For several years I’ve been concerned about a particular confusion of Christ and culture, i.e., that confusion common among American evangelicals, that passes for piety but that has little to do with actual, biblical piety as Scripture is understood and confessed by the Reformed churches. It is the piety of niceness. I started thinking about this several years ago after a former colleague published a foreword endorsing a pro-Federal Vision book. In that foreword he wrote that anyone who thinks that one of the founders of the FV movement, Norman Shepherd, denies the gospel (by teaching that we’re justified through “faithfulness”) is “stupid.” Now that claim is easily disproven (e.g., see Cornel Venema’s, Sinclair Ferguson’s, and Dave VanDrunen’s criticisms) but what troubled me was not that this writer thinks I am stupid but rather that his publisher (a group federal visionists) apparently made him publish a quasi-apology. In response I wrote an essay for the Nicotine Theological Journal (“Of Nice and Men,” issue 9.4 (October, 2005): 6-8). The issue continues to pop up.
On Monday evangelical NT scholar Bill Mounce addressed this very topic (HT: Challies) of niceness. He begins by quoting a Wiki entry.
“Minnesota nice is the stereotypical behavior of long-time Minnesota residents, to be courteous, reserved, and mild mannered. According to Annette Atkins, the cultural characteristics of Minnesota nice include a polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a fuss or stand out, emotional restraint, and self-deprecation.”
Sounds like a lot of churches to me. Aren’t we “Church Nice”? Isn’t our tendency to smile and pretend that all is okay, at least until the person is out of earshot, and then we say what we really think. We call it being “gracious.” Hmmm. I wonder.
Isn’t it interesting how explicit Scripture is? If you have something against someone, it is your responsibility to go to them (Matt 18:15). If you know your brother or sister has something against you, it is your responsibility to go to them (Matt 5:23-24). It is always your responsibility.
Yes, you can pursue peace only as far as it depends on you (Rom 12:18); some relationships will never be mended. But if you are offering your sacrifice — I have thought this included communion as a sacrifice of praise — you must leave it and be reconciled. Read more»
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