Integrity in Cultural Engagement
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
- 2007 Oct 09
Integrity is a precious commodity in today’s world. One need only look at any news outlet at any given time to see that someone has breached the public trust once again. Of course, integrity has to do with smaller things as well. A myriad of words and actions are propagated on a daily basis that demonstrate a lack of integrity without rising to the level of scandal. The sad reality is that politicians, for example, are rarely trusted fully by anyone. There is no mystery as to why such is the case as most politicians seem to make a career out of double-speak, misdirection, expedience, hedging, flip-flopping, and the like. The obvious consequence is that when politicians lose their integrity they lose their effectiveness.
A loss of effectiveness for those who lack integrity is not relegated to the political arena alone. Anyone who fails to demonstrate integrity will eventually become fruitless in his efforts. Of course, the issue is magnified when the failure lies with Christians. The Lord Jesus Christ expressed as much when He said to His disciples, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men (Matt. 5:13).”
While a lack of genuine salvation and apostasy is the ultimate upshot of Jesus’ words, application can be made to any believer. The believer is salt in the culture in which God has placed him. He has a spiritually preserving and flavoring effect as he brings truth and grace to bear in his every sphere of influence. By virtue of such, the Lord issues a warning to believers not to lose their “flavor,” that is, their effectiveness, in their evangelical engagement. This warning is followed by the admonition: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).” Needless to say, when the Christian loses her effectiveness, the consequences are disastrous. Not only is there spiritual loss for the believer, not only do unbelievers remain unconvinced, but reproach is brought upon Christ. The one who desires to glorify God actually accomplishes just the opposite.
The saints of God must guard their hearts, words, and actions in the all important task of impacting the world for Christ. A loss of usefulness can occur for any number of reasons in any number of areas. While moral failure attracts more headlines, perhaps the most subtle way a Christian loses his preserving and flavoring effect is through his words. Those who are committed to evangelism, apologetics, or cultural engagement of any kind are given to many words in their efforts whether spoken or printed. Failure in the area of words leads to ruinous fallout in kingdom advance.
While a number of issues concerning failure in the area of words may be pointed out, a dozen suggest themselves quite readily.
1) Too often, Christian cultural commentators report something before the facts are known. Analysis is then offered but must be grounded in sheer speculation. A position is shredded without investigation. The problem lies in the fact that innuendo and slander abound in such a dynamic as the truth is often the opposite of that which is reported. The Scripture is clear on this issue: “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him (Prov. 18:13).”
2) A corollary problem is created when the Christian pundit allows mischaracterizations to go without comment. Of particular concern are those propagated by the pundit himself and/or those mischaracterizations he unknowingly pushes and discovers at a later time. To add insult to injury, the world’s way is followed as he fails to go back and humbly correct his mistakes.
3) At the same time, as a matter of convenience to one’s argument, the Christian apologist will often leave out facts. Some facts can take the edge off of that which one is trying to say or greatly mitigate it. When the believer is more interested in refuting someone with whom he disagrees, no matter how deplorable the one with whom he disagrees or his position is, facts may not be ignored. The True and Living God does not have to be defended by trickery or deceit. Nothing is inconvenient for God.
4) Those with an unbiblical worldview must resort to rhetorical tactics to win a point of debate simply because their worldview is inconsistent and incoherent. One such approach is that of setting up a straw man so as to knock it down easily. Exaggerating a position, deriving false implications, or even conveying false impressions is usually how such is accomplished. Christians are not immune to this shameful practice. To engage in disputation this way is to be dishonest, put one’s ignorance on display, and at the end of the day, say that the Christian worldview is lacking in the particular area in question.
5) Akin to setting up a straw man in terms of dishonesty is the practice of twisting the meaning of the statements of others to suit one’s own purpose or bolster one’s argument. The one listening to or reading cultural commentary or debate is not always as discerning as necessary. It is the job of the Christian leader to offer discerning analysis and then proffer the biblical response. To twist what others say leaves a false impression with the audience one is attempting to win and of course exasperates or even infuriates the individual with whom one is disputing. One will not be won in this fashion. It is to further deny the essential dignity of that individual who is created in the image of God. By virtue of such, despite the fact that his position may be wrong, to attack him in this way is to attack God Himself.
6) A common difficulty in evangelical engagement that is analogous to twisting another’s statements is that of representing the position of one’s opponent incorrectly. It makes little difference whether the misrepresentation is intentional or inadvertent or whether the commentator simply does not understand the position under consideration. It is incumbent upon the ambassador of Christ to know a position if he is going to refute a position. Not only is sound disputation at stake but so too is honorable disputation. If the Christian is to truly honor Christ in her discourse, she must set forth her opponent’s position in such a way that her opponent would say that she has represented his position well. This is simply a matter of truthfulness.
7) With the proliferation of talk radio, one of the most common courses a Christian cultural commentator will take is that of seeking opinion rather than offering sound analysis. A story may be intriguing and the Christian analyst wants to talk about it. The problem often lies in the fact that he either doesn’t really know what to say about it or there are really no issues raised. The only issues that can be raised are those of a speculative nature. So, he invites opinion. Callers are then put on the air and a discussion follows that typically consists of slander, straw man arguments, the twisting of facts, and pooled ignorance in general. The upshot is that this type of dialogue has nothing to do with the Christian worldview or the propagation of such. In fact, an example of how Christians are not to talk about things is set forth. “Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin…For in…many words there is also vanity. But fear God (Ecc. 5:6).”
8) As Christians seek to sway society for Christ, they often forget that their first allegiance is to Christ. By way of extrapolation, their first commitment is to truth: regardless of the consequences. Much of the time the Christian reviewer will defend an individual or a policy by virtue of his or its affiliation. An individual may be dead wrong from a biblical perspective but he will be given a pass “for the greater good” provided he is associated with the right party. This pragmatic commitment runs deep in evangelical circles. To say that the ends justify the means, to gain victory at the expense of truth, and to forsake guiding principles from God’s word is to say that this world and what we want is more important than God’s purpose for us as followers of Christ and what He wants.
9) In terms of rhetoric related to cultural, political, and/or policy critique, a double standard is often employed. Christ’s character is not set forth when such is the case. The Christian pundit may vociferously object to certain inconsistencies, indiscretions, or errors that emanate from individuals or groups with whom he disagrees at the core. Yet, when those same or even other inconsistencies, indiscretions, or errors spring forth from those individuals or groups he supports, the mitigation and excuse making is prolific. Unbelievers see through such shallow tactics and become even more entrenched in their opposition to Christ. Is it any wonder that the church has little influence in this culture when her representatives can’t get the basics of honesty and fairness in public discourse down?
10) While what has been said relates to any forum whether print or verbally oriented, the blogosphere presents its own set of unique temptations. One of the primary problems is that of individuals who would slander others under the cloak of anonymity. Too many persons will pen an open letter or article that is rife with unfounded accusations without signing their names to it. Not only should such a thing never come from the pen of a Christian, but these kinds of baseless attacks should be ignored by the rest of us. The believer must stand by his words out in the open or he is nothing more than a spiritual sniper.
11) A trend in the church today that would shock our forefathers is the use of foul language to identify with the culture to ostensibly win persons to Christ. Not only is such forbidden in Scripture, pragmatic in nature, ineffective, dishonoring to the Lord, but is often an excuse to succumb to one’s own flesh. Of course, lost people are not impressed nor are they more prone then to come to Christ. At the same time, sincere, conservative believers will make false appeals in support of this trend. Paul’s reference to counting those things associated with his life before Christ as rubbish or dung is often cited. It is said that he used a stronger word than either of the two mentioned. Perhaps. But, there is a vast difference in using language that is earthy or realistic vs. language that is foul. A failure to make such a distinction is tantamount to twisting the Scriptures.
12) Civility in public discourse is regularly missing from the saints of God both in the blogosphere and in the audio media. Anger, malice, derision, harshness, name-calling, interruption, and so much more are rampant. Could the apostle Paul have been any clearer when he wrote these words: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice (Eph. 4:29-31)?”
Integrity is something that God takes very seriously. The Scripture describes the one without integrity as a fool: “Better is the poor who walks in his integrity than one who is perverse in his lips, and is a fool (Prov. 19:1).” The follower of Christ is a person of integrity: “The righteous man walks in his integrity (Prov. 20:7).” When Christians fail to walk this way they have succumbed to the influence of the evil one and are making God out to be a liar. They are saying the cross of Christ has no meaning or power in their lives. The bottom line is that Christians who are serious about cultural engagement must shun worldly tactics at all cost: it’s a matter of integrity.
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