Today it seems as though our culture’s capacity for civil discourse is at an all-time low. We are at the point where mere disagreement on just about any issue can result in unrestrained vitriol between ideological opponents. Far too often are even Christians bogged down in rabid, fruitless debates with friends, family and strangers, especially on social media.
As followers of Christ, we must be very careful as to how we engage in the “culture wars.” Make no mistake — there is a war of worldviews raging in our culture, the divide is deep and the issues being debated are of massive importance. This is not a call to retreat, but to strategize, so we do not engage the world on the world’s terms, nor do we exhaust ourselves on nearsighted, misguided schemes that bear no fruit for God. Rather, employing the wisdom God provides — as opposed to worldly wisdom — we can get back to changing minds, winning souls and impacting the culture.
In II Timothy 2:23-26, Paul gives timeless counsel we can apply to our cultural moment, two keys to avoiding “foolish and stupid arguments” that only “bring quarrels.” (Which aptly describes so many of the conversations going on in our day.) As the Lord’s servants, we are to grasp: (1) our main objective, and (2) our guiding principle.
The main objective is expressed in that Paul wants those who oppose the Lord’s ways to “come to a knowledge of the truth,” to come to their senses and turn to God. Basically, he wants them to be saved, converted to Christ. Accordingly, in all we do, including cultural engagement, we are to be faithful witnesses for Jesus Christ, making him known to those around us.
Integral to our witness for Christ is that we want to make Jesus look good. The way we engage culture must serve to “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10). Although we cannot simply expect to simply win friends and influence people with our message, we must neither add anything of our selves that would be a stumbling block to the Gospel. Our agendas, our opinions, our quirks, our preferences, our politics are all peripheral to Christ and his Kingdom. We will be held accountable for those who rejected the truth in part because of something we said or did that was not of God, but we made it seem like it was. Thus, our conduct among unbelievers must be circumspect, lest we sully our testimonies and make Jesus look guilty by association.
As witnesses, we also want to win people to Christ. This must be what drives us in all our interactions with everyone on every issue. We could be discussing anything from abortion to immigration to the economy, topics which may not outwardly smack of evangelistic content, but rather than making a “beeline to the cross,” we may open a “door for the cross” in hopes of leading them to Christ at a later time. Of course, this calls for genuinely caring about people and seeking to build long-term relationships with them. Sadly, many are unwilling or unable to do this with those on the “other side” of the worldview divide. But I digress.
The guiding principle is heard in Paul’s exhortation to kindness and gentle instruction as the way to win our opponents over. In keeping with our Lord’s commands, we are to speak and act in grace and truth to all people at all times.
This is a call for balance in our presentation. With regard to truth, let me put forward that the use of mockery, satire and bold censure are acceptable for Christian conversation when used rightly. Inasmuch as the prophets, the apostles, and the Lord himself are our examples, we will find this to be true. Our language, our logic and, yes, our laughter may be employed to expose the absurd and evil in the world, which thrive on euphemism and diversion.
One notable example would be how abortion has been allowed to masquerade as “reproductive health care” for decades. But we must give no quarter to such a deadly lie. We ought to ridicule the ridiculous, reproach the reproachable, scoff at the scoffers and mock the proud mockers that they may be ashamed of their shamefulness and turn away from their waywardness. Though groups like the Westboro Baptists may abuse this principle to justify their hateful rhetoric, we speak thus in hopes to arouse “godly sorrow” in our ideological opponents, that “brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (II Cor. 7:10).
As for grace, we are commanded by our Lord to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:43-48). Our ideological opponents have no such constraints. They are permitted to be cruel, dishonest and violent to those who oppose them. “We do not wage war as the world does” — we cannot stoop to their level. We must maintain a standard of kindness, humility and integrity in our cultural engagement, being willing to meet the needs and heal the hurts of our foes, though they may never reciprocate.
Of course, this requires that we love them. Do we love the perverts, politicians, pundits and pagans we constantly criticize? We bemoan their behavior, but do we lament their lost-ness? Do we laugh at their damnation or long for their salvation?
Zeal is wonderful; I would love to see more of it among God’s people. But our zeal must be met with wisdom and love, lest it collapse into worldly fanaticism. It is time to search our hearts, check our motives, correct our approach and seek the face of our God.
Jared Walker is a pastor and Bible college professor who loves to read, think, speak and write about the Christian worldview and its application to every part of life. He lives in Chicago with his wife and three children. Jared can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for speaking engagements, leadership training and church consultation.
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