Wednesday, November 18, 2015

By Dr. Joshua Chatraw

The past few weeks, we have highlighted a series of posts, inspired by Jonathan Edwards, on the subject of posture in engaging the culture. Edwards encouraged believers to allow the Gospel to set the course for living out their message. What might it look like if we allow the Gospel to set the course for our engagement?  The rules that we have seen so cover topics such as the need to truly listen to others, why we should not judge the motive of others, and always trying to find points of agreement. Today, we have reached the sixth and final rule of gospel engagement. 

Rule #6: Avoid being unnecessarily antagonistic

Avoid pejorative language (this means “fightin’ words” back where we are from). There is a way to describe another position that makes it seem silly and mocks the other person. Again, this might win points with others who are already share your view, but it only alienates the person you are trying to reach. This seems like it should be so obvious that it goes without saying. Unfortunately, we have observed Christians regularly provoking others unnecessarily (and we have regrettably slipped into this ourselves at times). Why is this the case? Clearly there are a variety of reasons we do this. It seems that for many of us, it is because we are insecure in our own positions. Like the school bully who feels the need to mock others to feel better about himself, we suggest that this is at times why Christians end up ridiculing opposing views. It makes us feel better.  “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).

John Stackhouse, in his book Humble Apologetics, offers an important reminder of the impulse behind and the selection of the words we use as we engage with others:

Apologetics is not, primarily, about me. I can read apologetics in order to strengthen and sophisticate my faith, yes. I can engage in apologetics and that can benefit me in various ways. But I ought to be commending the faith to my neighbor primarily for her benefit, to the glory of God. I ought not to be engaging in apologetic conversation out of some need of my own, whether a need to save face, or show up an enemy, or congratulate myself on my fervor. Apologetics, again, is a form of Christian speech, and as such it is always and only to offer a gift to the recipientnot aggrandize the speaker.

There is, of course, a time to speak bluntly. This requires Godly wisdom and sensitivity to the context. And yet even with public, provocative anti-Christian antagonists, the gospel reminds us that we are to love and pray for our enemies. Most of us will not interact with the Richard Dawkins or the Bart Ehrman’s of the world in public debate and writing. Instead, we will be in dialogue in daily relationships. Perhaps antagonistic words will not break our dialogue partner’s bones, but they will often hurt them as well as our ability to be heard and show them Christ.