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So why is it okay for her to state her offense to me, yet it is not okay for me to make a principled point about a moral issue because it offended her personally?

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I just got back from San Antonio yesterday and had some important conversations with a Baptist church out there, taught on Friday night and Saturday morning on "Tactics in Defending the Faith." It was almost all high-schoolers and college kids.

This was a bright group. They have a great youth leader there. Rob told me his philosophy is: he is not a coach, he is not their best buddy, he is not a game show host, he is not a travel agent. He is a shepherd. That's what he tells his kids. He says, when you come to our sessions, you come with a Bible and a notebook and a pen.

That's my kind of youth pastor. He's got a lot of sharp kids out there and we had a chance to talk together about defending the faith, especially from a tactical perspective.

I want to tell you about an unsettling experience I had this week by way of introducing my remarks today.

A lady came up to me after reading our past issue of Solid Ground about same sex marriage. You know there are six different pieces of legislation apparently that are now moving through the House and State Legislature that deal with homosexual rights, same sex marriage, or the like. I responded to this issue in our last newsletter. This woman said she was very offended by my piece.

When it comes to dealing with this kind of issue, I'm not a name caller. I don't go after the individual. I don't belittle human beings made in the image of God. I want to go after the issue, and I was dealing with the issue of same sex marriage in the most careful way I possibly could.

In fact, I wasn't even arguing against homosexuality. I was trying to give a perspective of what is really going on in this debate over same sex marriage.

I asked her why she was offended. She said, "Because my brother is a faggot."

Now, that bothered me, of course. I'm not dramatizing here. This is exactly what was said to me. She seemed to imply that my attitude towards homosexuals was that they were faggots and that's why she used that word. She was saying it as though that is the word I would use.

I don't use that word. In fact, it certainly isn't in the piece that I wrote, which gave me a feeling that maybe she never actually read the piece.

I told her, "I would never use that term towards homosexuals."

She said, "I would hope you wouldn't." But in any event, her sense was that I thought homosexuals are subhuman or second class citizens. Again, an indication that she hadn't really read the piece.

She repeated, "Anyway, I'm deeply offended. Good-bye." And she turned on her heels and started to walk out.

I said, "Wait, I want to talk to you. I'd love to talk about this."
She turned as she was walking away looking over her shoulder and said, "Well, I don't want to. You have people to talk to in there and I'm not interested in discussing this."

I called after her that I'd be glad to talk to her, but she was off through the parking lot. There are a couple of things to note about this very brief exchange.

First of all, on a personal level, I really don't like the hit and run tactic. You know me, I'm given to making the best shot I can and having intelligent conversation about critical issues. I understand some issues are emotional ones for people. There are personal stakes involved. And so it doesn't always go nice and clean, as it ought.

When I write a piece, I have the time to muse over it. Other people read it, give me feedback, and I'm able to remove anything that might seem inappropriate or offensive. I don't think there was any in the piece that I wrote about same sex marriage. But I wasn't able to make a defense of my article because this woman was just interested in telling me her feelings and leaving.

Second, I guess it is a sign of the times that people feel if they are offended they just have to say it. And they don't say it in a way to correct my thinking.

You know what she told me in that very brief conversation? She thought homosexuality was wrong. She apparently was a regular member of the church, so she believed such a thing. She's a Christian and we believe the same way. But after all, it is her brother.

I would understand this if she were having a hard time confronting him. But in this conversation, I was the bad guy. And why was I the bad guy? I was the bad guy because I had offered a principled case against same sex marriage, not even against homosexuality per se. I attempted to equip Christians to think carefully about the issue and to defend against such a notion.

Here is another example of something that I run into a lot. Even in the church, and especially in the church, where the issue of truth ought to be so important, just voicing a contrary opinion (in this case, even when it is an opinion that the person agreed with) the person could take offense and you'd be the bad person. In this case, offense taken because a member of her family was homosexual.

This is why I have written the most recent Solid Ground on the issue of disagreements in the church. The point of the article is that arguments are good. We do ourselves a tremendous disservice when we act as if just the mere fact of disagreement means that one is guilty of being mean spirited.

I'm not above being mean spirited. But I'm not a mean-spirited person, and the piece that I wrote was not that way. But the fact that I had registered my disagreement was enough for this woman to register her offense.

How do Christians maneuver in an environment like that? My question to this lady is, What am I supposed to do here? Am I supposed to be quiet? Apparently, I can't offer a principled argument for my point of view because that's what I did and that was offensive. I don't know the other alternative. I couldn't have sanitized it any more. The alternative would be to not say anything. But is that the purpose of Christianity? Not to say anything that other people might be uncomfortable with?

She was very offended by my moral offense at homosexuality implied in the article. But it didn't bother her one bit for her to state her offense to me. So why is it okay for her to state her offense to me, yet it is not okay for me to make a principled point about a moral issue because it offended her personally since she has a member of her family that is a homosexual?

You see what this attitude does? When we turn our weapons on each other illegitimately like that, we stifle meaningful, reasonable, important discussion about matters of truth. This is the whole point in the piece coming out in the May/June Solid Ground. Arguments are good.

The ability to argue well is a virtue, and the reason that it is good is because arguments and our minds used carefully are the first line of defense that God has given us against error. Not the Bible, by the way. The standard response is, The Bible is the first line of defense. No, the Bible can be misused if your mind isn't being used properly.

By the way, that point is proven every time that you have a disagreement with someone else about the meaning of the Bible and you reason about which meaning is most correct.

In the order of knowing, your mind and careful thinking are the tools that God has given you that are first in the order of knowing truth. In the order of authority, certainly the Bible is first, but we can't understand properly that authority that speaks inerrantly and truthfully about spiritual things unless we use our minds properly.

If we abandon our minds and we make disagreement a thing to be frowned upon, and we penalize people who try to address moral issues in a pluralistic society, what hope is there for the truth to be spoken? When even Christians challenge other Christians for attempting to carefully speak the truth to the body of Christ? I don't know what hope there is.

This somewhat underscores another problem I've talked about. There has been a significant change in Christianity in the last hundred years. How is it, for example, that people can be in church for 30 years and never really learn anything? How is it that I can be, and have been, called a heretic for analyzing and dissecting the Bible instead of letting the Holy Spirit speak? How is it that a Christian teacher that I talked to said, "I can't tell my students that homosexuality is wrong?" I wouldn't want to tell somebody who is pregnant, she went on to tell me, that they shouldn't have an abortion. Because maybe they will come back to me and tell me that I ruined their life because they decided to keep the child. What kind of thinking is that?

There is a reason people in the church think that way. The reason is because our point of view about Christianity is radically changed. We have changed from being a religion that is fundamentally a truth tradition to a religion that is fundamentally a relationship-based tradition. Christianity isn't principally about truth. It is about relationship. It is about being close to God. It is about having our personal needs met. It is about loving Jesus.

In fact, when I was in San Antonio there was a big conference going on. We had our conference about tactics and defending the faith and had 120 high school and college students. I was very happy. But down the road the big stadium was filled with Christian women about having joy. In fact, I think it was billed as having outrageous joy.

I was convinced the Kingdom of God would proceed more effectively based on the efforts of the 120 high school students than by the thousands of women who were meeting just down the road to learn about how to have outrageous joy. You know why? The thousands down the road were focusing on getting their needs met through Jesus. Christianity is about me being happy, joyful, getting my needs met, being fulfilled, having my hurts assuaged, being healed. Christianity is about the Christian. That's what it's been functionally.

I'm sure most people were there with the best intentions, but what I am saying is there is a whole ideology that has been bought into the church so you can go to conferences for that kind of thing.

In fact, I saw a flier for one study series. Here's what it said. A man sitting on a stool, looking at the reader, he says, "In my search for answers to life's questions, God met my need through this particular Bible study series." It was heralded as something to deepen one's relationship with God, to heal your hurts. You know what this whole study was about? It's about the Christian's needs.

There is a place for that. The people who are promoting this study are really good Bible people. But I thought it was interesting the way the appeal was being made. Oh, this is for me. You give them a challenging session where they got to work, take notes, study, and not get anything out of it for themselves but move the Kingdom forward, you're going to have 120 people. You're not going to have 5000 or 10,000. And that's the dire straits the church is in.

By the way, the result is self-focus. Christianity is about me.

Secondly, we have no creed we can articulate. All we can talk about is our experience. We don't tell what is true, only what we feel. We know that Jesus died for our sins and that is certainly true, but how many people can actually explain exactly what that means in non-religious language in a way that is both accurate and could be understood by a non-believing listener?

Want to give yourself a little quiz? It will absolutely knock you over if you just even attempt to do this. Point being that Christianity has moved from being a truth tradition to being an experience tradition. I bet there are a lot of people that are pursuing things like Bible studies and the like to experience God, to get closer to God, to have a richer relationship with God, but for those of you who think you have a wonderful relationship with God in that sense, I wonder how you will fair on the quiz that I'm going to offer you.

Here's the quiz: After the show is over, get yourself a couple of sheets of lined paper and then list all the books of the Bible in order. Then, on the blank line after it write a one-sentence summary of what the book is about. One sentence, that's all.

Sound too hard? It might be, but it strikes me that if we are Christians and believe that this is the guide for our lives, then we ought to be able to know what each of the books is basically about.

Is that too hard? Let's try something else.

Take any book. One book of the Bible. List the author's name, the theme of the book, what the book is about, and then a short outline of what the flow of thought is, the reasoning, the arguments in the book, how the thought is developed.

It seems to me if we are children of the book, if we take the truth seriously, if we say the Bible is the Word of God, by golly, we ought to know what Paul was up to in the book of Philippians. Or what Hebrews is about so that we're not just grabbing a verse that assuages our need for an emotional lift in the moment, seize it right out of the context , and use it for our own personal ends rather than addressing it for the purposes that God and the author intended.

If somebody you really loved wrote you an important letter, don't you think you'd read in entirety to find out what they meant to say? Or would you just find a couple lines that you liked and then feel that you were doing a service to that person? You'd do the former, not the latter.

The Bible, the New Testament, is letters. A lot of them. To the degree that we can't pass that simple test, it's to that degree we turn out to be somewhat bankrupt. Is that fair to say? I'm not appealing here for theological degrees. I'm just saying basics.

Do you know what the books are about? Can you give me an outline of one of them? That's the test.

This is a transcript of a commentary from the radio show "Stand to Reason," with Gregory Koukl. It is made available to you at no charge through the faithful giving of those who support Stand to Reason. Reproduction permitted for non-commercial use only. ?1999 Gregory Koukl

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