often is, one of the things we'll be surprised about and perhaps grieved by though, I don't think there'll be grief there, but when we get to heaven we'll be surprised about, is how hard we were on each other in life. How hard we were on one another and on ourselves, for that matter. And I just think that's so easy because you realize, I have no idea what another human being has been through. What they are dealing with today, what they're feeling. That's not to say I can't ever call them out or challenge them, but it is to say, you don't know.

And so, I think one part of diving into this baggage and even hearing more about it was, knowing some of Austin's past and knowing the ways that that lack of integrity in dealing with your opponent's arguments has caused pain in his life. Deep pain. I am not worried about this, but I don't want anyone listening to this being like, "Oh, they had a squabble about some podcast episode that was it a good episode or not." We're talking about, the wounds that we carry from the past and brother, if I'm over speaking, let me know. And that was really helpful for me in clarifying me to...

In that sense because, we both come from this tribe on theologically conservative, and it's really easy to give your own team a pass. Well, you know what they're doing is really bad and what we're doing is bad, but it... And it's like, "Well, no man, this is not a good thing." And so, we talked about it in some episode, I can't remember, so maybe we could send those show notes over where we talked about it.

Rick Langer: [inaudible 00:17:43].

Austin Suter: It's a biblical requirement for pastors, is to be gentle. And Isaac was just, he knew he was on, I don't want to say sacred ground, but he knew he was dealing with something that had deep wounds and he was so gentle, but he still had the hard conversation. And those two things co-existing feel so rare. In that, "I'm going to force the hard conversation, but I'm going to do it in such a gentle way that you will feel loved by the conversation."

Tim Muehlhoff: Austin, that is so well said. Rick did this whole essay for the Christ Animated Learning blog on Gentleness is not optional, that we have to be gentle. But also, to know the wounds, man, that's marital communication 101, come on. You know living with a person, this is very sensitive territory, which means, it's not that I don't go there, but I go there very carefully. And I think today's argument culture, we are going into very sensitive territory with just a bulldozer mentality. And so, I love that part of that friendship is, the information you gave me, I'm not going to use against you and it's going to shape what I choose to say and even how I say it and when I say it, based on the fact that I know the wounds that you're carrying in your life, your upbringing. Man, that's a keeper right there.

Rick Langer: Let me pick up on one issue that I think it's come up that I want to make sure we talk about this before we're done, is the area of spiritual battle. And even just hearing the description you gave, made me think of this. Where, you were sitting in a situation where you're like, "I think something's wrong. Do I say nothing about it and therefore allow it to continue to be wrong? Or do we do what our culture commonly does, is bomb it and that'll take care of it?" But of course you create so much collateral damage that things are actually worse. And I'm thinking about this from the standpoint of really, almost like Satan's ploys to keep us from being able to preserve the unity to the spirit and the bond of peace, are partly saying there's only two options, either ignore or go nuclear. And there's no realm in the middle for a real but gentle conversation.

And so, this isn't just an issue of saying, "Well, you should be civil, you should be polite, you should be gentle," but it's like, if you don't, you'll end up on the wrong side of the great spiritual battle of the ages, so to speak. You'll be exercising the attributes of the flesh rather than the gifts of the spirit.

Austin Suter: 1st Corinthians 13, you can do everything well and have nothing, if you have no love.

Isaac Adams: Because Austin and I's friendship isn't necessarily tied up in United We Pray, it's not... This isn't a ministry where you can just clock in and clock out, because it's soon going to become a shell, it's going to become a farce. And I think Satan hates what we do. I think he's constantly trying to get at it in different ways. And one of Satan's main tactics is, the Avengers civil war or whatever that is called. The only way to beat the Avengers is to get them to turn on themselves and tear each other apart.

That's where we spend time praying with and for each other when the mics aren't on, and we have to do that because there is a real war being fought. Austin is not against me and I'm not against him. We don't wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities. And Satan, it's less likely that it's going to be like, some obvious major moral failure that tanks this thing, and more likely that it's just going to be the quiet resentment that Satan just adds a grain of rice to the scales each day and you just start believing that narrative. And then that narrative seems pretty clear in your mind. And then before you know it, it's the truth in your mind. And now you're lying because you won't to affirm what I'm saying is the truth. And so, I just think it's crucial to the work that we recognize that, and there are things we bring to each other where it's like, "Man, that just feels like Satan is coming at this ministry with that." And we own that.

In that sense, this is a wartime ministry and it is a ministry of war. Prayer is not just this... It is a pillow for our souls, but it's not only that, it's our walkie-talkie in this wartime to say, "Hey, we intend to be doing battle against the forces of darkness." And that's done on our knees, but it's done, nonetheless. And so, we have to be continually protecting this thing because Satan roams around and it's when we're on the rooftops of entitlement and self-congratulation. That's when David started doing some really stupid things. And so, we have to be watchful. We have to keep the lamps on and be like, "Man, this is seeping in and I don't love it."

Tim Muehlhoff: Boy, Isaac, I love... I was just thinking this and then you mentioned it that Satan is roaming and we know what Peter says, like a roaring lion, but then we think that his attack is always going to be precipitated by a roar, and it'll be obvious. But I love what you just said about the grain of rice. That's how he's going to get us. Remember in Genesis, the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field. In Hebrew, crafty means subtle. But that changes the whole attitude of, if I don't hear a roaring lion then my friendship-

Isaac Adams: Then I'm good.

Tim Muehlhoff: ... then we're good. But I love that metaphor of no, no, he's doing it, man, one grain at a time, trying to get that foothold. And that changes the whole mentality of how I'm protecting this friendship.

Austin Suter: I appreciate what you guys are doing in this conversation of merging our doctrine of spiritual warfare with our doctrine of friendships and figuring out how to avoid the enemy's attacks in this. And something Isaac quotes all the time, and I'm going to beat him to the punch this time, is, screw tape is writing saying the gradual road to hell is fine.

Isaac Adams: Without signposts.

Austin Suter: Murder is not better than cards, if cards will do the trick.

Rick Langer: Whoa.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, that's so good. Oh my goodness. Yep.

Austin Suter: We quote Lewis all the time. We have that as an understanding in spiritual warfare, but, are we thinking that way in our friendships of taking care to sweep the floor and to watch out for the little things and keep short accounts like we said in the last episode?

Tim Muehlhoff: I'm sorry, Austin, to go back to what you said before. We know he's trying to get a foothold in our friendship, but to know my painful past, is really good self-reflection to know... If Satan wants to get a foothold in Tim Muehlhoff's life, it'd be good for me to analyze where's he most likely going to go.

Austin Suter: Oh, for sure.

Tim Muehlhoff: If I feel disrespected, if I feel like X, Y and Z, that's where he is going to get this foothold, so I need to have enough... And maybe that comes through a friend, right? Maybe I don't know my blind spots and my defensiveness or even my painful areas, until your spouse or a friend says, "Honey, I think every time this is brought up, you really get defensive." And then at that point, don't shoot the messenger, but to deal with the insight that's being offered I think is really important.

Isaac, going back to your book real quick, talking about race, I really appreciate the fact that you did not shy away from spiritual battle. I am shocked. I really think it's the great omission today in our relationships is, we just don't talk about spiritual battle. And I loved how you regularly brought that into your book to say, it's not all spiritual battle, but my goodness, we at least have to recognize that this is a big part of what's happening.

Isaac Adams: We have to recognize that Satan hates the Lord and Satan hates the Lord's people, and the Lord wants to work through his people and particularly their relationships. And by this, the world will know you're my disciples by the way you love one another. Then Satan has a vested interest in us hating one another. That's the goal. I don't care if you hate each other, because you think Jesus is going to come... You think the world was created in seven literal days, or you think the world was created in whatever thousands of years, and however that was transliterated. That's what Austin is saying with that quote. It doesn't have to be murder. Kane and Abel is great, sure, kill each other, but why do you just hate each other over petty things? It doesn't matter, but you hate each other. That's the end goal.

And therefore the world cannot tell that the father really sent the son, John 17:21, and therefore, the world cannot tell you you are his disciples. And I have a vested interest in the world being blind to the glory of God.

Austin Suter: To be clear, you're speaking as Satan.

Isaac Adams: Yes, I am.

Tim Muehlhoff: Nice too, Satan.

Rick Langer: Glad we got that clarified. But to go back how we started this, we have a contempt problem, not an anger problem. There's can be righteous anger, but man, when we start to get into that contempt area, this church would be better off without, you just leave. We'd be better off at this university without you, leave. That's when Satan's going, "See, that's awesome." And it could be cards or it could be a theological issue, it doesn't matter, so long as it can get you to have contempt, mission accomplished.

Tim Muehlhoff: If you were to pick up a copy of the West Minister Catechism, they have a whole section of the 10 Commandments, but the section on command number six, which is command not to murder, has a whole long section of how we talk about other people. Because that's where Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount talks about, "Don't call your brother a fool," and they just go off that. Because he's basically associating that with murder. And it is. It's exactly the screw tape analogy here is, who needs to kill the guy if we can just get him wrapped up in the cards? If cards will do the trick, we win. Hey, anything else that we should share or talk about before we do a close?

Austin Suter: Since we've brought up the issue of race, race and ethnicity have been a tool of Satan for division for a long time. We see it in the Old Testament, we see it in the New Testament, in Acts Six, it's one of the first conflicts the church has. And just my wiring, when I read that, I get discouraged. Because I think, oh, well, look at where we are now, we're never going to solve it. I had a brother correct me and say, "You should actually be encouraged, because the Bible speaks to this." And the Bible has actually given us the tools to deal with it. And it's just normal Christian virtue applied specifically. I just wanted to share that as a closing thought.

Tim Muehlhoff: Wow, that's a great closing. Austin, that's what we've discovered at the Winsome Conviction Project is, race is in its own category. I've never seen a topic make people more defensive, more angry, shut down communication, than when race is brought up. And I would talk politics any day of the week, compared to this race conversation. And something's happening with this conversation that we just don't understand where the wounding is, what's causing the defensiveness, and we've got to figure this out, because this is going nowhere in our country. It's just not going to progress, unless we do some really hard introspection. And I don't think... It's a hard issue.

Rick Langer: And as you guys pointed out, this is not just an American problem in the 21st Century, this was, as you say, you find it in Act Six. For heaven's sakes, the two people in Act Six, they're all Jewish, they're all committed Jewish, just one happens to be Greek and the other happens to be Hebrew, and suddenly that's the end of the world. And you're like, "Wow, is that really what goes on?" And the answer is, yeah, they didn't even have to move to Jew and Gentile, they were fighting between Hellenistic and Hebrew Jews. Satan must be saying, "Dang, this is working way better than I thought."

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, we appreciate your ministry, what both of you are doing. United We Pray is so needed and we want your back at Biola. We really do because it really made an impact on our students in a very profound way. We are so grateful and just hearing myself say that, of course, Satan is going to want to disrupt your ministry and your friendship. Hey, can I pray for you guys on that note?

Austin Suter: We'd love that.

Tim Muehlhoff: Lord, thank you so much for bringing Isaac and Austin together and giving them a vision of the role that prayer plays in addressing unity, disunity and for them to have the courage to tackle race, not to ignore this topic. And we know that that invites spiritual battle. We use our spiritual authority right now and we pray in Jesus's name, His blood, His power, and we pray against the dark forces that want to disrupt this friendship, and we pray against it. We pray for spiritual protection. Thank you for these two Godly men that they care enough to forge a friendship, a ministry, and to deal with the junk that comes with that. Thank you for the example that they've given us, and we pray for protection in Jesus's name. Amen.

Austin Suter: Amen.

Isaac Adams: Amen. Thank you.

Austin Suter: And thank you, brothers.

Rick Langer: Thanks you guys so much for joining us, and we'd like to thank our listeners too for joining us. We're really grateful that you're part of the subscribers and regular listeners to the Winsome Conviction Podcast. If you're new and haven't subscribed, we encourage you to do that on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or wherever you'd like to get them. Check us out on the website, for more and additional resources that are available there. Thanks so much for being part of our ministry.