The last book in our Faith and Politics Book Review Series is entitled A Gentle Answer: Our “Secret Weapon” in An Age Of Us Against Them. Scott Sauls is the senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville and has authored several others books including Jesus Outside the Lines and Irresistible Faith. Whereas the previous two books we reviewed entailed examining how to practically engage politics as a Christian, Sauls’ book was chosen to address the political tone of our current moment. The goal is to go beyond politics and confront our need for gentleness.
A Gentle Answer is a breath of fresh air in this hostile, angry, and selfish political and cultural environment. Ray Ortlund, another pastor in the Nashville area said this in his forward: “[it] does undermine all swagger-driven, domineering, win-at-all-costs, sub-christian ‘Christianity,’ of every stripe and tribe. Scott’s message is clear. Jesus himself sets the tone (emphasis mine) for everyone who wants to stop using him and start following him.” There’s that word “tone” again. Why is that word so important in our current age? Contrary to popular belief right now, our actions have an effect on our message. It’s important to note that this book is not a how-to guide on how to have a better tone. Rather, “this book,” Sauls writes, “is as much about what must be done to us and inside of us as it is about what must be done by us to engage faithfully in a world of us-against-them.” (xxvi). And this is exactly how he lays out the book.
In part one, Sauls writes about how gentleness is even possible. Gentleness is possible because Jesus himself is gentle (Matt. 11:28-30). The fact that Jesus is gentle points to how he can interact and deal with sinners, Pharisees, and cynics. But does gentleness reflect the disposition of his followers today? Sauls shares a revealing survey that might surprise us. In the 2019, Barna Group shared the result of the survey that said 97 percent of Christians (across four generations) affirmed that the best thing for someone is for them to know Jesus. So far so good! Yet, the survey goes on to say that 47 percent of millennials (along with smaller percentages of the other generations) stated that it was wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith (pp.28-29). What is the disconnect here? Sauls attributes this to the interactions Christians have with the world around them, especially in the West: “rather than being esteemed as the best kinds of friends to the world around us, we are often regarded as the worst kinds of enemies. Rather than having favor with all, we have disfavor with many” (p. 29). Sauls goes on to to say that “…Christians, especially younger ones, have become disenchanted with the idea of sharing their faith. For who among them would want to publicly associate with a movement that seems characterized more by judgement and scorn than by grace and love?” (pp. 32-33). That is an indictment that we all need to hear as Christians.
In the first three chapters, Sauls takes the focus off ourselves and puts it on Jesus. We must remember the posture of how our Savior came to us in our sin, hypocrisy, and cynicism. He did not come to us heavy handed. He did not come to us in rage. He did not come to us in judgement. He did not come to us flippantly. He came to us as He is: gentle and lowly in heart. If this is the manner in which Jesus had/has for us, why would our disposition towards others be different? If the best thing is for someone to know Christ, then we, as Christ’s ambassadors, must reflect what we know to be true about Him.
In part II, Sauls moves from what Jesus has done for us to what His gentleness does to us. If we are to have any favor with the world around us, we must not speak and act as the world, but we must follow after Jesus. The last five chapters Sauls allows us to see how the gentleness of Jesus teaches us to love our opponents, to display righteous anger, to respond graciously to our critics, to forgive when it’s hard, and to bless our betrayers.
One of the chapters that I found most helpful and needed (though all of them were helpful and needed) was chapter six: “We Receive Criticism Graciously.” Due to the nature of the different mediums of communication we now have (i.e. social media), it’s easy to dish out criticism. How this usually works, especially on social media, is that someone criticizes someone else and since social media doesn’t lend itself to context, tone, and understanding, the person receiving the criticism dishes right back. The cycle finally ends when one gets tired of responding. Is there a better way? You can learn a lot about a person by how they respond to their critics. Sauls writes, “unhealthy people, when criticized, tend to retreat, manipulate, or retaliate. People seeking health tend to confess and repent” (p.127). If we are to move in the direction of Christ-like gentleness we must learn how to respond in humility to critiques, whether they are fair or unfair.
What Sauls gets across in this book is nothing groundbreaking or new, he simply is pointing Christians to Jesus and His heart. That’s the way a gentle answer will be known. Through antidotes and biblical illustration, Sauls serves us well by reorienting our tone in a Christ-like manner and seeing ourselves in light of Him. Sauls wants our message of the good news of the gospel not to be overshadowed by a manner that reflects a different Christianity altogether. In a time when our us-against-them culture will, I assume, increase, Christians can – and must- offer another way. My prayer from this book is that Christians will not only declare but display the very heart of Christ to the world around them.
Editors Note: You can purchase the book here.