I’ve got another great episode of the Remarkable People podcast for you. We’re on a mission to make you remarkable.

Helping me in this episode is the remarkable Mark Labberton. He was the president of Fuller Theological Seminary at the time of this interview. He recently retired.


Fuller is an educational institution that is seventy-four years old. It has approximately 41,000 alumni. It describes itself as “an evangelical, multi-denominational, international, and multiethnic community dedicated to equipping men and women for the manifold ministries of Christ and his church.

Mark served in pastoral roles for thirty years before joining Fuller’s staff. His last pastoral role was at the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. In fact, he baptized me.

Before his presidency, he was Fuller’s Lloyd John Ogilvie Associate Professor of Preaching and director of the Ogilvie Institute of Preaching for four years.

Mark attended Fuller for his Masters of Divinity, and earned a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Cambridge.

He is the author of The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor: Seeing Others Through the Eyes of Jesus, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice, Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today and the editor of Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning.

In this episode, we discuss the crisis of credibility of evangelicalism Christianity in America.

Please enjoy this remarkable episode with Mark Labberton!

If you enjoyed this episode of the Remarkable People podcast, please leave a rating, write a review, and subscribe. Thank you!

Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with Mark Labberton:

Guy Kawasaki:

I'm Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. We're on a mission to make you remarkable. Helping me in this episode is the remarkable Mark Labberton.

As we record this, he is the president of Fuller Theological Seminary. Fuller is an educational institution that is seventy-four years old. It has approximately 41,000 alumni.

It describes itself as, "An evangelical, multi-denominational, international, and multi-ethnic community dedicated to the equipping of men and women for the manifold ministries of Christ and his church."

Mark served in pastoral roles for thirty years before joining Fuller's staff. His last pastoral role was the first Presbyterian church of Berkeley. In fact, he baptized me there.

Before his presidency of Fuller. He was Fuller's Lloyd John Ogilvie Associate Professor of Preaching and Director of the Ogilvie Institute of Preaching for four years.

Mark attended Fuller for his Masters of Divinity and earned a PhD in Theology from the University of Cambridge.

He's the author of, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor, Seeing Others Through The Eyes of Jesus, The Dangerous Act of Worship, Living God's Call to Justice, Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today.

He's also the editor of a book called, Still Evangelical: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social and Theological Meaning.

In this episode, we discuss white evangelicalism in America.

I’m Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People. And now, here is the remarkable Mark Labberton.

The last time I saw you, I think you dumped me in some water.

Mark Labberton:

I think I tried to. Absolutely, yes. I'd forgotten the Promise of Eternal Youth. Yes, that's an unusual kind of baptismal claim, but I'm sure I would've tried to provide you with every service I could.

Guy Kawasaki:

That was in the terms.

Mark Labberton:

Yes. In the fine print. Oh my gosh. How have you been?

Guy Kawasaki:

That was in the gospel according to Mark.

Mark Labberton:

Yes, exactly. Truly.

Guy Kawasaki:

I want to start off with a quote from you. "Here is what I have come to believe. The central crisis facing us is that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been betrayed and shamed by an evangelicalism that has violated its own moral and spiritual integrity."

So the first question of this is, did you really say that?

Mark Labberton:

I really did say that. I really do believe that tragically and painfully. Yes.

I said that at a conference that I was speaking at and then I had later wrote it. Yeah.

Guy Kawasaki:

Did Christian nationalists and megachurch evangelical pastors absolutely go nuts when you did that?

Mark Labberton:

There were people like that who did go crazy, and then there's also a way that a lot of other people that feel like they're voiceless in the face of the media domination of a certain kind of evangelism that's frequent in the press, that found instead great strength in that.

This was really a lifeline of hope that there was somebody naming the problem. I think it was a mixed bag as all of these things are.

Guy Kawasaki:

I think because of the media coverage, many Americans have come to think of evangelicalism, especially since 2016, in a certain way that you are describing. But is this just an instance in time and one sliver of one country, or is this a mega trend?

Mark Labberton:

I'm in regular conversations with people around the country and around the world who would commonly use a descriptor like evangelical in the past. Many now would find it much more problematic and perhaps have stopped using it entirely.

But there is an evangelicalism that's part of the global church that does not experience these crises in the same way, except in so far as their churches and mission organizations may be affected by the American story and the American press.

So in that way, they get entangled, but it's not intrinsic. I think it's intrinsic here in a significantly different way.

What is more common is that we live in an era of dictators and of power mongers in many parts of the world, and those people create a certain foil for which a person like our past president becomes an exemplary "big man" that's part of the attraction for certain people in the church globally. But that's a different phenomenon than fundamentally what's happening in the United States.

I do think that, for example, a recent article by Michael Gerson in the Washington Post that was dated last week was an article that really put its finger on this, “Why does Donald Trump not create outrage among Christians?”

Guy Kawasaki:

Great minds think alike because I'm coming to that article.

Would you say that even today the majority of evangelicals in the United States are legitimately doing God's work and Jesus's work as we traditionally meant it prior to 1980 or so?

Mark Labberton:

I know what you're asking, but I do genuinely want to claim that is not mine to assess. What I think is legitimate to assess is that there are all kinds of evidence that what Christians in America of different tribes are saying is a distinction and often a collision between what is professed by our faith and the way that it's intertwined with the failure to do things in the world that give tangible demonstration of that faith.

So we talk about a God of love and justice and mercy, and yet often in the American church, often throughout history and around the world, of course the church does not live up to its identity in Christ as Christians would say.

But I do think we're in a period right now where there is a meltdown, a crisis of the first order in the way that many evangelical Christians in the United States in particular are disconnecting the gospel itself and the reality of the revelation of God supremely in Jesus Christ from living out the reality of God's revelation in Jesus.

And instead, it's gotten enmeshed in a variety of other patterns around power, ideology, sociology, class, many, many different things, and race that have certainly complexified the problem and created the kind of messy stew that we have now.

Guy Kawasaki:

Do you think God could be thinking, “Wow, I really blew it with this whole free will thing, I should have taken control?”

Mark Labberton:

Well, Guy, that is a classic historic question actually. Though I understand and know the classic theological defenses on why God has given us free will, I would be willing to give up a lot of the free will that I have personally been given in order for there to be a greater sense of humanity, a greater restraint on human freedom. I'm not a libertarian.

I don't think that everything is about just simply the infinite expansion of my own will and desire and being.

I remember preaching a series of sermons that started the Sunday before 9/11 in which I was preaching on what's called the first question of the Barmen Confession.

And the first question is, what is your only comfort in life and in death? And it begins with the phrase that, "I belong not to myself, but to my faithful savior, Jesus Christ." Now I said to the congregation I was preaching to, "There's no more radical statement to make in Berkeley, California," where I was at the time, "than to say I do not belong to myself."

That is an outrageous violation of every instinct in the streets and by ways of Berkeley, California. And the Christian faith professors that really we do not ultimately belong to ourselves. We belong to the God who made us, a God who seeks our flourishing, who seeks our creativity, who seeks our love and will continue to love us regardless of how unresponsive we may be to all those good invitations.

Guy Kawasaki:

Just for the record, we found your sermons so valuable that we were willing to drive across the bay for them.

Mark Labberton:

You were very kind and I was always amazed that you did that.

Guy Kawasaki:

Is it getting harder and harder "still be evangelical"?

Mark Labberton:

Absolutely. I edited a book called Still Evangelical? that came out right after the 2016 election. The purpose of that book was not only to acknowledge that there were many who were saying in light of the previous years of debate publicly in every kind of context that they found the word emptied of its classical meaning, which is a statement not about politics, but a statement about an allegiance to the evangel, which is a English translation of a Greek word euangelion, which is about the good news.

So yes, it was in part a book about that, but it was also in part a book about the array of people who call themselves or don't call themselves evangelical. That was about race, gender, age, generation, denomination, social location, et cetera.

Those essays, I think were a witness to say, oh my gosh, there is no standard thing called evangelical. There are many people who are now in the throes of trying to figure out “What do I really do about the essence of the faith that I want to affirm about seeking to be a faithful disciple and follower of Jesus Christ in a context in which all of that has gotten long sense and now more recently, even more complicated?”

Guy Kawasaki:

Obviously you're president of Fuller, so have you seen a decline in people wanting to join the ministry?

Mark Labberton:

Yes. I sometimes jokingly refer to it as the ecclesiastical industrial complex, but what I'm really meaning is more the whole reality of what it means to be in leadership of a community of faith.

Has Fuller experienced a downward trend in some of its degrees? Absolutely, and it's partly because of evangelicalism in general. It's partly because Fuller would want to see itself as an institution that welcomes people in more conservative and more liberal context to come and simply examine and consider their own perspectives and understandings of the Bible, history, theology, culture, psychology, et cetera, in order to live a more integrated life in response to what we believe has been revealed in Christ.

There are churches that are not hiring people anymore. There's fewer numbers of churches, there's fewer numbers of hires, therefore there's fewer numbers of jobs for many people that are graduating from seminaries.

Now, having said that, I have to absolutely acknowledge that there are certain evangelical seminaries, mostly denominational seminaries, which Fuller is not. It's a multi-denominational seminary, but there are denominational seminaries that are evangelical that are growing for many different reasons.

But part of it is that the denominations that I'm thinking of are aligned with one of the polls in our political spectrum, and Fuller is not aligned with those polls.

So in a way, we are in this vast center space where we believe that in fact the gospel itself is not left or right, it's actually to something utterly new that is meant to create what the Bible calls “A new humanity of people of every tribe and tongue and nation, gender, et cetera”, who are people that live in an unexpected community of unlike people and do so because the living center of the body of Christ is Jesus Christ himself. And that is the center that draws unlike people into this common communion in Christ.

Now, that isn't always of course how the church works, but at its best, that is what the church is meant to be. Instead, what we often see, especially in a lot of the white evangelical spaces, is a defense it would seem of a sociology that defines the church, especially a racial sociology that defines the church.

And that's just a complete violation of the biblical teaching about the nature of the church, which is that a God is a God who leans toward the vulnerable, the poor, the lost, and certainly does not prioritize one race over any other, nor any nation over any other either.

So that is a very, very complicated and important subject, but it's the reason why there's decline at Fuller in certain degrees and there's an increase in other degrees for other reasons. But yes, it follows what you're talking about.

Guy Kawasaki:

In a sense. Are you saying that you're the Liz Cheney of seminaries that it's principle before party or it's principle before enrollment?

Mark Labberton:

If that is the way that Liz Cheney should be described, then yes, I would happily accept that.

Not because I agree with Liz Cheney on all kinds of things, but certainly in her courageous willingness to stand on the principle of protecting democracy.

And in the case of, I think many Christians, and I would want Fuller to be absolutely included in this, we do want to stand in defense of the full gospel, and therefore we are more interested in that than any sort of denominationalism or any sort of polarization as though the truth only belongs on one side of the spectrum and not the other.

Nor that God's accountability only leans toward the left and not toward the right, when in fact there's plenty of responsibility to share all the way around and plenty of fault to be found across the whole spectrum.

Guy Kawasaki:

Going back to your reference to the Washington Post article, which asked the question, why hasn't Donald Trump filled evangelical Christians with rage? What is your answer to that question?

Mark Labberton:

That's a hugely important question, and I do want to commend the article because I think that Michael Gerson does a fair and thoughtful job. He is not critiquing conservatism since he is himself a Republican conservative.

So his attempt in that article is to say right into the midst of Republican conservatism in its more classical sense has come a force that violates conservatism and violates the best traditions of Republicanism and further confuses society and culture in ways that by his actions, his words, his demonstrations as president, pre president, post president, the numbers of ways in which his life and speech and actions have betrayed any alliance with the Christian faith and that Christians don't see that or aren't prepared to name that is a tragic entanglement.

And Michael Gerson's article is trying to say, how can you let this entanglement occur and not critique it? In fact, how can you let it occur and not be outraged by it?

Now I think conservative friends that I have would say, "I may or may not like Donald Trump. I am appreciative that he's pushing certain issues that have to do with some of the values of conservatism and therefore I can support him and put up with the rest."

Others would say, "No, I actually am also willing to let him be the bully that he is because I think sometimes people need bullies in order to overcome a kind of cultural stalemate in which," as they would describe it, "the religious left or the left has taken too much control for too much government, for too many people."

They want to say, "No, the bully from the right needs to push back against the bullies of the left." And I may like him, I may not like him, but I believe there needs to be a powerful pushback against the subverting liberalism that they believe is actually the greatest danger that we're facing.

So these are the reasons I think, and the ways that people tend to hold these things. There's more to it than that. It does involve class, it does involve race, it does involve a kind of underlying polarization that has been part of American society for centuries perhaps, but certainly for decades and decades.

And therefore, “I'm going to put my stake down on the side of Donald Trump because I believe that in the end, greater good will result by trying to slow down and redirect the victories of liberalism which are going to destroy America, destroy the values of traditional American culture, especially as named thereby or white religious evangelical culture.” I think that's where the battle tends to get fought.

Is that how you would see it, Guy, or do you see it differently?

Guy Kawasaki:

I agree, and this whole thing, just the level of hypocrisy, double standards, irony, every word you can come up with is just astounding to me.

And in a sense, as the article was entitled, you would think that based on so much of the political stance and actions and statements that of all people in the world, evangelicals would hate Donald Trump, I just can't even wrap my mind around that. Starting from that Access Hollywood tape, I thought, “Okay, this is the end of Donald Trump.” It didn't even dent him. I know what you're going to say.

But is it worth all the other stuff that comes with the anti-abortion issue? It seems like, okay, if you're anti-abortion, I can forgive everything else. Am I missing something here?

Mark Labberton:

That is the way that many people argue the case, and I think it is a single issue that for some people is the supreme issue, and it does mean that anything and everything else is much reduced in its importance compared to that priority.

Now, I think it is the case that the Christian faith is a faith that affirms a god of life, who I do think initiates life at conception.

I would argue. However, I also think that we live in a really complicated world and that there are many areas of debate that need to be taken seriously about how we steward human life.

So as many people have said, it's not just are you pro-birth, but are you pro-life? Therefore, there's a much, much bigger picture of how we protect life in a larger cultural sense, in the totality of the mother, in the totality of the circumstances of their life and the totality of the reasons for the pregnancy and circumstances, obviously, most especially circumstances about rape as an example, or incest as another example.

These are things for which the purists want to believe that there can be and should be absolutely no reason. This is not a forum to adjudicate the much more complicated abortion issues that are deserving of serious conversation and much more extended reflection than I'm offering right now.

I'm just saying that whole picture in my mind needs to be taken into account, not just the question of the birth and delivery of a baby. So often in the rhetoric of this, that is where things often go.

I think it is an example of petitioning off a variety of more complicated issues down to a very reductionist vision of life, a reductionist vision of the stewardship of the earth, a reduction in this vision of what it means to be in a common pluralist culture of what it means to be in a multiracial society, of what it means to be in a context of creativity and change, and this rascal that you were referring to earlier of human freedom, period.

So to me, among the things that have been painful has been it seems the absence of a willingness on the part of many even evangelicals to actually take seriously that Donald Trump's influence is a subversion of even the possibilities of truth. That is a radical thing.

Since the Christian faith, for all of its contentiousness and all of the reasons why historically the Christian faith can be debated, the Christian faith certainly does not presume that it can simply assert its truth and think that's enough. It understands itself.

Since the beginning, it has understood itself as a faith that needs to be contended for in the world of ideas and in the world of competing religions and reality claims. But right now we're in this crisis that some have called a crisis of knowing, a crisis of epistemology, a crisis of truth where those categories have all seem to be foregone in light of simply the affirmation of a preferred random piece of information that is making the claim to be true but can't ever be substantiated.

And what we're seeing is the dismantling of a lot of those lies, but it still doesn't actually seem to penetrate a lot of the evangelical mindset.

Guy Kawasaki:

How does one balance or wrap your mind around? In a sense you're saying that it's complicated, lots has to be considered, it's not black or white to look at the full picture of the human life, et cetera, et cetera.

On the other hand, I think even you have said Evangelicals are focused on the Bible, but I would make the case that you can find a passage in the Bible to support almost anything.

So is the Bible the word and gospel? It's like the Constitution, right? Depending on how you want to play it, you can say, "Okay, in 1776, our forefathers anticipated automatic weapons, so they knew they wanted everybody to have an AR15 or AK47."

Or you can say, "That was way back when it was muskets. They didn't anticipate that." So how do I view that? Is it a flexible religion, or is it the gospel and the word it was written 2,000 something years ago and, Guy, that's just how it is.

Mark Labberton:

No, I don't think it's static because language is never static and the ability to interpret language is never static and it's always unfolding, which is why an institution like Fuller still has Old Testament, New Testament scholars who are continuing to go back and spend hours, and years, and decades of their lives still trying to plunder and understand and study and reflect the nature of what the Bible is saying and its relevance to its own times and its relevance to our times.

So when we're talking about words, we're talking about a moving semantic field. The French deconstruction, Jacques Derrida said, "Meaning is context bound and context is boundless."

Now, that little phrase holds the complexity of what you're describing, but does it therefore like some would want to argue, does that mean that the whole context of meaning just collapses? Derrida in some ways says, "Yes, that is the circumstance."

I would say no, it's not the circumstance because reality is more than constructivist. It's more than what we are simply constructing out of our own words and actions and interpretations. Ultimately, the litmus test, if the Bible is a form of written revelation, then its test is not internal with what we can do with the words.

Ultimately, the test is the question of how does it stand up against the reality of who God is? Now this becomes of course, potentially just a cycle where you say it refers to God and then you say, how do you know what God thinks and believes or is? Then you turn to the Bible. I'm not unaware of that little spin cycle that you can get caught in.

But what I'm saying is that when a person interprets the Bible and actually has an interest in understanding what it may truly be saying, that from a classic theological point of view, the deeper question is not just what the text says, it's really ”Is my understanding of the text consistent with the God of the Bible, the large picture of God across both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament, and can I make sense of what the text is saying in relationship to that God?”

Now of course, there's all kinds of debates that have gone on for centuries over this, millennia over this, but from my point of view, what keeps the Bible from collapsing into meaninglessness or simply endless recreation by any interpreter under any circumstances is that I'm actually trying to approach it as a reader in community, deliberately a community of diversity, of people that are not all like me, who don't begin with the presuppositions of life that I begin with as a tall, white, educated male, but instead as another person in community, historical community and contemporary community trying to read and listen and discern together.

And in that process, there are roughly speaking, I would say, guardrails to the tradition. Now, are they absolutely refined? This is where the great controversy that began so much of American evangelism that we're talking about turned on a debate that that happened in the early twentieth century. It was called by most the Fundamentalist Modernist Controversy.

The fundamentalist side of controversy was “Fundamentalists believe what the Bible says”, the assumption being that the words are self-defining, transparent, clear, without question. The modernists were saying “It's impossible to read the Bible in that way.”

You have to read it historically. You have to read it contextually. You have to let all of these various factors figure into how you read and understand it and then how you actually enact it. That caused a great rift.

And later in mid twentieth century when the evangelical movement really gets underway in the United States after an earlier version of it in the eighteenth century, what really is happening is that evangelicals come out of the fundamentalist tradition and say, "We don't believe in that kind of literalism. We don't think the Bible is transparent. We think it is sufficiently clear, but you have to work at understanding it. But we are also not the modernist as in saying it's only about human interpretation. We want to hold on to this living dynamic that there is the written word and there's the living God.”

And in the dynamic of that which John Calvin centuries before called, "The tension between Word and Spirit." The collaboration really between word and spirit. How does the written word and the spirit of God move together to bring us to a common understanding of the scriptures?

That is the birthplace of the vigorous and I would say earliest and at times best forms of evangelism.

Then in the later twentieth century, certainly by the late seventies and early eighties, it starts moving into the political sphere overtly and then making the claims, the easy claims that somehow what the Bible says moves interpreted straight into political and social reality.

That's doesn't make any sense, evangelicals would say. That's impossible. That's exactly why there was a fundamentalist modernist controversy. So much of what right now has come to be called evangelical is really American fundamentalism that has been slightly modified to be more socially palatable, a little more theologically refined, but fundamentally born of those same kind of instincts.

Not all people are true of that. Not all people who claim evangelism that would be more conservative than I'm describing are fundamentalists by any means, but there are a great deal that are in that tension. They want to use the evangelical label because until more recently, that's been a better label than to announce to society, "I'm a fundamentalist." The sociology had changed, the economics had changed to fundamentalists.

That was no longer the right category. Anyway, I've given you a lot in that one answer.

Guy Kawasaki:

That definitely helps me wrap my mind around this tension between Bible as the word end all be all and a living Bible. So thank you. That's why you're remarkable.

Do you think it's reasonable, acceptable, I won't even say optimal, but how about today if you say to yourself, "I'm going to separate the church from God, I believe in God, I believe in the principles. I believe in all the good stuff, the four concepts of Evangelicalism before. But the church with its Southern Baptist convention with its mega churches, with their gulf streams, with being robbed of three million dollars of jewelry in a sermon, can I just put the church aside and just have a personal relationship with God without the church?”

Mark Labberton:

Ultimately, no. But I understand the instinct that you're describing and we're both aware, as many listeners no doubt are aware of many people wanting to simply make that distinction. But there's nothing about the God of the Bible that suggests a solitary, individualized faith.

That's just completely foreign into the Bible. The image of the God of the Bible is a God who makes community, who creates human beings for communion. That's one of the words that I would cherish using most. More than community. It's communion. It's this sense of we are made for communion.

We're made for communion with God, and then we're made for deep communion with other human beings, and then we are made for communion with the natural world and for all of its implications. "To exclude God," the social reality says, "I'm only interested in knowing God, and so far as God meets my own personal needs."

Unfortunately, that's just not the long term interest of the God of the Bible. He cares about us individually, but that's not his whole project is that I feel happy with God. That's like a complete truncation of anything that scriptures would teach.

Yes, each person is known, seen, loved, named, trusted, valued, saved, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. But we are called into a communion. We are meant to experience inhuman communion.

What I think is a mirror of the triune God of the communion of Father, Son, and Spirit as the church has expressed it, and it's in that communion that we dwell.

That's one of the images of the New Testament. We dwell in the perfect communion of God and we are meant to then grow in that capacity.

Why is that so desirable? Because in fact, it's only really being in that communion that I'm forced to not ignore my neighbor, not abuse my neighbor, not simply exclude my neighbor, but to actually embrace my neighbor.

As Jesus says in the Sermon of the Mount, "It's not a big deal if you love those who love you. The question is what do you do about people who don't love you?" And ultimately the gold test, what about people who dislike you and are even your enemy?

That's the litmus test of whether you are being made new in the way that God's love in Christ is set on enacting and demonstrating and refining in us. I think hiding out for a while on your own to in order to catch your breath might be understandable, but no, I don't think that's a long term strategy.

Not if you're interested in what God is interested in. You may be interested in it for your own sake, but that's hard to justify based at least on the Bible itself. I need you, Guy.

Guy Kawasaki:

What a great answer. If you were a for-profit CEO, this is where I would say on the podcast, "This is why you make the big bucks, Mark." But okay.

I'd like to know your thoughts about where is the dividing line between forgiveness and condemnation when a church leader is involved in a scandal or something like that? It seems to me that many church leaders are involved with scandals.

So they resign. They ask for God's forgiveness. They go in, do some consulting, they make a few guest sermons, and then they return, or as it's called, they get re-platformed. How does that work? Is there no bridge too far that you just can't come back? Or is this forgiving God forgives everything, especially if it's your personal God?

Mark Labberton:

I think that's exactly the road right there at the end of the question. I do think that God's love forgives any of us, however great our sin. That's a different question than what do we do with our forgiven life? I'll come to that in just a second.

But we start with saying, is God able to forgive us even the worst thing we've ever done in our lives? I believe that the witness of the scriptures and of Jesus' own words indicate that yes, God does forgive us as profoundly and deeply as that.

That's a different question though than the one that you're linking it to, which is when a person has been truly forgiven and is seeking to live into their forgiveness, then how deep a grasp do we have of our own need? How profoundly do we grapple with the implications of whether this can and should change our actions now going forward?

Here, I think we often suggest in a glib way that we treat what the Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German martyr said, which is that, "We too easily accept and promote cheap grace rather than costly grace." Cheap grace is grace given at the beginning of the day that says, "Oh, whatever I do, God will forgive me. It doesn't now really matter what I do. I just get to go forward.

And at the end I can say, God forgive me and God will forgive me." That's what Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace, and I think Jesus frankly would agree. I think what Jesus is talking about as represented, for example, in a prayer like the Lord's prayer, when we use the phrase, "Forgive us our sins and forgive those who have sinned against us."

And then Jesus at the end of that teaching says, "Because you're only able to be forgiven and so far as you forgive."

There is not a qualification or boundary on the limits of forgiveness, but there is meant to be a consequential experience of how we live out our forgiveness, which means that we don't just pop back into some role that we may have had before or quickly get "restored" or “re-platformed” as you were saying.

But instead, how do we grapple with the depth of the fact that we have done serious wrong and that many lives, sometimes thousands or more lives, certainly hundreds or dozens or whatever it might be, tens, one person has been seriously violated by things that we may have done.

That is to be taken into account as we then evaluate for ourselves and in community, “Should I go forward with whatever it is that I may want to offer as the gifts that I have? And should there be a period at least, a significant period, of account?”

Now, just recently, there is a particular case in point where a megachurch pastor did something wrong and self-reported it, and it was important enough, though it didn't involve any physical activity. It was more like a confession, as I understand it. I don't know this person in detail.

It was more that he had done something wrong in his heart in that way, something internal and had been flip and inappropriate in some language that he used. Now, I'm not in that situation. I'm not in that context of that church. I don't know really how they work these things out, but the determination was that he should step down as the pastor because of this.

Now, when I read that, I thought it was, I hope, appropriate. I will just defer that they felt that it was appropriate. But when I read it was not nearly as grievous it seemed as many of the other things that are often either overlooked or things that have been more public.

But interestingly in the Bible, Jesus really does hold people, especially people in Christian leadership, into special account. And therefore, if there is a violation, that should be taken with the greatest possible seriousness.

I think what you're offended by and what I'm offended by is when all of that may be named and acknowledged, but it feels like they just get run through the car wash a few times and then suddenly they're back again.

That just doesn't make any sense. We all know that human beings, we all do wrong. We all need forgiveness. We all need forgiveness in sometimes varying depths.

That is the good grace of the Christian gospel is there is forgiveness. You don't want to turn it however into cheap grace, which is taking the language of grace and then emptying it of its depth and significance by simply making it insignificant as though there is no real depth to it, no real process of personal reformation, not for the sake of self-flagellation, but for the sake of integrity, for the sake of honesty, for the sake of humility.

Those are valuable rich words that are part of living a fully human life rather than trying to find a cover or a little dose of something in order to become more publicly acceptable again. Does that make sense?

Guy Kawasaki:

Yes, absolutely. Going forward to specifically address these issues with evangelicals in the US, do you think that the attitude should be, we need to be kinder and gentler, or we need to be bolder and stronger going forward?

Mark Labberton:

I don't think it's an either or. I think it has to be a both and. But in being more bold and aggressive, it doesn't mean violating the dignity of other people or degrading them or denying their own integrity of heart and mind.

It does mean though, I think more honest conversation, a capacity to say, “We're not understanding one another.”

And part of the log jam that we're in right now is that without an already consensus around things like what is reality, what is true, what is worthy, what is moral, what is honest?

These are things that strip us of our capacity to have an ordinary exchange because we seem to be on a collision course before we've even gotten started. I think there are people, and there's exercises that I've been involved in gathering, unlike people who share politically highly diverse opinions, having sustained conversations over time about how did you get to the point of having that particular opinion. That question “How?” is really different than why do you believe this?

How is a narrative, and almost all of our whys are undergirded by hows. It's “How did you come to be convinced that that was true? How did you come to think in that way? How did you come to experience life in the way that you're describing that now requires the response that you're making? How did that actually unfold?”

That question how, I think can be an amazing tool in helping people who are not like each other find each other in a different way. If I'm sitting there and having somebody unload their story of how they came to hold that conviction, I'm suddenly now in a really different place than I would be if we'd just been having debate. “Why” it ends up creating, I think often a defensiveness, but “How” creates an invitation, I want to know you and I want to know your story.

That I think is an example. And there's many, but that would be an example of a tool that can help people come together. In the context of that, it's both gentler and kinder, but it also then creates the possibility of being more bold and aggressive in the sense of being more boldly honest, being more candid and frank about why we find each other's opinions so problematic. I hope that responds to what you were asking.

Guy Kawasaki:

Mark, you're making me a better person already.

Mark Labberton:

Guy, you are a great person.

Guy Kawasaki:

That's an enormous challenge, by the way. I would say that what you said, I could apply in my own life, and when I see someone who's anti-vaccination, instead of saying, "Why are you anti-vax?" I should ask, "How did you come to be anti-vax?"

Mark Labberton:


Guy Kawasaki:

Or let's just say, I'm not exactly anti-gun control, but I could ask someone who is anti-gun control, "How did you come to this place where you're so vehemently opposed to any form of gun control?"

Mark Labberton:


Guy Kawasaki:

That's going to be Guy 2.0.

Mark Labberton:

I think if we can learn how to have those conversations in that way, and then we come to that moment where you ask, "Okay, so I understand that in general you're concerned about gun control, but why would you be so adamant that it has to be absolute? How did you get to the point where there should be no gun control? How did you get there?"

As opposed to simply saying, "I think there's a legitimacy to owning guns, and I want to be sure that's protected." I don't think anybody is actually denying that. The debate is around, should there be any control? And libertarian views would suggest no, there can really be no restrictions.

And then how did you get to that conclusion is a very interesting and highly diverse set of answers. I've asked that question to many, and I'm amazed at the array of how people come to these positions.

Guy Kawasaki:

In my prior life, I could have used this because I could have asked people, "How did you come to believe that Windows is the operating system you should use?" And I might have made fewer enemies.

Mark Labberton:

Touché, touché.

Guy Kawasaki:

Okay. Two more questions.

What needs to happen for more female leaders and people of color to be present in the church?

Mark Labberton:

First of all, let's say that historically, women have been a mainstay that has even kept the church alive. So let's start there. Let's also say that the Bible has many examples of God selecting and using women in critical moments of leadership, both verbal and action forms of leadership.

Let's furthermore say that this has often been disregarded by large swaths of the church. It's one of the things that distinguishes Roman Catholic ordination from many Protestant denominations. There are of course Protestant denominations, many that do not ordain women, but there are many that do.

So in the case of where we are at Fuller, Fuller has been an adamant supporter of women in any form of ministry and leadership, period, for decades, and we're very grateful for that. And as a result, we have slightly more than 50 percent of our student body are women.

But this fall we're doing a conference, and it's a conference that lands exactly on these issues, and it is raising these questions because Fuller itself and many Christian organizations and churches and denominations are still not allowing the full voice and leadership of women to come to the fore.

The conference at which happens, you can find it on Fuller's website if anyone interested or wants to follow it, it's called Power Agency and Women in the Mission of God, a Scholar Practitioner Conversation.

So that's happening in October, and it's going to be an opportunity to debate these concerns precisely for the reasons you're asking. And all I can say is as a personal testimony, that the ways that I have grown as a leader, as a person, as a man, as a pastor, as a president, ways that I have been shaped by women who have led in the context that I've been in continue to this day to form me all the way along.

And Fuller itself knows that in some ways we've taken great strides. In other ways, we have a long way to go.

So let's grasp that just as we would say the same thing is true around issues of race. We've come a great distance in issues of race, and there's still a long ways to go. So let's keep at these things.

So I'm really glad you asked that because of this conference coming up, but also because I just think it's such an incredibly important part of the way forward.

What will save the church in North America? I think it's two things. I think women in leadership, and it will be racial ethnic leaders who are able in their own communities, but also in the wider sweep of American Christianity to exercise their voices and their influences.

The churches that I am admiring a great deal these days are immigrant churches, they're communities of color, they're communities of faith that are mixed racially who have a huge devotion to their faith in Jesus Christ and have discovered the reality that God wants to crack open the whole universe and lead us into the fullness and the flourishing of our whole humanity, not just for the church, but for humanity, period, and for creation itself. So yes, yes, yes, yes to the things you're asking.

Guy Kawasaki:

Okay, my last question. The only secular question of the interview. Maybe. So you are an expert in bringing the good news, evangelism.

So do you have any principles that you can explain to a secular audience who wants to know, “How can I apply some of these principles of evangelism, as opposed to evangelicalism, to a new product building a customer base, making a company successful? Are there lessons from religion that can be applied to business?”

Mark Labberton:

Let me first of all say I appreciate the way you were drawing that distinction between evangel and evangelicalism. I've said, “Say yes to the evangel and say no to the icalisms.” The icalisms are the attachments of subcultural history and race and denominationalism and so forth that often get entangled with the evangel.

The good news is the good news of God's love in Jesus Christ and God's commitment to justice and God's commitment to recreation.

So in terms of the question that you're asking about, what can be done to learn lessons from evangelism, let's start with the chief evangelist who is Jesus, and to ask what he has to teach business. And I would say what he has to teach is what it means to be human.

I think one of the most important things, and one of the things that I learn and hear most from some of the most successful businesspeople that I know are the principles of never losing sight of our humanity in the middle of our leadership or our deals.

Are we really people in relation? I think of the number of VC people that I know, for example, which is many who would say, "At the end, the most important thing about whether I am going to invest in this company is really who the leaders are, who they are as people, who they are as people in relationship to other people."

So I would say Jesus is stellar at giving the example of that and seeing unseen people and trusting what's behind the words.

One of the most shocking examples is Jesus in relationship to an enemy where a centurion, a Roman soldier that's dominating Israel, comes to him and seeks a miracle on behalf of his servant.

And Jesus ends up taking this enemy, hearing his statement of faith and lifting up his faith and saying, "This is greater than the faith that I've heard in all of Israel. Some people that believe they're insiders are going to be outsiders, and some people who think they're outsiders will be insiders because of the demonstration of this man's faith."

So what was happening there, he was giving acute listening attention to what was actually being said and heard in the enemy, a confession of faith more profound than he said he heard in Israel itself. I think in that there's a great lesson for how we learn to really listen, to see, to understand ourselves.

I wrote a book a number of years ago called The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor. And the argument of the book was that it's a great challenge to love a neighbor, and it's grounded in my view, in three things.

We misperceive each other, we missee each other, we mislabel and understanding and contextualize each other. Then we immediately misname each other. We give each other the wrong name, a name of derogation, a name of diminishment, a name of judgment, a name of idolatry. They're too much or too little. Almost always were neither.

So perception, how do we perceive people? Secondly, how do we not misname each other? And then thirdly, how do we act? When we are perceiving and misnaming, then of course we misact. We treat a person in light of our misperception and our misnaming. We feel like we have justification.

Whereas if in fact, we're working with an employee or a collaborator or someone above or below us in the chain of command, are we really perceiving them? Are we rightly naming who they are? And are we prepared to act in relationship to them in a way that is free from the hooks that we might be handed by our sociology or our race or our background?

So I think those are examples.

One of the great lessons that Jesus has to teach is that you can move toward the vulnerable, but in a non-predatory sense. And yet business frankly, often, especially international business, especially, a lot of the classic ways that international business can be abusive toward more vulnerable people economically or socially or whatever it might be, can often be simply predatory.

The cigarette industry is a classic example of it, and the court finding just this week that Juul was completely out of line in the way that it marketed electronic cigarettes to teenagers is completely outside the bounds of the law, and they were seriously fined. I hope that fine sticks, and I then reason for it is that it's predatory behavior.

So what does Jesus have to teach us about how to operate in business context? I think to see and recognize the vulnerable. Then to ask, I think the legitimate question is how do they need to be served by the products that I may have control over? And how do I do that in a way that is actually going to be life giving, not simply defined by profit? And in the context of that, I realize I'm fully aware there's judgment calls that are made along the way.

But I think if you're wanting to be an evangelist in spirit, that I think you're asking the question, it's to look out for the humanity of the people who are our customers and our colleagues and our employees and our investor. Are we seeking a flourishing world or are we simply seeking my own financial flourishing? Those are classic questions inside any kind of business decision making structure.

At a time where the rich and the poor and that ultra-rich and the ultra-poor are separated even more dramatically than ever, I would say that is a central example of one of the lessons that Jesus teaches us. How do we see and name and care for through business, in the sense that you're asking this question, how do we care for the people that our product or company might serve?

Guy Kawasaki:

Wow. Oh my gosh. Wow. I just love this interview, Mark. This is my last ask, I promise you. It may be weird, but I think so many people's impressions of Christians, not just evangelicals, but Christians in general have been so tainted by various, I don't know misappropriations.

Would it be too weird if I just asked you to just offer a little prayer to my listeners?

Mark Labberton:

I'm happy to do that. I don't pray to your listeners, but I would be happy to pray in the presence of your listeners. I want to acknowledge what you just said, Guy, because I just feel deeply the pain of what I think is the betrayal of the gospel as that opening quote that you read indicated. Because I feel like that's a multi-generational devastation that's unfolding.

I think because God is faithful and able to bring life out of death, that even that some of the death throes that one sees in aspects of the American church, in my part of the church and in other parts of the church, I'm not trying to make everyone else the bad guys and Fuller or me the good guys.

I'm just saying wherever that needs to be acknowledged and repented of and changed, it needs to happen.

And it's a source of sorrow to me that so many have understandably walked away from the church or walked away from Christian faith because of the issues that we've been discussing. I just really want to pray in light of that for your listeners, whoever they are, whether they're people of faith or whether they're people of no faith or some other faith.

So let me lead us in prayer.

Oh God who holds all reality, whose life and character in creation and in our own lives, bears witness to your goodness, your beauty, your creativity, your imagination, your hope, your love, your delight, your celebration and your joy. We look across the world and see so much that is painful and agonizing and unjust and full of suffering and war and injustice.

We look at what's happening in our own nation and see so many signs of the same things, whether it's the violence of our culture, or gun violence as an expression of that culture, or so many other forms of racism and brutality that destroys people's lives.

And yet each of us being made in your image carry the signature of your life and your goodness. We do have the freedom to make choices, to be life giving, life giving toward ourselves, life giving toward our neighbors, life giving even toward our enemies, and that reality is real and vivid.

And wherever we are today, those who may be hearing this and whatever faith we have or don't, or some other faith in the faith I've been talking about today as a Christian, you know us, you love us, you see us, you know our agonies and ecstasies and everything in between.

Meet us, oh God. Help us to be agents of life wherever we find ourselves to seek others' welfare, to give people the benefit of the doubt, to be honest but humble truth tellers, to be bold but gentle in the way that we seek to enter into conversations, especially with people who hold radically different views from our own.

May we not give way to ghettoism in which we simply align ourselves and find ourselves only with people that look like us, talk like us, vote like us, but maybe instead, follow whatever lines of opportunity we have initiative that we might take, to see and know one another as we really are and together, to do things that will promote the welfare and wellbeing of everyone.

Thank you, oh God, that for me, I pray this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, who knows and loves, redeems and heals all of us and seeks our thriving in every way. Amen.

Guy Kawasaki:

I hope that Mark's insights have helped you come to a better understanding of Christianity in America today. I'm Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People. My thanks to Peg Fitzpatrick, Jeff Sieh, Shannon Hernandez, Madisun Nuismer, Alexis Nishimura, and Luis Magana.

Working with the Remarkable team is a religious experience.

Until next time, Mahalo and Aloha.