Avoiding Offense

As many of you know, I have a wonderful daughter Jill. She suffers from severe physical and mental disabilities. She and my wife Brenda are the loves of my life.  

One of the things Jill loves to do is to ride in the van with daddy in the evenings. We hold hands and listen to Christian music and sing along together. She cannot speak but she can make verbal sounds and sings using those sounds. I cherish this special time with Jill.

As a result, I have become somewhat of an expert I suppose on contemporary Christian music, after having listened to hundreds of hours of it. I have noticed that there seems to be a steady thread through much of this music, and that is the ambiguous way in which these songs treat Jesus and Biblical truth, leaving such truths (especially the hard truths) open to interpretation by the spiritual bias of the listener.  

Please allow me to explain. I love the song “Look up Child”, by Lauren Daigle. It lifts my spirit every time I hear it. But I know who I’m looking up to. I know it’s the God of the Bible. The holy, faithful, just, righteous, gracious, God that the Bible tells me about. However, since the lyrics of the song fail to make that perfectly clear, it occurs to me that someone else might think that they’re looking up to Allah, or Buddha, or mother Mary, or whatever spiritual entity they might believe in. The song leaves a lot of ambiguity to the listener.

Another example is the song “Fear is a Liar”, by Zach Williams. The song is about not believing the lies of Satan when he accuses us as Christians and seeks to cause fear and insecurity in our lives as children of the living God, adopted through Jesus Christ, and safe in the arms of Jesus. But here’s the problem: fear is not a liar because fear is not an animate person. Satan is the liar. As Jesus said in John 8:44 - Satan is the father of lies. So why doesn’t the song simply say that? It is possible that this song was originally written that way and maybe a producer said the song would never sell using the Devil’s name since many people believe he’s a myth, so they used the word fear in instead. Perhaps it didn’t happen this way, but in any likelihood, Satan is the proper subject because Satan is the liar, not fear. Well enough of the semantics – – what’s the point? Or as I always like to say “SO WHAT? “

The so what is simply this: these kinds of lyrics reflect a disturbing trend in the theology of the evangelical church in America, namely, our aversion to declaring the Bible in a clear, unapologetic way, regardless if it offends or not. Not every preacher or teacher has this approach, some do preach the WORD, clearly and concisely, but it is becoming disturbingly far too common, especially among some of our younger preachers and teachers. These people, both men and women, seem to be overly obsessed with making biblical truth palatable and friendly, trying to avoid any offense. The truth is, whether it be millennial's, GenXers, baby boomers, or senior citizens – – biblical truth never has been, nor will it ever be, palatable to unbelievers or sometimes even to believers who are living lives that are out of step with it.
When we as followers of Christ attempt to soften or water down the preached or sung Word of God, all we succeed in doing is at worst distorting biblical truth or at best leaving biblical truth open for personal interpretations based on the spiritual whims and maturity of the listener. The Bible says in 2 Timothy 4:2-4, that we need to “preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” Sadly, it seems to me, that this is where are we are in the Evangelical world today. Trying to please the itching ears, afraid to offend or convict, instead of correcting, rebuking and encouraging. 
One thing that I noticed over many years of listening to Billy Graham preach, is that his most common phrase was simply “the Bible says “, after which he would fearlessly and clearly say exactly that without leaving room for ambiguity. It seems to me that what we need today is a new generation of preachers and teachers who are willing to stand up and simply declare “the Bible says” and then have the courage to finish the sentence with the same definiteness that the Bible has on the issues of life and eternity. The Word of God tells us that we will be unpopular as we do this (John 15:18) and so there should be no expectation to the contrary. In fact, if everyone likes the content of our preaching something is wrong.

I am certainly not calling upon us to be offensive for the sake of being offensive. But as Paul wrote, there is an offense to the gospel (Galatians 5:11). That includes those who do not believe it and to Christians who are living their lives like they don’t believe it. If we seek to remove the offense, we are helping to distort the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18