I have been thinking a lot about how Christians can speak of their faith in a pluralistic culture that views truth-claims as suspect. Some Christians would say that if we are not offending anyone we are merely being “nice Canadians” who want to stay on good terms with everyone. These Christians believe that we are supposed to offend others with our faith and our approach to life. They will quote passages of the Bible that speak of us being hated because we follow Jesus and say, “There, get out and offend others because that is what is supposed to happen!” (See especially Matthew 5:11.)
Let’s take a closer look at this. First, the message of Jesus Christ is offensive. (So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. 1 Corinthians 1:23) Jesus came into the world proclaiming that he is “the way, the truth, the life.” He said that no one can get to God except through him (John 14:6). Those are bold, offensive statements in the culture of his day and in our culture today. The good news, or gospel, of Jesus Christ is offensive exactly because it challenges us to follow the ways of Jesus (justice, truth, and love) rather than our own ways. It takes ourselves off of the throne of our lives and puts Jesus squarely in control. So yes, the message of Jesus will offend.
Secondly, even though the message will offend, we need not be offensive. It is Jesus and his message that offends, not us. Because we believe an offensive message, we must, all the more, seek to be gracious, loving, humble, and truthful. It is not good for me to say that others are sinners in the eyes of Jesus without also speaking the truth that I too am a sinner who fails daily to live up to putting Jesus on the throne of my life. We need to humbly recognize that living by the truth of God is difficult and that all of us struggle to put aside our own desires and place the values of Jesus foremost in our lives.
Thirdly, as Wendell Berry said in The Jefferson Lecture and Other Essays, “We cannot know the whole truth, which belongs to God alone, but our task nevertheless is to seek to know what is true.” There must be a recognition in our lives that, although we are seeking to know what is true, we do not yet know the whole truth. We must recognize that our understanding of Jesus, and the way he is explained in the Bible, is incomplete. We must choose, like others to whom we speak, to seek an ever more complete understanding of Jesus.
When we come to others with sensitivity, love, and humility, the gospel will indeed still offend, but it will be Jesus who offends and not us. Jesus came into the world full of grace and truth; we must seek to do the same.