First, winsomeness is not a political strategy. We do not seek to be kind and gentle merely as a strategy for winning over our neighbors to our point of view. We seek these characteristics because our Lord commands and exemplifies them. Kindness is a fruit of the spirit. Secondly, in different seasons of cultural change, the church can and should shift its public posture.
Something has changed in the air of evangelicalism in recent years. Once-aspirational words like “winsome” and “thoughtful” or descriptors like “nuanced” and “kind” now trigger an attitude of dismissiveness and sneering from many on the right.
For some, these words describe a mindset too focused on currying favor with the world. It’s too accommodating to engage in this way with the “cultural elites” whose leftward politics wreak havoc in society. The “winsome” may have good intentions, according to this view, but their attitude and actions demonstrate an extraordinary naïveté in relation to politics and cultural change.
How did we get to the point where some Christians spurn civility? In my previous column, I offered a brief look at the rise of a “neo–Religious Right” and explained why some younger evangelicals thirst for a more confrontational approach to engaging the culture. Today, I want to dig a little deeper into the reasons why some have repudiated a more evangelistically front-facing, pastoral posture to culture change and now call for a more combative, political approach.
Winsomeness Doesn’t Win
Why do words like “nuance” and “winsome” receive sneers from some on the right today? Because the strategies these descriptors represent are seen by many as having failed. Society is changing quickly, and not favorably toward Christianity.
Christians have experienced a rapid shift in which traditional Christianity has been downgraded from respectable to reprehensible. For example, in 2008, Rick Warren prayed at President Obama’s inauguration. Just four years later, Louie Giglio—who shares roughly the same theological framework and approach—was deemed too controversial to do the same. When prominent, well-regarded pastors, such as Max Lucado and Tim Keller, are seen as hateful and bigoted (with Keller even having an award rescinded), how can anyone be so naive to think that “thoughtfulness” or “winsomeness” can earn the right to a hearing?
Younger evangelicals recognize instinctively that no amount of goodwill or winsomeness will create warm feelings among those who claim Christian moral teaching is repressive and harmful. Christians don’t win a hearing by “playing nice.” And so, we’re told, the need of the hour is to be forthright, bold, and confrontational. The culture war is upon us, and we need to stand up and fight.
2 Approaches to Life in Babylon
Although we can spot similarities, we shouldn’t assume younger evangelicals are picking up the same playbook as the old religious right. Unlike our parents and grandparents, most of us agree that we’re in Babylon, not Israel. The difference is in how best to live as exiles in Babylon.
For a generation now, many evangelicals have assumed we’re a moral minority living in a world that is, if not hostile, at least barely tolerant of our views. Over the years, the prophet Jeremiah’s letter to the Babylonian exiles (Jer. 29) has been the go-to text for helping us live faithfully in these times.
“Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Find wives for yourselves, and have sons and daughters. . . . Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the LORD on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive.” (vv. 5–7, CSB)
In other words, remember, Christian, that you are not “at home.”