The Church has a tone and emphasis problem, which ties in to our PR problem. We are often speaking the truth, but we seem to have forgotten what it means to do this in love. Though I hear many evangelicals explain that they are “speaking the truth in love” they seem to be taking it to mean “I will say whatever I need to say to you in whatever tone I need to say it and that in itself is a loving act.” In other words, it’s loving to make sure people know what’s right; I don’t have to worry about being loving as I dispense that truth.
This is our tone problem. And actually, many times we are spouting our opinions—in many cases our unearned opinions–and calling those God’s truth. When we do this, we’re neither speaking the truth, nor doing so in love.
I’m old enough to have seen Christians get really worked up and focused on whether or not Christians are allowed to drink and whether or not Christians are allowed to listen to “secular” music. I’ve seen Christians advocate at full volume and with all of the self-righteous piety of a Puritan preacher that courtship and homeschooling are the only non-sinful options (I’m exaggerating, but only slightly). I’ve lived through periods when the Church’s biggest battles were over partisan politics—with many instances of churches bringing literal political candidates to “preach” in their pulpits. Lately we’re caught up in wokism and anti-wokism. We’re losing our minds over the prospect of women preaching. This list will never stop growing.
Let’s step back and take a breath for a minute. What does God call us to do in this world? Is it possible we’ve raised up as primary some issues that were never meant to be?“We seem to be taking ‘speaking the truth in love’ to mean ‘I will say whatever I need to say to you in whatever tone I need to say it and that in itself is a loving act.'”
In Miguel de Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, the eponymous hero fights boldly and bravely. No one can hold him back from what he knows is right. He disregards the protests of enemies and friends alike when they tried to dissuade him from his mission because he knows what’s right and he will boldly stand and defend truth and justice. The problem, of course, is the very thing that makes Don Quixote a comedy. Don Quixote is utterly misguided throughout the entire novel. In the book’s most famous episode, when Don Quixote attacks the ferocious giants terrorizing the country peasants, he’s actually attacking a row of windmills. With deep conviction. With full self-righteousness. But he’s utterly deluded.
I fear that this is a decent parable for the modern evangelical church. We’ve been brave. We’ve been bold. We’ve applauded for each other when we’ve fought the culture wars and said the things that are really difficult but important to say, such as correcting a minimum wage retailer who dares to utter “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Few could accuse the evangelical church of lacking passion or not standing up for what we believe in.
The problem is that we’ve often been fighting like Don Quixote. Under the banner of being biblical we’ve often been jackasses. Under the pretext of being Christlike, we’ve often failed in the very things that Jesus said were the most important: loving God and loving our neighbors.“Here’s a helpful rule of thumb: If you find your theological convictions making you less like Jesus, then something is off.”
I’m not suggesting that we grow soft on biblical truth. I want to stand firm on everything Jesus stood firm on. But I want to be careful to say the things that Jesus said in the way that Jesus said them. I want to hold those truths in such a way that I actually look and act and feel to other people like Jesus!
Here’s a helpful rule of thumb: If you find your theological convictions making you less like Jesus, then something is off. If you can’t live consistently with your beliefs in such a way that your life looks like Jesus’ life, then you’re missing something.
I am a conservative American Christian. There are very few areas where I have come to disagree with the Christianity I was taught growing up or even with my very conservative seminary training. But I have come to see numerous areas in which some aspects of that theology were wrongly emphasized, or held with a sinful level of certainty, or wielded like a weapon rather than borne in love and grace. And I have also seen many of my brothers and sisters (and also myself) turn to other battles that we have never been called to.
So I am continuing to try to live in that journey of pursuing the words, works, and ways of Jesus. It’s not enough to quote chapter and verse. We have to quote chapter and verse while also living in love and embodying the grace that God so readily extends to everyone around us. That is the journey of Jackass Theology. And I’m deeply thankful for a growing group of people that are on that same journey with me.