Ok, confession. I can be a very argumentative person. I’m not entirely sure why, but I absolutely love being right. Sometimes I HAVE to be right…and if I am not proven to be right, everyone must know my opinion and that I am well versed in argumentation. In the past, I’ve been the guy on Facebook blowing up someone’s news feed because they posted something I did not like or agree with.
What’s worse is that I love playing the devil’s advocate. Part of being a skilled debater is knowing the strengths and weaknesses of every argument, and then using it to your advantage. There have been times that I have argued for something that I did not necessarily agree with. Pretty sick, huh? Just writing this makes me feel like a weirdo! Talk about a strange personality trait.
But here’s the deal: I am not alone. Anyone who has ever posted something controversial on Facebook or Twitter knows that the internet is filled with opinionated people. We live in the age of outrage. From the news to social media, we are bombarded with stories designed to incite us into taking sides. Republicans v.s. Democrats. Patriots v.s. communists. Christians v.s. atheists. Secular v.s. Judaeo-Christian. Liberals v.s. conservatives. Rich v.s. poor. Black v.s. white. Big government v.s. small government. Hollywood v.s. working class. And so on and so forth.
What’s worse is that media outlets know this, because by instilling an “us v.s. them” mindset, their ratings will improve by creating loyal factions who become just as closed-minded and argumentative as they are. Rarely do they offer anything of substance or create avenues of healthy dialogue; they simply resort to strawman arguments and caricaturing the “other” side. People with opposing viewpoints immediately become enemies who are brainwashed from opposing news outlets.
The evidence for this is revealed every time you turn on the television or open your Facebook app. We live in incredibly divided times. Americans are divided on so many issues, and instead of civility, dialogue, healthy discourse and mutual respect, there is constant fear-mongering and ad hominem.
When my copy of Jesus Outside the Lines by Scott Sauls arrived in the mail, I could not wait to dive in. The subtitle for Saul’s book is “A way forward for those who are tired of taking sides.” I felt like the book was written especially for me. Saul’s begins his book by asking this question:
“I decided to write this book because I am tired. Tired of taking sides, that is. Are you?”
Jesus Outside the Lines has 10 chapters; the first four dealing with controversial issues within the church, the last six covering areas of disagreement between believers and non-believers. Scott summarizes his first four chapters by quoting St. Augustine who famously quipped “In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, liberty.” Must Christians choose between…
- Being Republican or Democrat?
- Protecting the rights of the unborn or loving the poor?
- Going to church and having a public faith or sitting at home and being a Christian privately?
- Being poor or rich for its own sake?
In a very Keller-esque fashion (Scott served alongside Tim Keller at Redeemer church in Manhattan for many years), the answers to these questions aren’t as clear cut as their made out to be. Saul’s advocates taking a middle way: gathering the best ideas from every tribe and moving forward in love and respect. For example, it is entirely possible for a Christian to be a democrat. Just like it is entirely possible to care for the unborn AND care for the poor at the same time. It is possible to have a vibrant personal faith WITHIN the bounds of the church Jesus died for. The problems arise when we begin demonizing those we disagree with. It’s easy for us to forget that the church is a complex, multi-ethnic, trans-continental body that has existed for over two millennia. Does this mean that everything is debatable or up for grabs? Absolutely not. It does mean that not every Christian around the world will look, believe and act like you. I enjoyed the first four chapters of Saul’s book the best, finding them convicting, encouraging and challenging.
The last six chapters of Saul’s book deals with problems many believers have when dealing with their lost neighbors and objections many unbelievers have regarding the church. In fact, these last chapters function something like an apologetic; reminiscent once again of the work Tim Keller has done (See Reason for God). These chapters focus on the following concerns/objections:
- Should the church judge the world?
- Does God love or hate?
- Why are Christians so hypocritical?
- Why does God hate sex?
- Religion or fantasy?
- The Bible is full of imperfect people.
Overall, I found this book edifying and good for my soul. I would recommend it for my friends who are tired of taking sides (and being a jerk about it). You can purchase your copy here.