Christians must not contend as the world fights

Tim Keller sent out this tweet on Saturday, 

“the demonization and dehumanization of the other side must stop. When professing Christians do it, it is triply wrong.”

The statement shouldn’t be controversial for Christians, but in today’s America (and to a lesser degree, Australia), it was outrageous for Tim Keller to make this suggestion.

Despite many people appreciating his comment (and others that he has recently made on social media), there has been a lot of backlash and complaints. For example, 

“Another comical and tone deaf statement by Keller. It’s triply wrong when Christians do it because we expect non-Christians to be awful people that do crappy things.”

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Tim Keller is observing a very real and concerning problem in our societies. Public debate no longer has room for grace, kindness, and patience.  Genuine conversations are hard to find and even more difficult to start because of the cacophony of stereotypes, insults, and shouts that now dominate public space. The force of political diatribe is sweeping aside nuance and fairness and patience. There is little toleration for paving a new path in this age in intolerance. Keller is rightly noting how it is all too easy for Christians to slide into the assumed poles that are being defined by left and right, progressive and conservative.

Today’s posture is the opposite of Proverbs 18:13 which says, 

“To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.”

The reality is, Christians may agree with a moral principle but we may believe that there are different ways to approach the issue and we might feel more or less passionately about the issue than the next Christian. Among these matters are abortion, racism, refugees, and climate change. We can agree that these are important ethical issues. We grieve over how our culture buys into and even celebrates theories and policies that dehumanise our fellow human beings. It is quite possible, indeed it is inevitable, that while concurring that a certain belief or action is wrong, there is often diverse opinion about how to best approach the issue. It may be unpopular to suggest this, but these disparate positions often have less to do with shared theological convictions and more to do with political philosophy (ie. what is the role of Government?) and personal experience. Instead of recognising the way we form our views, we have wrongly purchased the arrogant absolutism that is now pervading our society. 

I have seen this happening even in Australia as the nation deals with the latest manifestations of the sexual revolution, with bushfire crisis and now with the COVID-19 pandemic. A person may rightly identify an important issue, but if we respond to evil with more sin, how have we contributed in any constructive way? If we only react according to our sense of ‘righteous indignation’, are we not in danger of relying upon rhetorical power to fend off terrible things rather than ‘grace seasoned with salt’? 

If I need to resort to slander, gossip, and caricature, in order present my case, I have already lost.  

As I casual onlooker of American culture and someone who lives inside Australian culture, it is clear that we have foot faulted, and convinced ourselves that because others are getting away with it, so can we. One of the consequences is that instead of adorning the Gospel, we attached a pugnacious moralism.

The harder path is the road less trod. A myopic culture may not see much benefit in taking this path, but as Christians we are surely looking ahead toward eternity, not just the next social schism or election. 

Another response to Keller’s tweet said this, 

“Are we implying Christians have NO BATTLE to fight? Demolishing arguments and exposing unbiblical ideologies ≠ attacking individuals. Let’s not forfeit the battle to “the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”

The comment is quite revealing, for it makes the very mistake that Tim Keller is urging Christians to avoid. There is a battle, but we do not fight as the world fights. We don’t resort to the same tactics that are employed by Government and corporations, by Hollywood and by social media platforms. The Bible is clear, we take our stand with truth and faith and righteousness. Our feet are readied with the ‘gospel of peace’. Notice this, Paul describes God’s good news about Jesus Christ as the gospel of peace. The staggering truth is, this is inauguration of peace for those who are not at peace with God. This is a peace for people who are not at rest but who are struggling against God and even ourselves. In this way, the Christian path in our secular age is to proclaim reconciliation and forgiveness through Christ.

When our political and social commitments speak louder than our Gospel convictions we inevitably begin to mirror the culture and not the Church of Jesus Christ. The cross is not a weapon to beat down opponents, it is God’s amazing news of salvation for sinners, of whom I am the worst. 

This is the place to begin each day and every conversation, 

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

When we view ourselves in light of the cross, it changes the ways we understand ourselves and the way we view others. We can mourn the days in which we live (and there is much reason for mourning). There are sometimes godly reasons for anger. But the cross will surely recompose our attitudes and ambitions and avenues.

As the Lord Jesus hung on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

How can a Christian live and speak and act without seeing that it was my sin that held him there?

“It was my sin that held Him there

Until it was accomplished

His dying breath has brought me life

I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything

No gifts, no power, no wisdom

But I will boast in Jesus Christ

His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?

I cannot give an answer

But this I know with all my heart

His wounds have paid my ransom”

Rachael Denhollander and her extraordinary speech

“blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy” (Jesus Christ)

 

Today I had the privilege, along with millions around the world, to watch one of the most extraordinary speeches I have ever heard.

Child sexual abuse is one of the great sins of this age. It is an ancient evil, as well as modern one, but until recent times so much was covered up and victims were so often not believed. Today, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, was jailed for 175 years, having sexually abused countless number of girls under his care.

 

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These stories are far too common, as we also know here in Australia, and we should not be surprised to hear of many more similar cases coming to the fore in days and years to come. The crime is now sadly a familiar one, but in the midst of harrowing testimonies there came a message of purity, goodness, and astonishment.

Rachael Denhollander was the first victim to publicly come forward with allegations against Nassar, and she was final of 156 survivors to speak in court. 24 hours ago I had never heard of Rachael Denhollander, but today I encourage people to listen to her voice and to hear her message.

We live in a world filled with the stench of evil, and that evil resides in the hearts of humankind. It was not so long ago that we all had friends who doubted the existence of evil, certainly in an intellectual or objective sense. At yet, as doors open and as people find courage to speak, we discover that evil abounds and it is more prevalent and real and darker than we believed.

In her address, Rachael Denhollander speaks candidly of the pernicious and devastating behaviour of Larry Nassar upon so many girls, including herself.

“Larry is a hardened and determined sexual predator. I know this first-hand. At age 15, when I suffered from chronic back pain, Larry sexually assaulted me repeatedly under the guise of medical treatment for nearly a year. He did this with my own mother in the room, carefully and perfectly obstructing her view so she would not know what he was doing. His ability to gain my trust and the trust of my parents, his grooming and carefully calculated brazen sexual assault was the result of deliberate, premeditated, intentional and methodological patterns of abuse — patterns that were rehearsed long before I walked through Larry’s exam room door and which continue to be perpetrated I believe on a daily basis for 16 more years, until I filed the police report.”

She spoke of why justice must be meted out.

“Who is going to tell these little girls that what was done to them matters? That they are seen and valued, that they are not alone and they are not unprotected? And I could not do that ,but we are here now and today that message can be sent with the sentence you hand down you can communicate to all these little girls and to every predator to every little girl or young woman who is watching how much a little girl is worth.

I am asking that we leave this courtroom we leave knowing that when Larry was sexually aroused and gratified by our violation, when he enjoyed our suffering and took pleasure in our abuse, that it was evil and wrong.

I ask that you hand down a sentence that tells us that what was done to us matters, that we are known, we are worth everything, worth the greatest protection the law can offer, the greatest measure of justice available.”

She also spoke of an idea, a message and desire that is shared less often in Western societies today, less believed and more rarely practiced. Rachael Denhollander spoke of Divine judgment and mercy. She affirmed her belief in the God of the Bible as one who rightly punishes evil, and yet who lovingly offers mercy.

While addressing Larry Nassar, Rachael Denhollander said,

“In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.

If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.

The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”

Rachel Denholander’s words are the Christian message. The God whom she spoke about is not ignorant of, or complicit with, or powerless to judge sin; he hates it more than us. She is right, no supply of good works can erase the evil Nassar perpetrated and which arose from a heart that is more putrid than his actions. But Rachel Denhollander did not end with a message of condemnation, but she pointed her abuser to God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”

The cross of Jesus Christ highlights our sins more vividly than we wish, and it reveals the justice of God more holy and fierce than we imagine, and the cross is God pouring out his love and grace more wonderfully and abundantly than any could ever conceive.

 We should not be so quick to dismiss the efficacy and goodness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ today. In a court of law, and in circumstances addressing the ugliest of human affairs, a woman spoke with quiet dignity, sharing her pain, calling for justice on behalf of countless girls, and speaking grace to a man who deserves none. Rare? possibly. Contrary to human wisdom? Yes. Attractive and causes us to ponder? Absolutely.