Love Your Enemies | Book Review


Arthur C. Brooks opens Love Your Enemies with a personal anecdote about a speech he gave to conservative activists in New Hampshire. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank, so the audience for the speech was “an ideological home-field crowd” for him. Among other things, he talked about how the American public perceives liberals as “compassionate and empathetic” and argued that conservatives should earn that reputation too.

After the speech, an unhappy women approached him and castigated him for being too nice to liberals. “They are not compassionate and empathetic,” she argued. “They are stupid and evil.”

Stupid and evil. Although a conservative voiced the words, the sentiment is common on the other side of the political spectrum too. A November 2018 Axios poll found that roughly the same percentage of Democrats and Republicans viewed the other party as “ignorant” (54 and 49 percent, respectively) and “evil” (21 and 23 percent, respectively). Even worse, “The share of Americans who have more generous impressions is roughly equal to the poll’s margin of error, which is 3%.”

According to Brooks, this denigration of the other side reflects more than anger or incivility. It reflects a pervasive “culture of contempt,” contempt being defined as “anger mixed with disgust.” Or, as Arthur Schopenhauer put it, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”

In such a culture, what is needed most is not tolerance or civility, as important as those practices are. Rather, Brooks argue, what is needed most is love, especially love for one’s enemies. Following Thomas Aquinas, Brooks defines love as “to will the good of the other.” Love doesn’t mean setting aside facts and compromising in some mushy middle. But it does require remembering that while “their views might be [worthy of contempt], no person is.”

Although Brooks is president of a secular think tank and his book is pitched at a broad audience, his is a fundamentally Christian insight. (Brooks himself is Catholic.) The book’s title comes directly from Jesus’ commandment in Matthew 5:44. That being said, Love Your Enemies is not a theological tome or a how-to book for Christian ministry, but an exercise in the application of enemy-love to American public discourse.

Along the way, Brooks outlines the features of our culture of contempt, asks whether we can afford to be nice, gives love lessons for leaders, shows how we can love our enemies even if they’re immoral, identifies why identity politics is both powerful and perilous, asks whether competition is a problem, and encourages people to disagree with one another — though without contempt, of course. Throughout, he uses anecdotes and contemporary social science to make his points. The resulting case for love in the public square is both convincing and well worth reading.

Love Your Enemies covers a lot of ground, so Brooks helpfully concludes the book with “Five Rules to Subvert the Culture of Contempt”:

  1. Stand up to the Man. Refuse to be used by the powerful.
  2. Escape the bubble. Go where you’re not invited and say things people don’t expect.
  3. Say no to contempt. Treat others with love and respect, even when it’s difficult.
  4. Disagree better. Be part of a healthy competition of ideas.
  5. Tune out. Disconnect more from the unproductive debates.

As noted above, Love Your Enemies is not a theological tome or a how-to book for Christian ministry. I read this book as a Christian minister, however, and can’t help but see its salience to Christian readers and leaders. So, I close my review with an exhortation to them:

Christ commands us to love our enemies. There’s no carve-out when the “enemy” is on the other side from us religiously, culturally or politically. There’s no exception clause for those moments when an election is on the line. Loving our enemies is simply what Christians do for others because it’s what Christ did for us. So, let’s do it. It’s the right thing to do, and if Brooks is right, it’s also the most socially beneficial thing we can do in our nation’s roiling culture of contempt.

Book Reviewed
Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt (New York: Broadside Books, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Advertisements

Christians in the Age of Outrage | Influence Podcast


America is angry. Turn on TV news, tune into talk radio, check your timeline on social media, and chances are good you’ll see someone angry—outraged!—about something. Some commentators even worry that our nation is on the verge of a civil war.

It would be nice to say that Christians in America are tamping down the fires of outrage, but unfortunately, that’s not always true. Instead, some Christians are fanning the flames. They’re kicking outrage up to 11.

One Christian leader who’s trying to turn the outrage down is Ed Stetzer. He thinks outrage is unbiblical and anti-Great Commission. In his new book, Christians in the Age of Outrage, he explains why Americans are mad, why that’s bad, and what Christians should do about it.

Ed is Billy Graham Distinguished Professor of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College; dean of its School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership’ and executive director of the Billy Graham Center. He’s also my guest for Episode 159 of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine, and your host.

P.S. You can read my review of Ed Stetzer’s book here. If you like my review, please click “Helpful.”

Black and White Morality in a Gray Culture (Ephesians 5.15–21)


valentin_paul_writing1800x1337

SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 5.15–21

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

The Bible portrays morality in black and white, but our culture sees morality in shades of gray.

Take sex, for example. In the Bible, sex outside of marriage is immoral (Hebrews 13.4). But in our culture, it is routine, even among Christians. We know what the Bible teaches, but we prefer to ignore its teaching and/or generate rationalizations for our disobedience. (Someone has said that to rationalize means to offer “rational lies.” How true!)

Or take anger. Jesus clearly teaches that anger is a form of murder deserving judgment and that it should be replaced by reconciliation (Matthew 5.21–26). But how many of us offer rationalizations for our anger, insults, and mean-spirited actions? Too many, I fear.

Or finally, take alcohol. Paul writes: “do not get drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5.18). And yet, how many of us turn to drink at the end of a long, hard day at the office? (Or to drugs, legal or illegal, or to some other substance or activity?) We offer reasons: “I need to steady my nerves,” “I need to forget my troubles,” “I need a little pick-me-up.” But those reasons quickly become rationalizations for excess and addiction.

We human beings are excuse-making factories, you see. Rational lies pour out of our brains like water rushing through a broken levee. To plug the hole, we need to constantly remind ourselves of the Bible’s simple (though never simplistic) moral teaching. Consider Ephesians 5.15–21:

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Paul teaches us three things in this passage:

  1. The Christian life requires a choice between black and white. Notice the polarity in his words. He starkly contrasts being “wise” and “unwise” (or “foolish”). He offers a clear alternative between being “drunk with wine” or “filled with the Spirit.”
  2. The Christian life replaces bad with good. Following Christ entails being against certain actions, behaviors, and forms of speech. But Christians are also in favor of other actions, behaviors, and forms of speech. It is not enough to stand against sin, in other words. We must walk in Christ’s stead.
  3. The Christian life results in positive regard for God and others. What does it mean to be “filled with the Spirit”? Paul answers with four verbs: addressing, singing, giving thanks, and submitting. Through our words, attitudes, and actions, we are supposed to love God wholeheartedly and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22.37–40).

How much better would our lives be if we lived according to these simple principles?

Five Case Studies in Change (Ephesians 4.25–32)


valentin_paul_writing1800x1337

SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 4.25–32

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

Yesterday, I wrote about the three-stage process of change Paul teaches in Ephesians 4.17–24:

  1. Put off your old self (verse 22).
  2. Be renewed in the spirit of your mind (verse 23).
  3. Put on the new self (verse 24).

In Ephesians 4.25–32, Paul applies this process to five case studies.

First, lying: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (verse 25). Dishonest speech violates the Ninth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20.16). It also violates Jesus’ commandment to speak with absolute integrity: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5.37). Lying is an old-self behavior that needs to be exchanged for new-self truth telling. Why? A renewed mind understands that truth telling is indispensable for building strong relationships, and in the church, “we are all members of one body.”

Second, anger: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (verses 26–27). Anger is a legitimate response to injustice, at least initially. But it is possible for “righteous anger” to become “unrighteous rage,” which is why Paul writes both “Be angry” and “do not sin” in the same sentence. Unrighteous anger is the old-self behavior that needs to be put off. Quick resolution of grievances is the new-self behavior that needs to be put on. Why? A failure to deal with anger allows a little bit of hell into your heart.

Third, theft: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (verse 28). Paul is most likely referring to individuals who are freeloading off the church’s generous social welfare programs. Such freeloading by able-bodied workers is tantamount to theft. The antidote to freeloading is hard, honest work. Why? We work to provide our own needs, as well as the needs of others.

Fourth, unwholesome speech, that is profanity, obscenity, sarcasm, and insult: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (verse 29). The antidote to unwholesome speech is praise, encouragement, sincere compliments, and constructive criticism. A renewed mind recognizes that our words are means of divine grace to others.

Fifth, divisiveness: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (verses 31–32). Notice the stark choice: The old self divides a community through malice, but the new self unites it through kindness. A renewed mind knows that we must pass along to others the very same forgiveness God has given us through Christ.

Let us strive to change every behavior that grieves the Holy Spirit (verse 30), whatever that may be!

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Psychologists discover “a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music. As they hypothesized, the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ appear more frequently along with anger-related words, while there’s been a corresponding decline in ‘we’ and ‘us’ and the expression of positive emotions.” I am personally outraged at popular music’s narcissism and anger. Just kidding! Although I wonder what level of narcissism is present in contemporary worship songs.

Al Mohler offers insights about why conservative churches are growing. Sure, evangelical churches are growing and the mainline churches aren’t. But what if the country as a whole is growing at a faster rate than evangelical churches are? That’s the relevant missional problem, it seems to me. I don’t particularly care if evangelical churches are growing because of transfer growth from mainline churches.

How do you contextualize Christianity in majority Muslim countries? One answer is the so-called “insider movement,” which encourages converts to continue to self-identify as Muslims and to attend prayer meetings at the mosque. Is that a good idea?

“What is the key spiritual issue of our time?” Jesus offered a two-fold answer: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Eboo Patel gets the second half right.

Joe Carter asks, “What Would Jesus Drink?” I get the feeling this one’s going to be controversial.

Francis Chan asks, “What would the church look like today if we really stopped taking control of it and let the Holy Spirit lead?” That’s a good question, especially for Pentecostals.

Over at AGTV, my dad explores “Life’s Greatest Question” from Mark 8:29–30.

The Welcome Rise of the Pastor-Scholar. Well, I certainly welcome its rise.

Christ Alone is the first book-length response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. Extensive excerpts are available online. (My own review of Bell’s book is here.)

The 20th Annual Wheaton Theology Conference looked at the topic, “Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective.” You watch or listen to each of the lectures at the link.

Timothy Dalrymple begins a series on abortion over at Patheos.com. Part 1 looks at Kermit Gosnell and the climate of disregard for life created by the abortion industry.

If you’re into this kind of thing: the religious aspects of the upcoming royal wedding in the United Kingdom.

P.S. This is not really a religious story, but the White House has released President Obama’s certificate of live birth. This should put to rest all conspiracy theories about the president’s birth. Now if someone would just get Andrew Sullivan to shut up about Trig Palin.