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Good Christian Anger

July 17, 2017

A few days ago Eugene Peterson got himself in trouble.  The 84-year-old Peterson, best known for his translation of the Bible – The Message –  a man who has written dozens of other Christian books, was giving an interview, one of many on sort of a farewell tour, touting the releasing his last book.  In the middle of this interview he gave this response to a question about gay marriage:

“I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.”

This semi-tepid acceptance of gay marriage was not well received by many Christians.  Later, after reflection and prayer, he said his answer had been hasty, and he retracted some of this statement. This was not good enough for the dozens of self-appointed Guardians of the Galaxy Orthodoxy. They are still slandering and tearing down the man in the harshest of ways.

Now, admittedly, I was not particularly enthusiastic about Peterson’s statement.  In the same way, I sometimes have concerns about his translations in The Message.  (This coming from a man who has never translated a single sentence of Scripture.)  But it was dismaying to see the anger vented on an 84-year-old man who has dedicated his life to serving God.

This is the latest example of what I call (tongue-in-cheek) “good Christian anger,” the all too frequent way we rip into each other over doctrinal issues.  I’ve sat in a number of Bible studies that result in shouting matches over minor doctrinal points.  Church meetings do the same on trivial issues too.  It makes me wonder, why are so many of us so angry so often?

We justify our anger by pointing out that Jesus and Paul both expressed anger.  Well, yes.  Jesus was clearly angry when the Pharisees twisted Scripture to impose a self-serving, hypocritical, legalistic view of faith on others.  Paul blew his top with the Galatians, and to some extent the Corinthians, when they distorted the message of grace.  So, yes, sometimes anger over core issues is needed.  But Christian anger should be rare and we should hate being angry; frequent “Christian” anger might well be a sign that something is wrong with our own walk with Christ.

I think that most of our anger is fear-based.  We are afraid of cultural changes we don’t like and can’t stop.  We are afraid that, if our doctrinal stances on even one out of dozens of secondary subjects is wrong, than we can’t be confident in anything.  I have a friend who repeatedly says “If you don’t believe Genesis 1, you can’t believe John 3:16.”  But what he really means is if he allows that there may be people out there who differ on interpretation and remain Christians it frightens him; makes him unsure.

God is able to defend and grow the church without our anger. Our anger is not a sign of our doctrinal orthodoxy. Attacking people out of anger and fear does nothing to win over those who think differently. It does nothing to guarantee the purity of our doctrine and our churches.  There has to be a better way to show God (and others) how faithful we are then being angry.

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From → Christianity

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