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Is it ok to be a blunt instrument?

Why CMI advocates a gracious tone

Published: 12 October 2019 (GMT+10)

Gary’s article A blunt instrument for God? received the following comment from a friend of the ministry, Grahame G. from Australia. Response from Gary Bates and Lita Cosner follows.

Grahame G., Australia, writes:

I know that CMI has had a long-held position to be always gentle and ultra-careful never to be "nasty". (I don't know if that's how it's expressed internally but it's my clear impression from "outside".)

I wonder if you could comment on the very nasty language used by Jesus, Paul, and others.

How does that accord with "gentleness and respect"? (I think there is a question to be raised about how gentleness should be defined and sometimes Christians seem to use a worldly definition that doesn't line up with the epitome of gentleness, Jesus Christ. Compare Matthew 23)

It seems to me that the context of the I Peter passage says "those who ask a reason for the hope that is in you". Not everyone. And not even everyone who asks a question. It seems to me that scoffers are excluded, especially if you check the broader context of scripture.

I'm not asking you to change your approach. I think you have an excellent approach. But I'm not sure it's the right approach for everyone and I'm not sure this article (and others) is as comprehensive or biblical as you seem to portray of the situation. You appear to have overlooked some aspects of scripture that I have mentioned.

I would love to hear your feedback on this. It is a vexed topic with many competing views and one I've ruminated on at length and I hope to continue doing so. It is very important that I not violate scripture, and that I fulfill His purpose for my life, and represent Jesus accurately.

Dear Grahame,

Thanks for writing in with this question, because it helps us explain something that’s at the very heart of our ministry. You may have seen recently that Gary Bates had the opportunity to minister to over 10,000 university students. One of the hosts explained what he liked about CMI. He said, “You guys have great information, but you don’t use it as a bat to beat people over the head with like I’ve seen some others do.” In other words, we present convincing information in a way that helps to win people over if possible. If some are being viewed as combative then obviously seekers would not be willing to engage with them, particularly if they are not even too sure about what they believe themselves.

Let me give another example from when I (Lita) had just joined the ministry. A fellow wrote in with a nasty, skeptical email, but the way he began his email gave me the perfect setup for a Gospel message, and that meant that my tone was evangelistic all the way through, because you can’t beat someone to a pulp and then expect to present a good Gospel message! He wrote again with another nasty email, which I answered in the same way. He came back a third time and said, essentially, “I never expected to get any answers, and you’ve sent me two, and you’ve been a lot nicer to me than I was to you. Now I have to go away and think about what you said.” My tone gave me credibility which meant he considered my information a lot more than if I had just said, “Haven’t you ever heard about the bacterial flagellum, dummy?”

Both of these demonstrate the effectiveness of a winsome tone, but is it biblical? You say that both Jesus and Paul used ‘nasty’ language. You cite Matthew 23 as an example for Jesus, and while you didn’t give an example for Paul, his comments about the Judaizers in Galatians seem applicable. Both of these used harsh language, beyond what we would normally use, and it’s important to note the context. Both of these are addressed to false religious leaders who are teaching dangerous error meant to keep people away from God. You may notice that we aren’t particularly gentle with BioLogos, Hugh Ross, or with high-profile pastors like Andy Stanley who teach people to doubt the historical nature of the Bible. We follow Jesus and Paul in being very clear about criticizing leaders and teachers who are leading people away from believing the Bible.

But most people don’t fall into that category. They may be hostile, they might be ignorant, but we don’t treat them the same way that we’d treat someone who is in a position of leadership and influence. We follow the example of Jesus and Paul in being very patient and gracious with people, and we see it bear fruit in convincing people of our message.

It's also important to note that we can misjudge people’s motives, especially if we get emotionally involved as well. Jesus was God and knew what was in men’s hearts, as the Gospels tell us many times. Also, Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit. So, we should be careful about using a harsh tone because we don’t know people’s hearts.

Another reason to answer with a gracious tone is to be able to present facts when often the person writing in has only emoted. We can be direct in saying “You’ve asserted many things but haven’t given any evidence,” or point out where they have misrepresented our arguments without getting emotional about it.

Really, the only time when we use strong tone is 1) when we’re writing about false teachers like Hugh Ross and BioLogos and 2) when someone is making public dishonest statements about our ministry which, if believed, might inhibit our ability to spread the message. Jesus often pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. But this was not how He always talked to everyone.

You say some people are excluded by the 1 Peter passage. I say perhaps, but not as many as you might expect. And I’ve never regretted being too gracious to someone, but there are times I regret being so hard on someone. If someone is looking for a reason to ‘sucker-punch’ someone with creation, I would suggest that person needs to examine their heart. If you’re more interested in scoring intellectual knock-outs for Jesus than you are in leading the skeptic to Christ, I would suggest you need to stay away from apologetics (using ‘you’ in a general sense, not you specifically).

I would say that apologetics is an extension of the Great Commission. To be able to share our faith and lead people to Christ, we also need to be familiar with and ready to answer common objections to faith. In the Roman world, it was questions like, “Why can’t you be a Christian and come to the temple of Diana like any good Ephesian?” Today, it’s questions like, “Who created God? And isn’t the universe billions of years old?” But our answer should keep in mind that our goal isn’t just to give an intellectually credible answer. It’s to give that answer in such a way that our questioner sees that Jesus is Lord and knows that he needs to repent and believe the Gospel. And hopefully, our answer will make it clear that if the skeptic wants to know more, we would welcome further conversation on the topic.

So in conclusion, we try to be Christlike in our tone, including using strong language in cases that mirror times when He did. And we always strongly defend the truth. But we avoid offense where possible by using as gracious a tone as possible, and often win the skeptic or at least some who read the exchange, as illustrated by my two examples.

Helpful Resources

Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

King T.
Thank you once again Lita for some very good pointers on when and on whom to use stronger language. I really appreciate the guideline and will also be much more circumspect in how I reply to scoffers and skeptics from now on.

For those who seem to use or want to use only the blunt instrument, perhaps they should view a few of Ray Comfort's videos on the Way Of The Master (Living Waters) YouTube channel in which he gently avoids most if not all of the intellectual combat and addresses the most powerful agent available in the person: The Conscience.
R R.
[q]If you’re more interested in scoring intellectual knock-outs ... I would suggest you need to stay away ...[/q] I don't claim to be 100% right, not sure where the line is, but sometimes, when scoffers are simply out with an axe to grind and ridicule us in public (e.g. Dawkins of the world), to destroy our credibility so that no one ever listens to us (e.g. forums, comments, etc), it seems (to me) that a more "aggressive" stance is needed. (Wars are not "gentle" affairs, so why is our intellectual/Spiritual "war" expected to be any different? I'm not advocating for insults, but Jesus did publicly insult Pharisees a few times, replying "Have you not read ...?"). Some have no real interest in what we have to say, much less necessarily how we say it; they're just out to destroy us. Here, it's no longer about the critic, but those watching. Like it or not, we don't need to have an "official" leader position to influence other people nowadays; just having "followers", "likes", or a site shows anyone making public posts influences anyone willing to read them. By your "influence" metric, everyone's a "leader" nowadays, and can be treated as such. The best defense is a good offense. It seems going on the offensive is justified, even if it includes ridiculing the critic's position, logic, or even them in *some* cases (e.g. Prov. 26:4-5; 1 Kings 18:27). Yes, Elijah was against leaders, but the people who follow them are no less guilty. Otherwise God would spare the deceived, but he doesn't. Challenging another's worldview is often *not* considered "gentle" by those on the receiving end. It seems gentle/truthful are often mutually-exclusive. Good news come only after very bad ones. A bias to not "offend" can be costly, if "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Lita Cosner
R.R., the problem is that we don't know someone's heart. Sometimes a person who comes across as someone who is hardened will actually listen to the evidence. And sometimes a gentle tone won't win them, but will win an onlooker. When we are tempted to respond in a less than grace-filled manner, I would suggest we actually need to examine our own hearts as to whether we are seeking to glorify our Lord or vent our own tempers.
Miss Yvonne R.
Waiting for the HOLY SPIRIT to enable us to share that our LORD JESUS really is the only way, the only truth and the only life.is necessary because as we all know, only then can the desired penetration by the HOLY SPIRIT destroy the barrier created by the influences in our lives. The man GOD brought me together with to love and support, encourage has been a man over dominated by his father who was a lay preacher. For thirty years I have been patient, loving, supportive remaining committed to GOD as the ONE who opened my eyes to this man, being the only man for me. From the first lecture I attended on God's Creation as a Christian, I forever left behind me thoughts on evolution and all aspects of my life before knowing THE LORD JESUS. The fruits of the HOLY SPIRIT never fall short. Being CHRIST like no matter the length of time, is the essence for remaining steadfast in the NAME of our LORD JESUS. The joy of knowing the truth of GOD's Creation is beyond speech. I have indexed all the Creation verses in my bible which Creation Ministry has distributed to many people who asked for a copy. Glory to GOD for the energy and joy provided by the HOLY SPIRIT. Yvonne Robertson
Don C.
Don C. 14 Oct 2019
I think as long as we give everyone the respect God requires, we can be sharp with adversaries. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. The frustrating thing is the unearned respect so many accord the God defying and faith destroying theory of evolution. Realizing something of the origins of evolution can give us an advantage. They began, from the first to find an alternate explanation that would not need God. They set out to do away with God. I submit that is the only reason, the only purpose, the only rationale for evolution. To decide to attribute something to evolution and not to God, requires a basis for the decision. A standard. Without that they don't have a reason why one answer is better than the other.
Louis C.
This made me think. I have been of the opinion that I can be sharp to people who mock Christianity publicly, if for nothing else for the sake of doubting brothers and sisters coming across the mocking attacks on the credibility of Christianity. I used passages like the cleansing of the temple to defend my actions. A short while ago, I began to realize that I didn't get to the heart of the gospel if I do that. This article showed me a possible reason and a way to change it. Thanks for your hard work to equip the church!
Well said. I would add a point, because we have relationships among us as believers that often need encouragement and correction. Loving each other earnestly or deeply (1 Peter 4:8) is critical to the process. Believers can easily be caught up on issues that are very important, but can also be "radicalized" in language or actions because those issues are so important. On the other hand, some believers are laid back, seemingly unmoved by issues that arise. Put these together and there is ample opportunity to ruin friendships and not love each other as we go about our work in Christ. So, the admonitions seem relatively straight forward, but walking in them can be a challenge as we grow. In Genesis fundamentals (the sanctity of life, the holiness of marriage, and many others that are held important) there is good reason to stay close and love deeply as we encourage each other to move forward but all the while maintaining our biblically-based understanding and biblically-guided character.
Joel B.
We speak the Truth and stay faithful to scripture. We speak it in love to stay faithful to our Lords commands. It so often times does not come across to the hearer as love but as judgement, regardless of intent. Jesus says "no one comes to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him..." and "all the ones whom my Father gives me will come..." Tell them the Truth. Tell it in love but do not try to make it palatable as God will do what only He can do. Our job is not to convert but to present as image bearers of the Almighty. He an He alone can change the stone of a mans heart into flesh. Yeah I know it will resonate as Calvinism but scripture does not lie. As always you folks do a great job!
Gert V.
Excellent explanation!! One that I will sincerely attempt to employ!
Patience C.
All summed up by "speaking the truth in love" to anybody being drawn.
Mike S.
Thank you, Lita and Gary for answering Grahame's question. Like him, I value your ministry very highly, and also the tone with which you conduct the debates and answer the questions. Your distinction between those who promote and teach error and those who are simply wanting to know more must surely be correct. However, I find myself very much in sympathy with Grahame's desire to be as Biblical as possible when discussing worldviews and all areas that impact on how people see our great Creator and Saviour. And to that end, what about the place of loving admonition of the sinner as part of our dialogue with them? The tone in which a discussion takes place must always be with gentleness and respect, but the content of the discussion should be courageous enough to call sin out for what it is. Never in a judgemental or condemnatory way, 'all have sinned...' but with genuine love for the person who may be offending God completely unintentionally. In all gospel work, the glory of God must be paramount, and that means being willing to be an instrument the Holy Spirit can use to convince people that they are sinners and therefore need the Saviour as we do. Thank you all so very much for your ministry, we had Lucien Gavin and Dominic at a church near us recently and they were so inspiring. Please keep up the good work.

Mike S
Lita Cosner
Well, there is certainly a place for loving admonition, as long as you're careful to include both elements--love and admonition. I personally evangelize in contexts where it's necessary to specifically say that certain practices and beliefs of people are sinful and they will go to Hell if they do not repent and believe in Christ. However, I do so in such a way that these individuals know that I am saying these hard things because I care about their eternal destiny. When people are offended, it is the message of the Gospel that offends them and not my manner of delivery.
David S.
Why do we think that gentleness is the only approach to leading someone to Christ? The truth in love, yes, but the truth is NOT always gentle. The first step to repentance is coming face to face with our sinfulness. Not always a gentle situation! I don’t think it’s one or the other, it’s both, depending on the leading of the Spirit. Can we be too harsh and get in the way of God? Yes. Can we be too gentle and blunt the piercing sword of the Spirit? Yes again. Some of my favorite old preachers weren’t always gentle to those they evangelized, at least not to outside ears, but the message, though harsh, is one of love. Perhaps I’m just concerned that the church overall has gone soft in it's attempt to not offend. It’s also possible we’re talking past each other on this. My only concern is that we keep the message pure and sharp and alive, and remain humbly the instruments of reconciliation. Most people consider telling the full, complete truth (the gospel) to someone as “beating them over the head”, especially unbelievers. I know this is not what you mean by the phrase, but it truly is the prevailing idea behind the sentiment. If this is “beating someone over the head”, then I say, let’s all grab our hammers!
Lita Cosner
Please note we said we don't hesitate to be hard on false teachers like BioLogos and Hugh Ross. I.e., we try to use the Christ-like approach in every situation, being gentle and patient with individuals in contexts where Jesus and the apostles were, and being critical and calling out false teachers like they did. If you read CMI articles, you will find we take care that our tone matches the situation.
Chuck R.
Coming from someone who angers people by saying or pointing out where others are wrong, I am going to do it again by pointing out that Jesus said "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword." (Matt. 10:34-38) and can attest that during my discussions with family who are devoted to a church that claims to be Christian (but has in practice drifted far from it), while I purposely attempted to avoid direct criticism of their church, I knew that when I point out the contradictions to what they were taught and practiced when compared with Biblical teaching, their anger would be aroused. It is true that Jesus rightly was critical of the religious leaders, but too that He 'cleansed the temple' at least twice of those little people who were doing business, and Jesus in John 6 quickly weeded out those who followed Him because "....I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled."Something that has become all too common in churches is the thinking "love the sinner, hate the sin" as compassionate, when in truth it is an excuse to avoid dealing with those sinning as Paul demonstrated in 1 Cor. 5:1-7.We need to also remember that as we point out error, Jesus said they hated Him before the hated us.
Lita Cosner
Where did we say that we don't deal with error, or that we change our message in any way to be liked better? What we care about is being most effective with the message for the Gospel. And it's hard to witness to someone while you're beating them over the head with a creation bat. Presenting the exact same truth with grace and patience is more effective, though it does not allow one to vent one's own frustrations in the name of being Christlike.
Joe B.
I truly appreciate the response to this letter. Having dialoged about creation issues with unhappy folk, I know first hand how difficult it can be to remain gracious, which is why I try to wait 24 hours before responding to nasty comments. I also like what Terry D P. had to say about using a scalpel; but to most effectively use a scalpel, a skilled surgeon will first insure that the patient is properly anesthetized to avoid causing undue pain, in which case the patient might flinch suddenly and then get cut in the wrong place and end-up worse than they were to begin with. So always with grace and kindness if possible.

Miss R.
Yesterday I had a fall in a Sydney street, I fell on my forehead full force. A lady phoned for an ambulance, While waiting I witnessed who THE LORD JESUS is for me to a crowd of people because people were amazed I did not faint or be unconscious. In hospital I witnessed to many people, again they could not understand how a 76 year old woman is not suffering more than the wound on my forehead. Last year due to a stricture and complications I was in hospital four months. I shared with a lady how the doctors thought I was dying but GOD saved me. She said to me I was placing pressure on her, My joy in GOD healing me, this lady saw as pressure Praise to GOD for HE has this lady in HIS will to be saved.
Terry D P.
If I had my druthers, I would rather not be a blunt sledgehammer, but a very sharp scalpel with a Word of Truth inspired by the Holy Spirit, as in Heb 4:12-13: «For the word of God [made flesh aka Jesus - Jn 4:12] is alive and active. It cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the place where life and spirit, joints and marrow, divide. It sifts the purposes and thoughts of the heart. There is nothing in creation that can hide from him; everything lies naked and exposed to the eyes of the One with whom we have to reckon.»
So God help me!
Ian B.
Love your stuff, CMI, and particularly you Lita. When we were kids in high school, we were taught "a man convinced against his will, is if the same opinion still". We must make every effort to keep people "onside", so that even later, someone may be able to win them to the Lord. Note the operative word "win." I think CMI are right on the money in this.

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