Toward a Truer Christianity…Abandoning Us-Against-Them

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In my role as a so-called “public Christian” who leads a church and weighs in on the issues of our day through speaking, discourse, and writing, I am eager to nurture environments in which people can openly disagree…but without the fear of being caricatured, labeled, or demonized. In other words, I am for disagreeing in an agreeable fashion. I guess you could say that I am a strong advocate of tolerance.

Tim Keller says that tolerance does not require us to abandon our convictions. True tolerance, says Keller, is revealed by how our convictions lead us to treat people who disagree with us. Tolerance that only “tolerates” people who think like us is not tolerance. Let’s be honest. It is covert prejudice. It is a form of thinly-veiled contempt.

For the Christian witness to be taken seriously in an increasingly pluralistic, secular, non-religious environment such as the West, it is critical for Christians to learn and re-learn the fine art of being able to 1) have integrity in our convictions, 2) genuinely love, listen to, and serve those who do not share our convictions, and 3) be committed to both at the same time.

In his first letter to the young pastor Timothy, Paul warns against “wolves” in the church who have a craving for controversy and quarrels, and who feed on constant friction (1 Timothy 6:3-8). It should go without saying that craving controversy and feeding on friction does not make people of faith a light to the culture. Rather, it shows them to be a product of the culture.

“The Year of Outrage”

A few years ago, Slate Magazine came out with a multi-essay piece that identified 2014 as “the year of outrage.” The subtitle to the article is as follows: From righteous fury to faux indignation, everything we got mad about in 2014. Featured were pieces on sexual identity outrage, liberal outrage, conservative outrage, holiday outrage, religious outrage, and so on.

Similarly, New York Times contributor Tim Kreider describes an epidemic he calls “outrage porn.” Kreider says that so many letters to the editor and blog comments contain a “tone of thrilled vindication” from “people who have been vigilantly on the lookout for something to be offended by…some part of us loves feeling 1) right and 2) wronged.”

One former U.S. President recently said that the one remaining bigotry in modern society is that we don’t want to be around anyone who disagrees with us.

Emma Green of The Atlantic wrote an article called “Taming Christian Outrage” highlighting how some Christians have become part of the outrage madness in the blogosphere, the media, and their personal lives. Green’s belief is that the common thread among “outraged” Christians is not an interest in winning hearts, but rather an interest in asserting their own rights, privileges, and comforts in a post-Christian culture.

Can this be a good thing when Jesus, the rightful King, set aside his rights, privileges, and comforts in order to move toward his enemies in love?

Can Deep Disagreement and Genuine Love Coexist?

I like what a former Harvard Chaplain said about bridging relational divides between people who disagree, even on the most fundamental level. He writes:

The divide between Christians and atheists is deep…I’m dedicated to bridging that divide—to working with…atheists, Christians, and people of all different beliefs and backgrounds on building a more cooperative world. We have a lot of work to do…My hope is (to) help foster better dialogue between Christians and atheists and that, together, we can work to see a world in which people are able to have honest, challenging, and loving conversation across lines of difference.

The Harvard Chaplain’s name is Chris Stedman. He describes himself as both “queer” and an atheist.

Yet, his perspective as stated above is deeply Christian, wouldn’t you agree?

The Jewish spies collaborated with Rahab, a working prostitute at the time, to get the work of God’s Kingdom done. Rahab eventually made it into Jesus’ genealogy. Joseph served in the Egyptian Pharaoh’s court as chief of staff, Nehemiah as the Persian King Artaxerxes’ cupbearer, and Daniel as a high-level employee of Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar…all faithful, non-compromising men of faith in deeply secular environments who 1) had integrity in their convictions 2) genuinely loved, listened to, and served those who did not share their convictions, and 3) were committed to both at the same time.

There is also Paul, who co-opted the ideas of leading secular poets and philosophers into his public discourse, ideas that were also congruent with the truth of God. Quoting such poets and philosophers from memory, Paul spoke winsomely, lovingly, and with certainty to the Athenian university and cultural elites of the God who can be known (Acts 17).

Belonging Before Believing

Do we realize how liberating—and how Christlike—it is to enter discussions about culture’s contested issues in a way that builds bridges instead of burning them? Can we see the rightness of inviting friends, colleagues, and neighbors to belong and journey with us before they believe with us? Can we see to potential that is there for fruit if we begin to embrace people before they agree with us and whether they ever end up agreeing with us at all?

In this, Jesus shows us the way.

When the rich ruler walked away, rejecting Jesus’ offer to come follow him, Jesus looked at the man and loved him. And as the man walked away from Jesus, he was sad. Not angry or hostile or feeling judged.

Sad

One sign that Jesus is in our midst is that we have a quiet, settled belief that Jesus is the truth. A byproduct of this quiet, settled belief is that when people walk away from us, they walk away sad, because something in them wishes that it could all somehow be true for them.

I’d like to share one last thought, a tiny excerpt from my first book, Jesus Outside the Lines, that summarizes what I’m attempting to say here:

What matters more to us—that we successfully put others in their place, or that we are known to love well? That we win culture wars with carefully constructed arguments and political power plays, or that we win hearts with humility, truth, and love? God have mercy on us if we do not love well because all that matters to us is being right and winning arguments. Truth and love can go together. Truth and love must go together.

Peter wrote, “In your hearts, honor Christ…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Paul said the same thing but in a different way: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders…let your speech always be gracious” (Colossians 4:6). “Always” is a comprehensive word, yes?

What is our basis for being gentle, respectful, and gracious always? Our basis is the grace in which we now stand. It’s the certainty that because of Jesus, our day of judgment has been moved from the future to the past.

It is because of this reality—that God has no anger or outrage left for us but only a smile earned for us by another—that we Christians should be the least offended and least offensive people in the world.

May it be so.


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7 responses to “Toward a Truer Christianity…Abandoning Us-Against-Them”

  1. Kevin says:

    I understand, as the owner of this blog, you are absolutely entitled to moderate the comment section. If you think my comment you recently deleted was inaccurate or unbiblical, I would appreciate a response as to why (Kevin.McPhearson@gmail.com). Otherwise, my worst suspicions are validated.

    To be clear, I suspect you are either a wolf in sheep’s clothing or are a wolves’ proxy who has good intentions but is nonetheless misleading other sheep into a spiritual abyss. Throughout the ages, the overwhelming majority of the body of Christ is in agreement that men like Greg Johnson and Sam Alberry– who admittedly possess consistent, long-term, and present desires to sodomize and be sodomized by other men–are biblically disqualified from leading a congregation. Of course, they are not in any way disqualified from grace. Until your opposing position on this issue is somehow biblicalIy justified, believers of good conscience will continue to firmly oppose you and fight to expose you at every opportunity. The ramifications of this issue are simply too great to ignore.

  2. Karen Forehand says:

    Well said and truthful!
    We can disagree and still love and serve a person with loving intent!

  3. Charlie says:

    Scott,

    Thank you for this challenge. Many pastors and lay people are feeling a good bit of pressure these days to “speak up” and make our voices heard concerning any number of hot button issues. I understand, and indeed there is a place for the Christian community to speak truth to the powers and be heard regarding certain troubling social trends. My fear is not so much in the speaking up but in how we do so. Are we informing people and making a loving case for the truths that we are promoting, or are we stoking fear, anger, and despair? Proverbs 17:27-28 is relevant.

    Living on the extremes is easy but rarely advisable. As Christians we should strive to be full to overflowing of both grace and truth, reject fear, rest ourselves in God as our only hope, and remember who the true enemy is. Peace.

  4. greg says:

    This is what you say 1Tim 6:3-8 says: “In his first letter to the young pastor Timothy, Paul warns against “wolves” in the church who have a craving for controversy and quarrels, and who feed on constant friction (1 Timothy 6:3-8). It should go without saying that craving controversy and feeding on friction does not make people of faith a light to the culture. Rather, it shows them to be a product of the culture.

    This is how the beginning of 1Tim 6:3 actually reads: “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit…”

    So, essentially what you have suggested by your rendering of what Paul says to Timothy, in a nutshell,is that Paul is abandoning the very teaching you claim he is telling Timothy! Paul just accused someone of being puffed with conceit for errant teaching! If this does not lead to friction, I’d be very surprised. And I am sure that the last thing on Paul’s mind is an aim towards tolerance with such errant teachers!

    I must also say that I do not believe that Paul feeds off of such friction. He admits great emotional and spiritual strain over correcting the church actually. But our God is one God, who is unchanging who defines Himself by His Word and Paul and the rest of the apostles and prophets spoke on His behalf quite understandable terms about Him. God has instituted leaders in His church today who give great caution about abiding by His Words as well. This post seems to counter that almost wholly in principle and I would be very eager to learn a Biblical response from you about my intolerance of your stance (in great love for God and all people) here in this post of mine.

  5. Tony Gerard says:

    Scott,

    Thank you for your consistently biblical and loving posts. These are really important, since it’s hard to find this kind of clarity and kindness from the same author. I subscribe to CT, World, Sojourners, Plough and First Things, and your posts are best single resource for those of us who are “public Christians”.

    I am always surprised how many people post negative comments, and don’t seem to have understood what you are saying. Way too many people write comments that are attempts to “put you in your place with carefully constructed arguments”, with have no interest in ” loving well”.

    Your writing puts truth and love together in the way that Jesus did.

    You may have seen the recent debate among conservatives on ” Frenchism”? I was reminded of this by your phrase: ” What matters more to us—that we successfully put others in their place, or that we are known to love well? That we win culture wars with carefully constructed arguments and political power plays, or that we win hearts with humility, truth, and love?”

    So thank you for being a pastor and an author who consistently puts Truth and Love together.

  6. Greg says:

    This is a reply to Tony’s last reply which may have been directed to my post. So we obviously need to look to Jesus’ example of how He loved people. Jesus, who is perfect love, exampled to us about being a “friend of sinners,” but always called sinner to repent of sin for full forgiveness by grace. After all, if there is no repentance of sin for forgiveness by grace, Jesus says in many numbers of passages in Scripture that eternal damnation awaits them. And Jesus most definitely was eager to win the hearts of even the “religious” and those who reframed Judaism into a political game or a for profit driven enterprise when He over turned the tables of the money changers at the temple and when he called out the religious elites as being a “brood of vipers” and “whitewashed tombs.” He demonstrated a love beyond compare towards these religious elites by strongly encouraging them off of their religious high horse and towards grace, so that no man may boast.
    Both love and humility are both inextricably tied to truth-you cannot have it any other way. Ben Franklin attempted to put on humility as a personal attribute and admittedly failed because when he succeeded, he became proud of it because truth about God was never introduced into the equation …yet he reported to us that the APPEARANCE of humility profited him personally and monetarily very well. The point of bringing this up is to suggest that I am just not sure that Jesus is interested in a church that puts on a humble looking and “tolerant” appearing front to gain a following. Christian humility is far deeper than that. Rather, I see Jesus interested to see the church deal aptly with various types of folks not to increase the size of the movement but to increase the potential for folks to find the narrow path that leads to salvation where there is joy! And as we encourage folks in this direction, God willing, folks come to truly know Him personally which then builds the church numerically as He sees fit. And if He chooses to ride out the end times while the church remains a remnant, then so be it-eternity awaits us where we will realize the extend of God’s love through unstained receptors together in perfect unity forever and that is going to be pretty awesome.

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