Duck Dynasty, Pope Francis, and “Seasoned Speech”

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6

Gracious speech has been a struggle for believers for as long as we’ve been around. Sometimes we get so caught up in truth that we forget to treat people like people. We ignore that many will be turned off by stale speech, instead preferring the seasoned words of the practiced rhetorician. But some of our truths are rather unpalatable to the modern ear. Children may not care for vegetables, but adults stomach them, regardless of whether or not they enjoy them: the goodness requires our action. And so it is with truth: sometimes we won’t like what is true, but must find a way to stomach it, for our own good.

Seasoned language, much like seasoned food, ought not cover up the subject entirely, but rather accent and enhance it, according to the palette of the listener. Some rhetoric seeks to cover the topic at hand, winning the listener over with sweetness; good rhetoric, however, ought to enhance the subject, rather than covering it up.

Perhaps I’m late to the game to discuss Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty clan. But if ever somebody spoke some truth (mixed with some falsehoods) that wasn’t well seasoned, it was probably him.

That’s a bit of hyperbole. Phil isn’t the first harsh speaker to hit the world, and he won’t be the last.

So let’s not talk about Duck Dynasty and the unsurprising statements from backwoods Christians. Let’s talk about how we ought to speak our minds day-to-day. How do truth and sensitivity interact? Must we silence our beliefs in order to win souls?

Pope Francis lands on the opposite spectrum from Phil, and not just in his beliefs concerning the nature of a church service. The Pope has been making news by stating what the Church has always believed, despite what caricatures of Catholics believe. But he’s also carefully answering questions. When he is asked flat-out what he believes about homosexuality, he says we ought to see everyone as people first. That’s far smoother than the Duck Dynasty version (which likens homosexuals to idiots who don’t know what they’re missing). And Roman Catholic doctrine hasn’t changed regarding homosexual activity.

However, if you use too much seasoning, at some point the dish itself doesn’t matter: all you taste is the topping. Some seem to think this is the way to go with Christianity (“If we make Christianity attractive by only talking about love and not judgment, maybe people will convert!”), but that is an offense to the Gospel. Francis has been accused of seasoning his words too much, but I think he has a robust dish to land on, so to speak. Catholicism is the sort of religion that changes far more slowly, if at all, even if Protestant Christianity has shirked that particular reputation.

So if you say “I’m Catholic”, people probably know where you stand on the issue. But if you say “I’m a Christian”, suddenly the world is without clarity on your stance. If it is our job to lead the world from sin and towards Jesus Christ, it is (at least partially) our job to point out sin. But many who claim Christianity do not believe that homosexuality is a sin, regardless of what Scripture makes clear (and not just Old Testament passages). So, what do we do? Do we speak our minds and offend, or keep our mouths shut and make friends?

The answer comes down to context, more often than not. If asked flat-out what you believe about homosexuality, you should have the strength to stand by and speak your convictions. If you are misunderstood, you may need to follow Francis’ example and remind yourself and others that those in the LGBTQ crowd are, first and foremost, people made in the image of God.

But if you aren’t asked directly, should you ever bring it up? Short answer: maybe. If your friends don’t have a clue where you stand (or even that you are a believer), perhaps you aren’t living your life for Jesus as strongly as you thought. But if they know you are a believer, and even know where you stand on homosexuality issues, it isn’t worth trumpeting every time you talk to someone. Really, it won’t do you any good. Don’t serve the same dish at every meal; it gets tiresome.

If you never seek to soften your words, if you only ever speak offensively, you cannot claim that you are being attacked for your faith. The world may persecute you for Christ’s sake, but if you are attacked because you never considered your words or your actions, you are being persecuted for your own sake. And, unless you’re already perfect, that’s not going to fly.

So, step back and consider your words. Don’t be needlessly offensive, but don’t avoid all offense. The gospel is worth losing friends over, but your unnecessarily brash language isn’t. Season your words carefully, but remember to vary them as needed.

Weekly Roundup (Or: How Sherlock Survived His Deadly Fall)

A young writer has some advice for church leaders trying desperately to attract and retain young people: change carefully and wisely. What young people say they want in their 20s is not necessarily what they want 10 years later.


Keeping up with the times: Pope Francis to Offer Plenary Indulgences via Twitter.


Just because: This Is What It Would Look Like If You Dropped Manhattan Into the Grand Canyon.


Behold, The Six Types of Atheists (or, how Social Scientists make obvious observations and try to pass it off as actual work).


Matthew Tuininga asks, What if our Grandmothers were actually right?:

There is a story that plays itself out over and over in American culture. Progressive activists proclaim that a particular element of traditional wisdom about the family and parenting is the residue of old-fashioned religious convictions, with little relation to reality or to human flourishing. Invariably, social scientists lend their voices and expertise to the cause, insisting that there is no scientific evidence for the legitimacy of the older norms; surely, it is assumed, research will show that liberty and tolerance is the appropriate way forward. Eventually the activists and the academics find the support of the media and other cultural elites, who call for an end to the stigmatization of those who violate the old norms and mores.

As the decades pass however, a host of new problems arise, problems that society has never had to face. The abandonment of older assumptions about the family, it turns out, has a tremendous social cost after all. Research in the social sciences begins to suggest that even if the older ideals were rooted in religion and tradition, they make a whole lot of sense scientifically as well. We’re not sure why, but it turns out that our grandmothers really did have some wisdom.


Doug Wilson offers some clear-headed advice for social conservatives frustrated by the tactics of the opposition and their allies in the Media Industrial Complex.


In the wake of the Texas abortion bill and the nausiating attempts at a “Stand with Wendy” campaign,  Democrats for Life are asking us to Stand with Kirsten Powers instead.


The perception among non-Calvinists is often that Reformed folk are arrogant, argumentative, and downright rude.  Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California points out that every individual is unique; there are rude Arminians and grumpy Baptists, just as there are kindly Calvinists.  Still, he admits, the perception is not without foundation, and so he attempts to offer some reasons why (some) Reformed people are such jerks.

Some, when they first discover “the doctrines of grace” (code for unconditional predestination and justification by grace alone, through faith alone) can actually become angry that they’ve been denied these truths for so long. It’s as if one grew up in England (pay attention Carl) and suddenly discovers that food can be pleasant, that just a few miles to the southeast there is a people of strange tongues and marvelous food beyond one’s wildest dreams! Gaining this knowledge can produce genuine frustration. Having tasted French food, our Englishman is beside himself. It’s all he can talk about. It’s all he wants to read about. It’s all he cooks. The first time his Mum brings out the usual Thursday night dinner, he rages at her, but she doesn’t know any better. She’s never been to France and wouldn’t know pain au chocolate if it hit her on the head.


Speaking of raucous Reformed folk, many young evangelicals are breaking from their fundamentalist roots and embracing “Christian liberty” when it comes to alcoholic beverages.  I for one enjoy craft beer immensely, even dabbling in a bit of home brewing.  But is this liberty, fueled as it so often is by a reaction to legalism, becoming its own kind of legalism?  Brett McCracken at Mere Orthodoxy probes: Are you free to NOT drink?


The New Theist himself (William Lane Craig) debates Sam Harris on the possibility of objective morality without God:


Jon Negroni has discovered a grand secret hidden in plain sight, what he calls “The Pixar Theory”:  Every single Pixar film is directly connected to all the others, creating the biggest and most complex narrative in film history.  (Well…maybe).


And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for.  Last year, in the final moments of series 2 of BBC’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch’s titular character plummeted off a rooftop to his death…only he somehow survived.  Fans have been baffled, to say the least.  Finally, Cumberbatch himself has decided to break the silence and explain how Sherlock survived.  Using stuffed animals.

In Defense Of The Pope

I am a Protestant.  Not only a Protestant, but an evangelical.  And not only an evangelical, but a Calvinist.  In short, I have no love for the Papacy.  I do not believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, nor is he in any meaningful sense the successor of the Apostle Peter.  When it comes to Christian doctrine, especially the gospel, the Papacy obscures rather than illuminating the truth of Scripture.

Having established my Reformation bona fides, however, I do believe the Pope serves a different kind of role in modern Western culture, an important role that he is uniquely suited for.

Due to all the papal fervor in the news after Benedict XVI’s resignation I started reading one of his many books, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures.  In it, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger carefully lays out a cultural and philosophical critique of the Enlightenment and her children, modernity and secularism.  He makes a persuasive case for Christianity as both a philosophical grounding for science and ethics and a cultural powerhouse, enabling creativity and promoting a freedom that is not self-destructive.

This is the sort of apologetics that many Christians, especially evangelicals, are becoming accustomed to.  Events and programs geared toward “defending the faith” are on the rise, spearheaded by institutions such as Biola.  The difficulty that such programs are encountering today is that fewer people are listening.  Increasingly people inhabit niche entertainment bubbles that are difficult to break through.  Between Netflix and RSS feeds, daily media consumption is made to order.  Major news outlets such as the New York Times or NBC, which still have some residual power to cut into these bubbles, are not likely to cover the latest William Lane Craig debate.  And yet one thing these same outlets cannot seem to get enough of is the Roman Catholic church.  This isn’t surprising.  Left leaning news organizations love to hate Christianity, and Catholics provide the easiest target.  The Catholic church is the largest and most visible single organization that claims to represent Christianity.  Moreover they are monolithic, such that a reporter can reasonably expect to get “the Catholic answer” to some question.  In contrast, you can speak to 100 different Protestant pastors and reasonably expect 100 different answers.

In short, the unique standing of Roman Catholicism on the world stage provides its leader, the Pope, with a unique platform;  the true bully pulpit.

Again, I would not actively promote Catholic dogma, but when the Pope is addressing the entire world, especially non-Christians, he tends to speak more broadly and philosophically, and not dogmatically.  In Crisis of Cultures, Ratzinger does not address at length the bodily assumption of Mary, as that would be counter productive.  He instead focuses on the common heritage of the West against modern secularism and Islam, which includes some ancient Greek and Roman thought as well as “Judeo-Christianity.”

And this is what I have in mind for the Pope’s unique role.  Rather than the actual head of the Christian church, which he is not, I view the Pope as a kind of figurehead of Western civilization.  The bar for this position is set decidedly lower than for the head of the church.  Just as I don’t worry too much about the specific doctrinal beliefs of the US President, It doesn’t matter much whether the “Head of Western Civilization” is a Calvinist or Arminian, Paedobaptist or Credobaptist.  Basically, he only needs to be a Trinitarian and a Platonist (to some extent) in the vein of Thomas Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards, or C. S. Lewis.  Even the Trinity is not strictly necessary, since the broader Western tradition includes Jews and some of the ancients as well as Christians, but I would argue that it was Christianity specifically that produced the art, science and political thought of the modern Western world.  Popes also tend to have the benefits of first rate intellects and educations, else they aren’t likely to be elevated to such high positions.

All of this, then, gives us a man who has a solid grounding in the best philosophical aspects of the Western heritage, combined with social and moral teachings that all traditional Christians and Jews agree with, and he has the largest and most visible platform of any public figure in the world.  There are obvious drawbacks to a monolithic organization like the Catholic church, as the recent sex abuse scandals make clear.  Such problems can be overcome, however, and the moral and intellectual authority of the Pope does not rest on any supposed claim to perfection.  Instead, this authority rests upon the power and persuasiveness of the ideas to which the Pope appeals and seeks to defend.  The ideas of the West.

Thus, when we consider the cultural battle lines being drawn between the heritage of the West and the forces of postmodern secularism, atheism, radical feminism, etc, I think evangelicals can recognize the important role of the Pope on a cultural and sometimes political level without giving into the error of trying to erase all doctrinal distinctinves (or pretending that they do not matter), undoing the important work of the Reformation.  We can join hapily in the public square with Roman Catholics on issues like abortion, just as we would with Orthodox Jews or Muslims, without pretending that we are all one church with an identical gospel.  And we do so recognizing that the Pope provides us all with a powerful voice;  one that Western culture desperately needs.