top of page

Climbing The Mountain

Matt Brownell, Tim Adams, and Van Owens

  • Apple Podcasts
  • Spotify
  • RSS

Climbing the Mountain is a weekly podcast devoted to the Word of God and its application in the lives of believers today. Grounded in the Sermon of the Mount, we dive into connecting scriptures to explore themes and implications.

Episode 14 - Wrestling With The Word - Part 3

January 6, 2023

Or listen here:

  • Apple Podcasts
  • Spotify
  • RSS

So far in our study of the Sermon on the Mount, we’ve been examining how our righteousness should surpass that of the Pharisees. It’s been challenging, in a good way; but, none of us has had a wildly differing view about what Jesus is saying. We each bring our own perspective; but, we all agree about what we are looking at. And so, while these discussions have been challenging, they have been very encouraging as well. However, we are approaching a few topics now that will be challenging for different reasons: we don’t see things exactly the same or we draw different opinions about how we should act as a result of Jesus’ teaching. At this point, some of our hearers might be freaking out. Wait, what?!?! You don’t all agree? What does that mean about scripture? Is it still reliable? Yes, scripture is the only solid foundation and no, it isn’t the end of the world that we don’t see eye to eye. Some things in the bible might be hard to understand; but, this is an opportunity for us to exhibit the type of love Christ calls us to have and it is an opportunity for each of us to learn.

Hey, I'm Matt Brownell.
And I'm Van Owens.
And I'm Tim Adams.
Welcome to Climbing the Mountain, where we dive into the scriptures and discuss themes,
connections, and real life application.
We're kicking off a series here where we're going to examine the Sermon on the Mount and
discuss implications for this teaching for Christians today.
All right, well, welcome back.
This is going to be our last installment of Wrestling with the Word, which is what we've
been talking about for the past two episodes.
There's been a lot here, and we started by talking about debatable matters or matters
of opinion in Romans 14.
And I think our main conclusion there was the manner in which we're interacting with
one another.
We need to have firm convictions based on the scriptures, but having those convictions
does not preclude us from treating one another with respect.
And remembering that Christ died for each of us, and that the spirit lives in each of
And then this last time, we just camped on this question of how do we know what is essential
and what is debatable?
And honestly, I don't think we came up with a clear picture.
We're wrestling with that question as individuals and as the three of us.
But there were some big picture takeaways.
And I think Van kept on talking about having a process and that process being rooted in
the Word and being rooted in community.
I think that's actually unified a lot of what we talked about.
I shared about the much broader community of disciples from all times and all places
and going back to the historical creeds, not as a placing them over scripture, but as trying
to get a sense of what is the spirit been moving throughout the Christian church for
all time.
And now we're really trying to hone in here on some last few questions.
And we're going to talk about hermeneutics.
But before we get to that, we want to talk about spiritual discernment.
So we've, as it's been clear from our conversation, not every matter has been spelled out in the
Bible for us word for word.
It's kind of why we have debatable matters in the first place, maybe.
But there are some places where we do need to infer a conviction.
And faced with that reality, is there a larger principle that we can employ to help us understand
what God's will is?
And really, there's like, I'm asking, what's the principle that we need to have spiritual
discernment, basically?
And so with that, what are the pluses and minuses of developing this so-called spiritual
Yeah, that's a great question.
I think it reminds me, it goes back to what Van was saying, actually, about process, because
I think spiritual discernment is something that is developed over time.
And a couple of scriptures came to mind when I was thinking about this.
And I'm just going to read both of them.
The first is in Hebrews.
In Hebrews 5:11, it says, we have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it
clear to you because you no longer try to understand.
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you
the elementary truths of God's word all over again.
You need milk, not solid food.
Anyone who lives on milk being still an infant is not acquainted with the teaching about
But solid food is for the mature who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish
good from evil.
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward
to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death
and to faith in God, construction about cleansing rights, the laying on of hands, the resurrection
of the dead, and eternal judgment, and God permitting we will do so.
I wanted to read the second part of that, which is the beginning of chapter 6 because
it reminded me of some of these quote unquote essential matters.
I think the writer of Hebrews spells out some of those essential matters are, but then
he says to move beyond that, right?
And how do you do that?
Sometimes people have poo pooed milk.
Oh, milk's so bad.
You should have, you know, I want a juicy steak.
And then they get critical about the sermon they just heard at church.
Oh, that wasn't to my rarefied standards.
That was all milk.
Well, you know what?
Milk is really good too.
And the writer of Hebrews isn't saying anything bad about milk.
Milk is what an infant needs when you're just starting out.
You can't have, you can't, you'll choke on a steak.
You need milk.
And milk is wonderful, has everything you need to grow and develop and then eventually
develop those teeth that you can use eventually to start having solid food.
And it, you know, starts off pretty gross and, you know, mushy.
But then eventually, you know, you get up and you older and you get a steak and boy,
that does taste good.
But you would never be able to appreciate it when you're just a little baby.
And I think that is the process that is, is being described here.
You need pure spiritual milk.
That's a good thing.
And so you need to, to really be regenerated by the word of God in your life daily.
You need to have this saturate your mind because the world around us is pushing it's pushing
us into its mold.
And I'm going off.
I'm just going to keep going here because it's a nice transition into the next verse,
Romans 12:1, it says, I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of
God to present your bodies as living sacrifices, wholly and acceptable to God, which is your
spiritual worship.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that
by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
And what I love, there's so many things I love about this verse, but these verses, but
it's just this idea of, you know, the world is trying to push us into its mold.
Whether you realize or not, everywhere around you, you look around.
It is the world is interacting on you.
And what do we need to do?
We need to have the word of God interact on us and we need to be transformed from the
inside out.
We need to be renewed in our mind.
And then, and only then does it say we testing you may discern what he's actually saying
is here is you will begin to desire the things that God desires.
You'll start to develop a spiritual sense.
And, and this is again, I'll just repeat what the writer of Hebrew said, who by constant
use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
This is the training that this is the process that we go through.
So I love that.
And because it felt like very concrete to me, and I'll just say back the, that process
that I heard, if we want to discern what God's word is saying, we first have to lean into
what is obviously essential and allow the radical reorienting of our perspective and
our hearts and our worldview to change based on the reality that we see in scripture.
And then in faith through the power of the spirit, he's going to bit by bit help us
as we're training ourselves.
He's going to be transforming us so we can continually see more and more and more.
And you, you kind of stole the scripture.
I was going to read that Matt Romans chapter 12, because that's what does it to me.
And I think the, the doxology that comes before that in Romans chapter 12:33, it
says, Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable his
judgments and his paths beyond tracing out who has known the mind of the Lord and who
has been his counselor, who has ever given to God that God should repay them for from
him and through him and for him are all things to him be the glory forever.
And, you know, I think that we have to, we have to keep in mind that there's so much
of worldly knowledge that is out there and that people sort of leverage for the sake
of knowledge.
And if we're not careful, we can slide into that mold where we're just leveraging our
knowledge for the sake of knowledge and using it rather than understanding that there's
some of this that is just unsearchable.
There's some of it is just beyond us that we won't know that we may not, that we won't
know in this life that we may never know, but that as we sort of lean in to that relationship,
relationship with God, becoming more and more like him and remembering that this is about
relationship and not about knowledge.
It's about relationship with God, not about knowledge.
It's about our relationships with one another, not about who knows what and how much do I
know and how valuable is my knowledge compared to yours.
It's about relationship.
And in that process, we become more able to, I love what it says in Romans 12 and my translation
is a little different from yours, but it says then you will be able to test and approve.
To test and approve.
It's sort of like a kind of spiritual experimentation that we're doing where as we go through our
lives, it's not, and it's not so much about the knowledge about finding the answer as
it is the process, the testing and approving, which is what we do when we're in our times
with God and our personal devotional times.
It's what we do with each other.
It's what we do in our fellowship.
It's what we do in the community of the church, the testing and approving that happens all
the time.
And I've read other translations that say by testing, you may approve it like combining
the two in a way that it feels like you've reoriented your desires even in a way.
And you're starting to think, you're starting to change the way that you think about things
in view of God's mercies and in view of all we have to be grateful for in God, which was
in contrast to what you saw in the first chapter of Romans, where the people who were
ungrateful and failed to remember their Creator.
So, I mean, there's, there's a lot more we could say there.
I know we're, we're closing in on time here.
And are we already?
I know.
Well, in some ways, there's a lot more to say.
I, I think it's be useful.
We've talked a lot about this process of, yeah, I mean, I think in a sentence, I just
think about coming to the scriptures with humility and being willing to do that in
community and allow the spirit from my brothers and sisters to influence how I see the word.
Like big picture.
And I, with that said, like we're about to dive into a bunch of topics in Matthew five
that we are going to have different convictions on or might have different convictions on.
And I think it might be useful for our listeners to have a sense of why that might be and where
we're coming from.
And really that kind of gets to this question of hermeneutics and like how we're interpreting
So this might be kind of like a fire, uh, our lightning round for each of us, but I
was wondering if we could like briefly explain what's the hermeneutic that you have?
How do you approach interpreting scripture and how might that come into play?
In the coming episodes.
Uh, lightning, I don't know.
That's a, that's pretty fast.
I'm thinking about lightning talks.
You got like five minutes.
So I think the first thing, and this is maybe the most important thing is, um, you know,
when you get to debatable matters, I think there are other things you, you want to do
as an addition, but the very first thing, regardless of whatever it is, find all the
scriptures you can about the topic and let these scriptures speak to you.
And you might think that one is against another, but no, uh, the word of God is the word of
And there are, so you, it's a, it's a reorienting yourself to what the word is saying and, and
being okay with a little bit of tension, because in that tension, there's great opportunity
to learn.
And that's usually where you find something a deeper meaning.
So I think the first step for me is, is definitely let's look at all the scriptures on a subject
and start there.
And I think, and I agree with that.
I think that that's, that's sort of my first step as well.
And the next step for me is to be, um, to be a little bit bookish about it.
In other words, to look at those scriptures and other translations, to, uh, look at,
look at key terms in, uh, in, in some type of a lexicon that, because understanding that
I'm looking at a translation of something that was written in a different language,
um, an ancient language, a language that I do not speak.
And it wasn't written in a culture that I do not understand.
So I want to understand, um, as much as I can, their idioms, I want to understand the
cultural references there.
And I don't want to, I don't want to read into it some 21st century interpretation that
is inappropriate, uh, particularly when it comes to when you're reading a bunch of scriptures
and some of them seem to conflict, because maybe they don't.
You know, when I, when I say to you guys, I got out of the car today, the guy blew his
horn at me and I got upset and I was going to go yell at him, but the dude got out of
his car and he was like 10 feet tall.
You know when I say that, that he wasn't 10 feet tall because nobody is 10 feet tall.
You interpret that as that's a big dude.
But if that somehow gets kept as a word of wisdom for people 3000 years down the line,
they might think that he actually was 10 feet tall because they don't understand my cultural
So I want to understand as much of that as I can to that.
So that's sort of the second step that I take in addition to what you just said, Matt.
And I do the same thing.
I think the language is super important.
There's some good references.
I mean, it's amazing what's on the internet now.
Some of it's really good.
Some of it not so much, but there's a, you know, I think Bible Hub is a good one and
Blue Letter Bible.
If you go there, you can type in the verse and you can get the Greek or if it's Hebrew,
the Hebrew and you can look at the words and you can dive down and, and figure out how
they're used.
You can see all the passages of scripture that they're used in.
And then you can start to, oh, how is this?
Other things that I think it's important if you're able to, and my dad gave me a great
book one time of terms as they were used extra biblically as close to the time period that
they were used to understand how was this used outside of the Bible?
And some of that is online as well.
But that's, that could be a useful additional thing.
But yeah, trying to get back to the language and understand, you know, because when the
trans, when people translate stuff, they're making choices and you might not understand,
oh gee, like you said, Van, though that actually is the same thing.
They're not in contradiction at all.
Other things that I like to use, if I'm looking at a, let's say I'm studying a book, I'll
pick up different commentaries on it and I'll look at, you know, there are, you know, resources
for to try to understand from an archaeological background, from a cultural background, like
true people, I am not, and I'm never going to be, I wish I had time, but I don't.
I'm not going to be an authority on ancient languages.
I'm not going to be an authority on dig sites, and I'm not going to be authority on lots
of things like that other people are and have written.
And so I think going through some of those kind of resources is helpful to try to understand.
And again, when you read this stuff, it is not the Bible.
And so you have to understand like this is an author who has written and depending on
the commentary could be very biased.
And so you have to go into that with understanding, well, what can I get?
And are they making a fair point and is, or is this their opinion?
So there's a little bit of discernment in there as well.
So how, I guess, are there any other key principles that you guys would add to like what your
hermeneutic is?
Okay, so I would add one more thing.
And as much as possible, I think you should try to put yourself in the position of someone
who would be hearing this and think about the audience because there's a lot in here.
The Bible was written when you're looking at the New Testament.
There are the Gospels and you've got letters and you've got, then you've got Revelation,
which is a different type of writing, but you have an audience in mind.
And so there is a point to what they're making it.
And it's not just, I mean, I've heard this described other ways like, you know, you don't
just pull out a scripture and this is a pearl of wisdom today.
No, no, you've got arguments that the writer is making.
And so if, you know, English class wasn't your favorite subject where they're asking
you to write a, you know, like that actually comes in handy to be able to do analysis of
You kind of have to look at, well, who's the audience?
What's the point they're making?
And trying to get to how someone would interpret something like what you were saying, Van,
is true, like the 10 foot tall, like there are things that people would say at a different
time that we might not understand today or ways they would abbreviate arguments, you
know, in rabbinic tradition because that was an oral tradition.
So they would perhaps abbreviate something and oftentimes they would just take, here's
the thing that's different than what the rest of the culture already assumed.
So if you don't know what the rest of the culture already assumed, you're at a handicap
right away.
That's where a lot of this gets, when you get to debatable matters, especially like that,
that's helpful to know.
And I think that the one thing that I would add to is, particularly when you're looking
at a bunch of different scriptures about the same topic, when you find some that seem to
contradict, you need to study deep enough in enough scripture to know what's normative,
to know what is, what is the prevailing thought, because sometimes something is put in there
just for the sake of tension.
You know, the Bible is, it's literary as well.
And so part of literature is there's tension that's put in intentionally to create, to
contribute to the narrative.
And so you have to figure out what's normative.
And when you find, when you're looking through a bunch of scriptures and you find one that
seems to not say what the other ones say, be careful not to just pull that one out and
say, well, this is what I believe because it says this in, in this book without considering
all the other things that we've talked about.
And I hope our listeners right now aren't overwhelmed with all of this, like, oh, I
have to be a scholar.
And, well, okay.
I mean, I think some of that, there is a general sense of like, it's good to wrestle with this
and you should try your best.
I think you can also lean on your brothers and sisters in Christ.
And this is part of the community piece, right?
So you have a weird thought about something and you're like, oh, gee, you can talk to
other people.
And I would encourage you to find someone maybe who's been around a little longer than
you that has maybe wrestled with it longer, or, you know, you can talk to other ministers.
You know, there are resources for you in the body of Christ.
You know, we're all supposed to build each other up.
And so that's, that's, there are functions that other people, you know, can help serve
in the body and wrestle.
It's very important to, when you're, when you're doing these type of things to go in
the strength that you have, as the Lord said to Gideon, if you're, if you're not a, a scholarly
type person, that doesn't mean that you're excluded from this kind of, you're not excluded
from this kind of exercise.
Use what you have.
God has given you some kind of gift that can contribute to the community.
Um, yeah.
So as we close, I guess I just go and do a, add what's different from my way of thinking
from you guys, because I think it'll be helpful.
Most of what you guys said, I'm like totally in agreement with.
And I, I tend to lean more towards taking scripture literally to start.
And then when you do look at all the scriptures together and, and taking them literally means
that they just don't make any sense together.
Then you start looking for the nuance.
But in general, I, I, I find that I would rather take Jesus as word to be, and be too
literal than to go the opposite side of the extreme where I'm thinking, Oh, like he must
not have really meant that.
And so that's, that's a big point.
And there's obviously nuance there when you put all the scriptures together.
And I, well, I take this one literally.
This is ridiculous.
But I think that's one other thing.
And then the other big thing is like, yeah, when we think about where do we go in the
community to, to get that extra discernment.
I also find commentaries extremely useful by find the best commentaries are the ones
from people who are dead.
And I tend to, I tend to want to go, what did the, what did the original church, the
early church think about something, not what one guy wrote about.
And he has an opinion that other people don't agree with.
But what was, again, it was the consensus of the early church on a particular topic.
And the reason I find that helpful, I'm going to look up at a commentary.
I would love to have the commentary be someone who's actually a native speaker in the language
that the New Testament's written in, who did live in the culture or was very close to the
culture and who had the least amount of time from the, from Jesus himself and the apostles
for the information to kind of get lost.
And so you'll hear that from me.
You've already heard it in other episodes, but you'll hear it from me again.
But I, I, I did just want to close us out.
This particular episode was, was really challenging for me to get ready for because this, I have
felt so much angst over, I don't know how to be confident about all of my beliefs.
And that word all has felt really important because I'm confident about a lot of my beliefs.
But there are some that I just wrestle with and I'm like, I don't know how I can be sure
I'm right.
And that, that was, that's, that's been very challenging.
It continues to be something I wrestle with, but I was reading, I was reading Mark 9
and someone's, someone's commentary on Mark 9.
And it's the story of the father who is coming to Jesus.
The disciples couldn't heal his son.
And he said to Jesus like, basically please heal my son if you can.
And Jesus says, if you can, everything is possible for him who believes.
And the father said, I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.
And Jesus's response to that was not to reprimand him.
It wasn't to reject him.
It wasn't say you need to have full belief before I can do anything.
He like healed the son.
Like he worked in the middle of his imperfect belief.
And when I, when I read that, I have not, I do cry, but I don't normally cry reading
the Bible.
I don't remember a time.
It probably has happened, but I don't remember a time where I just started crying reading
the Bible.
I just broke into tears because it gave me such hope that I am, I feel completely compelled
to be in this process of wrestling with the word individually and in community and to
really spend my life trying to understand more and more.
What is God saying?
But to have the, the hope that God is going to be faithful and he's going to work in me
and through me and in spite of me, in spite of my imperfect faith, that is, it's been
tremendously encouraging prepping for this.
So I think we'll, I think we'll end it there.
But thank you guys for this time.
It's great.
That's a great ending.

bottom of page