“What if Christians became known not for how LIKE the world they have become, but for how UNLIKE the world they have become through love and good deeds?”
That’s only one of the sentences from Scott Sauls’ newest book, ‘Irresistible Faith,’ but it’s the core of it altogether. Scott joins Ryan on this week’s episode of indoubt and gives some insight on how you can stand out in your faith. Scott talks about how we can get our minds right to have Jesus Christ as our #1 focus; how we need to plant ourselves in a firm community with like-minded people, and; how to embrace our work and home-life as our mission field. Our lives are meant to be a pointer to the world to a God who is beautiful, and good, and life-giving, and who has an amazing adventure for anybody who is willing. So, how can we make our lives in Christ be not just different, but irresistible?
Who's our guest?
Scott Sauls serves as senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church, a multi-site church in Nashville, Tennessee and is husband to Patti and dad to Abby and Ellie. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a lead and preaching pastor at New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, planted churches in Kansas City and St. Louis, and taught preaching at Covenant Theological Seminary. Formative experiences have included growing up as an athlete, living in a global city, and suffering through a season of anxiety and depression. Scott has written four books: Jesus Outside the Lines, Befriend, From Weakness to Strength, and his latest, Irresistible Faith.
Hey everyone! This week on the show Ryan welcome special guest Scott Sauls, and they talk about the need for us as Christians to live better and love better in our every day, not just on Sundays.
The actualization itself is fundamental to Western thinking right now. It’s not self-denial, it’s self-actualization. It’s not deny myself to take up my cross and follow Jesus it is deny my neighbour if I have to, take up my comforts, and follow my dreams. You know, that’s the creed of the West.
Hey everyone, so good to be with you. My name is Ryan, and I’m really excited about this episode ahead as we have pastor and author, Scott Sauls with us. Today, we’re looking at his book which comes out tomorrow called “Irresistible Faith,” and some of the questions that come out of that are: what does it mean to live as a Christian, a follower of Jesus, an apprentice of him, in this post-Christian world today? Take a listen.
All right. Well today on this episode, we have a very special guest. His name is Scott Sauls. And he serves as a Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church, which is a multi-site church in Nashville, Tennessee, and Scott writes weekly at scottsauls.com, you can find more information there. And Scott has written four books: Jesus Outside the Lines, Befriend, From Weakness to Strength and his latest Irresistible Faith, which will be available tomorrow, January 22nd. Scott, so great to have you with us.
Thanks, Ryan. Good to be with you.
Really looking forward to tomorrow. You must be looking forward to tomorrow.
Yeah, yeah, it feels like we’ve been on this project for a long time, so it’s fun to sort of give birth to a new thing, and hope that it benefits a lot of people.
Yeah, that’s great. We’d love to hear actually from you. Where did you come from? What’s your story? What are you about? What has been kind of the trajectory of your life? And what’s God been doing in your life for the last number of years?
Yeah, great. Well, I guess I’ll start now, start current, then work backwards. I’m currently the Lead Pastor of, like you said, a multi-site church called Christ Presbyterian in Nashville, Tennessee. Came here by way of New York City, where we were for several years. I worked alongside Tim Keller, who’s probably known to some of your guests, and Tim has been a mentor of sorts to me, and a formal mentor for the last 20 years, and so, so much of my worldview and ministry, philosophy, and approach to things is really indebted to his leadership, and his impact in my life. So he’s probably the number one influence still living.
And then before that, we planted two churches. One was in Kansas City area of the Midwestern United States, and then the other was in St. Louis, Missouri. I’m married to Patty, two daughters. Abby’s 20, she’s a college student now, and Ellie’s 16, she’s a high school student. They’re both juniors, one in high school, one in college. And let’s see what else. I did not grow up in a home that identified with Christ as Saviour. I came to faith through friendships and through a lot of my own struggles with doubt. To the the audience of your podcast and the name of your podcast, I went through a very, very significant season of doubt, which I think I’m really indebted to that season for having the depth of conviction and belief that I do now about the things that I do revolve my life around now, so look forward to talking to you about those things.
Yeah. Well, I’d love to hear some of that. And even talking about your book, Irresistible Faith. As you even mentioned, this season of doubt as a refiner of maybe conviction and belief, and I’m curious how has that or where does irresistible faith come from? How has that impacted some of your writing in this?
Well, I mean I think a lot of it has to do with the climate that we’re in where, for some fair, very fair reasons and for some I think unfair reasons, Christianity is sort of broad-brushed as a discredited movement in the West especially Christianity I think is sort of stereotyped or understood as sort of a group of separated against the world, holier-than-thou, judgmental, narrow-minded, none of their ideas are current, homophobic, anti-this, anti-that. And that’s just not my experience. I mean I’ve been a follower of Christ for gosh, almost 30 … Well, maybe a little bit more than 30 years now. And I’ve never experienced that description of Christianity as the norm. Have I seen expressions of that I think inaccurate version of Christianity? Of course, I’ve seen expressions of it, but it’s not what I witness most of the time and what I experienced when I’m around people who identify as followers of Christ.
But the book is written I think to maybe provide a different narrative on Christianity and also hopefully, some inspiration and some tracks to run on for people who want to follow Christ well out in the world, in a way that flexes both the muscles of conviction and compassion, and seeking to be the best kinds of neighbours, the best kinds of colleagues and bosses and employees and best kinds of friends. And even to Jesus teaching, the best kinds of enemies. You know Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Surprise them by not being hostile and by not being angry and pointing fingers all the time, but love and serve people who are suspicious of you or who may not have a positive view of your faith. You know extend to them the same love that you’ve received from Christ when you were against him, and go from there.
So the book is really an effort to help, especially followers of Jesus to live really well in the various areas of life that we live in. Live, work, play, and so on. And hopefully it’ll be an intriguing picture of Christianity to people who maybe are on the fence or skeptical or asking questions or maybe they’ve kind of removed themselves from faith for a while, and they’re re-engaging the subject because it’s a new year or something like that. So I hope it can have that kind of broad appeal, but we’ll see.
Yeah. Well, that’s interesting because even as you’re talking you’re saying like the climate that we’re in and the context that we’re in, and I think it’s likely that we would both be able to recognize that we are in such a knowledge-saturated world. So much knowledge and information. Like this is the information age. And what it sounds like and of what your book I have read, it sounds like you’re saying, “Hey, the world doesn’t need more knowledge, the world needs an understanding of a revelation of who Jesus is. And one of the best ways that you and I can do that is not just by what we know, but who we know and how we live in response to that.”
Yeah. I mean knowledge is a starting point, but it’s it’s definitely not a destination and it’s definitely not a full description of what a robust, well-lived life is supposed to be. You can have knowledge without love and it’s just pride. Even the Bible talks about that, a knowledge puffs up and a love that builds up. When the Bible talks about being transformed by the renewing of your mind, presumably by having your mind be shaped by the vision that the scriptures give us about God and humanity and salvation and loving the world and the future of history and where God’s taking it and how we can be a part of it. That’s meant to catapult us out into places where we live, and where we work, and where we play and serve the world as a life-giving presence.
The Bible talks about Christians being Christ ambassadors or the aroma of Christ out in the world. Even in The Sermon on the Mount the most famous speech that’s ever been given, at the beginning of that message Jesus says, “You’re the light of the world. You’re the salt of the earth. You’re a city on a hill. Let your light shine before men so they can see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.” And so our lives are essentially meant to be a pointer to the world to a God who is beautiful, and good, and life-giving, and who has an amazing adventure for anybody who is ready to get on board with a story bigger than themselves. And he wants to change you, and transform you, and disrupt the unhealthy things about you in order to make your life the very best version of what it can be anchored to Christ.
And so we’re not just meant to learn, we’re meant to … I mean can you imagine somebody goes to medical school and then they don’t practice medicine? I mean what a waste of a skillset, right? And faith is the same, it’s meant to be lived out and embodied.
Yeah. Absolutely. And so here’s a question I have, because one of the context of the world that we live in today as North Americans, whether you’re from Nashville, Vancouver, or a small city in like a rural town or Prairies, is that we’ve now been exposed to a culture that is against Christianity, or a culture where we can all discuss on the internet our different views, and our challenges, and I think that’s where a lot of doubt can come in, right? Like the enemy comes to Adam and Eve, the enemy comes to Jesus when he’s tempted in Matthew 4 and says, “Well, you know, if you really are the Son of God, and if you are… ” And so there’s this idea that the enemy wants to seek to undermine people’s life and trust in Christ. So my question is kind of twofold, where do you see this happening in culture, and how do you see that affecting followers of Jesus? I guess threefold, and how do we respond?
Yeah. I see it happening in culture in a couple of ways. First, Jesus is unfairly held responsible for the misbehaviour of some of his followers, right? And there’s this famous quote attributed to Gandhi that Gandhi didn’t actually say, but it’s still a helpful statement. Gandhi is falsely attributed to saying, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians because your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” So he didn’t say that, but if he did, he would have had a good point, that we have a responsibility to represent the one for whom we are ambassadors in the world well, right?
The Great Commission, when an authority commissions his or her followers to go do something, those followers are supposed to act on the authority’s behalf and nothing else, right? And so we have struggled throughout history. You’ve got the inquisitions, you’ve got people wrongly defending institutions like slavery and putting a Christian label on it, which is just absurd. You’ve got, even more recently, kind of the the politically right-leaning Moral Majority movement of the ’80s and the ’90s, which is, which is kind of an anti-movement, anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-this, anti-that. It was just a kind of a posture of against-ness.
And then now you’ve got a climate, where we sort of inherited the effects of that, and we have essentially been discredited by our own behaviour, but the tragedy of that, and I also think the misfortune of that is that’s a very easy excuse not to engage with the claims of Christ over your life and over the whole world, if you’re person who’s not interested in belief or in faith. And that’s tragic because Jesus claims to be the King of the whole world, he backed it up by coming up from the grave. He lived a life of perfect integrity, of perfect truth, of perfect beauty, of perfect righteousness, and he says he’s the only way that a person can be in a right relationship with God. And so that’s a pretty ultimate question that is in some ways just kind of swiftly dismissed in the same way that maybe somebody would say, “Well I’m not … I don’t really like the music of Mozart or of you know U2 because I heard a high school band play a U2 song and it was really sloppy. And so U2 must not be that good.”
Well, the high school band’s not good, you know the high school band is trying to play a great song that actually was given to the world by a great band, but you won’t even listen to the band play the song because of you know… And I think that that’s an excuse that is used for a lot of people to not engage to claims of Christ is that Christians themselves become kind of an easy scapegoat, but at the same time, Christians were responsible. I mean we need to live better and love better than that. But I also think too that there are certain ethical points now in the Christian message that are just on a direct collision course with the prevailing thought now in the West, at least for now, about things like marriage and sexuality, etc. You know, and you got the whole #MeToo movement.
I think that what’s so curious to me about the #MeToo movement is that rightly there’s all this outrage and outspokenness against men exploiting women, and using their power to exploit women, and yet only a year or so before the #MeToo movement started, many of the same people who are putting you know #MeToo out there on their Twitter feeds were the people who showed up at Hugh Hefner’s funeral to eulogize him as a social justice champion and civil rights hero, right? So one year you’re publicly celebrating the guy who actually gave us the climate, where #MeToo can easily happen, and now we’re you not only rightly calling out sexual predators, which should be done, but we’re also taking songs like, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and we’re saying, “Well, that’s a song about date rape. Oh no, it’s not. It’s about a guy who’s trying to whimsically seduce a woman into something consensual.” It’s not about date rape. I mean trying to seduce somebody who’s not your spouse, that’s not a good thing.
But that’s another conversation, but we’re taking things like that and we’re interpreting them to be something that they’re not. And that’s kind of the climate that we’re in, where people get punished for things that maybe there are only 10% actually true. And the court of public opinion… I think that Christians, because of our views especially on historic Biblical views of sexuality and marriage, are now not only seen as weird in the way that we think, and not only seen or viewed or thought of as wrong but thought of as evil or dangerous even. And so division for flourishing is… You know right now, the Western vision for a flourishing human being is expressive individualism. I get to define myself, and no voice from the outside, no influence from the outside is allowed to define me. I get to define myself and that’s what freedom and flourishing is, which is in direct collision with with the Gospel, which says, you are defined by the one who made you, you bear the image of God and a life of flourishing can only be hod and experienced to the degree that I’m acknowledging his kingship over area of crevice of my life. So I’m talking a lot.
No, this is great. I’m just going to like get some popcorn and just listen. It’s amazing. I love what you’re saying, and one of the questions that comes up for me is, where is this let’s say attack, to use a word, against Christian values, against Christian morals, against the Christian Biblical vision of human flourishing in the good life? Where is that coming from? Why is our culture so against… I mean you speak to individualism, but is it because the claims of Christ as he spoken God’s vision of the good life for humanity is denial of self, and we as a Western civilization, as a Western world don’t want that? Or what have we contributed to this as followers of Christ? I’m really curious your thoughts on this.
Yeah. I think you just named it. Denial of self is fundamental to life in Christ, and the actualization of self is fundamental to Western thinking right now. It’s not self-denial, it’s self-actualization. It’s not, “Deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus.” It is, “Deny my neighbour if I have to, take up my comforts and follow my dreams.” That’s the creed of the West right now, which is the polar opposite of Christ’s vision for flourishing and being life-giving presence in the world.
So what’s really interesting too is I think that what you’ve got happening now is, and I’m no sociologist, this is just kind of an armchair observation that you have this Moral Majority movement, which was problematic, and it was led by people who identified as Christians in the ’80s and the ’90s, you know blaming things like 9/11 on certain “sinful groups of people” when no, this was a group of people from another part of the world who didn’t like America and they decided to do something horrible. That’s what it is. And of course the demonic forces behind all kinds of violence, including this one. But for whatever reason, that was used, 9/11 was used as an occasion to start pointing fingers at all these groups that weren’t on the side of the Moral Majority on certain moral issues, and that kind of posture. Like, call it truth going bad, or conviction without love or something like that. You know, scolding people in the name of Christ, right?
And rightly, very properly and very rightly, the shouldering of that generation that was all about that, and that was co-opting their politics in with their faith, it was right for their children and grandchildren to react against that posture, but what I think happened as a result is you’ve gotten not only the existence of doubt, but the glorification of skepticism, and the glorification of unbelief. You know G. K. Chesterton said that “The purpose of an open mind is like an open mouth, to eventually shut it on something solid.” And like just an open mind for its own sake is just kind of silly. And so I think we’ve kind of lost that to the purpose of doubt and questioning is actually to get answers, it’s not just sit in this whole world of doubt as if that’s like a virtuous place to put our anchor in the ground, right?
But I think what’s happened is that that has shifted to a new kind of Moral Majority, and instead of the Moral Majority being on the religious right, it is now on the irreligious or non-religious left, where you have the same behaviour. And this is where and maybe somebody who’s more of a skeptic might get a little bit upset with my words, and I’m just going to encourage you to hang in there with me on this, but Luke 18:9 describes an attitude, and it is an attitude that could easily have been applied to the Moral Majority movement in the ’80s and the ’90s, and it is these are people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and they look down on other people with contempt. There’s us against them thing. That was what was happening in the ’80s and ’90s and this is precisely what’s happening right now, except it’s just coming from a different place. It’s coming from, “Well, if you’re not as tolerant and open-minded as we are, then we’re going to shut you out and we’re going to punish you.” Well. that doesn’t sound very tolerant and open-minded, but it’s the human heart. And the human heart wants to separate, wants to tribalize, wants to declare who the good people and who the bad people are. And of course, we’re the good people and those people are the bad people.
And Christianity, the Gospel, Jesus separates the world not between the good and the bad, but between the proud and the humble. And so we got to ask ourselves what’s the humble place? And maybe that’s our starting point to build a different narrative and a different story around Christianity in the West.
Man, that picture, the word picture that you quoted with G. K. Chesterton is great. My question is this, what would you say or how would you encourage somebody who’s listening to this saying, “Yeah. I want to make a difference in my life” or, “I have friends or people in my life that are really doubting and skeptical” or, “I’m overwhelmed at the current state of the culture that I’m in, how do I keep going forward? How do I pursue Christ faithfully?” I’ll just be curious what some of your words of either encouragement or challenge would be to those of us.
Yeah. I mean wow! There’s a lot of different things that could be said to those important questions, Ryan, and I think that a starting point is you’ve got to get around people who have that same burning in their hearts for something different, and new, and counterculture in the best sort of way, and in a life-giving sort of way. Counterculture rather than just blending into this culture of outrage that we’re in right now, where everybody is just trying to figure out who their enemies are and who their tribe is so they can get on board with unfruitful ways of engagement.
You got to have people around you, and I would be so bold as to say, you got to have a local church that you’re committed to and that you’re part of, and that is a center point of your life, and an anchor for your life. And that doesn’t mean you got to find a church that pushes all the right buttons for you. Hopefully, it’s going to be a church where some things irritate you a little bit. Like the music isn’t exactly what you wish it would be, or maybe you’re in a church situation where it’s not just people from your generation, where you’re in community where you have to hear the opinions and viewpoints in the politics of… You know if you’re me, from people who are older than me and younger than me. And I happen to be one of those Gen Xers who thinks everybody is an extremist, but me. I think my Baby Boomer parents’ generation are right-wing extremist, and I think my kids’ generation are left-wing extremists, and I don’t know what I am. There’s probably something wrong with me too, but my kids probably think I’m right-wing and my parents think I’m left-wing.
But the point being is it is good to put yourself in a community where you don’t get to pick all the members of your circle, right? I mean because that’s not how family works, right? You know my wife, I tell people this, I tell my church this, my wife’s been married to five different men and I’ve been all five of them you know. Like I’m a different person now than I was eight years ago, and I was different now than I was five years before that and so on. And even if you think you know what you’re getting into, you don’t because we’re always changing, and I’m going to change.
But the point is we grow and change and transform together and a local church is a wonderful place to provide number one, a life-giving focus on Jesus Christ, but realize too that one of the best things about a local church is that you don’t get to custom-make it to your liking, and this is what troubles me about the Christian mindset of, “I don’t like church” or, “I just haven’t found a church that you know I completely jive with.” What you’re saying is that you’re going to make a custom-made version of your own version of Christianity in church and community. Now what happens is you end up just picking a bunch of people that look like you, that vote like you, same age as you, they have your same level of education, make the same kind of money, probably the same skin colour, etc. And you don’t really learn much.
So we need that commonality of moving toward Christ together, and that’s our common ground, but we also need that difference. The first community that God created was a man and a woman. It’s hard to get any different than that biologically, right? But then he created a church and said, “I want Jews and Gentiles to both be part of it, and I want them to have fellowship together.” And Jews and Gentiles were different from each other ethnically, politically, ideologically, economically, culturally. They were different than each other and Jesus said, “Look, this is what’s going to show the world that you belong to me, that you, Jews and Gentiles love each other.”
Yeah. I mean the thought that comes to my mind is like you know waging war on the idea of the individual entitlement, the individual. And even as you were talking about being connected to a local church and being committed to a local church, and not being able to pick all these things of what your church looks like, it reminded me of what we talked about 10 minutes ago, that the view of the good life to our culture is individualization and customization. And when you’re in a local church, you can’t just pick and choose and customize as you wish, you are forced to be ground up against people that are different than you. You’re sitting in a chair or pew and you’re challenged or a guest speaker comes in that you’re not used to. And so it sounds like to me, that is the call.
So, Scott, this has been great. Thank you so much for being with us today.
Thanks, Ryan. Appreciate it.
Thank you for joining us on this episode of Indoubt with Scott Sauls. You can follow Scott Sauls on Instagram @scottsauls, and on his website scottsauls.com, and make sure you get a copy of his new book, “Irresistible Faith,” which is available January 22nd.
indoubt exists to bring the Good News of Jesus into everyday issues of life, faith, and culture. We exist to help you and encourage you to engage with the tough questions of our time in a way that honours God.
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indoubt ministries exists to bring a Biblical perspective into the relevant issues of life, faith, and culture that young adults face every day. For more information, check out indoubt.ca, if you live in Canada and indoubt.com if you live in the U.S.