ABOUT THE EPISODE
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the countless voices discussing topics like sex, gender, and marriage, and unsure of who to trust?
You’re not alone!
In this episode, we dive into the wisdom of fourth-century theologian Gregory of Nazianus, who faced similar challenges in his time. Listen in as we share some of Gregory’s insights on how to navigate these complex and controversial subjects, and how his approach can help us today.
We discuss how Gregory believed that being a theologian meant not only knowing about God but truly knowing and seeking God.
In this episode, we explore how we can apply Gregory’s wisdom to our own journey by examining our motivations and submitting our hearts to the truth of God.
Additionally, we delve into the importance of virtue in the life of a theologian and how it can help us discern who to trust when it comes to discussions about sex, gender, and marriage.
Join us as we learn from the wisdom of the past to better understand the present and draw closer to God in the process.
Ready? Let’s dive in!
Transcription: Walking through the Minefield of Modern Conversations on Sexuality and Marriage
Josh: So question for you. Well, let me start with confession before I ask my question.
Josh: Confession is I have, in the last several months, gotten lost in YouTube. I’ve done videos where people are talking about various matters related to sex, gender, male and female, those kinds of things And, as I’ve pondered why I’ve gotten so pulled into it, part of the reason is because I deeply care about these topics, but part of it is because I feel so overwhelmed by the super abundance of voices that are out there espousing things that are antithetical, that are against both common sense and against biology, and against, and certainly against God’s traditional, historically understood design for male and female marriage and sex. And I’m alarmed at the number of Christians, people of good will, who are either ambivalent about this or vacillating between God’s truth and what the world is teaching in this regard, or who have abandoned God’s truth altogether and sometimes even left the church because they can’t reconcile. How can a loving God say no to a same sex marriage? or how can a loving God say no to someone being quote unquote who they truly are if they say you know, i’m the opposite sex on the inside, i’m the opposite gender on the inside, and so I should be able to live that out, have a surgery and all those things? And I’m concerned about this. And so recently I was reading this fourth century theologian, gregory of Nazianus, and he had a lot of things to say that I think are applicable to us today. So my question for you is do you feel overwhelmed? Do you feel some sense of of man like who should I listen to? Who should I not listen to in regards to these matters? How do I know if the person I’m listening to is trustworthy or not? How do I know if, if what I’m thinking about this is trustworthy or not? How do I discern what God really says and thinks about these things? If so, that’s you, if you relate with that or you know somebody does.
Josh: I think Gregory of Nazianus, this fourth century bishop, has some helpful things for you too. So little history about Gregory, just because I’m geeking out about him a little bit. He did not want to be a priest. He was well educated, very well educated, probably as educated as you could be. In that day He studied religion, philosophy, rhetoric, sophism, whatever else, and he loved God. But he didn’t want to be a priest because after he was ordained he fled. He went back to a monastery because it was just too much responsibility. He didn’t want to be responsible for other people’s souls, their spiritual progression, and he also just preferred to draw near to God himself. He didn’t want to be bothered with the difficulty of being a pastor, being a priest, until his father and good friends convinced him that your life is going to be better spent helping many people draw near to God than just for you to draw near to God by yourself. So he came back. He came back to Nazianus and became a priest there.
Josh: Eventually he was sent to Constantinople because at that point there was a heresy afoot in the church called Arianism, and Arianism, like many other heresies, did not believe in the full deity of Jesus and did not believe in the full deity of the Holy Spirit. And so the Council of Bishops sent Gregory there to try to help nurture the church, grow the church and defend the church, or defend the truth of Christianity to the church, so they wouldn’t be led astray by this Arian thinking, this new Arian thinking, and I think that what Gregory was facing mirrors in some ways, what we’re facing when it comes to people espousing truth about God, about God’s will, about what the Bible has to teach us about sex and marriage, because there are a lot of voices teaching about those things. As I said a minute ago, and Gregory was very concerned with, well, how can I help people recognize who to trust and who not to trust? And I want to share with you some of the things he said because I think, as you hear them, they might inspire you both in your own journey to press into the Lord, but also in your own kind of healthy criticism of who you’re listening to, who you’re exposing yourself to. Gregory understood that, as people were kind of around these voices proposing Arian, thinking heretical, thinking that they were susceptible to believing it because it sounded right, it sounded good. I mean, the reality about heresies that have most threatened the church is that they’re very, very close to the truth. They sound like they make sense, and I think that same thing is true in the area of conversations today around sexual ideology, gender ideology, pro-lgbt theology, i mean those kinds of things. They sound like that makes sense right, isn’t God? that way, it sounds very close And Gregory really wanted to help his people.
Josh: So just a few things for Gregory. First of all, gregory, like his contemporaries, to be a theologian in that day didn’t mean that you were just an academic. Like I said, gregory was very, very educated. But more importantly for him, it wasn’t just about the education you had, the theological education you had. It was also about your character, your virtue, because to be a theologian for him did not just mean that you knew about God. It meant that you knew God, that you were seeking to know God better and better and better. That that was your primary objective.
Josh: So one of the questions that we can ask ourselves, like Gregory was asking of his opponents at the time, was, he was saying are you in this just because you like to win an argument? Do you already have your mind made up and you’re looking at scripture to support what you have to say? You’re looking at history to find something that supports your position. Are you looking at arguments and going I like that one because that one sounds good, or is your heart really interested in the truth of God? Is your heart submitted? no matter what I find, i’m going to follow God with this. I want what God wants. I believe that God is the Creator. I believe that God’s heart toward me is good and I’m pursuing what God wants for my life.
Josh: But and, by the way, if you struggle with those things you’re like I want to be that way, i want to want to pursue God. Then talk to God about that. He wants to help you.
Josh: This is not about it’s not black and white. I’m not trying to say to you if you find yourself outside good thought process in this realm, ask Jesus for help, ask others for help in this. We’re all on this journey. So the theologian number one has to be truly invested in God. That’s their primary goal, not to win an argument, not to persuade you to a position, but to help himself or herself and those listening to them draw closer to the actual God, the God of the universe.
Josh: Second, the theologian has to be virtuous. This isn’t just a matter of, like you know, do you have a good education and can you give a really powerful sermon that draws lots of crowd or gets lots of followers? Can you make a great argument? Some of the people I appreciate listening to the most and also cringe when they do are people who are just really good at debate, can just kind of put a hole in anybody’s position and point out their mistakes. But the tone is just so I don’t know vitriolic, so divisive. You can even hear in some of the. When you listen to those kinds of things sometimes the audience is just like yeah, yeah, get him. We’re just so excited to have our perspective, like winning the day or winning the debate.
Josh: But for Gregory of Nazianus he was like, look, the most important thing, like one of the most important things for the theologian, the person who’s pursuing God and wanting to convey God to others, is that you’re actually virtuous. So he has this really long list of things. He’s like you know, do you fast, do you pray? Do you hold night vigils before the Lord? Do you serve the poor, feed the poor and care about the hungry? Have you tamed your tongue? Have you tamed your thought life? What about your eyes? These are all matters of virtue that he was encouraging, like. If you have these things, then the more you have these things abundantly active in your life, the more fit you are to be a theologian, a teacher, isn’t that beautiful?
Josh: One of the other ones was contemplating your what’s the word Space in it, contemplating your mortality in light of God’s eternity. He’s like if you spend time contemplating that, that will set you right on your own attitude towards trying to win followers or your fear that people won’t be, won’t like what you have to say or won’t like what you believe. And he said, the more that you’re, that you’re in that place of peace in your own inner self with God, the better you are able to truly discern what God’s heart and God’s will are. I think that’s beautiful and powerful and it just resonates with me. And I’ll say I’m not always there I mean far, far from it but I do find that the more I’m surrendered to God, the more I’m at peace with him, the easier I have in, i think, discerning his will for my life and certainly, i think, in conveying it to others, conveying what God has liked to others, because God is God, is peaceful, he’s not afraid to fight, but he doesn’t fight because he’s angrier or perturbed inside. He’s not reactionary. God is a God of goodness and love and he’s not easily provoked. So they’ve got to be virtuous. One of the other reasons for virtue is because the virtuous person is able to better discern the needs of those he or she is speaking with Their heart is to help others to draw nearer to God rather than just to have followers. I think that was a prime thing for Gregory.
Josh: Just Gregory said that the theologian has to recognize that shepherding a flock is hard, but that’s their responsibility Has to recognize the flock. Those that you’re teaching and caring for can be vulnerable to being misled. You don’t want them just to grow dependent on you. You want them to listen to you, but you also want them to be aware of their own vulnerability and you want them to press in towards knowing God better. At one point he actually charges his hears. He says look, don’t. Don’t set yourself up where you’re like putting yourself under the judgment of somebody who is opposed to God. Don’t set yourself up so that you’re spending time listening to somebody who doesn’t have the concerns of God in their mind. They’re actually trying to win an argument or they’re trying to make a fool of you. Don’t put yourself in that position. He’s like that. Why would you take a sword and put it in the hand of your enemy? Don’t do that.
Speaker 1: And, by the way, i should also clarify that Gregory was speaking at the time to people in his congregation, it’s believed, who themselves were opposed to what he was teaching, and so he wanted to win them over too. He wasn’t trying to expel them. He recognized that the wheat and the weeds grow up together, and he was trying to help draw people to Jesus, all people, and I think that can be our heart too. So there’s just a few things that really struck me as man. Can we do that today? More than all those things, i want God. Can we open our hearts to want him more?
Josh: Gregory says that’s the only way to really draw near to God and to be able to discern the truth. So, friends, i share this today with a heart that is deeply concerned about Christians all over the world who are being drawn in by ideologies and what sounds like good theology, good arguments. You know, jesus is kind, jesus is compassionate, but whose hearts aren’t really to open themselves before the Lord, who really actually have just one way they’re seeing the world and are looking for arguments to draw you in. I’m not saying that their concerns aren’t real. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about the things they’re concerned about, but I am saying, as I think Gregory of Nazianus would say, that God’s will, god’s heart and knowing God himself can’t be done if that’s not our first priority, if that’s not what we’re really after.
Josh: So let me challenge you today, as I’m being challenged by Gregory of Nazianus, to make that my first priority, that I might be able to walk with him in these times that are rather confusing. Lord, would you help us to be men and women who are theologians at least small-t theologians, lord who accurately handle the word of God through seeking to know you first and foremost and seek to live virtuous lives more than live our own ways? I’m going to ask this in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
- On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius
- Regen on YouTube
- What We Do