I have said often that books by Scott Sauls should be in the hands of every single Christian without exception. Very few pastors or theologians have more spiritually formed our family than his, and his every word is read under our roof. Scott is the preeminent voice for fractured, polarized times. No voice speaks with such fresh hope, clarifying wisdom, rooted orthodoxy, all from a posture of unifying grace. And very few books could change the conversation around our office watering holes, our family dinner tables, and across our aisles and fences across the globe like this one. It’s a grace to welcome our friend, Scott Sauls, to the farm’s front porch today…
In today’s fractured times, I think that the people of Jesus have a unique opportunity to offer something different to the world and to each other.
What if, instead of participating in all the us-against-them talk and cancel culture, we returned to a path and posture that mirrored the One we love and follow, the One who described Himself as “gentle and humble in heart?”
What if, in a world that’s turning in on itself with outrage, we gave a gift to the world and each other, the gift of “a gentle answer, (which) turns away wrath?” (Proverbs 15:1).
Unlike the essentials which are best summarized in ancient consensus statements like the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, and which also include those things about which Scripture speaks unambiguously—i.e., don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, believe in Jesus, we are saved by grace not works, husbands love your wives—non-essentials are matters about which Christians may disagree freely while enjoying unbroken friendship and holding each other in high esteem.
Wherever the Bible does not speak with certainty on something, wherever the Bible leaves room for varying perspectives, such matters should be treated as a non-essential.
I am told that the Theologian A (I’ll leave names out to avoid distraction) once gave a guest sermon about how God brings people into a saving relationship with Himself.
On this particular issue, Theologian A is well known for emphasizing the sovereign, initiating grace in the salvation of humans.
Others, like Theologian B, are known for emphasizing human free will. While Theologian A would say we chose God only because God first chose us, Theologian B might say that God chose us based on His prior knowledge that we would one day choose Him.
This is an intramural and friendly debate between sincere believers, and ought to be treated as such. It’s an important debate, but on whichever side a person lands, it will not determine his or her standing with a God who saves not by our perfect doctrine, but by His generous grace.
During the question and answer time after Theologian A’s talk, someone asked him if he thought he would see Theologian B in heaven, to which he replied, “No, I don’t believe I will see Theologian B in heaven.”
Of course, there was a collective gasp! But then he continued, “Theologian B will be so close to the throne of God, and I will be so far away from the throne of God, that I will be lucky even to get a glimpse of him!”
What Theologian A demonstrated is that sincere believers can disagree on certain matters, sometimes quite strongly, and still maintain deep respect, honor, and affection toward each other.
It is no coincidence that the longest recorded prayer we have from Jesus is His famous high priestly prayer, in which He asks that His wildly diverse band of followers be united as one. Those followers included Simon, an anti-government Zealot, and Matthew, a government tax collector.
Can you imagine loving and doing life together every day with your political opposite?
Likewise, it is no coincidence that the Apostle Paul would begin his letters with the two-part salutation, “grace to you” (the standard Greek greeting) and “peace to you” (the standard Jewish greeting).
It is significant that he would insist that Jews and Greeks, slaves and free people, men and women, are as one through Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28). All three pairings represented the deepest forms of relational hostility to the first century reader.
In that world, Jews looked down their noses at Greeks, and Greeks disdained Jews. Men were dismissive and demeaning toward women, and women were injured by men. Free people saw slaves as sub-human, and slaves were injured by free people.
Paul confronted to such divisions because Christians are in many ways a band of opposites, who over time grow to love one another through the centering, unifying love of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit concurred with Paul.
In a world where pious Rabbi’s prayed, “Thank you, my God, that I am not a slave, a gentile, or a woman,” the Holy Spirit made sure that the very first three converts to Christianity were a slave, a gentile, and a woman. You can read all about it in the book of Acts.
But there is more to unity than the cooling down of hostility.
There is also much that Christians from differing perspectives can learn from one another.
I treasure the fact that some of my closest pastor friends are from traditions other than my own. Besides being excellent company, these friendships are meaningful and necessary for my own development as a pastor and as a believer.
What’s more, I don’t know where I would be without the influence of others who see certain non-essentials differently than I do.
I need the wisdom, reasoning, and persuasiveness of C.S. Lewis, though his take on some of the finer points of theology are different than mine.
I need the preaching and charisma of Charles Spurgeon, though his view of baptism is different than mine. I need the Kingdom vision of N.T. Wright and the theology of Jonathan Edwards, though their views on church government are different than mine.
I need the passion and prophetic courage of Martin Luther King, Jr., the cross-cultural wisdom of Mika and Christina Edmondson, and the Confessionsof Saint Augustine, although their races are different than mine. I need the reconciliation spirit of Miroslav Volf, though his nationality is different than mine.
I need the spiritual thirst and love impulse of Brennan Manning and the prophetic wit of G.K. Chesterton, though both were Roman Catholics and I am a Protestant.
I need the hymns and personal holiness of John and Charles Wesley, though some of our doctrinal distinctives are different.
I need the glorious weakness of Joni Eareckson Tada, the prophetic fire of Christine Caine, the trusting perseverance of Elisabeth Elliott, the longsuffering of Amy Carmichael, the transparency and thankfulness of Ann Voskamp, the theological precision of Kathy Keller, and the warmth and kindness of Patti Sauls, though their gender is different than mine.
In non-essentials liberty. And to this we might add an open-minded receptivity.
We must allow ourselves to be shaped by our “other” brothers and sisters for Jesus’ sake.
We will be the richer for it.
Scott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Before CPC, Scott was a lead and preaching pastor alongside Tim Keller with New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. He lives in Nashville with his lovely wife, Patti, and daughters, Abby and Ellie. He blogs regularly—seriously bookmark him—and can be found being humble light on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
About A Gentle Answer, Rebekah Lyons says, “This book could not have come at a better time, as we navigate a culture of polarization…this is a heart-changing book!”
I deeply concur. A Gentle Answer is a roadmap, first into the gentle heart of Jesus, and then into a world that is aching for a gentle answer to bring relief from so much hostile, hurt-filled noise. This is an absolute must-read that I cannot recommend highly enough.