Using “Offense” as Defense

Does being offended trump the truth?

by Calvin Smith on November 21, 2022
Featured in Calvin Smith Blog
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In many Christian (especially Canadian) circles, it seems the last thing anyone wants to do is offend anybody. It’s as if in today’s cancel-culture society, some people equate being offended with being morally superior to the person that offended them.

Now, Scripture is clear that a Christian’s speech should “always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6) and that we should “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

However, the fact is that far too many Christians have been so intimidated and bullied by others telling them they are offended—by what the Christian said or what the Bible says—that personal gospel witness in the West has almost come to a standstill.

Why? Because the very gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive to proud, sinful hearts that believe things in opposition to what the Word of God says. And the further away from God a culture gets, the more offensive the gospel is!

The further away from God a culture gets, the more offensive the gospel is!

So the declaration of “hurt” and “offence” by others has put many Christians on the defense, stopping them from giving effective answers against what the world is teaching. It even extends to the point where Christians are now attacking other Christians for speaking up boldly, saying that it’s not Christlike to be confrontational!

Weaponizing “Offense”

This has been going on for quite some time now. I first noticed it played out years ago after reading popular theologian, author, and speaker Douglas Wilson’s excellent response to atheist Sam Harris’ anti-Christian diatribe, Letter to a Christian Nation.

In Wilson’s response, Letter from a Christian Citizen, he notes that Harris started off his anti-Christian rant by quoting some very hostile responses he received to another of his books (The End of Faith). After listing several rather volatile and unkind comments by professing Christians as evidence, he said, “The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism.”1

Wilson expressed his belief that Harris did so as a tactical maneuver to “soften up” his Christian readers who were likely prone to this criticism.

You opened your book this way because you knew (quite accurately) that Christians generally would be upset by it, would be put on the defensive, would be sorrowful over what some have done to you in the name of Christ. . . . The Christian Church has a problem with this kind of person in our midst. We are embarrassed by it, believing it to be inconsistent with what Christ taught.

What Would Jesus Do?

No mature Christian I know would vouch for the use of some of the more acerbic statements that Harris references or that perhaps we’ve seen professing Christians lob at people on social media, etc. And this is certainly not what I’m advocating either.

However, some more skittish believers might do well to reexamine how our Lord Jesus responded to many he met in his time here on earth—because the fact is, Jesus offended many people, often very deliberately!

Apparently, Jesus cared more about the truth than being liked. Which is why (as an example) we see him answer a dubious question from the Pharisees (regarding extra-biblical cleansing rituals) with the straightforward accusation that they were hypocrites (Mark 7:1–6).

One could ask, “Is it nice to call people hypocrites? Is it kind?” Well, here’s where we see Jesus (love incarnate) act in what many Christians today would consider to be an unkind, offensive, and unloving manner. But is that an accurate assessment of our Lord?

Truth in Love—Love in Truth

In context, when we look at the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, we see love is described as patient, kind, lacking envy, not boastful, not rude, selfless, not easily angered, and ungrudging. And while that list does mention being kind, it never describes love as being “nice.”

The fact is, speaking “truth in love” can be offensive to people because the truth often disagrees with their preconceived ideas of what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior—what is “right and wrong.”

Now, disagreeing with someone isn’t automatically the same as being offensive. But the world seems to have caught on to the fact that many Christians are so sensitive to being “offensive” that they have equated “disagreement” with “offense.”

Interestingly, in Matthew’s parallel account of this encounter, even Jesus’ disciples seemed concerned by his behavior toward the Pharisees, so much so they even brought it to Jesus’ attention: “Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’” (Matthew 15:12).

Regardless, the Pharisees choosing to take offense at what Jesus said about them didn’t cause the Lord to stop speaking the truth to them. Jesus knew that these people needed to be jarred out of their false beliefs and confronted by the truth, especially because they were false teachers, influencing many and leading others astray. His reaction to his disciples’ question shows the seriousness of the situation.

He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:13–14)

Those with dishonest, sinful hearts will always be offended at the straightforwardness of God’s truth, and as Christians, we should follow the example of our Lord. Although we should never be rude or arrogant, we must not be bullied or intimidated into silence or into changing our message simply because a person or group is offended at the truth of God’s Word.

It’s a sad truth that when a non-believer declares they are hurt or offended by what is being said to them, Christians will often stop disagreeing with them. I have seen many examples of this over the years and had this phony debate tactic used against me personally.

I’m Offended!

Several years ago, I was asked by a local atheist group in Toronto (called the Center for Inquiry) to come speak at a meeting they were holding. I had looked up the group’s mission statement, and it read as follows: “The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.”

They invited me to take part in a discussion of their recent promotion of a bus advertising campaign on the Toronto Transit line (declaring “There is probably no God, so relax and enjoy your life”) along with a couple other panelists with differing worldviews. They wanted me as an opposing “religious” view to keep the discussion balanced.

Knowing what I was getting into, I thought the opportunity to share the truth of God’s Word would be worth my time—regardless of the “hard ground” I expected to encounter.

Upon arrival, I noticed their facility was full of shelves lined with atheistic material from the likes of Russel, Nietzsche, Darwin, Huxley, Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins and that there were “free thought” posters plastered all over the walls of the facility.

After the initial discussion by the panel members, the audience (all atheists to my knowledge) were invited to ask questions. And somehow, with all of the emphasis on entertaining opposing ideas and free speech/thought being touted, I was flabbergasted to hear a statement from a resident biologist in their group. He stood up (after I had rebutted one of the evolutionary arguments put forth) and said, “I’ve been doing science for 30 years; don’t you think it offends me when you say you don’t believe in evolution?”

Yes, you read that correctly! Surrounded by free thought posters and despite my having been specifically brought in to have an opposing viewpoint, this man stated he was offended by the fact that I didn’t agree with him! And his hurt tone and grieved look made it obvious he expected something akin to an apology.

My response to him was quite frank. I said something to this effect.

Sir, you and I don’t believe the same things, but I’m not offended by that because you have the right to believe what you want. However, if you choose to be offended by the fact I don’t agree with what you believe, I have no control over that. But to be honest, sir, considering the intellectual environment we are in here today, and because of the fact that I was invited here specifically to provide an opposing view, I think it’s rather pitiful that you’d make that comment.

Apparently realizing the irony of a “free thought advocate” speaking out against free thought rather than putting forth an intellectual argument, most of his fellow atheists in the crowd murmured agreement with me (on that point at least), and he sat down, seeming a little embarrassed.

The ensuing Q&A session was quite lively indeed, with almost all of the emphasis being put against my biblical creationist beliefs. But even though most people there did not agree with my position, several of the attendees came over afterward and shook my hand, making comments like, “We appreciated you had good arguments” and “We should have you back.”

The organizer was also given encouragement to follow up with me about returning. However, he never contacted me again.

Capturing Strongholds

One never knows how the Lord may have used my time with that group to draw people to himself. However, I know that if I had bought into the idea that the mere fact of me disagreeing with that fellow was offensive, I would have been stifled and “apologetic” in the exact wrong sense of what we read in 1 Peter 3:15.

Many in that group represented people I would consider intellectually open, who sincerely enjoyed the challenge of honest debate. And Scripture emphasizes we are to have answers (an apologia—an apologetic response or intellectual defense) for those who ask us for the reason for our hope in Christ, not shy away when challenged.

2 Corinthians 10:4–5 makes it clear that Christ wants soldiers to demolish arguments the world tries to use against the knowledge of God.

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

However, Christians need to understand that you can’t demolish your opponent’s arguments without disagreeing with them at some point!

Stand for Truth

So beware the tactic of people crying “hurt” or “offense” to shut you down. Don’t be tricked into inaction if someone decides to be offended by what you stand for. If your goal is to reach people with the truth of God’s Word, then you may very well offend people.

Just make sure the heart behind what you say is meant for the good of the person you are saying it to and not because of your pride or ego. Stand on the authority of God’s Word and its truthfulness. God gave us his Word so that we may use it to help us and help others. As Scripture says,

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:17–19)

Footnotes

  1. Douglas Wilson, Letter from a Christian Citizen (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision, 2007).

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