Being Right Can Make Us Weird
JULY 5, 2017
I’m working on a new book.
Again? You’re going to keep writing until you get it right?
Actually, this book will be one of the truly great works of Christian literature and serve as my legacy.
You’ve got to be kidding.
Of course, I’m kidding. I don’t write great books…but I do write true ones. This one addresses a significant problem for Christians living in the twenty-first century—the cultural shift we are now facing. The working title is How to Speak Truth to People Who Don’t Want to Hear or How to be Right Without Being Insufferable.
I’m up to Chapter 4, and emailed my editor and friend, Barbara Juliani, at New Growth Press, to let her know…just in case they were a bit worried that I had forgotten all about my promised book. Strangely enough, Barbara said that at the very time I wrote her, she was praying for me and for the new book. My email was an answer to her prayer. Then Barbara said some nice things about what I was writing, ending with, “Amazing that he uses the likes of us.”
It is. And in fact, that’s sort of what the book is about. We may not be very smart, sophisticated, good, courageous or wise, but we do know the truth because God has told us and we can’t unsee it. We’re like Paul who wrote, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). And Jeremiah, who wrote, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9). It’s very hard to remain silent.
The good news of the book is that we’re right and they’re wrong. The bad news is that being right is a very dangerous and destructive place for a Christian to live. In fact, being right has gotten us into more trouble, hurt more lives, and blown up more relationships than you can imagine.
In Matthew 23, Jesus said that the Scribes and Pharisees were right because they sat on Moses’ seat. Then for the rest of the chapter, Jesus said some of the harshest things he ever said about anybody. In other words, the Scribes and Pharisees were right, but they were twits. Jesus called them “hypocrites” and “whitewashed tombs” filled with decaying bones. That was certainly enough to make his point; but Jesus pointed out that they put “heavy burdens” on people and wouldn’t lift a finger to help. Not only that, Jesus said they would do almost anything to win a convert and then make the convert twice the child of the devil than he or she was before conversion.
Jesus said a good deal more, but I don’t want to write about it any longer. Do you know why? Because he isn’t just talking about “them,” he’s talking about “us.” The Pharisees were the closest people in first century Judaism to the orthodox, evangelical Christians in our time. They were really right about things like biblical authority, the supernatural, angels, miracles and life after death. (Other theological positions in first century Judaism—e.g. the Sadducees—were wrong on almost all of those points.) You might wonder why in the world Jesus was so hard on the Pharisees given that they were mostly right. It is because one doesn’t beat a dead horse. And Jesus knew that being right could make you weird. If the Pharisees weren’t so close to God’s truth, Jesus would have left them alone. They were so close and yet so very far.
Again, being right is very, very dangerous.
A number of years ago William Buckley (the founder of National Review magazine and an American conservative icon) appeared as a guest on The Phil Donahue Show. Donahue, back in those days, hosted the highest rated television talk show in America (he was also amazing in his ability to put more clichés in a paragraph than anybody in the universe). And he was, on occasion, quite controversial.
Donahue, with a degree of arrogance, asked Buckley if he believed in original sin. Buckley replied in the affirmative. “You mean,” Donahue said, “that you believe babies are born in sin?”
“Of course I do,” Buckley replied. “Doesn’t everyone?”
That was a different time. When he said it, Buckley’s reply was probably accurate or close to accurate. That is no longer true. We don’t “live in Kansas anymore.” Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island somewhere for the last 30 years, you know that we have gone through a massive cultural shift in America and, indeed, in much of the world. That shift is called postmodern, post-Christian or perhaps transcultural. Whatever we call the change, the old and traditional views of anthropology, sexuality, social norms, truth, religion and culture have been set aside for the new views of tolerance, acceptance and political correctness.
What I’m writing here isn’t about apologetics and my book isn’t designed to point out the devastation and destruction of that cultural shift. Suicide rates are through the roof; clinical depression is at epidemic proportions; and meaninglessness, shame and fear define almost all that is. Given this, I feel constrained to ask, “How’s it working for you?”
Most thoughtful Christians I know are concerned about the cultural shift and feel like we’re standing by a cliff telling people to be careful or they may fall. Those folks to whom we express our concern are tolerant (one must be tolerant at all costs), albeit dismissive. Then they jump. But nevertheless, we stand by the cliff giving our message, “Look at the blood down there. Don’t get so close to the cliff! It will kill you.”
Yet they keep jumping.
In the seventeenth century, Galileo was tried by the Inquisition and found guilty of heresy because of his teaching that the earth was not the center of the universe and, in fact, it moved around the sun. He was forced to recant his views (he needed the job and valued his life), but it is said that as he walked away from the trial, he muttered, “But it still moves.” Christians are in that place now. Against an entire cultural shift that dismisses the Christian verities as nonsense at best and outright lies at worst, Christians are still muttering, “Doesn’t matter. It’s still true. Truth isn’t determined by a vote.”
If one believes (as I do) that the Christian faith is true—that it’s not only true but the best thing to ever happen to human beings; that the Christian faith is about the unbelievably good news of God’s love and forgiveness; that life isn’t meaningless or hopeless; that this is a way to live a reasonably full and joyful life; and that people can live forever—the cultural change is a tragedy of epic proportions.
My friend, Kent Keller (pastor of Kendall Presbyterian Church in Miami), not too long ago preached a sermon on 2 Peter 1:16 where Peter wrote that Christians don’t follow “cleverly devised myths.” Kent said, “This isn’t Hollywood. Christianity is an historical faith, grounded in acts and facts: real people, real events, real time, real places. That’s the story the Bible gives us. Take it or leave it. Love it or hate it. Accept it or reject it. But you don’t get to mess around with it, edit it or rearrange it so that it’s more to your liking. It’s not a majority thing. Truth stands on its own.”
He’s right, you know?
Now go out and tell people.
He told me to tell you.
P.S. Just do it right, okay? You’ll have to wait until the book comes out to find out how. (: