Summer 2016

Conviction, Courage and Civility: Three Virtues for a Vitriolic Age

By Barry H. Corey

This spring, Biola University's Center for Christian Thought (CCT) and Center for Marriage and Relationships (CMR) hosted a one-day symposium on campus titled “Love No Matter What: Politics, Sex, Race and the Way of the Cross.” Held shortly before Easter, this event gathered Christian speakers of differing backgrounds to discuss how to navigate contentious conversations in today’s polemical culture. Not everyone in this conversation necessarily agreed with each other.

The event followed a similar symposium at Biola in 2015, CCT’s “Disagree” conference. Writing about why Biola is hosting these sorts of conversations, CCT director Gregg Ten Elshof said this:                        

Disagreement is an inescapable fact of life. We can’t outrun, outsmart or out-love it. It’s here to stay. And if we learn how to interact with it well, it can be a powerful resource for learning, for love and even for growth into deep and abiding unity.                  

The self-effacing humility and “love your enemies” sacrifice of Jesus Christ is counterintuitive and countercultural in today’s world, but it is a crucial framework for healthy Christian cultural engagement.

As Christians, we need healthy, “love no matter what”-style disagreement modeled for us like never before, given the vitriol and the fragmentation that seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. How do we winsomely engage with those who may not share our faith in conversations on worldviews, social issues, politics, race, economics, war, immigration, gun control and even the existence of God? We need modelers who show how we can flourish in the context of disagreement.   

This takes Christians who embody the virtues of courage, conviction and civility. Conviction is the virtue that binds us to our most cherished and least changing beliefs. It grounds us in biblical truth and forms our core. Courage is the virtue that calls us to bold action, reaching beyond the horizons of possibility. As Christians, we are called to be a present witness within our culture. We do this by melding conviction with courage, guided by civility that bears witness to the gospel. Only with all three do I believe we’ll make progress on the seemingly intractable challenges of our day.

In my nine years as president of Biola University I have become convinced that we need a generation of Christians with deep convictions regarding what is true, grounded in the Word of God. We need a generation of Christians courageous in their faith, empowered by the Spirit of God. And we need a generation of Christians whose demeanor is civil, kind and compassionate, modeled by the Son of God. Even within the church, the days of going it alone or fostering a spirit of competition need to give way to fresh partnerships and collaborations that stretch beyond our theological and denominational differences.                       

Though we need to speak out against injustices and that which does not glorify God, we also need to consider how to engage our culture with a deep conviction in truth, but in a way that is meek, loving, gracious and fragrant. We engage the culture with temperate tones by serving alongside and not casting stones from pedestals.

How we respond to the shifting of tectonic plates now underway may well test the church as it has throughout the ages. These testing times have been Christians’ finest hours. With a world that is more accessible through technology, with a nation that is more ethnically diverse, with the interreligious dialogue more at our doorstep than ever, with some of the faith’s historic values under siege, Christians are being closely watched.

Amid these changes, the truth of Scripture even more must fortify our deepest convictions, fuel our courage and call us to postures of gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15). This means exercising the virtue of kindness and exorcising the spirit of condescension. May we demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ by our faithful obedience to biblical conviction, by the strength of our Spirit-breathed courage with the tone of Christian civility.

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