Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Should Christians Just ‘Be Nice’--Or What?

Newsweek, January 2, 2015
Kurt Eichenwald has written a Newsweek cover story on the Bible--and on his personal view of Christians.  The article was met with a firestorm of objection, both because of his inaccurate claims regarding the authenticity of the Bible and because of his scathing criticism of Christians.  Eichenwald, a two-time winner of the George Polk Award and a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, gave this description of Christians: 

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s word.

Michael J. Kruger has posted a 2-part critique of Eichenwald's article in his Canon Fodder blog, stating that the article:
goes so far beyond the standard polemics, and is so egregiously mistaken about the Bible at so many places, that the magazine should seriously consider a public apology to Christians everywhere.

Al Mohler expresses his more general criticism of the Newsweek article in AlMohler.com:
Amazingly, Eichenwald claims some stance of objectivity. “Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God,” Eichenwald insists. “Rather, it is designed to shine a light on a book that has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it, in the process creating misery for others.”

But Eichenwald demonstrates absolutely no attempt to understand traditional Christian understandings of the Bible, nor ever to have spoken with the people he asserts “claim to revere [the Bible] but don’t read it.” What follows is a reckless rant against the Bible and Christians who claim to base their faith upon its teachings.

Kurt Eichenwald
What is most interesting is Eichenwald's reaction to the criticism on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kurteichenwald  For example,  Eichenwald tweets his definition of a Christian as a person

...who refuses all gifts for himself and welcomes all - gay, straight, prostitute, drug addict - without condemnation. THAT is Christianity.

The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery and placed her as an object of scorn in front of Jesus; and they asked Him what ought to be done to her (John 8: 3-11).  Jesus did not tell them to dismiss the Old Testament law which called for the penalty of death by stoning.  Instead, He stooped down and wrote in the dust of the ground from which humans were created (Genesis 2: 7), perhaps reminding them of the commandments they had received through Moses.  Then, He invited those who were without sin to cast the first stone at the adulterous woman.  The Scriptures record the response of the Jewish leaders:

And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst (John 8: 9).

Jesus, now alone with the woman, asked her, Woman, where are your accusers?  Has no man condemned you. She replied, No man, Lord.  And, Jesus said to her,
Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

Jesus had shown compassion and mercy toward the woman who had been condemned to death.  But, we forget that He also showed compassion toward the Jewish leaders with stones in their hands ready to crush the woman to death.

Elsewhere, in Matthew 9, Jesus had just called Levi (Matthew) the tax collector to follow him as one of His twelve disciples.  Levi had responded by inviting Jesus to a party he had prepared for all of his friends—other tax collectors and people who were looked down upon by the Jewish leaders.  The Jewish leaders approached Jesus’ disciples and asked, Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?  When Jesus heard this, He explained to them that

only those who are sick need a physician.
But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

As He had done with the Jewish leaders poised to stone the woman caught in adultery, so here His words are aimed right at the heart of those who would judge themselves sinless before God—i.e. “not needing a physician.” 

In these two accounts, Jesus reminds us that He did not come to do away with the laws of God for righteousness (righteous living), but rather to convict us of how far we have fallen short of God’s righteousness.  For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ (John 1: 17, emphasis mine).  God is calling us to righteous living, but the only way to this Life is through Christ Who became the sinless sacrificial lamb, dying in our place, taking upon Himself the sins of the world.

There are millions like Kurt Eichenwald all around us whose experience tells them that Christians are harsh and condemning.  Perhaps unknowingly, they are waiting for a Christ-like (Christ-ian) response.  Our place is to see them with the eyes of Jesus—eyes of compassion and mercy.  But the eyes of Jesus can be ours only if we remember that Jesus continually offers us what we also need--compassion, mercy, and forgiveness for our sins.  When we are harsh and condemning, we are just like the Jewish leaders with stones in their hands.  When we, like the Jewish leaders, remember our own debt of sin, we drop our stones, drop to our knees, repent of our sin, and rely on the Spirit of our Savior to show us how to relate to sinners like us with God’s winsome love and compassion. 

I conclude with a reminder for all of us sinners from the response of Elyse Fitzpatrick in an interview with Marvin Olasky (“Transparent Sinner”,WORLD Magazine, October 18, 2014)

OLASKY:  The prostitutes knew they needed help. Zacchaeus knew.
FITZPATRICK:  And Matthew knew. But the Pharisees didn’t know, and the thing that guaranteed Christ was going to die on the cross was His love for sinners, because the Pharisees didn’t think they were part of that group. Yes, of course, we might sin somewhat if we take too many steps on a certain day, but we’re not really sinners. The thing that drove them to crucify Him, of course in God’s sovereignty, was that He didn’t pander to their religion. He told him their religion was the very thing that kept them from God. So we have to not only repent of our badness (I didn’t make this up) but also our goodness. There is nothing more difficult to accept than the truth that you bring nothing to the table except your sin, and He has to bring everything else. 

Kurt Eichenwald calls for Christians to be gracious--and he is right.  But he seems unaware that he too needs a physician—one who can graciously point out his infection (his sin nature) and lead him to the only cure--repentance and acceptance of the cleansing blood of Christ. No tally of "good works" or self-justification on the part of any of us will suffice.  Nor are Christians who try to "be nice" around unbelieving sinners really "being nice."  It's good for physicians to have a good
"bedside manner" but it may be deadly if they fail to express clearly the patient's condition and provide a plan of action.  Ultimately, in mission and in medicine, being honest is better than "being nice" or "being liked."


Ed Dingess said...

The fact is that God's dealings with sinners fall all along the spectrum of what modern Americans might consider "nice" or perhaps even "harsh." It depends on the circumstances. Context is everything. To the rich young ruler, Jesus was harsh. To the woman taken in adultery, he was "nice" or compassionate. The fact is that Jesus did not accept the woman in her adultery but told her that this was NOT to happen again. If you think unbelievers simply want forgiveness of repentance sin and that they perception is that Christians won't do that, I think that is not a fair description of the circumstances. While there are harsh legalists out there, the real issue is that unbelievers want to be affirmed in their sin, without regeneration, without repentance. The want to go on their merry way fornicating without judgment from anyone. If you actually think that is not an accurate depiction of the state of affairs, then you better look again not only at culture, but at Scripture as well.

Mike Gantt said...

The world doesn't like us when we act like the Pharisees, but it dislikes us far more when we act like Jesus.

Jesus was crucified not because He loved sinners but because He hated sin.

Notwithstanding the fact that Eichenwald grossly missed the marked with his article, we need to repent and stand up for righteousness as repentant sinners.

Elaine said...

My heart aches for those who wish to criticize believers. It is true that we who believe are far from perfect. But they, in refusing to recognize their own sin, are casting lots of stones. May we accept the compassion coming from Christ for those for whom He died, and may He give us the grace to dispense it in large doses to those who are sometimes unlovely, while making sure that our lives are as pure as can be.

John said...

Thanks Ed, Mike, and Elaine, for your comments. You have helped me to revise and hopefully clarify the intent of the article by some changes in the final paragraph. Happy New Year!