FOREWORD


“Provost H. Wayne Johnson: On Worship, Peacemaking, and Cross-cultural Education”

01.18.2022  |  Season 3  |  Episode 10




SHOW NOTES

For this episode, Dr. H. Wayne Johnson, Provost of Trinity International University and Associate Professor of Biblical and Pastoral Theology at TEDS, sits down with Dr. Michelle Knight and Dr. Josh Jipp.

Wayne has a rich history of allowing cross-cultural experiences to shape his understanding of himself and of God. During his twenty years at Trinity, he also has encouraged students and faculty to pursue similar experiences in his various roles. He has been Dean of Chapel for Trinity International University, Dean of Students for TEDS, Director of the MDiv program, and Associate Academic Dean of TEDS. In that time, he’s taught some key courses within the MDiv, including “Biblical Theology and Interpretation,” “Christian Worship and Pastoral Practices,” and “Spiritual Formation for Ministry.” He has also dedicated significant energy to the formation of faculty and staff. Wayne shares how he identifies with the Anabaptist tradition, particularly its emphasis on peacemaking and offers some wisdom on that tradition would assist us in this era of increased polarization within the church.

Along the way, listeners will learn…

  • What kind of motorcycle Wayne rides
  • What happened when he met a shark
  • What biblical passage plays a key role in his peacemaking efforts

To learn more about our Provost, Dr. H. Wayne Johnson, see his faculty page, listen to one of his recent sermons, or join us here at Trinity and enjoy his leadership!

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Transcript

[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]

Wayne Johnson
[00:00:00] I have…well, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard them, but I do have some good vacation stories.

Josh Jipp
You like to travel, and…yeah.

Johnson
Yep; yeah.

Jipp
You want to share one?

Johnson
Yeah! Yeah, ok, so our family…this is one time we were in Singapore. And the kids were little, and we decided that we were going to go on a trip. Part of that trip was to go snorkeling, so we went and got on a boat, and we paid some people, and we got on a little boat—motor boat—off to an island in Malaysia. Well, the kids got their…you know, two of my kids of the four have their snorkels and fins, and we have everything. And all of a sudden, we start hearing these kind of…people going “Ahhh!” [LAUGHTER] And we walk over to the water, and there are these small, baby black-tipped sharks just swimming back and forth right about two or three feet in the water.

Jipp
Oh my goodness.

Johnson
So we get in the water, and we’re trying not to convey anxiety to the kids.

Michelle Knight
Sure.

Johnson
So, “Everything’s fine, everything’s good. Just go on!” Then we went to a swimming pier, kind of a float thing, and I’m looking around, and I’m watching around, and all of a sudden, I look underneath and I see big sharks going up. And I was like, “Okay, kids! It’s time for us to come out!” You know? [KNIGHT LAUGHS]

Jipp
Did the kids know what was going on, or did they…

Johnson
Well, since they know…they knew once I said, “Okay, let’s get out of the water now,” you know, they knew something was up at that point. But, it has now become a family story that we tell—

Knight
Oh, totally.

Johnson
—you know, for this kind of thing.

Knight
I’m going to call you “Wayne Johnson, The Shark Wrangler” henceforth. [LAUGHTER]

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

Jipp
Welcome to Foreword: A TEDS Faculty Podcast. I’m your host, Josh Jipp.

Knight
And I’m Michelle Knight.

Jipp
Today, we’re excited to sit down with Wayne Johnson, the current Provost of Trinity International University, as well as Associate Professor of Biblical and Pastoral Theology. But, perhaps even more interestingly in preparing for this interview, I read on the faculty webpage that you’re an avid motorcycler. Is that true?

Johnson
I am! It’s true.

Jipp
What do you ride?

Johnson
A Kawasaki Vulcan 1700. Yeah.

Jipp
Okay!

Knight
Wow. Wow.

Jipp
Can I get on the back with you sometime and—

Johnson
Absolutely! Absolutely! [LAUGHTER]

Knight
I want a picture of that.

Johnson
Yeah, I don’t have it with me today.

Jipp
Oh, okay! Alright.

Knight
Unfortunately.

Johnson
I often will park it out here, so if you see it, come and see me. Yeah. We’ll go for a ride.

Jipp
Great, well thanks for being with us today, Wayne. We’re really glad to have you here. [KNIGHT LAUGHS]

Johnson
Great to be with you. Great to be with you.

Knight
Yeah, we’re excited. As we get started, one of the things we always ask our guests as they come on is where you came from and how you got here. And so, we want listeners to hear about your life, hear about your passions, hear about your calling, and ultimately, how you ended up doing what you’re doing here at TEDS—which I know is a journey with a lot of twists and turns in your case. [LAUGHS]

Johnson
It is. It is. Yeah. I mean, I was very blessed to grow up in a Christian home. I grew up in New Jersey, so I’m a Jersey guy, and went to an Evangelical Free church as I was growing up. So I’m very grateful for that. That really put a lot of foundations in my life in terms of the Gospel and faith and prayer and things like that. Like many, I went to college, went through a period of time where I was kind of like, “Mmm…what am I doing here?” But a church reached out to me—it’s actually…my mother contacted the pastor, and the pastor bugged me incessantly about coming to church. And he kept calling me and offering me rides and everything else. Eventually I kind of caved and I said, “Okay, I’ll go to church.” And this church was a smaller church in Windsor, Vermont, and they really just embraced me with hospitality. They fed me, they prayed for me, I became part of a small group, and then much to my surprise, the pastor began asking me if I wanted to do things—ministry things: “Would you like to lead a Bible study? Would you like to lead a small group? Would you consider preaching on a Sunday morning?” You know, that kind of thing. And so he started to invite me into ministry, which was really exciting because I felt such an affirmation, both from that group, and then also a kind of inner sense of “This is really a good thing, an exciting thing, to do.” I think at that point, I kind of started to feel God’s pleasure in ministry and that was a really encouraging thing. I was heading to med school. As a matter of fact, I’d done pre-med at Dartmouth, I was a music major at Dartmouth, and that’s where I met my wife too. And so I was heading towards med school—did the MCATs, got into med school, was all ready to go. But somewhere along the line, somebody asked me, “Have you ever considered being a pastor?” And my answer was, “No.” [LAUGHTER] “No.” But as time went on, I just felt more and more a kind of sense that that was something I should do. There wasn’t any big flash in the sky, but there was a moment where I said, “Lord, what do you want me to do? What do you want me to do?” And eventually, made the decision to come here to TEDS in 1980 to do my MDiv here. So that’s…and then from there, had TEDS and the impact of TEDS on my life, went into pastoral ministry. I think the next big chapter in life came when I started preaching the Sermon on the Mount—we were pastoring, I was finishing up my PhD at Westminster in hermeneutics, and the Lord really used the Sermon on the Mount to challenge us towards a whole dimension of our life toward following Christ. I think I’d been really well-grounded in believing and trusting in Christ, but now, all of a sudden, it was “following Christ”—following Christ in the way of obedience to his commands, which is probably a story we’ll talk about later, and then also following Christ in a way of mission—just being ready to do whatever: “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” And so that got us thinking about what we wanted to do—what we should do—when I finished my PhD. And that led to theological education overseas, eventually came back here to Trinity, and a lot of things after that. And the other big chapter I think in our story was the birth of our first daughter, Hannah, and she has Down syndrome. And not only does that put you at the end of your self sufficiency, depending upon God in new ways, but it also very much shaped my perceptions of human value; it shaped my perceptions of faithfulness; and it also shaped my theology of suffering, lament, and even made me much more convinced about the importance of eschatological worldview—you know, suffering and the “not yet” of the Kingdom of God. And so that impacted a lot of things theologically for us, and of course, it has been one of the challenges of our lives, and also it’s been one of the great joys of our lives too. So, yeah.

Jipp
That’s wonderful, yeah.

Johnson
[00:06:59] And then I came to Trinity and did all kinds of different things at Trinity. [KNIGHT LAUGHS] I think that’s kind of a joke, you know, I was the Dean of Students at Trinity—sorry, I was Dean of Chapel when I first came, because I wanted to straddle academics and spiritual formation—chapel, worship, and things like that. And then I became Dean of Students at TEDS, and then I was the Director of the MDiv program, and then I was in the Dean’s Office, and now I’m the Provost. So it’s kind of like I’m the utility infielder here. I’ll do whatever, you know?

Jipp
There’s nothing you haven’t seen. [LAUGHTER] I think my first semester teaching here, we were paired up in the New Testament preaching class in the basement, right?

Johnson
Oh, preaching class! Yeah, that’s right.

Jipp
We were preparing for this, and I was like, “Wayne’s really been around.” Like, “He’s done a few different things!” [LAUGHTER]

Johnson
It’s helped me. Having a lot of that exposure has helped me a lot in different ways in my current roles too.

Jipp
I bet. I bet.

Knight
No, yeah! Oh, I imagine. Just, like, the institutional memory you’ve got. It’s unparalleled. Well, you have spent some time in Singapore. Can you talk to us a little bit about how that has shaped you and maybe the way you see the world and the way you see ministry and things like that? We’d love to hear how that experience has taught you—how it’s taught you.

Johnson
Yeah. Yeah I think the background of that was a renewed sense that we should be available to do whatever God wants us to do. And it’s not always easy to do what God wants you to do, but that’s okay. That’s kind of where we’re supposed to be. So going to Singapore was a very…I think a very clear calling for us. It was one of those moments in my life where I—where both Kristen and I felt “We have to do this.” You know, we don’t often feel like that [LAUGHTER], but this was one of those moments where we hung up the phone and we said, “Yes. We have to do this. This is what God wants us to do.” But in some ways, it was gloriously wonderful, and in other ways, it was very traumatic. You know, we had small kids, we were leaving our parents, grandparents, taking our kids…you know, it’s one of the reasons people don’t do it.

Knight
Yeah, totally.

Johnson
I have a lot of memories of sad moments of saying “goodbye” in the airport, where we would—it’s not like the old days where they don’t see you for decades, but two, three years—that’s a lot when you have little kids that are growing up.

Knight
That’s a lot. Totally.

Johnson
So the cost of that was very palpable for us. But I think when we were…so we learned what it meant to be in hard circumstances and trust God in the midst of that—and see him provide in many wonderful ways. At the same time, it was also a wonderful opportunity for me—and us—to become cross-cultural people. If I had a wand that I could wave over every professor, every teacher of theology, it would be to have them go through culture shock. Because I think what it does is it deconstructs you in a good way, you realize what aspects of your life are culturally conditioned, and then you learn what it means to learn from other people who are different than you and who have different assumptions about cultures and other things like that. So the intercultural, cross-cultural dimension of it was just kind of life changing for all of us and for my family. And my kids now are much more global Christians than they would have been otherwise. My youngest was born in Singapore, so she very much has that feel to her. The other thing was it was amazing to me the privilege of teaching students. We had students from Southeast Asia, South Asia, and it was amazing to me how many of those students had endured suffering, hardship, persecution, imprisonment, for the Gospel. I mean, I remember one time where I was sitting in my office as the Dean, and I had about four Indonesian brothers in my office and we were praying and crying together because this was the time in the 90’s when there were a lot of gangs that were going around marking the sidewalks of these homes. And here they are, they’re studying for ministry, their families are back home, and we are just praying and praying and praying for them. I had another guy from Myanmar in my class who had physical—you could see the results of his beatings for Christ. But…not to be morbid about that, but the whole idea is here were people who had counted the cost and they were so on fire for Christ, and they were so on fire for the mission of the Gospel, and so keen to share the Good News in contexts which caused suffering for them and hardship for them. The other thing was having people who became Christians out of their families and prayed and prayed and prayed because their families either shunned them or treated them in unkind ways. And here were people who were continuing to love their families and pray for them. And the Asian context, of course, it’s very complicated how you give honor to your parents and your family, but at the same time giving honor to Christ. But all of that to say, I was there with a certain kind of knowledge that I was giving them, but wow—was I learning a lot from them! And the other thing that struck me was how important it was to emphasize God’s mission in the world, because in Singapore, you’re in the midst of a sea of Islam. There’s more Muslims in Southeast Asia than anywhere else in the world. And that tends to—I think it should—prioritize working together as Christians. Some of the petty differences—theological, political, whatever they are—to me, just kind of seem silly when you’re in a context like that. And so that taught me a lot too—the importance and priority of working together, rather than just planting flags.

Knight
Yeah. Super helpful.

Jipp
[00:12:49] That’s great, yep. Wayne, I want to go back to—I’m curious, you mentioned the Sermon on the Mount, and I was going to ask you about it. I remember after one of my first times preaching in chapel, you came up and very kindly said something like “Great job!” and then, you know, “Do I detect some similar Anabaptist impulses?” Or something along those lines. [KNIGHT LAUGHS]

Johnson
Yeah, yeah. [LAUGHS]

Jipp
I’m curious, hearing you talk about the Sermon on the Mount now, I’m wondering if that’s deeply related to your own studying of the Sermon and what it means to follow Christ. But I’d love to hear you just share what you mean by, you know, you describing yourself as one who has some of those impulses.

Johnson
Yeah, sure. I’d be happy to. Yeah, the Sermon on the Mount was eye opening for me. I was preaching…I was pastoring a church in Connecticut, a Free Church in Connecticut, and preaching on the Sermon on the Mount, and my…Kristen and I were both praying and saying, “Lord, what does this mean? How does this impact our lives? What does it mean to ‘Seek first the Kingdom’ and not just add Christianity into our plan and our agenda?” And we were wrestling with that and we were praying about that—and that’s what eventually led us to go to Singapore. But for me, it was moving from a wonderful appreciation that you need to believe in Christ, you need to believe something about Christ and salvation, that Jesus died for me, rose again, is coming again—these kinds of important things—justification by faith—all these things, to then studying Scripture and realizing that there’s this whole dimension of following Christ: “You’ve got to take up your cross and follow me,” as well as reading in Acts and other documents like the Didache and, you know, Pliny the Younger talking about early Christians and these kinds of things, and realizing that an essential part—and this became increasingly part of my convictions—an essential part of being a Christian was being willing to follow Christ. An essential part of following Christ was seeking—in the grace of God, in the power of the spirit—to obey Christ, and to understand what that means. And so as I started to distill that, you start to get a pretty clear structure, clear specifics, about what it means to obey Christ. Christ gave us commands: do not retaliate, love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you, be a person who persecute you, be a person who is reconciling and forgiving, who cares for the poor, etc. So there’s a whole host of things that are there, and I began to become increasingly nervous about ways in which I had just compromised those as being “unrealistic”—“Oh, those are just unrealistic.”—well, they’re not unrealistic if the way of the cross is an assumed part of the Chrisitan life. If the Christian life is all about just me and protecting myself, then of course, it’s unreasonable to ask me to not retaliate or to love my enemies or to do good to those who persecute me. And by the way, it struck me, too, that it’s not only the Sermon on the Mount, but Paul in Romans 12, right?

Knight
Absolutely.

Jipp
Oh, for sure.

Johnson
[00:15:56] Peter in 1 Peter talks about it: to “follow this example, that Christ set for you. When they did *this*, He did not retaliate. He entrusted Himself to God who judges justly.” So here’s this whole dimension of faith: in order to obey Jesus Christ and to follow Him, you need to trust God in a way that transcends just trusting something about Jesus, or about my own…It actually means to step out in obedience in a way that is an expression of scary, risky trust. And so, I began to read some various sources—Anabaptist sources and others—and realized that, “Oh yeah, people have been thinking about this for a long time.”

Knight
Yeah.

Jipp
Yeah.

Johnson
And increasingly, now it seems kind of obvious, but increasingly, at the time when I was wrestling with these things, the issue of “Christians being co-opted,” particularly in the U.S.—Christians being co-opted, for either the right or the left—seemed to me to be a very cheap imitation of what it meant to actually be a Christian and live as a Christian. You know, it was kind of like, “Well, that’s a little too hard, so we’ll either sign up for the left agenda or the right agenda and then, now, everything will be set.” But I’ve always…I’ve felt since then that the way we are called as Christians is—the most effective, most powerful thing that we can do as Christians in the world is to be Christians and to live like Christians. And that isn’t a legalistic kind of thing—that’s gracious, it’s in the power of the Spirit—but if we’re not actually stepping out and experimenting with what it means to obey Jesus in the hard areas—like where it’s risky, where we feel vulnerable, where there are enemies that we would rather just write off forever—in those ways of obedience, we’re actually learning to trust God and find Him faithful. So that all kind of led to that. You know, part of my nervousness about the “Anabaptist” label is there are some Anabaptists who are squarely Evangelical—I’m an Evangelical and an Anabaptist. But Anabaptist tradition has sometimes gotten co-opted by Protestant Liberalism, where the peace and justice dimension, which I think is part of the Gospel—the call of Jesus—has gotten swallowed up by a political agenda, which I think is unfortunate. So I’ve often said to my students and others, you know, “I think the issue is ‘How do you change the world?’— What do you want to do to change the world? The way to change the world is to let the church be the church.” And what I mean by that is a church that is humbly and graciously reconciling, doing good to their enemies, and showing this “different way.” But you can only do that in the power of the Gospel, you can only do that in the power of the Holy Spirit, and that’s what makes it so unusual—or miraculous. So anyway, that’s…

Jipp
Totally. Yeah. No, that’s great. It reminds me of… yeah, when I think of John Stott I usually think of sort of “Atonement,” “Cross of Christ,” but when I was…ten or eleven years ago working on lectures on the Sermon on the Mount, John Stott’s book on the Sermon on the Mount said very similar things, and also saying, “We’re called to be an alternative community and that’s what the world needs.” He was also saying—granted, this was probably 50 years ago now—“This is what ‘young people’ want. They want to be part of something that is challenging and risky and living differently in a way that’s not going to be co-opted by some larger power.” So in some ways, I came through to some of the same impulses, I think, reading some other texts, and then was sort of surprised, “Hey, John Stott is really a great example of…” anyway, yeah.

Johnson
Yeah. I’ve often used the illustration of a pond—you know, a frozen pond. It’s very easy for us as Christians to stand on the side of the pond and say, “That pond is a metaphor for God and His faithfulness. It’s trustworthy. We can trust that pond! We can trust that ice, you know? That’s great! Yes! How many of us believe that we can trust that ice? Amen! Amen!”

Knight
Yeah.

Johnson
And we talk about it. But then, it’s actually the commands of Jesus, I believe, it’s actually the Word, and in this way—it’s interesting, the Word is a means of grace for us. And so it’s actually in the commands of God, the blessing of God, to give us—the blessing of Christ is to give us his commands, and there’s some interesting Old Testament parallels there—

Knight
Yeah! That’s what I was thinking.

Johnson
—in reaching out and stepping out and transferring our weight in some way that is vulnerable and risky—and it is risky to do those things—we actually find out that God is faithful. We actually find out that the ice can hold us—amen! And then it becomes less of an affirmation and more of a history—more of our story. And I feel like for us, for our family, it’s some of these things that we’ve been through—my daughter, you know, going to Singapore, coming back, and things like that—the joy and the privilege of it is that you actually have experience with God. You know God in a way that intertwines with your story, and your history, and your family.

Jipp
It’s not just a system—

Johnson
That’s right. It’s not just an “affirmation.”

Jipp
—a theological system. It’s a way of life that you’ve experienced, yeah.

Johnson
Yeah. I tell people, “It’s not…”—“Christianity is not like saying ‘There’s a moon I believe in.’ It’s like saying, ‘That ice is going to hold me and God is faithful,’” and, you know, this kind of stuff.

Jipp
Yeah. I’d love to talk “Sermon on the Mount” for a long time. [JOHNSON LAUGHS]

Knight
That’d be so fun.

Jipp
Maybe offline at some point. [LAUGHTER]

Knight
[00:21:30] [LAUGHS] Yeah. I have some follow ups too, but I’ll let them go for now. Well, I do want to kind of transition to some of the things you’ve taught here. I mean, even as you were talking—I mean, you’re casting a vision for Scripture’s whole message, and that reflects some of what we’ve seen you teach. I mean, you teach Biblical Theology here.

Johnson
Yeah. Yeah. I loved that.

Knight
You’ve also taught Worship—and actually, I took the Worship class with you once upon a time!

Jipp
Really!? What year was that? [LAUGHTER]

Knight
I don’t even know. Nobody needs to know what year that was.

Johnson
[LAUGHS] Long ago.

Knight
[LAUGHS] Once upon a time. But I’d love to hear you talk about the classes that have meant so much to you here—what you’ve loved about them. You can talk about either, you can talk about both, but how they…why they’re so important—why at TEDS do we care not just about Old Testament or New Testament? Why do we care about biblical theology? Why do we care about worship and the theology of worship? If that’s helpful.

Johnson
Yeah. That’s great. I…boy, do we have a couple of hours?

Knight
I know. [LAUGHS]

Johnson
Yeah. I mean, two courses come to mind, and I’ve done a number of them, but these two I’ve taught for a long time: The Biblical Theology and Interpretation course is a course that was actually—we did it in the MDiv—we added it in the MDiv revision, because we felt that even though students had a grasp of Greek and Hebrew, even though they were getting into specific contexts, there was still a sense in which students didn’t understand the coherence of the whole Scriptures. And there were some hermeneutical questions there about how the Scriptures connected with each other—continuity, discontinuity, “What difference does the New Covenant make?”—these kinds of questions. And so the Biblical Theology course was designed really to help students understand how the Bible fits together. And as I asked some of my students in the course, I said, “If we took away Israel, how would your Christianity change?”

Jipp
That’s a great question, yeah.

Knight
That’s a really good question.

Johnson
Or, “If we took away the Old Testament, how would your Christianity change?”

Jipp
Yeah. [LAUGHS]

Johnson
And the sad thing is that for many of them, they’ve heard the story, you know—“We were alienated from God, we have a sin problem, Jesus fixed it.” Which of course is true, but there’s a thinness to the Gospel, then, I think, that comes out, and that thinness becomes boring, it becomes rote, it becomes… So the thing that’s so exciting to me about teaching biblical theology is first of all giving them a sense of how the Biblical story fits together—creation, fall, you know, the role of Israel, the election of Israel, how that relates to Messiah, Messiah, church consummation, all of those kinds of things—how it fits together, and to wrestle with questions of continuity and discontinuity between Old Covenant and New. And that is encouraging to me. The other thing that’s so exciting to me is to find the students that say, “I read that New Testament text, but I never realized how much Old Testament was behind it.” And, you know, we talk about the thickness and the miraculous thickness of Jesus’ ministry, and the things that He does, and the things that He says, and how He alludes to different texts, and yet we don’t know those texts because we don’t know the…I’m preaching to the choir here, Michelle.

Knight
Yeah you are.

Johnson
We don’t know those texts well, and so we miss what the thick descriptions are in what’s going on. And I say all of that leads you to worship. So anyway, if I can get a student to want to look at contexts more deeply, see the coherence of Scripture and how it fits together, and then to put their lives and the life of the church within that story—which I think is just as important, too— “Where are we?” both in terms of eschatology—already, Kingdom is here, God is working; not yet, “Come, Lord Jesus.” In light of all of those things, it gives us a framework for ministry that is absolutely essential, so that we can mourn with those who mourn, and yet we can also do so with hope, looking forward to that consummation that’s coming in Christ. So it excites me if students can grab ahold of that. And the other course that’s been very exciting for me to teach is the Christian Worship course, and I feel like that’s almost kind of “crisis care” in terms of worship. But I think for many of us in the megachurch tradition, we’ve kind of fallen into “Worship Concert-and-a-Sermon.”

Jipp
Right.

Knight
Sure.

Johnson
[00:25:48] And don’t get me wrong, you can worship God in a worship concert—that’s not a problem, but there’s two things that I think have happened: We have lost the sense that worship is fundamentally an intentional response to God’s revelation of Himself. And because that is the case, worship has all kinds of different dimensions to it, different responses to it. Worship can be joyful, ruckus celebration, and it can be falling on my face and repenting. It can be lament, it can be joy, it can be all kinds of other things, but it’s become in many circles more about getting me to a particular state of emotion than it is to authentically responding to the revelation of God. So we’ve started to lose the centrality of the Word as the impetus for our worship. We’ve also narrowed down our worship to celebration. And because of that, I think much Christian worship is over-realized eschatology. It’s like, “Let’s just celebrate!” The problem with that is that it leaves people impoverished from being able to worship in a hurting world. If we close the windows, turn off the lights—I mean, close the windows and turn on the lights inside and we just for an hour, hour and a half, we escape, then worship is a kind of escapism. Our worship needs to respond to God and who He is in the context of the world and what we have. I mean, one of the sad stories I’ve had in my history is of a woman whose son committed suicide. And unfortunately, she was in a church that was all very, “We’re going to celebrate; We’re going to celebrate; We’re going to celebrate.” And she came and eventually, sadly, she left and went back to an older tradition that she was part of, because she said, “These people don’t know how to…how suffering works.” And so I think we need to talk about a deep structure of worship, which is, we need to give people something about God—show people they need to pay attention to something about who God is and what He’s done, and remember that and be reminded of that. That’s the heart of calling people to worship. And then, we have all kinds of authentic ways in which we corporately can respond to that—a whole dimension of things. Celebration is one of them, but there’s all kinds of different dimensions. And then the other thing is bringing the world into our worship, rather than—whether it’s praying for the sick, or praying for situations that are in the world, or just acknowledging that this world is not yet the Kingdom of our Lord and Risen Christ. And allowing that honesty to be there—I think that’s one of the problems that younger generations struggle with, is sometimes the worship feels manipulative, “We’re going to get you to celebrate.”

Knight
Yeah.

Jipp
Yeah. Just not authentic at all.

Johnson
…“And what about all of the stuff that’s happening out there? What do I do with that? And so I’ll be here for a short period of time, I’ll celebrate—kind of, I don’t know if I really feel like that.” But I’ll say it: rather than saying, “What are the things that we affirm about God?”, for those who are celebrating and for those who are in tragic situations, “What is it about God that is the source of our hope?” So worship cannot be a kind of escapism, an over-realized escapism, it’s got to connect things together and it’s got to be authentic, and it’s got to be responsive to the full dimension of how God has revealed Himself. So anyway, those are my thoughts about that.

Jipp
It feels as though—I love what you’re saying—it feels as though that requires, you know, if we’re going to not sing hymns anymore [LAUGHS]—

Johnson
[LAUGHS] Well, I think music has a very important part of—

Jipp
Well, what I’m saying is, you know, it’s like, how many…it’s…there needs to be more new songs that are written that are not just in this “celebration” vein, right?

Johnson
Right, right.

Jipp
It feels as though—I saw some study recently and it was like, “The shelf life of a contemporary worship song…”

Knight
Yeah. I looked at that.

Johnson
That’s right!

Jipp
—that’s like, “How long…” it’s like, not very long, but they’re mostly in this vein it feels like.

Knight
Well, and I do think we need to define which Christian church we’re talking about, too.

Jipp
Sure, yeah.

Johnson
Right

Knight
[00:30:02] Because I know that I’ve made some of these statements in class, and I had an African American student be like, “This is not true of my tradition. We know how to lament.” And so I wonder, too, even as we watch songs being generated in different contexts—like, Maverick City has some excellent songs that lead people to lament and really grasp that “Now; not yet.” And so I do think that there is a movement—and some of the humility you’ve talked about, like, breaking down and recognizing that we have some of our own cultural baggage we’re bringing to these theological decisions, I feel like if we do some more… “cross-cultural” might be a strong word, but more integrative worship, where we’re interacting with different voices, we might find some of the resources we need to better engage some of those aspects that, at least, my White Protestant tradition hasn’t always accomplished very well.

Jipp
Yeah, that’s a great point.

Johnson
Yeah, and I think music—I mean, I was a music major, so I love music of all kinds of different kinds—

Knight
Oh of course you do, yeah.

Johnson
—but to me, the issue is that, “Is music serving in culturally-appropriate ways?” And that’s the issue too.

Knight
That’s helpful. Yeah.

Johnson
Is worship serving this structure of worship to either help us see God through song or respond to God in song in a way that’s authentic and clear? And I think the whole…the…well, there’s a whole conversation about multicultural worship and why that’s important, yet how do you do it rather than…instead of making it cultural tourism?

Knight
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Johnson
Because it can be this kind of like, “Okay, now we’re going to do culture A… and now we’re going to do culture B.”

Knight
Totally.

Johnson
But I think the way to go forward with that is, again, everyone is called to pay attention to God. The fundamental discipline that we have in worship is that we are to attend to God’s word, anticipating an intentional response to God’s word together, regardless of our culture. So there’s a transcultural dimension to that, but then how we balance out how we hear that and express that, that’s where we need some of this cultural sensitivity and openness to diverse situations.

Knight
That’s really helpful.

Jipp
That’s good, yeah. That’s great. Wayne, maybe just another question or two. Let’s go back to you having been at every different…chapel, whatever—Associate Dean. I’d love to hear, what’s your take on theological education right now, in terms of…why pursue seminary? Can you give sort of…instead of doing an end route around it, why give maybe three years of your time—or even longer, perhaps—to get theological education at a place like TEDS or elsewhere, too?

Johnson
Yeah. I think…yeah. I think we are…well, I don’t want to sound too apocalyptic here, or too dramatic, but I think we’re at a point where churches are at the risk—maybe that’s the best way to put it—are at risk of being unhinged from theology. Some of the things we’ve been talking about—a theology of worship or a theology, or an eschatology, that shapes the church and the church’s ministry—those things are essential for how you envision ministry and how you do it. And I think what’s happened sometimes is when you get large churches and large church franchises, there ends up becoming a kind of methodological principles that you use, and you just kind of plug them in. And they succeed—they bring a lot of people. Now, and we know that some of the problems there is…the question is not bringing a lot of people, the question is actually shaping and forming people. And I would press it even more: shaping and forming people to actually follow Christ, and to be this kind of way that we’re talking about in the world. That’s the measure of whether a church is successful or not, not how big your building is, obviously, or how many people you have coming. So the question is, “In what ways are you thinking theologically about what a well-formed Christian looks like?” I mean, we’ve talked about some of it. And if that isn’t understood carefully and biblically, then a well-formed Christian is a person who believes x, y, and z, comes to church, contributes to the “machinery” of the church—if I can put it bluntly—and comes to bible study, does x, y, and z, and that’s it. But we desperately need thicker and biblical descriptions of what it means to be a growing Christian, and then we need…also what it means to engage with culture. We’re in a crisis now between this division between “left” and “right,” everybody’s outraged about something, a lot of people are angry and fighting, and there’s violence—all kinds of things going on. What does Scripture and theology give us to navigate through these? I think we’re finally realizing maybe it’s not good for the Church to just sign up for left or right, and then just do that. But there’s a whole theology of what the church is…and the ecclesiology about what the church is called to do, what it’s called not to do, and those clear lines where they should be. Now, I’m not saying everyone has to line up with what I’m thinking in terms of my own convictions, as I said before, but unless you’re thinking theologically about that, you’re just going to be ping-ponging back and forth—or maybe to use a more biblical…you’re like a cork on the sea, getting tossed to and fro. And my concern is that we are now at a point where clearly, many churches are not valuing theological education, and yet the idea is, “We can move very well on our own, thank you very much. We can even do our own training for our leaders, thank you very much.” And some of that is great. I mean, some of that is very solid and sound theologically, but my concern is we are now in this time where if theological education wanes, and people—particularly the church—doesn’t see the need for it, we are in for a heap of hurt going forward, because we will not be theologically equipped as the church to address some of these big challenges that we’re facing. We’re already facing them, but I think the answer is not a lot of clever thinking, the answer is digging into a really good biblical theology of the church, of worship, of formation—that’s the other course I like to teach is Spiritual Formation—

Knight
Oh that’s right, yeah!

Johnson
—and how that works in a Christian life, because that is why we’re here, you know? We’re not here to solve the big problems via government, left or right, we’re here to be the church and bear witness to a new life and a new way of life. Only Jesus—this gets into other things. We should try, obviously, to solve issues and problems, and that’s a legitimate thing, but part of the problem is getting distracted—that it becomes the thing that we get excited about. That’s my concern for our younger generation. You can get excited about social justice, and you can get excited about those kinds of things, but the thing that we ought to be most excited about is the mission that we’re called to do, and that’s a fully orbed mission. That has all kinds of dimensions to it, but my concern is that people—kind of like the old days of Marxism: “Yeah! That’s it! We’ll do that!” Or some kind of conservatism: “Yeah! We’ll do that!” And in the process they’ll lose excitement about Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and changed lives, and changed communities because of the Gospel. That’s my fear that in a couple generations, Christianity will be boring, you know? Back to the whole kind of thing—

Jipp
Yeah. Co-opted into something.

Johnson
—without the cutting-edge, “Follow me,” “Make a difference,” that Christianity is just a bunch of things that you affirm like the moon—“The moon is there.” And that’s not what I believe it is.

Jipp
Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s great. Thank you, Wayne. We appreciate that.

Knight
[00:37:56] That’s so helpful. I love…one of the threads running through this interview is you’ve kept pushing us to see that so many of the things that we care about are good, about meeting people, about social justice—they’re good, but they’re all motivated by this sort of transcultural, transpolitical foundation of God and what he’s doing in this world, and I’m grateful for that. We just…I mean, this is just the Foreword. That’s what we always say, because there’s so much more we could learn from you, and this time always feels too short. And to those listening or watching, we’d encourage you to take some classes with Dr. Johnson if you want to hear some more. But we’re grateful for the way you’re shaping this institution, you’re shaping us, you’re shaping our students, and we’re really grateful that you took the time to be here today.

[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]

Johnson
Thanks. Well thanks for having me. It’s a joy.

Knight
We love it.

Johnson
And I appreciate what you folks are doing.

Knight
[LAUGHS] Oh, thank you! Well, we also want to take a minute to thank our Producer, Curtis, and our Graduate Assistant, Lauren, and of course, those who have been loyally listening and watching from home. We find such joy in having conversations with you about what’s going on here at TEDS. And so I am Michelle Knight.

Jipp
And I am Josh Jipp.

Knight
And we’ll see you around!

Jipp
Thanks, Wayne!

Outro
Foreword is a podcast hosted by faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The views expressed by the hosts and guests of Foreword do not necessarily represent the views of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can subscribe to our newest episodes on your preferred podcast app or at forewordpodcast.com. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook @forewordpodcast to get updates and additional links to content. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is located 25 miles north of Chicago, with extension sites across the country and online. Trinity educates men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world by cultivating academic excellence, Christian faithfulness, and lifelong learning. You can find more information at teds.edu.

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

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