Over the last several months I've learned some valuable lessons about the grace of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ from professor (Reformed Theological Seminary) and radio host Steve Brown. Because of his strong stand against legalism and hypocrisy within the church, he receives his share of criticism and unfounded (but understandable) accusations of anti-nomianism. Most recently he's faced some rather harsh criticism for having reviewed Paul Young's book The Shack favorably. This review led to substantial financial support being withdrawn from his ministry. Let me go on the record at this point by saying I am no fan of that book. My orthodox and theological way of thinking can not tolerate Young's "artistic license" with the Trinity, or his unqualified disdain for Christian establishments of higher learning. My review of The Shack, were I to review it, would not be favorable; and I would no doubt receive considerable criticism from its fans. That said, I know several dear and devoted Christians who absolutely loved the book. My point here is not to criticize them, their discernment, or the book itself. Rather, I'd like to focus on the lesson Steve Brown learned from the incident.
If I had to choose one of Aesop's fables that represents my life experience it would be the one with the old man, the young boy and the donkey. You know the one....The old man rides the donkey and gets criticized for making the boy walk. Then the boy rides the donkey and is criticized for making the old man walk. Then they both ride and are criticized for overburdening the beast. In the end the boy and old man are found to be carrying the donkey. No matter how I try, I always seem to offend someone. And that, apparently, has been Steve Brown's experience as well. So, since offense is an inevitability, what are we to do? Here are a few "rules" Steve came up with to guide him in his public ministry:
As you know, I’m not into rules, but I’ve decided to make four rules for myself. You might want to adopt these rules or write your own. These are necessary because I’ve decided that, no matter what I do, I’m probably going to offend somebody. So here are my rules:
Rule #1: Offend people…but offend them for the right reasons.
I’m probably the most opinionated friend you have. I have an opinion on everything from Obama (didn’t vote for him) to global warming (I’m cold) to Christian music (I like Bach). I know what I like, I know what I don’t like and, frankly, I’m right about almost all of my opinions. It’s hard to be right all the time and it’s, also, quite irritating to those of us who are right to have people who aren’t right contradict us.
But there is something harder than that. It is trying to discern what my opinion is and what is God’s opinion, what is true and what is surmise, what is important in terms of my Christian witness and what is not important. I’m still working on it but, at minimum, I’ve decided that Obama, global warming and Christian music aren’t hills I will fight and die on for Jesus.
Rule #2: Offend people…but make sure they understand why they are offended.
You’ve heard the statement that someone can tell people “to go to hell with such skill that they will look forward to the trip.” I can do that if I work at it and that’s scary.
I know you won’t believe it, but I really don’t like offending people. I have this desire to be liked, affirmed and admired. It’s hard to maintain that when one is talking about hell.
I still remember this. I allowed my late friend, Rusty Anderson, to attend Skeptics Forum—a ministry I did for a number of years in which, aside from myself, only unbelievers could attend—on the condition that he keep his mouth shut. I was being so very sensitive and kind, and Rusty did well keeping quiet…until that third meeting. He just couldn’t do it anymore. I still remember the sound of his hand hitting my desk and his words, “I’m tired of this nonsense. You guys are lost for eternity and are going to hell, and that bothers me. I’ve grown to sort of like you and I don’t want to go to heaven without you.”
I thought that the whole ministry had just come to an end. Just the opposite happened. That night several of the skeptics signed their names on the Lamb’s book of life.
Rule #3: Offend people…but make sure they “see” what offends them.
As much as I hate it, there is something about me that ticks people off. I’m not exactly sure what that is, but I’m working on finding out. I want to say to people (the way I did with what Tony Campolo said above), “Look, I didn’t say that. Jesus did. I don’t care so much what you think of me, but don’t let me get in the way of Jesus. He can be your best friend or your worst nightmare, but get beyond me and look at him. He’s worth more than a passing glance.”
Rule #4: Offend people…but make sure they understand that you’re offended too.
Given that I’m so opinionated, I have a tendency to pretend that I don’t struggle with the truth in general and uncomfortable truth in particular. It is here that I (and maybe you, too, sometimes) get into trouble. When we speak truth to power, to peons, kings or paupers, or to the famous or not-so-famous, there needs to be an addendum, to wit, “Don’t you hate it? Me too!”
We are not outsiders of the human race. We are needy almost all the time, afraid and still struggling with our own sin. People get offended when we act like their mother or, worse, like an expert who is trying to “fix” them. Maybe a bit more identification with the human race is in order.
Well, those are my rules. As I work to put something together that really speaks to them, I’m going to try and remember my rules. Who knows? I might offend less and bless more.
Now, go out and offend someone…but do it right. Okay?
(Emphasis in bold is mine.)
I, too, hate to offend. I do all I can to speak in ways that will not be offensive, and yet people are consistently offended by me. I do all the self-examination and ask my husband to tell me honestly what he sees in me that offends. I've tempered my approach, tried to limit myself to things worth fighting for, etc. And so, like Steve Brown, I need to accept that people will be offended, but make sure that it is not me giving offense, but the gospel. The gospel is offensive enough without me adding to it. And if I ever do find myself completely inoffensive - well it may be because I've left the gospel behind.