Home > Discourse, Mallinak > Discourse: An Answer

Discourse: An Answer

November 24, 2006

At least, I hope. Maybe I should call it “an attempt.” I would like to hope that this will answer the issue once and for all. Except that between the time I post this article, and the time I come back and look at it again, I shall find myself disagreeing with something that is written therein. Ahhhh! Such is the nature of discourse.

THE ISSUE
When it comes to our speech, God gives us a weighty responsibility. We must speak with grace, and season our speech with salt. “Gentleness” must characterize Christian discourse. This requires civility and charity.

And we find numerous examples of this throughout the pages of Scripture. Consider this fine exhibition of gentleness:

Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink. Amos 4:1

In other words, “perk up your ears, all you heifers of Houston…” Yep! That’s grace for you. But never fear, for Amos tempers his tone with a few patronizing statements, some sentimental ooze to ensure that his audience (those notorious Houston Heifers) will know that, really, he loves them. Consider…

The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks. And ye shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her; and ye shall cast them into the palace, saith the LORD. Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years: And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord GOD. Amos 4:2-5

Amos uses (gasp!) sarcasm! How can that be grace? You call that “gentle,” MISTER Amos??? I call that a lack of grace!

Amos, surprisingly, is not a rare example. Consider this:

Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. Luke 3:7-8

Ad hominem! Ad hominem! I can hear it now! Oh, wait… this was inspired. That’s different. Isn’t it? I mean, after all, God can say what he wants. I mean, I know that God is holy and all, and I know he commands us to be imitators of him. But he doesn’t mean in everything… does he? I mean, we can’t always imitate him, can we?

Maybe Christ will set a better example of charitableness in discourse. Let’s see:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Matthew 23:29-33

Boy oh boy! If that isn’t ad hominem, I don’t know what is. And hell-fire-damnation too!

So, here’s the issue. God requires that our speech be always with grace, that we be “gentle and easy to be entreated,” and then God shows us exactly what he means by “grace” and “gentleness.” And the question is, where is the balance?

AND THE PITCH…
How does one understand the very “harsh” tone used by Christ, and the less than perfect gentleness modeled by some of the prophets and apostles of the Bible? Before making my feeble attempt at an answer, allow me to point out that the Biblical standards of grace and gentleness are not subjective. We must not define them in arbitrary terms. Grace and gentleness are not determined by the opinion of the beholder. Nor do those at the receiving end of the tirade get to determine whether the speech was gentle enough or not.

Grace and gentleness are exemplified for us in Scripture. Christ, the pattern for meekness and gentleness, demonstrates them in every exchange. Christ demonstrated what gentleness is when he upturned the tables, when he told Peter, “get thee behind me, Satan,” when he called the Pharisees “whited sepulchres full of dead men’s bones.” Christ sets the example. He is meek. He speaks always with grace. Just listen.

And we are left to scratch our heads. How do we understand this? First, let me say that I understand the quandary that we all find ourselves in on this. We don’t wish to sound like we hate people. And we have all experienced the proverbial “bull in the China shop.” Some will use their liberty as a license…Â

SWING AND A…
We can only comprehend the rhetoric of Christ in terms of His holiness. Apart from this, we simply grope in the dark. Christ spoke to people, not based on what they were, but based on what HE was. He was holy, he was righteous, and there was no guile found in his lips. When he encountered folly in any form, he confronted it and attacked it. If the folly showed up in Peter, he pounded it. If the Pharisees paraded some folly, he scorched it. In the money-changers, he smashed it.

With this understanding, we can comprehend why Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, why Isaiah ridiculed the Hebrew girls at the market-place, why Christ called Peter “the rock.” Christ lived by a standard of charity. The standard was objective, not subjective.

But how can we live by this standard? After all, if the standard is, “speak to people, not based on what they are, but based on what you are,” then we better sit down and shut up! We aren’t Christ. Not even close. So, how can we keep this standard?

The standard must not be “what am I as a man.” The standard must be “what am I in Christ.” In other words, as a believer, Christ has re-made me in His own image. I bear the image of Christ, and I am commanded to walk in the spirit. The earthly, sensual, devilish kind of wisdom must not characterize my speech. I need the wisdom that is from above, and if I lack it, I must seek it from the God who gives to all men liberally and upbraideth not. I must speak as one who has that wisdom that is from above.

Subjectivity plagues our discourse. Otherwise good men attack others viciously and subjectively. And other men whine and complain subjectively about the lack of grace and charity. Both probably have a point. On at least one level, the complaints are legitimate.

A Biblical return to objectivity offers the only real answer. When we encounter folly and silliness, no matter how pious, we should attack it with ridicule, mockery, and vigorous outrage. We should warm up the ole’ JackHammer. And whatever is beautiful and true, we should honor and defend and respect, even if we find it among the “Type C’s.” (Philippians 4:8)

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Categories: Discourse, Mallinak
  1. November 24, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    I was thinking as reading this: what does the grace of God teach me? To deny ungodliness and worldly lust. Of course, the toleristas (you can copyright that word Mallet Factor) in all of their ambiguity about everything would say that we can’t infer almost anything to be worldly lust. We’re left with denying axe murderers and serial killers. Yes, I agree, we’ve left an objective standard.

  2. November 24, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    Pastor Mallinak,
    very good post. Just curious, since I am by far no expert. could the verses you’ve listed been watered down in other Bible versions to not appears so graphic, so strong? Could that be where the problem lies? They don’t have the right bible to begin with?

  3. November 24, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    Great Post

  4. Greg Linscott
    November 24, 2006 at 10:53 pm

    Hammer-types,

    Your points are well-taken- and are great examples of how to preach and write articles or books. However, for blogging and forum posting, which to some degree are examples of interactive discourse rather than a monologue, perhaps Christ’s example with Nicodemus in John 3, or Paul’s tactic on Mars Hill in Acts 17 are also worthy of consideration as we attempt to find Biblical guidance for our demeanor. We don’t have specific record of Paul’s tactics in the synagogue, but it would be reasonable to think there would be some give-and-take in the exchanges.

    There is certainly a need for boldness and clarity in speech. But not every occasion calls for “ridicule, mockery, and vigorous outrage.”

  5. November 25, 2006 at 1:16 am

    Greg, a few minor factual corrections…

    Paul’s tactics on Mars Hill would have to be a monologue, not a dialog. And we do have an extensive record of Paul’s approach in a synagogue in Ac 13 in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia (Ac 13.14ff.) [I am studying Acts in detail just now, can you tell?]

    I think the issue of when to use strong boldness in language (and even sarcasm, etc) is dependent on the purpose of the message. If we are reproving or rebuking, strong, bold language may be called for, even in blogs. If we are discussing a theological subject where differences of opinion are being weighed and considered, a more moderate tone may be required. If we are trying to convince a confused, wandering soul, we may have to patiently explain truth again and again.

    And last, it is possible to be strong and bold without descending to the wisdom from below.

    FWIW

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. Greg Linscott
    November 25, 2006 at 7:04 am

    Don,

    Re: Mars Hill- that was why I used the term “interactive discourse” than dialog.

    Thanks for the reminder on Acts 13.

    The point still stands, though, when it come to online interaction. Posting on your own blog affords you more opportunity to reprove and rebuke. A forum, by design, demands a more restrained and considerate approach- because it is devoted to a wider participation and assumes interaction will take place.

  7. November 25, 2006 at 10:36 am

    Greg,

    Hi. We can think of the harshest examples of discourse today and reject that. The problem we see today relates to something more sinister that IMO relates to the culture (postmodern, emergent, etc.) where truth has been pulled down to an ambiguous gray, so that all that deserves passion and outrage is “hurting” someone’s feelings. The most offended I have found are very often the most offensive, but they are cozy with the moderators or managers of the debate or discussion. This is the greater problem, worse than harshness. I think you can see it as well in your position.

    I suggest this with a disclaimer, but on this very subject:
    A Serrated Edge:
    A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking

    A synopsis of the book reads:

    Satire is a kind of preaching. Satire pervades Scripture. Satire treats the foibles of sinners with a less than perfect tenderness.

    But, if a Christian employs satire today, he is almost immediately called to account for his “unbiblical” behavior. Yet Scripture shows that the central point of some religious controversies is to give offense. When Christ was confronted with ecclesiastical obstinacy and other forms of arrogance, he showed us a godly pattern for giving offense.

    In every controversy, godliness and wisdom (or the lack of them) are to be determined by careful appeal to the Scriptures and not to the fact of someone having taken offense. Perhaps they ought to have taken offense, and perhaps someone ought to have endeavored to give it.

  8. November 25, 2006 at 11:18 am

    I don’t think that the Bible versions are the problem on this issue at all. To be honest, I think we all struggle to find the balance, and I think Greg’s point about blogging and forum use is worthy of consideration. I won’t say that “one-on-one” or “personal” discourse was beyond the scope of my article, only that for reasons of time and space and the desire to spend Thanksgiving with my family, I didn’t address it.

    But I think even here we see the standard (Christ speaking to people, not on the basis of what they were, but on the basis of what HE was). When Christ dealt with Nicodemas, he used some sarcasm (John 3:10). It was light, and it was loving, call it a gentle prodding. But there was a sharp edge to it. Consider also this passage in Luke (Luke 12:13-15ff). I think there was a sharp edge to that, and on the surface, Christ’s response seems almost unnecessarily harsh. It is, I think, a worthwhile study to see how Christ dealt with those individuals he interacted with, such as the woman at the well (where we see an entirely different demeanor than with Nicodemas), or with Martha (Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful…). Truly in Christ we see a loving harshness exhibited. His biting sarcasm was not meant to destroy, and yet it was meant to destroy.

    I’m still learning about the blog world, but at this point, when I post a blog article, I treat it as I would a monologue, knowing that I will be called on to defend myself later. Forums are (my understanding) designed for public debate of issues. And, some issues deserve rigorous debate — they’ve been debated for centuries, ever since the close of the canon, and some even before that. But other issues deserve to be mocked.

    I’ve read Wilson’s Serrated Edge and found it delightful and helpful. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the way he promised to behave if ever invited to the “Great Black Tie Banquet of Evangelicalism”. He said “…we want everyone there to be braced for the moment when we, on a prearranged signal, throw our dinner rolls at Pat Robertson.”

    By the way, Chapter 12 (“Tender Mercies”) addresses some of what we are discussing, though I think the entire book deals with the issue better than I could.

  9. Greg Linscott
    November 25, 2006 at 11:24 am

    Sure. I have been a defender of satire.

    But “restrained and considerate” discourse also involves demonstrating when to let your point stand- when to let a point sink in- when you’ve said your piece.

    Bauder makes a point in the first installment of his Philippians series (about 24:32) :

    “Let others have liberty of conscience. Hey, some of the oddball views I hold- it took me 15-20 years to come to those conclusions. It seems to me it would be very unfair to expect others to agree with me on the basis of a 15-20 minute discussion. If it took me that long to draw the conclusion- even if the conclusion is right- it seems to me I need to leave room for others to differ, to disagree, and to be persuaded.”

  10. November 26, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    I think you are right, Greg. I think we need to learn when to back off of an issue, and I’m more than willing to let you have this point.

    As a whole, this was the reason we chose this topic… we want to come to Biblical conclusion, defining charity Biblically rather than by what “feels” right to us.

    So… if you’d like to go further with this, we’re happy to hear you out.

  11. Greg Linscott
    November 26, 2006 at 8:51 pm

    I don’t have further to go, really. Thanks for the interaction.

  12. November 26, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    I think I do very well with someone who listens. Bauder seems to be talking about people who are listening to him, considering the position. If someone is going to disagree with a sense of finality to it, I am more gentle with the one who has some solid reasons that seem to reflect thoughtful exegesis. My discourse is less gentle with the one who throws out a book or Dr. or professor quote, or “I studied that out and I just don’t agree” (“I studied that out” is his argument). I think there is a good time to do the walk away instead of offering a final and unnecessary shot. I assume that some would consider me to be especially harsh because I was “kicked off” a site (not a church, a site) by one man (not a panel of men) who didn’t give me one good reason for doing so. His biggest reason was: “I’ve got more complaints about you guys than anyone else.” That despite this from a member in good standing: “I personally do not curse. Howver, most Christians do. I don’t have a problem with that. It doesn’t “offend” me. I do not even use swear words when angry or to make a point. This came from the rigid background I came out of. I also choose not to say certain words because that is probably the easiest way for me to distinguish myself from the unbeliever. I was speaking with a pastor friend today who is a mentor of mine. I had invited my wife along as well for our talk. I discourage swearing for the reasons stated above; however, my wife when angry lets the occasional word out. She knows I do not like this even though I don’t consider it a sin. It’s weird; I don’t like me or mine to use these words but I have no problem when others do. Anyway, back to what I was getting at. My friend said “d—” a couple times. When we got back in the car for the ride home, she said, ” I really like him. He is so real; he even said the “d” word.” I was like, ” I know; I like that about him too.” So yeah, if other Christians and Christian artists have no scruples about a particular word, I say they should let it rip. It doesn’t bother me.”

  13. The Prophets
    November 28, 2006 at 1:39 pm

    Am I reading between the lines (or commas) to hear Pauls sarcasm on Mars Hill? or was he simply explaining.

    Vrs 24 seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth (they should have known this by their conscience)

    Vrs 25 as though he needed any thing (of course He doesn’t)

    Vrs 27 talking to them in the third person “That they should seek the Lord” (I think Paul was speaking about them also)

    Vrs 27 if haply they might feel after him (showing their blindness)

    I think Paul was ridiculing their worship . The “hearers only” would not “mock” what their own poets had said, but instead they waited for their attack on what would not “hurt” their own side which was the Resurrection. It would seem that the reason they mocked Paul was because he had mocked them.

    Just wanted to share my thoughts.

  14. November 30, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    I think you are reading correctly, Prophets.

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