the weblog of Alan Knox

A good reputation among outsiders…

Posted by on Sep 25, 2008 in blog links, discipleship, elders | 12 comments

According to Paul, the church should recognize leaders based on several characteristics. One of those characteristics is a good reputation among those who are outside the church (1 Tim. 3:7). Recently, Phil at “Square No More“, took part in a pagan festival called Pagan Pride (see his post “A Christian Presenter at Pagan Pride?!“). In response to his presentation, Phil received a letter from a pagan couple. This is the text of that letter (which comes from his post called “A response to pagan pride“):

Pastor Phil,

I just wanted to thank you again for the kind and thoughtful discussion you moderated at pagan pride yesterday. I was so impressed that you managed to neither soft pedal or market away the true differences of belief involved or make those differences excessively confrontational. Usually interfaith dialog between any of the, let’s say, ‘Abrahamic’ faiths and other religions is either so diplomatic that it is dishonest about the true nature of their basic differences, or so focused on the differences that they appear as you aptly put it ‘mean and judgmental’ Somehow you managed to find a middle course between these extremes and I have seldom seen this done with such grace.

But but you also avoided two other mistakes (I believe) Christians commonly make in witnessing their faith. 1. You did not speak as if we non-christians had never heard this message before and 2. You did not speak to us non-christians as if we were in need of rescue. I know you likely believe we *are* in need of rescue, but that you were respectful enough to not explicitly condescend shows a good heartedness and sensitivity I am not used to encountering among evangelicals. This is important because this attitude conveys that you are aware that many non-christians are just as comfortable and assured of their beliefs as you are, and just as contented in their lives and full of spiritual hope as well. That is, we are as committed to our stuff as you are to yours. Too many Christians fail to recognize this and this tends to shut down discussion right from the start.

The sort of discussion we had yesterday is also encouraging in so far as the discourse between Christians and non-christians has become increasingly and dangerously polarized, toxic and political. That you have drawn such fire for even speaking with neo-pagans is yet another perplexing proof of it. It just seems so un-Christ-like to condemn you for ministering to neo-pagans, after all, that is exactly what Christ would have done. If there is to be any peace at all and if the political fiber of our Country and Constitution is to hold together we need to continually remind each other that whatever we may believe we are NOT enemies.

Christian Day was speaking with my wife after the discussion yesterday and told her how kind, generous and basically samaritan-like you and your people have been in the Salem community. And in this respect I think we have at least one common belief: argument and discussion is worthwhile and even fun, but it is far more important to persuade by one’s example of loving kindness.

The whole thing made Debbie and I feel great. We’ve been talking about it quite a lot. We will likely never share your congregation’s religious beliefs, but we hope you will consider us allies all the same.

George Popham and Debbie Fields Popham

What kind of reputation do you have among outsiders? Do they recognize both your conviction and a lack of judgmental attitude on your part? Or do you come across as too diplomatic or judgmental? Or, do you even spend enough time among “outsiders” for them to know you?

If you decide to spend time among those outside the church, realize that it could get you in trouble with some who consider themselves righteous – it happened to Phil, and it happened to Jesus too.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-25-2008

    A good word. I might come across as too diplomatic, I don’t know. Anyway I posted about it and linked back here.

  2. 9-25-2008


    I must ask (because I am really enquiring) how does that work out practically. In other words how do you not tell the non-believer that he is in need of divine rescue without saying he is in need of divine rescue.

    I spend a good deal of time “sharing the Gospel” so to say. I am not a street preacher or anything of that nature. But I do see an urgency with us sharing the message in close personal settings and in the public arena also (we see this in Acts 7, Acts 11, Acts 16, Acts 17, not to mention the public proclaimation throughout the Gospels).

    So how do you tell someone, hey “I want to be very diplomatic, but you are currently in need of a Savior outside of yourself and the one Savior is Jesus Christ and the refusal of this Savior will cause God’s wrath to remain upon you”. I don’t know how diplomatic I can be in the presentation of the Gospel. Not to mention Paul was persecuted by both Jews and Gentiles for His Gospel and so were those scattered throughout the Roman Empire.

    I am just curious how that works, or what conversations do you avoid? I am not looking for a technique but genuinely when you present the Gospel I never see it as being very diplomatic.

  3. 9-25-2008


    What a joy to read! That was the fresh sweet odour of Christ’s pity and compassion towards the lost.

    Here is the difference between love and law!

  4. 9-25-2008


    Thank for the link. I hope to look through your blog soon.


    I think that Phil did a pretty good job explaining what he did in the first post that I linked to. I think we need to show people respect and to respect their beliefs, even if we do not agree with them. Unfortunately, too many times Christians belittle others who will not accept the gospel.

    Aussie John,

    I agree! I like you description as the difference between love and law.


  5. 9-25-2008


    I went back and read the post after I commented. And you are right. Maybe I can get a buch of pointers from this fella. I think Tim Keller does an amazing job at this also, at least I think

  6. 9-25-2008

    Wonderful post.
    I hope and pray that it will be like Jesus. “The world will know you are my disciples if you love one another”! I hope it by having a Christlikeness in every aspect of our lives. Thank you Alan for this wonderful topic. It is so very important. God bless the work you do on our blog and hope you have a wonderful weekend! 🙂

  7. 9-25-2008

    Great post Alan. I am trying to learn this myself.

  8. 9-25-2008


    I’m not as familiar with Tim Keller. I’ll look into him.


    Isn’t it amazing that the letter writer (who is a pagan) commented on Phil’s Christ-likeness?


    Me too, brother.


  9. 9-26-2008

    Alan and Lionel
    In Romans 15:18-19 the Holy Spirit through the apostle uses an oft repeated theme on this very subject combining “word and deed” then demonstrating that connection with:
    “in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit;”
    He goes on to say that the combination results in the gospel being “fully” preached. That phrase has always troubled me. Am I just a “part-preached” proclaimer?

    Additionally in looking at Matthew 20:34 and Mark 1:41 I see this phrase used of Jesus that He was; “moved with compassion”. It seems as though the Spirit is saying that to love is to “demonstrate” the kingdom in the streets not just talk about it, and in these two cases two pair of blind eyes were opened and one leper was cleansed.
    I read also in 1 Corinthians 2:4 that the Holy Spirit cautions clever speech and recommends a public demonstration of Himself.

    I also ponder the claim that the best apologetic is a miracle, as it appears that miracles move the argument to an entirely different level. Then I look at my own life as one who is so quick to speak (at the drop of a hat and if you refuse to drop it I just might drop it for you!), and I also look at the fruit of my glib tongue and quickness of speech and can’t help but believe that I have allowed my life to come up extremely short somewhere. Can I claim to be a disciple if I admittedly avoid “fully preaching”? Aren’t I rather a somewhat “half-way” disciple?

    Just so that I’m clear here, this is an honest confession not an attempt at a sneaky around the corner “Gotcha”.

  10. 9-26-2008


    Until about 6 months ago, my reputation among “outsider” would have been nonexistent. Today, its a little better. Unfortunately, a seminary tends to isolate its students, whether the administration intends that or not. Since we’ve moved out of seminary housing and since we’ve begun to interact with people in our community, we’ve had more and more interaction with “outsiders”.

    So, I say all that to say this: I posted this letter to Phil as an encouragement to myself as much as to anyone else.

    Thanks for the “honest confession”. We need many, many more of those.


  11. 10-9-2008

    @ Aussie John: I am not lost. I consider that I was lost when I was a fundamentalist, evangelical christian (25 years ago) but now I have found my true spiritual path, and healed from the wounds inflicted by the evangelical fundamentalist worldview.

    @ Lionel Woods: Your interpretation of the Gospel. There are other ways of reading it.

  12. 10-9-2008

    Only one little word!

    You may have been “a fundamentalist, evangelical christian” (I hope you used the lower case “c” deliberately), but you were never a Christian!

    I’m afraid that may be the case for many who would class themselves as such.

    I’m genuinely sorry you were wounded during your experience. I hope yours weren’t as deep and debilitating as those I received at the hands of such people.

    Genuine Christians act with mercy and grace, even towards those who have failed their standards or disagree with them.

    Regardless of the wounds, it has been my experience that Christ is true to His promise to “never leave or forsake” those who belong to Him.

    May His mercy and grace be upon you!