THE GOSPEL and Tone

blog - matt walsh

Image Credit: MATT WALSH BLOG

Alright.  I’ve been reluctant to write about this for some time, because I’m a little afraid of 1) coming off as petty, and 2) giving the insinuation that a fairly good thing is a bad thing. But when I get the impression that there might be a bit of consensus confusion, I feel compelled to raise my hand. So…

Something that is a bit perplexing to Christians, and to non-Christians regarding Christians, is the line between Christianity and traditional values, conservative attitudes, and right-wing politics.

The reason it’s confusing is because both groups, Conservative Christians and Political Conservatives, often seem to be passionately pushing for the same things – morals that are rooted in the Judeo-Christian literature and heritage. This would include issues like stances on human sexuality, abortion, the separation of church and state, etc. I’ve written before on how I don’t believe that any political party captures the gospel perfectly. Nonetheless, in the eyes of the majority, again, especially from outside the Church, Christians and Political Conservatives are intricately linked.

So, let me  point to the key, noticeable distinction – a humble TONE.

From the standpoint of morality, Jesus appeared to be on the same page with the conservative leaders of his day – the Pharisees. However, according to the Easton’s Bible Dictionary entry on Pharisees:

“There was much that was sound in their creed, yet their system of religion was a form and nothing more…They were noted for their self-righteousness and their pride (Matt. 9:11; Luke 7:39; 18:11, 12). They were frequently rebuked by our Lord (Matt. 12:39; 16:1–4).”[1]

Now the Roman officials may have had some difficulty differentiating between such a group and Jesus’ followers, at least superficially. But the Pharisees are the most common enemies of Jesus in the Gospel records. The two had very different hearts. But, since all of us non-Gods can’t see the heart, the best indication we have of distinguishing between faithful Christian godliness and mere conservative morality is a humble tone.

If you’re still wondering exactly what the difference between gospel-driven faith and conservative moralism looks like, and how tone helps you distinguish, let me give you a case study.

I mentioned I was hesitant to bring this up. Nonetheless, The Matt Walsh Blog is wildly popular at this point. I’ve had quite a few people send me notes about it, asking for my thoughts. It’s a little difficult giving my opinion without coming off as jealous, since he’s younger, more attractive, and somewhere between a hundred and a thousand times more “successful” than me as a blogger 🙂 But it really isn’t just me. You can count on one hand the number of Christian pastors (or Christians in general) in our country that have a bigger internet presence and more passionate following than Matt Walsh.

Walsh’s Huffington Post bio lists him as “a 27-year-old blogger, talk radio host, husband, and father of twins.” Currently, Walsh has over 160k Facebook followers and literally has multiple anti-matt walsh websites dedicated against him. With recent posts like “This Is My Homophobic Rant Against Michael Sam,” “Hi Mom, Thanks For Never Taking Me To Disney World,” and “Christian-hating Liberal Fascists Have Once Again Demonstrated Their ‘Tolerance,'” it’s not too tough to see how Walsh ignites some controversy. Walsh concluded a recent post by saying, 

“The point is, you turn on the TV or crank up the Pandora and you’re going to be watching or listening to a stream of deviants, junkies, rapists, pedophiles, adulterers, and crooks, yet we don’t bat an eye until someone quotes the Bible or endorses traditional marriage. Amidst a sea of perversity and violence, the only thing the fascists seek to punish is the reasonable expression of Christian beliefs. In a country of filth, the only thing you can’t be is pro-life and pro-marriage. Enough of this, already. It’s time to stop playing nice with these people.”

But young Christians gobble this stuff up. In the same way that Eminem became the voice of middle class white teen angst in the early 2000s, Matt Walsh has become something of a voice of young white conservative angst for Christians who now have their own kids. A voice to the voiceless – I get the appeal.

So, let me try to humbly state this. Matt Walsh is a very talented writer, generally entertaining, and the vast majority of his points I would whole-heartedly agree with. He is being earmarked by young conservatives as a guy to watch out for and is already no secret in the online writing community. My guess is that within the next decade, he’ll probably occupy a significantly greater position in the public eye than merely “blogger” and “radio show personality.” But be very clear here, what he’s promoting is conservative values, NOT Christianity.

Many young conservative Americans are recognizing the painful, ironic cultural disparity that’s beginning to be demonstrated against Christians. I think there’s some value in pointing that out. Walsh has tapped into it. But when you do so with the exact same tone as those who are peddling the very ideals you’re against, you’re not promoting godliness, you’re promoting moralism. In other words, who are you really seeking to convert to truth when you’re labeling people as “stupid jerks”? You won’t convert anyone. You’ll simply make those who are already on your side applaud with greater belligerence.

I’m not at all saying Matt Walsh isn’t a Christian. He clearly is. I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t like him. And I’m certainly not saying I myself have never crossed the line in this “tone” issue. For that matter, the Lord’s disciple, Peter, also needed to learn to put the sword away and rather suffer under the sword in order to advance God’s kingdom (John 18:11).

Riling a bunch of Christians up about how sinful the world is isn’t too difficult. Jesus did tell his disciples that people would hate them because of him (Matt. 10:22). Jesus did say that wickedness would increase in the world and faithfulness would wane (Matt. 24:12). While pointing out the hypocrisy of a secular world perhaps has some value, doing so with the same disdainful tone that a secular world uses to deride Christianity isn’t particularly helpful. And to refer to yourself as a “professional sayer of truths” and label your website as “Absolute Truth” is not only not helpful to Christianity, it’s borderline blasphemous.

It’s not hard to make the case that pride is as much or more spiritually dangerous to Christianity than any gross cultural immoralities. I’ve been a chief offender here too. I’m repenting and growing by God’s grace. If I’m still alive and posting 10 years from now, I pray that I’ll be able to look back on my older stuff and say, not so much say that I’ve grown “more accurate, more popular, or more influential” but, that as I’ve gotten to know my Savior better, my words are “more humble.”

I’m not trying to pick on Matt Walsh. He’s just one example. In all honesty, I could probably have chosen any of the more influential conservative commentators. Walsh simply happens to fall into the “next big thing” category. But this is an important lesson. Remember, the goal is not that conservative talk gets more Christian. The goal is that Christians understand the difference, and let the humble tone of their speech indicate that.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor. 13:1)

 

[1] Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

 

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13 thoughts on “THE GOSPEL and Tone

  1. tomas hinrichs says:

    ouch you really exposed me and gave me a valuable lesson in this blog. I get very defensive. on these moral issues. it is tough not to. but the 1 Cor 13:1 and the example of Peter really drove this home to me. thank you for the spiritual food and exposing one of my many faults. maybe it is part of my cross I have to carry. keep fighting the good fight. and thank you. for this humbling message!

  2. Rik Krahn says:

    I agree, yet disagree. It is important that we not blur the already blurry line between “political conservative” and “conservative Christian.” Our goal should never be to make people, or society, more “moral.” We want to make more Christians, and that comes only through the Gospel. We never want to reflect poorly on him who we represent, so there is never reason to be loveless or mean. At the same time, how do we explain “whitewashed tombs” and “brood of vipers” and the like? Should we have a problem with Jesus’ or John’s “tone”? Was he not being nice enough? While we always need to maintain balance and and remain loving to God and his truth as well as to our neighbor, doesn’t there come a time to take off the kid gloves and call a spade a spade?

    • Hi Rik,
      I think what you’re missing, and what many Christians when they make the case for Jesus’ tone is the context of whom Jesus is speaking to.

      “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” (Matt. 23:17)

      “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Matt. 3:7)

      Who’s he speaking with? The RELIGIOUS people. The church people. Now, is that the group that Matt Walsh is calling out? No, he’s calling the secular media and gay rights activists stupid jerks. So what guidance does the Bible give on judgment to those who are clearly outside the Church? Well, let’s take the Apostle Paul for instance…

      “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” (1 Cor. 5:12-13)

      We have a right and responsibility to hold accountable those within the Christian Church. On the other hand, we cannot anticipate godly decision-making from those who clearly, by their own admission, do not have the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14).

      Understand the difference?

  3. J.d. Free says:

    I’m not seeing the difference here. Sure, you can find some examples of opposite extremes in “tone” associated with one side or the other and declare that “tone” is the difference between the sides, but I don’t think that’s a fair analysis. A variety of “tones” are seen in both groups, and even Jesus demonstrated a variety of tones depending on the setting. He sure seemed angry when he flipped those tables in the temple! Is it possible to be angry while being motivated by love? Of course it is!

    The reality that Christians are hesitant to embrace is the “separation of church and state” is just something that Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to a church leader. It’s not in the Constitution and it’s certainly not in the Bible. If you find the line between certain political movements and the Bible is hard to see, it might be because it doesn’t exist. Are there diverse beliefs under the label “conservative”? Sure. Same as under the label “christian”.

    Our approach to a given idea shouldn’t depend on the label. Defend Truth regardless!

    • Hi J.D., I’m just going to copy for you my response to Rik above….

      I think what you’re missing, and what many Christians miss when they make the case for Jesus’ tone is the context of whom Jesus is speaking to.

      “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” (Matt. 23:17)

      “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Matt. 3:7)

      Who’s he speaking with? The RELIGIOUS people. The church people. Now, is that the group that Matt Walsh is calling out? No, he’s calling the secular media and gay rights activists stupid jerks. So what guidance does the Bible give on judgment to those who are clearly outside the Church? Well, let’s take the Apostle Paul for instance…

      “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” (1 Cor. 5:12-13)

      We have a right and responsibility to hold accountable those within the Christian Church. On the other hand, we cannot anticipate godly decision-making from those who clearly, by their own admission, do not have the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14).

      Understand the difference?

  4. TOD GOEDE says:

    I always shudder when ministers discuss politics. The right/conservatives woo christains but really haven’t done much for us. Having said that I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed this piece. Irregardless of christains being drawn to conservatives I will never vote for a republican again. Thanks for an enjoyable article.

    • Thanks for reading and replying, Tod. I don’t immediately shudder when a minister discusses politics. Biblical faith addresses every facet of life, including politics, so….if one calls himself/herself a Christian, I’d assume they’d be letting the Bible (and their chosen spiritual advisor) shape their thoughts on politics.

      I DO, however, get what you’re saying about ministers going beyond what Scripture says or associating a political party too closely with the Christian faith. Christianity is Christianity, not political ideology, and I get concerned about drawing unfair lines.

  5. Kiel says:

    Speaking to some of the comments left here.. In addition to what Pastor Hein has put so acutely in this post, a Pastor I frequently read/follow once drew a great illustration that helped me put Jesus turning of the tables in the Temple courts in perspective, because it had always made me curious how a perfect Son of God could have went on such a “tirade.” For the sake of brevity I won’t go into too much detail, but highlight the ideals.

    In the comments here, people have aligned Jesus’ actions with those of a Christian who would do or say something abrasive in defense of the Gospel and God’s law. So that’s the starting point.

    I think the story of Jesus in the Temple confuses the argument because of the scene where the event took place – that place being God’s House, the Temple. The sin in that scene was literally happening in and around Jesus’ Home. And if such an atrocity were to happen in the church today, then, yes, a tirade by a Christian should be appropriate (See Martin Luther vs Catholic Church, indulgences). I think this HAS happened in our time as well – e.g. Cries of outrage coming from all over the Christian church as Televangelists exploited millions of believers in previous decades.

    Again, a reference to Matthew 23:27 was used by a previous commenter – Jesus speaking to the Pharisees and calling them whitewashed tombs. Again we see an instance where Jesus rebuked those who claimed to be God’s people, an atrocity that was going on in Jesus’ Home, the church.

    Trust me, I’m as opinionated and boisterous about Christian beliefs and values as one can be. Speaking out in the correct “tone” has been a lifelong learning process for me. I believe there are no grey areas about what truth is, including the full gamut of sinful social issues plaguing Christianity today, from abortion to homosexuality. And indeed, if such things are being accepted within the church, those churches NEED to be rebuked. Hosting a homosexual “marriage” at a church by a pastor is grounds for table-flippin’.

    However, Jesus didn’t come to this earth to fight political battles and social tussles. In fact, one of the greatest things that angered the Jews about Jesus was the fact that he was SUCH a powerful Jewish figure at the time, yet used none of his “power” to advance the socio-political status of the Jews. The Jews expected Him to take on this responsibility in the same way we feel that Jesus – if He were here today – would join our side today and speak out for the rights and be the voice of the voiceless Christian in the political arena. Why, He’d probably do media tours on Fox, CNN, MSNBC and the like to speak out against those who have been persecuting our people for decades! So too, thought the Jews. Do you think what is acceptable in today’s socio-political climate is worse than Rome during Jesus’ time? So what then? Was Jesus just ignoring the sinful things going on around Him, thus doing His cause a disservice? The opposite, in fact. He knows all things. He knew what was happening in the world at that time, and every era. But He is in control, and He knows that true peace comes from knowing that He is in control of all things.

    Finally, to Pastor Hein’s point which I think is spot on to the tone God tells us to use throughout the Bible: Speak the truth in love. Know that God is in control. ALWAYS treat others – believers and especially unbelievers – as you would be treated and they’ll be much more likely to listen to you. And when they don’t, pray that God will have mercy on them and help to come know Him as God. Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.

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