2011 February

It’s a classic storytelling device– even in times of war, there’s a line the good guy won’t cross. Bad guys will construct an elaborate tank that will slowly fill with water and drown the hero; when he finally breaks free of the trap, the hero hands the villain over to the authorities rather than sticking him in the death machine. There are some things a good guy just doesn’t do.

That’s why the world was outraged by the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq; the U.S. had subjected its prisoners to horrors only perpetrated by bad guys. How you fight tells a lot about your character.

So it’s ironic, then, that followers of Jesus can be some of the worst fighters of all. Observe any online discussion or theological debate among believers and you’ll see a race to the extremes: moral outrage, demonization of the opposing side, slander, lies. We’re often the first to cross the lines between civil discourse and outright verbal abuse.

How we fight says a lot about our God. To a world that’s watching our ongoing wars of words, God is a manipulative, back-stabbing liar who deliberately takes people’s words out of context and compares everyone to Hitler. When those who call themselves God’s people are so quick to reach for the verbal nuke button, it makes sense that others might see Him as less than gracious.

I’m not saying we should agree with everyone, or that there’s nothing worth fighting for. It’s a simple question of tactics for disagreement: what is the line we’re not willing to cross (even if it means losing an argument, or looking weak) in order that people might see Jesus in us?

Joel Osteen was recently a guest on CNN’s Larry King Live Piers Morgan Tonight, where he was asked about his stance on homosexuality (clip here, entire segment here). Joel answered, in a round-about way, that he agrees with the Bible, and that the Bible was clear about homosexuality being “a sin.”

Outrage ensued. Joel was labeled “judgmental” and rebuked for “imposing his beliefs on others.” It was as if the audience had never heard a follower of Jesus communicate the belief that homosexuality is less than God’s best for humanity. Even couched in Osteen’s obliviously earnest grin, the Christian perspective on a social issue is foreign to the masses.

The truth is, it’s quite possible that millions of Americans have never heard that God has a different plan for humanity. They may never have heard a Biblical understanding of sin. Despite access to the Bible online, a church on every corner, and evangelists on TV, a great many people have never heard the gospel.

It would shock them that entry into heaven isn’t based on how good or bad we are. That God has interacted with humanity personally since the beginning of time. That Christianity isn’t about living like Jesus, it’s about dying to our sin-filled selves. The sad fact is that millions of people around us have never heard the gospel presented to them in an intelligible, coherent, and personal way.

The gospel is a shocking, scandalous message. We can never find redemption apart from Jesus. It’s offensive, really. Unfortunately, most people are not offended by the gospel because they don’t hear it.