On Self-Vindication and Christian Witness

23 Dec

Here is a lengthy quotation from Russell Moore’s book, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ, regarding the way in which we often try to vindicate ourselves and our beliefs:

Much of our rhetoric is less about persuading unbelievers, or maintaining the faith of believers, than about, as Thomas Merton put it a generation ago, our search for “an argument strong enough to prove us ‘right.'”  That’s why we caricature the views of our opponents in a way that can get loud “amens” in our own setting but leave our children completely unprepared for the more careful, nuanced arguments they find when they actually encounter the viewpoints we’ve lampooned.  

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t confront culture.  Jesus, the prophets before him, and the apostles after him all did so.  If we are, as Jesus said, “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19), then we understand that the ecosystem in which the fish live matters.  But we must confront culture with a certain kind of willingness to be, as Paul said to the church at Corinth, “wronged” and “defrauded” (1 Cor. 6:7), knowing our ultimate vindication comes later.  

We ought to be willing to be ridiculed and scoffed at because our audience isn’t this present band of spectators.  We can listen to them, love them, and bear their arguments with the same patience with which we comfort our children when they insist to us there’s a goblin under the bed.  I know there’s no goblin.  And I know Darwinism, hedonism and nihilism and whatever else is the proposed alternative to a Christian vision of things aren’t true.  Sure, I’ll open the window and show my son that what he hears is just a dead leaf banging against the window screen.  And I’ll show my non-Christian neighbor how not even he believes the universe is random and meaningless and amoral.  But I don’t rage against my little son’s “stupidity” in crying out about the goblin.  He’s a child.  And I don’t rage against my unbelieving neighbor’s unbelief.  He’s held captive to a mindblinding snake (2 Cor. 4:3-4).  In both cases, what’s important is something other than that I’m proven to be right.  What’s important is truth and hope and, above all these, love.  

What do you think?  How does this passage challenge the way in which you respond to those who criticize you and your faith, doctrine, viewpoints and so on?  Can you resonate with Moore’s depiction of Christian rhetoric?

Let me know your thoughts, and have a Merry Christmas.


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