JOHN STONESTREET: Hi, this is John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, which you can find online at breakpoint.org. The Colson Center is pleased to support Listening In. Enjoy the program.
WARREN SMITH: I’m Warren Smith and today you’ll be listening in on my conversation with author, pastor, and the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear.
J.D. GREEAR: The end of Acts 13 it says that Paul, he’s talking about David, he said he fulfilled his role in his generation and went to sleep with his fathers. I’m like, I don’t really know what God–all He intends with my life, but I really want to be faithful in this generation. This generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of souls all over the world. As the church, we are God’s Plan A for spreading the Gospel. As a representative of the church, I’ve got to reserve all that I have for preaching the Gospel and seeing that message go forward. And I don’t want to let anything important come in the way of the one thing that’s essential.
SMITH: When J.D. Greear was in college, he hadn’t planned to be the pastor of a suburban megachurch. His graduate studies focused on Islam and he began his career in Southeast Asia as a missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Missions Board. But for the past fifteen or so years, he’s been the pastor of the Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina. Under his leadership, the Summit has become one of the fastest growing and now one of the largest churches in the country, with about ten thousand in regular weekly attendance. However, J.D. Greear says that seating capacity is not his church’s primary metric for success. He says sending capacity is. The church has a goal of planting 1000 new churches by the year 2050 and Greear claims the church has already helped start more than 250 churches in North Carolina, across the US, and around the world. That kind of success is hard to keep a secret and Greear has become a well-known figure within the Southern Baptist Convention, and within evangelicalism generally. So well-known, in fact, that he was recently elected president of the SBC. At age 45 he’s the youngest president of the nation’s largest protestant denomination in nearly 40 years. I had this conversation with J.D. Greear at his office in Durham, North Carolina. J.D. Greear, thanks for being on the program. You’ve just been elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I sort of feel like I interviewed you after the Super Bowl and you’re, you know, “I’m going to Disney World!” or something like that.
GREEAR: I know, well, I feel like the proverbial dog that’s caught the school bus, you know, kind of like, “Now what?” I’ve barked a few times in the last couple weeks but trying to figure out exactly what all this means right now.
SMITH: Well, what do you think it does mean? I mean, you know, the Southern Baptist Convention is often called the largest Protestant denomination in the country and lot of times when I say that to Southern Baptists they say, “We’re not Protestant.” But we’ll dispense with that conversation for a minute. But, you know, you’re one of the largest religious bodies in the nation and you’re now the president. And in some ways, it’s a rotating job, and you’re not—you know there’s a permanent staff there, but it is an important bully pulpit shall we say.
GREAR: Yeah, actually that’s a good way to say it because you’re not like the CEO of the SBC, because the Southern Baptist Convention has a number of different–different entities. The North American Mission Board, the Religious Liberty Commission, the International Mission Board, all of which have their own CEOs and are led very well. What you become is, I guess, the people’s leader of the 47,000 churches. And it’s not simply, you know, ceremonial, but in some ways, you’re supposed to represent what Southern Baptists are and what they want to be. You do have some, you know, kind of–I guess power would be the right word–in appointing people to committees that determine the shape of these things. But I think the main thing is, you know, trying to give a picture both inside the SBC and the Christian world and outside of it, of really who we–who God has made us to be and who, you know, where we think we need to go. And I think I’m a product of Southern Baptist Ministry in many ways. For the last twenty years it’s been my, you know, been the community I’ve been a part of and, you know, believe with every fiber of my being the Baptist faith and message, believe in historic conservative Gospel orthodoxy, have been a participant in the different missions of the SBC. The Southern Baptist Convention is, I don’t want to say unique as a denomination, but it’s structured in different ways than a denomination in that it’s primarily just a network of churches that come together for the sake of mission. So I believe very much in that mission. You know, I think there is sort of a sense at which, you know, this is kind of a–I mean they call me younger, I’m forty-five, I don’t really feel like that’s younger, but, you know, in a sense of representing just sort of a new generation grabbing leadership and saying, What’s it look like to live out faithfulness to the great commission in our generation?
SMITH: Well, I do want to ask you about that because, yeah, forty-five is not a spring chicken. You’ve been in ministry a while, and yet it has been representative–sort of a changing of the guard, you know, sort of handing over the reins to the next generation. There’ve been also some folks that have said they’re concerned that it might be not only handing—changing of the guard from an older generation to a younger generation, but from a generation that took the Baptist faith and message seriously to one that might be a little more heterodox in their approach to that. Now you’ve obviously just now actively very clearly affirmed your allegiance to Baptist faith and message, but there are a lot of younger pastors who sometimes don’t fit into that category.
GREEAR: Yeah, I would still say that might not be the most accurate read on kind of what’s happening. Obviously, I spend a lot of my time with these younger Southern Baptists and most of them, because they’re the product of Southern Baptist seminaries and good Gospel preaching Southern Baptist churches, they’re not really wavering on their commitment to the historic, you know, Baptist doctrine. And let’s even broaden that a little bit, Warren, more into kind of evangelical doctrine, I mean things like the inerrancy of the Bible, and the sanctity of marriage and God’s roles for gender. I mean, the Southern Baptist Convention is unashamedly complementarian—believing that God has created men and women differently—you know, the sanctity of how God structured marriage. There’s pro-life—and just all these issues—the exclusivity of Christ. I don’t think me or the generation I represent or the one coming behind me is really wavering right now on those things. I do think there is a sense in which there is a different cultural posture that some of us are taking. Like what does it mean to be active politically, but not to be politically defined? We believe that the Gospel compels us to get involved in politics, but at the same time, we recognize that, you know, the church only has a certain bandwidth to be identified by its community for something, and we don’t want the gospel message to be encumbered by any other secondary message, no matter how good it is. And so it’s saying let’s make the basis of our identity and the focus of our mission—let’s have that be the Gospel, and not politics one way or another.
SMITH: Well, that’s been a particularly relevant conversation over the last couple of years, in particular, as there have been some prominent Southern Baptist pastors who’ve gotten very actively involved in Donald Trump’s campaign and in his presidency. And you were quoted, I don’t know whether you were quoted accurately or not, but you were quoted as saying that the Southern Baptist church and some Southern Baptist pastors have been too active in that partisan politics. Accurate quote or not?
GREEAR: Well, I don’t remember that specific quote, but let me just address the concept of it. I don’t want to say this in a confusing or in a way that tries to obfuscate. We believe that the Christian worldview touches everything, right? Abraham Kuyper, there’s not one square inch of the entire cosmos over which Jesus doesn’t declare ‘Mine.’ And so Christians need to be involved in questions about what the best way to approach healthcare is and how to empower the poor and all those things. At the same time, we recognize that there’s a number of things that the Bible doesn’t draw a direct line to. You can be passionate about the poor and Christians can have an honest disagreement about what the best strategies are for empowering the poor. Now I’m not saying they’re both right, and they ought to have a vigorous discussion, but they can still say that’s not what our church is to be identified in. I always say that there’s a difference in a church’s organization and the church’s organism. The church’s organism means its members need to be in every facet of society from the Supreme Court to, you know, Hollywood to municipal government, and they need to be bringing the view of the Bible to bear in those as they see it. But the church’s organization needs to limit its message and what it’s identified with to the Gospel and making disciples. Kind of a short quick way I always say it to our congregation is, I might be wrong in my approach to global warming, but I’m not wrong about the Gospel. And so I don’t want to let my position on the former keep people from hearing me on the latter. And so we think that a church and a group of churches that are going to come together—that are going to bear the name of the bearers of the Great Commission—that we need to have a little discipline and restraint in our messaging so that we can keep—to use a cliché—the main thing the main thing.
SMITH: You mentioned Abraham Kuyper, who of course for me is sort of a—I hate to say a patron saint, but a guiding light shall we say. He’s been a hero of mine. He was a guiding light for me, a guiding light for the Colson Center. Sometimes we describe ourselves as Kuyperian in the way we approach the world, and he was important to chuck Colson too. And he was also very reformed. And I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds here theologically, but part of what’s going on in the Southern Baptist church is that there is a reformed wing within the church that some say is, if not in active opposition to, at least in tension with the historic Baptist message, agree or disagree with that.
GREEAR: You know, I guess it’s who you talk to and how they define ‘reformed.’ I mean, as far back as you can trace Baptist roots, you’re going to have people who understood the sovereignty of God and a lot of things that go with reformed doctrine, so I wouldn’t say it’s a completely new thing. There are certainly—there certainly is a branch of the reformed that is very—you know, it has a lot of characteristics that go with it that would be a kind of a new, a novel you know addition to Baptist life and that’s not really something that I think characterizes—
SMITH: Sort of the NeoCalvinism, is that what you would describe?
GREEAR: Yeah, where it’s just—where Calvinism becomes, you know, the main thing and it brings—it makes you second guess certain evangelistic things. Now, many of my reformed friends would certainly not be in that category. Charles Spurgeon is one of the most reformed Baptists you could find, and he was also one of the most zealous soul winners. So the point—I always kind of say it at our church like, I’m not really concerned—Calvinism is not really an issue to me until it becomes one to you. And when it becomes one to you, I’m probably going to be on the opposite side of whatever one you’re on, because I think the error is not so much in what you believe about Calvinism but when you make it a central thing that competes with the Gospel itself.
SMITH: I’m Warren Smith and you’re listening in on my conversation with J.D. Greear, the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. He’s also written a number of books, including his most recent: “Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems.” We’ll continue our conversation with J.D. Greear and take a tour of his library when we return.
STONESTREET: Hi, I’m John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. You can help us carry on the legacy of Chuck Colson by becoming a Coulson Fellow. To find out more about this intensive, one-year, deep dive program into Christian worldview, go to breakpoint.org and click on Coulson Fellows at the top of the page.
SMITH: Welcome back. I’m Warren Smith and you’re listening in on my conversation with J.D. Greear. He’s the pastor of The Summit Church and the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention. In this next section I asked J.D. Greear about scandals and controversies within the Southern Baptist Convention and we mentioned a lot of names that had been in the news over the past few weeks and months. But for those who need a score card, we mentioned Paige Patterson, who was recently fired as president of a southern Baptist seminary because of the way he handled claims of sexual abuse while president. We also mentioned Frank Page, a former president of the SBC, who abruptly retired in March after admitting to an inappropriate relationship. Finally, we discussed David Platt, who recently resigned as president of the International Missions Board of the SBC. Platt’s resignation was not caused by scandal. In fact, Platt was praised for his leadership. His tenure was not, though, without pain and controversy. He oversaw a reorganization of the International Missions Board that balanced the budget of that massive missions organization but also resulted in the layoff of nearly a thousand missionaries. All of this is part of the environment in which J.D. Greear finds himself as the new Southern Baptist Convention president.
J.D., I want to come back to the Southern Baptist church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and talk about some of the issues that are happening there. There’s been some, for lack of a better word, we’ll say scandal and controversy within the church within the last you know year or two. There’s been the Paige Patterson situation at Southwestern Theological Seminary. Frank Page; there’s been David Platt resigning from the International Missions Board, all for different reasons and not all of them have necessarily been scandal related. But certainly the Frank Page one was, and Paige Patterson to a lesser extent. And David Platt—the International Missions Board seems to always a place within the Southern Baptist Convention where there’s some controversy and some tension and some conversations about the proper mission there. All to say, it’s a large organization. It’s a complicated organization. There are lots of points of view. How are you going to bring these folks together?
GREEAR: Well I think what you find when you peel back the layers on those is that whether you’re talking about a guy like David Platt or Mark Dever and the Southern Baptist Convention, both of which are very—you know—identify as reformed, or whether you’re dealing with people that don’t deal with that label, there’s an agreement about the Gospel and there is an agreement about the mission. And, you know, one of the keys to unity I think in the Bible is learning to put the right weight and the right emphasis on the right things. And you know there’s a tendency in human nature to elevate some secondary thing to this point of division and that’s just when we all we really go wrong. One of the things I love about the Baptist faith and message, and I’m not trying to be overly zealous for it, but I think it’s narrow enough to keep us united on the essentials. I think essentials, you know, the inerrancy of Christ—excuse me, the inerrancy of the Bible, the exclusivity of Christ. And the inerrancy of Christ, for that matter. The, you know, the sanctity of marriage. The, you know, justification by faith alone. There needs to be unity on those things because without unity on those things, you’re really going different directions. However, there are views toward—about the end times, and maybe views about various political strategies or views about the finer points of Calvinism, about which there can be disagreement. And it doesn’t mean that we don’t have robust discussions about them, we can. It just means, at the end of the day, I’m fine linking arms with you and walking forward in mission even if we’ve got a different view on how and when Jesus is going to come back or what limited atonement means or it doesn’t mean.
SMITH: Yeah. One of the things that you mentioned—you’ve mentioned a couple of names there. One of them would be Mark Dever, for example, who, you know, gifted guy, he’s grown a fairly large church, and yet he, he’s kind of, almost intentionally put a limit on how big his church will grow. He’ll plant churches sort of elsewhere. Sometimes very near where his existing church is. And there’s other churches that have just grown much more dramatically, 20 or 30 thousand or more. Your church is, I guess, somewhere in between, right, you guys have about 10,000 folks?
GREEAR: 10 or 11 thousand on a weekend.
SMITH: And you’ve also planted a lot of churches in the region as well. Room for all of that?
GREEAR: Absolutely. You know, for us, I mean, the focus is multiplication. And it’s people hearing the Gospel. Mark Dever is a friend. I consider him a mentor and we’ve had lots of spicy conversations about whether or should you do multiple services or multiple campuses. You know, for us, it’s never been an either or, because we have planted a number of churches right in Raleigh Durham, some right down the road. In fact, we’re getting ready to send out about a hundred people from our church to plant a church probably less than 10 minutes away. We also recognize that here in the triangle, the triangle is big enough that there’s a lot of people that are driving a pretty long distance to come to our church. And I can’t tell them to leave, you know, it’s just they—and if I told them to leave they’re not going to do it, so we face the choice of either building a gargantuan building that was going to cost $100,000,000 to seat you know nine, 10,000 people. Or we were going to turn them away, which we didn’t think was a good option, or we were going to make the campuses more local to where people were in the Raleigh Durham area. And we just decided after studying it out that, we just said it’s a more efficient, more effective way of reaching people to tell people stay where you are, serve where you live, we’ll be the church there in that community. Warren, what we find is that when somebody—I’m always flattered somebody drives 45 minutes to come to our church, but I guarantee you they’re not really involved in evangelism, in the sense of bringing people to our church. Because, you know, you might drive 45 minutes to a church you love, but that guy you just met a Starbucks is not going to go with you. And you’re probably not really involved in the community, in that church, and so for us, it’s just been a more efficient way of reaching the people that God has given us to reach than to build a big huge building. We do that simultaneous with raising up church planters. Our goal as a church is to plant a thousand churches in our generation. So far we’ve planted, I think it’s 230 something. About 180 of those have been overseas, but 40 or 50 of them have been right here in the United States. And we just don’t think that growing big as a church and multiplying and planting churches—we don’t think that those things are in competition, but they should be happening simultaneously.
SMITH: A few moments ago, we talked about some of the scandals in the church, and it’s not limited to the Southern Baptist church. When I was at WORLD I wrote about Bill Gothard, I wrote about Mark Driscoll, I wrote about lots of guys that got involved in, you know, scandal of different kinds. And one of the things that seemed to be a common denominator of all of those was, not the denomination, not big church vs. little church, but a lack of accountability. Can you say a few words about what you personally do to make sure that you remain, and I hate to put it this way, but legitimately accountable? Because, I mean, I talk to guys and they’ll say, ‘Oh, well I’ve got this group of men that come around me,’ and then I discover when I really dig into that half of them live a thousand miles away and the other half of them, you know, are on their paychecks, or that pastor signs their paychecks. So—and I’m not trying to discount that or—but seriously, what do you do to maintain accountability?
GREEAR: Well, let me first just affirm what you’re saying. Paul David Tripp, you know, he’s kind of a pastor’s counselor and he’s been a great friend to me. I asked him because I was just so discouraged, because of some of the guys you mentioned, plus a lot more, and I was like what is going on? And I asked him, is it a lack of community? And his answer was—he says no, all these guys are extroverts. They all got people around them. But what they lack is pure community: people that are on equal footing with them that can look into their life and that don’t have so much to lose that they’re afraid to actually call out sin when they see it. You know things that grow in a secret garden always grow mutant. And that includes, you know, people that stand up as pastors and know a lot about the Bible. He said, coupled with that is a lot of these guys forget the power of indwelling sin and they think that, somehow, they’ve graduated past that because of their success. And he said that’s a lethal cocktail that’ll take down anybody. So my wife and I have discussed this for a long time and what we’ve done, and we’ve done this for about decade, is chosen to engage intentionally in a number of relationships with people that don’t see me as the guy on the stage, but see me as just a guy that—locally—I’m going to give you an example. We moved into a neighborhood with a few families from our church that had kids about the same age, and we just we do life together. We don’t live in the same house like some strange kind of commune or anything, but we live within walking distance and we’re together and we share things together. I’m in a small group, not a bunch of staff people, but a small group of people who speak into my life. And that—not only does it keep me accountable, because you’re right, the guy that’s a thousand miles away, he doesn’t know when I’m being really short with my wife; he doesn’t know when I’m paying too much attention to somebody I shouldn’t be paying attention to, but somebody local does. Ecclesiastes says, ‘better is a friend nearby than a brother far away.’ So we need that. But not only does it provide accountability, it just—honestly Warren, it’s a huge thing in our quality of life. I know it’s really attractive to try to get up on the stage, and fame has its allurements, but it’s like Solomon says, it’s empty. It’s chasing after the wind. My wife has this statement she always, you know, she’s continually calling me back to it. She’s like ‘J.D., you know fame is making yourself accessible to a bunch of people you don’t really care about at the expense of those that you do.’ And those that are close to you and that you are in community with, they’re the ones that really contribute to your quality of life. And so, by God’s grace through her, and just some friends here at the church, I feel like, you know, this church for me is less a platform that I preach from and more a community that I belong to.
SMITH: Well, I appreciate that and that sounds really wonderful that you’ve created that around you. But going back to this big church small church kind of thing, it is hard when you are in a big church, and you’re the senior guy in a big church where a lot of money depends upon your gifts, a lot of folks coming in the front door depend upon your gifts. It is sometimes hard for a church to discipline a pastor. And another common denominator that I have seen as I have sort of covered these church scandals is that people knew about it. People knew about it often for years, but they were afraid to say something.
SMITH: Because they knew it would cause a really big bang whenever they did.
GREEAR: Yeah. And I don’t know honestly if I’ve got a silver bullet answer for that. I mean it’s just part of fallen human nature. You know, Proverbs says that when the righteous rule, then the people prosper. And so righteousness is more than just not embezzling money; righteousness is being able to call out sin regardless of the, you know, the effects of it. At our church we have a— there’s a group of ten elders of which I’m one. I’m not even the chief among equals, there’s ten of us that are on there. I don’t control the paychecks of these guys, or at least half of them, I don’t. And they have a lot less to lose in calling me out. And by God’s grace we do have some men in that position that really do take that responsibility seriously. And, you know, it’s just something that we’re—I think just trusting the grace of God to hold us. But it’s—yeah, it’s something that scares me, and I’m scared of me, so I hope that God’s grace will continue on in this.
SMITH: I’m Warren Smith and you’re listening in today on my conversation with J.D. Greear. We’ll hear some final thoughts from J.D. Greear and we’ll take a tour of his library when we return.
STONESTREET: Hi, I’m John Stonestreet, the president of the Coulson Center for Christian Worldview, and I’m delighted that the Coulson Center is now the lead sponsor for Listening In. The Coulson Center exists to inform, equip, and unite believers. And that’s why we’re delighted to unite with WORLD to bring this informative program to you, a program designed to better equip you for the work of the Gospel. To learn more about the Colson Center and our breakpoint radio and podcast ministries, please visit us at breakpoint.org. That’s breakpoint.org.
SMITH: Welcome back. I’m Warren Smith and you’re listening in on my conversation with J.D. Greear. We continue our conversation by walking around in the 6,000-book library that takes up most of his office. J.D., we’re in your office and you’ve got this amazing book—it’s like a library here, in fact you’ve got a ladder because it goes up—how tall does it—
GREEAR: Seventeen feet.
SMITH: Seventeen feet.
GREEAR: I saw Beauty and the Beast when I was watching it with my kids, and the ladder with the elaborate—I thought, do one of those.
SMITH: Well, you did and it’s really very cool and there are some great books here. And now there are some books that I expect to see, right, you’ve got some theology books, you’ve got some apologetics books. I saw some Norman Geisler over there. ‘Evidence that Demands a Verdict’ from my friend Josh MacDowell is up here. But you also—like I see Wayne Grudem’s ‘Politics According to the Bible’ here, and right next to Alasdair MacIntyre’s ‘After Virtue’ which I think is one of the great books that’s been written in the last 30 or 40 years. I don’t mean to embarrass you, but how many of these books have you actually read? How many of them are sort of aspirational and reference books; you hope to read them one day?
GREEAR: Yeah, well, I don’t know if I can give you an exact number in here. I will tell you, one of my mentors said—he said it doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read, it doesn’t matter how many books you own. All that matters is can you get the information out of those books when you need it? And so all of these books in here are reference books, and so obviously they’re not the kind of thing you read cover to cover. I’d say of the books that are in here, I mean there’s probably five…six thousand maybe…I’d say probably I’ve read cover to cover three to four thousand of them. Because it’s, you know, John Wesley. Readers—well he didn’t say readers are leaders, but he was like, if you’re going to be serious about the ministry, keep growing, you gotta read.
SMITH: Well Chuck Colson used to say that all the time, readers are leaders and leaders are readers. You know, there are a couple of books in here—or a lot of books in here actually—that maybe I wouldn’t necessarily expect to find. I’m looking, for example, at Paul Johnson’s ‘Modern Times,’ which is one of my personal favorites, but you don’t always find it on a theology bookshelf.
SMITH: Thomas Sowell’s ‘Basic Economics.’ And I’m looking over here at—and I’m really impressed by this, because I used to be in marketing and sales—Neil Rackham’s book on ‘Spin Selling.’ I use ‘Spin Selling’ all the time—
GREEAR: Oh yeah, I haven’t read that in several years.
SMITH: —in my career, just because I have found it to be—but it’s a business book, I mean it’s primarily a business and marketing book, you don’t see it a lot. Am I reading too much into this here, I mean, do you like to read beyond being a pastor and theology?
GREEAR: Well, not just like it, I feel like it’s essential if you’re going to be a good leader. To use selling as an example, I read a book on leadership that said that no matter what field you’re in, you need to read at least one book a year on selling things. Because whether you’re in personal conversations, or whatever, you’re always trying to convince other people to do things, and so I’ve just made that habit. I don’t know if it’s exactly one a year, but that’s why his book is there, just learning, like, how do people think? Sometimes these history books or political books will—sometimes it’s something I just want to know about and sometimes it helps me be more conversant with the culture I’m a part of.
SMITH: There was a book back here that now I don’t know if I can lay my hand—there it is, Walker Percy’s ‘Lost in the Cosmos.’ I’m a huge Walker Percy fan. A Catholic writer, a guy that was mostly wrote fiction. This book ‘Lost in the Cosmos’ I guess is one of the few non-fiction books he wrote, and it’s—at least I think it was non-fiction, it’s kind of a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction in a way.
GREEAR: Yeah, he’s a strange guy, but very insightful, but very strange. I actually got into him because two of my other favorite writers, one named Tim Keller and the other Peter Kreeft or Kreeft or however you say his name—they just they said this book was so monumental in the worldview, so I got it and read it.
SMITH: Yeah, well, that’s exactly right, especially Peter, he refers to—of course they’re both fellow Roman Catholics, so that’s probably one of the reasons why—
GREEAR: Well, let’s be clear, Tim Keller’s not a fellow Roman Catholic.
SMITH: No, that’s right, Peter Kreeft is, Peter Kreeft is. Tim Keller is not—
GREEAR: Yeah, I don’t want Keller’s people calling me saying, ‘What did you say?’
SMITH: Thank you for clarifying. And of course, I’m delighted to see Chuck Colson’s ‘How Now Shall We Live’ here as well.
GREEAR: Oh man, I devoured those things, college, seminary. He just—his view of how to—like you say, Kuyperian—of how to take the Biblical worldview and see it played out in government and business; it was just awesome.
SMITH: Well, and regular listeners to my program will know that I’m—I have a very close and fond relationship with Summit ministries in Manitou Springs. In fact, on Saturday I was speaking at Summit, so I see the ‘Understanding the Times’ and ‘Understanding the Culture’ books here which are all about worldview and how they relate to culture, which it also—
GREEAR: The daughter of one of the leaders went to our church. That’s how I first got connected to them. So I’ve been reading ever since.
SMITH: That’s great. Well, among all these books—and how many thousands of books did you say were here?
GREEAR: I think there’s about 6,000 right now.
SMITH: And I’m guessing that this may not be all of your books, that you’ve got others?
GREEAR: I’ve got a stash at home.
SMITH: Yeah, yeah. So among the 6,000 though, are there a few, two or three, four, ten, I mean other than the Bible that have made a particular—I mean they were like when you read that book your life changed after that?
GREEAR: Yeah, there’s a number of them, I mean it’s—Martin Luther’s books were, I know this sounds strange, but—late high school and college, I struggled so much with the assurance of salvation, that I first saw in him a guy who just grappled deeply with questions of the Gospel and soul. And so he’s been a—his book ‘Freedom of Conscience,’ and the biography, the famous biography about him, that was definitely defining. The biography of Adoniram Judson, who was one of the first American missionaries, and talk about a guy that was reformed, he had deeply reformed doctrine, but it sent him all over the world. I first went into ministry by going to the mission field and so his biography was huge in that. John Piper’s writings were big, with me, as they have been with a lot of people, ‘Desiring God.’ Keller, Tim Keller’s—kind of when I was introduced to him a decade ago, it just sort of redefined how I approached the Gospel and the culture.
SMITH: Well, you mentioned that you spent a couple of years on the mission field early in your ministry career, and it was—you studied Islam in graduate school, right in seminary, is that correct?
SMITH: I see a lot of books on Islam up here, including a book that you don’t see a lot, ‘A Wind in the House of Islam’ by my friend David Garrison and also Nabeel Qureshi’s book. Nabeel just recently passed away, he was a close friend, a regular speaker at Summit as well, that’s where I first met Nabeel. You wouldn’t necessarily expect to see a guy who was expert on Islam pastoring a megachurch in Durham North Carolina, but a straight line in your mind? Or not?
GREEAR: Yeah, good question. So, one of the books that you probably wouldn’t notice and probably no one except my mom and three other people have read is this dissertation of mine up there, because my Ph.D. dissertation was on the early church’s approach to salvation and how it was a better fit for the Muslim mind than our current 21st century western approaches to salvation. And so that was where God kind of really lit a fire in my heart, when I was overseas. I always say that my call to the pastorate began as a call to the mission field, and the way that I’m now fulfilling my call to the mission field is as a pastor. The church I pastor has a lot of college students and young professionals, and part of planting a thousand churches for us is raising up people to go back to Muslim countries. And so what you’re seeing is, yeah there’s certainly a fascination with Islam, there are Muslims around here, we’ve seen some baptized in our church, but I’d say that’s going to be fulfilled a lot by the—we just commissioned, Warren, a couple weeks ago, our thousandth person, at The Summit Church, member who left to go live on a church planting team. And a lot of those are going to be in Muslim areas. And so this is kind of my part of equipping them giving them vision. And I wrote a book called ‘Breaking the Islam Code.’ It was the first book I wrote. And it was basically how to understand the soul questions of Muslims, and how God unlocks the heart of Muslims through the Gospel.
SMITH: Well, and I guess it’s also fair to say that, you know, when you go to a foreign country, let’s say an Islamic country, where Christianity would be very much a minority culture—I mean, I’m not trying to make too much of the similarities, but in some ways living in 21st century America is living in a culture where Christianity is very much a minority religion as well, right?
GREEAR: Right. Oh, absolutely. I think probably being a missionary for those years I was overseas helped me understand kind of how to engage in my culture, because we’re no longer living in that sort of generalized Christian culture in which everybody’s nodding their head when you’re talking about things. You’ve got to learn how to phrase the Gospel in ways that really answer the questions and engage the heart issues that people are talking about. If I could go back and just say one thing about Islam, just because you sort of touched into a little passion point there, it’s that, you know, the majority of unreached people groups in the world are Muslim. And we know that history, however you believe history is going to end, we know history can’t end until every one of those people groups has a Gospel witness. And so I always tell people, that if you want to be on the front lines of what God is going to be doing in the next generation, some part of your ministry is going to be—be thinking about Muslims, because every great civilization up until now has seen a major breakthrough of the Gospel. Islam is the one civilization that has never seen something, you know, dramatic. And I don’t mean something military. Something dramatic where people are awoken to the Gospel. You mentioned David Garrison’s book. He points out that in the last, what, 12 years, more Muslims have come to faith in Christ than in all the years before, you know, since 722. So there’s a lot of exciting things happening.
SMITH: Well, yeah, in fact I’ve had David on the program to talk about that book and it’s just amazing. I know some of our listeners are, you know, going to be in different places theologically on what I’m about to say and what David said. But he, David, very much comes out of, you know, a strong Southern Baptist tradition and, you know, skeptical about certain, you know, kind of hyper-charismatic types of things, and yet he has well documented stories in that book about signs and wonders. About Muslim people having dreams of Jesus and then they come to faith as a result of those dreams.
GREEAR: I haven’t seen that many Muslims come to faith in Christ directly, like through me. I think five is the total number, so it’s not a humongous number. But of those five, three of the five that I’ve seen come to faith in Christ, it was through a dream or vision. Not like, you know, I felt a warm feeling about Jesus kind of dream, but something very clear and detailed to where—I wasn’t fishing for it, they came to me with it, and I just said, I’m not really sure how to deny this, if this was just a random dream, then God let random dreams happen everywhere because it brought them to Christ.
SMITH: Yeah. That’s a really interesting—I mean that book was an eyeopener for me. And, of course, I see some Kuyper over here as well, I don’t mean to get you into trouble, but his famous lectures on Calvinism that he gave at Princeton University I guess.
GREEAR: Which have very little to do with the five points of Calvinism or a reformed view of the world.
SMITH: Yeah, in fact someone once told me that if John Calvin were alive today, he would not be a five point Calvinist, but I don’t know if that’s true or not, but anyway. So all these books, you know we’ve talked about Calvin, we’ve talked about Kuyper, we’ve talked about all these folks. I mean someday, maybe, maybe, you know Lord willing, if the Lord tarries, 50 or 100 years from now they’re going to be—there might be somebody like me talking to you know the fourth or fifth generation beyond you as a pastor. ‘Remember J.D. Greear, that guy in the early 21st century…’ What do you want them to say about you?
GREEAR: Well, yeah, I was just thinking about this today actually, Warren. It’s I think Acts 13, at the end of Acts 13, it says that Luke was talking about David, and said—or Paul was talking about David, and he said he fulfilled—he fulfilled his role in his generation and went to sleep with his fathers. And I’m like, I don’t really know what God—all He intends with my life, but I really want to be faithful in this generation. There’s Keith Green, remember—
SMITH: Sure, yeah, the musician.
GREEAR: Yeah, Keith Green, he used to make the statement that this generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of souls all over the world. As the church, we are God’s Plan A for spreading the Gospel. And so, I got, I don’t know how long I have left, at 45, maybe I got 30 years left, 40 years left. I want every one of those to count for seeing the Great Commission go forward. And that’s why I—that’s why as a pastor, now this is not everybody, this is why as a pastor, I don’t encumber myself too much with all these secondary and tertiary discussions, because while they may be important and have their place, as a representative of the church I’ve got to reserve all that I have for preaching the Gospel and seeing that message go forward. And I don’t want to let anything important come in the way of the one thing that’s essential.
SMITH: J.D. Greear, God bless you, thank you so much for your time today, I appreciate it very much.
GREEAR: Thanks for having me on.
SMITH: That brings to a close my conversation with J.D. Greear. We had this conversation at his office in Durham, North Carolina. A couple of people we mentioned on today’s program have been on previous episodes of Listening In. I’m thinking of David Platt and David Garrison, who wrote the book ‘A Wind in the House of Islam.’ To hear those interviews, go to the WORLD News Group website, and type their names into the search engine. Last week I renewed my request of you to rate the program on your smartphone app. A lot of you did, and I want to say thank you for that. If you’re one of those who have not yet rated Listening In, just scroll to the bottom of the episode’s page on your smartphone app, and with one finger you can rate the program from one star to five. And if you want, you can leave a comment. Listening In is brought to you by WORLD News Group. And this podcast is just one of the many benefits of WORLD membership. To find out more about becoming a member of WORLD, go to Get WORLD Now.com. Our technical producer is Rich Roszel. He gets strong assistance from Alan Brooks. The executive producer is Nick Eicher. I’m your host, Warren Smith, and you’ve been listening in.