FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Theology: Why Should I Care? Jen Wilkin & J.T. English

with J.T. English, Jen Wilkin | February 22, 2024
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Somewhere in the middle of text notifications and disturbing headlines, 'theology' might feel missable. But is it? Jen Wilkin & J.T. English discovers the significance of theology, its role in church and family discipleship, and why everyone is a theologian.

  • 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.

How does theology shape life’s purpose and meaning? Explore its role in church, family discipleship, and why everyone’s a theologian.

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Theology: Why Should I Care? Jen Wilkin & J.T. English

With J.T. English, Jen Wilkin
February 22, 2024
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Jen: We had people in our church who could tell you exactly what they thought about whether you should baptize infants or believers;—

Ann: —yes.

Jen: —people who could tell you exactly about what style of worship we should be using; and people who could tell you exactly who they thought you should vote for in the next presidential election; but they were functional heretics, in many senses, when it came to orthodox belief.

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

This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: So, on my very first road trip with the Detroit Lions, as their chaplain—it was a preseason game in Seattle, so long flight to Seattle—we’re flying back to Detroit after—I think we won!—but who cares! Preseason; it didn’t matter. I’m not kidding: we were probably 30-40 minutes out from Detroit, and our plane gets hit by lightning.

J.T.: Oh, my goodness.

Dave: Never had that happen. My dad’s an airline pilot: never [experienced that]. Something just jarred the plane. The pilot came on—because when you’re on a charter plane, it’s like you’re talking to each other—he said, “Just to let you know: we were hit by lightning, and it could happen again.” All of a sudden, all of these guys around me start yelling at me: “Pastor!” “Chaplain! You got to pray!” [Laughter] They’re literally yelling out; they wanted me to pray out loud.

I thought it was so interesting that they turned to me, because I’m—I sort of look at them like, “Why would you—?” And they said, “You’re closer to God than we are, because you’re a chaplain; you’re a pastor.” I remember thinking, “Am I any closer than anybody else?”

Ann: That’s an interesting point.

Dave: I mean, the question is: “Aren’t we all pastors?” “Aren’t we all—?” Today, we’re going to find out!

We have two authors who wrote a book, that says we are all theologians, called You Are a Theologian. It’s by Jen Wilkin and—I didn’t know this was your former boss—J.T. English. [Laughter]

J.T.: Oh, we can talk about that.

Dave: They’re in the studio.

Ann: Oh, yes! [Laughter]

Dave: I would love to talk about that. But first, J.T. has never been here. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.

J.T.: Thank you so much. I’m really glad to be here.

Dave: Do you know where you are? Do you know what we do?

J.T.: First time here, yes. I know what you do; I’ve looked it up. And Jen gave me the lowdown this morning. She’s the pro. [Laughter]

Ann: Jen’s a pro. She’s been with us before.

Dave: Talk about how you guys work together. This gives us a little bit of your bio anyway.

J.T.: Yes; I mean, Jen and I worked together for six years at The Village Church. I showed up—she’d done a women’s ministry event at the previous church we were at, and my wife went to it. [She] would come home crying every single day, like, “You’ve got to hear this Jen Wilkin teach.” I said, “She can’t be that good.” [Laughter]

Jen: “She’s pretty magnificent.” [Laughter]

J.T.: I listened to a few. This was before I was on staff at The Village.

I showed up at TVC. I went to Jen’s office. I said, “Are you Jen Wilkin?” She said, “Are you J.T.?” We struck up a friendship. She was working in a different department at the time. I was hired to do some discipleship and oversee some of our learning environments. “The first thing I want to do:”—I said—“would you come work with me?” She did!

Dave: Wow! You were at The Village Church until last week.

Jen: I was. That’s right.

Dave: How many years?

Jen: Twelve years on staff. I’d been at The Village for sixteen years. Almost 12 years on staff, and the last 6 years, serving on the Executive Leadership team. It’s been a great run, and I loved doing it. I’m really ready to focus more on what’s going on with my kids and grandkids, and my parents, and maybe have some thinking space for writing another book.

Ann: Good for you. Jen, how many Bible studies do you think you’ve written? Do you know?

Jen: I think I’ve published eight or nine at this point, but I’ve written more than that. Those are just the ones that I have gotten out into the world. And then, we’ve written—we did a ton of team writing of studies at The Village as well, for the men’s and women’s Bible studies they have.

Dave: I love how you had to think: “I think it’s eight or nine.” We have to go—

Ann: —and how many books?

Dave: “I think it’s two.” [Laughter]

J.T.: I was going to say, “70.” It feels like more than the books of the Bible.

Jen: It does feel like 70.

Dave: I bet, yes.

Jen: Okay. [Laughter]

Ann: J.T., give us a little bit of your story: married, kids?

J.T.: Married, kids; yes, my best friend is my wife, Macy. She comes from a ministry background. She’s the first Christian I met after I came to faith.

Ann: Well, that’s convenient.

Jen: And so, he married her. [Laughter]

J.T.: And so it’s like: “You! I think you’re amazing. You love Jesus, and you’re beautiful.” In all seriousness, I have learned more about the Lord from my wife than anybody else. She walks with Jesus in some really deep ways.

We have two kiddos: Thomas and Bailey, currently eight and six years old. Just talking with Jen this morning, it’s the sweetest part of my life right now—great family—we’re out on a block—

Ann: —great ages, too, aren’t they?

J.T.: Oh, my gosh. It’s just amazing. We’re having a ton of fun.

Dave: You aren’t making them CSU fans, are you?

J.T.: Oh, yes. They even know the fight song.

Dave: That’s what I figured. [Laughter] That’s great! The Rams.

Ann: Jen, you—kids and grandkids—how many?

Jen: Yes, Jeff and I have been married 30 years this past summer. We have five kids, and then, we have three grandchildren so far. We are fruitful and multiplicative [Laughter], so who knows what will happen in the next year or so; yes.

Ann: That’s great.

Dave: And now, Grandma’s going to be present. That’s pretty cool.

Jen: That’s right.

Dave: Okay; so, you write this book called You Are a Theologian—which, obviously, as I talked at the beginning, when the players called me out to pray—my perspective is different than theirs. Mine is: “Every member a minister.” You probably said that at church: “If you are a Christ-follower, you have gifts. It might not be a shepherding, pastoral gift; but in a sense, you are a pastor. So, I think you are a theologian.” Most people don’t think that.

J.T.: That’s right.

Dave: They see your title like, “Not me. I’m not a theologian. You guys are; you are professional ministers and vocational workers, but I’m not a theologian.”

Obviously, what is your message?

J.T.: Yes; I mean, I think there are a few things to say here. I would say here, first, Jen and I tried to write the book that I wish somebody would have handed me right after I came to faith.

Jen: Really?

J.T: Yes. When I came to faith—and I had no resources—that sophomore that I already shared about, I said, “Could you give me some resources?” He handed me two; he handed me Max Lucado’s In the Grip of Grace

Dave: —really?

J.T.: —which was amazing. It’s this beautiful book about God’s grace. He also handed me Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. [Laughter]

Dave: Wow!

J.T.: That’s like: “These two things are different.” [Laughter] Helpful in their own context, but different.

Dave: I think you read one of them all the way through it. The other, not so much.

J.T.: Yes, I really wanted to know theology, even though I didn’t know what that was. I knew that it was going to help me understand God better, but it was intimidating. It was a long book, and this is supposed to be an introduction.

Dave: Yes.

J.T.: We realized, “There’s probably not a resource out there for people who not ever thought about themselves as theologians.” The other thing we tried to accomplish in the book—that, Jen, I’d love for you to talk about—is, what does it mean when we say, “You are a theologian?” What is theology?

Ann: I’m thinking, Jen—as you answer that question, I’m thinking—of moms listening, like, “Should I listen to this one? I’m raising my kids. I don’t have any time for theology.”

Dave: They’re cooking, right now, in the corner of the kitchen.

J.T.: Right.

Ann: “This has nothing to do with me.”

Jen: That was me in a lot of ways, other than the fact that I started teaching in the local church. I was very aware that I didn’t know what I needed to know to be able to stand up and meet any kind of requirement that James 3 might put on teachers, being judged more strictly.

I didn’t know where to go. In the same way that this is a book that J.T. needed, it’s a book that I needed. I began to discover theological categories; although, I don’t know that I would have known to call them that. My husband was listening to a radio program, where they were teaching on some things, and we were having conversations. For my 30th birthday, he gave me Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, because he’s a die-hard romantic. [Laughter]

Ann: I was going to say! [Laughter]

Jen: I dug in.

Dave: That was a birthday gift.

Jen: Yes, I dug in.

Ann: Did you like it?

Jen: I used it on an as-needed basis. It was like, if I was teaching on a particular thing, I would duck in and grab what I needed; but the idea of a systematic way of approaching the way that we thought about theology was not something that I understood until years later. I wrote two books on the doctrine of God, not even knowing that I should call them the doctrine of God.

I’m the average learner, in the church, who was wanting to teach and didn’t have what I needed to be able to do what I should to pass on a good deposit. You know, I still—J.T. has a PhD in Trinitarian Theology; I have an English degree, so, I still—have to psych myself up to say, “No, I am a theologian.” I do understand it to be true, because that word, “theology,” is a combination of two words: “theo,” which is God (Theos). Say it in your—

J.T.: You got it: Theos.

Jen: And then, logos, meaning that we have knowledge or words about God. That’s what a theologian is, which means that, even if you’re an atheist or agnostic, you’re a theologian. I have an agnostic friend, who is actually quite religious in the way that he talks about God not being knowable.

We all have thoughts about God. It’s a question of whether Christians have distinctly Christian thoughts about God. That’s what we’re hoping to accomplish with the book is to help the average learner—and we always use that term without any negative connotation—but to help the average learner in the pews to understand the historic Christian faith that is their legacy; not only that it’s their legacy, but it is their charge to transmit to the next generation. We have concerns that we’re not actually being able to do that well, based on some of the statistics that are out there right now about people’s knowledge of just basic theology.

Ann: What are those? Can you share some of those statistics?

Jen: Yes, I thought you’d never ask, Ann. [Laughter]

J.T.: She’s always ready with these. But every year—ever since 2016 (actually, I think it’s every two years)—a group, Ligonier and Lifeway, co-ministry partners, comes out with a study they call “The State of Theology.” They are talking about the basics of Christianity. What is important to highlight here is, we’re not talking about second-tier/third-tier issues that Christians might have slight disagreements, but we’re talking about things that Christians have agreed upon for 2,000 years and that the Bible is really clear about.

Here are a few examples:

Jen: They surveyed both unbelievers, which is interesting to me; unbelievers and evangelicals. We know the unbelievers—I can’t do a whole lot to help them with theology, but as someone who is leading in a church, I absolutely want to help believers.

In response to the statement: “God learns and adapts to different circumstances”; so, that means, “Is God immutable or not?” right?  48 percent of evangelicals agree that: “Yes, God changes. He learns and adapts.”

In response to the statement: “Everyone is born innocent in the eyes of God,” 65 percent of evangelicals agreed with that statement.

In response to the statement: “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam,” 56 percent of evangelicals agreed.

And then, in response to the statement: “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God,” 43 percent of evangelicals agreed. That statistic had risen from 30 percent only two years earlier.

The problem is not just existing. It is getting worse. What we saw, even in our own local church setting—J.T. was one of the first people to point this out to me—was that we had people in our church who could tell you exactly what they thought about whether you should baptize infants or believers;—

Ann: Yes.

Jen: —people who could tell you exactly what they thought about what style of worship we should be using; and people who could tell you exactly what they thought you should vote for in the next presidential election; but they were functional heretics, in many senses, when it came to orthodox belief. We have trained people. It’s just a question of whether we have trained them into historic understanding of the faith.

Dave: Those numbers are scary—

J.T.: —scary.

Dave: —but not surprising.

J.T.: Right.

Dave: I’m not shocked. I don’t know why.

Ann: I’m guessing some of our listeners listened to those and thought, “Hmm, I wonder what I think?”

J.T.: Sure.

Ann: Not even sure where they would stand on those questions.

Jen: We like to make clear that, if the people who are sitting in the pews don’t know the answers to those questions, it’s not because they have failed.

J.T.: Yes.

Jen: That is something that we, as people who are training people in the local church, need to ask: “Why is this not happening in our churches?” It doesn’t do any good to point to people who are sitting in the pews, and say, “Why don’t you know this yet?”

One of the things that we really want to see is a rebirth of places in the church, where people are sitting and discussing and learning these ideas so that we can pass along the generational goodness of this.

Dave: I remember, in seminary, hearing this quote: “If people are falling asleep during the sermon, wake up the preacher.” [Laughter] Have you heard that one?

J.T.: Yes; oh, yes.

Jen: That’s good!

Dave: That’s sort of what you’re saying.

Jen: Yes.

Dave: But you’re saying—and you open the book with this statement—that one of the things it feels like the church has missed is the Great Commission.

J.T.: Yes.

Dave: And it isn’t just making converts; but talk about this, because you talk about [how] we have not made disciples.

J.T.: Yes, at the heart of learning that you are a theologian and have thoughts about God—that’s really what it means to be a disciple, to be a learner of the way of Jesus Christ, who is God Himself and God embodied. I think one of the things about discipleship, and that we’ve neglected the theological aspect of discipleship, is that people are intimidated by it.

Ann: Yes.


J.T.: It’s something that, even sharing those stats, maybe, you don’t know where you stand on some of those questions. We’ve kind of closed the door for some people on discipleship.

Really, what we’re hoping this book does is to say, “It’s okay that you don’t know the answers to these questions right now, but we’d like to come along as guides and help you, and help your church, find the right theological answers to these questions. It’s not an invitation to get a theology quiz right. It’s an invitation to know and love God well.

It’s okay to be wrong about stuff. How often do I, when I’m teaching in the life of the local church, get a question from somebody, and I don’t know the answer? It’s okay to say, “I don’t know,” but we want to have the kinds and churches and ministries that say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but let’s go find out together,” because that’s what discipleship is. It’s a life-long journey of following the way of Jesus and learning to know and love God well.

Dave: What would you say to the person who heard those stats and said, “That’s not that big a deal. Why is it that important that I know theology, that I know doctrine?”

Jen: The reason that the Christian church has endured for 2,000 years is because there has been a faithful work to transmit what we know to be true in the Bible from one generation to the next. And yet, we find ourselves, in this generation, with what is very likely unprecedented levels of biblical and theology illiteracy. They’re existing in a time where we don’t just have a Bible literacy or a theological literacy crisis; that is a subset of a general literacy crisis. We have a generation of people who have, perhaps, not been trained how to think about difficult issues of any kind.

You add to that, that in the church, the discipleship model that we have gravitated toward over the past 30 or 40 years has been heavily focused on building community as its primary virtue or its primary goal; which is great, we want community in our churches, but when community is the highest stated goal of a gathering, then teaching is going to be a difficult presupposition. It’s going to be something that is going to be done to a degree, but, perhaps, not to the degree that it should.

And then, you add to that, that within the church, what we have seen is what J.T. and I have called the “Expert/Amateur Divide,” which is the expert who stands on the platform and, passively, the amateur in the pew receives teaching or a way to think from that person. But it’s not dialogic, and it’s not invitational. In other words, there’s no back and forth, and the person on the platform is always going to hold the space of expert, and the person in the pew is not receiving tools that moves [him or her] toward the person who is on the platform.

I don’t want to go to a church that doesn’t have community as one of its highest stated goals.

Dave: Right.

Jen: I just don’t want every space to have that as its highest stated goal.

J.T.: The question that you asked is a question that we get all the time from people: ‘Why does this matter to me?”

Dave: Yes.

J.T.: Or sometimes when we’re teaching these concepts, people will say, “Is it really important that I be precise about this?” In our relationship with God, we want to say precision matters, because relationship with Him matters. Anybody that we love, we want to be growing in our relationship with them, our knowledge of them and our understanding of them. I’ve been married to Macy now for 16 years. I know her better now than I did 16 years ago. Lord willing, I will know her in even deeper ways 16 years from now.

So theology matters because God matters; because we love Him, we want to know Him; we want to be in relationship with Him. To suggest: “Do we really need to know these things about God?” suggests that you don’t believe a deep relationship with God is essential to the Christian faith.

Ann: I’m looking at you two. You have seven kids between the two of you, with grandkids!

Dave: Where do you get that math? That’s pretty good.

J.T.: I had to add real quickly. [Laughter] Yes, we think that’s right. [Laughter]


Ann: With grandkids as well.

Jen: J.T. thought there was an extra one for a second. [Laughter]

Ann: Talk to the parents whose kids are going through so much in terms of cultural discipleship.

J.T.: Yes.

Ann: Why is it important for them? I’m thinking they’re like, “Hey, guys, I don’t have time for this. Do you know what my life is like? I’m working and trying to do all these things.” Talk to them [about] why it’s important for them to know this—

Dave: —for the families, for the parents.

Ann: —yes, based on what’s happening in our culture.

J.T.: I think it’s important for us to be very clear: you can’t not be a disciple of something.

Ann: There it is.

J.T.: Everybody is being discipled. You’re being discipled, perhaps, by an ideology, or by culture, by sports—

Jen: —TikTok.

J.T.: —or TikTok. [Laughter] Whatever you’re consuming—

Dave: —Twitter, big time.

Jen: Present company excepted. [Laughter]

J.T.: Whatever you’re consuming, you’re being shaped and formed by it.

Ann: Yes.

J.T.: One of the first things I think is good for parents to know is: “You, yourselves, and your kids or your grandkids are being discipled. So, the question is: ‘What are you being discipled by?’”

Jen: And then, you think about, if you have six-and-a-half days of the week that you’re discipled by things that are not theologically informed, and then you have maybe half a day, at most, where you are sitting and passively receiving teaching, rather than being in a dialogic space, what is the likelihood that you will be more formed by that half of a day than you will by the rest of the days of the week that you are elsewhere?

I know the cycle on this. I know that, when you have small children, you have frequency of times to have these conversations, but not a lot of depth. And then, I know that as they get older, those lines get crisscrossed and you end up having fewer times where you’re talking about things, but the opportunity for greater depth. So, even parents with small children can start having good conversations around good categories that are pointing toward how those conversations are going to go when their kids are older.

Ann: That’s good.

Jen: Not only that, but your children want to be able to look to you and know: “Okay, my parents have thought about this, and whatever the counter argument is for what I’m hearing at the lunch table, they can help me think through it.” Not in [an attitude of], “The culture is terrible, and I hate everybody at the lunch table kind of way, but in a ‘Hey, yes! We’re aliens and strangers. And here’s why you feel different when you’re in those conversations than the other kids do.”

Theology is basically a way of thinking in an organized manner about what the Bible says. It’s not adding to the Bible; it’s not different than the Bible. It’s basically almost like SparkNotes. Is that terrible to say that? [Laughter]

J.T.: I probably wouldn’t say that. [Laughter]

Jen: What would you say?

J.T.: I understand what you’re saying. One of the examples that you used is that it’s kind of like an organizing system—like a file system—for how the Bible is thinking.

Jen: Yes.

Dave: Right, right.

J.T.: One of the things that we try to do in the book is show that theology is really about asking and answering the questions the Bible invites us to ask and answer. Things like:

“Who is God?” The Bible speaks to that. We should categorize how the Bible talks about that;

or “What is God like? [What are] His attributes?”

or “Who are we? What does it mean to be an image bearer?” It’s hard to imagine a more fundamental question for our society today about what it means to be created in God’s image.

And also, to answer the question: “What’s gone wrong with the world?” We all know there’s a fundamental sense of brokenness. How do we categorize the way the Bible talks about this?

or “What is God doing in the world? How is He making things right?”

Questions help us categorize ways of thinking that the Bible gives answers to.

Dave: Actually, as you were saying that, J.T., I was thinking, “There are listeners thinking, ‘Can you answer some of those right now?’ [Laughter] Because I know you walk through chapters.

J.T.: Jen’s got some SparkNotes.

Jen: Yes, [Laughter] SparkNotes.

Dave: You’ve got the SparkNotes.

Jen: Yes. Apparently, I should have stuck with the illustration I gave in the book. [Laughter]

No, but just a really practical example of how, in a family setting, a parent who understands these important questions, and understands not just the questions, but the order in which we think through them—[that] matters as well.

Dave: That’s right.

Jen: That’s going to change the way that you think about your children. We mentioned, in that Great Commission comment, that perhaps we have been more concerned about making converts than we have disciples. I know a lot of Christian parents who are very concerned about making converts of their children and are, perhaps, thinking they shouldn’t make disciples until their child is a convert.

When your primary focus is making a convert, you’re going to start in the wrong place with theology. You’re going to start with the doctrine of sin. When you’re primary concern is making a disciple, you’re going to start with who God is and who we are. You’re going to start with the doctrine of God and the doctrine of humanity.

J.T.: Where the Bible starts!

Jen: Where the Bible starts; that’s right.

Ann: That’s good.

Jen: Again, these are important ideas, and they are important in the way—in the order—in which they’re presented. I have heard someone say, “The only thing worse than a child who’s never heard the gospel is a child who never wants to hear it again.” I think that, sometimes, we major in the conversion moment and forget that, if we have built out the framework of the beautiful vision of what it means to be a follower of God, then, when the moment comes for that conversation to happen, a child is ready to receive it in a way they wouldn’t otherwise be.

Shelby: Wow! I don’t even know how to respond to that. It’s just so scary, but also, beautiful at the same time. God is in control. He’s sovereign. He knows what He’s doing; He knows what He’s doing with your kids, with my kids, but at the same time, “Have I started in the wrong place with my kids?” I don’t know. I need more; I need to hear more from Jen Wilkin and J.T. English.

I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today. Man, this is such an enlightening and kind of crazy conversation. I love what they’re talking about here, because theology can be so intimidating, but it really doesn’t have to be. Whether your conversations about theology have felt out of reach, or over your head or irrelevant, I want you to consider Jen and J.T.’s book, You Are a Theologian. The subtitle is An Invitation to Know and Love God Well.

Now, earlier this week, Sissy Goff was here talking about eating disorders, body image, and mental health in children. Sissy Goff has written a book called The Worry-Free Parent: Living in Confidence So Your Kids Can, Too. This is really a practical guide for parents who are struggling with issues of anxiety or mental health with their children. She goes after that and gives you a lot of practical advice and helpful tips on creating a worry-free family environment.

This book is going to be our gift to you today when you give. You can get your copy 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 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” And feel free to drop us a donation in the mail if you’d like. Our mailing address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.

Now, I wanted more, and maybe, you want more; so, tomorrow, we’re going to give you more. How do you teach theology to your family and highlight the significance of creating a culture of curiosity and openness in the home? Well, Jen Wilkin and J.T. English are going to be back in the studio with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about just that. We hope you’ll join us.

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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