How Can Christians Offer Truth and Clarity to a World That Shuns Both?
by Abdu Murray
When the church has doubled down on its commitment to truth, especially in the face of opposition, it has flourished, brought credibility to the gospel, and benefited society. While many perceive Christians as enemies of progress and freedom, now is not the time for Christians to be seduced into making “them” look as bad as possible while making “us” look as sympathetic as possible. Now is the time for compassionate, yet uncompromisingly expressed, truth.
Not long ago I spoke at a major university in Canada on the topic “Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable.” A member of the audience took to the microphone to pose an interesting question. “I’m a software engineer,” he began. “Once we’ve designed the software, we test it for things that bug us about it. Not just glitches, but things about the software we personally don’t like. If you were to do the same test on the church, what would bug you about it?”
The audience nervously laughed at the hot-seat question. How would I, as someone who’s spoken at many churches around the world, respond? While I think the church is doing great things locally and across the world, there are things that could use changing.
The church has succumbed to our culture’s post-truth soft expression in two seemingly contrary ways. On one hand, Christians have compromised the clarity of Scripture for the sake of acceptance and to avoid conflict. On the other hand, Christians have indulged the cultural practice of vilifying those with whom they disagree. The way forward tempers both our need to be liked and the importance of addressing detrimental ideas and behaviors.
A story in Marie Chapian’s book Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy comes to mind. She recounts the story of Jakob, a missionary to the former Yugoslavia, who encounters Cimmerman, a farmer who had lost much to the country’s rampant violence and corruption. When Jakob tried to share the gospel message with him, Cimmerman would have none of it. Angered by the clergy’s complicity in the ugliness, Cimmerman refused to hear Jakob out. “Those men of the cloth tortured and killed my own nephew before my eyes,” he spewed. “I saw him die in his own blood, and then I watched the killers calmly genuflect before the main altar of the church, cross themselves with holy water, and a few moments later their forks scraped their plates as they ate their supper in the parish house.”
Obviously, Cimmerman’s reaction had nothing to do with the gospel message’s truth or falsity. Church corruption does not change the facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But the point is this: Cimmerman dismissed the message (indeed, he dismissed Christ himself) based on his experiences with those who claimed to believe the message.
Today’s Cimmermans distrust Christians as ultraconservative, hypocritical judging exclusivists. That is, of course, a sweeping and unfair characterization. Nevertheless, that perception persists and even grows.
The church can recapture its positive cultural influence if it rekindles its passion for the principles that revolutionized the world so long ago. In sharp contrast to our current adversarial attitudes, Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). Christians are to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13–14). But if the church sees everyone as enemies to be vanquished, it will lose its savor and its brightness. What we need is neither complacency nor indignation. What we need is wisdom.
The book of Proverbs provides a template for how Christians can once again be as savory as salt and illuminating as light in a bitter and dark time. If there is a word other than confused to describe the current cultural mood, it has to be angry. From protests that flare up at a moment’s notice to knee-jerk branding others with epithets, we seem to have lost our ability to be civil to one another in the thick of debate.
Let us return to the story of Jakob and Cimmerman. Jakob had tried to share the gospel with Cimmerman, and Cimmerman resisted by pointing out that the corrupt church leaders wore their fancy clothes and holy garments to conceal the filthiness of their hearts.
Jakob posed a question to the embittered Cimmerman. He asked Cimmerman to suppose that someone had stolen his coat and boots and then robbed someone. What would Cimmerman say when the authorities came to arrest him as the misidentified perpetrator because the robber wore his stolen coat? Obviously, he would say that someone had stolen his coat, pretending to be him. Still unmoved, Cimmerman replied, “I do not believe in the name of your God.”
In the ensuing year, Jakob cultivated a friendship with Cimmerman. Cracks formed in Cimmerman’s stony veneer. He not only heard Jakob’s words but saw his temperament and benefitted from his kindness. One day, looking at his friend through tearful eyes, Cimmerman expressed his newfound love of Jesus. He told Jakob, “You wear his coat well.”
The post-truth Culture of Confusion is angry at Christians and rejects the message we carry. We must honestly assess our part in perpetuating the confusion and fomenting the anger. Centuries after Solomon, the apostle Paul wrote that when Christians encounter non-Christians, we are to be wise. “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,” Paul tells us, “so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4: 6). Notice that Paul didn’t say that we are to answer each question, challenge, controversy, or political issue. We are to answer people. Questions and controversies don’t need answers. People do.
The confusion and anger swirling about can be daunting. But if we have integrity and courage, we can change perceptions of the church and the gospel it carries. Integrity is the currency of truth. Courage is its backbone. When we adopt both, and perhaps only then, can the church wear Jesus’ coat well for all to see.
Adapted from Saving Truth by Abdu Murray. Copyright © 2018 by Abdu H. Murray. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.AbduMurray.com.
Abdu Murray (JD, University of Michigan) is North American Director with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. For most of his life, Abdu was a proud Muslim who studied the Qur’an and Islam. After a nine-year investigation into the historical, philosophical, and scientific underpinnings of the major world religions and views, Abdu discovered that the historic Christian faith can answer the questions of the mind and the longings of the heart. Abdu has spoken to diverse international audiences and has participated in debates and dialogues across the globe.
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