Too much niceness taints the gospel
When you hear the word “grace,” what comes to mind?
I automatically think of all the times that I’ve harmed someone or been thoughtless in intention, word and deed. The crushing weight of knowing that I couldn’t retreat from an ill-made decision was remedied by the overwhelming relief of hearing the person I had wronged tell me that all was well — that I was forgiven.
For many, grace looks just like that: a biblical, forgiving response to transgression. In recent years, however, culture has given this virtue a few more ramifications and accessories.
In his article titled “Winsome Is the New Nice,” R. Scott Clark explains the growing tendency of evangelical circles to use winsome theology as a medium through which to interact with the unbelieving population. In the midst of concerns over what is politically correct, an increasing number of definitions for the word “tolerance” and a general fear of being cancelled, many evangelical Christians have adopted a theology in which niceness is held supreme.
According to the Rev. Canon Ben Sharpe, in the context of cultural engagement, winsomeness means being “inoffensive, socially attractive and, above all, loving.”
At first glance, none of these qualities look problematic. In fact, you could argue that all of these characteristics are helpful when evangelizing. It isn’t until you start asking critical questions that this framework falls apart.
Clark writes, “Underlying this debate about tone, winsomeness and niceness is how we think the culture will regard us. Let me tell you, for the most part the culture is not regarding us. When they do, there is little we can do to mask the offense of the gospel or the rest of the faith.”
Winsomeness and niceness are not explicit fruits of the Holy Spirit, nor is there a lot of biblical backing for this specific form of engagement. What winsomeness fails to encompass and recognize is that grace is always paired with the abrasive truth that all are sinful, and all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It is impossible to sever grace from sin, just as it is impossible (in a godly manner) to sever love from accountability.
I see winsomeness at play when a professor fails to challenge an ungodly perspective in the name of being nice. I see it in myself when I fear offending the unbeliever with the message I have to share. Is there a time to be sparing with my words and to employ softness in my speech? Absolutely. In that same vein, however, there is a time to rebuke and to sharpen and to speak truth plainly, even when it may upset the feelings and emotions of another. In all these things we ought to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Sharp words are not of the devil. Neither is a reprimand. What is evil is the perversion of anything meant for good and the clear rejection of God and his statutes.
Perhaps most concerning, winsomeness prevents the cultivation of healthy, deep relationships. If you fail to speak your mind in the name of remaining approachable and ensuring that you do not offend anyone, you are truly not allowing others to know you. This does not excuse abrasive behavior; rather, it is a call to be honest, to be unafraid to offend when sharing godly truth and to be unashamed of the gospel, for it teaches saving grace.
Glen is the social media and web manager for the Liberty Champion