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Staying on Mission in the Age of Outrage

Leading with the headline ‘Costco—The Bible Is Fiction,’ Fox News promoted the idea that Kaltenbach had uncovered a conspiracy against Christians and the Bible. Kaltenbach was even quoted as characterizing the store’s decision to group the Bible with fiction as “bizarre.”

In minutes, The Drudge Report picked up the story and Christians worked themselves into an outrage over the perception of this insult with cries of boycott in the air. Suddenly a labeling error that listed Bibles as fiction had become a covert theological statement on the very nature of Scripture. What likely happens hundreds of times in bookstores every day had become an insidious spark that unleashed Christian outrage against Costco.

Kaltenbach was not outraged. He believed, and Costco confirmed, it was a shelving error. But his story—caught up in an outrage cycle—is much more complex. You see, Kaltenbach was raised by a same-sex couple. He became a Christian, changed his views, was eventually disowned, and years later saw his biological father and mother eventually come to Christ. I’ve had Kaltenbach in my home, and found him far from being an outraged Christian. He is generous, caring and kind. His book, Messy Grace: How a Pastor With Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction, is filled with wisdom and—you guessed it—grace!

Nevertheless, Kaltenbach’s conversion and family did not make the news. His Costco tweet did, because people are drawn to outrage. It was primarily Christians who drove that outrage—outrage based on misinformation. But who cares about facts when you can have outrage? We like the fire.

It seems someone is always fanning the flames of outrage somewhere. Why? Because offense attracts our interest. It’s human nature. We like to think of ourselves as the offended party in need of receiving forgiveness or the party able to exact an apology on behalf of someone else.

A Better Way

Second, most outrage is not righteous anger. Many people harbor outrage they think is righteous anger, because our culture often confuses the two. This is harmful for Christians and the world alike.

My wife and daughter recently became stranded in an airport parking garage at 2 a.m. when a car rental staff refused to acknowledge their reservation or offer even a modicum of accommodation. My anxiety rose as I tried, from hundreds of miles away, to get someone to help my family. I wanted to blast my outrage across the web to my quarter of a million Twitter followers.

But the Holy Spirit helped me focus on what would be productive rather than instantly gratifying. The car rental agency’s poor customer service was frustrating, rude and inexplicable. Yet I had to admit that it didn’t warrant righteous anger. So, I politely reached out online, and the folks at their Twitter account helped—perhaps in part because I did so rationally.

Righteous anger is directing our emotions and our passion of angst toward the things that make God angry. God is completely perfect, holy and separate from sin and brokenness. In short, God is righteous by his very nature and character. Whoever God is, and whatever God does, is right. What goes against the nature and character of God is unrighteous. And anger over those things that violate the nature and character of God is righteous, because it longs for the things God longs for in His righteousness.

While remaining perfectly in control, Jesus addressed brokenness, suffering and injustice with boldness, always with a righteous indignation and anger against sin. Being the perfect Son of God, he hates anything that goes against his character and the character of his Father. This is the same Jesus who cleansed the temple: “He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts” (John 2:14).

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and leads the Stetzer ChurchLeaders podcast. Ed is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.