Yesterday Kim & I went and saw the movie “Easy A”, a teen romantic comedy about how model student, Olive Penderghast (played brilliantly by Emma Stone) earns the untrue reputation as the school slut. Olive (like the movie itself) is inspired by the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel “The Scarlet Letter” and makes the most of the misunderstanding. However, it brings upon her the wrath and judgment of her peers, especially the zealous Christians in the student body. The movie was surprisingly entertaining, and not surprisingly all too quick to throw Christians under the bus with barely a smidgen of qualification.
At first, my impulse was to be frustrated with the portrayal of Christians in our culture. While not entirely unfair, having seen almost explicit examples of similar behaviour in real life, it failed to leave any room for a more balanced look at the wider Christian community. However, I resisted my impulse to go on the defensive. Arguing against such stereotypes, regardless of how true they might be, is rarely productive. Our culture needed a response, but grumpy tirades would certainly only reinforce those very stereotypes. So what to do?
Considering these challenges, 1 Peter 2:15 came to mind:
“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”
As the name of this blog suggests, I am deeply convinced that one of the strongest witnesses to Christ that the world can see are lives lived according to the radical teaching and example of Jesus. Our best defense against accusation and critique, especially where it is warranted, is to live the better alternative. In other words, if we don’t want people to say that all Christians are judgmental and self-righteous, rather than argue against it, we must seek to live lives of humility, grace and forgiveness. We must be living alternatives to what the world sees and expects.
However, when I read this Scripture again, something caught my eye. My assumption has always been that the “foolish men” referred to in the text are people in the world who accuse and denigrate Christians and Christianity. While this may very likely apply to them, I suspect Peter was referring to something more. What immediately came to mind was Jesus’ closing words in the Sermon on the Mount:
“But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt. 7:26-27)
Here we see Jesus linking not doing His will with being a fool, just as Peter points out that doing His will will silence the fool. This parable is not to be understood as a teaching about the Christian (the wise man) versus the non-Christian (the foolish man). Just like in the previous section of the Sermon where both sides call Jesus ‘Lord’, here both sides work for the same end, to build a house. The foolish man is not someone who rejects Christ, but someone who seeks to claim Him as Lord without being faithful in doing so according to Jesus’ teachings. It is like an Olympic high diver who chooses the lower diving platform or seeks to simply slip into the water from poolside, rationalizing that end is ultimately the same. Jesus is referring those of His followers who seek the path of what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace”.
Therefore, perhaps Peter is not talking about accusers from outside of the Body of Christ, but rather those within the community of faith who do not represent Christ by their words and/or deeds. They sully the name of Christ and His Church, stirring in us a desire to openly reject them, to distance ourselves from them. However, if they are indeed our sisters and brothers in Christ, we cannot deny them. As Peter goes on to say, we must “love the brotherhood of believers” (v. 17). Rather, it is when we obedient hear the words of Jesus and do what He says- when we do God’s will by doing good- we will silence the fools. Perhaps they will be silenced by the gentle rebuke of our example. Perhaps they will be silenced in that those who see the Christian community will dismiss their foolishness as aberrant in the light of our faithfulness. Either way, the way to silence such foolishness is to live faithfully according to the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.
How might this perspective change the way you respond to critics, both within and outside the church? How does your ideals for following Christ differ from the reality of how you live your lives? What next step of obedience do you believe God is calling you to follow Him into?