In secular, pluralistic cultures, Christians often are afraid to talk about their beliefs because they don’t know what to say. Pastors of believers in such places often feel they must fill their flock with intellectual content until their people feel competent to take on all objections and arguments. But intellectual arguments, while necessary, are not of first importance.
John [Inazu, the co-author]’s book Confident Pluralism lays out three practices that make civility and peace possible in a pluralistic society. He calls them humility, tolerance, and patience. People should be humble rather than defensive, should seek to patiently persuade rather than coerce and marginalize, and should tolerate and respect rather than demonize. Some critics of John’s book have pointed out that our cultural institutions no longer form people with these traits, and so such agents of civility and reconciliation will be scarce. That may or may not be true, but the Church, using the Gospel, can and must form people with these habits of the heart, including a fourth one: courage.
The Gospel removes pride, probably the greatest barrier to a sensitive yet clear exchange of ideas. It tells us we are sinners saved only by God’s grace, not because we are wiser or better than anyone. It tells us that we must never think we are beyond sin and the need for repentance and renewal. There’s the humility we need.
The Gospel removes cynicism and pessimism as well. It gives real hope that people’s eyes can be opened and change can happen. If we look at anyone and say, “That person is not the kind of person who will ever see the truth,” then we contradict the gospel teaching that there is no “kind of person” who sees the truth. “There is no one who seeks God,” says Romans 3:11, and therefore our faith and understanding is only due to God’s intervention. God can (and does) work with any kind of person. We should, therefore, never think anyone is beyond hope of change. That gives us the patience we need, grounded in hope.
The Gospel removes indifference. In Matthew 5:43-47, Jesus told His disciples that, since God gives good things to all people — “the righteous and… the unrighteous” — we should love and welcome everyone. In 1 John 3:16, we are told that since Christ laid down His life for us, we should lay down our lives for others. For Christians, the uncomfortable question is this: If we have been loved despite our flaws, and if we have discovered the greatest thing in the world in Christ, how can we be either abrasive or quiet about it? That knowledge produces the tolerance, but more than that, it produces the love we need.
Lastly, the Gospel removes fear. While we should be concerned to not needlessly offend people, the assurance of God’s love and acceptance should give us the courage to face criticism and disapproval.
There are four habits of the heart, then, required for a peaceful, mutually beneficial exchange of ideas between people who are deeply different. The same four traits are also necessary for any fruitful sharing of the faith with nonbelievers. The four major reasons for evangelistic unfruitfulness are a lack of humility, of hope, of love, and of courage. The Gospel supplies all these things, if it is truly believed, understood, and rejoiced in. Pastors need to teach, apply, sing, and pray the Gospel into hearts until these habits and traits grow.
And then what?
Certainly Christians need instruction and training in the Bible and theology, and in answering the objections of skeptics. But if first and foremost the Gospel of humility, patience, love, and courage is growing in you, well, love always finds a way.
Think about just a few of the innumerable blessings we have in Christ: a satisfaction not based on changing circumstances; a meaning in life that suffering can’t take away; an identity that is not fragile or crushing because it is not based on the ups and downs of your performance; a hope in the future that can face anything confidently, even and especially death; the ability to give and receive forgiveness and reconciliation; the inward resources for self-sacrifice that doing justice requires. How can we keep such things to ourselves?
Someone will certainly ask, “But what if we engage people around us with humility, patience, love, and courage, but they respond with anger, vitriol, and efforts to marginalize us?” The answer is that we don’t take this path because we know it will be successful but because it is right. The psalmist, living in a land of exile, lamented that he lived “among those who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalm 120:6-7). There is no indication that he should give up and go to war; instead, Jesus told us to bless those who curse us (Matthew 5:44).1
Ultimately, pastors in the secular city do not need to be intellectuals who are constantly running sophisticated seminars on how to navigate our culture. If we use the simple means of grace — preaching and teaching, prayer, worship, the sacraments, fellowship, and friendship — to fan the flames of Gospel faith in the heart, then a love for people and joy in the Lord will grow and overcome fear. And Christians will figure out how to reach out to others.
Love born of God’s grace will find a way.
- See Carl Trueman’s great short essay “Blessing When Cursed” in First Things, June 14, 2019, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives /2019/06/blessing-when-cursed. Trueman was addressing a call by some conservatives to abandon “politeness, respect, and decency” in their controversy with secular opponents. Carl rightly reminds us that Christians are called to speak in this way not because it works but because “it is the right way to reflect the character of God to the world.”
Excerpted with permission from Uncommon Ground by Timothy Keller and John Inazu, copyright John Inazu and Timothy Keller.
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This is true for those of us who are regular lay-people, too! Humility, hope, love, and courage will help us share the Gospel in a wooing, attractive way. In love! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily