He Said, “I don’t like your polemic!”

teacupThe restaurant was bustling with chattering and the clanking of cups and plates as diners enjoyed authentic Mandarin food. My family was seated by a smiling waitress as she placed a pot of hot jasmine tea in front of us along with the typical porcelain cups decorated with a floral pattern I see all too often at Asian restaurants. I was hungry and knew what I wanted to order. The waitress must have sensed my appetite as she looked at me and asked if we were ready to order. Someone at the table quickly spoke up, “Not yet!” I sighed as our moment for quickly getting our ticket to the cooks walked away to the next group waiting in line.

As we waited to order, I couldn’t help but overhear a fairly intense conversation going on at a table parallel to our own. I quickly glanced over to see five individuals engaged in what looked like a hot debate, the person speaking at the moment had lifted his voice and exclaimed, “I don’t like your polemic!”

I know I shouldn’t have been eavesdropping, but the arguing was lively and hard not to overhear. In fact, it would have been reasonable to ask the table to tone it down, but my curiosity was peaked. Besides, I didn’t need to stare at the menu, since I knew what I wanted. So, I briefly turned my attention to the woman being told her argument was disliked. She looked pained by her interlocutor’s complaint and somewhat apologetically explained that what she was arguing was universally believed by Christians. She was arguing that Jesus was not merely one of many “messiahs” who attempted to establish an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem, as her counterpart apparently argued, but that He was THE anointed one spoken of throughout the Old Testament and that His truth claims had to be taken seriously because of that historical fact. Her opponent heatedly disagreed.

I soon tuned out the table near mine and paid attention to those at my table, but what I could gather from their conversation was that individuals in the group represented Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism, who had gathered together to confess their beliefs and discuss what they held in common. It was obvious the Christian representative wasn’t compromising what she believed about Jesus.

coexistWhat was even more obvious, from the tone and facial expressions of those engaging her, was that her confession of faith was rejected in earnest. “I don’t like your polemic!” was the cry; even though the woman wasn’t saying anything controversial from where I sat. Yet, what she had to say was certainly not acceptable to her conversation partners. It was evident they wanted her to “tone it down” and to be more “generous” with her orthodoxy. In short, they wanted her to give something up in order to meet them on common ground, but meeting them on what they thought to be “common ground” was to adopt heresy, for the Christian confessor.

When confessing the pure doctrine of Christ, the way we deliver our message isn’t going to matter for some. We can be as charming and sweet as an insurance salesman wanting to land the “big sale,” but the words pouring out of our mouths will burn like a red hot coal blistering the skin. No matter how we confess Christ, if we speak the truth, we are going to be misunderstood, thought of as being fools, and hated for the sake of Christ. Indeed, it is the Apostle Paul who makes such a point when he writes to the Corinthians:

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:20-24 ESV).

The Gospel is a “stumbling block” and “folly” to those who are perishing. Paul understood this all too well; that confessing “Christ crucified” often meant physical suffering. It meant beatings, being imprisoned, and many other grueling hardships.

Noticeably, though, our Lord and the Apostles didn’t have to use shocking levels of rhetoric in order to be offensive. Jesus would simply speak the truth to the Pharisees, for example, and would gain their abuse; even being told by them that He was born “illegitimately” and was “demon possessed” (see John 8:41, 48). Jesus makes it clear to the Pharisees that they don’t want to hear His word; they are unable to give ear to the truth. Indeed, if we read through the Scriptures we find that sometimes when Jesus and the Apostles are speaking, no matter how winsomely they announce their message, the response from those hearing it is reminiscent of those horror movie scenes where a vampire melts into a shrieking pile of burning flesh because it was splashed with “holy water” or pelted with a garlic necklace. Whoever said, “Words will never hurt me” probably never heard solid law and gospel preaching.

Of course, knowing that the Word of God truly is “sharper than any two edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12) also means that we don’t have to use anymore English than what is essential for moving the ball, so to speak. This is true for when we confess our faith before the unregenerate and regenerate alike. As it stands alone, the truth of the Scriptures hurts the Old Adam. In fact, I have seen atheists get red faced angry at being told, “Jesus loves you.” Implicit in that simple statement of fact are other facts such as there really is a God and we are sinners in trouble with God who need to be forgiven. Or, in other words, John 3:16. No wonder atheists squirm at nothing more than a mention of Jesus!

crucifixion“I don’t like your polemic” are words spoken to one another by brothers and sisters in Christ, too. When we engage hot topics it is hard not to find polar opposites tugging at each end of a controversy, and often in a way upsetting to even those lurking the debate. All too often the temptation is to shut down heated exchanges and not just for the sake of peace, but in order to silence words which cut our hearts. I think it is easy to forget that all parties involved in a debate are entrenched in the fundamentals of their confession. A confession which is easily moved isn’t one held with conviction and we all know that is the case. What this means, too, is that we shouldn’t be surprised when the sparks fly as iron grinds against iron. What this doesn’t mean is that we should become shock jocks—using coarse language in order to get a rise out of some one—but at the same time we are aware that no matter how kind we are in our tone somebody is going to be offended. Confessing the pure doctrine of Christ is a full contact exercise. That also means we don’t need to kick up our rhetoric a notch or two when dialoging with those who disagree with us, since what is being said likely is already getting the response, “I don’t like your polemic!” We are to be the salt of the earth, not the salt in the wound opened up by God’s Word.

As we sat at our table gobbling down delicious plates of Mandarin cuisine and enjoying each other’s company, I noticed the group of people gathered together for some sort of “inter-religious” dialogue leaving their table. They weren’t shaking hands. There was no hugging and no patting each other on the back. I remember seeing strained smiles as they bid each other a good evening and made their ways to the front door. Apparently their efforts at reconciling their vastly different confessions failed. I suspect they had extreme difficulty just understanding each other and assuredly, nobody understood the Crucified and Risen Christ save for the woman who confessed Him at their table.


He Said, “I don’t like your polemic!” — 33 Comments

  1. Jim,
    When last I was in England, to encourage a new Christian, we went to a Tapas restaurant in that town. We bowed our heads, and that was the last we saw of any server.

    My friend wanted to quietly leave, I said no. When we needed to order, I walked up to the bar. If we needed more to drink, I walked up to the bar. We were the only people in the whole place.

    It is not the first time in the EU, I was told not to wear Christian attire on planes, bow my head in public, nor is it now, here in the US. I was then & still am, a Confessional Lutheran. Yes, we too, do those things. Brave we are, just not a program for it. Christ already made that, did He not?

    I may have to look up termage, yet at the same time, I was still taught the actions & choices. Peace and witness, can only exist w/o compromise regarding the Solas. Easy peasy, yet not, if you endevor the try. Private or public, expect sparks. More than you thought, to boot!
    Well done & well written!!!!

  2. Jim,

    This is a great article, one which many of us resonate to these days! I think we are living in a time when most from other religions do not want to hear the gospel, but even some of those “church members” do not want to hear “the polemic.” Some seem to want to hold on to their, “I’m a good person, so God will accept me” and, therefore, resonate to a weak, wishy-washy approach to what they believe.

    One thing about that last paragraph: It made me hungry!

  3. Very interesting post. Sometimes, we go into such conversations with non-believers wanting to win the arguments for our own sake and our own self-esteem, not because we are joyful in Christ and want to share.

  4. @Derek Johnson #6

    You raise a good point. If we think we can “win” by our own methods, or through our own motives and attitudes, then we have missed the proverbial boat. Recognizing that we are sinners, we can be quite thankful to God for the efficacy of His Word, since we can (and likely often do) fail miserably when talking to others about our faith. God using people to get His message out is a testament to the working of the Holy Spirit and not to ourselves. Thank God for His grace and mercy!

  5. I know I go through periods of thinking I can confess Christ rightly to fellow Christians. I suck, fail and fail again. I can however point them in the right direction, the word of god, the sacraments, and even a faithful pastor. It’s a blessing to know Holy Spirit does the work or else everyone I talk to would turn into atheist.

  6. ” Jesus would simply speak the truth to the Pharisees, for example, and would gain their abuse; ”

    Seriously? He upped the ante on the law and basically told them they were rejected in favor of unclean gentiles and they tried to kill him. And he would call them names…? From the sounds of it it sounds like quite a few of the apostles and prophets were pretty harsh a lot of times too.

    By making it all important that we not use rhetoric (which is what I’ve run into a lot) you end up shaming a lot of people who would otherwise provide needed strong rebuke to erring ‘brothers’ (or outright false teachers) because we are told that’s not the Christian way to do it, or we’re dishonoring Christ, or whatever. For some reason we’re not allowed to convey any sharpness about sin and false teaching… because… Jesus didn’t? I have to wonder if you’ve been watching Joel Osteen too much when I hear things like that.

  7. I expect non Christians to play the “polemic” card now and then. What is especially disheartening for me is when fellow Christians (often fellow LCMS Christians) who want to push their teaching and practice of open Communion, women’s ordination, unionistic worship, etc. will play the “polemic” card to avoid a serious discussion under Scripture and Confessions. Once again, method trumps message.

    In Christ, Clint

  8. “I don’t like your polemic!”

    This is just a pejorative way of saying, “I dislike your argument,” which is a fallacious appeal to emotion, having nothing to do with whether the argument is valid or not.

    It is also a red herring, since the fallacious claim diverts from the issue being argued to an emotion involved with the issue being argued. There are a number of ways to counter such a unwarranted diversion, some more diplomatic than others, depending on the relationships between (and gumptions of) the two people involved.

  9. @Rev. Clint K. Poppe #10

    What’s really unnerving is when they do make such an accusation, they blame those of us who stand by the Scripture and Confessions of being, “unloving”! Ugh!

  10. wineonthevines :
    @Rev. Clint K. Poppe #10
    What’s really unnerving is when they do make such an accusation, they blame those of us who stand by the Scripture and Confessions of being, “unloving”! Ugh!

    Oh, the irony!

    They claim God’s Holy Word is inferior to their own corrupt judgment.

  11. @wineonthevines #12 What’s really unnerving is when they do make such an accusation, they blame those of us who stand by the Scripture and Confessions of being, “unloving”!

    This is just another fallacious appeal to emotions and a red herring attempt to divert from the actual issue being discussed. It’s like the claim that one does not “show even just a drop of enthusiasm for the Holy Gospel.” Even some BJS posters seem particularly dependent on such fallacious arguments, an indication that they likely have little or no substantial arguments left to make.

  12. @terriergal #9

    You did not carefully read my posting. Had you, then you would not have come away from it thinking that we shouldn’t use rhetoric, or even that I am somehow a fan of Joel Osteen.

    Let me give you an example of how you are misconstruing a point from my posting. You write, “Seriously? He upped the ante on the law and basically told them they were rejected in favor of unclean gentiles and they tried to kill him.” I could, in return, quip “Really? You are just turning Christ into a second law giver, a ‘super Moses.’ I have to wonder if you have been reading too much Mark Driscoll, or other law driven evangelicals?” Of course, you would be right in correcting such nonsense and pointing out to me that my gibe is not necessary.

  13. Wan’t it Walther who said that applying Law and Gospel properly was a life-long lesson? Sometimes we need a smack up side the head, sometimes we need a hug. Both can be the loving thing to do and both can be deadly — depending on the context.

    But it is a shame that our culture (in and out of the Church) has become so delicate that they condemn direct messages of truth for being too direct, even when they are entirely truthful.

    This reminds me of the time my state representative cried, “You lie!” People still condemn him for his “utterly disgraceful lack of Southern Charm!” Nobody seems to remember that he was right…

  14. I think that sometimes we forget that, as Christians, the world is not going to like us… at all. It’s amazing to me when I see Christians trying to “get along” with the world, then shocked when the world turns them down flat.

    Certainly we don’t look to be cruel or hateful, but the fact of the matter is that it is the gospel-not necessarily the law-that people find offensive.

  15. @Pastor Ted Crandall #19

    Thank you, Pr. Crandall. I lost my weight on Weight Watchers on-line (no meetings!) and cardio on my inside cycle… I do spinning for one hour, five days per week. Although, now that we are entering our usual wet spring here in Seattle, I will alternate between running out side and cycling.

  16. @Jim Pierce #20

    I was afraid to say something. I saw the top Photo, and when you posted below, I thought they starved you at the mandrin palace like they tried to do to Dutch in the UK!


  17. @Dutch #3
    When I was in England, back in the nineties, I went to a barber shop to get a haircut. The young lady who started cutting my hair asked me how I have spent my morning, and I replied, Well, I am a student in the School of Evangelism, few houses away from you parlor; we had classes this morning. She stopped talking and did not say a word for the rest of my time there. To think that England used to be the land of John Wesley and George Whitefield! Today it’s the land where police officers ask street preachers what they think of homosexuality and when preachers state what the Bible teaches, police arrest them!

  18. @Carl Vehse #11
    I may have mentioned this before, but my debate coach in college always said that you know when your opponent has no argument because he will use emotion instead of fact. The downside is that most people are easily fooled and will buy the emotional argument over the factual one 9 out of 10 times.

  19. @Rev. McCall #25

    @Pastor Ted Crandall #26

    I think both of you have touched upon a great point and one similar to that made by Francis Schaeffer in his book, “Escape from Reason.” In that book Schaeffer tells us that society has relegated morals and religion to the irrational. In fact, he successfully argues that today, the source of reality, for most, is their feelings. I agree with him. “If it feels good, do it” has been the mantra chanted since the Counter Culture “revolution” and worse yet, that which is true is grounded in the individual’s subjective mental space. Most of us have likely heard statements coming from these folks such as “That is true for you, but not for me” when discussing things such as natural law, or when talking about the truth claims of Jesus. This sort of irrational subjectivism has certainly infiltrated Christianity. Just try to talk about the reality of “pure doctrine” with some poorly catechized Lutherans and they immediately talk about how we are all sinners and therefore it is impossible to have “pure doctrine.” In other words, the best any of us can do, according to them, is take a leap of faith, since what we believe is not reasonable and is certainly not infallible. (These same folks make the mistake of thinking that the pure doctrine of Christ is ours, when in fact it is God’s and He gives it to us.) So, yes, unionism, syncretism, a more “generous orthodoxy” (as some Emergents like to talk up), and other such nonsense are popular, coming out of this whole idea that our confession of faith isn’t actually reasonable, but emotive.

  20. “more moderate Confessional Lutherans”

    ROTFL :-)

    That site is a good source for oxymoronic religiosities and Pecksniffian testimonies that boil down to simple apostasy.

    In his Bondage of the Will Luther asserted, “Let Skeptics and Academics keep well away from us Christians, but let there be among us “assertors” twice as unyielding as the Stoics themselves.”

  21. Pastor Ted Crandall :

    Jim Pierce :
    …a more “generous orthodoxy”…

    lol Sounds like a pet phrase at ALPB: “more moderate Confessional Lutherans.” Whenever I even quote those words together, I have to do an eye-roll.

    Okay, how can you have a quia subscription and moderate it? Seriously, how can that be done?

    How are they meaning moderate anyway? in the middle? most common? malleable? doormat? What colloquial meaning is employed here?

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