Categories are a gift to thinkers. Writers who frame groups and perspectives by giving us categories help us form a mental framework to assess strengths and weaknesses of various positions. Collin Hansen has given me a new set of categories to consider when I see the landscape of conservative evangelicals:
- Compassionate (those who emphasize Christ’s compassion for people inside and outside the church who are hurting).
- Courageous (those who emphasize the call to create a counter-culture and speak truth boldly in society).
- Commissioned (those who see revival and evangelism through “reaching people” as the preeminent consideration for the church).
In Blind Spots, a short book or a long essay (depending on your perspective), Collin fleshes out the strengths and weaknesses of these groups and why we all need each other. As I read this book, I quickly came to agree with his choice of categories, and I found great wisdom in his assessment of each particular challenge. Collin has joined me on the blog to answer a few questions.
Trevin Wax: You mention “blind spots” as the ways we have been conditioned by our various cultures and experiences to hear certain aspects of the gospel more clearly than others. These differences often create division, but you see opportunity. Why?
Collin Hansen: I see opportunity because God made us this way. He has given us different personalities and walked us through different experiences.
More importantly, he variously gifts believers in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). That sounds like a great opportunity to me, so long as together we stay focused on the “more excellent way” of 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul extols the love that unites us to one another and to Christ.
Trevin Wax: The problem with blind spots is that they tend to hide behind good traits. Your book is outlined around three of those good traits: compassionate, courageous, and commissioned. Alliteration makes my Baptist heart sing. Seriously, though, what are the strengths you see in these three broad categories of Christians?
Collin Hansen: The strengths resemble Jesus Christ himself, and since we belong to his body, these characteristics belong to us. You see him weeping over Jerusalem in compassion because he loves his people, and he knows they will not find peace if they reject his mission and authority. He weeps because the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 anticipates the judgment of God against all who do not repent of their sins and follow the Son (Luke 19:41-44). So it was compassion that took Jesus to the cross.
But so did courage. After he weeps over Jerusalem, he cleanses the temple. Indignant with the moneychangers, he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” (Luke 19:45-46). Courage compelled him through his trial in the Garden of Gethsemane to his ordeal on the cross. All followers of Christ share this courage, as we have seen in church history from the apostles in the book of Acts to the Egyptian and Ethiopian men who would submit to death by ISIS before they would deny Christ.
All along his ministry Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, which means he remained committed to fulfilling his mission of seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10). No political plot or misguided scheme from his disciples would distract him. After his resurrection and before his ascension Jesus gave his followers the Great Commission with the promise that he would always be with us (Matt. 28:18-20). So the church can never doubt what we’re supposed to do, nor doubt that God has given us the power to do it.
Trevin Wax: What are the blind spots each of these groups must watch out for?
Collin Hansen: This is where the book gets difficult. Behind every strength you’ll find a corresponding weakness, or blind spot. Everyone else can see these problems in us and our friends. And we can see their blind spots, too. The challenge is trusting Christ to reveal our own weaknesses as we see the strengths of others.
Courageous Christians have a hard time knowing the difference between the offense of the gospel and offense from sin. Jesus told us to expect tribulation in the world (John 16:33). But we must not confuse such tribulation with our failure to love the world.
Compassionate Christians want our neighbors to see our good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Pet. 2:12). But as my colleague Joe Carter points out, NFL quarterback Tim Tebow does more good deeds than any of us, and many people hate him for it. Jesus did more good deeds than Tim Tebow, and they killed him.
Finally, commissioned Christians want to leverage every new technology, every new trend for gospel advance. If you’re engaging the culture with the savvy of Paul at the Areopagus, that’s great (Acts 17). But if you’re touting 50 Shades of Grace, then don’t expect life transformation. You’re probably just tacking Jesus onto a consumeristic foundation.
Trevin Wax: Every generation thinks that the current challenges are the greatest the church has ever seen. Why is it important to have perspective when it comes to today’s challenges, and how can we make sure we are relying on hope as a motivator, not fear?
Collin Hansen: Evangelicals, at least in America, tend to be torn between progressive and regressive narratives. Everything’s either getting better and better or worse and worse. The loss of historical perspective and eschatological hope is a problem for both groups.
Courageous Christians tend to fear ours is the worst era ever, and if we just got back to the good ‘ole days, things would be fine. But the good ‘ole days don’t exist, even if you’re talking about the Bible and the churches in Galatia and Corinth. Compassionate Christians tend to see things as getting better and better with liberation from social sins. But their hope must be invested in the return of Christ more than our ability to usher in utopia. The poor will always be with us (Matt. 26:11).
Commissioned Christians bounce back and forth. They tend to invest too much hope in the latest movie or evangelistic strategy. But so long as they keep focused on what God is doing around the world, they’re at least more balanced. In any era God is doing a million things we don’t know or can’t see. So we eagerly await the return of Christ, which all will see.
Trevin Wax: You write: “It’s often easier to weep over the world than to pick up its pieces.” How does compassion, courage, and commissioning equip us to bring about change in the world God has placed us?
Collin Hansen: I love that question, because it captures the ultimate aim of this book. I want to encourage “sober optimism,” to borrow that phrase from one of my heroes, Carl Henry. We’re sober because the world is fallen in sin. Christ has come, Christ is risen, but we wait for Christ to come again. And that’s why we’re optimistic as well, because we know how the story ends, with a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21-22).
My descriptions of courageous, compassionate, and commissioned Christians are only designed to direct us toward Christ so he can show us where we’re following close behind and where we’ve strayed from his example. If we fix our eyes on Christ and work with others whose spiritual gifts complement our own, we’ll see significant change. If we fix our eyes on one another and fixate on where others fall short, then the world will feel free to ignore us and the gospel of Christ.