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Is Recognizing Sin the Same as Being Judgmental?

Several weeks ago, there was an apparent display of debauchery at the Grammys. (I don’t usually watch award shows. It’s just not my thing. Other folks feel that way about NFL football, which I love). This caused award-winning singer Natalie Grant to walk out.

She was, from all accounts, not self-righteous or judgmental about it, but just posted a simple explanation about it on her Facebook page.

Of course, this action provoked conversation online, on Twitter and in blogs. Perhaps the most prominent reaction is Laura Turner, who clearly disagreed, writing in her blog for Religion News: “But reading about her decision to leave early and then publicize that decision sounded to me just like the self-righteousness of those people who couldn’t hear a swear word without their faith being threatened.”

Now I respect Turner’s instincts here and I have those same ones myself. Christians have, at times, developed an isolationist bent, a sort of fundamentalism that rejects any thoughtful engagement with the world. This inward inpulse has often put us on the same side as the Pharisees who couldn’t entertain a Savior who hung out with the very people he came to save: the sinners, the needy, the sick.

But there’s something in Turner’s blogs and in the comments of other evangelicals that gives me pause.

I wonder if we’ve traded a grace-sucking isolationism for a worldly sophistication that has almost no filter for good and bad. I wonder, at what point would evangelicals who mocked Natalie Grant, at what point would they have walked out? Is there any kind of display that would offend their sensibilities, that would cause them to feel in their heart that they could not sit and watch another minute?

We might say no. We might say, “Well, Jesus endured the depravity of sinners to win them.” And we’d be right about Jesus, up until the point that he called out sinners for, you know, their sin. I imagine that if a Christian told an adulterous woman to “go and sin no more,” the progressive blogs would consider Jesus a tightly wound fundamentalist who didn’t understand grace. But this is what Jesus did.

And notice Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus, the cheating tax collector who was despised by society for his sin. Yes, Jesus resisted the hyperspirituality of the religious leaders; yes, Jesus was willing to be called a glutton and drunkard for his interaction with sinners.

But here’s the difference, I think, in what Jesus did and what some evangelicals want to claim Jesus did and use for cover. Zacchaeus came away from Jesus repentant. He gave away all that he had stolen.

In other words, there was no ambiguity, after his time with Jesus, about the depths of his sin. Jesus’ dinner with the tax collecting cheat wasn’t just hanging out and ignoring injustice. It was a confrontation between light and darkness. Grace only enters the soul that needs it. And so if there is no recognition of sin, there is no need for a Savior.

So getting back to the Grammys, we can disagree on what kind of displays merit walking out on. We can disagree on what kind of displays we will endure for the sake of gospel witness.

But let’s not tag Natalie Grant with a kind of unenlightened Christianity that makes those who might not have walked out a bit more hip and enlightened. Let’s apply the spirit of 1 Corinthians 8 and not flaunt our liberated hubris in the face of a deeply convicted sister in the Lord. Let’s remember that Phariseeism isn’t constrained to one side of our internecine debates about culture.

There is a high-minded pride in some precincts of evangelicalism that is as vicious as anything the fundamentalists bring. Legalists are the last to know they are the ones in the wrong.

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Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). For five years, Dan served as Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and is the author of several books, including Teen People of the Bible, Crash Course, iFaith, Real, and his latest, Activist Faith. He and his wife Angela have four children and reside in the Nashville area.