Seeing Jesus in Scripture with Nancy Guthrie
Nancy Guthrie and Megan Krimmel sit down and talk about seeing Jesus in Scripture.
Nancy’s podcast, “Help Me Teach the Bible”
This and similar topics related to bringing life to Scripture and Scripture to life were addressed at the 2018 National Conference. Click here to purchase audio from this conference.
Megan Krimmel & Nancy Guthrie
MK: Hi. Welcome to CCEF-On-The-Go. I’m Megan Krimmel, a staff member at CCEF and the manager of our national conference. It’s my pleasure to serve as your guest host today.
At the 2018 National Conference, “Living Scripture,” we are delighted to host Nancy Guthrie as a featured guest speaker. Nancy’s life experience at the death of two of her children has significantly affected her teaching style and formed in her the openness and authenticity that inclines people to listen to her. “I’ve had to dig into God’s Word in search of answers to hard questions about God and how he works,” Nancy says. “And I find that those I’m writing to or speaking to usually have the same struggles and questions.” Nancy teaches the Bible through numerous Bible study books at her home church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, as well as at conferences around the country and internationally. She offers companionship and biblical insight to the grieving through respite retreats that she and her husband, David, host for couples who have faced the death of a child. She has authored a number of books, among which include: Holding Onto Hope, Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow, and a recently completed five-book series of Old Testament Bible studies called, Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. She is also the host of the “Help Me Teach the Bible” podcast at The Gospel Coalition. Nancy happens to be in the Philadelphia area today, so we’re thrilled to have the chance to sit down and chat with her.
Intro: You are listening to a podcast of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. CCEF is committed to restoring Christ to counseling, and counseling to the church. You can find our podcasts, books, articles, videos, and many more resources for Christ-centered pastoral care at our website, ccef.org.
MK: Welcome, Nancy. It’s so good to have you with us today.
NG: Thank you, Megan. It’s fun to be here at CCEF to get to talk to you.
MK: It’s great to have you. Let’s jump right in. As we prepare for this fall’s conference, some of the questions we’ve been focusing on include: “How does Scripture impact your life personally? How do you bring your life to Scripture, and how does that then make a difference?” So to start with, would you be willing to share a little bit about your personal devotional life and what your interaction with God’s Word looks like on a daily basis?
NG: I wish I could answer this differently. I wish I had this idealized way of how I interact with God’s Word. But you know, honestly, I struggle with consistency in it. It’s not that I’m not in God’s Word because I am in God’s Word every day. Probably the biggest struggle for me is being in it devotionally. It’s so easy for me — I’m always working on preparing a message, or working on a book, or there’s something I’m studying, that it’s so easy to be all about getting a question answered or figuring something out rather than turning it personally.
A good example, though, might be that, right now, I teach a summer Bible study at my own church. I travel a lot during the year, but the last 5 years I’ve taught a weekly Bible study that’s open to women throughout the community in the evenings in June and July. For the first few years, I was teaching through a series of books that I did called Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament series. Then last summer I actually taught through a book that I was writing at that time that will come out in August called Even Better than Eden.
And so, let’s see, it is April, and here comes June and July, and I don’t have something new, so I’m thinking about teaching through Colossians. What I’ve been seeking to do recently is to just begin to read through Colossians. Now I do think sometimes we fall into this trap in regard to a personal devotional life that we just take these few little verses and we look for something to take away from them for the day — and so much of devotional literature lends itself to that. But I have found that to be honestly pretty unsatisfying. So, for example, with Colossians, yesterday I read through the whole book and was just looking for key words or things that jumped out to me as I begin to think about teaching it this summer. And words jumped out to me, like hope, and the mystery of being in Christ, and the focus on heavenly realities, the focus on union with Christ — so that’s starting to till up the soil. As I continue to work through Colossians over the weeks and months to come, it’s going to be searching out answers to questions that are being raised as I read it. So rather than just reading something and immediately wanting to jump to myself to apply it, I think for me, most often, interacting with the Bible looks like trying to get to the deeper meaning. For example, as I’m working through Colossians, I’m trying right now to be able to identify what the big picture message is of the book of Colossians, and that is going to enable me then to go back through it slower, little bits of it, and see it in context of that larger message and so therefore have a deeper understanding of it. I think that’s how the Word changes us most profoundly: as we get a deeper understanding of the larger messages of a book, of a testament, of the Bible itself, and that that message then begins to work its way through us.
MK: So it’s more of a marinating in that longer chunk of Scripture rather than kind of doing these bite-sized pieces, if you will.
NG: I think so. I think it’s coming to the Scripture with an inquisitive mind. And the thing is, if that is only intellectual, then we have a dry relationship with it. But I think for me, that’s not only intellectual, because as I try to understand that, even as I’m thinking about Colossians. As I’m thinking about trying to understand union with Christ as it’s presented in the book of Colossians, that’s not a dry, intellectual pursuit. The process of that for me is going to also be very personal as I take in what it really means to be joined to Christ and as I then apply that to areas of my life where maybe I think I’m on my own, maybe areas of, “What does it really mean that I am seated with Christ in heavenly places?” I can’t answer that for you today. I haven’t figured that out exactly. But I hope a couple of months from now, as I’m working my way through Colossians, I’m trying to get an answer to that question. But in a couple of months from now, I’m going to have a great answer to that question. And so that won’t necessarily come from reading little bits every day. Maybe it’ll be a couple of days a week really diving in deeper. But I hope that as I understand that, not only am I going to be prepared to teach it, but it’s going to be transformative to me.
MK: Thank you for that. You’ve written a number of books you just mentioned on Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. Can you share how this perspective has impacted your engagement with God and with Scripture?
NG: It has completely changed my paradigm. I remember, maybe 12 years ago, being asked by someone at a church if I could teach the Old Testament and I said “No, I don’t understand anything about the Old Testament…” And at that time I didn’t! It was really when I began to hear other teachers present Christ from Old Testament passages that I began to realize all of my collection of Sunday school Old Testament stories that I couldn’t put in any order and that I couldn’t make any connection to any larger bigger things about the Bible, that that was not serving me well. I grew up going to Sunday School. My earliest memories are Sunday School at our Baptist Church. I studied Bible in college, I worked in Christian publishing immediately out of college and have for a lot of years but yet somehow, I got to be into my 40s and just realized I don’t understand. I couldn’t have told you the basic storyline of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Maybe I could have gotten to Joshua entering into the Promised Land, but after that, in terms of kings, exile, and return… that all got very fuzzy for me. I think I was content to be able to go to bits of the Bible and draw something out of them without understanding the bigger picture of the Bible. So I basically said, I’ve got to go back to kindergarten in understanding the Bible. And I was so fortunate that one of my publishers, Tyndale — I just went to them (they have this line of one year books) and I said, “I’d like to write the one year book of discovering Jesus in the Old Testament.” So that gave me nine months to basically reorient myself, and I spent those nine months reading, listening to sermons by people who preach with a sense of redemptive history and seeing Christ in all the Scriptures.
Your question was, how has that changed me? Well, the beautiful thing about coming to see Christ in all the Scriptures is that you come to see and understand Him more rightly. Because the Old Testament, to me, it’s like looking at a statue. If you go see a great work of art, you work your way around it to see it from all these different angles and you have appreciation for it from all the different angles. I think as we begin to see Christ in the Old Testament, it’s like we see him from all these different angles in the sense of who he’s going to be, and what he’s going to accomplish, and why we need him. And the impact of studying Christ in the Old Testament through writing that first book, that one year book, and then this five book series of seeing Christ in the Old Testament, I can probably explain it this way: I remember when I wrote the last sentence on the last chapter of the last of that 5 book series as I was closing out on Malachi and my husband walked by my desk, and I had put my head down on my desk, and I was kind of weepy. And he was like, “Uh… so, what are those tears? Are they tears of relief to be done?” Because this had been about a 5-year project. I said, “Well, a little bit. But more, it’s first of all, they are tears of gratitude for being able to spend this amount of time in God’s Word and how it has changed me to see Christ in this deeper way and to see him more fully. It makes me worship him more fully. It makes me love him and appreciate him. So I’m grateful for that. But the other thing is, I just feel so grateful that the Bible is such a book that studying it this way has convinced me that the Bible has one divine author. And most things in this world that you investigate more closely, the closer you look, they fall apart. Like you see how the sausage is made and you’re like “Eugh.” But with the Bible, I just found the closer I looked, the more it actually came together, the more I was convinced that it is a divine book. How else could it be so consistent and have these significant themes and truths that weave in and out through all of these various authors and all of these different times of history? So my study of the Old Testament in seeing Christ, coming to better understand it and see Christ in it, has been to cherish it and to respect it and to love it.
MK: What would you say to someone who is drawn to the New Testament maybe for ease of understanding of the text? Would you encourage them to relook at the Old Testament from a backwards perspective of history?
NG: Yes. I would say you can’t really understand the New Testament until you understand the Old Testament. When Matthew 1:1 begins with a genealogy, how can you think you don’t need to understand the Old Testament to understand that? Or when Mark opens with John the Baptist and he’s calling out, well he’s the last OT prophet. Can’t really understand what it means that he’s saying, “Prepare a way in the wilderness, make a highway straight for our God…” or when Jesus’ first words in Mark, where he says, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Well, what’s the kingdom of God? You don’t know unless you’ve traced 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings to see the anointed king that was the king after God’s own heart that he put on the throne over his people, who showed us in shadow form both why we need a king and what he intends for his king to be like. So I think we fool ourselves if we think, “Okay, I’ll just be a New Testament Christian because I’m in the new covenant and I don’t really need to know the Old Testament. We can’t really understand the New Testament without the Old.
MK: As we mentioned in your bio, you have walked through much grief, both your own and alongside others through your ministry. In light of these experiences, as we all have different struggles in our lives, how would you encourage someone who is finding Scripture to be dry or hard to access during a difficult season?
NG: Well, a lot of times in the midst of struggle, they have a lot of questions about God. Sadly sometimes we use our questions we have for God as an excuse to turn away from Him, rather than an opportunity to turn toward Him with our questions. I mean, how great is this, that we have a God who welcomes us to approach him with our questions? He’s not threatened by them, he’s not offended by them. And so He invites us to turn toward him with our questions. Which that’s what the psalms are, aren’t they? When the psalmists are saying, “How long O Lord?” Those kinds of questions. “Why does it seem that you’re blessing the wicked and not me when I am following after you?” And think about the psalms. They are divine words given to us to speak back to God. Wow. This is amazing. That this is the kind of God we serve. He even gives us questions to ask him. So I think first of all, don’t turn away from him with your questions in the midst of your suffering. Turn toward him with them. Now The question is then, What does that look like? Well if I’m going to have a conversation with you, Megan, and I’ve got some questions for you, I’ve got to put my questions for you, but I’ve also got to spend some time listening to you. And that’s what God’s Word is.
I think sometimes in the midst of struggle, they pray, and they expect an answer to drop out of the sky into their subconscious mind, and they never expect that as they read the Bible, some of their questions might be answered. Now I would say though, my experience has oftentimes been, not that I got my questions answered, but that in reading the Bible, I realized I wasn’t even asking the right questions. That God has something to say to me in his Word that’s what I need most to know, and apart from the Scripture, I don’t even know that’s what I need to know. So we can’t always come to the Bible in demand that it answer every question that we have. But I think what happens as we bring our questions to God’s Word and as we go to it in pursuit of Him as much as in pursuit of an answer, that he answers the questions that we didn’t even know we needed to know. He reshapes our perspective about our suffering, about Him, about what this life is all about, about what we can and should expect from Him, so that we come to peace.
I think Job is the perfect example. Think about Job. You’ve got all of these, from chapter 3 through about 38 of Job, you’ve got he and his friends rehearsing all of these questions about how the world works with God. And then God shows up, speaks to him out of a whirlwind. He doesn’t answer their questions at all. He says, “You want to question me? I’m going to question you!” So he asks them this series of questions: “Where were you when the world was made? You think you know so much? You think you’re more just than God? Let me ask you this.” So his response to Job’s question in his suffering is not to answer his questions, but to reveal himself.
And interestingly in Job’s experience, what does he do? He says, “I put my hand over my mouth. I’ve been talking about things I didn’t even know.” And he says to God, “No plan of yours can be thwarted.” His experience when he hears God speak to him is submission to who God is and to God’s work in the world. He doesn’t get all of his questions answered, and yet he has such joy that is restored. Everything about his life is restored. It’s like there’s a resurrection in his life. And it doesn’t come by getting all of his questions about his suffering answered. It really comes in his experience with God, his fellowship with God, as he hears God speak.
Now I know some of us in the midst of our suffering would really like to hear God’s voice speak, even out of a thunderstorm, although I think that had to be terrifying. And God doesn’t always speak to us that way. But we have something Job didn’t. Job didn’t have these 66 books. He didn’t have ten copies of it on his bookshelves like we do. We have this abundance of God speaking to us and yet we so quickly disregard it thinking we need him to speak to us in some other “supernatural” way. Oh my goodness. We have a supernatural book in which he has spoken to us. And as we invest ourselves in it, we discover he really does speak to us in a significant, powerful, life-changing, grief-soothing, clarifying way.
MK: I think I read a quote from John Piper once that said, “Do you want to hear God speak? Then read your Bible out loud.” I thought, “That’s profound.” It’s seeing Christ as the end and not the means; when we look to him to get answers as opposed to saying, “He is the answer at the end of the day and He will provide what we need…”
MK: So at our conference, we have a variety of people come. Many people are hurting or are looking to grow in their own interpretation of the Bible and knowledge of the Bible. And we also have many folks who come who are pastors or ministry leaders, counselors who teach the Bible regularly. So you host your own podcast. You’re really the expert. You’re in a different role today, but… you’re the real podcast guru here. With “Help Me Teach the Bible,” you’ve had the opportunity to interview many Bible teachers.
NG: I know. It’s so much fun.
MK: I can only imagine how much you’ve learned over the years.
NG: And that’s one reason I do it. To prepare to ask intelligent questions about a book of the Bible means it pushes me in the Bible.
MK: That’s right.
NG: One of my goals of the podcast is to introduce people to excellent mentors. Those aren’t necessarily the names people know. They’re not necessarily the most popular speakers out there. But they’re excellent either at that particular book of the Bible I’m talking to them about or some aspect of Bible teaching, so I’ve learned a lot. I’m thrilled when I hear people, especially young women — they haven’t been to seminary, they’re wanting to teach the Bible at their church, and they tell me things like, “Okay, I have a friend, we listen to it together, and then we talk about it,” and that it’s a lifeline for them to try and get better at something that’s really important to them – which is handling God’s Word.
MK: We can always grow in that.
NG: I can.
MK: Well, Nancy. It has been such a pleasure to have you with us today. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.
NG: So looking forward to CCEF in October.
MK: It’s going to be a great conference. We hope you’ll enjoy being with us then.
NG: Thank you.
MK: Thank you.
Outro: If you would like to subscribe to Nancy Guthrie’s podcast, “Help Me Teach the Bible,” the link will be provided below today’s episode on our website, ccef.org/podcast. We also want to invite you to join us at the 2018 CCEF National Conference from October 19-21 in Virginia Beach, VA. The topic is “Living Scripture” and it’s our hope that in our time together you’ll be further equipped to connect life to Scripture and Scripture to life. Visit ccef.org/conference18 for more information and to register.