I saw this article on Sojourners – a site that I don’t regularly visit – and thought it would be worthy of a comment or two. The idea of this article is that Christians shouldn’t say certain things (particularly when you’re speaking to non-Christians0 because they may or may not be true, and even if they are true – don’t say them because they don’t make sense.
- “Everything happens for a reason.” The commentator, Christian Piatt, shows his lack of biblical understanding from the very first point. I’m actually very grateful that he does so with his first point because it helps me to better understand the rest of his comments. He says, “I’m not sure where [this phrase] came from either, but it’s definitely not in the Bible.” He then goes on to state that the closest thing he could find is from Ecclesiastes 3. I must admit, that while I was reading this first point of his, I really wondered whether he took any time to actually search the Bible for this idea or if he just thought about it for a few seconds while he happened to be listening to the Byrds.
I say that jokingly because the concept of God’s sovereignty is so prevalent throughout the Bible and it is so central to Paul’s writings, that it is difficult to think of any Christian – especially one who puts thought and energy into writing articles about and or for Christians – who would not quickly find Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes 1all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Granted, if you did a quick google word search for verses containing “everything” “happens” and “reason”, you might not find Rom 8:28 (at least not in every translation), but if you have even a small level of biblical literacy, you’d be able to find it with just a bit of looking. But even if you didn’t come to Romans 8:28 but you took the time to think of some of the more well known stories in the Bible, then you should remember a story where a young boy was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, abused, was sexually assaulted, falsely accused, imprisoned, forgotten about, and then rose to become the prime minister of Egypt. And in Joseph’s climactic conversation with his brothers, he says that while they meant him harm, God intended their actions for good so as to save many people, including their family, from the famine that was to come (Gen 50:20). And if you didn’t think of Joseph, what about Peter’s commentary about the crucifixion of Jesus where God’s purpose was to use sinful people in wicked acts to accomplish the greatest thing in the history of the universe (Acts 2:23)? This concept is very clearly taught in Scripture. To not be able to find it is to show your own blindness.
So now, I’m left with a question of how to interpret the rest of this list. Maybe there should be another option, but I can only think of two options for interpreting what Mr. Piatt is writing in this post:
A. He’s ignorant of what the Bible says, and therefore you can forget about him really understanding what he thinks it means.
B. He’s being deceptive and not dealing honestly with these objectionable phrases.
I’m going to proceed with the understanding that he’s ignorant, because it’s the option that puts him in the best light, and I have no reason currently to impugn his motives or honesty. Perhaps my judgment would change if I was more familiar with him, but for now – he just seems plain ignorant of the content of the Bible, and therefore I’m very skeptical about any attempt he makes at providing an understanding or interpretation for what it means.
Without going into much more discussion on this one point – Christians should not – for any reason – abandon the use of this truth. Phrase it how you’d like; personally I prefer quoting Romans 8:28. But whatever you do, don’t abandon God’s sovereignty. Use wisdom when to speak and when to be silent so that you can speak later, but don’t put aside this truth.
Finally, Mr. Piatt brings up the rape victim. To address this objection – yes, there is a reason that this horrible thing happened. God had a reason. But saying that there’s a reason doesn’t mean that I know what that exact reason is, nor should I try to tell you what I think His reason was. Job was never given the reason for what he went through. It is not the job of the Christian to pontificate as to the purpose of God specifically in this tragedy, but by using Scripture and the supreme example of the greatest tragedy of all time – the arrest, mock trial, beating, humiliation, and torturous death of the only truly innocent person who ever lived – and try to show that there is truth that God has purpose in tragedy. So weep with the rape victim. Listen to that person, and be careful of the words you interject into the conversation. But, when the question of ‘why’ is brought up – be very careful that you don’t ever say that God had no purpose or that He didn’t know about it or couldn’t stop it. There is a reason, but neither of you will know that reason fully until after this life is over.
- “If you died today, do you know where you’d spend the rest of eternity?” Piatt’s response is that this is an utterly unanswerable question, and if you ask it – you’re only interested in fire insurance propaganda, not faith. Now if you don’t believe that the Bible speaks with certainty about heaven or hell, or that the God isn’t concerned with sin, righteousness, judgment, or vindication then I could see how this would be a foolish question. You’d be wrong, and terribly wrong at that, but I can understand how you’d think that this is a foolish question. I would bring up 1 John, and how 1 John 5:13 indicates that you can be sure that you have eternal life. Paul, in many of his letters, describes those who will not, in any uncertain terms, inherit eternal life. So to Mr. Piatt’s charge that you can’t be certain, again – he’s just wrong, very wrong.
But if I were talking to Christian Piatt personally, I’d ask him if the rapist he referred to in #1 deserves to be held accountable for what he did. And what happens to the untold numbers of horrible crimes (murder, rape, etc) that go unsolved even in today’s CSI society? Should the rapist and murder be let off the hook by God or get away totally because they were not caught by human justice? The only answer should be that the guilty need to be held accountable, and that is exactly what God does and will do because He is holy and demands righteousness and because He is loving and will punish the one who abuses and mistreats another. The ultimate source of justice for the rape victim is not vigilante justice or even the courts of justice in that land, but it is God Himself who will fully and finally deal with the offender.
So, does the rapist have an eternity ahead of him? If so, Mr. Piatt, what type of eternity is that? I hope that your answer for this isn’t as vacuous as it would need to be in order to be consistent with your objection to this phrase. The Bible paints a clear picture for what everyone is to expect after death – it is foolish and unloving to bastardize the Scripture to a point where there is no answer for this question or where the question itself is silly. Shame on you, Christian Piatt.
Don’t ever abandon this question. It is vital, and helps get to the central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ by exposing the problem (sin & death) and the solution (Christ Himself, and salvation in and through Him).
- “He/she is in a better place.” – I may agree with Mr. Piatt here. Don’t just throw this out as the comment you make about anyone. If the person who died is not a Christian – just be a loving shoulder and an ear for the grief of the one who is morning. If the person who died was a Christian, then you will be able to rejoice that the departed person is now in glory with Jesus. Do it with wisdom and gentleness knowing that not every instance is when this type of statement is to be made, but don’t abandon it.
Tweak it, don’t throw it out.
- “Can I share a little bit about my faith with you?” – What better way to get to hear the story of the other person than having a conversation. I guarantee you that their story will come up and will be central to this conversation. Now, I wouldn’t personally start a conversation with this question, but the Christian evangelist has the highest good in mind for the being witnessed to. So making that the focal point of a conversation evangelistic is a personal agenda, that’s true. But running into the street to pull a toddler out of the way of a speeding car is also personal agenda. Just because the toddler doesn’t see the need to get out of the street doesn’t make your agenda any less urgent or your care for love and care any more or less fake.
Keep Christ and faith as priority one in any evangelistic conversation.
- “You should come to church with me on Sunday.” The Church service is not the evangelism tool of the church, I would never lead with this. This would be the follow-up to a conversation - not all of them, but perhaps with some of them - that starts with #4.
- “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?” – I agree. This is a poorly phrased question that uses jargon that is understood by many Christians, but is confusing to anyone else. Now, given the proper context and explanation, it’s easy to understand what this question means, but there are much better ways to ask someone this same question. Perhaps this: Have you trusted in Christ alone for forgiveness of your sins and received His righteousness so that you will be able to stand before a holy God? Just a suggestion.
- “Do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and savior?” – Piatt’s comments against this phrase are ridiculous and continue to show either his dishonesty or his biblical illiteracy. I would change “accept” to “receive”, and I would then go on to discuss exactly how Biblically necessary and contemporarily relevant the concept of Jesus as Lord is. (Romans 10:6-15; Phil 2:6-16)
- “This could be the end of days.” I’ve never heard anyone use these words – in print or in conversation. I wouldn’t lead an evangelistic conversation by giving out “Left Behind”, but I wouldn’t run from the truth that Christ is coming back.
- “Jesus died for your sins.” This is likely not a good way to start a conversation, and on that I may agree with Mr. Piatt. And whether or not you “buy into the concept of substitutionary atonement” really speaks about whether or not you’re really a Christian. To reject substitutionary atonement is to reject the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is impossible to read the Bible as a coherent whole while allowing it to define what it means without seeing penal substitution as the main issue dealt with on the cross. And it is exactly this – that Jesus died for my sins – that allows me to delve deeper and go into a meaningful and rich conversation about what Christianity is all about.
Never stop saying, believing, or preaching this one.
- “Will all our visitors please stand?” – Yeah…drop this one. I agree.
If Christian Piatt is a leader of a church (he’s listed as a co-founder of a church), then he should be ashamed of himself. His knowledge of the Bible (or lack thereof) as displayed in this article is utterly deficient. If the average Christian has this level of knowledge, it is an opportunity to teach and guide and help to understand things better. But when someone who teaches or leads in the church displays this same lack of biblical knowledge, he should be ashamed and should shut his mouth. Furthermore, because Christian Piatt is unable to even locate the primary biblical texts that describe something as widely written about (both in the Bible and in other writings) as God’s sovereignty, perhaps he should refrain from comments about other doctrinal matters like he bashed in #1 (obviously), but also in #2, #3, #4, #6, #7, and #9.