In a piece over at Fox News, Larry Alex Taunton argued that evangelicals “need to stop being wimps.” (A glance at the URL suggests that the writer’s original title may have been a bit saltier.) Taunton makes a vividly argued case.
As an example of wimpiness, he adduces Barnabas Piper, famous for being the son of John Piper. Writing at WORLD, Piper reassured the world that he’d not eat at Chick-fil-A to support a fellow-believer targeted by “gay agenda” activists et al for the compounded crimes of (a) being a Christian (b) out-loud and (c) in public. Piper was very concerned about being perceived as “divisive” – by the sorts of folks who do all they can to muzzle Christians like Dan Cathy (and Barronelle Stutzman, Aaron and Melissa Klein, and others), and to drive them out of the public arena and out of business. Piper suggested that publicly and materially supporting a brother persecuted for his faith would not serve “the Kingdom of God.”
Taunton is incredulous at Piper’s rationale and argues at length that it’s symptomatic of a growing evangelical disdain for meaningfully opposing evil, displaying the emasculation C. S. Lewis warned against decades ago. Evangelicals must be willing to fight, to push back against evil cultural influences, in the light of prevalent blasphemies, abortion, sexual degradation, and increasing hostility towards Christians. We may have the “do not sin” part of Ephesians 4:26 down pat, but we’re failing to observe the first two words: “Be angry.”
Is Taunton right? Do I agree? Mostly yes, kinda no.
I have long observed that an alarming swath of public evangelicals seems to be driven by a consuming desire to be liked by the world.
Now, that is my characterization, not theirs. To their minds, they are trying to be good representatives of Jesus. They are focusing on “kingdom” issues. They eschew evangelicalism’s past mistakes of tying itself to various moralistic fads such as outlawing alcohol or opposing nylons and lipstick. They want to be sure that unbelievers know that they love them, that the GOP is not the Kingdom of God. They want to be seen as scholarly, cautious, nuanced, careful, measured, and helpful. They shrink from the thought of being seen as dogmatic, triumphalistic, or narrow.
Are those bad motivations? As stated and as far as they go, most of them are not.
However, I’ve come to fear that they mask fatal flaws. For starters, these sorts are willing to let their motivations be judged and dictated by the reactions of unbelievers.
Beyond doubt, we Christians want (or should want) to make Jesus and His Gospel the central issue. As I argued at book-length, it is the Gospel alone that identifies, targets, and solves our real and deepest miseries and brokenness and wrongs. Success in persuading unconverted pagans to become moral pagans is failure. True, it would make for a better life for them and society in the short run; but Hell will be eternally full to the brim with unredeemed moralists.
Yet are the evaluations, responses, emotions, and words of the lost our best gauges? Let’s see:
- Their entire thought processes are hopelessly corrupted and darkened (Eph. 4:18-19, 22; 5:8).
- They hate God and are hostile to His law (Rom. 8:7; Col. 21).
- They suppress and pervert every witness to God’s truth (Rom. 1:18ff.) because their very organ of perception and analysis is deceptive and incurably sick (Jer. 17:9).
- They don’t want to know God (Rom. 3:11).
- Christ and His Gospel sound like the very soul of stupidity (1 Cor. 1:18, 22-23) and smell like death to them (2 Cor. 2:15-16).
Yet – and here, I think, is the marrow of the issue – some of us really do want them to like and respect us. Whatever they think of God.
See, that’s a problem. James warns that the spirit of yearning to be friends with the world is a spirit of adultery and hostility toward God (James 4:4). The more faithful we are toward our Lord, the more likely the world is to hate us and want to silence us permanently (2 Tim. 3:12). Is that startling to hear? It isn’t said much, but it should be. In fact, I seem to recall the warning that the world’s applause and approval is generally a really bad thing to the faithful disciple (Luke 6:26; 16:15).
So I should expect that the world will, much of the time, hate Christians who are unapologetic, unwavering, bold, outspoken believers. I should expect it to mock us, try to discredit us, seek to silence us. I should never take my clues from such reactions (real or anticipated), but instead focus on believing, trusting, obeying, and seeking to please and glorify God (Deut. 6:5; 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 1:9-10).
All that said, when the world hates me, I do want it to hate me for the right reasons. I don’t want it to hate me for actually being a jerk, a big mouth without a heart to show love or hands to serve.
Yet even there, my first love and service (God says) should be to the family of God (Gal. 6:10). And when they are persecuted by Christ-haunted haters, I should show believers sympathy and support, even if it means that I share the hatred and abuse they’re experiencing (Heb. 10:32-34; 12:3-4; 13:3). And I must testify to the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone.
That’s serving the Kingdom, God’s way.
How can we put that all together and apply it to the matter at hand? Let me break it down:
1. Biblically faithful Christians should not expect to be liked and respected by a world that hates and despises our Lord.
2. Biblically faithful Christian should not want to be liked and respected by such a world.
3. We should testify to the Gospel of Christ at all times and in all circumstances, expecting to be hated for it apart from a work of God’s sovereign grace.
4. We should take our cues from God and His word, and not from those who hate and despise both.
5. When the world tells us we’re doing it wrong, we should just figure it must be another day ending in “y.”