December 13, 2017

Overrated: Sharing My Opinion

marie

The irony is not lost on this author.

In this post I will share my opinion, stating my opinion that sharing opinions is overrated.

And I will publish it on a blog dedicated to giving people a forum for sharing their opinions.

So there.

As a young minister, I soon learned the truth of a quip that someone — I think it might have been Vance Havner — once made. He said that when people start complaining that the church ought to do something about a matter, they usually mean the pastor ought to say something.

For many Christians, words equal deeds.

Our measure of faithfulness is often described as “taking a stand” for one’s faith or for the right position on some issue. That means being willing to speak up and tell the truth, to take a public stand by saying something when you might be tempted to remain silent. If someone does that, he or she is considered a strong, vibrant follower of Jesus.

I don’t claim to know about other people around the world, but this seems to me to be another one of those peculiarly American characteristics with regard to how we think we should live out our faith. It is part of our personality. We are, by and large, an opinionated, outspoken people. And so we view Christian living through this lens. Christianity is about truth. Christian living means telling the truth. Boldly. Directly. Without shame. As we discussed in a recent post, Christians are constantly being told, “The most loving thing you can do is tell the truth.”

This has become our standard for faithful Christian living. The believer who speaks up for truth and right is the one we honor. The current climate, dominated by 24-hour news, Facebook and other social media, and other means of instant communication, has only exacerbated the tendency to equate words — even knee-jerk, disembodied words over a computer screen — with being upright and devoted to the Lord.

We’re not just talking about preachers here. Certainly many expect this from the pulpit. In fact, a large number of folks don’t even consider preaching to have occurred if sin is not strongly condemned, the moral evils of our culture excoriated, and strong opinions about one’s interpretation of doctrine advanced. But the same parishioners who endure the preachy preachers are are also being challenged themselves to be verbally engaged in the battle for truth. Witness. Testify. Say so. Tell the truth. Talk the talk. Take a stand. Be bold. Be unashamed. Open your mouth wide, and the Lord will fill it.

Overdone and overrated.

ray-and-marieCertainly what we speak, and how we speak, and when we speak is an important part of our lives and our faith. The “Gospel” itself is an announcement to be proclaimed, discussed, explained, and shared in appropriate ways at appropriate times. The prophetic tradition of which we are heirs was made up of men and women specially chosen to hear and speak God’s word of righteousness as they called Israel to return to the Law and covenant. Christians take truth seriously.

We also have to take our culture into account. In free lands of the world like the U.S., we are afforded rights of free expression unknown throughout most of history. Because of the very nature of our free society, we will have opportunities to speak more, and perhaps we should.

Nevertheless, I worry about this undue emphasis on verbal Christianity.

I’ve engaged with many who think my concern is misplaced. However, if someone argues that the world is not shy about getting its immoral and idolatrous messages out and therefore we should be redoubling our efforts to speak and speak often on behalf of righteousness, I would counter with the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote, “For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power” (1Cor. 4:20).

In context, Paul was explaining to the Corinthians that the false teachers leading them astray were “all talk.” On the other hand, he had sent Timothy to them on a personal, pastoral visit, and soon Paul would coming himself. Then the congregants in Corinth would see the difference. Paul’s words and even his letters were not the ultimate measure of his ministry. It was the “power” of Christ in him that shone through his personal presence, his pastoral care, and his involvement in their lives that would prove the difference. That would certainly involve words, but so much more. In the passage, he describes himself as their spiritual “father” (4:14-16), a vocation that goes far beyond speaking — all the way to love.

Others will argue that they are not speaking “the opinions of people” but the Word of God. They have chapter and verse to prove it. Please. Verbal-oriented Christianity so easily turns into opinionated Christianity.

“Speaking the truth” gets transformed into stating my opinion or interpretation of some “truth” or issue.

“Sharing the Gospel” becomes trying to persuade others of my doctrine and/or practice.

Those who “engage the culture” end up turning complex issues into simple black and white moral choices.

“Taking a stand” too often means not listening well to others and considering that any spirit of forbearance or compromise indicates surrender and defeat for God and his truth.

“Speaking up boldly” can indicate zeal without knowledge and the humility to own that what we don’t know far exceeds our current conclusions.

There is a place and time and way to speak.

This is the day to share my opinion about that.

Now it’s your turn.

Comments

  1. Patricia Stewart says:

    Thought provoking. Recalling the Christian Education teacher insisting that it was paramount to have a prepared “story” of our conversion . . . as a means of “sharing the Gospel. And yet as you observe. the Gospel is more than words . . . it is Christ in me, What is Jesus doing with my hands and feet today? What is He saying though me to others? Sometimes, I think we proclaim a very different “gospel.” If we consider the life of Jesus, how much of His time was spent challenging the Pharisees or verbally arguing? His life was characterized by obedience – to Love. Sometimes I am a poor reflection of His presence . . . and reflections are what we see not hear.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > it was paramount to have a prepared “story” of our conversion

      And I can count exactly how many times someone has asked to hear my “story”? Zero. Such a low count does make it more interesting [actually – that number is Zero only if I do not count church `retreats`, but I am not going to count those. Those retreats were a dress rehearsal for a play nobody wanted to see].

  2. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    >Facebook and other social media,

    In some ways nothing has every done more to squelch and silence discussion than Social Media. Now a massive `write-mostly` [1] medium exists into which thoughts can be sprayed, often accompanied by a sense of accomplishment – in the mistaken belief that those works are ever taken up by anyone. One does not have to look at the data long to realize that it is simply impossible that most of this torrent is actually being read by anyone. Social Media is like going to a concert without a band – tens of thousands of people in an auditorium all shouting; but they will feel good afterwords that they expressed their opinion and advocated for their beliefs

    [1] `write-mostly` in contrast to `read-mostly`

    > And so we view Christian living through this lens. Christianity is about truth. Christian living
    > means telling the truth. Boldly. Directly. Without shame.

    I’ve been into and back out of the Christian culture – this is so true. *BUT* to be fair – this is USA culture. It is at least one character defect which cannot be laid on Christian culture, it is a pervasive principle of the over-culture. Even if you cannot cite a source, even if you have no substantiated data, even if you have not reviewed the data of `the opposition` [because every issue has exactly TWO and ONLY TWO sides – you are either in or you are out] – Be bold and tell it like it is!

    > For many Christians, words equal deeds

    Yea, but that is us [as in USAians]. Free Speech is nor a legal right it is the privilege to pontificate.

    > when people start complaining that the church ought to do something
    > about a matter, they usually mean the pastor ought to say something

    True, but in defense of that – what does the church do other than speak? The church is made manifest primarily through its words – and in an age of cheap words it a perilous thing to be an organ of words.

    One of the things I have to come to admire about the Roman Catholic Church is their active involvement in the community. I live in a city thick with churches, most have parking lots full of cars at service times, people __commute__ in to them on the prescribed schedule, and otherwise they are empty. But the two nearby RCCs are rather busy places, with schools, and meals, and you see people coming and going. Walking in and out – because they are close enough to walk. They really *exist* in a substantial way I do not see the other very-nearby Protestant churches exist – if those churches stopped talking it would be like so much smoke in the wind, we would forget they were there. On the other hand – according to the [often dreadful] slogans those churches put out on their signs for passing commuters they must feel bold-and-courageous.

  3. It seems to help, if before the place and time and way of speaking to consider the bigger picture. Jesus’ beatitudes are the foundation for the so called seven catholic virtues. Just take one…..pure in heart, for example…and look at all that it entails. Wikipedia says it’s about chastity, honesty, wisdom, cleanliness, restraint of intoxicants, even pursuit of knowledge. Sometimes when we get more narrow in our understandings( like thinking it’s just about sex) it leads to forms of parochialism that are actually distortions.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Sometimes when we get more narrow in our understandings( like thinking it’s just about sex) it
      > leads to forms of parochialism that are actually distortions.

      I’d prefer the term “thicker” over “narrower”, but Yes.

      I am a fan of Miroslav Volf [indication I am a true nerd – theologian fandom, I am okay to laugh at myself for I am lame!]. He has the idea of “Thin Identity” vs. “Thick Identity”. Thin Identity is labels and symbols and flags and often gestures. Thin Identity defines us-and-them. Thick Identity is about knowledge, history, and ultimately, identity [like Thin Identity]. But Thick Identity has a component of consumption – one needs to consume [read, listen, etc…] to become [in a sense, grow fatter] whereas Thin Identity is about declaration and display [it is a thing that flows out].

    • David Cornwell says:

      I think you have nailed it here T.S Gray. When we cultivate the virtues, the fruits of the Spirit, the life of prayer, then our speech and opinions might actually mean something. Sometimes we become almost violent in expressing our “opinion.” We aim to spill blood. I know that because sometimes I am that. When it happens, if I listen, then God calls me to repentance.

      We need ears to hear and to be slow to speak. I preached a sermon on Psalm 19 once, with the last verse being the focus. I could tell by the faces of the congregation that they were taking it to heart. But more than that, it spoke to me, and so very often convicts me.

  4. Mike the Geologist says:

    I’m reminded of the situation when the unstable gunman shot those Amish girls in their school and then took his own life. The Amish reacted by going to the gunman’s wife and telling her they forgave him. Do you all remember the reaction of the national media? Even those cynical, worldly journalists were moved by that profound act of radical love. I think that people saw and heard Jesus more in that instance then all the sermons, blogs, rants, articles that any other group of Christians did put together in that whole year. I belong to a group that does jail and prison ministry; we speak a lot of words all the time. We also distribute offender gift bags at Christmas time. Just a simple paper bag of chips, cookies, candy bars, shampoo, toothpaste, and socks. And the remembrance of those gift bags sticks with those men and women; they don’t remember the content of our sermons but they remember the content of those bags. I remember one guy coming up to us after he got out, his family had given up on him, and he told us; “You gave me some socks, I had no socks for my feet and no way to get any. Man, I remember those socks and how good it felt to put them on and get my feet warm.” 1 John 3:18 says, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” Notice how the truth is spoken louder in deed than in word.

  5. Scott Fisher says:

    Mike,

    Well stated and a balanced perspective which I find helpful. I never really thought about the American Cultural aspect of it before. Like you, I also do chaplaincy work in a diverse setting, so I was particularly encouraged by the reminder of the power of presence and demonstrated care and love, even when a verbal testimony is not always the wisest or appropriate course.

  6. So many speak in a judgmental, coercive manner. But to speak the truth, in love…to put it out there, is another matter.

    “Faith comes by hearing, and the word of God.”

    “How can they hear if they don’t have a preacher?”

    “Blessed are those who are persecuted for my sake.”

    Many, myself included at times, find it so difficult to “offend” others by bringing up the name of Jesus. It’s not an easy task. But that is what people truly need. And only Christians can do it.

    Good works and sympathetic listening and all of those other great things that are helpful to people…anyone can do. And we are thankful whenever they are done by whomever does them.

    • That is one valid part of the conversation, Steve. Unfortunately, many make it the only part.

      • Yes, Mike, many do.

        If Christians are to err (to concentrate only on one part of the conversation)…I believe they ought err on the side of giving people the Bread that they truly need.

        That is job #1 of the Christian. Everything else is terrific. But an atheist, or Muslim, or pagan can do all those things, also.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          How do you avoid Wretched Urgency and its 24/7/365 WITNESS WITNESS WITNESS?

          Even I avoid like Captain Trips someone who I know the first words out of his mouth upon coming into line-of-sight of me will be “IF YOU DIED THIS MINUTE DO YOU *KNOW* WHERE YOU WOULD SPEND ETERNITY?!?!?!?” or “HAVEYOUACCEPTEDJEESUSCHRISTASYOURPERSONALLOORDANDSAVIOR?!?!?”

          • I don’t witness all that much. I should do it a lot more. I wait for the “right” timing. Or I chicken out for fear of not being liked anymore by that person.

            My point is that it is job #1 for the Christian. Everything else that we do is secondary to speaking of Christ. Whether or not we do it, is another matter.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > My point is that it is job #1 for the Christian

            No. I do not believe that.

          • I have to agree with Adam here. I just can’t get around the fact that in all the NT epistles, I can’t find a single instance where Paul or whoever commands – or even encourages – evangelism. I certainly think it is a nuanced milieu, but I can’t agree at this point that witnessing is the #1 job for Christians.

          • Dr. Fundystan, the Apostle Paul takes evangelism seriously as far as he himself goes, and in Romans 10: 11-15 he seems to encourage others to join (“how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?”). And then there’s Jesus in Matthew 28, “make disciples of all the world.”

            I will say however that evangelicals have cranked up the volume, and HUG’s caricature just above is a reasonable facsimile.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > And how can they hear without someone preaching to the

            Fast forwarding to the 21st century… via the radio, the television, a book [pervasive literacy], a web browser, and e-reader [phone, tablet, ..], a podcast, …. And they can do any of those things at 3:17am on Thursday. The question is – why would they? Unless someone has DONE something that compells them.

            Now is not then. *Pushing* a message will not succeed, you need to make your message compelling.

          • I think when Paul is asking his “how?”‘s, the questions are not answered because there is an open ended supernatural dimension to the unspoken answers; certainly, there is a necessary place for the witness of the church on earth, and it is a privilege and duty of the church to witness in both verbal and non-verbal ways.

            But I think that we often forget that angels are messengers of God, and that on that first Easter morning, according to the NT accounts, it was angels that gave the good news to the grief stricken disciples who went to the tomb. If it is true, as our Palm Sunday reading tells us, that the rocks and stones themselves could be raised by God to shout “Hosanna” to our Lord, how can we doubt that the whole creation and the heavenly host of angels and saints and martyrs constantly speak forth the good news to our dying world.

            If we witness, however we witness, in word or deed, or in simply offering our presence to those in need, we should be confident that we don’t need to force anything, we don’t need to artificially manipulate circumstances so that we can say what we think has to be said, we don’t have to be saviors.

            Saying a lot of words is no substitute for taking time with others because, as human beings created in the image of God, they are worth taking time with. No one will be “lost” because we failed to say a lot of words, or a few supposedly necessary words, or even because we failed to be present to them.

            There should be no panic, and no tone of panic, in our approach to those we think are unbelievers. Panic is not the mood of Easter, and the Easter message is not a panicked communique. Part of the good news in that, because of what Jesus Christ has done, we can afford to take our time talking and being with those we encounter in our lives, building relationships which themselves speak of love though rarely saying a word about it.

            Merry Christmas, one and all!

          • Well said…. well said, indeed, Robert F. Merry Christmas to you and everyone here that make this site a must-read every day.

  7. Thank you for this. It reminds me that our Lord commanded us to be “wise as serpents”, and that we have the Holy Spirit to guide us in our words when we do speak. I hope to learn to quiet myself to listen to the Spirit’s promptings better, but I am quite loud.

  8. Sometimes speaking “truth” equates to “rude”. That can take on several forms:

    – Speaking truth at inappropriate times when one should be listening instead
    – Speaking subjective truth, meaning truth according to that individual
    – Speaking truth based on connect the dots of disparate facts to support one’s truth

    In my younger days i had a few Bible thumpers speak ‘Truth’ to me and it almost got them sent to the hospital because their pig-headed zeal was so in my face and aggressive (when you start jamming your foot in someone’s door expect the worst).

    ‘Truth’ in the right setting is very effective. Truth for the sake of elevating oneself, hearing yourself talk without assessing the situation, or to show how well one can quote Bible versus not so much. Sometimes observations of how one treats others promotes conversation where truth can be shared, a kind of ‘being invited to speak the truth because of observed credibility rather than warrior or soldier for God syndrome.

    I shared this before – I once went to a freinds daughter’s graduation party and had grabbed a number of kids to play a pretty fun and spirited game of vollyball. Out comes a guy about my age (apparently a youth leader of some local faith based teen group) and he starts calling kids off the court to speak truth, talking about their spiritual life in a middle of a game. At one point he was actually on the court talking to kids there. Moral of that story… give it a break buddy… that was more about control than truth….

  9. Sharing opinion is okay. The problem is when people share opinions as if they are TRUTH.

    That’s my opinion, anyway.

  10. Every sperm that unites with an egg: Silence. Every acorn that joins itself to soil: Silence. “…and in the silence at the heart of things, where all true meetings come to be..” (Bruce Cockburn) Scares the dickens out of us because it requires everything from us, as it is the image of isolation and death, which is of course the formula for birth and life.

  11. I have an opinion on this matter…

    Your essay reminds me of a story my wife told me a few years ago of a discussion that took place in one of her graduate sociology classes. The topic of discussion was “academic Marxism.” My wife asked her professor what he meant by “academic Marxism.” His reply was vague but something to the effect that academic Marxists study, research and then write academic papers on Marxism (aka, “conflict theory”). She then asked him, “So, you believe the same things as ‘practicing’ Marxists (e.g., Lenin, Mao, Guevara) but you don’t do anything about it?” His immediate response was “yes!” But realizing how stupid that sounded he went on to explain his statement with additional b——t.

    And so it is with every other academic windbag: b——t + academic papers = b——t. You may substitute “religious,” “political,” etc., for “academic” and the equation balances out all the same (which is only true if “academic paper,” or other adjective of an ideological nature = 0).

    And if you ask me what my point is, I don’t have a point, just an opinion (or “blog b——t,” whichever).

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > “So, you believe the same things as ‘practicing’ Marxists (e.g., Lenin, Mao, Guevara)
      > but you don’t do anything about it?” His immediate response was “yes!” But realizing
      >how stupid that sounded he went on to explain….

      But the staggering truth is – and I believe that in the arena of moral identify[1] this is magnified ten fold – the number of people who do not think that sounds stupid at all. “It is *TRUTH*!” It is frustrating and exhausting to everyone else, but not to them.

      [1] the more general not-necessarily “religious” category, which would include environmentalism or several political camps whose core is really a moral one [at least in their own view]. Speech seems to become equivalent to action more readily when the cause is primarily moral. I’m not down on moralists at all, I probably am one my most counts, it is just a temptation that appears most readily to the moralist. In a charitable light – this many be because there are many Frustrated Moralists, who really do believe ardently in their issue or perspective, but lack the network or imagination to carry it beyond words. That is not a happy place. It is so easy to fall into the Warrior/Crusader mode [especially in our culture, IMNSHO] as that can more easily be done alone than to be a Visionary or an Engineer. There is precious little constructive action that can be done alone.

  12. Thank you for this post, Chap. The irony runs deep here in the comments section (aka the land of everyone’s opinion, lol)
    It looks like there’s been a running theme here lately for the need for patience and grace among Christians in this contentious culture we live in today: listen before you speak, consider actions instead of words, and take a moment to think before you act.
    My husband is a High School teacher, and one of the things he says about dealing with teenagers and his sometimes very difficult co-workers is this: If you wrestle with pigs, it’s you who gets dirty. Meaning, engaging in arguments and conflicts that are petty and small in a likewise way only makes you look bad. Engaging our culture in a way that mirrors their game sets us up to lose for a number of reasons, but it’s pretty clear that a confrontational approach has been effectively judo-ed by secular culture. Let’s not wrestle with the pigs so much anymore, and focus on quietly and lovingly doing the Kingdom’s work in our world.

  13. On this subject I think it all comes down to the motivation of our hearts. Are we being prompted by God to share the Gospel out of genuine concern and love for those who are listening? Or are we sharing motivated by putting another “notch in our belt”, coming across like an Amway salesman pitching a product with very little regard or care for the one listening?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I use the term “Notch in their Bible”, but it’s the same scorekeeping mentality. Except this is “I Saved More Souls Than You” instead of “I Got More Money Than You”. In my experience, it’s the result of combining Wretched Urgency with the idea that Number of Souls Saved(TM) determines God’s favor towards you and your place in Heaven. It gets ugly.

  14. Some day, robots will be able to boldly tell people the truth and respond to every counter-argument with impeccable theological/apologetic precision. And by present appraisals, they will be enviably faithful Christians.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Some years ago, JMJ/Christian Monist had a thought experiment with a future Megachurch in Virtual Reality a la a vastly-more-immersed Second Life. It ended in a scene where the RL worshippers/members/attendees in Meatspace (Physical Reality) had ALL logged out, leaving only their Avie (Virtual Avatar) software instances “fellowshipping” on Automatic-Response, in perfect Christianese.

      • Hmmm… I wonder how many people feel that way after church service. This “avatar” concept is new to me. I would call it a mask, or a role.

  15. “Speaking the truth” gets transformed into stating my opinion or interpretation of some “truth” or issue.

    Chaplain Mike, have you seen any of Pithless Thoughts’ cartoons? Here is an “Orthograph” from his collection. Lots more.

    http://pithlessthoughts.blogspot.com/2010/05/orthograph-83-its-handy-excuse.html

  16. Preston Garrison says:

    It hit me a long time ago that Jesus said the Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement. It was a relief to think it’s not our job to convince them of their need. We can just give them the good news. If God is dealing with them at that moment, the Spirit will take care of that touchy, hard part of letting them know they are sinners. Which is a good thing, because we make a mess of it when we try to do it.