AN INTERVIEW WITH NICHOLAS PERRIN AND WAYNE JOHNSON
WHAT IS BIBLICAL ORTHODOXY, AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Nicholas Perrin: Orthodoxy means “straight thinking,” and biblical orthodoxy means “straight thinking on the basis of the Bible.” At Trinity, we define biblical orthodoxy on the basis of the EFCA’s Ten Articles of Faith. What that means is we do not go beyond the Ten Articles. We don’t start adding rules on top of them like, “we have these Ten Articles, and you have to have voted for this presidential candidate, be an environmentalist, or think a certain way about capitalism.” That’s not what we are about. We are about very foundational, Ten Articles of Faith.
This is so important because church history is littered with wreckage stories of denominations, churches, and seminaries that have gone off the rails because they have given up on their commitment to orthodoxy. Once you give up on those core Articles of Faith, you begin to look a lot more like the culture, and eventually become absorbed into it. Eventually, there is a point where their message is no different than the mainstream message. In contrast, we want to be vessels of a redemptive message, and that message has to be biblically rooted.
Wayne Johnson: The President mentioned our Articles of Faith, which are important. Furthermore, how those are fleshed out is critical. We must know who God is: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We must know about how God saves us: the centrality of Jesus’s death, his resurrection, his second coming, becoming part of God’s family redeemed by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
The authority of Scripture is also essential, as is the calling to know, obey, and integrate it into our lives. This is an important practical aspect of biblical orthodoxy. It does not lead us to a dry intellectualism, but it does lead us to inculcating one another, to spiritual formation, to a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, and to become part of God’s redemptive mission in the world. It is essential that we not let these things slide away through passivity or through inattention. Trinity really emphasizes these things because they are so central to who we are and what we are called to do in the world.
WAYNE, DO YOU HAVE ANY PRINCIPLES YOU WOULD RECOMMEND TO OUR ALUMNI FOR NAVIGATING THE SPACES AND PLACES THAT ARE SHIFTING ON CORE GOSPEL ISSUES?
WJ: First and foremost is the question, “what kind of person are you?” Are you a person who is in relationship with God, walking in step with the Spirit, and manifesting both a loving and charitable engagement with people? Oftentimes where people go wrong, particularly in our current world, is that they take on the role of culture warrior without really caring about other people. They forget to demonstrate Christlikeness, humility, and the ability to listen and understand well.
If we want to stand firm in a context that is sliding in directions it should not go, you have to follow Christ in gentleness, humility, and care of other people. No matter how much you faithfully stand up for orthodoxy and Scripture, if you don’t care about people, you are not going to be doing any favors for anyone.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE MAJOR COMPONENTS TO MAINTAINING BIBLICAL ORTHODOXY PRINCIPLES? IS THERE MORE THAN SIMPLY STAYING FAITHFUL TO THE SCRIPTURES?
NP: There are no mathematical formulas, no rationale, no boxes to check. If that grid existed, it would have been invented by now. Ultimately it is a heart issue, and that is why my first strategic priority for Trinity is Worshiping in Faithfulness. If you are really worshiping in faithfulness, as both an individual and a community, that is the most effective way to keep the path of orthodoxy.
I believe that heterodoxy—wrong thinking—is ultimately a product of a life that’s gone off the rails. We could all think of stories of people who got off the orthodox path. Many times, the reason is because they wanted to please people, to be accepted, or to indulge in something. Orthodoxy starts with orthopraxy—it starts with living a life that worships God.
WJ: Paul says in 1 Timothy to “watch your life and your doctrine closely.” Orthodoxy is partly a matter of correct doctrines and understanding them correctly. However, it is also a matter of how one lives their life, and whether that life is lived in trust and submission to God and his Word.
WE LIVE IN A RAPIDLY CHANGING WORLD, FULL OF DEVELOPMENTS OF TECHNOLOGY, SHIFTS IN POLITICAL THINKING, ETC. HOW HAS TRINITY SOUGHT TO REMAIN FAITHFUL AND TRUE TO READING AND INTERPRETING THE SCRIPTURE?
NP: It seems that with technological changes, cultural change has been accelerated. Cultural changes create the temptation for many Christians to capitulate or assimilate to the broader culture. By God’s grace, the way Trinity has stayed faithful is through a commitment to biblical inerrancy. We must, however, get at a biblically sound position by asking hermeneutical questions.
For example, one could say, “I hold to biblical inerrancy, but I believe that the whole book of Genesis was written as one big myth.” If a person really believes that Genesis is just a poem, or an extended metaphor, they could claim, “I’m an inerrantist.” But are they really an inerrantist? It would be a very strange inerrantist to me. This is why hermeneutical questions are so important. What we need is a faculty who have the wisdom to poke around at those kinds of questions to make sure the people teaching at Trinity fit into the tradition of biblical orthodoxy. This orthodoxy includes a hermeneutical disposition to honor God’s word as God’s Word.
No matter how strong a confessional filter or creed is, there are always ways around it, and that is where we rely on God, his grace, and his Spirit to lead and guide us.
AS PRESIDENT, WHAT DO YOU DO REGULARLY TO ENSURE THAT YOU ARE STAYING TRUE IN YOUR FAITH AND IN YOUR OWN COMMITMENT TO LIVING OUT THE GOSPEL?
NP: From the time I became a Christian at eighteen years old to the present, one simple practice that has stuck with me is a very simple quiet time. If I get nothing else right in my day, I want to make sure every day starts with time alone with God. Sometimes those are times I really connect with God, and other times it’s a little bit more of a challenge. But these basic Christian disciplines are the means by which we connect with God. You cannot force God to meet with you, but you can leave a window open for him. Regularly spending a simple quiet time in God’s Word is the way I leave my window open for him.
TRINITY EVANGELICAL DIVINITY SCHOOL FACULTY ARE NOW TEACHING THE BIBLE CLASSES AT TRINITY COLLEGE. HOW HAS THIS BEEN BENEFICIAL TO TRINITY AND OUR UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS? WHAT ARE ADDITIONAL WAYS NEW CONNECTIONS ARE BEING MADE WITHIN THE TRINITY COMMUNITY?
NP: Several months after coming into my role here at Trinity, we made the decision to dissolve the division of Biblical, Religious, and Philosophical Studies at Trinity College. We did that for several reasons. Although many of those well-loved faculty had been teaching here for years, we realized that we were no longer in a position where we can have 40 faculty who teach Bible and ministry at TEDS, and then have another five do the exact same thing in the college.
There was a consumer-cost efficiency in making that move. Our goal is to keep tuition dollars down; we want to make a Trinity education as affordable and accessible as possible. I realize that there are many Trinity donors who give generously, and ultimately it falls to me to be the faithful steward of those funds. If we’re using those dollars inefficiently, we are going to answer to God.
While it was a structural and financial move, it was also a big win in terms of mission. The TEDS faculty are world-renowned. There are some Trinity College students coming to Trinity simply to study under some of these individuals. We have the five-year Advanced BA/MDiv program, which is a great opportunity to come to Trinity out of high school and leave five years later having solid MDiv training. Whether you choose to go into church ministry, law, business, or start your own company, having that kind of theological training serves people really well. I think that is such a value that Trinity has, and I am grateful to this day that we have made that move, as difficult as it was at the time.
WJ: When we first started asking our TEDS faculty who wanted to teach at Trinity College, I was very encouraged by the number of people that came forward and said they want to teach. I think there is a great excitement about being able to influence young people for a love for Scripture and a love for God.