Aren’t the more loving ones those who teach what Jesus actually says?

I saw the following tweet on twitter yesterday and thought it probably worth giving a longer form comment. One can’t say everything on twitter.

Let me reiterate what I said on twitter in response first:

The point (I think) Marcus is getting us to think about is how we as evangelical might act towards people. So, let’s just be clear. Are evangelicals sometimes unpleasant, unkind and unloving? Yes. Evangelicalism is not an inoculation against total depravity. Sinners will inevitably sin and evangelicals are not immune. We don’t all struggle with the same sins but all of us are inevitably going to struggle with sins that makes us unkind and unloving at least some of the time.

Where I take more issue is in the suggestion that theological liberals are not just tickling people’s ears but are more kind and loving than evangelicals. I don’t see any great evidence for that claim. Indeed, the way some of my friends have been treated by their liberal counterparts suggests quite the opposite. The idea that liberals are not just as mired by total depravity as are evangelicals is a nonsense. Such as they, too, are sinners (which they are because we all are) they will inevitably struggle with various sins that might make them unkind and unloving at least some of the time too.

I was picked up on twitter for suggesting that the “niceness” of liberalism is often not very nice at all. Someone noted that love and kindness were in view, not niceness. The point that was lost, I suspect, is that what is being called love and kindness is no such thing but is a more vapid and insipid niceness. It is the kind of niceness that speaks in soft tones, with an indulgent smile, that only ever affirms. It does all this whilst those it affirms, as they watch on smiling, quietly indulgent, play on metaphorical railway lines as the intercity comes bearing down on them.

What is more, that veneer of niceness so often melts away when faced with those whom they despise. Indeed, they make little effort to hide their disdain for such people. I have even witnessed firsthand the dog whistles and pile ons brought about by those apparently kindly liberals. If someone dares to demur from a liberal shibboleth, the niceness very quickly fades and becomes a much more aggressive and strident nastiness. Whilst I don’t deny that evangelicals can behave unpleasantly, let’s not pretend that liberals don’t. Evangelicals do not have a monopoly in unloving behaviour and Liberals do not have one in kindness.

What I do think, however, is that Evangelicals – by dint of their theology – are more likely to not encourage people into damnable unrepentant sin. For all the sin that may exist – of which there is plenty to go around on all sides – evangelicals at least recognise that unrepentant sin will keep someone out of the kingdom. It doesn’t stop them being sinners themselves, and behaving badly at times, but it does stop them relying on those things for their salvation. By contrast, even if we are only rubbing shoulders with liberals who are nothing but nice to us, if the gospel they peddle does not lead to salvation and the ongoing, unrepentant sin they affirm does indeed keep people outside of the kingdom, who exactly is being the kinder and more loving? The softly spoken, gently affirming one who comforts you to Hell or the less superficially nice one who tells you the truth and points to the actual means of salvation? Both will inevitably sin – that is a given for sinners – but only one of them actually serves your good in the end.

The key point that seems to be missing here is that kindness concerns a selfless compassion and mercy. It is a matter of serving another person’s good perhaps at the expense of personal comfort and ease. So it strikes me as a funny sort of love and kindness that can affirm everything in everyone and proclaims a false gospel that will not lead to salvation, eternal life or anyone’s ultimate good. What good is it if the apparently kindly person offering you sweets turns out to be luring you into danger? It might come with some affirmation and a smile, but then cigarette companies never brand their products as addictive poison sticks either. It hardly sells well.

Evangelicals who are consistent with their theology do not reckon themselves to be the finished article. They do not say, come to Jesus because we are great. They say, come to Jesus because he is great; he even saved sinners like us. Should we be careful how we live and behave? Of course we should. Should we seek to be kind and loving? Jesus certainly says we ought. Will we always manage to do that well? Not this side of glory. But then again, nor will the liberals. Only, one of the gospels being offered is the biblical one whilst the other is a one way ticket to death and destruction. In the end, it seems a bad idea to base your choice or your theology on the relative sinfulness of two groups of sinners. But if we do want to make such a judgement, surely the more loving ones are those who stick with, and share with you, the actual teaching of Jesus even if they may be maligned for it?