CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

“You’re Too Negative”

May 24, 2012

How many times have you heard that one? I get it all the time. To simply stand up for your faith nowadays will result in you being called negative, defensive, judgmental, critical, unloving, intolerant – you name it. The spirit of the age – which despises truth, rejects God, and detests morality – is alive and well, but sadly it is also alive and well in many churches.

Of course I have learned over the years that if I really want to never be criticised, attacked or bad-mouthed, there is a very simple remedy: simply do nothing, say nothing, and stand up for nothing. A nice quiet and peaceful life will then result. Of course it will then mean that I have sold out my Lord and my faith.

So let’s get a few things straight here: we live in an exceedingly polarised world. To affirm something – anything – will result in somebody being upset somewhere, sometime. To affirm your support of Geelong will mean raising the ire of a Collingwood supporter.

To affirm your love of a Whopper will mean offending a vegetarian. To stand up for your Christian faith will rub atheists the wrong way. To affirm the heterosexual nature of marriage will tick off all those who think differently. To affirm the deity of Christ will cheese off a devout Muslim.

negativityLife is like that. Reality is like that. And truth and logic are especially like that. To stand up for something means you are rejecting its opposite. To support A means you are not supporting non-A. To stand for the Allies means you opposed Hitler.

To be a Christian means of necessity that you are against all sorts of things. If you are a Christian you cannot support atheism, or Islam, or New Age thinking. If you are a Christian you support God’s intentions for human sexuality. That means you oppose everything else, be it adultery, or fornication, or pre-marital sex, or homosexuality, or incest, or group marriage.

To be a Christian means you agree with God about the human condition. It means you must tell people what God says about them: that they are sinners who need to repent and get right with God through Christ. To be for the holy and righteous God of the universe means you must be opposed to sin.

Indeed, to love God is to hate evil. You cannot do one without the other. You cannot claim to love, serve and obey God without opposing all that he opposes. “He who is not with me is against me” said Jesus. “Cling to that which is good; hate that which is evil” said Paul.

There can be no other way. To be for something means that you will have to be against something else. As Phil Johnson put it, “I actually don’t mind being known for ‘what I’m against,’ insofar as that helps clarify what I am FOR. And I think it does.” Speaking in a somewhat different context, Francis Schaeffer said this about Christian apologetics:

“Defense is proper and necessary because in every age historic Christianity will be under attack. Defense does not mean being on the defensive. One must not be embarrassed about the use of the word defense. The proponents of any position who are alive to their own generation must give a sufficient answer for it when questions are raised about it. Thus, the word defense is not used here in a negative sense, because in any conversation, in any communication which is really dialogue, answers must be given to objections raised. Such answers are necessary in the first place for myself as a Christian if I am going to maintain my intellectual integrity, and if I am to keep united my personal, devotional and intellectual life.”

The early church found itself dealing with all sorts of unbiblical positions. So as it wrestled with these heretical views and teachings (what it was against), it clarified and more fully established Christian orthodoxy (what it was for). The great Christological debates for example resulted in the formulation of the great early Christian creeds, with a clear distinction between orthodoxy and heresy.

Thus to stand up for biblical truth will always mean you are standing against that which is not. That does not make you negative or judgmental or ornery. That just makes you a biblical Christian. And that will always put some people off. That will always result in accusations of being unloving, judgmental, and negative.

So what? That simply goes with the territory. Sure, we must try to be as loving, tactful, gracious and diplomatic as we can when we deal with others. But let me remind you of something: the most loving, tactful, gracious and diplomatic man to ever walk this earth was crucified for his efforts.

No one could be more loving and full of grace than Jesus, yet we read time and time again in the gospel accounts about how Jesus caused division among the crowds, and offended many. He simply spoke truth – in a fully loving manner – and many people could not stand it.

Like the prophets before him, Jesus spoke truth unflinchingly. Truth always hurts – especially if you do not want to receive the truth. All true spokesmen for God will tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. And that will mean telling people the truth about their condition.

That is, the bad news of the gospel has to precede the good news. We have to make it clear to people that they are lost sinners under the wrath of God heading for a lost eternity. That truth must precede any offer of forgiveness, pardon, and redemption.

As A.W. Tozer once put it, “There is plenty of good news in the Bible, but there is never any flattery or back scratching. Seen one way, the Bible is a book of doom. It condemns all men as sinners and declares that the soul that sinneth shall die. Always it pronounces sentence against society before it offers mercy; and if we will not own the validity of the sentence we cannot admit the need for mercy.”

Or as Peter Kreeft put it much more recently in his new book, Summa Philosophica: “Men have more need to know unwelcome truths than welcome truths; that is why the prophets more often mention unwelcome ones.” As sinners we only want to hear good things. We want to hear that we are OK. But what we need to hear is the hard truth that we are not OK, but under God’s wrath – unless we repent.

To modern ears – soaked in bunkum notions of tolerance – that sounds pretty negative all right. Indeed, it is seen as “hate speech” by many. That is just not what people want to hear today. They only want the “positive” stuff; the “uplifting” stuff.

And sadly far too many believers are in that boat as well. They just want to be entertained and amused, never challenged or convicted. They want everything to be sweetness and light. And plenty of church leaders are giving these folks what they want. Thus our pews are full of wimps, and too often, our pulpits are filled with wimps as well.

But I want nothing to do with the cowards. I want to be with those who speak truth – no matter how unpopular. I want to be with those who will proclaim the Word of God fearlessly, regardless how many wimps complain about negativity and the like.

The last thing I want to do is please men, and risk displeasing God. As Leonard Ravenhill said, “If we displease God, does it matter whom we please? If we please Him, does it matter whom we displease?” Or as he said elsewhere: “Why in God’s name do you expect to be accepted everywhere? How is it the world couldn’t get on with the holiest man that ever lived, and it can get on with you and me?”

I think Spurgeon had it right when he said, “This shall be an infallible test to you concerning anyone’s ministry. If it is man-praising, and man-honouring, it is not of God.” If that means we will be seen as negative and harsh to some people, well, tough beans.

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15 Responses to “You’re Too Negative”

  • Paul Copan in Is God a Moral Monster? says this about Jesus: “[The] real Jesus was not only a friend of sinners and a welcomer of children; he was also a radical, a controversialist, a convicting and even frightening character.”

    Followers of Christ who want to be friends of sinners and welcomers of children today will necessarily need to be radical, controversial and convicting. For example, a true welcomer of children will speak out against abortion; a true friend of sinners will warn of the dangers of homosexuality.

    Is that being negative, judgmental, critical, unloving or intolerant? I simply don’t think so.

    Annette Nestor

  • Yes quite right Annette.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • lol. Are the Tough beans to hard to stomach? – means you need to change your thinking.

    What was Christ’s first word to the world and the self-righteous religious crowd? Repent – metanoia – change your thinking. NOT, feel sorry. (It was also the first word of John, Paul, Peter and many others – in their biblical sermons. Edwin Orr )

    And what was Christ word to the miserable sinner? Go and sin-no-more.

    Ouch… I don’t know which one fits the “tough beans” category more.

    Daniel Campbell

  • This is an excellent post Bill! Thank you so much for writing it and sharing it here at your blog!

    In a recent blog post of mine, I wrote that “False teachers often profess moral liberation from the dictates of the Bible. What many individuals do not realize is that such moral liberation is actually slavery to depravity. False teachers can’t save. False teachers often (and subtly) try to drag people away from the truth and back into sinful lifestyles. That is how you can recognize them. If a religion teacher is leading people away from the truth of the Bible, then we know that he/she is not leading by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who indwells within a born-again believer would NEVER lead him/her astray from God’s Holy Word! If you are experiencing being led away from what the Bible teaches, then it is not the Holy Spirit that is guiding your life. It is someone else.”

    Every non-believer is vulnerable to a false teacher, whether or not they recognize it or want to admit it! If the Holy Spirit isn’t guiding one’s life, then someone else who counters God’s Word must be!

    Just as we will “always have the poor with us” (and are called to help them), there will always be those who deliberately choose to reject Christ. Paul said to “shake the dust from your sandals” as you leave them to their own devices. Some are indifferent, but others show that their “job” appears to be taking disparaging true Christians and taking the lost down with them into the hell-hole of Satan and his demons.

    In order for individuals to hear and know the Good News, they need to know the bad (negative) news first – that they are (we all are) sinners in desperate need of the Savior!

    During my recent study of The Acts of the Apostles in BSF, certain verses stood out to me. I plan to use them when witnessing to others:

    In Acts 26:16-18, Paul’s aim when he gave the gospel to the Gentiles was revealed:

    1. Appointed as a servant and witness
    2. To open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God
    3. so that they may receive forgiveness of sin
    4. And a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Christ.

    I want to memorize that portion of Scripture because I think it succinctly answers the call to “give people the reason for the hope that is in us” as believers. It gives a great starting point for discussion when witnessing to those who have little knowledge of the Bible and do not know Christ as Savior and Lord.

    As Paul stated in Scripture – continue to speak boldly as you should – Bill! I certainly appreciate your writings because they are filled with TRUTH! God bless you today and always!

    Christine Watson, US

  • Many thanks for that Christine. Keep up your terrific work as well. Blessings,

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I think, that is what most non Christians don’t understand that we ourselves, before we share the good news with them, which of course, as you said has to be preceded by the bad news, is that we ourselves have gone through the process of repentance and have experienced the pain involved in the death of our pride. (ps 51) I think it was Richard Baxter who said he “spoke as a dying man to a fellow dying man of the salvation Christ offers” (quote adlibbed).
    How can we make that humility more obvious without turning it into false humility of course.
    In John 15 Jesus tells us to remember that we are hated by the world, that the world hated Him first. So we are in the best company.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • Hi Bill. I read your blog most days and always find the articles thought provoking and challenging and this one is no different. I think I agree with what you say(!) but I’m reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2 and in I Thessalonians 4 where he urges the believers to “lead a quiet life” How do we juggle the two I wonder – ie to fight for the faith and to stand up for Christ no matter what the cost and yet to live “quiet lives”?
    I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
    Thank you again for your work – you are prayed for regularly in my household
    Kind regards
    Dave Billingham

  • Thanks Dave

    I deal with your query somewhat in this article and the comments under it: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/08/03/how-to-live-a-quiet-and-peaceful-life/

    But a short answer here: Of course in the normal course of events we are to seek to live a quiet and peaceful life. We are not to go out of our way looking for trouble, making mischief, or being disruptive. But, having said that, it is perfectly clear that the biblical Christian living in the world will provoke a reaction – they will rock the boat just by being faithful to Jesus. The world will always react to Christians, just as it reacted to Jesus. Such conflict is inevitable and is part of our job description. Jesus promised us that we would be hated by the world, just as it hated him. This will happen indeed – can’t be avoided.

    In Acts 17:6 it says the early church turned the world upside down. Were they looking for trouble, trying to be belligerent, or seeking to get people angry? No, of course not, they were simply being followers of Jesus and sharing the gospel. And for that all hell broke loose, and many people got upset with them, just as they had with Jesus.

    So obviously we seek to live a decent peaceful life, and we do not seek to make trouble or be offensive. But to simply be a light in a dark world will mean trouble will occur, and people will take offence. Does that answer your query?

    Blessings,
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill. Very much so – thank you. And yes, I recall reading that article at the time

    The challenge for me then, and perhaps many of us is that if we are not causing a “reaction” then we are not carrying out our duty of being salt and light! And then the logical question to ask ourselves is, “why not”? Certainly something to pray and meditate on. And a need to come before God and humbly seek His forgiveness too.

    For too long I think many of us have said, like Isaiah, “Here I am Lord”, but go on to say, unlike Isaiah, “Send someone else”!

    Kind regards

    Dave Billingham

  • Thanks again Dave

    Yes trying to get the biblical balance right here is always essential. We are not to be troublemakers, but then again, that will invariably be the case if we are on-fire Christians. Consider what they said of Elijah: “here comes that troubler of Israel”. I wrote this up here:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/10/27/on-being-a-troublemaker-for-jesus/

    I would rather be known as a troublemaker for God than as a wimp for Jesus. If we have problems in our church, it is more that we have spineless churchians in the pews (and pulpits), rather than having too many vocal and brave warriors who are standing up for what is right.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill, wonderful article and timely given the current state of affairs in society; abortion, SSM, homosexuality. I am reminded of a message by John MacArthur in which he expounds how we (Christians) should interact in the world. We are told to be obedient to our leaders, to lead quiet lives, not to be troublemakers and to accept those in authority over us. However only so long as our leaders and those in authority are in sync with the commands of God.

    We are called to be salt and light to the world, this means speaking up and exposing the things that dishonor God (evil in its various forms, abortion, homosexuality, injustices etc) and for this the world will hate us.

    Yes I’m with you Bill, I too would rather be a trouble maker than a wimp even though it will cost relationships (within family), but that is a cost I am willing to make for truth.

    Amen
    Fred Merlo

  • Ha ha I get it all the time too. And how frustrating when I try explain positive and negative are electrical terms not biblical terms and the real issue is whether something is Gods truth, and how much of that truth comes under the term negative.

    Aside from that Bill I have been an electrician most of my life and want to say from that perspective how much more important the negative is and how essential it is to first establish it as the frame of reference for everything before even thinking of turning on the positive which is the very last thing we do. I relate this to the work of the cross which first brings death and then out of that death resurrection. Only a fool plays with electricity without first establishing the correct reference and the same with God’s work, many want Pentecost bypassing Calvary and end up getting burnt.

    Rob Withall

  • Good article Bill.

    Keep being negative about evil mate…its not on.

    And to all those sissy, gutless and fearful so called ‘ministers’ of the Gospel out there who cant bring a firey message of repentance with some Godly emotion for how God feels about it, who wont name, shame and shun sin regularly and set the standards of Biblical Christianity amongst the people of God..get out of the job and stop misrepresenting Biblical Christianity.

    For those so called ‘elders’ who are set to keep the minister in the faith..do your job and tell the minister to start getting negative about sin regularly or sack him and get a Biblical minister in the job!

    Cowards risk going to hell..

    Rev 21:7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.
    Rev 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

    Deny preaching the Biblical Christ to men and die…

    Mat 10:33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

    ggrrrrrr Dorian Ballard

  • Sorry Bill even if you keep quiet you will not be left in peace. Unless you join in the things you don’t think OK you will get flack.
    Katherine

  • Thanks for this, Bill.
    It is very encouraging.
    Here in S.Africa the gospel is vibrant & more generally accepted (we have a lot of ‘Bible-Belt-Christianity’ here), but more & more one gets the kind of reaction you write about.
    It especially is the case since the Dutch Reformed Church (the largest Afrikaner church) has gone off the rails – i resigned from it 6 years ago due to its apostasy. They have just now in October decided to allow full homosexual relationships in the church.
    The fact is that Christ said that everyone who lives a righteous life will be persecuted.
    you cannot live righteously without addressing unrighteousness, albeit “speaking the truth in love”.
    The problem is they don’t ‘feel’ the love, so their feelings are hurt!

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