Toward a Truer Christianity…Abandoning Us-Against-Them
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.
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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