After I posted The Creed of a Happy Warrior, I was contacted by a friend who was concerned about the murkiness of one of the paragraphs. Although he didn’t put it this way, being a gentleman as he is, in the place of pellucid argumentation that made one think of high mountain lakes, he instead encountered the confused thoughts of a backyard mud turtle who was having a particularly difficult Monday morning trying to get out of his pond. Having read over his criticisms I concluded that my friend was absolutely correct, and so I have reworked that section, inserted the revision in the original post, and posted that section here for your perusal and evaluation.
Biblical Proof v. Pagan Persuasiveness
What does it mean to prove something? It means to obligate belief. Now what happens when you obligate belief in the case of someone who did not want his belief obligated in that way, in that particular direction? That’s right, it makes him angry. We tend to think this is terrible because we think that all conflict is terrible. But I mean this as a positive thing. It is good to create tension and conflict as the result of obligating someone to believe a truth he would much rather not believe. He wants to cling to his falsehood, and if you have obligated belief in the truth, then you have brought him to the point of decision. It is a decision he would much rather not have to make, and so this often results in anger—directed at the person who made this happen.
Of course it is foolish to make people angry over truths that don’t matter that much (like whether or not it is raining right now, or whether San José is the capital of Costa Rica). But it is not foolish when the stakes are what they are in this case—the stakes being the salvation of immortal souls.
But because many Christians think that it is our duty to avoid negativity at all costs, we back away from the kind of faithful proclamation that necessarily creates such negativity. If someone desperately wants to retain his conviction that fornication is natural and healthy, and you obligate him to believe that it is not, then the response will either be anger or repentance. If someone profoundly needs to continue on with his conviction that we are the end product of so many millennia of blind evolution, and you obligate him to acknowledge a Creator God, the only two alternatives are anger or repentance. He does not want to stand at that crossroads, and so he lashes out at the person who brought him there.
Let me change the image, and I propose we consider one that is a bit outlandish. I mean, why not a little outlandish? The non-believer has lived his entire life in a black dungeon, where he cannot see anything. His one comfort in there is his furry teddy bear, which is a real source of encouragement to him. Now one day someone (let us call him Evangelist) walks into the dungeon and flips on a light. The prisoner looks down and sees that his teddy bear is actually a three-pound tarantula. What are the prisoner’s options now? He can either repent, going gaaa! at the tarantula, throwing it off his chest, or he can scream at Evangelist for turning on the light. There it is—either repentance or anger.
So this is the source of much of the conflict we experience, at least when we are being faithful to Scripture. The faithful say thus saith the Lord instead of it seems to me. The message of the Bible is proclaimed and declared by heralds. John the Baptist did not come out of the wilderness issuing invitations to seminars.
The pagan approach to persuasion pulls the punch at this point, and puts the listener in control of the situation. When you are in a discussion where the ground rules are that both sides share their opinions, and that both sides are then absolutely free to retain their opinions, or exchange them for others, no one need be threatened. This is why the listener is left in control of the situation. He is able to say, at the end of the day, “Well, I just don’t see it,” and the unspoken agreement is that the person who presented the argument must acknowledge that he has every right to “just not see it.”
Now suppose John the Baptist started out good, but was vulnerable to this kind of appeal.
John the Baptist: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:” (Matt. 3:7–8).
Pharisees and Sadducees: We believe you have simplified too many of these very complex issues, and need to pay greater attention to theological nuance.
John the Baptist: I can respect that. That’s why these dialogs are so helpful and constructive.
But he wasn’t that way at all. And because John the Baptist was the kind of preacher who could keep his head in that kind of situation, he was also the kind of preacher who lost his head in that kind of situation. And incidentally, this correlation between the two kinds of losing your head is one that more than a few preachers have noticed, and is one of the reasons we have to deal with so much feather-duster preaching.
So the source of much of our conflict with the world is because they are removed from that position of control, and this is also why so many Christians want to retreat from the methods of unvarnished declaration, the kind of declaration that obligates belief. But despite our misgivings, it is good when unbelievers are removed from that position of control, however much they don’t like being in that position.
No one gets happier and happier until one day they decide to get right with God. No, it goes the other direction, and going in that other direction is unpleasant. And those who declare the good news of forgiveness of sins must be willing to lead with the declaration of the existence of sins requiring forgiveness. The proclamation of good news has bad news embedded in it, and those who don’t understand this are frequently alarmed when non-believers react the way they do. But we shouldn’t be.
“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, And every mountain and hill shall be made low: And the crooked shall be made straight, And the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together: For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, And all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field” (Isaiah 40:3–6 ).