A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in an Age of Us Against Them by Scott Sauls. Thomas Nelson. 224 pages. 2020
A Gentle Answer is Scott Sauls’ fifth book. I’ve read them all, and been both blessed and challenged by them. In this timely book, he tells us that whatever the subject may be—politics, sexuality, immigration, income gaps, women’s concerns, race, or any other social matters over which people have differences—angst, suspicion, outrage, and outright hate increasingly shape our response to the world around us. He states that this feels like a culture of suspicion, mistrust, and us-against-them. On the other hand, Jesus is a God of reconciliation and peace, not a God of hate or division or us-against-them. He is the God of the gentle answer. Jesus renounced outrage and advanced the power of a gentle answer throughout his ministry.
The author tells us that in our current cultural moment, outrage has become more expected than surprising, more normative than odd, more encouraged than discouraged, more rewarded than rejected. We form entire communities around our irritations and our hatreds. For our generation, hate has been commodified. It has been turned into an asset. His challenge to us is to decide whether we take offense and strike back, or instead, do we seek to extend kindness and offer a gentle answer? His hope is that because Jesus Christ offered a gentle answer instead of pouring out punishment and rejection for our offensive and sinful ways, we can offer gentle answers to those who behave offensively and sinfully toward us.
The book aims to answer the question, “What must happen in and around us so that we become the kind of people who offer a gentle answer?” The book is as much about what must happen to us and inside us (how to be angry and not sin, how to accept criticism, not to seek retaliation, etc.), as it is about what must be done by us to engage faithfully in a world of us-against-them.
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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and reviews of Can Science Explain Everything? by John Lennox and Have No Fear: Being Salt and Light Even When It’s Costly by John C. Lennox
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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The book is organized into two parts:
Part 1 “The Gentleness Jesus Has for Us” examines how every Christian is a beneficiary of the gentleness of Jesus. This is the ultimate reason why every Christian’s response to our us-against-them climate ought to be gentleness.
Part 2 “How His Gentleness Changes Us”, examines the practical and obvious by-product of his gentleness toward us: namely, that we ourselves become gentle—as we grow thicker skin, do anger well, receive criticism graciously, forgive all the way, and even bless our own betrayers.
Each chapter ends with helpful questions for reflection and discussion, which add to the reading experience, whether you are doing it individually or even better, reading and discussing with others. The book can be considered a prequel and companion to the author’s excellent first book Jesus Outside the Lines, which I read and discussed with my wife Tammy.
He gives the reader a challenge when he writes that since God’s default response to human offense is to be slow in his anger—even the righteous kind—how much more should this be true of us, even when expressions of righteous anger may be entirely justified?
In this book he looks at how the world’s experience of Christians (who are often perceived to be hypocritical), is so different than Christians’ experience of Christ. He looks at persecution, how to be angry but not sin, how to accept criticism, forgiveness, how the line dividing good and evil cuts through every human heart, and much more. Throughout the book, the author illustrates his points by sharing insights from characters both in the Bible – Zacchaeus, Nathanael, David, Paul, Peter, Hosea, Stephen, Isaiah, Jonah, Judas, and modern day – John Perkins, Martin Luther King Jr., Ann Voskamp, C. Everett Koop, Mother Teresa, Tim Keller, Miroslav Volf and Rachael Denhollander, to name a few.
The author gives us this final charge – “Armed with a gentle answer, modeled and provided by our gentle Savior himself, it is time that we got about the business of mending our fractured world with a presence that is less combative and more gentle and kind. The flourishing of our witness depends on it, and the good name of our Savior is worthy of it.”
This is a timely and helpful book. Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- Those who yearn to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God advance righteousness by speaking and living a message of love—not a sappy, sentimental love, but one that is undergirded with truth and with the courage and wisdom needed to confront.
- Because Jesus Christ has loved us at our worst, we can love others at their worst. Because Jesus Christ has forgiven us for all of our wrongs, we can forgive others who have wronged us. Because Jesus Christ offered a gentle answer instead of pouring out punishment and rejection for our offensive and sinful ways, we can offer gentle answers to those who behave offensively and sinfully toward us.
- Because Jesus has covered all of our offenses, we can be among the least offensive and least offended people in the world. This is the way of the gentle answer.
- Jesus and Christianity do not discriminate between good people and bad people. Instead, Jesus and Christianity discriminate between humble people and proud people.
- Responding to sin and selfishness with a gentle answer instead of retribution and shame seems offensive to those who are prone to separate the world into the good people and the bad people, as opposed to the proud people and the humble people.
- Christ did not come into the world to affirm and accept the good people, but rather to rescue and receive the people who are not good.
- When faith becomes sour and starts to look and feel like all law and no love, all truth and no grace, all judgment and no embrace, all exclusion and no welcome, it’s clear we have drifted from the heart and ways of Jesus Christ. This becomes a Christianity void of Christ, which, of course, is not Christianity at all, but a farce.
- Jesus sees both the best and worst in us, and he loves us just the same.
- It is Jesus’s love—his gentleness and grace toward us—that equips us and compels us to stand up and speak out against injustice and hurt in the world.
- If we identify as Christian but experience little criticism or opposition for our faith, a gut check is likely in order. Are we going along to get along?
- When we become less tethered to this world because we have become more tethered to Jesus Christ and the world to come, we can be certain that, ultimately, we are giving up nothing and will receive everything.
- To be rejected in the eyes of the world for the sake of Christ is to be esteemed in the eyes of God.
- Anger reveals the things that we love most. We only get angry when something or someone we love is threatened, oppressed, or abused.
- The more we learn about Jesus and become like him, the more we understand that clinging to what is good often requires us to hate what is evil, because evil is the enemy of good.
- Only those who know that God will set every wrong right can truly forgive as God in Christ has forgiven them.
- Our character must matter more to us than our reputations.
- The true prisoner of a grudge is not the one against whom it is held, but the one who does the holding.
- The forgiveness that we have received becomes the forgiveness that we must share.
- When we come to the realization that the line of good and evil cuts through our hearts just as it does through the heart of every kind of betrayer, it gives us pause about assuming a holier-than-thou or fiercely oppositional posture in our dealings with others.
Can Science Explain Everything? by John Lennox. The Good Book Company. 128 pages. 2019
In this short, but helpful book, John Lennox, professor of mathematics emeritus at Oxford University, gives us an introduction to the “Science and God debate”, a subject I have not previously given much attention to. He writes that many people conclude that God and science do not mix, but this is simply not true. Instead, he writes that science and God mix very well. It is science and atheism that do not mix.
In this book, he examines many of the misconceptions people have, not just about faith and belief in God, but about science itself. The author writes about science in a very understandable manner. He shares thoughts and ideas that he has found most helpful to share with people, and some of the most interesting and unusual conversations he has had over the years.
He begins by providing some historical context for how we arrived at the current position of thinking that science and God do not mix. He writes about the convictions of some of the greatest scientists in history, many of whom were Christians. The late Stephen Hawking, who was an atheist, said that we have to choose between science and God. The author disagrees with that statement. He tells us that there cannot be an essential conflict between being a scientist and having faith in God.
He writes that it is wrong to suggest that science is the only way to truth. Science has its limitations. A world in which clever mathematical laws all by themselves bring the universe and life into existence is pure (science) fiction. Unfortunately, many people give to all statements by scientists the authority rightly due to science, simply because they are stated by a scientist.
The author states that he rejects atheism because he believes Christianity to be true. But he also rejects atheism because he is a scientist. He asks how he could be impressed with a worldview that undermines the very rationality we need to do science? The Bible gives us a reason for trusting reason. Atheism does not. This is the exact opposite of what many people think. Both science and the Bible insist on the importance of rational argument.
An interesting part of the book, and one that not all will agree with, was his discussion about the origin of the universe, which science talks about being 13.8 billion years ago, and not in the very recent past as some readings of Genesis 1 might indicate. The author contends that quite apart from any scientific considerations, we can read Genesis 1:1 in a way that leaves the age of the universe indeterminate. He believes that there is no in-principle objection to the current scientific dating from the biblical perspective.
He discusses the topic of miracles. It was in Eric Metaxas’ book Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life, that I first heard of the Lennox. He writes that to suppose that Christianity was born in a pre-scientific, credulous, and ignorant world is simply false to the facts. He tells us that when a miracle takes place, it is the laws of nature that alert us to the fact that it is a miracle.
Lennox writes that the crucial difference between the Christian view and a world-view that denies the existence of God is that Christians do not believe that this universe is a closed system of cause and effect. Rather, they believe that it is open to the causal activity of its Creator God.
He addresses the issue of evil and suffering, indicating that there are many people, scientists included, for whom the existence of evil and suffering constitutes a very big problem. But the Christian response to this question is something that offers both hope, and comfort to those who are experiencing it, which it is hard to find in a worldview that rejects the notion of God entirely.
He looks at the reliability of the New Testament. He states that the common views that the New Testament text is untrustworthy, or is invented much later than it claims to be, or is simply a fake, simply do not stand up to any serious examination.
He addresses the resurrection of Jesus, stating that perhaps the most astonishing thing about the resurrection of Jesus is that, from the very start, the leaders of the Christian community staked the whole validity of the gospel message upon it. He states that critics have been desperately attempting to discredit the resurrection for 2,000 years, and have failed, because the evidence for it is simply too strong.
He then addresses the personal dimension of the debate. He states that when we begin to talk about personal relationships, we leave science behind, but we don’t leave rationality behind. Since God is a person and not a theory, we can only get to know him if he reveals himself to us, and most specifically, he has spoken to us in his Son.
Lennox gives us the biblical diagnosis, which is that we have inherited a nature that is sinful and then have proceeded to sin on our own account. But many people try to pile up their merit in the hope of one day gaining God’s acceptance, which will never work. He writes that it is remarkable how many people seem to be prepared to work for God to earn their salvation, yet they are not prepared to trust him. The only way to avoid judgment however, is to cease trying to gain acceptance by merit and instead trust Jesus for salvation.
The final chapter has the author testing the truth of Christianity. He tells us that there is overwhelming evidence of the transforming power of Christ in the lives of those who turn to him for salvation. He writes that we can and must check things out from a distance, but that is just a first step. To gain final evidence of the truth of Christianity we have to give up that distance and repent and trust Christ.
The books ends with a description of other books by the author as well as other books related to this one by other authors.
Have No Fear: Being Salt and Light Even When It’s Costly by John C. Lennox. 10 Publishing. 72 pages. 2018
In August, 2019, I attended John Lennox’s excellent breakout session “Have No Fear” at the 2019 Sing! Getty Music Worship Conference. Attending that helpful session led me to read this short book of the same title.
Lennox tells us that Jesus said that his followers were the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-14). They swim against the stream. But that doesn’t mean that they were never afraid. Peter wrote that we should always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). But we don’t always feel prepared, and we get scared of what people might say. It’s hard to swim against the flow. The purpose of this short book is to demonstrate that we can be a faithful witness to Jesus. We are to be Jesus’ ambassadors by our words and actions, but we are not alone in this. Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to bear the major burden of witness.
Lennox tells us that it is one-to-one conversations that are the key to Christian witness, but it is not us who starts this conversation. We should observe something about the person we are witnessing to and then ask them a question related to it. We should keep asking them questions until they ask us one.
We should begin by asking them ordinary questions so that we can get to know them, and learn how to build bridges with them. We should listen for their questions about our faith and when they arise, we need to take them seriously.
We should share the essence of our Christian hope and the reasons behind our belief. We may get stuck and not be able to answer a particular question. The author gives us a strategy for coping with such occasions.
The author suggests briefly acknowledging the Lord in conversations, reminding me of what Bill Peel and Walt Larimore refer to as “Faith Flags”, in their fine book Workplace Grace: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work. Another helpful suggestion is to invite a few people to your home to watch an interesting video or listen to a podcast, preferably showing both sides of an issue, and then discussing it. The author offers helpful videos on his website for this purpose.
The author tells us that our priority as witnesses should be to bring people into direct contact with Scripture. He suggests using a resource called The Word: One to One, and also carrying a Gideon New Testament with us to give away.
Lennox tells us that our character plays a major role in our witnessing. No one will be interested in what we say unless they can see that our lives back up what we profess to believe. He tells us that we need to “walk the talk”. We also need to show gentleness and respect as we witness (1 Peter 3:15).
The author tells us that a key aspect of our witness is explaining the difference between conventional views of religion and Christianity, including clearly explaining what salvation means.
After someone professes faith in Christ, we should encourage them to grow in their faith by reading Scripture, finding a good church and a Bible study group.
There is much of value in this short book about witnessing without fear.
- Christianaudio Free Download. The June free audiobook download from Christianaudio is The Gospel’s Power & Message by Paul Washer.
- The Seamless Life, A Conversation with Steven Garber About His Most Recent Book. Joe Palekas interviews Steven Garber about his new book The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship and Work, one of my favorite books of 2020.
- Scott Sauls on The Habit Podcast. On this episode of The Habit podcast, Jonathan Rogers and Scott Sauls discuss the difference between being for and being against, why we’ve recently seen such a renewed interest in Fred Rogers, writing as an instrument of peace, and how gentleness can survive in a world that has made hostility into an asset.
- Join Tim Challies on an Epic Journey Through Christian History. On this episode of the Gospelbound podcast, Collin Hansen talks to Tim Challies about his book (and documentary) Epic: An Around-the-World Journey through Christian History.
BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?
We are reading through John MacArthur’s classic book The Gospel According to Jesus. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Follow me”? MacArthur tackled that seemingly simple question and provided the evangelical world with the biblical answer. For many, the reality of Jesus’ demands has proved thoroughly searching, profoundly disturbing, and uncomfortably invasive; and yet, heeding His words is eternally rewarding. The 20th anniversary edition of the book has revised and expanded the original version to handle contemporary challenges. The debate over what some have called “lordship salvation” hasn’t ended—every generation must face the demands Christ’s lordship. Will you read along with us? This week we look at Chapter 12: The Wheat and Tares. Here are a few takeaways from the chapter:
- Christians are not supposed to live like unsaved people.
- Christians can and do behave in carnal ways. But nothing in Scripture suggests that a real Christian might pursue a lifestyle of unbroken indifference or antagonism toward the things of God.
- The message of the wheat and the tares is simply that God does not sanction any effort that would rid the world of unbelievers by force.
- Character and behavior are what separate the wheat from the tares. In the judgment the difference will be fully manifest.
- In the end, real wheat will inevitably be identified by the crop it produces.