Life-Changing Truth in a World of Lies: Part 1 of an Interview with Jeff Dodge, Author of Titus: Life-Changing Truth in a World of Lies
How does the gospel teach Christians to live and thrive in a secular culture that feeds on deception and ignores the God of all truth? The same way it did for the first century Christians on the island of Crete. In Titus: Life-Changing Truth in a World of Lies, Jeff Dodge explores how Christians are called to share the gospel message with the world—free of do-good, moralistic, try-harder religion.
Dodge draws insight from Paul’s letter to Titus to point men and women to God’s blueprint for what he wants the church to look like. He invites readers to see how the gospel disrupts people and culture, turning the world upside down—or right side-up. While Titus is a very short book in the Bible, it is packed with gospel-rich truth. Dodge describes it as a crash course for what a church (a committed community of Christ-followers) should aspire to be.
Part 1 of an Interview with Jeff Dodge, Author of Titus: Life-Changing Truth in a World of Lies
Q: You start the introduction by writing, “Gospel truth isn’t just about soul winning and church planting.” What are some of the other applications of gospel truth as outlined in the short book of Titus?
The apostle Paul was the first preeminent church planter that we encounter. But he also knew that it was vital that pastors and other leaders remain in cities and regions in order to establish and strengthen the churches that had been planted. That is why Titus was sent to Crete, Timothy to Ephesus, etc. They were not to follow Paul in a constant movement of church-planting but were to remain in their locales for the long-term flourishing of God’s church.
These strategies go hand-in-hand. Healthy, flourishing churches are able to send out leaders to plant churches in new locations. Some leaders may do this over and over again. But other leaders are sent in to live among these newly reached communities in order to lay a solid foundation of the gospel and teach the full counsel of God’s Word for the long-term flourishing of the church. The island nation of Crete would not be won to Christ simply by itinerant evangelists hitting the shore and then abruptly leaving, but by Cretans being developed to lead Cretan churches that would exist for millennia.
Q: How is the study designed to be used? Can it be used for individual study as well as in groups?
Ideally this study would be facilitated in a small group. Theology and Bible study is never to be done in isolation. We learn together and forge our confession as well as our character in the community of God’s people. That said, the work that individuals do on their own is an integral part of the process. We ponder the Word and then we get together and sharpen, correct, and encourage one another.
Even if your small group isn’t able to meet in person due to social distancing, there are still great online options to connect with one another. In fact, if you haven’t been connecting, starting a new Bible study is a good reason to get back to some normalcy.
There are seven in-depth lessons that include discussion questions, exercises, and articles to encourage thoughtful responses to the text. Each lesson takes about an hour to complete, maybe a little longer if your group is larger.
Q: What was Paul’s purpose in writing his letter to Titus?
Titus was left in an “impossible” situation. A small outpost for the gospel had been established on the island of Crete, and Titus was sent to bring things into order—to get a flourishing network of churches established on the island. But Crete was a spiritual and moral mess when Titus got there. How does Paul instruct Titus to gain some traction and get the church established on solid ground? That is what this book is all about. Very instructive for all of us who live in our own version of Crete today!
Q: We know the Word of God is a sword, but how do we wrongly picture the sword?
The imagery of the Bible being a sword comes to us most visibly in Hebrews 4:12–13. The idea is not a sword of decapitation or war; it is a sword that is able to pierce through us in that it shows us what is really going on inside us. It is a tool used by God for surgery, exposing us and getting into every joint of our person so that we can be changed.
We can fool ourselves with our faulty self-diagnosis. Sometimes we think all is well, when it is clearly not so. Other times we can cloud our thoughts with faulty religious ideas that are false and even idolatrous. We need God’s Word of truth to show us precisely what is going in in our minds, hearts and souls and then to introduce us to truth that is unmistakable and trustworthy.
Q: Titus delves into the often dreaded and misunderstood subject of submission. What does biblical submission look like?
It is glorious. It is the way of Jesus. That is why even when slaves submit to masters, it is a picture of Jesus. A note of historical context is helpful here. Slavery in the Roman Empire (including the island of Crete) covered a wide range of experiences. Some slaves, to be sure, were abused in dehumanizing and unconscionable ways. That has been true of the human experience since the fall. However, many first-century slaves were educated, owned land and were respected and given fair treatment. Paul is not offering a commentary on the broader issue of slavery in this short letter to Titus. Here he is speaking of the heart of submission that seems to be more akin to “employees”—those who would have opportunity to “talk back” or even “steal” from their master (Titus 2:9). The Christ-follower is to be an honorable servant/employee, displaying “utter faithfulness” (Titus 2:10).
Submission of a wife to her husband is also virtuous and a display of the gospel (Titus 2:5). This follows the beautiful example of Jesus who placed himself in a submissive posture toward his father. It was not beneath him to do so. It was not dehumanizing for the Son of God to be a servant. He chose that path and then went further—he put himself in a submissive, servant’s role toward his followers (see John 13)! Submission in this way was countercultural and shocking (see Peter’s response in John 13:6–9). But this submissive posture was to become a hallmark of those who follow Jesus (see John 13:14–15; Philippians 2:5–11).
Paul writes that such submission “adorns the teaching of God our Savior in everything” (Titus 2:10). Submission makes the gospel beautiful. We might imagine that submission makes the Christian look weak and therefore uninspiring. The opposite is true! Christians should not try to hide Jesus’s teachings concerning submission—we should seek to correctly display submission to make the gospel attractive and inviting.
Q: The last lesson addresses when people love to argue. That’s certainly a problem we can identify with on a daily basis. What wisdom does Paul offer Titus that we can apply to life today?
If we have ever needed this little book, it is now! Our current cultural climate of “cancel culture” and hotly contested issues (political, economic, medical, racial, etc.) has created hostility on countless fronts. People are drawing lines in the sand all over the place, daring others to disagree with them—especially on social media. Our current world system is rife with polarization, contentiousness, anger and uncivility in the marketplace of ideas.
But there’s nothing new under the sun. Crete was an island state known for “rebellious people, full of empty talk and deception” (Titus 1:10). Sound familiar? But while the world around us might swirl with fiery spats, the Christian must chart a very different course.
Unfortunately, the church often gets sucked into these passionate cultural debates, joining the cacophony of irate voices, often leaving the gospel out altogether. More, Christians often have their own internal debates, which Paul calls “foolish” (Titus 3:9). Tangential issues become fodder for quarrels, and these disputes can erupt into “unprofitable and worthless” arguments. We need to learn how to avoid foolish debates and reject divisiveness in the church (Titus 3:9–11). We need the grace and peace of the gospel of Jesus Christ to be preeminent in the church! Truth leads to godliness, not contention (Titus 1:1).
Q: How does humility relate to truth?
When we embrace the truth of the gospel, it comes from a posture of complete humility. We bring nothing to the table but empty hands, dirty with the sins of our own making. Jesus meets us there in our humble, helpless abandonment and offers us hope, help, and a brand-new life. It is the crazy, unmerited kindness of God that draws us to the gospel (Titus 3:4). He doesn’t reward our good behavior; he sees our humbled soul and pours out his kindness, unconditional love and undeserved acceptance. That humility should not be abandoned the moment we are accepted into the family of God, it should remain as the hallmark of our lives!
Titus: Life-Changing Truth in a World of Lies Study Guide with Leader’s Notes The Gospel-Centered Life in the Bible Series by Jeff Dodge August 24, 2020 / Retail Price: $15.99 Print ISBN 978-1-645070-73-3 Religion/Christian Living/Spiritual Growth
About the author
Jeff Dodge, MDiv, DMin, PhD, is the teaching pastor at Veritas Church in Iowa City, Iowa. He also directs Veritas School of Theology and serves as Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.
He is the author of Gospel 101: Learning, Living, and Sharing the Gospel, and Titus: Life-Changing Truth in a World of Lies. Dodge and his wife, Teresa, have four children and several grandchildren.