Writings by Cole Huffman


You May Be Right

One of my housemates in college wore a T-shirt with the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” on it:

 

“Yes, 'n' how many years can a mountain exist

Before it is washed to the sea?

Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist

Before they're allowed to be free?

Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head

And pretend that he just doesn't see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind

The answer is blowin' in the wind.” 

 

It feels like the 1960s have revived. This time around, the cultural winds are tornadic. We seem caught under a supercell of rotating updrafts: coronavirus death spikes, deadly force on video, mob violence, cancel culture, suspiciousness and antagonism everywhere, “mankind generally unhappy” (Henry James). 

 

It also feels like the AD 60s in ancient Athens: “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21). Athens, like America, seduced you into thinking your viewpoint, your response, your take on current events was everything.

 

You may be right in what you think about current events. You may be right about President Trump or Dr. Fauci or Colin Kaepernick or Bubba Wallace. You may be right that a social justice gospel is infiltrating evangelical pulpits everywhere—though I don’t think so, and will ask you to cite specific examples instead of making sweeping generalities. Ring alarm bells if you must but take seriously the bond of peace forged between us by God’s Spirit. When we don’t the bells sound like clanging cymbals, loveless in effect.

 

Evangelical Christians are better when we’re prophetic from the center. That means we emphasize what’s at the core of our beliefs. We major on what we hold in common. The gospel doesn’t take sides in that it’s not a partisan proclamation. The gospel takes over. 

 

This is an era of me-and-my-identity-group-is-all-that-matters, which generates a lot of condescension. And yet a hallmark of classic evangelical conviction is maintaining the bond of peace. Generosity of spirit. It’s not just what you believe but how you carry what you believe. 

 

A good example for us is Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a British evangelical from yesteryear. Dr. Lloyd-Jones was trained as a medical doctor but became one of London’s finest preachers. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a picture of him smiling, which could lead one to the conclusion that he was dour. He was serious about his faith but simultaneously serious about the bond of peace with brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

T. T. Shields was a Canadian contemporary of Lloyd-Jones, and though a capable preacher himself, Shields was known for rhetorical right hooks and caustic flamethrowers. When you have an unhealthy interest in controversy and offering correction, you don’t just swing the sword of the Spirit, you use the hilt to bludgeon anyone you consider theologically wanting. That was Thomas Todhunter Shields. (Fitting that “hunter” was in his name.)

 

On a North American tour, Lloyd-Jones visited Shields, hoping for a chance to gently address the critical spirit he saw in someone he otherwise admired. Shields threw open the door himself. The account is found in Iain Murray’s two-volume biography of Lloyd-Jones:

 

“Shields came to fetch me and we had lunch. We talked on general subjects and then we went to sit in the garden. There, as we drank coffee, he suddenly turned to me and said, ‘Are you a great reader of Joseph Parker?’ I replied, ‘No, I am not.’ ‘Why?’ he asked. ‘I get nothing from him.’ ‘Man!’ he said, ‘what’s the matter with you?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it’s all very well to make these criticisms of the liberals but he doesn’t help me spiritually.’ ‘Surely you are helped by the way he makes mincemeat of the liberals?’ ‘No, I am not,’ I responded. ‘You can make mincemeat of the liberals and still be in trouble in your own soul.’”

 

Dr. Lloyd-Jones knew a self-righteous spirit ruins orthodoxy even when we correctly diagnose problems. T. T. Shields “owned the libs” but lacked convictional kindness, and eventually chased even many of his friends out of his Toronto church.

 

Stanley Hauerwas tells a story on himself; about when he gave a presentation at a university where he took racism apart, showing from Scripture how incompatible it is with a Christian worldview. Afterwards one of his friends told him, “You know, everything you said tonight about racism is solidly true. But you were so self-righteous about it I wanted to side with the racists.”

 

You may be right, but you won’t change anyone’s mind by shaming them, belittling them, or otherwise giving them the impression that wisdom will die with you. You may be right, but you may be right in all the wrong ways.

 

Madeline L’Engle wrote something to the effect that we draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe or telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely they want with all of their hearts to know the source of it. Evangelical orthodoxy prioritizes drawing lost people to Christ and, at the same time, living peaceably with one another. Don’t we want our brothers and sisters in faith further drawn to Christ instead of having to endure us?

 

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3, NIV).

Posted by Cole Huffman at 12:11 PM
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