Daring to Offend

paine-1.jpgThomas Paine once said, “He who dares not offend cannot be honest.” You may recall that Paine is the author of the pamphlet “Common Sense.” This is the piece that so inflamed the colonists in the mid 1700s so as to hasten their march toward independence. It is people like him who founded our country.

Wait, I take that back.

Ours is a very different country from the one they founded. Pay attention to the news on any given day and you will find the headlines crowded with instances of someone being offended. It has become the newest and most popular “right” of the American citizen, the right to not be offended. In fact, all levels of our government now make a habit of encroaching on actual constitutional rights because the exercise of those rights are often “offensive” to someone else.

The interesting thing is this: The right to not be offended exists nowhere in the United States Constitution. In practice it overshadows the actual rights explicitly protected by the Bill of Rights.

We’ve all seen examples of how this has played out politically. Courts have ordered the removal of monuments referring to the Ten Commandments from “public property.” They’ve ordered the removal of nativity scenes. A few years ago the parents of slain Columbine High School students were invited to place commemorative tiles in the school’s hallways. However, many of the parents had to remove their tiles because they contained the image of a cross. Never mind that many of those students were outspoken Christians and were remembered as such by their peers, a cross displayed in the hallway of the “public” high school might be “offensive” to some and must, therefore, be removed.

In fact, the recently coined term “hate speech” is dangerously close to becoming a legitimate exception to the first amendment’s protection of free speech. To make matters worse, the definition of “hate speech” is so vague as to include pretty much anything that could possibly be offensive to anyone for any reason. Even biblical exposition proclaimed from the pulpit.

In 2002 the Swedish parliament passed a law making it a crime to teach that homosexuality is immoral. And there are many American politicians (with an ever increasing infatuation for “international precedent”) who would just love to apply similar standards in the United States. This kind of legislation holds the potential for serious restrictions on what we can and cannot proclaim from the pulpit. In Sweden, preachers who proclaim the biblical truth about homosexuality can go to prison for up to four years. Many would like to see American preachers similarly silenced.

The real danger, however, is not being denied the legal right to preach against one particular sin, it is in being denied the legal right to proclaim the essence of Scripture, the Gospel itself. Quite frankly I can think of few things as overtly offensive as the Gospel. Just consider…

The Gospel tells the sinner, first of all, that he is a sinner. He is depraved and completely to blame in the eyes of God. That’s offensive. Secondly, the Gospel tells the sinner that he is completely incapable of doing anything about this depraved state. He is helpless. Again, that’s offensive. Thirdly, the Gospel tells the sinner that he stands ready to face God’s righteous judgment and will be punished should he remain in this depraved, sinful state.

This is highly offensive stuff. It flies in the face of a “tolerant” society. It violates the new right to not be offended and because it does it could be labeled as “hate speech.”

Of course the conclusion to the Gospel message is that these depraved sinners are of incredible worth to the previously mentioned righteous God. Just look at the high price He paid for them. He sacrificed His only Son.

The problem is this: In order to get to the wonderful conclusion of the Gospel we must first offend people with the truth. At least we do if, according to Thomas Paine, we want to be honest.


About Chip
Chip is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN. He served more than five years on the staff of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana as Director of Communications and Public Relations, editor of the Indiana Baptist newsjournal, and regular contributor to the Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. He currently earns his living as a writer. He serves his local church as a teacher and deacon and his local Baptist Association as a Seminary Extension instructor and supply preacher.

7 Responses to Daring to Offend

  1. Pingback: Rob Bell’s “interspirituality” « Thideology

  2. Diablo 2 says:

    Paine was not a Christian BTW. It should be noted he had a pretty low opinion of religion writ large and Christianity specifically See: Age of Reason.

    This is merely meant to provide context.


  3. Chip says:

    Diablo — Thanks for commenting. Please note I neither stated nor implied Paine was a Christian. I merely used a quote of his as a jumping off point for this particular article. I have read “Age of Reason” and am well aware of his aversion to religion. That being said, Paine was a brilliant man and had plenty of wisdom to share. It would be foolish to completely disregard his writings based only on his lack of faith in God — although I disregard what he had to say on that particular subject as I am convinced there is a God. Politically, however, Paine was dead-on accurate in “Common Sense.”

  4. Pingback: Thideology News of the Day | Thideology™

  5. Cathy Richburg says:

    Excellent article!

  6. dsnutts says:

    this was written by a white person whos was hurt to know he was a racist

    • Chip says:

      dsnutts — A couple of thoughts… 1) The color of someones skin does not disqualify them from speaking their mind nor does it make their thoughts illegitimate. So, the fact that Thomas Paine was white is utterly and ridiculously irrelevant to this conversation. 2) I’d love to see some of your evidence to support your claim that Paine was racist. He was, after all, the very first man in America to publicly write against the slave trade in is essay, “African Slavery in America,” a very un-racist position. 3) This post really has nothing at all to do with slavery or racism. It has to do with the offensive nature of the Gospel and how it is impossible to preach the Gospel accurately and not offend men.

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