Bruce Ashford is Professor of Theology & Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and seeks to cultivate a “Christianity for the common good" with his conviction that Jesus is Lord and, for that reason, we should be thoughtful and intentional about how our belief in him should shape our lives. Dr Ashford's website is BruceAshford.net
The Laymens Lounge – I specifically wanted to talk with you in connection with a book that you and Heath Thomas just wrote called TheGospel of our King: Bible, Worldview and the Mission of Every Christian. So my first question for you is, how do you organize the Bible? That is to say, when you’re coming to the Bible, are you drawing out one pearl here and one nugget there? Or are you reading it with a certain lens and a certain framework where you position the things you read? If so, what can you give us as readers to do what you do so we could better see the big picture, because we want the forest and not just the trees?
Ashford – Yeah, it’s a good question.
You know, the Bible is composed of 66 books and written by many authors and
multiple genres. And sometimes it’s hard to, to sort of get a grasp of the
whole, but the Bible is coherent, it fits together and one of the easiest ways
to see it fit together is as a narrative: all of those books and writers come
together to give us a broader, bigger story about the world – the true story of
the whole world actually. And while in school, we’re often taught that our
nation’s history or some sort of secular history text gives us the big story of
the world, and Christianity is just a little piece of that world. In fact, the
opposite is true. The Bible tells the big story, the true story of the whole
world from beginning to end. And our little histories that we write are
bit-players players within that narrative, and there are a lot of different
ways to organize the narrative. I think the easiest over the phone is to
organize it into six different plot movements:
…and we could spend a little time
talking about each of those at some point if you want, but that’s sort of the
way we organize the first half of the book is by expanding the Bible, as a book,
that gives us the true story of the whole world.
Laymens Lounge – I always sort of viewed the Bible as the fall and then
salvation that comes from Jesus. And when I say “salvation”, I meant not going
to hell when I die. And the Christian life meant, essentially, sin management,
and trying to snatch up as many people from hell before I die. My mind has been
really expanded from what you’ve what you’ve shared in that viewing the Bible
as a story, as you said, sort of that that six-piece movement. Dr Ashford, what
are you seeing as far as the approach that most Americans are reading their
Bible with? And how do you suggest, sort of through those six plot moves that
you just said, could we address and aid us as we read our Bibles?
Ashford – Yeah, I think you’re right. A lot of times, we tend to only treat the
Christian life as one of sin management – we know that there was a fall, that
there is sin, and that Jesus saves us from our own sin. But we sort of lop off
the other pieces of the narrative. So if I were to go through the narrative
The doctrine of creation teaches us that God
spoke the world into existence, and then by means of His Word, He ordered the
world. So that would be the kind of world that we have today, a world with
plants and animals and with sky and land and water, but also the world with art
and science, and politics and sports and marriage and family and church. This
is the way God organized the world. Also in creation He created man and woman
in his image and likeness that he told us to till the soil: that’s a cultural
command, take something, make something out of the world that I made. And so
not just agriculture, but other kinds of culture – He gave us a social command
be fruitful multiply. In other words build families and eventually societies.
And he said, have dominion lovingly manage my good world. And also we forget
that very first plot movement, and it’s such an important one because it
defines who we are and what we’re supposed to do, we’re supposed to till the
soil and be fruitful and multiply in a way that glorifies God.
Now, the fall happened, and in the fall, Satan spoke
a word against God’s word. Remember, God had created the world by means of his Word,
He had ordered it by means of His Word, and then Satan speaks a word against
God’s Word, and uses a serpent to attempt Adam and Eve to sin against God, and
they did. And they sought to make themselves into a god, instead of just being
created in the image and likeness of God. And because they did that, they were
separated from God. And they continued to be image-bearers who tilled the soil,
if you will, and who are fruitful and multiply because of their sin, they do,
did those things badly in a way that displease God and all of us after Adam and
Eve has sinned, just like them.
So then briefly the third plot movement: Israel.
God called Israel to be a light to the nations to show the other nations what
it’s like to be the people who obey God and live according to God’s will. And
Israel failed miserably to do that.
So then Jesus came forth plot movement. And He
was a light to the nations perfectly in a way that Israel was not. Also crucified
and rose from the dead on our behalf for the forgiveness of sins. And then when
He ascended, He left behind a church and the Kingdom.
And the fifth plot movement is church. And that
is that God has called a people, Christians who gather together in local
churches to declare that He is Lord – He’s called us to be a light to the
nations the way to Jesus was. In other words: to shine the light of the gospel
as far We can upon everyone around us and every everything around us. So Jesus behind
a church and the Kingdom which brings us to…
Our sixth and final one is new creation, or, “new
heavens and earth”. And that is when Christ returns the second time he is
returning to this earth, to renew it and restore it. The Bible says that there
will be a purifying fire burns away sin and the consequences of sin, and that
we will live together with Him and a new heavens and a new earth. And by “new”,
that means renewed and restored, heavens and earth, and this is a beautiful and
a powerful story. And when we lop off creation and Israel and the church and
new creation, like you said, and view the Christian life as only the fall and
sin management, then we lose much of the majesty of the Bible.
Laymens Lounge – It really doesn’t become compelling when the message is
truncated. It becomes compelling, when you share the way you just did, which is,
essentially, you just told the story of the Bible and that you didn’t give us a “secret sauce”
but just the view the Bible in its entirety. You just gave us this holistic
picture and its really helpful. Now, having said that: are we currently in that
that fifth scene of the church? And if so, how are we a part of that story? And
more specifically, what are what is our task? What is my day-to-day task?
Ashford – Yeah, so we are in this fifth plot movement, that I’ve called the
church, It’s the era before Christ returns. And what we’re called to do is to
conform our life to God’s goodwill, and to give witness to Christ, through our
words and our deeds, and in any sphere of culture, where the Lord Christ has
placed us and there are a lot of different spheres of culture, if you will, there
Marriage and family and the home
Politics and economics
Business and entrepreneurship
And the religious sphere
You have all these different spheres
and each person’s life intersects with various areas, sectors of society or
spheres of culture, and our goal is to bring glory to the Lord both in word and
deed. I want to focus on word and deed for a moment. A lot of times people ask,
“Well, if I’m going to give witness to the Lord – Is that through speaking
about Him, or doing things on His behalf?” And you got some people that say, “listen,
what really matters is speaking the gospel, but ‘doing stuff’ you can give it
or take, it doesn’t really matter, do it If you want to but speaking the Gospels
is the most important.” Other people would say “We got too many people speaking
the gospel but not doing any loving deeds, not doing things on behalf of the gospel.
And I would just say, as a general rule, Christian people should be doing both
words and deeds all the time. If you remember the old in the old days, they
would have covered wagons. And the wagon wheels would have a hub and then there
would be spokes coming out of the hub that would be tied into a rim. And if I
could make an analogy for a moment: You take this this wagon and compare it to
the Christian mission. We’d say that the hub of the wheel is like the preached
Gospel. The spokes in the rim are like our deeds. And you need both of those
for the wheel to turn. If you ever removed the hub, which would be the preached
word of the gospel, the spoken word, the wheel collapses, and the wagon doesn’t
move. But if you have nothing but a hub, and there’s no spokes or rim, then the
wheel doesn’t get traction, and If it does moves anywhere, it doesn’t move much
at all. And so God has called us to both words and deeds so we want to always
be speaking the gospel and letting people know the reason for the hope that is
within us. But we also always want to be doers. Someone asked me “Which is more
important”? I think they’re both important, which I mean, what’s more important
for me to share the gospel with my neighbor or refrain from having sex with his
wife? They both seem pretty important to me. You know, I don’t like to pick
between them but people try to make us pick.
Laymens Lounge – I have a wife who’s at home with four children and she just
doesn’t have a whole lot of time and is just on the go constantly, and so she
cant really “do” much, as such she, and others like her, might feel
sub-Christian… If you know what I mean? They don’t feel optimal. How, for
example, like even your own life – how does how does your wife Lauren feel? Like,
she looks at you, and you get to do so many great and helpful things for many
people, and yet, she’s home and she’s with the three kids and she’s just busy….
Does she ever feel like “I’m not being as radical as, as my husband, Bruce,” or
“I’m not engaging in as much Christian activity” … How does despair not set in
because we want to be a blessing and we want to be, you know, we want to “show
God” that, we really genuinely care, and we want to help others. But there’s
despair when we’re sort of held back by circumstances. So how does she, you
know, her and other people like her themselves? Or what truth do we need to
remind ourselves in those times?
Ashford – Yes, you know, our marriage are in the stages, you know, we had, and
I think this is the most difficult stage often for a young woman or 20s and
early 30s, it certainly was for us… My wife would say that when you’re at home,
especially with the smaller kids are in diapers, but also with other kids,
there is a sense sometimes in which you feel walled off from the world and from
some other significant opportunities. And I think she would say a couple of
things now is that those were, even though there were very difficult years,
those are precious years because they are the most formative years in the
formation of a child’s heart and the way a child experiences the world and even
sociologists, psychologists, tell you a child’s experience early on within the
home, you’re setting them up for success or for failure – and multiple different
indicators I mean, medical, physical, physiological, psychological, future job
success, all of that. And there is nothing more precious really than knowing
that you were able to form your children. And then as life is called by the
Lord has given her some opportunities to some of the kinds of things that I do.
She’s actually writing curriculum for our church. She’s speaking and helping
run the women’s ministry, our church. And conversely, I’ve had a lot more time
at home than in the past couple of years and I’ve been learning to and really
loving spending time with our children and, I’ve learned to cook…
Laymens Lounge – O yes you have been spending some time in the kitchen! I’ve been seeing Facebook and I was like, This
guy, he’s a cook and I see you’re trying to dial in some Russian, Russian
Ashford – That’s right, because I lived in Russia. But what I’ve realized is
that I often am teaching, speaking or writing – but I actually love preparing a
meal. Even though I’m at work all day, sometimes I feel like I’ve not
accomplished anything, or not anything big, but if I can come home or prepare a
meal for the family, a good one that tastes good, and nourishes, my family and
they like it, that I have done something that really matters.
Laymens Lounge – If I may say, I made a pretty glorious curry last night. I’m
not gonna lie, it was wonderful. But here’s a question for you: as you were
making dinner for your family – was that a “Christian activity”? Or was that morally
Ashford – Well, I mean, it depends on your intent and your heart. But I would
start a general level: something as basic as the making of a meal. That’s a
cultural activity. It’s something commanded by God, when God said “til the soil”
He wasn’t just talking about agriculture, but every other kind of culture,
including the making of meals in the home and it’s a nourishing of your
children and of yourself and your spouse. But then if you’re cooking a meal,
you can cook a meal to the glory of God. I mean, the Bible teaches that you can
do anything you’re doing, as long as it’s not immoral, to the glory of God. And
I would say cook the cooking of a meal is the one of the most important things
that a person can do. God made the world to run around meals. We saw Jesus
doing a lot of his disciple over meals. You see in history, many or most of the
world’s great events were brokered, over a meal. Friendships are made over
meals. I mean, it’s just such an important thing. And one thing the Bible
teaches but that we miss and neglect is that in so many of these things that we
might think are mundane, just ordinary things that we do, there’s a great
possibility to honor the Lord Christ.
Laymens Lounge – Yeah, I heard it said that “Jesus ate and drank his way through
the New Testament” and that resonates with what you’re saying. Also what you
said reminded me of something. And I think I saw that you actually wrote an
article on your blog, which is BruceAshford.net, I think I saw you had written
an article on Kanye West. And I remember I saw some late-night host interviewing
Kanye West and the interviewer said “So what, are you like a Christian rapper
now?” And he said, “I’m a Christian everything.” And I kind of love that he
said a “Christian everything” and made me laugh out loud. And I’ve shared that
a few times. So, you said cooking, I guess take it out further, is it possible
to be a “Christian Everything”? Like what if Kanye isn’t rapping about Jesus,
but say he’s rapping about his wife, which really loves is that a “Christian”
Ashford – Well, I mean, the way I would put it is that our Christianity can,
and should, inform everything we do in life. And there are some people who
think your Christianity really only informs your personal ethics. You know: don’t
steal things, don’t sleep around your wife, don’t kill people, etc. So it
informs that, and it informs their quiet times and then their church
attendance. But the Bible actually gives us a picture in Psalm 119 where it says,
“Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” It never says “Your
word is a lamp unto my spiritual feet and my private path.” It’s your whole
path, the whole path of life, that God’s Word, in creation, and God’s Word in
Scripture, is relevant directly or indirectly, in one way or another to
everything we do. I was teaching this in in 10 or 15 years ago in a college
classroom and I had a college freshman there snickering and they were giggling
and such… I said “All right, go ahead. Get it off your chest. What do want to
say?” He said, “Well, is the Bible relevant to washing my cat?” So said, “Oh,
that’s very funny. It’s a funny guy. And yes it is.” And so I took the funny
example and said something like: how does my faith inform the way I wash my
cat? Well it means that maybe it
encourages me to wash my cat every once in a while and take care of it. That is
God’s good creation. But it also encourages me not to wash it with more love
than I would wash my baby. Because God has said, a human being is created in
his image and likeness and does have a significance and a status that an animal
doesn’t have. And, as I’m watching the cat, I’m going to realize that I’m not
one with the cat – that’s what the Buddhists would say but we’re actually
different. It’s a silly analogy, but the point is, I think that our
Christianity positions everything in the world for us: teaches us how to view
it, it gives us motivation to do it well and do it unto the Lord, and that
counts for the mundane things.
Laymens Lounge – That is good. That cat bit was a little bit genius. You know,
I have a, a fish that somehow I got recruited to feed and clean its stinky
tank, and I’m not gonna lie, don’t judge me, but some nights I lazily just don’t
want to feed it. And it’ll survive, because in the past I’ve missed, but you
know, I really think to myself: God created this fish. This is a “Christian”
fish. You know, God created this fish. This is good, it was pronounced good.
And I’m like, I don’t want to be less than awesome to this fish. So I feed it.
So for me personally, I’m starting to take these things that you’re saying and,
and apply them to my day to day life because I mean, really being honest,
growing up, I just thought Christianity was, like we said early, essentially
hell insurance. That kind of segues into my next question for you. Having three
children, you have three or four, but they’re around the same age. When they
say, “Dad, what is what’s the gospel?” Or “What’s Christianity all about?” Or “What
are we here for?” What, what is the sort of the synopsis that you give them? Or,
better yet, if they’re able to say it back to you? What do they say back to
Ashford – We’ll talk about the broad lens and then the narrow lens. First is
that try to give them a broad land view of the gospel by teaching them Creation,
Fall, Israel, Jesus, Church, New Creation – I teach them that narrative. But
then I also focus on a more narrow lens, which is, what is the summary
statement of the gospel? In the Bible, only three places I can think of uses
the word “gospel” and then provide the definition immediately afterwards. And
the place where it’s most clear is, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, even better read
verses 1-11 for context, and here’s how the gospel is described: Christ died
for our sins according to the scriptures, was buried, was raised from the dead
according to the scriptures, and then was seen by many witnesses. And so the
very first word there – “Christ” is important because that’s a title. It is not
a last name. It’s not as if Jesus would go to the waiting room at the doctor’s
office and they say, “Oh, well, hello there Jesus, what’s your last name?” And
he’d say, “Christ” and they’d say, “Mr. Christ go sit in the lobby.” Christ
with a title. And it’s a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew title “Messiah”.
And the Messiah is the kingdom-bringer, the one who ushers in the kingdom. He’s
a king and a savior. He’s the king over all of creation and every sphere of
culture. So that’s the first part of the gospel is the person who’s doing it,
and that’s Christ.
Laymens Lounge – Sure! He’s King over the cats and our families and our souls.
Ashford – And so the gospel liberates us to obey Him and follow Him, and that
covers every aspect of life. So Christ died for our sins, that’s the part we
know very well and speak often about, and rightly should. That he took our
name, which is “guilty one”, put it on himself, and got up on the cross and
then He gives us his name which is “righteous one”. In exchange – if we believe
on Him. So He died for our sins – is buried, that’s emphasized. In other words,
He didnt not die. He was put in the ground, but He rose from the dead. When
he rose from the dead, there are several things going on:
that He really is the Messiah, He really is the kingdom-bringer and can’t be
The resurrection is a picture of what happens to
our soul and spirit when we embrace Christ – that God raises our soul from the
dead making is alive in Him. It’s also a preview of the fact that our bodies
will be raised from the dead one day.
And finally, that Christ will raise the cosmos
from the dead. He’s going to take this heavens and earth and cleanse it of sin
and all of sins consequences. So He rose from the dead.
Finally He appeared to many witnesses. In other
words, the gospel is public, and it’s something that happened in public, and its
something that has continuing public relevance.
That’s a more-narrow lens presentation of the gospel.
Laymens Lounge – I think it was NT Wright, who said something like: Its like there’s
four speakers in a car, all too often we just have that one speaker turned up
all the way, but the other 3 turned down and there needs to be all four of
those speakers equaled out. Well, brother. Just one last question, if you don’t
mind – I’m sure there is a listener right now, who is either a mom or just some
Young, Restless Reformed guy, or, you know, people who are just want to
be pleasing to the Lord. You know, at the end of the day, they just want to
they just want the father to say “well done my good and faithful servant.” How
then can we attain this? What can we do? Or what has already been done to where
that we could have this sense that the Lord is, or has, spoken that over us?
Ashford – I think 1 thing I would say is, just to kind of put it the way you
put it, is to remind ourselves of this truth that it is God who places us where
we are now standing. Even if this is not the place we want to be standing. Even
if life isn’t perfect, even if we aren’t having opportunities to make our lives
as meaningful as we wish they could be the way we envision it. We remind
ourselves it is God who put us here, and it is God who works in and through our
efforts. And then the second is to just to remember that whatever corner of the
world we’re in, that in whatever activity we’re engaging in, we can always ask
three questions. And in answering those questions, we get to make a
First question is what is God’s design for the
kind of thing that I’m doing at the moment? Whether it’s caring for children,
taking care of a home, writing, etc. what is God’s design – what would He want?
Number two, how has sin corrupted and misdirected
this corner of the world?
Then number three, how can I draw upon God
saving works and word to bring healing and redirection to make things right in
my corner of the world?
Whether that’s coffee shop
conversations, friendships, childcare, our job, our leisure, whatever it is
we’re doing. Those three questions are the things that we’re supposed to be
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