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Controversy Is Not a Christian Virtue

Controversy Is Not a Christian Virtue


Mar 29 2013
I don't think Jesus set out to make headlines.

In the age of Twitter marketing, the road to fame and fortune seems paved by status updates and hashtags: #YourNameHere! #YourCleverQuoteThere! #YourSoundbitesEverywhere! These days, even church figures go on publicity parades, making headlines and grabbing attention.

One problem with this is that most big headlines are based in conflict and controversy. When a religion report makes news, for instance, it's typically over a clash of faith and culture: a church-affiliated person or group takes a harsh cultural stand under a supposed flag of faith (Westboro, anyone?) or a church-affiliated person or group embraces culture in a way that flies in the face of orthodoxy. Neither of these types of controversies is helpful; each is an extreme that misses the mark.

Take last week's religion press release, for instance, which involved a former megachurch preacher and author making remarks seemingly in favor of same-sex marriage during his latest book tour. His expressed views lined up with today's social norms but failed to address any biblical teaching—on this issue it would've been impossible to do both. Thus the wheel of controversy was cranked.

News outlets reported, theologians responded, bloggers cheered or jeered. Even people like me, who for personal reasons (this man was once both my pastor and fellow church staff member) wanted very much to steer clear of the whole issue, were drawn to the coverage.

One defense of my former pastor went something like this: Jesus' life on earth was full of controversy, so as a result, controversy should mark every Christian's life as well. Three cheers!

This line of thinking is rooted in the right idea: we can and should look to Christ, and, yes, there was plenty of debate and drama trailing him. Today, following Christ could mean embracing similar sorts of conflict: speaking out against the sins of the church, spending time with non-religious "sinners," and ignoring rules that aren't rooted in principle, for instance. Still, we should be careful not to glorify controversies themselves, because in doing so we mischaracterize who Christ is and what he does.

In Christ we have the perfect example of a faith-and-culture collision. Here is the God-man, perfectly interacting with real sin and a real world. Sure, people got their cloaks in a twist over certain things he did and said, but any controversy surrounding Christ was simply a byproduct of something greater. The greater thing happening was, "I am…the truth." Everything true had taken the form of a body, and he was walking around, clear and accessible as flesh.

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Controversy Is Not a Christian Virtue