After Criticism of Our Metaxas SBE, I Resolve To . . .
JUNE 7, 2023
Do you know what I did this morning?
I answered critical letters. That isn’t anything new. I usually spend a good deal of time doing that. (We also receive a good many positive ones. Some of those are from you, and in return, you receive “three free sins.”) This time, the criticism was of our Steve Brown, Etc. interview with my friend, Eric Metaxas, and his book, Letter to the American Church.
Our weekly talk show, Steve Brown, Etc., airs on some 260 radio outlets, and thousands watch the video on our YouTube channel. Most programs are fairly non-controversial, so I don’t receive that much criticism. But sometimes people get really angry. For context, let me share one of my responses to the Metaxas criticism. Then I want to say some things not so much about the issue but about Jesus.
Thank you for your concern, and there is a sense in which I share it. In fact, I was somewhat uncomfortable with the program . . . and some others we have done like that.
But while it’s important (eternally important) that we share the good news of God’s grace, we dare not fail to speak truth. Truth without love can be nothing more than self-righteousness, and there was some of that in the program. I’ve repented of that. But love without truth is schmaltz. As Christians, we dare not fail to speak truth and truth on a variety of issues. It has to be spoken with love and kindness (and, again, I’m not sure we did that), but it must be spoken. Our culture is in serious trouble. I believe it is because we have turned from God and “gone our own way.” Paul spoke some very hard truth in the first chapters of Romans, and we must do that, too.
I just don’t want to be down that road and regret my silence. “Why didn’t you say something?” is a scary question to me. In Germany, a significant portion of the church was silent. I don’t think we can afford to be silent.
As I read your thoughtful email, I was struck by the “political” positions to which you subscribe. I think you probably know that my positions are quite different than yours. I had the feeling that if we had taken a different side, you probably would not have written your email.
With that being said, we are both concerned with compassion, mercy, and love, all of which we have both learned from Jesus. I think if we lived closer and could talk, we would find that we were on the same page with some differing views on how the problems should be addressed. Years ago, my friend Tony Campolo and I did a syndicated television program out of New York, Hashing It Out. I was the conservative, and Tony the liberal. Neither of us had time to do that show, but we did it because we both wanted to demonstrate how Christians could disagree profoundly and still love each other. (The comment we heard over and over again from around the country was, “You guys really do love each other!”) We have always agreed on the problems, but, as I mentioned with us, we had different roads to resolution.
Again, thank you for your concern. I am going to be more careful with those subjects, but probably, on occasion, I will still have programs that do address a cultural shift because it is important that we do.
I have a problem, and I suspect you do, too.
It isn’t so much the issues. There are some moral and ethical issues all Christians should agree on because the truth about those issues is clearly revealed in the Bible. There are some issues Christians disagree over, not the issues themselves, but how to deal with them. Then there are some purely political issues. Frankly, for someone like me to the right of Genghis Khan, sometimes it’s hard to know which is which. So, I need help from people who love me to see the difference.
As I write to you, I’m thinking and praying about all of that. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it before. I wrote a not-half-bad book a few years ago, Talk the Walk: How to Be Right Without Being Insufferable. I suppose I ought to practice what I preach, but I don’t always. I wouldn’t tell you that, but frankly, you don’t either. At any rate, I’ve decided to make some resolutions, and it’s not even New Year’s. We may break our resolutions, but making resolutions is a way God makes us better . . . while still forgiving us when we don’t get much better.
First, I resolve to love a lot more than I do. Paul writes, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7) and “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). I could, of course, list a pile of other biblical references, none of which give me any wiggle room whatsoever.
In the Evangelical Presbyterian denomination’s formation, there was a statement often promoted in their literature: “In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.” I like that a lot. But loving someone who just sent you a critical email isn’t as easy as you might think. Love isn’t like a shower you can turn off and on. Well, now that I think about it, it is sort of like a shower. You can turn it off and on at will, but you must get in it to get clean. That’s what Jesus meant when he told us that he loved us by giving up his life for us, and now we can love because he first loved us (John 15). I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: You can’t love until you’ve been loved, and then you can only love to the degree to which you’ve been loved. So, by allowing myself to be loved more by Jesus, I resolve to love more.
Second, I resolve to listen. The Scripture teaches that we should “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). As an aside, I’m teaching a James text at the church I attend, and I plan to include the point that Martin Luther called James “an epistle of straw.” You can’t even read a commentary on James by Luther because he never wrote one. I suspect that’s because he struggled with doing what James teaches. I do, too, especially with listening.
To people critical of what I say or write, I often point out that it would be wise for them to demonstrate a reasonable understanding of what I said or wrote before responding. All of a sudden, I realized that that goes both ways. I must first show that I understand what others said or wrote before responding. Years ago, I wrote, How to Talk So People Will Listen. A friend said that I now need to write another book, How to Listen So People Will Talk.
And third, I resolve not only to love and to listen, but I also resolve to never back off, to be silent, or to spin truth. There is more to what Paul wrote about doing all things in love. That love includes all we say and do and when we speak truth. But it’s important to see what Paul wrote in the preceding verse, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).
It’s not political to say we live in a cancel culture. Both the political right and the political left want to cancel anybody who disagrees and, not only that, to destroy them. Christians have to be careful that we don’t throw too many rocks. There is, after all, the Inquisition and the fact that Calvin had Servetus burned at the stake in Geneva in 1553. (It’s no excuse that Servetus was a Baptist. 😊) We all tend to want those who disagree just to shut up. A lot of folks try to intimidate Christians into silence. I won’t let anybody do that to me, and you shouldn’t, either.
One of the emails I answered this morning was from a friend/pastor who said some positive comments about the program but added that he was more into grace than politics. I am, too. Some of the most irritating people I know are those with whom you can’t even have a conversation without them saying something about Jesus or quoting a Bible verse. Just as irritating are those who turn every conversation to politics, the election, and how the country is “going to hell in a handbasket.” I’m not suggesting we follow that path. However, I am suggesting that, when appropriate, we should respond to untruth with truth. It’s not irritating to say, “I get what you’re saying, but I’m a Christian, and let me share my perspective with you.”
(If they don’t want to hear your perspective, email them or pray that they get the hives. Ugh . . . Jesus just told me I should not have said that. Okay, don’t pray that they get the hives . . . but you might want to find some other friends.)
My friend Char Binkley—former member of the Key Life board and manager of a Fort Wayne radio station—once marched in a Pro-Life rally, holding a Pro-Life sign. To Char’s surprise, an old friend and classmate was across the street, waving her Pro-Choice sign. Char started to cross the street just as her friend came from the other side. They hugged each other, and both started crying. “Now, maybe,” Char said, “we can talk.” I love that story.
But don’t forget the sign.
Jesus told me to remind you.