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Staying on Mission in the Age of Outrage

Righteous anger is humble and aware of our own propensity toward sin. As we focus on the nature and character of God, it changes the way we see ourselves and others. Consider Jesus’ powerful words in Matthew 7:5: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Jesus instructs us to look inward first and see our own gaping and overt deficiencies. As we work on these, we will have a clearer view and personal experience of the righteousness of God. Then we’ll be in a better place to help others in a loving and Christlike manner. One is dependent on the other.

Conversely, outrage arises from pride, arrogance and a lack of self-awareness that always cries, “But what about…?” There’s nothing wrong with taking the speck out of someone’s eye—and the Bible is clear that we should do it—but only after seeing to ourselves. Outrage silences the voice of nuance and self-reflection with the cries of hate and vehement reaction. Attempting to address the sin in other people’s lives without first addressing our own is hypocrisy.

God’s anger is always in the context of His kindness, drawing others toward repentance and faith. Outrage forgets or ignores this grace of Jesus. It seeks to drown out the possibility of mercy or grace, demanding retribution instead. It’s unapologetic, quick and severe. It is a shame Christians often follow this cultural pattern of reacting vengefully instead of mercifully.

Building Bridges

Third, outrage divides, but mission engages. “Culture war” is not a term I like to use, because it is hard to war with a people and love them at the same time. But it is demonstrably true that the culture has turned against many Christian values. In other words, in many ways, this came to us. We did not always create it. There is the redefinition of marriage, the denial of universal truth and the false accusation that Christianity has made the world worse instead of better. The fact is, Christians are right to reject such ideas. But we can stand up for truth without reacting hatefully toward those with whom we disagree.

How we respond when someone triggers us can help or hurt our Christian testimony. Jesus calls us to demonstrate his love and kindness, even when others unjustly accuse or malign us. I’m concerned that in this age of outrage—an age in which a personal response to an offense does not require a personal interaction—our character often reflects the world, not Jesus.

Our response matters. You see, we have a better way. Christians have the gospel, the best news ever. And the gospel brings us somber joy—the joy that comes from knowing we have salvation through Christ, and a sense of somberness because we see the wages of sin and know that many people still reject the only means of redemption. And how can we ever expect or hope that an unbelieving world will trust that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life if we treat them with disdain?

So, the question is this: How should we respond now? Of course, the answer is multifaceted. Some will, and must, defend religious liberty. Some will work to create a culture that draws others to the beauty of the gospel. Most of us will engage culture on a person-by-person basis rather than waging a culture war.

To accomplish the mission to which God is calling us, we need to stop contributing to the outrage and start engaging the outrage of others with the good news of Jesus. If Christians concentrated on loving others instead expressing outrage at our differences with them, if we showed people mercy instead of condemnation, they would see Jesus in a different light. I’m convinced this is, indeed, one of the greatest challenges of our day.

Now to be fair, our challenges are less threatening than those many faced in previous centuries. Most of us aren’t worried about impalement on stakes. But the stakes we face are still high. We must engage this moment well for the cause of Christ and his kingdom.

Salt and Light

It’s time to let go of outrage and find another way, a better way. Modeling Christ’s love isn’t just for pastors and church leaders. It’s what the Holy Spirit empowers every Christ follower to do. Jesus calls his followers to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” In the Sermon on the Mount, he says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

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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.