George Whitefield, great preacher of the 1st Great Awakening, used to pray, “God grant me the mixture of the lion and the lamb” before heading into potentially confrontational situations. Whitefield had almost incessant theological challenges throughout his ministry travels both in the United States and England. He knew his fleshly proclivities and asked God to give him a holy balance of boldness (lion) when it came to standing for the truth and love (lamb) when it came to communicating it.
All lamb and no lion makes Jack a dull boy. All lion and no lamb makes Jack a jerk.
And of course I am the perfect balance of lion and lamb in the sense that I feed on lamb chops so I can roar more loudly when it’s go time. But you have to understand that I was raised in an almost anti-everything fundamentalist church. To add insult to serious bodily injury I was raised around a violent family full of body building, tobacco chewing, beer drinking…well you know. But it’s not just nurture that has forged me, nature has played a big role as well. I was born with my own fight-not-flight personality that has lead to an epic internal personal struggle. And that internal problem has gone external too many times.
Here is where I must stop and thank God for a wife who, for the last 18 years, has consistently reminded me to love others no matter what. She has been a tremendous example to me of what it means to listen to others deeply and be genuinely interested in their point of view. But, in spite of my wife’s best efforts, finding that balance between lion and lamb continues to be my biggest challenge.
I long to discover how to defend the faith without an ounce of vindictiveness. I wonder if Paul sometimes struggled with that same thing. He started his ministry as a fighter. From battles with legalistic Judaizers and naughty Gnostics to internal confrontations with his fellow church leaders (the battle with Barnabas over John Mark’s suitability for ministry comes to mind) Paul seemed to be ready to rumble at the drop off a yamaka. But after years of hard knocks, constant prayer and accelerated spiritual growth, Paul, in his final months on earth, reminds his protege Timothy of the need to be gentle as he stands for the truth.
Listen to Paul’s words in the last book he wrote before he was brought into God’s presence via Nero’s axe, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” 2 Timothy 2:23-26.
I love this passage. Paul, after a lifetime of confrontational experiences, has some very clear insights about how to deal with false teachers without turning into some negative naysayer. Here are some of Paul’s conclusions of how he balanced his internal battle between lion and lamb:
1. Don’t get caught up with foolish and stupid arguments that lead to quarrels.
Engaging false teachers on their terms triggers stupid arguments. Stupid arguments lead to the kind of “discussion” that is a complete waste of time. Paul writes these words in 1 Timothy 6: 3-5, “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind….”
Okay, time for a little lion…
What Paul wrote to Timothy he was warning him of the false teachers that were attacking the church from the outside and the inside. He was warning young Timothy of the temptation of engaging with these false teachers on their level through endless debates that lead nowhere.
Quite honestly when I read these passages I can’t help but think of a lot of the stuff that is flowing out of the Emergent camp. And it’s these same verse that have kept me from engaging the “conversation” more intentionally. I have had enough talks with those steeped in Emergent theology to understand that much of the discussion leads absolutely no where. Oftentimes it is more of a cul-de-sac than a conversation if you are on the conservative side of the debate. I once spent three hours with one of the key leaders of the Emergent movement and it was a gigantic waste of time. I’m sure he felt the same. 1 Timothy 6:3-5 and 2 Timothy 2:23 clearly warn us of getting caught up into these kinds of endless, fruitless discussions.
I must admit that I have had a handful of very refreshing conversations with some who are counted as being in this world of all things Emergent that have been tremendously invigorating and encouraging. Dan Kimball is one of those guys that I view as rock solid theologically yet on the cutting edge of what it means to really engage this postmodern culture in an effective way. But more often than not the conversations I’ve had with those who buy and sell the Emergent agenda have led down the dead end of “arguments about words that result in envy strife and malicious talk.”
But the knife cuts both ways.
These verses also sum up why I don’t like to be named with the “anti-Emergent” guys either. Many of them seem to spend the majority of their time roaring at the latest heresies coming out of the Emergent movement. While I may agree with many of their theological conclusions I don’t want to spend the “lion share” of my time bashing and trashing everyone else. Why? Because there is too much kingdom work to do to spend all of our time debating and defending.
I think some of my conservative friends spend so much time defending the faith they don’t have any time to spread it. In the process of fighting for truth many of them get caught up into the web of endless discussions, blogging every other day about the latest Emergent heresies and forwarding links and articles to their fellow fundies. Meanwhile the world, oblivious to much of our “sophisticated” theological/philosophical discussion, is speeding down the highway to hell. Yes we are to “earnestly contend for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints” but we are to do so as we are making disciples who make disciples. And we are to do it all in love, not vindictiveness.
2. We must be kind to everyone and not resentful.
I will be the first to confess that I have not been kind to everyone as I have sought to defend the faith over the last two decades of ministry. There have been times I have been resentful as I have debated wih others about key doctrines in the Scripture. But, with the help of the Holy Spirit and my wife, I am committed to continuing to learn how to defend the faith without being needlessly offensive. I will speak the truth (as the earlier paragraphs indicate) but, through God’s grace, I will do it with a heart of love and not hate.
What is it about conservative theology that tempts us evangelicals to want to curl our lips in a Billy Idol snarl and our fists in a Brock Lesnar hammer fist? I think our intentions are good (guarding the trust that was committed to us) but our delivery needs work. We can still speak the truth but we do it with genuine love and concern for those we are talking to or about.
When you think about it declaring and defending the truth should be an act of love. If my daughter was about to injest rat poison into her 4 year old body and I didn’t stop her then how loving would I be? We must stop people from digesting heresy but we must do so out of a spirit of love and not vindictiveness.
So how do we point out the poison without having a poisonous attitude?
3. We teach the truth and pray for repentance.
We must gently instruct with a secret agenda: “…the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” It’s hard to be bitter at someone you are praying for. It’s hard to be vindictive toward false teachers if, in your heart of hearts, you love them and are praying for them to repent. As Paul put it to the Ephesian believers we must “speak the truth in love.”
Please pray for me as I continue to struggle with this tenuous balance in my own life. I long to be one who speaks the truth in love and who is a positive force for change and not a negative party pooper. Yes I will call a spade a spade but I’ll try not to pick up that spade and swing it out of anger at those I differ with. My prayer is that I can do this while advancing the gospel message to a world in desperate need of it, while calling others to join me in this quest.
There are too many souls to be reached, too many people that need fed, too many hurting that need helped to waste our time in fruitless discussions that lead nowhere. Let us cling to sound doctrine. Let us speak the truth in love to all who oppose it. Let us pray for them to repent. But let us do it all as we advance the cause of Christ by making disciples of all nations.
“God grant us the mixture of the lion and the lamb.”