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Many of us are bone-weary of the unending outrage and verbal bickering in today’s culture.
We’re exhausted with the ceaseless diatribes of people who seem to revel in anger and offense.
Christians often are the target. I’ve heard conversations on both sides: “You Christians are too judgmental and close-minded.” On the other side, I hear: “You Christians are too wishy-washy and weak to defend Biblical truth.”
So our identity as Christ-followers gets blasted from every side. Is there a way we can live with countercultural gentleness and boldness in such an angry, attacking time? Is there a Christ-like identity that’s solid and strong enough to weather the battering cultural storms with victory?
I’ve read two books this summer that address this with wisdom worth considering. They are “A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in An Age of Us Against Them” and “Jesus Outside the Lines.”
Both are for Christian believers and both are written by Scott Sauls. He’s a Presbyterian preacher, teacher author and church planter who lives in Nashville and formerly New York City. He blogs at scottsauls.com.
Weary or not, Christians must not withdraw from the cultural battle, Sauls admonishes, but should consider different warfare weapons. Specifically in “A Gentle Answer” Saul unpacks Proverbs 15:1 that says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
I’m convicted and encouraged to re-examine my identity as a Christ-follower under Sauls’ biblical microscope. Surely, in these times of hard conversations we can benefit from how Jesus used gentle answers to turn away wrath without watering down truth. Sauls offers a biblical and compelling model for thinking and speaking in our antagonistic, anger-riddled culture.
His “gentle answer” warfare is not wimpy nor a sell-out. It calls for bold, mature love beyond just being nice or passive. “To be gentle in a culture of outrage is rather a radical, dangerous and costly choice,” he argues, but one with potential for breaking vicious cycles that wound or weaken us.
Our identity in Christ dictates how we think and speak. How then do we define ourselves—and point others to define themselves—by Jesus first and not by politics, intellect, wealth, influence, ethnicity, sexuality or a dozen other things today?
“The problem isn’t with Christianity as much as it is with our flawed approach to and understanding of it,” says Sauls. “We have let ourselves become imbalanced and lopsided and unfocused much like the rigid holier-than-thou Pharisees and the secular know-it-all Sadducees of the New Testament.” Jesus lived amid this antagonism daily. So it’s nothing new.
Consider just how subversive Jesus’ comments in Matt. 11: 29 really are: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” A gentle answer isn’t merely a tool for defusing aggressors’ anger, Sauls writes, rather “it’s an indication that the grace and love of Jesus are ‘gentling’ our hearts – so much so that we can risk leading with kindness and not rightness.”
“I believe that many Christians have allowed themselves to become disciples of partisan political platforms, as opposed to first being disciples of Jesus Christ,” writes Sauls. “In doing so, we’ve placed the kingdom of God beneath the kingdom of earth in our hierarchies of loyalty. Too many Christians seem much more Democrat or Republican than Christian. Others are unable to fit nicely into any partisan tribe so they discover that they’re too irritatingly conservative for their liberal friends on one hand and too irritatingly liberal for their conservative friends on the other.”
We’ve lost touch with the dignity that’s ours as image-bearers of God and with the fact that God’s primary posture toward all of us is one of love, Sauls says. He urges us to examine and refine our identity as Christians by learning what biblical gentleness actually means, and what it doesn’t mean.
Scripture tells us that God is forever refining and purifying His followers through a deeper understanding of our identity as His image-bearers and His family.
So whenever clamorous conversations seem to bring out the worst in me, I think about the refining process and the lifelong learning that following Jesus requires. Perhaps we’re in the refining fire every time we have friction with others. The fire is not cool or comfortable. But Scripture says the heat is good for our spiritual good and growth.
Sauls examines how Jesus befriends the sinner in all of us; how He reforms the Pharisee in us and disarms the cynic in us. Then he offers Jesus ways to deal with hard conversations.
The Bible speaks volumes about how we treat each other and our responsibilities to each other.
When, like Jesus, we learn to speak with bold, wise gentleness, we are caring for each other’s souls.
Surely, that’s a good thing.
Linda Cagnetti was a professional journalist with daily newspapers for 35 years, primarily with Gannett Newspapers (including their Cincinnati Enquirer and Florida Today publications). Linda attends Grace Community Church in Montrose. She and her husband Frank have one adult son, and parent a 14-year-old grandson.
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