Scott Sauls. Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2015. 240 pp. $15.99.
“Pastor, I’m not sure you’re a believer anymore,” a lady from church told me. This was one of those dreaded Monday morning meetings, the kind where you know there’s no way to win.
I wasn’t going to win with this woman. She was questioning my faith not because I denied the virgin birth or the exclusivity of Christ, but because I had the temerity to criticize one of her favorite radio talk show hosts in a sermon. It was a passing comment in a sermon on fear; I simply urged people to rely less on Rush Limbaugh and more on Romans for their view of the world.
But alas—if Rush is right, then I must be wrong.
Sailing into the Maelstrom
American Christians have too easily yielded to the temptation to conflate their political passions with gospel truth and to confuse snark with winsome cultural engagement. Just check your Facebook timeline.
In his new book Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides, Scott Sauls sails straight into this maelstrom and addresses a glaring problem. A certain ugliness accompanies the way American evangelicals often do cultural engagement. It is a gospel-free, score-keeping partisanship long on fear and short on hope.
Nevertheless, many Christians are equally tempted to disengage from culture altogether. Sauls, however, doesn’t succumb to this temptation. In the introduction he asks, “Is it possible to profoundly disagree with someone and love that person deeply at the same time? Is it possible to hold convictions and simultaneously embrace those who reject your deep convictions?” Sauls, senior pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, aims to prove the answer is yes. Courage and civility can coexist, and do so uniquely in the person of Jesus Christ.
In the first section, Sauls carefully shows how Jesus shatters the divisions that often pit believers against each other. Christian politicos will find chapter one’s “Red State/Blue State” discussion compelling. Sauls laments how electoral politics can easily divide Christians. He’s quick to remind us that involvement in a political party isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as we remember our first allegiance to the kingdom of Christ. Sauls also offers a wise correction to millennials so turned off by the alignment of their parents with the Christian Right that they blindly swear allegiance to the Left.
Sauls skillfully moves through other false dichotomies that might divide Christians such as concern for the unborn versus concern for the poor, corporate worship versus personal faith, and debates about the distribution of wealth. On each issue, he beckons Christians to embrace a both/and approach instead of an either/or. For instance, Sauls affirms a strong pro-life position on abortion, and he grounds his perspective in a robust application of the imago dei to every stage of a child’s life.
Humble Approach and Orthodoxy
In the book’s second section, Sauls takes on common objections to the Christian faith. This is where Jesus Outside the Lines might offer its most valuable contribution to the church. In the style of his mentor, Tim Keller, Sauls argues for orthodox Christian positions by appealing to reason and gently asking unbelievers to lean fully on their own presuppositions.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a winsome pastor unafraid to challenge the secular Left’s unorthodoxy on universalism, hell, and homosexuality in a book about “not taking sides.” Sauls’s chapter on sexual ethics may be one of the most compassionate yet firm treatments of this difficult subject I’ve ever seen. His chapter on hell is a must-read for anyone doing apologetic evangelism.
A thoughtful, compassionate, humble orthodoxy makes Jesus Outside the Lines a refreshing read. For those who affirm the 2,000-year-old teachings of the Christian church, Sauls uncovers no new ground. Yet his civil approach and compassionate dialogue is a model of discussion all believers can learn from in an increasingly post-Christian culture.
Apologetic for Courage and Civility
If you’re looking for a flimsy excuse to disengage from culture, you’ll be disappointed by this book. If you’re looking for a partisan cheerleader to help you score political points against your rivals, you’ll also be disappointed. And if you’re looking for another angst-ridden tome defending heterodoxy, you’ll also need to keep looking.
But if you affirm what Russell Moore calls “convictional kindness” and long for what Mark Galli calls “beautiful orthodoxy,” you’ll be refreshed and challenged by Jesus Outside the Lines. Scott Sauls appeals to “the faith once deliverd to the saints” (Jude 1:3) with an apologetic for both courage and civility (1 Pet. 3:15).