FamilyLife Today® Podcast

How Well Do You Really Know God? Jen Wilkin & J.T. English

with J.T. English, Jen Wilkin | February 23, 2024
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If you could know God deeper, would you? Don't miss out on a deeper connection. Authors Jen Wilkin and J. T. English invite you to take your next step in knowing the God your soul craves.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

If you could know God deeper, would you? Authors Jen Wilkin and J. T. English invite you to take your next step in knowing the God your soul craves.

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How Well Do You Really Know God? Jen Wilkin & J.T. English

With J.T. English, Jen Wilkin
February 23, 2024
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Jen: The doctrine of the church connects us to one another. It helps us to understand that we’re not alone. But not only are we not alone, but we actually are made to serve God and one another.

That’s what we’re all wanting is a bigger vision. We want something that transcends. People don’t always realize that’s what they’re missing.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: If you could guess at a percentage of the number—a percentage of people in church/evangelical churches—church-going people—they go regularly, which it sad that that’s probably twice a month now or less—

Ann: That’s about what it is.

Dave: —they’re a regular church goer—what percentage would you say don’t know theology/don’t know their Bible well/would be somewhat illiterate. Give me a number.

Ann: Eighty-seven percent.

Dave: Eighty-seven—you just picked that out of nowhere.

Ann: Yes, [I] picked it out of nowhere.

Dave: You think it’s that high? That’s like nine out of ten.

Ann: I’m talking about nominal Christian churches. I’m talking about—

Dave: —not our church.

Ann: You’re talking about—

Dave: —not our church, of course.

Ann: I know that’s probably way too high of a percentage.

Dave: Let’s find out. We’ve got a couple of experts who are back with us. [Laughter]

Ann: —some theologians.

Dave: Jen Wilkin and J.T. English. They’re theologians.

Ann: —cool theologians with us today.

Dave: They’re cool. They’ve got their Spark notes. They’re already to go.

J.T: That’s never going to die. [Laughter]

Dave: If you don’t know what happened yesterday, go listen to yesterday because we got into that.

Jen: That’s fine. Just keep rolling. [Laughter]

Dave: Jen and J.T. have written a book together called You Are a Theologian. The subtitle is An Invitation to Know and Love God Well.

What would you say is the percentage? Maybe you know the actual number or take a guess.

Jen: I don’t know an actual number, but I do know that I’ve been talking about Bible literacy now for at least ten years and then teaching on it prior to that even when I wasn’t talking about it publicly. I find that it is everywhere, and it is at every level.

One of the most common pieces of feedback we will get from Knowing Faith listeners is “I’ve been in church my whole life, and no one has taught me this/no one has told me these things.” It's pervasive. One of the things that I’ll do when I talk about Bible literacy is give a little pop quiz over just factual information in the Bible.

Dave: You want to do it?

Jen: It’s 20 questions. No, we won’t do it here.

J.T: I’ve taken this test five or six times; I do worse each time.

Jen: It’s 20 questions.

Dave: What? Whoa!

Jen: It’s not like “Explain atonement theory.” It’s like—

Dave: Can you give us three?

Jen: Which of Jesus’s miracles is recorded in all four gospels?

Dave: Water to wine.

Jen: Feeding of the five thousand.

Dave: Oh, of course.

Jen: Which disciple found a coin in the mouth of a fish?

Dave: Look at that.

Jen: See. Part of it is like—

Dave: —we are biblically illiterate.


Jen: —but this is a really important sensation.

Ann: Who was it?

Jen: It was Peter.

Ann: I was going to say Peter.

Jen: It’s an important—think about the way you just felt in your stomach. If people are listening, that feeling.

Ann: And we went to seminary. [Laughter]

Jen: That sinking feeling of, “Oh, no,” right?

Dave: Yes.

Jen: That is the way that everyone in the pews is feeling. They think that they cannot tell anyone because if they’re found out then they’re not actually a Christian. Not only that, but what ends up happening is people think, “Gosh, am I just really bad at this? Is the Holy Spirit not alive in me? Why do other people seem to get this, and I don’t?”

The dirty little secret is that virtually none of us know what we should at this point and virtually none of us could articulate our basic theological positions the way we should if we want to be those who are going to fulfill the Great Commission. If we would say it out loud and then lock arms and begin moving forward, then I think we can turn this thing around. I still have enough of an optimist in me—

Ann: I like it.

Jen: —to think that the Lord will do the work. That’s what we’re hoping for.

People will say, “Where would I do this?” Everybody has a living room or knows someone with a living room. That’s where these conversations can begin. It’s good to have a trusted guide, someone who can lead those discussions, someone who has a little more light, maybe, than the other people in the group. It’s good to know where to go for follow-up information if you hit a question that nobody can find a good answer to.

But I think the most important thing we need to do is just admit “Yes, I don’t know these things the way that I want to and the way that I wish that I did.” We want you to hear us say—J.T. and I want very much for you to hear us say, “You can do it.”

J.T: That’s right.

Ann: J.T., have you been in a group leading where you are going through some of these biblical principles just teaching Scripture in small groups where lightbulbs were going off?

J.T: Oh my gosh. It’s my favorite thing—

Ann: Really?

J.T: —in ministry by far. There’s so much I enjoy about preaching and teaching but in one of my previous roles, and I still do this at our church, that we call it The Storyline Institute, and it’s this: It’s the basics of the faith.

One thing that Jen and I realized over time—again, we’ve mentioned this—is everybody’s being discipled. They have ideas about God. They have thoughts about the world. But when it comes to the basics of the faith evangelicalism has sometimes put the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble. [Laughter] We’re pressing on things, not that they’re unimportant but that we’re making secondary issues primary and we’re making primary issues secondary or perhaps never getting to them.

Jen just mentioned this. Our favorite piece of feedback—this happened to me this week at my church—I was teaching on trinitarianism—how many churches are teaching on the trinity from the pulpit to 2,000 people? —I’ve had 20 people—there’s one 86-year-old who came up to me and said, “I’ve been in church my whole life. I’ve never ever thought about God like that.”

In some sense there’s a sense of they’re glad that you did it, but there’s also a little frustration sometimes on their behalf; like, “Why hasn’t anybody told me this before?”

It’s those moments that make this job worth doing, because it changes trinitarianism or the doctrine of the atonement, far from being something that’s distant from them, it’s something that’s immediately important—

Jen: —immensely practical.

J.T: We talked about God in the book. Trinitarianism is God the Father is the one who initiates salvation or all things. God the Son is the one who accomplishes, and God the Holy Spirit is the one who applies all things, which means salvation from beginning to end, because God is who He says He is, is His means of grace. It’s yours to receive freely and fully by faith in Jesus. 

Trinitarianism isn’t something for the elite systematic theologian. It’s something for every single Christian, which is what Jesus says in the Great Commission, as well: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in this triune name, the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.” [Matthew 28:19, Paraphrased] Because God is the beginning and the end of the Christian life.

Dave: You’re going to have to walk us through some of the basics because I think there’s a hunger—

Ann: Me, too.

Dave: —for the average church-going person.

I remember one time when Ann’s sister was still alive, I drove into their driveway of her parents’ home. There were two gentlemen in the living room. They had knocked on the door. They were Jehovah Witnesses, and they were witnessing. Barb said, “I don’t know how to answer your things, but my brother-in-law can.” [Laughter]

Jen: “Get in here.”

It was a half hour [that] they sat there waiting. I walked in the back door. Barb said, “I’ve got them in the front room. You’ve got to go talk [to them].” [Laughter]

I said, “You’ve got what?”

She felt like “I don’t know enough to be able to have conversation with these men.” I could tell she felt embarrassed about that; like, “I should.”

But I think every Christian thinks, “I want to know. It isn’t like I don’t want to. I don’t know where to get to get the information.”

You’ve created a resource [and said], “We’ll put it right in your hands.” It’s not a seminary level systematic theology but it is a simple systematic theology. Start somewhere. Where would we start? We can’t do it all but give us an overview of basic theology that we should know.

Jen: You always start with asking the question, “Who is God?” John Calvin famously said that the knowledge of God and knowledge of self always go hand in hand. There is no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God. If you think about how our culture today is so concerned about self-knowledge and self-defined self-knowledge, right out of the gate you’ve made a very counter-cultural statement about what Christian theology is teaching us.

We start by beholding God for who He is, and then we’re able to understand who we are as image bearers in relation to that. The starting point is always God.

Just a practical example of how theology is intensely practical: When you learn about who God is you learn things like, “He holds all knowledge. He knows every single thing,” which means He knows every single thing about you, Ann, and he knows every single thing about you, Dave.

I have a family member who wrestled for years with assurance of salvation. He was baptized five times.

Dave: Really.

Jen: —five times because he kept thinking, “It don’t think it really happened.” I look on him with a great deal of compassion. But when you understand that God knows all things, it means you that can’t commit a sin at some point that He didn’t see coming that will change His steadfast love toward you. It also, if you understand Him as unchanging, then you know that once He has set His covenant love on you, He will not change that thing that He has done.

The doctrine of God is intensely practical in that moment. It has a very real bearing on our lives, anyone who’s ever wrestled with assurance of salvation. Because we don’t start with the doctrine of God sometimes, they’re turned inward looking at themselves and wondering, “Am I enough?”

The answer is “No, of course not. None of us are enough.” But we know when we understand who God is and who we are in relation to Him that when He sets His love on us that Christ’s sacrifice is enough and it’s never changing.

Dave: How have you two done teaching in your home? I’m sure it’s different but you’ve done it. A lot of families are thinking, “What would that look like?”

J.T: We try to have intentional times throughout the day. It doesn’t happen every day. Some of those days when you’re sick or tired or you get home from practice late. Don’t let the picture of perfection eliminate your desire for progress. We just try to take next steps. If there’s a bad week, just pick it up the next week. We are always gathered around some kind of book. The New City Catechism has been helpful for us. But I would also encourage parents [that] theology is always happening—always.

A couple of weeks ago my 94-year-old grandfather died. He’s one of my heroes. [He was] married for 72 years. His widow, my grandmother—call her Na-mom—they live in Lincoln, Nebraska—when I was holding my little girl, Bailey, at the graveside—the graveside was only family—and my grandmother tapped the casket. I don’t think she knows that I heard this. She said, “Well done, Bob. You did so good.”

Bailey and I heard it. She looked at me and she said, “What does she mean by that?” That’s theology right there. Theology was happening right there in that life moment. This isn’t just in classrooms with textbooks open. It’s “I now have an opportunity to explain to my little girl a life well lived.” I could explain marriage; I could explain sacrifice; I could explain death. There are so many things happening in that little moment.

I would encourage parents [that] this isn’t just you becoming a systematic theologian teacher. It’s you using everyday life moments to talk about the realities of God, His gospel, life and death, marriage, covenant. There are those moments that are passing us by all the time. That doesn’t mean you have to use every single moment. Some of you just have moments. But you can use those moments that can change the trajectory of your kid’s life.

Ann: I don’t know about you two. But I have found myself as a young mom, I realized that if it’s not in me, [if] I’m not thinking about it, [if] I’m not in it, [if] I’m not in the Word, I’m not passing it along. But when I’ve been in the Word, or I’ve been listening to something or if I’ve been praying and I’m connected. It has to be in us for us to pour it out on them. I think that’s big.

When I realize, “I’m not talking about Jesus at all,” it’s because I’ve been watching my Netflix every single night—[Laughter]—and I’m not in the Word ever. I think that’s important, as an evaluation of “How am I doing myself spiritually?”

Dave: I love that you grabbed that moment.

Ann: Me, too.

Dave: As parents, it’s easy to miss those. We’re old enough to know they’re going to go, and you’re going to miss it and you’re never going to get that moment again. Way to grab it.

J.T: Thanks.

Jen: I do think parents often think of conversations like those as the big conversations, kind of like the talking about sex. [They think], “Oh, we’ve got have a theology conversation.”

It really is so much more of having a climate of conversation in your home in general so that everything is talked about in a thousand small conversations. Sure, there might be a few big conversations along the way.

This is another one of those things. I think another key element of it, Ann, that you just touched on is we all want to think that it’s the conversation where we’ve prepared our notes and sat down to talk to them where they’re really going to get the point. But it goes back to that whole “More is caught than taught” thing.

People will ask me all the time “How did your kids develop a love for studying the Scriptures?” I think what they think I’m going to say is “We sat them down and gave them a Rubrik and they had to complete it.” The truth is we never did that. But they saw me doing it, and they saw Jeff doing it.

The other thing that our kids saw is Jeff and me having energetic conversations about theological concepts.

Ann: —energetic. [Laughter]

Jen: We invited—

J.T: Have you ever had a non-energetic conversation?

Jen: No.

J.T: I love it.

Jen: We invited the kids into that. First, they’re kind of spectators maybe. But then they get invited into those conversation, because what children want—they’re asking the question, “What does it mean to be an adult?”

Dave: Do you do that as well in your home as you were raising your kids? I know we just heard J.T. [tell] the way he did it. Was yours similar?

Jen: Yes.

Dave: He said yours is better—[Laughter]—so I want to hear what it is.

Jen: We definitely had, by the time the kids were older, it was once a week, we had our once-a-week Monday dinner where we sat down and everyone had to come having read a—we’d go through a book of the Bible and had to come with three observations and two questions.

Ann: Look at this!

Jen: We built our conversation around that. That was Jeff telling me to tamp it down and not make them annotate the text. [Laughter] He was right because we wanted it to be conversational in that space.

The girls came to my Bible study. They had a lot of opportunities to know about the more formalized ways to go about studying the Bible.

We did a “What’s in the Bible” where we tried to teach the story of Scripture to them. But when it came to theological concepts, they were the car rides and the random—which is why it’s so, so important as parents not to fill empty spaces with handing them the video game or the phone or whatever. It’s not that you would never do that. But if that’s what characterizes you, you’re giving away very precious time where these conversations bubble up to the surface.

J.T: What I got to see in the Wilkin family, too—I got to meet Jen right before we had our first son—

Jen: That’s right.

J.T: —I got to see and watch and got to image and mimic something that we’ve tried to image that I would commend Jen for—I would commend to everybody listening is if you can find a way to build a culture of curiosity where questions are okay, that’s the key. It’s not “Mom and Dad want to teach you.” It’s that, “It’s okay to ask questions.”

Jen: —any question.

J.T: —any question. They did such a good job of cultivating curiosity where you’re in their home at dinner [and you’re asking], “What are we going to talk about tonight?” and there was excitement. It’s not argument; it’s not disagreement; it’s not, “Let’s fight each other.”

Jen: It is talking over each other sometimes.

J.T: Sometimes there’s yelling. [Laughter]

Ann: It’s enthusiastic.

J.T: It’s enthusiastic like, “I don’t know. What do you think? Let’s open our Bibles.” It doesn’t always have to be biblical stuff. It’s just that there is a culture of learning/a culture of curiosity in your home that we’re trying to find ways to imitate. 

Jen: That’s also what you build, J.T., in the training program. You invite that into the family of God where people think they have to show up with the right answer and make straight As on whatever you ask of them or not show up at all. Instead, you say, “No, that’s not how this works. We’re going to ask the question we think we shouldn’t ask or we’re afraid to because it sounds too scary or it sounds too dumb or too obvious, and we’re going to get them all out there and we’re going to talk about them.”

Ann: That’s good.

Dave: Yes, I think what you guys are modeling is the future of discipleship. This is the call of the family of God to pass [on] the legacy.

J.T: You should never have to leave the local church in order to lead in the local church, right?

Dave: Yes.

J.T: I went to seminary twice. It was I wasn’t getting this in the life of my local churches. I was the candidate for it. I went to my pastor who I’m still friends with him. He’s a great guy. Three years in Cru and I’m getting ready to leave thinking about joining staff with Cru. I went to him and said, “I don’t know my Bible very well. I’d like to grow.”

He said, “You want to grow?” Now if I’m a pastor and somebody comes to me who wants to grow, I say, “Come on in my office. I’ve got some books.”

Dave: “Let’s go.”

J.T: He, again this is a man who loves Jesus and has been a faithful pastor, and he said, “You want to grow? You need to go to seminary for that.”

I said to him, because I was still so far outside of the evangelical subculture, “What’s seminary.” [Laughter] I didn’t even know what those things were and that they existed.

Dave: “It’s where people go to die.”

J.T: Yes, that’s exactly right. I had a great seminary. My experience in seminary was not dry.

Ann: Ours was, too.

J.T: It was “Oh, my goodness. Why is nobody telling me?” and “I need to take this back to the church.”

One of the fun things about writing this book with Jen and then being able to be her colleague is we got to—we didn’t try to do this—we didn’t set out to do this, but we got to do theology together.

Neither of us always came up with the right answer. The fun thing about the book was we wrote it in several places. We would write a chapter and send it and say, “I think this is right.”


Jen: “Check my work.”

J.T: Comments would come back like, “Do you really think this,” or “What about this.” Theology is a work that’s never done because the life of following Christ is never done. We’re constantly learning.

One of the things that we’re passionate about, too, is allowing this to be a male/female dialogue. Sometimes in the church there are male spaces for learning and female spaces for learning. But really if the family of God is made up of fathers and mothers and spiritual brothers and sisters, then having the opportunity to do this together and learn from one another has been one of the greatest gifts in my life.

We also saw that happen in the life of our church where there can be men and women sitting at a table together discussing this with other husbands and wives or just friends and colleagues. It really created a lively environment in the life of our church.

Ann: I love that.

Dave: Is there a small group curriculum coming?

Jen: Well, it’s built into the book itself.

Dave: Yes, it is. I just want to see you two on video—

Jen: Oh, gosh.

Dave: —teaching this material.

J.T: You’ve got some free time, don’t you, Jen?

Jen: Yes, I’ve got free time.


Dave: I have all kinds.

Ann: There are questions in—

Jen: Yes, there are questions at the end of each chapter. We did that on purpose because we’re local church practitioners. We know that when you get a book like this you still need a little help to get moving with leading a discussion because I would.

We tried to write it in such a way that it’s able to be picked up by someone who wants to sit down with their small group and work through it together.

J.T: Just one last thing related to the end of it. There are discussion questions at the end of each chapter that you can walk through. But we also believe that theology isn’t just about knowing God or thinking about Him rightly, though it is that. It’s also about loving Him so each chapter has a formative practice or spiritual exercise or a prayer that allows us to say, “It wasn’t just my mind that was changed but because my mind was changed my affections/my heart was changed to worship God.”

Ann: We had one question for families to ask their kids at the dinner table yesterday.

Dave: What was that?

Ann: “Who is God?”

Dave: Oh, yes. I remember that.

Ann: We’re encouraging parents “Pick up the book. You’ll have a lot of questions to talk with your family about throughout the day.”

What’s another question they could ask tonight?

J.T: Who are you? Because we’re living in a culture [where] that is a very common question.

Dave: That’s huge: identity.

J.T: —an identity question but often the identities that we’re forming are self-defined. “Here’s who I say I am.” It’s far more important that we know who God says we are. We’re made in His image full of dignity and value. There are no qualifications to that status of being an image bearer.

If I could encourage Christians to be thinking Christianly/biblically about human identity that would be my question.

What about you, Jen?

Jen: Obviously that one really matters but don’t stop asking them questions until you get to the one where you ask, “Who are we? Who is the church?”

Ann: Whoa, that’s good.

Jen: Because we live in such an individualistic age and the doctrine of the church connects us to one another and it helps us understand that we’re not alone. But not only are we not alone, but we’re made to serve God and one another.

That’s what we’re all wanting: a bigger vision. We want something that transcends. People don’t always realize that’s what they’re missing; but when you recognize, “Oh, this isn’t about me. It’s about how I relate to God and how I relate to others,” then you’re going to be grounded in, “Oh, that’s an identity that has some shock absorbers to it, because it’s not dependent on me defining it and me maintaining it.”

Dave: Did you have one?

Ann: You must have one if you asked me. [Laughter]

Dave: Jen’s sort of hit on it. It’s in the book, as well, but “What’s our mission?”

Jen: Yes.

Dave: It’s easy as a family to be inwardly focused on us: “We’re the Wilsons; we care about….” No, “We’re outward focused.” You talked about serving and loving God and loving others but “What is our mission on this planet?” which you obviously you go all the way there in your book. But that’s a great one for a family to realize “We’re not just here to serve ourselves. We’re here to make a dent where we’re sent.”

J.T: That’s right.

Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jen Wilkin and J.T. English on FamilyLife Today.

Jen Wilkin and J.T. English have written a book called You are a Theologian. It’s an invitation to know and love God well.

Theology can obviously sometimes be really intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. This book unpacks whether conversations about theology are good in certain times or bad or if they feel over your head or they feel irrelevant, we want you to consider this book as an invitation into a dialogue with others.

Earlier this week we had on licensed therapist and author, Sissy Goff, talking about parents and dealing with issues that are very difficult. Things like eating disorders, body image, and mental health in children. Sissy has written a book called The Worry-Free Parent: Living in Confidence So Your Kids Can, Too. This book is going to be our gift to you when you give today.

You can get your copy right now with any donation by going online to and clicking on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page. Or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Feel free to drop us something in the mail if you’d like to. Our mailing address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida 32832.

As we approach this weekend, I want to ask you to pray for the Weekend to Remember® marriage events that are happening all over the country, including Appleton, Boise, and Norfolk. We wanted you to know that those are happening in those specific places between now and Sunday. With over 40 events across the country still happening this spring, there’s still time to find a location near you. You can go to to find a place and a date that might work for you and your spouse.

Coming up next week: are you disappointed because God hasn’t shown up the way you wanted Him to, or it doesn’t seem like He really cares? Elizabeth Woodson understands that. She’s going to be here with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about her disappointment and how she’s dealt with that in the gospel.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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