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“Why,” Not “What”

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15 NIV)

There are mornings I meet friends before work where we discuss the Bible or other related books we are reading. That means that when I go to work I have these books lying on the front seat of my car. I sometimes pause for a second as I’m getting out of my car and wonder what people think if they see them sitting on the seat. When that happens I ask myself the question, “Am I ashamed?” The more I reflect on it, the more I honestly believe the answer is no, it’s not a shame issue—instead it’s an embarrassment issue. What I mean is I’m embarrassed at how some people who claim the name “Christian” act, and I’m afraid that people will assume I’m “one of them.”

This past Sunday, Noah put up a slide he called the “Ephesians equation,” which read “Truth == Love”. When I say I’m afraid that people will assume I’m “one of those Christians,” I’m referring to Christians who go yell at people that they’re “going to Hell” or make emphatic proclamations about various political issues. The question I keep asking myself is what is the right level of truth to speak and how to do it in a loving way. It is easy to say nothing, but if I never say anything I’m not speaking truth.

In that context I’ve come to the conclusion that starting any response with “the Bible says…” is almost always the wrong place to begin with a non-Christian. What people really want to know is, “Why do you believe the Bible’s take on that?” not “What does the Bible say about that?” To illustrate this in a different context, consider a conversation between a Christian and a Muslim where the Christian mentions bacon. The Muslim says, “You shouldn’t eat pork because the Koran says not to eat it.” The Christian is unlikely to have a moral epiphany that eating bacon is wrong because they don’t recognize any authority in the Koran’s proclamation. We unfortunately live in a culture where people are taught “there is no God” and “religion is an attempt by man to explain what they can’t understand.” If indeed the Bible is the invention of man with no divine authority, why would we put any value on its moral prescriptions?

Consider a hypothetical conversation where the subject of marriage comes up and someone says “What is the point of marriage?” It is easy to say, “marriage is important because God ordains it in many places in the Bible, like Genesis 2.” I suspect in most contexts that would be met with an eye roll or something worse. However, if the response is along the lines of, “I think marriage has a lot of value. Observationally I think the Bible’s teach teaching on marriage is spot on. It says that when people are married, they become one, and it’s basically like a medical procedure to separate them. When you look at the amount of emotional pain and turmoil that divorce causes, it really seems like it is an invasive operation, not just dissolving a simple partnership.”

The implications of that scare me. It’s easy and comfortable to talk about what the Bible says. It’s much harder to step back and think about why I believe the authority of it. However, I think that my conversations are much more effective and loving when I start with “why” I believe something rather than simply “what” I believe.

Andrew can be reached via email here.

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