There are conversations; there are satisfying conversations, clarifying conversations, verifying conversations; and there are conversation stoppers.
There are cases presented, arguments made, counter-arguments, and sticking to the point even in disagreement, and then there is arguing.
There is heckling, badgering, harassing, escalating, name calling, fighting, bitterness, and then there is “not talking”.
There is giving space, “cool down”, allowing time to regroup, and then there is the cold shoulder of shunning.
Then there is outright contempt.
Total and complete harmony is not likely between critical thinkers – going in with any discussion on any topic. But in theory, at least, appealing to reason and shared values should move us closer to that nearly every time. In fact it would seem idealistic – a worthy goal, really – if this process produces complete harmony every time.
There is no room for kneejerk reactions in such a process – except to forgive them (assuming the perpetrator was briefly overwhelmed with emotion and now is penitent) . Yet the fact that so little agreement is had, and so little civility in it’s absence (just look at the state of American politics for instance), suggests that either we are not REALLY appealing to reason or not REALLY appealing to shared values, OR it suggests that such appeals are not REALLY as helpful as we like to think.
I get a sense from my close, church friends – especially those with whom I share the most reason and values – that there is some vague (not all that well detailed) method of Christian patience that loves those with whom we disagree and tries hard not to overly (or overtly) challenge them, pressure them, shame them, or dispute them. We appeal to God’s grace for those with whom we disagree and for us, and only very minimally assert our point of view on things, and then immediately back off, thus giving them room/space to be affected by God (if he will) and come around to our way of seeing things without any manipulation or anger. And, in fact, anger/frustration is a sure sign you are not in God’s will at all.
But back to my first observation: this is all a bit undefined. We will call this phenom Vague Christian Patience for our present purpose. So don’t pin me down on any one point. Deal with the whole mishmash of it, because it can be a bit illusive. Except the part about the anger/frustration that makes people so uncomfortable.
So, let me just say that I openly and forcefully challenge proponents of the When Helping Hurts book and philosophy to answer for the harm THEY do BY MEANS of promoting that book and philosophy. And I challenge them regularly WITH THE WORDS AND ACTIONS OF JESUS.
To me, my challenge seems to appeal to reason AND shared values. But I have not once met a person who defends against my challenge based on the merits of the case I make. A couple have come close, but only in a round about appeal to Scriptures I did not bring up. (We will get to that another time (or upon request in the comments).)
So recently I found a proponent on the web who wrote his own very favorable book review on When Helping Hurts, and I very abruptly replied with very simple observations that Jesus very specifically commands to “Give to all who ask”, that he tells at least one rich guy to sell it all and give it to the poor, and that in fact Jesus himself feeds 5000 a fish for a day! All of these things fly in the face of the WHH thesis. (I could have listed more of such instances from Jesus, even weightier passages, and from the rest of Scripture as well, but in the interest of keeping it simple, I figured these would suffice. Such is my usual practice.)
So when I put these very simple observations in close contrast with this guy’s book review, I expect him to answer each point and refute me or go back to the drawing board and rethink his support for When Helping Hurts. If he can successfully refute me, he will either have to show that Jesus was wrong or that somehow my understanding of Jesus in those passages is wrong. But he does neither.
Instead, he charges that I have not read When Helping Hurts and suggests I should do that before making such a criticism.
Ahhh…. but I have read the book! And I find it incongruent with the teachings and ministry of Jesus himself. But this guy, who I believe also read both WHH AND his Bible, defends his position without dealing with my case against it. (Or more to the point, he defends his position without even acknowledging Jesus’ words and actions as I have presented them.)
And this is a kneejerk reaction.
The thing is: it’s typical.
I have offered this confrontation many times in many places with many people. THEY ALL dig in their heels, but not even one has attempted to analyze this apparent discrepancy between WHH and Jesus. Not even one. In a decade of arguing against this book, not one has looked at this case I lay out.
Hey. If I am being reasonable (which I insist I am), and if you can reasonably show me that Jesus either can’t be trusted at these points, OR if you can show me that my understanding of these points is flawed, then being a reasonable person, I will concede.
But no one has ever even tried.*
Meanwhile, I have friends (poor and homeless) who get kicked out to the cold of night by practically EVERY CHURCH and practically EVERY CHRISTIAN HOME in Lubbock nearly every night. In the last three years, two people have frozen to death out there! But over the last decade, this book’s influence has taken ever deeper root.
There is a dire urgency here going mostly unacknowledged. Those who endorse and support the When Helping Hurts philosophy are busy trying not to help too much, and they (along with the UN-CARING) make up the vast majority of people leaving the urgency unacknowledged.
But then there are those few who acknowledge the urgency about people freezing to death due in part to this misguided philosophy found in When Helping Hurts, but they resist me and my confrontation because it doesn’t gel with the afore mentioned ill-defined Vague Christian Patience they so highly prize. They view my confrontation as too rash, angry, impatient, un-joyful – and doomed to fail. They suggest (in some cases) that it is not of the Holy Spirit (in one case I was said to have a demon).
I wonder if these people have read their Bibles.
Actually, I know they have, but somehow they too have screened out Jesus’ words and actions as if they do not apply. Somehow they have tamed Jesus to some ill-defined guru who very gently confronts wayward people and backs off the pressure, the shame, the harsh words, and then somehow with great patience he miraculously affects change in the hearts of others. Then they think I am supposed to do likewise.
I don’t dispute that Jesus is gentle – with some people some of the time. The shepherd that leaves 99 in search of one lost lamb and carries that lamb back to the fold ON HIS SHOULDERS demonstrates gentleness alright! And its not like this is just one strange example of it either. Jesus touches and heals so many people, eats with sinners, preaches good news to the poor to such an extent that its fair to characterize him with gentleness.
But Jesus expresses anger, confrontation, and even goes so far as to use labels and names in some of the harshest ways. I mean Jesus says and does things so offensive, inciting conflict or shutting down arguments in ways I never would. I don’t call people “hypocrites”, “snakes”, or “white-washed tombs”. I don’t go to parties where I am invited to attend and pick on all the other guests for how they choose to seat themselves or on the host for inviting all the wrong people! I don’t show up at the place of worship and start throwing tables end over end! By comparison, my emulation of Jesus is quite tame!
Nevertheless, it is clear to me that Jesus confronts, sometimes in anger and frustration. Thus such cannot be wrong.
I find him primarily confronting the proud and powerful who oppress and/or alienate others. On some occasions, he confronts his own disciples, yet it seems clear his hasty confrontation with them happens when they are demonstrating pride.
His confrontations don’t appear to invite further discussion; they appear to shut it down instead. The exception seems to be humility. Jesus calls the Syrophoenician woman a “dog”, but she responds in utter humility and finds Jesus’ favor and praise for her faith
It seems to me that Jesus is not some guru who miraculously wins friends and influences people with his Vague Christian Patience, but rather challenges people to the core. Those who humbly surrender to his confrontation are worthy to be his friend; those who do not marginalize him as far as they can, but kill him when that fails.
It seems to me, I can appeal to reason and shared values when talking about Jesus, but Jesus himself is willing to operate at much more forceful levels that frequently shut down the conversation. He has a way of calling out either the humility or the contempt in your heart, and then you are stuck with the heart condition you choose to have.
- My statement above, that no one has even attempted to reason with my confrontation is true, but needs to be qualified. My observations that Jesus commands to give to all who ask, his command to the rich man, and the fact that he feeds 5000 a fish meal HAVE NEVER BEEN ANSWERED when I juxtapose them with When Helping Hurts. However, I have had two people (two in a decade) have attempted to argue the case biblically in any fashion at all. My hats off to them for trying. In both cases the refutation was utterly anemic (of course that is an interpretive statement, but I am willing to recite those conversations upon request and see if you concur). Point being, The attempt at being reasonable about opening the door to the poor proves almost universally futile when discussing it with people in power.