In recent days, Donald Trump and Ann Coulter have kicked up a lot of social media dust about the Christian missionaries being treated for Ebola. Trump essentially patted missionaries on the head, saying its great if you go overseas to do stuff, but you pay the consequences. Coulter was, per usual, even worse. She argued that American Christians shouldn't even be going to Africa. "Can't people serve Christ in America anymore?" she asked.
Many Christians were horrified because they rightly understood that Coulter's comments are a repudiation of the gospel and the Great Commission. Many felt betrayed. We should not feel betrayed, any more than we would when Howard Stern mocks us on the radio. The same thing is at work.
Ann Coulter has not suddenly pivoted to saying some outrageous, shocking thing. She's made a living at it. Donald Trump is not suddenly a boor. He's been playing this role for years. It doesn't bother me what Trump or Coulter think about missiology or the Great Commission.
What I do think we should care about is the larger phenomenon. As the church of Jesus Christ, we should be the last people to fall for hucksters and demagogues. After all, we have the Spirit of God, who gifts the church with discernment and wisdom. But too often we do. We receive celebrities simply because they say they are "conservative" without asking what they are conserving.
Too often, our culture identifies conviction with intensity of feeling. And intensity of feeling is marked by theatrical outrage and attention-getting vitriolic speech. We see this in the lost world and, sometimes, lamentably, within Christian culture too. "I can't believe she said that!" has replaced "Thus saith the Lord."
Additionally, we too often have adopted allies on the basis of their intensity of outrage rather than on their consistency with the gospel. If you are angry with the same people we are, you must be one of us. Jesus just never operated that way. The Pharisees were at odds with the Sadducees; Jesus angered them both. That's because he didn't define his mission as first of all anti-Pharisee or anti-Sadducee. His mission was the kingdom of God, that casts judgment on every rival reign.
Rage itself is no sign of conviction. The devil rages, and rages more and more because he knows his time is short (Rev. 12:12). Loudness is no sign of being "prophetic." The prophets of Baal were frantic and hysterical but it's because their god was absent and no fire would fall (1 Kings 18:26-29).
In the New Testament, Jesus and his disciples were often thought to be crazy. They were saying strange things. Bloody crosses and empty tombs and Jew/Gentile unity—it all sounded insane. But they weren't actually crazy. Jesus is the most reasonable voice in the gospels, pointing out that his opponents' arguments don't make sense on their own terms (Mk. 3:22-27; 7:14-16).
In Agrippa's court, Paul is considered mad, but it is because he believes in the resurrection of Jesus, not because he is acting crazed. Paul honors Agrippa and Felix, tells them that the work of Christ has "not been done in a corner" (Acts 26:24-27). He notes that he is speaking "true and rational words" (26:25). He doesn't mind being seen as crazy, but he keeps the scandal where it ought to be: on the gospel, not on his antics.
The church is built on the rock foundation of apostles and prophets, not hucksters and outrage artists.
Ann Coulter's and Donald Trump's comments are none of my concern. The church is to hold accountable those who are on the inside, not those on the outside (1 Cor. 5:12). What is our concern is that we don't fall into the same pattern as the culture around us, of seeking to be heard with shrillness and demagoguery rather than with the gospel. The kingdom of God, after all, is not a matter of talk but of power (1 Cor. 4:20).
Dr. Russell D. Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.