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How Bad is Bad Enough?

September 5, 2014

I’ve been reading a book lately called Apostate, written by an ultra-conservative Christian.  It is a screed against “The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West” and because it is so angry in tone I find I need to read it in small doses.  As a result I read about one of these evil secularist rock stars and need to take some time off before I go to the next.

As it happens, I’ve also been following a semi-regular series on a blog written by a guy who doesn’t think that there is much good in evangelicals.  He too has been going through history, selecting evangelical heroes, and explaining how awful they really were.  Because he kindly spaces out his rants I am able to take them as they come.

Most recently I read the first guy’s analysis of Jean Jacques Rousseau.  He gives examples, actually several examples, of how wicked he was.  For instance, Rousseau gave up his five children for adoption because, claims the author, they were interfering with his work.  The message is clear; because of this and a host of other evils we can safely assume that anything he has said or done that might be looked on favorably can be tossed out; disregarded.

Not to be outdone, the other chap, in analyzing George Whitfield, found he was vehemently pro-slavery.  As such, we are assured, we have no need to credit him with any good from The Great Awakening or his other deeds.  After all, nobody in that time who was pro-slavery could ever be good enough in any other way to be given even a slight nod of approval.

As you may guess, each of these men have incited the wrath of defenders of their respective targets.  It comes as no surprise that people, both secularist and evangelical, are quick to defend their historical hero while giving a loud agreement to the excoriating of the guy championed by those they didn’t like in the first place.

All this leads to the question how bad is bad enough?  At what point are the negatives so overwhelming that we can’t give any credit at all to the positives?

To be sure, if having negative beliefs, traits and actions were an automatic ground for shunning we would all be shunned.  Equally true is the pattern that we tend to be much more forgiving to people who are like ourselves.  So a Calvinist, while acknowledging Whitfield’s view on slavery as seriously flawed, sees him, on balance, as worth admiring.  In the same way, secularists tend to be more forgiving of Rousseau.

We all, Christians and non-Christians, are actually very good at seeing specks/logs in the eyes of our enemies and just as good at ignoring the specks/logs in the eyes of our friends.  Frankly, we excel in calling all “their” specks logs and all “our” logs specks.

As Christians there are two warnings here.  The first is not to whitewash the sins of those with whom we agree.  The Christian tendency to laud Whitfield and ignore his flaws contributes to the anger of others.  Actually, Wikipedia is pretty good here.  Their open contribution model allows balanced input for both Whitfield and Rousseau.  The corollary of this is not to exaggerate the sins of those with whom we differ.

The second warning is more personal.  We need to always ask ourselves if there are things that we are just as confident about being right as Whitfield was about slavery?  Things that we, or those who come after us, will one day be ashamed of?  Our kneejerk answer is no, of course not, we know we have it right.

So did Whitfield.  And Rousseau.  Only humility and grace in our expression can save us from their fate.

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