Hey Sinner, Listen to Me — I’m Right!

Hey Sinner, Listen to Me — I’m Right! July 14, 2015

One reoccurring element in most debates with Christians is the “I’m sorry you don’t like it, but someone has to tell you the TRUTH” argument. It’s a conversation killer — not because the one who uses it has won any ground, but because it’s just so obnoxious.

Whether you’re going toe-to-toe about abortion, gay marriage, politics, atheism, or any of the other issues I find Christians arguing online about, at the point you pull out the TRUTH card, you’re losing.

No one cares that you think You’re right

First off, let’s just get this out of the way: I am not a relativist. I believe that there is an ultimate reality behind the nature of the universe, the origin of the world, and the destiny of mankind. It’s my conviction that the essence of this reality is found in Jesus Christ.

My faith in the Jesus of the gospels is so strong that I’m placing all of my eggs in that basket. I’m not hedging my bets. I no longer have a Buddhist altar in my bedroom, I’m not praying to any other gods, or following any other customs just in case I’m wrong.

That said, I don’t feel like I’m more certain than my atheist, Muslim, or Jewish friends. Every humanist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, Seventh-Day Adventist, Baptist, or Calvinist I talk to is certain that their worldview represents the TRUTH, too.

In our pluralistic culture, Christians are entirely too comfortable dismissing (sometimes with extreme condescension) someone else’s point-of-view while expecting special attention be paid to them when they quote their scriptures or pet doctrines. We’re so sure that Christianity is completely self-evident and obvious that anyone who doesn’t agree with us is a moron or intentionally ignoring what we know to be undeniable.

Someone needs to speak the TRUTH

Nearly every time I encourage Christians to think through how they communicate with people who don’t share their opinions, I’m met with the same response, “Someone needs to tell people the TRUTH!”

Okay . . . whose truth?

One troubling aspect of evangelicalism is that there’s not really a collective TRUTH we’re supposed to be telling everyone. Even when it comes to something as basic as Christ’s work on the cross, we hit the culture with confusing and varying theories. Did Jesus satisfy God’s wrath with a penal substitution? Did God pay off Satan with a deceitful bribe? Did Jesus voluntarily offer himself up to be sacrificed to defeat evil and release humanity from the clutches of sin? Each of these ideas represent distinctly different views on what happened on the cross, and they’re often held with unwavering rigidity as the TRUTH.

I use the example of atonement theories to demonstrate that, even on the most primary aspects of “mere Christianity,” it’s easy for us to confuse people with details that are often speculation — but we see as plain fact. How much more bewildering does it get for the culture when we wander into even more speculative areas and begin lecturing everyone on modern moral issues?

Our various denominational teachings, interpretations, and philosophical leanings dramatically affect the way we think through issues, but when we talk about it, we tell the nation that we’re speaking on behalf of the almighty God as revealed in the Bible — when the truth is that we’re speaking for ourselves or our tribe. And the mixed messages do more to obfuscate the gospel than illuminate it.

Maybe that’s why Paul went out of his way with the Corinthians to know nothing but Jesus and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

The daily bludgeoning

Not only do we give mixed messages about what and how to please God, we’re constantly on the offensive. We don’t see it, but think about it from the perspective of the average non-Christian Facebook user.

Let’s say that I’m the average American Facebook user with 350 “friends.” Roughly 83% of Americans identify as Christians, so that’s about 290 of my “friends.” Of those 290 Christian “friends,” let’s assume that only 30% are really vocal about their faith. So out of my 350 “friends,” 87 are going to be sharing updates about their Christian beliefs.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that you’re one of those vocal, Christian friends. Now, the issue that you’re really passionate about is abortion. You don’t post about abortion every day, but you do occasionally. Let’s assume it’s once or twice a month. But you’re also a fan of quite a few Facebook pages on the topic of abortion. Periodically you’ll like a strongly worded meme or an article you’ve read, and that shows up in my feed. On top of that, every update that you comment on shows up on my page.

One of my other vocal Christian Facebook friends is really passionate about the issue of gay marriage. It’s a travesty that really frustrates him and he posts about it quite often. So my feed is often filled with his updates, memes, and discussions on the topic.

And on and on it goes. . . you might not post about your hot-button topic too much, but it’s part of the daily religious deluge in my news feed. I’m constantly wading through some Christian’s views on gays, feminism, poverty, race, etc. Every one of the Christians in my feed belief that they’re doing God’s work by telling me the TRUTH about their pet issue. But here’s the thing, it’s actually inoculating me against the gospel instead of drawing me in.

Even if they’re right much of the time, I’m tuning them out. And it’s not just because I’m a sinner who’s in love with my sin; it’s because I’m constantly surrounded by Christians bickering with others on the inside, and outside, of their faith.

Ultimately it’s not that I’m surprised that Christians disagree about so much, it’s that I can’t believe they disagree with so little charity.

Christian entitlement

I often find myself in a discussion with someone who is super upset about something I’ve written. It doesn’t upset me when people disagree with me — I kind of expect it. What I’m frequently taken aback by, however, is the disdainful and patronizing way that they’ll speak to me. When I find them talking to me like that, I’ll often say,

“I’m super curious why there’s so much disdain and condescension in your remarks? It’s totally fine if you disagree, but I am always so intrigued by individuals whose orthodoxy is expressed in such a smug and dismissive fashion.”

When I do get a response, it’s typically that what I am saying is obviously so wrongheaded that it doesn’t deserve to be treated with respect or deference. I guess when you have the TRUTH on your side, it releases you from any responsibility for kindness.

What I find increasingly strange is how the same person who’s contemptuous towards me when we disagree will often claim they’re being denied their freedom of speech or are being persecuted when someone dismisses or disregards their argument.

Debate’s golden rule

One of Jesus’ most well-known statements was his admonition to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Lk 6:31), and I think it’s incredibly applicable here. We tend to think of it as, “Don’t do something you don’t like to someone else,” but it’s a lot more proactive than that.

  • You want someone to listen to your truth? Honestly listen to theirs.
  • You want someone to treat your opinions with respect? Treat theirs with respect.
  • You want someone to genuinely care about your perspective? Genuinely care about theirs.
  • Don’t want people to turn every conversation into an opportunity to share their opinion or convert you? Don’t do it to them.

I fear that we’ve gotten to the point where we think the Jesus’ great commission (Mt. 28:19–20) is fulfilled by sharing our presumptions about everything. It isn’t. You want someone to care about your views? Build enough relational capital that when you do share your beliefs, you’ve earned their ear.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Powell

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  • Danny McDonogh

    Thank you for this awesome post. Well Written, Well said, Well done good and faithful servant.

  • Thanks for this. I shared on Facebook, and referenced an old post of mine on FEBC. http://blog.febc.org/five-common-myths-about-evangelism/

  • Connor Pittman

    Really enjoyed this post! Hopefully Relevant will snag this one too

  • Craig

    I have been in the church long enough to have heard almost every kind of testimony story. I’ve heard the dramatic and the mundane. I’ve seen people of every age, nationality, gender and back story come to Christ.

    But the one testimony I have never heard is, “I was a sinner, wallowing in the filth of my life, when I saw a meme on Facebook…”

    I almost never post on religious/moral issues on Facebook. It’s not because I am ashamed of Christ or my beliefs, but because oftentimes these posts aren’t about convincing others or winning them over. It’s about tribalism. It’s about putting a feather in your social media cap that says “I’m a Christian and this is the ground that I have staked.” Thank you for this post.

  • I couldn’t have said it better myself, Craig.

  • Great stuff, Jayson! I find it interesting that when I hear people quote Peter’s famous call to apologetics, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” I almost never hear them include the next phrase, “yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

  • Shawn America

    I remain unconvinced about the general prescription of how to witness, in particular, that saying I am telling the truth somehow diminishes my witness. I do believe most of this conversation hovers around 1 Corinthians 13:

    If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

    If the motive of your witness, on line or elsewhere is driven by love to save, and yes, correct, I believe many styles of witness can be effective. Even a hardened blowhole may be won by the flailing gestures of sincerity. But what bothers me about this conversation is the emphasis on style; that somehow, if I am not empathetic enough, or build a relationship enough, or whatever, I am not an effective witness.

    Besides, there are not multiple truths at all, as if a sinful perspective can be validated as true because of the sincerity of its holder. No, I don’t have to really get empathetic with everyone I witness to, because I may not be able to emphasize with them. But I should care. And if I don’t, it is true, my words are indeed just empty words.

  • Shawn,

    “My witness” is one of my favorite christianisms — so I’m going to give you points for that. You don’t have to be convinced; that’s perfectly fine.

    You’re right, many styles of evangelism can be effective but that doesn’t justify all of them. If it did, I’d suggest we just go back to Inquisition-styled evangelism since I think that it’s conversation rate was pretty high.

    I tried to say at the very beginning that I don’t there are “multiple truths”—that’s what the whole, “I’m not a relativist” section was about. The point is that what’s it matter if I am standing here with someone who’s just as sure that they’re telling me the TRUTH as I try and convince them that, no, it is in fact I who have the TRUTH. Much like this conversation here.

    You have your perspective and I have mine, and you don’t have to empathize (try to understand or share my feelings) because, well, you’re right. So we’re at an impasse. If we were friendly with each other (that’s where the relationship part comes in), that might provide another incentive for us to understand where the other’s coming from, but again, why should we? We’re both right.

  • Thanks Chuck,

    I think making a defense for the hope you have is so easy. It’s a case of, “Here’s what I believe and why I believe it.” Sadly, making a case for the hope I have isn’t really, “HEY YOU GUYS, QUIT BEING BAD PEOPLE AND BE LIKE ME . . . CAUSE OF THE HOPE I HAVE!”

  • Belle Unruh

    I have been guilty of believing I know some “truth”. Sometimes I do get angry at what other Christians put online as their “truth”. For instance, people burning in terrible pain forever in hell is the most common interpretation of “Hell”. I hate this teaching since I think it misrepresents who God is. How could anyone worship a being who would do such a thing? He would be worse than Sadaam Hussain. So, I get upset. I hope I don’t say anything unloving when I write about this.

    I also get mad at how some Christians write about people who are gay. My sister is gay and is a Christian. It is up to God to judge her and no one else. If Abraham and tons of other men in the Bible can have more than one wife, which was forbidden, then who are we to say God is harsher on homosexuals. Being gay is so low on the sin radar; pride, anger and hate is where it’s at. That’s my “truth” and I share it. Is that wrong? I would like your opinion on it.

    I remember you once wrote about how we shouldn’t be posting lots of political stuff on Facebook. I think it was you? I took that seriously and stopped. I also realized I was making fun of a certain party and politicians and Jesus would never do that. So, I like to be rebuked if I need it. I don’t want to act differently than Jesus.

  • I loved this article! Thank You!

  • Linda L Doyle

    Excellent article!! I have been so frustrated for years with everyone’s superiority of espousing their “truth”.
    My family alone is made up of: Christians, Gay Christians, Atheists, Gay Atheists, Pro and Anti every major issue out there so you can imagine the debates!
    Due to my family dynamics I have learned that it isn’t the words you use, but the kindness and respect you show to others that you disagree with that makes a difference and opens up positive interchanges. I don’t believe that can be done on Facebook, as has most of my family. I ignore and steer away from any post on issues that are posted to “preach”, “shame” or are harsh. It goes nowhere and does not convince anyone to think differently.
    I love your “Debate’s Golden Rules” and have found that truly listening and trying to understand another’s viewpoint is the key to a positive interchange. Thank you!

  • That last sentence – yes. That’s what I’ve been doing and it works wonders for our mutual trust and respect, and then they don’t shut me out when they find out that I disagree with some of their lifestyle choices. Then they know that my disagreement doesn’t diminish my love for them, just like Christ’s love for people came before his admonition to “sin no more.”

  • Jayson, We would love to see your great articles on http://www.CollectiveFaith.com. Please join and share with our Christian Social Network.

  • Sonny

    So many great points. You are very perceptive of the common attitudes that permeate ‘Christianity’. I can very rarely discuss political or social issues with other Christians without them telling me that ‘Brother Jesus disagrees with you!’.

    Some of the most rewarding and spiritual conversations I have ever had were with agnostics, Gnostics, atheists, & deists. The discovery of what we had in common was so much more rewarding than the ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ direction of discussions I’ve had with Christians. And, unlike many discussions I’ve had with other Christians, they’ve never ended with someone telling me I was going to hell.

  • Becky

    The key question for me is always are we evangelizing to validate the path we follow or are we evangelizing to help someone else find *their* path? When I am told that I am going to hell or not following the one true path, it’s always alarming but I have gotten to where I tend to mostly want to respond, “God loves you more than that,” except that coming from one who is perceived to be so very misguided (me), that wouldn’t actually be all that helpful to the conversation. I always hear it as evidence of a fear based faith which is cause for sorrow once I get past my aggravation. And, frankly, I veer judge-y (do as I say, not as I do) and tend to see that as a call for further evangelism on my part to a loving God, although it calls for a very subtle touch.

  • Wow. That’s spot on! It’s so true what you’re saying in your blog. Truth and kindness need to go together. Forcing your own convictions on others won’t bring them any closer to God. It’s only pushing them further away. I believe if w disagree with someone and we want them to know about our perspective then we need to tell them respectfully and with the intention to build them up! People need to hear the truth when they are ready to here it.

  • Wow. Jayson, I just want to say thank you! I’ve just discovered your blog through Patheos and I am loving the content here. This is such a powerful piece and I hope to live out this message.

    Thanks for sharing. I’m definitely a new fan.