Arrogance, Benevolence, and the Gospel

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“Peter Berger captures the style of witness that is dead to most people today: ‘A peculiar mixture of arrogance (‘I know the truth’) and benevolence (‘I want to save you’) has always been the chief psychological hallmark of missionary activity.’ People can smell this combination of arrogance and benevolence a mile away. At the first whiff they will fly away- miles away.”

Rick Richardson, Evangelism Outside the Box, 36. 

Sometimes one quote is worth the price of a book.

Arrogance and benevolence. I have often been marked by both of these traits. I have also been marked by these traits while attempting to witness to the grace and mercy of Christ. I know from personal experience that this method of outreach does not work in today's culture. I wonder if it ever worked?

I would think that most of us would not wish to be known as someone who has these marks. We wish to be known as faithful witnesses to Christ's mercy and grace. We have been taught and we sincerely hope that our life will illustrate the truth of Jesus. May we not be marked by this strange combo of arrogance and benevolence!

Yet, here is a diagnostic question for you. How many times to people tell you that you wouldn't understand something because you are "religious" or a real "goodie-to-shoes" (what in the world does that mean by the way!)?
Do you think Jesus would have been accused of the same traits?

If we become "churchy" it is so hard to avoid being marked by a peculiar mixture of arrogance and benevolence. After all, we have come to know the truth and it has changed us! Many of our churches unconsciously portray this odd mixture not necessarily by our direct words, but through our insider language, programs, and actions that exclude new people and non-Christians because of the way they are constructed.

Please do not think this is aimed at those straight-laced conservative types. In the past month I have spoken with several church planters and pastors who have their own mixture of arrogance and benevolence. These folks have philosophies of ministry that are aimed at reaching a certain group of people. They do not wish to be "preachy" or "churchy" (however these are defined), and their ministries are cutting edge and different. Unfortunately, they are also not effective in reaching their target audience.

So what do these folks do? They try harder and they tried to convince me that they were on the right track. I must confess that I felt like I was being preached to. I felt like I was told I really needed to think about and know what they knew. They were attempting to help me. I am sure it was meant in love, but I still felt the arrogance and benevolence!
How do we as individuals and churches as the bride of Christ escape this peculiar mix of arrogance and benevolence? I wish I knew a fool-proof answer. This fool needs something fool-proof!

What I have to offer is the gospel. Wherever Jesus is exalted and ourselves and our strategies are confessed as inadequate, there is power by the Holy Spirit. I have seen real conversions and Kingdom growth from every type of church and through the witness of every type of individual. I have also seen strong ministry philosophies and incredibly gifted people stink up the room with their mixture of arrogance and benevolence.

The real issue is do you point to Christ as your only hope or does your life, ministry or church confess Christ while adding the life of a Pharisee to the real requirements to belong?

You can do this by holding onto any church tradition or cutting edge ministry philosophy as being non-negotiable. You can do this by trying to live your life so others can see you good works and thus be interested in the gospel. If our standard and our message is not Christ crucified and Christ alone, we have lost our way. Personally and corporately, we must continually come back to the gospel as the center and source for all our ministries.

What will this look like in your life and ministry? Again, I do not have a fool-proof answer. I only offer a fool-proof savior and answer to every foundational question. Repent and believe. Walk humbly by resting in His love. Point to the source of all transformation and Kingdom growth while getting out of the way with your preferences and hangups by walking in repentance. Let's see what Jesus will do through us as we confess and believe we are broken vessels that His glory will shine through (2 Cor. 4:7; 1 Cor. 3:10-14). 

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Thank you for posting this 'reality of witness' piece. Humility to Christ is essential to effective witness.

Even with our arrogance and our paternalistic benevolence God draws people to himself through our feable witness.  That's amazing!  Thank you for calling for greater humility in our witness.  Sadly, there were and are colonial wrappings that came with the Gospel.  Those who have embodied Jesus' teaching, like say Saint Francis of Assisi, have led such compelling lives, they attracted people to Jesus.  Greater humilty comes from a deeper spirituality.  As we develop a deeper intimacy with Jesus through faithful practice of the spiritual disciplines we will embody a more authentic, humble witness that attracts rather than repels.