Is “being nice” a Christian virtue? And who is the arbitrator of what “being nice” looks like?
My Dad had little formal training, but he read his Bible and grounded me in orthodox Christian theology. My Dad never told me to believe something he was teaching just because he said so. He allowed me to ask question after question, building a case for orthodoxy. He gave me the theological bricks and allowed me to build the theological structure. I suppose some might think the pointedness of my questions for my Dad was not being “nice,” after all, he was my Dad, but for him and later for me, this was a tremendously rewarding time of spiritual and theological development.
My first day at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, a student who was a Quaker walked up to me, grabbed my tie, and gruffly announced that my tie was, and I quote, “a superfluidity of naughtiness,” to which I replied, “no this is standard business attire.” All this ensued while the scruffy-bearded Quaker wore a wide-brimmed black hat, black vest and pants and a blue shirt. I suppose you could say he was not being nice, but we became good friends. I learned he had read through the Hebrew OT four times before enrolling at Westminster.
And then there was a time in class that I argued for a two-stage return of Christ, Rapture and Second Advent, in a Westminster hermeneutics course. Rejecting the Amillennial notion that things are getting better and better until the Kingdom comes, after class, a fellow student in the classroom vestibule got up in my face and with a raised voice (read, “yelling”) said, “We’re all going to hell by the grace of God,” his hyperbolic way of saying that before the Lord returns there will be a growing apostasy. He’s probably a Presbyterian pastor somewhere now. You might think that that episode wasn’t being “nice.”
Then there was the time I invited a fellow seminarian to my home for supper. My wife prepared a wonderful meal with what the Lord provided, and he was happy to partake. While we discussed theology, he took off on a rant on how stupid those that hold to a rapture are. I listened for a bit, and then told him if he didn’t quiet down, he wasn’t going to get any supper. I wasn’t going to be ridiculed for my faith in my own home. For the sake of supper, he ceased his tirade and the evening concluded graciously. Some of you may think neither of us where “nice” to each other.
As you read, you might think that Calvin Theological Seminary was even less “nice.” When I was asked to describe the Doctrine of Justification and I said it was a forensic declaration of righteousness and not an infusion of righteousness. My professor responded, “That’s your problem Pete, you think to much like a Protestant.” Maybe that wasn’t being “nice.”
And then there were the Ph.D. courses in took for my Th.M. where the sole purpose of course discussion was to expose the flaws and weaknesses of the papers presented by other students. Your ability to argue critically against your fellow student’s presentation was just as important to your grade and defending the premise and content of your paper. Class after class, 8 or 9 against 1, each student making the case for the validity of his argument against other Ph.D. students. And if things were really going poorly, the professor would add his comments. Within this adversarial context, few would venture to say that anyone was “nice” to anyone else during these examinations. You just had to be ready and, in this crucible, arguments became stronger and more effective.
I once sat on a Baptist ordination counsel where the candidate was ill prepared for the ministerial and theological examination of visiting pastors. As he floundered, unable to answer rudimentary theological questions from sympathetic questioners, his wife stood in the back of the auditorium weeping. I did not ask why she was sobbing but I would venture to guess she did not think the invited pastors were being “nice” to her husband.
There is a professional appreciation for critical dialogue and evaluation in these contexts that occur without malice or lack of personal appreciation. (See Bellarmine’s admiration for Whitaker). It’s what’s getting an education is all about. It always has been.
See you Saturday at the debate. It should be really “nice.”
3 thoughts on “Being a “nice” Christian”
That post was very nice. Thanks!
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Last Sunday my sermon text (Matthew 23:13-33) showed how nice Jesus was to the blind pretentious serpentine hypocritical foolish murderous guilty scribes and Pharisees. Good stuff to know for those who hope to escape the damnation of hell.
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Robert, thanks for the post. First you have to find a church where they still preach; then you have to find a church where they preach out of the Bible; then you have to find a church that preaches the whole counsel of God and not just familiar topics. That kind of pastor will preach the material in Matthew 23, which is to say that many congregations have never heard the words of Christ in Matthew 23 from the pulpit. And because Matthew 23 preaching is uncommon, we have to address the feckless contemporary issue of being “nice.” “O generation of vipers, who hath warned thee to flee from the wrath to come?” John the Baptist, Matt. 3:7b. The contemporary NT local church, I fear, does not know the Jesus of the Bible.
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