Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Limits of Politeness

Are Christians too polite?

Perhaps that sounds like a stupid question. Is it possible to be too polite? I'm not talking about saying "Yes sir" and "thank you." I am thinking about our interaction with those in error.

In our pluralistic culture it is not popular to identify error or to say something or someone is wrong. I have been told at various times to not engage in polemic or identify persons or movements that are in error. To be sure, those things can be taken too far. But I wonder if that is our problem.

More than once friends have said to me, "Why can't you just say what you believe instead of criticizing what someone else teaches?" The problem is that we live in a time when people have no problem holding mutually exclusive truth claims. That is why some statements of faith not only state the truth but also the corresponding errors.

Of course the greatest example of this pattern is the Word of God. The creation account in Genesis, for instance, operates on one level as a polemic against the pagan creation accounts. You may recall the prophet Elijah's open mockery of the prophets of Baal. The apostle Paul even employs sarcasm in the book of Galatians to mock the judaizers.

I am not arguing against politeness or respectfulness. But there are limits. I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on the subject.

Can you think of any other examples of polemic, criticism (by name), or sarcastic mockery of those in error in Scripture?


dotK said...

In Mark 12:38-40 Jesus spoke against the scribes who took honor for themselves. John the baptist spoke against the Pharisees and Sadducees for coming to be baptized when they weren't repentant, calling them a brood of vipers. Matthew 3:7-10

Todd Pruitt said...


Perfect examples. Jesus' words in those instances certainly do not qualify as "polite".

Deb said...

You are our pastor. We need you to expose false doctrine and lead us in truth. Great sermon today. Please continue to challenge us.

Mike Roy said...

Douglas Wilson's book "The Serated Edge" is helpful and insightful concerning the Bible's use of satire. The literary device has been a fertile research field for Old Testament doctoral dissertations at Southern Seminary for a few years.

Todd Pruitt said...


Thanks for the kind support.


Good to hear from you. As I recall you gave me a copy of Wilson's book. He has been a very effective practitioner of what I would call "sanctified satire."