We must return to a muscular and aggressive faith:
There have always been believers who have thought that if we are just really nice and smile a lot and never seek to make waves or ruffle feathers, then we will have a real impact on the surrounding culture. Just be gentle and kind and never get involved in controversial issues and we will win the world over for Christ.
Um, no. This soft, anaemic and spineless sort of Christianity which is all the rage today just does not cut it – it never has. Only those on-fire believers with Holy Ghost boldness who fearlessly proclaim truth even when people hate them for it have made a lasting difference for Christ and the Kingdom. The prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus and the disciples all are examples of this.
All of them were hated and most of them were killed. So much for just trying to be nice, winsome, and all lovey-dovey. Sure, we ARE to love others, including our enemies, but that does not mean watering down the truth, avoiding crucial battles, and refusing to be confrontational. The biblical Christian, like the prophets of old, must be willing to challenge, to rebuke, to confront, and to agitate.
This article, like many of mine, actually came out of a number of things I just recently read. In a period of 12 hours I came upon three quite different things that all fully tie together, and thus this article. Some folks might say that this was just coincidental, but I would say it was providential. So let me quote from these three very different sources.
Last night I pulled out my copy of Horatius Bonar’s classic 1864 work, God’s Way of Holiness. Bonar (1808-1889), was a noted Scottish preacher and hymn writer. As I was flicking through this book, one passage especially stood out. In his chapter on “The True Creed and the True Life” he said this:
For there is some danger of falling into a soft and effeminate Christianity, under the plea of a lofty and ethereal theology. Christianity was born for endurance; not an exotic, but a hardy plant, braced by the keen wind; not languid, nor childish, nor cowardly. It walks with firm step and erect frame; it is kindly, but firm; it is gentle, but honest; it is calm, but not facile; obliging, but not imbecile; decided, but not churlish. It does not fear to speak the stern word of condemnation against error, nor to raise its voice against surrounding evils, under the pretext that it is not of this world. It does not shrink from giving honest reproof lest it come under the charge of displaying an unchristian spirit. It calls sin ’sin,’ on whomsoever it is found, and would rather risk the accusation of being actuated by a bad spirit than not discharge an explicit duty. Let us not misjudge strong words used in honest controversy. Out of the heat a viper may come forth; but we shake it off and feel no harm. The religion of both Old and New Testaments is marked by fervent outspoken testimonies against evil. To speak smooth things in such a case may be sentimentalism, but it is not Christianity. It is a betrayal of the cause of truth and righteousness.
If anyone should be frank, manly, honest, cheerful (I do not say blunt or rude, for a Christian must be courteous and polite), it is he who has tasted that the Lord is gracious, and is looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God. I know that charity covereth a multitude of sins; but it does not call evil good, because a good man has done it. It does not excuse inconsistencies, because the inconsistent brother has a high name and a fervent spirit. Crookedness and worldliness are still crookedness and worldliness, though exhibited in one who seems to have reached no common height of attainment.
And this morning in my daily Bible reading I was going through 2 Chronicles. One passage intrigued me and I pulled out a commentary on it. What was said by Andrew Hill about the relevance of prophets was especially pertinent. He wrote:
R. B. Y. Scott was touting the relevance of the Old Testament prophets five decades ago in what might now be considered his “minor classic” by that title. But why are the Old Testament prophets relevant, and what makes their message spoken to ancient Israel more than twenty-five centuries ago applicable to contemporary culture? According to Scott, the remarkable contemporaneity of these ancient figures and the perennial freshness of their message spring from several distinctive characteristics:
-their power to penetrate past the maze of appearances to identify the essential underlying human and theological facts of a given circumstance or historical situation
-their ability to define essential justice and essential religion amid moral confusion, secular influence, and human waywardness
-their shrewd understanding of human nature and the human predicament as a result of their suffering (what at times is called the “prophetic pathos”)
-their sensitivity to the urgent meaning of history as the sphere of humanity’s moral decisions and God’s preemptory interventions
-their knowledge of God as the fountainhead of ultimate meaning and purpose in the context of everyday life
-their capacity to communicate concretely, in universal terms, and with both passion and conviction – to speak with divine authority by the power of God’s Spirit as choice servants commissioned by God – unlike their rivals, who told “fortunes for money” (Mic. 3:11; cf. Amos 3:8; Mic. 3:8)
The third thing I just read was an article by Rod Dreher. It was about the New York Pastor Tim Keller and what several others had been saying about him. Rod and one of the other writers felt that the winsomeness of Keller had its place when things were not so hostile to Christianity, but today in the anti-Christian West it may not cut it. Said Dreher:
The moment for Christians to love our enemies and pray for them will never pass, this is true. But the idea that they will embrace us, or even tolerate us, if we just be sweet is no longer viable. I don’t advocate at all hating our enemies. Neither did Martin Luther King. But King also recognized that he and the movement he led really did have enemies, and that these enemies were willing to do violence to them. We non-conforming Christians are moving into the same world, very rapidly — except this time, the technological powers that our enemies have to use against us are without parallel in world history….
I don’t know a lot about Tim Keller, except by reputation. He seems to be a very fine man, and devout Christian. I couldn’t imagine saying a bad thing about him, but some of you Evangelicals who follow him more closely than I do might disagree. All I can say is that Winsome World Christians are failing to prepare themselves, their families, and (if pastors) their flocks for the world that exists today, and the world that is fast coming into being. Again, I am thinking of the pastor I argued with who believed that he didn’t need to speak about gender ideology to his parish (“I don’t want politics in my congregation”) because, as he explained, if he just keeps winsomely teaching Biblical principles, all will be well. I am certain that man believed he was taking a virtuous stand against fearmongers and alarmists like Dreher. I think it was cowardice….
Winsomeness is not going to prepare the churches for what is fast coming to us. That is not a rationalization for embracing hatred! But it is a warning to individual believers and leaders, both ordained and lay, to read the signs of the times, and act. The Christians who have lived through this sort of thing before, and who are warning us today, have strong counsel for us in my book Live Not By Lies.
One of the most important things I learned in reporting this book is something that dissident Kamila Bendova, the wife of the late political prisoner Vaclav Benda, told me. She said that she and her husband, despite being very strong conservative Catholics, had no problem at all working closely with Vaclav Havel and his hippie dissident circles. Kamila told me that when you are facing the kind of dragon they had to fight, the rarest quality is courage. She said most Czech Christians kept their heads down and conformed to avoid trouble. Kamila and her husband had more in common with the brave atheist hippies who refused to live by lies, and who were willing to suffer for it. https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/tim-keller-david-french-myxomatosis-christians/
I have to go along with Dreher on this. And I have written about such matters before. See this piece for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2014/04/08/no-more-mr-nice-guy/
The days of just trying to be nice and accommodating and compromising in order to get along with the world in the vain hope of reaching the world is long over. Indeed, it never was acceptable. Soft Christianity must come to an end. Only an aggressive, masculine Christianity, as Catherine Booth wrote about, will suffice. See what she said here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/01/07/on-aggressive-christianity/
As she wrote, “If we are to better the future we must disturb the present.” And three brief quotes from A. W. Tozer are worth finishing off with:
“Modern Christians are too tolerant, too nice, too anxious to be popular and too quick to make excuses for sin in its many forms. God’s people should be willing to stand for God.”
“It is true that the church has suffered from pugnacious men, but she has suffered more from timid preachers who would rather be nice than right. The latter have done more harm if for no other reason than that there are so many more of them. I do not think, however, that we must make our choice between the two. It is altogether possible to have true love and courage at the same time.”
“Yes, if evangelical Christianity is to stay alive she must have men again, the right kind of men. She must repudiate the weaklings who dare not speak out, and she must seek in prayer and much humility the coming again of men of the stuff prophets and martyrs are made of.”