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Being a witness in today's outrage culture

Tuesday, 29 November 2022  | Nils von Kalm


In politics they say that disunity is death. It is for the church too. Is it any wonder that Christians are not taken seriously anymore by so many people when we argue to the point of division?

Jesus knew the importance of unity. On the eve of his death, he prayed that his disciples would be one (John 17:20-21). So you might think that if he wanted them to be one, he might have chosen a less disparate group to take his news to the world. But this was a stroke of typical Jesus genius. He trusted his disciples to show the world what unity despite difference would look like.

According to the definitions of what makes a Christian in many churches today, Jesus’ disciples wouldn’t qualify as Christians. They believed all the wrong things about him and even after his resurrection, some of them had their doubts (Matthew 28:17).

Yet Jesus brought them together. He deliberately chose people from all extremes of the theological and political spectrum. In first century Palestine, how would you get a Zealot (Simon) and a tax collector (Matthew) working together?! One was totally committed to violently overthrowing the occupying Romans, while the other was a hated crook who collaborated with those same occupiers. It was like having a leader of the Australian Christian Lobby working with a high-level member of the Greens. What could go wrong?!

But Jesus saw something more, something deeper. I always love what Tim Costello has said about Christians being political. It’s not about going more to the left or right; it’s about going deeper, closer to Jesus. That's what Jesus calls his disciples to: follow him. For Jesus it was about relationship. As a good friend of mine has said, we can disagree and even have heated debates, but still go out for drinks afterwards. What a great witness that would be in today's outrage culture.

When God is involved - and we all think God is on our side - debate is going to be heated. Our views about God – and sometimes politics - go right to the very heart of our identity. So, in these times of polarisation, how can Christians be unified, as Jesus prayed for, and proclaim the best news the world has ever been presented with?

Apart from Jesus himself, probably the best example we can follow in this is that of St Paul in Acts 17. Rather than judging the locals for worshipping idols, he finds what they have in common with his message about Jesus. Unfortunately the church of today doesn't have a good record of doing this.

Some readers will remember the 'Piss Christ' controversy in the 1990s. Andres Serrano's depiction of a crucifix submerged in a tank of the artist's urine caused huge, predictable offence to many Christians. But in being so offended and not understanding the purpose of art - which is often to confront and offend - we lost a perfect opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. I remember my pastor at the time lamenting that, rather than being all offended, wouldn't it have been great if we saw Serrano's art as a wonderful analogy of God entering into the slime and filth of sin to restore all things?

One example of a group that do this well is the Christian motorcycle group, God’s Squad. For 50 years they have done the hard yards of traveling to the turf of outlaw bikers and have spoken in their language. And they have done it with what Martin Luther King called a tough mind and a tender heart. Theirs is true incarnational ministry. As a result, they have always had enormous respect in the outlaw bike scene.

In the end, being united as people of different views comes down to wisdom. In the Old Testament, wisdom is described as a woman: Sophia. It's personal. The wisdom we see there is also what we ultimately see in Jesus, the ultimate human, who shows us what wisdom looks like lived out in the mess of the real world.

In the New Testament, again we see St Paul as a wonderful example of wisdom. He reminded the Roman believers to be at peace with all people as far it is humanly possible. And Jesus was the same, even though he was of course outspoken and stood up for the vulnerable. But he also chose his battles. When he declared his ministry with his words in Luke 4 and the people literally wanted to throw him off a cliff, he didn’t respond. He slipped through the crowds and went on his way. At other times he explicitly said that his time had not yet come. Again, it was about wisdom.

How can we be wise in discerning? What does that look like? For me it looks like sitting with my feelings. I know I need to not react – something I do too often and find myself quickly forming arguments in my head. Yet, as St Paul's writes in 2 Corinthians 12:10, when I am weak, then I am strong. God’s strength is most displayed in my weakness. So the question of what Jesus would do is one that I can only have a wise response to when I’m in a place of centredness.

If the church is to be good news to a world that seems more broken than ever, we must accept our many differences, not be hung up about them, and focus on the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness. And do it all with love. That's how we will be a light on a hill to a dying society.


Nils von Kalm is a Melbourne-based writer who is passionate about the relevance of Jesus to life in the 21st century. He is the author of Bending Towards Justice: How the Gospel is More Relevant Than Ever in the 21st Century and can be found via


Image credit:

There's No Way All My Outrage will Fit on this Sign. By Alisdare Hickson.

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