Friday, May 29, 2009

Convicted Civility

Listening to Heard on Campus (available through iTunes) this week, the concept of convicted civility was mentioned to characterize the way in which committed Christians are supposed to view people of other faiths or no faith. As part of a discussion about Christian cross-denominational engagement of culture, the idea in such dialogue is not to abandon – or to ask others to abandon – the central tenets of yours or their faith. Rather, Christians are encouraged to own their faith and yet engage in dialogue with others without condemning or castigating others.

It seems convicted civility is an excellent way to characterize the way Christians are called to engage non-Christians in discussions of faith, culture, and policy. This stands in stark contrast to some “calls to arms” we often hear from folks that often demonstrate textual knowledge but precious little understanding of the Faith as we are called to live it. While it is true that we can find such street corner haranguing in Scripture – Jonah comes to mind. But before we too quickly seize on Jonah as an example of this type of preaching, let us remember that Jonah had an attitude problem that needed correcting. Rather than Jonah being an example of God’s preferred approach to spreading His word, the story ends with a reminder of God’s care and concern for all people.

As an alternative model, we can consider Paul’s interaction with the Athenians. As we have the story, Paul does not stand in the middle of the Areopagus and condemn the Athenians. No, rather he engages them where they are – using aspects of their religious traditions as entrĂ©es to spiritual discussions. Paul does not abandon his understanding of the faith, but he engages non-believers on their terms and where they are.

Convicted civility also seems to be line with the character suggested by the lists of gifts of the Spirit we find in Scripture. Especially germane are goodness, patience, humility, and kindness. People we are told are generally attracted to good people, and relationships formed with good people are stronger than those based on intellectual arguments and fear-based theological premises.

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