Archives For Civility

compassion imageI have strongly advocated that “Tolerance” is really useless as the central public virtue it has been lifted up to be. I can “tolerate” you without showing any neighbor love to you! Civility and Compassion with Convictions is the better alternative. (see a previous post on “Loving Like Jesus in Public”)

Krista Tippett, host of On Being and the designer of the Civil Conversations Project, has spoken about both the importance of Civility and the resurrection of the true meaning of Compassion in our language and culture. Her presentation at The Charter for Compassion has been picked up as a TED talk. Though I can’t agree with all the assumptions of this particular movement, I would say that it is tapping into the essential biblical truth that love must be visible. As the apostle John wrote, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18, ESV) Tippett calls compassion a “spiritual technology” – more essential to the world than mere scientific knowledge.

As a church, we were led to describe our mission: “to build compassionate Christian communities that transform lives and bring hope to the world.” Compassion is Christ’s self-sacrificing love in action! It also resonates with the Imago Dei (Image of God) that is embedded in each of us. And therefore it is also a natural bridge for people everywhere to connect with the Good News as they see it in practice. This kind of compassion often naturally leads to the question from the watching world, “Why are you doing this?” Deeds of compassion in the spirit of civility with the conviction of Jesus’ name!

Here is Krista Tippitt’s talk. Also see the earlier post, “Atheist testimony and our legacy of compassion.”

compassion imageWhen we chose to use “Compassionate Christian Community” as our church’s ‘byline’ and in our mission statement, we did so because compassion is a part of our ‘DNA.’ It is a beautiful and expansive word that reflects the embodied love of Christ who “suffered with” and for us.

An article in the Gordon-Conwell Seminary magazine, Contact, captures the legacy of Christian compassion that defies the rhetoric of many of the “New Atheists.” It is a good follow-up from one of the “Tough Questions” in a previous post, The Church – Bad for Humanity?

The Living Gospel: The Church’s Historic Witness, by Dr. Frank James, Contact magazine, Spring 2013.

In recent years, Christianity has been the object of considerable ridicule. The New Atheists—Dawkins, Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens—have made a nice living by declaring that religion in general and Christianity in particular “poisons everything.” Of course, this is nothing new. Karl Marx demeaned Christianity as the “opiate of the masses.” The British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, defiantly asserted: “The Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of the moral progress in the world.”

So it was surprising to read an article from another atheist who took a rather different slant on Christianity. Matthew Parris, columnist for The Sunday Times of London, wrote a provocative online article titled: “As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God.” Returning to the Africa of his youth, Parris makes the startling observation:

“It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God. Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These along will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

This is a refreshingly honest sentiment from one who demurs from personal allegiance to Christianity. If we are honest, Christian history has its fair share of skeletons in its collective closet. This is hard to swallow, and I wish it were not so. Despite the fact that Christians have not always behaved in ways that would please Christ, the many examples of Christian compassion down through the ages are nothing short of dazzling.

From the beginning, Christians have been known for their compassion for the disadvantaged. Perhaps one of the most astonishing examples is the opposition to infanticide in the early church. In the Greco-Roman world, female infants and males born with deformities were of no value and often deposited on the village dung heap to die of exposure—or perhaps even more tragic, raised as temple prostitutes. In a chilling letter written one year before the birth of Christ, a Roman citizen named Hilarion directs his pregnant wife: “When you are delivered of a child—if it is a boy, keep it; if it is a girl, discard it.” The Stoic philosopher, Seneca, is even more callous: “Monstrous [deformed] offspring we destroy; children too, if born feeble and ill-formed, we drown.” This is the cruel world to which Christianity came with their counter-cultural message. Over time, this gospel changed the Roman Empire.

Christian compassion has manifested in many ways down through the ages. In a world entirely lacking in social services, Christians became their brothers’ keepers. At the end of the 2nd century, Tertullian wrote that while pagan religions spent their donations “on feasts and drinking bouts,” Christians spent theirs “to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents and of old persons confined to the house.” By the 4th century, Christians had become especially well known for their compassion for the poor—both Christian and pagan. The Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate (361–363), even complained about “those impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well.”

Read more….the whole article is at the Gordon-Conwell website.

As a sequel to our Tough Questions series, I came across this video of a great discussion between John Ortberg and outgoing Fuller Seminary President, Richard Mouw (author of Uncommon Decency who coined the term we’ve used often: ‘Convictions with Civility.’)  It was held at Ortberg’s Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California.

Ortberg-Mouw-e1367000198107

It is a brief, free-flowing discussion on questions like:
“What does ‘Evangelical’ mean?”
“What is the significance of the Cross of Christ and why is it so central?”
“Is Mormonism Christian?”
“Why Should the Bible Be Viewed as Trustworthy?”
“How Can We Talk About Human Sexuality in a Biblical and Civil Way?”
“How Do We Dialog with Others with Convicted Civility?”
“How Do Christians understand and talk about Hell with Others?”
“How Do we interpret the Bible in passages that describe violence?”
“What is God Waiting for Before He Comes Back?”
“What Do you See around the World Gives You Hope?”

Click Here

The New Testament letter of 1 Peter provides a wonderful paradigm for the “Defense of the Faith.”  (Christian Apologetics) This is vital to understand if we are going to welcome tough questions – either our own or those that others want to discuss or argue.

“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,
always being prepared to make a defense to anyone
who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;
yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
1 Peter 3:15, ESV

Let me suggest three qualities of a Humble Apologist that spring from this very rich passage:
[You can listen to the audio sermon here.]

1. Have CONVICTIONS that honor Christ as Lord – keep going deeper in your relationship. It will help you be secure in times of your own questioning and secure as you speak with others who ask you questions.

2. Have REASONS that engage and are clear – in language that others outside the faith can understand.  Jesus and Peter do not expect us to withdrawal from discussion and debate, but rather to proclaim and embody Jesus as the hope of the world!

3. Have CIVILITY – humility and respect for the persons you converse with. In the words of Richard Mouw, the word “tolerance” has lost its effectiveness. We need convictions with civility that show respect to all!  (see this previous post)

As I promised in this morning’s sermon, here is a poem by C.S. Lewis, on the humble part of being an apologist for the faith.

The Apologists Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts,
even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.

Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

C.S. Lewis, “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer,” in Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1964), p. 129.

StackFor those who want to go deeper, John Stackhouse has written a fine book with the same title of “Humble Apologetics.”

Loving Like Jesus in Public

November 6, 2012 — 1 Comment

On this election day in America, I’d like to summarize what I see as three essentials for Christ-followers to be loving ‘salt and light’ in the ‘public square.’ 

God calls us to be people of CONVICTION, COMPASSION, and CIVILITY.  Civility is becoming recognized as a public virtue which is far superior to mushy ‘Tolerance’ (which requires no love of neighbor.)

The apostle Peter put it this way:

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.  (1 Peter 3:15-17, ESV)

The second illustration (tap to enlarge) shows why we must have all three virtues in our “public righteousness.”

Without CONVICTIONS, we can be aimless at best and ineffective at worst, not pointing people to ‘the Good, the True, and the Beautiful’ which come from God.

Without COMPASSION, we can be theorists at best; or worse, be people without active, embodied love.

Without CIVILITY, we can become a limited ‘Christian ghetto’ that doesn’t engage the culture or worse, we can become coercive, trusting in human political power rather than extending Christ’s love to all our neighbors.

An excellent revised book by Richard Mouw called Uncommon Decency is a must read on the subject of civility.

So, as a stranger and alien whose true citizenship is in heaven, I will vote and pray and engage the culture.  I will also put my ultimate trust in my true King, Jesus and be busy at the mission of making disciples of all nations. Jesus – the one who truly IS “The Hope of the World!”

You can listen to the sermon here.