Christians in the Age of Outrage | Book Review


Google the word “outrage,” and this definition appears: “an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation.” Not just anger, shock or indignation, mind you, but an “extremely strong reaction” of those things. Outrage is anger kicked up to 11.

Contemporary Americans live in the Age of Outrage. We are outraged by what those on the “other side” of just about any political, cultural or religious issue say and do, and we take to social media to “destroy” them. Not dialogue civilly, let alone rebut or refute, but destroy.

Outrage destroys.

In Christians in the Age of Outrage, Ed Stetzer shows “how to bring our best when the world is at its worst,” as the subtitle puts it. The book is a tract for our times, and its author is the right person to share it. Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College. Like Graham — known to many as “America’s Pastor” — Stetzer wants American evangelicals to be “unifying forces in American life,” bringing people together around the gospel. The purpose of his book is “to help Christians move from contributing to the age of outrage to effectively engaging it with the gospel.”

To accomplish that purpose, Stetzer looks at three broad topics. In Part 1, he examines “the two primary catalysts for our outrage”: “cultural forking” and “the technology discipleship gap.” Whereas American culture used to be nominally Christian, so that evangelicals found themselves in its mainstream, it is increasingly becoming post-Christian. Culture forked, in other words, and evangelicals now find themselves outside the mainstream. The new mainstream and the old mainstream eye each other distrustfully across the gap that divides them.

Social media exacerbates that distrust. Face-to-face encounters usually keep things civil, but online, you can abstract your opponents’ ideas from the totality of their lives and then reduce them to that abstraction. Social media use too often succeeds in reducing people to straw men and then providing the match to light those straw men on fire. This results in a vicious cycle of caricature, outrage, counter-caricature, counter-outrage, and so on and so forth.

In Part 2, Stetzer examines “four lies that reinforce and deepen our world’s anger.” They are:

  1. Christians are the worst!
  2. My outrage is righteous anger.
  3. _____ will save me from the outrage!
  4. Mission is optional.

Some of these are lies that post-Christian America tells about Christian America. The others are lies Christians tell themselves. These lies distort clear thinking and rationalize bad behavior.

Stetzer’s debunking of each of these lies is good, but I especially appreciated the distinction he drew between “righteous anger” and “outrage.” He writes:

Outrage exhibits few if any of the short- or long-term characteristics Scripture associates with righteous anger. Righteous anger is aimed at the glory of God,, but outrage is an angry reaction to personal injury or insult. Where righteous anger is purposeful and designed to advance specific objectives and ends, outrage exhibits little critical thought as to its underlying focus, motivations, expressions, or ends.

Outrage is motivated by a desire to punish or destroy rather than reconcile or refine. It is frequently accompanied by hubris and a confidence in its judgment, categorically rejecting any nuance. Outrage is fast and decisive rather than reflective, choosing to exhibit God’s retribution rather than reflect his persistent, steadfast love.

Yes, there are any number of sins and injustices in the world to be righteously angry about. Stetzer’s not denying this. But in the Bible, righteous anger is the prelude to repentance, reform and redemption. It is a means to a greater end. In our culture, outrage is its own reward.

The connection between righteous anger and redemption reminds us that God’s mission to redeem humanity is the purpose for which Christ came into the world. “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). When we let our anger get kicked up to 11, we forget that we are Christ’s ambassadors, carrying the message: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). When we keep our mission in the forefront of our minds, however, a different strategy emerges.

Part 3 outlines “ways that Christians can counteract the outrage in their lives and this world by being intentional about developing a Christ-centered worldview, living as God’s ambassadors, loving others in a winsome way, and engaging thoughtfully with others, both online and face-to-face.” I like the way Stetzer summarizes the strategy this way: “Instead of Outrage, Engage.”

There’s so much wisdom in Stetzer’s recommendations that it’s hard to summarize them all. So, let me just highlight his “Principles of Digital Discipleship.” They are particularly helpful, especially given the outsized role that social media play in fomenting our culture of outrage. When online, Stetzer advises:

  1. Remember that everyone is watching.
  2. Choose investment over consumption.
  3. See people, not avatars.
  4. Make grace the default mode.
  5. Resist the urge to fight every battle.
  6. Value authority over freedom.

Regarding that last point, Stetzer writes: “Just because we cansay something doesn’t mean we should. There are ways of confronting abuses of power, and I am certainly not condoning a mindless obedience. But Christians need to understand that the best place for difficult conversations is usually not online.”

The vicious cycle of outrage and counter-outrage has got to stop, for the good of our culture and for the sake of the gospel. Christians need to demonstrate a better way. After all, if the Church is “the hermeneutic of the gospel,” as Lesslie Newbigin put it, then our unrighteous outrage may lead people away from God, giving Him a bad reputation in the process. You can be outraged or you can fulfill the Great Commission. You can’t do both.

In sum, I highly recommend both Christians in the Age of Outrage and its author. If you’d like to see how he deals online with controversial issues in a Christian manner, follow @EdStetzer on major social media. Or check out his blog at ChristianityToday.com.

Book Reviewed
Ed Stetzer, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is At Its Worst (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2018).

P.S. If my review helped you form an opinion of this book, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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

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Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Ed Stetzer asks, “Are You an Interventionist Leader?” I particularly loved this quote: “God didn’t call you to babysit. God called you to lead people so that they can be on mission.” Amen to that!
  • I review Winsome Persuasion by Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer. If Christians are going to engage the public effectively on hotly contested social issues, we need to think through the kinds of issues this book so deftly examines.
  • We note a Gallup poll that indicates Americans have complex views on creation and evolution: “Although Americans disagree about the age of the earth and the role of evolution in humanity’s development, three-quarters still say God was involved.”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Ed Stetzer offers four practical insights about leading for the long term. Ed now writes a monthly column for Influence magazine, by the way.
  • I interview Tim Muehlhoff about his new book Winsome Persuasion (IVP Academic). If you’re trying to figure out how to maximize Christian influence in a post-Christian world, take a listen!
  • Doug Clay answers FAQs about the proper procedure for accepting a vehicle that’s donated to your church.

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Review of ‘Missional Church Planting’ by Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im


Missional-Church-PlantingEd Stetzer and Daniel Im, Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches That Multiply, 2nd ed. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016).

Though I am neither a church planter nor the son of a church planter, I read the second edition of Planting Missional Churches by Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im with interest. Why? Because it raises questions and teaches ways of thinking about the answers that all North American church leaders need to consider in our increasingly post-Christian society.

The process of post-Christianization may be further along in Canada, but of late, the United States seems to be making up for lost time. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Christians declined from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent of the population between 2007 and 2014. In that same period, the number of Americans practicing non-Christian faiths grew by 25 percent, from 4.7 to 5.9 percent. The number of religiously unaffiliated Americans grew by 42 percent, from 16.1 to 22.8 percent. Given that 34 percent of “Older Millennials” (b. 1981–1989) and 36 percent of “Younger Millennials” (b. 1990–1996) are religiously unaffiliated, the trend of post-Christianization is going to gain rather than lose steam in the coming decade.

To counteract this trend, North American Christians need to plant missional churches.

Stetzer and Im define mission as “all that God is doing to bring the nations to himself.” They define missions as “the pursuit of sharing and showing the gospel to all corners of the earth,” that is, presenting the gospel in word and deed. Missional means “adopting the posture of a missionary, joining Jesus on mission, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound” (emphasis in original). Missional churches, then, understand themselves as missionaries to their respective cultures.

The image of missions as “planting” is well known in the New Testament. It is found in Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1–9). Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians 3:6 when he writes, “ I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” Taken together, these two passages suggest that there should be a relationship between personal evangelism and church planting. A church plant that merely draws existing Christians from other churches is not acting missionally. Church plants should focus on evangelizing those who have not already heard or seen the gospel.

Planting Missional Churches outlines for readers how to do this. Section 1 addresses “The Foundations of Church Planting.” Section 2 outlines various “Models of Church Planting. Section 3, “Systems of Church Planting,” answers questions about systems and structures that should be in place before and immediately after a church plant launches. Section 4 describes “Ministry Areas for Church Planting,” namely, teambuilding, evangelism, small groups, worship, preaching, spiritual formation, and children. Finally, Section 5, “Multiplication and Movements,” shows how church plants can (and should) themselves plant churches.

Obviously, Planting Missional Churches is a manual for church planters. So, why should non-church planters like me and (maybe) you read it? I can think of three obvious reasons:

First, to familiarize yourself with the theory and best practices of church planting. Here, the goal is understanding. Far too often, existing churches and church plants are viewed as competitors. This competition can be turned to cooperation when you remember that the goal of church planting is to evangelize non-Christians.

Second, either to consider a call to become a church planter yourself or to help your existing church plant other churches. Here, the goal can be either a change in your ministerial vocation or an expansion of your church’s efforts to evangelize people in word and deed.

And third, as I suggested above, to better understand what ministry in an increasingly post-Christian society looks like. Here, the goal is to change the mindset of American church leaders so that they think more like pioneer missionaries rather than institutional chaplains. By nature, institutional chaplains have the support of the institution. They can assume certain things about people in their care. Pioneer missionaries can’t assume anything. They must listen and talk to people who do not know and in many cases do not care about the gospel story.

So, while I strongly recommend Planting Missional Churches to prospective church planters, I also think it might be a helpful read for established church pastors, whether or not they are considering planting a church. In an increasingly post-Christian society, all church leaders—whether pastors of church plants, revitalized churches, small churches, or megachurches—need to think and act like missionaries…for that is what we in fact are. Just as God sent Christ, so Christ is sending us (John 20:21).

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P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Tuesday, June 14, 2011


“The Politics of Being a Good Christian.”

New research suggests there are actually two God Gaps. For some Christians, being more religious makes them more conservative on social issues. For others, going to church, praying, and doing other religious activities actually makes them more liberal on social justice issues.

Interesting.

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“At debate, Republican candidates spar over Islam.” Personally, I’m with Abe Greenwald:

Bad showing all around on the Muslim question. There’s one right answer: I would hire any American I believed could do the best for my administration and my country–any race, religion, or creed. The meandering into crazy Sharialand and different types of Muslims will cost the GOP.

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“[Gov. Rick] Perry has not overburdened the collection plate.” I’ll say. In 2007, for example, Perry reported $1 million in income and gave a whopping $90 to his church. $90. I’m a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is kind of Christian, and this report is going to make me discount a lot of Perry’s religious talk. Perhaps there’s more to the story. Maybe Perry gave gobs of cash to charities. If so, I’ll revise my opinion. But if not…

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Tom Gilson has a three-part series on the morality of Christian exclusivism: here and here. Christian exclusivism is the belief that “there is one God uniquely revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the one way, truth, and life for all people everywhere in all times. This means that other paths to God are excluded.” I’ll post Part 3 when it goes online.

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“A Mormon President: Are Souls at Stake?” David French says, “Those who believe that presidents impact our immortal souls have too great a view of politics and too small a view of God.

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“Targeting the World’s Worst Religious Persecutors.” Hard to argue with Doug Bandow’s take:

The freedom to believe, or not believe, in God and respond accordingly—as individuals, families, and communities—is precious.  Sadly, much of humankind is denied this most fundamental right.

While Washington cannot make the world free, Americans can reach out and help their oppressed brothers and sisters around the globe.  Persecution should be highlighted and denounced; victims of intolerance, hate, and violence should be comforted and supported.  Finally, if America is to remain free, Americans must tenaciously defend religious liberty at home.

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“El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron.” An online role-playing game of some sort. Based on…the Bible?

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“Call an Exorcist for Anthony Weiner?” In which Mark Judge somehow manages to bring together Ann Coulter, Anthony Weiner, and William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist.

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“From decline to decision”: In which Ed Stetzer ruminates on the declining membership of the Southern Baptist Convention. Money quote: “We don’t change until the pain of staying the same grows greater than the pain of change. May the truth break our hearts, drive us to our knees and compel us into the mission.”

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“Boards of Springfield schools vote for consolidation.” That would be Assemblies of God schools in Springfield, Missouri. It may not be big news in your neck of the ’hood, but it’s big news around here.