WARREN SMITH: Matt Chandler is one of the country’s best known and most influential pastors. He is the lead pastor of teaching at The Village Church, a Southern Baptist church in Flower Mound, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. He is president of the Acts 29 Network, an organization that plants and nurtures new churches. Chandler is the author of several books. His latest is Take Heart: Christian Courage in an Age of Unbelief. WORLD’s J.C. Derrick had this conversation with Matt Chandler at The Village Church in Dallas.
J.C. DERRICK: Okay. Pastor Matt Chandler, welcome to the program. Thank you for making time for us today.
MATT CHANDLER: No, glad to be here.
DERRICK: Let’s start with your new book, Take Heart. Why did you write it?
CHANDLER: The short answer is I was in Rome doing an Acts 29 European conference. And the last day, I got to walk through the ruins of the Colosseum. And to me, that was a profoundly spiritual moment, that here I was in the ruins of the greatest empire the world has ever known, that for about 300 years, set all its might and desire on the destruction of Christ’s church and failed. And now here I am a, you know, a pastor from a church in a land that they didn’t even know existed, who’s helping plant churches all over what used to be their empire. And so I was super encouraged that the reality is the Bible’s true and the church of Jesus Christ won’t be stopped. And then I came home and when I came home there was a ton of fear in the air as Christians are perceiving—and rightly perceiving—that there’s increased marginalization going on. And so I became really incited to try to help the men and women of The Village Church really lean into what appears to be a coming storm with a great deal of confidence in who God is rather than who we are. And then it resonated really well here. And so from there we just turned it into a book in the hopes that it would help more.
DERRICK: And in the book you talk early on about four different approaches, responses to this current cultural moment, three of which you say are largely problematic. Can you just give us a rundown of those four?
CHANDLER: Yeah, well, you see these all the time. You see people that kind of get into a culture war mentality where they’re trying to kind of take us backwards to some perceived glory day that, in all honesty, never really existed. And then you’ve got a group that tends to conform to culture, and so they will start to read their Bible differently than the church has read their Bible for thousands of years. And then where I want to try to get people to look and marvel and lean into is to gaze upon the might and power of God and then to walk in generous hospitality with coworkers, neighbors, friends, and the world, regardless of how hostile it gets.
DERRICK: Well, and something I want to ask about, too, is sort of where this is coming from. Do you view news sources, and particularly something like Fox News—do you see that as fueling this fear?
CHANDLER: Well, I think the 24-hour news cycle fuels the fear. Like if you want someone to click on your, you know, your video or your story, you’ve got to word it a certain way. You’ve got to take an angle at it that incites fear or incites some sort of righteous indignation. And so the whole kind of adrenaline state of the United States in particular is, I mean, it’s redlining. Which is why you can’t hardly say anything without some segment of our culture getting really, really angry, right? Really outraged. And so I think the 24-hour news cycle plays into it. And then I do think there’s a just gross polarization that ultimately is going to be harmful for everyone. If there’s no longer this space for us to throw out our ideas, have civilized discourse about those ideas, and then settle on, by the grace of God, the better idea, then I don’t—the way forward gets really murky and dark.
DERRICK: More on this topic of fear. You said that the converting, condemning, and consuming cultures are born of fear. And I’ve heard you hit on this from the pulpit as well. We’re talking here as you’ve recently returned from Germany and you met some Muslim refugees there.
DERRICK: And in your first sermon back in the pulpit, you talked about that. And you were talking about spiritual gifts and actually what the Bible says about speaking in tongues, but as a little aside, you said, by the way, all Muslims aren’t out to kill you.
DERRICK: So I’m guessing that comment, you know, generated some emails, perhaps?
CHANDLER: Well, and here’s what’s great: It really didn’t. And I hope that what that means is that we’re growing here. We have sent quite a few of our people over to Berlin where we are actually working with these Muslim refugees. We also work with Muslim refugees down in Dallas here, where we’re located. And they really are, specifically—I’m sure from every country, but from Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, are some of the kindest, warmest people imaginable. Super hospitable. I mean, if you show up, you better show up ready to eat. And then from there, they’re heartbroken. And they’re heartbroken at what’s happened in their countries. They’re heartbroken for how they’re perceived. They’re heartbroken because no one has been killed more by radical Muslims than Muslims. You know, for every one American that’s been killed, one Westerner that’s been killed by radical Islam, hundreds of thousands of Muslims, peace-loving Muslims, have been. And I just think that the picture that we’re getting right now is that there’s this massive people group that’s hell bent on murdering us all, and that’s just unhelpful and it’s untrue. And so I didn’t get any push on that. Now, I’ll probably get push from this; this audience is a bit broader. But we had—and just a great story—we had a guy just head over with a team who was really anxious about going, because even per his own, you know, his own confession, ‘I just hate—just hate Muslims.’ I mean, he just, everything he’d heard about them, everything he knew about them, everything—that they were angry, hostile, you know, the pictures he’s seen on TV, the videos he’s watched, the movies he’s seen. And then, man, his first night on the ground, he ended up having dinner with some people from Syria and the Lord just melted his heart. He wept and repented. And the rest of his time there was incredible. So had that not happened, my guess is I would have gotten an email from him by that statement, but I don’t know how you can argue with what I said. What, are you going to sit back and go, ‘The Iraqi people are not warm, you know, you don’t know them like I know them.’ You know, so, anyway, that. Yeah, I didn’t take any heat for that.
DERRICK: In the book, I mean, obviously there are legitimate issues, the pressure from the culture. But yet you make the case that this is a great time to be a Christian.
CHANDLER: Well, here’s the case I would make. When there is no real distinct line between Americanism and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and that there are cultural advantages to calling yourself an evangelical, then things get really strange. And what I mean by that is, you can’t really tell who’s saying yes to Jesus, I’m going to follow you, and who culturally is hopping on because it’s going to be better for their business and it’s going to be better for their acceptance in culture at large. But as that fades away, what ends up happening is the—what Tim Keller calls the mushy middle begins to evaporate. Because you either go, ‘No, no, no, there’s a cost to this and I’m not willing to pay that cost,’ and you stop. Or you go, ‘There is a cost and Jesus is better and he’s more of a treasure and I’m going to lay my yes fully down and I’m going to follow him.’ And so when that becomes the norm among Christians and evangelical Christians, now you’ve got lights shining in the darkness rather than candles that have gone unlit, if that makes sense. So I think for a lot of what I talk about in the book as Christendom, where there is this kind of a mesh of political and religious thinking, that you can’t really tell, who’s really in on Jesus Christ? Who’s really in and then who’s just, you know, a good American that goes to church on Sunday? And so the opportunity we have as a people walking, I hope in greater purity, who are willing to pay the price for loving Jesus. Not for being jerks, because I think Jesus is pretty clear, like, ‘If you’re being persecuted because of me, because you love me, because you’re following me, then man, blessed are you.’ But he doesn’t say, you know, ‘Hey, blessed are you when you’re a jerk and you’re rude and you’re hateful and you’re persecuted for that.’ And so if we can show hospitality and walk in grace and show the love of Christ, and still call sin sin—God’s a holy God. He calls sin sin; he hates sin. But to be able to do that in the context of loving people well, having people in our homes, speaking life into them—I think that’s when you’ve got a real shot at seeing a movement of God in our day.
DERRICK: I want to pivot now to something that you talk about in the book, but also a subject you’ve made a priority in your sermons and in your church, on social media, and so on. And that’s racial harmony. I’d like to start with a sermon that you preached earlier this year at MLK 50. And you talked about what experience you’ve had over the last 15 years at The Village Church. Here’s that clip.
AUDIO: This people I love, this people that support me and applaud me and encourage me and through their tithes and offerings pay my bills, would operate in some inconsistencies that were discombobulating to me. If I preached a sermon out of the book of Isaiah on justice, my inbox would fill with their glee that I would broach the subject, but if I applied it to the subject of race, then all of a sudden I was a Marxist or I’d been watching too much of the liberal media. If I spoke on abortion, I was applauded as courageous and a ferocious man of God, and yet when I would tackle race, I was being too political. If I quoted the great reformer Martin Luther, never—and I’ve done that hundreds of times, over 15 years—never did I get an email about his blatant anti-Semitism, but let me quote the great reformer Martin Luther King Jr., and watch my inbox fill with people asking me if I’m aware of his moral brokenness… These are people who pray and worship and evangelize and love Jesus, and yet there were these inconsistencies around this topic that were confusing to me.
DERRICK: I think you’re describing there what applies to most predominantly white evangelical churches in America who attempt to address race relations-type issues. To what do you attribute that response?
CHANDLER: Well, you know, I go on to talk about that in the sermon. I think there’s just—we don’t know what we don’t know, and we can only see what we can see. And I’m not trying to be ambiguous there. I’m saying that there is—we did not arrive at this moment in history randomly. There’ve been a series of historical things that have occurred that have led to this moment in history. And I think that—I don’t ever want a white person to feel guilty for being white. In fact, I would almost argue that that’s probably sinful. Nor do I want them to have to own, or feel guilty for something that maybe their great, great, great, great, great grandfather has done. But I do think, man, it’s just necessary for us to understand and grasp why we’re in the situation we’re in and how we got here. And I don’t think it’s overly complex. And again, I go on to explain more of this in the sermon, but it’s a real—in any subject I’ve ever preached, I’ve never heard people not hear what I’m saying and substitute what I’m saying with something that they’ve picked up from somewhere else. So for me, this doesn’t have anything to do with social justice. This has to do with Biblical justice. This doesn’t have to do with feeling guilty because you’re white, because you shouldn’t feel guilty because you’re white. I mean, you are. I am. Nor is this owning the sins of your great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather. It’s understanding how we got here so you can walk in empathy and compassion, and you can understand when things blow up what’s actually happening and what’s not happening. And all of that is uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable, and I say this in the sermon, because I was educated in such a way that I was given this set of facts and not this set of facts. So there’s a confrontation that occurs in the mind first and then the soul second. And then throw in the fact that all of this is extremely complex, and you’ve got a powder keg. And that’s what you see anytime the subject gets broached, is fear and anger and blame. And it’s a real mess. But I’m hopeful.
DERRICK: And the two words you used in that sermon were ignorance and immaturity.
DERRICK: That’s what fuels a lot of this. So is the answer to that, what you just said, education mostly?
CHANDLER: I think it’s partly education, but it can’t be education in that ‘I just know some facts now.’ It has to be a type of education that starts to push out the ignorance and then move us to a kind of action. And I think that’s where things become really contextual. Like what does that action look like where we are? So here, I mean, we’re recording this right now in Dallas. I mean, we’re a predominant white community, and that, for the foreseeable future, is going to be the reality. Now what I would say is, there’s a reason why we’re a predominantly white community, and I know the answer to that. But I had to do a little research to find out, okay, why? Why are we such a white community in this place? And it’s not just because there are more white people in America than there are black people in America or brown people in America. And so to do some of that kind of homework and have it drive out the ignorance then to taking steps forward. And I think the biggest step forward that men and women can make on the issue of racial harmony is being able to see their brothers and sisters in a way that empathy is created, movement is created. You begin to be able to hear what’s being said versus what’s not being said. You can stay in the tension of being uncomfortable in a space and have that conversation until you can get clarity. And this is some of what comes out of informing so you’re not ignorant, and then that moving towards empathy and movement.
DERRICK: Well, and that was going to be my next question: What does the average person do in this cultural context? Obviously, as you talked about in the sermon, the layers; you’ve got to peel those back, you know, you can’t jump straight to the middle. You’ve got to start at the outside. So for the average person, you know, can you name a couple of practical things? What does that look like?
CHANDLER: So here are some things that we’ve talked about here. One, I think proximity matters. And I think that making a move to get closer, and, you know, greater proximity with people who don’t look like us—and that could be socioeconomic as well as ethnic—and get in those spaces where we can feel some of the, ‘Oh my gosh, I might be one of the only—I mean there’s only two white people in this room,’ and get a sense of what that’s like, that begins to do something. So I think deep friendships with persons of the opposite color are really, really helpful here. And I think relationships that are about your learning and not about your teaching. And I think that’s become—I think a thing that my white friends, they just need a lot of help with. You’re not befriending this black person so you can tell them what it’s like. You’re there to learn. And so, man, even this week I had a conversation with an African-American woman—I wasn’t sure what to do with it. And so I had to call a friend of mine and just go, ‘Hey, can you—what does this mean? Help me with this.’ Or, man, I’ve got a dear friend in Chicago and, man, I love him. And he’s said a couple of phrases over the years that I’ve just thought, ‘Okay, I don’t know what he’s talking about when he says that, because I don’t have that category.’ And so I finally just called him and I said, ‘Hey, will you help me with this? I’ve heard you say—use this phrase two or three times, and I have no idea what that means. Can you help me with that?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, sure brother, let me send you this, and let’s talk about it.’ And so to cultivate those kinds of relationships, I think, are the beginning of the path. And then once you’ve got the safe places to ask questions without being afraid that you’re going to be a racist or you’re going to be a, you know, blamed for something, but just kind of a safe space for you to go, ‘I want to understand; I’m longing. Here’s the things I’m doing, I read The Warmth of Other Suns. I’ve listened to this podcast, I’ve done this. Now I’ve got these questions.’ And I think—the thing that I think is difficult for African-Americans in this context, especially if they’ve been brave enough to step into white spaces, is there’ll be 400 white people that want to be their friend because of this. And that’s why I think you’ve got to move towards proximity. So one of the families here actually began to take their little boys to a barbershop that was in, you know, just on the outskirts of our community. And that’s where they were taking their boys to get their haircut. And so that just got them in proximity where they started to build relationships. So little things like that go a long way to increase somebody’s ethnic IQ.
DERRICK: Obviously this area, this subject, is fraught with tension and controversy. You’ve taken criticism over it. One of the most common things you hear is, you know, basically social justice, or whatever the term they want to use—
DERRICK: Right. Or race relations, or social justice, you know, you name the term that they use. But that they sort of pit that against the gospel like this is a distraction. How do you respond to that?
CHANDLER: Well, again, I think the apostle Paul is going to disagree. And I also talked about that in my sermon. But it’s not just that. The thing that they want to hit back to you is that, ‘Just preach the gospel and this will work itself out.’ But man, if you’re reading your Bible, then that’s certainly not true. Like what we see even in the very infancy of the church is, you had these Hellenized Jews who were saying, ‘Hey, we’re not getting—we’re not getting the same share of food as the other Jews are.’ And the disciples had to shift some things, the apostles had to shift some things in regards to structures, and set up a system that ensured that there was fair treatment in that space. We see the Judaizers following the apostle Paul around trying to undermine his work with the gentiles over and over again. We see the Jews, although they were clearly told to evangelize out to the gentiles, refuse to do that. Even as Stephen is killed and they’re sent out it, it honestly takes a series of events that are these divine supernatural events to get them to finally extended the gospel to the gentiles. And even then, Peter has to go back and make a defense for it and they call a council on it to decide whether or not the church can even do this and God can do this. Not to mention Paul having to correct Peter. And so the theme that you see in the Bible is that the gospel gives us the capacity, it tears down the wall of hostility, but there’s still work to be done in regards to sanctification and discipleship.
DERRICK: And Paul’s verbiage there that, which you’ve talked about from a pulpit before, is that he was calling out activity that was inconsistent with the gospel.
CHANDLER: Yeah, out of step with the gospel.
DERRICK: So one other question on this topic. As a society, you know, obviously we’ve seen the shootings of unarmed black men, you know, police brutality is still a hot topic, and we’ve also seen demonization of police. We’ve seen fatal police shootings even here in Dallas a couple of years ago. Often these issues are presented as a zero sum game: you’re either for police, or you’re for racial justice, essentially. How do Christians navigate these issues in a unifying way that doesn’t make a zero sum game out of it and contributes to human flourishing in all areas?
CHANDLER: I think what I’ve learned over the years, and some—probably some things that I’m really glad I said and did, and some things I wish I wouldn’t have said and did, is that this probably works itself out best locally. And so one of the things that we want to do here is we want to be really active with our police force here in town. And we want to provide care for them and we want to serve as chaplains for our department. We want to show up with dinner between shifts. We’re gonna do everything we can to make sure our police force here feels loved and cared for and seen by us. And then at the same time, we want to be real honest about the fact that every institution under heaven is in need of reform. And even if things are done legally, is the law just? Because the law hasn’t always been just. And again, it’s another blind spot in our thinking and it’s an arrogance in 2018, that for the first time in human history, we and we alone have a system of completely just laws that don’t take advantage of anybody along the spectrum of socioeconomics or ethnicity.
DERRICK: And sinful people aren’t at all involved in administering those laws.
CHANDLER: None. And so that’s the blindness that I think can be most frustrating me. It’s this idea that, that our law—like, we’ve done it. I mean, we’ve arrived. Nobody’s actually going to say that, but they’ll defend and they’ll attack what you’re saying by saying, ‘Hey, the law worked,’ or ‘Why don’t we let the courts decide?’ And the belief is that the system itself is fully just and not in any need of reform. Now I know the detractors even from what I’m saying is that they’re going to say back, ‘No, we’re not saying that there’s no need for reform. What we’re just saying is in these issues, it looks like the system worked.’ And again then I think that goes back to kind of knowing how we got here and making sure you can hear your brothers and sisters. Because if you’ve got 100,000 people saying it doesn’t work, and then you’ve got one detractor from that saying, ‘No, no, no, it does work,’ to latch onto the one that’s saying it works and ignore the 100,000 that are saying it doesn’t work—I just think, man, we’ve got to just be a little smarter than that.
DERRICK: And humble enough to acknowledge that there are issues.
DERRICK: I heard someone say something one time that really stuck in my mind, which is just because you haven’t necessarily experienced a particular type of discrimination or whatever, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
CHANDLER: That’s right.
DERRICK: It’s a big country.
CHANDLER: It is.
DERRICK: There’s a lot of stuff going on around the country.
CHANDLER: It is. And again, go back to history and understand that there’d be a special kind of discrimination even if you had been discriminated against. And so if you’re an older person and you want to say, ‘Hey, I get discriminated against because I’m in my seventies,’ I don’t want to say that’s not true, but I’m saying that’s probably not on par. And so that’s just some of the verbiage that I’ve heard thrown around like everybody experiences discrimination in one form or another, but most of us haven’t. If you read MLK’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail, and he talks about the cloud of doubt forming in the mental sky of his daughter, and then you’re going, ‘Yeah, but they didn’t start with that when they were 3, or 2, started getting a feeling that, hey, something’s different about me and that difference isn’t good.’
DERRICK: Okay. Couple of final questions as we wrap up here. First, what’s a book you are currently reading or have recently read that you would recommend?
CHANDLER: Well, I am—so this will be a little nerdy, but I’m about to preach through the Gospel of John. And so almost everything I’ve been reading has been in and around the Gospel of John. And so Brenner’s commentary on John is fascinating and amazing. I just finished reading—and I’ll be careful because there were some things in it that I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t quite know what to do with that.’ But Marva Dawn’s book on sabbath has been excellent. So I’m trying to figure out how do I do this sabbath thing well, and how do I kind of integrate more restful mindfulness into my life. And so I’ve read a couple books on sabbath. So Marva Dawn’s is the one that I would recommend.
DERRICK: Okay. Lastly, you’ve just turned 44, and by most standards that would make you a youngish pastor, you know, typically you have half your career in front of you. But you are also someone who has experienced cancer and I’m sure are much more in touch with your mortality than most of us are.
DERRICK: So what do you want people to say about Matt Chandler? How do you want to be remembered?
CHANDLER: Man, I can honestly say I want to be faithful. I want to be just known as a—I got a text this morning from one of our staff members who, on his run, heard his grandmother had died and he just said, ‘She loved the Lord, was faithful with her days, and she’s gone home.’ And I just texted back, ‘Man, I want somebody to say that about me when I go.’ And so I don’t have any—I just want to be faithful where He’s placed me with the things He’s given me to do, and then go home. And so if that can be my story, that he was faithful with what he was given, then I think I’ve spent my life well.
DERRICK: Alright, Pastor Matt Chandler. Thank you so much.
CHANDLER: It’s been my pleasure.
SMITH: That brings to a close this week’s conversation with Matt Chandler. WORLD’s J.C. Derrick conducted the interview at The Village Church in Dallas, Texas. A special thanks to J.C. Derrick for this week’s program. You can hear his work every day at Listening In’s sister program, The World and Everything In It, where J.C. serves as WORLD Radio’s Managing Editor.
I should also mention that this interview with Matt Chandler is one in a series of interviews we’ve done with pastors, an acknowledgement of the importance of the local church both to the health of the body of Christ and to the role of the church in civil society. Recent interviews with pastors have included conversations with Rick Warren, Eric Eichinger, David Chadwick, J.D. Greear, Jack Graham, and others. To hear these interviews, go to the World News Group website and type the name of the person you want to hear from in the search engine. That web address is wng.org.
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The technical producer for today’s program is Rich Roszel. He gets strong assistance from Alan Brooks. Our executive producer is Nick Eicher. I’m your host Warren Smith. And you’ve been Listening In.