Recently I had an occasion to hear a prominent and respected evangelical leader speak to about 400 gathered people. In his message, which was full of worthwhile and thought-provoking content, he referred to his reading of the New York Times “with his nose plugged”. He almost apologized for reading the Times, saying he had to do it because of his radio program.
I can guess the audience that “nose plug” comment was intended for, but it, like many off-handed comments we make, was neither necessary nor wise.
First of all, I think one SHOULD read the New York Times. It IS one of the primary media of our day and its reach is broad. We should not apologize for doing so as if we are doing something shameful.
But, secondly, when we speak, to four-hundred, to four-thousand, or even to four, we ought never to assume that our inside ‘jokes’ will be uniformly appreciated. I merely lost respect for the man. But suppose there was someone there who had just ended a five year stint writing for the Times. How would he have taken that snide dismissal of his work? Or if someone there was simply wrestling with the claims of Christ, he may (unnecessarily) leave thinking either 1) he must, in addition to coming to trust Christ, come to mistrust the New York Times, in order to be a Christian, or 2) that he has no more taste for Christian things because of the “Christian” take on something he holds dear. In either scenario, the offense is not the cross, but the carelessness of the speaker.
David Bisgrove, Associated Pastor of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, stressed this point in an extremely helpful presentation to the Gospel Coalition in 2007. He said
In most (even thriving) churches, the whole service usually assumes: 1) a lot of Biblical knowledge, 2) a ‘we-them’ mentality (we Christians vs. the big, bad world), 3) much evangelical terminology. Thus most Christians, even when they are edified in church, know intuitively that their non-Christian friends would not appreciate the service.
He illustrated this point by noting a time that he was preparing to preach and saw Robin Williams sitting in the middle of the congregation. He was glad, as his mind scanned his notes, that he was making no disparaging comments about Hollywood.
People misunderstand me every time I talk in this way. My plea is simply this: The cross will be offensive. Let us not, therefore, find other ways to offend with the result that those who need to hear the cross never can.